Billy To-morrow's Chums by Carr, Sarah Pratt
generously made available by The Internet Archive)
Billy To-Morrow’s Chums
[Illustration: “Hello, young feller! What are you out of quod for?”
“BILLY TO-MORROW” SERIES
BILLY TO-MORROW’S CHUMS
By SARAH PRATT CARR
Author of The Iron Way, Billy To-Morrow, Billy To-Morrow in Camp, Billy To-Morrow Stands the Test
Illustrated by ROBERT J. DAVISON
CHICAGO A. C. McCLURG & CO. 1913
Copyright A. C. McCLURG & CO. 1913
Published November, 1913
W. F. Hall Printing Company Chicago
“Hello, young feller! What are you out of quod for?” _Frontispiece_
“Get into this chair,” Sydney ordered 12
She was in evening dress 132
A premonition of disaster swept him 138
“Mine leetle Ida would be eighteen already” 164
“Here she is!” Max shouted wildly 188
Billy To-Morrow’s Chums
The night was dark, the darkest he ever knew, Sydney Bremmer thought as he went his rounds to see if the place was in order. When first he came to live with Mrs. Schmitz he had to take a lantern; but now he was so accustomed to the narrow, soft lanes that led up and down the nursery between close rows of shrubs and flowers, and to the passages in the greenhouses, that he could “feel his way,” as he could in the same way tell when the temperature was right.
As for the little furnace, its own cheerful light, when he opened the doors to fill the fire box and bank the fire, not only showed the way to the coal bin, but sent long streamers of genial light into the black night, and flooded the boy’s face with a weird color that made him look like a fire spirit.
Once between noises he thought he heard something under one of the plant shelves, and called to see if it was the dog, Blitzen. No dog appeared, and everything seemed to be in place. Thinking he had been mistaken, Sydney closed the furnace, fastened the greenhouse door, and ran through the nursery gate to the porch, where he put out the milk bottles and patted Blitzen, saying good night in the silent, boyish fashion that the dog well understood.
As he entered the kitchen, very quietly he thought, a woman’s voice called from above, “That you, Seedney? How late you sit up.”
“Yes. Had trouble with my geometry. Everything’s all right.”
“So? Good! Sleep forty miles the hour till breakfast. I’ll call you. Think of nothing but rest. Good night.”
Sydney returned her good night, mounted the wide stairs, and passed through the long hall, dark as Erebus but for a faint gleam under a door, the one leading to Mrs. Schmitz’s room. Always her tiny night light sent its friendly beacon to Sydney through the window as he came round the house from his rounds in the nursery.
His room was warm from the comfortable stove; and light from the student lamp lent an air of refinement to the chamber not in keeping with the cheap furnishings.
But Sydney did not mind the cheapness of things. The pine bureau and bedstead painted gaudily, the table with pitcher and bowl that served for a lavatory, the cheap chairs and cotton carpet, chromos on the wall and nails in the closet--these makeshifts were luxury to the lad who had known continuous hardship in his newsboy days after the great fire in his native city, San Francisco.
This warm nest was a haven of peace and comfort. Towels and sheets were soft and clean, the blankets fleecy and warm, and the pillows the very home of sleep for a head that had long pillowed on a roll of papers.
And on those nails in the tiny closet was the luxury of a best and a second best suit; on the table books and papers, with permission to study or read as late as he pleased. When he entered his den, set the stove roaring, and settled at ease in his old cane “rocker,” a peace and satisfaction filled him that could well be the envy of the richest millionaire living.
This night, chilled from his errand in the cold, he looked around with renewed appreciation. He wound his nickel clock and turned off the alarm. At first he had disregarded Mrs. Schmitz’s injunction to sleep on Sunday morning, believing it his duty to be on hand for the early work that knows no holiday. But she was a woman of authority, and Sydney had long ago found it as necessary to obey her orders for his comfort as for those concerning his work. As he became better acquainted with the lonely, eccentric woman, he was more than willing to heed her wishes.
One of these was that he should sleep with windows wide open. To-night the inrush of cold air drenched from the salt Sound took the sleep from his eyes and sent the quick blood to his brain; and with it a hundred ideas that came tumbling over one another for notice.
The most important matter was a growing puzzle to him: why the girls at school would not treat Ida Jones, who worked for her board, as well as the boys treated him, who worked for his board.
Of course she was a junior; yet when he had been a junior he had found no such battle to fight. Suddenly he remembered his friends, Reginald Steele, Hec Price, “Sis” Jones, and Billy To-morrow--good old Billy, who had always been his friend since the day on the coast steamer when Billy interceded for the stowaway, Sydney. A word from any of these was as good as a proclamation from the whole of an under class.
Yet for Ida it was not the same; she had something quite different from a boy’s troubles to fight, wholly feminine and mysterious.
A bright idea came--he would ask Bess Carter about it; she was sure to set “something doing” for Ida; and if she did the other girls would promptly fall in line.
But how could he accomplish it? To speak to a girl, even bluff, common-sense Bess, had come to be a pain during the past year. He could not understand it; hated himself for it, and spent long silent hours when he should have slept, composing brilliant dialogues between himself and some girl, only to slink by the first time he met her. Even a word from lonely Ida, whom accident had thrown in his way, set him in a panic.
How long he lay living over his vivid school life, building youth’s air castles, he did not know. He thought he had not slept, yet started suddenly at the sound of soft footsteps at the other end of the hall, and quickly rose and looked out of his door.
Mrs. Schmitz with a lighted taper was standing at the head of the stairs, listening. Her hair hung in a long braid, and the straight lines of her heavy kimono disguised her large figure and gave her a weird stateliness that made Sydney think of some serpent-bound goddess from old mythology.
He slid into his slippers, pulled around him the spread from the bed, caught up the poker from under the stove, and hurried to her.
“What is it,” he whispered, “a burglar?”
“Nothing, I guess. What you up for? I catch him mine self.”
Both listened intently. The stillness lasted so long that Sydney thought her mistaken, when a sliding sound came from below.
“You stay here,” he whispered; “I’ll go down.”
“No, you don’t! I won’t have you killed all alone. I come too.”
“Blow out the light then. We must see him first,” Sydney ordered. “Got any matches?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Silently they crept down the stairs.
On the stairs Sydney planned. “You stand at one side of the kitchen door and when I call, light the candle so I can see.”
“But he may catch you first, hurt----”
“I know the kitchen and he doesn’t. Do as I say, and we’ll get him.”
The house was large and two closed doors were between them and the burglar. Sydney was wondering if he could open them quietly, when Mrs. Schmitz stepped in front of him and noiselessly threw open one of them while he was thinking about it. From under the pantry door came a thin gleam of light.
“He thinks to find silver. He iss fooled.”
Sydney could hear the laugh in her words although they were whispered. “Stay here,” he ordered, and before she knew his intention, he had turned the key in the pantry door, and was hurrying out of the kitchen to barricade the pantry window from the outside.
But she had come to the end of obedience. She flew after him, heedless of noise, caught and held him back, saying excitedly, “Not for anything shall you go out there. Mebbe more come.”
From pure astonishment rather than obedience he paused an instant, when the light vanished from under the door, and some one ran into the dark room.
Both rushed after him, laid hold of him, and dragged him to the floor.
“Go away! He may have a gun. I’ve got him fast,” Sydney cried.
“Ant if he has a gun we will take it away,” the woman answered pluckily, still keeping her weight on the prostrate figure. “You hunt for it, Seedney.”
The man, trapped, fought fiercely for liberty. It was a silent struggle there in the dark. They knew not what moment a light, or a gun from a confederate, might be flashed upon them, yet thought not of yielding.
Neither of the out-flying hands held a gun, Sydney discovered, and between blows he tried to reach the man’s pockets, but without success; partly because the valiant German woman managed to keep her bulk well over him.
Suddenly all strength left the culprit. In an instant his body grew limp and he resisted no more. “I give up. I haven’t any gun,” came in a hoarse whisper, followed by a cough that shook the woman now calmly sitting on his back.
“Seedney, find the clo’es line; in the storeroom--we’ll tie him; then let him get up.”
Sydney lighted the lamp and quickly brought a rope, with which they bound him as he lay, face downward; and when Mrs. Schmitz with difficulty regained her feet she ordered him to rise.
To their surprise he lay motionless and silent except for the cough he tried to suppress. They waited, Sydney wondering if the man were only feigning; Mrs. Schmitz suspecting his exhaustion.
“Go, quick, and telephone for the police. I’m a match for him now.” Sydney lifted his poker threateningly, though afterward he smiled, remembering how thorough was their work of tying.
But the woman’s keen eyes had seen something that arrested her. Though the man made no attempt to obey, she saw him tremble, saw his shoulders lift; heard his indrawn, convulsive breath, and knew what it meant. Much quicker than she had risen she dropped on her knees beside him, a mother’s tenderness in her rich voice.
“Look at me! You are sorry! Almost you could cry. No bad man does that when he iss robbing--when he iss caught. He fights, or mebbe he says damn. You are no bad man.”
She laid her hand tenderly on his head and tried to see his face; but he still held it to the floor, fighting his cough. He wore a thin suit much too large for him, and his shoes were broken, showing his bare feet.
“Get up, man. Whatever robbing you have done you find not much money, I guess.”
Before he could move, a violent spasm of coughing shook him pitifully. She turned, caught up the spread Sydney had dropped, and threw it over him. “Watch him till I come back,” she called, and ran out through the dining room, surprisingly fast for a heavy woman. “Tie him in a chair, and make a fire, Seedney,” she added in a high voice from the hall; and in a moment they heard the stairs creaking under her.
“Get into this chair,” Sydney ordered, pushing the kitchen “rocker” toward the other.
[Illustration: “Get into this chair,” Sydney ordered]
Painfully the man obeyed, disclosing a face gaunt from hunger but as youthful as Sydney’s own, and a slender, emaciated frame.
“Gee! You’re just a kid, too. What’re you up against?” he questioned as he put the kitchen door key in his pocket and locked the window. “You don’t look the housebreaker part one little bit,” he continued, and began to build a fire.
“I’m certainly an amateur; this is my first appearance,” the youth returned in a husky voice.
“You’ve queered yourself with this audience; why did you try it?”
“No home, no work, no money, and everybody afraid of me--tuberculosis they think I have.”
“I think not; but I soon shall have it if I don’t find work and enough to eat. I haven’t slept in a bed for a week; no money for ten days.”
“Gee! That’s hard luck. I know how it is myself.”
“What? You? She’s too good a mother for you to be talking of hard luck.” In spite of weariness he smiled his incredulity.
“Mother, nothing! Mine is dead. She’s a good one though. And I’m in out of the wet now all right. But it was different when I was a San Francisco newsy, sleeping over bakery gratings.”
The other boy stared at Sydney enviously. “How did you come through so--so to the good? Chicken fixings and a gentleman’s sleeping outfit?” He eyed Sydney’s neat pajamas and slippered feet. “Gee! I’d be glad of as good as that for the day time.”
Sydney had set the lamp on a table near the other boy, and his pale face was sharply revealed. When Mrs. Schmitz, hastily dressed, entered, he looked up appealingly, but said nothing and dropped his head again on his breast.
“Mine goodness! You’re only a boy!” she exclaimed.
“Did you call the police?” Sydney asked.
“No policeman yet. I want to talk mit him first.” The captive stirred uneasily. “When have you something to eat?”
“Night before last. That’s what--what I came for--I couldn’t stand it any longer.”
“Ant also you freeze.”
“No. Three nights I have slept in your greenhouse. It’s warm there and----”
“Yes, yes! Too warm and too wet for coughing. No longer you will sleep so. Seedney, get him that one coat you don’t wear any more, and other warm clo’es you have. I buy you more. Ant yourself dress; pretty soon you also will be coughing.”
Sydney added some light wood to his fire and hurried to do her bidding, coming again in no time, it seemed to him; yet in those few minutes Mrs. Schmitz had hot milk ready and savory food steaming on the stove.
Still obeying her, Sydney untied the boy’s hands and then puttered about the room, bringing the kitchen dishes to the table, keeping busy that the other chap might not feel himself watched. Yet Sydney did not let his eyes wander far; his street training had made him wary.
“Put on more dishes, ant also the good ones with knifes from the dining room. We also shall eat mit the company. It iss now already past two o’clock ant I myself am hungry.”
Neither Sydney nor Mrs. Schmitz appeared to think it strange that they should be calmly supping with one they had just caught and thrown--one who still sat tied to his chair.
She coaxed the stranger to tell his story. It was little different from the many; untrained, without friends, and consequently the first to be set adrift in slack times.
“It is only work I need,” he finished.
“Why have you no work? You have parents, ant home?”
The boy nodded and hung his head. “My father is living, not my mother. But I--I can’t go home. I----” He looked up fearlessly.
“I cannot tell you why, though it is nothing to be ashamed of. Only I--I can’t go home. If I could get work I would not steal. But if you have no work, what can you do?”
“You shall have work, sure!” she exclaimed earnestly. “Pretty soon; when you say good-by to that cough. By me you shall stay till you eat much and get strong. Then I will find work for you.”
He looked up, startled. “You will keep me--Max Ball,--keep me here in your house, when I have--have tried to rob you?”
“Well, why not? You only need to eat. I also must eat; if not from my own dish, then--from some other man’s.”
“You--you trust me?” He could not seem to understand.
“See here, boy. You cannot steal from me. No man takes from me one little thing only it iss something I ought not to have. You already have tried it once. Did you get away mit the goods?” She laughed as if it was a good joke, while the boy still stared.
“You think that iss funny; it iss this way. You come here to rob me, ant you fail because some one--the Great One--iss seeing you. You have tried hard as you can to do right; but you are full of cold, hunger, lonesomeness; you cannot see life iss good any more. So the goot Gott im himmel sends you to one old woman who iss not afraid, ant she has enough for one boy more. You stay by me?”
The warmth, the steaming food that all at once made him faint, the welcome where he had expected, if not rough treatment, certainly arrest, and especially the kindness that recalled the memory of all a loving mother could be,--these were too much for him; he sobbed like a child.
“Get the salt, Seedney!” Mrs. Schmitz cried; “you are stupid to forget!”
Sydney knew well this hardness was only assumed to shield the other boy. Looking from the pantry he saw her go swiftly behind the captive, put her big arm round his shaking shoulders, and smooth back the tangled dark hair. But her words were rough; she knew it was a dangerous time for sympathy.
“Stop this already! By me nobody cries. Everybody laughs. Keep still the shoulders, I tell you! They pump up and down like a windmill in a big wind. Also like old windmills with rust on ’em; I can hear ’em squeak already. Stop the noise mit your mouth and put something in it.”
So she rattled on with rude words, but her hand never ceased its soothing, hypnotic motion above the too white brow; and in a moment it seemed to Sydney the boy was quiet, and she had unbound him.
“Seedney, will you stay hunting salt till to-morrow already? What keeps you, dumkopf?”
Sydney’s face was flushed when he entered. He did not relish being called a blockhead even in German. And back of that resentment was another emotion he did not then recognize--jealousy. This fly-by-night, this sneak thief, was to come right into the family, to share what he, Sydney, had so long enjoyed as all his own.
A little sullenly and noisily he put the salt-cellar on the table. Mrs. Schmitz, looking up, caught the meaning on his face. At the moment she forgot that Sydney’s feeling was natural; forgot that a boy cannot understand the instinct that makes the mother ready to sacrifice the child that is safe for the one that is in danger.
“Go you, Seedney, bring some wood. It iss cold here as north pole.”
Sydney was gone longer than necessary. He knew that she was gaining time for the stranger to recover calmness. The boy outside looked in from the darkness angrily at first, but more kindly as he saw the waif, little by little, melt under kindness, answer questions, and begin to eat. And when he finally entered, chilled by the biting cold into a more generous spirit, it was to hear the end of a compact: the stranger lad was to remain, and, as soon as he was well enough, he was to help in the greenhouses. He looked calm, even happy.
At that instant a soft, clucking noise from the outside arrested them.
The boy’s face went ashen. He started up. His eyes filled with remorse, looked mournfully upon them as if he were taking leave of a dying dear one, and he caught up the freshly cut loaf, and rushed out through the door.
“I’ve been the meanest fellow going!” he cried as he ran. From the door he called back, “Thank you both! Good-by!” and vanished.
For a moment the two in the kitchen stared at each other, speechless; but the moment was short. Whatever might have caused the sick boy’s departure, Mrs. Schmitz was not one to have her hospitality scorned.
“Never mind what you think,” she sharply reproved Sydney, who had ventured to voice his distrust of the midnight prowler. “I looked once in his face. He iss now a good boy. If he goes once again to cold ant hunger, he----” She broke her speech and called into the night, “Blitzen! Blitzen!”
No dog came bounding to her, but a faint whine was heard somewhere outside. She caught up the rope that had held the stranger, and, heedless of thin slippers, ran into the wet dark, calling Sydney to follow.
They found the dog tied to the fence, his jaws strapped together.
With many endearments of hand and speech, the latter in German, she unbound him, led him to the kitchen door, and made him smell of rope and chair. “Seek! seek! Find him! Hold! him!” she commanded.
The dog sniffed doubtfully a minute, growled, and with a short bark, set off through the gate and down the street.
“You also, Seedney! Run! Catch up mit Blitzen. He’ll find that boy, ant you bring him back. No matter what he says, bring him.”
The run was short and led scarcely a block away to a vacant lot, where Sydney found the other boy prone on his face in a thicket of young sallows and wild blackberry.
Evidently stunned from a fall, he was mumbling incoherently and Blitzen was nosing him doubtfully. Even the dog had his scruples about attacking a fallen enemy. Sydney turned the lad over, trying to learn what had happened, and was debating the next thing to do when Mrs. Schmitz puffed into the zone of excitement.
“Ach! Here he iss! Hooray, Blitzen! Good Blitzen!” She gave the dog a caress that took the drooping doubt from his tail and set it high over his back, a waving plume of satisfaction.
They soon had the stranger on his feet and back in the kitchen. He seemed willing to go, and quite calm but reticent, evidently perplexed as to Mrs. Schmitz’s motive in compelling his return.
She did not hurry him, but busied herself about the room; gave the dog some food, and piled the dishes together, Sydney helping. Presently she turned to the boy, decision in her face. “You come now mit me up stairs ant have one bath ant go to bed. To-morrow you shall talk mit me.”
He stood suddenly erect. “No, tonight--now I shall tell you what--what you must know before you keep me in your home another hour. Before this I have robbed a few ice boxes--taken things to eat. But this time I came to get money, jewels, anything I could find that could be turned into money. I had the dope, too.”
“Dope?” she questioned as he hesitated.
“Yes. I was going to put you to sleep, so that I could have time to--to go over the house. You see I’m green at the work, and Jim--my pal--said that was the only way I could pull off the stunt.”
“Ach! So? Two of you?”
“Yes. He is an old hand.”
“Why did he send you? Why comes he not himself?”
“He said the police were on to him. If I was caught I could get off easy because it was my first offense and I am young. Besides it isn’t safe for the one that--that steals the goods to try to raise money on them.”
“So?” It is impossible to describe in words the changes the German woman could ring on that one little word. It could mean doubt, incredulity, surprise, joy, sorrow, pity, trust, love, and more.
This time it meant scorn. “So? You take all the risk. You give him the goods, ant he gets the money! It iss one fine scheme! When did you fall in his trap?”
“Today--yesterday, I mean,” he glanced at the clock that marked the hour of three, “when I was hunting work, hungrier all the time, I got angry. I said if a man wants work and can’t get it, at least he ought not to starve. Going to jail would save him from that.”
“I’ll give you better to eat than any chails,” Mrs. Schmitz broke in with a laugh.
Sydney saw the ghost of an answering smile on the lad’s face, and knew that was what she wished.
“When I went back to--to the place down by the water front where he hides in the daytime, he made this proposition that--that I tried to carry out--and failed.”
“But why you choose my place? I’m not rich.”
“A man paid you fifty dollars last evening, there in the greenhouse, didn’t he?” She nodded. “I was there, saw it, and hurried off to tell him. We came back in time to look through your dining-room windows and see you at dinner. Gee! It looked good.” He hesitated a breath, and indicating Sydney, went on. “He was feeding the dog things I could have fought for.”
“Seedney, no more shall you feed Blitzen at the table.”
“Something like frenzy came to me then, and I said, ‘I’ll do it! I will have some of that dinner!’”
For a time the kitchen was absolutely still. Then Mrs. Schmitz said abruptly, “Still you tell me not why you run out mit mine bread.”
The boy started up. “Don’t you see? He was hungry too. There I was eating a splendid meal in your kitchen and he was out in the cold. I had forgotten him, a pal that had helped me as long as he had a cent. The noise--our signal--recalled me, made me ashamed, and I--I did--what you saw.”
“But how came you down, hurt, lying mit the scratching vines?”
“He--he was mad. He said I had queered the whole game, and he was through with me. But he would put me to sleep first so I couldn’t tell which way he went.”
Mrs. Schmitz rose. “It iss enough. You come mit me. One good hot bath mit plenty of soap shall wash away the thief, outsides and insides. You sleep one night in my house; to-morrow we talk.” She walked across to the boiler and touched it. “It iss hot. Come!”
Blitzen started up and licked her hand, at which she cast a quick look of distrust at the boy. “Did you tie up mine dog?”
“No. Jim did.”
“Ach! So? He iss a goot dog. Come.” Her face beamed with good feeling as she led the boy off to minister to him as his own mother might have done.
Sydney returned to his room to sleep out the remainder of the night; but sleep did not come quickly. The last thing he heard was Mrs. Schmitz’s cheery “Sleep goot” at the door of the best chamber. And with that up leaped again in Sydney’s heart the demon, jealousy.
The best chamber! There were two others untenanted. In all the months since his coming he had not once questioned the generosity of his hostess because he had the most meanly furnished chamber in the house. Indeed he knew very little of the great rambling structure that had grown like the chambered nautilus, by larger and ever larger additions. It was just as Mrs. Schmitz had bought it. Glimpses through open doors revealed nothing to Sydney’s untrained eyes beyond a succession of beds, rugs or carpets, and chairs. But he did know that the large room over the living room opened upon a spacious, wisteria-hung porch and was called the best chamber; and he resented its possession by the thief.
It was after nine when he opened his eyes on a brilliant morning, the winter sun streaming into the room with the warmth of May. He hopped out and dressed hastily, whistling gayly, his yellow humor quite forgotten till Mrs. Schmitz appeared asking for clean underwear and other articles for the new comer.
“We will give him the best we have, Seedney, till he iss well. Seek people don’t like rags nor dirt.”
Silently and not very readily he selected from his own ample if not elegant wardrobe the pieces she asked. Perhaps it was not strange that he was ungracious. He had fought for his crust and disputed the wall side of a warm grating with others in as desperate case as himself; and that does not breed readiness to welcome newcomers of doubtful character.
Yet Sydney himself was puzzled by this emotion. He had never grudged things before. He had usually been ready to share the crust he fought for. Why could he not feel kinder to this boy, Max? Thoroughly ashamed, he determined to discipline himself.
At the late breakfast the boy told more of himself, yet nothing that revealed his past; and his hostess did not ask it, but pressed the good food on him, as pleased to see him eat as if he had been her own son.
“Already are you better!” she exclaimed, delighted, as they rose from the table. “Not once have you coughed.”
“I’d be ill-bred to disturb such a breakfast with coughing.” He made a little bow and stepped back for her to pass.
Sydney could see that the speech, the bow, everything Max did with such an air of elegance, was quite natural, quite unconsciously done. And in the parlor where every Sunday morning after breakfast Mrs. Schmitz and Sydney sang together, the new boy proved by every word and movement that he had been born to a refinement that Sydney believed beyond his own greatest effort to acquire.
Here as all over the house the furniture was incongruous, though, differing from that in Sydney’s room, it was expensive and modern. But three things stood for culture; the grand piano, a violin in its case, and a mahogany music cabinet filled with music.
“You can sing?” she questioned; “or play the violin?” she added, seeing his glance fixed upon it.
“I haven’t much of a voice, but I used to play a little.”
She crossed the room to take the instrument from its case, but stood motionless for a moment, her back to the boys, her hands hanging limp. When at last she did bring it to view, her hands were trembling. Each touch was a caress; and when she adjusted the bow and placed the violin in position to tune, Sydney heard her sigh.
But when she handed it to Max her face was serene and her voice steady. “Try it. Mine father’s it was; I have many years ago played the piano for him. When he died they sent it to me mit much music ant mine fine dresses I wore in Germany.”
Max took the violin with a reverence that pleased her, and tried the strings with delicate, accustomed fingers. “It is a fine one, a Cremona!” he added with an excitement Sydney saw no reason for; he didn’t know one fiddle from another.
But Mrs. Schmitz did. She knew much about music, instruments, and composers. And here was some one else who could speak the same language, and with his instrument too, as Sydney could see by the way he tuned it and played little snatches of this or that, while she nodded and beamed.
“Ach, goot! Your hant ant head ant heart sind all one mit music!”
From under the shelf of the cabinet she drew a pile of violin music and began to run it over rapidly, pronouncing the foreign names with no more ease than Max, who caught a passage from one, or hummed a snatch from another; and presently they were speaking in German, both excited, gesticulating, happy.
Sydney was as much out of it as if the language were Hindoo. In school he had done well. Through the interest of Mr. Streeter, a young man recently come into a fortune, who devoted it and his time to assisting boys who were otherwise on the way to being “down and out,” and through the kindness of Mrs. Schmitz, Sydney had been able to press on in his grades. Now at the beginning of the winter semester he stood with Billy Bennett, “Sis” Jones, Queen Bess, and all the others who made his world, seniors in the “Fifth Avenue High,” side by side, respected and liked.
But suddenly Sydney realized in the presence of this stranger, so sinisterly introduced into that quiet life, that there was a great area of culture for which no public school can issue diplomas. As a child speaks its native tongue nor knows when he learns it, so Max spoke the language of refined society, of an early home environment that comes only from generations of good breeding and comfortable income.
Sydney’s eyes were opened in another quarter. He had always found kindness and understanding in Mrs. Schmitz, and that exquisite neatness that is the mark of a gentlewoman; but he had not seen behind her eccentricities. It had never occurred to him that the industrious woman who spent her days with pots and flowers had once lived differently. Though her fingers had brought marvelous music from the ivory keys, he had not seen far beyond the split nails--marks of her toil.
Now he saw! And he suddenly knew she had met a kindred spirit.
“Come, Seedney,” she called half an hour later; “we’ll sing now our songs.”
If she had not gone and taken his hand he would not have stirred, so foreign to them did he feel. But she must have divined that, for she pulled him forward, and not without pride in her tone, said, “This iss mine only pupil. Some day he will make me very proud.”
They sang a number of simple songs, ending with some hymns, Max adding a rather thin voice while he played the air, or again, some delicate obligato.
“You have a splendid voice,” he said heartily to Sydney when Mrs. Schmitz finally left them together. “Four or five years’ work would put you on the stage--if you care for that.”
“I never thought of it. Something else would fit me better, I guess.”
“Gee! She’s great, isn’t she?” Max said under his breath, nodding toward the door where Mrs. Schmitz had disappeared. “How is it she is just drudging--cooking, washing dishes? She should never use her hands but to play.”
Sydney looked again at the stranger. Some vague notion he, too, had had in regard to Mrs. Schmitz’s past, when she must have been taught by masters and spent long hours at the piano; but it never occurred to him that she was out of place in a new city, “running” a greenhouse and working twice as many hours as her men did. But this boy who had crept in at her pantry window to steal from her, through one half hour’s music, understood her better than Sydney in half a year’s sojourn in her house. The discovery gave him a feeling of inadequacy, as if he had been unkind to her, had failed in fealty to her.
Max toyed with the violin a little longer; looked over the music, now and then drawing a breath of sweetness from the strings, and speaking a running accompaniment all the while, so easy in word and movement, so fluent, that each moment he became more and more an enigma to the other.
Sydney found himself telling freely the little he knew of Mrs. Schmitz, her kindness to him, her generosity, her many eccentricities, one of which was her aversion to girls. “She can’t bear even to hear about them.”
“Did she ever have a daughter? And where’s her husband?”
“She’s lost both.”
Before Max could reply he was shaken with a paroxysm of coughing, the severest of the morning, yet light compared with those of the night before, so much had warmth and food done toward banishing the spectre, tuberculosis.
“Come upstairs with me while I do up my room. I’ll do yours too this morning. After that we’ll get out in the sun; that’s the best medicine you can have.”
“Do--do up your room? Do you make beds?”
“Why not? Do you think I’d let her?”
“No--no, of course not. But why doesn’t she have a maid?”
“She has a woman to wash and clean two or three times a week.”
“She--she does all the rest? And takes boys to board?”
“Yes.” Sydney was having his eyes still more opened. “The work in this house is nothing; she spends most of her time in the nursery.”
Max followed his leader upstairs, asking no more questions, but watching Sydney, astonished, as he went deftly through the morning work. Once or twice Max moved a chair, or tried to help with a blanket, but his awkwardness was so apparent that he laughed at himself.
“How did you learn?”
“She taught me.”
“But this isn’t boys’ work any more than washing dishes.”
“Why not? Doesn’t a boy sleep in a bed and eat his food from dishes? Why shouldn’t he do such work if it’s to save some one better than he is? Mrs. Schmitz for instance?”
“That’s right. But doesn’t it make you feel a little--sissylike?”
“The manliest chap I know, Billy To-morrow--Billy Bennett--isn’t ashamed to do any sort of work to save his mother and sisters. They used to be poorer than they are now.”
Max said nothing for a time. Then he broke out with, “How did you come to this snug berth anyhow?”
Sydney told him that Mr. Streeter had seen Mrs. Schmitz’s advertisement of a good home for a boy who would be steady, do a little light work, and be company for her at night. “She wasn’t afraid, never was; but she told Mr. Streeter she wanted some one to look at across the table when she ate.”
Max went to the window and looked out a moment, then he whirled and strode back to Sydney. “Here! Show me how you do everything! I will learn--beat you to it pretty soon--if I can.” He laughed almost joyously and Sydney felt only sincerity in it. “I’m going to accept her offer of a home till I get over this cough; but it shall not be for nothing. If I can’t render service for value received, I’ll--” His face darkened to a thought Sydney saw he had entertained before. “I’ll put this mug where it won’t need feeding.”
“Shut up! You’re no quitter. Put a few of her good dinners into you, and you’ll be ready to buck any game coming.”
“I believe you. But it won’t be her dinners alone; it’s herself. She radiates something good besides food.”
Sydney clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m glad you like her. I am not able to speak of her as you do, but I--I think she’s the best ever.” He turned away, ashamed that he could not find words to say what he wished. He seemed the more dumb because of Max’s fluency.
“Is this the way you do the trick, Mr. Blanket-slinger?” Max asked, catching up a sheet and flapping it wide but crookedly over the mattress.
“No. It’s wrong side up and end to.”
“How do you tell that?”
Sydney showed him the right side of the hem that came uppermost, and the wide hem designating the upper end of the sheet.
Max thanked him and carefully flung the other sheet to place.
“That goes wrong side up. Turn it over.”
“For the love of Inverarity, why?”
“Right sides go together.”
“Why? Does one side of a sheet feel any different from another?”
“It does to her. Anyway there’s a reason, it’s the right way. I never asked her why.”
“I will then. I want to know all about it.”
They finished up the two rooms and Max proposed to “do” Mrs. Schmitz’s as well.
“No. Here’s where we stop. I don’t go into her room any more than if it was in another house.”
Max stared at him a second and nodded comprehendingly, when they went down and out into the sunshine.
“How strange to see the grass green and the trees budding in January.”
“Strange? Then you come from the East. It seems queer to me not to see flowers everywhere; and it’s awfully cold up here.”
“Is it so warm in California?”
“In spots. You can find all the climates there. I never stepped on snow till I came here, to the City of Green Hills; and there’s very little here.”
They walked up and down the narrow paths in the nursery, examining the sprouting cuttings growing in close rows, and the long heaped rows of earth where the bulbs would soon send forth their green shoots, Sydney freely giving of his small fund of information.
Suddenly from the farther end where the nursery abutted against a vacant block well hidden under a thick young forest growth, a voice hailed them, and a sinister face peered from behind a fir tree.
“Come with me, or I’ll make it hot for all that outfit you’re with, you--” He ended with unprintable oaths.
“That’s he! I must go! If I don’t he’ll hurt her--rob--or burn!” Max gave Sydney a look of utter disappointment and started off.
Before Max could go more than a few steps Sydney pulled him about. “What? Going without saying good-by to her? Even I have more manners than that.”
“But she won’t let me go if I tell her. I--you must----”
“No matter. You come with me.” Sydney turned, and calling to the man who had withdrawn behind the leafy screen, “He’ll see you later,” drew Max, resisting, along with him. It was not unpleasant to Sydney to feel his superior strength; to know this one advantage over the boy who unconsciously proved himself superior in so many ways.
They went in and told Mrs. Schmitz.
“You be not afraid. Stay by me. If he comes we are three--”
“No, no! It is you I care for. He may set fire--”
“Shoo out of this! You do what I tell you. I have here no leetle boys not minding me. In there iss books; go to ’em. After dinner we’ll talk.”
She intended no slang as they knew; and a rich odor came from the Sunday dinner already on the way. Memories of cold and hunger and dreary wanderings decided Max. “Thank you,” he said, and went into the sitting room. “To-night I shall not sleep but watch.”
“And I with you,” Sydney endorsed earnestly, throwing a glance that was fonder than he knew in the direction of her who was in both their minds.
In the quiet afternoon Mrs. Schmitz tried to banish Max’s fear of the skulking prowler. “I will tell the police of him.”
“No, no! Please don’t. He will make them take me too.”
“Yes, that also may come true. We will let the policeman be.”
“Yet you still have the money in the house.”
“Also I am not afraid.”
“But I am for you.”
“Forget me. Yourself, not him, you must consider.”
“Myself?” Max was mystified.
“Yes. Suppose you steal from me fifty--even five dollars, or one. It iss only money. I do not cry. I do not starve, have shame. But you?”
“I go to jail,” he said after her significant pause, his eyes downcast.
“You do worse. You steal from yourself. You steal not money but much more, your innocence. With fifty or five dollars you have yourself a new name bought--thief! No money buys that word back. It makes one long, bloody cut into your soul. Before it gets well you have a very long time in the hospital of work--if you have the good luck to find that hospital. Before you have paid back to yourself that fifty dollars worth of self-respecting, you have great shame and sorrow mit yourself.”
Max did not speak, and she busied herself in making orderly the book-littered table.
“When you steal to eat I call you not a thief; hungry creatures are crazy. Ant I judge not anybody. Yet I think so long as you are afraid of thiefs you have still some robbing in your heart. What you think?”
Max fidgeted in his chair, rose, walked to the window, and looked out into the sunshine for a second, then he turned back to her, looking fearlessly in her eyes. “Last night I was a thief! But today--now--I am not. The wound is there, in my soul certainly; and I’ll carry the scar always, I know that. But there’ll never be another.”
She caught his hand in both her own and her smile was good to see. “Goot! I belief you. Have no more fear. By me you stay, get well, go to school mebbe. _Nicht wahr?_”
“If I stayed at home I would have graduated from the high school in four months. I’d like to go again. But first I must earn some money.”
“You need no money mit me. Before you are strong to work you can study.”
“You are so good to me. Yet I need some money right away. I--”
“Iss it much? I can lend you some.”
“No, no! I must not borrow it; I must earn it. Is there no light work in your nursery I could do at once?”
She smiled. “All people look for light work. That iss--skilled work. Mine leetle plants, like tender child, must be very gently touched, ant mit love. If you like I’ll teach you.”
“Thank you. But if you have the trouble of teaching me it will be some time before I shall be worth wages. I’ll think about it.” He turned away still perplexed, knowing she saw it.
But whatever she thought, she encouraged him cordially. “We’ll talk no more of this ever, till you yourself ask me. Now you have one thing to do, make friends mit health. Then I think iss time to make money.”
He thanked her again and was silent for a time, appearing to read; but when he and Sydney were alone Max divulged his immediate need for money. “I’ve got to pay something I owe--just got to.”
Sydney hesitated, trying to see with the other boy’s eyes. “I know how you feel. All the time I was rustling papers--on my uppers most of the time--I had to keep thinking of my father’s rule of life, ‘No Bremmer ever takes something for nothing.’”
“I should say that was a mighty good rule.”
“Yes, but a mighty hard one sometimes. If it hadn’t been for that I guess I’d have gone bad more’n I did. Anyway I’ve slept hungry many a night because of it.”
“Well, I’ve taken something for nothing; and that’s what I want to wipe out of my life.”
“Gee! I bet Pop Streeter can do the trick for you. Good old Pop.”
Max asked about Mr. Streeter, and Sydney explained. “He’s to the good on every count; and I have a hunch he can do something for you. Ever play in public?”
“No; only for my--for friends.”
“Well, there’s a new moving-picture-show house going up near the Fifth Avenue High. I know the man that’s building it; he owns another show down the street, the best shows in town he has,--even the teachers approve them, so you can see they’re O. K. Well, the way you pet those fiddle strings I bet you can play for him.”
“Thank you for so much confidence in my ability.” There was a faint hint of patronage in his tone.
“No confidence in you,” Sydney returned a little sharply. “My judgment’s worth nothing; but Mrs. Schmitz knows good music, and when she praises a musical guy he has to have the stuff in him; I’ve lived here long enough to learn that.”
“How soon will the house be finished?”
“The opening is advertised for a week from next Friday. Mr. Fox wants a special program of music. You come with me to see Mr. Streeter to-morrow--I’ll make the appointment right now.” He hurried to the telephone without waiting to learn Max’s wishes in the matter, but Mr. Streeter was not in.
Max showed relief. He had not Sydney’s initiative, born from the life of the street, where advantage must be seized the instant it appears; though Max could think and act quick under great stress.
Sydney, undiscouraged by several failures, reached Mr. Streeter late at night and made an engagement for Max for the next evening.
Max, advised by Mrs. Schmitz, took the violin. What occurred during that interview Max never divulged. Max resented a little Mr. Streeter’s keen questions, though later he realized that they meant only justice to Mrs. Schmitz, whose kind heart sometimes overruled her judgment.
Max knew his reticence in regard to his family prejudiced Mr. Streeter against him, but held to his course; and in spite of this was able to leave a fairly favorable impression. This was increased during an evening at Mrs. Schmitz’s home, when the two musicians won him with their art; and Max’s bearing then counted still more in his favor.
Each passing day left visible improvement in his health. His cough decreased, his cheeks filled, his color was better, and his step was no longer languid or nervously rapid. Every apparent symptom of tuberculosis that might have frightened the ignorant was vanishing, and on its heels came a courage to meet life that Max had almost lost.
When they read of the apprehension and conviction for a term of years of a thief that Max recognized as the “pal” that had sworn vengeance, the lines of unboyish care left his face, and he began to whistle at his work.
Sydney did not know how deep an impression his simple motto, “Never take something for nothing,” had made upon Max, who had thought the opposite, “Take all you can get and give as little as possible,” was the law of business from day laborers to railroad wreckers.
He did not know that business is built upon an idea, confidence; that the commercial life of the nation would have failed, and surely would fail, were not the majority of men honest, and willing to let the “other fellow” also make something.
Mrs. Schmitz read what was passing in his mind and encouraged his attempts at helpfulness. At first he did not see that his efforts were awkward; her kindness disguised that. By the time he was skilled enough to realize his failures he was no longer sensitive about them. When in his experiments in cookery he salted the soup from the sugar jar, he laughed with the others and ate his own plateful to the last bit.
Mr. Streeter’s good words and Max’s own skill easily won him a place on the program for the opening night of the theater. And he did so well that the manager signed a contract for two weeks, which resulted in more money than he had seen for many months. Some of it he tried to pay to Mrs. Schmitz, but she refused it.
“Just a little, won’t you? Make me feel less a beggar?” he coaxed.
“First you pay what--what you say you must--” She hesitated.
“There’s more than enough--to do--what I must before I can go to school, or even work for you.”
Mrs. Schmitz showed no curiosity concerning this thing that was shadowing him, but instead gave him trust and encouragement which he felt in all she said or did. When he was able to set at his task he knew he would never have had the courage but for her.
This took courage for it was nothing less than an attempt to pay for stolen food. It was a rather quixotic scheme perhaps; but the thought was born of his serious talk with Mrs. Schmitz. He believed he could never wipe out the stain of the name of thief, till he had made restitution.
He knew well the places where ice boxes on open porches had tempted him; there were three. He planned to go boldly to the front door and ask for the gentleman of the house. Already he had learned the names of the householders; learned the dinner hour at each place. He would go immediately after that, before anyone would be leaving or arriving.
He had two reasons for selecting this hour, the man would be at leisure, and it would be dark. Max would not be plainly seen. He hoped that the hall lights would be dim also. It would be so much harder to go in daylight and thus brand himself in the eyes of those who otherwise would never know he robbed them. But sending money in a letter seemed cowardly. Now that his conscience was roused it compelled him to the extreme course.
At the two first places all went as he had planned. At the summons of the maid the man came to the door, showed surprise at the strange request, refused at first to accept pay, but finally did so, compelled by Max’s perseverance.
The third night it was different. A stripling, evidently the spoiled son of the household, insisted on knowing the business that demanded his father’s attention.
“Nothing private from me. Come in and spit it out. I’ll do just as well as the pater; he’s resting now.”
“Then I’ll come another night,” Max said, and was turning away, when a heavy voice called to them.
“What’s wanted there; don’t keep that door open. Ask him in.”
“All right, dad. You hear?” the supercilious youth said to Max. “You’ll have to come in.”
And Max, not knowing what else to do, entered the spacious hall, hat in hand, hoping if he kept still the man would appear.
He did not. Instead he called again: “Bring your friend into the library, Walter.”
There was nothing else but to obey. Through the doorway as they approached Max saw a child start up from a low seat beside her father and come toward the two boys, a beautiful little girl of six or seven.
“Come with me, kitten,” the young man said, a tenderness in his tone that surprised Max. “Dad has business on hand, Dottie.”
She ran to him catching his hand in both of her own, and danced beside him as he slowly crossed the room, which was small but richly furnished and lined with well-filled book cases.
A fire crackled cheerily, and a large man, with slippered feet to the blaze, lounged in a deep easy-chair.
He looked up interrogatively, waiting for Max to speak. The boy did not know this for an insolent trick of “cute” business. Ensconced in his own lair, this moment of inhospitable silence on the part of the magnate was in itself an accusation, a test of strength, with a handicap on the newcomer.
The boy felt keenly this slap on the face. A quick glance at the visibly inquisitive youth, however, restored Max a trifle, for he felt quite his equal. Yet he had to summon all his “spunk” to open his dry lips and speak.
“I have a little business with you, Mr. Buckman; may I speak to you alone?”
“Walter, go and tell your mother to be ready in ten minutes, or we’ll be late. Now what is it, young man?” he questioned a little impatiently as the others left the room.
Max told his story; told it under the pitiless glare of many lights; told it haltingly, shamefacedly; and he was angry at himself for doing so badly. Why could he not speak up clearly, fearlessly, as he had spoken before?
The man looked him over silently. “So you’re a thief, are you?” he said scornfully. “A fool to boot, I should say. Why in thunder did you blurt it out? Why didn’t you keep quiet, and if you must pay conscience money, send it through the mail?”
“Because I _was_ a thief! I thought then I’d rather steal than starve. But a kind woman made me ashamed of that. It is not so much to pay you, sir, what you never could have collected, as to regain my own self-respect that I did not send the money, but came myself to pay it.”
The man looked at him keenly, plainly interested now, but was still silent; and Max felt himself probed to his last thought. “That took a good deal of courage,” the man said at length. “How much do you think you owe me?”
“You must be the judge of that.” He told what food he took.
“How do I know that is all?”
Max flushed. This grilling burned his soul. “You could ask your cook. It happened three weeks ago last Thursday night.”
The man smiled. “I guess you’re straight. What do you think the stuff is worth?”
Max’s temper was up. Depressed at first, he was angry now, and answered the man a trifle defiantly. “In business the man who pays does not set the price, but the man who sells. In this case I am at your mercy. You can have me apprehended on my own confession, and whatever I say now will prejudice you against me. The food I took measured by the value of the peace of mind I shall have when I know it is paid for, is worth more money than I shall be able to earn in many years. Measured by its cost to you I have no means of knowing its value because I only saw a little of it.”
“How is that?”
“I snatched all I could carry, gave most of it to one hungrier than I, and ran as fast and as far as I could.”
“Then you were really hungry? You did not rob for fun, or hoping to find more valuable stuff?”
“Fun! I cannot conceive of anyone doing that.”
The man was considering. “Hungry! As a boy I don’t remember when I wasn’t hungry. But I always had three square meals with ‘pieces’ besides. How long had you gone without eating?”
“Why didn’t you get work?”
“Have you any work I could do?” Max inquired eagerly.
Taken unawares the man fell into the trap. “No. Business is slack and I am pushed to keep my men busy as it is. Even had to discharge some.”
“That’s your answer, sir. I have hunted work for two months.”
“Got any now?”
“Yes; and a prospect of its being permanent. The lady I told you of will teach me the nursery business if I’m not too stupid to learn; but she insists that I shall go to school at the same time.”
“Does she know--of what you are doing now?”
“No, sir. When I go home--” Suddenly something swelled in his throat and for a second he could not go on. Home! It was a home; and Mrs. Schmitz, more than a benefactress, gave him the affection and understanding of a mother. “She knows I am--that I have stolen things,” he went on haltingly; “but she trusts me; and I shall tell her that I have--have made good--if you’ll let me. Won’t you please give me the chance, sir?”
“By George, I will! You’ve got the stuff for a real man in you. Suppose we call it square at a dollar?”
“That’s not enough.”
“It is if you gave away most of the food. I won’t take pay for what the other fellow ate.”
Max saw that it was best to yield though he was not easy as to the sum; but he handed over the dollar and turned to go. The man rose and went to the door with him, shaking hands cordially.
“You’ve done a plucky thing, young man; and before you are in the way of having to steal again for lack of work, come to me at my office.”
He gave street and number as he walked down the hall to open the outer door, and probably did not hear, as Max did, a faint footstep and a rustling of the portieres as they passed along.
All the way home Max speculated on that furtive noise; but quite forgot it in the joy of the sense of freedom that came when he met Sydney and Mrs. Schmitz, and knew he had the right to look them fairly in the eyes.
That furtive, rustling noise in Mr. Buckman’s dimly lighted hall haunted Max for days, filling him with a vague uneasiness he called foolish, but could not forget. Yet after a time youth and returning health relegated the memory to some niche in the mind’s storehouse; and life became full of interest and wholesome occupation, driving out apprehension.
A little more than a week after his engagement at the “show house” had terminated, and he had made the senior class at the “Fifth Avenue High,” Billy Bennett’s ringing voice came over the wire.
“Is Mumps there?” it asked, and Sydney heard it across the room.
“Tell your friend a better name to call you; that is a sick one. I smell the drug store now!” Mrs. Schmitz laughed as she put down the receiver and started out.
“Billy To-morrow can call me any old name; he’s all right!” Sydney shouted after her; and into the telephone he cried, “Hello, Billy To-morrow! What’s up today?”
“The Queen says you’ve turned her down. She’s all fussed up because you refuse to come to her party. She can’t think what she’s done to disquiet you.”
The Queen, otherwise Bess Carter! The one girl of all girls for Sydney. Yet he could never hold up his head when she spoke to him; and if he saw her coming he always edged away.
“She’s done nothing but all right, Billy. She’s always to the good; but I--I--oh, hang it! You know, Billy, I’m no girl’s guy.”
“Rats! You don’t have to be a girl’s guy to go to her party. Haven’t we all played together as kids? Roughed it together at camp, and worked together at the school rallies? It’s just a chin-fest along the same old lines with a little music and dancing thrown in; a lot rather. And she wants the quartette.”
“Gee!” Sydney said no more, but his inflection carried assent.
“All right. I thought you’d see it that way.”
“I haven’t said I’d go,” Sydney broke in.
“Oh, yes, you have. You’re not the laddie to spoil the Queen’s evening by breaking up the quartette, the feature she’s most counting on, she says.”
“If I go will you help me to ask a question of Bess?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you.”
Billy did not misjudge his friend, though he could have no conception of the agony of bashfulness Sydney endured at merely the thought of meeting a lot of girls in their evening frocks.
“You know I’ve no glad rags for evening, Billy.”
“No matter. You have good enough. None of us are going in for opera hats and patent leathers; that is, only the Fussers. Will you come to dinner with me tonight and stay for rehearsal?”
“All right. Thank you. Say, Billy! Hello, Billy!”
“Hi, there! Thought you had finished,” Billy returned after a slight wait. “Hello!” he called again as Sydney did not answer.
In that hesitant moment Sydney decided to abandon his intention of asking an invitation for Max. With his airy, sophisticated manner, his good looks, his playing, Max would be sure to win the heart of every one present. And then his cough--really he was not well enough.
Thus jealousy argued; but in that flashing instant between Billy’s first and second “Hello,” Sydney caught himself up; called himself a selfish, “pin-minded brute!”
“Jealous! That’s what I am. Because I’m short and thick instead of slender and elegant as Max is; have mud-colored hair and no-colored eyes instead of a face clear and dark, with eyes that can talk without help from lips or tongue, as his can, I’ll cut him out of a good time! Mumps, you’re a last season’s egg!”
“What’s that you’re rumbling. Is your tongue weak today?”
“Nothing, Billy. I was giving myself a dose of mental ipecac, had something N. G. in my system, but it’s out now.”
“Well, in your state of good health what’s next?”
“We’ve got a--I mean I’ve got a friend here, you met him, Max Ball. He’s a violinist, a regular high C, Mrs. Schmitz says, a good looker and actor. May I bring him along?”
There was a word in reply, a short wait, and Billy’s voice came again. “It’s all right. Marms says bring him along, and sister says tell him to bring his violin.”
Max received his invitation in silence; a silence that piqued Sydney. “If you don’t care to meet my friends, say so. I’ll tell Billy to count your plate off,” he said roughly.
“Don’t take it that way. I appreciate the courtesy, believe me. Yet--ought I to accept? Suppose they knew--all about me, would they ask me just the same? Is it fair to them for you to take me?”
“Gee! I never thought about that,” Sydney mused, glancing at Max with new respect.
“Does Mrs. Schmitz know your friends?”
“Yes. She thinks they’re fine folks.”
“Then we’ll ask her.”
Questioned, she too, thought a moment before replying, her eyes fixed on the doubting one. “Max,” she began seriously, “I have belief in you. I feel sure you will make goot. Sydney shall tell his friends that you are one dear friend of me. I stand for you.”
Max gazed steadily back at her a second, then laid his hand on hers. “Thank you. I shall not shame you.” The words were simple but Sydney felt the earnestness in them; saw the moisture in the dark eyes, and turned aside to hide his own. He, too, was won, and promised himself to believe in Max always.
This was Max’s introduction to the delightful home where Billy Bennett and his mother lived with his married sister Edith and her husband, Mr. Wright.
Through the dinner, which was perfectly served, Sydney watched Max with an envy he despised but could not conquer. Every word and move of the stranger lad proved that he had found his own. The way he spoke to the ladies, the confident, unconscious but correct use of the silver, a matter that made Sydney turn red with anxiety; Max’s low and different yet kind tone to the maid; his easy yet modest attitude toward Mr. Wright--everything was just right, Sydney acknowledged to himself.
How did he come by it? Sydney felt he could not in a thousand years acquire such a manner; and at the same time it seemed just then the one thing on earth worth having. Poor Sydney did not know that many boys, even some reared in comfortable homes, are harassed in their years of development by a similar diffidence. He thought it was caused entirely by his lack of training.
He could see that Max won them all, especially Mr. Wright, with whom he talked intelligently on current topics; and Mrs. Wright when they touched upon music, as well as Billy’s mother when she asked of Max’s own, and he replied that she was dead. Sydney could remember his own mother only dimly. He had not such a passionate love for her as he detected in Max’s low reply that was in no different tone from his other words; yet its indefinable intensity told volumes about his heart feeling.
After dinner Billy’s sister carried Max off to the piano and they had what Billy called an orgy of music, neither paying much attention to the rest in the room.
Mr. Wright went to his den, and Mrs. Bennett disappeared, leaving Sydney alone with Billy. They settled among the cushions on a window seat where twinkling lights on the Sound below, as well as sharp little whistles, revealed the coming and going of many small steamers, part of the Mosquito Fleet that connects a thousand miles of Sound shore with the metropolis, the City of Green Hills.
The moon sent a silver track across the dark water, and the distant, fir-fringed shores outlined dimly against the starlit west seemed the shadowy ramparts of fairyland.
Probably Billy appreciated the scene more deeply than Sydney, yet he saw it often, and consequently was the first to speak.
“What’s the trick you want me to turn for you with Bess?”
At the telephone asking this favor from Billy had seemed a little thing; now that the moment had come it was all but impossible. Yet he had delayed too long. It was nearly a month since the night of Max’s coming, the night when Sydney had determined to “do something for Ida”; but he had let the days pass in inaction. This moment he was in for it.
“It’s about Ida Jones. Do you know her?”
“Just to bow; she isn’t in any of my classes.”
“She was in mine last year; when I moved up a grade at the beginning of this semester I left her back there in the juniors.”
“What about her? Evidently you have her beaten in the highbrow race.”
“It wouldn’t have been so if I had been obliged to work all summer as she did. You know the good old Pop fixed it for me. That’s how I was able to study in vacation and make a class ahead.”
“Yes. But return to Miss Jones. And to Bess; what’s the relation?”
“I wish you’d ask the Queen to invite Ida to her party. It would put her easy with her class if a senior, and such a senior as Miss Bess Carter, asked her to a party.”
Billy laughed. “Is that all? Ask her yourself. You carry good weight with her.”
“Billy! Billy To-morrow! I’ll never turn the trick in the world! You know I’m tongue-tied when a girl shows up.”
“Surely not so in the case of Miss Jones,” Billy chaffed. “How did you learn her troubles? You must have chinned some with her.”
“She never told me her troubles. I haven’t spoken ten minutes with her altogether. But I can see--and hear.”
“That all the girls nod coldly when she passes; that none of them run up and make love to her, or--”
“Make love? Girls? What do you mean?”
“Don’t you see it all the time? Almost every girl in school is either on her knees in adoration of some other one, or is herself the adored one.”
“Mumps! You’re getting classy! Both in language and in the matter of observation.” Billy clapped his friend on the shoulder in true, young-mannish fashion, a caress that would have floored one less sturdy. “What do you hear?”
“Oh, scraps of conversation spoken between chums, yet to the world in general. You know how it is with a certain kind of rich girl, she talks loud, as if she owned the earth and wanted all to know it.”
“Not all the rich ones though. May Nell Smith is the richest girl in school, but you can’t call her loud.”
“Surely not. And there are others of course. Perhaps I should have said the girl who wishes to be thought rich, or those who haven’t been so very long.”
“That’s it. You can spot ’em. Father worth half a million, half a pound of extra hair. Father worth--by report--twenty thousand, two pounds of the most startling hair.”
Sydney took up the comparison. “Father worth many millions and mother a lady, just her own hair worn--worn--Well, that’s where I fall down. Billy, how does Miss Smith wear her hair?”
Billy laughed. “And how does Miss Jones?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It looks awfully easy. It’s not bandaged like a broken head, and it’s nicer than all those buns and cart wheels and things. It’s curly.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because often she wears no hat, and the more it rains the curlier it gets. That’s the way with Max’s.”
Billy sent a glance to the other visitor. “There’s surely some class to him.” He stared at Max a moment but came abruptly back to the question. “Who is Miss Jones’ father?”
“She has neither father nor mother. She just takes care of herself; works right along for her board.”
Billy whistled. “That’s the little joker that turns up the other girls’ noses.”
“But why? I work for my board. Everybody knows I was a stowaway on the San Francisco steamship, or can know it; I never tried to hide it. Did it make any difference with you fellows? With you or Reg Steele and your cousin Hec Price, who belong to the best people in the city, and the richest? No. You took me in the same as you took in Redtop and Sis Jones; and there’s more class to any of the fellows in your set than to me. Don’t I know that?”
“That’s where you’re off the boulevard, old chap. You’re in the class that has pluck and honesty and the capacity for friendship. That’s a class by itself. You notice Walter Buckman doesn’t figure large in high jinks engineered by Bess Carter or May Nell.”
“But why don’t the girls take in a friendless girl as you fellows took me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Girls are different.” Billy could not answer that question. It was too large for him. It is too large for most people. We see a sweet young thing making herself ridiculous over the sufferings of a pampered cat, who yet will calmly stab to the heart with a cold stare some struggling girl who wears a last year’s frock and earns the bread she eats.
“I give it up,” Billy said after awhile. “But I’ll tell you one thing; if Miss Jones is O. K. otherwise, working for her board won’t make any difference to Bess Carter, nor to May Nell.”
“I know that. It’s why I am so anxious for Bess to invite her. Will you do it--get Bess to ask her?”
“Yes. That is, I’ll tell Bess about her, and May Nell too.”
“Gee! What a lever money is.”
“Yes, for good or bad.”
“There’s May Nell Smith. As soon as she grew strong enough to stand the strain of public school her father put her there because he wanted her to come in touch with all sorts of children; and see what she can do. She’s just as sweet as ever, and her nod is law to the girls.”
“You’d never know she was a rich man’s daughter by the way she dresses, Ida says.”
“You’d know she was the daughter of a sensible woman though.”
Sydney agreed, his heart quite at rest about Ida; and both sat quietly listening to the music. Neither realized the secrets of the great social fabric they had grazed, though Sydney continued in thought to follow the puzzle that provoked his question to Billy; why do girls--young women--treat each other as they do?
This led back to the day many months earlier when a couple of squabbling boys, turning the high school corner, ran against a girl, almost knocking her over, and sending her books flying on the wet walk. They were too occupied to notice their rudeness; but Sydney was in time to prevent her from falling and to restore her books.
This was Ida Jones. Bashful as Sydney was, her gratitude unlocked his speech; and walking home with her he learned a little of her loneliness and struggle for an education. She probably told Sydney more of her life than she would have told another, because his own life was so similar. And ever since there had been this bond of sympathy between them, though they rarely were together.
Mrs. Wright’s enthusiastic voice recalled Sydney from his reveries. “Mr. Ball plays! Makes real music! Sydney, you should be glad to live in the same house with him.”
Sydney wondered if he was grateful. Again the mean little yellow fiend of envy stuck up its head, and he had his fight all over.
“I have persuaded him to play with the quartette; it will be a splendid addition,” Mrs. Wright continued.
Billy rose and shook hands with him, boy fashion, for Billy was still a boy at heart in all he did, yet a very lovable boy. “That’s all to the good. Welcome to the jolly six--jolly seven it will be, now you have joined.”
“You must bring Mrs. Schmitz over to some of the rehearsals. I shall call on her very soon. Do you think she’d have time for me, Sydney?”
He was sure of it.
“And we shall drop the Mister and call you just plain Max, may we?” Billy questioned. “No one is allowed a handle to his name but her, my sister here. We have to permit that because she’s married.” Billy nudged his sister, mischief in his eyes.
Max bowed gravely. “I shall be honored by your kindness.”
Billy, a trifle awed by Max’s seriousness, could not know that the newcomer was feeling the weight of his responsibility; was wondering if they would accept him so cordially if they knew all.
The other boys came, Charles Harper called Redtop because of his “smiling” hair, a fine fellow, well grown and with eyes that looked straight at his listener; and “Sis” Jones, Cicero really, but “Sis” in his set since the day he had been caught embroidering a pattern on the sail of the “Miss Snow,” Hector Price’s sailboat. Young Jones was as old as any of them and as plucky; but he was slender, blond, not very tall, and gave the impression of effeminacy. Yet certain ones who knew said those small hands could grip like iron.
His voice was the sweet, haunting tenor, while Sydney was second tenor. Charles sang a deep, rich bass, and Billy second bass. All-round utility man Billy called himself, since his voice was adaptable, and if his sister was prevented it was Billy who accompanied on the piano. He was also librarian, sent out meeting notices, and otherwise, “bossed the job,” to use his own words.
The other member was Hugh Price, “Squab,” Billy’s short fat cousin. He had grown since the happy camping days at Lallula, but it seemed all laterally. His anxiety to gain height was well known, and the most acceptable compliment one could pay him was to say, “You’re taller.” He played the flute--played it well.
All welcomed Max cordially, and still more enthusiastically when they had heard him play. And rapidly the two hours of practice passed; as a breath to Sydney, who not only loved to sing, but lived his happiest hours, in this household.
On the way home when the two boys, Max and Sydney, changed cars at a busy junction, they found the second car crowded at the rear end with high school students. They had evidently been somewhere in a body, and were noisy and restless, obstructing the passage way, playing rough pranks, and acting as if they owned the car.
“Move up forward!” the conductor repeated with no effect.
The two edged slowly through, hindered by the wedged mass, and slyly tripped by a hidden foot. All knew Sydney and greeted him by his nickname; but only one spoke to Max.
“Hello, young feller! What are you out of quod for?” sneered that one in his ear.
Max knew him. It was Walter Buckman, who had opened the door to him the night he went to pay for his stolen supper. As Max, trying to obey the conductor, pressed forward, one, instigated by Walter, pushed Sydney aside and jerked Max against a lady so adroitly that it seemed entirely Max’s fault.
He righted himself, apologizing earnestly. But he had torn her dress and she was not very gracious.
“Aw, you have to excuse a drunken man, lady,” a noisy one called out, and again began the pushing and scuffling.
“Move up front there or I’ll put you off!” the conductor ordered more sternly.
“I’d like to see you do it!” one of the bolder threatened.
Sydney saw Walter secretly urge the big fellow on.
The conductor was not afraid. He stopped the car right there, opened the gates, and collared the aggressor.
But the students stood by their mate, and it would have gone hard with the conductor if one or two men had not risen quickly and faced them.
“You get off the car or we’ll help him put you off!” said one, a well known banker, a man of power in the city.
The big fellow, seeing opposition was useless, stepped down, calling to the others to follow; but the conductor shut the gates, rang two bells, and again ordered the young men forward.
“Buckman, you get forward there,” the same authoritative passenger ordered. “You’re the ringleader.” And to the lady of the torn dress he said, indicating Max, “This young man is not at fault; it was those behind him. I saw them.”
“Stop at the next corner,” ordered Walter.
The conductor was about to ring when the same man of authority said, “Conductor, go on.” And to the boys, “You young ruffians, get up forward there as ordered!”
“You can’t do that,” Walter began; “we’ll have an action against the company. You can’t prevent a passenger getting off at any street he wants.”
“Very well. Bring your action. I’m president of the company, and I think, Walter Buckman, that your father will not care to sue for you, not with these witnesses.” He whipped out a notebook and took the names and addresses of some of the passengers, the lady’s whose dress had been torn, and of one or two well-known men.
Sullenly the squad of trouble makers moved up the aisle. And as they passed Max, Walter leaned over and whispered in his ear, “I’ll get even with you for this.”
Sydney heard the words. “Don’t get fussed up,” he said to Max. “There’s a few coming to him. That bunch isn’t out for any good, and Walt Buckman ought to be headed the other way this time of night. He lives the second door from Billy.”
Max made no reply. Through the rest of the ride and while the two walked the block between the car line and the nursery, he was wondering what form Walter’s threat would take. And while he prepared for bed, and still more in troubled dreams, his imagination conjured gruesome pictures.
For many days Max observed Walter Buckman closely but saw nothing suspicious except that he avoided meeting either Max or Sydney whenever possible.
Weeks passed. The trees were budding and the garden borders were yellow with crocuses and daffodils. And with the spring came to Mrs. Schmitz, as to most women, the fervor of house-cleaning. She did this as everything else, with vigor and dispatch.
“Come mit me, Seedney; you have to move,” she said breezily as she pushed back from the early breakfast table one Saturday morning.
Sydney looked up apprehensively.
“Have no fear,” she began smilingly, yet her face saddened a little. “Poor boy! You have so often to move in your life you are afraid of the word, _nicht wahr_? I send you not away. Think not so.”
Sydney’s face cleared and he followed her upstairs.
“It iss here you will stay.” She stopped at the open door of a well furnished chamber, the second finest of the six sleeping rooms.
“Why? I am perfectly satisfied with my own place.”
“This iss your own place now.”
“But it is even finer than Max’s.”
She looked at him keenly for a moment and dropped into a chair. “Here by me sit; I speak mit you of something important.” For a little she was silent, and he knew she was striving to find words in the troublesome English that would correctly voice her thought.
“I wonder if you shall understand what I am now to say? When you came to me you had not much luxury seen; nicht wahr? Iss it not so?” she translated quickly.
Sydney smiled. “Oh, surely! A warm dry-goods box to sleep in sometimes, a cheap boarding house here in this city, and--” he passed his hand across his eyes--“and the time I spent with Billy Bennett at his cousin’s camp; that was real luxury.”
Mrs. Schmitz nodded understandingly. “But you have one time a home, a house, a mother?”
“Yes; but I hardly remember my mother. After she died pa wasn’t much on the housekeeping, and we generally slept in a room somewheres and ate round.”
“Not square?” Her eyes twinkled, for she had no intention, as Sydney could see, that the conversation should be a sad one.
“Yes, round the square--at restaurants,” he bandied.
“So? I think that. Now when you came here by me I gave you my poorest room. I say to myself, this is for three times because. One because, he iss not used to good things; he will feel not so strange in a poor but comfortable room. Second because, I will see first how he treats mine furniture. If he iss mitout care for it when it iss old, he will not be goot to it when it iss new. Ant third because, I will see if--if first he likes me.” She hesitated and averted her face. When she resumed her tone was apologetic, almost diffident. “An old woman who all alone lives gets pretty lonesome, seeing only people mit business. I think a goot boy will be company.”
Sydney could never have told what made him do it; he was crushed with shame the moment it was over. With a quick gesture he reached out, caught up her fat, work-worn hand, and kissed her bare arm.
Except Mrs. Bennett’s one motherly welcome, he had not given or received a kiss since his mother’s death; but in that illuminating instant he knew it was the shadowy memory of her caresses that made him understand Mrs. Schmitz’s loneliness; and a great hunger for affection that had been growing all his forlorn life broke forth in that mute kiss.
“Seedney!” She drew his head to her and kissed him softly on the cheek. “We’ll be friends--always friends. _Nicht wahr?_”
There was no excess of sentiment in her quiet tone; and in the kiss even less of the passion of the mother than his had held of the passion of a son. The words were rather the pledge of a great friendliness; a friendliness that would outlast every trial. It was a solemn moment to Sydney; he felt as if an angel had been near.
“So now my three times because comes right, ant you take this room,” she declared.
“But it is too fine for me.”
“No. Nothing I have iss too fine for you. I want you to feel all the time that the whole world cannot give you too fine a thing. You are a man. God makes you. In his image he makes you. The best cannot be too good if--_if_ you feel always you are a child of the Divine.”
A new light came into Sydney’s mind; the light that breaks in any soul when first it realizes its divinity, its infinity. She had awakened Sydney.
“Where does it tell that? In the Bible?”
“Yes. Ant your own soul tells you if you listen right. I will show you also where to read. But not now--to-morrow. Today we work.”
More she said as they moved Sydney’s possessions, partly in answer to his wondering questions, but more directly from her store of wisdom.
“_Du sollst deinen Naechsten lieben als dich selbst_,” she said musingly after a pause and did not know she was speaking in German till she saw Sydney’s look of perplexity. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” she translated; “but if you think yourself a poor, mean creature, it iss not much goot to love somebody like yourself.”
“I never thought of it in that way,” Sydney observed.
“One thing I tell you--watch Max. Copy him in manner; he iss a gentleman. Also his father, though he iss a hard man.”
“Ant also he loves Max but he shows it not right. The mutter--Ach, he has no mother!” She sighed and hurried off to the next room.
In a moment she was back again, a little excitement in her manner. “Not one word shall you say to Max about this. He knows not that I know.”
“You have seen--written to his father then?” Sydney hazarded.
Her smile was inscrutable. “Not any of those things. Max tells it all to me himself; not mit words--he never knows that he tells. I know. But you ant I speak not. _Nicht wahr?_”
Sydney assented and she continued.
“I wish you should speak German mit Max ant me. I shall not make the mistakes in German. I speak good Court German. It will later make--what you say? credit for you in the university.”
“Does Max speak it correctly?”
“Surely. Beautiful German. Also you shall spend more time at the music. You shall learn the piano. I will teach you.”
“Oh, no, Mrs. Schmitz,” he objected; “it takes too much time. I shall never be a pianist. I care only to sing.”
“Of course you will not be a pianist. For that you begin as soon as you can walk. But there be times when you must play your own accompaniment mebbe, or refuse to sing. To refuse iss not goot. Also playing a little helps to appear better in company.”
“But you have too much to do. You are tired--”
“Listen, goot boy! You help me more than you know. You make four eyes to watch mine business. Things this year go goot. I shall soon keep one cook. Then I have much time.”
Sydney was truly glad, and showed his feeling; though he could not express it as Max did when told of the impending change for the benefit of the household.
“Good! That’s right. It’s distressing to see her hands so stiffened with hard work, when they should be kept soft and supple for the piano. Such a woman drudging at man’s work, too! I hate it for her!”
Sydney recognized that Max’s understanding of Mrs. Schmitz was far more discriminating than his own, and the fact made him feel young and ignorant. But he did not let this increase his jealousy. He believed he had pretty well downed that meanness.
Max, never dreaming of the sentiment he had aroused, unconsciously made it harder for Sydney by his boyish chaffing, or by his excursions with Mrs. Schmitz into the world of books and music where Sydney could not go.
Yet this was the best thing that could have happened to Sydney. He began to read as never before, spurred by his envy. Not tasks set by a teacher nor for amusement; but for the sake of what he should find locked in books. He tried hard to see the charm in the classics from which Max with shining eyes quoted glibly. Many times he read things Max recommended, read doggedly till at last the stately rhythm caught his ear, and the meaningless words thrilled him.
The day before Bess’s party Mrs. Schmitz surprised the boys with new suits, shoes, ties, and gloves, everything complete.
Max drew the soft handkerchief through his fingers caressingly. “What a satisfaction! Real linen once more.”
Sydney was pleased with his clothes but he did not know linen from cotton, nor the value of knowing. Yet when both boys were dressed and parading in front of their delighted house-mother, Sydney was fully as grateful, as much filled with a comfortable sense of being well dressed as was Max. And neither of them enjoyed their finery so much as the one who gave it to them.
The party was a success. Bess was a cordial, unaffected hostess; and her father and mother doubled her welcome because they were able to be young with young people.
Ida Jones was there. Any girl or woman would have known that her simple gown of rich creamy color cost little; a dressmaker would have known it was homemade, yet to Sydney it looked gorgeous; and the rose she wore in her hair, one that Bess begged to pin on after Ida arrived, held in its deep heart all the rich reddish yellows and yellow browns of her hair.
She looked so “dressed up,” so young lady-like, that Sydney was afraid of her; and with a hurried nod, passed her and stood aloof with one or two other young chaps, wearing their first evening clothes, cold with nervousness, thinking every eye upon them.
Bess spied them and came over, speaking to Sydney first. “Miss Jones will be your partner for the evening. You must see that she has a good time. May I depend on you, Mr. Bremmer?”
She was more than ever the Queen of Sheba tonight, a large, richly colored brunette with the mystery of the East looking from her dark eyes, but the strength and fearless generosity of the West heartening through all her cheery speech. Her dress of some soft, oriental stuff, simply made and worn with no ornament save a strand of curiously wrought eastern beads, emphasized and distinguished her from the over-dressed girls who were in the majority.
She, too, gave Sydney a shiver of strangeness. He did not notice that the young men also looked “different,” wore their “company” manners; and the “Mr. Bremmer” frightened him.
“I--I’ll try. What--how--you know--Say! This is awfully--”
“Awfully sudden? Why Mumps! I thought you could say something more original; excruciatingly precipitant, or something like that. Go on, and talk to her. Talk shop if you can’t think of anything else. Or tell her how dandy she looks. She made that little frock herself. Isn’t she a--a peach?”
That bit of slang with the familiar name helped Sydney to “break through,” as he knew she intended; for none better than Bess understood the sort of good breeding that fits the rule to the situation.
As he turned back he met May Nell Smith. She was almost grown, tall and lady-like; yet she had the same sun-touched waving hair, the same blue eyes and mystic, ethereal spirit looking out from them, that he remembered when he first met her, a delicate little girl in the big car, taking him and Billy on their first drive over the City of Green Hills.
She greeted him warmly, a greeting that carried assurance of good will, faith; a silent pledge of her trust that all felt who came near her. No one met May Nell without determining to be at least a little different. Not dreaming that she did it, she aroused everyone to his best. And Sydney left her determined to bear his part for the evening so well that Bess should be pleased with him.
When he found Ida it was with an added respect for capability, as he looked with more discriminating eyes at the pretty gown. He admired her quiet good manners as she modestly, yet without shyness, met the many strangers of the senior class, a formidable ordeal for an under-class girl.
Still under all her sedateness Ida was shy too. A fellow feeling drew the two together, and they entertained each other with the exchanges of personal experience inevitable when young people meet, each looking eagerly out upon life to squeeze it dry of its fascinating mysteries.
When dancing was called, Sydney, who did not dance, started to find her partners. But she detained him, saying she would rather talk. However, Sydney was suddenly brave, and, proud to be considered of consequence by so attractive a girl, manlike, insisted. He must show her off. At least she must dance with his very best friend, Billy; and Max was “awfully pat on dancing”; she must give him one.
She acquiesced; but sat out other dances with Sydney; and when dancing was halted for singing, and Sydney had to go to the piano, he was astonished and sorry to find the evening two-thirds gone.
The quartette, accompanied by the three instruments, did well. The audience voted the violin an “immense” addition. After the prepared numbers they sang college songs, all joining; and when Max introduced two or three songs new to them, playing odd, catchy little accompaniments, sometimes whistling, sometimes singing in a funny high voice, half tenor, half soprano in quality, they cheered him boisterously.
Then they asked for something more ambitious from the violin.
“I haven’t any music,” Max demurred.
“The Queen has all the music ever printed,” Billy exaggerated gayly, adding as he caught her scowl, “Miss Carter, alias Queen of Sheba.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something, Mr. Ball,” she urged.
“Here! Look it over!” Billy called, and with the familiarity of long tried friendship threw open the door of the cabinet.
“Here’s something I know,” Max said presently. “Who will play the accompaniment?” He looked around expectantly, trying to keep doubt out of his eyes; he was fastidious about that.
“Bess can play for you,” Billy volunteered.
“I’m afraid I can’t please you, but I’ll try if you wish.”
Bess and Max, belonging to the small clan of the really courteous, made no more excuses, but began at once a familiar number from one of the operas, Max standing so that he faced Bess partly and could watch her in the violin pauses.
At first he played tamely, a little hesitatingly; but he soon saw that Bess followed with fine discretion and sympathy, and he threw himself into the work with entire forgetfulness of everything else.
Sydney, relieved from the duty of entertaining, watched Bess’s flying fingers; saw her intent look while the violin took up the theme alone; and Max’s eager, rapt gaze upon her during his rests--the look of an artist when he has discovered another.
Without demur they responded to an encore, and after that supper was announced. Later there was a little more dancing and a closing song. Sydney, standing near, heard Bess invite Max to come often with his violin and let her have the honor of learning his accompaniments in a way that might exactly please him.
“It’s what I’ve been hoping for every minute since you first touched the keys this evening,” Max returned with an ardent look. Sydney could not understand that it was the look of the musician rather than of the man.
Bess blushed at the look and still more at Max’s polished manner, so different from the bluff, frank ways of her comrades. It was more grown-up, with an almost foreign air of reserve, yet conveying a subtle flattery; and Sydney looking on felt anger rising in his heart.
Here was one, scarcely his senior, dropped into their circle by a sinister incident, coming from no one knew where, destined no one knew where, handsome, gallant, gifted, aided by the gods themselves it seemed to tongue-tied Sydney, in one evening walking into an intimacy with Bess that he, Sydney, might wish for till doomsday and never dream of achieving.
Like some country booby, his mouth frozen open in astonishment, he sulked by the newel till Ida, coming in her wraps, reminded him of duty and courtesy. With difficulty he roused himself to a proper good-by to Doctor and Mrs. Carter; but when he came to Bess he could trust himself for no more than the words, “Thank you. Good night.”
He was so silent that Ida wondered if she had said anything to offend him. But her own small triumph, the brilliant scene, the comfort of knowing herself appropriately gowned, the pleasure of meeting on an equal footing those who had passed her indifferently each day, and best of all, the knowledge unwittingly accorded by admiring eyes that she was at least not unbeautiful--all this thrilled her, loosed her reticent tongue, and kept her talking gayly till they arrived at her home.
“Walter Buckman is dreadfully chagrined at receiving no invitation,” she said at her door. “Did you know some of the Fussers were going to boycott Miss Carter on account of it?”
“Boycott Miss Carter!” Sydney echoed angrily. “Boycott! That means cutting out Miss Smith, Reg Steele, Hec Price, and the quartette. What will there be left of the senior class to boycott after that?”
“Nothing,” Ida laughed happily. “They are the cream; after that only riffraff like--like me; and I’m only a girl junior.” Again her soft laugh rippled out: “I’ve had the best time I ever had in my life, and I thank you for it.”
“Thank Miss Carter.”
“I do. But she would never have heard of me except for you. Good-by.”
It was a mile further to the nursery but Sydney walked. He would not take a car--face people. He wanted to arrive after Max, creep to his room, and have it out with himself.
But Max, too, had walked, wishing to be alone under the stars. And they arrived in their street at the same time.
Max was elated. His every step betrayed it. He strode along as if shod with springs, and his voice thrilled with a new note. “Isn’t she great?”
“Who? Miss Smith?” Sydney knew Max did not mean May Nell.
“No, no. She’s lovely to look at and I guess lovely to know; I didn’t notice her much. It’s Miss Carter I mean. There’s a real musician.”
“Is that all you think she is? She’s much more than that,” Sydney defended.
“All! All? To be a real musician is to have tasted divine fire.”
“All the same, I think it’s no compliment to a girl to think only of what she can do,” Sydney persisted with some temper.
“Sydney, you don’t understand. A musician, a real one, doesn’t _do_ things musical; he _is_ them. Hundreds of girls strum _on_ the piano. The rare one puts her soul into it and draws forth the angel of harmony that civilizes us.”
Sydney knew this was a high tribute, but with narrow, snap judgment decided it was selfish.
Max talked on, and on, more to himself than to his unwilling listener, but roused at last to Sydney’s silence. “I guess you don’t wish me to play with Miss Carter. Is that it? Do you care so much?”
How could Sydney know that it was the intuition belonging to his temperament that enabled Max to read his heart? Angry, hurt, jealous, he did what the awkward, blundering boy so often does, denied himself, belied himself. “I? I have nothing to say about it. Miss Carter is nothing to me. I’ve known her some time, that’s all. Her folks are kind to me, too.”
“Then it’s all right?”
“Of course it is.”
“Good!” Max responded; and they entered the house.
On the hall table lay a fat-looking, pretentious letter for Max.
It was an invitation to him to join the Fussers Club. Reed Hathaway begged the honor of presenting Mr. Ball’s name, and hoped for prompt permission to do so.
Max read it twice and handed it to Sydney with no comment.
“Well, wouldn’t that flitter you!” he exclaimed, holding the big sheet out far and up near, as if thus shifting it might cause some hidden meaning to leap from the few words.
“I’ve been in school only a few weeks; isn’t it pretty early to invite me into that club of exclusives?”
“No. They want to be styled good dressers and successful haughties. You could wear rags better than some of them can wear the glad goods; and your face, manner, and violin have done the rest.”
“Yet--Reed Hathaway--he’s Buckman’s best friend; he must know of that street-car incident. What does it mean?”
“I pass it up. What do you think?”
“It’s the riddle of the Sphinx to me.”
“Sleep on it,” Sydney sagely advised; and they separated.
Max did sleep on it but morning brought no solution for the riddle. While he dressed he pondered it, stopping to study the stately constitution and by-laws submitted with the invitation. From them he gathered a greater respect for the organization than its frivolous name had given him. But he got no further toward discovering the reason for his invitation, and ran downstairs, a little late, to find Mrs. Schmitz unusually excited.
She had been drawn on jury duty, her first experience, for she had not lived in Washington in the earlier territorial days when women were citizens.
“That cook comes not before next week, and now they call me on jury already. That marmalade will spoil surely.”
“Get excused,” advised Max.
“To make marmalade?” Mrs. Schmitz turned swiftly to him, speaking sternly. “In Germany one man does everything--one man and a few nobility. In America all men of the nation have each work to do; and here in Washington also women. I do not shirk.”
“We’ll take good care of things,” Sydney assured her; “it’s fine that it’s vacation. Tell us what to do.”
“Goot boy, Seedney! What to do you ever ask. You also so ask, Max?”
Sydney noticed that Max’s face had no cloud on it. He did not show resentment of her trust in Sydney, nor of his superior knowledge of commonplace duties.
“There iss not so much to do in the house--enough to eat--anyways Seedney, you are a goot cook. Ant the nursery--you know already what goes on there. Look a leetle out for Blitzen, ant--that iss all I guess.”
“The marmalade?” Sydney inquired.
“Oh, that spoils anyhow I guess. No matter. Mebbe the trials will be over pretty quick; then I’ll make it.”
She was as brisk and prompt about civic duty as about her own; and when the boys insisted she should do no housework that morning, she was ready before starting time, looking quite imposing in her “going out” clothes.
While she sat waiting, Sydney ran out on some errand to the nursery, and Max, still puzzling over the invitation he had received, seized this opportunity to talk it over with her.
She inquired the object of the club. The elaborate constitution couched in flowing, dignified English was quite impressive. Max began to read it to her, but she stopped him.
“I cannot understand that language. What kind of boys belong?”
“Some of the most influential boys in school, Sydney says.”
“Influential?” She paused a moment as if studying the word. “That may be goot or bad. Not bad I guess, or teachers would stop it.”
It was time to start and they walked across to the car line, passing on the way a row of splendid maples growing from the ground about three feet above the sidewalk. The bank had recently been cut down sheer and many roots were exposed.
“Look here already!” Mrs. Schmitz indicated a slender root of uniform size running laterally, entirely in view. “What do you see?”
“Jolly! It runs from a down-bearing root of this tree right to a similar root of that other tree. And here’s another!” he called, walking rapidly ahead of her. “I didn’t know things like that happened.”
“Look close. You see many more leetle roots all going same way.”
“Not so. You have not studied; that’s all. Under ground are many strange things. From air, water, ground, and sun comes all life; but first everything begins in the ground--in the dark.”
Max was awed by her seriousness. “Everything?” he said.
“Yes.” She picked up a little twig and began to stir the loose earth absent-mindedly. “Now--this time of year are great things going on down there--in the dark. A great fight for life. All the leetle seeds hear the spring birds sing ant they feel the warm sun coming; ant something tells them, ‘Come up! Come up! Come quick before it iss too late.’”
“Too late?” Max repeated when she dropped into silence.
“There iss so much for seeds to do in one summer, to feed themself with air, sun, water, that makes them to grow; to make flower ant seed; ant to put in every leetle seed also enough to last it through the long winter.”
It seemed strange to Max that she should speak of a mere seed as if it were sentient.
“So many seeds, so many new leetle roots growing, sometimes so leetle rain ant so hard the ground--it iss all one big fight, pushings, pullings, to see who first gets to the top, to the light.”
“I don’t see how they know when to start--the little seeds shut up in the dark down there.”
“Their soul tells them.”
“Soul?” Max asked, startled.
“Yes. In all things, behind everything living iss soul.”
“That seems queer. I never thought a plant could have a soul.”
“Mebbe you call it intelligence. Names make leetle difference. What do you think? Look at mine lily. It iss in November just a dry brown thing like onions. I put it in the ground. It grows, blooms with a beautiful flower; then its leafs die, its flower, all you see. In August it iss again one dry brown thing like onions. But inside iss all the bloom, all the green leafs, all the lovely color, sweet fragrance, wrapped in those leetle silk folds. It has drawn all back again into itself. I throw it in mine cellar. It has no water, no light, nothing; but next year if I put it once again into the ground it blooms. What do you call that?”
“I--I don’t know. It’s wonderful!”
“Also grass thinks.”
They were passing a lawn that needed mowing. “See that clover? In May it blooms. Every week after that this man mows his lawn, ant every week he cuts off leetle clover blossoms mebbe two inches high. But there on the vacant lot just beside you see other clover growing?”
“That also gets plenty water from the sprinkler; but that clover takes its time. That clover grows mebbe one foot high before it blooms. What do you call that? That grass thinks mebbe? _Nicht wahr?_”
Max looked his astonishment. “Why is it so?”
“Why? It iss the law of life. All things before they die give back to the world children. If the clover in the lawn hurries not it never blooms; never puts out its flower. The clover on the side needs not to hurry.”
“I shall never look at clover again without thinking of all this.”
“Soul, law, intelligence, God--I think all those names mean pretty near the same, and Heavenly Father iss best of all. Plant, bird, man,--all are in God’s hant. All are brothers. One plant likes one thing. Another plant likes it not, but something else. Each helps all.”
“Yes, I begin to see,” Max said, his face shining with understanding.
“Those maple trees mit big tops--alone mit a big wind they fall mebbe; tied together mit many roots they stand.”
“And for such needs are clubs, societies, and----”
“That iss right! How quick you see, Max!”
The car interrupted them, and she left him, waving her smart umbrella in good-by. From her face beamed a love for him, for all humanity, that as yet he could but half appreciate; yet her words had made a deep impression.
When he returned to the house he found Sydney washing the dishes. “Here! Let me bear a hand.” He caught the towel and began to dry the plates.
Sydney was silent, for a scheme was growing, the making of the marmalade.
“Why not?” he asked when Max objected that they might spoil it. “The stuff will spoil anyway; if we can save it, won’t it be so much to the good?”
“Yes. But can we do it right?”
“No matter. She makes the best marmalade in town, the neighbors say. They know, for she gives away a lot. She’s started this right; if we finish it up half right it will do for us boobs to eat on bread and butter, won’t it?”
“Surely, and be much better than we deserve probably.”
The dishes finished, Sydney found Mrs. Schmitz’s recipe book and the two studied the complicated directions. It was a three days’ process, and they could not make up their minds whether this was the second or third day, so little idea had they of the “looks of the mess.” But they acted on the latter inference.
“Let’s do it today and get it over with,” Sydney, the prompt, suggested.
“Very well. Tell me what to do.”
Not without a little show of importance Sydney bustled about, giving orders, looking up the great preserving kettle, and searching for such materials as he judged were not already put together.
Max minded this not in the least. He had the soul of the true artist, who is always too deeply engrossed in his work to notice what others are doing, or saying of him. Over and over he read the recipe, thinking closely, and once or twice correcting Sydney himself in his interpretation.
It was great fun till the long process of boiling and simmering came, and the kitchen grew hot, as, boy fashion, they stuffed the range with kindling and coal, and in consequence had to cook their sweet stuff on the very rear edge of the range.
But Sydney found Max a good partner in distress. He did even more than his share of the watching and stirring, declaring it was the proper work of the second cook.
“How is it, Max, that whatever you take up, you do it so perfectly, so successfully at the very first? I must always try and try again.”
“I don’t know. I like to undertake new things. I put my whole mind on what I do.”
“So do I. But it’s something more than that. Look at the way you have taken to the work in the hothouses. Only yesterday Mrs. Schmitz said you learned wonderfully fast; as if you knew long ago, and had only to ‘remember it as from sleep waking.’”
“How could I help learning about plants with her to teach me? She makes them so interesting. She loves them as if they were children, and while I’m with her I feel the same. If it wasn’t for music I could be willing to work always with them.”
“Yet you couldn’t get work last winter. That seems strange.”
Max thought a moment before replying. “I don’t understand it myself. The first work I had after I arrived in the City of Green Hills was collecting for a doctor. I was too careless--no, I didn’t know enough to hide the money; and the third day a big fellow caught me in a lonely place and robbed me. The doctor wouldn’t believe me, and so I lost that job.”
“Gee! That was rough.”
“The next thing was being bell boy at a hotel. That lasted two months, but----say, Sydney, I just hated that work. At first it made me feel mean to take tips; then I got to looking for ’em, and I--left.”
Sydney scanned the noncommittal face during the pause that followed.
“When I remembered my mother I--I couldn’t go on there. I was out of work a long time after that, and on the street two days and nights before I went--where I had declared I would not go--to the brewery to wash bottles.” He turned away with a motion of disgust. “Gee! The odor of that stale beer! I smell it yet.”
“But why didn’t you try for a chance in an orchestra?”
Max smiled. “With no proper clothes, no violin, and not a friend among people that care for music? There was no Mrs. Schmitz standing round, ready to hand me an old Cremona.”
Both were silent a moment. “But even bottle washers get too plenty in the winter when work is slack; and after I began to cough so hard the men were afraid of tuberculosis and wouldn’t work with me and I had to go. I couldn’t seem to impress any one with my superior skill as bottle washer enough to command a promotion.” He gave Sydney a crooked smile that was not all mirth.
“That’s because it was work that needed no thought.”
“That isn’t all. There was no one to take an interest in me, to show me what to do, and how, as Mrs. Schmitz does. And more than that, no one had the kind of work suited to me.”
“I reckon that has the most to do with it,” Sydney acquiesced.
“Now this playing at the moving picture houses--that’s work I ought to do well. My father paid for my lessons for years--he hated to do it, for he didn’t want me to be a musician, but mother insisted. Mrs. Schmitz has helped me to make something from all that training.”
“A good friend does help a lot, doesn’t he?”
“Wonderfully. A little more than six weeks altogether I’ve played, most of the time evenings only, and I’ve made enough to buy all the clothes I need, to pay Mrs. Schmitz a little for my first month’s board and nursing, all she’ll let me pay. I’m in school, I’m learning a business--no matter if it is slowly--I have good health, am invited to join the Fussers, and--have a chance to play with Miss Carter. Gee! If any one had shown me all those pictures the night before I broke in here I’d have thought he was dippy.” There was a happy, boyish lilt in his tones, and he began to whistle as he stirred the steaming fruit.
Carefully into the glasses, as Sydney had seen Mrs. Schmitz put away her jellies, they dipped the marmalade, and afterward washed up the dishes and put the kitchen in order, rather proud of their morning’s work. Then they went to the nursery to help in the potting, the making of new beds, the “slipping,” or whatever work was most pressing.
That day and night they did little cooking. Anyone could live well more than one day on warmed-up things at Mrs. Schmitz’s home. Early in the evening Max wrote and posted his acceptance of the invitation to have his name proposed for the Fussers.
They went to bed early. Neither would acknowledge how lonely he was without Mrs. Schmitz; though each knew the other felt it.
The next afternoon a cheery voice came over the line.
“Have you all been well efer since I left you?” Mrs. Schmitz inquired. “It seems one year already. I come tonight; in about two hours now.”
“Let’s surprise her!” Max proposed. “Have a bang-up dinner. You boss, and I’ll help.”
Sydney agreed readily and both went at it.
“We’ll serve it in courses. I’ll wait on you two, and we’ll make her think of old days, when she had servants at every turn.”
“How do you know she had them? Did she tell you?” Sydney speculated upon her confidences to Max, thinking they must have been much greater than any she had given him. But Max’s laughing reply disarmed him.
“She’s scarcely mentioned her past life to me; but can’t you see? She betrays at every turn the fact of her gentle breeding and familiarity with luxury.”
Sydney saw that it was because like knows like that Max understood these things.
He set the table with great ceremony, putting on all the silver he could find, meanwhile suggesting many unusual dishes from which they selected those they knew how to prepare or those that “sounded easy.” Max brought the nicest linen, and from the greenhouses fragrant flowers, arranging a center piece that Sydney admired, secretly envying Max his skill.
Mrs. Schmitz came like a joyous, fragrant summer wind. She seemed to bring life to a dead house; sweetness, goodness; in short, motherhood.
She laughed, exclaimed, kissed each boy on the cheek--and Sydney blushed with bashfulness. She took off her hat and ran to the dining room, saying she must start dinner. Max caught her back and himself took off her coat. Then she started toward the side door that led to the nursery, and Sydney interrupted her there.
“Dinner’s most ready,” he announced with importance.
“What? You boys the dinner cook?”
They nodded vigorously.
“And it will spoil if you don’t hasten,” Max continued. “You said you’d be here in two hours. We set the time half an hour later; but you are late and you have just seven minutes in which to make your toilet.”
Laughing and happy, she went upstairs; and they could hear her stepping about overhead, pulling out drawers, opening doors, and making a racket in more rooms than one. When she entered the sitting room again she was only a minute late and was in evening dress.
[Illustration: She was in evening dress]
Both boys started. For all Max had told Sydney so much, and had realized more, even he was not prepared for the grand dame who swept in upon them, bowing low to both. Her fine white skin and plump neck, freed from the stiff collar she usually wore, gave her, as with all stout women, a stateliness the boys had little suspected; and the sweeping train added to this effect. The high-piled hair, gray but waving and beautiful, her dark blue eyes that could be merry, tender, scornful, or stern, all her kind features they knew so well, took on an air that made her for an instant almost a stranger.
“In honor of my dear young men, Sydney and Max, I have dressed for dinner.”
Sydney did not know that her elegant finery, shipped from Germany, was old in style. Max knew, but didn’t care, since it was rich and becoming.
“Thank you, dear Mrs. Schmitz. Madame, dinner is served.”
Sydney merely stared. Max’s “thank you” was spoken as a most loving son might greet his mother; but he wore an apron and carried a napkin on his arm; and his “dinner is served,” was in the tone of the most obsequious servant.
They went out in great state, Sydney giving his arm, and Max throwing open the door, drawing the chair for Madame and, when he had seated her, standing stiffly behind her.
Before she could touch her soup Sydney brought a jar of marmalade, insisting that she should try it at once.
“No, no! Not before soup!” Max objected, forgetting his “place” as waiter. “Take your sweets away till dessert.”
“They’re his sweets too. It’s really a three-partner job,” Sydney explained.
Mrs. Schmitz pronounced it excellent with such fervor that both boys were convinced. She never told them that it was “clear as mud.” How could it be otherwise when Max had “stirred it to death”?
With great merriment, and in several courses, the dinner passed. Max insisted on serving in great style because he knew how it should be done; but she blighted his vanity by commanding him to his own seat while they ate. It was really a success. She praised everything, entering into their fun; and the boys, taught by her absence, felt a deeper joy in all she did, realizing gratefully how much a part of her home life she considered them.
A few days after this came a telephone summons from Bess Carter for Max to bring his violin and music. There was an invitation for Sydney also, but he refused--so curtly that Max, who, though leaving the room, could not help hearing it, was out of patience with him. And when he came home after an evening of music and joy he painted it in extravagant fashion, intending to punish Sydney for slighting Miss Carter. He never dreamed he was stirring an already hot-burning fire in Sydney’s heart.
It was by no means love for Bess that seethed in his veins. Neither was it any passion that Sydney could recognize and analyze. It was a savage sort of resentment that another should be able to please, not only Bess, but all, girls and boys; that Max should be able to say with ease the most appropriate and interesting things, while he, Sydney, the tongue-tied, could merely mumble. That Max could make exquisite music, do the gallant thing at the right moment, and wear his clothes as if they were king’s ermine--it was all this that made the less gifted, untaught waif of a boy--boy yet though a man in size--rage at himself and hate everyone, Max in particular.
Twice more Max came home radiant, the second time full of plans for more music through that part of the vacation when Bess should be in town, and afterward when both should be in the university. For Max, the housebreaker, had taken a new hold on life, had determined to be a man in the world of best men. Mrs. Schmitz had resurrected his ambition.
Then the blow fell.
It was the day when Max was to be voted into the Fussers Club. He sat waiting in the anteroom, feeling keenly the air of expectation, a thrilling sense of important things impending. He wondered if some disturbance was going on in the assembly room of the club; speculated vaguely upon what part in the fortunes of the organization he might be called to play. Whatever it might be, he would not shirk.
In a corner two young men were evidently though noiselessly quarreling. Presently Walter Buckman and Billy Bennett came from the club room and joined the others, when the altercation became more violent. Short disjointed remarks floated out to the listeners “--a chance,” from Billy; and “--any such example,” from Walter.
“What are they talking about?” Max asked one standing near him, noting that with each moment the number in the room increased.
“That is the investigating committee.”
“Do they often disagree so?”
“No. And today there’s only one candidate; there must be something doing.” The speaker moved quickly away.
Max noticed this, and Walter’s increasing vehemence; and instantly a premonition of disaster swept him like a cold, wet blast.
[Illustration: A premonition of disaster swept him]
“I tell you I won’t stand for any thieves being voted into the Fussers,” Walter shouted, heedless of a sibilant “Hush!” from one of the others.
“I’ll stake my honor he’s all right,” Billy Bennett shouted back, and Max silently blessed him for those words.
Max understood--saw it all as plain as the sum of two and two. This was the way Walter Buckman had taken to “get even.” He had urged Reed Hathaway to present Max’s name, had “talked up” the candidate right and left, and had even told Billy, who had repeated it to Max, that the proposed member would lend more style and more genius to the club than any ten previous members.
Now Max knew these honeyed praises were only for the purpose of attracting attention, for filling the room with the curious, so that Walter’s bomb would have an audience.
Max decided to hurry the explosion. He stepped forward and faced the committee in the corner. “I understand that my name is the only one under consideration, and that the investigating committee is embarrassed concerning it. I withdraw my name as a candidate for the Fussers Club.” He bowed and was turning away when Walter Buckman strode into the middle of the room with an air of importance, exclaiming:
“No, sir! You don’t walk off with that air of injured innocence. Right here and now I brand you as a thief, Max Ball!”
Max would have replied but a great hubbub rose. He had won friends among pupils and teachers; and those who best knew Walter were sure there was some malevolence back of this attack, and they stood for fair play. Walter’s father, however, was a wealthy business man of large power in the city and this had weight with the truculent ones, making a following for the son as well as the father.
But Billy Bennett cared nothing at all for Buckman, senior or junior, when fair play was at stake; nor even for the much admired magnate, Mr. Smith, May Nell’s father. “I protest,” he cried. “This accusation is unworthy a student. No matter how incriminating circumstances may appear, there is always a chance that they may not be true. Walter Buckman, I want you to retract that statement.” All knew Billy was recalling his own bitter experience of the year before when Jim Barney trapped him into appearing as a thief.
“I retract nothing!” Walter shouted vindictively. “I say that last winter he robbed our ice box; and I dare him to deny it.”
Pale as ever he would be in his coffin, Max stepped to the center of the room, looked about him, and said in a low, steady voice, “Gentlemen, it is true. I only hope that if such a great temptation--such a great need should come to any one here he will have more strength than I had to resist it.”
He bowed comprehensively, and before any of them could recover from amazement, was gone.
It took minutes for even quick-witted Billy to comprehend what had really happened; and still more time to think what to do next. He voiced the opinion of all the more thoughtful ones there when he said, “Fellows, I believe we’ve made the mistake of our lives.”
“We?” Sis Jones called out. “It’s only Buckman here. He’s the spot-light kicker. We had a chance to help a good man to success, and Buckman’s kicked him out of the procession.”
“So? You stand for approving thieves, I suppose,” Walter sneered.
“Whatever he’s done must have been because of some terrible reason,” Billy averred. “Looking into his face when he said those last words, one must believe in him.”
“Well, you may. I don’t. I know about him; and those who stand for that fellow may cut my acquaintance after this.” Walter strode off, with a large number obsequiously accompanying him.
“Well, wouldn’t that totter you?” Billy turned to “Sis.”
“We must kick in for Max good and plenty,” “Sis” flashed. “He’s good meat clear through to the bone.”
A little longer they talked, trying to think out some way to save Max from his enemy.
“Do you suppose he was ever really hungry--desperately so?” “Sis” asked with awe.
“Gee! I’ve been hungry enough between sunrise and sunset to eat an ice box whole.”
“So have I. Suppose a fellow had no father and no money, and had--gone--two days, say, unfed?”
Billy nodded violently. Words could not express such a contingency.
“I’m going right out to see Mrs. Schmitz. She and Mumps and I together surely can cook up some scheme to put Max to the good again. We’ll enlist Bess and May Nell and you and Redtop--Oh, I know, I’ll get Cousin Hec to give some sort of swell function for Max, show off his music; invite all the bang-ups, and Walter Buckman and his crowd, too--”
“Bully! Walter’s too much of a snob to slight the Prices or Hec’s gang; and if Walter goes he’ll have to swallow Max whole and shut off his gab.”
Billy started away to see Sydney. He was detained by unexpected duties however, and it was an hour after the explosion at school before he arrived to find his friends in the greatest excitement.
“He iss gone!” Mrs. Schmitz burst out with no other greeting, as Billy appeared at the open door. “Mine poor boy! The world kicks him down already.”
“And it’s my fault,” Sydney added gloomily.
“How’s that?” Billy asked, mystified.
“Read you this.” Mrs. Schmitz thrust a letter into his hand. “A messenger brings it but this minute.”
With clumsy fingers Billy unfolded the sheet and read:
DEAR MRS. SCHMITZ, MY SECOND MOTHER:
The boys found me out and exposed me. I could not deny the charge, and explanations would have been useless.
I must go away and begin all over again where no one knows me. But don’t worry about me. Wherever I am I shall not shame you. If I can’t earn food I shall not steal, but starve as quietly as I may. Yet I have a feeling that somewhere I shall make good; I owe that to you.
I shall love you and Sydney always. This is good-by to you both.
Billy stared at the others over the paper, and for a moment the room was quite still.
Mrs. Schmitz was in a brown study. Poor Sydney’s head was bowed, his face dark with self-accusation. The clock ticked noisily, and a proud rooster across the street, adding his voice to that of a laying hen, cackled with the vigor of a dozen cocks, Billy thought. From a spring-fed, marshy lot beyond, a bullfrog croaked suddenly. These sounds, usually unheeded, now thrust themselves upon Billy’s attention with insistence and annoyance.
“This will throw out the class play,” he said abruptly.
“That’s no great matter. You can alter it.”
Billy recognized Sydney’s impatience. “It _is_ matter. I’ve built the whole play with Max in view for the leading character; and you to play up to him. His violin, too--why, there’s no one in the world but him to fit in right and do the part.”
“Write another play then,” Sydney exclaimed irritably.
Billy, not knowing the cause of Sydney’s impatience, turned in despair to Mrs. Schmitz. “Write a three-act play and coach it, in less than two months--and keep my place in class. And I’m expected with the play to win out for the Fifth Avenue High on the literary contest. Mumps! It beats the school! Don’t you see? If we don’t find Max we lose to one of the five other Highs; don’t you see?”
Billy probably did not know it, but he came as near having tears in his voice as a deep-voiced young man with some pride can come and not really sob.
This added to Mrs. Schmitz’s own zeal. She had been thinking to some purpose. “We shall find him! Soon! He shall play--save your drama!” She started up.
“I’m the one. It’s up to me to do the trick. I wish I could see how.” Sydney clenched his hands harder, and his perplexed scowl grew deeper.
“I’ll tell you--I’ll advertise.”
Then Sydney astonished them by making the longest speech they had ever heard from him. “This job of finding Max is mine. If I hadn’t been yellow clean through I’d have been there in the anteroom when Walter Buckman played his mean trick; been there to hit back, to come out with Max, to make him come home with me. Five minutes with you, Mrs. Schmitz, would have put him steady again. He’s no coward, but he feels things a lot--his skin’s thinner than my thick hide, and--”
“Stop! You shall not call mine Seedney names.”
He nodded grimly and continued. “But I was jealous of him, that’s what. Jealous from that first night when you put him in the best room, Mrs. Schmitz. Even after you talked it out of me the day you gave me my new room, and I thought I had the little deev killed and buried for good, he came to life like a cat on one of her nine laps. I hated Max because everything he did was fine. He could please everybody, play, do things right the first time--Oh, it’s no use talking about that any more. I’ve got to do the fair thing now--find him, find him!”
“We’ll do it. We’ll advertise,” Mrs. Schmitz declared again.
“There’s danger he won’t read the papers. Wouldn’t a detective be better?”
“Gee! That’ll be the trick!” Billy approved; “but it will take a lot of money.”
“I’ll find that money!” Mrs. Schmitz offered quickly.
“I’ll pay it back if it takes me years to earn it. And I’ll never go inside the Fifth Avenue High again till Max goes with me.” Sydney straightened with a decision new to Billy. It seemed as if he had in a moment taken up a great burden that he would carry to success or die in the attempt.
Mrs. Schmitz stood beside him and patted his arm. “Seedney, that leetle yeller fellow iss good and dead now already. He never again squeaks. Now I will go mit you to find--”
He faced her with determination. “No, Mrs. Schmitz, I must do this alone--if I can. Let me take my own way for three days. If the detective--if I learn nothing then I will ask you--”
“Me, too, Mumps!” Billy flung in.
“Yes, both of you. Max had no money to speak of; I happened to see his purse when he paid his fare this morning; there was only a little small change. He can’t go far on that.”
“No. And while you’re hunting him I’ll talk things over with mother and sister, the quartette and the bunch; and when Max returns we’ll all camp on his trail, so that no matter what the Buckman crowd does, Max will feel he has a jolly good gang behind him.”
“Goot! That’s right, Billy. The friends that beliefs in you before you prove out are worth having. After you are successful you don’t need ’em. Comes so many then they are in the way.”
Sydney left them and went down town, going first to Mr. Streeter, and laying the whole case before him, not sparing himself.
His faith was warranted, for Mr. Streeter had not befriended many boys in trouble without coming well in touch with the machinery of the law. He knew the best detective, and went with Sydney to find him. This man had more than once successfully run down a boy for this kind friend of boys.
Sydney told his story and answered many questions; and when the search had been thus launched, he wandered about, not knowing just what to do next. At a busy corner he was recalled from a brown study by a familiar greeting, “_Kla-how-ya!_” A Chinook salutation.
“_Kla-how-ya!_” he returned, stopping beside a group of Indian women, two squaws and a child, squatted against a store front with their wares exposed for sale, baskets, mats, and beadwork. He knew them well; had met them several times at the Reservation. Often he and Max stopped to chat with them, and the older squaw had taken a great fancy to Max.
“Come Tu-la-lip tonight?”
“No; I can’t go tonight.”
“Heap big wau-wau and shantie.” She meant that the Indians were to have a story-telling and sing. Twice Max and Sydney had gone to Tu-la-lip Reservation, for Max was deeply interested in the Indians, some of them old friends of Sydney’s. He had sung for them; and Max played his violin--“tin-tin,” they called it, their name for any musical instrument--and they liked it immensely.
Sydney declined the old squaw a little carelessly. “Some other time.”
“Ow go already.” This was her word for “younger brother,” and meant Max.
Sydney sprang toward her, excited. “When? What boat?”
She told him. It was the four o’clock boat. The next was at six-thirty; and Sydney had ample time to catch it. The Indians rose slowly, rolled up their goods, and plodded gravely toward the dock; the Government obliged them to be at the Reservation every night.
But Sydney ran ahead of them, his brain in a whirl. What could have decided Max to go there, of all places in the world? The fare, to be sure, was only a quarter, but that sum would take him to any one of a score of small ports on the Sound. At the Reservation there was positively nothing in the way of work for Max. Over and over during the half-hour’s travel Sydney pondered the matter, arriving at no conclusion.
When the boat touched the landing he was off before the hawser was thrown, skimming the narrow strip of water in a leap, even while the angry captain shouted a command to wait.
He ran up the patch to the agent’s house, but his anxious query brought no information; Max had not been seen there.
Baffled, Sydney turned, pointing to the old squaw of the street shop in the City of Green Hills. “She told him he came on the early boat,” he panted.
The agent questioned the squaw in her own language; but before he had spoken many words a little boy standing by broke in, jabbering fast, and pointing across a wooded peninsula where the Sound waters dip into the forested hills in a narrow inlet.
“This chap says your friend came here but hurried across the Point to the mill. A lumber ship is loading there,” the agent translated.
Sydney waited for no more but set out at a run. That was what Max intended--to ship to some distant port! That would certainly hide him well, and give him a living on his way. Sydney thought of sensitive, gifted Max handling “tackle,” and “bossed” around by some profane mate; treated like a machine rather than like a human being--no, worse; machines are property and get consideration. It is only human life that is wasted with unconcern, it is so plenty.
Running faster and faster, Sydney emerged from the woods to see the ship steaming slowly into the bay. For a minute his legs trembled under him and he almost fell. Too late! Max was surely there, lost to them forever! Suddenly Sydney knew how thoroughly he had uprooted his jealousy, how deeply Max had become fixed in his heart, a part of his life, his joy and inspiration.
Another quick thought buoyed Sydney--no one would be likely to find a berth on a ship so near to sailing as this had been.
He watched her a moment and turned back toward the mill, stumbling along out of breath, and arriving to learn that one resembling Max had tried and failed to ship, and had set off southward.
Southward! The Pritchard Mills, one of them the largest shingle mill in the world! Ships were always loading there; of course that was where Max would turn next. The millman said one ship was due to sail with the tide that night if she could get a crew. The captain had been unable to sail sooner for lack of men.
Max would surely be taken! Sydney must hurry. He asked for a horse and was laughed at. Horses there in those dense forests were “scarce as hen’s teeth.”
There was nothing for it but to walk--nine miles. Sydney knew the road skirting the shore for he had traveled it when on a “hike” with his troop; but in daylight and with a guide was a different matter; now it was nearing dark--it must be half past seven. Yet he must try it; yes, try, and succeed! He must, must arrive before the ship sailed.
He started off slowly, for he had run the two miles from the Reservation with no thought of saving himself; now he must husband his strength if he would endure, arrive. It was too bad that he could not begin with speed for the first three miles were open and clear; the dark road was farther on.
Yet he restrained himself sternly, and in spite of the light fog he saw settling beneath the early stars. There were many short cut-offs where a dim path led over some sharp pitch that the road circled at sea level. Sydney took these as long as he could see, noting that many cow paths led off at various angles, and were in some cases more distinct than the right one.
After a time he broke into his best pace, choosing his path as carefully as possible. He judged he had traveled about five miles when he came to a tongue of heavily wooded land making far out into the Sound.
The trail was good and he had little difficulty in keeping it. Once or twice he found himself a few steps off, but was quickly warned by the difficult going. Yet so long the tramp seemed to him that he feared he had lost the way, and was beginning to despair, when he heard the welcome lap-lap of the waves, and was soon on the wagon road again, with the distant lights of Pritchard Mills beckoning cheerily in long, brilliant spikes through the thin fog, and several ships a-light riding at anchor in the harbor.
Heartened, Sydney ran on at fine speed over the smooth springy road, arriving at the wharfinger’s office, spent and breathless, but in good spirits. No ship was leaving.
Sydney described Max.
“Oh, yes. That chap blew in half an hour ago; but he’s done up. He’ll not leave port very soon, if ever.”
Chilled with apprehension, Sydney, following the man’s directions, set out once more to find Max.
Sydney found Max lying in a lumberman’s bunk, partially restored and able to give greeting with both hand and word.
“The jig’s up, you runaway; you’ve got to come home with me.” Sydney was still panting from his long run.
Max shook his head wearily, but not before his eyes had flashed tell-tale joy at the word “home.” “I can’t, Sydney. I must not bring shame to my friends, Mrs. Schmitz, you--”
“Shame, nothing! We’re only ashamed that you ran away.”
“But Walter Buckman--”
“Be hanged! The bunch he runs with would have troubles of their own if they were investigated. Jim Barney--rotten bad, he was--he was Walter’s particular pal last year; and Walter’s stand for high morals is too thin. He can’t put it over. Come on.”
“But Mrs. Schmitz?”
“She says she’ll be everlastingly ashamed of you if you don’t come home.”
Max had not dreamed he was doing less than right by her in taking himself permanently out of her life. Sydney’s report of her attitude put a new light on the matter. It was enough. He would go back, would meet the issue; in Sydney’s parlance, take what was coming.
There was no boat till morning; and by that time, he was able with the help of his friend to make the trip and arrive at the nursery home where Mrs. Schmitz, apprised by Sydney’s telephone message, had Dr. Carter waiting. His examination resulted in a mild prescription, mostly rest; and Mrs. Schmitz took charge.
“You get to bed mit you, right away quick--you, Max. A boy when he runs away gets punished mit the bed.”
The twinkle in her eye and the mother-tone in her voice were very welcome to the overwrought boy who had lived, it seemed, years of misery since the hour he left the schoolhouse.
He was not really ill, though his exhaustion, following his protracted illness of the winter, was serious. But Mrs. Schmitz had no use for “mollygrups.” She petted, coaxed, scolded, and laughed at him in turn, and soon had him on his feet again, “so goot as efer.”
The “bunch,” instigated by Billy, did a beautiful thing on the trying morning of Max’s return to school. They stood together in one of the halls where, by appointment, Sydney brought Max--the “cream of the seniors,” “Sis” Jones declared in a hissing whisper as Walter passed.
When the two came the greeting was not noisy; just hearty handshakes, and silent messages from, sympathetic eyes, with quiet jokes and, “on the side,” promises of friendship.
When Max reached his desk he found a fat letter containing “welcome” notes from Billy, Bess, May Nell, and many others. By the light in his teacher’s eye when she spoke to him, Max knew he was still trusted; and he lifted his head with courage, and entered upon his task of “living down” any accusations Walter Buckman and his friends might make, a task that loomed very large to him.
Billy’s efforts, enlisted by Sydney in behalf of Ida Jones, had long before this borne fruit. May Nell’s own shining electric motor stood more than once in front of the house where Ida lived, impressing the family little less than when she was driven up in her mother’s great limousine. And Bess Carter, whether she walked, came by trolley, or was dropped from his motor car by Dr. Carter, radiated power and a bluff sort of queenliness all her own that was even more impressive than evidence of wealth.
The Pattons, with whom Ida lived, were not unkind to her. They received her as one of the family, including her in such privileges as they enjoyed, which were few enough. For there was a houseful of small children to be cared for on slender means, entailing hard work for both Ida and her employer, who was uneducated and not in sympathy with the girl’s intense devotion to school.
Yet when she saw the friends Ida had made, and that their visits were not merely formal, she looked with increased respect upon her little helper, and planned for her more leisure, to the end that Ida found herself in a new world, the world of music and refinement.
One of the homes opened to her was Billy’s. Mrs. Bennett and her daughter often asked the girl to dine, and in delicate ways assisted her, lending books, suggesting reading, and helping her with bits of sewing.
During one of these visits she met Mrs. Schmitz, who had been invited with her two protégés to hear the quartette sing; and unknown to herself Ida acquired a new and ardent friend in the bright German woman.
Mrs. Wright discovered that Ida could sing, not in a trained way but in a true, sweet voice “placed” by nature; and she asked her frequently to the house, giving her many valuable lessons.
These occasions were often on Friday afternoons, when she would stay to dinner and to the “quartette practice.” Then it fell to Sydney to take her home; and the friendship thus fostered was the best thing that could have happened to him; for he was compelled to talk, and soon learned to do it “the same as if she were a chap.”
One day he was alone with Mrs. Schmitz in the lily house. They had worked for some time in silence when she asked suddenly, “How old you think iss Miss Jones?”
“She said she was eighteen.”
[Illustration: “Mine leetle Ida would be eighteen already”]
A sigh that was almost a sob was her only reply, and she worked silently for some minutes, when she said abruptly, “Mine leetle Ida would be eighteen already.” She pronounced the name as if it were spelled Eda.
“How old was she when--when she--” Sydney could not make himself finish the sentence.
“Last time I saw her she was five. But if she live or if she iss dead I know not. Most times I think she iss dead. To think she lives makes me crazy almost, for I do not find her.”
“Are you still looking--hunting--”
“Always. All the time I have men paid to hunt. But they do not find--her. They say she iss dead.”
Sydney was troubled at her distress. She continued her work, but he saw tears falling on the plants she handled. He had never seen her cry before. Tears embarrassed him; and he pottered about awkwardly, waiting for her to speak, wondering if it would be more polite to “sneak” out of the lily house, or remain and give some sign of sympathy. As a compromise he turned his back and coughed apologetically, thoroughly uncomfortable.
Absorbed in her thoughts she forgot him and time--which was passing so slowly for him--till she needed his help in moving some fertilizer. When they were both at work again she spoke.
“I have never told you of mine family for it was too much sorrow to speak of them. It iss for that I like not to see girls. Some people think I am down on girls. Not so. To see them makes me think of mine leetle Ida. Miss Jones iss a nice girl. I look at her last efening at Mrs. Wright’s, look at her much; ant all night I think of her; I cannot sleep.”
“That’s too bad.” Sydney wished he could think of something less inane to say, but no words would come.
“It was the shipwreck--when we came to America, three of us, mine husband, leetle Ida, and mineself. All passengers they put in boats; first the women; in the other boats some of the men. I went down the shipside mit Ida on mine arm, but the sailors say,’No,’ ant take her from me to give me again when I am in the leetle boat. Then comes the captain’s call to put no more in that boat, ant a big wave takes us away, ant I mitout mine baby go on the sea.” She stopped and turned aside.
“Gee! That was rough!” If the words were not consoling the tone was, for Mrs. Schmitz reached out and gave Sydney a grateful pat.
“We came by another ship that took us on board. One other boat full of people they save by another ship that newspapers say went to California. Ant in that paper passengers say mine husband iss drowned in that third boat. No one sees mine leetle Ida.”
“Did you never hear any more?”
“Not from her. I came by New York. I advertise, I wait--wait. I am all alone; I speak leetle English. I think some days I am crazy. Then goes the money. I see I must make some more. I come then to California, ant there I hear that some of those people of the shipwreck have already gone to Washington, so I come too.”
“Was that long ago?”
“Thirteen years already. I know something about plants, so I get a job working here by a nurseryman, by name Walker. I do well. I make some new flowers for him that make him much money. He dies four years ago already, ant I buy this place from Mrs. Walker.”
“Gee! You didn’t save all that money from your wages, did you?”
She smiled. “No. I make one big--bluff some people call it; I call it trust in God. I pay the leetle I have ant give a mortgage for the rest.” She chuckled softly, ending with a sigh, the echo of the sorrow she had combated with all her forceful, cheery nature. “Mrs. Walker--she thought I’d never pay; but I have.”
“What? Not for all of it?”
“Yes. Since you came I got mine deed. Next thing iss to buy some new furniture that iss not all the time fighting mit the colors.”
Sydney looked at her with deeper respect. He knew the property was valuable. “I can’t see how--other nurserymen make money, but not so fast.”
She stepped nearer and laid her hand impressively on his. “Seedney, there iss a secret--love.”
He looked his wonder, his mystification.
“Listen. I tell you. Plant, tree, insect, animal--all are God’s. His life iss in all. He gifes all breath the same as man; that iss, life. Then all are brothers; _nicht wahr_? I think so; ant so I do. I love mine leetle plants same as if they could speak. I watch them close, every leetle thing I see. I talks mit them; for that they better grow. That iss how I can make new plants--what you say in English? create new colors, new roses. Those I send to Germany; for them mine friends pay much money.”
“Yes. Already I make many friends mit the nurserymen. I do most business there because I write not the English goot, ant Germans like the flowers grown far away.”
“But I don’t understand about the love part of it.”
“Hard that iss to explain in English. It iss like this. When you know that God gifes life to all, when you think this all the time, sitting down, rising up, night ant day, then all anger leafes you. Also the fear. You kill nothing if you can help it, not even the snake. You love the birds ant they sing for you. Bees will not sting you, nor dogs bite you. All that iss nature turns to you mit love, ant from you gets help. If so you feel toward plants, you see things otherwise you could not see; and that makes you wise to breed, to make new plants to grow. I cannot tell you; it iss one secret everyone himself must discover. Max already sees it.”
“But if we don’t kill snakes and bad things, they will kill us.”
“Who says anything God makes iss bad? Let the snake alone ant he will run. He flies away as fast as man comes; into the wilderness he goes. No creature hurts things only when he gets afraid already. Even man iss goot if he iss not afraid.”
“But what about bad people? Grafters, murderers?”
“They are seek people, crazy mit the drink or mit injustice, or mebbe from the parents they get it. Most people are bad from fear. Fear that they will not have enough to eat, or mebbe their children. Suppose you have always plenty work and plenty money, and know it iss always to be so; will you steal?”
“I’d be a fool to.”
“But suppose you are not strong, you work hard, cannot do so well as the man next to you, ant have hungry leetle children; ant soon you get discharged. Chance to steal some money comes, ant your leetle children are hungry. What you do?”
“I--I’m afraid to think of it.”
“You see? We must not hate those people. We must love them, help them, so they steal no more.”
Sydney looked up quickly. “That’s what you did for Max; you trusted him first.”
“You have said it. Trust helps to success. You can make a man fail by telling him he will; you can also make a man succeed by telling him he will. After success comes plenty friends. Friends! That kind are like flies, much in the way.”
Sydney laughed, and just then the five o’clock whistle blew.
“Mine gracious! So late already. Come. We’ll have dinner soon ant then be ready for the musicale. Good iss Mrs. Wright to ask me. It iss living once more to be mit people who make the music. Mine father was forty years Herr Kapellmeister, ant he wrote much music.”
They went in. All through the dinner and while dressing Sydney pondered her life in the old country, wondering if, as Max believed, she really had played before vast audiences, perhaps before crowned heads. Not that crowned heads made any difference to democratic Sydney; but in Europe that is often made the test of highest excellence.
They found the Wright home lovely and fragrant as spring fields, banked with wild green things the boys had brought from the woods, and starred with dogwood blossoms and spirea.
The night was warm enough for open windows, and when the three from the nursery arrived many guests were present; and looking in from the outside the scene must have reminded Mrs. Schmitz of something in her past, for she stood still a moment on the porch, holding up her hand for silence.
“It iss beautiful! Ant see! Miss Jones--she looks lovely in the efening gown. Ah! She iss a goot girl! I know it!”
Ida was near a window, wearing the same frock she had worn at Bess’s party.
Mrs. Wright was unprepared for the magnificence of Mrs. Schmitz, when she swept down the stairway without her cloak. She wore a rich and becoming gown remodeled from one of her old ones, and a few rare jewels. The long train lent height to her massive body; and the lines of skirt and bodice gave her an elegance that was entirely lost in the squat effect of her ordinary severely tailored street suit.
Sydney looked at her again and again. That day in the lily house she had been wonderful; but tonight she was some one else he felt, and he was shy about speaking to her. But Max was not; he paid her extravagant compliments and with pride introduced her to his friends, and to Dr. and Mrs. Carter.
They belonged together, those two, Sydney thought; not because of any physical resemblance between the slender, aristocratic looking boy and the big woman, but because each possessed a spirit that compelled attention, that won all, that was the essence of good breeding, world wide.
There was no bitterness in Sydney’s attitude now; he was beginning to recognize the value of daily association with Max.
The musicale progressed much as musicales usually do; yet for two people it became the greatest occasion in the world.
Toward the close of the program Mrs. Wright persuaded Ida to sing, explaining to the audience the youth and inexperience of her “song bird.” Ida’s simple ballad, sung without affectation in her fresh voice, pleased them all and won an encore.
She stood again and sang without accompaniment a plaintive German song, a sweet, tender tune that lingered even after she took her seat.
With the first note Mrs. Schmitz bent forward, lips parted, her wide eyes fixed on the girl. Sydney, watching Ida, saw her look their way; saw her countenance change, though she continued steadily to the end.
But when he looked again at Mrs. Schmitz he knew that it was her face, white as the dogwood blossom hanging above her, not his, that arrested the singer’s eye.
“Seedney!” the German said quietly as soon as the song ended, “you bring Miss Jones to me--in the hall--no, on the porch, I must speak to her. It iss of great importance. Hurry!”
Still holding herself to quietness she rose and passed through the door to the porch.
Mrs. Schmitz was waiting in a deserted corner of the porch far from the noisy company around the punch bowl; and when Sydney came forward with Ida, she stepped toward them, reaching both hands to the wondering girl, and asking in a tremulous voice,
“Girl! Girl! Where learned you that song?”
“I think my mother must have taught it to me when I was very little; I can’t remember when I did not sing it.”
“Your mutter--do you remember her?”
Ida looked around startled, and again at Mrs. Schmitz. “Oh, sometimes I think I can; a tall, lovely woman, not large like you. Then it fades,--that picture, and I see nothing but darkness and--” She shivered.
“Ant water?” Mrs. Schmitz volunteered excitedly.
“Yes. How--do you know?”
“How do I know? Because you are mine leetle Ida! Because mine father write that song for you, and taught it to you. And it never was printed, ant no one sings it but mine leetle Ida!” She smoothed back the girl’s hair, and studied her face anxiously.
“That’s true. No one sings it but me.”
“Ant I was that tall woman; in America I grow fat.”
“Ida! Ida,” the girl mused, giving the name its German sound. “They used to call me so; I can dimly remember.”
With one sweep of her loving arms Mrs. Schmitz took the girl to her heart, so long hungry for her child. Ida, who had drifted from the orphan asylum to one home after another, had found at last the mother for whom she had so long prayed.
It was the daughter who first noticed that others had approached. The discovery of her mother had changed her whole future. In a moment, almost in a breath, the shadowy hand of family relationship had reached across the sea, bringing dim memories of her native land and speech; had given her a family where before she had been a lonely waif. Yet, for this is the way of youth, the present moment seemed the all important one to her.
“_Mutterchen_,” she whispered, and knew not that she said “mother dear,” in German; “they are looking at us.”
The mother, older and wiser, looked both ways on life, to the past and to the future. Not only had her heart massed the longing and sadness of dreary years and flung it to the winds in this instant of glad discovery; she was also planning for the future. No wonder she had no eyes for people, time, or place; for anything but this miracle of happiness; her child was found!
But once recalled, her innate courtesy prompted the kind course. With a long embrace that held the pent tenderness of years, she released Ida, and they went quietly in. After the other guests had gone Mrs. Schmitz told her story to the rejoicing Wrights, Max, and Billy and his mother.
She wished to take Ida home with her that very night, but was surprised with opposition.
“I think I should stay where I am till the end of the semester. That is only a week or so; and it will inconvenience Mrs. Patton for me to go away now.”
“But what will she do in summer time? Seedney tells me summer times you work for money to buy your clothes.”
“Yes, but that is all planned for. When school closes they are going to the country; they have made their arrangements.”
“So? Well, then I’ll hire a good servant to take your place.”
Ida hesitated. It was a great temptation; yet her duty was clear, as her mother could see by her decision. “A stranger would be a lot of bother for such a short time. The little children would be afraid of her, and the big ones wouldn’t mind her, and Mrs. Patton couldn’t leave the baby with her, and--Oh, don’t you see? I want to be with you, but I must stay where I am till vacation begins.”
For an instant no one spoke. Mrs. Schmitz did not conceal her disappointment, yet she did a strange thing. She rose from her chair and drew Ida up beside her, gazing into her eyes, smoothing back her hair, noting every feature of her small, expressive face. She saw the loveliness there and her mother’s pride rejoiced in it; but she was looking deeper, was singing in her heart a song of joy.
“Mine child, for those words I love you more. Already you are like your father ant grandfather. Also like mine goot mutter, so much to think of others. You stay, yes; but I shall hire the Japanese boy to do much work for you, scrub, clean, ant do things mit the dishrag.”
She joked a little to keep back the tears, and saw Ida go away with Sydney, while she started home with Max.
Both were silent till they had left the car and were walking toward the nursery, when Max said, with a cadence of regret in his voice, “I’ll never find another home like yours in the City of Green Hills.”
She whirled, blocking his way. “You are not going. You ant Seedney are still mine boys.”
“We’ll be in the way.”
“Never! You are mine mascot. Seedney iss mine strong right hand. I got plenty rooms. Don’t you see?” Under the arc light he saw her face beaming with the joy of planning. “That’s what for I save mine best room mit the porch; that iss now Ida’s. Ant we will have a quartette, four parts.”
Inside the house they discussed that matter and many others, excitedly. In imagination they refurnished the house, disputing whether pink or blue would be nicest for Ida. Max and his new sister went through the university, Max deciding his profession; and they were hotly debating the question whether Ida’s voice could be developed into a high dramatic soprano, or would only be a mezzo soprano, when Sydney came, Sydney, the practical.
“It’s half past two,” he warned. “Max, if you don’t behave, Ida will lose her mother as soon as she’s found her. You gink! can’t you see our mother-on-the-side is worn to a frazzle?”
Mrs. Schmitz laughed and started toward the hall. “Goot Seedney!” she called back. “Ida finds already two fine brothers; one, Max, to make her fly mit the clouds; ant Seedney, to hold her to the earth, from which all our life must come. She iss a lucky girl.”
“The nursery is all right for the night,” embarrassed Sydney said by way of changing the subject. “The temperature has dropped; I turned on the heat for the orchids.”
She patted his arm. “Goot boy! Goot night, two goot boys,” she said cheerily in another tone, and left them.
At school the silent prejudice against Max had shown itself in looks, in subtle ways impossible to define, and in the fact that he was omitted from some of the class affairs. Yet as the weeks passed he could feel it decline.
Billy was the best of friends. He told Max that all the “good ones of the bunch” liked him from the day he went back to school and marched boldly up to Walter in the presence of his special friends and said, “Mr. Buckman, when one does wrong the only way he can atone is to make good for it if possible, and live it down. I paid for the food I took, as you know; and I intend to stay in Fifth Avenue High till I graduate. Some day I may get even with you.”
The words were not a menace. Max’s face and tone were kind, greatly puzzling Walter. When he least expected it and in the most astonishing way Walter was to acknowledge that Max was more than even.
It was perhaps two weeks after the musicale that Max and Sydney were at Billy’s, planning and rehearsing some of the details of Billy’s play. It was well on the way toward presentation. He had worked hard, beginning in early autumn, and revising again and again, till at last he had won high commendation from his teacher of English, who had spurred him to write it.
A committee from each high school in the city would hear it, and on their joint decision rested the award of the prize. If Billy won it would be for the honor of his school as well as for himself.
Late in the afternoon Billy’s small cousin, Madge Price--little Miss Snow, her brother Hec called her because of her white hair--ran in, gesticulating wildly, scarcely able to speak coherently.
“Quick! Come! It’s Dottie Buckman! She’s all swallowed up! She’ll be dead in a minute!”
Before she had finished, Billy swung her to his arm and ran out with her, questioning as he went. Max and Sydney followed. Around the corner they hurried to where the city, in the process of street grading, had made a huge cut.
Instantly they knew. All the children in the neighborhood played there at “making caves.” Many little hands had worked far into the sand bank, easy to dig yet damp and hard packed enough to stay in place. But at last the root-netted crust above became too thin to support its weight, and had fallen, imprisoning the little child in its fatal clutch.
“Oh, oh! She’ll be all dead!” Madge cried piteously as Billy put her down.
Heedless of her, the boys frantically tore at the earth with their hands. Billy grasped the situation, as Max could see, while he snatched at the earth with inadequate fingers.
“Run, Madge! Tell mother, everybody! Tell them to bring shovels!” Billy commanded, and sent out ringing calls for help in every direction.
There were no men near at that hour, and only women came running with every sort of an implement from a shovel to kitchen spoons; but they worked as frantically as the boys.
“Some one get a basin of water,” Max commanded.
“Who’s going to stop to drink water?” Billy asked sarcastically.
No one halted to answer, least of all Max. He had a fierce sort of strength that outmatched sturdy Sydney and even big, strong Billy. He drove his shovel deeper, piled it higher, and plied it faster than any one else. The perspiration poured from him, yet he shivered with dread of what they should presently see.
“Out of my way!” he cried to a hysterical woman who ran in front of him, and did no work herself. “Take her away, Billy!” he demanded in a voice that would be obeyed, the long, rapid sweep of his arms never halting, never slacking, indeed, moving more swiftly with each dip of the shovel. He did not see or know that the woman slipped back at his first fierce word.
It seemed hours, in reality it was less than minutes, when a fragment of a little skirt was uncovered.
“Here she is!” Max shouted wildly; and the boys worked with more fury, till presently three pairs of hands drew the limp little figure to the light, apparently dead.
[Illustration: “Here she is!” Max shouted wildly]
A motor car was standing alone in front of a house near by. While they were working, Max had noticed it and planned for it.
“One of you run and crank up that machine. Quick!” he ordered.
“I will! I know it; it belongs to one of the neighbors.” Billy was off, shouting back as he ran.
Now they knew what the water was for. Max plunged his handkerchief into it, opened the little sand-filled mouth and wiped it clear; the nostrils the same. Far out he pulled the small tongue. “Hold it so,” he directed Sydney, while he continued with the cleansing water.
The machine rolled up, and before it could stop, or hardly halt its speed, Max with the child in his arms sprang in, Sydney behind him carrying the basin.
“The nearest doctor,” Max called, but unnecessarily, for Billy understood, knew well which doctor lived nearest, and was already on the way.
Down the street they flew, heedless of the shouts of the irate owner of the car, while Max and Sydney worked hard to restore breath to the smothered child.
Again and again Max dipped the useful handkerchief into the basin, wiping off the little face. Gently he pressed down her chest and released the pressure in even movements.
“Why don’t you drive, Billy?” he called desperately.
Billy was driving as he never had before, using every ounce of power he could make. He too felt the wheels creep, and pumped the gasoline more recklessly, while he went hot and cold at the thought of being too late.
It was a beautiful afternoon and the streets were full of women and children, sauntering or playing in the freedom and security of the quiet residence district. In and out among them, honking and shouting, Billy wove his perilous course, praying fervently if not consciously that he might not kill one child while trying to save another.
It was not till an officer swooped down upon him from a cross street that he knew how fast he was going. In long leaps the galloping horse made losing speed beside the machine, the officer shouting raucously at Billy to stop, and waving his club with menace.
“It’s life and death!” shouted Billy, driving on still faster.
In a second more he was at the physician’s door; but not before the anxious boys in the tonneau imagined they had seen a tiny flutter of the little eyelids; thought they felt a faint lift of the bosom. Yet they dared not hope; the motion of the car was deceiving.
They were fortunate to find the doctor in, one of the few to keep an office in the residence district. From Max’s trembling arms he took the little one and laid her on the operating table, questioning while he began a skillful examination, the boys watching silently, fearing yet longing to hear his verdict.
He took no time for words save a few commands when, needing assistance, he forced something between her lips, drop by drop.
In a moment they saw a movement of her lips. Presently they could see her breath coming, and at last her eyes opened--opened slowly and closed again, showing no intelligence; and Max looked anxiously into the doctor’s noncommittal face, trying to read it.
How the moments dragged for the watching boys! The doctor’s face grew sterner with each second, and Max began to lose courage, keeping his eyes from the other boys, when a soft moan broke the silence, and following that, incoherent sounds from the stiff, sand-roughened lips of the child.
The doctor straightened. His face relaxed in a smile. To the boys it seemed as if he had been suddenly released from some dreadful ordeal. Sternness melted in tenderness, and his hand had the gentleness of a mother’s as he smoothed back the matted hair and spoke cheering words.
“Hi there, baby! It’s all right now, little one.”
Slowly the child’s gaze wandered from one to another, half frightened, only half aroused.
Billy thrust his head within her view. “Want to go home, Taddie?”
That was Walter’s pet name for her and it further aroused her. She knew Billy and feebly reached out her arms to him.
“Yes, we’ll take her home,” the doctor said. “The sight of her mother will be best medicine now.” With that they stepped into the car and drove to Mr. Buckman’s house, arriving to find it in great commotion.
Mrs. Wright and Billy’s mother had been out when the accident occurred; but the story of Madge, who had been playing with Dottie, added to the conflicting reports of the neighbors, had terribly frightened Mrs. Buckman. She had telephoned the police department, called her husband, and had their own physician waiting when the boys brought her darling safely to her arms.
The doctors joined in a further examination, while in an adjoining room, by Mr. Buckman’s order, the three boys waited the result. They were still under great tension, and restless while the tall clock ticked off the interminable minutes, one by one.
But at last the door opened to admit the men; and the boys heard a soft sobbing, and the mother’s voice speaking a torrent of endearing words over her rescued child.
“Tell them--thank--Oh, James, you know what to say,” she called after her husband in a voice tremulous with tears of joy.
Before he could speak, Walter ran in, disheveled, haggard, and closing the door, stood behind his father.
“Tell me, young man,” the second doctor asked Max, “how it happened you knew enough to treat that child as you did? But for that nothing could have saved her. As it was, it was a mighty close shave.”
“My father’s a doctor, and I have sometimes been with him on emergency cases, and seen him work. Besides he told me a few things.” Max spoke modestly in a voice weak from excitement and hard work.
“He did more than that,” Billy put in quickly. “He worked at the digging faster than any of us; he had twice the power of Mumps and me, though we tried as hard as we could, and he thought of everything, and--”
“We all did as much as we could,” Max interrupted; “if either one had done less it wouldn’t have been enough.”
“That’s true. Yet your knowledge of what to do after she was uncovered saved the child. Mr. Buckman, thank him for your little girl’s life.”
Max hung back and was about to speak again when Walter pushed forward and caught Max by both hands. “I--I am the one who owes you everything, Max Ball!”
“It’s nothing,” Max objected, too upset to realize what he was saying; “I--I guess I’m even with you.”
Mr. Buckman stared at them wonderingly, and the two doctors waited a minute in embarrassed silence, realizing that here was a matter quite out of their province. With the promise of another visit later in the evening, they departed, leaving Mr. Buckman gazing questioningly at his agitated son.
“Oh, you don’t know what reason you have to be ashamed of me, father,” Walter burst out; “I’ll never be able to look you in the face again.”
He told his story, how he had listened behind the portieres when Max made his confession, how jealous he had been of Max’s popularity at school, and the way he had revenged himself.
“What? You that plucky chap that came here last winter?” Ignoring Walter, Mr. Buckman strode forward and grasped Max by the hand. “I wondered what had become of you. Now you cross my threshold again to bring my little daughter who, but for you, would be dead.” He turned away. Stern and proud, he could not trust his voice.
For a moment there was absolute silence. Mr. Buckman still held Max by the hand, while the rest waited for him to speak again, Walter with his back to the others, his shoulders drooping, the figure of abject shame.
“I want to see you in my office--soon; to-morrow. I want to talk with you. A chap who can do the plucky things--”
“It wasn’t any more than they did,” Max began, determined that Billy and Sydney should be recognized.
“Yes, yes, I know all of you saved my little girl; but only one sick, neglected boy came alone to face me and make restitution for a fault. That’s what I’m remembering now. I wish to God I had a son like that!” He wheeled and walked rapidly out of the room.
“Oh, father! father!” It was a desperate cry. Walter ran toward the door but it closed in his face. He threw himself against it and, heedless of listeners, sobbed like a heart-broken child.
For an embarrassed instant the other three stood stock-still and looked at the floor. They did not know what to do. Mentally numb from the strain they had undergone, this added distress bewildered them.
It was Billy who first roused to the proper thing. “Beat it, kids!” he whispered hoarsely; and they scrambled out, leaving Walter quite unconscious of their departure.
That race with death for the life of little Dottie Buckman brought such intense fatigue to Max that he did not that night think much about what Mr. Buckman might have to say to him; but the next day the coming interview mixed itself exasperatingly with books and recitations. He built all sorts of extravagant plans for the future; scoffed at himself for them, and was chagrined to find that the mere notion of good fortune could so distract him.
But when late that afternoon he was admitted to find Mr. Buckman busy at his desk, his dreams seemed very foolish. The atmosphere of severity that pervaded the office sobered him; and as the absorbed man did not look up, Max seated himself quietly to wait till he should be noticed.
At business the man looked the master he was. Power showed in every movement of his broad hand; sternness in every feature of his large, deeply lined face. He was one to drive important enterprises to success against the greatest odds; the only kind of man who is able to conquer the territory of the Northwest where nature, though lavish, makes harsh resistance.
Yet Max could read in that severe face love of justice, scorn of pettiness, and pride of personal honor.
When he looked up and saw Max the lines in his face broke from sternness to pleasure and he rose and shook hands cordially.
“I’ve been expecting you, my boy,” he said kindly, pointing to a nearer chair. “I’ve thought of you all day.”
It was a long conference. Mr. Buckman insisted on supporting Max while he finished his education. He wished him to leave Mrs. Schmitz at the beginning of the university year and go to a chapter house where he could use all of his time for study and other student interests--no doubt of Max’s ability to “make” a fraternity occurred to him. For this he told Max he had already arranged to pay him an allowance of one hundred dollars a month.
Max was intuitive; was able in mind to spring forward to the future, seeing at a glimpse all the long path to be traveled, as a bird, skimming the ether high above the earth, sees the great panorama spread below and her destination almost before she sets out.
So Max saw that no matter how kind and generous Mr. Buckman might mean to be, and really be, this course would bind Max to him for the future. Though he should accept the offer as a loan--and his pride was robust enough to allow it to be a loan only--he saw that deviation from the man’s wishes would mean to him ingratitude, a breach of fidelity.
It was to escape a similar situation that Max had run away from home. Could he give a stranger what he would not give his father, who had so much greater right to exact it--the absolute surrender of his own wishes?
He found it hard to explain himself. Every argument he offered was met by a stronger one. The financier was bent on doing something large and splendid for the boy who had saved his child; and he would not accept Max’s refusal.
“Mr. Buckman, were you always rich?” Max asked, a touch of desperation in his tone.
“Indeed, no. I was a poor farmer boy--made every dollar I have.” The pride of the self-made man was in his loud voice. “I carved my fortune out of this land--the timber, the water power, its rivers and sea.”
“What if some one, when you were a boy, had compelled you to take up medicine, or the law, or to be a minister? Would you?”
“By George, no! I wasn’t the sort for life in a chair. I wanted to be out fighting things; would like to be outside now.”
“Even if you had not gained riches you would have wished to have a voice in planning your life, wouldn’t you?”
“My boy, I don’t want to plan your life for you; I only want to help you carry out your own plans.”
Max was helpless. He felt Mr. Buckman’s present sincerity; yet he knew that one who said, “Go!” or “Come!” to scores of men who obeyed absolutely, would expect obedience from anyone who took his money. Deceit would be the alternative.
Suddenly he realized a little of the reason for Walter’s failure to please his father; unlimited pocket money, the flattery of his fellows, and the easy but fatal path of duplicity.
At last Max spoke resolutely. “Mr. Buckman, something in me makes it impossible to accept your offer. I don’t believe you yourself would think as well of me if I did.”
Surprised, the man looked steadily at Max a moment before replying. “I believe you’re right, boy. You’re a new sort of youngster to me. Go ahead in your own way. Only you must promise me this: if you ever need money, for school or business, come to me. Will you? Will you promise that?”
“If--if I need it pretty badly I’ll come. I’ll come before I have to rob ice boxes.” They both smiled, and the tension was broken.
After some further talk the interview ended, and Max left the office knowing he had won respect instead of merely gratitude. It had been a hard hour; and considering he had “turned down” a hundred dollars a month he thought it strange that he should feel so buoyant.
Whistling gayly as he walked from the car, he opened the door of his home to meet a stranger, a small, quiet-spoken man with an inscrutable face, who rose at once and held out a copy of the morning paper. “Are you the young man mentioned here as Max Ball?”
The paper had published a long, sensational account of the event of the previous day, magnifying Max’s part in it, giving a garbled story of his life in the city, and asserting that he would become the beneficiary of Mr. Buckman.
Max admitted his identity, but denied the closing statement.
Question after question the man asked, questions that seemed apropos of nothing at first; but they slowly, circuitously led to facts in Max’s life that he had intended never to disclose.
It seemed as if he were on trial for a crime he had not committed, and was being proven certainly guilty. As often as possible he took refuge in silence; but the man was able to compel speech, to make him tell all he knew and more besides.
“What is all this for?” Max importuned for the third time, when the man was closing his notebook.
“That I am not at liberty to mention.”
“I’m all straight; honest, I am!” Max pleaded. “And whatever you think you’ve found against me, I don’t want my--the lady here who has been so good to me, to be drawn into it. I can’t have her troubled.”
A slight change softened the inquisitor’s face. “I think we won’t need to annoy her. Perhaps you are more anxious yourself than is necessary.” With this he left Max to a long evening of distress.
Mrs. Schmitz was dining out that night, and he fidgeted for hours, wondering what the strange grilling could portend. But she was so late in returning that he concluded he must not disturb her, and went to bed in a ferment of excitement and bafflement.
With the dark his worries loomed larger. Could it be possible that at some place where he had worked things were missing, and at this late day they were suspecting him? Wild visions of prosecution, conviction on circumstantial evidence, and jail filled Max with terror, and when delayed sleep finally came, they persisted in troubled dreams.
The morning sun scattered his fears and a talk with Mrs. Schmitz wiped them out; though when the ringing of the doorbell interrupted them, her parting remark lodged a new idea, not a fear but an anxiety.
“Don’t you be troubling about stealings you never did, nor police, nor things like that. Some one iss hunting you; it will be your father!”
It was Billy coming with a cheerful message, which he delivered without the ceremony of other greetings.
“Max, old boy, you’re it, all righty. I was over to see May Nell last night. Mr. Smith was there, and I told him about what you did the other day--”
“What we did,” Max corrected.
“No interruptions. May Nell had told him how Walter treated you and how you stood it; and Mr. Smith said, ‘Tell that young chap to call on me. I’ve employment and promotion for men of that stamp. Most anyone can make good in the sunshine on a smooth road; but the man who plods alone in the dark and uphill is the one I can trust.’”
“He meant you, Billy. Mumps told me all about how Jim Barney treated you, and how you worked all summer with robbery hanging over you because you wouldn’t tell on a girl; and--”
“Cut it! That’s ancient history. It was Mr. Smith I worked for, and my job’s waiting for me whenever I want it. What I have for you is business for today. Right now! This minute! Mr. Smith wants you to come to see him. Understand?”
“But I can’t go to work yet. Mrs. Schmitz--”
“He doesn’t want you right away, only to chin with you a bit; to catch you before some one else nabs you. He’s all the time looking for ‘young timber well-seasoned and straight-grown,’ as he calls it, to put into his business.”
“How can he tell timber before it is tried out?”
“That’s just it. He thinks you have been tried out.”
Max pondered a moment, amazed by the many opportunities offering, by the strange things happening to him. But back of all perplexities stood a calm, strong figure, Mrs. Schmitz. And in contrast to the stress and strain he knew he must meet if he went to work for Mr. Smith or Mr. Buckman, he saw the warm, fragrant nursery with its mysteries of nature ever inviting study, and busy, happy evenings with music, his goddess.
It was but an instant that he was silent, his gaze fixed on the floor in an abstraction that Billy respected though it seemed long to him before Max spoke.
“Billy, it’s jolly good of you to do so much for me; and kind of Mr. Smith, too. But when he knows my plans I believe he will advise me to stick to them.”
“What are they?”
“Work for Mrs. Schmitz till I learn her business as well as she knows it.”
“She wants me for her partner.”
“Hooray for you! But you’ll have to give up your music.”
“No; she wishes me to go on with that. She says music and flowers go together, and that flowers will support me while I am conquering the violin. After that she--she thinks I’ll do something unusual. I shall try not to disappoint her.”
“Gee! Luck’s coming your way all right. No, you’ve just gone and collared the witch.”
“I guess that’s the only way to win her.”
They went away together to attend to many pressing matters concerning the play, which was only two days off. And the hurry and excitement pushed other disturbing thoughts out of Max’s mind till it was over, so successfully over that it won the coveted literary prize for the Fifth Avenue High.
But the day after, when Max was tired and depressed from loss of sleep, all his anxieties returned; and they were many, for he had imagined a hundred different dilemmas behind that strange interview.
He was playing softly in the cool parlor, trying to forget his worries, when a tall, distinguished looking man was ushered in. Max turned, and almost dropped his violin. “Father! Oh, father, you are ill!”
“Not ill now--now that I have found you.” He held out his arms.
Forgetting all his past resolves, Max threw himself into those open arms and returned their close, passionate embrace. “Father! I’m so glad!”
“My boy! You cannot be half so glad as I. Do you forgive me?”
Max was astonished. His father asking forgiveness! “Don’t ask that! I--I am the one.”
“No. I was the older one. I should have been the wiser, known my son better. All this long dreadful year that I have searched for you, I have known that it was my unreasonable command that you should give up music entirely and study law whether you liked it or not, that drove you from home. It was my bitter lesson.”
Max noted the thinner figure, the lines of sorrow in his face, and the gray in his hair that had been shining black the last time he saw it; and he understood a little of the grief that had walked by his father’s side day and night for the longest year of his life.
Mrs. Schmitz, hearing voices, came in and met Max’s father as a friend. “I have been expecting you already. I knew you would be finding him, Mr. Ballantree. Mine own daughter after thirteen years comes out of the sea to me; much easier was it for you to find Max.”
Briefly they discussed the search, coming soon to Max’s future.
“What do you wish, my son? To stay here or come home with me?”
How different was this from the heated words, sounding so terrible in young ears, that had driven Max from home. “I’d rather see you dead than a miserable fiddler!” the father had said, standing before his library fire, and not looking up when his son left the room for the last time.
Max told of Mrs. Schmitz’s goodness, her wisdom, and her business offer, not omitting the future he hoped for with his violin. “But if you wish it I will go with you and try to make a success of law.”
The sad, careworn look came again to the man’s face, but before he could speak Mrs. Schmitz broke in. “The law iss it? Will you ask him to that?”
“No. I ask nothing of him, except that he shall try to be a good man and--and love his old father a little.”
His voice trembled, and Max went to him, putting his arm across his shoulders. “I shall always do that, father. I think I understand you now.”
“Ach! If fathers only would remember that when the goot God cuts out a boy mit the pattern of a fiddler he iss not intending to make a lawyer to settle fights. Mit music you settle fights better anyways.”
“You are right. Mothers know best. His did, but I wouldn’t listen to her. The boy stays with you, Mrs. Schmitz. You saved him.”
When Mr. Ballantree left shortly for his eastern home it was to arrange his affairs for removing to Washington, the state that Max chose for his future home.