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"Richard Morton," said Mrs. Yocomb genially, "thee seems listening very intently to something Emily Warren is saying, so thee may take that seat beside her."
"Richard Morton," said Mr. Yocomb from the head of the table, "has thee made the acquaintance of Emily Warren?"
"No, sir, but I am making it."
"So am I, and she has been here a week."
"I should esteem that one of the highest of compliments," I said; then turning to her, I added, in an aside, "You found me out in half an hour."
"Am I such a sphinx?" she asked Mr. Yocomb with a smile; while to me she said, in a low tone: "You are mistaken. You have had something to say to me almost daily for a year or more."
"I am not acquainted with the article, and so can't give an opinion," Mr. Yocomb replied, with a humorous twinkle in his eye. "If the resemblance is close, so much the better for the sphinxes."
"Now, father, thee isn't a young man that thee should be complimenting the girls," his wife remarked.
"I've persuaded Silas Jones to stay," said Adah, entering.
"Silas Jones, I hope thee and thy parents are well," Mrs. Yocomb answered, with a courtesy somewhat constrained. "Will thee take that seat by Adah? Let me make thee acquainted with Richard Morton and Emily Warren."
We bowed, but I turned instantly to Miss Warren and said.
"Do you note how delightfully Mrs. Yocomb unites our names? I take it as an omen that we may become friends in spite of my shortcomings. You should have been named first in the order of merit."
"Mrs. Yocomb rarely makes mistakes," she replied.
"That confirms my omen."
"Omens are often ominous."
"I'm prepared for the best."
"Hush!" and she bowed her head in the grace customary before meals in this house.
I had noted that Mr. Yocomb's bow to Mr. Jones was slightly formal also. Remembering the hospitable traits of my host and hostess, I concluded that the young man was not exactly to their taste. Indeed, a certain jauntiness in dress that verged toward flashiness would not naturally predispose them in his favor. But Adah, although disclaiming any special interest in him, seemed pleased with his attentions. She was not so absorbed, however, but that she had an eye for me, and expected my homage also. She apparently felt that she had made a very favorable impression on me, and that we were congenial spirits. During the half hour that followed I felt rather than saw that this fact amused Miss Warren exceedingly.
For a few moments we sat in silence, but I fear my grace was as graceless as my morning worship had been. Miss Warren's manner was reverent. Were her thoughts also wandering? and whither? She certainly held mine, and by a constraint that was not unwelcome.
When she lifted her expressive eyes I concluded that she had done better than merely comply with a religious custom.
"The spirit of this home has infected you," I said.
"It might be well for you also to catch the infection."
"I know it would be well for me, and wish to expose myself to it to the utmost. You are the only obstacle I fear."
"Yes. I will explain after supper."
"To explain that you have good cause to ask for time,"
"Richard Morton, does thee like much sugar in thy tea?" Mrs. Yocomb asked.
"No-yes, none at all, if you please."
My hostess looked at me a little blankly, and Adah and Silas Jones giggled.
"A glass of milk will help us both out of our dilemma," I said, with a laugh.
"An editor should be able to think of two things at once," Miss Warren remarked, in a low aside.
"That depends on the subject of his thoughts. But don't breathe that word here, or I'm undone."
"Richard Morton," said Mr. Yocomb, "I hope thee feels the better for mother's ministrations since we came home. Will thee pass thy plate for some more of the same kind?"
"Mrs. Yocomb has done me good ever since I followed her into the meeting-house," I replied. "I am indeed the better for her dinner, and I ought to be. I feared you would all be aghast at the havoc I made. But it is your kindness and hospitality that have done me the most good, i would not have believed yesterday afternoon that my fortunes could have taken so favorable a turn."
"Why, what was the matter with you then?" asked Adah, with wide-eyed curiosity; and little Zillah looked at me with a pitying and puzzled glance.
"A common complaint in the city. I was committing suicide, and yesterday became conscious of the fact."
"Mr. Morton must have hit on an agreeable method of suicide, since he could commit it unconsciously," Miss Warren remarked mischievously. "I read in Emily Warren's newspaper this afternoon," said Silas Jones, with awkward malice, "of a young fellow who got a girl to marry him by pretending to commit suicide. He didn't hurt himself much though."
The incident amused Adah exceedingly, and I saw that Miss Warren's eyes were full of laughter. Assuming a shocked expression, I said:
"I am surprised that Miss Warren takes a paper so full of insidious evil." Then, with the deepest gravity, I remarked to Silas Jones, "I have recently been informed, sir, on good authority, that each one instinctively finds and reads in a newspaper that which he likes or needs. I sincerely hope, my dear sir, that the example you have quoted will not lead you to adopt a like method."
Adah laughed openly to her suitor's confusion, and the mouths of the others were twitching. With the complexion of the rose at his button- hole Mr. Jones said, a trifle vindictively:
"I thought the paragraph might refer to you, sir, you seem so slightly hurt."
"I don't like to contradict you, but I cannot be this ingenious youth whose matrimonial enterprise so deeply interests you, since I am not married, and I was hurt severely."
"Thee had been overworking," said Mrs. Yocomb kindly.
"Working foolishly rather. I thought I had broken down, but sleep and your kindness have so revived me that I scarcely know myself. Are you accustomed to take in tramps from New York?"
"That depends somewhat upon the tramps. I think the right leadings are given us."
"If good leadings constitute a Friend, I am one to-day, for I have been led to your home." "Now I'm moved to preach a little," said Mr. Yocomb. "Richard Morton, does thee realize the sin and folly of overwork? If thee works for thyself it is folly. If thee toils for the good of the world, and art able to do the world any good, it is sin; if there are loved ones dependent on thee, thee may do them a wrong for which there is no remedy. Thee looks to me like a man who has been over-doing"
"Unfortunately there is no one dependent on me, and I fear I have not had the world's welfare very greatly at heart. I have learned that I was becoming my own worst enemy, and so must plead guilty of folly."
"Well, thee doesn't look as if thee had sinned away thy day of grace yet. If thee'll take roast-beef and common-sense as thy medicine, thee'll see my years and vigor."
"Richard Morton," said his wife, with a gentle gravity, "never let any one make thee believe that thee has sinned away thy day of grace."
"Mother, thee's very weak on the 'terrors of the law.' Thee's always for coaxing the transgressors out of the broad road. Thee's latitudinarian; now!"
"And thee's a little queer, father."
"Emily Warren, am I queer?"
"You are very sound and sensible in your advice to Mr. Morton," she replied. "One may very easily sin against life and health beyond the point of remedy. I should judge from Mr. Morton's words that he is in danger."
"Now, mother, thee sees that Emily Warren believes in the terrors of the law."
"Thee wouldn't be a very good one at enforcing them, Emily," said Mrs. Yocomb, nodding her head smilingly toward her favorite.
"The trouble is," said Miss Warren a little sadly, "that some laws enforce themselves. I know of so many worn-out people in New York, both men and women, that I wish that Mr. Yocomb's words were printed at the head of ail our leading newspapers."
"Yes," said Mr. Yocomb, "if editors and newspaper writers were only as eager to quiet the people as they are to keep up the hubbub of the world, they might make their calling a useful one. It almost takes away my breath to read some of our great journals."
"Do you not think laziness the one pre-eminent vice of the world?" tasked.
"Not of native-born Americans. I think restlessness, nervous activity, is the vice of our age. I am out of the whirl, and can see it all the more clearly. Thee admits that thy city life was killing thee--I know it would kill me in a month."
"I would like to have a chance to be killed by it," said Adah, with a sigh.
"Thy absence would be fatal to some in the country," I heard Silas Jones remark, and with a look designed to be very reproachful.
"Don't tell me that. Melissa Bunting would soon console thee."
"Thee stands city life quite well, Emily," said Mrs. Yocomb.
"Yes, better than I once did. I am learning how to live there and still enjoy a little of your quiet; but were it not for my long summers in the country I fear it would go hard with me also."
"You have suggested my remedy," I said. "My business does not permit much chance for rest, unless it is taken resolutely; and, like many other sinners, I have great reforms in contemplation."
"It must be a dreadful business that came so near killing you," Adah remarked, looking at me curiously. "What can it be?"
Mrs. Yocomb glanced at her daughter reprovingly, but Miss Warren's eyes were dancing, and I saw she was enjoying my rather blank look immensely.
T decided, however, that honesty and audacity would be my best allies, and at the same time I hoped to punish Adah a little through her curiosity,
"I must admit that it is a dreadful business. Deeds of darkness occupy much of my time; and when good, honest men, like your father, are asleep, my brain, and hand are busiest. Now you see what a suspicious character your father and mother have harbored in their unquestioning hospitality."
The young lady looked at me with a thoroughly perplexed and half alarmed expression,
"My gracious!" she exclaimed. "What do you do?"
"You do not look as if 'inclined to mercy,'" I replied. "Mr. Yocomb and Miss Warren believe in the terrors of the law, so I have decided to make a full confession to Mrs. Yocomb after supper. I think that I am one of the 'transgressors' that she could 'coax.'"
After a momentary and puzzled glance at my laughing critic, Mrs. Yocomb said:
"Emily Warren knows thy secret."
"So you have told Emily Warren, but will not tell us," Adah complained, in a piqued tone and manner.
"Indeed, you are mistaken. Miss Warren found me out by intuition. I am learning that there is no occasion to tell her things: she sees them."
Mr. Yocomb's face wore a decidedly puzzled look, and contained also the suggestion of an apt guess.
"Well," he said, "thee has shown the shrewdness of an editor, and a Yankee one at that."
Miss Warren now laughed outright.
"Thee thinks," he continued, "that if thee gets mother on thy side thee's safe. I guess I'll adopt a common editorial policy, and sit safely on the fence till I hear what mother says to thy confession."
"Are you laughing at me?" I asked Miss Warren, with an injured air.
"To think that one of your calling should have got into such a dilemma!" she said, in a low tone. "It's delicious!"
"My cheeks may become bronzed, but never brazen, Miss Warren. My guilelessness should touch your sympathies."
"Well," said Adah, with rather a spiteful look at Miss Warren, "I'm glad I've not got a prying disposition. I talked with you half the afternoon and did not find you out."
Even Mrs. Yocomb laughed at this.
"Now, Miss Warren," I said, turning to her with a triumphant look, "I hope you feel properly quenched."
"Is there any record of your crime, or misfortune, or whatever it may be, in Miss Warren's newspaper?" asked Silas Jones, with a slight sneer.
"Yes, sir, of both, if the truth must be told," I replied. "That is the way she found me out."
This unexpected admission increased the perplexity all around, and also added to Miss Warren's merriment.
"Where is the paper?" said Adah, quickly.
At this peculiar proof of his daughter's indifference Mr. Yocomb fairly exploded with laughter. He seemingly shared his wife's confidence in Miss Warren to that degree that the young lady's knowledge of my business, combined with her manner, was a guarantee against anything seriously wrong. Moreover, the young girl's laugh was singularly contagious. Its spontaneity and heartiness were irresistible, and I feared that her singing would not be half so musical.
"Richard Morton," said Mrs. Yocomb, rising, "if thee wishes to free thy mind, or conscience, or heart, I will now give thee an opportunity."
"My fate is in your hands. If you send me back to my old life and work I will go at once."
"Ah!" exclaimed Miss Warren, in mock gravity, "now there is a touch of tragedy in your words. Must we all hold our breaths till you return, absolved or condemned?"
"And were I condemned would you breathe freely?"
"Yes, indeed I would, if Mrs. Yocomb condemned you. But after my sense of justice was satisfied I might be moved to pity."
"And you think I may become a pitiable object?"
"You would be, indeed, if Mrs. Yocomb condemned you."
"Lead on," I exclaimed, with a gesture of mock tragedy; "this is the hour of destiny."
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