Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XII. Feminine Reasoning
With vigour renewed by a night of rest Leslie began her second day at Atwater Cabin. She had so many and such willing helpers that before noon she could find nothing more to do. After lunch she felt a desire to explore her new world. Choosing the shady side, she followed the road toward the club house, but one thought in her mind: she must return in time to take the car and meet Douglas Bruce as she had promised.
She felt elated that she had so planned her summer as to spend it with her father, while of course it was going to be delightful to have her lover with her. So going she came to a most attractive lane that led from the road between tilled fields, back to a wood on one side, and open pasture on the other. Faintly she heard the shouts of children, and yielding to sudden impulse she turned and followed the grassy path. A few more steps, then she stopped in surprise. An automobile was standing on the bank of a brook. On an Indian blanket under a tree sat a woman of fine appearance holding a book, but watching with smiling face the line of the water, which spread in a wide pool above a rudely constructed dam, overflowing it in a small waterfall.
On either bank lay one of the Minturn boys, muddy and damp, trying with his hands to catch something in the water. Below the dam, in a blue balbriggan bathing suit, stood James Minturn, his hands filled with a big piece of sod which he bent and applied to a leak. Leslie untied the ribbons of her sunshade and rumpling her hair to the light breeze came forward laughing.
"Well Mr. Minturn!" she cried. "What is going to become of the taxpayers of Multiopolis while their champion builds a sod dam?"
Whether the flush on James Minturn's face as he turned to her was exertion, embarrassment, or unpleasant memory Leslie could not decide; but she remembered, after her impulsive greeting, that she had been with his wife in that early morning meeting the day of the trip to the swamp. She thought of many things as she went forward. James Minturn held out his muddy hands as he said laughingly: "You see I'm not in condition for our customary greeting."
"Surely!" cried Leslie. "It is going to wash off, isn't it? If from you, why not from me?"
"Of course if you want to play!" he said.
"Playing? You? Honestly?" queried Leslie.
"Honestly playing," answered the man. "The 'honestest' playing in all the world; not the political game, not the money game, not anything called manly sport, just a day off with my boys, being a boy again. Heavens Leslie, I'm wild about it. I could scarcely sleep last night for eagerness to get started. But let me make you acquainted with my family. My sister, Mrs. Winslow, a friend of mine, Miss Leslie Winton; my sons' tutor, Mr. Tower; my little brother, William Minturn; my boys, Junior and Malcolm."
"Anyway, we can shake hands," said Leslie to Mrs. Winslow. "The habit is so ingrained I am scandalized on meeting people if I'm forced to neglect it."
"Will you share my blanket?" asked Mrs. Winslow.
"Thanks! Yes, for a little time," said Leslie. "I am greatly interested in what is going on here."
"So am I," said Mrs. Winslow. "We are engaged in the evolution of an idea. A real 'Do-the-boy's-hall.'"
"It seems to be doing them good," commented Leslie.
"Never mind the boys," said Mr. Minturn. "I object to such small men monopolizing your attention. Look at the 'good' this is doing me. And would you please tell me why you are here, instead of disporting yourself at, say Lenox?"
"How funny!" laughed Leslie. "I am out in search of amusement, and I'm finding it. I think I'm perhaps a mile from our home for the summer."
"You amaze me!" cried Mr. Minturn. "I saw Douglas this morning, and told him where I was coming, but he never said a word."
"He didn't know one to say on this subject," explained Leslie. "You see I rented a cabin over at Atwater and had my plans made before I told even father what a delightful thing was in store for him."
"But how did it happen?"
"Through my seeing how desperately busy Daddy and Douglas have been all spring, Daddy especially," replied Leslie. "Douglas is bad enough, but father's just obsessed, so much so that I think he's carrying double."
"I know he is," said Mr. Minturn. "And so you made a plan to allow him to proceed with his work all day and then have the delightful ride, fishing and swimming in Atwater morning and evening. How wonderful! And of course Douglas will be there also?"
"Of course," agreed Leslie. "At least he shall have an invitation. I'm going to surprise him with it this very evening. How do you think he'll like it?"
"I think he will be so overjoyed he won't know how to express himself," said James Minturn. "But isn't it going to be lonely for you? Won't you miss your friends, your frocks, and your usual summer round?"
"You forget," said Leslie. "My friends and my frocks always have been for winter. All my life I have summered with father."
"How will you amuse yourself?" he asked.
"It will take some time each day to plan what to do the next that will bring most refreshment and joy; I often will be compelled to drive in of mornings with orders for my house-keeping, and when other things are exhausted, I am going to make an especial study of wild-bird music."
"That is an attractive subject," said Mr. Minturn. "Have you really made any progress?"
"Little more than verifying a few songs already recorded," replied Leslie. "I hear smatterings and snatches, but they are elusive, while I'm not always sure of the identity of the bird. But the subject is thrillingly tempting."
"It surely is," conceded Mr. Minturn. "I could see that Nellie was alert the instant you mentioned it. Come over here to the shade and tell me how far you have gone. You see I've undertaken the boys' education. Malcolm inherits his mother's musical ability to a wonderful degree. It is possible that he could be started on this, and so begin his work while he thinks he's playing."
Leslie walked to the spot indicated, far enough away that conversation would not interrupt Mrs. Winslow's reading, and near enough to watch the boys; she and Mr. Minturn sat on the grass and talked.
"It might be the very thing," said Leslie. "Whatever gives even a faint hope of attracting a boy to an educational subject is worth testing."
"One thing I missed, I always have regretted," said Mr. Minturn, "I never had educated musical comprehension. Nellie performed and sang so well, and in my soul I knew what I could understand and liked in music she scorned. Sometimes I thought if I had known only enough to appreciate the right thing at the right time, it might have formed a slender tie between us; so I want the boys both to recognize good music when they hear it; but they have so much to learn all at once, poor little chaps, I scarcely see where to begin, and in a musical way, I don't even know how to begin. Tell me about the birds, Leslie. Just what is it you are studying?"
"The strains of our famous composers that are lifted bodily for measures at a time, from the song of a bird or indisputably based upon it," answered Leslie.
"Did you and Nellie have any success?"
"Indeed yes! We had the royal luck to hear exactly the song I had hoped; and besides we talked of many things and Nellie settled her future course in her mind. When she went into the swamp alone and came out with an armload of lavender fringed orchids she meant to carry to Elizabeth, and her heart firmly resolved to begin a new life with you, she told me she felt like flying; that never had she been so happy."
Leslie paused, glancing at James Minturn. He seemed puzzled: "I don't understand. But nothing matters now. Tell me about the birds," he said.
"And it is what you admit you don't understand that I must tell you of," said Leslie. "I've been afraid, horribly afraid you didn't understand, and that you took some course you wouldn't have taken if you did. What happened in the swamp was all my fault!"
"The birds, Leslie, tell me of the birds," commanded James Minturn. "You can't possibly know what occurred that separated Nellie and me."
"No, I don't know your side of it; but I do know hers, and I don't think you do," persisted Leslie. "Now if you would be big enough to let me tell you how it was with her that day, and what she said to me, your mind would be perfectly at rest as to the course you have taken."
"My mind is 'perfectly at rest now as to the course I have taken,'" said Mr. Minturn. "I realize that a man should meet life as it comes to him. I endured mine in sweating humiliation for years, and I would have gone on to the end, if it had been a question of me only, but when the girl was sacrificed and the boys in a fair way to meet a worse fate than hers, the question no longer hinged on me. You have seen my sons during their mother's regime, when they were children of wealth in the care of servants; look at them now and dare to tell me that they are not greatly improved."
"Surely they are!" said Leslie. "You did right to rescue them from their environment; all the fault that lies with you so far is, that you did not do from the start what you are now doing. The thing that haunts me is this, Mr. Minturn, and I must get it out of my mind before I can sleep soundly again--you will let me tell you--you won't think me meddling in what must be dreadful heartache? Oh you won't will you?"
"No, I won't," said Mr. Minturn, "but it is prolonging heartache to discuss this matter, and wasting time better used in the building of a sod dam--indeed Leslie, tell me about the birds."
"I will, if you'll answer one question," said Leslie.
"Dangerous, but I'll risk it," replied Mr. Minturn.
"I must ask two or three minor ones to reach the real one," explained the girl.
"Oh Leslie," laughed Mr. Minturn. "I didn't think you were so like the average woman."
"A large number of men are finding 'the average woman' quite delightful," said Leslie. "Men respect a masculine, well-balanced, argumentative woman, but every time they love and marry the impulsive, changeable, companionable one."
"Provided she be endowed with truth, character, and common mother instinct enough to protect her young--yes--I grant it, and glory in it," said Mr. Minturn. "I can furnish logic for one family, and most men I know feel qualified to do the same."
"Surely!" agreed Leslie. "You were waiting for Nellie the night she came from the tamarack swamp with me, and she told me you had a little box, and that with its contents you had threatened to 'freeze her soul,' if she had a soul. I'll be logical and fair, and ask but the one question I first stipulated. Here it is: did you wait until you made sure she had a soul, worthy of your consideration, before you froze it?"
James Minturn's laugh was ugly to hear.
"My dear girl," he said. "I made sure she had not three years ago."
"And I made equally sure that she had," said Leslie, "in the tamarack swamp when she wrestled as Jacob at Peniel against her birth, her environment, her wealth, and triumphed over all of them for you and her sons. I can't go on with my own plan for personal happiness, until I know for sure if you perfectly understand that she came to you that night to confess to you her faults, errors, mistakes, sins, if need be, and ask you to take the head of your household, and to help her fashion each hour of her life anew. Did she have a chance to tell you all this?"
"No," said Mr. Minturn. "But it would have made no difference, if she had. It came too late."
"You have not the right to say that to any living, suffering human being!" protested Leslie.
"I have a perfect right to say it to her," said Mr. Minturn. "A right that would be justified in any court in the world, either of lawyers or people."
"Then thank God, Nellie gets her trial higher. He will understand, and forgive her."
"You don't know what she did," said Mr. Minturn. "What she stood before me and the officers of the law, and admitted she did."
"I don't care what she did! There were men forgiven on the cross; because they sincerely repented, God had mercy on them, so He will on her, and what's more, He won't have any on you, unless you follow His example and forgive when you are asked, by a woman who is as deeply repentant as she was."
"Her repentance comes too late," said Mr. Minturn with finality. "Her error is not reparable."
"There is no such thing as true repentance being too late," insisted Leslie. "You are distinctly commanded to forgive; you have got to do it! There is no error that is reparable. Since you hint tragedy, I will concede it. If she had been directly responsible for the death of her child, it was a mistake, criminal carelessness, but not a thing purposely planned; so she could atone for it by doing her best for you and the boys."
"Any mother who once did the things she did is not fit to be trusted again!"
"What nonsense! James Minturn, you amaze me!" said Leslie. "That is a little too cold masculine logic. That is taking from the whole human race the power to repent of and repair a mistake."
"There are some mistakes that cannot be repaired!"
"I grant it," said Leslie. "There are! You are making one right now!"
"That's the most strictly feminine utterance I ever heard," said Mr. Minturn, with a short laugh.
"Thank you," retorted Leslie. "The compliment is high, but I accept it. I ask nothing better at the hands of fate than to be the most feminine of women. And I've told you what I feel forced to. You can now go on with your plans, knowing they are exactly what she had mapped out, hastily, but surely. She said to me that she must build from the foundations, which meant a new home."
"You are fatuously mistaken!" said Mr. Minturn.
"She said to me," reiterated Leslie forcefully, "that for ten years she had done exactly what she pleased, lived only for her own pleasure, now she would do as you dictated for a like time, live your way--I never was farther from a mistake in my life. If you think it doesn't take courage to tell you this, and if you think I enjoy it, and if you think I don't wish I were a mile away----"
"I still maintain I know the lady better than you do," said Mr. Minturn. "But you are wonderful Leslie, and I always shall respect and honour you for your effort in our behalf. It does credit to your head and heart. I envy Douglas Bruce. If ever an hour of trial comes to you, I would feel honoured for a chance to prove to you how much I appreciate----"
"Don't talk like that!" wailed Leslie. "It's all a failure if you do! Promise me that you will think this over. Let me send you the note Nellie wrote me before she went away. Won't you try to imagine what she is suffering to-day, in the change from what she went to you hoping, and what she received at your hands?"
"Let me see," said James Minturn. "At this hour she is probably enduring the pangs of wearing the most tasteful afternoon gown on the veranda of whatever summer resort suits her variable fancy, also the discomfiture of the woman she induced to bid high and is now winning from at bridge. I am particularly intimate with her forms of suffering; you see I judge them by my own and my children's during the past years."
"Then you think I'm not sincere?" asked Leslie.
"Surely, my dear girl!" said Mr. Minturn. "With all my heart I believe you! I know you are loyal to her, and to me! It isn't you I disbelieve, child, it is my wife."
"But I've told you over and over that she's changed."
"And I refuse to believe in her power to undergo the genuine and permanent change that would make her an influence for good with her sons, or anything but an uncontrollable element in my home," said Mr. Minturn. "Why Leslie, if I were to hunt her up and ask her to come to my house, do you think she would do it?"
"I know she would be most happy," said Leslie.
"Small plain rooms, wait on herself, children over the house and lawn at all times--Nellie Minturn? You amuse me!" he said.
"There's no amusement in it for me, it is pitiful tragedy," said Leslie. "She is willing, she has offered to change, you are denying her the opportunity."
"You don't think deeply enough!" said the man. "Suppose, knowing her as I do, I agreed to her coming to my house. Suppose I filled it with servants to wait on her, and ruin and make snobs of the boys; it could only result in a fiasco all around, and bring me again to the awful thing I have been through once, in forcing a separation. The present is too good for the boys, and now they are my first consideration."
"So I see," said Leslie. "Nellie isn't getting a particle and she is their mother, and once she really awakened to the situation, she was hungry to mother them, and to take her place in their hearts. I don't know where she is, but feeling as she did when we parted, I know she's not at any summer resort playing bridge at this minute."
"You are a friend worth having, Leslie; I congratulate my wife on so staunch an advocate," said James Minturn. "And I'll promise you this: I'll go back to the hateful subject, just when I felt I was free from it. I'll think on both sides, and I'll weigh all you've said. If I see a glimmering, I will do this much--I will locate her, and learn how genuine was the change you witnessed, and I rather think I'll manage for you to see also. Will that satisfy you?"
"That will make me radiant, because the change I witnessed was genuine. I know that wherever Nellie is to-day and whatever she is doing, she is still firm as when she left me in her desire for reparation toward you and her sons. Please think fast, and find her quickly."
"Leslie, you're incorrigible! Go bring Douglas to his surprise. He has a right to be happy."
"So have you," insisted Leslie. "More than he, because you have had such deep sorrow. Good-bye."
Then Leslie took leave of the others, returned to the cabin, and hurried to her room to dress for her trip to bring her lover. Douglas Bruce was waiting when she stopped at the Iriquois and his greeting was joyous. Mr. Winton was cordial, but Douglas noticed that he seemed tired and worried, and inquired if he were working unusually hard. He replied that he was, and beginning to feel the heat a little.
"Then we will drive to the country before dinner to cool off," said Leslie, seeing her opportunity.
Both men agreed that would be enjoyable. After a few minutes of casual talk they relaxed while making smooth passage over city streets and the almost equally level highways of the country. At the end of half an hour Douglas sat upright, looking around him.
"I don't recognize this," he said. "Have we been here before, Leslie?"
"I think not," she answered. "I don't know why. It is one of my best loved drives. Always before we have taken the road to the club house, or some of its branches."
They began a gentle ascent, when directly across their way stretched the blue water of a lake.
"Is here where we take the plunge?" inquired Douglas.
"No indeed!" answered Leslie. "Here we speed until we gather such momentum that we shoot across the water and alight on the opposite bank without stopping. Make your landing neatly, Rogers!"
"Why have we never been here before?" marvelled Douglas. "I don't remember any other road one-half so inviting. Just look ahead here! See what a beautiful picture!" He indicated a vine of creeping blackberry spreading over gold sand, its rough, deeply serrated leaves of most artistic cutting, with tufts of snowy bloom surrounding dark-tipped stamens in their centres.
"Isn't it!" answered Mr. Winton. "You know what Whitman said of it?"
"I'm not so well read in Whitman as you are."
"Which is your distinct loss," said Mr. Winton. "It was he who wrote, 'A running blackberry would adorn the parlours of Heaven.'"
"And so it would!" exclaimed Douglas. "What a frieze that would make for a dining-room! Have you ever seen it used?"
"Never," answered Leslie, "or many other of our most exquisite forms of wild growth."
"What beautiful country!" Douglas commented a minute later as the car sped from the swamp, ran uphill, and down a valley between stretches of tilled farm land on either side, sloping back to the lakes now growing distant, then creeping up a gradual incline until Atwater flashed into sight.
"Man! That's fine!" he said, rising in the car to better admire the view, at which Leslie signalled the driver to run slower. "I don't remember that I ever saw anything quite so attractive as this. And if ever water invited a swimmer--that white sand bed seems to extend as far into the lake as you can see. Jove! Wasn't that a black bass under that thorn bush?"
Leslie's eyes were shining while her laugh was as joyous as any of the birds. He need not say more. There was a bathing suit in his room; in ten minutes he could be cleaving the water to the opposite shore and have time to return before dinner. The car sped down where the road ran level with the water. A flock of waders arose and circled the lake. On the right was the orchard, the newly made garden, the tiny cabin with green lawn, hammocks swinging between trees, Indian blankets spread, and the odour of cooking food in the air. The car stopped, Douglas sprang out and offered his hand as he saw Leslie intended descending. She took the hand and kept it in her left. With her right she included woods, water, orchard and cabin.
"These are my surprise for you," she said. "I am going to live here this summer, and keep house for you and Dad while you run and reform the world. Welcome home, Douglas!"
He slowly looked around, then at Mr. Winton.
"Do you believe her?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes indeed! Leslie has the faculty of making good. And I'm one day ahead of you. She tried this on me last night. Hurry into your bathing suit; we'll swim before dinner, and then we'll fish. It was great going in this morning! I'm sure you'll enjoy it!"
"Enjoy it!" cried Douglas. "Here is where the paucity of our language is made manifest."
Too happy herself for the right word, Leslie showed Douglas to his room, with its white bed, and row of hooks, on one of which hung the bathing suit; then she went to put on her own, and they hurried to the lake.
"You are happy here, Leslie?" asked Douglas.
"Never in my life have I been so happy as I am this moment," said Leslie, skifting the clear water with her hands while she waited for her father before starting the swim to the opposite shore. "I've got the most joyous thing to tell you."
"Go on and tell, 'Bearer of Morning,'" he said. "I am so delighted I'm maudlin."
"Right over there, on the road to the club house, while 'seeking new worlds to conquer' this afternoon, I ran into James Minturn wearing a bathing suit, to his knees in mud and water, building a sod dam for his boys."
"You did?" cried Douglas.
"I did!" said Leslie. "Here's the picture: a beautiful winding stream, big trees like these on the banks, shade and flowers, birds, and air a-plenty, a fine appearing woman he introduced as his sister, a Minturn boy catching fish with his bare hands on either bank, the brother Minturn must have adopted legally, since he gave him his name----"
"He did," interrupted Douglas. "He told me so----"
"I was sure of it," said Leslie. "And an interesting young man, a tutor, bringing up more sod; the boys acted quite like any other agreeably engaged children--but Minturn himself, looking like a man I never saw before, down in the sand and water building a sod dam--a sod dam I'm telling you----"
"I notice what you are telling me," cried Douglas. "It is duly impressing me. 'Dam' is all I can think of."
"It's no wonder!" exclaimed Leslie.
"What did he say to you?" queried Douglas.
"It wasn't necessary for him to say anything," said Leslie. "I could see. He is making over his boys and in order to do it sympathetically, and win their confidence and love, he is being a boy himself again. He has the little chaps under control now. There are love and admiration in their tones when they speak to him, while they obey him. Think of it!"
"It is something worth thinking of," said Douglas. "He was driven to action, but his methods must have been heroic; for they seem to have worked."
"Yes, for him and the boys," said Leslie, "but they are not all his family."
"The remainder of his family always has looked out for herself to the exclusion of everything else in life, you have told me; I imagine she is still doing it with wonderful success," hazarded Douglas.
"It amazes me how men can be so unfeeling."
"So you talked to him about her?"
"I surely did!" asserted Leslie.
"And I'll wager you wasted words," said Douglas.
"Not one!" cried the girl. "He will remember each one I spoke. If I don't hear of him taking some action soon, I'll find another occasion, and try again. He shall divide the joy of remaking those boys with their mother."
"She will respectfully--I mean disdainfully, decline!"
"You don't believe she was in earnest in what she said to me then?" asked the girl.
"I am quite sure she was," he answered, "but a few days of her former life with her old friends will take her back to her previous ways with greater abandon than ever. You mark my words."
"Bother your words!" cried Leslie emphatically. "I tell you Douglas, I went through the fire with her. I watched her soul come out white. Promise me that if ever he talks to you, you won't say anything against her."
"It would be a temptation," he said. "Minturn is a different man."
"So is she a different woman! Come on Dad, we are waiting for you," called Leslie. "What kept you so?"
"A paper fell from my pocket, so I picked it up and in glancing at it I became interested in a thought that hadn't occurred to me before, and I forgot. You must forgive your old Daddy; his hands are about full these days. Between my job for the city, and my own affairs, and those of a friend, I have all I can carry. Now let me forget business. I call this great of the girl. And one of the biggest appeals to me is the bill of fare. I had a dinner for a king last night. What have we to-night?"
"But won't anticipation spoil it?" she asked.
"Not a particle," he declared.
"It's the fish we caught last night, baked potatoes, cress salad from Minturn's brook, strawberries from Atwaters, cream from our rented cow, real clover cream, Mrs. James says, and biscuit. That's all."
"Glory!" cried Mr. Winton. "Doesn't that thrill you? Let's head for the tallest tamarack of the swamp and then have a feast."
On the opposite bank they rested a few minutes, then returned to dinner. Afterward, with Rogers rowing for Mr. Winton, and Leslie for Douglas, they went bass fishing. When the boats passed on the far shore Leslie and Douglas had three, and Mr. Winton five. This did not prove that he was the better fisherman, only that he worked constantly; they lost much time in conversation which interested them; but as they enjoyed what they had to say more than the sport, while Leslie only wished them to take the fish they would use, it was their affair. The girl soon returned to the Minturns and secured a promise from Douglas that if Mr. Minturn talked with him, at least he would say nothing to discourage his friend about the sincerity of his wife's motives. Leslie's thoughts then turned to the surprise Douglas had mentioned.
"Oh, that pretty girl?" he inquired casually.
"Yes, Lily," she said. "Of course Mickey took you to see her! Is she really a lovable child, and attractive? Could you get any idea of what is her trouble?"
Douglas carefully reeled while looking at Leslie with a speculative smile. "You refuse to consider an attractive young lady of greater beauty than I have previously seen?" he queried.
"Absolutely! Don't waste time on it," she said.
"You'll have to begin again and ask me one at a time," he laughed. "What was your first?"
"Is she really a lovable child?" repeated Leslie.
"She most certainly is," said Douglas. "I could love her dearly. It's plain that Mickey adores her. Why when a boy gives up trips to the country, the chance to pick up good money, in order to stand over, wash, and cook for a little sick girl, what is the answer?"
"The one you have given--that he adores her," conceded Leslie. "The next was, 'Is she attractive?'"
"Wonderfully!" cried Douglas. "And what she would be in health with flesh to cover her bones and colour on her lips and cheeks is now only dimly foreshadowed."
"She must have her chance," said Leslie. "I was thinking of her to-day. I'll go to see her at once and bring her here. I will get the best surgeon in Multiopolis to examine her and a nurse if need be; then Mickey can come out with you."
"Would you really, Leslie?" asked Douglas.
"But why not?" cried she. "That's one of the things worth while in the world."
"I'd love to go halvers with you," proposed Douglas. "Let's do it! When will you go to see her?"
"In a few days," said Leslie. "The last one was, 'Could you get any idea of what is the trouble?'"
"Very little," said Douglas. "She can sit up and move her hands. He is teaching her to read and write. She had her lesson very creditably copied out on her slate. She practises in his absence on poems Mickey makes."
"Doggerel," explained Douglas. "Four lines at a time. Some of it is pathetic, some of it is witty, some of it presages possibilities. He may make a poet. She requires a verse each evening, so he recites it, then writes it out, and she uses it for copy the next day. The finished product is to have a sky-blue cover and be decorated either with an English sparrow, the only bird she has seen, or a cow. She likes milk, and the pictures of cows give her an idea that she can handle them like her doll----"
"Oh Douglas!" protested Leslie.
"I believe she thinks a whole herd of cows could be kept on her bed, while she finds them quite suitable to decorate Mickey's volume," said Douglas.
"Why, hasn't she seen anything at all?"
"She has been on the street twice in her life that she knows of," answered Douglas. "It will be kind of you to take her, and cure her if it can be done, but you'll have to consult Mickey. She is his find, so he claims her, belligerently, I might warn you!"
"Claims her! He has her?" marvelled Leslie.
"Surely! In his room! On his bed! Taking care of her himself, and doing a mighty fine job of it! Best she ever had I am quite sure," said Douglas.
"But Douglas!" cried Leslie in amazement.
"'But me no buts,' my lady!" warned Douglas. "I know what you would say. Save it! You can't do anything that way. Mickey is right. She is his. He found her in her last extremity, in rags, on the floor in a dark corner of an attic. He carried her home in that condition, to a clean bed his mother left him. Since, he has been her gallant little knight, lying on the floor on his winter bedding, feeding her first and most, not a thought for himself. God, Leslie! I don't stand for anything coming between Mickey and his child, his 'family' he calls her. He's the biggest small specimen I ever have seen. I'll fight his cause in any court in the country, if his right to her is questioned, as it will be the minute she is taken to a surgeon or a hospital."
"How old is she?" asked Leslie.
"Neither of them knows. About ten, I should think."
"How has he managed to keep her hidden this long?"
"He lives in an attic. The first woman he tried to get help from started the Home question, and frightened him; so he appealed to a nurse he met through being connected with an accident; she gave him supplies, instructions and made Lily gowns."
"But why didn't she----?" began Leslie.
"She may have thought the child was his sister," said Douglas. "She's the loveliest little thing, Leslie!"
"Very little?" asked Leslie.
"Tiny is the word," said Douglas. "It's the prettiest sight I ever saw to watch him wait on her, and to see her big, starved, scared eyes follow him with adoring trust."
"Adoration on both sides, then," laughed Leslie.
"You imply I'm selecting too big words," said Douglas. "Wait till you see her, and see them together."
"It's a problem!" said Leslie.
"Yes, I admit that!" conceded Douglas, "but it isn't your problem."
"But they can't go on that way!" cried Leslie.
"I grant that," said Douglas. "All I stipulate is that Mickey shall be left to plan their lives himself, and in a way that makes him happy."
"That's only fair to him!" said Leslie.
"Now you are grasping and assimilating the situation properly," commented Douglas.
When they returned to the cabin they found Mr. Winton stretched in a hammock smoking. Douglas took a blanket and Leslie a cushion on the steps, while all of them watched the moon pass slowly across Atwater.
"How are you progressing with the sinners of Multiopolis?" asked Mr. Winton of Douglas.
"Fine!" he answered. "I've found what I think will turn out to be a big defalcation. Somebody drops out in disgrace with probably a penitentiary sentence."
"Oh Douglas! How can you?" cried Leslie.
"How can a man live in luxury when he is stealing other people's money to pay the bills?" he retorted.
"Yes I know, but Douglas, I wish you would buy this place and plow corn, or fish for a living."
"Sometimes I have an inkling that before I finish with this I shall wish so too," replied he.
"What do you think, Daddy?" asked Leslie.
"I think the 'way of the transgressor is hard,' and that as always he pays in the end. Go ahead son, but let me know before you reach my office or any of my men. I hope I have my department in perfect order, but sometimes a man gets a surprise."
"Of course!" agreed Douglas. "Look at that water, will you? Just beyond that ragged old sycamore! That fellow must have been a whale. Isn't this great?"
"The best of life," said Mr. Winton, stooping to kiss Leslie as he said good-night to both.