The Helen of the Old House by Harold Bell Wright
Book I. The Interpreter
Chapter IV. Peter Martin at Home
Peter Martin, with his children, Charlie and Mary, lived in the oldest part of Millsburgh, where the quiet streets are arched with great trees and the modest houses, if they seem to lack in modern smartness, more than make good the loss by their air of homelike comfort. The Martin cottage was built in the days before the success of Adam Ward and his new process had brought to Millsburgh the two extremes of the Flats and the hillside estates. The little home was equally removed from the wretched dwellings of Sam Whaley and his neighbors, on the one hand, and from the imposing residences of Adam Ward and his circle, on the other.
The house--painted white, with old-fashioned green shutters--is only a story and a half, with a low wing on the east, and a bit of porch in front, with wooden seats on either side the door. The porch step is a large uncut stone that nature shaped to the purpose, and the walk that connects the entrance with the front gate is of the same untooled flat rock. On the right of the walk, as one enters, a space of green lawn, a great tree, and rustic chairs invite one to rest in the shade; while on the left, the yard is filled with old-fashioned flowers, and a row of flowering shrubs and bushes extends the full width of the lot along the picket fence which parallels the board walk of the tree-bordered street. The fence, like the house, is painted white.
The other homes in the neighborhood are of the same modest, well kept type.
The only thing that marred the quiet domestic beauty of the scene at the time of this story was the place where Adam Ward had lived with his little family before material prosperity removed them to their estate on the hill. Joining the Martin home on the east, the old house, unpainted, with broken shutters, shattered windows, and sagging porch, in its setting of neglected, weed-grown yard and tumble-down fences, was pathetic in its contrast.
Since the death of her mother, Mary Martin had been the housekeeper for her father and her brother. She was a wholesome, clear-visioned girl, with an attractive face that glowed with the good color of health and happiness. And if at times, when the Ward automobile passed, there was a shadow of wistfulness in Mary's eyes, it did not mar for long the expression of her habitually contented and cheerful spirit. She worked at her household tasks with a song, entered into the pleasures of her friends and neighbors with hearty delight, and was known, as well, to many poverty-stricken homes in the Flats in times of need.
More than one young workman in the Mill had wanted Pete Martin's girl to help him realize his dreams of home building. But Mary had always answered "No."
Mary's brother Charlie was a strong-shouldered, athletic workman, with a fine, clean countenance and the bearing of his military experience.
At supper, that evening, the young woman remarked casually, "Helen Ward went by this afternoon. I was working in the roses. I thought for a moment she was going to stop--at the old house, I mean."
Captain Charlie's level gaze met his sister's look. "Did she see you?"
"She did and she didn't," replied Mary.
"Never mind, dear," returned the soldier workman, "it'll be all right."
Peter Martin--a gray-haired veteran with rather a stolid English face--looked up at his children questioningly. Presently he said, "It's a wonder Adam wouldn't fix up the old place a bit--for pride's sake if for nothing else. It's a disgrace to the neighborhood."
"I guess that's the reason he lets it go," said Captain Charlie, pushing his chair back from the table.
"What's the reason?" asked Peter.
"For his pride's sake. As it stands now, the old house advertises Adam's success. When people see it in ruins like that they always speak of the big new house on the hill. If the old house was fixed up and occupied it wouldn't cause any comment on Adam's prosperity, you see. John told me once that he had begged his father to let him do something with it, but Adam ordered him never to set foot on the place."
"Well," said Mary, "I suppose he can afford to keep the old house as a sort of monument if he wants to."
Peter Martin commented, in his slow way, "If Charlie is right about his reason for leaving it as it is, I am not so sure, daughter, that even Adam Ward can afford to do such a thing."
Captain Charlie's eyes twinkled as he addressed his sister. "Father evidently believes with the Interpreter that houses have souls or spirits or something--like human beings."
"Of course," she returned, "if the Interpreter believes it father is bound to."
The old workman smiled. "You children will believe it, too, some day; at least I hope so."
"I wonder if Helen ever goes to see the Interpreter," said Mary.
Captain Charlie returned, quickly, "I know she does."
"How do you know? Did you ever meet her there?"
The Captain answered grimly, "I hid out in the garden once with Billy Rand to keep from meeting her."
Flushed with the unparalleled adventures of the day, Bobby Whaley asked his father, "Dad, ain't the old Interpreter one of us?--ain't he?"
"Sure he is."
"Well, then, what for did old Adam Ward's daughter go to see him just like Mag an' me did?"
"I don't know nothin' about that," growled Sam Whaley, "but I can tell you kids one thing. You're a-goin' to stay out of that there automobile of hers. You let me catch you takin' up with such as Adam Ward's daughter and I'll teach you somethin' you won't fergit."
* * * * *
The cigar-store philosopher remarked casually to the chief of police, "This here savior of the people, Jake Vodell, that's recently descended upon us, is gatherin' to himself a choice bunch of disciples--I'll tell the world."
"What do you know about it?" demanded the officer of the law.
The philosopher grinned. "Oh, they most of them smoke or chew, the same as your cops. Vodell himself smokes your brand. Have one on me chief."