Ester Ried Yet Speaking
Part 3 out of 5
at his mother? Yet you need not judge him too harshly.
He thought of his mother, indeed, when he laughed; but alas! he thought
of her as drunk. And he knew her scarcely at all, save as that word
described her. How _could_ "mother" mean to him what it meant to
Alfred Ried? what it meant even to Dirk Colson, whose mother, weak
indeed in body and spirit, full of complaining words, oftentimes weakly
bitter words to him, yet patched his clothes so long as she could get
patches and thread, and would have washed them if she could have got
soap, and been able to bring the water, and if her only tub hadn't been
in pawn. Oh, yes, there are degrees in mothers.
Mrs. Roberts, meantime, broke off blossoms with lavish hand, and made
bouquets for Nimble Dick and for Dirk. He took the bright-hued ones with
a smile, but the lily he held by itself, and still looked at it.
They went away at last noisily; growing almost, if not quite, rough
towards one another, at least, and directly they were out of the door,
Nimble Dick gave a whoop that would have chilled the blood of nervous
women. But matron and maiden looked at each other and laughed.
"We have kept them pent up all the evening, and that is the escape-valve
being raised to avoid a general explosion." This was Mrs. Roberts'
They were quite alone. Alfred, on being invited in low tones to tarry
and talk things over, had shaken his head, and replied, significantly:--
"Thank you! no; I am one of them, and must stand on the same level."
"You are right," Mrs. Roberts said, smilingly; "you must have been an
apt pupil, my friend. That dear sister taught you a great deal."
He held up the bouquet which she had made for him.
"I am going to put it before Ester's picture," he said; "her work is
"Well," said Gracie, "it is over, and we lived through it. And they
_did_ all come! I am amazed over that! And how they _did eat_! I
suppose the next thing is to open all the windows and air out. Flossy
Roberts, I'm afraid you are going insane. The idea of your inviting that
horde here every Monday. What a parlor you would have! And they would
breed a pestilence! They won't come, to be sure; but just imagine it if
they should! I really think Mr. Roberts ought to send you home for Dr.
Mitchell to look after. Well, Flossy, what next?"
"Next, dear, you must pray. Pray as you never have done before, for
the souls of these boys, and for the success of my 'Monday evenings.'
Gracie, we are at work for immortal _souls_. Think of it! they _must_
live forever. Shall they, through all eternity, keep dropping lower and
lower, or shall they wear crowns?"
Sallie Calkins sat in a common little rocking-chair and rocked; and
while she rocked she sewed, setting neat stitches in a brown coat which
was already patched and darned and was threadbare in many places. There
was a look of deep content on Sallie's face. There were many reasons for
Dr. Everett had that morning pronounced Mark's broken limb to be healing
rapidly. He had also reported that Mark's place was to be held open for
him by his employers. At this present moment, Mark, arrayed in a clean
shirt, was resting on a very white sheet, his head reposing on a real
feather pillow dressed in white and frilled. Over him was carefully
spread another of those wonderful sheets, and to make the crowning
glory, a white quilt, warm and soft, tucked him in on every side. How
could Sallie but rejoice? All about the room there had been changes. A
neat little table stood at the bed's side. It was covered with a white
cloth, and a china bowl set thereon with a silver spoon beside it; a
delicate goblet and china pitcher also, both carefully covered with a
napkin. Did Mrs. Roberts know how homely Sallie gloried in the thinness
of that china and the fineness of that napkin? How does it happen that
some of the very poor seem born with such aesthetic tastes? Mrs. Roberts
had intuitions, and was given to certain acts, concerning which she
could not give to others satisfactory explanations. Therefore, she
sometimes left china where others would have judged the plainest
stoneware more prudent and sensible.
A bit of bright carpet was spread at the side of the bed. A fire glowed
in the neatly-brushed stove. A white muslin curtain hung at the window;
and the chair in which Sallie rocked and sewed was new and gayly
There were other traces of Mrs. Roberts. You might not have noticed
them, but it seemed to Sallie that her fingers had touched everywhere.
Yet the lady herself thought that she had done very little. She had held
her inclinations in check with severe judgment.
The door opened softly, and a mass of golden hair, from out of which
peered great eyes, peeped cautiously in.
"Alone?" it said, nodding first toward the figure on the bed, and
intimating that she was aware of Mark's presence, and did not mean him.
"Yes," said Sallie, "come in; Mark's asleep, but you won't disturb him;
he don't disturb easy; he sleeps just like a baby since the doctor
stopped that pain in his knee. There's my new chair; just try it and see
how nice it is."
Saying which, she got herself out of the little rocker in haste, and
pushed it toward her guest, meantime taking a plain wooden chair, also
new, and adding:--
"Did you ever hear of anybody like her before?"
"Something's happened!" said Mart Colson, ignoring the reference to the
mysterious pronoun,--her voice so full of a new and strange meaning
that had Sallie been acquainted with the word she might have said it was
filled with awe.
As it was, she only exclaimed, "What?" in an intensely interested tone.
"Why, look here! I brought it along to show you."
Whereupon she produced from under her piece of torn shawl a large
broken-nosed pitcher, a piece of brown paper carefully tied over the
top. She untied the bit of calico string with fingers that shook from
"Look in there!" she exclaimed at last, triumph in her tone, reaching
forward the pitcher.
Sallie looked, and drew in her breath with a long, expressive "O-h!"
There, reposing in stately beauty, lay the great white lily with its
"Yes, I should think so!" Mart said, satisfied with the expression. "Did
you ever see anything like that before? It ain't made of wax nor
anything else that _folks_ ever made. It's alive! I felt of it. It
looks like velvet and satin and all them lovely store things; but it
doesn't feel so; it feels _alive_, and it _grew_. But, Sallie
Calkins, if you should live a hundred years, and guess all the time, you
never could guess where I got it. Sallie Calkins, if you'll believe it,
Dirk gave it to me!"
"Yes, he did!"
Who would have supposed Mart Colson's voice capable of such a triumphant
"You see the way of it was: Last night he didn't come for his supper at
all, and that always scares me dreadful. I'm expecting something to
happen, you know. Father, he didn't come either; for the matter of that,
he hasn't come yet; and mother, she was awful tired, and hadn't had no
dinner to speak of, and she just broke down and took on awful. Mother
don't often cry, and it's good she don't, for she just goes into it with
all her might when the time comes. It wasn't about father--she's used to
him, you know, and don't expect nothing else; but Dirk drives her wild
with what may happen to him. I was worried about him, too, but I was mad
at him; it seemed too awful mean in him to stay away and scare mother.
At last I got her to go to bed, and she was all tuckered out, and went
"Then I wrapped myself in the quilt and sat down to wait; but I got
asleep, and I dreamed I saw _her_; she had wings to each side of
her, and she flew over the tops of all those houses and made them turn
white like the snow looks when it is coming down before it drops into
the gutters. Wasn't that queer? Well, some noise woke me up. I was
sitting flat on the floor by mother, and I sat up straight all of a
tremble. And there was the old stool, and the brown pitcher on it,
half-full of water, and this wonderful thing stood in it looking at me.
And Dirk, he stood off the other side looking at it.
"'It's for you, and she sent it.' That's what he said to me; and I
wasn't real wide awake, you know. I suppose that's what made his voice
sound so queer; and what do you think I said? I was thinking of my
dream, and says I: 'Did she have her wings on?' Then Dirk made a queer
noise; it was a laugh, but it sounded most like a cry. 'I guess so,'
says he, and then he turned and went off to bed. And I can't get any
more out of him; he is as snarly when I ask any questions as though he
was mad about it all. If it hadn't been for this great white thing I
might have thought this morning that it all belonged to the dream. But
Dirk brought this home from somewhere, and put it in the pitcher, and
give it to me his own self; that's sure."
The story closed in triumph.
"It is beautiful!" said Sallie, the brown jacket slipping to the floor,
while she bent over the lily. "It is beautiful, all of it, and it looks
just like her, and sounds like her, wings and all; of course she sent
"And Dirk brought it." That part of the story Mart Colson did not
Sometimes it seems to me a pity that hearts are not laid bare to the
gaze of others. What, for instance, might not this little incident have
done for Dirk Colson had he known how the starved heart of his sister
fed on the thought that he brought her the flower?
Still, on the other hand, I don't know what the effect would have been
on Mart had she known what a tremendous amount of courage it had taken
to present the flower to her. A dozen times on the way home had Dirk
been on the point of consigning it to the gutter. _He_ carry home a
flower! If it had been a loaf of bread he thought it would be more
consistent. Someway he recognized a fine sarcasm in the thought that he,
who had never in his life contributed towards the necessities of the
family, should carry to that dreary home a flower! Yet the fair lily did
its work well during that long walk from East Fifty-fifth Street to the
shadow of the alley. It made Dirk Colson tell it fiercely that he hated
himself; that he was a brute and a loafer,--a blot on the earth, and
ought not to live. Why didn't he go to work? Why didn't he have things
to bring home to Mart every little while, as Mark Calkins did to Sallie?
Hadn't he seen Mark, only a few evenings before he was hurt, with a pair
of girl's shoes strung over his shoulder, and heard him whistle as he
ran, two steps at a time, up the rickety stairs? What would Mart think
if he should bring her home a pair of shoes? What would she think of his
bringing her a flower? She would sneer, of course: and, in the mood
which then possessed him, Dirk said angrily that she had a right to
sneer, and would be a fool not to; and yet he hated the thought of it.
There was nothing in life that Dirk hated more than sneers; and he had
been fed on them ever since he could remember.
He was altogether unprepared for the reception which the lily received.
That suggestion about wings, which seemed so apt, had brought the
"queer" sound to his voice that Mart had noticed. If only she had
understood, and not spoiled, next morning, the effect of her words.
In the prosaic daylight, the illusion of "wings" being banished, she was
bent on knowing how Dirk came into possession of the lily.
"Who sent it, Dirk? I don't believe anybody told you to give it to me.
Who would care about _my_ having a flower? Where did you get it?"
"Where do you s'pose?" Dirk's voice was ominously gruff. It is a painful
truth that by daylight he was ashamed of his part of the transaction. "I
told you she sent it. It's noways likely that I'd take the trouble to
make up a lie about that weed. How do I know what she wanted you to have
it for? Maybe she thought it matched your looks."
There was a bitter sneer in Dirk's voice, yet all the time he heard the
sweet, low voice saying, "That girl with the beautiful golden hair."
Suppose he should tell Mart that? Why not? Let me tell you that Dirk
Colson would not have repeated that sentence for the world! And yet he
did not know why.
Mart's face burned red under his sneer.
"How am I to know who 'she' is?" she said, in bitter scorn. "Some of
your bar-room beauties, for whom you dance and whistle, I suppose. You
can tell her I would rather have my shawl out of pawn, or some shoes for
my feet, enough sight. What do I care for a great flower mocking at me?"
"Pitch it into the fire, then; and it will be many a long day before I
bring you anything else," said Dirk, pushing himself angrily back from
the table, where he had been eating bread dipped in a choice bit of pork
"There isn't a bit of danger of my doing that," she called after him,
mockingly. "There isn't a spark of fire, nor likely to be to-day, unless
some of your admirers send me a shovel of coal. Mercy knows, I wish they
He mercifully lost part of this sentence, for the reason that before it
was concluded he was moving with long, angry strides up the alley.
And then Mart took the broken-nosed pitcher away into the furthermost
corner, although she was alone in the room, and laid her face against
the cool, pure lily, and wept into it great burning tears. Poor,
ignorant soul! She wanted, oh, how she _wanted_ Dirk to be brave
and good like Mark Calkins--her one type of manhood. Yet she did not
know that she was crushing out the germ which might have grown in his
heart. True, she knew herself to be very different from Sallie, but the
thought, poor soul, that that was because Mark was so different from
Isn't it a pity that the sweet-faced lily could not have told its tender
story to both these ignorant ones?
"WHAT MADE HER DIFFERENT?"
"I have heard a good deal about your sister that has interested me. Do
you like to talk of her?"
This was the question which Gracie Dennis asked of young Ried as he
stood beside her at the piano. She had been playing, and had come to
the music alcove for the purpose of turning her music; but now she
was touching sweet chords here and there aimlessly, and waiting for
At the further end of the parlor Mrs. Roberts was entertaining a caller;
but the distance between them was so great that, in effect, the young
people were alone.
"I like nothing better than to talk of her." Mr. Ried said, with
animation; "but I don't know so much about her as I wish I did. She went
away when I was quite young. I used to say 'she died,' but since I have
awakened to see her cherished plans being carried on all around me I
cannot think of her as dead."
"That is what I want to talk about,--her work, or her plans for work.
What made her so different from other people, Mr. Ried. _Wasn't_
The young man regarded the question thoughtfully before answering.
"Not from all the people," he said at last; "but certainly very
different from some. I used to think that all Christians were like her,
of course; then, when I saw my mistake, I went to the other extreme, and
thought there were none like her on earth. I have discovered that the
medium position is the correct one."
"But what I want to know is, what _made_ her different? It wasn't
her age. Mrs. Roberts thinks she was young?"
"She was hardly nineteen when she died. Oh, no, it wasn't age; she
told me that she used to be very different. She was a Christian from
childhood, but she said that she was ashamed to claim the name. There
was nothing Christlike about her; still she was a member of the Church.
As I remember her, and as I look at other people, my judgment is that,
in her early Christian life, she was much like most of the Christians
with whom you and I are familiar."
"And what made her different? Was it--that is--do you think it was
because she was to die so soon that she had a special experience?"
"Not at all," he said, promptly; "it was before she realized anything
about her condition that the great change took place in her. My
brother-in-law says that she supposed herself to be in perfect health
at the time when she was most marked in her Christian life."
"Ah! but you don't understand; I mean more than that. It is difficult to
tell what I mean; I mean--but you know, of course, _God_ knew that
she was soon to go to heaven. I thought, perhaps, he gave her a special
experience on that account."
"No; oh, no," he said, speaking with great earnestness. "Ester was
particularly anxious that no one should suppose her experience
exceptional. Little fellow though I was, it seemed to be her desire that
I should fully understand this. Don't let anybody make you think that
because you are a little boy you must be a sort of half-way Christian,'
she used to say, and her eyes would glow with feeling. 'I tried that way
for years,' she said, 'and I want you to understand that it is not only
sinful, but there is not a particle of happiness to be gotten out of
it--not a particle; and I would give almost nothing for what such a
Christian can accomplish. The harm one does, more than overbalances all
effort for Christ.' I think, perhaps, she felt more deeply on that than
on almost any subject; and it was because she thought she had wasted so
"Then do you think that there is, or rather that there should be, no
difference in Christians? Have all the same work to do?"
"Not that, quite, of course,--or, I don't know, either. Isn't it all
different forms of the Master's work. The children of the home may have
each a different task, but each is needed to make the home what it
should be, and each worker needs the same spirit of love and
unselfishness to enable him to do his part. It isn't a perfect
illustration, Miss Dennis. I'm not skillful in that direction; but _I_
know what I mean, and that is a comfort."
"And I know what you mean," Gracie said, not joining in his laugh; "but
I am not sure that I believe it. Why, Mr. Ried, that would make a very
solemn thing of living."
"Well, did you suppose it was other than solemn? I'm sure it makes a
triumphant thing of it, too; and without it we are only a lot of wax
figures, dancing to pass the time away."
"But don't you really think that people have a right to have _any_ nice
"Miss Dennis, did you ever see any person who had nicer times than your
friend, Mrs. Roberts?"
"Well, Flossy is peculiar; her tastes all seem to lie in this direction;
though once they did not, I admit. Papa used to think that she had no
talent for anything but dancing. Something changed Flossy's entire
character. No one who knew her two years ago could possibly deny that."
"She will serve as an illustration, then, to explain my meaning. I
believe, Miss Dennis, that religion should have sufficient power over
us to change all our tastes and plans in life, fitting them to the
"But what would such a rule as that do with most of the Christians of
"Ah! I am old and experienced enough to warn you not to make shipwreck
of your happiness on that shoal. I hovered around it, and vexed my soul
over the whole bewildering question until I suddenly discovered that I
was held absolutely responsible only for my own soul, and that the Lord
would look after his own."
For a time there was no answer to this.
Gracie let her fingers wander with apparent aimlessness over the keys,
drawing out soft, sweet strains. Suddenly she said:--
"What do you expect Flossy will accomplish with that last scheme of
hers? I ought to beg her pardon for the familiar name, but I have known
her ever since I was a child. Don't you think her attempts for those
boys rather hopeless?"
Instantly the young man's eyes filled with tears, and when he spoke his
voice indicated deep emotion.
"I can hardly tell you how I feel about those boys. I have been anxious
for them so long and felt so hopeless. Do you remember how Elijah sat
under a juniper tree, discouraged, and said that he was the only one
who had not bowed the knee to Baal, and the Lord told him he was
mistaken, that there were five thousand others? It sounds ridiculously
egotistical, but I have felt at times something like that; as though I
was the only one who cared whether the poor fellows went to destruction
or not. But since I have met Mrs. Roberts, and seen how intense she is
and single-hearted, and since through her I have met Dr. Everett, and
seen how they are trying to work at the same problem, and since I have
come to know how Mr. Roberts is at work all the time for young men; and,
above all, since that wonderful evening here last Monday, when I saw how
two gifted ladies understood the art of turning their accomplishments to
account, in order to take those poor fellows captive for Christ, I
discovered that there were ways of solving this problem about which I
had known nothing, and people to carry it through. It was simply
glorious in you to give those fellows such music as you did, and to
accomplish by it what you did. My life has been narrow, Miss Dennis; I
never saw the piano used for Christ before."
Gracie looked down at the keys, her face aglow. It was a new experience,
this being classed among the Christian workers of the world; making her
music for other purposes than to amuse the gay friends who chanced to
gather around her. She made the keys speak loudly for a few minutes,
then softening them, said:--
"You must not class me with Flossy, Mr. Ried. I only did what she wanted
done. I am not in the least like her, unselfish and gentle and all
But his reply, spoken low, was pleasant to her ears:--
"'By their fruits ye shall know them.'"
He evidently looked upon her as a worker. She could not help feeling
that it was pleasant to be so classed. What an intense young man he was!
Not in the least like those with whom she had hitherto been most
There was another voice in the front parlor--a strong, vigorous voice
that carried a sense of power with it.
"Ah!" said Ried, his eyes bright, his face eager; "that is Dr. Everett.
Just study him if you want another type of the sort of Christian about
whom we have been talking; the grandest man!"
Gracie, shielded by the distance, turned on her stool and studied him.
Certainly he did not look much as though he were appointed for early
death. What a splendid physique it was!
And how thoroughly wide awake and interested he was in the subject under
discussion. Bits of the talk floated back to the two at the piano.
"Oh, he is young," Dr. Everett was saying; "I hope for returned vigor in
time; but there must be long weeks of patience before he will be ready
for his old employment."
"Do you know of whom he is speaking?" Gracie asked.
"I fancy it is that Calkins boy, the one with the broken limb. He is
deeply interested in the poor fellow, and is trying to plan employment
of some less wearing sort for him, I believe. Dr. Everett is always
intensely interested in somebody."
"Is it always the very poor?"
"Not always. I know several quite well-to-do fellows in whom he keeps
a careful oversight; but he is grandly interested in the poor. He is
taking rank as one of the most successful physicians in the city, and,
of course, he is pressed for time; yet he is so continually at the call
of the poor that people begin to speak of him as the poor man's doctor.
He told me he was proud of that title."
At this point the musicians were appealed to to come to the front
parlor, and Gracie had opportunity for a nearer study of the man whom
she could not help but admire. He was not likely to suffer from a nearer
view; at least, not while Gracie was in the mood that then possessed
her. He greeted her cordially, and at once brought her into the
conversation by appealing to her for a decision, seeming to take it for
granted that she was of the same spirit with himself.
This young lady was taking lessons of life that were designed to be
helpful to her if she would but let them. A thoroughly well-educated and
cultured gentleman, well fitted to take high rank in society, not in the
ministry, and yet thoroughly absorbed in what she had hitherto almost
unconsciously set down as ministers' work was a mystery to her.
Moreover, for the second time that evening, she felt a curious sense of
satisfaction in being classed among the energetic workers of the world.
The pretty school-girl, who had lived all her young life in a
neighborhood where she was "Gracie Dennis," looked up to, indeed, by her
set, and having a decided influence of her own, yet felt it to be a
novel experience to hear herself addressed in a clear, firm voice after
"Miss Dennis, what means would you advise for interesting a company of
young girls in reading, regularly, books which would be of use to them?
Of course, I speak of a class of girls who have done no reading of any
account heretofore, and who have no knowledge in the matter."
"It is something about which I have not thought at all," said Gracie,
her pretty face all in a flush. "But I should suppose the way would be
to take one girl at a time, and study her, to find what would be likely
to interest and help _her_, and also to get such an influence over
her that she would read what I wanted her to."
"First catch your hare, eh? Good!" said the doctor, with an approving
glance towards Mrs. Roberts. "The longer I live the more convinced am I
that individual effort is what accomplishes the great things in this
There was more talk about this and kindred matters; and Gracie found
herself drawn out, and her interest excited on themes about which she
had supposed she knew nothing.
Then occurred an interruption,--a ringing of the door-bell.
"For Miss Dennis," said the messenger; but she handed the card to Mrs.
There was just a moment of hesitation, while that lady apparently
studied the name, then she said, composedly:--
"This is Professor Ellis, Gracie. Do you wish to receive him this
Since I have known Mrs. Roberts well, I have studied her innocently
sincere manner, with not a little curiosity as to the probable effect on
the world, suppose it were possible for others to adopt her method. The
actual practical effect with her is that she succeeds often in wisely
deceiving, while intending to be perfectly sincere. For instance, her
question to Gracie after a moment of hesitation, during which she asked
herself, "What ought I to do?" and immediately answered herself, "There
is nothing for me to do, but to be perfectly straight-forward."
Her question was intended to say to Gracie: "I trust you. What your
father has directed you to do, I feel sure you will obey." But it said
different things from that to Gracie. Ever since she had been told that
she might make her old acquaintance, Flossy, a visit, this highly-strung
young lady had been suspicious that this was a device of her stepmother
to get pleasantly rid of her for a few weeks. She surmised that a very
carefully elaborate account of her sins had been written out by this
same stepmother for the benefit of her young hostess, and that special
directions had been given for guarding her from the wolf, Professor
Ellis. She would have spoiled the entire scheme by haughtily refusing to
leave home had not the innocent delight of a young girl over the thought
of visiting a beautiful strange city gotten the better of her pride. The
gently-put question of her hostess disarmed a whole nest of suspicions.
It was hardly possible that it had been hinted to Flossy that her guest
might attempt to elope with this man, else she would not with serene
face be asking whether it was her wish to receive him.
"If you please," she made haste to answer, her cheeks glowing the while,
and Mrs. Roberts gave instant direction that the gentleman be shown to
There were several new lessons set for Miss Gracie Dennis to learn that
evening. One was that Professor Ellis, with his faultless dress and
excessive politeness, his finished bows and smiles, that would have done
credit to any ball-room in the land, his accurate knowledge of all the
printed rules of etiquette, yet in Mrs. Roberts' parlor, contrasted with
Dr. Everett, and even with young Ried, the dry-goods clerk, appeared at
She was slow in learning the lesson: on that first evening she simply
stared at it in bewilderment. What did it mean? There was an attempt to
draw the professor into the circle, to continue the conversation that
had been so animated and interesting before his entrance. The effect was
much like that produced in striking a discordant note in a hitherto
faultless piece of music. Young men out of business needing help,
needing an encouraging word, an out-stretched hand! Professor Ellis had
words, and hands, but he might have been without either for all the help
they gave him in responding to efforts like these. Books to help uplift
the young, to give them high ideas of life, to enthuse them with
desires to live for a purpose! Truly he could only stare blankly at the
suggestion. What did he know of books written for such purposes? Yet
Gracie had supposed him to be literary in his tastes and pursuits.
Certainly he read French? Yes, French novels! He was quite familiar with
some of such a character that, had Gracie been a good French scholar and
ever likely to come in contact with a copy of them, he would not have
dared to mention their names in her presence. More than once of late had
the stepmother wished that her young daughter understood the language
well enough to be aware that the man whom she admired used frequently
smooth-sounding French oaths. But alas for Gracie, when he had so
poisoned her mother's influence over this dangerously pretty girl, that
she would have believed his word at any time rather than that mother's.
Well, he read other than French novels; Charles Reade, for instance, and
some of the more recent authors fashionable in certain circles. It is
true that Gracie was not acquainted with them, that her father would not
allow a copy of their books to come freely into his home, and Gracie was
much too honorable to read them in private. But it is also true that
while professing to admire this trait in her, as charming in a young
daughter, the professor had also, pityingly and gently, told this young
daughter that these things were her father's concessions to the narrow
age and trammelled profession to which he belonged; that the fact was,
free thought was discouraged, because there was that in every church
which would not bear its light; that her wise father was one of a
hundred in recognizing this, and trying to shield her while she was
You are also to remember that she _was_ young, and therefore forgive her
that she did not detect the contradictory sophistry in the professor's
words. He really understood how to sugar-coat poison as well as any man
of his stamp could.
"HERE WAS HIS OPPORTUNITY."
But the question which would keep forcing itself on Gracie Dennis was
this: "If he really knows of nice books, full of 'the beautiful' and
'the ennobling,' that would enlighten the race, as he has often told me,
why doesn't he mention some of them now? There is no minister here
'trammelled by long years of narrowing education.' How does he know but
that these people are as 'advanced' in their ideas as he is himself?"
I do not mean that she was conscious of thinking these thoughts, but
that they hovered on the edge, as it were, of her mind, making her feel
ill at ease. Dr. Everett, on his part, seemed courteously bent on
securing an expression of the professor's opinion about matters of which
he either could not, or would not, talk. When at last the disturbed
gentleman resolved to violate what Gracie was sure was a law of good
breeding, and address her in French, what with her embarrassment lest
others should understand, and her own marked ignorance of the language,
she found great difficulty in making a free translation. "Upon my word,
I wish you understood French, or some other tongue, so that we could
escape from this boredom. Does the poor little prisoner have much of
this to endure? Cannot we escape to the music-room, and talk things
Gracie cast a frightened glance about her to see if there were others
who understood better than herself this sentence, which, for aught she
knew, might contain something startling. But Alfred was busily engaged
in looking up the name of a book which he had vainly tried to recall,
and Dr. Everett was apparently serenely oblivious to any language but
his mother-tongue. Very soon after this Gracie managed to escape with
her caller to the music alcove; thus much of the French she had
understood, and at least Professor Ellis could play; which fact she
resolved that the people in the front parlor should speedily understand.
Ah, but he could play! and herein lay one of his strong fascinations for
the music-loving girl. For a time the most ravishing strains rolled
through the parlor hushing into rapt attention the group gathered there,
who had just been reinforced by the coming of Mr. Roberts. By degrees
the strains grew fainter and fainter, and at last ceased altogether, as
the professor, still on the music-stool, bent over Gracie, seated in a
low chair, and apparently found fluent speech at last.
Mrs. Roberts, meantime, was ill at ease. What would Dr. Dennis and
Marion say, could they have a peep at this moment into her back parlor?
Was she being faithful to her trust? Yet what was there she could do?
She tried to sustain her part in the conversation, but her troubled
gaze, constantly wandering elsewhere, betrayed her. Dr. Everett's keen
eyes were upon her.
"Are you particularly interested in that man?" he asked, abruptly.
Mrs. Roberts smiled faintly.
"I am particularly interested in that girl," she said.
"How do you like her present companionship?"
"Not at all," she answered, quickly.
Whereupon Mr. Roberts began to question.
"May I know, doctor, whether you have any other reason than that of
intuition for asking the question?"
"Possibly not," said the doctor, guardedly. "It maybe a case of mistaken
identity. Mrs. Roberts, would you like to have me investigate something
that may be to his disadvantage?"
Mrs. Roberts had a prompt answer ready:--
"There are reasons why it is specially important that such an
investigation should be made and reported to me. May I commission you?"
The doctor bowed; and the subject of Professor Ellis was immediately
During the following week certain innovations took place in Mrs.
Roberts well-ordered household. At the end of the conservatory was a
long, bright, and hitherto unfurnished room; it had been designed as a
sort of second conservatory, whenever the beauties of that department
should outgrow their present bounds, but meantime other plants had
taken root and blossomed in the mistress' heart. Early in this week
the unused room had been opened and cleaned; then began to arrive
packages of various shapes and sizes; a roll of carpeting, and two
young men from the carpet store; and there followed soon after the
sound of hammering. Furniture-wagons halted before the door, leaving
their burdens. Men and women flitted to and fro, busy and important.
It was Saturday night before Mr. Roberts and his young clerk were
invited in to admire and criticise the new room. Mr. Roberts, at least,
was prepared to appreciate its transformation.
The floor was covered with a heavy carpet in lovely shades of mossy
green, and easy chairs and couches in tints that either matched or made
delightful contrasts with the carpet abounded. The walls were hung with
pictures and charts and maps. A study-table occupied the centre of the
room--one of those charming tables, full of mysterious drawers and
unexpected corners; paper and pens and inks in various colors were
disposed about this table in delightful profusion.
Other tables, plenty of them, small and neat, each of a different shape
or design, were stationed at intervals, in convenient proximity to
comfortable chairs. Nothing could be further removed from one's idea of
a school-room than was that long, beautiful parlor; yet when you thought
of it, and took a second, deliberate survey, nothing that could have
contributed to the enjoyment of pupils was missing. A small cabinet
organ occupied an alcove, and music-books of various grades were strewn
over it. Toward this spot Mrs. Roberts smiled significantly as her eye
caught Alfred Ried's, and she said:--
"I have visions of sacred Sabbath evening half-hours, connected with
this corner, one of these days; meantime, is this a pleasant room for
our Monday evenings?"
But Alfred could not answer her; his head was turned away, and there was
a suspicious lump in his throat, that made him know better than to
attempt speech. He was standing at that moment under one of the
wall-texts that the gaslight illumined until it glowed, and the words
stood out with startling clearness:--
"Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober."
His sister's text; one that, perhaps more than any other, was on her
lips when she talked with him; one that hung at her coffin's head when
he, a little boy, stood beside the coffin and looked down at her face,
and looked up at that text, and took a mental photograph of both to live
in his heart forever.
"This is your special chair," Mrs. Roberts said, smiling up at him; and
he understood her,--here was his opportunity to live out that text for
his sister. Wouldn't he try!
"Well," said Gracie, drawing a long breath, "as a study it is certainly
a success. One can easily see, Flossy, why you were born with the
ability to tell at a glance what colors harmonized, and just where
things fitted in. I can't imagine anything prettier than this, and I
cannot imagine what you are going to do with it."
Whereupon they sat down to talk that important question over: what they
were going to try to do. Sometimes I have wondered whether Ester, from
her beautiful home, could look down on it all, and whether she smiled
over the fact that her work was doing so much more than she had planned?
She had roused in her little brother an ambition that had grown with his
years, and that had helped to hold him away from many temptations: so
much, doubtless, she had foreseen; but what a blessed thing it was that
she had touched, in those long ago years, influences which had drawn her
brother, in his young and perilous manhood, into intimate relations with
such people as Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, so that they sat down familiarly to
talk over mutual interests! But for Ester's words, spoken long ago, but
for her strong desires transmitted to him, he might have sat with a very
different circle, and talked over widely different schemes. On the edge
of this circle Gracie Dennis hovered. She could not but be interested in
their talk, for she was a Christian, and her father was a Christian, and
she had, all her life breathed in the atmosphere of a Christian home.
At the same time she could but imagine some of their ideas wild ones,
for she had never been associated with people who widely overstepped the
conventional ways of doing things; and she had, of late, been much with
Professor Ellis who had a sort of gentlemanly sneer for every phase of
Christian work, and, so far as could be discovered, believed in nothing.
He had not been outspoken, it is true, and herein lay one of the
dangers. He was too skillful to be outspoken; but the subtle poison had
been working, and although Gracie could not help being interested in
those queer boys, she could not help thinking Flossy's whole scheme
exceedingly visionary, and expected it to come to grief. The puzzling
question was, why did Mr. Roberts, being a keen-sighted man, permit it
all! Or was he so much in love with Flossy that he could not bear to
thwart even her wildest flights? It was strange, too, to see a young man
like Alfred Ried so absorbed; his sister must have had wonderful power
over him, Gracie thought. She went back to his sister's influence,
always, in trying to explain the matter, and never gave a thought to
Christ's influence. Meantime she listened to the various plans proposed
for the first Monday evening, and was sufficiently interested to gather
her pretty face in a frown when the distant peal from the door-bell
sounded through the house.
"What a pity to be interrupted by a caller!" she exclaimed. "This room
is so much nicer than the parlor. Flossy, don't you hope it is some one
to see Mr. Roberts on business?"
"No," said Mrs. Roberts, shaking her head, with a smile, "I feel in
special need of Mr. Roberts just now. Evan, I really think we must be
excused to callers for this one evening; there are so many things to
"Let us wait and see," answered Mr. Roberts "perhaps the Lord sent the
caller here to help us, or to be helped."
At that moment came the card.
"Oh, it is Dr. Everett!" was Mrs. Roberts' exclamation. "Let us have him
come directly here. Evan, please go and escort him. You were right,--the
Lord has sent him to help us. I don't know how, I'm sure; but he is just
the man to help everywhere."
And the circle instantly widened itself to receive Dr. Everett.
It took almost no time to speak the commonplace of the occasion, and
get back at once to the business of the hour. It was evident that Dr.
Everett needed no lengthy explanations, and there was apparently nothing
bewildering to his mind in the plan. True, it was new to him, but he
seemed to spring at once to the centre of their thoughts. His eyes
glowed for a moment, and he said with peculiar emphasis:--
"Ried, when the son of man cometh, he will surely find _some_ faith
on the earth!"
Then he gave himself to intensest listening and questioning, and
presently followed his questions with suggestions which showed that
unconventional ways of working were not altogether new to him.
As for Gracie, she had as much as she could do to listen intelligently;
she almost caught her breath over the rapidity with which the talkers
moved from one scheme to another. All the time there was a curious
process of comparison between this man and Professor Ellis going on in
her mind. Not that she wished to compare the two! She told herself that
it was absurd to do so; none the less she did it. For instance, she
reminded herself that she had mentally assented promptly to the
suggestion of inviting the doctor to this room to talk this strange
scheme over; she had recognized the fitness of the act. But suppose
Professor Ellis should call, would it not be simply absurd to think of
explaining to him the uses of this unique room? Who would for a moment
think of suggesting his name as a helper?
* * * * *
I do not know how to describe to you the appearance of that room on
Monday evening when the boys were in it. I do not know whether the sight
to you would have been pitiful or ludicrous. How can I tell--not knowing
you? There was a dreadful incongruity between the soiled, ragged clothes
and matted hair and unwashed hands and the exquisite purity which
prevailed around them. Of course you could have seen that, but the
all-important question, the answer to which would have stamped your
place in the world's workshop, would have been, Do you see any further
than that? and seeing further--which way? Do you see the possibilities,
or the certainties of failure? Oh, no, I am wrong; it would take more
than that to tell where you belong. Dr. Everett saw the possibilities
and gloried in them. Gracie Dennis thought she saw the certainty of
failure, and was sorry for it. But Professor Ellis would have seen the
certainty of failure, and would have met it with a sneer, if he had not
been too indifferent even for that. As for Mrs. Roberts, did she, or did
she not, represent a different and higher type than any of the others?
She thought not much about either success or failure, but pushed
steadily forward the plan that she believed she had gotten on her knees,
born of the Spirit. If it really were of God, nothing could make it
fail; but if she mistook, and the plan was only hers, mere failure in
that direction would signify nothing; she would have but to try again.
Something of this she felt, but did not reason out, for she was no
What the boys saw was a great, splendid room, the like of which they had
never seen before, for they recognized, without being able to explain,
the difference between it and the parlors, and felt freer in it. They
all came, and they looked not one whit better than on the Monday evening
before. Over this fact Gracie Dennis, with all her public scoffing, was,
in private, a little disappointed. It is true she had not expected to
see them again; but if they came, she thought it possible that they
might have been tempted to appear with clean hands and faces. Possibly
some were so tempted, and but for the difficulties in the way, might
really have tried for this. But Gracie was not sufficiently enlightened
to dream of difficulties in the way of simply washing one's face and
During the Saturday evening conference it had been decided that Mr.
Roberts must make acquaintance with his guests. It would never do to
have them come familiarly to his house, and he not be able to recognize
them on the streets. Several plans were suggested for introducing him
skilfully to them, but he disapproved of them all.
"No," he said, "I'll tell you what we'll do. I will introduce myself.
You may receive them, Flossy, and then retire for a few minutes, and
I'll let myself in by the conservatory passage, and make myself
acquainted to the best of my abilities. In ten minutes, Flossy, I'll
give you leave to return. As for the rest of you, don't dare to venture
in until I have made good my claim as the head of the house. I am
jealous of you, perhaps."
To this plan Mrs. Roberts readily assented, but the young clerk looked
doubtful. In common with the rest of his employees, he stood in
wholesome awe of the keen-eyed, thorough business man, who seemed to
know, as by a sort of instinct, when anything in any department of the
great store was not moving according to rule. His knowledge of Mr.
Roberts, outside of the store, was limited, and he expected to find the
boys, if not frightened, so awed that they would resolve never to be
caught inside that room again.
However, he of course only looked his fears. He was too much afraid of
the great merchant to express them, and it had been understood, when
they separated, that this plan was to be carried out.
"I WONDER WHAT THEY'RE ALL AFTER!"
In the library waited Gracie and Mr. Ried, while Mrs. Roberts went
merrily to see whether the boys or their host had proved the stronger.
"I don't believe this part of the programme will work," Alfred said,
confidently, the moment the door closed after Mrs. Roberts. "Those
fellows will all be afraid of Mr. Roberts, and we shall lose what little
hold we have on them."
"They don't look to me as though it ever occurred to them to be afraid
of anything," Gracie said; but Alfred Ried, who had studied deeper into
this problem of the different classes of society, was ready with his
"Yes they are; they can be awed, and made to feel uncomfortable to the
degree that they will resolve not to appear in that region again.
One cannot judge from their behavior in Sabbath-school. Some way they
recognize a mission school as being in a sense their property, and
behave accordingly; but in a man's own house, surrounded by things of
which they do not even know the name, he has them at a disadvantage, and
can easily rouse within them the feeling that they are 'trapped.' Than
which there is nothing those fellows dread so much, I believe."
"But they were not afraid of Flossy last week, even surrounded by the
elegances of her parlors and dining-room."
"Ah!" he said, his eyes alight, "she has a wisdom born of God, I think,
for managing these and all other concerns. She is unlike everybody
Whereupon Gracie Dennis laughed; not a disagreeable laugh, but there
came to her just then a sense of the strangeness of thinking that pretty
Flossy Shipley, whom she had known all her life, and half-scorned from
the heights of her childhood because she was a silly little thing, who
could not do her problems in class, should have a wisdom unlike any
others. Yet, almost immediately her laugh was stayed, because the change
in Flossy was so great that she, too, recognized it as born of God.
Sometimes it came with force to this proud young girl that if God could
do so much for Flossy, what might he not be willing to do with those
whom he had made intellectually her superior, if they were but ready to
The young man, who was studying her, watched the grave look deepen on
her face, and wondered at its source. What a pretty face it was. Oh,
much more than pretty; there was great strength in it and sweetness,
too, of a certain sort, but he could not help comparing the sort with
that in some other faces, and he wondered over the difference. This
young lady was a Christian. Why should her Christian experience stamp
her with such a different expression from that which others wore? He
always finished this sort of sentence with a blank space first, as
though he did not choose to have himself tell himself any names. Yet he
spoke a name forcibly enough, still gazing earnestly at Gracie.
"Did you ever meet Miss Joy Saunders?"
Gracie turned toward him a laughing face.
"No, but we are very anxious to, Flossy and I. We have both been told
that we ought to know her, and told so earnestly that we really think
we ought. Who is she? Is she, too, unlike anybody else?"
"Very," he said, promptly. "I know her very little; she is the daughter
of our landlady; I meet her in the hall on rare occasions, and sometimes
catch glimpses of her just vanishing from some room as I enter; but as
for being acquainted with her, I suppose I am not. I think--though of
that I am by no means sure--that she is engaged to Dr. Everett.
"Oh, then, of course he would think naturally that people ought to know
her. What is she like?"
"Like nothing," said Alfred, with great promptness. "Did you ever know a
person named Joy?"
"No;--what a singular name."
"Well, it fits. She is very far removed from mirth, and she is not what
people call gay, and she is not outspoken apparently at any time,
though, as I say, I do not know her; but there is something in her face
that fits the name; I do not know what it is. Sometimes I think it is
the shining of Christ's face reflected in her; but the puzzle is, why do
not other faces have it? Faces which belong to him?"
"Perhaps there is a difference in the degree of belonging."
Gracie spoke the words very gently, wondering meanwhile at the way in
which this thought chimed in with hers about Flossy.
"Oh, there is. But why should there be? If I belong to Christ, I
_belong_, don't I? There is no half-way service possible. Why do I
not so look that others take knowledge of me that I have been with
"How do you know but they do?"
"Ah, I know. I know too well. They are more likely a great deal to take
knowledge that I have been with Satan. I feel the frown all over my face
a great deal of the time; and the world goes astray a great many times,
when I suppose it is just myself that is wrong. But, Miss Dennis, I
hunger for the shining of his face in me."
"That must be the meaning of the beatitude which puzzled my childhood,"
she answered trying to speak lightly, to hide feelings that were deeply
moved: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be filled."
"Thank you," he said, smiling; "there is actually a promise! I had not
thought of it. And yet"--the thoughtful frown gathering almost
immediately--"do you suppose that a person who really hungered for a
certain thing could be satisfied with anything else? I often have an
hour of what at the moment seems to me like hunger for Him, but the hour
passes, and I get filled--with business, or with plans, or possibly with
annoyances, and feel nothing but a general irritation for everybody. Do
you think there can be anything genuine about such desires, so easily
"Oh, I do not know," said Gracie, hastily. "Why do you ask me such
things? Did not I tell you I was not good? Ask those people who are
unlike all others. Why don't you ask this Joy? She could tell you, I
presume. I can tell you nothing, save that this is a very strange world,
not half so nice as I once thought it, and I don't like to think about
How _different_ he was from other young men with whom she had spent
fifteen minutes many a time in gay banter! This was, after all, the
thought uppermost in her mind at the moment. Nice Christian men, of whom
her father spoke well, and who, people said, were young men to be proud
of. It seemed to her that she knew them by the dozens, yet with which
one of them had she ever carried on such a conversation as this? With
which one could she have attempted any thing of the kind, without
leading him to suppose that she was taking leave of her senses?
She recalled some of the gay words that she had spoken with these
others, and tried, hurriedly, to decide why it would sound to her
perfectly absurd to talk with Alfred Ried in that way. However, she did
not want to talk with him; he was too full of questionings. "And
questions," said poor Gracie, "are all that I can ask myself. I want
somebody to talk with who is assured of the ground on which he stands,
and can tell me why he stands there."
There was not time for further talk--they were summoned to the new room.
Bursts of laughter greeted their ears as they made their way eagerly
across the hall, and Gracie took time to remark that the boys were
certainly not awed into silence, before the opening door let them into
the brightly-lighted scene. Every boy was laughing, not quietly, but
immoderately, and the centre of attraction was evidently Mr. Roberts.
"I have been giving our friends an account of an old army experience,"
he said, in explanation to Gracie, "and we have been enjoying a laugh
together over the old memory. You are all acquainted with Miss Dennis, I
think, young gentlemen?"
Clearly there was no need for any one to introduce Mr. Roberts to the
boys; apparently they knew him now better than they did any of the
others. Yet as Gracie, after shaking hands with each of the guests, took
a vacant seat by Nimble Dick, she was greeted with a confidential
"That's a jolly chap as ever I saw; and I never heard anything to beat
the yarn he told us, for cuteness. Who is he?"
"Why, he is Mr. Evan Roberts, the owner of this house."
"My eyes!" said Dick, gazing about him in a startled way. "Look here; he
ain't that Roberts from the big store on Fourth Street?"
"Yes, he is; he is one of the partners in that store."
Then did Nimble Dick give a low whistle,--suddenly cut short, as the
other boys looked at him,--and sat up straight in his chair, and for at
least a minute was awed; or else was bewildered. If his mind could have
been looked into for a moment something like this might have been seen
there: "And here I am sittin' in one of his chairs, and been laughin' to
kill over his funny story! If this ain't the greatest lark out! I
wonder what they're all after, anyhow!"
Then the real business of the evening commenced.
I should like to describe that evening; but it is really worse to
describe than the boys. It was designed to be one of those most
difficult evenings, where every act and almost every word has been
previously arranged, but arranged in such a manner as to appear like an
impromptu effort, the result of merely the happenings of the hour.
For instance, Mrs. Roberts aimed at nothing less formidable than the
teaching of these boys to read and write; and know as well as ever I
know it, that to frankly own that she was ready and willing to give her
time and patience in so teaching them would be to outwit herself. They
did not belong to the class who can be beguiled into evening schools.
There are such; Mark Calkins would have seized such an opportunity
and rejoiced over it, but these were lower in the scale; they did
not realize their need, and they had what they in ignorance called
"independence"; they were not to be "trapped" by evening schools.
Therefore it required diplomacy; and no people can be more diplomatic,
on occasion, than certain most innocent-looking little women. Mrs.
Roberts had studied her way step by step.
Therefore it was, that by the most natural passage possible, she led
the way to a discussion of different styles of writing, bringing forth
to aid her a certain old autograph album which had been to many places
of note, among others Chautauqua, and had the names of distinguished
persons, as well as of many who were not distinguished, except for
Christian endurance in consenting to write in an autograph album. Good
writers were talked about and selected, and poor writers were talked
about, and it was said by some one, accidentally of course, that a good
hand was really an accomplishment.
"It is more than that!" declared Mr. Roberts. "A man's business life
often turns on it. I have myself had to turn away from several otherwise
suitable helpers in our business because they really could not write a
good, clear hand, that could be read without studying."
"Are you a good writer, Miss Gracie?"
This remark, coming suddenly to Gracie from her host, almost embarrassed
her, for you are not to suppose that the very words by which these
themes should be introduced had been planned, and it had not occurred to
Gracie that so personal a question might be asked her. But she rallied
"No, sir; I am sorry to say that I am not. I write what papa calls a
mincing hand; all jumbled up together, you know, or running into each
other, the letters are, and so difficult to read that papa said when I
came away he hoped I would call on his friend, Dr. Stuart, every day,
and write a letter on his type-writer."
"What is that?" interrupted Nimble Dick, his face curious.
"What? A type-writer? Oh, it is a strange little machine used instead of
the pen--at least, a very few people use it. It is quite new, I think,
and must be very curious. I never saw one, but the writing looks just
like print. Dr. Stuart, a pastor in the city, is my papa's friend, and
writes to him on his, and papa reads the letter with great satisfaction,
saying to me, 'There, daughter, that is something like! People who
cannot write well enough for others to read should print.'"
"They are not so very uncommon, Miss Dennis," explained Dr. Everett, who
saw the eagerness on Nimble Dick's face. "It is a comparatively new
invention, but is being caught up very promptly. I think nearly all the
leading lawyers use them, and those who do not own them are getting
their copying done at the rooms. They are very ingenious little
"Did you say you never saw one?"
This question from Mr. Roberts to Gracie, and he added:--
"Mrs. Roberts, I believe you have never had other than the first glimpse
I showed you in the Parker Building. I have an idea. Suppose I rent one
of the little fellows to interest us? It would be pleasant to look into
it and see how it works. Did none of you ever see one? Well, now, we'll
try for that on next Monday evening. I'll have one sent up to-morrow,
and, Miss Gracie, we'll appoint you showman for the following Monday; so
it is to be hoped that you will employ your leisure in learning how to
manage the creature, and perhaps send your father a readable letter at
the same time."
Now, as may readily be supposed, all this about machinery had not been
arranged for beforehand, but was a side issue, born of the fact that the
watchful servant of his Master saw an eager look in the eyes of the boy
Dick directly there was anything said that suggested machinery. One of
the great aims of these evenings was to study character, however
Having turned his company from the regular channel, Mr. Roberts made
haste to put them skilfully back where they were before:--
"Still, it would be a pity to resort to machinery simply because one did
not know how to write well. I would rather set to work to correct the
error. I happen to know one of our number who can write a very enviable
hand. Do you know, Ried, that the letter you wrote me was the first
thing which attracted me to you? I remember I showed the note to one of
our senior partners, who was particularly disturbed by poor writing, and
he said: 'Engage him, Roberts, do! A young man who can write like that
will be a relief.' Mrs. Roberts, I move you that we resolve ourselves at
this moment into a writing-class, to be taught by Mr. Ried. My dear sir,
will you take us in hand?"
Something of this kind had been planned--at least, it had been planned
that Ried should be asked to do this thing; but he found the actual
asking embarrassing, and struggled with it with flushing cheeks. Gracie
came to his aid:--
"I don't know whether I'll take lessons or not. Who wants to expose
one's ignorance? Will you teach? Must we each give a specimen of our
Instantly Ried divined the reason for the question.
"No," he said, eagerly; "oh, no; I should begin with those horrors of
your childhood, pothooks or something of that sort; lines and curves,
you know. There are not many of them after all in our letters, and when
once a person has conquered them it is easy to put them together."
There was more talk, easy and social. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, the doctor,
and Gracie seemed equally interested in the project, and questioned
young Ried, until he assured them that he began to feel like a veritable
professor. Apparently the boys were forgotten. This very fact put them
at their ease, and they listened, interested and amused over the thought
that these ladies and gentlemen wanted to go to school!
At first I do not think it occurred to one of them that he was included
in the proposal to form an writing-class.
How was it done? I am not sure that any one of the eager group of
workers could have told you afterward, so excited did they become over
this first scheme. Nobody could remember just what words were said, nor
who said them, nor whether the boys all looked equally startled when
paper and pen were put into each hand. They remembered that some shook
their heads emphatically, and that Nimble Dick spoke plainly: "No you
don't! I can't write any more than a duck can, and I never expect to."
Mrs. Roberts knew that Dirk Colson's dark face turned a fierce red, and
he snapped the offered pen half-way across the table with his indignant
thumb and finger. But of these words and acts nobody apparently took any
notice. The writing began, and the first marks given as copies were so
simple, looked so easy to do, and the attempts of the ladies and
gentlemen fell so far short of what the teacher desired, and were so
unmercifully criticised by him, and the criticisms were so merrily
received by the writers, that at last the whole thing took the form of
a joke to Nimble Dick's mind, and he became possessed with a burning
desire to try. One by one the boys stealthily followed his example;
Alfred taking care to watch eagerly, to commend both Stephen Crowley
and Gracie Dennis in the same breath for some true stroke, and criticise
both Mrs. Roberts and Nimble Dick for not holding the pen aright.
The entire party became so interested that only Mrs. Roberts knew just
when Dirk Colson stealthily filliped back his pen from the distance to
which it had been rolled, and, sitting upright that he might attract the
less notice, tried his hand on the curve which was giving even Dr.
When the young teacher discovered it he made also another discovery,
which he proclaimed:--
"Upon my word, I beg the pardon of each of you, but Colson here has made
the only respectable _R_-curve there is in the company."
Then if his sister Mart had seen the glow on Dirk's face, I am not sure
that she would have known him. There was a momentary transformation.
As for Mrs. Roberts, she bowed low over the letter she was carefully
forming, but it was to say in soft whisper heard by one ear alone:--
"YOURN'S THE WAY!"
You are not to suppose, because this first Monday evening (which, by the
way, was concluded with sandwiches and coffee) was a success, pronounced
so by all concerned, that therefore the ones which followed were all
Fortunately, not one of the workers expected this, and so were brave and
cheerful under drawbacks.
These were numerous and varied.
After the first novelty wore off, it took at times only the most trivial
excuses to keep the boys away. Sometimes when they called their conduct
was anything but encouraging. They lolled in the easy-chairs, smelling
strongly of tobacco and other bar-room odors, refused insolently to
apply themselves to any work at hand, audibly pronounced the whole thing
"slow," and in numberless ways severely tried the patience of both
Alfred and Gracie.
For the others, they had counted the cost,--at least the gentlemen
had,--and expected to move slowly, even to appear to go backward some
of the time. As for Mrs. Roberts, I have told you that she worked in
a peculiar manner, with the motto, "This one thing I do," apparently
ever before her.
Each evening was distinct in itself, with efforts to make and obstacles
to overcome; and at its close she had a way of laying it aside, as
something with which her part was done, not attempting even to calculate
results; then she was ready to turn to a new day, and work steadily for
The winter was slipping away and Gracie Dennis lingered. She could
hardly have told you why, yet there were many apparent reasons. Mrs.
Roberts wanted her, rejoiced in her, and coaxed irresistibly as often as
the thought of going home was mentioned. Then Gracie, laugh over the
peculiar work going on as she might, was undeniably interested in those
boys. She was working for them, therefore of course she was interested.
"I don't see how you can go this week?" would young Ried say to her,
with a perplexed air; "you know we have that matter all planned for next
Monday evening. How can we carry out the scheme if you are not there to
do your part?"
Then would Gracie laugh and demur and admit, to herself only, that it
was very pleasant to be needed--as she certainly was--for one night
more; and so the nights passed.
Her work was to be "Professor of Elocution," as Mr. Roberts gaily called
her when the workers were alone together. It had been discovered that
she could read both prose and poetry with effect. So a reading-class was
organized, and they chose for the first evening, not one of Bryant's or
Whittier's gems, nor selections from Milton or Shakespeare, which would
have suited part of the company, nor yet the "Easy Readings" in some
standard spelling-book, which would have fitted the capacity of the
others, but with great care and much discussion, one of Will Carleton's
descriptive poems, full of homely, yet tender language, full of pathos
and of humor, was unanimously selected.
The first evening reading had been commenced with nuts and apples. There
are those who can see no connection between this and the intellectual;
happily for the characters with whom she had to deal, Mrs. Roberts was
not one of them. While the others were still enjoying the refreshments
she took the book and read. This was her quiet little sacrifice. It was
not pleasant to her to become a public reader. It required courage to
get through with one verse, with Dr. Everett sitting opposite, and
Gracie Dennis on a low seat at her side, and her husband listening
intently. Mrs. Roberts was not a good reader, and was aware of it. She
pronounced the words correctly, it is true; but when you had said that,
you had said all that there was to offer in praise of her effort. She
had some exasperating faults. But she bravely read the two verses, and
some of the boys listened, and one of them laughed; he had caught a
gleam of the fun in the poem. This, of course, was Nimble Dick.
Then Alfred Ried made the same effort on the same verses; his
performance was very little better, and he, too, knew it. He could
write, but he was by no means a public reader; this was his offering to
the general good. If those fellows, by reason of his mistakes, could be
induced to climb, he was willing to offer his pride on the altar. No
matter by what petty trials they were caught so that they were really
Then followed Gracie Dennis, and her own father, acceptable preacher
though he was, might with credit to himself have taken lessons of her.
She was certainly, for one so young and so unprofessional, a magnificent
reader. So indeed was Marion Wilbur, and she had enjoyed teaching
The poem blossomed in her hand. The crunching of nuts and apples
entirely ceased. The boys sat erect and listened and laughed and flushed
and swallowed suspiciously over some of the homely pathos. They had
never heard anything like that before, and they evidently appreciated
it. She read through to the end.
Then were unloosed the tongues! They exclaimed in delight:--
"What an accomplishment it is!" said Mr. Roberts; "and how few possess
it. Doctor, how many really fine readers have you heard in your life?"
"About three," said the doctor, laconically.
"Well," said Mrs. Roberts, "let us all be exceptions. Gracie, teach us
how. I will try again."
And she did, on the first verse of the poem; with better success than
before; but how sharp the contrast between her reading and Gracie's, she
knew! It was not easy for her to read.
I don't know, possibly I am mistaken, but it seems to me that I have
known people ready for large sacrifices, who yet would shrink painfully
from these little ones.
In discussing the programme for the evening, the question had been, when
each had done his part, How were they to influence the boys to join?
_Could_ they join? Was it probable that they knew enough about
reading to attempt to speak the words of the poem? With reference to
this obstacle a poem had been chosen full of simple, homely words, such
as are in common use; especially was the first verse free from what Mr.
Roberts called "shoals." Having heard the verse read several times, it
was hoped that some one of the seven might have courage to attempt it,
but Gracie did not believe that such would be the case.
"I don't see how we can ask them, and do it naturally," said Dr.
Everett. "It is such an unheard-of thing, you know; and I am afraid, do
our best, it will present itself to them as a patronage, and that will
be fatal. The people who are low enough to need patronage are the very
ones who won't endure it."
Whereupon various ways of managing the matter were discussed and
discarded; suddenly Mrs. Roberts turned to her young lieutenant, who had
been silent for some time, and said:--
"What are you thinking of, Mr. Ried? Do you see a way out?"
"No," he said; "I have neither knowledge nor skill in such matters, but
my thoughts just then were far away; I was thinking how curiously,
certain apparently trivial instances of one's childhood will stand out
with almost startling prominence."
"What sent you off in that direction?" questioned Dr. Everett. "There
must have been an association of ideas."
"Oh, there was; I was thinking how vividly I remembered a discussion
between my mother and my sister, younger than Ester, in regard to some
matter which perplexed them; and when they could come to no satisfactory
conclusion they appealed to my sister Ester, who was resting as usual on
her lounge. I can seem to hear her voice as she said: 'We haven't to do
anything about it until to-morrow; perhaps to-morrow will have a light of
its own for our direction."
"Thank you!" Mrs. Roberts said, her eyes lighting with an appreciative
smile; "we have not to do anything about this until Monday night, and
perhaps Monday night will see us wise."
I don't know how many thought of this little conversation when Monday
evening came, but certainly Alfred Ried and Mrs. Roberts did, for she
glanced at him and smiled significantly when Dr. Everett, having
apparently forgotten that anything beyond their own pleasure was in
contemplation, challenged Gracie to a discussion as to the emphasis on a
certain word in the second line; he had never heard it so read, and he
called for an analysis that would sustain the reading, and received it,
and was not yet prepared to yield the point, but read the verse as he
had imagined it should be read, and then Gracie, at Mr. Roberts' call,
repeated it with her rendering, and I am not sure but all parties
concerned actually forgot their final object in the interest of the
discussion until they were suddenly called to it by an interrupting
"Your'n's the way," it said, with an emphatic nod of a shock of matted
hair, "your'n's the way."
It was Dirk Colson. He had forgotten for the moment that anybody was
listening to him, save the two readers. He was looking directly at
Gracie, and the nods were evidently intended for her.
"Of course it is!" she said, eagerly, her face flushing with a triumph
that had nothing to do with the right emphasis; "you read it, won't you,
and show these people that we are right?"
Afterward Mrs. Roberts confessed that she involuntarily placed her hand
on her heart with a dim idea of hushing its beating lest others would
hear, so important to her did the moment seem. Dr. Everett looked
dismayed. The least hopeful one of the seven seemed Dirk. None of them
knew of his dangerous talent for imitation. None of them believed that
he would make any attempt at reading, but thought he would shrink into
deeper sullenness. All of them were mistaken. He reached for the book,
glanced for a moment over the lines, and then read the verse, with so
complete an imitation of Gracie Dennis, and yet with a voice and manner
that so fitted the homely words and the homely scene described that the
effect was actually better than when Gracie read.
Instinctively the cultured portion of his audience greeted the effort
with a clapping of hands. The blood, meantime, rolled in dark waves over
Dirk's face. He had been cheered before. None of his present applauders
could imagine what a set had often clapped their hands over his
successful imitations; but Dirk, who liked applause as well as other
human beings do, had never, in his wildest stretches of imagination,
placed himself before such people as listened now and received their
Great was the excitement and satisfaction. The six companions, far from
feeling any emotion of jealousy, seemed greatly elated, believing that
one of their number had made a "hit," and increased their importance.
No one else could be found to attempt the verse. Nimble Dick shook his
head good-naturedly, and declared that he would rather "undertake to run
an engine to Californy" than try it; and the others were of like mind.
Then came Gracie to the front again:--
"I'll tell you what you must all do. I have been experimenting with that
type-writer, Mr. Roberts, all the week. You know it will manifold, with
the use of carbon paper, and it chances that when I was seized with a
desire to try its powers in that direction I choose this very verse to
copy; so I have fifteen good copies in print. You must each take a copy
and make this verse a study until next Monday; then I shall challenge
you all to sustain me in my reading."
This proposition was hailed with such satisfaction by the older members
that it immediately became popular, and each boy received his copy
mechanically and gazed at it curiously: but Dirk Colson's thoughts were
turned in a new channel.
"Look here!" he said, detaining Gracie by an imperious inclination of
his head, as she handed him the copy; "how did you make these? didn't
you print them fifteen times? I didn't understand what you said."
"Why no!" said Gracie, "the machine will _manifold_. I'll show you;
come over to the end window; it stands there waiting to be displayed,
and it is a little wonder."
Then they crowded around the type-writer, and Gracie, really proud of
the skill she had acquired in a week's time, showed off the little
wonder to great advantage.
The fact that the type-writer was new to most of the others, that they
were decidedly ignorant as to its working, increased the comfort of the
hour by doing away with the embarrassing feeling that any one of them
was playing a part. Dr. Everett was no more familiar with the
type-writer than was Dirk Colson, and was just as eager to know about
Also everybody, apparently, felt an equally strong desire to write his
name on the marvellous little creature, and each in turn sat down before
it and moved his awkward hands with nearly equal slowness over the keys,
picking out the magic letters.
It was this episode that made the workers during their next conference
branch out in new lines.
"We need something," said Dr. Everett, walking up and down the floor in
puzzled thought, "we need something that shall be a genuine common
interest, of which we are all, or all but one, equally ignorant--something
that we can take hold of with zest, on as low a platform as the most
ignorant of those seen. I was convinced of that when I saw the abandon
with which we all went into the type-writer business, with a naturalness
and equality that, in the matter of reading and writing, it is impossible
for us to feel. If the machine were complicated, so that it would take us
each three months or so to master it, that would do. What can we take up
that will place us on a level?"
"WE HAVE BEGUN BACKWARDS."
"Well," said Mr. Ried, "we should want to have one of our number not 'on
a level.' How would it do to appoint you, sir, to give us a few lectures
in Hygiene? Popular lectures about air and exercise and ventilation and
bathing, and all sorts of every-day topics, about which people are
"That's a capital idea, Ried. Those fellows could certainly be benefited
by a little attention to such questions; and I'm sure the rest of us
would like to hear of the principles which govern these important laws.
Such lectures put into popular form are decidedly interesting, I think.
Let us vote for them." This was Mr. Roberts' hearty seconding.
But the doctor laughed.
"There is a ludicrous side to it which you do not see," he said.
"Imagine me holding forth on the importance of ventilation, for
instance, to a poor follow who comes from a region where father and
mother, and a horde of children of both sexes and all ages, crowd
together in one room, and that a cellar, where the sun never penetrates
and the air that crawls in through the one small window is reeking with
even more impurities than can be found inside. Or talking about bathing,
to the poor wretches who have no clothing to change, and barely water
enough, by carrying it long distances, to satisfy their most pressing
needs! Still, Ried, I'm not quarrelling with your idea. There is a
sensible side to it; there are things that I could tell even those boys
which might interest them, and would certainly be to their advantage to
know. The subject is one which can be popularized to suit even such an
audience. I'll try for it occasionally if it shall seem best: but it
doesn't meet my demand. I want us all on a platform where we shall start
in equal ignorance and get on together. Of course you are all more or
less familiar with all the facts that I should have to present, and the
boys would know it. They are sharp fellows; it wouldn't take them an
hour to discover that we were fishing for them; and if there is any one
thing on which they are at present determined, it is, probably, that
they will not be benefited. What is there that one of us knows, of which
the others are ignorant? French won't do, for Miss Dennis is acquainted
with that language, I think, and so are you, Ried, are you not?"
"Well, I can stammer through a few sentences. I don't speak it like a
native as you do."
At this revelation a vivid blush glowed on Gracie Dennis' cheek. She
remembered Professor Ellis' comments in French. Then the doctor had
understood, though his face was so imperturbable! What could he have
thought of the courtesy of her guest?
Meantime Mr. Ried wore a perplexed face.
"You are right," he said to the doctor; "we are not enough on a level; I
felt our advantage last night when Miss Dennis was explaining the
type-writer; but I don't see the way clear. What subject is there on
which all but one of us could meet on common ground, and that one could
Here interposed Mr. Roberts, speaking in a meek tone of voice:--
"If I were not a modest man I should venture a suggestion; as it is, I
really don't know what to do."
The doctor turned to him quickly:--
"Out with it, man; if you are master of a profession or a trade or a
theory unknown to the rest of us, you are bound on your honor as a
member of this unique organization to present it."
At the same moment Mrs. Roberts came to his aid.
"Oh, Evan, teach us short-hand!"
Whereupon Mr. Roberts heaved what was intended to appear as a relieved
sigh, and announced that his modesty was preserved.
Upon this suggestion they seized with eagerness; not one of them knew
anything about phonetic writing save Mr. Roberts, and he was master of
"It is the very thing!" the doctor said, with heartiness. "I should like
exceedingly to learn it, and Ried and the ladies may be able to make it
useful in a hundred ways; and as for the seven, if they really master
it, it may be the foundation of a fortune for some of them."
So, without more ado, it was planned that at the very next Monday
evening the subject should be skilfully presented, its importance and
its fascinations discussed, and the boys be beguiled into taking a first
lesson, sandwiched in between the all-important reading and writing
Alas for plans! On the very next Monday the conspirators, with the
exception of young Ried, were together by seven o'clock. The faint aroma
of coffee floated through the room. A fruit-basket filled with oranges
occupied a conspicuous table, and everything waited for the guests.
While they waited, instead of enjoying themselves as the four were
certainly capable of doing, they were noticeably restless; listened for
the shuffling of careless feet on the steps, and the sound of uncultured
voices in the hall, and waited expectantly whenever the bell pealed,
only to be obliged to send word to some caller that "Mr. and Mrs.
Roberts were engaged."
The special occupation of the four seemed to be to look at their watches
and to remark that the doctor's was a trifle fast, and to wonder if
half-past seven would be a more suitable hour for the boys, and to
wonder what could be detaining Ried.
At last it was half-past seven, and then it was fifteen minutes of
eight, and then it was ten minutes of eight! And then the door-bell rang
again. It was Ried, and he was alone! One glance at his distressed face
told the lookers-on that something was amiss, even before he
"You won't see a boy to-night!"
"Why?" "What is the trouble?" "Where are they?"
These were the various ways of putting the same question.
"One of the McCullum partners has become interested in the boys, it
seems, and has concluded that he will try what he can do towards their
elevation; so he has commenced by presenting each one of them with a
ticket to the Green Street Theatre, and there they are at this moment!"
This startling intelligence was variously received. Dr. Everett
"Is it possible?"
Gracie Dennis remarked that it was something like what she had expected;
Mrs. Roberts said not a word, and Mr. Roberts added to the astonishment
of the moment by bursting into a laugh.
Poor Ried seemed to feel the laugh more than anything; his face gathered
into heavier clouds than before, he bit his lip to hold back the vexed
words that were just ready to burst forth, and strode almost angrily to
the further corner of the room.
An embarrassed silence seemed to fall upon the others. At least Gracie
felt embarrassed; the doctor looked simply expectant.
At last Mr. Roberts drew himself up from his lounging attitude and broke
into the stillness.
"Ah, now, good people, don't let us make serious mistakes! Come back
here, my dear young brother, and let us look this thing in the face, and
talk it over calmly. Are we children playing at benevolence that at the
first discouragement we should cry out, 'All is lost!' and retire
vanquished? Come, I laughed because really this does not seem such a
serious matter to me as it seems to present to the rest of you.
"What did we expect? Here are seven boys, right from the gutters;
somehow we have had them laid on our hearts, and have enlisted to help
fight the battle that is going on about them in this world. Christ died
to save them, and Satan means that the sacrifice shall be in vain. He is
bringing all his powers to bear on them; and he has many and varied
"Here comes into the scene a man benevolently inclined; not a Christian,
but in his way a philanthropist. By accident he has come in contact with
one of the boys; by accident he learns that something--he does not know
quite what--is being attempted to benefit them. Can't you give him the
credit of being honest? The only thing he thinks of that he can do to
help is to give them an evening's entertainment. At one of the decent
theatres there is being presented what seems to be known in their
parlance as a 'moral play!' So he presents each boy with a ticket. Now,
what did we expect of those boys?
"Last week a lady and two gentleman who have been members of our church
for years, left the regular prayer-meeting, and went to the Philharmonic
"Ought we to expect that it would even occur to our seven boys to give
up what to them is a rare treat for the pleasure of spending an evening
with us? As for the moral obligation, they have probably never so much
as heard the words.
"Isn't it time we knew what we were about? What are we after? It is well
enough to teach the poor fellows to read and write, and to help lift
them up in other ways, but our efforts will amount to very little unless
we succeed in bringing them to the great Lever of human society; unless
Christ take hold of this thing we shall fail. Now, has He taken hold? Is
He, at least, as much interested in them as we are? Is His Holy Spirit
preceding and supplementing all our efforts? And, if this is the case,
is an evening at a theatre going to ruin His plans?"
Long before these earnest sentences were concluded Ried had returned
from his distant corner, and taken a seat near his employer; his eyes
were full of tears, and his voice trembled:--
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Roberts; I'm an ignorant blunderer; I did feel
for the moment as though everything were lost."
"We have begun backwards," said Mr. Roberts; "I was reading to-day that
a mistake the missionaries made for years in trying to _civilize_ the
Greenlanders; and what a perfect failure they made of it until one day
almost by accident, a man began to tell them about Christ on the cross,
and the story melted them. I don't think I have thought enough about Him
in this matter."
"I stand convicted," Dr. Everett said; "I've made the same mistake, I
believe, in all my efforts for people. I have been praying for them, it
is true; but, after all, I feel now as though there had been too much
relying on human means, and not enough on God. It is a case of 'these
ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone.'"
"Well," said Mr. Roberts, looking at his watch, "we are in the same
condemnation; it is, I believe, the most common, and one of the most
fatal, mistakes that Christian workers make. But there is a way out. We
expected to spend until ten o'clock with those boys. It is nearly nine
now; suppose we spend the next hour with Christ, asking for the power of
the Holy Spirit on any and every effort that we may make for them in the
future? Our ultimate aim is to bring every one of them to Jesus and He
knows it; now if we have gone about in the wrong way, we have only to
ask Him forgiveness and look to Him steadily for guidance. What do you
say, friends, shall we spend the hour in taking them to the only One who
really can afford them lasting help?"
I suppose that He who "maketh the wrath of man to praise Him" is equally
able to manage the folly of man. Could the injudicious philanthropist
have looked into that room that evening, and heard the prayers that went
up to God for those boys, and understood something of the power of
prayer, he would have had one illustration of how God manages the
foolishness of men.
It was a very earnest prayer-meeting. These workers had each one bowed
in secret, and with more or less earnestness, asked for God's blessing
on their efforts; but it occurred to them that evening, as a very
strange thing, that they had never unitedly prayed for this before.
Therefore there was an element of confession in all the prayers that
moved Gracie Dennis strangely. Especially was this the case when she
heard her old acquaintance, Flossy, pour out her soul's longings. It
happened, so strange are the customs of Christians, that though this was
the daughter of a minister of the gospel, herself a Christian, she had
never before heard a lady pray in the presence of gentlemen. She had
heard of their doing so; heard them criticised with sharp sarcasm. Some
of the criticisms which had sounded full of keenness and wit when she
heard them, recurred to her at this time, and some way, with Flossy's
low, earnest voice filling her heart, they dwindled into shallowness and
coarseness. All the same, their baneful influence was on her, and helped
to hold her back from opening her lips, for the critic had been
When the hostess and her young guest were left alone together that
evening, the latter had a question to ask:--
"Flossy Shipley!"--the name you will remember which she always went back
to when excited--"I didn't know you believed in praying in
_public_! Have you changed in _everything_?"
"In public, my dear!" with a quiet smile; "why, I am in my own house!"
"Oh, yes; but you know what I mean--before gentlemen. Do you really
think it is necessary?"
"As to that, Gracie, I don't believe I thought anything about it. I
wanted to pray for those boys, and so I prayed."
"And didn't you really shrink from it at all? How very queer! Flossy, I
do believe nobody was ever so much changed by religion as you have been.
I don't see what makes the difference. I'm sure I think I'm a Christian,
but I could never do such a thing as that."
"Not if you believed it to be your duty?"
"But I don't believe it," said the fair logician, her face flushing; "I
think it is out of place. I beg your pardon, Flossy, I don't mean I
think it sounded badly in you; but only that for me it would be horrid,
and I couldn't do it."
"Then what are you talking about, my dear? If you should never consider
it your duty, you would certainly never be called upon to do it."
"OH, WHAT A NICE THOUGHT!"
This very calm view of the question gave Gracie time to recover from her
excitement, and to laugh at her folly. Then Mrs. Roberts said, still
speaking very gently:--
"I don't want to argue with you, dear, and I couldn't if I wished; you
know I am a dunce about all such things; but I just want to ask you a
little question; you need not answer me unless you choose; not now, that
is--perhaps some time we may want to talk about it. I would like to know
the reasons that people have for thinking that it is out of place for a
lady to kneel down with her Christian friends and speak to Jesus about a
thing that they unitedly desire, and that they believe He is able to do
for them? If it is not proper to speak before them, why is it proper to
speak _to_ them on the same subject?"
This question Gracie carried to her room for thought.
Meantime, as Dr. Everett and young Ried went homeward, they had a talk
"When I found out that those boys had gone to the theatre to-night I was
completely discouraged," declared Ried. "It seemed to me that our work
was a failure; I could almost see Satan laughing over the success of his
scheme. I never felt so about anything in my life. And now it seems to
me that perhaps the Lord will let it result in being the best thing that
ever happened to us."
To all of which Dr. Everett made the apparently irrelevant answer:--
"Mr. Roberts and his wife are singularly well mated; how perfectly they
fit into each other's thoughts. Ried, you and I have a great deal to
learn from them."
"I have," said Ried, meekly.
Yet another bit of talk closed this evening:
"McCullum has given me an idea," Mr. Roberts said to his wife as they
sat together reviewing the day. "Not a bad one, I fancy. I wonder when
we can act on it and watch results? There are tickets for other places
besides theatres. Why couldn't we furnish them for some entertainment,
lecture, or concert, or something of the sort, that would be really
helpful? The only difficulty is that there are few helpful places as yet
within reach of their capacities. It takes an exceptional genius to hold
But his wife, her face aglow, clasped her hands in an ecstasy of
"What a beautiful thought!" she said; "and how nice that it should come
to you just now, when there will be such a splendid opportunity to put
it in practice. Why, don't you know? Gough, next week, fifty cent
tickets; on temperance, too! how grand! And Evan, let us give them each
two tickets. I want that Dirk Colson to take his sister; perhaps he will
not, but then he may; one can never tell. Oh, Evan, won't it be nice?"
"Ah!" said Mr. Roberts, "as usual you are ahead of me. I had not thought
of the two tickets apiece. That is a suggestion for their manliness.
Flossy, we'll try it."
Yet another bit of talk.
They shambled down the stairs, from the second-rate hall at a late hour
that evening--those seven boys; quiet for them, though the play had been
exciting, and not remarkably moral "viewed" from the standpoint of a
"After all," said Nimble Dick, breaking a silence with speech, as
though the subject of which he spoke had been under discussion among
them, "after all, it was rather sneaking to bolt and say nothing; I kind
of wish we hadn't done it."
"That's what I told you all along," said Dirk Colson, with even unusual
sullenness, "but you would go and do it, and we was fools enough to
"And I'll bet she had oysters or something!" This from Jerry Tompkins;
you have probably no idea how hungry he was at that moment.
"They was goin' to do somethin' new to-night; that there Dennis girl
told me so when I met her on the street yesterday; something that we
would like first rate, she said--a brand-new notion." This was Stephen
Crowley's contribution to the general discomfort.
"Well," said Nimble Dick, and the sigh with which he spoke the word
would have gone to Mrs. Roberts' heart, "I s'pose it's all up now; I
shouldn't wonder if we never got another bid; I wouldn't if I was them,
I know that; and their old theatre wasn't no great shakes, after all.
We've been a pack of fools, and I don't mind owning it."
Whereupon, having reached the corner, they separated and went glumly to
their homes. And this is gratitude! What a pity Mr. McCullum--who had
been smiling over his benevolence all the evening--could not have heard
The weeks that followed this night, were crowded with trifles on which
hung important and far-reaching results. This is a very trite saying, I
know. All weeks are crowded with eventful trifles; at least, we in our
blindness call them trifles, although we are constantly discovering
their importance, and being constantly astonished over them.
Among other things, the seven boys became nine,--having taken to their
companionship two choice spirits, apparently worse than themselves, and
appeared at the South End Mission with all the bravado that boys of
their stamp are apt to put on when they feel somewhat ashamed of
themselves. The consequence was that the trials which Mrs. Roberts had
to endure from them, though a trifle less apparent to others, were not a
whit less distressing than usual.
But before the session was concluded they were treated to a sensation
that held them in silent astonishment for nearly five minutes. Any
person well acquainted with Alfred Ried could have told that he had a
plan in view, and was trying to carry it in the face of some opposition.
He looked convinced, and Mr. Durant looked astonished and troubled;
there was much low-toned talk between them and some shaking of head.
Apparently, however, Mr. Ried came off victor, for his brow cleared, and
he presently made his way to Mrs. Roberts' side and said a few words,
and must have been gratified by the sudden lighting up of her face and
"Oh, what a nice thought! Even if it fails, apparently, it will not
utterly, for the suggestion will help them."
In the course of time the new idea came to the front. There was to be a
festival, or a social, or an entertainment at the South End in the
course of a few weeks,--a sort of anniversary of the starting of the
Mission. Among other work that was in progress, the decoration of the
room, involving the hanging of pictures, banners, mottoes, wreaths,
etc., required some strong arms and willing hands. Committees were to be
formed. Two weeks before, teachers had been appointed to prepare a list
of committees. It fell to young Ried to appoint the committee on
decoration. When he was called upon for his report, he came promptly
forward, like a man ready for action, and commenced:--
"A committee of four has been deemed amply sufficient for decoration,
and I appoint for the purpose the following: Richard Bolton, Morris
Burns, Miss Gracie Dennis, and Miss Annie Powell."
The teachers, who had been long at the Mission, looked from one to
another with a bewildered air. Morris Burns they knew,--a clear-eyed
young Scotchman, with willing hands and feet ever ready to run of
errands for all workers; a boy of nineteen or so, whom everybody liked;
warm-hearted, unselfish, and thoroughly trustworthy. Annie Powell was
one of the older girls in Mr. Durant's Bible-class; a sweet-faced,
ladylike little factory girl, who would work in with Morris Burns
nicely. Miss Gracie Dennis was Mrs. Roberts' beautiful young friend; all
the teachers knew her, and all thought it very kind in her to throw her
strength and taste into the preparations as heartily as though she were
one of them. But who was Richard Bolton? Nobody knew. Yet their
knowledge of business etiquette told them that he was chairman of the
Decoration Committee. Where was he? Not a teacher, certainly, for they
were intimately acquainted with one another; and they knew no such name
in the one Bible-class made up of trustworthy helpers.
Over in Mrs. Roberts' class, with the single exception of the teacher,
there was equal ignorance; the nine boys had stopped their restless
mischief to listen, because there is a sort of fascination to boys in
all the details of well-managed business; they liked to hear the
appointments; but who Richard Bolton might be seemed not to occur to one
of them. It is true that Jerry Tompkins nudged Nimble Dick in anything
but a quiet way with his elbow, and murmured, "You've got a namesake it
seem, in this 'ere job." Yet no light dawned on them.
Mr. Durant, who, it is possible, has not appeared to you in a favorable
light, for the reason that he was being much perplexed by the entirely
new methods being introduced among the boys who had heretofore driven
him to the very verge of desperation, was really a quickwitted man, and
having succumbed to what he feared was a wild experiment, knew how to
help carry it out properly. He came briskly to the front,--Alfred's
committee being the last on the list,--and began his work.
"The chairmen of these different committees will be kind enough to
report to me as rapidly as possible the time and place of their first
meeting for consultation, and I will make the announcements." Then he
stepped to Mrs. Roberts' class. "Bolton," he said, bending toward that
astonished scamp, and speaking as though this were an every-day affair,
"you are chairman, I believe, of the Decoration Committee; where and
when will you have them meet?"
Imagine Nimble Dick's eyes! Nay, imagine the eyes and faces of the
entire nine! It would have been a study for an artist.
For a moment Nimble Dick was speechless; then he managed to burst forth
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