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Chapter 25

XXV.

When they were once out under the stars, Bartley, who still, felt his brain clear, said that he would not take his friend home at once, but would show him where he visited when he first came to Boston. The other agreed to the indulgence of this sentiment, and they set out to find Rumford Street together.

"You've heard of old man Halleck,—Lestor Neather Interest? Tha's place,—there's where I stayed. His son's my frien',—damn stuck-up, supercilious beast he is, too! I do' care f'r him! I'll show you place, so's't you'll know it when you come to it,—'f I can ever find it."

They walked up and down the street, looking, while Bartley poured his sorrows into the ear of his friend, who grew less and less responsive, and at last ceased from his side altogether. Bartley then dimly perceived that he was himself sitting on a door-step, and that his head was hanging far down between his knees, as if he had been sleeping in that posture.

"Locked out,—locked out of my own door, and by my own wife!" He shed tears, and fell asleep again. From time to time he woke, and bewailed himself to Ricker as a poor boy who had fought his own way; he owned that he had made mistakes, as who had not? Again he was trying to convince Squire Gaylord that they ought to issue a daily edition of the Equity Free Press, and at the same time persuading Mr. Halleck to buy the Events for him, and let him put it on a paying basis. He shivered, sighed, hiccupped, and was dozing off again, when Henry Bird knocked him down, and he fell with a cry, which at last brought to the door the uneasy sleeper, who had been listening to him within, and trying to realize his presence, catching his voice in waking intervals, doubting it, drowsing when it ceased, and then catching it and losing it again.

"Hello, here! What do you want? Hubbard! Is it you? What in the world are you doing here?"

"Halleck," said Bartley, who was unsteadily straightening himself upon his
feet, "glad to find you at home. Been looking for your house all night.
Want to introduce you to partic-ic-ular friend of mine. Mr. Halleck, Mr.
——. Curse me if I know your name—"

"Hold on a minute," said Halleck.

He ran into the house for his hat and coat, and came out again, closing the door softly after him. He found Bartley in the grip of a policeman, whom he was asking his name, that he might introduce him to his friend Halleck.

"Do you know this man, Mr. Halleck?" asked the policeman.

"Yes,—yes, I know him," said Ben, in a low voice. "Let's get him away quietly, please. He's all right. It's the first time I ever saw him so. Will you help me with him up to Johnson's stable? I'll get a carriage there and take him home."

They had begun walking Bartley along between them; he dozed, and paid no attention to their talk.

The policeman laughed. "I was just going to run him in, when you came out.
You didn't come a minute too soon."

They got Bartley to the stable, and he slept heavily in one of the chairs in the office, while the ostlers were putting the horses to the carriage. The policeman remained at the office-door, looking in at Bartley, and philosophizing the situation to Halleck. "Your speakin' about its bein' the first time you ever saw him so made me think 't I rather help take home a regular habitual drunk to his family, any day, than a case like this. They always seem to take it so much harder the first time. Boards with his mother, I presume?"

"He's married," said Halleck? sadly. "He has a house of his own."

"Well!" said the policeman.

Bartley slept all the way to Clover Street, and when the carriage stopped at his door, they had difficulty in waking him sufficiently to get him out.

"Don't come in, please," said Halleck to the policeman, when this was done.
"The man will carry you back to your beat. Thank you, ever so much!"

"All right, Mr. Halleck. Don't mention it," said the policeman, and leaned back in the hack with an air of luxury, as it rumbled softly away.

Halleck remained on the pavement with Bartley falling limply against him in the dim light of the dawn. "What you want? What you doing with me?" he demanded with sullen stupidity.

"I've got you home, Hubbard. Here we are at your house." He pulled him across the pavement to the threshold, and put his hand on the bell, but the door was thrown open before he could ring, and Marcia stood there, with her face white, and her eyes red with watching and crying.

"Oh, Bartley! oh, Bartley!" she sobbed. "Oh, Mr. Halleck! what is it? Is he hurt? I did it,—yes, I did it! It's my fault! Oh! will he die? Is he sick?"

"He isn't very well. He'd better go to bed," said Halleck.

"Yes, yes! I will help you upstairs with him."

"Do' need any help," said Bartley, sulkily. "Go upstairs myself."

He actually did so, with the help of the hand-rail, Marcia running before, to open the door, and smooth the pillows which her head had not touched, and Halleck following him to catch him if he should fall. She unlaced his shoes and got them off, while Halleck removed his coat.

"Oh, Bartley! where do you feel badly, dear? Oh I what shall I do?" she moaned, as he tumbled himself on the bed, and lapsed into a drunken stupor.

"Better—better come out, Mrs. Hubbard," said Halleck. "Better let him alone, now. You only make him worse, talking to him."

Quelled by the mystery of his manner, she followed him out and down the stairs. "Oh, do tell me what it is," she implored, in a low voice, "or I shall go wild! But tell me, and I can bear it! I can bear anything if I know what it is!" She came close to him in her entreaty, and fixed her eyes beseechingly on his, while she caught his hand in both of hers. "Is he—is he insane?"

"He isn't quite in his right mind, Mrs. Hubbard," Halleck began, softly releasing himself, and retreating a little from her; but she pursued him, and put her hand on his arm.

"Oh, then go for the doctor,—go instantly! Don't lose a minute! I shall not be afraid to stay alone. Or if you think I'd better not, I will go for the doctor myself."

"No, no," said Halleck, smiling sadly: the case certainly had its ludicrous side. "He doesn't need a doctor. You mustn't think of calling a doctor. Indeed you mustn't. He'll come out all right of himself. If you sent for a doctor, it would make him very angry."

She burst into tears. "Well, I will do what you say," she cried. "It would never have happened, if it hadn't been for me. I want to tell you what I did," she went on wildly. "I want to tell—"

"Please don't tell me anything, Mrs. Hubbard! It will all come right—and very soon. It isn't anything to be alarmed about. He'll be well in a few hours. I—ah—Good by." He had found his cane, and he made a limp toward the door, but she swiftly interposed herself.

"Why," she panted, in mixed reproach and terror, "you're not going away? You're not going to leave me before Bartley is well? He may get worse,—he may die! You mustn't go, Mr. Halleck!"

"Yes, I must,—I can't stay,—I oughtn't to stay,—it won't do! He won't get worse, he won't die." The perspiration broke out on Halleck's face, which he lifted to hers with a distress as great as her own.

She only answered, "I can't let you go; it would kill me. I wonder at your wanting to go."

There was something ghastly comical in it all, and Halleck stood in fear of its absurdity hardly less than of its tragedy. He rapidly revolved in his mind the possibilities of the case. He thought at first that it might be well to call a doctor, and, having explained the situation to him, pay him to remain in charge; but he reflected that it would be insulting to ask a doctor to see a man in Hubbard's condition. He took out his watch, and saw that it was six o'clock; and he said, desperately, "You can send for me, if you get anxious—"

"I can't let you go!"

"I must really get my breakfast—"

"The girl will get something for you here! Oh, don't go away!" Her lip began to quiver again, and her bosom to rise.

He could not bear it. "Mrs. Hubbard, will you believe what I say?"

"Yes," she faltered, reluctantly.

"Well, I tell you that Mr. Hubbard is in no sort of danger; and I know that it would be extremely offensive to him if I stayed."

"Then you must go," she answered promptly, and opened the door, which she had closed for fear he might escape. "I will send for a doctor."

"No; don't send for a doctor, don't send for anybody don't speak of the matter to any one: it would be very mortifying to him. It's merely a—a—kind of—seizure, that a great many people—men—are subject to; but he wouldn't like to have it known." He saw that his words were making an impression upon her; perhaps her innocence was beginning to divine the truth. "Will you do what I say?"

"Yes," she murmured.

Her head began to droop, and her face to turn away in a dawning shame too cruel for him to see.

"I—I will come back as soon as I get my breakfast, to make sure that everything is right."

She let him find his own way out, and Halleck issued upon the street, as miserable as if the disgrace were his own. It was easy enough for him to get back into his own room without alarming the family. He ate his breakfast absently, and then went out while the others were still at table.

"I don't think Ben seems very well," said his mother, anxiously, and she looked to her husband for the denial he always gave.

"Oh, I guess he's all right. What's the matter with him?"

"It's nothing but his ridiculous, romantic way of taking the world to heart," Olive interposed. "You may be sure he's troubled about something that doesn't concern him in the least. It's what comes of the life-long conscientiousness of his parents. If Ben doesn't turn out a philanthropist of the deepest dye yet, you'll have me to thank for it. I see more and more every day that I was providentially born wicked, so as to keep this besottedly righteous family's head above water."

She feigned an angry impatience with the condition of things; but when her father went out, she joined her mother in earnest conjectures as to what Ben had on his mind.

Halleck wandered about till nearly ten o'clock, and then he went to the little house on Clover Street. The servant-girl answered his ring, and when he asked for Mrs. Hubbard, she said that Mr. Hubbard wished to see him, and please would he step upstairs.

He found Bartley seated at the window, with a wet towel round his head, and his face pale with headache.

"Well, old man," he said, with an assumption of comradery that was nauseous to Halleck, "you've done the handsome thing by me. I know all about it. I knew something about it all the time." He held out his hand, without rising, and Halleck forced himself to touch it. "I appreciate your delicacy in not telling my wife. Of course you couldn't tell," he said, with depraved enjoyment of what he conceived of Halleck's embarrassment. "But I guess she must have smelt a rat. As the fellow says," he added, seeing the disgust that Halleck could not keep out of his face, "I shall make a clean breast of it, as soon as she can bear it. She's pretty high-strung. Lying down, now," he explained. "You see, I went out to get something to make me sleep, and the first thing I knew I had got too much. Good thing I turned up on your doorstep; might have been waltzing into the police court about now. How did you happen to hear me?"

Halleck briefly explained, with an air of abhorrence for the facts.

"Yes, I remember most of it," said Bartley. "Well, I want to thank you, Halleck. You've saved me from disgrace,—from ruin, for all I know. Whew! how my head aches!" he said, making an appeal to Halleck's pity, with closed eyes. "Halleck," he murmured, feebly, "I wish you would do me a favor."

"Yes? What is it?" asked Halleck, dryly.

"Go round to the Events office and tell old Witherby that I sha'n't be able to put in an appearance to-day. I'm not up to writing a note, even; and he'd feel flattered at your coming personally. It would make it all right for me."

"Of course I will go," said Halleck.

"Thanks," returned Bartley, plaintively, with his eyes closed.

William Dean Howells