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Chapter 22

XXII.

That night Lemuel told Mrs. Harmon that she must not expect him to do anything thenceforward but look after the accounts and the general management; she must get a head-waiter, and a boy to run the elevator. She consented to this, as she would have consented to almost anything else that he proposed.

He had become necessary to the management of the St. Albans in every department; and if the lady boarders felt that they could not now get on without him, Mrs. Harmon was even more dependent.

With her still nominally at the head of affairs, and controlling the expenses as a whole, no radical reform could be effected. But there were details of the outlay in which Lemuel was of use, and he had brought greater comfort into the house for less money. He rejected her old and simple device of postponing the payment of debt as an economical measure, and substituted cash dealings with new purveyors. He gradually but inevitably took charge of the store- room, and stopped the waste there; early in his administration he had observed the gross and foolish prodigality with which the portions were sent from the carving-room, and after replacing Mrs. Harmon's nephew there, he established a standard portion that gave all the needed variety, and still kept the quantity within bounds. It came to his taking charge of this department entirely, and as steward he carved the meats, and saw that nothing was in a way to become cold before he opened the dining-room doors as head-waiter.

His activities promoted the leisure which Mrs. Harmon had always enjoyed, and which her increasing bulk fitted her to adorn. Her nephew willingly relinquished the dignity of steward. He said that his furnaces were as much as he wanted to take care of; especially as in former years, when it had begun to come spring, he had experienced a stress of mind in keeping the heat just right, when the ladies were all calling down the tubes for more of it or less of it, which he should now be very glad not to have complicated with other cares. He said that now he could look forward to the month of May with some pleasure.

The guests, sensibly or insensibly, according to their several temperaments, shared the increased ease that came from Lemuel's management. The service was better in every way; their beds were promptly made, their rooms were periodically swept; every night when they came up from dinner they found their pitchers of ice-water at their doors. This change was not accomplished without much of that rebellion and renunciation which was known at the St. Albans as kicking. Chambermaids and table-girls kicked, but they were replaced by Lemuel, who went himself to the intelligence office, and pledged the new ones to his rule beforehand. There was even some kicking among the guests, who objected to the new portions, and to having a second bill sent them if the first remained unpaid for a week; but the general sense of the hotel was in Lemuel's favour.

He had no great pleasure in the reform he had effected. His heart was not in it, except as waste and disorder and carelessness were painful to him. He suffered to promote a better state of things, as many a woman whose love is for books or pictures or society suffers for the perfection of her housekeeping, and sacrifices her taste to achieve it. He would have liked better to read, to go to lectures, to hear sermons; with the knowledge of Mr. Evans's life as an editor and the incentive of a writer near him, he would have liked to try again if he could not write something, though the shame of his failure in Mr. Sewell's eyes had burned so deep. Above all, since he had begun to see how city people regarded the kind of work he had been doing, he would have liked to get out of the hotel business altogether, if he could have been sure of any other.

As the spring advanced his cares grew lighter. Most of the regular boarders went away to country hotels and became regular boarders there. Their places were only partially filled by transients from the South and West, who came and went, and left Lemuel large spaces of leisure, in which he read, or deputed Mrs. Harmon's nephew to the care of the office and pursued his studies of Boston, sometimes with Mr. Evans,—whose newspaper kept him in town, and who liked to prowl about with him, and to frequent the odd summer entertainments,—but mostly alone. They became friends after a fashion, and were in each other's confidence as regarded their opinions and ideas, rather than their history; now and then Evans dropped a word about the boy he had lost, or his wife's health, but Lemuel kept his past locked fast in his breast.

The art-students had gone early in the summer, and Berry had left Boston for Wyoming at the end of the spring term of the law-school. He had not been able to make up his mind to pop before Miss Swan departed, but he thought he should fetch it by another winter; and he had got leave to write to her, on condition, he said, that he should conduct the whole correspondence himself.

Miss Carver had left Lemuel dreaming of her as an ideal, yet true, with a slow, rustic constancy, to Statira. For all that had been said and done, he had not swerved explicitly from her. There was no talk of marriage between them, and could not be; but they were lovers still, and when Miss Carver was gone, and the finer charm of her society was unfelt, he went back to much of the old pleasure he had felt in Statira's love. The resentment of her narrow-mindedness, the shame for her ignorance passed; the sense of her devotion remained.

'Manda Grier wanted her to go home with her for part of the summer, but she would not have consented if Lemuel had not insisted. She wrote him back ill-spelt, scrawly little letters, in one of which she told him that her cough was all gone, and she was as well as ever. She took a little more cold when she returned to town in the first harsh September weather, and her cough returned, but she said she did not call it anything now.

The hotel began to fill up again for the winter. Berry preceded the art-students by some nervous weeks, in which he speculated upon what he should do if they did not come at all. Then they came, and the winter passed, with repetitions of the last winter's events, and a store of common memories that enriched the present, and insensibly deepened the intimacy in which Lemuel found himself. He could not tell whither the present was carrying him; he only knew that he had drifted so far from the squalor of his past, that it seemed like the shadow of a shameful dream.

He did not go to see Statira so often as he used; and she was patient with his absences, and defended him against 'Manda Grier, who did not scruple to tell her that she believed the fellow was fooling with her, and who could not always keep down a mounting dislike of Lemuel in his presence. One night towards spring, when he returned early from Statira's, he found Berry in the office at the St. Albans. "That you, old man?" he asked. "Well, I'm glad you've come. Just going to leave a little Billy Ducks for you here, but now I needn't. The young ladies sent me down to ask if you had a copy of Whittier's poems; they want to find something in it. I told 'em Longfellow would do just as well, but I couldn't seem to convince 'em. They say he didn't write the particular poem they want."

"Yes, I've got Whittier's poems here," said Lemuel, unlocking his desk. "It belongs to Mr. Evans; I guess he won't care if I lend it."

"Well, now, I tell you what," said Berry; "don't you let a borrowed book like that go out of your hands. Heigh? You just bring it up yourself. See?" He winked the eye next Lemuel with exaggerated insinuation. "They'll respect you all the more for being so scrupulous, and I guess they won't be very much disappointed on general principles if you come along. There's lots of human nature in girls—the best of 'em. I'll tell 'em I left you lookin' for it. I don't mind a lie or two in a good cause. But you hurry along up, now."

He was gone before Lemuel could stop him; he could not do anything but follow.

It appeared that it was Miss Swan who wished to see the poem; she could not remember the name of it, but she was sure she should know it if she saw it in the index. She mingled these statements with her greetings to Lemuel, and Miss Carver seemed as glad to see him. She had a little more colour than usual, and they were all smiling, so that he knew Berry had been getting off some of his jokes. But he did not care.

Miss Swan found the poem as she had predicted, and, "Now all keep still," she said, "and I'll read it." But she suddenly added, "Or no; you read it, Mr. Barker, won't you?"

"If Barker ain't just in voice to-night, I'll read it," suggested
Berry.

But she would not let him make this diversion. She ignored his offer, and insisted upon Lemuel's reading. "Jessie says you read beautifully. That passage in Romola," she reminded him; but Lemuel said it was only a few lines, and tried to excuse himself. At heart he was proud of his reading, and he ended by taking the book.

When he had finished the two girls sighed.

"Isn't it beautiful, Jessie?" said Miss Swan.

"Beautiful!" answered her friend.

Berry yawned.

"Well, I don't see much difference between that and a poem of
Longfellow's. Why wouldn't Longfellow have done just as well?
Honestly, now! Why isn't one poem just as good as another, for all
practical purposes?"

"It is, for some people," said Miss Swan.

Berry figured an extreme anguish by writhing in his chair. Miss Swan laughed in spite of herself, and they began to talk in their usual banter, which Miss Carver never took part in, and which Lemuel was quite incapable of sharing. If it had come to savage sarcasm or a logical encounter, he could have held his own, but he had a natural weight and slowness that disabled him from keeping up with Berry's light talk; he envied it, because it seemed to make everybody like him, and Lemuel would willingly have been liked.

Miss Carver began to talk to him about the book, and then about Mr. Evans. She asked him if he went much to his rooms, and Lemuel said no, not at all, since the first time Mr. Evans had asked him up. He said, after a pause, that he did not know whether he wanted him to come.

"I should think he would," said Miss Carver. "It must be very gloomy for him, with his wife such an invalid. He seems naturally such a gay person."

"Yes, that's what I think," said Lemuel.

"I wonder," said the girl, "if it seems to you harder for a naturally cheerful person to bear things, than for one who has always been rather melancholy?"

"Yes, it does!" he answered with the pleasure and surprise young people have in discovering any community of feeling; they have thought themselves so utterly unlike each other. "I wonder why it should?"

"I don't know; perhaps it isn't so. But I always pity the cheerful person the most."

They recognised an amusing unreason in this, and laughed. Miss Swan across the room had caught the name.

"Are you talking of Mrs. Evans?"

Berry got his banjo down from the wall, where Miss Swan allowed him to keep it as bric-a-brac, and began to tune it.

"I don't believe it agrees with this banjoseph being an object of virtue," he said. "What shall it be, ladies? Something light and gay, adapted to disperse gloomy reflections?" He played a fandango. "How do you like that? It has a tinge of melancholy in it, and yet it's lively too, as a friend of mine used to say about the Dead March."

"Was his name Berry?" asked Miss Swan.

"Not Alonzo W., Jr.," returned Berry tranquilly, and he and Miss
Swan began to joke together.

"I know a friend of Mr. Evans's," said Lemuel to Miss Carver. "Mr.
Sewell. Have you ever heard him preach?"

"Oh yes, indeed. We go nearly every Sunday morning."

"I nearly always go in the evening now," said Lemuel. "Don't you like him?"

"Yes," said the girl. "There's something about him—I don't know what—that doesn't leave you feeling how bad you are, but makes you want to be better. He helps you so; and he's so clear. And he shows that he's had all the mean and silly thoughts that you have. I don't know—it's as if he were talking for each person alone."

"Yes, that is exactly the way I feel!" Lemuel was proud of the coincidence. He said, to commend himself further to Miss Carver, "I have just been round to see him."

"I should think you would value his acquaintance beyond anything," said the girl. "Is he just as earnest and simple as he is in the pulpit?"

"He's just the same, every way." Lemuel went a little further; "I knew him before I came to Boston. He boarded one summer where we lived." As he spoke he thought of the grey, old, unpainted house, and of his brother-in-law with his stocking-feet on the stove- hearth, and his mother's bloomers; he thought of his arrest, and his night in the police-station, his trial, and the Wayfarer's Lodge; and he wondered that he could think of such things and still look such a girl in the face. But he was not without that strange joy in their being unknown to her which reserved and latent natures feel in mere reticence, and which we all experience in some degree when we talk with people and think of our undiscovered lives.

They went on a long time, matching their opinions and feelings about many things, as young people do, and fancying that much of what they said was new with them. When he came away after ten o'clock, he thought of one of the things that Sewell had said about the society of refined and noble women: it was not so much what they said or did that helped; it was something in them that made men say and do their best, and help themselves to be refined and noble men, to make the most of themselves in their presence. He believed that this was what Miss Carver had done, and he thought how different it was with him when he came away from an evening with Statira. Again he experienced that compassion for her, in the midst of his pride and exultation; he asked himself what he could do to help her; he did not see how she could be changed.

Berry followed him downstairs, and wanted to talk the evening over.

"I don't see how I'm going to stand it much longer, Barker," he said. "I shall have to pop pretty soon or die, one of the two; and I'm afraid either one 'll kill me. Wasn't she lovely to-night? Honey in the comb, sugar in the gourd, I say! I wonder what it is about popping, anyway, that makes it so hard, Barker? It's simply a matter of business, if you come to boil it down. You offer a fellow so many cattle, and let him take 'em or leave 'em. But if the fellow happens to have on a long, slim, olive-green dress of some colour, and holds her head like a whole floral tribute on a stem, and you happen to be the cattle you're offering, you can't feel so independent about it, somehow. Well, what's the use? She's a daisy, if ever there was one. Ever notice what a peculiar blue her eyes are?"

"Blue?" said Lemuel. "They're brown."

"Look here, old man," said Berry compassionately, "do you think I've come down here to fool away my time talking about Miss Carver? We'll take some Saturday afternoon for that, when we haven't got anything else to do; but it's Miss Swan that has the floor at present. What were you two talking about over there, so long? I can't get along with Miss Carver worth a cent."

"I hardly know what we did talk about," said Lemuel dreamily.

"Well, I've got the same complaint, I couldn't tell you ten words that Madeline said—in thine absence let me call thee Madeline, sweet!—but I knew it was making an immortal spirit of me, right straight along, every time. The worst thing about an evening like this is, it don't seem to last any time at all. Why, when those girls began to put up their hands to hide their yawns, I felt like I was just starting in for a short call. I wish I could have had a good phonograph around. I'd put it on my sleepless pillow, and unwind its precious record all through the watches of the night." He imitated the thin phantasmal squeak of the instrument in repeating a number of Miss Swan's characteristic phrases. "Yes, sir, a pocket phonograph is the thing I'm after."

"I don't see how you can talk the way you do," said Lemuel, shuddering inwardly at Berry's audacious freedom, and yet finding a certain comfort in it.

"That's just the way I felt myself at first. But you'll get over it as you go along. The nicest thing about their style of angel is that they're perfectly human, after all. You don't believe it now, of course, but you will."

It only heightened Lemuel's conception of Miss Carver's character to have Berry talk so lightly and daringly of her, in her relation to him. He lay long awake after he went to bed, and in the turmoil of his thoughts one thing was clear: so pure and high a being must never know anything of his shameful past, which seemed to dishonour her through his mere vicinity. He must go far from her, and she must not know why; but long afterwards Mr. Sewell would tell her, and then she would understand. He owed her this all the more because he could see now that she was not one of the silly persons, as Mr. Sewell called them, who would think meanly of him for having in his ignorance and inexperience, done a servant's work. His mind had changed about that, and he wondered that he could ever have suspected her of such a thing.

About noon the next day the street door was opened hesitatingly, as if by some one not used to the place; and when Lemuel looked up from the menus he was writing, he saw the figure of one of those tramps who from time to time presented themselves and pretended to want work. He scanned the vagabond sharply, as he stood moulding a soft hat on his hands, and trying to superinduce an air of piteous appeal upon the natural gaiety of his swarthy face. "Well! what's wanted?"

A dawning conjecture that had flickered up in the tramp's eyes flashed into full recognition.

"Why, mate!"

Lemuel's heart stood still. "What—what do you want here?"

"Why, don't you know me, mate?"

All his calamity confronted Lemuel.

"No," he said, but nothing in him supported the lie he had uttered.

"Wayfarer's Lodge?" suggested the other cheerfully. "Don't you remember?"

"No——"

"I guess you do," said the mate easily. "Anyway, I remember you."

Lemuel's feeble defence gave way. "Come in here," he said, and he shut the door upon the intruder and himself, and submitted to his fate. "What is it?" he asked huskily.

"Why, mate! what's the matter? Nobody's goin' to hurt you," said the other encouragingly. "What's your lay here?"

"Lay?"

"Yes. Got a job here?"

"I'm the clerk," said Lemuel, with the ghost of his former pride of office.

"Clerk?" said the tramp with good-humoured incredulity. "Where's your diamond pin? Where's your rings?" He seemed willing to prolong the playful inquiry. "Where's your patent leather boots?"

"It's not a common hotel. It's a sort of a family hotel, and I'm the clerk. What do you want?"

The young fellow lounged back easily in his chair. "Why, I did drop in to beat the house out of a quarter if I could, or may be ten cents. Thank you, sir. God bless you, sir." He interrupted himself to burlesque a professional gratitude. "That style of thing, you know. But I don't know about it now. Look here, mate! what's the reason you couldn't get me a job here too? I been off on a six months' cruise since I saw you, and I'd like a job on shore first rate. Couldn't you kind of ring me in for something? I ain't afraid of work, although I never did pretend to love it. But I should like to reform now, and get into something steady. Heigh?"

"There isn't anything to do—there's no place for you," Lemuel began.

"Oh, pshaw, now, mate, you think!" pleaded the other. "I'll take any sort of a job; I don't care what it is. I ain't got any o' that false modesty about me. Been round too much. And I don't want to go back to the Wayfarer's Lodge. It's a good place, and I know my welcome's warm and waitin' for me, between two hot plates; but the thing of it is, it's demoralisin'. That's what the chaplain said just afore I left the—ship, 'n' I promised him I'd give work a try, anyway. Now you just think up something! I ain't in any hurry." In proof he threw his soft hat on the desk, and took up one of the menus. "This your bill of fare? Well, it ain't bad! Vurmiselly soup, boiled holibut, roast beef, roast turkey with cranberry sauce, roast pork with apple sauce, chicken corquettes, ditto patties, three kinds of pie; bread puddin', both kinds of sauce; ice cream, nuts, and coffee. Why, mate!"

Lemuel sat dumb and motionless. He could see no way out of the net that had entangled him. He began feebly to repeat. "There isn't anything," when some one tried the door.

"Mr. Barker!" called Mrs. Harmon. "You in there?"

He made it worse by waiting a moment before he rose and opened the door. "I didn't know I'd locked it." The lie came unbidden; he groaned inwardly to think how he was telling nothing but lies. Mrs. Harmon did not come in. She glanced with a little question at the young fellow, who had gathered his hat from the table, and risen with gay politeness.

It was a crisis of the old sort; the elevator boy had kicked, and Mrs. Harmon said, "I just stopped to say that I was going out and I could stop at the intelligence office myself to get an elevator boy—"

The mate took the word with a joyous laugh at the coincidence. "It's just what me and Mr. Barker was talking about! I'm from up his way, and I've just come down to Boston to see if I couldn't look up a job; and he was tellin' me, in here, about your wantin' a telegraph—I mean a elevator-boy, but he didn't think it would suit me. But I should like to give it a try, anyway. It's pretty dull up our way, and I got to do something. Mr. Barker 'll tell you who I am."

He winked at Lemuel with the eye not exposed to Mrs. Harmon, and gave her a broad, frank, prepossessing smile.

"Well, of course," said Mrs. Harmon smoothly, "any friend of Mr.
Barker's——"

"We just been talkin' over old times in here," interrupted the mate. "I guess it was me shoved that bolt in. I didn't want to have anybody see me talkin' with him till I'd got some clothes that would be a little more of a credit to him."

"Well, that's right," said Mrs. Harmon appreciatively. "I always like to have everybody around my house looking neat and respectable. I keep a first-class house, and I don't have any but first-class help, and I expect them to dress accordingly, from the highest to the lowest."

"Yes, ma'am," said the mate, "that's the way I felt about it myself, me and Mr. Barker both; and he was just tellin' me that if I was a mind to give the elevator a try, he'd lend me a suit of his clothes."

"Very well, then," said Mrs. Harmon; "if Mr. Barker and you are a mind to fix it up between you——"

"Oh, we are!" said the mate. "There won't be any trouble about that."

"I don't suppose I need to stop at the intelligence office. I presume Mr. Barker will show you how to work the elevator. He helped us out with it himself at first."

"Yes, that's what he said," the other chimed in. "But I guess I'd better go and change my clothes first. Well, mate," he added to Lemuel, "I'm ready when you're ready."

Lemuel rose trembling from the chair where he had been chained, as it seemed to him, while the mate and Mrs. Harmon arranged their affair with his tacit connivance. He had not spoken a word; he feared so much to open his lips lest another lie should come out of them, that his sense of that danger was hardly less than his terror at the captivity in which he found himself.

"Yes," said Mrs. Harmon, "I'll look after the office till you get back. Mr. Barker 'll show you where you can sleep."

"Thank you, ma'am," said the mate, with gratitude that won upon her.

"And I'm glad," she added, "that it's a friend of Mr. Barker's that's going to have the place. We think everything of Mr. Barker here."

"Well, you can't think more of him than what we do up home," rejoined the other with generous enthusiasm.

In Lemuel's room he was not less appreciative. "Why, mate, it does me good to see how you've got along. I got to write a letter home at once, and tell the folks what friends you've got in Boston. I don't believe they half understand it." He smiled joyously upon Lemuel, who stood stock still, with such despair in his face that probably the wretch pitied him.

"Look here, mate, don't you be afraid now! I'm on the reform lay with all my might, and I mean business. I ain't a-goin' to do you any harm, you bet your life. These your things?" he asked, taking Lemuel's winter suit from the hooks where they hung, and beginning to pull off his coat. He talked on while he changed his dress. "I was led away, and I got my come-uppings, or the other fellow's come- uppings, for I wa'n't to blame any, and I always said so, and I guess the judge would say so too, if it was to do over again."

A frightful thought stung Lemuel to life. "The judge? Was it a passenger-ship?"

The other stopped buttoning Lemuel's trousers round him to slap himself on the thigh. "Why, mate! don't you know enough to know what a sea voyage is? Why, I've been down to the Island for the last six months! Hain't you never heard it called a sea voyage? Why, we always come off from a cruise when we git back! You don't mean to say you never been one?"

"Oh, my goodness!" groaned Lemuel. "Have—have you been in prison?"

"Why, of course."

"Oh, what am I going to do?" whispered the miserable creature to himself.

The other heard him. "Why, you hain't got to do anything! I'm on the reform, and you might leave everything layin' around loose, and I shouldn't touch it. Fact! You ask the ship's chaplain."

He laughed in the midst of his assertions of good resolutions, but sobered to the full extent, probably, of his face and nature, and tying Lemuel's cravat on at the glass, he said solemnly, "Mate, it's all right. I'm on the reform."

William Dean Howells