Chapter XXII. Shadows
 

One morning when Tom came into the kitchen Pearl looked up with a worried look on her usually bright little face.

"What's up, kid?" he asked kindly. He did not like to see Pearl looking troubled.

"Arthur's sick," she said gravely.

"Go on!" he answered, "he's not sick. I know he's been feeling kind of used up for about a week, but he worked as well as ever yesterday. What makes you think he is sick?"

"I went out last night to be sure I had shut the henhouse door, and I heard him groanin', and I said, knockin' on the door, 'What's wrong, Arthur?' and he said, 'Oh, I beg your pardon, Pearl, did I frighten you?' and I said, 'No, but what's wrong?' and he said, 'Nothing at all, Pearl, thank you'; but I know there is. You know how polite he is--wouldn't trouble anybody. Wouldn't ask ye to slap 'im on the back if he was chokin'. I went out two or three times and once I brought him out some liniment, and he told me every time he would be 'well directly,' but I don't believe him. If Arthur groans there's something to groan for, you bet."

"Maybe he's in love," Tom said sheepishly.

"But you don't groan, Tom, do you?" she asked seriously.

"Maybe I ain't in love, though, Pearl. Ask Jim Russell, he can tell you."

"Jim ain't in love, is he?" Pearl asked anxiously. Her responsibilities were growing too fast. One love affair and a sick man she felt was all she could attend to.

"Well, why do you suppose Jim comes over here every second day to get you to write a note to that friend of yours?"

"Camilla?" Pearl asked open-mouthed. Tom nodded.

"Camilla can't leave Mrs. Francis," Pearl declared with conviction.

"Jim's a dandy smart fellow. He only stays on the farm in the summer. In the winter he book-keeps for three or four of the stores in Millford and earns lots of money," Tom said, admiringly.

After a pause Pearl said thoughtfully, "I love Camilla!"

"That's just the way Jim feels, too, I guess," Tom said laughing as he went out to the stable.

When Tom went out to the granary he found Arthur dressing, but flushed and looking rather unsteady.

"What's gone wrong with you, old man?" he asked kindly.

"I feel a bit queer," Arthur replied, "that's all. I shall be well directly. Got a bit of a cold, I think."

"Slept in a field with the gate open like as not," Tom laughed.

Arthur looked at him inquiringly.

"You'll feel better when you get your breakfast," Tom went on. "I don't wonder you're sick--you haven't been eatin' enough to keep a canary bird alive. Go on right into the house now. I'll feed your team."

"It beats all what happens to our help," Mrs. Motherwell complained to Pearl, as they washed the breakfast dishes. "It looks very much as if Arthur is goin' to be laid up, too, and the busy time just on us."

Pearl was troubled. Why should Arthur be sick? He had plenty of fresh air; he tubbed himself regularly. He never drank "alcoholic beverages that act directly on the liver and stomach, drying up the blood, and rendering every organ unfit for work." Pearl remembered the Band of Hope manual. No, and it was not a cold. Colds do not make people groan in the night--it was something else. Pearl wished her friend, Dr. Clay, would come along. He would soon spot the trouble.

After dinner, of which Arthur ate scarcely a mouthful, as Pearl was cleaning the knives, Mrs. Motherwell came into the kitchen with a hard look on her face. She had just missed a two-dollar bill from her satchel.

"Pearl," she said in a strained voice, "did you see a two-dollar bill any place?"

"Yes, ma'am," Pearl answered quickly, "Mrs Francis paid ma with one once for the washing, but I don't know where it might be now."

Mrs. Motherwell looked at Pearl keenly. It was not easy to believe that that little girl would steal. Her heart was still tender after Polly's death, she did not want to be hard on Pearl, but the money must be some place.

"Pearl, I have lost a two-dollar bill. If you know anything about it I want you to tell me," she said firmly.

"I don't know anything about it no more'n ye say ye had it and now ye've lost it," Pearl answered calmly.

"Go up to your room and think about it," she said, avoiding Pearl's gaze.

Pearl went up the narrow little steps with a heart that swelled with indignation.

"Does she think I stole her dirty money, me that has money o' me own--a thief is it she takes me for? Oh, wirra! wirra! and her an' me wuz gittin' on so fine, too; and like as not this'll start the morgage and the cancer on her again."

Pearl threw herself on the hot little bed, and sobbed out her indignation and her homesickness. She could not put it off this time. Catching sight of her grief-stricken face in the cracked looking glass that hung at the head of the bed, she started up suddenly.

"What am I bleatin' for?" she said to herself, wiping her eyes on her little patched apron. "Ye'd think to look at me that I'd been caught stealin' the cat's milk"--she laughed through her tears--"I haven't stolen anything and what for need I cry? The dear Lord will get me out of this just as nate as He bruk the windy for me!"

She took her knitting out of the bird-cage and began to knit at full speed.

"Danny me man, it is a good thing for ye that the shaddah of suspicion is on yer sister Pearlie this day, for it gives her a good chance to turn yer heel. 'Sowin' in the sunshine, sowin' in the shaddah,' only it's knittin' I am instead of sewin', but it's all wan, I guess. I mind how Paul and Silas were singin' in the prison at midnight. I know how they felt. 'Do what Ye like, Lord,' they wur thinkin'. 'If it's in jail Ye want us to stay, we're Yer men.'"

Pearl knit a few minutes in silence. Then she knelt beside the bed.

"Dear Lord," she prayed, clasping her work-worn hands, "help her to find her money, but if anyone did steal it, give him the strength to confess it, dear Lord. Amen."

Mrs. Motherwell, downstairs, was having a worse time than Pearl. She could not make herself believe that Pearl had stolen the money, and yet no one had had a chance to take it except Pearl, or Tom, and that, of course, was absurd. She went again to have a look in every drawer in her room, and as she passed through the hall she detected a strange odour. She soon traced it to Tom's light overcoat which hung there. What was the smell? It was tobacco, and something more. It was the smell of a bar-room!

She sat down upon the step with a nameless dread in her heart. Tom had gone to Millford several times since his father had gone to Winnipeg, and he had stayed longer than was necessary, too; but no, no. Tom would not spend good money that way. The habit of years was on her. It was the money she thought of first.

Then she thought of Pearl.

Going to the foot of the stairway she called:

"Pearl, you may come down now."

"Did ye find it?" Pearl asked eagerly.

"No."

"Do ye still think I took it?"

"No, I don't, Pearl," she answered.

"All right then, I'll come right down," Pearl said gladly.