Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter IX. James Jr. and Malcolm
Nellie Minturn returned to her room too dazed to realize her suffering. She had intended doing something; the fringed orchids reminded her. She rang for water to put them in, while her maid with shaking fingers dressed her, then ordered the car. The girl understood that some terrible thing had happened and offered to go with the woman who moved so mechanically she proved she scarcely knew what she was doing.
"No," said Mrs. Minturn. "No, the little soul has been out there a long time alone, her mother had better go alone and see how it is."
She entered the car, gave her order and sank back against the seat. When the car stopped, she descended and found the gates guarding the doors of the onyx vault locked. She pushed her flowers between the bars, dropping them before the doors, then wearily sank on the first step, leaning her head against the gate, trying to think, but she could not. Near dawn her driver spoke to her.
"It's almost morning," he said. "You've barely time to reach home before the city will be stirring."
She paid no attention, so at last he touched her.
"You, Weston?" she asked.
"Yes, Madam," he said. "I'm afraid for you. I ventured to come closer than you said. Excuse me."
"Thank you Weston," she answered.
"Let me drive you home now, Madam," he begged.
"Just where would you take me if you were taking me home, Weston?"
"Where we came from," he replied.
"Do you think that has ever been a home, Weston?"
"I have thought it the finest home in Multiopolis, Madam," said the driver in surprise.
She laughed bitterly. "So have I, Weston. And to-day I have learned what it really is. Help me, Weston! Take me back to the home of my making."
When he rang for her, she gave him an order: "Find Mr. John Haynes and bring him here immediately."
"Bring him now, Madam?" he questioned.
"Immediately, I said," she repeated.
"I will try, Madam," said Weston.
"You will bring him at once if he is in Multiopolis," she said with finality.
Weston knew that John Haynes was her lawyer; he had brought him from his residence or office at her order many times; he brought him again. At once John Haynes dismissed all the servants in the Minturn household, arranged everything necessary, and saw Mrs. Minturn aboard a train in company with a new maid of his selection; then he mailed a deed of gift of the Minturn residence to the city of Multiopolis for an endowed Children's Hospital. The morning papers briefly announced the departure and the gift. At his breakfast table James Minturn read both items, then sat in deep thought.
"Not like her!" was his mental comment. "I can understand how that place would become intolerable to her; but I never knew her to give a dollar to the suffering. Now she makes a princely gift, not because she is generous, but because the house has become unbearable; and as usual, with no thought of any one save herself. If the city dares accept, how her millionaire neighbours will rage at disease and sickness being brought into the finest residence district! Probably the city will be compelled to sell it and build somewhere else. But there is something fitting in the reparation of turning a building that has been a place of torture to children, into one of healing. It proves that she has a realizing sense."
He glanced around the bright, cheerful breakfast room, with its carefully set, flower-decorated table, at his sister at its head, at a son on either hand, at a pleasant-faced young tutor on one side, and his Little Brother on the other; for so had James Minturn ordered his household.
Mrs. Winslow had left a home she loved to come at her brother's urgent call for help to save his boys. The tutor had only a few hours of his position, and thus far his salary seemed the attractive feature. James Jr. and Malcolm were too dazed to be natural for a short time. They had been picked up bodily, and carried kicking and screaming to this place, where they had been dressed in plain durable clothing. Malcolm's bed stood beside Little Brother's in a big sunny room; James' was near the tutor's in a chamber the counterpart of the other, save for its bookcases lining one wall.
There was a schoolroom not yet furnished with more than tables and chairs, its floors and walls bare, its windows having shades only. When worn out with the struggle the amazed boys had succumbed to sleep on little, hard, white beds with plain covers; had awakened to a cold bath at the hands of a man, and when they rebelled and called for Lucette and their accustomed clothing, were forcibly dressed in linen and khaki.
In a few minutes together before they were called to breakfast, James had confided to Malcolm that he thought if they rushed into William's back with all their strength, on the top step, they could roll him downstairs and bang him up good. Malcolm had doubts, but he was willing to try. William was alert, because as many another "newsy" he had known these boys in the park; so when the rush came, a movement too quick for untrained eyes to follow swung him around a newel post, while both boys bumping, screaming, rolled to the first landing and rebounded from a wall harder than they. When no one hastened at their screams to pick them up, they arose fighting each other. The tutor passed and James tried to kick him, merely because he could. He was not there either, but he stopped for this advice to the astonished boy: "If I were you I wouldn't do that. This is a free country, and if you have a right to kick me, I have the same right to kick you. I wouldn't like to do it. I'd rather allow mules and vicious horses to do the kicking; still if you're bound to kick, I can; but my foot is so much bigger than yours, and if I forgot and took you for a football, you'd probably have to go to the hospital and lie in a plaster cast a week or so. If I were you, I wouldn't! Let's go watch the birds till breakfast is called, instead."
The invitation was not accepted. The tutor descended alone. As he stepped to the veranda he met Mr. Minturn.
"Well?" that gentleman asked tersely.
Mr. Tower shook his head. He was studying law. He needed money to complete his course. He needed many things he could acquire from James Minturn.
"It's a problem," he said guardedly.
"You draw your salary for its solution," Mr. Minturn said tartly. "Work on the theory I outlined; if it fails after a fair test, we'll try another. Those boys have got to be saved. They are handsome little chaps with fine bodies and good ancestry. What happened just now?"
"They tried to rush William on the top step. William evaporated, so they took the fall themselves."
"Exactly right," commented Mr. Minturn. "Get the idea and work on it. Every rough, heartless thing they attempt, if at all possible, make it a boomerang to strike them their own blow; but you reserve blows as a last resort. There is the bell." Mr. Minturn called: "Boys! The breakfast bell is ringing. Come!"
There was not a sound. Mr. Minturn nodded to the tutor. Together they ascended the stairs. They found the boys hidden in a wardrobe. Mr. Minturn opened the door, gravely looking at them.
"Boys," he said, "you're going to live with me after this, so you're to come when I call you. You're going to eat the food that makes men of boys, where I can see what you get. You are going to do what I believe best for you, until you are so educated that you are capable of thinking for yourselves. Now what you must do, is to come downstairs and take your places at the table. If you don't feel hungry, you needn't eat; but I would advise you to make a good meal. I intend to send you to the country in the car. You'll soon want food. With me you will not be allowed to lunch at any hour, in cafes and restaurants. If you don't eat your breakfast you will get nothing until noon. It is up to you. Come on!"
Neither boy moved. Mr. Minturn smiled at them.
"The sooner you quit this, the sooner all of us will be comfortable," he said casually. "Observe my size. See Mr. Tower, a college athlete, who will teach you ball, football, tennis, swimming in lakes and riding, all the things that make boys manly men; better stop sulking in a closet and show your manhood. With one finger either of us can lift you out and carry you down by force; and we will, but why not be gentlemen and walk down as we do?"
Both boys looked at him; then at each other, but remained where they were.
"Time is up!" said Mr. Minturn. "They've had their chance, Mr. Tower. If they won't take it, they must suffer the consequences. Take Malcolm, I'll bring James."
Instantly both boys began to fight. No one bribed them to stop, struck them, or did anything at all according to precedent. They raged until they exposed a vulnerable point, then each man laid hold, lifted and carefully carried down a boy, placing him on a chair. James instantly slid to the floor.
"Take James' chair away!" ordered Mr. Minturn. "He prefers to be served on the floor."
"I don't either. I slipped," cried James.
"Then excuse yourself, resume your chair, and be mighty careful you don't slip again."
James looked at his father sullenly, but at last muttered, "Excuse me," and took the chair. With bright inflamed eyes they stared at their almost unknown father, who now had them in his power; at a woman they scarcely knew, whom they were told to call Aunt Margaret; at a strange man who was to take Lucette's place, and who had a grip that made hers seem feeble, and who was to teach them the things of which they knew nothing, and therefore hated; and at a boy nearer their own size and years, whom their father called William. Both boys refused fruit and cereal, rudely demanding cake and ice cream. Margaret Winslow looked at her brother in despair. He placidly ate his breakfast, remarking that the cook was a treasure. As he left the table Mr. Minturn laid the papers before his sister, indicating the paragraphs he had read, then calling for his car he took the tutor and the boys and left for his office. He ordered them to return for him at half-past eleven, and with minute instructions as to how they were to proceed, Mr. Tower and William drove to the country to begin the breaking in of the Minturn boys.
They disdained ball, did not care for football, improvised golf clubs and a baseball were not interesting, further than the use of the clubs on each other, which was not allowed. They did not care what the flowers were, they jerked them up by the roots when they saw it annoyed Mr. Tower, while every bird in range flew from a badly aimed stone. They tried chasing a flock of sheep, which chased beautifully for a short distance, then a ram declined to run farther and butted the breath from Malcolm's small body until it had to be shaken in again. They ran amuck and on finding they were not pursued, gave up, stopping on the bank of a creek. There they espied tiny shining fish swimming through the water and plunged in to try to capture them. When Mr. Tower and William came up, both boys were busy chasing fish. From a bank where they sat watching came a proposal from William.
"I'll tell you fellows, I believe if we could build a dam we could catch them. Gather stones and pile them up till I get my shoes off."
Instantly both boys obeyed. Mr. Tower and William stripped their feet, and rolled their trousers. Into the creek they went setting stones, packing with sod and muck, using sticks and leaves until in a short time they had a dam before which the water began rising, then overflowing.
"Now we must wait until it clears," said William.
So they sat under a tree to watch until in the clean pool formed they could see little fish gathering. Then the boys lay on the banks and tried to catch them with their hands, and succeeded in getting a few. Mr. Tower suggested they should make pools, one on each side of the creek, for their fish, so they eagerly went to work. They pushed and slapped each other, they fought over the same stone, but each constructed with his own hands a stone and mud enclosed pool in which to pen his fish. They were really interested in what they were doing, they really worked, also soon they were really tired, they were really hungry. With imperative voice they demanded food.
"You forget what your father told you at breakfast," said Mr. Tower. "He knew you were coming to the country where you couldn't get food. William and I are not hungry. We want to catch these little fish, and see who can get the most. We think it's fun. We can't take the car back until your father said to come."
"You take us back right now, and order meat, and cake, and salad and ice cream, lots of it!" stormed James.
"I have to obey your father!" said Mr. Tower.
"I just hate fathers!" cried James.
"I'll wager you do!" conceded Mr. Tower.
James stared open mouthed.
"I can see how you feel," said Mr. Tower companionably. "When a fellow has been coddled by nurses all his life, has no muscle, no appetite except for the things he shouldn't have, and never has done anything but silly park- playing, it must be a great change to be out with men, and doing as they do."
Both boys were listening, so he went on: "But don't feel badly, and don't waste breath hating. Save it for the grand fun we are going to have, and next time good food is before you, eat like men. We don't start back for an hour yet; see which can catch the most fish in that time."
"Where is Lucette?" demanded James.
"Gone back to her home across the ocean; you'll never see her again," said Mr. Tower.
"Wish I could a-busted her head before she went!" said James regretfully.
"No doubt," laughed Mr. Tower. "But break your own and see how it feels before you try it on any one else."
"I wish I could break yours!" cried James angrily.
"No doubt again," agreed the tutor, "but if you do, the man who takes my place may not know how to make bows and arrows, or build dams, or anything that's fun, while he may not be so patient as I am."
"Being hungry ain't fun," growled Malcolm.
"That's your own fault," Mr. Tower reminded him. "You wouldn't eat. That was a good breakfast."
"Wasn't a thing Lucette gave us!" scoffed James.
"But you don't like Lucette very well," said Mr. Tower. "After you've been a man six months, you won't eat cake for breakfast; or much of it at any time."
"Lucette is never coming back?" marvelled Malcolm.
"Never!" said Mr. Tower conclusively.
"How soon are we going home?" demanded James.
"Never!" replied Mr. Tower. "You are going to live where you were last night, after this."
"Where is Mamma?" cried Malcolm.
"Gone for the summer," explained Mr. Tower.
"I know. She always goes," said James. "But she took us before. I just hate it. I like this better. We make no difference to her anyway. Let her go!"
"Ain't we rich boys any more?" inquired Malcolm.
"I don't know," said Mr. Tower. "That is your father's business. I think you have as much money as ever, but from now on, you are going to live like men."
"We won't live like men!" cried both boys.
"Now look here," said Mr. Tower kindly, "you may take my word for it that a big boy almost ten years old, and another nearly his age, who can barely read, who can't throw straight, who can't swim, or row, or walk a mile without puffing like an engine, who begins to sweat over lifting a few stones, is a mighty poor specimen. You think you are wonders because you've heard yourself called big, fine boys; you are soft fatties. I can take you to the park and pick out any number of boys half your size and age who can make either of you yell for mercy in three seconds. You aren't boys at all; if you had to get on your feet and hike back to town, before a mile you'd be lying beside the road bellowing worse than I've heard you yet. You aren't as tough and game as half the girls of your age I know."
"You shut your mouth!" cried James in rage. "Mother'll fire you!"
"It is you who are fired, young man," said the tutor. "Your mother is far away by this time. She left you boys with your father, who pays me to make men of you, so I'm going to do it. You are big enough to know that you'll never be men, motoring around with nurses, like small babies; eating cake and ice cream when your bones and muscles are in need of stiffening and toughening. William, peel off your shirt, and show these chaps how a man's muscle should be."
William obeyed, swelling his muscles.
"Now you try that," suggested Mr. Tower to James, "and see how much muscle you can raise."
"I'm no gutter snipe," he sneered. "I'm a gentleman! I don't need muscle. I'm never going to work."
"But you've just been working!" cried the tutor. "Carrying those stones was work, and you'll remember it took both of you to lift one that William, who is only a little older than you, James, moved with one hand. You can't play without working. You've got to pull to row a boat, or hold a horse. You must step out lively to play tennis, or golf, or to skate, while if you try to swim without work, you'll drown."
"I ain't going to do those things!" retorted James.
"No, you are going to spend your life riding in an automobile with a nurse, feeding you cake!" scoffed the tutor.
William shouted and turned a cart wheel so flashingly quick that both boys jumped, James' face coloured a slow red, so the tutor took hope.
"I see that makes you blush," he said. "No wonder! You should be as tough as leather, and spinning along this creek bank like William. Instead you are a big, bloated softy. You carry too much fat for your size, while you are mushy as pudding! If I were you, I'd show my father how much of a man I could be, instead of how much of a baby."
"Father isn't a gentleman!" announced Malcolm. "Lucette said so!"
"Hush!" cried Mr. Tower. "Don't you ever say that again! Your father is one of the big men of this great city: one of the men who think, plan, and make things happen, that result in health, safety and comfort for all of us. One of the men who is going to rule, not only his own home, but this city, and this whole state, one of these days. You don't know your father. You don't know what men say and think of him. You do know that Lucette was fit for nothing but to wash and dress you like babies, big boys who should have been ashamed to let a woman wait on them. You do know that she is on her way back where she came from, because she could not do her work right. And you have the nerve to tell me what she said about a fine man like your father. I'm amazed at you!"
"Gentlemen don't work!" persisted Malcolm. "Mother said so!"
"I'm sorry to contradict your mother, but she forgot something," said Mr. Tower. "If the world has any gentlemen it surely should be those born for generations of royal and titled blood, and reared from their cradles in every tradition of their rank. Europe is full of them, and many are superb men. I know a few. Now will you tell me where they are to-day? They are down in trenches six feet under ground, shivering in mud and water, half dead for sleep, food, and rest, trying to save the land of their birth, the homes they own, to protect the women and children they love. They are marching miles, being shot down in cavalry rushes, and blown up in boats they are manning, in their fight to save their countries. Gentlemen don't work! You are too much of an idiot to talk with, if you don't know how gentlemen of birth, rank and by nature are working this very day."
The descent on him was precipitate and tumultuous.
"The war!" shouted both boys in chorus. "Tell us about the war! Oh I just love the war!" cried Malcolm. "When I'm a man I'm going to have a big shiny sword, and ride, and fight, and make the enemy fly! You ought to seen Gretchen and Lucette fight! They ain't either one got much hair left."
The tutor could not help laughing; but he made room for a boy on either side of him, and began on the war. It was a big subject, there were phases of it that shocked and repulsed him; but it was his task to undo the wrong work of ten years, he was forced to use the instrument that would accomplish that end. With so much material he could tell of things unavoidable, that men of strength and courage were doing, not forgetting the boys and the women. William stretched at his feet and occasionally made a suggestion, or asked a question, while James and Malcolm were interested in something at last. When it was time to return, neither wanted to go.
"Your father's orders were to come for him at half-past eleven," reminded Mr. Tower. "I work for him, so I must obey!"
"Nobody pays any attention to father," cried James. "I order you to stay here and tell of the fighting. Tell about the French boy who wouldn't show where the troops were."
"Oh, I am to take orders from you, am I?" queried Mr. Tower. "All right! Pay my salary and give me the money to buy our lunch!"
James stood thinking a second. "I have all the money I want," he said. "I go to Mrs. Ranger for my money. Mother always makes her give me what I ask for."
"You have forgotten that you have moved, and brought only yourselves," said Mr. Tower. "Your mother and the money are gone. Your father pays the bills now, and if you'll watch sharp, you'll see that things have changed since this time yesterday. Every one pays all the attention there is to father now. What we have, and do, and want, must come from him, and as it's a big contract, and he's needed to help manage this city, we'd better begin thinking about father, and taking care of him as much as we can. Now we are to obey him. Come on William. It's lunch time, and I'm hungry."
The boys climbed into the car without a word, and before it had gone a mile Malcolm slipped against the tutor and shortly thereafter James slid to the floor, tired to insensibility and sound asleep. So Mr. Minturn found them when he came from his office. He looked them over carefully, wet, mud-stained, grimy, bruised and sleeping in exhaustion.
"Poor little soldiers," he said. "Your battle has been a hard one I see. I hope to God you gained a victory."
He entered the car, picked up James and taking him in his arms laid the tired head on his breast, leaning his face against the boy's hair. When the car stopped at the new house, the tutor waited for instructions.
"Wake them up, make them wash themselves, and come to lunch," said Mr. Minturn. "Afterward, if they are sleepy, let them nap. They must establish regular habits at the beginning. It's the only way."
Dashes of cold water helped, so William and the tutor telling each other how hungry they were, brought two boys ready to eat anything, to the table. Cake and cream were not mentioned. Bread and milk, cold meat, salad, and a plain pudding were delicious. Between bites James studied his father, then suddenly burst forth: "Are you a gentleman?"
"I try to be," answered Mr. Minturn.
"Are you running this city?" put in Malcolm.
"I am doing what I can to help," said his father.
"Make Johnston take me home to get my money."
"You have no home but this," said Mr. Minturn. "Your old home now belongs to the city of Multiopolis. It is to be torn up and made over into a place where sick children can be cured. If you are ever too ill for us to manage, we'll take you there to be doctored."
"Will mother and Lucette be there?" asked James.
Malcolm nudged his brother.
"Can't you remember?" he said. "Lucette has gone across the ocean, and she is never coming back, goody! goody! And you know about how much mother cares when we are sick. She's coming the other way, when anybody is sick. She just hates sick people. Let them go, and get your money!"
Thus reminded, James began again, "I want to get my money."
"Your money came from your mother, so it went with your home, your clothes, and your playthings," explained Mr. Minturn. "You have none until you earn some. I can give you a home, education, and a fine position when you are old enough to hold it; but I can't give you money. No one ever gave me any. I always had to work for mine. From now on you are going to live with me, so if you have money you'll have to go to work and earn it."
Both boys looked aghast at him. "Ain't we rich any more?"
"No," said Mr. Minturn. "Merely comfortable!"
James leaned back in his chair, twisting his body in its smooth linen covering. He looked intently at the room, table and people surrounding it. He glanced from the window at the wide green lawn, the big trees, and for an instant seemed to be listening to the birds singing there. He laid down his fork, turning to his brother. Then he exploded the bomb that shattered the family.
"Oh damn being rich!" he cried. "I like being comfortable a lot better! Malcolm, being rich has put us about ten miles behind where we ought to be. We're baby-girl softies! We wouldn't a-faced the guns and not told where the soldiers were, we'd a-bellered for cake. Brace up! Let's get in the game! Father, have we got to go on the street and hunt work, or can you give us a job?"
James Minturn tried to speak, then pushing back his chair left the table precipitately. James Jr. looked after him doubtfully. He turned to Aunt Margaret.
"Please excuse me," he said. "I guess he's choked. I'd better go pound him on the back like Lucette does us."
Malcolm looked at Aunt Margaret. "Mother won't let us work," he announced.
"It's like this Malcolm," said Aunt Margaret gently. "Mother had charge of you for ten years. The women she employed didn't train you as boys should be, so mother has turned you over to father. For the next ten years you will try another plan; after that, you will be big enough to decide how you want to live; but now I think you will just love father's way, if you will behave yourself long enough to find out what fun it is."
"Mother won't like it," said Malcolm positively.
"I think she does dear, or she wouldn't have gone and left you to try it," said Aunt Margaret. "She knew what your father would think you should do; if she hadn't thought he was right she would have taken you with her, as before."
"I just hate being taken on trains and boats with her. So does James! We like the dam, the fish, and we're going to have bows and arrows, to shoot at mark.
"And we are going to swim and row," added William.
"And we are going to be soldiers, and hurl back the enemy," boasted Malcolm, "ain't we Mr. Tower?"
"Indian scouts are more fun," suggested the tutor.
"And there is the money we must earn, if we've got to," said Malcolm. "I guess father is telling James how. I'll go ask him too. Excuse me, Aunt Margaret!"
"Of all the surprises I ever did have, this is the biggest one!" said Aunt Margaret. "I was afraid I never could like them. I thought this morning it would take years."
"There is nothing like the receptivity and plasticity of children," said the tutor.
Later James Minturn appeared on his veranda with a small boy clinging to each hand. The trio came forth with red eyes, but firmly allied.
"Call the car, if you please, William," said Senior. "I am going to help build that dam higher, and see how many fish I can catch for my pool."
Malcolm walked beside him, rubbing his head caressingly across an arm. "We don't have to go on the streets and hunt," he announced. "Father is going to find us work. While the war is so bad, we'll drink milk, and send what we earn to boys who have no father. The war won't take our father, will it?"
"To-night we will pray God not to let that happen," said Aunt Margaret. "Is there room in the car for me too, James? I haven't seen one of those little brook fish in years!"
James Jr. went to her and leaned against her chair. "I got three in my pool. You may see mine! I'll give you one."
"I'd love to see them," said Aunt Margaret. "I'll go bring my hat. But I think you shouldn't give the fish away, James. They belong to God. He made their home in the water. If you take them out, you will kill them, and He won't like that. Let's just look at them, and leave them in the water."
"Malcolm, the fish 'belong to God,'" said James, turning to his brother. "We may play with them, but we mustn't take them out of the water and hurt them."
"Well, who's going to take them out of the water?" cried Malcolm. "I'm just going to scoot one over into father's pool to start him. Will you give him one too?" "Yes," said James Jr.
"The next money I earn, I shall send to the war; but the first time I rake the lawn, and clean the rugs, I'll give what I earn to father, so he will have more time to play with us. Father is the biggest man in this city!"
"It may take a few days to get a new regime started," said father, "I've lived only for work so long; but as soon as it's possible, my day will be so arranged that some part of it shall be yours, boys, to show me what you are doing. I think one day can be given wholly to going to the country."
With an ecstatic whoop they rushed James Minturn, whose wide aching arms opened to them.