Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 4

IV.

Barker walked away from the minister's door without knowing where he was going, and with a heart full of hot pain. He burned with a confused sense of shame and disappointment and anger. It had turned out just as his mother had said: Mr. Sewell would be mighty different in Boston from what he was that day at Willoughby Pastures. There he made Barker think everything of his poetry, and now he pretended to tell him that it was not worth anything; and he kept hinting round that Barker had better go back home and stay there. Did he think he would have left home if there had been anything for him to do there? Had not he as much as told him that he was obliged to find something to make a living by, and help the rest? What was he afraid of? Was he afraid that Barker wanted to come and live off him? He could show him that there was no great danger. If he had known how, he would have refused even to stay to dinner.

What made him keep the pictures of these people who had got along, if he thought no one else ought to try? Barker guessed to himself that if that Mr. Agassiz had had to get a living off the farm at Willoughby Pastures, he would have found time to make money. What did Mr. Sewell mean by speaking of that Nilsson lady by her surname, without any Miss or Mrs.? Was that the way people talked in Boston?

Mr. Sewell had talked to him as if he were a baby, and did not know anything; and Barker was mad at himself for having stayed half a minute after the minister had owned up that he had got the letter he wrote him. He wished he had said, "Well, that's all I want of you, sir," and walked right out; but he had not known how to do it. Did they think it was very polite to go on talking with that woman who laughed so much, and forget all about him? Pretty poor sort of manners to eat with her bonnet on, and tell them she hated their victuals.

Barker tried to rage against them in these thoughts, but at the bottom of all was a simple grief that he should have lost the friend whom he thought he had in the minister; the friend he had talked of and dreamed of ever since he had seen and heard him speak those cordial words; the friend he had trusted through all, and had come down to Boston counting upon so much. The tears came into his eyes as he stumbled and scuffled along the brick pavements with his uncouth country walk.

He was walking up a straight, long street, with houses just alike on both sides and bits of grass before them, that sometimes were gay with late autumn flowers. A horse-car track ran up the middle, and the cars seemed to be tinkling by all the time, and people getting on and off. They were mostly ladies and children, and they were very well dressed. Sometimes they stared at Barker, as they crossed his way in entering or issuing from the houses, but generally no one appeared to notice him. In some of the windows there were flowers in painted pots, and in others little marble images on stands.

There were more images in the garden that Barker came to presently: an image of Washington on horseback, and some orator speaking, with his hand up, and on top of a monument a kind of Turk holding up a man that looked sick. The man was almost naked, but he was not so bad as the image of a woman in a granite basin; it seemed to Barker that it ought not to be allowed there. A great many people of all kinds were passing through the garden, and after some hesitation he went in too, and walked over the bridge that crossed the pond in the middle of the garden, where there were rowboats and boats with images of swans on them. Barker made a sarcastic reflection that Boston seemed to be a great place for images, and passed rather hurriedly through the garden on the other side of the bridge. There were beds of all kinds of flowers scattered about, and they were hardly touched by the cold yet. If he had been in better heart, he would have liked to look round a little; but he felt strange, being there all alone, and he felt very low-spirited.

He wondered if this were the Public Garden that Mrs. Sewell had spoken of, and if that kind of grove across the street were the Common. He felt much more at home in it, as he wandered up and down the walks, and finally sat down on one of the iron benches beside the path. At first he obscurely doubted whether he had any right to do so, unless he had a lady with him; most of the seats were occupied by couples who seemed to be courting, but he ventured finally to take one; nobody disturbed him, and so he remained.

It was a beautiful October afternoon; the wind, warm and dry, caught the yellow leaves from the trees overhead in little whiffs, and blew them about the grass, which the fall rains had made as green as May; and a pensive golden light streamed through the long loose boughs, and struck across the slopes of the Common. Slight buggies flashed by on the street near which he sat, and glistening carriages, with drivers dressed out in uniform like soldiers, rumbled down its slope.

While he sat looking, now at the street and now at the people sauntering and hurrying to and fro in the Common, he tried to decide a question that had mixed itself up with the formless resentment he had felt ever since Mr. Sewell played him false. It had got out in the neighbourhood that he was going to Boston before he left home; his mother must have told it; and people would think he was to be gone a long time. He had warned his mother that he did not know when he should be back, before he started in the morning; and he knew that she would repeat his words to everybody who stopped to ask about him during the day, with what she had said to him in reply: "You better come home to-night, Lem; and I'll have ye a good hot supper waitin' for ye."

The question was whether he should go back on the five o'clock train, which would reach Willoughby Centre after dark, and house himself from public ignominy for one night at least, or whether self-respect did not demand that he should stay in Boston for twenty-four hours at any rate, and see if something would not happen. He had now no distinct hope of anything; but his pride and shame were holding him fast, while the home-sickness tugged at his heart, and made him almost forget the poverty that had spurred him to the adventure of coming to Boston. He could see the cows coming home through the swampy meadow as plain as if they were coming across the Common; his mother was calling them; she and his sister were going to milk in his absence, and he could see her now, how she looked going out to call the cows, in her bare, grey head, gaunt of neck and cheek, in the ugly Bloomer dress in which she was not grotesque to his eyes, though it usually affected strangers with stupefaction or alarm. But it all seemed far away, as far as if it were in another planet that he had dropped out of; he was divided from it by his failure and disgrace. He thought he must stay and try for something, he did not know what; but he could not make up his mind to throw away his money for nothing; at the hotel, down by the depot, where he had left his bag, they were going to make him pay fifty cents for just a room alone.

"Any them beats 'round here been trying to come their games on you?"

At first Barker could not believe himself accosted, though the young man who spoke stood directly in front of him, and seemed to be speaking to him. He looked up, and the young man added, "Heigh?"

"Beats? I don't know what you mean," said Barker.

"Confidence sharps, young feller. They're 'round everywheres, and don't you forget it. Move up a little!"

Barker was sitting in the middle of the bench, and at this he pushed away from the young man, who had dropped himself sociably beside him. He wore a pair of black pantaloons, very tight in the legs, and widening at the foot so as almost to cover his boots. His coat was deeply braided, and his waistcoat was cut low, so that his plastron- scarf hung out from the shirt-bosom, which it would have done well to cover.

"I tell you, Boston's full of 'em," he said excitedly. "One of 'em come up to me just now, and says he, 'Seems to me I've seen you before, but I can't place you.' 'Oh yes,' says I, 'I'll tell you where it was. I happened to be in the police court one morning when they was sendin' you up for three months.' I tell you he got round the corner! Might 'a' played checkers on his coat tail. Why, what do you suppose would been the next thing if I hadn't have let him know I saw through him?" demanded the young man of Barker, who listened to this adventure with imperfect intelligence. "He'd 'a' said, 'Hain't I seen you down Kennebunk way som'eres?' And when I said, 'No, I'm from Leominster!' or where-ever I was from if I was green, he'd say, 'Oh yes, so it was Leominster. How's the folks?' and he'd try to get me to think that he was from Leominster too; and then he'd want me to go off and see the sights with him; and pretty soon he'd meet a feller that 'ud dun him for that money he owed him; and he'd say he hadn't got anything with him but a cheque for forty dollars; and the other feller'd say he'd got to have his money, and he'd kind of insinuate it was all a put-up job about the cheque for forty dollars, anyway; and that 'ud make the first feller mad, and he'd take out the check, and ask him what he thought o' that; and the other feller'd say, well, it was a good cheque, but it wan't money, and he wanted money; and then the first feller'd say, 'Well, come along to the bank and get your money,' and the other'd say the bank was shut. 'Well, then,' the first feller'd say, 'well, sir, I ain't a-goin' to ask any favour of you. How much is your bill?' and the other feller'd say ten dollars, or fifteen, or may be twenty-five, if they thought I had that much, and the first feller'd say, 'Well, here's a gentleman from up my way, and I guess he'll advance me that much on my cheque if I make it worth his while. He knows me.' And the first thing you know—he's been treatin' you, and so polite, showin' you round, and ast you to go to the theayter—you advance the money, and you keep on with the first feller, and pretty soon he asks you to hold up a minute, he wants to go back and get a cigar; and he goes round the corner, and you hold up, and hold up, and in about a half an hour, or may be less time, you begin to smell a rat, and you go for a policeman, and the next morning you find your name in the papers, 'One more unfortunate!' You look out for 'em, young feller! Wish I had let that one go on till he done something so I could handed him over to the cops. It's a shame they're allowed to go 'round, when the cops knows 'em. Hello! There comes my mate, now." The young man spoke as if they had been talking of his mate and expecting him, and another young man, his counterpart in dress, but of a sullen and heavy demeanour very unlike his own brisk excitement, approached, flapping a bank-note in his hand. "I just been tellin' this young feller about that beat, you know."

"Oh, he's all right," said the mate. "Just seen him down on Tremont
Street, between two cops. Must ha' caught him in the act."

"You don't say so! Well, that's good, anyway. Why! didn't you' get it changed?" demanded the young man with painful surprise as his mate handed him the bank-note.

"No, I didn't. I been to more'n twenty places, and there ain't no small bills nowhere. The last place, I offered 'em twenty-five cents if they'd change it."

"Why didn't you offer 'em fifty? I'd 'a' give fifty, and glad to do it. Why, I've got to have this bill changed."

"Well, I'm sorry for you," said the mate, with ironical sympathy, "because I don't see how you're goin' to git it done. Won't you move up a little bit, young feller?" He sat down on the other side of Barker. "I'm about tired out." He took his head between his hands in sign of extreme fatigue, and drooped forward, with his eyes fixed on the ground.

Lemuel's heart beat. Fifty cents would pay for his lodging, and he could stay till the next day and prolong the chance of something turning up without too sinful a waste of money.

"How much is the bill?" he asked.

"Ten dollars," said the young man despondently.

"And will you give me fifty cents if I change it?"

"Well, I said I'd give fifty cents," replied the young man gloomily, "and I will."

"It's a bargain," said Lemuel promptly, and he took from his pocket the two five-dollar notes that formed his store, and gave them, to the young man.

He looked at them critically. "How do I know they're good?" he asked. "You're a stranger to me, young feller, and how do I know you ain't tryin' to beat me?" He looked sternly at Lemuel, but here the mate interposed.

"How does he know that you ain't tryin' to beat him?" he asked contemptuously. "I never saw such a feller as you are! Here you make me run half over town to change that bill, and now when a gentleman offers to break it for you, you have to go and accuse him of tryin' to put off counterfeit money on you. If I was him I'd see you furder."

"Oh, well, I don't want any words about it. Here, take your money," said the young man. "As long as I said I'd do it, I'll do it. Here's your half a dollar." He put it, with the bank-note, into Lemuel's hand, and rose briskly. "You stay here, Jimmy, till I come back. I won't be gone a minute."

He walked down the mall, and went out of the gate on Tremont Street. Then the mate came to himself. "Why, I've let him go off with both them bills now, and he owes me one of 'em." With that he rose from Lemuel's side and hurried after his vanishing comrade; before he was out of sight he had broken into a run.

Lemuel sat looking after them, his satisfaction in the affair alloyed by dislike of the haste with which it had been transacted. His rustic mind worked slowly; it was not wholly content even with a result in its own favour, where the process had been so rapid; he was scarcely able to fix the point at which the talk ceased to be a warning against beats and became his opportunity for speculation. He did not feel quite right at having taken the fellow's half-dollar; and yet a bargain was a bargain. Nevertheless, if the fellow wanted to rue it, Lemuel would give him fifteen minutes to come back and get his money; and he sat for that space of time where the others had left him. He was not going to be mean; and he might have waited a little longer if it had not been for the behaviour of two girls who came up and sat down on the same bench with him. They could not have been above fifteen or sixteen years old, and Lemuel thought they were very pretty, but they talked so, and laughed so loud, and scuffled with each other for the paper of chocolate which one of them took out of her pocket, that Lemuel, after first being abashed by the fact that they were city girls, became disgusted with them. He was a stickler for propriety of behaviour among girls; his mother had taught him to despise anything like carrying-on among them, and at twenty he was as severely virginal in his morality as if he had been twelve.

People looked back at these tomboys when they had got by; and some shabby young fellows exchanged saucy speeches with them. When Lemuel got up and walked away in reproving dignity, one of the hoydens bounced into his place, and they both sent a cry of derision after him. But Lemuel would not give them the satisfaction of letting them know that he heard them, and at the same time he was not going to let them suppose that they had driven him away. He went very slowly down to the street where a great many horse-cars were passing to and fro, and waited for one marked "Fitchburg, Lowell, and Eastern Depots." He was not going to take it; but he meant to follow it on its way to those stations, in the neighbourhood of which was the hotel where he had left his travelling-bag. He had told them that he might take a room there, or he might not; now since he had this half-dollar extra he thought that he would stay for the night; it probably would not be any cheaper at the other hotels.

He ran against a good many people in trying to keep the car in sight, but by leaving the sidewalk from time to time where it was most crowded, he managed not to fall very much behind; the worst was that the track went crooking and turning about so much in different streets, that he began to lose faith in its direction, and to be afraid, in spite of the sign on its side, that the car was not going to the depots after all. But it came in sight of them at last, and then Lemuel, blown with the chase but secure of his ground, stopped and rested himself against the side of a wall to get his breath. The pursuit had been very exhausting, and at times it had been mortifying; for here and there people who saw him running after the car had supposed he wished to board it, and in their good-nature had hailed and stopped it. After this had happened twice or thrice, Lemuel perceived that he was an object of contempt to the passengers in the car; but he did not know what to do about it; he was not going to pay six cents to ride when he could just as well walk, and on the other hand he dared not lose sight of the car, for he had no other means of finding his way back to his hotel.

But he was all right now, as he leaned against the house-wall, panting, and mopping his forehead with his handkerchief; he saw his hotel a little way down the street, and he did not feel anxious about it.

"Gave you the slip after all," said a passer, who had apparently been interested in Lemuel's adventure.

"Oh, I didn't want to catch it," said Lemuel.

"Ah, merely fond of exercise," said the stranger. "Well, it's a very good thing, if you don't overdo it." He walked by, and then after a glance at Lemuel over his shoulder, he returned to him. "May I ask why you wanted to chase the car, if you didn't want to catch it?"

Lemuel hesitated; he did not like to confide in a total stranger; this gentleman looked kind and friendly, but he was all the more likely on that account to be a beat; the expression was probably such as a beat would put on in approaching his intended prey. "Oh, nothing," said Lemuel evasively.

"I beg your pardon," said the stranger, and he walked away with what
Lemuel could only conjecture was the air of a baffled beat.

He waited till he was safely out of sight, and then followed on down the street towards his hotel. When he reached it he walked boldly up to the clerk's desk, and said that he guessed he would take a room for the night, and gave him the check for his bag that he had received in leaving it there.

The clerk wrote the number of a room against Lemuel's name in the register, and then glanced at the bag. It was a large bag of oil- cloth, a kind of bag which is by nature lank and hollow, and must be made almost insupportably heavy before it shows any signs of repletion. The shirt and pair of everyday pantaloons which Lemuel had dropped that morning into its voracious maw made no apparent effect there, as the clerk held it up and twirled it on the crook of his thumb.

"I guess I shall have to get the money for that room in advance," he said, regarding the bag very critically. However he might have been wounded by the doubt of his honesty or his solvency implied in this speech, Lemuel said nothing, but took out his ten-dollar note and handed it to the clerk. The latter said apologetically, "It's one of our rules, where there isn't baggage," and then glancing at the note he flung it quickly across the counter to Lemuel. "That won't do!"

"Won't do?" repeated Lemuel, taking up the bill.

"Counterfeit," said the clerk.

William Dean Howells