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Chapter 33

XXXIII

A month passed, and Sewell heard nothing of Lemuel. His charge, always elusive and evanescent, had now completely vanished, and he could find no trace of him. Mr. Corey suggested advertising. Bellingham said, why not put it in the hands of a detective? He said he had never helped work anything up with a detective; he rather thought he should like to do it. Sewell thought of writing to Barker's mother at Willoughby Pastures, but he postponed it; perhaps it would alarm her if Barker were not there; Sewell had many other cares and duties; Lemuel became more and more a good intention of the indefinite future. After all, he had always shown the ability to take care of himself, and except that he had mysteriously disappeared there was no reason for anxiety about him.

One night his name came up at a moment when Sewell was least prepared by interest or expectation to see him. He smiled to himself in running downstairs, at the reflection that he never seemed quite ready for Barker. But it was a relief to have him turn up again; there was no question of that, and Sewell showed him a face of welcome that dropped at sight of him. He scarcely new the gaunt, careworn face or the shabby figure before him, in place of the handsome, well-dressed young fellow whom he had come to greet. There seemed a sort of reversion in Barker's whole presence to the time when Sewell first found him in that room; and in whatever trouble he now was, the effect was that of his original rustic constraint.

Trouble there was of some kind, Sewell could see at a glance, and his kind heart prompted him to take Lemuel's hand between both of his. "Why, my dear boy!" he began; but he stopped and made Lemuel sit down, waited for him to speak, without further question or comment.

"Mr. Sewell," the young man said abruptly, "you told me once you— that you sometimes had money put into your hands that you could lend."

"Yes," replied Sewell, with eager cordiality.

"Could I borrow about seventy-five dollars of you?"

"Why, certainly, Barker!" Sewell had not so much of what he called his flying-charity fund by him, but he instantly resolved to advance the difference out of his own pocket.

"It's to get me an outfit for horse-car conductor," said Lemuel. "I can have the place if I can get the outfit."

"Horse-car conductor!" reverberated Sewell. "What in the world for?"

"It's work I can do," answered Lemuel briefly, but not resentfully.

"But there are so many other things—better—fitter—more profitable! Why did you leave Mr. Corey? I assure you that you have been a great loss to him—in every way. You don't know how much he valued you, personally. He will be only too glad to have you come back."

"I can't go back," said Lemuel. "I'm going to get married."

"Married!" cried Sewell in consternation.

"My—the lady that I'm going to marry—has been sick, ever since the first of October, and I haven't had a chance to look up any kind of work. But she's better now; and I've heard of this place I can get. I don't like to trouble you; but—everything's gone—I've got my mother down here helping take care of her; and I must do something. I don't know just when I can pay you back; but I'll do it sometime."

"Oh, I'm sure of that," said Sewell, from the abyss of hopeless conjecture into which these facts had plunged him; his wandering fancy was dominated by the presence of Lemuel's mother with her bloomers in Boston. "I—I hope there's nothing serious the trouble with your—the lady?" he said, rubbing away with his hand the smile that came to his lips in spite of him.

"It's lung trouble," said Lemuel quietly.

"Oh!" responded Sewell. "Well! Well!" He shook himself together, and wondered what had become of the impulse he had felt to scold Barker for the idea of getting married. But such a course now seemed not only far beyond his province,—he heard himself saying that to Mrs. Sewell in self-defence when she should censure him for not doing it,—but utterly useless in view of the further complications. "Well! This is great news you tell me—a great surprise. You're— you're going to take an important step—You—you—Of course, of course! You must have a great many demands upon you, under the circumstances. Yes, yes! And I'm very glad you came to me. If your mind is quite made up about——"

"Yes, I've thought it over," said Lemuel. "The lady has had to work all her life, and she—she isn't used to what I thought—what I intended—any other kind of people; and it's better for us both that I should get some kind of work that won't take me away from her too much——" He dropped his head, and Sewell with a flash of intelligence felt a thrill of compassionate admiration for the poor, foolish, generous creature, for so Lemuel complexly appeared to him.

Again he forbore question or comment.

"Well—well! we must look you up, Mrs. Sewell and I. We must come to see your—the lady." He found himself falling helplessly into Lemuel's way of describing her. "Just write me your address here,"— he put a scrap of paper before Lemuel on the davenport,—"and I'll go and get you the money."

He brought it back in an envelope which held a very little more than Lemuel had asked for—Sewell had not dared to add much—and Lemuel put it in his pocket.

He tried to say something; he could only make a husky noise in his throat.

"Good night!" said Sewell pressing his hand with both of his again, at the door. "We shall come very soon."

"Married!" said Mrs. Sewell, when he returned to her; and then she suffered a silence to ensue, in which it seemed to Sewell that his inculpation was visibly accumulating mountains vast and high. "What did you say?"

"Nothing," he answered almost gaily; the case was so far beyond despair. "What should you have said?"

William Dean Howells