Ester Ried Yet Speaking
Part 2 out of 5
as old Nick himself, but he knows better than to be very ugly to me. I
can throw him in the gutter as easy as I could them young ones, and he
knows it. That's Dirk's father, that is! Ain't he a beauty?"
And again Mrs. Roberts uttered an exclamation of dismay, and part of her
terror went out in sorrow over the wrongs of a boy who had such a home
and such a father. What ought to be expected of him?
That interminable alley was conquered at last, and they emerged into
respectability on the broad avenue. Mrs. Roberts released her hold of
her protector's arm, and his new character vanished on the instant.
"You're here, mum," he said, with a saucy twinkle in his eye and a saucy
leer on his face. "Can you get yourself home from this spot, or shall I
borrow a wheelbarrow and tote you there?"
Much shaken with various emotions though she was, Mrs. Roberts forced
herself to laugh. She would not frown on his fun when it was not
positively sinful; he might not be aware that it was disrespectful; he
might never have heard the word.
"I know the way now, thank you; at least I think I do. Can you tell me
whether I take a green car or a yellow one to get to East Fifty-fifth
"You take a green one," he said, quietly, his character of protector
having returned to him with the question, which still showed her
dependence on him.
"Thank you," she said again, with great heartiness. "I shall never
forget your care of me." Her hand was in her pocket, and a bright coin
was between her fingers. She longed to give it to Nimble Dick; he had
saved her from so much this morning. And he was so miserably clad,
surely he needed help. A moment's reflection, and she resolutely
withdrew her hand. He should be paid by a simple hearty, "Thank you!"
this morning, for kindness rendered. He might not consider it a current
coin, but possibly it would be his first lesson in the courtesies of
Later in the day, when Mrs. Roberts was somewhat rested from her
morning's campaign, young Ried received a little note:--
Dear Mr. Ried,--I know the names of all the boys, and inclose you a
list. It is possible that you may fall in with some one during the day
who can impart knowledge concerning them. Anyway, I thought you would
like to know their names. Keep me posted, please, as to your success in
making their acquaintance. We are allies, remember.
Yours for the Master,
Mrs. E.L. Roberts.
Alfred Ried twisted the delicate note-paper thoughtfully in his hand, a
look of perplexity on his face. He felt committed for labor; glad was
he, very, yet perplexed. He did not in the least know where to commence.
Well, neither had this little lady; yet she had accomplished more in her
one day's acquaintance than he after a lapse of weeks. Either she had
found opportunities, or had made them. There must be chances; he would
be sure to keep his eyes open after this.
In the handsome house on East Fifty-fifth Street, where Mr. Roberts had
settled his bride, after a somewhat extended business tour, involving
months of absence, matters were in train for a cosy evening in the
library. That was the name of the beautiful room where the husband
and wife sat down together; but it was quite unlike the conventional
library. Books there were in lavish abundance, but there were also
pictures and flowers and a singing-bird or two, and an utter absence of
that severe attention to business details which characterizes most rooms
so named. Little prettinesses, which Mr. Roberts smilingly admitted did
not belong to a library, were yet established there, with an air of having
come to stay. "We will call it the library for convenience," the master
of the house said, "and then we will put into it whatever we please. It
shall be a conservatory, and a sewing-room and a lounging-room and
anything else that you and I choose to make it." And Mrs. Roberts
gleefully assented, and gave free rein to her pretty tastes. Flossy
Shipley had been wont to be much trammelled with the ways in
which "they" did everything; but Mrs. Evan Roberts was learning that,
in unimportant matters at least, they had a right to be a law unto
themselves. Perhaps it helped her, to be aware that a large class of
people were all ready to quote "Mrs. Evan Roberts" as authority on
almost any point of taste.
On the evening in question Mr. Roberts, in dressing-gown and slippers,
had drawn his lounging-chair to the drop-light, preparatory to a
half-hour of reading aloud. But it transpired that there was something
preparatory to that, or at least that must take the precedence. Certain
business telegrams followed him home, which required the writing of two
or three business letters.
"It will not take me long," he explained to his wife, "and they are not
complicated affairs, so I give you leave to talk right on while I
dispatch them." She laughed at this hint about her fondness for talk,
but presently made use of the privilege.
"Evan, what sort of a young man do you consider Mr. Ried?"
"Ried? Who? Oh, my clerk? The very best sort; a most estimable
fellow,--one of a thousand. By the way, did you tell him how you became
interested in that sister of his?"
"Not yet; I want to get better acquainted. But, Evan, do you know where
Hardly; on Third Avenue somewhere, I believe; or possibly Second. The
store register would show. Do you want his address!"
"Oh, I know _where_ it is; but I mean what sort of a place is it?"
Mr. Roberts slightly elevated his shapely shoulders.
"It is a boarding-house, where many clerks board; that tells a doleful
story to the initiated, I suspect. Poor fare and dismal surroundings;
still, it is eminently respectable."
"Where does he spend his Sabbaths?"
The rapidly-moving pen executed nearly two lines of handsome writing
before Mr. Roberts was ready to respond to this question.
"Why, at church, principally, I fancy. He is very regular in his
attendance at morning service, and the South End Mission absorbs his
afternoons. I suppose he goes to church in the evening; but since we
have been giving our attention to that evening mission I have not seen
"Ah, but, Evan, I mean the rest of the time; those little bits of
Sabbath time that are sacred to home. The twilight, for instance, or for
an hour in the morning. Do you know what sort of a place he has for
Nearly three more lines added to the paper; then Mr. Roberts raised his
"No, my dear, I don't. Now that you bring me face to face with the
question, it seems a surprising thing to say that I should not know where
a young man who has been for more than a year in our employ spends
his choice bits of time, but I don't."
"Then I want to tell you something about it. He has a dingy,
fourth-story back room; small, I fancy, from the way in which he spoke
of it, and not a speck of fire over! In such weather as this, how can a
young man read his Bible, or even pray, under such circumstances?"
Mr. Roberts laid down his pen and sat erect, regarding his wife with a
thoughtful, far-away air.
"Flossy," he said at last, "it is an immense question! You open a perfect
mine of anxiety and doubt. I have hovered around the edges for some
time, but have generally contrived to shut my eyes and refuse to look
into it, because I was afraid of what I might see; and because I did not
know--what to do with my knowledge. I have not been the working
member of the firm very long, you know, and my special field, until
lately, has been the other side of the ocean; but I have been at home
long enough to know that there are several hundred young men in our
employ who are away from their homes; and knowing, as I do, the price
of board in respectable houses, and knowing the salaries which the younger
ones receive, it does not require a great deal of penetration to discover
that they must have rather dreary homes here, to put it mildly. The fact
is, Flossy, I haven't wanted to look into this thing very closely, because
I do not see the remedy. Look at our house, for instance, with its three
hundred clerks, we'll say, who are away from their friends; suppose
one-half, or even one-third, of them are miserably situated, what can
"Are they not sufficiently well paid to have the ordinary comforts of
"Doubtful. The truth is, what you and I call the ordinary comforts of
life takes a good deal of money; and in the city, rents are high, and
the boarding-house keepers have hard struggles to make their
expenditures meet their income, and they carry economy to the very verge
of meanness,--some of them fairly over the verge, I presume; and the
result is cheap food, badly cooked,--because well-cooked food means
high-priced help,--and cold rooms and dreariness and discomfort
everywhere. Now what can be done about it? Then our house is only
one of hundreds, and in many of these hundreds they employ more help
and give less wages than we; in fact, I know that some of our clerks are
looked upon with envy by a great many young men. We never have any
trouble in supplying vacancies. People swarm around us, because we have
the reputation of being liberal. We are not liberal, however; sometimes I
am inclined to think we are hardly fair, yet there is nothing I can do. I
am a junior partner, with a great deal of the responsibility, and a
third of the voting power, and I can't get salaries raised. I've been
working at that problem at intervals for a year, and have accomplished
very little. Do you wonder that I keep my eyes as closely shut as I
His wife's face wore a thoughtful, not to say perplexed look; she seemed
to have no answer ready; and, after waiting a moment for it, Mr. Roberts
bent himself again to the task of getting his business letters answered.
Before he had written one more line, her face had cleared. She
"Evan, when you talk about four hundred clerks, and multiply that by
hundreds of houses and more hundreds of clerks, I cannot follow you at
all. It is not that I am not impressed with the number,--I am,--it
appalls me; but I don't want to be appalled; I want to be helpful.
Perhaps just now there is nothing that I can do for the hundreds, so I
want to narrow my thoughts down to what, possibly, I can do. What, for
instance, can be done towards getting a good young man, like Alfred
Ried, into a place that will be just a little bit like a home; that will
give him a spot where he can study his Bible in comfort, and invite a
friend with whom he wants to pray, or whom he wants to reach and help
in any way? That isn't a huge problem. Can't it be solved?"
Her husband smiled.
"He is only one of thousands," he said.
"Yes, I know; but he is _one_ of thousands. Since we cannot reach
thousands, shall we fail to reach one? Evan, I am only one of thousands,
but, but how would you argue about me?"
Mr. Roberts laughed again.
"You are one out of thousands and thousands!" he said, emphatically.
A line more, and he signed the firm name with an unusually fine
"There! I've accomplished one letter. What do you want to do, Flossy?"
"I want Mr. Ried to have a room where he can invite one of my boys
occasionally, and make him comfortable, and do for him what we cannot
with our rooms; do for him what only a young man can do for a young man.
I don't clearly know what I want further than that, but I see that one
thing as a stepping-stone. Remember, I want all your thousands to have
just as pleasant rooms, and I would like to help to bring it about, but
I don't just now see the way."
"Do you see the way to this?"
"No, but doesn't it seem as though we ought to be able to accomplish so
"It does, certainly. What is your desire, Flossy? Do you want him to
have a room in our house?"
She shook her head.
"No, that would not further my plan for those boys. I would like to have
him here, and it would be a good thing for him,--at least I think it
would; but I can see things which he could accomplish for these young
men, set by himself, in a different part of the city. Besides, Evan, I
have other plans for our rooms, entirely different ones, and some of
them I am afraid you will think are very strange."
He answered the doubt with a smile that said he had no fears of her or
"What a little schemer it is!" he said, looking down on her with fond,
proud eyes. "Who would have imagined that she could plot, and plot so
mysteriously? I used to think she was a very open-hearted woman."
"WHAT WOULD YOU DO, DEAR?"
She joined in his laugh albeit, there was a tender look in her eyes.
After a moment, she said, gently:--
"It is not scheming, Evan; I am only trying to set about the work for
which I have been chosen. I'll tell you how it all came to me. I was
reading--my morning reading, you know--after you had gone; taking little
dips here and there in the fashion that you think is so unsystematic,
and I came upon this verse: 'He is a chosen vessel unto me,' you know,
about Paul? Well, it came to me with a sudden sense of awe and beauty,
the being chosen of God to do a great work. I stopped reading to think
it out; what a grand moment it must have been to Paul when he realized
it. And I began to feel almost sorry that we lived in such different
times, with no such opportunities! I stopped right in the midst of my
folly to remember that I was as certainly chosen of God as ever Paul
was; for assuredly I did not come to him of myself, nor begin to love
him of myself, and therefore he must indeed have chosen me; and I
wondered whether probably each Christian had not a work to do as
definite as Paul's--a work that would be given to no other, unless
indeed the chosen one failed. I did not want to fail, and I asked God
not to let me. Then, of course, I set to wondering what my work, or my
part of some other person's work, could be. It was the morning after you
had told me that about Ester Ried. You cannot think how that impressed
me. I could not get away from the wonderment as to how her work was
prospering, and whether there were chosen ones enough, or if there might
possibly be a little place for me. I couldn't settle anything, and
finally I decided to look at Paul's work a little while. Of course, it
was not reasonable to suppose that the duties of the great apostle had
anything in common with my bits of effort; still, I said, the directions
given him may help me a little. And Evan, what do you think was the
first thing I found? Why, this: 'The God of our fathers hath chosen
thee, that thou _shouldst know his will_.' Surely, so far, the
things for which both he and I were chosen were parallel. I looked
further: 'And see that Just One.' That was the very next. Was not I,
too, chosen for that? 'Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty.' I
said over the beautiful promise to assure myself that it was true, and
went on: 'And shouldst hear the voice of his mouth.' Was it not strange,
Evan? Certainly I shall hear my King speak, often and often, when I get
home. Only think of it; so far Paul was not ahead of me. I hurried to
find another reference to Paul's work, and I found this; let me read it
to you." Her bit of dainty sewing was suddenly pushed one side, and up
from the depths of the rose-lined work-basket came a small,
plainly-bound Bible, much marked; a rapid turning of the leaves, and the
eager disciple read: "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to
make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast
seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." Now,
Evan, you know the veriest child can be a witness if he knows anything
about the facts; and I do certainly know some wonderful things about
Jesus to which I could witness; and besides, isn't it reasonable to
suppose that he will appear to me every day with things for me to
witness to? And then I read this; Paul sent to the Gentiles, you know,
but for what: 'To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive
forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified, by
faith that is in me.' Evan, was there ever a more wonderful work to do
in the world than that? And yet I cannot tell you how it made me feel to
discover, or at least to realize, that a great deal of it was my work!
Of course, I naturally began to ask myself, what Gentile was there for
me to reach? Whose eyes must I try to open? Do you know, that very
afternoon I met Mr. Ried, and heard of those boys? They interested me
from the first, and what he told me about his sister increased the
interest. Then when I saw them!--Evan, if ever boys were in the power of
Satan they are; and to think that they may have an inheritance among
them which are sanctified! This morning when I saw where some some of
them lived, and imagined how they lived, I fell stunned for a moment. It
seemed to me impossible. What means could possibly be found of
sufficient power to fit them for such an inheritance? And then directly
came the closing words of the commission: 'Through faith that is in me.'
Evan, God will save them; and I think he will let me help."
"Amen!" said Mr. Roberts, and his voice was husky. When his wife was in
one of her exalted moods he always admired her with a sort of reverence.
He had been for years an earnest worker. He carried business plans and
business principles into the work; he studied cause and effect, and
calculated and expected certain results to follow certain causes, like a
mathematical problem; not that he by any means forgot the power of
faith, or in any sense attempted to do his work alone. He was a
Christian who spent much time on his knees; but little Flossy brought
so much of the childlike, unquestioning spirit into her work, that
sometimes he stood in awe, not knowing whether he could follow her. It
was not so much a mathematical problem to be worked out, as it was the
faith that can remove mountains.
"As a little child relies
On a strength beyond his own:
Knows he is neither strong nor wise,
Fears to stir a step alone--"
Mr. Roberts often found himself quoting these lines when his wife gave
him glimpses of her heart; and at such times he had no hesitancy in
deciding that the steps she took were not alone, but the Lord was with
The postman's ring broke in on their quiet.
"I hope there are letters from home to-night," Mrs. Roberts said, "real
long ones. It is a week since we have heard."
"And I ought to hope that they would require a first reading in
private," her husband answered, as he seized his neglected pen. "It is
the only way in which these business letters will get answered. I find
the temptation to talk to you irresistible."
One letter! but that was of comfortable dimensions and weight.
"It is from Marion," Mrs. Roberts said, delight in her voice, after the
first glance at the familiar writing. She was presently lost in its many
pages, and the business of letter-writing went on uninterruptedly for
Mrs. Marion Dennis had not forgotten her fondness for her pretty little
Flossy: nor forgotten that,--softly-innocent little creature though she
was, she possessed a wisdom far above those who are credited with having
keen insight; even a wisdom so subtle, and withal so tender, that its
source could only be Infinite Wisdom. So she, in company with many
others, was learning to turn to the friend so much younger than herself,
as one in whom she could safely confide.
"Dear little Flossy," so the letter ran, "I suppose, though you should
live to be a white-haired old lady, sitting with placid face and fluted
cap and spectacles, in your high-backed arm-chair, in the most treasured
corner mayhap of some granddaughter's choicest room, I, writing to you,
would still commence 'Dear little Flossy.' That I have to cover it from
prying eyes by the dignified and respectable 'Mrs. Evan Roberts,' is
almost a matter of amusement to me. I fancy I can see you making a
journey through some of the Chautauqua avenues, picking your way
daintily towards Palestine, bending lovingly over the small white stones
that mark the village of Bethany,--a pink on your cheek, born, as I
thought, of the excitement of being among those tiny photographs of the
wonderful past, but born in part, I now believe, of the fact that Mr.
Evan Roberts joined us in our walk. Oh, little mousie, how quiet you
"Well, many things have since transpired. We are old married women, you,
and Ruth, and Eurie and I. I suppose the contrast in our lives,--the
outward portion of them, I mean,--is still as strongly marked, perhaps
more so, than it was when we were in Chautauqua together. We were girls
then; we are matrons now, and with the taking on of that title, Ruth and
I took special and great responsibilities. To-night it rains. Mr. Dennis
has been called to the upper part of the city,--away out to Springdale,
in fact,--to see a sick and dying man, and I am alone and almost lonely.
If I could summon any one of the three to my aid and comfort I would. I
am almost as lonely as I was on some of those evenings in the old
boarding-house. Still there are differences; the smoky old stove is not;
a summer warmth floats through the house, born of steam; no ill-smelling
kerosene lamp offends your aesthetic friend to-night, but the softest of
shaded drop-lights sheds a halo around me. Isn't that almost poetic?
Moreover, oh blessed thought! I have no examination papers to prepare,
no reports to make up; nothing to do but visit with you. Also, I will
admit just to you, that this is another and most blessed difference
between this and my lonely past. At almost any moment now I may hope
for Dr. Dennis' ring, and when he comes all sense of loneliness will
instantly depart. Ah! Flossy, dear Flossy, this is such a difference as
even you cannot appreciate! You had your mother and father, and all your
dear home friends, and I had no one; and besides,--here I hesitate, lest
you may be too obtuse to understand the reasoning,--you have only added
Mr. Roberts to your circle of treasures. He is grand and good, I know,
and I like him without even a mental reservation; but, my dear, I have
added Dr. Dennis! Can human language say more?
"Nonsense aside, sweet little woman, God has been very good to you and
me. Yet, Flossy, do you remember how, during those last months in which
we were together, I fell into the habit of telling you a great deal
about the thorns, and admitted to you once that they pricked less when
they had felt your smoothing touch? I want to tell you something. Our
Gracie--I am so sorry for her, yet I don't know what to do. She is
living a most unhappy life, and of course she shadows our lives also. I
told you, dear, about Prof. Ellis. He is still trying to convince poor
Gracie, that I, being her step-mother, must be her natural enemy;
reminding her that before I came into the family her father was entirely
willing to receive his calls, and allowed her to accept his attentions.
Don't you see, it isn't strange at all that the poor little girl should
believe him, and turn from me? She has many judicious helpers in her
father's congregation. There are those who sigh over her almost in my
hearing. 'Poor Gracie' they say, 'how changed she is! She used to be so
bright and happy. There is something unnatural in these second-mother
relations; all high-spirited children rebel.' Imagine such talk helping
Gracie! Meantime, what do you suppose can be Prof. Ellis' motive? I
cannot think that he cares for her; I almost do not believe that there
is enough purity left in him even to admire a pure-hearted young girl;
certainly not one with such high ideals and earnest ambitions as Gracie
had. 'Why does she admire him?' I fancy I hear you asking. My dear, she
doesn't; she thinks she does, and at seventeen such thoughts sometimes
work irreparable mischief; but left alone, one of these days she would
make the discovery that she was flattered by his attentions, because he
is nearly fifteen years older than she, and is brilliant in conversation,
and quoted as the finest musician in the city. I wish I knew more things
about him; what I do know shows me plainly enough the sort of man
he is; but with these guileless young things it seems as though one had
to unmask wickedness very thoroughly before they will believe that it
is anything but gossip or misrepresentation. He has gone away for a
six weeks' vacation; I don't know where, nor does Dr. Dennis. Gracie
knows, but does not enlighten me. Flossy, dear, could you give me
a little wholesome advice, do you think? I wonder, sometimes, whether
I was not too complacent over my proposed duties. Such schemed as I
had! I was going to be the blessedest step-mother that girl ever had.
That would not be saying much, possibly. Don't we all incline to think
that the second mothers must be wrong, and the sons and daughters
poor abused darlings? But I loved Gracie, you know, and she seemed to
love me, and to be so happy over the thought of our near relationship.
There is very little happiness from any such source during these days.
Gracie has retired into dignity. She can be the most dignified young
woman on occasion that I ever beheld. She is not rude to me, on the
contrary she is ceremoniously polite; calls me Mrs. Dennis, and all
that sort of thing, when necessity compels her to call me anything;
but she speaks as little as possible; sits at table with us three times
a day, when she cannot secure an excuse for absence that her father
will accept; says 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir,' obediently to him, and 'No,
ma'am, thank you,' to me, and that is the extent of our conversation.
Generally her face is pale and her eyes red, and at the first possible
moment she begs to be excused, and retires to the privacy of her own
room and locks her door. Her father has stopped her music lessons; at
least she preferred to have them stopped rather than take lessons of
any other person, so she practices no more. She continues her German
and French, and secures good reports from the professors, but there is
an air of weariness and dreariness about everything she does that
makes one alternate between a feeling of deep pity for her, and a
desire to box her ears or shut her up in a corner until she can behave
herself. As a rule, however, I am sorry for her. I was young once
myself. I was undisciplined, I had no mother, and I had a thousand
wild fancies, any one of which might have ruined me. What do you think
you would do, dear, if Mr. Roberts had a daughter, and you were her
mother? You are all in a flush, now, and have lain down this sheet and
said aloud: 'What an idea! Marion does say the most absurd things!'
Well, then, if you were Marion Dennis, and stood before God in the
place of mother to Grace Dennis, what do you imagine you would do?
I'll tell you my policy; I am uniformly cheerful in her presence--gay,
if I can make gayety out of anything; not toward her father, you
understand, because I can fancy that might irritate her. I really try
to be gay toward Gracie herself; but can you imagine an attempt to be
cheery with a tombstone? I study as much as I can, her tastes, in the
ordering of dinner and desserts, and arrange the flowers that I know
she likes best, and in short try to do all those little bits of nice
things that I feel certain you would do in my place; and just here I
may as well own that I learned these small prettinesses, studying you;
never should have thought them out for myself. Flossy, Dr. Dennis is
one of the most patient and long-suffering of men, but it is very hard
for him to be patient with poor Gracie; harder than it is for me;
first, because I know by personal experience just what a turbulent
young creature a miss of seventeen or eighteen can be, and secondly,
because it is upon me her displeasure falls most heavily, and that
naturally he resents.
"Why am I writing all this to you? I don't, know, childie, really, save
that I remember what a curious way you have of telling Jesus all about
your friends and their trials, and I remember with great comfort that
you are my friend. Don't imagine me as miserable; I can never be that so
long as Christ is the present Helper that he is to me now; and you do
not need to be told that I daily thank him for giving me my husband.
But I think you will understand better than many would how earnestly
I desire to fill the place of mother, to my bright young motherless
Gracie, with her dangerous beauty and her dangerous talents and her
capacity for being miserable. Oh, I want to do more than my duty; I
want to love her with all my heart, and to have her love me. If it were
not for that man, who always hated me, and who, I believe in my heart,
has sought her out and is pressing his attentions upon her because he
sees a possibility of stinging me through her, I might hope to fill the
place in her heart that I thought I could."
The letter closed abruptly at this point, and was finished a few days
afterwards in a different strain, giving plenty of home news, and being
full of the brightness which always sparkled in Marion's letters; but it
was the first two or three pages to which Mrs. Roberts turned back, and
which she thoughtfully re-read. Then she interrupted the busy pen:--
"Evan, are not the business letters nearly done? I want to read this to
you, and then I want to talk to you."
"Delightful prospects, both of them," he said with energy, as he added
the last hurried line, signed and delivered to his wife to enclose in
its envelope, then pushed aside writing materials and sat back to enjoy.
"It isn't all delightful," his wife said, shaking her head. "I did hope
that poor Marion was going to have a few years of rest. Her life has
been such a hard one."
"TREMENDOUS FACTS!" HE SAID.
It is well that Mrs. Marion Dennis felt entirely safe in her friend
Flossy's hands, for her affairs were very thoroughly talked over that
evening, and sundry conclusions arrived at.
One question Mrs. Roberts asked her husband, at the close of the
conference, which apparently had nothing to do with Marion Dennis'
"Evan, do you know Dr. Everett?"
"Everett? Let me think--yes, I know of him; a young physician,
comparatively, who had not been here long, and has made his mark."
"In what direction?"
"Several, perhaps; but I have heard of him chiefly in the line of his
profession. He was accidentally called to attend a young lady belonging
to a very wealthy family out in Brookline. I say accidentally--that is a
reverent way we have of speaking, you know; of course, I mean
providentially. The nursery governess in the family was sick, and this
Dr. Everett, who had fallen in with her somewhere, volunteered to cure
her. He was calling on her one morning when the sick daughter, who, by
the way, had been given up by her physician, was taken suddenly and
alarmingly worse; in the emergency Dr. Everett was summoned, and while
they waited for the regular physician he succeeded in doing such good
service that he inspired the mother with confidence; she became anxious
to put the case entirely into his hands, which was done, and the young
lady recovered, and Dr. Everett's position, professionally, was assured.
Isn't that an interesting little item for you? He is said to have marked
success; and, of course, since the Brookline occurrence his practice is
largely among the wealthy. How has your attention been called to him?"
"My protector this morning said he was a 'swell' doctor, who was
attending that Calkins boy. I wondered if he did it because he loved
Christ. He might be a helper. I want to call on that sick boy to-morrow
if I can arrange it. I think I must take some one with me."
"You may take me with you," her husband said, emphatically.
However much trips through alleys with Nimble Dick might be conducive to
that young man's moral development, Mr. Roberts felt that his wife had
Thus it transpired that, dressed in the plainest, quietest garb which
her wardrobe would furnish, Mrs. Roberts went to the alley the next
morning accompanied by her husband.
In one sense it was a mistake that the first call in the alley should
have been made on the Calkins family. It was calculated to give Mrs.
Roberts mistaken ideas as to the manner in which poor people lived. A
bare enough room, certainly, not even a bit of carpet laid before the
bed, but it was a clean room. Floor and window and cupboard-door were as
clean as water could make them; and the bed, while it looked hopelessly
hard and dreadful to Mrs. Roberts, was really a pattern of neatness and
purity to every dweller in that attic. There was a straw tick, covered
with a dark calico spread, which did duty as a sheet, and the boy who
lay on it was covered by a patched quilt that had been mended, and was
clean. Wonderful things these to say of such a locality! Mr. Roberts
suspected it, and Dr. Everett knew it. That gentleman was bending over
his patient when the two guests arrived, and vouchsafed them not even a
glance, while the dark-haired, dark-eyed, homely, decently-dressed girl
gave Mrs. Roberts a seat on the one chair which the room contained, and
set a stool for her husband that had been made of four old chair legs
and a square board.
Sallie Calkins was somewhat flurried by this unexpected call. She had no
idea who the people were, nor for what they had come. A vague fear that
they might be in some way connected with her brother's "place" at the
printing-office, which he was in such fear of losing that his night had
been a restless one, made her hasten to say, in a tremulous voice:--
"The doctor thinks he will be well in a little while. It isn't a bad
break, he says, and Mark wants to keep his place. He thinks, maybe, some
of the alley boys would keep it for him, if you would be so kind."
She was evidently addressing Mr. Roberts, but she looked at Flossy. The
fair, sweet face, that gave her such sympathetic glances, seemed the one
to appeal to. Mr. Roberts, however, discerned that he was mistaken for
the employer, and immediately dispelled the idea by asking where the boy
worked, and how the accident had happened.
"It was the elevator, sir," she said, eagerly. "The chain broke, and it
went down with a bang, and Mark was on it, and he rolled off somehow,
he doesn't know how; and he has been that bad that he couldn't tell me
if he had. He was kind of wild, sir, all night, and talking about his
"Was there no one but you to be with him during the night?" Mrs. Roberts
asked. "Where is the mother?"
"We've got no mother, ma'am; there is only Mark and me--and father,"
she added, after a doubtful pause. "But father was not at home last
night. Oh, I didn't need no one to take care of Mark. I wouldn't have
"And he likes to have you take care of him, I am sure. What do you give
him to eat? He will need nourishing food, I think; beef teas and broths,
and nice little tempting dishes, made with milk, perhaps. Are you his
cook, too? I wonder if you wouldn't like to have me show you how to make
good things for him? I've learned how to make some nice dishes that sick
Before the bewildered girl could answer, the doctor turned abruptly
from his long examination of his patient, and gave the guests the first
attention he had vouchsafed them. The truth was this man had had
some unfortunate experiences with district visitors, and had perhaps
an unreasonable prejudice against them as a class. "I can't help it,
ma'am," he said to Mrs. Saunders, when she was taking him to task
one day. "There are exceptions, of course, at least we will hope there
are; but if you had seen some of my specimens, you would be the first
to wish an infusion of common sense could be introduced among them.
As a rule, they offer a tract where they should give a loaf of bread or
a bowl of broth; and wedge their advice and reproofs in with every
helpful movement. It is like so many doses of medicine to the patient;
to be endured because he is at their mercy, and can't help himself. They
mean well, the most of them; but the trouble is, we have a way of
making district visitors out of people who have nothing to do, and who
have never learned that 'all the nations of the earth were made of one
Something in Mrs. Roberts' tones or words seemed to interest him, and
he turned toward her.
"Does this alley belong to you?" he asked, abruptly, his mind still full
of the district visitor.
She regarded him with a puzzled air for a moment, then answered
"I don't think it does; if it did I would have some things ever so
Dr. Everett laughed; and Mr. Roberts came forward and introduced
"My wife has hardly answered you fully," he said. "I am under the
impression that she desires to adopt a certain portion of this alley; at
least I have heard of little else since last Sabbath afternoon. She is
in search of some stray sheep who have been put under her care."
"Ah," the doctor said, turning quickly to her, "a Sabbath-school
teacher? Is this young man one of your scholars?"
"No," she explained; "but she had heard of him while inquiring where
one of her boys lived, and she had called to see if she could help in
any way. Dirk Colson was the boy who, they told her, lived near this
The eyes of the trim sister brightened.
"He lives on the next square," she said. "Oh, ma'am, are you his
teacher, and do you care for him? I'm so glad."
"He is a favorite of yours, is he?" the doctor asked, looking from one
speaking face to another, and seeming immensely interested in the
"No, indeed!" the girl said, quickly. "He's horrid! But I'm sorry for his
sister; and she wants Dirk to get on, and he never does get on; but I
thought maybe such a kind of a teacher could help him."
There was such intense and genuine admiration in the girl's voice for
the vision of loveliness before her that Dr. Everett could not help
"It doesn't seem unlikely," said he, with significance; and added: "Who
is this Dirk Colson, who seems to be an object of interest?"
"He is one of the worst boys in the alley, sir; sometimes I think he is
the very worst, because he is cross as well as hateful; but Mark is
always kind of sorry for him, and says he has such a bad father he
can't help it. And Mart--that's his sister--she is a friend of mine, and
she feels bad about Dirk, but she can't do nothing; he ain't a bit like
The last words were spoken tenderly, and the sisterly eyes turned toward
the boy on the bed, and obeying a sign from his eyes she went over to
him. The doctor plied his questions:--
"Have you recently taken a class, madam? and is their general reputation
as encouraging as this special scamp of whom we are hearing?"
His words almost jarred on Mrs. Roberts; she had already prayed enough
for her boys to have a sort of tender feeling for them--a half desire to
cover their faults from the gaze of the indifferent world. Did Dr.
Everett represent the indifferent world, or did he love her Master? She
wished she knew.
"There is nothing encouraging about them," she said, with grave
earnestness, "save the facts that they are made in the image of God, and
that he wants them to 'turn from the power of Satan unto God, that they
may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them which are
A rare flash of intelligence and appreciation greeted her now from those
fine eyes bent so scrutinizingly on her.
"Tremendous facts!" he said. "Glorious possibilities! 'Himself hath said
it.' I claim kinship with you; I am an heir of the same inheritance."
He held a hand to each, and they were cordially grasped. Then Dr.
Everett proceeded to business.
"There is enough to do," he said; "everything is lacking here; there is
severe poverty, united to the most scrupulous tenderness and the most
tender love on the part of this brother and sister. I stumbled on the
case, and will do professionally all that is needed. And I have a friend
who would undoubtedly come to the rescue, but she is crowded just now. I
shall be rejoiced to report to her a helper. Do you know Joy Saunders?
Well, I wish you did; she is one whom you could appreciate. She is
young, though, and without a husband to guard her, and there are some
places to which she cannot come."
"Has she learned that important fact?" asked Mr. Roberts, with a
significant smile. Then some explanation seemed necessary. "This lady,"
he said, "tried the alley alone yesterday, and lost her way, and went
lower down,--quite near to Burk Street, I imagine."
"And what happened?" The quick question and the doctor's tone suggested
possibilities not pleasant.
"Oh, she met one of her new recruits,--as hard a boy, so one of the
policemen on this beat tells me, as there is in the row,--and pressed
him into service to escort her back to civilization; and strange to say,
the fellow did it without placing any tricks."
The doctor turned on the small lady a curious glance.
"I think you may be able to do something, even for Dirk Colson," he
"Do you know him?"
He laughed over the eagerness of the question.
"Never heard of him before. I was only thinking of our friend's
description of his awfulness. Ah, whom have we here?"
For the door had opened abruptly, and a pair of great blue eyes, set in
a frame of tawny hair, all in a frizzle, had peered in on them. The
vision was clothed in garments so torn the wonder was that they stayed
on at all, and there was a general look of abject poverty about her to
which Sallie Calkins, with all the bareness of her lot, was a stranger.
She stood for just a moment, as if transfixed by astonishment at the
unwonted sight in the room, then turned and sped away as swiftly and
silently as she had come.
"That is Dirk's sister," Sallie Calkins said, coming forward, her homely
face aglow with shame. "She isn't a bad girl, ma'am, she doesn't mean to
be, but she has a dreadful time. Her mother is sickly, and has to go out
washing, times when she isn't able to sit up; and there'll be days when
she can't hold up her head; and the father is bad, ma'am, and drinks,
and swears, and sells things for drink till there ain't nothing left to
sell; and Mart hasn't anything to mend her clothes with, and she doesn't
know how, anyway; and she hasn't even got a comb to comb her hair
with, her father he took it to sell; and everything there is horrid, and
Dirk, he's awful."
It was strange, she could not herself account for it; but with every
added word of misery that set poor Dirk Colson lower and lower in the
scale of humanity, there seemed to come into this woman's heart, and
shine in her face, an assurance that he was to be a "chosen vessel unto
The doctor was watching her again, curious, apparently, to see how this
pitiful appeal for forbearance in judging of poor Mart affected her, and
something in his face made her say, speaking low, "an inheritance among
them which are sanctified."
"Amen!" he said. And there came to Mrs. Roberts a feeling that this
earnest prayer, for the second time repeated by two men who prayed,
was a sort of seal from the Master.
She turned away from both gentlemen then; the tears were very near the
surface. She must do something to tone down the beating of her heart.
Sallie was at hand, and she went with her to another corner of the room,
and a low-toned conversation was carried on, scraps of which floated
back to the gentlemen in the form of "sheets," "grape jelly," "mutton
broth," "a soft pillow," and the like.
"I feel my patient growing better," the doctor said, with satisfaction.
"Is there no father here?" Mr. Roberts asked.
The doctor shook his head, but answered:--
"There is the most pitiful apology for a father that I ever saw,--a mere
wreck of a man! Spends his time in a sort of weak drinking, if I may
coin a phrase to describe him; he actually uses no energy even in that
business. Just staggers around and bemoans his lot; a most unfortunate
man, in his own estimation, with whom the world, through no fault of
his, has gone wrong. He is never downright intoxicated, and never free
from the effects of liquor. He is much like a wilted leaf in the hands
of this boy and girl. They could pitch him out of the window without
much difficulty, and if the fall did not kill him he would shed tears
and say it was a hard world. But now, what do we see, when the name of
father is so dishonored,--made a wreck, as it were? Why, the order of
nature is reversed, and these children take on the protective. They are
father and mother, and he is the weak, sinning child. The way that that
boy and girl have worked to keep their miserable father from starving or
freezing is something to astonish the very angels. They shield him, too;
nobody who wants to reach their hearts must blame him. They are a
study!--as different from the other inhabitants of the alley as the sky
is different from that mud-hole down there. It isn't a good simile,
either. There is no religion in their efforts. They are the veriest
"How do you account for the development?"
The doctor shook his head:--
"I don't account for it; it is abnormal. There must have been a mother
who left her impress. I can't learn anything about the mother--she died
when the girl was an infant; but I would like to know her history. I
venture to assert that she belonged to Christ, and that a gleam of the
divine pity that she saw in him, and loved, left its impress on her
children. That is somewhat mystical," he added, smiling. "I rarely talk
in this way; it must have been your wife who set me off."
"But she is the most practical and energetic of beings!"
"Ay, so are the angels, I fancy; and make us think of heaven directly we
hear the rustle of their wings. Has your wife been a Christian long?"
"Barely two years since she began to think of these things."
"I thought as much. She impresses me as one who is being led; who does
not choose to go alone; has not learned how, indeed. A very few
Christians never learn how, and with them the Lord does his special
work. Well, sir; I must go. I'm glad to have met you, and glad to leave
you here. Good morning!"
"AND SHE ALWAYS TRIED."
Other business was transacted that morning which brought results. A
curious habit of Mrs. Roberts',--one which, perhaps, most strongly
marked the difference between her ways of working and those of other
people,--was that of appealing to the person at hand for information on
any subject which chanced to be the one prominent in her mind at the
Where other and more systematic persons would have said, "He is not the
one to ask about this matter! there is no reason for supposing that he
has any knowledge in this direction!" Mrs. Roberts would say: "I cannot
be sure that he may not be able to give just the information which I
need. In any case, what harm will it do to try?" And she always tried.
It was on this principle that she arrested Dr. Everett's speedy
departure with a question:--
"Dr. Everett, are you familiar with boarding-houses for young men?"
Something like a vision swept instantly before the doctor, in which he
saw the long line of young men, and the long line of boarding-houses,
in the world, and he laughed with eyes and lips, the question seemed
so queerly put.
"With how many of them, madam?" There was amusement in his voice,
but there was also curiosity,--he wanted to know what this original little
lady was in search of.
"One would do, if it were of just the right stamp. I'll tell you what I
want,--a nice, quiet, comfortable _home_ sort of place, with a small
room, capable of being warmed, a single bedstead, with a passably
good bed, and a moderate rate of board. Are not those modest enough
"Not at all! They are preposterous! A boarding-house to which one could
conveniently apply the word '_home!_' _Fire_ in a young man's room!
He is expected to enjoy freezing in a city; and if he come from the
country, he should be grateful for the privilege! But the idea of
calling for a good bed! That is the wildest suggestion of all! Has she
ever boarded, Mr. Roberts?"
"Not at a boarding-house, at least," said that gentleman, enjoying the
But Mrs. Roberts looked grave.
"Are you serious?" she asked, gently. "Is there no chance in this great
city for a Christian young man to have the ordinary comforts of common
life; just a little quiet room where he can pray, and where he can
invite some tempted soul, and try to help him? Doesn't it seem all
The laugh was gone from the doctor's face. There was a look of keen
interest and genuine respect.
"How many young men are you thinking about? There are many Christians,
I believe, among that class,--poor young men, away from home,--and I
have reason to fear that their chances for comfortable retirement are
very scarce. I have thought about the problem somewhat how to help
them. In the concrete, I don't see the way. Of how many are you
"I am willing to think about them all," Mrs. Roberts said,--and now it
was her turn to laugh,--"but I am panning for just one. I cannot work
in great ways, but I thought I might help one."
"Exactly! Mr. Roberts, if every Christian in our city would undertake to
help _one_, the problem would be solved. Well, there is one
boarding-house to which the word 'home' may properly be applied; and
there is one small room on the third floor vacated yesterday. I wonder
if the Master wants it for your young man? It seems to me if there is
any one thing more than another that we need in that house just now it
is a Christian young man. Of what type is your friend? Will he help or
hinder a gay young scamp much sought after by Satan?"
"He will try hard to help," said both Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. And before
they parted the doctor had taken Mr. Ried's address, and promised to
call on him and negotiate the matter.
"That plan will work in two ways," said Mrs. Roberts, gleefully. "Mr.
Ried will be in the same home with, and somewhat under the influence
of that grand doctor. Isn't it splendid that we asked just him?"
And her husband smilingly assented, and added that he should not have
thought of such a thing as asking him.
On her way down town, Mrs. Roberts had dropped a letter in the mail,
which also brought results. It read thus:--
"DEAR MARION,--I have time for but a line, for I want to catch the
morning mail. I have such a nice plan. Suppose you let your Gracie come
and stay with me for a few weeks. You know she always liked me a little,
and Evan and I think we can make it pleasant for her. I will try to get
her so much interested in seven boys whom I know that she will forget
all about Professor Ellis. Mr. Barnwell a confidential clerk in the
store (old and gray-headed), will go to-morrow to transact some business
with papa. Evan will give him a letter of introduction to Dr. Dennis. He
expects to return on Saturday, and if you will trust Gracie to us, and
she is willing to come, she might travel in Mr. Barnwell's care, and we
would meet her at the depot. Dear Marion, we should like it ever so
much: and I have prayed about it all the morning, and cannot help
thinking that Jesus likes it too."
Thus it came to pass that when Mrs. Roberts took her seat on the next
Sabbath afternoon before her seven boys at the South End Mission, a
vision of loveliness, such as the mission had not often seen, came in
with her, and looked with wide-open eyes on all the new and strange
sights and sounds about her. A very pretty creature was Gracie Dennis.
Her eyes had lost none of their brightness, although they had shed some
tears during her recent experiences. They were fairly sparkling to-day,
for the great city into which she had come for the first time was like
fairyland to her; albeit, she had passed through scenes that afternoon
which bore no resemblance to her idea of fairyland. What the boys
thought of her could only be determined from their stares. Let us hope
that her presence had nothing to do with their conduct, for never, in
all the annals of the South End Mission, had seven boys comported
themselves as did those before whom Mrs. Roberts sat that winter
Nimble Dick, as if to be revenged for his unintentional courtesy of the
Monday before, placed his ill-kept feet on the seat in front of him, in
alarming proximity to Mrs. Roberts' shoulders, and chewed his tobacco,
and defiled the floor with its juice, and talked aloud, and was in every
sense disgusting. Neither was Dirk Colson one whit behind him. The
spirit of entertainment was upon him. He mimicked Mr. Durant's somewhat
hoarse tones, exaggerating the imitation, of course, until it was
ludicrous. He imitated the somewhat shrill tenor, and the nasal tones of
Deacon Carter, who was doing good work with a class of meek-looking
women. He even imitated Mrs. Roberts' soft, low voice, as she essayed to
interest them in Moses and some of the wonders which he performed.
Vain hope! Struggle as she might to be intensely dramatic in her
narrative, she did not for a moment gain the ascendency.
"Moses?" interrupted Nimble Dick in the very midst of one of her most
earnest sentences. "Let's see! that was the old fellow who swallowed the
serpents, wasn't it? I should have thought he would have been used up."
"You don't know nothin'," interrupted Stephen Crowley, with a nudge at
Dirk that the latter pretended tipped him entirely off the seat, and
left him a limp heap at Mrs. Robert' feet.
"He don't know nothin'!" repeated Stephen, addressing Mrs. Roberts in
a confidential tone. "'T was the serpents swallowed Moses, wasn't it?
Question is, How did he get around again?"
"Quit that!" came at this point from Dirk Colson, in his fiercest tone.
"Look here, you Bill Snyder, if you try pinching on me again I'll pitch
you over the head of old Durant in less than a second!"
What was the poor, pale little woman to do? With one boy crawling about
the floor and two others in a hand-to-hand fight, with the rest in a
giggle, of what use to try to talk to them about Moses? You should have
seen Gracie Dennis eyes by that time! Horror and disgust were about
equally expressed, and rising above them both, a look of actual fear.
Mr. Durant came over to attempt a rescue, his face distressed beyond
"Mrs. Roberts, this is too much. I am sure that patience has ceased to
be a virtue. They have never gone so far before. I suspected mischief
to-day. I have heard from several of them during the week, and never
anything but evil. I am prepared for it; there is a full police force on
guard in the next room; what I propose is to have every one of these
fellows taken to the lock-up. It will be a lesson that they richly
deserve, and may do them good."
Whispering was not one of Mr. Durant's strong points. He meant to convey
secret intelligence of carefully-laid plans to Mrs. Roberts alone. In
reality not a boy in the class but heard every word. They were startled
into silence. "A full police force!" They were not fonder of the lock-up
than are most boys who deserve that punishment. They were skilful in
escaping the hands of policemen. They had not believed that the South
End Mission would resort to any such means. They recognized in the
Mission an attempt to do them good; and, without any effort at reasoning
it out, they had by tacit consent decided that policemen and lock-ups
and Christian effort did not match. They had chuckled much over the
stationing of "little Duffer" at the door on guard. Any two of the
strong young fellows were a match for him, and in the event of a riot,
which they would like no better fun than to help get up, how many choice
spirits all about the room would join them if given the word, and in the
delightful confusion which would result how easy to escape from sight
and hearing while Policeman Duffer was summoning aid! They had felt
comparatively safe. But "a full police force" detailed for duty was
quite another thing. They felt caught in a trap. Nimble Dick got up in
haste from the floor and took his seat, and the boys looked from one to
another with ominous frowns. There were reasons why none of them cared
to come before the police court just now. What was to be done?
While they waited and considered, Mrs. Roberts did it. Her hand was on
Mr. Durant's arm, and directly the loud whispering ceased, she spoke in
low, but distinctly emphatic tones:--
"I beg of you, Mr. Durant, do no such thing. I would dismiss every
policeman at once, with thanks, if I were you. We shall not need their
help. I give you my word of honor that the boys will be quiet during the
rest of the session, not because they are afraid of policemen, but
because they respect me, and do not want to see me frightened or
annoyed. Please don't let a policeman come near us."
I am not sure which was the more astonished, the superintendent or the
boys. He returned to his desk with the bewildered air of one whose
deep-laid schemes had come to naught in an unexpected manner without
giving him time to rally; and the boys looked at one another in
perplexity, and were silent.
Mrs. Roberts turned to them with quiet voice:--
"Boys," she said, "you have spoiled the story that I was going to tell
you. I have lost my place, and there isn't time to go back and find it.
I am sorry, for I think you would have liked the story. I spent a good
deal of time this week trying to make it interesting. But never mind
now, there is something else I want to say. Will you spend the hours
from eight to ten with me to-morrow evening at my house? I brought
cards with me for each of you, containing my address, that you might
have no trouble in finding the place."
Whereupon she produced the delicate bits of pasteboard, with her name
and address handsomely engraved thereon.
Nimble Dick took his between his soiled thumb and finger, turned it over
in a pretence of great interest, and finally endeavored to "sight" it
with his eye, as a workman does his board.
"What'll you do with us if we come?" Stephen Crowley asked, fixing what
was intended as a wise look upon her, the leer in his eye hinting that
he was smart enough to see another trap, and meant not to fall into it.
Mrs. Roberts laughed pleasantly.
"It is an unusual question, when one invites company," she said; "but I
don't mind answering it. For one thing I thought we would have an oyster
stew and some good coffee together. Then, if any of you like music, I
have a friend with me who is a good singer; and I have a few pictures I
should like you to see, if you cared to; and--I don't know whether you
are fond of flowers, but some of you may have a mother, or sister at
home who is, and the greenhouse is all aglow just now. Oh, how can I
tell what I should do to entertain guests? Just what seemed to me to be
pleasant at the time. That is the way I generally do. May I expect you?"
The boys stared. This was a new departure, indeed! How much of it did
she mean? What was she trying to do? Was it a trap? Still she had
rescued them from the police force, and they had not expected that, for
every boy of them knew that he had treated her shamefully. Timothy
Haskell was generally the quietest one of the group, and perhaps the
most straightforward. He went directly to the point of the question that
he saw in the eyes of the others.
"What do you do it for?"
"Yes, that's the talk," said Nimble Dick. "What do you want of us?"
"Why, I want you to spend the evening with me. Didn't I tell you? If you
really mean to be friends with me of course I must invite you to my
home. What _could_ I want except to have a nice time? I'm trying to
make you like me. Of course I want you to like me. How can we have
pleasant times together unless you do?"
"I HAVE BUT TO TRY AGAIN"
"Pleasant times like we've been having to-day?" said Nimble Dick, with a
If he meant to disconcert her, he missed his point.
"No!" she said, promptly, "we haven't had a bit nice times to-day, and
as for liking you, I haven't done so to-day at all. If I had the least
idea that you meant often to treat me as you have this afternoon I
should know it was of no use. But I cannot think that you will continue
to treat a lady in such a manner, particularly when I am really trying
to make a pleasant time for you. There is no object, you see, in
This plain bit of truth, for the time being so commended itself to the
judgment of the boys that they regarded the speaker gravely, without
attempting a reply. She was not moralizing; at least it was unlike any
moralizing that they had ever heard. It seemed to be simply a bit of
practical common sense. Not a boy would have owned it, but each felt,
just at that moment, a faint hope that she would _not_ decide it
was of no use, and give them up. Straightforward Tim Haskell had one
more question to ask:--
"Why didn't you let them bring in their police and settle us?"
Their teacher hesitated just a moment. Would the "whole truth" do to
speak in this case? Could she hope to make them understand that she saw
in it a step lower down, and that thus degraded before her eyes, she
feared her possible hold on them would be gone forever? No; it wouldn't
do! A little, a _very_ little piece of the truth was all that she
could treat them to. A faint sparkle in her bright eyes, which every one
of them saw, and she said:--
"I was afraid you might not be excused in time to keep your engagement
with me to-morrow evening."
They all laughed, not boisterously, actually an appreciative laugh. They
were bright; there is hardly a street boy living by his wits who isn't.
They recognized the humor hidden in the answer, and enjoyed it.
Then the superintendent's bell rang. That bell always did seem to have
an evil influence on those boys. Indeed, Mrs. Roberts was known to
remark, a few Sundays afterwards, that if there _were_ no opening
and closing exercises in the Sabbath-school, her work would be easier;
that street boys did not seem to have one element of devotion in them,
and needed to be kept at high pressure, in order to be able to control
The thought is worthy of study, perhaps. It is just possible that our
opening and closing exercises are too long drawn out even for those who
are not street boys.
Be that as it may, the little spell which Mrs. Roberts had been able for
a few minutes to weave around her boys on this particular Sabbath, was
broken by the sound of the bell. The boys returned to their memories of
insult, as they regarded the police force. They muttered sullenly among
themselves about "traps" and "sells," and "guessed they wouldn't get
caught here again;" and Mrs. Roberts, seeming not to hear, heard with a
How angry they looked! Even Nimble Dick's usually merry face was clouded
over. What a curious thing it was that even they had their ideas of
propriety, and felt themselves insulted! Was it an instinct, she
wondered--a reminder that there was in them material for manhood?
Would they ever, any of them, be men--Christian gentlemen? It seemed
almost too great a stretch for even her imagination. As she moved in her
seat her delicately-embroidered, perfumed handkerchief fell to the
floor. Mrs. Roberts was used to young men--mere boys, even--whose
instinctive movement would be to instantly restore it to her. Not a boy
before her thought of such a thing. She had not expected it, of course.
Yet she wondered if the instinct were not dormant, needing but the
suggestion. It was a queer little notion, worthy of Flossy Shipley
herself, who, from being continually busy about little things, had come
to the conclusion that nothing anywhere was little; that the so-called
trifles, which make up many lives, had much to do with the happiness of
other lives. Was it worth her while to try to teach these street Arabs
to pick up fallen handkerchiefs? She differed from many Christian
workers, in that, in her simplicity, she really thought it was.
There was a lull just at that moment. A hymn had been announced, but
the organist's note-book had been mislaid, and was being sought after.
It could disturb no one if Mrs. Roberts tried her little experiment. She
looked longingly at Dirk Colson, but his brows were black and his eyes
fierce; this was no time to reach him. Nimble Dick looked much more
approachable. She determined to venture him:--
"Mr. Bolton," spoken in her sweetest voice, "I have dropped my
"Anybody with half an eye could see that, mum; and a mighty dirty spot
you picked out for such a nice little rag to lie in."
This was her only response. Then the discomfited experimenter told
herself that she was a blunderer. How could the poor fellow be expected
to know what she meant? Why had she not _asked_ the service from
him? She would try again.
Would he be kind enough to pick it up for her? It was long afterwards
before Mrs. Roberts could think of his answer without a sinking heart.
Fixing bold, saucy eyes on her, he spoke in deliberate tones, loud
enough to be heard half-way across the room:--
"Why, pick it up yourself, mum! It is as near to you as it is to me, and
you don't look weakly."
She picked it up, her poor cheeks burning, but she did not forget it.
Various after-school conferences told their different stories.
"Well!" Mr. Durant said, stopping in the act of mopping his hot forehead
to shake hands with her, "Mrs. Roberts, I honor your courage. Those boys
were simply fearful to-day; I really feared some outbreak that would be
hard to quell. I'm afraid we shall have to give them up. Yes, I know how
you feel: but you haven't been here to see what we have borne from them.
All sorts of teachers have been tried. We have given them the best
material we had, both men and women, and every one has failed. Then
you actually want to try it for another Sabbath! Well, I'm glad of it. Oh,
_I_ don't want to give them up; it makes my heart ache to think of
it; but if we can't keep them in sufficient order to get any benefit,
nor find a teacher who is willing to hold on to them, what else is there
for us to do? But that last complaint I needn't make so long as you
'hold on,' need I?" This last with a genial smile. "Well, God bless you;
I couldn't begin to tell you how much I hope you will succeed."
But his face said: "However, I know you won't."
He turned from her and said as much to young Ried:--
"She is in earnest, Ried, and she has resources; but she won't catch
them, simply because they don't mean to be caught; they come here to
make trouble and for nothing else. Just look at the way they have
performed to-day--worse than ever, and they never had a better teacher.
I've watched her, and I believe she knows how. I'll tell you what it
is, Ried, we must hold on to her, and when she gives up those boys we
must secure her for that class of girls down by the door. I really think
we have a prize."
Now, if he had but known it, Mrs. Evan Roberts meant to teach no other
class at the South End Mission save those boys.
"Flossy Shipley!" This was Gracie Dennis' exclamation; when she was very
much excited, she went back to the old name. "What _are_ you trying
to do with those horrid boys? and how can you endure their impudence? I
never saw anything like their actions in my life, and I thought I had
seen bad boys. You look completely worn out, and no wonder. I shouldn't
think Mr. Roberts would let you do this. What good can you do such
"My dear Gracie, don't you think that Jesus Christ died to save them?"
"Well!" said Gracie, hesitatingly. It was a favorite phrase with her, as
it is with many people when they don't know what to say next.
"And don't you think he wants them saved? And will he not be pleased
with even my little bits of efforts if he knows that my sincere desire
is to save these souls for his glory?"
"But what I mean is, what good can you do them so long as they act as
they do now? They didn't listen to a word you said, so as to get any
good out of it."
"I don't know that, dear, nor do you. Don't you think the Holy Spirit
sometimes presses words on people that they do not seem to be heeding?
In any event, that is a part with which I have nothing to do. I tried;
and if I failed utterly I have but to try again. It isn't as though
there were some good teacher ready to take them. Nobody will make a
second effort. Now there is one thing I can certainly do. I can keep on
making efforts; who knows but some of them may bear fruit? By the way,
Gracie, I want ever so much of your help."
"Mine?"' said Gracie, with wide-open eyes. "I don't know how to help
people; I'm not good." And her face darkened in a frown,--some
unpleasant memories that went far toward proving the truth of that
statement coming to mind just then. After a moment she spoke in a
somewhat more gentle tone: "Don't count on me, Flossy, for help about
those boys. They frighten me; I never saw such fellows. I couldn't help
wondering what--papa would have said to them."
Between the "wondering" and the noun there had been an observable pause.
Mrs. Roberts suspected that the thought in Gracie's mind was rather what
Mrs. Dennis, who was supposed to have much knowledge of boys, would
have thought of them. But since her arrival Gracie had studiously avoided
any reference to her stepmother, and Mrs. Roberts had humored her folly.
"Never mind, you can help them; and when you begin to realize that, you
will forget your fears."
"Do you expect to see one of the creatures to-morrow evening? What in
the world would you do with them if they did come?"
"I'm not sure that I _expect_ them. I only hope for them. As to what to
do with them, I trust to you to help answer that question. I want to
give them an idea of what a nice time is."
"I cannot help," said Gracie again, but she was _interested_, and
referred again and again to the subject, cross-questioning Mrs. Roberts
as to her plans and hopes, until that lady gave a satisfied smile to the
thought that her seven boys had begun their work.
The first part of this conversation was held while they waited in one of
the class-rooms for Mr. Ried to give in his report before joining them.
The waiting suggested to Gracie another question.
"Who is this Mr. Ried, who seems to have us in charge?"
"He is one of the clerks from the store, which accounts, in part, for
his attendance on us. But I am interested in him for other reasons. He
had a wonderful sister; that is, she was a wonderful Christian; she died
when quite young, but one might be ready to go to heaven early if
one had accomplished as much as she did. By one of those strange
arrangements, which I should think would go far toward making observing
people believe in a special Providence, her life, or I might almost say
her death, was the means of changing the current of my husband's life.
He says he was a gay young fellow; a member of the church, but giving
just as little attention to religion as many do whom you and I know. An
accident to one of his family held him for several weeks in the town
where this Ester Ried lived; and her physician, with whom he became
acquainted, introduced him to her. It seems she was very much interested
in young men, in their Christian development. He went to see her several
times; and, to use his own expression, she first made him realize that
there was such a thing as zeal, and then she set it on fire. What she
had begun in life she finished in her death. Evan attended her funeral
services, and the walls were hung with Bible texts of her selection. The
most wonderful texts! All about Christian work, and about being in
earnest, because the time was short. Evan says he began to understand,
then, that the service of Christ was first, best, and always.
"Wasn't it a singular Providence that led him under the influence of
that young girl during the closing weeks of her life? Only think, he has
been doing her work ever since,--doing it, possibly, in ways that she
could not compass. That is one reason why I am so much interested in
those boys. It seems to me as though they were her boys. Did I tell you
that her heart went out especially after the neglected? I learned about
the boys through Mr. Ried. He was but a child when his sister died, and
yet she succeeded in so enthusing him with her ideas that he is all the
time trying to carry out her plans. She had some wonderful ones. This
idea of inviting the boys, socially, I had from her. Do you see how
plainly she is working yet, though she has been in heaven so long?"
"Do you think," asked Gracie Dennis, a timid, gentle sound to her voice,
"that all Christians ought to put religion 'first, best, and always,' as
your husband said? I fancied that some were set apart to do a special
"We are all set apart, dear, don't you think? Given to Him to use as
He will. The trouble is that so many of us take back the gifts, and use
our time and our tongues as though they were our own."
"Our _tongues_!" repeated Gracie, amazement in her voice.
"Why, yes; didn't you give Him your tongue when you gave Him yourself?
And yet you are fortunate if you have not dishonored Him with it many a
Said Gracie, "What a queer way you have of putting things."
Then came Alfred Ried in haste, and apologizing for the long delay.
Gracie Dennis, watched him curiously; listened critically to his words.
Was it to be supposed that this young man put religion "first, best,
and always"; and considered his tongue as given to the Lord? Alfred bore
the scrutiny well. He took very little notice of Miss Gracie, being
entirely absorbed with another matter. He had settled opinions about
Mrs. Roberts now, from which he would not be likely to waver. He had
seen much of her during the week, and he knew she had not been idle. She
had given him much valuable information concerning the boys in whom he
had been interested all winter; and whom she had known for a week. Also
he was aware that Sally and Mark Calkins had seen much of her, to their
great benefit. She had made him her messenger on one occasion, and he
had seen Sally Calkins take from the basket the clean, sweet-smelling
sheets that were to freshen her brother's bed, and bestow on them
rapturous kisses, while she murmured, "I'd walk on my knees in broad
daylight through the gutter to serve her,--that I would."
"Sheets aren't much, I suppose," moralized the young man, as he walked
thoughtfully homeward. "People with much less money than she has must
have furnished them. It is thinking about things that makes the
difference between her and others."
But he had not quite found the secret. The main difference between her
and many other people lay in the fact that she set steadily about doing
the things she thought of that would be nice to do.
On the whole, young Ried was fully prepared to sympathize with Mr.
Durant's opinion, that the South End Mission had secured a prize. Not
that he was very hopeful over those boys. He felt that their conduct,
under the circumstances, showed a depth of depravity which was beyond
the reach of Mission schools; but it was a comfort to think that good
things were arranged for them if they had but chosen to receive. He
began at once to talk about them.
"Mrs. Roberts, they are worse than I had supposed. I am afraid that your
patience is exhausted."
Her answer was peculiar.
"Mr. Ried, I want you to spend to-morrow evening with me. I have invited
my boys, and I depend on you and Gracie here to help entertain them."
"Are you equal to such formidable work as that?" asked Gracie, with a
He did not respond to the smile; he was looking at Mrs. Roberts,
studying her face as one bewildered with the rapidity of her moves.
"I want to be," he said, with feeling; "I want to know how to work, and
I'm learning. Mrs. Roberts, I moved to my new boarding-house last
evening, and my room is a perfect little gem. There is an illuminated
text in it, and all around it is twined an ivy, growing,--don't you
think! Hidden, you know, behind the frame in a bottle; and the text is
one of my sister's treasures. Isn't that a singular coincidence?"
"It is very nice," said Mrs. Roberts, with satisfied eyes. She still
made much use of that little word.
"And, Mrs. Roberts, I asked one of your boys to come in this evening
and see my room."
"I WANT THEM TO GET USED TO PARLORS."
"Those two people can think and talk of nothing but those dreadful boys,"
said Gracie to herself, half annoyed and wholly interested. She found
herself that very evening turning over the music, with the wonderment in
her mind as to what she could sing that they would be likely to care
for, provided one of them appeared, which thing she did not expect.
But I have not told you of all the discussions had that day. The boys
went their various ways, their minds also busy with the events of the
afternoon. Dirk Colson and Stephen Crowley went off together; not that
they were special friends, but their homes lay near together. For the
distance of half a block they walked in silence; then Stephen Crowley
spoke his mind:--
"Nimble Dick wasn't near as smart to-day as he thinks he was, accordin'
to my way of thinkin'."
"He was meaner than dirt!" burst forth Dirk, fiercely. "To go back on
her like that, after she had saved us from a row with the police, ain't
what I believe in. Why couldn't he have picked up the rag, seeing she
wanted him to? That's what _I_ say. I'd a done it myself if she had
give me the chance."
"That there Dick Bolton can be too mean for anything when he sets out,"
said Stephen, with a grave air of superiority. "I don't go in for
anything of that kind myself. We wasn't none of us much to boast of; but
Dick, he went too fur. I say, Dirk, what do you s'pose all that yarn
means about to-morrow night? And what be we goin' to do about it? Dick,
he said it was all a game to get hold of us somehow, and he wasn't goin'
to have nothin' to do with it."
Had Stephen Crowley desired exceedingly to secure Dirk's vote in favor
to the proposed entertainment he could not, at that moment, have chosen
a better way. Dirk tossed his thick mat of black hair in a defiant
fashion and answered:--
"He needn't have a thing to do with it, so far as I care. I don't know
who'll miss him; but if he thinks he's got all the fellows under his
thumb, and they're goin' to do as he says, I'll show him a thing or two.
_I'm_ a goin' to-morrow night. I don't care what it is, nor what it
is for. She was nice and friendly to us to-day, and I'm willin' to trust
her to-morrow. I shall go up there and see what she does want. It can't
kill a fellow to do that much."
"Then I'm a goin', too," declared Stephen, with decision. "Dick, he
thinks there won't none of us go if he don't; and I'd just like to show
him that he must get up early in the mornin' if he wants to keep track
If Dirk Colson needed anything to strengthen his resolution, there was
material in that last sentence which supplied it. He had long chafed
under the control of Dick Bolton; here was a chance to assert
superiority. He even, just at that moment, conceived the brilliant idea
of supplanting Dick--running an opposition party, as it were.
What if he should get every fellow in the class to promise to go, and
Dick, the acknowledged leader, should find himself left out alone in the
cold. The thought actually made his grim face break into a smile. Thus
it came to pass that the most efficient worker for the success of the
Monday evening entertainment, so far at least as securing the presence
of the guests, was Dirk Colson.
In Mr. Roberts' mansion preparations for receiving and entertaining the
hoped-for guests went briskly forward. Preparations which astonished
the young guest already arrived.
"Are you really going to let them come in here?" she asked, as she
followed Mrs. Roberts through the elegant parlors, and watched her
putting delicate touches here and there.
"Certainly; why not? Don't you open your parlors when you receive your
"I don't think we have such peculiar friends on our list," Gracie said,
with a little laugh; and then, "Flossy, they will spoil your furniture."
"If one evening in the Master's service will spoil anything it surely
ought to be spoiled," Mrs. Roberts answered, serenely.
"But, Flossy,"--with a touch of impatience in her voice,--"what is the
use? Wouldn't the dining-room answer every purpose; be to them the most
elegant room they ever beheld, and be less likely to suffer from their
The busy little mistress of all the beauty around her turned to her
guest with a peculiar smile on her face, half mischievous and wholly
sweet, as she said:--
"I want them to get used to parlors, my dear; they may have much to do
with them, as well as with dining-rooms."
"They are more likely to have to do with penitentiaries and prisons,"
Gracie said; but she abandoned discussion, and gave herself to the
pleasure of arranging lonely flowers in their lovely vases.
There was a divided house as to the probability of the guests
appearing,--Mr. Roberts inclining to the belief that some of them would
come, while Gracie was entirely skeptical. Mrs. Roberts kept her own
counsel, neither expressing wish nor fear, but steadily pushing her
As a matter of fact, the entire seven appeared together, promptly, as
the clock struck eight.
At the last moment Dick Bolton, the usual leader, finding himself in a
minority of one, not to be outwitted, protested that he had not the
least notion of staying away; of course he was going, and good-naturedly
joined the group.
I wonder if you have the least conception of how those boys looked? The
ideas of some people cannot get below nicely-patched clothes, carefully
brushed boots, clean collars, and neatly arranged hair.
Clean collars! Not a boy of them owned a collar. No thought of brushing
their worn-out, unmended boots ever entered their minds. Their clothes
were much patched, but in many places needed it still.
Stephen Crowley had made a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to put his mass
of hair in order. Most of the others had not thought even of that. Why
should they? Poor Dirk, you will remember, if he had thought of it, had
no comb with which to experiment. It is doubtful if many of the others
were any better off in this respect.
Imagine the seven standing, a confused, grinning, heap, in the centre of
Mrs. Roberts' large and brilliantly-lighted hall!
She came forward to welcome them, shaking hands, though they made no
attempt to offer a hand in greeting. She had to grasp after each. She
essayed to introduce Gracie; not one of them attempted a bow.
"Come this way," Mrs. Roberts said, "and take seats." Then she led the
way into the long, bright, elegantly-furnished, flower-decked room.
They followed her in a row. Midway in the room they made a halt. They
caught a view of themselves--full length at that--revealed by the great
mirrors. They had never seen themselves set in contrast before. They
could not sit in a row, for the easy chairs and sofas, though plentiful,
had the air of having been just vacated by people who had left them
carelessly just where they had chanced to sit.
It required diplomacy to seat those boys. When at last Stephen Crowley
dropped into one of the great pillowy chairs, he instantly sprang up
again, and looked at it doubtfully.
Was the thing a trap? How far down would it sink with him? This was too
much for Nimble Dick, even under the present overpowering
circumstances--he laughed. His hostess blessed him for that laugh. The
horrible stiffness was somewhat broken, and all were seated.
Just at that moment came Alfred Ried, hurriedly, like one who had
intended promptness and missed it.
"All here ahead of me!" he exclaimed, "Mrs. Roberts, I beg your pardon.
At the last moment I went in search of Dr. Everett; there was serious
illness in a house next door, and I happened to know just where he was."
During this address he was shaking hands with his hostess, his manner
easy and graceful, as one used to it all. Then he crossed the room, that
wonderful room, treading down those flowers on the carpet as though he
had no fears of breaking their stems.
"Good evening, Miss Dennis," he said, and he was bowing in a manner that
Dirk Colson was confident he could imitate. Then he turned to the boys,
"How are you, Haskell? By the way, Crowley, I called on you to-day at
the office; sorry not to find you in."
"Mrs. Roberts, allow me?" And he wheeled one of the easy chairs to the
spot where that lady was standing.
"How well he enters into the thing," said Gracie Dennis to herself,
looking on in admiration at this young man, who, still so young, was
adapting himself to circumstances that might well have embarrassed older
heads than his. He plunged into talk with the boys, making them answer
questions. He had come but a few moments before from Mark Calkins',
stopped there with a message from Dr. Everett; and these boys knew Mark
and Sallie and the worthless father, and all the more or less worthless
neighbors who ran in and out, and young Ried had a dozen questions to
ask. His quick-wittedness, and the ease with which he made talk to these
young men who lived in such an utterly different world from himself,
surprised his hostess very much.
Even she did not know to what an exalted pitch his enthusiasm and
excitement reached; though he had flashed a pair of most appreciative
eyes on her when she gave him her invitation for the evening. Here was
actually his sister Ester's darling scheme being worked out before his
eyes! Not only that, but he was being called upon to help. Ester had
wanted him to grow up to undertake just such efforts as these; and only
last week they had seemed to him so altogether good and noble and so
impossible to try. Yet here he was helping try them! No wonder Alfred
Ried could talk.
It had been determined in family council that Mr. Roberts must absent
himself. He was in the house, indeed--no further away than the library,
ready for call in event of an emergency; but it was judged that another
stranger, and such a formidable one as the head of the house, must be
avoided for this one evening. As for Mr. Ried, _would_ they remember
that he was not much older than some of them, and that he was not a
rich young man living on his income, but was earning his living by daily
work? and would they note the contrast between themselves and him?
This was what their hostess wondered. A few moments and then came a
summons to the dining-room. Seated at last, though one of the poor
fellows stumbled over a chair, and barely saved himself from falling.
If you could have seen that dining-table, the picture of it would have
lingered long in your memory. The whitest and finest of damask table
linen; napkins so large that they almost justified Dick Bolton's
whisper, "What be you goin' to do with your sheet?" china so delicate
that Gracie Dennis could not restrain an inward shiver when any of the
clumsy fingers touched a bit of it, and such a glitter of silver as even
Gracie had never seen before.
One thing was different from the conventional tea-party. Every servant
was banished; none but tender eyes, interested in her experiment, and
ready to help it on, should witness the blunders of the boys. So the
hostess had decreed, and so instructed Alfred and Gracie. The
consequence was that Alfred himself served the steaming oysters with
liberal hand, and Gracie presided over jellies and sauces, while Mrs.
Roberts sugared and creamed and poured cups of such coffee as those
fellows had never even _smelled_ before. If you think they were
embarrassed to the degree that they could not eat, you are mistaken.
They were street boys; their lives had been spent in a hardening
atmosphere. Directly the first sense of novelty passed away, and their
poorly-fed stomachs craved the unusual fare served up for them, the
fellows grinned at one another, seized their silver spoons, and dived
into the stews in a fashion that would have horrified every servant in
How they ate! Oysters and coffee and pickles and cakes and jellies!
There seemed no limit to their capacities; neither did they make the
slightest attempt to correct their table manners. None of them paid any
outward attention to their "sheets," although Alfred and Gracie spread
theirs with elaborate care; they leaned their elbows on the table, they
made loud, swooping sounds with their lips, and, in short, transgressed
every law known to civilized life. Why not?
What did they know about civilized life?
Nevertheless, not one movement of young Ried escaped the notice of some
He tried still to carry on a conversation; though the business of eating
was being too closely attended to on all sides to let him be very
Gracie studied _him_, and was not only interested in his efforts, but
roused to make some attempts herself. What could she talk about with
such people? School? The Literary Club? The last concert? The course of
lectures? The last new book that everybody was reading? No, not
everybody; assuredly not these seven.
On what ground _was_ she to meet them?
Yet talk she must and would. Mr. Ried should see that she at least
_wanted_ to help.
"LET US BE FASHIONABLE."
One feature of the hour was not only entirely new to the boys, but gave
them a curious feeling, the name of which they did not understand. When
the last one sat back in his chair, thereby admitting himself
vanquished, Mrs. Roberts, looking at the young man who sat at the foot
of the table, said:--
"Will you return thanks?"
What did that mean? To be sure they had heard of thanking people, but
even _they_ were aware that it was an unusual thing for persons to
demand thanks for themselves. They watched; behold, the young man bowed
his head, and these were the words he spoke:--
"Dear Saviour, we thank thee for the joys of this evening. We pray thee
to teach us so to live that we may all meet some day in our Father's
The boys looked at one another, then looked down at their plates. Their
sole experience of prayer was connected with the South End Mission. To
meet it at a supper-table was a revelation. Did the people who lived in
grand houses, and had such wonderful things to eat, always pray at their
supper-tables? This was the problem which they were turning over in
Returning to the parlor, Gracie went at once to the piano. She had spent
a good deal of Monday, settling the question of what to play, and had
chosen the most sparkling music she could find. I am anxious to have it
recorded, that, all uncultured as they were, these boys neither talked
nor laughed during the music, but appeared at least to listen. It was
Dirk Colton who sat nearest to the piano, and who listened in that
indescribable way which always flatters a musician.
"Do you like it?" Gracie asked, running off the final notes in a tinkle
His dark face flushed a deep red.
"I dunno," he said, with an awkward laugh; "it's queer sounding. I don't
see how you make so many tinkles. Do you make all your fingers go at
once on those black and white things?"
"Not quite; but sometimes they have to dance about in a very lively
fashion. I have to keep my wits at work, I assure you."
"Is it hard to do?"
"Not very, nowadays. When I first commenced, the practising was horrid;
I hated it."
"What made you do it, then?"
"Oh, the same reason which makes people do a great many things that
they don't like," she said, lightly; "I wanted the results. I knew if I
worked at it steadily the time would come when I should not only enjoy
it myself, but be able to give pleasure to other people. Why? Don't you
ever do things that you don't particularly like?"
He shrugged his shoulders, and bestowed on her a very wise look.
"Often enough," he said fiercely, and he thought of his drunken father.
"But then I wouldn't if I could help it."
"That would depend on whether you thought the thing would pay in the
end, would it not?"
Then, without waiting for an answer, she asked "What is your business?"
"My business?" with a curiously puzzled air.
"Yes; how do you spend your time?"
"Hunting up something to eat," he said, with a grim smile; visions of
his aimless loafing appearing before him as the only occupation he could
be said to have. It had not occurred to him to try to mislead her, but
she evidently did not understand.
"Oh, yes," she said, seriously, "so I suppose. Isn't it queer how busy
men and women have to be day after day, and year after year, just
getting themselves and others something to eat? Do you have other people
to help get it for? Mother, for instance, and little brothers and
"I've got a mother," he said, "and a sister."
"And that makes work easier, does it not? I always thought it would be
stupid to work all the time just for one's self. But I meant, What do
you work at in order to get the something to eat,--there are so many
"How do you know I work at all?"
Dirk's voice was growing sullen; a consciousness that he would appear at
a disadvantage in admitting himself an idler in a busy world was dawning
upon him as an entirely new idea. At his question, Gracie turned on her
music-stool and regarded him with surprise.
"Why, of course you work," she said; "people all do."
She was not acting a part. Her experience among poor people was limited
to that outwardly respectable class who, however disreputable their
conduct might be on Sabbath, had, nevertheless a Monday occupation with
which they pretended to earn a living.
Dirk shrugged his shoulders again.
"Do they?" he said.
Her evident ignorance of the world made him good-natured. She was not
trying to preach to him, he decided. A thing which Dirk hated, in common
with all persons of his class.
But the lull in the music had started conversation in other parts of the
Dirk heard young Ried's question:--
"Mrs. Roberts, do you know of any young man looking for work? I heard
of a good situation this afternoon. Oh, there are plenty of applicants, but
the gentleman is an old friend of my brother-in-law, and I could speak a
helpful word for somebody."
"I have no one in mind," Mrs. Roberts said, and she glanced eagerly at
the boys lounging in various attitudes in her easy chairs. Only three of
them she knew made any pretence of earning their living. Did Alfred mean
one of them? "Here is a chance for you, young gentlemen," she said,
lightly, "who bids for a situation?"
"What is the place?"
It was Dirk Colson who asked the question. Ever since he could remember
he was supposed to have been hunting for work, but I am not sure that he
ever felt quite such a desire to find it as at that moment.
"It is at Gray's, on Ninth Street, a good chance; but the one who
secures it must have a fair knowledge of figures."
"Oh, land!" said Dirk, sinking lower in his easy-chair. "No use in
_me_ asking about it."
"Are figures your weak point?" Mrs. Roberts asked, smiling on him. "I
can sympathize with you; I had to work harder over arithmetic than at
any other study; but I learned to like it. Do you know I think it should
be a favorite study with you? It is so nice to conquer an
obstinate-looking row of figures, and fairly oblige the right result to
appear. What did you find hardest about the study, Mr. Colson?"
The others chuckled, but Dirk glowered at them fiercely.
"There's nothin' to laugh about as I see," he said. "I didn't find
nothin' hard, because I never had no chance to try. I never went to no
school, nor had books, nor nothin'; now that's the truth, and I'm blamed
if I ain't going to own it."
"What a good thing it is that you are young." This was her animated
answer. "There is a chance to make up for lost time. Mr. Ried, I have
such a nice idea. I heard you and Dr. Everett speaking of the Literary
Club the other night. Why cannot we have a literary club of our own? A
reading circle, or something of that sort? Suppose we should meet once a
week and read aloud something interesting, and have talks about it
afterwards. Do you ever read aloud?"
If Mrs. Roberts in all sincerity had not been one of the most
simple-hearted, and in some respects ignorant little creatures on the
face of the globe, she could never, with serious face, have addressed
such a question to Nimble Dick.
Young Ried could not have done it, for he realized the folly of
supposing that Nimble Dick ever read anything. By just so much was Mrs.
Roberts ahead of him. She supposed that these boys had their literature,
and read it, and perhaps met somewhere on occasion and read together.
This made it possible for her to ask surprising questions with honest
"Bless me!" said Nimble Dick, startled into an upright posture; "oh, no,
And even Dirk Colson laughed at the expression on his face.
"Still I think you would enjoy it, after a little practice, and I can't
help fancying you would make a good reader."
The boys were all laughing now, Nimble Dick with the rest.
"You're in for an awful blunder there," he said, good-naturedly. "I'm
like Black Dirk, never had no chances, and didn't do nothin' worth
speakin' of with them that I had. Why, bless your body, mum! I can't
even read to myself! I make the awfulest work you ever heard of spellin'
out the show-bills. I have to get Black Dirk to help me; and him and me
is a team."
By this time Dirk's face had lost its smile, and his fierce eyes were
flashing; but the hostess was serene.
"That doesn't prove anything against my statement. I was speaking of
what _could_ be, not necessarily of what was. Let us have a club.
The more I think of the plan the more it pleases me. I'll tell you! The
word 'club' doesn't quite suit me. Let us be fashionable. Gracie, don't
you know how fashionable it is becoming to have 'evenings' set apart for
special occasions? Mr. Ried, you know Mrs. Judson's 'Tuesday evenings,'
and Mrs. Symond's 'Friday evenings?' Very well, let us have our 'Monday
evenings,' in which we will do all sorts of nice things; sometimes
literary, sometimes musical, and sometimes--well, anything that we
please. What do you say, gentlemen; shall we organize? Mr. Ried, will
you give Monday evenings to us? Gracie, you are my guest, and cannot,
of course, refuse."
It was a novel idea, certainly. Even Alfred, while trying to heartily
second her, was in doubt as to what she could hope to accomplish by it.
As for the boys, not one of them promised to attend; but neither did
they refuse. Mrs. Roberts presently left the subject, seeming to
consider her point carried, and proposed a visit to the conservatory.
I think it very doubtful whether the boy lives who does not like
flowers. There are those who seem to consider it a mark of manliness to
affect indifference to them; but these, as they grow older--become real
men--generally lay this bit of folly aside. Then there are those, plenty
of them, who really do not know that they care for flowers. The boys,
ushered for the first time in their lives into the full bloom of a
conservatory, were, most of them, of this latter stamp.
What a scene of beauty it was! Great white callas, bending their
graceful cups; great red and yellow roses, making the air rich with
their breath; vines and mosses and ferns and small flowers in almost
endless variety. Alfred and Gracie moved among the glories; the latter
exhausting all her superlatives in honest delight, although she had
visited the spot a dozen times that day; and Alfred, who had been less
favored, was hardly less eager and responsive than she. But Mrs. Roberts
watched the boys.
It was all very well for those two to enjoy her flowers; of course they
would. But what language would the silent, lovely things speak to her
untutored boys? They said not a word; not one of them. They made no
exclamations; they had no superlatives at command. But Stephen Crowley
stooped before a lovely carnation, and smelled, and _smelled_,
drawing in long breaths, as though he meant to take its fragrance all
away with him; and Nimble Dick picked up the straying end of an ivy, and
restored it to its support again, in a way that was not to be lost sight
of by one who was looking for hearts; and Dirk Colson brushed back his
matted hair and stood long before a great, pure lily, and looked down
into its heart with an expression on his face that his teacher never
She came over to him presently, standing beside him, saying nothing.
Then at last she reached forth her hand and broke the lily from its
stalk. He started, almost as if something had struck him.
"What did you do that for?" And his voice was fierce.
"I want you to take this for me to your sister--the girl with beautiful
golden hair; I saw her one day, and I shall remember her hair and eyes.
She will like this flower, and she will like you to bring it to her.
"Gracie"--raising her voice--"gather some flowers will you, and make
into bouquets? These young gentlemen will like to carry them to some one.
There must be mothers at home who will enjoy bouquets brought by their
Over this gently-spoken sentence Nimble Dick laughed a hard, derisive
laugh. It made the dark blood flow into black Dirk's indignant face.
Even Alfred Ried lost self-control for a moment, and flashed a glance at
him out of angry eyes. How could there be any hope of a boy who sneered
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