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"It's all in the hands of Providence," said Kantwise, "and we should look to him."
"And how does it taste?" asked Moulder, shaking the gloomy thoughts from his mind.
'' Uncommon," said Snengkeld,with his mouth quite full. "I never ate such a turkey in all my life."
''Like melted diamonds," said Mrs. Moulder, who was not without a touch of poetry.
"Ah! there's nothing like hanging of 'em long enough, and watching of 'em well. It's that vinegar as done it;" and then they went seriously to work, and there was nothing more said of any importance until the eating was nearly over.
And now Mrs. M. had taken away tho cloth, and they were sitting cozily over their port-wine. The very apple of the eye of the evening had not arrived even yet. That would not come till the pipes were brought out, and the brandy was put on the table, and the whisky was there that made the people's hair stand on end. It was then that the flood-gates of convivial eloquence would be unloosed. In the mean time it was necessary to sacrifice something to gentility, and therefore they sat over their port-wine.
"Did you bring that letter with you, John?" said his sister. John replied that he had done so, and that he had also received another letter that morning from another party on the same subject.
"Do show it to Moulder, and ask him," said Mrs. M.
"I've got 'em both on purpose," said John; and then he brought forth two letters, and handed one of them to his brother-in-law. It contained a request, very civilly worded, fromMessrs. Round and Crook, begging him to call at their office in Bedford Row on the earliest possible day, in order that they might have some conversation with him regarding the will of the late Sir Joseph Mason, who died in 18—.
"Why this is law business," said Moulder, who liked no business of that description. "Don't you go near them, John, if you ain't obliged."
And then Kenueby gavo his explanation on the matter, telling how in former years—many years ago—be had been a witness in a lawsuit. And then as ho told it he sighed, remembering Miriam Usbech, for whose sake he had remained unmarried even to this day. And he went on to narrate how he had been bullied in the court, though he had valiantly striven to tell the truth with exactness; and as he spoke an opinion of his became manifest that old Usbech had not signed the document in his presence. "The girl signed it, certainly," said he, "for I handed her the pen. I recollect it as though it were yesterday."
"They are the very people wo were talking of at Leeds," said Moulder, turning to Kantwise. "Mason and Martock; don't you remember how you went out to Groby Park to sell some of them iron gimeracks? That was old Mason's eon. They are tho same people." Vol. XXIII.—No. 137.—Ss
"Ah! I shouldn't wonder," said Kantwise, who was listening all the while. He never allowed intelligence of this kind to pass by him idly.
"And who's the other letter from?" asked Moulder. "But, dash my wigs, it's past six o'clock. Come, old girl, why don't you give us the tobacco and stuff?"
"It ain't far to fetch," said Mrs. Moulder. And then she put the tobacco and "stuff" upon the table.
''The other letter is from an enemy of mine," said John Kouneby, speaking very solemnly; "an enemy of mine, named Dockwrath, who lives at Hamworth. He's an attorney too."
"Dockwrath!" said Moulder.
Mr. Kantwise said nothing, but he looked round over his shoulder at Keuneby, and then shut his eyes.
"That was the name of the man whom we left in the commercial room at the Bull," said Snengkeld.
"He went out to Mason's at Groby Park that same day," said Moulder.
"Then it's the same man," said Kenueby; and there was as much solemnity in the tone of his voice as though the unravelment of all the mysteries of the iron mask was now about to take place. Mr. Kantwise still said nothing, but he also perceived that it was the same man.
"Let me tell you, John Kenueby," said Moulder, with the air of one who understood well the subject that he was discussing, "if they two bo the same man, then the man who wrote that letter to you is as big a blackguard as there is from this to hisself." And Mr. Moulder in the excitement of the moment puffed hard at his pipe, took a long pull at his drink, and dragged open his waistcoat. "I don't know whether Kantwise has any thing to say upon that subject," added Moulder.
"Not a word at present," said Kantwise. Mr. Kantwise was a very careful man, and usually caleulated with accuracy the value which he might extract from any circumstance with reference to his own main chance. Mr. Dockwrath had not as yet paid him for the set of the metallic furniture, and therefore he also might well have joined in that sweeping accusation; but it might be that by a judicious use of what he now heard he might obtain the payment of that little bill—and perhaps other collateral advantages.
And then the letter from Dockwrath to Kenneby was brought forth and read. "My dear John," it began—for the two had known each other when they were lads together—and it went on to request Kcnueby's attendance at Hamworth for the short space of a few hours—'' I want to have a little conversation with you about a matter of considerable interest to both of us; and as I can not expect you to undertake expense I inclose a money order for thirty shillings."
"He's in earnest at any rate," said Mr. Moulder.
"No mistake about that," said Snengkeld. But Mr. Kantwise spoke never a word.
It was at last decided that John Kenneby should go both to Hamworth and to Bedford Row, but that he should go to Hamworth first. Moulder would have counseled him to have gone to neither, but Snengkeld remarked that there were too many at work to let the matter sleep, and John himself observed that "anyways he hadn't done any thing to be ashamed of."
"Then go," said Moulder, at last, "only don't say more than you are obliged to."
"I does not like these business talkings on Christmas night," said Mrs. Moulder, when the matter was arranged.
"What can one do?" asked Moulder.
"It's a tempting of Providence in my mind," said Kantwise, as he replenished his glass and turned his eyes up to the ceiling.
"Now that's gammon," said Moulder. And then there arose among them a long and animated discussion on matters theological.
"I'll tell you what my idea of death is," said Moulder, after a while. "I ain't a bit afeard of it. My father was an honest man as did his duty by his employers, and he died with a bottom of brandy before him and a pipe in his mouth. I sha'n't live long myself—"
"Gracious, Moulder, don't!" said Mrs. M.
"No more I sha'n't, 'cause I'm fat as he was; and I hope I may die as he did. I've been honest to Hubbies and Grease. They've made thousands of pounds along of me, and have never lost none. Who can say more than that? When I took to the old girl there, I insured my life, so that she shouldn't want her wittles and drink—"
"Oh, M., don't!"
'1And I ain't afeard to die. Snengkeld, my old pal, hand us the brandy."
Such is the modern philosophy of the Moulders, pigs out of the sty of Epicurus. And so it was they passed Christmas-day in Great St. Helens.
"MARRYING A BABY." "TTPON my word, Phil, I think you're the U most entertaining person I've met since I came to New York. I really think you have made as many as three remarks, all equally brilliant, since Phil Junior was sent off to bed. I believe it's only him after all you come to see!"
Little Mrs. Ellis pouted—a pout was becoming to her strawberry mouth—and tossed a geranium from a vase near by, at the half-shut eyes of the tall brother who lay stretched at lazy length on the sofa opposite. He caught the perfumed leaf as it fell and smelled it languidly, looking at his sister with a smile, half amused, half listless.
"What a little exigeante you are, Lou!"he said, in a light, mocking tone. "Here I've been playing the devoted brother to perfection ever since your arrival. Round here at the Brevoort every evening, making myself necessary to your small boy's nocturnal peace of mind; doing opera, concert, church, and all that sort
of thing with you, while your lazy liege lord over yonder smoked his Habana in inglorious ease at home; and now when it's an otf-night for all those things, and I report myself at the post of duty all the same, you expect me to talk and make myself otherwise agreeable! Come now, that's too much, you know. I shall consider myself an injured individual, persecuted by an ungrateful sister. I shall wish you the best of good-nights, and hope to find you more reasonable when I return to-morrow."
Mrs. Ellis laughed at his tone of mock injury, and put out her pretty hand to stay him as he pretended to rise.
"No, no; lie still a little longer—I want to talk to you, Phil," she said, in a voice that was anxious, spite of its lightness. "Len hasn't half got through his quota of cigars—I let him smoke as many as he likes, out on the balcony! Ho won't heed us."
"I wait to hear," said the brother, closing his eyes with a martyred air; and the lady went on, speaking hurriedly, half-timidly.
"You won't be angry with me, Phil—you know I love you better than any one in the world except that dear, good old fellow out there, and little Phil, the boy that was named for you. But spite of that, I must tell you that I'm not half satisfied with you. You know I always aspired to such great things for you; the Presidency was never half enough—"
"You little goose—I should think not!" interrupted her brother, a smile breaking over the lips, that while they were closed had a bitter, almost hard, expression.
"And I'm just disappointed, grievously disappointed, Phil, to come back, after an absence of three years, and find you still jogging along in the old dull track, never caring to interest yourself in any thing outside of your dingy land office; so blase in every kind of pleasure, and so tired of all sorts of people, even of yourself, that life seems to you rather a burden to be borne than a grand gift to be grandly used. It's a shame, Phil—now there!"
Philip Warner looked and listened, half amazed, half amused, to this sudden and unexpected burst of feeling from the gay, simple little sister, who had always been a kind of pet child to him.
"You dear, good, funny little creature," he began; but as she turned away with a gesture of vexation at his light tone he sprang up to an erect position and answered as seriously as she could wish.
"It is a shame, truly, Lou; no one knows that better than I. But I can not help it. The freshness and vigor have all died out of my life. I know no miraculous fountain in which I may dip and come forth a new man. The life I lead is enough to dry up the springs in any nature. Alone in a great city, where not one of the thousands I meet daily cares whether I am in the world or out of it; with no home influences to keep the heart in my body from turning to a fossil; following, day after day, the same dull routine of labor with all the ambition which once gave it zest, strangled long ago by the mire through which it must wade to reach its goal nowadays; pursuing the same insipid round of stupidities, miscalled gayeties, or else spending the endless evenings in a bachelor's den—ah, Lou, what wonder you find me a bore? But I bore no one so much as myself."
Mrs. Ellis looked at her brother as he stood leaning against the mantle-shelf, his dark eyes growing sad and stern, and a smile more bitter than playful on his lip. Her own eyes filled with loving tears, and she could not answer for a moment: was this the end of all the young girl's fond proud dreams for the brother who had been father, mother, and every thing to her lonely orphanhood? Philip saw how he had grieved her, and he said, very kindly,
"Coax your husband to pitch his tent in this good city of ours, Lou. Make a home for me; let me be indeed a 'noder papa' to your boy, as he says, and you and he shall make of me what you like."
Mrs. Ellis looked pleased and touched.
"I only wish it were possible—but you know it is not," she said. "But, Phil, why do you not make a home for yourself? I really believe it is all you need. You have grown morbid in your solitude. Promise me now that you will marry—that you will begin to look out for a wife from this very night!"
She sprung up in her eagerness and put her hands on his shoulders—her favorite expression of affection; but the sudden bitterness that darkened his face, the cold cynicism of his tone made her start back grieved and astonished.
"Get married! Look out for a wife! That were indeed a remedy worse than the disease!"
Mrs. Ellis sat down again, and looked at her brother with a grave, steady gaze, that involuntarily compelled his hard-set features to relax.
"You must have changed very much from the high-souled and warm-hearted brother who used to be so kind to his silly little sister, if you can utter in earnest such a libel as that against women. You have no right to say such a thing, remembering our mother, or even thinking of me, Philip."
Philip Warner was touched by her spirited yet tender words, her tone of unwonted dignity. He came and sat down beside her.
"Ah, if there were only any more women to be found like my mother, like you, my good little Louie! But there are not!"
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Ellis, energetically. '' Do you suppose your own family monopolized all the good among the sex? There are a thousand women in New York to-night, any one of whom you could probably win if you wooed her aright, for you have every thing, Phil, which makes a man attractive; and five hundred of them would make charming and loving and sensible wives, who would soon put to flight these megrims of yours. Only consent to try."
"I have tried, Lucy." The bitter look and tone came back.
"You tried and failed! The woman you could choose not have soul enough to see that your love was a priceless boon!"
Philip smiled at the quick flash of indignant pride. The smile was a dreary one enough.
"The fault was all mine in supposing that women nowadays had any hearts, or souls, or consciences, or any arrangements of that sort. I tell you they have not!" he went on, sternly, seeing the vexed look coming back to his sister's face. "Not the women I know; they are all slaves, and bow down to the goddess they call Society. Their whole life is given up to acquiring the art of seeming. If they can appear young, and artless, and good, and fresh-hearted, what matter whether they are any of these things or not? I was lonely after you left me. I wanted a wife. I believed in the exploded fable of wedded happiness. I knew a hundred fair-seeming women. I looked among them all to see if any where I might find simplicity, freshness, warmth, and depth. I found here artifice; here selfishness; here a cold, ambitious nature; here giddy, glittering froth. At last I thought —poor fool!—that I had realized my ideal; that I had found a woman who seemed all womanliness, and was what she seemed. I had almost come to love her, even in the meaning I give that word; I could see she liked me."
"Well!" exclaimed Mrs. Ellis, breathlessly, as he paused a moment. Philip smiled sardonically.
"Well, we went to church together one evening; there was to be a sermon in behalf of some charity or other for children; and all the way, as we walked in the cool, clear moonlight—how could she lie so in its truthful light?—she prated, so sweetly as I thought, of her love and pity for these little ones of Christ, so tender and so helpless; she coaxed up lying tears to her eyes as the minister portrayed the sad lot of the orphan with all the artifices of eloquence; she dropped a piece of shining gold on the plate as it passed, and whispered, in a tone meant to be touchingly artless, that 'she knew I wouldn't mind waiting for the smoking-cap she was crocheting, for really she could do nothing for the next month but sew for those poor little destitute darlings!'
"The next morning, sister mine, I chanced to see this tender-hearted creature, whose exquisite charity of soul had well-nigh riveted the chain her many other graces had wound around my heart, promenading Broadway. I was close behind her, but I would not join her just yet; it was such a pleasure to watch her unseen; to mark the graceful, springing step, the queenly carriage of the beautiful head that, proudly as it was set, drooped timidly enough toward me! Besides, there was some one with her, one of the snake-like order of girls, you know; I detested her, and it exasperated me to seo my dove companying with her. Well, they came to a crossing soon; the streets were very muddy, but a little sweeper had made this tidy enough even for her dainty feet. I noticed how deftly she lifted her robe, how pure was the snowy skirt, how trim the tiny boot thus revealed; and while I was glowing all over with the silliest admiration and affection this artless and innocent young creature came to a sudden stop."
"Ah, Philip, you are too scornful, too bitter! I can not stand this tone. What could she have done that you should mock her so?"
Philip smiled, and his smile was worse than his former look.
"The little sweeper held out her hand for the pittance she had justly earned. It was a pretty little hand, Lou, brown and soiled as it was, and the face was like that exquisite French picture, VIndigence—you remember. Just those wistfill pleadingeyesand tremulous sweetmouth."
"Yes, I remember," said Mrs. Ellis, breathlessly; "and what then?"
"What then? Why, the little dirt-stained hand chanced to touch my lady's dainty glove. She struck the little fingers sharply away with her ivory parasol, and the voice in which she uttered, 'Begone, you little beggar 1' absolutely shook with rage.
"'I do think the greatest nuisance in all New York is these horrid little street torments!' she went on to her companion, as the child sprang away dismayed; and this amiable lady remarked that to her all children were a nuisance!
"'Are they not?' responded my charmer; 'but you would have thought I adored them if you had heard me talking to Philip Warner last night. I happened to know that he has a weakness for the little plagues—absurd, isn't it, in a great, splendid fellow like him?—some transcendental notion about their being artless and truthful, and all that. I contributed my last half eagle to an orphan's fund—more for his benefit than theirs, by-the-way—and now I shall have to wear these gloves another Sunday, with the spot that little wretch has left on them. Never mind, he praised their color and fit last night, and I'll try the efficacy of bread crumbs.'
"I haven't forgotten a word of this precious conversation, you see, Lou, but I couldn't stand any more of it. I availed myself of the next crossing to pass the ladies with a bow and a smile. No words were needed; I saw that by the sudden withering up of my fair one's roses as she met my look, and by the malicious glitter in her sweet friend's eyes. I have never had the pleasure of meeting either of them again."
"Poor Philip 1 My dear brother!" Little Mrs. Ellis's voice was full of indignation and pity and sorrow; all a true woman's tenderness and sympathy quivered on her lip and shone in her tearful eyes. She drew down the stately head, that ached so with its weight of loneliness and bitter feelings and disappointed hopes, upon her gentle bosom, and softly thridded her fingers in and out the thick masses of hair.
"Poor girl, too!" she said again, gently. ''You must not condemn her wholly, Philip. She was brought up probably by an ambitious mother, and taught from childhood that the chief end of woman was to make the best match possible."
Philip raised his head quickly, and the old sarcastic look returned.
"It is the lesson they all learn with their A B C's nowadays."
"I tell you it is not, Philip," rejoined his sister, steadfastly. "God meant woman to be true and devoted and self-forgetful; and there are full as many who have wrought out this lovely nature to its perfection as have been warped and stunted by lack of proper culture."
"Well, only find me one such pearl of great price, and I promise you I will sell all that I have to buy it, sister mine," said the young man, lightly. "And now I must really go. Good-night, Lou—what a pity you are my sister! Hallo, Len! He is sound asleep! Well, I consider myself insulted, but expect me at the same hour to-morrow, nevertheless."
He was gone, with only these jesting words; but the kiss he had left upon his sister's lips had said all she wanted, And she fell asleep that night more hopeful about her brother than she had felt since their meeting.
The next afternoon, as Mr. Philip Warner was walking leisurely up Broadway, on the right hand side—which he always chose, to avoid collision with the crinolines, "fair and false," that throng the fashionable side of that magnificent trottoir daily after office-hours—he suddenly felt himself thrill with that quick, delicious sensation which the exquisite, memoryhaunted odor of violets ever awakes in a heart not all dried up. Yes! certainly violets; and the more pungent perfume of hyacinths; and a fresh, earthy smell, as though they verily grew out of doors. Where could they be?
He looked on the right hand and on the left, but there were no flower-stalls to be seen, and the fairy-like odor seemed to float on before him as he walked. There were, as usual, but few passers-by on this side of the street, and immediately in front of him, just then, only a decrepit old man; a tall, bony woman, with a masculine, striding step, that soon carried her far beyond; and a young girl, habited in a gray traveling suit, with a morocco satchel upon her arm.
"Of course it was she who carried the bouquet. She lived in the country, and had come in for the opera, or a party, bringing her own bunch of real spring flowers, to make envious the hearts of the belles with the card-boarded bouquets of pieced-up camellias. Even the flowers were make-believe nowadays! Never mind; these violets were real, and smelled just as sweet as though they were destined to a worthier fate; he should enjoy them as long as he could."
With this laudable determination our amiable friend kept close behind the unconscious owner of the magie-scented flowers, measuring his long paces by her little steps, and walking on in a kind of maze of dreams and memories conjured up by their glamour.
He started to a more personal consciousness as presently, reaching the corner of Bleecker Street, the young lady crossed over, and walked on in his own homeward direction. He crossed too, still keeping close behind; and now he began to notice not only the violets but their unsuspecting owner. A light little figure: a long gray cosaque, that fell in soft, unrustling folds; a simple straw-bonnet, with only a white ribbon for trimming. He rather liked the costume, it seemed to match the flowers; and the gait was agile and springing, though very lady-like. He wondered how it was with the face. But she never glanced backward, and her step grew more rapid, as though she were in haste. Presently, however, she came to a sudden stop; and Philip drew back a little, and stopped too: he wasn't going to give up the violets yet. They had come to a large dingy house, which looked like a boarding-house of the cheaper sort, and on the dirty marble steps a number of untidy children were sitting, chattering and squabbling like so many mud-sparrows.
One of them was quiet enough, however; she lay back, leaning against the iron railing, her face showing ghastly in its pallor and thinness from its frame-work of dead black hair, and her wan lips parted as though trying to draw in some life and strength from the warm sunset air. She started up with a wild, excited look as the dim, sweet violet odor stole upon her languid sense, and fixed her hollow eyes with a burning eagerness upon the flowers in the lady's hand. She did not speak—there was no need; for the young girl had already stopped, and was parting the clustering stems.
Philip watched and listened with an intense interest, for which it would have puzzled him to account.
"Do yon like flowers so much, my child?" he heard her say, in a sweet, womanly voice; and saw her put a cluster of the delicious purple blossoms in the thin, eager hand. ''I am taking these to a sick lady," she went on; "but I will spare you some, for you look ill too. It is growing late for you to be out with that cough. If you will go in now, and put these in water, they will keep sweet a long time—never mind, you arc very welcome."
She did not wait for the child's feverish thanks, but walked rapidly away, only looking back once to see if she had obeyed her behest. Looking back thus, she encountered a curious, strangelyearnest gaze from a pair of dark eyes belonging to a tall gentleman who was walking just behind her. The pink checks grew pinker behind the little gray tissue veil, and the young lady slackened her pace slightly, to let the observant stranger pass; but he did not seem to choose to do so, and she hastened on again till she reached the last house on the block, and ascended its high marble steps. The color deepened then to a positive blush as, the next moment, the tall gentleman stood beside her; and Philip—how surprised he was! It was his own boardinghouse! He had lived here with his sister years ago, when Bleecker Street was an aristocratic quarter; it had acquired a certain home-like
feeling for him, and he would not desert it now that it was only "genteel."
"Permit me I" he said, as she put her hand— a small hand, delicately gloved, he noticed—on the bell-handle; opening the door, meanwhile, with his night-key, and standing back to let her pass.
"A pleasant little smile, and a fresher face than one often sees," was his mental comment, as she thanked him hastily and went in. "And she actually did a kind and graceful act all unobserved, as she supposed. I wonder if Lou can be right after all! Why, it's Lou's old room she is going into!" he went on to himself, as he sprang up the stairs behind her, and saw her enter the "second story back," next to his own bachelor apartments.
"Let me sec—that Mrs. Chester has it now, the widow of the sea-captain, and the mother of that pretty little baby. I remember now Mrs. Bonner said at breakfast she was ill. Poor thing!—hope it is nothing serious. I wonder if this is her sister? I wonder if she'll be at dinner?"
No, she was not at dinner; and Mr. Philip Warner neither saw nor heard any thing of the young lady—unless, indeed, it were she whom he heard singing the Cradle Song in the "Princess," as he passed her door on his return from his evening visit to his sister. On the whole he thought it was she: the mamma was sick; besides, he had never before heard her invoke the aid of the Poet Laureate to soothe her baby to sleep; and her sweet, feeble voice had no such low, rich tones as these. So he sat listening in cap and gown and slippers, with clouds of fragrant smoke curling around his head, until the lulling strain died away, and all was quiet, and he himself had lapsed into an idle dream—half-sleeping, half-waking—in which a wife and a child, violets and Tennyson, were strangely mixed up together.
From this foolish vagary he was suddenly startled by a quick agitated knock at his door. Opening it hastily, he perceived his landlady, looking very much excited and distressed.
"I didn't mind disturbing you, Mr. Warner," she said, hurriedly; "I know your kind heart of old; besides, I don't believe there's another gentleman up in the house. I want you to be so good as to go for a doctor immediately; that poor lady in the next room has been seized with convulsions, and there's no one with her but her sister, a young thing who came only this afternoon. She's helpful as can be, but she's half dead herself with the shock. Here is his address, bring him back quick with you, for Heaven's sake!"
Philip seized the card; he was too shocked for words, but almost before the kind landlady had finished speaking he had thrown on his walking garments, and was springing down the stairs. Mrs. Bonner went back to the sickroom, confirmed in her estimate of his goodheartedness—she did not know whither his thoughts had been wandering all the evening;