"What makes Lemuel such a gift," said Miss Vane, in a talk which she had with Sewell a month later, "is that he is so supplementary."
"Do you mean just in the supplementary sense of the term?"
"Well, not in the fifth-wheel sense. I mean that he supplements us, all and singular—if you will excuse the legal exactness."
"Oh, certainly," said Sewell; "I should like even more exactness."
"Yes; but before I particularise I must express my general satisfaction in him as a man-body. I had no idea that man bodies in a house were so perfectly admirable."
"I've sometimes feared that we were not fully appreciated," said
"The house is another thing with a man-body in it. I've often gone without little things I wanted, simply because I hated to make Sarah bring them, and because I hated still worse to go after them, knowing we were both weakly and tired. Now I deny myself nothing. I make Lemuel fetch and carry without remorse, from morning till night. I never knew it before, but the man-body seems never to be tired, or ill, or sleepy."
"Yes," said Sewell, "that is often the idea of the woman-body. I'm not sure that it's correct."
"Oh, don't attack it!" implored Miss Vane. "You don't know what a blessing it is. Then, the man-body never complains, and I can't see that he expects anything more in an order than the clear understanding of it. He doesn't expect it to be accounted for in any way; the fact that you say you want a thing is enough. It is very strange. Then the moral support of the presence of a man-body is enormous. I now know that I have never slept soundly since I have kept house alone—that I have never passed a night without hearing burglars or smelling fire."
"And now I shouldn't mind a legion of burglars in the house; I shouldn't mind being burned in my bed every night. I feel that Lemuel is in charge, and that nothing can happen."
"Is he really so satisfactory?" asked Sewell, exhaling a deep relief.
"He is, indeed," said Miss Vane. "I couldn't, exaggerate it."
"Well, well! Don't try. We are finite, after all, you know. Do you think it can last?"
"I have thought of that," answered Miss Vane. "I don't see why it shouldn't last. I have tried to believe that I did a foolish thing in coming to your rescue, but I can't see that I did. I don't see why it shouldn't last as long as Lemuel chooses. And he seems perfectly contented with his lot. He doesn't seem to regard it as domestic service, but as domestication, and he patronises our inefficiency while he spares it. His common-sense is extraordinary— it's exemplary; it almost makes one wish to have common-sense one's- self." They had now got pretty far from the original proposition, and Sewell returned to it with the question, "Well, and how does he supplement you singularly?"
"Oh! oh, yes!" said Miss Vane. "I could hardly tell you without going into too deep a study of character."
"I'm rather fond of that," suggested the minister.
"Yes, and I've no doubt we should all work very nicely into a sermon as illustrations; but I can't more than indicate the different cases. In the first place, Jane's forgetfulness seems to be growing upon her, and since Lemuel came she's abandoned herself to ecstasies of oblivion."
"Yes. She's quite given over remembering _any_thing, because she knows that he will remember _every_thing."
"I see. And you?"
"Well, you have sometimes thought I was a little rash."
"A little? Did I think it was a little?"
"Well, a good deal. But it was all nothing to what I've been since Lemuel came. I used to keep some slight check upon myself for Sibyl's sake; but I don't now. I know that Lemuel is there to temper, to delay, to modify the effect of every impulse, and so I am all impulse now. And I've quite ceased to rule my temper. I know that Lemuel has self-control enough for all the tempers in the house, and so I feel perfectly calm in my wildest transports of fury."
"I understand," said Sewell. "And does Sibyl permit herself a similar excess in her fancies and ambitions?"
"Quite," said Miss Vane. "I don't know that she consciously relies upon Lemuel to supplement her, any more than Jane does; but she must be unconsciously aware that no extravagance of hers can be dangerous while Lemuel is in the house."
"Unconsciously aware is good. She hasn't got tired of reforming him yet?"
"I don't know. I sometimes think she wishes he had gone a little farther in crime. Then his reformation would be more obvious."
"Yes; I can appreciate that. Does she still look after his art and literature?"
"That phase has changed a little. She thinks now that he ought to be stimulated, if anything—that he ought to read George Eliot. She's put Middlemarch and Romola on his shelf. She says that he looks like Tito Malemma."
Sewell rose. "Well, I don't see but what your supplement is a very demoralising element. I shall never dare to tell Mrs. Sewell what you've said."
"Oh, she knows it," cried Miss Vane. "We've agreed that you will counteract any temptation that Lemuel may feel to abuse his advantages by the ferociously self-denying sermons you preach at him every Sunday."
"Do I preach at him? Do you notice it?" asked Sewell nervously.
"Notice it?" laughed Miss Vane. "I should think your whole congregation would notice it. You seem to look at nobody else."
"I know it! Since he began to come, I can't keep my eyes off him. I do deliver my sermons at him. I believe I write them at him! He has an eye of terrible and exacting truth. I feel myself on trial before him. He holds me up to a standard of sincerity that is killing me. Mrs. Sewell was bad enough; I was reasonably bad myself; but this! Couldn't you keep him away? Do you think it's exactly decorous to let your man-servant occupy a seat in your family pew? How do you suppose it looks to the Supreme Being?"
Miss Vane was convulsed. "I had precisely those misgivings! But Lemuel hadn't. He asked me what the number of our pew was, and I hadn't the heart—or else I hadn't the face—to tell him he mustn't sit in it. How could I? Do you think it's so very scandalous?"
"I don't know," said Sewell. "It may lead to great abuses. If we tacitly confess ourselves equal in the sight of God, how much better are we than the Roman Catholics?"
Miss Vane could not suffer these ironies to go on.
"He approves of your preaching. He has talked your sermons over with me. You oughtn't to complain."
"Oh, I don't! Do you think he's really softening a little toward me?"
"Not personally, that I know," said Miss Vane. "But he seems to regard you as a channel of the truth."
"I ought to be glad of so much," said Sewell. "I confess that I hadn't supposed he was at all of our way of thinking. They preached a very appreciable orthodoxy at Willoughby Pastures."
"I don't know about that," said Miss Vane. "I only know that he approves your theology, or your ethics."
"Ethics, I hope. I'm sure they're right." After a thoughtful moment the minister asked, "Have you observed that they have softened him socially at all—broken up that terrible rigidity of attitude, that dismaying retentiveness of speech?"
"I know what you mean!" cried Miss Vane delightedly. "I believe Lemuel is a little more supple, a little less like a granite boulder in one of his meadows. But I can't say that he's glib yet. He isn't apparently going to say more than he thinks."
"I hope he thinks more than he says," sighed the minister. "My interviews with Lemuel have left me not only exhausted but bruised, as if I had been hurling myself against a dead wall. Yes, I manage him better from the pulpit, and I certainly oughtn't to complain. I don't expect him to make any response, and I perceive that I am not quite so sore as after meeting him in private life."
* * * * *
That evening Lemuel was helping to throng the platform of an overcrowded horse-car. It was Saturday night, and he was going to the provision man up toward the South End, whom Miss Vane was dealing with for the time being, in an economical recoil from her expensive Back Bay provision man, to order a forgotten essential of the Sunday's supplies. He had already been at the grocer's, and was carrying home three or four packages to save the cart from going a third time that day to Bolingbroke Street, and he stepped down into the road when two girls came squeezing their way out of the car.
"Well, I'm glad," said one of them in a voice Lemuel knew at once, "'t there's one man's got the politeness to make a little grain o' room for you. Thank you, sir!" she added, with more scorn for the others than gratitude for Lemuel. "You're a gentleman, _any_way."
The hardened offenders on the platform laughed, but Lemuel said simply, "You're quite welcome."
"Why, land's sakes!" shouted the girl. "Well, if 'tain't you! S'tira!" she exclaimed to her companion in utter admiration. Then she added to Lemuel, "Why, I didn't s'pose but what you'd a' be'n back home long ago. Well, I am glad. Be'n in Boston ever since? Well, I want to know!"
The conductor had halted his car for the girls to get off, but, as he remarked with a vicious jerk at his bell-strap, he could not keep his car standing there while a woman was asking about the folks, and the horses started up and left Lemuel behind. "Well, there!" said 'Manda Grier. "'F I hain't made you lose your car! I never see folks like some them conductors."
"Oh, I guess I can walk the rest of the way," said Lemuel, his face bright with a pleasure visible in the light of the lamp that brought out Statira Dudley's smiles and the forward thrust of 'Manda Grier's whopper-jaw as they turned toward the pavement together.
"Well, I guess 'f I've spoke about you once, I have a hundred times, in the last six weeks. I always told S'tira you'd be'n sure to turn up b'fore this 'f you'd be'n in Boston all the time; 'n' 't I guessed you'd got a disgust for the place, 'n' 't you wouldn't want to see it again for one while."
Statira did not say anything. She walked on the other side of 'Manda Grier, who thrust her in the side from time to time with a lift of her elbow, in demand of sympathy and corroboration; but though she only spoke to answer yes or no, Lemuel could see that she was always smiling or else biting her lip to keep herself from it. He thought she looked about as pretty as anybody could, and that she was again very fashionably dressed. She had on a short dolman, and a pretty hat that shaded her forehead but fitted close round, and she wore long gloves that came up on her sleeves. She had a book from the library; she walked with a little bridling movement that he found very ladylike. 'Manda Grier tilted along between them, and her tongue ran and ran, so that Lemuel, when they came to Miss Vane's provision man's, could hardly get in a word to say that he guessed he must stop there.
Statira drifted on a few paces, but 'Manda Grier halted abruptly with him. "Well, 'f you're ever up our way we sh'd be much pleased to have you call, Mr. Barker," she said formally.
"I should be much pleased to do so," said Lemuel with equal state.
"'Tain't but just a little ways round here on the Avenue," she added.
Lemuel answered, "I guess I know where it is." He did not mean it for anything of a joke, but both the girls laughed, and though she had been so silent before, Statira laughed the most.
He could not help laughing either when 'Manda Grier said, "I guess if you was likely to forget the number you could go round to the station and inquire. They got your address too."
"'Manda Grier, you be still!" said Statira.
"S'tira said that's the way she knew you was from Willoughby Pastures. Her folks is from up that way, themselves. She says the minute she heard the name she knew it couldn't 'a' be'n you, whoever it was done it."
"'Manda Grier!" cried Statira again.
"I tell her she don't believe 't any harm can come out the town o'
"'Manda!" cried Statira.
Lemuel was pleased, but he could not say a word. He could not look at Statira.
"Well, good evening," said Amanda Grier.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel.
"Well, good evening," said Statira.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel again.
The next moment they were gone round the corner, and he was left standing before the provision man's, with his packages in his hand. It did not come to him till he had transacted his business within, and was on his way home, that he had been very impolite not to ask if he might not see them home. He did not know but he ought to go back and try to find them, and apologise for his rudeness, and yet he did not see how he could do that, either; he had no excuse for it; he was afraid it would seem queer, and make them laugh. Besides, he had those things for Miss Vane, and the cook wanted some of them at once.
He could hardly get to sleep that night for thinking of his blunder, and at times he cowered under the bedclothes for shame. He decided that the only way for him to do was to keep out of their way after this, and if he ever met them anywhere, to pretend not to see them.
The next morning he went to hear Mr. Sewell preach, as usual, but he found himself wandering far from the sermon, and asking or answering this or that in a talk with those girls that kept going on in his mind. The minister himself seemed to wander, and at times, when Lemuel forced a return to him, he thought he was boggling strangely. For the first time Mr. Sewell's sermon, in his opinion, did not come to much.
While his place in Miss Vane's household was indefinitely ascertained, he had the whole of Sunday, and he always wrote home in the afternoon, or brought up the arrears of the journal he had begun keeping; but the Sunday afternoon that followed, he was too excited to stay in and write. He thought he would go and take a walk, and get away from the things that pestered him. He did not watch where he was going, and after a while he turned a corner, and suddenly found himself in a long street, planted with shade-trees, and looking old-fashioned and fallen from a former dignity. He perceived that it could never have been fashionable, like Bolingbroke Street or Beacon; the houses were narrow, and their doors opened from little, cavernous arches let into the brick fronts, and they stood flush upon the pavement. The sidewalks were full of people, mostly girls walking up and down; at the corners young fellows lounged, and there were groups before the cigar stores and the fruit stalls, which were open. It was not very cold yet, and the children who swarmed upon the low door-steps were bareheaded and often summer- clad. The street was not nearly so well kept as the streets on the Back Bay that Lemuel was more used to, but he could see that it was not a rowdy street either. He looked up at a lamp on the first corner he came to, and read Pleasant Avenue on it; then he said that the witch was in it. He dramatised a scene of meeting those girls, and was very glib in it, and they were rather shy, and Miss Dudley kept behind Amanda Grier, who nudged her with her elbow when Lemuel said he had come round to see if anybody had robbed them of their books on the way home after he left them last night.
But all the time, as he hurried along to the next corner, he looked fearfully to the right and left. Presently he began to steal guilty glances at the numbers of the houses. He said to himself that he would see what kind of a looking house they did live in, any way. It was only No. 900 odd when he began, and he could turn off if he wished long before he reached 1334. As he drew nearer he said he would just give a look at it, and then rush by. But 1334 was a house so much larger and nicer than he had expected that he stopped to collect his slow rustic thoughts, and decide whether she really lived there or whether she had just given that number for a blind. He did not know why he should think that, though; she was dressed well enough to come out of any house.
While he lingered before the house an old man with a cane in his hand and his mouth hanging open stopped and peered through his spectacles, whose glare he fixed upon Lemuel, till he began to feel himself a suspicious character. The old man did not say anything, but stood faltering upon his stick and now and then gathering up his lower lip as if he were going to speak, but not speaking. Lemuel cleared his throat. "Hmmn! Is this a boarding-house?"
"I don't know," crowed the old man, in a high senile note. "You want table board or rooms?"
"I don't want board at all," began Lemuel again.
"What?" crowed the old man; and he put up his hand to his ear.
People were beginning to put their heads out of the neighbouring windows, and to walk slowly as they went by, so as to hear what he and the old man were saying. He could not run away now, and he went boldly up to the door of the large house and rang.
A girl came, and he asked her, with a flushed face, if Miss Amanda
Grier boarded there; somehow he could not bear to ask for Miss
"Well," the girl said, "she rooms here," as if that might be a different thing to Lemuel altogether.
"Oh!" he said. "Is she in?"
"Well, you can walk in," said the girl, "and I'll see." She came back to ask, "Who shall I say called?"
"Mr. Barker," said Lemuel, and then glowed with shame because he had called himself Mister. The girl did not come back, but she hardly seemed gone before 'Manda Grier came into the room. He did not know whether she would speak to him, but she was as pleasant as could be, and said he must come right up to her and S'tira's room. It was pretty high up, but he did not notice the stairs, 'Manda Grier kept talking so; and when he got to it, and 'Manda Grier dashed the door open, and told him to walk right in, he would not have known but he was in somebody's sitting-room. A curtained alcove hid the bed, and the room was heated by a cheerful little kerosene stove; there were bright folding carpet-chairs, and the lid of the washstand had a cloth on it that came down to the floor, and there were plants in the window. There was a mirror on the wall, framed in black walnut with gilt moulding inside, and a family-group photograph in the same kind of frame, and two chromes, and a clock on a bracket.
Statira seemed surprised to see him; the room was pretty warm, and her face was flushed. He said it was quite mild out, and she said, "Was it?" Then she ran and flung up the window, and said, "Why, so it was," and that she had been in the house all day, and had not noticed the weather.
She excused herself and the room for being in such a state; she said she was ashamed to be caught in such a looking dress, but they were not expecting company, and she did suppose 'Manda Grier would have given her time to put the room to rights a little. He could not understand why she said all this, for the whole room was clean, and Statira herself was beautifully dressed in the same dress that she had worn the night before, or one just like it; and after she had put up the window, 'Manda Grier said, "S'tira Dudley, do you want to kill yourself?" and ran and pulled aside the curtain in the corner, and took down the dolman from among other clothes that hung there, and threw it on Statira's shoulders, who looked as pretty as a pink in it. But she pretended to be too hot, and wanted to shrug it off, and 'Manda Grier called out, "Mr. Barker! will you make her keep it on?" and Lemuel sat dumb and motionless, but filled through with a sweet pleasure.
He tried several times to ask them if they had been robbed on the way home last night, as he had done in the scene he had dramatised; but he could not get out a word except that it had been pretty warm all day.
Statira said, "I think it's been a very warm fall," and 'Manda Grier said, "I think the summer's goin' to spend the winter with us," and they all three laughed.
"What speeches you do make, 'Manda Grier," said Statira.
"Well, anything better than Quaker meetin', I say," retorted 'Manda Grier; and then they were all three silent, and Lemuel thought of his clothes, and how fashionably both of the girls were dressed.
"I guess," said Statira, "it'll be a pretty sickly winter, if it keeps along this way. They say a green Christmas makes a fat grave- yard."
"I guess you'll see the snow fly long before Christmas," said 'Manda
Grier, "or Thanksgiving either."
"I guess so too," said Lemuel, though he did not like to seem to take sides against Statira.
She laughed as if it were a good joke, and said, "'Tain't but about a fortnight now till Thanksgiving anyway."
"If it comes a good fall of snow before Thanksgivin', won't you come round and give us a sleigh-ride, Mr. Barker?" asked 'Manda Grier.
They all laughed at her audacity, and Lemuel said, Yes, he would; and she said, "We'll give you a piece of real Willoughby Centre Mince-pie, if you will."
They all laughed again.
"'Manda Grier!" said Statira, in protest.
"Her folks sent her half a dozen last Thanksgivin'," persisted
"'Manda!" pleaded Statira.
'Manda Grier sprang up and got Lemuel a folding-chair. "You ain't a bit comfortable in that stiff old thing, Mr. Barker."
Lemuel declared that he was perfectly comfortable, but she would not be contented till he had changed, and then she said, "Why don't you look after your company, S'tira Dudley? I should think you'd be ashamed."
Lemuel's face burned with happy shame, and Statira, who was as red as he was, stole a look at him, that seemed to say that there was no use trying to stop 'Manda Grier. But when she went on, "I don't know but it's the fashion to Willoughby Centre," they both gave way again, and laughed more than ever, and Statira said, "Well, 'Manda Grier, what do you s'pose Mr. Barker 'll think?"
She tried to be sober, but the wild girl set her and Lemuel off laughing when she retorted, "Guess he'll think what he did when he was brought up in court for highway robbery."
'Manda Grier sat upright in her chair, and acted as if she had merely spoken about the weather. He knew that she was talking that way just to break the ice, and though he would have given anything to be able to second her, he could not.
"How you do carry on, 'Manda Grier," said Statira, as helpless as he was.
"Guess I got a pretty good load to carry!" said 'Manda Grier.
They all now began to find their tongues a little, and Statira told how one season when her mother took boarders she had gone over to the Pastures with a party of summer-folks on a straw-ride and picked blueberries. She said she never saw the berries as thick as they were there.
Lemuel said he guessed he knew where the place was; but the fire had got into it last year, and there had not been a berry there this summer.
Statira said, "What a shame!" She said there were some Barkers over East Willoughby way; and she confessed that when he said his name was Barker, and he was from Willoughby Pastures, that night in the station, she thought she should have gone through the floor.
Then they talked a little about how they had both felt, but not very much, and they each took all the blame, and would not allow that the other was the least to blame. Statira said she had behaved like a perfect coot all the way through, and Lemuel said that he guessed he had been the coot, if there was any.
"I guess there was a pair of you," said 'Manda Grier; and at this association of them in 'Manda Grier's condemnation, he could see that Statira was blushing, though she hid her face in her hands, for her ears were all red.
He now rose and said he guessed he would have to be going; but when 'Manda Grier interposed and asked, "Why, what's your hurry?" he said he guessed he had not had any, and Statira laughed at the wit of this till it seemed to him she would perish.
"Well, then, you set right straight down again," said 'Manda Grier, with mock severity, as if he were an obstinate little boy; and he obeyed, though he wished that Statira had asked him to stay too.
"Why, the land sakes!" exclaimed 'Manda Grier, "have you been lettin' him keep his hat all this while, S'tira Dudley? You take it right away from him!" And Statira rose, all smiling and blushing, and said—
"Will you let me take your hat, Mr. Barker?" as if he had just come in, and made him feel as if she had pressed him to stay. She took it and went and laid it on a stand across the room, and Lemuel thought he had never seen a much more graceful person. She wore a full Breton skirt, which was gathered thickly at the hips, and swung loose and free as she stepped. When she came back and sat down, letting the back of one pretty hand fall into the palm of the other in her lap, it seemed to him impossible that such an elegant young lady should be tolerating a person dressed as he was.
"There!" began 'Manda Grier. "I guess Mr. Barker won't object a great deal to our going on, if it is Sunday. 'S kind of a Sunday game, anyways. You 'posed to games on Sunday?"
"I don't know as I am," said Lemuel.
"Now, 'Manda Grier, don't you!" pleaded Statira.
"Shall, too," persisted 'Manda. "I guess if there's any harm in the key, there ain't any harm in the Bible, and so it comes out even. D'you ever try your fate with a key and a Bible?" she asked Lemuel.
"I don't know as I did," he answered.
"Well, it's real fun, 'n' its curious how it comes out, often_times._ Well, I don't s'pose there's anything in it, but it is curious."
"I guess we hadn't better," said Statira. "I don't believe Mr.
Barker 'll care for it."
Lemuel said he would like to see how it was done, anyway.
'Manda Grier took the key out of the door, and looked at it. "That key 'll cut the leaves all to pieces."
"Can't you find some other?" suggested Statira.
"I don't know but may be I could," said 'Manda Grier. "You just wait a half a second."
Before Lemuel knew what she was doing, she flew out of the door, and he could hear her flying down the stairs.
"Well, I must say!" said Statira, and then neither she nor Lemuel said anything for a little while. At last she asked, "That window trouble you any?"
Lemuel said, "Not at all," and he added, "Perhaps it's too cold for you?"
"Oh no," said the girl, "I can't seem to get anything too cold for me. I'm the greatest person for cold weather! I'm real glad it's comin' winter. We had the greatest time, last winter," continued Statira, "with those English sparrows. Used to feed 'em crumbs, there on the window-sill, and it seemed as if they got to know we girls, and they'd hop right inside, if you'd let 'em. Used to make me feel kind of creepy to have 'em. They say it's a sign of death to have a bird come into your room, and I was always for drivin' 'em out, but 'Manda, she said she guessed the Lord didn't take the trouble to send birds round to every one, and if the rule didn't work one way it didn't work the other. You believe in signs?"
"I don't know as I do, much. Mother likes to see the new moon over her right shoulder, pretty well," said Lemuel.
"Well, I declare," said Statira, "that's just the way with my aunt. Now you're up here," she said, springing suddenly to her feet, "I want you should see what a nice view we got from our window."
Lemuel had it on his tongue to say that he hoped it was not going to be his last chance; he believed he would have said it if 'Manda Grier had been there; but now he only joined Statira at the window, and looked out. They had to stoop over, and get pretty close together, to see the things she wished to show him, and she kept shrugging her sack on, and once she touched him with her shoulder. He said yes to everything she asked him about the view, but he saw very little of it. He saw that her hair had a shade of gold in its brown, and that it curled in tight little rings where it was cut on her neck, and that her skin was very white under it. When she touched him, that time, it made him feel very strange; and when she glanced at him out of her blue eyes, he did not know what he was doing. He did not laugh as he did when 'Manda Grier was there.
Statira said, "Oh, excuse me!" when she touched him, and he answered, "Perfectly excusable," but he said hardly anything else. He liked to hear her talk, and he watched the play of her lips as she spoke. Once her breath came across his cheek, when she turned quickly to see if he was looking where she was pointing.
They sat down and talked, and all at once Statira exclaimed, "Well! I should think 'Manda Grier was makin' that key!"
Now, whatever happened, Lemuel was bound to say, "I don't think she's been gone very long."
"Well, you're pretty patient, I must say," said Statira, and he did not know whether she was making fun of him or not. He tried to think of something to say, but could not. "I hope she'll fetch a lamp, too, when she comes," Statira went on, and now he saw that it was beginning to be a little darker. Perhaps that about the lamp was a hint for him to go; but he did not see exactly how he could go till 'Manda Grier came back; he felt that it would not be polite.
"Well, there!" said Statira, as if she divined his feeling. I shall give 'Manda Grier a good talking-to. I'm awfully afraid we're keeping you, Mr. Barker."
"Not at all," said Lemuel; "I'm afraid I'm keeping you."
"Oh, not at all," said Statira. She became rather quieter, till
'Manda Grier came back.
'Manda Grier burst into the room, with a key in one hand and a lamp in the other. "Well, I knew you two'd be holdin' Quaker's meetin'."
"We hain't at all! How d'you know we have? Have we, Mr. Barker?" returned Statira, in simultaneous admission and denial.
"Well, if you want to know, I listened outside the door," said
'Manda Grier, "and you wa'n't sayin' a word, either of you. I guess
I got a key now that'll do," she added, setting down her lamp, "and
I borrowed an old Bible 't I guess 'tain't go'n' to hurt a great
"I don't know as I want to play it much," said Statira.
"Well, I guess you got to, now," said 'Manda Grier, "after all my trouble. Hain't she, Mr. Barker?"
It flattered Lemuel through and through to be appealed to, but he could not say anything.
"Well," said Statira, "if I got to, I got to. But you got to hold the Bible."
"You got to put the key in!" cried 'Manda Grier. She sat holding the
Bible open toward Statira.
She offered to put the key in, and then she stopped. "Well! I'm great! Who are we going to find it for first?"
"Oh, company first," said 'Manda Grier.
"You company, Mr. Barker?" asked Statira, looking at Lemuel over her shoulder.
"I hope not," said Lemuel gallantly, at last.
"Well, I declare!" said Statira.
"Quite one the family," said 'Manda Grier, and that made Statira say, "'Manda!" and Lemuel blush to his hair. "Well, anyway," continued 'Manda Grier, "you're company enough to have your fate found first. Put in the key, S'tira."
"No, I sha'n't do it."
"Well, I shall, then!" She took the key from Statira, and shut the book upon it at the Song of Solomon, and bound it tightly in with a ribbon. Lemuel watched breathlessly; he was not sure that he knew what kind of fate she meant, but he thought he knew, and it made his heart beat quick. 'Manda Grier had passed the ribbon through the ring of the key, which was left outside of the leaves, and now she took hold of the key with her two forefingers. "You got to be careful not to touch the Bible with your fingers," she explained, "or the charm won't work. Now I'll say over two verses, 't where the key's put in, and Mr. Barker, you got to repeat the alphabet at the same time; and when it comes to the first letter of the right name, the Bible will drop out of my fingers, all I can do. Now then! Set me as a seal on thine heart—"
"A, B, C, D." began Lemuel. "Pshaw, now, 'Manda Grier, you stop!" pleaded Statira.
"You be still! Go on, Mr. Barker!—As a seal upon thine arm; for love is as strong as death—don't say the letters so fast— jealousy as cruel as the grave—don't look at S'tira; look at me!—the coals thereof are coals of fire—you're sayin' it too slow now—which hath a most vehement flame. I declare, S'tira Dudley, if you joggle me!—Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it—you must put just so much time between every letter; if you stop on every particular one, it ain't fair—if a man would give all the substance of his house for love—you stop laughin', you two!—it would be utterly consumed. Well, there! Now we got to go it all over again, and my arm's most broke now."
"I don't believe Mr. Barker wants to do it again," said Statira, looking demurely at him; but Lemuel protested that he did, and the game began again. This time the Bible began to shake at the letter D, and Statira cried out, "Now, 'Manda Grier, you're making it," and 'Manda Grier laughed so that she could scarcely hold the book. Lemuel laughed too; but he kept on repeating the letters. At S the book fell to the floor, and Statira caught it up, and softly beat 'Manda Grier on the back with it. "Oh you mean thing!" she cried out. "You did it on purpose."
'Manda Grier was almost choked with laughing.
"Do you know anybody of the name of Sarah, Mr. Barker?" she gasped, and then they all laughed together till Statira said, "Well, I shall surely die! Now, 'Manda Grier, it's your turn. And you see if I don't pay you up."
"I guess I ain't afraid any," retorted 'Manda Grier. "The book 'll do what it pleases, in spite of you."
They began again, Statira holding the book this time, and Lemuel repeating as before, and he went quite through the alphabet without anything happening. "Well, I declare!" said Statira, looking grave. "Let's try it over again."
"You may try, and you may try, and you may try," said 'Manda Grier.
"It won't do you any good. I hain't got any fate in that line."
"Well, that's what we're goin' to find out," said Statira; but again the verses and alphabet were repeated without effect.
"Now you satisfied?" asked 'Manda Grier.
"No, not yet. Begin again, Mr. Barker!"
He did so, and at the second letter the book dropped. Statira jumped up, and 'Manda Grier began to chase her round the room, to box her ears for her, she said. Lemuel sat looking on. He did not feel at all severe toward them, as he usually did toward girls that cut up; he did not feel that this was cutting up, in fact.
"Stop, stop!" implored Statira, "and I'll let you try it over again."
"No, it's your turn now!"
"No, I ain't going to have any," said Statira, folding her arms.
"You got to," said 'Manda Grier. "The rest of us has, and now you've got to. Hain't she got to, Mr. Barker?"
"Yes," said Lemuel delightedly; "you've got to, Miss Dudley."
"Miss Dudley!" repeated 'Manda Grier. "How that does sound."
"I don't know as it sounds any worse than Mr. Barker," said Lemuel.
"Well," said 'Manda Grier judicially, "I she'd think it was 'bout time they was both of 'em dropped, 'T any rate, I don't want you should call me Miss Grier—Lemuel."
"Oh!" cried Statira. "Well, you are getting along, 'Manda
"Well, don't you let yourself be outdone then, S'tira."
"I guess Mr. Barker's good enough for me a while yet," said Statira, and she hastened to add, "The name, I mean," and at this they all laughed till Statira said, "I shall certainly die!" She suddenly recovered herself—those girls seemed to do everything like lightning, Lemuel observed—and said, "No, I ain't goin' to have mine told at all. I don't like it. Seems kind of wicked. I ruther talk. I never could make it just right to act so with the Bible."
Lemuel was pleased at that. Statira seemed prettier than ever in this mood of reverence.
"Well, don't talk too much when I'm gone," said 'Manda Grier, and before anybody could stop her, she ran out of the room. But she put her head in again to say, "I'll be back as soon's I can take this key home."
Lemuel did not know what to do. The thought of being alone with Statira again was full of rapture and terror. He was glad when she seized the door and tried to keep 'Manda Grier.
"I—I—guess I better be going," he said.
"You sha'n't go till I get back, anyway," said 'Manda Grier hospitably. "You keep him, S'tira!"
She gave Statira a little push, and ran down the stairs.
Statira tottered against Lemuel, with that round, soft shoulder which had touched him before. He put out his arms to save her from falling, and they seemed to close round her of themselves. She threw up her face, and in a moment he had kissed her. He released her and fell back from her aghast.
She looked at him.
"I—I didn't mean to," he panted. His heart was thundering in his ears.
She put up her hands to her face, and began to cry.
"Oh, my goodness!" he gasped. He wavered a moment, then he ran out of the room.
On the stairs he met 'Manda Grier coming up. "Now, Mr. Barker, you're real mean to go!" she pouted.
"I guess I better be going," Lemuel called back, in a voice so husky that he hardly knew it for his own.
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