Sewell lost no time. "I want you to go home, Barker. I feel that I am wholly to blame, and greatly to blame, for your coming to Boston with the expectation that brought you; and that I am indirectly responsible for all the trouble that has befallen you since you came. I want to be the means of your getting home, in any way you can let me."
This was a very different way of talking from the smooth superiority of address which the minister had used with him the other day at his own house. Lemuel was not insensible to the atonement offered him, and it was not from sulky stubbornness that he continued silent, and left the minister to explore the causes of his reticence unaided.
"I will go home with you, if you like," pursued the minister, though his mind misgave him that this was an extreme which Mrs. Sewell would not have justified him in. "I will go with you, and explain all the circumstances to your friends, in case there should be any misunderstanding—though in that event I should have to ask you to be my guest till Monday." Here the unhappy man laid hold of the sheep, which could not bring him greater condemnation than the lamb.
"I guess they won't know anything about it," said Lemuel, with whatever intention.
It seemed hardened indifference to the minister, and he felt it his disagreeable duty to say, "I am afraid they will. I read of it in the newspaper this morning, and I'm afraid that an exaggerated report of your misfortunes will reach Willoughby Pastures, and alarm your family."
A faint pallor came over the boy's face, and he stood again in his impenetrable, rustic silence. The voice that finally spoke from, it said, "I guess I don't want to go home, then."
"You must go home!" said the minister, with more of imploring than imperiousness in his command. "What will they make of your prolonged absence?"
"I sent a postal to mother this morning. They lent me one."
"But what will you do here, without work and without means? I wish you to go home with me—I feel responsible for you—and remain with me till you can hear from your mother. I'm sorry you came to Boston—it's no place for you, as you must know by this time, and I am sure your mother will agree with me in desiring your return."
"I guess I don't want to go home," said Lemuel.
"Are you afraid that an uncharitable construction will be placed upon what has happened to you by your neighbours?" Lemuel did not answer. "I assure you that all that can be arranged. I will write to your pastor, and explain it fully. But in any event," continued Sewell, "it is your duty to yourself and your friends to go home and live it down. It would be your duty to do so, even if you had been guilty of wrong, instead of the victim of misfortune."
"I don't know," said Lemuel, "as I want to go home and be the laughing-stock."
Against this point Sewell felt himself helpless. He could not pretend that the boy would not be ridiculous in the eyes of his friends, and all the more ridiculous because so wholly innocent. He could only say, "That is a thing you must bear," and then it occurred to him to ask, "Do you feel that it is right to let your family meet the ridicule alone?"
"I guess nobody will speak to mother about it, more than once," said Lemuel, with a just pride in his mother's powers of retort. A woman who, unaided and alone, had worn the Bloomer costume for twenty years in the heart of a commentative community like Willoughby Pastures, was not likely to be without a cutting tongue for her defence.
"But your sister," urged Sewell; "your brother-in-law," he feebly added.
"I guess they will have to stand it," replied Lemuel.
The minister heaved a sigh of hopeless perplexity. "What do you propose to do, then? You can't remain here without means. Do you expect to sell your poetry?" he asked, goaded to the question by a conscience peculiarly sore on that point.
It made Lemuel blush. "No, I don't expect to sell it, now. They took it out of my pocket on the Common."
"I am glad of that," said the minister as simply, "and I feel bound to warn you solemnly, that there is absolutely no hope for you in that direction."
Lemuel said nothing.
The minister stood baffled again. After a bad moment he asked, "Have you anything particular in view?"
"I don't know as I have."
"How long can you remain here?"
"I don't know exactly."
Sewell turned and followed the manager into the refrigerator room, where he had remained patiently whistling throughout this interview.
When he came back, Lemuel had carried one trayful of bowls upstairs, and returned for another load, which he was piling carefully up for safe transportation.
"The manager tells me," said Sewell, "that practically you can stay here as long as you like, if you work, but he doesn't think it desirable you should remain, nor do I. But I wish to find you here again, when I come back. I have something in view for you."
This seemed to be a question, and Lemuel said, "All right," and went on piling up his bowls. He added, "I shouldn't want you to take a great deal of trouble."
"Oh, it's no trouble," groaned the minister. "Then I may depend upon seeing you here any time during the day?"
"I don't know as I'm going away," Lemuel admitted.
"Well, then, good-bye, for the present," said Sewell, and after speaking again to the manager, and gratefully ordering some kindling which he did not presently need, he went out, and took his way homeward. But he stopped half a block short of his own door, and rang at Miss Vane's. To his perturbed and eager spirit, it seemed nothing short of a divine mercy that she should be at home. If he had not been a man bent on repairing his wrong at any cost to others, he would hardly have taken the step he now contemplated without first advising with his wife, who, he felt sure, would have advised against it. His face did not brighten at all when Miss Vane came briskly in, with the "How d'ye do?" which he commonly found so cheering. She pulled up the blind and saw his knotted brow.
"What is the matter? You look as if you had got Lemuel Barker back on your hands."
"I have," said the minister briefly.
Miss Vane gave a wild laugh of delight. "You don't mean it!" she sputtered, sitting down before him, and peering into his face. "What do you mean?"
Sewell was obliged to possess Miss Vane's entire ignorance of all the facts in detail. From point to point he paused; he began really to be afraid she would do herself an injury with her laughing.
She put her hand on his arm and bowed her head forward, with her face buried in her handkerchief. "What—what—do you suppose-pose— they did with the po-po-_po_em they stole from him?"
"Well, one thing I'm sure they didn't do," said Sewell bitterly. "They didn't read it."
Miss Vane hid her face in her handkerchief, and then plucked it away, and shrieked again. She stopped, with the sudden calm that succeeds such a paroxysm, and, "Does Mrs. Sewell know all about this?" she panted.
"She knows everything, except my finding him in the dish-washing department of the Wayfarer's Lodge," said Sewell gloomily, "and my coming to you."
"Why do you come to me?" asked Miss Vane, her face twitching and her eyes brimming.
"Because," answered Sewell, "I'd rather not go to her till I have done something."
Miss Vane gave way again, and Sewell sat regarding her ruefully.
"What do you expect me to do?" She looked at him over her handkerchief, which she kept pressed against her mouth.
"I haven't the least idea what I expected you to do. I expected you to tell me. You have an inventive mind."
Miss Vane shook her head. Her eyes grew serious, and after a moment she said, "I'm afraid I'm not equal to Lemuel Barker. Besides," she added, with a tinge of trouble, "I have my problem, already."
"Yes," said the minister sympathetically. "How has the flower charity turned out?"
"She went yesterday with one of the ladies, and carried flowers to the city hospital. But she wasn't at all satisfied with the result. She said the patients were mostly disgusting old men that hadn't been shaved. I think that now she wants to try her flowers on criminals. She says she wishes to visit the prisons."
Sewell brightened forlornly. "Why not let her reform Barker?"
This sent Miss Vane off again. "Poor boy!" she sighed, when she had come to herself. "No, there's nothing that I can do for him, except to order some firewood from his benefactors."
"I did that," said Sewell. "But I don't see how it's to help Barker exactly."
"I would gladly join in a public subscription to send him home. But you say he won't go home?"
"He won't go home," sighed the minister. "He's determined to stay. I suspect he would accept employment, if it were offered him in the right spirit."
Miss Vane shook her head. "There's nothing I can think of except shovelling snow. And as yet it's rather warm October weather."
"There's certainly no snow to shovel," admitted Sewell. He rose disconsolately. "Well, there's nothing for it, I suppose, but to put him down at the Christian Union, and explain his checkered career to everybody who proposes to employ him."
Miss Vane could not keep the laughter out of her eyes; she nervously tapped her lips with her handkerchief, to keep it from them. Suddenly she halted Sewell, in his dejected progress toward the door. "I might give him my furnace?"
"Furnace?" echoed Sewell.
"Yes. Jackson has 'struck' for twelve dollars a month, and at present there is a 'lock-out,'—I believe that's what it's called. And I had determined not to yield as long as the fine weather lasted. I knew I should give in at the first frost. I will take Barker now, if you think he can manage the furnace."
"I've no doubt he can. Has Jackson really struck?" Miss Vane nodded.
"He hasn't said anything to me about it."
"He probably intends to make special terms to the clergy. But he told me he was putting up the rates on all his 'famblies' this winter."
"If he puts them up on me, I will take Barker too," said the minister boldly. "If he will come," he added, with less courage. "Well, I will go round to the Lodge, and see what he thinks of it. Of course, he can't live upon ten dollars a month, and I must look him up something besides."
"That's the only thing I can think of at present," said Miss Vane.
"Oh, you're indefinitely good to think of so much," said Sewell. "You must excuse me if my reception of your kindness has been qualified by the reticence with which Barker received mine, this morning."
"Oh, do tell me about it!" cried Miss Vane.
"Sometime I will. But I can assure you it was such as to make me shrink from another interview. I don't know but Barker may fling your proffered furnace in my teeth. But I'm sure we both mean well. And I thank you, all the same. Good-bye."
"Poor Mr. Sewell!" said Miss Vane, following him to the door. "May I run down and tell Mrs. Sewell?"
"Not yet," said the minister sadly. He was too insecure of Barker's reception to be able to enjoy the joke.
When he got back to the Wayfarer's Lodge, whither he made himself walk in penance, he found Lemuel with a book in his hand, reading, while the cook stirred about the kitchen, and the broth, which he had well under way for the mid-day meal, lifted the lid of its boiler from time to time and sent out a joyous whiff of steam. The place had really a cosiness of its own, and Sewell began to fear that his victim had been so far corrupted by its comfort as to be unwilling to leave the Refuge. He had often seen the subtly disastrous effect of bounty, and it was one of the things he trembled for in considering the question of public aid to the poor. Before he addressed Barker, he saw him entered upon the dire life of idleness and dependence, partial or entire, which he had known so many Americans even willing to lead since the first great hard times began; and he spoke to him with the asperity of anticipative censure.
"Barker!" he said, and Lemuel lifted his head from the book he was reading. "I have found something for you to do. I still prefer you should go home, and I advise you to do so. But," he added, at the look that came into Lemuel's face, "if you are determined to stay, this is the best I can do for you. It isn't a full support, but it's something, and you must look about for yourself, and not rest till you've found full work, and something better fitted for you. Do you think you can take care of a furnace?"
"Hot air?" asked Lemuel.
"I guess so. I took care of the church furnace, last winter."
"I didn't know you had one," said the minister, brightening in the ray of hope. "Would you be willing to take care of a domestic furnace—a furnace in a private house?"
Lemuel pondered the proposal in silence. Whatever objections there were to it in its difference from the aims of his ambition in coming to the city of Boston, he kept to himself; and his ignorance of city prejudices and sophistications probably suggested nothing against the honest work to his pride. "I guess I should," he said at last. "Well, then, come with me."
Sewell judged it best not to tell him whose furnace he was to take care of; he had an impression that Miss Vane was included in the resentment which Lemuel seemed to cherish toward him. But when he had him at her door, "It's the lady whom you saw at my house the other day," he explained. It was then too late for Lemuel to rebel if he had wished, and they went in.
If there was any such unkindness in Lemuel's breast toward her, it yielded promptly to her tact. She treated him at once, not like a servant, but like a young person, and yet she used a sort of respect for his independence which was soothing to his rustic pride. She put it on the money basis at once; she told him that she should give him ten dollars a month for taking care of the furnace, keeping the sidewalk clear of snow, shovelling the paths in the backyard for the women to get at their clothes-lines, carrying up and down coal and ashes for the grates, and doing errands. She said that this was what she had always paid, and asked him if he understood and were satisfied.
Lemuel answered with one yes to both her questions, and then Miss Vane said that of course till the weather changed they should want no fire in the furnace, but that it might change, any day, and they should begin at once and count October as a full month. She thought he had better go down and look at the furnace and see if it was in order; she had had the pipes cleaned, but perhaps it needed blacking; the cook would show him how it worked. She went with him to the head of the basement stairs, and calling down, "Jane, here is Lemuel, come to look after the furnace," left him and Jane to complete the acquaintance upon coming in sight of each other, and went back to the minister. He had risen to go, and she gave him her hand, while a smile rippled into laughter on her lips.
"Do you think," she asked, struggling with her mirth to keep unheard of those below, "that it is quite the work for a literary man?"
"If he is a man," said Sewell courageously, "the work won't keep him from being literary."
Miss Vane laughed at his sudden recovery of spirit, as she had laughed at his dejection; but he did not care. He hurried home, with a sermon kindling in his mind so obviously, that his wife did not detain him beyond a few vital questions, and let him escape from having foisted his burden upon Miss Vane with the simple comment, "Well, we shall see how that will work."
As once before, Sewell tacitly took a hint from his own experience, and enlarging to more serious facts from it, preached effort in the erring. He denounced mere remorse. Better not feel that at all, he taught; and he declared that what is ordinarily distinguished from remorse as repentance, was equally a mere corrosion of the spirit unless some attempt at reparation went with it. He maintained that though some mischiefs—perhaps most mischiefs—were irreparable so far as restoring the original status was concerned, yet every mischief was reparable in the good-will and the good deed of its perpetrator. Do what you could to retrieve yourself from error, and then, not leave the rest to Providence, but keep doing. The good, however small, must grow if tended and nurtured like a useful plant, as the evil would certainly grow, like a wild and poisonous weed, if left to itself. Sin, he said, was a terrible mystery; one scarcely knew how to deal with it or to attempt to determine its nature; but perhaps—he threw out the thought while warning those who heard him of its danger in some aspects—sin was not wholly an evil. We were so apt in this world of struggle and ambition to become centred solely in ourselves, that possibly the wrong done to another,—the wrong that turned our thoughts from ourselves, and kept them bent in agony and despair upon the suffering we had caused another, and knew not how to mitigate—possibly this wrong, nay, certainly this wrong, was good in disguise. But, returning to his original point, we were to beware how we rested in this despair. In the very extremity of our anguish, our fear, our shame, we were to gird ourselves up to reparation. Strive to do good, he preached; strive most of all to do good to those you have done harm to. His text was "Cease to do evil."
He finished his sermon during the afternoon, and in the evening his wife said they would run up to Miss Vane's. Sewell shrank from this a little, with the obscure dread that Lemuel might have turned his back upon good fortune, and abandoned the place offered him, in which case Sewell would have to give a wholly different turn to his sermon; but he consented, as indeed he must. He was as curious as his wife to know how the experiment had resulted.
Miss Vane did not wait to let them ask. "My dear," she said, kissing Mrs. Sewell and giving her hand to the minister in one, "he is a pearl! And I've kept him from mixing his native lustre with Rising Sun Stove Polish by becoming his creditor in the price of a pair of overalls. I had no idea they were so cheap, and you can see that they will fade, with a few washings, to a perfect Millet blue. They were quite his own idea, when he found the furnace needed blacking, and he wanted to use the fifty cents he earned this morning toward the purchase, but I insisted upon advancing the entire dollar myself. Neatness, self-respect, awe-inspiring deference!—he is each and every one of them in person."
Sewell could not forbear a glance of triumph at his wife.
"You leave us very little to ask," said that injured woman.
"But I've left myself a great deal to tell, my dear," retorted Miss Vane, "and I propose to keep the floor; though I don't really know where to begin." "I thought you had got past the necessity of beginning," said Sewell. "We know that the new pearl sweeps clean,"—Miss Vane applauded his mixed metaphor—"and now you might go on from that point."
"Well, you may think I'm rash," said Miss Vane, "but I've thoroughly made up my mind to keep him."
"Dear, dear Miss Vane!" cried the minister. "Mrs. Sewell thinks you're rash, but I don't. What do you mean by keeping him?"
"Keeping him as a fixture—a permanency—a continuosity."
"Oh! A continuosity? I know what that is in the ordinary acceptation of the term, but I'm not sure that I follow your meaning exactly."
"Why, it's simply this," said Miss Vane. "I have long secretly wanted the protection of what Jane calls a man-body in the House, and when I saw how Lemuel had blacked the furnace, I knew I should feel as safe with him as with a whole body of troops."
"Well," sighed the minister, "you have not been rash, perhaps, but you'll allow that you've been rapid."
"No," said Miss Vane, "I won't allow that. I have simply been intuitive—nothing more. His functions are not decided yet, but it is decided that he is to stay; he's to sleep in the little room over the L, and in my tranquillised consciousness he's been there years already."
"And has Sibyl undertaken Barker's reformation?" asked Sewell.
"Don't interrupt! Don't anticipate! I admit nothing till I come to it. But after I had arranged with Lemuel I began to think of Sibyl."
"That was like some ladies I have known of," said Sewell. "You women commit yourselves to a scheme, in order to show your skill in reconciling circumstances to the irretrievable. Well?"
"Don't interrupt, David!" cried his wife.
"Oh, let him go on," said Miss Vane. "It's all very well, taking people into your house on the spur of the moment, and in obedience to a generous impulse, but when you reflect that the object of your good intentions slept in the Wayfarer's Lodge the night before, and in the police-station the night before that, and enjoys a newspaper celebrity in connection with a case of assault and battery with intent to rob,—why, then you do reflect!"
"Yes," said Sewell, "that is just the point where I should begin."
"I thought," continued Miss Vane, "I had better tell Sibyl all about it, so if by any chance the neighbours' kitchens should have heard of the case—they read the police reports very carefully in the kitchens——"
"They do in some drawing-rooms," interrupted Sewell.
"It's well for you they do, David," said his wife. "Your protĂ©gĂ© would have been in your Refuge still, if they didn't."
"I see!" cried the minister. "I shall have to take the Sunrise another week."
Miss Vane looked from one to the other in sympathetic ignorance, but they did not explain, and she went on.
"And if they should hear Lemuel's name, and put two and two together, and the talk should get to Sibyl—well, I thought it all over, until the whole thing became perfectly lurid, and I wished Lemuel Barker was back in the depths of Willoughby Pastures——"
"I understand," said Sewell. "Go on!"
Miss Vane did so, after stopping to laugh. "It seemed to me I couldn't wait for Sibyl to get home—she spent the night in Brookline, and didn't come till five o'clock—to tell her. I began before she had got her hat or gloves off, and she sat down with them on, and listened like a three-years' child to the Ancient Mariner, but she lost no time when she understood the facts. She went out immediately and stripped the nasturtium bed. If you could have seen it when you came in, there's hardly a blossom left. She took the decorations of Lemuel's room into her own hands at once; and if there is any saving power in nasturtiums, he will be a changed person. She says that now the great object is to keep him from feeling that he has been an outcast, and needs to be reclaimed; she says nothing could be worse for him. I don't know how she knows."
"Barker might feel that he was disgraced," said the minister, "but I don't believe that a whole system of ethics would make him suspect that he needed to be reclaimed."
"He makes me suspect that I need to be reclaimed," said Miss
Vane, "when he looks at me with those beautiful honest eyes of his."
Mrs. Sewell asked, "Has he seen the decorations yet?"
"Not at all. They are to steal upon him when he comes in to-night. The gas is to be turned very low, and he is to notice everything gradually, so as not to get the impression that things have been done with a design upon him." She laughed in reporting these ideas, which were plainly those of the young girl. "Sh!" she whispered at the end.
A tall girl, with a slim vase in her hand, drifted in upon their group like an apparition. She had heavy black eyebrows with beautiful blue eyes under them, full of an intensity unrelieved by humour.
"Aunty!" she said severely, "have you been telling?"
"Only Mr. and Mrs. Sewell, Sibyl," said Miss Vane. "Their knowing won't hurt. He'll never know it."
"If he hears you laughing, he'll know it's about him. He's in the kitchen, now. He's come in the back way. Do be quiet." She had given her hand without other greeting in her preoccupation to each of the Sewells in turn, and now she passed out of the room.
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