The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter VIII. The Work of the Ally
"In the little room that looked out upon the Monument and the garden, Dan--all unknowing--slept. And over all brooded the spirit that lives in Corinth--the Ally--that dread, mysterious thing that never sleeps."
Grace Conner is a type common to every village, town and city in the land, the saddest of all sad creatures--a good girl with a bad reputation.
Her reputation Grace owed first to her father's misdeeds, for which the girl could in no way be to blame, and second, to the all-powerful Ally, without whom the making of any reputation, good or bad, is impossible.
The Doctor knew the girl well. When she was a little tot and a member of Martha's Sunday school class, she was at the house frequently. Later as a member of the church she herself was a teacher and an active worker. Then came the father's crime and conviction, followed soon by the mother's death, and the girl was left to shift for herself. She had kept herself alive by working here and there, in the canning factory and restaurants, and wherever she could. No one would give her a place in a home.
The young people in the church, imitating their elders, shunned her, and it was not considered good policy to permit her to continue teaching in the Sunday school. No mother wanted her child to associate with a criminal's daughter; naturally she drifted away from the regular services, and soon it was publicly announced that her name had been dropped from the roll of membership. After that she never came.
It was not long until the girl had such a name that no self respecting man or woman dared be caught recognizing her on the street.
The people always spoke of her as "that Grace Conner."
The girl, hurt so often, grew to fear everyone. She strove to avoid meeting people on the street, or meeting them, passed with downcast eyes, not daring to greet them. Barely able to earn bread to keep life within her poor body, her clothing grew shabby, her form thin and worn; and these very evidences of her goodness of character worked to accomplish her ruin. But she was a good girl through it all, a good girl with a bad reputation.
She was cowering at the foot of the monument, her face buried in her hands, when the Doctor touched her on the shoulder. She started and turned up to him the saddest face the old physician had ever seen.
"What's the matter, my girl?" he said as kindly as he could.
She shook her head and buried her face in her hands again.
"Please go away and let me alone."
"Come, come," said the Doctor laying his hand on her shoulder again. "This won't do; you must tell me what's wrong. You can't stay out here on the street at this time of the night."
At his tone she raised her head again. "This time of the night! What difference does it make to anyone whether I am on the street or not?"
"It makes a big difference to you, my girl," the Doctor answered. "You should be home and in bed."
God! What a laugh she gave!
"Home! In bed!" She laughed again.
"Stop that!" said the physician sharply, for he saw that just a touch more, and she would be over the line. "Stand up here and tell me what's the matter; are you sick?"
She rose to her feet with his help.
"Well, what have you been doing?"
"Nothing, Doctor. I--I was just walking around."
"Why don't you go back to the Hotel? You are working there, are you not?"
At this she wrung her hands and looked about in a dazed way, but answered nothing.
"See here, Grace," said the physician, "you know me, surely--old Doctor Oldham, can't you tell me what it is that's wrong?"
She made no answer.
"Come, let me take you to the Hotel," he urged; "it's only a step."
"No--no," she moaned, "I can't go there. I don't live there any more."
"Well where do you live now?" he asked.
"Over in Old Town."
"But why did you leave your place at the Hotel?"
"A--a man there said something that I didn't like, and then the proprietor told me that I must go, because some of the people were talking about me, and I was giving the Hotel a bad name. Oh, Doctor, I ain't a bad girl, I ain't never been, but folks are driving me to it. That or--or--" she hesitated.
What could he say?
"It's the same everywhere I try to work," she continued in a hopeless tone. "At the canning factory the other girls said their folks wouldn't let them work there if I didn't go. I haven't been able to earn a cent since I left the Hotel. I don't know what to do,--oh, I don't know what to do!" She broke down crying.
"Look here, why didn't you come to me?" the Doctor asked roughly. "You knew you could come to me. Didn't I tell you to?"
"I--I was afraid. I'm afraid of everybody." She shivered and looked over her shoulder.
The Doctor saw that this thing had gone far enough. "Come with me," he said. "You must have something to eat."
He started to lead her across the street toward Mrs. Mulhall whom he could see at the gate watching them. But the girl hung back.
"No, no," she panted in her excitement. "Not there, I dare not go there." The Doctor hesitated.
"Well, come to my house then," he said. She went as far as the gate then she stopped again.
"I can't, Doctor. Mrs. Oldham, I can't--" The girl was right. The Doctor was never so ashamed in all his life. After a little, he said with decision, "Look here, Grace, you sit down on the porch for a few minutes. Martha is in bed and fast asleep long ago." He stole away as quietly as possible, and in a little while returned with a basket full of such provisions as he could find in the pantry. He was chuckling to himself as he thought of Martha when she discovered the theft in the morning, and cursing half aloud the thing that made it necessary for him to steal from his own pantry for the girl whom he would have taken into his home so gladly, if--
He made her eat some of the cold chicken and bread and drink a glass of milk. And when she was feeling better, walked with her down the street a little way, to be sure that she was all right.
"I can't thank you enough, Doctor," she said, "you have saved me from--"
"Don't try," he broke in. He did not want her to get on that line again. "Go on home like a good girl now, and mind you look carefully in the bottom of that basket." He had put a little bill there, the only money he had in the house. "This will help until times are better for you, and mind now, if you run against it again, come to me or go to Dr. Harry at the office, and tell him that you want me."
He watched her down the street and then went home, stopping for a word of explanation to Deborah and Denny, who were waiting at the gate.
The light was still burning in Dan's window when the Doctor again entered his own yard. He thought once that he would run in on the minister for a minute, and then remembered that "the boy would be tired after his great effort defending the faith of Memorial Church." It was long past the old man's bed time. He told himself that he was an old fool to be prowling about so late at night, and that he would hear from Martha all right tomorrow. Then, as he climbed into bed, he chuckled again, thinking of the empty kitchen pantry and that missing basket.
The light in Dan's room went out. Some belated person passed, going home for the night; a little later, another. Then a man and woman, walking closely, talking in low tones, strolled slowly by in the shadow of the big trees. The quick step of a horse and the sound of buggy-wheels came swiftly nearer and nearer, passed and died away in the stillness. It was Dr. Harry answering a call. In Judge Strong's big, brown house, a nurse in her uniform of blue and white, by the dim light of a night-lamp, leaned over her patient with a glass of water. In Old Town a young woman in shabby dress, with a basket on her arm, hurried--trembling and frightened--across the lonely, grass-grown square. Under the quiet stars in the soft moonlight, the cast-iron monument stood--grim and cold and sinister. In the peace and quiet of the night, Denny's garden wrought its mystery. In the little room that looked out upon the monument and the garden, Dan--all unknowing--slept.
And over all brooded the spirit that lives in Corinth--the Ally--that dread, mysterious thing that never sleeps.