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In "The Lawton Girl" Mr. Harold Frederic has given us another highly realistic and instructive study of life in a modern American manufacturing town. The perils that beset the path of those who have riches, the temptations in the way of those who would be rich, the problems arising before society in the matter of providing ways for the moral elevation and intellectual enlightenment of the laboring classes, these are all involved in the story, but it is the heroism, the self-devotion, and the final tragic triumph of one poor girl which form the central motive of a discerning and impressive book. Mr. Frederic has a wonderful command of his material. The whole atmosphere of Thessaly in its rude, new-world incompleteness, its narrow perspective, its tremendous possibilities, is admirably suggested, for Mr. Frederic is an uncompromising artist, and he spares no line, however ungraceful, that will serve to make the picture complete. What one admires most in the work of Mr. Frederic is the straightforward,earnest, sincere manner in which he goes to the end in view. Undertaking to depict certain phases of life for his readers, he allows full play to every light and shadow. Realism with him does not mean a seeking out of the low and bestial, or even a preference for what is hard and unlovely; it simply means that he will make no deliberate selection in defiance of nature's own truths.
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The Lawton Girl
The Lawton Girl, H. Frederic
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
CHAPTER I. -"AND YET YOU KNEW! ". 1
CHAPTER II. - CONFRONTING THE ORDEAL.6
CHAPTER III. - YOUNG MR. BOYCE'S MEDITATIONS.12
CHAPTER IV. - REUBEN TRACY.18
CHAPTER V. - THE TURKEY-SHOOT.25
CHAPTER VI. - THANKSGIVING AT THE MINSTERS.30
CHAPTER VII. - THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER'S WELCOME.38
CHAPTER VIII. - THANKSGIVING AT THE LAWTONS'.46
CHAPTER IX. - THE PARTNERSHIP.53
CHAPTER X. - MR. SCHUYLER TENNEY.60
CHAPTER XI. - MRS. MINSTER'S NEW LEGAL ADVISER.67
CHAPTER XII. -THE THESSALY CITIZENS' CLUB.74
CHAPTER XIII. - THE DAUGHTER OF THE MILLIONS.81
CHAPTER XIV. - HORACE EMBARKS UPON THE ADVENTURE.89
CHAPTER XV. - THE LAWTON GIRL'S WORK.97
CHAPTER XVI. - A GRACIOUS FRIEND RAISED UP.102
CHAPTER XVII. - TRACY HEARS STRANGE THINGS.110
CHAPTER XVIII. - A SIMPLE BUSINESS TRANSACTION.116
CHAPTER XIX. - NO MESSAGE FOR MAMMA.122
CHAPTER XX. - THE MAN FROM NEW YORK.129
CHAPTER XXI. - REUBEN'S MOMENTOUS FIRST VISIT.134
CHAPTER XXII.- " SAY THAT THERE IS NO ANSWER". 142
CHAPTER XXIII. - HORACE'S PATH BECOMES TORTUOUS.150
CHAPTER XXIV. - A VEHEMENT RESOLVE.158
CHAPTER XXV. - A VISITATION OF ANGELS.166
CHAPTER XXVI. - OVERWHELMING DISCOMFITURE.174
CHAPTER XXVII. - THE LOCKOUT.182
CHAPTER XXVIII. - IN THE ROBBER'S CAVE.187
CHAPTER XXIX. - THE MISTS CLEARING AWAY.196
CHAPTER XXX. - JESSICA'S GREAT DESPAIR.202
CHAPTER XXXI. - A STRANGE ENCOUNTER.208
CHAPTER XXXII. - THE ALARM AT THE FARMHOUSE.216
CHAPTER XXXIII. - PACING TOWARD THE REDDENED SKY.222
CHAPTER XXXIV. - THE CONQUEST OF THE MOB.227
CHAPTER XXXV. - THE SHINING REWARD.234
CHAPTER XXXVI. - " I TELL YOU I HAVE LIVED IT DOWN! ". 240
"Thessaly! Ten minutes foh refreshments!" called out the brisk young colored porter, advancing up the aisle of the drawing-room car, whisk-broom in hand. " Change cahs foh Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry sauce," he added, upon humorous after-thought, smiling broadly as he spoke, and chuckling to himself.
This friendly remark was addressed in confidence to a group of three persons at the forward end of the car, who began preparations for the halt as the clanking of the wheels beneath them grew more measured, and the carriage trembled and lurched under the pressure of the brakes. But the cheery grin which went with it was exclusively directed to the two ladies who rose now from their arm-chairs, and who gently relaxed their features in amused response.
Whether the porter was moved only by the comeliness of these faces and their gracious softening, or whether he was aware that they were patrician countenances, so to speak, and belonged to Mrs. and Miss Minster, persons of vast wealth and importance and considerable stockholders in this very railroad, is not clear. But he made a great bustle over getting their parcels down from the racks overhead, and helping them to don their outer garments. He smoothed the rich fur of their sealskin cloaks with almost affectionate strokes of his coffee-colored palms, and made a pile of their belongings on the next seat with an exaggerated show of dexterity and zeal. This done, he turned for a cursory moment to the young man who constituted the third member of the group, peremptorily pulled up the collar of his overcoat to the top of his ears, and was back again with his arms full of the ladies' bundles as the train came to a stop.
"This way, ladies," he said, marching jauntily under his burden toward the door.
" I will bid you good-day, Mr. Boyce," said the elder of the women, speaking with somewhat formal politeness, but offering her hand.
" Good-day, sir," the younger said simply, with a little inclination of the head, but with no " Mr. Boyce," and no proffer of her gloved fingers.
The young man murmured " so delighted to have had the privilege " between low answering bows, and then stood watching the two fur-draped figures move to the door and disappear, with a certain blankness of expression on his face which seemed to say that he had hoped for a more cordial leave-taking. Then he smiled with reassurance, folded up and pocketed his thin car-cap, adjusted his glossy silk hat carefully, and proceeded to tug out his own valise. It was a matter of some difficulty to get the cumbrous bag down off the high icy steps to the ground. It was even more disagreeable to carry it along when he had got it down, and after a few paces he let it fall with a grunt of vexation, and looked about him for assistance. " How much better they do these things in Europe! " was what he thought as he looked.
All day long he had been journeying over a snowbound country — with white-capped houses, white-frozen streams, white -tufted firs, white mantled fields and roads and hillsides, forever dodging one another in the dissolving panorama before his window. The train drawn up for the moment behind him might have come in from the North Pole, so completely laden with snow was every flat surface — of roof and beam, of platform and window-frame — presented by the dark line of massive coaches. Yet it seemed to him that there was more snow, more bleak and cheerless evidence of winter, here in his native Thessaly, than he had seen anywhere else. It was characteristic, too, he felt, that nobody should appear to care how much inconvenience this snow caused. There was but an indifferently shoveled path leading from where he stood, across the open expanse of side-tracks to the old and dingy depot beyond — cleared for the use of such favored passengers as might alight from the drawing-room section of the train. Those who had arrived in the ordinary cars at the rear were left to flounder through the smoke-begrimed drifts as best they could.
The foremost of these unconsidered travelers were coming up, red and angry with the exertion of carrying their own luggage, and plunging miserably along through the great ridges of discolored snow heaped between the tracks, when Mr. Boyce's impatient eye fell upon somebody he knew.
" Hello there, Lawton! " he shouted. " Come here and help me with this infernal bag, won't you! "
The man to whom he called had been gazing down the yard at the advancing wayfarers. He looked up now, hesitated for a moment, then came forward slowly, shuffling through the snow to the path. He was a middle-aged, thin, and round-shouldered man, weak and unkempt as to face and hair and beard, with shabby clothes and no overcoat. Although he wore mittens, he still from force of habit had his hands plunged half-way into his trousers pockets. Even where it would have been easy to step over the intermittent drifts and mounds at the sides of the tracks, he shiftlessly pushed his feet through them instead.
" Hello, Hod! " he said slowly, with a kind of melancholy hesitation, " is that you? "
Young Mr. Boyce ignored the foolish question, and indicated the valise with a nod of his head.
" I wish you'd get that thing down to the house, Ben. And take these checks for my trunks, too, will you, and see that they're brought down. Where is that expressman, anyway? Why isn't he here, on hand, attending to his business?"
"I don't know as I can. Hod," said the man without an overcoat, idly kicking into a heap of mingled cinders and snow with his wet, patched boots, and glancing uneasily down the yard. " I'm down here a-waitin' — for — that is to say, I've got somethin' else to do. Prob'ly you can get some other fellow outside the deepo."
Mr. Boyce's answer to this was to add a bright half-dollar to the brass baggage-checks he already held in his hand. The coin was on the top, and Ben Lawton could not help looking at it. The temptation was very great.
" I ought to stay here, you know," he faltered. " Fact is, honest Injun! I got to stay here! I'm lookin' for — somebody a-comin' in on this train."
" Well, you can look, can't you, and do this too? There's no hurry about the things. If they're home two hours hence it will be time enough."
" Yes, I know, it might be so as I could do it, later on," said Lawton, taking one of his hands from his pocket and stretching it tentatively toward the money. Then a second thought prompted him to waver, and he drew back the hand, muttering feebly: " Then, again, it might be so as I couldn't do it. You better get somebody else. And yet — I don't know — p'raps — "
Mr. Boyce settled the question by briskly reaching down for his bag. "All right! Please yourself," he said. " I've got no more time to waste with you. I'll do it myself."
Before he had fairly lifted the valise from the ground, the irresolute Lawton made up his mind. " Put her down again, Hod," he said. " I'll manage it somehow."
He took the half-dollar in his mittened hand, and tossed it gently up and down on the striped blue and white surface of yam. " It's the first money I've earned for over a week," he remarked, as if in self-defense.
Even as he spoke, a young woman in black who had been wandering about in the depot yard came running excitedly up to him. She gave a little inarticulate cry of recognition as she drew near. He turned, saw her, and in a bewildered way opened his arms. She dropped her bundles and bandbox heedlessly into the snow, and threw herself upon his breast, hiding her face on his threadbare coat, and sobbing audibly.
Mr. Boyce had been entirely unprepared for this demonstration, and looked wonderingly upon the couple who stood in the path before him. After a moment or two of silent inspection he made as if to pass them, but they did not move. The girl still hid her face, although she had ceased to weep, and Lawton bent his head down over hers, with tears in his eyes and his gaze fixed vaguely on the snow beyond her, while he tenderly patted her shoulder with the hand that did not hold the half-dollar.
" All right, then, Ben,'' Mr. Boyce called out. " If you'll just let me pass, I'll walk on. Have the things there by five."
At the first sound of this voice, the girl raised her head. She turned now, her tear-stained face luminous with a deep, wrathful emotion, and looked at the speaker.
The young man did not for more than an instant try to meet this glance. His cheek flushed and his eyes sought the ground. He lifted his hand with a hurried, awkward gesture toward his hat, made a hasty plunge around them through the snow, and walked swiftly away past the gate into the depot.
The girl's intent gaze followed the retiring Mr. Boyce until he disappeared. Then it shifted suddenly and fell upon the face of Ben Lawton, from whose embrace she had now withdrawn.
The poor man made no effort whatsoever to brave its searching and reproachful inquiry. He balanced the half-dollar on his mitten's edge, watched the exercise with a piteously futile pretense of interest, and looked as if he was about to cry.
" What ' things ' were those he spoke of, father? " she asked, after a long pause.
The passengers who had temporarily left the train for the doubtful solace of the refreshment counter were beginning now to return. Some of them jostled past the couple who stood blocking the narrow path; and one of these, a stout and choleric man in a silk skull-cap and a fur-lined overcoat, brusquely kicked the big valise out of the way,overturning it in the snow. Lawton had not found the courage necessary for a complete explanation. He bent over now, set the bag on its bottom again, and made partial answer:
" This is one of 'em."
The heavy train, snow-capped and somber, began to draw out of the yard. The two Lawtons stood and silently watched it unfold its length — saw first the broad, plate-glass panes of the drawing-room and sleeping cars, with their luxurious shadows and glimpses of well-groomed heads and costly stuffs behind, glide slowly, sedately by; then, more rapidly, the closer-set windows of the yellow, common cars, through the steam on which visions of hats and faces dimly crowded; and last, the diminishing rear platform, with its solitary brakeman vehemently whirling the horizontal wheel of the brake — grow small, then indistinct, then vanish altogether. A sense of desertion, of having been left behind, seemed to brood over the old clapboarded depot like a cloud, darkening the ashen masses of snow round about and chilling the very air.
The daughter looked once more at her father.
" You are going to carry his things! " she said, with a stern, masterful inflection in her voice, and with flashing eyes.
" Hope-to-die, Jess, I tried as hard as I could to get out of it — made all sorts of excuses," Lawton pleaded, shrinking meantime from her gaze, and furtively but clumsily slipping the coin into his pocket. " But you know the kind of fellow Hod is — " he stammered here with confusion, and made haste to add — " what I mean is — he — well, he just wouldn't take no for an answer."
She went, on coldly, as if she had not heard: " You have got his money — I saw it — there in your hand."
" Well, I tell you what, Jess," the father answered, with an accession of boldness, "half-dollars don't grow on every bush up this way. I ain't seen one afore in a fortnight. And to-morrow's Thanksgiving, you know — and then you've come home — and what was a fellow to do? "
The girl turned, as if it were fruitless to say more. Then the necessity for relief mastered her: she faced him again, and ground the words from between her set teeth with scornful sadness:
" You take his money — and yet you knew! "
Jessica Lawton stood on the sidewalk outside the depot, and waited for the return of her father, who had gone in search of the expressman.
The street up and down which she glanced was in a sense familiar to her, for she had been born and reared on a hillside road not far away, and until her eighteenth year had beheld no finer or more important place than this Thessaly — which once had seemed so big and grand, and now, despite the obvious march of " improvement," looked so dwarfed and countrified in its overlarge, misfitting coat of snow.
She found herself puzzled vaguely by the confusion of objects she remembered with things which appeared not at all to belong to the scene. There was the old Dearborn House, for example, on the same old corner, with its high piazza overhanging both streets, and its seedy brown clapboard sides that had needed a fresh painting as long as she could recollect — and had not got it yet. But beside it, where formerly had been a long, straggling line of decrepit sheds, was reared now a tall, narrow, flat-roofed brick building — the village fire-engine house; and through the half-open door, in which a man and a bull-dog stood surveying her, she could see the brassy brightness of a huge modem machine within. It seemed only yesterday that the manhood of Thessaly had rejoiced and perspired over the heavy, unwieldy wheeled pump which was dragged about with ropes and worked by means of long hand-brakes, with twelve men on a side, and a ducking from the hose for all shirkers. And here was a citified brick engine-house, and a " steamer " drawn by horses!
Everywhere, as she looked, this incongruous jumbling of the familiar and the novel forced itself upon the girl's attention. And neither the old nor the new bore on its face any welcome for her.
In a narrower and more compact street than this main thoroughfare of Thessaly, the people in view would have constituted almost a crowd. The stores all seemed to be doing a thriving business, particularly if those who lounged about looking in the windows might be counted upon presently to buy something. Both sides of the road were lined with rustic sleighs, drawn up wherever paths had been cut through the deep snow to the sidewalks; and farmers in big overcoats, comforters, and mittens were visible by scores, spreading buffalo-robes over their horses, or getting out armfuls of turkeys and tubs of butter from the straw in the bottoms of their sleds, or stamping with their heavy boots on the walks for warmth, as they discussed prices and the relative badness of the various snow-blocked roads in the vicinity. Farther down the street a load of hay had tipped over in the middle of the road, and the driver, an old man with a faded army-overcoat and long hair, was hurling loud imprecations at some boys who had snowballed him, and who now, from a safe distance, yelled back impolite rejoinders.
Among all who passed, Jessica caught sight of no accustomed face. In a way, indeed, they were all familiar enough: they were types in feature and voice and dress and manner of the people among whom her whole earlier life had been spent. But she knew none of them — and was at once glad of this, and very melancholy.
She had done a rash and daring thing in coming back to Dearborn County. It had seemed the right thing to do, and she had found the strength and resolution to do it. But there had been many moments of quaking trepidation during the long railroad journey from Tecumseh that day, and she was conscious now, as she looked about her, of a well-nigh complete collapse of courage. The tears would come, and she had more than once furtively to lift her handkerchief to her face.
It was not a face with which one, at first glance, would readily associate tears. The features were regularly, almost firmly cut; and the eyes — large, fine eyes though they were — had commonly a wide-awake, steady, practical look, which expressed anything rather than weakness. The effect of the countenance, as a whole, suggested an energetic, self-contained young woman, who knew her way about, who was likely to be neither cheated nor flattered out of her rights, and who distinctly belonged to the managing division of the human race. This conception of her was aided by the erect, independent carriage of her shoulders, which made her seem taller than she really was, and by the clever simplicity of her black tailor-made jacket and dress, and her round, shapely, turban-like hat.
But if one looked closely into this face, here in the snowlight of the November afternoon, there would be found sundry lines and shadows of sensibility and of suffering which were at war with its general expression. And these, when one caught them, had an air of being new, and of not yet having had time to lay definite hold upon the face itself. They were nearer it now, perhaps, as the tears came, than they had often been before, yet even now both they and the moisture glistening on the long lashes, appeared foreign to the calm immobility of the countenance. Tears did not seem to belong there, nor smiles.
Yet a real smile did all at once move to softness the compressed lines of her lips, and bring color to her cheeks and a pleasant mellowing of glance into her eyes. She had been striving to occupy her alltoo-introspective mind by reading the signs with which the house-fronts were thickly covered; and here, on a doorway close beside her, was one at sight of which her whole face brightened. And it was a charming face now — k face to remember — with intelligence and fine feeling and frank happiness in every lineament, yet with the same curious suggestion, too, of the smile, like the tears, being rare and unfamiliar.
The sign was a small sheet of tin, painted in yellow letters on a black ground:
Attorney and Counsellor at Law, •
" Oh, he is here, then; he has come back! " she said aloud. She repeated, with an air of enjoying the sound of the words: " He has come back."
She walked up to the sign, read it over and over again, and even touched it, in a meditative way, with the tip of her gloved finger. The smile came to her face once more as she murmured: " He will know — he will make it easier for me."
But even as she spoke the sad look spread over her face again. She walked back to the place where she had been standing, and looked resolutely away from the sign — at the tipped-over load of hay, at the engine-house, at the sleighs passing to and fro through eyes dimmed afresh with tears.
Thus she still stood when her father returned. The expressman who halted his bob-sleigh at the cutting in front of her, and who sat holding the reins while her father piled her valise and parcels on behind, looked her over with a half-awed, half-quizzical glance, and seemed a long time making up his mind to speak. Finally he said:
" How d'do? Want to ride here, on the seat, longside of me?"
There was an indefinable something in his tone, and in the grin that went with it, which she resented quickly.
" I had no idea of riding at all," she made answer.
Her father, who had seated himself on a trunk in the center of the sleigh, interposed. " Why, Jess, you remember Steve, don't you? " he asked, apologetically.
The expressman and the girl looked briefly at one another, and nodded in a perfunctory manner.
Lawton went on: " He offered himself to give us a lift as far as the house. He's goin' that way— ain't you, Steve?"
The impulse was strong in Jessica to resist — precisely why she might have found it difficult to explain — but apparently there was no choice remaining to her. " Very well, then," she said, " I will sit beside you, father."
She stepped into the sleigh at this, and took her seat on the other end of the big trunk. The expressman gave a slap of the lines and a cluck to the horse, which started briskly down the wide street, the bell at its collar giving forth a sustained, cheery tinkle as they sped through the snow.
"Well, what do you think — ain't this better'n walkin'? " remarked Lawton, after a time, knocking his heels in a satisfied way against the side of the trunk.
" I felt as if the walk would do me good," she answered, simply. Her face was impassivity itself, as she looked straight before her, over the expressman's shoulder.
Ben Lawton felt oppressed by the conviction that his daughter was annoyed. Perhaps it was because he had insisted on riding — instead of saying that he would walk too, when she had disclosed her preference. He ventured upon an explanation, stealing wistful glances at her meantime:
"You see, Jess, Dave Rant ell's got a turkey-shoot on to-day, down at his place, and I kind o' thought I'd try my luck with this here half-dollar, 'fore it gets dark. The days are shortenin' so, this season o' year, that I couldn't get there without Steve give me a lift. And if I should get a turkey— why, we'll have a regular Thanksgiving dinner; and with you come home, too! "
To this she did not trust herself to make answer, but kept her face rigidly set, and her eyes fixed as if engrossed in meditation. They had passed the great iron-works on the western outskirts of the village now, and the road leading to the suburb of Burfield ran for a little through almost open country. The keener wind raised here in resistance to the rapid transit of the sleigh — no doubt it was this which brought the deep flush to her cheeks and the glistening moisture to her eyes.
They presently overtook two young men who were trudging along abreast, each in one of the tracks made by traffic, and who stepped aside to let the sleigh go by.
" Hello, Hod! " called out the expressman as he passed. " I've got your trunks. Come back for good?"
'' Hello, Steve! I don't quite know yet,"
was the reply which came back — the latter half of it too late for the expressman's ears.
Jessica had not seen the pedestrians until the sleigh was close upon them; then, in the moment's glimpse of them vouchsafed her, she had recognized young Mr. Boyce, and, in looking away from him with swift decision, had gazed full into the eyes of his companion. This other remembered her too, it was evident, even in that brief instant of passing, for a smile of greeting was in the glance he returned, and he lifted his hat as she swept by.
This was Reuben Tracy, then! Despite his beard, he seemed scarcely to have aged in face during these last five years; but he looked straighter and stronger, and his bearing had more vigor and firmness than she remembered of him in the days when she was an irregular pupil at the little old Burfield-road school-house, and he was the teacher. She was glad that he looked so hale and healthful. And had her tell-tale face, she wondered, revealed as she passed him all the deep pleasure she felt at seeing him again — at knowing he was near? She tried to recall whether she had smiled, and could not make sure. But he had smiled — of that there was not a doubt; and he had known her on the instant, and had taken off his hat, not merely jerked his finger toward it. Ah, what delight there was in these thoughts!
She turned to her father, and lifting her voice above the jingle of the bell, spoke with animation:
" Tell me about the second man we just, passed — Mr. Tracy. Has he been in Thessaly long, and is he doing a good business? " She added hastily, as if to forestall some possible misconception: " He used to be my school-teacher, you know."
" Guess he's gettin' on all right," replied Lawton: " I hain't heard nothin' to the contrary. He must a' been back from New York along about a year — maybe two." To her great annoyance he shouted out to the driver: " Steve, how long's Rube Tracy been back in Thessaly? You keep track o' things better'n I do."
The expressman replied over his shoulder: " Should say about a year come Christmas." Then, after a moment's pause, he transferred the reins to his other hand, twisted himself half around on his seat, and looked into Jessica's face with his earlier and offensive expression of mingled familiarity and diffidence. " He appeared to remember you: took off his hat," he said. There was an unmistakable leer on his lank countenance as he added:
"That other fellow was Hod Boyce, the General's son, you know — just come back from the old country."
"Yes, I know!" she made answer curtly, and turned away from him.
During what remained of the journey she preserved silence, keeping her gaze steadily fixed on the drifted fields beyond the fence in front of her and thinking about these two young men — at first with infinite bitterness and loathing of the one, and then, for a longer time, and with a soft, half-saddened pleasure, of the other.
It was passing strange that she should find herself here at all — here in this village which for years at a time she had sworn never to see again. But, when she thought of it, it seemed still more remarkable that at the very outset she should see, walking together, the two men whom memory most distinctly associated with her old life here as a girl. She had supposed them both — her good and her evil genius — to be far away; in all her inchoate speculations about how she should meet various people, no idea of encountering either of these had risen in her mind. Yet here they were — and walking together!
Their conjunction disturbed and vaguely troubled her. She tried over and over again to reassure herself by saying that it was a mere accident; of course they had been acquainted with each other for years, and they had happened to meet, and what more natural than that they should walk on side by side? And yet it somehow seemed wrong.
Reuben Tracy was the best man she had ever known. Poor girl — so grievous had been her share of life's lessons that she really thought of him as the only good man she had ever known. In all the years of her girlhood — unhappy, wearied, and mutinous, with squalid misery at home, and no respite from it possible outside which, looked back upon at this distance, did not seem equally coarse and repellent — there had been but this solitary gleam of lights the friendship of Reuben Tracy. Striving now to recall the forms in which this friendship had been manifested, she was conscious that there was not much to remember. He had simply impressed her as a wise and unselfish friend — that was all. The example of kindness, gentleness, of patient industry which he had set before her in the rude, bare-walled little school-room, and which she felt now had made a deep and lasting impression on her, had been set for all the rest as well. If sometimes he had seemed to like her better than the other girls, his preference was of a silent, delicate, unexpressed sort — as if prompted solely by acquaintance with her greater need for sympathy. Without proffers of aid, almost without words, he had made her comprehend that, if evil fell upon her, the truest and most loyal help and counsel in all the world could be had from him for the asking.
The evil had fallen, in one massed, cruel, stunning stroke, and she had staggered blindly away — away anywhere, anyhow, to any fate. Almost her instincts had persuaded her to go to him; but he was a young man, only a few years her senior — and she had gone away without seeing him. But she had carried into the melancholy, bitter exile a strange sense of gratitude, if so it may be called, to Reuben Tracy for the compassionate aid he would have extended, had he known; and she said to herself now, in her heart of hearts, that it was this good feeling which had remained like a leaven of hope in her nature, and had made it possible for her at last, by its mysterious and beneficent workings, to come out into the open air again and turn her face toward the sunlight.
And he had taken off his hat to her!
The very thought newly nerved her for the ordeal which she had proposed to herself — the task of bearing, here in the daily presence of those among whom she had been reared, the burden of a hopelessly discredited life.
The changes in Thessaly's external appearance did not particularly impress young Mr. Horace Boyce as he walked down the main street in the direction of his father's house. For one thing, he had been here for a fortnight only a few months before, upon his return from Europe, and had had pointed out to him all of novelty that his native village offered. And again, nearly four years of acquaintance with the chief capitals of the Old World had so dulled his vision, so to speak, that it was no longer alert to detect the presence of new engine houses and brick stores in the place of earlier and less imposing structures. To be accurate, he did not think much about Thessaly, one way or the other. So long as his walk led him along the busier part of the thoroughfare, his attention was fully occupied by encounters and the exchange of greetings with old school-fellows and neighbors, who all seemed glad to see him home again; and when he had passed the last store on the street, and had of necessity exchanged the sidewalk for one of the two deep-beaten tracks in the center of the drifted road, his thoughts were still upon a more engrossing subject than the growth and prosperity of any North American town.
They were pleasant thoughts, though, as any one might read in a glance at his smooth-shaven, handsome face, with its satisfied half smile and its bold, confident expression of eyes. He stopped once in his rapid walk and stood for a minute or two in silent contemplation, just before he reached the open stretch of country which lay like a wedge between the two halves of the village. The white surface in front of him was strewn here with dry boughs and twigs, broken from the elms above by the weight of the recent snowfall. Beyond the fence some boys with comforters tied about their ears were skating on a pond in the fields. Mr. Boyce looked over these to the darkened middle-distance of the wintry picture, where rose the grimy bulk and tall smoke-belching chimneys of the Minster iron-works. He seemed to find exhilaration in his long, intent gaze at these solid evidences of activity and wealth, for he filled his lungs with a deep, contented draught of the nipping air when he finally turned and resumed his walk, swinging his shoulders and lightly tapping the crusted snowbanks at his side with his stick as he stepped briskly forward.
The Minster iron-works were undoubtedly worth thinking about, and all the more so because they were not new. During all the dozen or more years of their existence they had never once been out of blast. At seasons of extreme depression in the market, when even Pennsylvania was idle and the poor smelters of St. Louis and Chicago could scarcely remember when they had been last employed, these chimneys upon which he had just looked had never ceased for a day to hurl their black clouds into the face of the sky. They had been built by one of the cleverest and most daring of all the strong men whom that section had produced — the late Stephen Minster. It was he who had seen in the hills close about the choicest combination of ores to be found in the whole North; it was he who had brought in the capital to erect and operate the works, who had organized and controlled the enterprise by which a direct road to the coal-fields was opened, and who, in affording employment to thousands and good in' vestments to scores, had not failed to himself amass a colossal fortune. He had been dead now nearly three years, but the amount of his wealth, left in its entirety to his family, was still a matter of conjecture. Popular speculation upon this point had but a solitary clew with which to work. In a contest which arose a year before his death, over the control of the Northern Union Telegraph Company, he had sent down proxies representing a clear six hundred thousand dollars' worth of shares. With this as a basis for calculation, curious people had arrived at a shrewd estimate of his total fortune as ranging somewhere between two and three millions of dollars.
Stephen Minster had died very suddenly, and had been sincerely mourned by a community which owed him nothing but good-will, and could remember no single lapse from honesty or kindliness in his whole unostentatious, useful career. It was true that the absence of public-spirited bequests in his will created for the moment a sense of disappointment; but the explanation quickly set afoot — that he had not foreseen an early death, and had postponed to declining years, which, alas! never came, the task of apportioning a moiety of his millions among deserving charities — was plausible enough to be received everywhere. By virtue of a testament executed two years before — immediately after the not altogether edifying death of his only son — all his vast property devolved upon Mrs. Minster, and her two daughters, Kate and Ethel. Every unmarried man in Thessaly — and perhaps, with a certain vague repining, here and there one of the married men too — remembered all these facts each time he passed the home of the Minsters on the Seminary road, and looked over the low wall of masonry at the close-trimmed lawn, the costly fountain, the graveled carriage-drive, and the great house standing back and aloof in stately seclusion among the trees and the rose-bushes.
Most of these facts were familiar as well to Mr. Horace Boyce. As he strode along, filliping the snow with his cane and humming to himself, he mentally embellished them with certain deductions drawn from information gathered during the journey by rail from New York. The Miss Kate Minster whom he had met was the central figure in his meditations, as indeed she was the important personage in her family. The mother had impressed him as an amiable and somewhat limited woman, without much force of character; the younger daughter, Ethel, he remembered dimly, as a delicate and under-sized girl who was generally kept home from school by reason of ill-health, and it was evident from such remarks as the two ladies dropped that she was still something of an invalid. But it was dear that Miss Kate lacked neither moral nor bodily strength.
He was quite frank with himself in thinking that, apart from all questions of money, she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. It was an added charm that her beauty fitted so perfectly the idea of great wealth. She might have been the daughter of the millions themselves, so tall and self-contained and regal a creature was she, with the firm, dark face of her father reproduced in feminine grace and delicacy of outline; with a skin as of an Oriental queen, softly luxuriant in texture and in its melting of creamy and damask and deepening olive hues; and with large, richly brown, deep-fringed eyes which looked proudly and steadily on all the world, young men included. These fine orbs were her most obvious physical inheritance from her father. The expression " the Minster eyes," would convey as distinct an impression to the brain of the average Thessalian as if one had said " the Minster iron-works." The great founder of the millions, Stephen Minster, had had them, and they were the notable feature of even his impressive face. The son who was dead, Stephen junior, had also had them, as Horace now recalled to mind; but set in his weak head they had seemed to lose significance, and had been, in truth, very generally in his latter years dimmed and opacated by the effects of dissipation. The pale, sweet-faced little Ethel Minster, as he remembered her, had them as well, although with her they were almost hazel in color, and produced a timid, mournful effect. But to no other face in the entire family gallery did they seem to so wholly belong of right as to the countenance of Miss Kate.
Young Mr. Boyce's thoughts wandered easily from the image of the heiress to the less tangible question of her disposition, and, more particularly, of her attitude toward him. There were obscurities here over which a less sanguine young man might have bitten his lips. He had ventured upon recalling himself to mother and daughter very soon after the train left New York, and they had not shown any shadow of annoyance when he took a vacant chair opposite them and began a conversation which lasted, such as it was, through all the long journey. But now that he came to think of it, his share in that conversation had been not only the proverbial lion's, but more nearly that of a whole zoological garden. Mrs. Minster had not affected any especial reserve; it was probable that she was by nature a listener rather than a talker, for she had asked him numerous questions about himself and about Europe. As for Miss Minster, he could scarcely recall anything she had said, what time she was looking at him instead of at her book. And he had not always been strictly comfortable under this look. There had been nothing unfriendly in it, it was true, nor could it occur to anybody to suspect in it a lack of comprehension or of interest. In fact, he said to himself, it was eloquent with both. The trouble was, as he uneasily attempted to define it, that she seemed to comprehend too much. Still, after all, he had said nothing to which she could take the faintest exception, and, if she was the intelligent woman he took her to be, there must have been a good deal in his talk to entertain her.
Even a less felicitous phrase-maker than Horace Boyce could have manufactured pleasant small-talk out of such experiences as his had been. The only son of a well-to-do and important man in Thessaly, he had had the further advantage of inheriting some twenty thousand dollars upon attaining his majority, and after finishing his course at college had betaken himself to Europe to pursue more recondite studies there, both in and out of his chosen profession of the law. The fact that he had devoted most of his attention to the gleaning of knowledge lying beyond the technical pale of the law did not detract from the interesting quality of his observations. Besides listening to lectures at Heidelberg, he had listened to the orchestra swaying in unison under the baton of Strauss at Vienna, and to a good many other things in Pesth and Paris and Brussels and London, a large number of which could with propriety be described in polite conversation. And he flattered himself that he had discoursed upon these things rather cleverly, skirting delicate points with neatness, and bringing in effective little descriptions and humorous characterizations in quite a natural way.
Moreover, he said to himself, it had been his privilege to see America in perspective — to stand upon a distant eminence, as it were, and look the whole country over, by and large, at a glance. This had enabled him on his return to discover the whimsical aspect of a good many things which the stay-at-home natives took with all seriousness. He had indicated some of these to the two ladies with a light and amiably bantering touch, and with a consciousness that he was opening up novel ground to both his hearers.
Still — he wondered if Miss Minster had really liked it. Could it be possible that she belonged to that thin-skinned class of Americans who cannot brook any comment upon anything in or of their country that is not wholly eulogistic — who resent even the most harmless and obvious pleasantry pointed at a cis-Atlantic institution? He decided this promptly in the negative. He had met such people, but he could not associate them in his mind with the idea of great wealth. And Miss Minster was rich — incredibly rich. No doubt she was thinking, even while she listened to him, of the time when she too should go to Europe, and dazzle its golden youth with her beauty and her millions. Now that he thought of it, he had seen much that same look before on the face of an American heiress, on her return from a London " five-o'clock tea," at which she had met an eligible marquis.
Could it be that her thoughts ran, instead, upon an eligible somebody nearer home? He devoted himself at this to canvassing the chances of her fancy being already fixed. It was of little importance that nothing in their conversation suggested this, because it was a subject to which they naturally would not have alluded. Yet he recalled that Mrs. Minster had spoken of their great seclusion more than once. He had gathered, moreover, that they knew very few people in New York City, and that they had little acquaintance with the section of its population which is colloquially known as " society." This looked mightily like a clear field.
Young Mr. Boyce stopped to thrust his cane under a twisted branch which lay on the snow, and toss it high over the fence, when he reached this stage of his meditations. His squared, erect shoulders took on a more buoyant swing than ever as he resumed his walk. A clear field, indeed!
And now as to the problem of proceeding to occupy that field. Where was there a gap in the wall? Millions were not to be approached and gained by simple and primitive methods, as one knocks apples off an overhanging bough with a fence-rail. Strategy and finesse of the first order were required. Without doubt there was an elaborate system of defenses reared around this girl of girls. Mrs. Minster's reference to seclusion might have itself been a warning that they lived inside a fort, and were as ready to train a gun on him as od anybody else. Battlements of this sort had been stormed time and time again, no doubt; human history was full of such instances. But Mr. Boyce's tastes were not for violent or desperate adventures. To go over a parapet with one's sword in one's teeth, in deadly peril and tempestuous triumph, might suit his father the General: for his own part, it seemed more sagacious and indubitably safer to tunnel under the works, and emerge on the inside at the proper psychological moment to be welcomed as a friend and adviser.
Adviser! Who was their lawyer? The young man cast up in his mind the list of Thessaly's legal practitioners, as far as he could remember them. It seemed most probable that Benoni Clarke, the ex-district-attomey, would have the Minster business, if for no other reason than that he needed it less than the rest did. But Mr. Clarke was getting old, and was in feeble health as well. Perhaps he would be glad to have a young, active, and able partner, who had had the advantage of European study. Or it might be — who could tell? — that the young man with the European education could go in on his own account, and by sheer weight of cleverness, energy, and superior social address win over the Minster business. What unlimited opportunities such a post would afford him! Not only would he be the only young man in Thessaly who had been outside of his own country, the best talker, the best-informed man, the best-mannered man of the place — but he would be able to exhibit all these excellences from the favored vantage-ground of an intimate, confidential relation. The very thought was intoxicating.
Mr. Horace Boyce was so pre-occupied with these pleasing meditations that he overtook a man walking in the other track, and had nearly passed him, before something familiar in the figure arrested his attention. He turned, and recognized an old schoolmate whom he had not seen for years, and had not expected to find in Thessaly.
" Why — Reuben Tracy, as I live! " he exclaimed, cordially. " So you're back again, eh? On a visit to your folks? "
The other shook hands with him. " No," he made answer. " I've had an office here for nearly a year. You are looking well. I'm glad to see you again. Have you come back for good? "
"Yes. That's all settled," replied Mr. Horace, without a moment's hesitation.
The two young men walked along together, separated by the ridge of snow between the tracks. They had never been more than friendly acquaintances, and they talked now of indifferent topics — of the grim climatic freak which had turned late November into mid-winter, of the results of the recent elections, and then of English weather and politics as contrasted with ours. It was a desultory enough conversation, for each had been absorbed in his own mind by thoughts a thousand leagues away from snowfalls and partisan strife, and the transition back to amiable commonplaces was not easy.
The music of a sleigh-bell, which for some time had been increasing in volume behind them, swelled suddenly into a shrill-voiced warning close at their backs, and they stepped aside into the snow to let the conveyance pass. It was then that the expressman called out his cheery greeting, and that Reuben lifted his hat.
As the sleigh grew small in the near distance, Reuben turned to his companion. " I notice that you told him you weren't quite sure about staying here for good", he remarked. " Perhaps I was mistaken — I understood you to say a few minutes ago that it was all settled."
Horace was not to be embarrassed by so slight a discrepancy as this — although for the instant the reappearance of Jessica had sent his wits tripping — and he was ready with a glib explanation.
" What I meant was that I am quite settled in my desire to stay here. But of course there is just a chance that there may be no opening, and I don't want to prematurely advertise what may turn out a failure. By the way, wasn't that that Lawton girl? "
" Yes — Ben Lawton's oldest daughter."
Reuben's tone had a slow preciseness in it which caused Horace to glance closely at him, and wonder if it were possible that it masked some ulterior meaning. Then he reflected that Reuben had always taken serious views of things, and talked in that grave, measured way, and that this was probably a mere mannerism. So he continued, with a careless voice:
" I haven't seen her in years — should scarcely ' have known her. Isn't it a little queer, her coming back? "
Reuben Tracy was a big man, with heavy shoulders, a large, impassive countenance, and an air which to the stranger suggested lethargy. It was his turn to look at Horace now, and he did so with a deliberate, steady gaze, to which the wide space between his eyes and the total absence of lines at the meeting of his brows lent almost the effect of a stare. When he had finished this inspection of his companion's face, he asked simply:
"Well, of course, I have only heard it from others — but there seems to be no question about it— that she—"
"That she has been a sadly unfortunate and wretched girl," interposed Reuben, finishing the sentence over which the other hesitated. " No, you are right. There is no question about that — no question whatever."
" Well, that is why I spoke as I did — why I am surprised at seeing her here again. Weren't you yourself surprised? "
" No, I knew that she was coming. I have a letter telling me the train she would arrive by."
" Oh! "
The two walked on in silence for a minute or two. Then Horace said, with a fine assumption of good feeling and honest regret:
" I spoke thoughtlessly, old fellow; of course I couldn't know that you were interested in — in the matter. I truly hope I didn't say anything to wound your feelings."
" Not at all," replied Reuben. " How should you? What you said is what everybody will say — must say. Besides, my feelings are of no interest whatever, so far as this affair is concerned. It is her feelings that I am thinking of; and the more I think — well, the truth is, I am completely puzzled. I have never in all my experience been so wholly at sea.
Manifestly Horace could do nothing at this juncture but look his sympathy. To ask any question might have been to learn nothing. But his curiosity was so great that he almost breathed a sigh of relief when Reuben spoke again, even though the query he put had its disconcerting side:
" I daresay you never knew much about her before she left Thessaly? "
" I knew her by sight, of course, just as a village boy knows everybody. I take it you did know her. I can remember that she was a pretty girl."
If there was an underlying hint in this conjunction of sentences, it missed Reuben's perception utterly. He replied in a grave tone:
" She was in my school, up at the Burfield. And if you had asked me in those days to name the best-hearted girl, the brightest girl, the one who in all the classes had the making of the best woman in her, I don't doubt that I should have pointed to her. That is what makes the thing so inexpressibly sad to me now; and, what is more, I can't in the least see my way."
" Your way to what? "
" Why, to helping her, of course. She has undertaken something that frightens me when I think of it. This is the point: She has made up her mind to come back here, earn her own living decently, face the past out and live it down here among those who know that past best."
" That's a resolution that will last about three weeks."
" No, I think she is determined enough. But I fear that she cruelly underestimates the difficulties of her task. To me it looks hopeless, and I've thought it over pretty steadily the last few days."
" Pardon my asking you," said Horace, " but you have confided thus far in me — what the deuce have you got to do with either her success or her failure? "
" I've told you that I was her teacher," answered Reuben, still with the slow, grave voice. " That in itself would give me an interest in her. But there has been a definite claim made on me in her behalf. You remember Seth Fairchild, don't you? "
" Perfectly. He edits a paper down in Tecumseh, doesn't he? He did, I know, when I went abroad."
" Yes. Well, his wife — who was his cousin, Annie Fairchild, and who took the Burfield school after I left it to study law — she happens to be an angel. She is the sort of woman who, when you know her, enables you to understand all the exalted and sublime things that have ever been written about her sex. Well, a year or so after she married Seth and went to live in Tecumseh, she came to hear about poor Jessica Lawton, and her woman's heart prompted her to hunt the girl up and give her a chance for her life. I don't know much about what followed — this all happened a good many months ago — but I get a letter now from Seth, telling me that the girl is resolved to come home, and that his wife wants me to do all I can to help her."
" Well, that's what I call letting a friend in for a particularly nice thing."
"Oh, don't misunderstand me," said Reuben; " I shall be only too glad if I can serve the poor girl. But how to do it — that's what troubles me."
" Her project is a crazy one, to begin with. I wonder that sane people like the Fairchilds should have encouraged it."
" I don't think they did. My impression is that they regarded it as unwise and tried to dissuade her from it. Seth doesn't write as if he thought she would succeed."
" No, I shouldn't say there was much danger of it. She will be back again in Tecumseh before Christmas." After a pause Horace added, in a confidential way: " It's none of my business, old fellow; but if I were you I'd be careful how I acted in this matter. You can't afford to be mixed up with her in the eyes of the people here. Of course your motives are admirable, but you know what an overgrown village is for gossip. You won't be credited with good intentions or any disinterestedness, believe me."
This seemed to be a new view of the situation to Reuben. He made no immediate answer, but walked along with his gaze bent on the track before him and his hands behind his back. At last he said, with an air of speaking to himself:
" But if one does mean well and is perfectly clear about it in his own mind, how far ought he to allow his course to be altered by the possible misconceptions of others? That opens up a big question, doesn't it? "
" But you have said that you were not clear about it — that you were all at sea."
" As to means, yes; but not as to motives."
" Nobody but you will make the distinction. And you have your practice to consider — the confidence of your clients. Fancy the effect it will have on them — your turning up as the chief friend and patron of a — of the Lawton girl! You can't afford it."
Reuben looked at his companion again with the same calm, impassive gaze. Then he said slowly: " I can see how the matter presents itself to you. I had thought first of going to the depot to meet her; but, on consideration, it seemed better to wait and have a talk with her after she had seen her family. I am going out to their place now."
The tone in which this announcement was made served to change the topic of conversation. The talk became general again, and Horace turned it upon the subject of the number of lawyers in town, their relative prosperity and value, and the local condition of legal business. He found that he was right in guessing that Mr. Clarke enjoyed Thessaly's share of the business arising from the Minster ironworks, and that this share was more important than formerly, when all important affairs were in the hands of a New York firm. He was interested, too, in what Reuben Tracy revealed about his own practice.
"Oh, I have nothing to complain of," Reuben said, in response to a question. " It is a good thing to be kept steadily at work — good for a man's mind as well as for his pocket. Latterly I have had almost too much to attend to, since the railroad business on this division was put in my charge; and I grumble to myself sometimes over getting so little spare time for reading and for other things I should like to attempt. I suppose a good many of the young lawyers here would call that an ungrateful frame of mind. Some of them have a pretty hard time of it, I am afraid. Occasionally I can put some work in their way; but it isn't easy, because clients seem to resent having their business handled by unsuccessful men. That would be an interesting thing to trace, wouldn't it? — the law of the human mind which prompts people to boost a man as soon as he has shown that he can climb without help, and to pull down those who could climb well enough with a little assistance."
" So you think there isn't much chance for still another young lawyer to enter the field here? " queried Horace, bringing the discussion back to concrete matters.
"Oh, that's another thing," replied Reuben. " There is no earthly reason why you shouldn't try. There are too many lawyers here, it is true, but then I suppose there are too many lawyers everywhere — except heaven. A certain limited proportion of them always prosper — the rest don't. It depends upon yourself which class you will be in. Go ahead, and if I can help you in any way I shall be very glad."
" You're kind, I'm sure. But, you know, it won't be as if I came a stranger to the place," said Horace. " My father's social connections will help me a good deal " — Horace thought he noted a certain incredulous gesture by his companion here, and wondered at it, but went on — " and then my having studied in Europe ought to count. I have another advantage, too, in being on very friendly terms with Mrs. and Miss Minster. I rode up with them from New York to-day, and we had a long talk. I don't want anything said about it yet, but it looks mightily as if I were to get the whole law business of the ironworks and of their property in general."
Young Mr. Boyce did not wince or change color under the meditative gaze with which Reuben regarded him upon hearing this; but he was conscious of discomfort, and he said to himself that his companion's way of staring like an introspective ox at people was unpleasant.
"That would be a tremendous start for you," remarked Reuben at last. " I hope you won't be disappointed in it."
'' It seems a tolerably safe prospect," answered Horace, lightly. " You say that you're overworked."
" Not quite that, but I don't get as much time as I should like for outside matters. I want to go on the school board here, for example — I see ever so many features of the system which seem to me to be flaws, and which I should like to help remedy — but I can't spare the time. And then there is the condition of the poor people in the quarter grown up around the iron-works and the factories, and the lack of a good library, and the saloon question, and the way in which the young men and boys of the village spend their evenings, and so on. These are the things I am really interested in; and instead of them I have to devote all my energies to deeds and mortgages and specifications for trestle-works. That's what I meant."
" Why don't you take in a partner? That would relieve you of a good deal of the routine."
" Do you know, I've thought of that more than once lately. I daresay that if the right sort of a young man had been at hand, the idea would have attracted me long ago. But, to tell the truth, there isn't anybody in Thessaly who meets precisely my idea of a partner — whom I quite feel like taking into my office family, so to speak."
" Perhaps I may want to talk with you again on this point," said Horace.
To this Reuben made no reply, and the two walked on for a few moments in silence.
They were approaching a big, ungainly, shabby-looking structure, which presented a receding roof, a row of windows with small, old-fashioned panes of glass, and a broad, rickety veranda sprawling the whole width of its front, to the highway on their left. This had once been a rural wayside tavern, but now, by the encircling growth of the village, it had taken on a hybrid character, and managed to combine in a very complete way the coarse demerits of a town saloon with the evil license of a suburban dive. Its location rendered it independent of most of the restrictions which the village authorities were able to enforce in Thessaly itself, and this freedom from restraint attracted the dissipated imagination of town and country alike. It was Dave Rantell's place, and being known far and wide as the most objectionable resort in Dearborn County, was in reality much worse than its reputation.
The open sheds at the side of the tavern were filled with horses and sleighs, and others were ranged along at the several posts by the roadside in front — these latter including some smart city cutters, and even a landau on runners. From the farther side of the house came, at brief intervals, the sharp report of rifle-shots, rising loud above the indistinct murmuring of a crowd's conversation.
" It must be a turkey-shoot," said Reuben. " This man Rantell has them every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas," he added, as they came in view of the scene beyond the tavern. " There! Have you seen anything in Europe like that?" Let it be stated without delay that there was no trace of patriotic pride in his tone.
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