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Chapter 18

XVIII.

After agreeing with his wife that he had better leave Barker alone, Sewell did not feel easy in doing so. He had that ten-dollar note which Miss Vane had given him, and though he did not believe, since Evans had reported Barker's refusal of his fee, that the boy would take it, he was still constrained to do something with it. Before giving it back to her, he decided at least to see Barker and learn about his prospects and expectations. He might find some way of making himself useful to him.

In a state of independence he found Lemuel much more accessible than formerly, and their interview was more nearly amicable. Sewell said that he had been delighted to hear of Lemuel's whereabouts from his old friend Evans, and to know that they were housed together. He said that he used to know Mrs. Harmon long ago, and that she was a good-hearted, well-meaning woman, though without much forecast. He even assented to Lemuel's hasty generalisation of her as a perfect lady, though they both felt a certain inaccuracy in this, and Sewell repeated that she was a woman of excellent heart and turned to a more intimate inquest of Lemuel's life.

He tried to find out how he employed his leisure time, saying that he always sympathised with young men away from home, and suggesting the reading-room and the frequent lectures at the Young Men's Christian Union for his odd moments. He learned that Lemuel had not many of these during the week, and that on Sundays he spent all the time he could get in hearing the different noted ministers. For the rest, he learned that Lemuel was very much interested in the city, and appeared to be rapidly absorbing both its present civilisation and its past history. He was unsmilingly amused at the comments of mixed shrewdness and crudity which Lemuel was betrayed into at times beyond certain limits of diffidence that he had apparently set himself; at his blunders and misconceptions, at the truth divined by the very innocence of his youth and inexperience. He found out that Lemuel had not been at home since he came to Boston; he had expected to go at Thanksgiving, but it came so soon after he had got his place that he hated to ask; the folks were all well, and he would send the kind remembrances which the minister asked him to give his mother. Sewell tried to find out, in saying that Mrs. Sewell and himself would always be glad to see him, whether Lemuel had any social life outside of the St. Albans, but here he was sensible that a door was shut against him; and finally he had not the courage to do more about that money from Miss Vane than to say that from time to time he had sums intrusted him, and that if Lemuel had any pressing need of money he must borrow of him. He fancied he had managed that rather delicately, for Lemuel thanked him without severity, and said he should get along now, he guessed, but he was much obliged. Neither of them mentioned Miss Vane, and upon the whole the minister was not sure that he had got much nearer the boy, after all.

Certainly he formed no adequate idea of the avidity and thoroughness with which Lemuel was learning his Boston. It was wholly a Public Boston which unfolded itself during the winter to his eager curiosity, and he knew nothing of the social intricacies of which it seems solely to consist for so many of us. To him Boston society was represented by the coteries of homeless sojourners in the St. Albans; Boston life was transacted by the ministers, the lecturers, the public meetings, the concerts, the horse-cars, the policemen, the shop-windows, the newspapers, the theatres, the ships at the docks, the historical landmarks, the charity apparatus.

The effect was a ferment in his mind in which there was nothing clear. It seemed to him that he had to change his opinions every day. He was whirled round and round; he never saw the same object twice the same. He did not know whether he learned or unlearned most. With the pride that comes to youth from the mere novelty of its experiences was mixed a shame for his former ignorance, an exasperation at his inability to grasp their whole meaning.

His activities in acquainting himself with Boston interested Evans, who tried to learn just what his impression was; but this was the last thing that Lemuel could have distinctly imparted.

"Well, upon the whole," he asked, one day, "what do you think? From what you've seen of it, which is the better place, Boston or Willoughby Pastures? If you were friendless and homeless, would you rather be cast away in the city or in the country?"

Lemuel did not hesitate about this. "In the city! They haven't got any idea in the country what's done to help folks along in the city!"

"Is that so?" asked Evans. "It's against tradition," he suggested.

"Yes, I know that," Lemuel assented. "And in the country they think the city is a place where nobody cares for you, and everybody is against you, and wants to impose upon you. Well, when I first came to Boston," he continued with a consciousness of things that Evans did not betray his own knowledge of, "I thought so too, and I had a pretty hard time for a while. It don't seem as if people did care for you, except to make something out of you; but if any one happens to find out that you're in trouble, there's ten times as much done for you in the city as there is in the country."

"Perhaps that's because there are ten times as many to do it," said
Evans, in the hope of provoking this impartial spirit further.

"No, it isn't that altogether. It's because they've seen ten times as much trouble, and know how to take hold of it better. I think our folks in the country have been flattered up too much. If some of them could come down here and see how things are carried on, they would be surprised. They wouldn't believe it if you told them."

"I didn't know we were so exemplary," said Evans.

"Oh, city folks have their faults too," said Lemuel, smiling in recognition of the irony.

"No! What?"

Lemuel seemed uncertain whether to say it. "Well, they're too aristocratic."

Evans enjoyed this frank simplicity. He professed not to understand, and begged Lemuel to explain.

"Well, at home, in the country, they mightn't want to do so much for you, or be so polite about it, but they wouldn't feel themselves so much above you. They're more on an equality. If I needed help, I'd rather be in town; but if I could help myself, I'd just as soon be in the country. Only," he added, "there are more chances here."

"Yes, there are more chances. And do you think it's better not to be quite so kind, and to be more on an equality?"

"Why, don't you?" demanded Lemuel.

"Well, I don't know," said Evans, with a whimsical affection of seriousness. "Shouldn't you like an aristocracy if you could be one of the aristocrats? Don't you think you're opposed to aristocracy because you don't want to be under? I have spoken to be a duke when we get an order of nobility, and I find that it's a great relief. I don't feel obliged to go in for equality nearly as much as I used."

Lemuel shyly dropped the subject, not feeling himself able to cope with his elder in these railleries. He always felt his heaviness and clumsiness in talking with the editor, who fascinated him. He did not know but he had said too much about city people being aristocratic. It was not quite what he meant; he had really been thinking of Miss Carver, and how proud she was, when he said it.

Lately he had seemed to see a difference between himself and other people, and he had begun to look for it everywhere, though when he spoke to Evans he was not aware how strongly the poison was working in him. It was as if the girl had made that difference; she made it again, whatever it was, between herself and the black man who once brought her a note and a bunch of flowers from one of her young lady pupils. She was very polite to him, trying to put him at ease, just as she had been with Lemuel that night. If he came into the dining- room to seat a transient when Miss Carver was there, he knew that she was mentally making a difference between him and the boarders. The ladies all had the custom of bidding him good morning when they came in to breakfast, and they all smiled upon him except Miss Carver; she seemed every morning as if more surprised to see him standing there at the door and showing people to their places: she looked puzzled, and sometimes she blushed, as if she were ashamed for him.

He had discovered, in fine, that there were sorts of honest work in the world which one must not do if he would keep his self-respect through the consideration of others. Once all work had been work, but now he had found that there was work which was service, and that service was dishonour. He had learned that the people who did this work were as a class apart, and were spoken of as servants, with slight that was unconscious or conscious, but never absent.

Some of the ladies at the St. Albans had tried to argue with Lemuel about his not taking the fees he refused, and he knew that they talked him over. One day, when he was showing a room to a transient, he heard one of them say to another in the next apartment, "Well, I did hate to offer it to him, just as if he was a common servant;" and the other said, "Well, I don't see what he can expect if he puts himself in the place of a servant." And then they debated together whether his quality of clerk was sufficient to redeem him from the reproach of servitude; they did not call his running the elevator anything, because a clerk might do that in a casual way without loss of dignity; they alleged other cases of the kind.

His inner life became a turmoil of suspicions, that attached themselves to every word spoken to him by those who must think themselves above him. He could see now how far behind in everything Willoughby Pastures was, and how the summer folks could not help despising the people that took them to board, and waited on them like servants in cities. He esteemed the boarders at the St. Albans in the degree that he thought them enlightened enough to contemn him for his station; and he had his own ideas of how such a person as Mr. Evans really felt toward him. He felt toward him and was interested in his reading as a person might feel toward and be interested in the attainments of some anomalous animal, a learned pig, or something of that kind.

He could look back, now, on his life at Miss Vane's, and see that he was treated as a servant there,—a petted servant, but still a servant,—and that was what made that girl behave so to him; he always thought of Sibyl as that girl.

He would have thrown up his place at once, though he knew of nothing else he could do; he would have risked starving rather than keep it; but he felt that it was of no use; that the stain of servitude was indelible; that if he were lifted to the highest station, it would not redeem him in Miss Carver's eyes. All this time he had scarcely more than spoken with her, to return her good mornings at the dining-room door, or to exchange greetings with her on the stairs, or to receive some charge from her in going out, or to answer some question of hers in coming in, as to whether any of the pupils who had lessons of her had been there in her absence. He made these interviews as brief as possible; he was as stiff and cold as she.

The law-student, whose full name was Alonzo W. Berry, had one joking manner for all manner of men and women, and Lemuel's suspicion could not find any offensive distinction in it toward himself; but he disabled Berry's own gentility for that reason, and easily learning much of the law-student's wild past in the West from so eager an autobiographer, he could not comfort himself with his friendship. While the student poured out his autobiography without stint upon Lemuel, his shyness only deepened upon the boy. There were things in his life for which he was in equal fear of discovery: his arrest and trial in the police court, his mother's queerness, and his servile condition at Miss Vane's. The thought that Mr. Sewell knew about them all made him sometimes hate the minister, till he reflected that he had evidently told no one of them. But he was always trembling lest they should somehow become known at the St. Albans; and when Berry was going on about himself, his exploits, his escapes, his loves,—chiefly his loves,—Lemuel's soul was sealed within him; a vision of his disgraces filled him with horror.

But in the delight of talking about himself, Berry was apparently unaware that Lemuel had not reciprocated his confidences. He celebrated his familiarity with Miss Swan and her friend, though no doubt he had the greater share of the acquaintance,—that was apt to be the case with him,—and from time to time he urged Lemuel to come up and call on them with him.

"I guess they don't want me to call," said Lemuel with feeble bitterness at last, one evening after an elaborate argument from Berry to prove that Lemuel had the time, and that he just knew they would be glad to see him.

"Why?" demanded Berry, and he tried to get Lemuel's reason; but when Lemuel had stated that belief, he could not have given the reason for it on his death-bed. Berry gave the conundrum up for the time, but he did not give Lemuel up; he had an increasing need of him as he advanced in a passion for Miss Swan, which, as he frankly prophesied, was bound to bring him to the popping-point sooner or later; he debated with himself in Lemuel's presence all the best form's of popping, and he said that it was simply worth a ranch to be able to sing to him,

  "She's a darling,
   She's a daisy,
   She's a dumpling,
   She's a lamb,"

and to feel that he knew who she was. He usually sang this refrain to Lemuel when he came in late at night after a little supper with some of the fellows that had left traces of its cheer on his bated breath. Once he came downstairs alone in the elevator, in his shirt-sleeves and stocking-feet, for the purpose of singing it after Lemuel had thought him in bed.

Every Sunday afternoon during the winter Lemuel went to see Statira, and sometimes in the evening he took her to church. But she could not understand why he always wanted to go to a different church; she did not see why he should not pick out one church and stick to it: the ministers seemed to be all alike, and she guessed one was pretty near as good as another. 'Manda Grier said she guessed they were all Lemuel to her; and Statira said well, she guessed that was pretty much so. She no longer pretended that he was not the whole world to her, either with him or with 'Manda Grier; she was so happy from morning till night, day in and day out, that 'Manda Grier said if she were in her place she should be afraid something would happen.

Statira worked in the box-factory now; she liked it a great deal better than the store, and declared that she was ever so much stronger. The cough lingered still, but none of them noticed it much; she called it a cold, and said she kept catching more. 'Manda Grier told her that she could throw it off soon enough if she would buy a few clothes for warmth and not so many for looks; but they did not talk this over before Lemuel. Before he came Statira took a soothing mixture that she got of the apothecary, and then they were all as bright and gay as could be, and she looked so pretty that he said he could not get used to it. The housekeeping experiment was a great success; she and 'Manda Grier had two rooms now, and they lived better than ever they had, for less money. Of course, Statira said, it was not up to the St. Albans, which Lemuel had told them of at first a little braggingly. In fact she liked to have him brag of it, and of the splendours of his position and surroundings. She was very curious, but not envious of anything, and it became a joke with her and 'Manda Grier, who pretended to despise the whole affair.

At first it flattered Lemuel to have her admire his rise in life so simply and ardently; but after a while it became embarrassing, in proportion as it no longer seemed so superb to him. She was always wanting him to talk of it; after a few Sundays, with the long hours they had passed in telling each other all they could think of about themselves, they had not much else to talk of. Now that she had him to employ her fancy, Statira no longer fed it on the novels she used to devour. He brought her books, but she did not read them; she said that she had been so busy with her sewing she had no time to read; and every week she showed him some pretty new thing she had been making, and tried it on for him to see how she looked in it. Often she seemed to care more to rest with her head on his shoulder, and not talk at all; and for a while this was enough for him too, though sometimes he was disappointed that she did not even let him read to her out of the books she neglected. She would not talk over the sermons they heard together; but once when Mr. Evans offered him tickets for the theatre, and Lemuel had got the night off and taken Statira, it seemed as if she would be willing to sit up till morning and talk the play over.

Nothing else ever interested her so much, except what one of the girls in the box-factory had told her about going down to the beach, summers, and waiting on table. This girl had been at Old Orchard, where they had splendid times, with one veranda all to themselves and the gentlemen-help; and in the afternoon the girls got together on the beach—or the grass right in front of the hotel—and sewed. They got nearly as much as they did in the box-factory; and then the boarders all gave you something extra; some of them gave as much as a dollar a week apiece. The head-waiter was a college student, and a perfect gentleman; he was always dressed up in a dress-suit and a white silk neck-tie. Statira said that next summer she wanted they should go off somewhere, she and 'Manda Grier, and wait on table together; and she knew Lemuel could easily get the head-waiter's place, after the St. Albans. She should not want he should be clerk, because then they could not have such good times, for they would be more separated.

Lemuel heard her restively through, and then broke out fiercely and told her that he had seen enough of waiting on table at the St. Albans for him never to want her to do it; and that the boarders who gave money to the waiters despised them for taking it. He said that he did not consider just helping Mrs. Harmon out the same as being head-waiter, and that he would not be a regular waiter for any money: he would rather starve.

Statira did not understand; she asked him meekly if he were mad at her, he seemed so; and he had to do what he could to cheer her up.

'Manda Grier took Statira's part pretty sharply. She said it was one thing to live out in a private family—that was a disgrace, if you could keep the breath of life in you any other way—and it was quite another to wait in an hotel; and she did not want to have any one hint round that she would let Statira demean herself. Lemuel was offended by her manner, and her assumption of owning Statira. She defended him, but he could not tell her how he had changed; the influences were perhaps too obscure for him to have traced them all himself; after the first time he had hardly mentioned the art- student girls to her. There were a great many things that Statira could not understand. She had been much longer in the city than Lemuel, but she did not seem to appreciate the difference between that and the country. She dressed very stylishly; no one went beyond her in that; but in many things he could see that she remained countrified. Once on a very mild April evening, when they were passing through the Public Garden, she wished him to sit on a vacant seat they came to. All the others were occupied by young couples who sat with their arms around each other.

"No, no!" shuddered Lemuel, "I don't want people should take you for one of these servant-girls."

"Why, Lem, how proud you're getting!" she cried with easy acquiescence. "You're awfully stuck up! Well, then, you've got to take a horse-car; I can't walk any further."

William Dean Howells