The Minister's Charge
William D. Howells
Part 3 out of 7
"Yes. She's quite given over remembering _any_thing, because
she knows that he will remember _every_thing."
"I see. And you?"
"Well, you have sometimes thought I was a little rash."
"A little? Did I think it was a little?"
"Well, a good deal. But it was all nothing to what I've been since
Lemuel came. I used to keep some slight check upon myself for
Sibyl's sake; but I don't now. I know that Lemuel is there to
temper, to delay, to modify the effect of every impulse, and so I am
all impulse now. And I've quite ceased to rule my temper. I know
that Lemuel has self-control enough for all the tempers in the
house, and so I feel perfectly calm in my wildest transports of
"I understand," said Sewell. "And does Sibyl permit herself a
similar excess in her fancies and ambitions?"
"Quite," said Miss Vane. "I don't know that she consciously relies
upon Lemuel to supplement her, any more than Jane does; but she must
be unconsciously aware that no extravagance of hers can be dangerous
while Lemuel is in the house."
"Unconsciously aware is good. She hasn't got tired of reforming him
"I don't know. I sometimes think she wishes he had gone a little
farther in crime. Then his reformation would be more obvious."
"Yes; I can appreciate that. Does she still look after his art and
"That phase has changed a little. She thinks now that he ought to be
stimulated, if anything--that he ought to read George Eliot. She's
put _Middlemarch_ and _Romola_ on his shelf. She says that
he looks like Tito Malemma."
Sewell rose. "Well, I don't see but what your supplement is a very
demoralising element. I shall never dare to tell Mrs. Sewell what
"Oh, she knows it," cried Miss Vane. "We've agreed that you will
counteract any temptation that Lemuel may feel to abuse his
advantages by the ferociously self-denying sermons you preach at him
"Do I preach at him? Do you notice it?" asked Sewell nervously.
"Notice it?" laughed Miss Vane. "I should think your whole
congregation would notice it. You seem to look at nobody else."
"I know it! Since he began to come, I can't keep my eyes off him. I
do deliver my sermons at him. I believe I write them at him! He has
an eye of terrible and exacting truth. I feel myself on trial before
him. He holds me up to a standard of sincerity that is killing me.
Mrs. Sewell was bad enough; I was reasonably bad myself; but this!
Couldn't you keep him away? Do you think it's exactly decorous to
let your man-servant occupy a seat in your family pew? How do you
suppose it looks to the Supreme Being?"
Miss Vane was convulsed. "I had precisely those misgivings! But
Lemuel hadn't. He asked me what the number of our pew was, and I
hadn't the heart--or else I hadn't the face--to tell him he mustn't
sit in it. How could I? Do you think it's so very scandalous?"
"I don't know," said Sewell. "It may lead to great abuses. If we
tacitly confess ourselves equal in the sight of God, how much better
are we than the Roman Catholics?"
Miss Vane could not suffer these ironies to go on.
"He approves of your preaching. He has talked your sermons over with
me. You oughtn't to complain."
"Oh, I don't! Do you think he's really softening a little toward
"Not personally, that I know," said Miss Vane. "But he seems to
regard you as a channel of the truth."
"I ought to be glad of so much," said Sewell. "I confess that I
hadn't supposed he was at all of our way of thinking. They preached
a very appreciable orthodoxy at Willoughby Pastures."
"I don't know about that," said Miss Vane. "I only know that he
approves your theology, or your ethics."
"Ethics, I hope. I'm sure _they're_ right." After a thoughtful
moment the minister asked, "Have you observed that they have
softened him socially at all--broken up that terrible rigidity of
attitude, that dismaying retentiveness of speech?"
"I know what you mean!" cried Miss Vane delightedly. "I believe
Lemuel _is_ a little more supple, a little _less_ like a granite boulder
in one of his meadows. But I can't say that he's glib yet. He isn't
apparently going to say more than he thinks."
"I hope he thinks more than he says," sighed the minister. "My
interviews with Lemuel have left me not only exhausted but bruised,
as if I had been hurling myself against a dead wall. Yes, I manage
him better from the pulpit, and I certainly oughtn't to complain. I
don't expect him to make any response, and I perceive that I am not
_quite_ so sore as after meeting him in private life."
* * * * *
That evening Lemuel was helping to throng the platform of an
overcrowded horse-car. It was Saturday night, and he was going to
the provision man up toward the South End, whom Miss Vane was
dealing with for the time being, in an economical recoil from her
expensive Back Bay provision man, to order a forgotten essential of
the Sunday's supplies. He had already been at the grocer's, and was
carrying home three or four packages to save the cart from going a
third time that day to Bolingbroke Street, and he stepped down into
the road when two girls came squeezing their way out of the car.
"Well, I'm glad," said one of them in a voice Lemuel knew at once,
"'t there's one man's got the politeness to make a _little_
grain o' room for you. Thank you, sir!" she added, with more scorn
for the others than gratitude for Lemuel. "_You're_ a gentleman,
The hardened offenders on the platform laughed, but Lemuel said
simply, "You're quite welcome."
"Why, land's sakes!" shouted the girl. "Well, if 'tain't you!
S'tira!" she exclaimed to her companion in utter admiration. Then
she added to Lemuel, "Why, I didn't s'pose but what you'd a' be'n
back home long ago. Well, I _am_ glad. Be'n in Boston ever
since? Well, I want to know!"
The conductor had halted his car for the girls to get off, but, as
he remarked with a vicious jerk at his bell-strap, he could not keep
his car standing there while a woman was asking about the folks, and
the horses started up and left Lemuel behind. "Well, there!" said
'Manda Grier. "'F I hain't made you lose your car! I never see folks
like some them conductors."
"Oh, I guess I can walk the rest of the way," said Lemuel, his face
bright with a pleasure visible in the light of the lamp that brought
out Statira Dudley's smiles and the forward thrust of 'Manda Grier's
whopper-jaw as they turned toward the pavement together.
"Well, I guess 'f I've spoke about you once, I have a hundred times,
in the last six weeks. I always told S'tira you'd be'n sure to turn
up b'fore this 'f you'd be'n in Boston all the time; 'n' 't I
guessed you'd got a disgust for the place, 'n' 't you wouldn't want
to see it again for _one_ while."
Statira did not say anything. She walked on the other side of 'Manda
Grier, who thrust her in the side from time to time with a lift of
her elbow, in demand of sympathy and corroboration; but though she
only spoke to answer yes or no, Lemuel could see that she was always
smiling or else biting her lip to keep herself from it. He thought
she looked about as pretty as anybody could, and that she was again
very fashionably dressed. She had on a short dolman, and a pretty
hat that shaded her forehead but fitted close round, and she wore
long gloves that came up on her sleeves. She had a book from the
library; she walked with a little bridling movement that he found
very ladylike. 'Manda Grier tilted along between them, and her
tongue ran and ran, so that Lemuel, when they came to Miss Vane's
provision man's, could hardly get in a word to say that he guessed
he must stop there.
Statira drifted on a few paces, but 'Manda Grier halted abruptly
with him. "Well, 'f you're ever up our way we sh'd be much pleased
to have you call, Mr. Barker," she said formally.
"I should be much pleased to do so," said Lemuel with equal state.
"'Tain't but just a little ways round here on the Avenue," she
Lemuel answered, "I guess I know where it is." He did not mean it
for anything of a joke, but both the girls laughed, and though she
had been so silent before, Statira laughed the most.
He could not help laughing either when 'Manda Grier said, "I guess
if you was likely to forget the number you could go round to the
station and inquire. They got your address too."
"'Manda Grier, you be still!" said Statira.
"S'tira said that's the way she knew you was from Willoughby
Pastures. Her folks is from up that way, themselves. She says the
minute she heard the name she knew it couldn't 'a' be'n you, whoever
it was done it."
"'Manda Grier!" cried Statira again.
"I tell her she don't believe 't any harm can come out the town o'
"'Manda!" cried Statira.
Lemuel was pleased, but he could not say a word. He could not look
"Well, good evening," said Amanda Grier.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel.
"Well, good evening," said Statira.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel again.
The next moment they were gone round the corner, and he was left
standing before the provision man's, with his packages in his hand.
It did not come to him till he had transacted his business within,
and was on his way home, that he had been very impolite not to ask
if he might not see them home. He did not know but he ought to go
back and try to find them, and apologise for his rudeness, and yet
he did not see how he could do that, either; he had no excuse for
it; he was afraid it would seem queer, and make them laugh. Besides,
he had those things for Miss Vane, and the cook wanted some of them
He could hardly get to sleep that night for thinking of his blunder,
and at times he cowered under the bedclothes for shame. He decided
that the only way for him to do was to keep out of their way after
this, and if he ever met them anywhere, to pretend not to see them.
The next morning he went to hear Mr. Sewell preach, as usual, but he
found himself wandering far from the sermon, and asking or answering
this or that in a talk with those girls that kept going on in his
mind. The minister himself seemed to wander, and at times, when
Lemuel forced a return to him, he thought he was boggling strangely.
For the first time Mr. Sewell's sermon, in his opinion, did not come
While his place in Miss Vane's household was indefinitely
ascertained, he had the whole of Sunday, and he always wrote home in
the afternoon, or brought up the arrears of the journal he had begun
keeping; but the Sunday afternoon that followed, he was too excited
to stay in and write. He thought he would go and take a walk, and
get away from the things that pestered him. He did not watch where
he was going, and after a while he turned a corner, and suddenly
found himself in a long street, planted with shade-trees, and
looking old-fashioned and fallen from a former dignity. He perceived
that it could never have been fashionable, like Bolingbroke Street
or Beacon; the houses were narrow, and their doors opened from
little, cavernous arches let into the brick fronts, and they stood
flush upon the pavement. The sidewalks were full of people, mostly
girls walking up and down; at the corners young fellows lounged, and
there were groups before the cigar stores and the fruit stalls,
which were open. It was not very cold yet, and the children who
swarmed upon the low door-steps were bareheaded and often summer-
clad. The street was not nearly so well kept as the streets on the
Back Bay that Lemuel was more used to, but he could see that it was
not a rowdy street either. He looked up at a lamp on the first
corner he came to, and read Pleasant Avenue on it; then he said that
the witch was in it. He dramatised a scene of meeting those girls,
and was very glib in it, and they were rather shy, and Miss Dudley
kept behind Amanda Grier, who nudged her with her elbow when Lemuel
said he had come round to see if anybody had robbed them of their
books on the way home after he left them last night.
But all the time, as he hurried along to the next corner, he looked
fearfully to the right and left. Presently he began to steal guilty
glances at the numbers of the houses. He said to himself that he
would see what kind of a looking house they did live in, any way. It
was only No. 900 odd when he began, and he could turn off if he
wished long before he reached 1334. As he drew nearer he said he
would just give a look at it, and then rush by. But 1334 was a house
so much larger and nicer than he had expected that he stopped to
collect his slow rustic thoughts, and decide whether she really
lived there or whether she had just given that number for a blind.
He did not know why he should think that, though; she was dressed
well enough to come out of any house.
While he lingered before the house an old man with a cane in his
hand and his mouth hanging open stopped and peered through his
spectacles, whose glare he fixed upon Lemuel, till he began to feel
himself a suspicious character. The old man did not say anything,
but stood faltering upon his stick and now and then gathering up his
lower lip as if he were going to speak, but not speaking. Lemuel
cleared his throat. "Hmmn! Is this a boarding-house?"
"I don't know," crowed the old man, in a high senile note. "You want
table board or rooms?"
"I don't want board at all," began Lemuel again.
"What?" crowed the old man; and he put up his hand to his ear.
People were beginning to put their heads out of the neighbouring
windows, and to walk slowly as they went by, so as to hear what he
and the old man were saying. He could not run away now, and he went
boldly up to the door of the large house and rang.
A girl came, and he asked her, with a flushed face, if Miss Amanda
Grier boarded there; somehow he could not bear to ask for Miss
"Well," the girl said, "she _rooms_ here," as if that might be
a different thing to Lemuel altogether.
"Oh!" he said. "Is she in?"
"Well, you can walk in," said the girl, "and I'll see." She came
back to ask, "Who shall I say called?"
"Mr. Barker," said Lemuel, and then glowed with shame because he had
called himself Mister. The girl did not come back, but she hardly
seemed gone before 'Manda Grier came into the room. He did not know
whether she would speak to him, but she was as pleasant as could be,
and said he must come right up to her and S'tira's room. It was
pretty high up, but he did not notice the stairs, 'Manda Grier kept
talking so; and when he got to it, and 'Manda Grier dashed the door
open, and told him to walk right in, he would not have known but he
was in somebody's sitting-room. A curtained alcove hid the bed, and
the room was heated by a cheerful little kerosene stove; there were
bright folding carpet-chairs, and the lid of the washstand had a
cloth on it that came down to the floor, and there were plants in
the window. There was a mirror on the wall, framed in black walnut
with gilt moulding inside, and a family-group photograph in the same
kind of frame, and two chromes, and a clock on a bracket.
Statira seemed surprised to see him; the room was pretty warm, and
her face was flushed. He said it was quite mild out, and she said,
"Was it?" Then she ran and flung up the window, and said, "Why, so
it was," and that she had been in the house all day, and had not
noticed the weather.
She excused herself and the room for being in such a state; she said
she was ashamed to be caught in such a looking dress, but they were
not expecting company, and she did suppose 'Manda Grier would have
given her time to put the room to rights a little. He could not
understand why she said all this, for the whole room was clean, and
Statira herself was beautifully dressed in the same dress that she
had worn the night before, or one just like it; and after she had
put up the window, 'Manda Grier said, "S'tira Dudley, do you want to
kill yourself?" and ran and pulled aside the curtain in the corner,
and took down the dolman from among other clothes that hung there,
and threw it on Statira's shoulders, who looked as pretty as a pink
in it. But she pretended to be too hot, and wanted to shrug it off,
and 'Manda Grier called out, "Mr. Barker! _will_ you make her
keep it on?" and Lemuel sat dumb and motionless, but filled through
with a sweet pleasure.
He tried several times to ask them if they had been robbed on the
way home last night, as he had done in the scene he had dramatised;
but he could not get out a word except that it had been pretty warm
Statira said, "I think it's been a very warm fall," and 'Manda Grier
said, "I think the summer's goin' to spend the winter with us," and
they all three laughed.
"What speeches you do make, 'Manda Grier," said Statira.
"Well, anything better than Quaker meetin', _I_ say," retorted
'Manda Grier; and then they were all three silent, and Lemuel
thought of his clothes, and how fashionably both of the girls were
"I guess," said Statira, "it'll be a pretty sickly winter, if it
keeps along this way. They say a green Christmas makes a fat grave-
"I guess you'll see the snow fly long before Christmas," said 'Manda
Grier, "or Thanksgiving either."
"I guess so too," said Lemuel, though he did not like to seem to
take sides against Statira.
She laughed as if it were a good joke, and said, "'Tain't but about
a fortnight now till Thanksgiving anyway."
"If it comes a good fall of snow before Thanksgivin', won't you come
round and give us a sleigh-ride, Mr. Barker?" asked 'Manda Grier.
They all laughed at her audacity, and Lemuel said, Yes, he would;
and she said, "We'll give you a piece of real Willoughby Centre
Mince-pie, if you will."
They all laughed again.
"'Manda Grier!" said Statira, in protest.
"Her folks sent her half a dozen last Thanksgivin'," persisted
"'_Manda!_" pleaded Statira.
'Manda Grier sprang up and got Lemuel a folding-chair. "You ain't a
bit comfortable in that stiff old thing, Mr. Barker."
Lemuel declared that he was perfectly comfortable, but she would not
be contented till he had changed, and then she said, "Why don't you
look after your company, S'tira Dudley? I should think you'd be
Lemuel's face burned with happy shame, and Statira, who was as red
as he was, stole a look at him, that seemed to say that there was no
use trying to stop 'Manda Grier. But when she went on, "I don't know
but it's the fashion to Willoughby Centre," they both gave way
again, and laughed more than ever, and Statira said, "_Well_,
'Manda Grier, what do you s'pose Mr. Barker 'll think?"
She tried to be sober, but the wild girl set her and Lemuel off
laughing when she retorted, "Guess he'll think what he did when he
was brought up in court for highway robbery."
'Manda Grier sat upright in her chair, and acted as if she had
merely spoken about the weather. He knew that she was talking that
way just to break the ice, and though he would have given anything
to be able to second her, he could not.
"How you do carry on, 'Manda Grier," said Statira, as helpless as he
"Guess I got a pretty good load to carry!" said 'Manda Grier.
They all now began to find their tongues a little, and Statira told
how one season when her mother took boarders she had gone over to
the Pastures with a party of summer-folks on a straw-ride and picked
blueberries. She said she never saw the berries as thick as they
Lemuel said he guessed he knew where the place was; but the fire had
got into it last year, and there had not been a berry there this
Statira said, "What a shame!" She said there were some Barkers over
East Willoughby way; and she confessed that when he said his name
was Barker, and he was from Willoughby Pastures, that night in the
station, she thought she should have gone through the floor.
Then they talked a little about how they had both felt, but not very
much, and they each took all the blame, and would not allow that the
other was the least to blame. Statira said she had behaved like a
perfect coot all the way through, and Lemuel said that he guessed he
had been the coot, if there was any.
"I guess there was a pair of you," said 'Manda Grier; and at this
association of them in 'Manda Grier's condemnation, he could see
that Statira was blushing, though she hid her face in her hands, for
her ears were all red.
He now rose and said he guessed he would have to be going; but when
'Manda Grier interposed and asked, "Why, what's your hurry?" he said
he guessed he had not had any, and Statira laughed at the wit of
this till it seemed to him she would perish.
"Well, then, you set right straight down again," said 'Manda Grier,
with mock severity, as if he were an obstinate little boy; and he
obeyed, though he wished that Statira had asked him to stay too.
"Why, the land sakes!" exclaimed 'Manda Grier, "have you been
lettin' him keep his hat all this while, S'tira Dudley? You take it
right away from him!" And Statira rose, all smiling and blushing,
"Will you let me take your hat, Mr. Barker?" as if he had just come
in, and made him feel as if she had pressed him to stay. She took it
and went and laid it on a stand across the room, and Lemuel thought
he had never seen a much more graceful person. She wore a full
Breton skirt, which was gathered thickly at the hips, and swung
loose and free as she stepped. When she came back and sat down,
letting the back of one pretty hand fall into the palm of the other
in her lap, it seemed to him impossible that such an elegant young
lady should be tolerating a person dressed as he was.
"There!" began 'Manda Grier. "_I_ guess Mr. Barker won't object
a great deal to our going on, if it _is_ Sunday. 'S kind of a
Sunday game, anyways. You 'posed to games on Sunday?"
"I don't know as I am," said Lemuel.
"Now, 'Manda Grier, don't you!" pleaded Statira.
"Shall, too," persisted 'Manda. "I guess if there's any harm in the
key, there ain't any harm in the Bible, and so it comes out even.
D'you ever try your fate with a key and a Bible?" she asked Lemuel.
"I don't know as I did," he answered.
"Well, it's _real_ fun, 'n' its curious how it comes out,
often_times._ Well, _I_ don't s'pose there's anything _in_ it, but
it _is_ curious."
"I guess we hadn't better," said Statira. "I don't believe Mr.
Barker 'll care for it."
Lemuel said he would like to see how it was done, anyway.
'Manda Grier took the key out of the door, and looked at it. "That
key 'll cut the leaves all to pieces."
"Can't you find some other?" suggested Statira.
"I don't know but may be I could," said 'Manda Grier. "You just wait
a half a second."
Before Lemuel knew what she was doing, she flew out of the door, and
he could hear her flying down the stairs.
"Well, I _must_ say!" said Statira, and then neither she nor
Lemuel said anything for a little while. At last she asked, "That
window trouble you any?"
Lemuel said, "Not at all," and he added, "Perhaps it's too cold for
"Oh no," said the girl, "I can't seem to get anything too cold for
me. I'm the greatest person for cold weather! I'm _real_ glad
it's comin' winter. We had the greatest _time_, last winter,"
continued Statira, "with those English sparrows. Used to feed 'em
crumbs, there on the window-sill, and it seemed as if they got to
know we girls, and they'd hop right inside, if you'd let 'em. Used
to make me feel kind of creepy to have 'em. They say it's a sign of
death to have a bird come into your room, and I was always for
drivin' 'em out, but 'Manda, she said she guessed the Lord didn't
take the trouble to send birds round to every one, and if the rule
didn't work one way it didn't work the other. You believe in signs?"
"I don't know as I do, much. Mother likes to see the new moon over
her right shoulder, pretty well," said Lemuel.
"Well, I declare," said Statira, "that's just the way with _my_
aunt. Now you're up here," she said, springing suddenly to her feet,
"I want you should see what a nice view we got from our window."
Lemuel had it on his tongue to say that he hoped it was not going to
be his last chance; he believed he would have said it if 'Manda
Grier had been there; but now he only joined Statira at the window,
and looked out. They had to stoop over, and get pretty close
together, to see the things she wished to show him, and she kept
shrugging her sack on, and once she touched him with her shoulder.
He said yes to everything she asked him about the view, but he saw
very little of it. He saw that her hair had a shade of gold in its
brown, and that it curled in tight little rings where it was cut on
her neck, and that her skin was very white under it. When she
touched him, that time, it made him feel very strange; and when she
glanced at him out of her blue eyes, he did not know what he was
doing. He did not laugh as he did when 'Manda Grier was there.
Statira said, "Oh, excuse me!" when she touched him, and he
answered, "Perfectly excusable," but he said hardly anything else.
He liked to hear her talk, and he watched the play of her lips as
she spoke. Once her breath came across his cheek, when she turned
quickly to see if he was looking where she was pointing.
They sat down and talked, and all at once Statira exclaimed,
"_Well!_ I should think 'Manda Grier was _makin'_ that key!"
Now, whatever happened, Lemuel was bound to say, "I don't think
she's been gone very long."
"Well, you're pretty patient, I _must_ say," said Statira, and
he did not know whether she was making fun of him or not. He tried
to think of something to say, but could not. "I hope she'll fetch a
lamp, too, when she comes," Statira went on, and now he saw that it
was beginning to be a little darker. Perhaps that about the lamp was
a hint for him to go; but he did not see exactly how he could go
till 'Manda Grier came back; he felt that it would not be polite.
"Well, there!" said Statira, as if she divined his feeling. I shall
give 'Manda Grier a _good_ talking-to. I'm awfully afraid we're
keeping you, Mr. Barker."
"Not at all," said Lemuel; "I'm afraid I'm keeping _you_."
"Oh, not at all," said Statira. She became rather quieter, till
'Manda Grier came back.
'Manda Grier burst into the room, with a key in one hand and a lamp
in the other. "Well, I knew you two'd be holdin' Quaker's meetin'."
"We hain't at all! How d'you know we have? Have we, Mr. Barker?"
returned Statira, in simultaneous admission and denial.
"Well, if you want to know, I listened outside the door," said
'Manda Grier, "and you wa'n't sayin' a word, either of you. I guess
I got a key now that'll do," she added, setting down her lamp, "and
I borrowed an old Bible 't I guess 'tain't go'n' to hurt a great
"I don't know as I want to play it much," said Statira.
"Well, I guess you got to, now," said 'Manda Grier, "after all my
trouble. Hain't she, Mr. Barker?"
It flattered Lemuel through and through to be appealed to, but he
could not say anything.
"Well," said Statira, "if I got to, I got to. But you got to hold
"You got to put the key in!" cried 'Manda Grier. She sat holding the
Bible open toward Statira.
She offered to put the key in, and then she stopped. "Well! I'm
great! Who are we going to find it for first?"
"Oh, company first," said 'Manda Grier.
"You company, Mr. Barker?" asked Statira, looking at Lemuel over her
"I hope not," said Lemuel gallantly, at last.
"Well, I declare!" said Statira.
"Quite one the family," said 'Manda Grier, and that made Statira
say, "'Manda!" and Lemuel blush to his hair. "Well, anyway,"
continued 'Manda Grier, "you're company enough to have your fate
found first. Put in the key, S'tira."
"No, I sha'n't do it."
"Well, _I_ shall, then!" She took the key from Statira, and
shut the book upon it at the Song of Solomon, and bound it tightly
in with a ribbon. Lemuel watched breathlessly; he was not sure that
he knew what kind of fate she meant, but he thought he knew, and it
made his heart beat quick. 'Manda Grier had passed the ribbon
through the ring of the key, which was left outside of the leaves,
and now she took hold of the key with her two forefingers. "You got
to be careful not to touch the Bible with your fingers," she
explained, "or the charm won't work. Now I'll say over two verses,
't where the key's put in, and Mr. Barker, you got to repeat the
alphabet at the same time; and when it comes to the first letter of
the right name, the Bible will drop out of my fingers, all I can do.
Now then! _Set me as a seal on thine heart_--"
"A, B, C, D." began Lemuel. "Pshaw, now, 'Manda Grier, you stop!"
"You be still! Go on, Mr. Barker!--_As a seal upon thine arm; for
love is as strong as death_--don't say the letters so fast--
_jealousy as cruel as the grave_--don't look at S'tira; look at
me!--_the coals thereof are coals of fire_--you're sayin' it
too slow now--_which hath a most vehement flame._ I declare,
S'tira Dudley, if you joggle me!--_Many waters cannot quench love;
neither can the floods drown it_--you must put just so much time
between every letter; if you stop on every particular one, it ain't
fair--_if a man would give all the substance of his house for
love_--you stop laughin', you two!--_it would be utterly
consumed_. Well, there! Now we got to go it all over again, and
my arm's most broke _now_."
"I don't believe Mr. Barker wants to do it again," said Statira,
looking demurely at him; but Lemuel protested that he did, and the
game began again. This time the Bible began to shake at the letter
D, and Statira cried out, "Now, 'Manda Grier, you're making it," and
'Manda Grier laughed so that she could scarcely hold the book.
Lemuel laughed too; but he kept on repeating the letters. At S the
book fell to the floor, and Statira caught it up, and softly beat
'Manda Grier on the back with it. "Oh you mean thing!" she cried
out. "You did it on purpose."
'Manda Grier was almost choked with laughing.
"Do you know anybody of the name of Sarah, Mr. Barker?" she gasped,
and then they all laughed together till Statira said, "Well, I shall
surely die! Now, 'Manda Grier, it's your turn. And you see if I
don't pay you up."
"I guess I ain't afraid any," retorted 'Manda Grier. "The book 'll do
what it pleases, in spite of you."
They began again, Statira holding the book this time, and Lemuel
repeating as before, and he went quite through the alphabet without
anything happening. "Well, I declare!" said Statira, looking grave.
"Let's try it over again."
"You may try, and you may try, and you may try," said 'Manda Grier.
"It won't do you any good. I hain't got any fate in that line."
"Well, that's what we're goin' to find out," said Statira; but again
the verses and alphabet were repeated without effect.
"Now you satisfied?" asked 'Manda Grier.
"No, not yet. Begin again, Mr. Barker!"
He did so, and at the second letter the book dropped. Statira jumped
up, and 'Manda Grier began to chase her round the room, to box her
ears for her, she said. Lemuel sat looking on. He did not feel at
all severe toward them, as he usually did toward girls that cut up;
he did not feel that this was cutting up, in fact.
"Stop, stop!" implored Statira, "and I'll let you try it over
"No, it's your turn now!"
"No, I ain't going to have any," said Statira, folding her arms.
"You got to," said 'Manda Grier. "The rest of us has, and now you've
got to. Hain't she got to, Mr. Barker?"
"Yes," said Lemuel delightedly; "you've got to, Miss Dudley."
"Miss Dudley!" repeated 'Manda Grier. "How that _does_ sound."
"I don't know as it sounds any worse than Mr. Barker," said Lemuel.
"Well," said 'Manda Grier judicially, "I she'd think it was 'bout
time they was both of 'em dropped, 'T any rate, I don't want you
should call me Miss Grier--Lemuel."
"Oh!" cried Statira. "Well, you _are_ getting along, 'Manda
"Well, don't you let yourself be outdone then, S'tira."
"I guess Mr. Barker's good enough for me a while yet," said Statira,
and she hastened to add, "The name, I mean," and at this they all
laughed till Statira said, "I shall _certainly_ die!" She
suddenly recovered herself--those girls seemed to do everything like
lightning, Lemuel observed--and said, "No, I ain't goin' to have
mine told at all. I don't like it. Seems kind of wicked. I ruther
talk. I never _could_ make it just right to act so with the
Lemuel was pleased at that. Statira seemed prettier than ever in
this mood of reverence.
"Well, don't talk too much when I'm gone," said 'Manda Grier, and
before anybody could stop her, she ran out of the room. But she put
her head in again to say, "I'll be back as soon's I can take this
Lemuel did not know what to do. The thought of being alone with
Statira again was full of rapture and terror. He was glad when she
seized the door and tried to keep 'Manda Grier.
"I--I--guess I better be going," he said.
"You sha'n't go till I get back, anyway," said 'Manda Grier
hospitably. "You keep him, S'tira!"
She gave Statira a little push, and ran down the stairs.
Statira tottered against Lemuel, with that round, soft shoulder
which had touched him before. He put out his arms to save her from
falling, and they seemed to close round her of themselves. She threw
up her face, and in a moment he had kissed her. He released her and
fell back from her aghast.
She looked at him.
"I--I didn't mean to," he panted. His heart was thundering in his
She put up her hands to her face, and began to cry.
"Oh, my goodness!" he gasped. He wavered a moment, then he ran out
of the room.
On the stairs he met 'Manda Grier coming up. "Now, Mr. Barker,
you're real mean to go!" she pouted.
"I guess I better be going," Lemuel called back, in a voice so husky
that he hardly knew it for his own.
Lemuel let himself into Miss Vane's house with his key to the back
gate, and sat down, still throbbing, in his room over the L, and
tried to get the nature of his deed, or misdeed, before his mind. He
had grown up to manhood in an austere reverence for himself as
regarded the other sex, and in a secret fear, as exacting for them
as it was worshipful of women. His mother had held all show of love-
sickness between young people in scorn; she said they were silly
things, when she saw them soft upon one another; and Lemuel had
imbibed from her a sense of unlawfulness, of shame, in the love-
making he had seen around him all his life. These things are very
open in the country. Even in large villages they have kissing-games
at the children's parties, in the church vestries and refectories;
and as a little boy Lemuel had taken part in such games. But as he
grew older, his reverence and his fear would not let him touch a
girl. Once a big girl, much older than he, came up behind him in the
play-ground and kissed him; he rubbed the kiss off with his hand,
and scoured the place with sand and gravel. One winter all the big
boys and girls at school began courting whenever the teacher was out
of sight a moment; at the noon-spell some of them sat with their
arms round one another. Lemuel wandered off by himself in the snows
of the deep woods; the sight of such things, the thought of them put
him to shame for those fools, as he tacitly called them; and now
what had he done himself? He could not tell. At times he was even
proud and glad of it; and then he did not know what would become of
him. But mostly it seemed to him that he had been guilty of an
enormity that nothing could ever excuse. He must have been crazy to
do such a thing to a young lady like that; her tear-stained face
looked her wonder at him still.
By this time she had told 'Manda Grier all about it; and he dared
not think what their thoughts of him must be. It seemed to him that
he ought to put such a monster as he was out of the world. But all
the time there was a sweetness, a joy in his heart, that made him
half frantic with fear of himself.
He started up at the sound of Sibyl Vane's voice calling to him from
the dining-room which opened into the L.
"Yes, ma'am," he answered tremulously, going to his door. Miss Vane
had been obliged to instruct him to say ma'am to her niece, whom he
had at first spoken of by her Christian name.
"Was that you came in a little while ago?"
"Yes, ma'am, I came in."
"Oh! And have you had your supper?"
"I--I guess I don't want any supper."
"Don't want any supper? You will be ill. Why don't you?"
"I don't know as I feel just like eating anything."
"Well, it won't do. Will you see, please, if Jane is in the
Lemuel came forward, full of his unfitness for the sight of men, but
gathering a little courage when he found the dining-room so dark. He
descended to the basement and opened the door of the kitchen, looked
in, and shut it again. "Yes, ma'am, she's there."
"Oh!" Sibyl seemed to hesitate. Then she said: "Light the gas down
there, hadn't you better?"
"I don't know but I had," Lemuel assented.
But before he could obey, "And Lemuel!" she called down again, "come
and light it up here too, please."
"I will as soon as I've lit it here," said Lemuel.
An imperious order came back. "You will light it here _now,_
"All right," assented Lemuel. When he appeared in the upper entry
and flashed the gas up, he saw Sibyl standing at the reception-room
door, with her finger closed into a book which she had been reading.
"You're not to say that you will do one thing when you're told to do
Lemuel whitened a little round the lips. "I'm not to do two things
at once, either, I suppose."
Sibyl ignored this reply. "Please go and get your supper, and when
you've had it come up here again. I've some things for you to do."
"I'll do them now," said Lemuel fiercely. "I don't want any supper,
and I sha'n't eat any."
"Why, Lemuel, what is the matter with you?" asked the girl, in the
sudden effect of motherly solicitude. "You look very strange, you
seem so excited."
"I'm not hungry, that's all," said the boy doggedly. "What is it you
"Won't you please go up to the third floor," said Sibyl, in a phase
of timorous dependence, "and see if everything is right there? I
thought I heard a noise. See if the windows are fast, won't you?"
Lemuel turned and she followed with her finger in her book, and her
book pressed to her heart, talking. "It seemed to me that I heard
steps and voices. It's very mysterious. I suppose any one could
plant a ladder on the roof of the L part, and get into the windows
if they were not fastened."
"Have to be a pretty long ladder," grumbled Lemuel.
"Yes," Sibyl assented, "it would. And it didn't sound exactly like
She followed him half-way up the second flight of stairs, and stood
there while he explored the third story throughout.
"There ain't anything there," he reported without looking at her,
and was about to pass her on the stairs in going down.
"Oh, thank you very much, Lemuel," she said, with fervent gratitude
in her voice. She fetched a tremulous sigh. "I suppose it was
nothing. Yes," she added hoarsely, "it must have been nothing. Oh,
let _me_ go down first!" she cried, putting out her hand to
stop him from passing her. She resumed when they reached the ground
floor again. "Aunty has gone out, and Jane was in the kitchen, and
it began to grow dark while I sat reading in the drawing-room, and
all at once I heard the strangest _noise_." Her voice dropped
deeply on the last word. "Yes, it was very strange indeed! Thank
you, Lemuel," she concluded.
"Quite welcome," said Lemuel dryly, pushing on towards the basement
"Oh! And Lemuel! will you let Jane give you your supper in the
dining-room, so that you could be here if I heard anything else?"
"I don't want any supper," said Lemuel.
The girl scrutinised him with an expression of misgiving. Then, with
a little sigh, as of one who will not explore a painful mystery, she
asked: "Would you mind sitting in the dining-room, then, till aunty
"I'd just as lives sit there," said Lemuel, walking into the dark
dining-room and sitting down.
"Oh, thank you very much. Aunty will be back very soon, I suppose.
She's just gone to the Sewells' to tea."
She followed him to the threshold. "You must--I must--light the gas
in here for you."
"Guess I can light the gas," said Lemuel, getting up to intercept
her in this service. She had run into the reception-room for a
match, and she would not suffer him to prevent her.
"No, no! I insist! And Lemuel," she said, turning upon him, "I must
ask you to excuse my speaking harshly to you. I was--agitated."
"Perfectly excusable," said Lemuel.
"I am afraid," said the girl, fixing him with her eyes, "that you
are not well."
"Oh yes, I'm well. I'm--pretty tired; that's all."
"Have you been walking far?"
"The walking ought to do you good," said Sibyl, with serious
thoughtfulness. "I think," she continued, "you had better have some
bryonia. Don't you think you had?"
"No, no! I don't want anything," protested Lemuel.
She looked at him with a feeling of baffled anxiety painted on her
face; and as she turned away, she beamed with a fresh inspiration.
"I will get you a book." She flew into the reception-room and back
again, but she only had the book that she had herself been reading.
"Perhaps you would like to read this? I've finished it. I was just
looking back through it."
"Thank you; I guess I don't want to read any, just now."
She leaned against the side of the dining-table, beyond which Lemuel
sat, and searched his fallen countenance with a glance contrived to
be at once piercing and reproachful. "I see," she said, "you have
not forgiven me."
"Forgiven you?" repeated Lemuel blankly.
"Yes--for giving way to my agitation in speaking to you."
"I don't know," said Lemuel, with a sigh of deep inward trouble, "as
I noticed anything."
"I told you to light the gas in the basement," suggested Sibyl, "and
then I told you to light it up here, and then--I scolded you."
"Oh yes," admitted Lemuel: "that." He dropped his head again.
Sibyl sank upon the edge of a chair. "Lemuel! you have something on
The boy looked up with a startled face.
"Yes! I can see that you have," pursued Sibyl. "What have you been
doing?" she demanded sternly.
Lemuel was so full of the truth that it came first to his lips in
all cases. He could scarcely force it aside now with the evasion
that availed him nothing. "I don't know as I've been doing anything
"I see that you don't wish to tell me!" cried the girl. "But you
might have trusted me. I would have defended you, no matter what you
had done--the worse the better."
Lemuel hung his head without answering.
After a while she continued: "If I had been that girl who had you
arrested, and I had been the cause of so much suffering to an
innocent person, I should never have forgiven myself. I should have
devoted my life to expiation. I should have spent my life in going
about the prisons, and finding out persons who were unjustly
accused. I should have done it as a penance. Yes! even if he had
Lemuel remained insensible to this extreme of self-sacrifice, and
she went on: "This book--it is a story--is all one picture of such a
nature. There is a girl who's been brought up as the ward of a young
man. He educates her, and she expects to be his wife, and he turns
out to be perfectly false and unworthy in every way; but she marries
him all the same, although she likes some one else, because she
feels that she ought to punish herself for thinking of another, and
because she hopes that she will die soon, and when her guardian
finds out what she's done for him, it will reform him. It's
perfectly sublime. It's--ennobling! If every one could read this
book, they would be very different."
"I don't see much sense in it," said Lemuel, goaded to this comment.
"You would if you read it. When she dies--she is killed by a fall
from her horse in hunting, and has just time to join the hands of
her husband and the man she liked first, and tell them everything--
it is wrought up so that you hold your breath. I suppose it was
reading that that made me think there were burglars getting in. But
perhaps you're right not to read it now, if you're excited already.
I'll get you something cheerful." She whirled out of the room and
back in a series of those swift, nervous movements peculiar to her.
"There! that will amuse you, I know." She put the book down on the
table before Lemuel, who silently submitted to have it left there.
"It will distract your thoughts, if anything will. And I shall ask
you to let me sit just here in the reception-room, so that I can
call you if I feel alarmed."
"All right," said Lemuel, lapsing absently to his own troubled
"Thank you very much," said Sibyl. She went away, and came back
directly. "Don't you think," she asked, "that it's very strange you
should never have seen or heard anything of her?"
"Heard of who?" he asked, dragging himself painfully up from the
depths of his thoughts.
"That heartless girl who had you arrested."
"She _wasn't_ heartless!" retorted Lemuel indignantly.
"You think so because you are generous, and can't imagine such
heartlessness. Perhaps," added Sibyl, with the air of being
illumined by a happy thought, "she is dead. That would account for
everything. She may have died of remorse. It probably preyed upon
her till she couldn't bear it any longer, and then she killed
Lemuel began to grow red at the first apprehension of her meaning.
As she went on, he changed colour more and more.
"She is alive!" cried Sibyl. "She's alive, and you have seen her!
You needn't deny it! You've seen her to-day!" Lemuel rose in clumsy
indignation. "I don't know as anybody's got any right to say what
I've done, or haven't done."
"O Lemuel!" cried Sibyl. "Do you think anyone in this house would
intrude in your affairs? But if you need a friend--a sister----"
"I don't need any sister. I want you should let me alone."
At these words, so little appreciative of her condescension, her
romantic beneficence, her unselfish interest, Sibyl suddenly
rebounded to her former level, which she was sensible was far above
that of this unworthy object of her kindness. She rose from her
chair, and pursued--
"If you need a friend--a sister--I'm sure that you can safely
confide in--the cook." She looked at him a moment, and broke into a
malicious laugh very unlike that of a social reformer, which rang
shriller at the bovine fury which mounted to Lemuel's eyes. The
rattle of a night-latch made itself heard in the outer door. Sibyl's
voice began to break, as it rose: "I never expected to be treated in
my own aunt's house with such perfect ingratitude and impudence--
yes, impudence!--by one of her servants!"
She swept out of the room, and her aunt, who entered it, after
calling to her in vain, stood with Lemuel, and heard her mount the
stairs, sobbing, to her own room, and lock herself in.
"What is the matter, Lemuel?" asked Miss Vane, breathing quickly.
She looked at him with the air of a judge who would not condemn him
unheard, but would certainly do so after hearing him. Whether it was
Lemuel's perception of this that kept him silent, or his confusion
of spirit from all the late rapidly successive events, or a wish not
to inculpate the girl who had insulted him, he remained silent.
"Answer me!" said Miss Vane sharply.
Lemuel cleared his throat. "I don't know as I've got anything to
say," he answered finally.
"But I insist upon your saying something," said Miss Vane. "What is
"There hasn't been any impudence," replied Lemuel, hanging his head.
"Very well, then, you can tell me what Sibyl means," persisted Miss
Lemuel seemed to reflect upon it. "No, I can't tell you," he said at
last, slowly and gently.
"You refuse to make any explanation whatever?"
Miss Vane rose from the chair which she had mechanically sunk into
while waiting for him to speak, and ceased to be the kindly,
generous soul she was, in asserting herself as a gentlewoman who had
a contumacious servant to treat with. "You will wait here a moment,
"All right," said Lemuel. She had asked him not to receive
instructions from her with that particular answer, but he could not
She went upstairs, and returned with some banknotes that rustled in
her trembling hand. "It is two months since you came, and I've paid
you one month," she said, and she set her lips, and tried to govern
her head, which nevertheless shook with the vehemence she was
struggling to repress. She laid two ten-dollar notes upon the table,
and then added a five, a little apart. "This second month was to be
twenty instead of ten. I shall not want you any longer, and should
be glad to have you go now--at once--to-night! But I had intended to
offer you a little present at Christmas, and I will give it you
Lemuel took up the two ten-dollar notes without saying anything, and
then after a moment laid one of them down. "It's only half a month,"
he said. "I don't want to be paid for any more than I've done."
"Lemuel!" cried Miss Vane. "I insist upon your taking it. I employed
you by the month."
"It don't make any difference about that; I've only been here a
month and a half."
He folded the notes, and turned to go out of the room. Miss Vane
caught the five-dollar note from the table and intercepted him with
it. "Well, then, you shall take it as a present."
"I don't want any present," said Lemuel, patiently waiting her
pleasure to release him, but keeping his hands in his pockets.
"You would have taken it at Christmas," said Miss Vane. "You shall
take it now."
"I shouldn't take a present any time," returned Lemuel steadily.
"You are a foolish boy!" cried Miss Vane. "You need it, and I tell
you to take it."
He made no reply whatever.
"You are behaving very stubbornly--ungratefully," said Miss Vane.
Lemuel lifted his head; his lip quivered a little. "I don't think
you've got any right to say I'm ungrateful."
"I don't mean ungrateful," said Miss Vane. "I mean unkind--very
silly, indeed. And I wish you to take this money. You are behaving
resentfully--wickedly. I am much older than you, and I tell you that
you are not behaving rightly. Why don't you do what I wish?"
"I don't want any money I haven't earned."
"I don't mean the money. Why don't you tell me the meaning of what I
heard? My niece said you had been impudent to her. Perhaps she
She looked wistfully into the boy's face.
After a long time he said, "I don't know as I've got anything to say
"Very well, then, you may go," said Miss Vane, with all her
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel passively, but the eyes that he
looked at her with were moist, and conveyed a pathetic reproach. To
her unmeasured astonishment, he offered her his hand; her amaze was
even greater--_more_ infinite, as she afterwards told Sewell--
when she found herself shaking it.
He went out of the room, and she heard him walking about his room in
the L, putting together his few belongings. Then she heard him go
down and open the furnace door, and she knew he was giving a final
conscientious look at the fire. He closed it, and she heard him
close the basement door behind him, and knew that he was gone.
She explored the L, and then she descended to the basement and
mechanically looked it over. Everything that could be counted hers
by the most fastidious sense of property had been left behind him in
the utmost neatness. On their accustomed nail, just inside the
furnace-room, hung the blue overalls. They looked like a suicidal
Lemuel hanging there.
Miss Vane went upstairs slowly, with a heavy heart. Under the hall
light stood Sibyl, picturesque in the deep shadow it flung upon her
"Aunt Hope," she began in a tragic voice.
"Don't _speak_ to me, you wicked girl!" cried her aunt, venting
her self-reproach upon this victim. "It is _your_ doing."
Sibyl turned with the meekness of an ostentatious scape-goat,
unjustly bearing the sins of her tribe, and went upstairs into the
wilderness of her own thoughts again.
The sense of outrage with which Lemuel was boiling when Miss Vane
came in upon Sibyl and himself had wholly passed away, and he now
saw his dismissal, unjust as between that girl and him,
unimpeachably righteous as between him and the moral frame of
things. If he had been punished for being ready to take advantage of
that fellow's necessity, and charge him fifty cents for changing ten
dollars, he must now be no less obviously suffering for having
abused that young lady's trust and defencelessness; only he was not
suffering one-tenth as much. When he recurred to that wrong, in
fact, and tried to feel sorry for it and ashamed, his heart thrilled
in a curious way; he found himself smiling and exulting, and Miss
Vane and her niece went out of his mind, and he could not think of
anything but of being with that girl, of hearing her talk and laugh,
of touching her. He sighed; he did not know what his mother would
say if she knew; he did not know where he was going; it seemed a
hundred years since the beginning of the afternoon.
A horse-car came by, and Lemuel stopped it. He set his bag down on
the platform, and stood there near the conductor, without trying to
go inside, for the bag was pretty large, and he did not believe the
conductor would let him take it in.
The conductor said politely after a while, "See, 'd I get your
"No," said Lemuel. He paid, and the conductor went inside and
collected the other fares.
When he came back he took advantage of Lemuel's continued presence
to have a little chat. He was a short, plump, stubby-moustached man,
and he looked strong and well, but he said, with an introductory
sigh, "Well, sir, I get sore all over at this business. There ain't
a bone in me that hain't got an ache in it. Sometimes I can't tell
but what it's the ache got a bone in it, ache seems the biggest."
"Why, what makes it?" asked Lemuel absently.
"Oh, it's this standin'; it's the hours, and changin' the hours so
much. You hain't got a chance to get used to one set o' hours before
they get 'em all shifted round again. Last week I was on from eight
to eight; this week it's from twelve to twelve. Lord knows what it's
going to be next week. And this is one o' the best lines in town,
"I presume they pay you pretty well," said Lemuel, with awakening
"Well, they pay a dollar 'n' half a day," said the conductor.
"Why, it's more than forty dollars a month," said Lemuel.
"Well, it is," said the conductor scornfully, "if you work every day
in the week. But I can't stand it more than six days out o' seven;
and if you miss a day, or if you miss a trip, they dock you. No,
sir. It's about the meanest business _I_ ever struck. If I
wa'n't a married man, 'n' if I didn't like to be regular about my
meals and get 'em at home 'th my wife, I wouldn't stand it a minute.
But that's where it is. It's regular."
A lady from within signalled the conductor. He stopped the car, and
the lady, who had risen with her escort, remained chatting with a
friend before she got out. The conductor snapped his bell for
starting, with a look of patient sarcasm. "See that?" he asked
Lemuel. "Some these women act as if the cars was their private
carriage; and _you_ got to act so _too_, or the lady complains of you,
and the company bounces you in a minute. Stock's owned along the line,
and they think they own _you_ too. You can't get 'em to set more
than ten on a side; they'll leave the car first. I'd like to catch
'em on some the South End or Cambridge cars. I'd show 'em how to pack
live stock once, anyway. Yes, sir, these ladies that ride on this line
think they can keep the car standin' while they talk about the opera.
But you'd ought to see how they all look if a _poor_ woman tries
their little game. Oh, I tell you, rich people are hard."
Lemuel reflected upon the generalisation. He regarded Miss Vane as a
rich person; but though she had blamed him unjustly, and had used
him impatiently, even cruelly, in this last affair, he remembered
other things, and he said--
"Well, I don't know as I should say all of them were hard."
"Well, may be not," admitted the conductor. "But I don't envy 'em.
The way I look at it, and the way I tell my wife, I wouldn't want
their money 'f I had to have the rest of it. Ain't any of 'em happy.
I saw that when I lived out. No, sir; what me and my wife want to do
is to find us a nice little place in the country."
At the words a vision of Willoughby Pastures rose upon Lemuel, and a
lump of home-sickness came into his throat. He saw the old wood-
coloured house, crouching black within its walls under the cold
November stars. If his mother had not gone to bed yet, she was
sitting beside the cooking-stove in the kitchen, and perhaps his
sister was brewing something on it, potion or lotion, for her
husband's rheumatism. Miss Vane had talked to him about his mother;
she had said he might have her down to visit him, if everything went
on right; but of course he knew that Miss Vane did not understand
that his mother wore bloomers, and he made up his mind that her
invitation was never to be accepted. At the same time he had
determined to ask Miss Vane to let him go up and see his mother some
"'S fur's we go," said the conductor. "'F you're goin' on, you want
to take another car here."
"I guess I'll go back with you a little ways," said Lemuel. "I want
to ask you--"
"Guess we'll have to take a back seat, then," said the conductor,
leading the way through the car to the other platform; "or a
standee," he added, snapping the bell. "What is it you want to ask?"
"Oh, nothing. How do you fellows learn to be conductors? How long
does it take you?"
Till other passengers should come the conductor lounged against the
guard of the platform in a conversational posture.
"Well, generally it takes you four or five days. You got to learn
all the cross streets, and the principal places on all the lines."
"It didn't take me more'n two. Boston boy."
"Yes," said Lemuel, with a fine discouragement. "I presume the
conductors are mostly from Boston."
"They're from everywhere. And some of 'em are pretty streaked, I can
tell you; and then the rest of us has got to suffer; throws
suspicion on all of us. One fellow gets to stealin' fares, and then
everybody's got to wear a bell-punch. I never hear mine go without
thinkin' it says, 'Stop thief!' Makes me sick, I can tell you."
After a while Lemuel asked, "How do you get such a position?"
The conductor seemed to be thinking about some thing else. "It's a
pretty queer kind of a world, anyway, the way everybody's mixed up
with everybody else. What's the reason, if a man wants to steal, he
can't steal and suffer for it himself, without throwin' the shame
and the blame on a lot more people that never thought o' stealin'? I
don't notice much when a fellow sets out to do right that folks
think everybody else is on the square. No, sir, they don't seem to
consider that kind of complaint so catching. Now, you take another
thing: A woman goes round with the scarlet fever in her clothes, and
a whole carful of people take it home to their children; but let a
nice young girl get in, fresh as an apple, and a perfect daisy for
wholesomeness every way, and she don't give it to a single soul on
board. No, sir; it's a world I can't see through, nor begin to."
"I never thought of it that way," said Lemuel, darkened by this
black pessimism of the conductor. He had not, practically, found the
world so unjust as the conductor implied, but he could not
controvert his argument. He only said, "May be the right thing makes
us feel good in some way we don't know of."
"Well, I don't want to feel good in some way I don't know of,
myself," said the conductor very scornfully.
"No, that's so," Lemuel admitted. He remained silent, with a vague
wonder flitting through his mind whether Mr. Sewell could make
anything better of the case, and then settled back to his thoughts
of Statira, pierced and confused as they were now with his pain from
that trouble with Miss Vane.
"What was that you asked me just now?" said the conductor.
"That I asked you?" Lemuel echoed. "Oh yes! I asked you how you got
your place on the cars."
"Well, sir, you have to have recommendations--they won't touch you
without 'em; and then you have to have about seventy-five dollars
capital to start with. You got to get your coat, and your cap, and
your badge, and you got to have about twenty dollars of your own to
make change with, first off; company don't start you with a cent."
Lemuel made no reply. After a while he asked, "Do you know any good
hotel, around here, where I could go for the night?"
"Well, there's the Brunswick, and there's the Van-dome," said the
conductor. "They're both pretty fair houses." Lemuel looked round at
the mention of the aristocratic hostelries to see if the conductor
was joking. He owned to something of the kind by adding, "There's a
little hotel, if you want something quieter, that ain't a great ways
from here." He gave the name of the hotel, and told Lemuel how to
"Thank you," said Lemuel. "I guess I'll get off here, then. Well,
"Guess I'll have to get another nickel from you," said the
conductor, snapping his bell. "New trip," he explained.
"Oh," said Lemuel, paying. It seemed to him a short ride for five
He got off, and as the conductor started up the car, he called
forward through it to the driver, "Wanted to try for conductor, I
guess. But I guess the seventy-five dollars capital settled that
little point for him."
Lemuel heard the voice but not the words. He felt his bag heavy in
his hand as he walked away in the direction the conductor had given
him, and he did not set it down when he stood hesitating in front of
the hotel; it looked like too expensive a place for him, with its
stained-glass door, and its bulk hoisted high into the air. He
walked by the hotel, and then he came back to it, and mustered
courage to go in. His bag, if not superb, looked a great deal more
like baggage than the lank sack which he had come to Boston with; he
had bought it only a few days before, in hopes of going home before
long; he set it down with some confidence on the tesselated floor of
cheap marble, and when a shirt-sleeved, drowsy-eyed, young man came
out of a little room or booth near the door, where there was a desk,
and a row of bells, and a board with keys, hanging from the wall
above it, Lemuel said quite boldly that he would like a room. The
man said, well, they did not much expect transients; it was more of
a family-hotel, like; but he guessed they had a vacancy, and they
could put him up. He brushed his shirt sleeves down with his hands,
and looked apologetically at some ashes on his trousers, and said,
well, it was not much use trying to put on style, anyway, when you
were taking care of a furnace and had to run the elevator yourself,
and look after the whole concern. He said his aunt mostly looked
after letting the rooms, but she was at church, and he guessed he
should have to see about it himself. He bade Lemuel just get right
into the elevator, and he put his bag into a cage that hung in one
corner of the hallway, and pulled at the wire rope, and they mounted
together. On the way up he had time to explain that the clerk, who
usually ran the elevator when they had no elevator-boy, had kicked,
and they were just between hay and grass, as you might say. He
showed Lemuel into a grandiose parlour or drawing-room, enormously
draped and upholstered, and furnished in a composite application of
yellow jute and red plush to the ashen easy-chairs and sofa. A
folding-bed in the figure of a chiffonier attempted to occupy the
whole side of the wall and failed.
"I'm afraid it's more than I can pay," said Lemuel. "I guess I
better see some other room." But the man said the room belonged to a
boarder that had just gone, and he guessed they would not charge him
very much for it; he guessed Lemuel had better stay. He pulled the
bed down, and showed him how it worked, and he lighted two bulbous
gas-burners, contrived to burn the gas at such a low pressure that
they were like two unsnuffed candles for brilliancy. He backed round
over the spacious floor and looked about him with an unfamiliar,
marauding air, which had a certain boldness, but failed to impart
courage to Lemuel, who trembled for fear of the unknown expense. But
he was ashamed to go away, and when the man left him he went to bed,
after some suspicious investigation of the machine he was to sleep
in. He found its comfort unmistakable. He was tired out with what
had been happening, and the events of the day recurred in a turmoil
that helped rather than hindered slumber; none evolved itself
distinctly enough from the mass to pursue him; what he was mainly
aware of was the daring question whether he could not get the place
of that clerk who had kicked.
In the morning he saw the landlady, who was called Mrs. Harmon, and
who took the pay for his lodging, and said he might leave his bag a
while there in the office. She was a large, smooth, tranquil person,
who seemed ready for any sort of consent; she entered into an easy
conversation with Lemuel, and was so sympathetic in regard to the
difficulties of getting along in the city, that he had proposed
himself as clerk and been accepted almost before he believed the
thing had happened. He was getting a little used to the rapidity of
urban transactions, but his mind had still a rustic difficulty in
keeping up with his experiences.
"I suppose," said Mrs. Harmon, "it ain't very usual to take anybody
without a reference; I never do it; but so long as you haven't been
a great while in the city--You ever had a place in Boston before?"
"Well, not exactly what you may call a place," said Lemuel, with a
conscience against describing in that way his position at Miss
Vane's. "It was only part work." He added, "I wasn't there but a
"Know anybody in the city?"
"Yes," said Lemuel reluctantly; "I know Rev. David L. Sewell, some."
"Oh, all right," said Mrs. Harmon, with eager satisfaction. "I have
to be pretty particular who I have in the house. The boarders are
all high-class, and I have to have all the departments accordingly.
I'll see Mr. Sewell about you as soon as I get time, and I guess you
can take right hold now, if you want to."
Mrs. Harmon showed him in half a minute how to manage the elevator,
and then left him with general instructions to tell everybody who
came upon any errand he did not understand, that she would be back
in a very short time. He found pen and paper in the office, and she
said he might write the letter that he asked leave to send his
mother; when he mentioned his mother, she said, yes, indeed, with a
burst of maternal sympathy which was imagined in her case, for she
had already told Lemuel that if she had ever had any children she
would not have gone into the hotel business, which she believed
unfriendly to their right nurture; she said she never liked to take
ladies with children.
He enclosed some money to his mother which he had intended to send,
but which, before the occurrence of the good fortune that now seemed
opening upon him, he thought he must withhold. He made as little as
he could of his parting with Miss Vane, whom he had celebrated in
earlier letters to his mother; he did not wish to afflict her on his
own account, or incense her against Miss Vane, who, he felt, could
not help her part in it; but his heart burned anew against Miss
Sibyl while he wrote. He dwelt upon his good luck in getting this
new position at once, and he let his mother see that he considered
it a rise in life. He said he was going to try to get Mrs. Harmon to
let him go home for Thanksgiving, though he presumed he might have
to come back the same night.
His letter was short, but he was several times interrupted by the
lady boarders, many of whom stopped to ask Mrs. Harmon something on
their way to their rooms from breakfast. They did not really want
anything, in most cases; but they were strict with Lemuel in wanting
to know just when they could see Mrs. Harmon; and they delayed
somewhat to satisfy a natural curiosity in regard to him. They made
talk with him as he took them up in the elevator, and did what they
could to find out about him. Most of them had their door-keys in
their hands, and dangled them by the triangular pieces of brass
which the keys were chained to; they affected some sort of
_negligee_ breakfast costume, and Lemuel thought them very
fashionable. They nearly all snuffled and whined as they spoke; some
had a soft, lazy nasal; others broke abruptly from silence to
silence, in voices of nervous sharpness, like the cry or the bleat
of an animal; one young girl, who was quite pretty, had a high,
hoarse voice, like a gander.
Lemuel did not mind all this; he talked through his nose too; and he
accepted Mrs. Harmon's smooth characterisation of her guests, as she
called them, which she delivered in a slow, unimpassioned voice. "I
never have any but the highest class people in my house--the very
nicest; and I never have any jangling going on. In the first place I
never allow anybody to have anything to complain of, and then if
they do complain, I'm right up and down with them; I tell them their
rooms are wanted, and they understand what I mean. And I never allow
any trouble among the servants; I tell them, if they are not suited,
that I don't want them to stay; and if they get to quarrelling among
themselves, I send them all away, and get a new lot; I pay the
highest wages, and I can always do it. If you want to keep up with
the times at all, you have got to set a good table, and I mean to
set just as good a table as any in Boston; I don't intend to let any
one complain of my house on that score. Well, it's as broad as it's
long: if you set a good table, you can ask a good price; and if you
don't, you can't, that's all. Pay as you go, is my motto."
Mrs. Harmon sat talking in the little den beside the door which she
called the office, when she returned from that absence which she had
asked him to say would not be more than fifteen minutes at the
outside. It had been something more than two hours, and it had ended
almost clandestinely; but knowledge of her return had somehow spread
through the house, and several ladies came in while she was talking,
to ask when their window-shades were to be put up, or to say that
they knew their gas-fixtures must be out of order; or that there
were mice in their closets, for they had heard them gnawing; or that
they were sure their set-bowls smelt, and that the traps were not
working. Mrs. Harmon was prompt in every exigency. She showed the
greatest surprise that those shades had not gone up yet; she said
she was going to send round for the gasfitter to look at the
fixtures all over the house; and that she would get some potash to
pour down the bowls, for she knew the drainage was perfect--it was
just the pipes down _to_ the traps that smelt; she advised a
cat for the mice, and said she would get one. She used the greatest
sympathy with the ladies, recognising a real sufferer in each, and
not attempting to deny anything. From the dining-room came at times
the sound of voices, which blended in a discord loud above the
clatter of crockery, but Mrs. Harmon seemed not to hear them. An
excited foreigner of some sort finally rushed from this quarter, and
thrust his head into the booth where Lemuel and Mrs. Harmon sat,
long enough to explode some formula of renunciation upon her, which
left her serenity unruffled. She received with the same patience the
sarcasm of a boarder who appeared at the office-door with a bag in
his hand, and said he would send an express-man for his trunk. He
threw down the money for his receipted bill; and when she said she
was sorry he was going, he replied that he could not stand the table
any longer, and that he believed that French cook of hers had died
on the way over; he was tired of the Nova Scotia temporary, who had
become permanent. A gentleman waited for the parting guest to be
gone, and then said to the tranquil Mrs. Harmon: "So Mellen has
kicked, has he?"
"Yes, Mr. Evans," said Mrs. Harmon; "Mr. Mellen has kicked."
"And don't you want to abuse him a little? You can to me, you know,"
suggested the gentleman.
He had a full beard, parted at the chin; it was almost white, and
looked older than the rest of his face; his eyes were at once sad
and whimsical. Lemuel tried to think where he had seen him before.
"Thank you; I don't know as it would do any good, Mr. Evans. But if
he could have waited one week longer, I should have had that cook."
"Yes, that is what I firmly believe. Do you feel too much broken up
to accept a ticket to the Wednesday matinee at the Museum?"
"No, I don't," said Mrs. Harmon. "But I shouldn't want to deprive
Mrs. Evans of it."
"Oh, she wouldn't go," said Mr. Evans, with a slight sigh. "You had
better take it. Jefferson's going to do _Bob Acres_."
"Is that so?" asked Mrs. Harmon placidly, taking the ticket. "Well,
I'm ever so much obliged to you, Mr. Evans. Mr. Evans, Mr. Barker--
our new clerk," she said, introducing them.
Lemuel rose with rustic awkwardness, and shook hands with Mr. Evans,
who looked at him with a friendly smile, but said nothing.
"Now Mr. Barker is here, I guess I can get the time." Mr. Evans
said, well, he was glad she could, and went out of the street door.
"He's just one of the nicest gentlemen I've got," continued Mrs.
Harmon, following him with her eye as far as she conveniently could
without turning her head, "him and his wife both. Ever heard of the
"I don't know as I have," said Lemuel.
"Well, he's one of the editors. It's a kind of a Sunday paper, I
guess, for all it don't come out that day. I presume he could go
every night in the week to every theatre in town, if he wanted to. I
don't know how many tickets he's give me. Some of the ladies seem to
think he's always makin' fun of them; but I can't ever feel that
way. He used to board with a great friend of mine, him and his wife.
They've been with me now ever since Mrs. Hewitt died; she was the
one they boarded with before. They say he used to be dreadful easy-
going, 'n' 't his wife was all 't saved him. But I guess he's
different now. Well, I must go out and see after the lunch. You
watch the office, and say just what I told you before."
Sewell chanced to open his door to go out just as Miss Vane put her
hand on the bell-pull, the morning after she had dismissed Lemuel.
The cheer of his Monday face died out at the unsmiling severity of
hers; but he contrived to ask her in, and said he would call Mrs.
Sewell, if she would sit down in the reception-room a moment.
"I don't know," she said, with a certain look of inquiry, not
unmixed with compassion. "It's about Lemuel."
The minister fetched a deep sigh. "Yes, I know it. But she will have
to know it sooner or later." He went to the stairway and called her
name, and then returned to Miss Vane in the reception-room.
"Has Lemuel been here?" she asked.
"You said you knew it was about him--"
"It was my bad conscience, I suppose, and your face that told me."
Miss Vane waited for Mrs. Sewell's presence before she unpacked her
heart. Then she left nothing in it. She ended by saying, "I have
examined and cross-examined Sibyl, but it's like cross-questioning a
chameleon; she changed colour with every new light she was put
into." Here Miss Vane had got sorrowfully back to something more of
her wonted humour, and laughed.
"Poor Sibyl!" said Mrs. Sewell.
"Poor?" retorted Miss Vane. "Not at all! I could get nothing out of
either of them; but I feel perfectly sure that Lemuel was not to
"It's very possible," suggested Mrs. Sewell, "that he did say
something in his awkward way that she misconstrued into
Miss Vane did not seem to believe this. "If Lemuel had given me the
slightest satisfaction," she began in self-exculpation. "But no,"
she broke off. "It had to be!" She rose. "I thought I had better
come and tell you at once, Mr. Sewell. I suppose you will want to
look him up, and do something more for him. I wish if you find him
you would make him take this note." She gave the minister a ten-
dollar bill. "I tried to do so, but he would not have it. I don't
know what I shall do without him! He is the best and most faithful
creature in the world. Even in this little time I had got to relying
implicitly upon his sense, his judgment, his goodness, his--Well!
She ran out of the door, and left Sewell confronted with his wife.
He did not know whether she had left him to hope or to despair, and
he waited for his wife to interpret his emotion, but Mrs. Sewell
tacitly refused to do this. After a dreary interval he plucked a
random cheerfulness out of space, and said: "Well, if Miss Vane
feels in that way about it, I don't see why the whole affair can't
be arranged and Barker reinstated."
"David," returned his wife, not vehemently at all, "when you come
out with those mannish ideas I don't know what to do."
"Well, my dear," said the minister, "I should be glad to come out
with some womanish ideas if I had them. I dare say they would be
better. But I do my poor best, under the circumstances. What is the
trouble with my ideas, except that the sex is wrong?"
"You think, you men," replied Mrs. Sewell, "that a thing like that
can be mended up and smoothed over, and made just the same as ever.
You think that because Miss Vane is sorry she sent Barker away and
wants him back, she can take him back."
"I don't see why she can't. I've sometimes supposed that the very
highest purpose of Christianity was mutual forgiveness--forbearance
with one another's errors."
"That's all very well," said Mrs. Sewell. "But you know that
whenever I have taken a cook back, after she had shown temper, it's
been an entire failure; and this is a far worse case, because there
is disappointed good-will mixed up with it. I don't suppose Barker
is at all to blame. Whatever has happened, you may be perfectly sure
that it has been partly a bit of stage-play in Sibyl and partly a
mischievous desire to use her power over him. I foresaw that she
would soon be tired of reforming him. But whatever it is, it's
something that you can't repair. Suppose Barker went back to them;
could they ignore what's happened?"
"Of course not," Sewell admitted.
"Well, and should he ask her pardon, or she his?"
"The Socratic method is irresistible," said the minister sadly. "You
have proved that nothing can be done for Barker with the Vanes. And
now the question is, what _can_ be done for him?"
"That's something I must leave to you, David," said his wife
dispiritedly. She arose, and as she passed out of the room she
added, "You will have to find him, in the _first_ place, and
you had better go round to the police stations and the tramps'
lodging-houses and begin looking."
Sewell sighed heavily under the sarcastic advice, but acted upon it,
and set forth upon the useless quest, because he did not know in the
least what else to do.
All that week Barker lay, a lurking discomfort, in his soul, though
as the days passed the burden grew undeniably lighter; Sewell had a
great many things besides Barker to think of. But when Sunday came,
and he rose in his pulpit, he could not help casting a glance of
guilty fear toward Miss Vane's pew and drawing a long breath of
guilty relief not to see Lemuel in it. We are so made, that in the
reaction the minister was able to throw himself into the matter of
his discourse with uncommon fervour. It was really very good matter,
and he felt the literary joy in it which flatters the author even of
a happily worded supplication to the Deity. He let his eyes, freed
from their bondage to Lemuel's attentive face, roam at large in
liberal ease over his whole congregation; and when, toward the close
of his sermon, one visage began to grow out upon him from the two or
three hundred others, and to concentrate in itself the facial
expression of all the rest, and become the only countenance there,
it was a perceptible moment before he identified it as that of his
inalienable charge. Then he began to preach at it as usual, but
defiantly, and with yet a haste to be through and to get speech with
it that he felt was ludicrous, and must appear unaccountable to his
hearers. It seemed to him that he could not bring his sermon to a
close; he ended it in a cloudy burst of rhetoric which he feared
would please the nervous, elderly ladies--who sometimes blamed him
for a want of emotionality--and knew must grieve the judicious.
While the choir was singing the closing hymn, he contrived to beckon
the sexton to the pulpit, and described and located Lemuel to him as
well as he could without actually pointing him out; he said that he
wished to see that young man after church, and asked the sexton to
bring him to his room. The sexton did so to the best of his ability,
but the young man whom he brought was not Lemuel, and had to be got
rid of with apologies.
On three or four successive Sundays Lemuel's face dawned upon the
minister from the congregation, and tasked his powers of impersonal
appeal and mental concentration to the utmost. It never appeared
twice in the same place, and when at last Sewell had tutored the
sexton carefully in Lemuel's dress, he was driven to despair one
morning when he saw the boy sliding along between the seats in the
gallery, and sitting down with an air of satisfaction in an entirely
new suit of clothes.
After this defeat the sexton said with humorous sympathy, "Well,
there ain't anything for it now, Mr. Sewell, but a detective, or
else an advertisement in the Personals."
Sewell laughed with him at his joke, and took what comfort he could
from the evidence of prosperity which Lemuel's new clothes offered.
He argued that if Barker could afford to buy them he could not be in
immediate need, and for some final encounter with him he trusted in
Providence, and was not too much cast down when his wife made him
recognise that he was trusting in Luck. It was an ordeal to look
forward to finding Lemuel sooner or later among his hearers every
Sunday; but having prepared his nerves for the shock, as men adjust
their sensibilities to the recurrent pain of a disease, he came to
bear it with fortitude, especially as he continually reminded
himself that he had his fixed purpose to get at Lemuel at last and
befriend him in any and every possible way. He tried hard to keep
from getting a grudge against him.
At the hotel, Lemuel remained in much of his original belief in the
fashion and social grandeur of the ladies who formed the majority of
Mrs. Harmon's guests. Our womankind are prone to a sort of helpless
intimacy with those who serve them; the ladies had an instinctive
perception of Lemuel's trustiness, and readily gave him their
confidence and much of their history. He came to know them without
being at all able to classify them with reference to society at
large, as of that large tribe among us who have revolted from
domestic care, and have skilfully unseated the black rider who
remains mounted behind the husband of the average lady-boarder. Some
of them had never kept house, being young and newly married, though
of this sort there were those who had tried it in flats, and had
reverted to their natural condition of boarding. They advised Lemuel
not to take a flat, whatever he did, unless he wanted to perish at
once. Other lady boarders had broken up housekeeping during the
first years of the war, and had been boarding round ever since,
going from hotels in the city to hotels in the country, and back
again with the change of the seasons; these mostly had husbands who
had horses, and they talked with equal tenderness of the husbands
and the horses, so that you could not always tell which Jim or Bob
was; usually they had no children, but occasionally they had a
married daughter, or a son who lived West. There were several single
ladies: one who seemed to have nothing in this world to do but to
come down to her meals, and another a physician who had not been
able, in embracing the medical profession, to deny herself the
girlish pleasure of her pet name, and was lettered in the list of
guests in the entry as Dr. Cissie Bluff. In the attic, which had a
north-light favourable to their work, were two girls, who were
studying art at the Museum; one of them looked delicate at first
sight, and afterwards seemed merely very gentle, with a clear-eyed
pallor which was not unhealth. A student in the Law School sat at
the table with these girls, and seemed sometimes to go with them
to concerts and lectures. From his talk, which was almost the only
talk that made itself heard in the dining-room, it appeared that
he was from Wyoming Territory; he treated the young ladies as
representative of Boston and its prejudices, though apparently they
were not Bostonians. There were several serious and retiring
couples, of whom one or other was an invalid, and several who were
poor, and preferred the plated gentility of Mrs. Harmon's hotel--it
was called the St. Albans; Mrs. Harmon liked the name--to the
genuine poverty of such housekeeping as they could have set up.
About each of these women a home might have clung, with all its
loves and cares; they were naturally like other women; but here they
were ignoble particles, without attraction for one another, or
apparently joy for themselves, impermanent, idle, listless; they had
got rid of the trouble of housekeeping, and of its dignity and
usefulness. There were a few children in the house, not at all
noisy; the boys played on the sidewalk, and the little girls stayed
in their rooms with their mothers, and rarely took the air oftener
They came down rather later to breakfast, and they seemed not to go
to school; some of them had piano lessons in their rooms. Their
mothers did not go out much; sometimes they went to church or the
theatre, and they went shopping. But they had apparently no more
social than domestic life. Now and then they had a friend to lunch
or dinner; if a lady was absent, it was known to Mrs. Harmon, and
through her to the other ladies, that she was spending the day with
a friend of hers at an hotel in Newton, or Lexington, or Woburn. In
a city full of receptions, of dinner-giving, and party-going, Mrs.
Harmon's guests led the lives of cloistered nuns, so far as such
pleasures were concerned; occasionally a transient had rooms for a
week or two, and was continually going, and receiving visits. She
became the object of a certain unenvious curiosity with the other
ladies, who had not much sociability among themselves; they waited a
good while before paying visits at one another's rooms, and then
were very punctilious not to go again until their calls had been
returned. They were all doctoring themselves; they did not talk
gossip or scandal much; they talked of their diseases and
physicians, and their married daughters and of Mrs. Harmon, whom
they censured for being too easygoing. Certain of them devoured
novels, which they carried about clasped to their breasts with their
fingers in them at the place where they were reading; they did not
often speak of them, and apparently took them as people take opium.
The men were the husbands or fathers of the women, and were wholly
without the domestic weight or consequence that belongs to men
living in their own houses. There were certain old bachelors, among
whom were two or three decayed branches of good Boston families,
spendthrifts, or invalided bankrupts. Mr. Evans was practically
among the single gentlemen, for his wife never appeared in the
parlour or dining-room, and was seen only when she went in or out,
heavily veiled, for a walk. Lemuel heard very soon that she had
suffered a shock from the death of her son on the cars; the other
ladies made much of her inability to get over it, and said nothing
would induce them to have a son of theirs go in and out on the cars.
Among these people, such as they were, and far as they might be from
a final civilisation, Lemuel began to feel an ambition to move more
lightly and quickly than he had yet known how to do, to speak
promptly, and to appear well. Our schooling does not train us to
graceful or even correct speech; even our colleges often leave that
uncouth. Many of Mrs. Harmon's boarders spoke bad grammar through
their noses; but the ladies dressed stylishly, and the men were good
arithmeticians. Lemuel obeyed a native impulse rather than a good
example in cultivating a better address; but the incentive to thrift
and fashion was all about him. He had not been ignorant that his
clothes were queer in cut and out of date, and during his stay at
Miss Vane's he had taken much council with himself as to whether he
ought not to get a new suit with his first money instead of sending
it home. Now he had solved the question, after sending the money
home, by the discovery of a place on a degenerate street, in a
neighbourhood of Chinese laundries, with the polite name of Misfit
Parlours, where they professed to sell the failures of the leading
tailors of Boston, New York, and Chicago. After long study of the
window of the Parlours, Lemuel ventured within one day, and was
told, when he said he could not afford the suit he fancied, that he
might pay for it on the instalment plan, which the proprietor
explained to him. In the mirror he was almost startled at the
stylishness of his own image. The proprietor of the Parlours
complimented him. "You see, you've got a good figure for a suit of
clothes--what I call a ready made figure. _You_ can go into a
clothing store anywheres and fit you."
He took the first instalment of the price, with Lemuel's name and
address, and said he would send the clothes round; but in the
evening he brought them himself, and no doubt verified Lemuel's
statement by this device. It was a Saturday night, and the next
morning Lemuel rose early to put them on. He meant to go to church
in them, and in the afternoon he did not know just what he should
do. He had hoped that some chance might bring them together again,
and then he could see from the way Miss Dudley and 'Manda Grier
behaved, just what they thought. He had many minds about the matter
himself, and had gone from an extreme of self-abhorrence to one of
self-vindication, and between these he had halted at every gradation
of blame and exculpation. But perhaps what chiefly kept him away was
the uncertainty of his future; till he could give some shape to that
he had no courage to face the past. Sometimes he wished never to see
either of those girls again; but at other times he had a longing to
go and explain, to justify himself, or to give himself up to
The new clothes gave him more heart than he had yet had, but the
most he could bring himself to do was to walk towards Pleasant
Avenue the next Sunday afternoon, which Mrs. Harmon especially gave
him,--and to think about walking up and down before the house. It
ended in his walking up and down the block, first on one side of the
street and then on the other. He knew the girls' window; Miss Dudley
had shown him it was the middle window of the top story when they
were looking out of it, and he glanced up at it. Then he hurried
away, but he could not leave the street without stopping at the
corner, to cast a last look back at the house. There was an
apothecary's at that corner, and while he stood wistfully staring
and going round the corner a little way, and coming back to look at
the things in the apothecary's window, he saw 'Manda Grier come
swiftly towards him. He wanted to run away now, but he could not; he
felt nailed to the spot, and he felt the colour go out of his face.
She pretended not to see him at first; but with a second glance she
abandoned the pretence, and at his saying faintly, "Good afternoon,"
she said, with freezing surprise, "Oh! Good afternoon, Mr. Barker!"
and passed into the apothecary's.
He could not go now, since he had spoken, and leave all so
inconclusive again; and yet 'Manda Grier had been so repellent, so
cutting, in her tone and manner, that he did not know how to face
her another time. When she came out he faltered, "I hope there isn't
anybody sick at your house, Miss Grier."
"Oh, nobody that you'll care about, Mr. Barker," she answered
airily, and began to tilt rapidly away, with her chin thrust out
He made a few paces after her, and then stopped; she seemed to stop
too, and he caught up with her.
"I hope," he gasped, "there ain't anything the matter with Miss
"Oh, nothing 't _you'll_ care about," said 'Manda Grier, and she
added with terrible irony, "You've b'en round to inquire so much
that you hain't allowed time for any _great_ change."
"Has she been sick long?" faltered Lemuel. "I didn't dare to come!"
he cried out. "I've been wanting to come, but I didn't suppose you
would speak to me--any of you." Now his tongue was unlocked, he ran
on: "I don't know as it's any excuse--there _ain't_ any excuse
for such a thing! I know she must perfectly despise me, and that I'm
not fit for her to look at; but I'd give anything if I could take it
all back and be just where I was before. You tell her, won't you,
how I feel?"
'Manda Grier, who had listened with a killingly averted face, turned
sharply upon him: "You mean about stayin' away so long? I don't know
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