Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VII. Peaches' Preference in Blessings
"God ain't made a sweeter girl 'An Lily, at keeps my heart a-whirl. If I was to tell an awful whopper, I'd get took by the cross old copper."
Thus chanted Mickey at his door, his hands behind him. Peaches stretched both hers toward him as usual; but he stood still, swinging in front of him a beautiful doll, for a little sick girl. A baby doll in a long snowy dress and a lace cap; it held outstretched arms, but was not heavy enough to tire small wavering hands. Peaches lunged forward until only Mickey's agility saved her from falling. He tossed the doll on the bed, and caught the child, the lump in his throat so big his voice was strained as he cried: "Why you silly thing!"
With her safe he again proffered it. Peaches shut her eyes and buried her face on his breast.
"Oh don't let me see it! Take it away!"
"Why Lily! I thought you'd be crazy about it," marvelled Mickey. "Honest I did! The prettiest lady sent it to you. Let me tell you!"
"Giving them up is worser 'an never having them. Take it away!" wailed Peaches.
"Well Lily!" said Mickey. "I never was stuck up about my looks, but I didn't s'pose I looked so like a granny that you'd think that of me. Don't I seem man enough to take care of a little flowersy-girl 'thout selling her doll? There's where I got your granny skinned a mile. I don't booze, and I never will. Mother hammered that into me. Now look what a pretty it is! You'll just love it! I wouldn't take it! I'd lay out anybody who would. Come on now! Negotiate it! Get your flippers on it!"
He was holding the child gently and stroking her tumbled hair. When he put her from him to see her face, Mickey was filled with envy because he had been forced to admit the gift was not from him. He shut his lips tight, but his face was grim as he studied Peaches' flushed cheeks and wet eyes, and noted the shaking eagerness for the doll she was afraid to look at. He reached over and put it into her arms, then piled the pillows so she could see better, talking the while to comfort her.
"Course it is yours! Course nobody is going to take it! Course you shall always have it, and maybe a grown-up lady doll by Christmas. Who knows?"
In utter content Peaches sank against the pillows, watching Mickey, while she gripped the baby.
"Thank you, Mickey-lovest," she said. "Oh thank you for this Precious Child!"
"You got to thank a lady about twice my height, with dark hair, pink cheeks, and beautiful dresses. She's got a big rest house, a lover man, and an automobile I wish you could see, Lily," he said.
"If I was on the rags in the corner, I'd have this child--wouldn't I?" scoffed Peaches, still clutching the doll, but her gaze on Mickey. "What happened was, 'at she liked you for something, and give you the baby, so you brought it to me. Thank you Mickey, for this Precious Child!"
Peaches lifted her lips. Mickey met them more obsessed than before. Then she turned away, clasping the doll. Mickey could see that the tears were slipping from under the child's closed lids, but her lips were on the doll face, so he knew she was happy. He stole out to bring in his purchases for supper, and begin his evening work. He gave Peaches a drink, her daily rub, cleaned the room without making dust as the nurse had shown him, and brought water. He shook his fist at the faucet.
"Now hereafter, nix on the butting in!" he said belligerently. "Mebby I couldn't have got that doll, but I could have got one she'd have liked just as well, and earned it extra, in one day. There's one feature of the Big Brother business that I was a little too fast on. He's the finest man that ever wanted me, while his rooms are done shameful. I could put a glitter on them so he could see himself with the things he has to work with, and he said any time I wanted it, the job was mine. It wouldn't be cheating him any if I took it, and did better work than he's getting, and my steady papers are sure in the morning; that would be sure in the afternoon, and if I cut ice with a buzz saw, I might get through in time to pick up something else before coming home, and being sure beats hoping a mile, yes ten miles! Mebby I'll investigate that business a little further, 'cause hereafter I provide for my own family. See? Lily was grand about it. Gee! she's smart to think it out that way all in a minute. But by and by she's going to have a lot of time to think. Then she'll be remembering about the lady I got to tell her of 'stead of me, as she should! Guess I'll run my own family! I'll take another look at cleaning that office. There ain't any lap-dog business in a job, and being paid for it, if you do it well."
Mickey turned the faucet and marched up the stairs with head high and shoulders square. His face was grave while he worked, but Peaches was so happy she did not notice. When he came with her supper she kissed the doll, then insisted on Mickey kissing it also. Such was the state of his subjugation he commenced with "Aw!" and ended by doing as he was told. He even helped lay the doll beside Peaches exactly as her fancy dictated, and covered it with her sheet, putting its hands outside. Peaches was enchanted. She insisted on offering it a drink of her milk first, and was so tremulously careful lest she spill a drop that Mickey had to guide her hand. He promised to wash the doll's dress if she did have an accident, or when it became soiled, and bowed his head meekly to the crowning concession by sitting on the edge of the bed, after he had finished his evening work, and holding the doll where she could see it, exactly as instructed, while he told her about his wonderful adventure.
"Began yesterday," explained Mickey. "You know I told you there was going to be a surprise. Well this is it. When the lady gave me the ribbons for you, she told me to come back to-night, and get it. Course I could a-got it myself. I would a-got it for Christmas----"
"Oh Mickey-lovest, does Christmas come here?"
"Surest thing you know!" said Mickey. "A fat stocking full of every single thing the Nurse Lady tell Santa Claus a little--a little flowersy-girl that ain't so strong yet, may have, and a big lady doll and a picture book."
"But I never had no stockings," said Peaches.
"Well you'll have by that time," promised Mickey.
"Oh Mickey, I'm so glad I want to say a prayin's 'at you found me, 'stead of some other kid!" exulted Peaches.
"Yes Miss, and that's one thing I forgot!" said Mickey. "We'll begin to- night. You ain't a properly raised lady unless you say your prayers. I know the one She taught me. To-night will be a good time, 'cause you'll be so thankful for your pretty ribbons and your baby, that you'll just love to say a real thankful prayer." "Mickey, I ain't goin' to say prayin's! I just said I was," explained Peaches. "I never said none for granny, 'cause she only told me to when she was drunk."
"No and you never had a box of ribbons to make you look so sweet, or a baby to stay with you while I'm gone. If you ain't thankful enough for them to say your prayers, you shouldn't have them, nor any more, nor Christmas, nor anything, but just--just like you was."
Peaches blinked, gasped, digested the statements, then yielded wholly.
"I guess I'll say them. Mickey when shall I?"
"To-night 'fore you go to sleep," said Mickey.
"Now tell me about the baby," urged Peaches.
"Sure! I was! I could a-got it myself, like I was telling you; but the ones in the stores have such funny clothes. They look so silly. I knew I couldn't wash them and of course they'd get dirty like everything does, and we couldn't have them dirty, so I thought it over, and I said to Mickey-boy, 'if the Joy Lady is so anxious to get the baby, and sew its clothes herself, why I'll just let her,' so I did let her, but it took some time to make them, so I had to wait to bring it 'til tonight. I was to go to her house after it, and when I got there she was coming home in her car from a long drive, and gee, Lily, I wish you could have seen her! She's the prettiest lady, and the most joyous lady I ever saw."
"Prettier than the Nurse Lady?" asked Peaches.
"Well different," explained Mickey. "Nurse Lady is all gold like the end of Sunrise Alley at four o'clock in the morning. This lady has dark hair and eyes. Both of them are as pretty as women are made, but they are not the same. Nurse Lady is when the sun comes up, and warms and comforts the world; but the doll-lady is like all the stars twinkling in the moonlight on the park lake, and music playing, and everybody dancing. The doll-lady is joy, just the Joy Lady. Gee, Lily, you should have seen her face when the car stopped, while I was coming down the steps."
"Was she so glad to see you?" asked Peaches.
"'Twasn't me!" said Mickey. "'Twas on her face before she saw me. She was just gleaming, and shining, and spilling over joy! She isn't the kind that would dance on the street, nor where it ain't nice to dance; but she was dancing inside just the same. She pulled me right into that big fine car, so I sat on the seat with her, and we went sailing, and skating, and flying along and all the boys guying me, but I didn't care! I like to ride in her car! I never rode in a car like that before. She went a-whizzing right to the office of the big man, where maybe I'll work; I guess I'll go see him tomorrow, I got a hankering for knowing what I'm going to do, and where I'm going to be paid for it. Well she went spinning there, and she said 'you wait a minute,' then she ran in and pretty soon out she came with him. His name is Mr. Douglas Bruce, and I guess it would be a little closer what She'd think right if I'd use it. And hers he calls her by, is Leslie. Ain't that pretty? When he says 'Leslie' sounds as if he kissed the name as it came through. Honest it does!"
"I bet he says it just like you say 'Lily!'"
"I wonder now!" grinned Mickey. "Well he came out and what she had told him, set him crazy too. They just talked a streak, but he shook hands with me, and she said, 'You tell the driver where to go Mickey,' and I said, 'Go where, Miss?' and she said, 'To take you home,' and I said, 'You don't need!' and she said, 'I'd like to!' and I saw she didn't care what she did, so I just sent him to the end of the car line and saved my nickel, and then I come on here, and both of them----"
"What?" asked Peaches eagerly.
Mickey changed the "wanted to come to see you" that had been on his lips. If he told Peaches that, and she asked for them to come, and they came, and then thought he was not taking care of her right, and took her away from him--then what?
"Said good-bye the nicest," he substituted. "And I'm going to see if she wants any more letters carried as soon as my papers are gone in the morning, and if she does, I'm going to take them, and if one is to him, I'm going to ask him more about the job he offered me, and if we can agree, I'm going to take it. Then I can buy you what you want myself, because I'll know every day exactly what I'll have, and when the rent is counted out, and for the papers, all the rest will be for eating, and what you need, and to save for your new back."
"My, I wisht I had it now!" cried Peaches. "I wisht I could a-rode in that car too! Wasn't it perfeckly grand Mickey?"
"Grand as any king," said Mickey.
"What is a king?" asked Peaches.
"One of the big bosses across the ocean," explained Mickey. "You'll learn them when you get farther with your lessons. They own most all the money, and the finest houses, and all the people. Just own them. Own them so's they can tell good friends to go to it, and kill each other, even relations."
"And do they do it?" marvelled Peaches.
"Sure they do it!" cried Mickey. "Why they are doing it right now! I could bring a paper and read you things that would make you so sick you couldn't sit up!"
"What kind of things, Mickey?"
"About kings making all the fathers kill each other, and burn down each other's houses, and blow up the cities, and eat all the food themselves, and leave the mothers with no home, and no groceries, and no stove, and no beds, and the bullets flying, and the cities burning, and no place to go, and the children starving and dying--Gee, I ain't ever going to tell you any more, Lily! It's too awful! You'd feel better not to know. Honest you would! Wish I hadn't told you anything about it at all. Where's your slate? We got to do lessons 'fore it gets so dark and we are so sleepy we can't see."
Peaches proudly handed him the slate. In wavering lines and tremulous curves ran her first day's work alone, over erasures, and with relinings, in hills and deep depressions, which it is possible Mickey read because he knew what it had to be, he proudly translated, "Mickey-lovest." Then the lines of the night before, then "cow" and "milk." And then Mickey whooped because he faintly recognized an effort to draw a picture of the cow and the milk bottle.
"Grand Lily!" he cried. "Gee, you're the smartest kid I ever knew! You'll know all I do 'fore long, and then you'll need your back, so's you can get ready to go to a Young Ladies' Sem'nary."
"What's that?" interestedly asked Peaches.
"A school. Where other nice girls go, and where you learn all that I don't know to teach you," said Mickey.
"I won't go!" said Peaches.
"Oh yes you will, Miss," said Mickey. "'Cause you're my family, so you'll do as I say."
"Will you go with me?" asked Peaches.
"Sure! I'll take you there in a big au----Oh, I don't know as I will either. We'll have to save our money, if we both go. We'll go on a street car, and walk up a grand av'noo among trees, and I'll take you in, and see if your room is right, and everything, and all the girls will like you 'cause you're so smart, and your hair's so pretty, and then I'll go to a boys' school close by, and learn how to make poetry pieces that beat any in the papers. Every time I make a new one I'll come and ask, 'Is Miss Lily--Miss Lily Peaches----' Gee kid, what's your name?"
Mickey stared at Peaches, while she stared back at him.
"I don't know," she said. "Do you care, Mickey?"
"What was your granny's?" asked Mickey.
"I don't know," answered Peaches.
"Was she your mother's mother?" persisted Mickey.
"Yes," replied Peaches.
"Did you ever see your father?" Mickey went on.
"I don't know nothing about fathers," she said.
Mickey heaved a deep sigh.
"Well! That's over!" he said. "I know something about fathers. I know a lot. I know that you are no worse off, not knowing who your father was than to know he was so mean that you are glad he's dead. Your way leaves you hoping that he was just awful nice, and got killed, or was taken sick or something; my way, there ain't no doubts in your mind. You are plumb sure he wasn't decent. Don't you bother none about fathers!"
"My I'm glad, Mickey!" cried Peaches joyously.
"So am I," said Mickey emphatically. "We don't want any fathers coming here to butt in on us, just as we get your back Carreled and you ready to start to school."
"Can I go without a name Mickey?" asked Peaches.
"Course not!" said Mickey. "You have to put your name on a roll the first thing, then you must be interdooced to the Head Lady and all the girls."
"What'll I do Mickey?" anxiously inquired Peaches.
"Well, for smart as you are in some spots, you're awful dumb in others," commented Mickey. "What'll you do, saphead? Gee! Ain't you mine? Ain't you my family? Ain't my name good enough for you? Your name will be Miss Lily Peaches O'Halloran. That's a name good enough for a Queen Lady!"
"What's a Queen?" inquired Peaches.
"Wife of those kings we were just talking about."
"Sure!" said Peaches. "None of them have a nicer name than that! Mickey, is my bow straight?"
"Naw it ain't!" said Mickey. "Take the baby 'til I fix it! It's about slipped off! There! That's better."
"Mickey, let me see it!" suggested Peaches.
Mickey brought the mirror. She looked so long he grew tired and started to put it back, but she clung to it.
"Just lay it on the bed," she said.
"Naw I don't, Miss Chicken--O'Halloran!" he said. "Mirrors cost money, and if you pull the sheet in the night, and slide ours off, and it breaks, we got seven years of bad luck coming, and we are nix on changing the luck we have right now. It's good enough for us. Think of them Belgium kids where the kings are making the fathers fight. This goes where it belongs, then you take your drink, and let me beat your pillow, and you fix your baby, and then we'll say our prayers, and go to sleep."
Mickey replaced the mirror and carried out the program he had outlined. When he came to the prayer he ordered Peaches to shut her eyes, fold her hands and repeat after him:
"'Now I lay me down to sleep'"----
Peaches' eyes opened.
"Oh, is it a poetry prayer, Mickey?" she asked.
"Yes. Kind of a one. Say it," answered Mickey.
Peaches obeyed, repeating the words lingeringly and in her sweetest tones. Mickey thrilled to his task.
"'I pray the Lord my soul to keep'"----he proceeded.
"What's my soul, Mickey?" she asked.
"The very nicest thing inside of you," explained Mickey. "Go on!"
"Like my heart?" questioned Peaches.
"Yes. Only nicer," said Mickey. "Shut your eyes and go on!"
"'If I should die before I wake'"----continued Mickey.
Peaches' eyes flashed open; she drew back in horror.
"I won't!" she cried. "I won't say that. That's what happened to granny, an' I saw. She was the awfullest, an' then--the men came. I won't!"
Mickey opened his eyes, looking at Peaches, his lips in a set line, his brow wrinkled in thought.
"Well I don't know what they went and put that in for," he said indignantly. "Scaring little kids into fits! It's all right when you don't know what it means, but when kids has been through what we have, it's different. I wouldn't say it either. You wait a minute. I can beat that myself. Let me think. Now I got it! Shut your eyes and go on:
"If I should come to live with Thee----"
"Well I ain't goin'!" said Peaches flatly. "I'm goin' to stay right here with you. I'd a lot rather than anywhere. King's house or anywhere!"
"I never saw such a kid!" wailed Mickey. "I think that's pretty. I like it heaps. Come on Peaches! Be good! Listen! The next line goes: 'Open loving arms to shelter me.' Like the big white Jesus at the Cathedral door. Come on now!"
"I won't! I'm goin' to live right here, and I don't want no big white Jesus' arms; I want yours. 'F I go anywhere, you got to lift me yourself, and let me take my Precious Child along."
"Lily, you're the worst kid I ever saw," said Mickey. "No you ain't either! I know a lot worse than you. You just don't understand. I guess you better pray something you do understand. Let me think again. Now try this: Keep me through the starry night----"
"Sure! I just love that," crooned Peaches.
"Wake me safe with sunrise bright," prompted Mickey, and the child smilingly repeated the words. "Now comes some 'Blesses,'" said Mickey. "I don't know just how to manage them. You haven't a father to bless, and your mother got what was coming to her long ago; blessing her now wouldn't help any if it wasn't pleasant; same with your granny, only more recent. I'll tell you! Now I know! 'Bless the Sunshine Lady for all the things to make me comfortable, and bless the Moonshine Lady for the ribbons and the doll.'"
"Aw!" cried Peaches, staring up at him in rebellion.
"Now you go on, Miss Chicken," ordered Mickey, losing patience, "and then you end with 'Amen,' which means, 'So be it,' or 'Make it happen that way,' or something like that. Go to it now!"
Peaches shut her eyes, refolded her hands and lifted her chin. After a long pause Mickey was on the point of breaking, she said sweetly: "Bless Mickey-lovest, an' bless him, an' bless him million times; an' bless him for the bed, an' the window, an' bless him for finding the Nurse Lady, an' bringing the ribbons, an' the doll, an' bless him for the slate, an' the teachin's, an' bless him for everything I just love, an' love. Amen-- hard!"
When Peaches opened her eyes she found Mickey watching her, a commingling of surprise and delight on his face. Then he bent over and laid his cheek against hers.
"You fool little kid," he whispered tenderly. "You precious fool little flowersy-kid! You make a fellow love you 'til he nearly busts inside. Kiss me good-night, Lily."
He slipped the ribbon from her hair, straightened the sheets, arranged as the nurse had taught him, laid the doll as Peaches desired, and then screened by the foot of the bed, undressed and stretched himself on the floor. The same moon that peeped in the window to smile her broadest at Peaches and her Precious Child, and touched Mickey's face to wondrous beauty, at that hour also sent shining bars of light across the veranda where Leslie sat and told Douglas Bruce about the trip to the swamp.
"I never knew I could be so happy over anything in all this world that didn't include you and Daddy. But of course this does in a way; you, at least. Much as you think of, and are with, Mr. Minturn, you can't help being glad that joy has come to him at last. Why don't you say something, Douglas?"
"I have been effervescing ever since you came to the office after me, and I find now that the froth is off, I'm getting to the solid facts in the case, and, well I don't want to say a word to spoil your joyous day, but I'm worried, 'Bringer of Song.'"
"Worried?" cried Leslie. "Why? You don't think he wouldn't be pleased? You don't think he might not be--responsive, do you?"
"Think of the past years of neglect, insult and humiliation!" suggested Douglas.
"Think of the future years of loving care, reparation and joy!" commented Leslie.
"Please God they outweigh!" said Douglas. "Of course they will! It must be a few things I've seen lately that keep puzzling me."
"What have you seen, Douglas?" questioned Leslie.
"Deals in real estate," he answered. "Consultations with detectives and policemen, scientists and surgeons."
"But what could that have to do with Nellie Minturn?"
"Nothing, I hope," said Douglas, "but there has been a grimness about Minturn lately, a going ahead with jaws set that looks ugly for what opposes him, and you tell me they have been in opposition ever since they married. I can't put him from my thoughts as I saw him last."
"And I can't her," said Leslie. "She was a lovely picture as she came across the silver moss carpet, you know that gray green, Douglas, her face flushed, her eyes wet, her arms full of those perfectly beautiful, lavender-pink fringed orchids. She's a handsome woman, dearest, and she never looked quite so well to me as when she came picking her way beneath the dark tamarack boughs. She was going to ask him to go with her to take her flowers to Elizabeth, and over that little white casket she intended-- Why Douglas, he couldn't, he simply couldn't!"
"Suppose he had something previously worked out that cut her off!"
"Oh Douglas! What makes you think such a thing?"
"What Minturn said to me this morning with such bitterness on his face and in his voice as I never before encountered in man," Douglas answered.
"He said----?" prompted Leslie.
"This is my last day as a laughing-stock for my fellowmen! To-morrow I shall hold up my head!"
"Why didn't you tell me that before?"
"Didn't realize until just now that you and she hadn't seen him--that you were acting on presumption.
"I'm going to call her!" cried Leslie.
"I wouldn't!" advised Douglas.
"After as far as she went to-day, if she had anything she wanted you to know, wouldn't she feel free to call you?"
"You are right," conceded Leslie. "Even after to-day, for me to call would be an intrusion. Let's not talk of it further! Don't you wish we could take a peep at Mickey carrying the doll to the little sick girl?"
"I surely do!" answered Douglas. "What do you think of him, Leslie?"
"Great! Simply great!" cried the girl. "Douglas you should have heard him educate me on the doll question."
"How?" he asked interestedly.
"From the first glimpse I had of him, the thought came to me, 'That's Douglas' Little Brother'" she explained. "When you telephoned and said you were sending him to me, just one idea possessed me: to get what you wanted. Almost without thought at all I tried the first thing he mentioned, which happened to be a little sick neighbour girl he told me about. All girls like a doll, and I had one dressed for a birthday gift for a namesake of mine, and time plenty to fix her another. I brought it to Mickey and thought he'd be delighted."
"Was he rude?" inquired Douglas anxiously.
"Not in the least!" she answered. "Only casual! Merely made me see how thoughtless and unkind and positively vulgar my idea of pleasing a poor child was."
"Leslie, you shock me!" exclaimed Douglas.
"I mean every word of it," said the girl. "Now listen to me! It is thoughtless to offer a gift headlong, without considering a second, is it not?"
"Merely impulsive," replied Douglas.
"Identically the same thing!" declared Leslie. "Listen I said! Without a thought about suitability, I offered an extremely poor child the gift I had prepared for a very rich one. Mickey made me see in ten words that it would be no kindness to fill his little friend's head with thoughts that would sadden her heart with envy, make her feel all she lacked more keenly than ever; give her a gift that would breed dissatisfaction instead of joy; if that isn't vulgarity, what is? Mickey's Lily has no business with a doll so gorgeous the very sight of it brings longing, instead of comfort. It was unkind to offer a gift so big and heavy it would tire and worry her."
"There are some ideas there on giving!"
"Aren't there though!" said Leslie. "Mickey took about three minutes to show me that Lily was satisfied as she was, so no one would thank me for awakening discontent in her heart. He measured off her size and proved to me that a small doll, that would not tire her to handle, would be suitable, and so dressed that its clothes could be washed and would be plain as her own. Even further! Once my brain began working I saw that a lady doll with shoes and stockings to suggest outdoors and walking, was not a kind gift to make a bedridden child. Douglas, after Mickey started me I arose by myself to the point of seeing that a little cuddly baby doll, helpless as she, one that she could nestle, and play with lying in bed would be the proper gift for Lily. Think of a 'newsy' making me see that! Isn't he wonderful?"
"You should have heard him making me see things!" said Douglas. "Yours are faint and feeble to the ones he taught me. Refused me at every point, and marched away leaving me in utter rout! Outside wanting you for my wife, more than anything else on earth, I wanted Mickey for my Little Brother."
"You have him!" comforted the girl. "The Lord arranged that. You remember He said, 'All men are brothers,' and wasn't it Tolstoy who wrote: 'If people would only understand that they are not the sons of some fatherland or other, nor of governments, but are sons of God?' You and Mickey will get your brotherhood arranged to suit both of you some of these days."
"Exactly!" conceded Douglas. "But I wanted Mickey at hand now! I wanted him to come and go with me. To be educated with what I consider education."
"It will come yet," prophesied Leslie. "Your ideas are splendid! I see how fine they are! The trouble is this: you had a plan mapped out at which Mickey was to jump. Mickey happened to have preconceived ideas on the subject, so he didn't jump. You wanted to be the king on the throne and stretch out a royal hand," laughed Leslie. "You wanted to lift Mickey to your level, and with the inherent fineness in him, have him feel eternal love and gratitude toward you?"
"That sounds different, but it is the real truth."
"And Mickey doesn't care to be brother to kings, he doesn't perceive the throne even; he wants you to understand at the start that you will take, as well as give. Refusing pay for tidying your office was his first inning. That 'Me to you!' was great. I can see the accompanying gesture. It was the same one he used in demolishing my doll. Something vital and inborn. Something loneliness, work, the crowd, and raw life have taught Mickey, that we don't know. Learn all you can from him. I've had one good lesson, I'm receptive and ready for the next. Let's call the car and drive an hour."
"That will be pleasant," agreed Douglas.
"Anywhere in the suburbs to avoid the crowds," was Leslie's order to her driver.
Slowly, under traffic regulations, the car ran through the pleasant spring night; the occupants talking without caring where they were so long as they were together, in motion, and it was May. They were passing residences where city and country met. The dwellings of people city bound, country determined. Homes where men gave so many hours to earning money, then sped away to train vines, prune trees, dig in warm earth and make things grow. Such men now crossed green lawns and talked fertilizers, new annuals, tree surgery, and carried gifts of fragrant, blooming things to their friends. Here the verandas were wide and children ran from them to grassy playgrounds; on them women read or sat with embroidery hoops or visited in small groups.
"Let's move," said Leslie. "Let's coax Daddy to sell our place and come here. One wouldn't ever need go summering, it's cool and pleasant always. I'd love it! There's a new house and a lawn under old trees, to shelter playing children; isn't it charming?"
"Quite! But that small specimen seems refractory."
Leslie leaned forward to see past him. In an open door stood a man clearly silhouetted against the light. Down the steps sped a screaming boy about nine. After him ran another five or six years older. When the child saw he would be overtaken, he headed straight for the street; as the pursuer's hand brushed him, he threw himself kicking and clawing. The elder boy hesitated, looking for an opening to find a hold. The car was half a block away when Leslie turned a white face to Douglas and gasped inarticulately. He understood something was wrong so signalled the driver to stop.
"Turn and pass those children again!" ordered Leslie.
As the car went by slowly the second time, the child still fought, the boy stepped back, while James Minturn with grim face, bent under the light and by force took into his arms the twisting, fighting boy.
"Heaven help him!" cried Douglas. "Not a sign of happy reconciliation there!"
Leslie tried to choke down her sobs.
"Oh Nellie Minturn! Poor woman!" she wailed.
"So that's what he was doing!" marvelled Douglas. "A house he has built to suit himself; training his sons personally, with the assistance of his Little Brother. That boy was William. I see him in Minturn's office every day."
"Oh I think he might have given her a chance!" protested Leslie. "Remember how she was reared! Think what a struggle it was for her even to contemplate trying to be different."
"Evidently she was too late!" said Douglas. "He must have been gone before you returned from the swamp."
"I'm going back there and tell him a few things! I think he might have waited. Douglas, I'm afraid he did wait! She said he told her he wanted to talk with her when she came back--and oh Douglas, she said he had a small box and he threatend to 'freeze her soul with its contents!' Douglas, what could he have had?"
"'Freeze her soul!' Let me think!" said Douglas. "I met Professor Tickner and Dr. Wills coming from his offices a few days ago, while he's just back from a trip that he didn't tell me he was taking----
"You mean Tickner, the scientist; Wills, the surgeon?"
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"But those children! Aren't they perfectly healthy?"
"They look it! Lord, Leslie!" cried Douglas, "I have it! He has made good his threat. He has frozen her soul! What you want to do is to go to her, Leslie!"
"Douglas, tell me!" she demanded.
"I can't!" said Douglas. "I may be mistaken. I think I am not, but there is always a chance! Drive to the Minturn residence," he ordered.
They found a closed dark pile of stone.
"Go past that place where the children were again!" said Leslie.
The upper story was quiet. Outlined by veranda lights the massive form of James Minturn paced back and forth under the big trees, his hands clasped behind him, his head bowed, and he walked alone.
"Douglas, I'm going to speak to him. I'm going to tell him!" declared Leslie.
"But you're now conceding that she saw him!" Douglas pointed out. "Then what have you to tell him that she would not? If she couldn't move him with what she said, and while you don't know his side, what could you say to him?"
"Nothing," she conceded.
"Precisely my opinion," said Douglas. "Remember Leslie I am a little ahead of you in this. You know her side. I know all you have told me of her, also I know what he has told me; while putting what I have seen, and heard at the office, and him here with the boys, in a house she would consider too plebeian for words----"
"No Douglas. No! She is changed!" cried Leslie. "Completely changed, I tell you! She said she would wipe Malcolm's nose and fix James' studs----"
"Mere figures of speech!" remarked Douglas.
"They meant she was ready to work with her own hands for happiness," said Leslie indignantly.
"I think she's too late!" said Douglas. "I am afraid she is one of the unhappiest women in the world to-night!"
"Douglas, it wrings my heart!" cried Leslie.
"Mine also, but what can we do?" he answered. "For ten years, she has persisted in having her way, you tell me; what could she have expected?"
"That he would have some heart," protested Leslie. "That he would forgive when he was asked, as all of us are commanded to."
"Does it occur to you that he might have confronted her with something that prevented her from asking?" suggested Douglas. "She may never have reached her flowers and her proposed concessions."
"What makes you think so?" queried Leslie.
"What I see and surmise, and a thing I know."
"What can I do?" asked Leslie.
"Nothing!" Douglas said with finality. "If either of them wants you, they know where to find you. But you're tired now. Let's give the order for home."
"Shan't sleep a wink to-night!" prophesied Leslie.
"I was afraid of that!" exclaimed Douglas. "There may be a message there for you that will be a comfort."
"So there may be! Let's hurry!" urged the girl.
There was. They found a brief, pencilled note.
After to-day, it was due you to send a word. You tried so hard dear, and you gave me real joy for an hour. Then James carried out his threat. He did all to me he intended, and more than he can ever know. I have agreed to him taking full possession of the boys, and going into a home such as he thinks suitable. They will be far better off, and since they scarcely know me, they can't miss me. Before you receive this, I shall have left the city. I can't state just now where I am going or what I shall do. You can realize a little of my condition. If ever you are tired of home life and faintly tempted to neglect it for society, use me for your horrible example. Good-bye,
Leslie read this aloud.
"It's a relief to know that much," she said with a deep breath. "I can't imagine myself ever being 'faintly tempted," but if I am, surely she is right about the 'horrible example.' Douglas, whatever did James Minturn have in that box?"
"I could tell you what I surmise, but so long as I don't know I'd better not," he answered.
"As our mutual friend Mickey would say, 'Nix on the Swell Dames,' for me!" said Leslie determinedly.
"Thank God with all my heart!" cried Douglas Bruce.