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Chapter 37

XXXVII.

In the crowd which thronged the steamer's dock at Hoboken, Clementina strained her eyes to make out some one who looked enough like her lover to be his father, and she began to be afraid that they might miss each other when she failed. She walked slowly down the gangway, with the people that thronged it, glad to be hidden by them from her failure, but at the last step she was caught aside by a small blackeyed, black-haired woman, who called out "Isn't this Miss Claxon? I'm Georrge's sisterr. Oh, you'rre just like what he said! I knew it! I knew it!" and then hugged her and kissed her, and passed her to the little lean dark old man next her. "This is fatherr. I knew you couldn't tell us, because I take afterr him, and Georrge is exactly like motherr."

George's father took her hand timidly, but found courage to say to his daughter, "Hadn't you betterr let her own fatherr have a chance at herr?" and amidst a tempest of apologies and self blame from the sister, Claxon showed himself over the shoulders of the little man.

"Why, there wa'n't no hurry, as long as she's he'a," he said, in prompt enjoyment of the joke, and he and Clementina sparely kissed each other.

"Why, fatha!" she said. "I didn't expect you to come to New Yo'k to meet me."

"Well, I didn't ha'dly expect it myself; but I'd neva been to Yo'k, and I thought I might as well come. Things ah' ratha slack at home, just now, anyway."

She did not heed his explanation. "We'e you sca'ed when you got my dispatch?"

"No, we kind of expected you'd come any time, the way you wrote afta Mrs. Landa died. We thought something must be up."

"Yes," she said, absently. Then, "Whe'e's motha?" she asked.

"Well, I guess she thought she couldn't get round to it, exactly," said the father. "She's all right. Needn't ask you!"

"No, I'm fust-rate," Clementina returned, with a silent joy in her father's face and voice. She went back in it to the girl of a year ago, and the world which had come between them since their parting rolled away as if it had never been there.

Neither of them said anything about that. She named over her brothers and sisters, and he answered, "Yes, yes," in assurance of their well-being, and then he explained, as if that were the only point of real interest, "I see your folks waitin' he'e fo' somebody, and I thought I'd see if it wa'n't the same one, and we kind of struck up an acquaintance on your account befo'e you got he'e, Clem."

"Your folks!" she silently repeated to herself. "Yes, they ah' mine!" and she stood trying to realize the strange fact, while George's sister poured out a voluminous comment upon Claxon's spare statement, and George's father admired her volubility with the shut smile of toothless age. She spoke with the burr which the Scotch-Irish settlers have imparted to the whole middle West, but it was music to Clementina, who heard now and then a tone of her lover in his sister's voice. In the midst of it all she caught sight of a mute unfriended figure just without their circle, his traveling shawl hanging loose upon his shoulders, and the valise which had formed his sole baggage in the voyage to and from Europe pulling his long hand out of his coat sleeve.

"Oh, yes," she said, "here is Mr. Osson that came ova with me, fatha; he's a relation of Mr. Landa's," and she presented him to them all.

He shifted his valise to the left hand, and shook hands with each, asking, "What name?" and then fell motionless again.

"Well," said her father, "I guess this is the end of this paht of the ceremony, and I'm goin' to see your baggage through the custom-house, Clementina; I've read about it, and I want to know how it's done. I want to see what you ah' tryin' to smuggle in."

"I guess you won't find much," she said. "But you'll want the keys, won't you?" She called to him, as he was stalking away.

"Well, I guess that would be a good idea. Want to help, Miss Hinkle?"

"I guess we might as well all help," said Clementina, and Mr. Orson included himself in the invitation. He seemed unable to separate himself from them, though the passage of Clementina's baggage through the customs, and its delivery to an expressman for the hotel where the Hinkles said they were staying might well have severed the last tie between them.

"Ah' you going straight home, Mr. Osson?" she asked, to rescue him from the forgetfulness into which they were all letting him fall.

"I think I will remain over a day," he answered. "I may go on to Boston before starting West."

"Well, that's right," said Clementina's father with the wish to approve everything native to him, and an instinctive sense of Clementina's wish to befriend the minister. "Betta come to oua hotel. We're all goin' to the same one."

"I presume it is a good one?" Mr. Orson assented.

"Well," said Claxon, "you must make Miss Hinkle, he'a, stand it if it ain't. She's got me to go to it."

Mr. Orson apparently could not enter into the joke; but he accompanied the party, which again began to forget him, across the ferry and up the elevated road to the street car that formed the last stage of their progress to the hotel. At this point George's sister fell silent, and Clementina's father burst out, "Look he'a! I guess we betty not keep this up any Tonga; I don't believe much in surprises, and I guess she betta know it now!"

He looked at George's sister as if for authority to speak further, and Clementina looked at her, too, while George's father nervously moistened his smiling lips with the tip of his tongue, and let his twinkling eyes rest upon Clementina's face.

"Is he at the hotel?" she asked.

"Yes," said his sister, monosyllabic for once.

"I knew it," said Clementina, and she was only half aware of the fullness with which his sister now explained how he wanted to come so much that the doctor thought he had better, but that they had made him promise he would not try to meet her at the steamer, lest it should be too great a trial of his strength.

"Yes," Clementina assented, when the story came to an end and was beginning over again.

She had an inexplicable moment when she stood before her lover in the room where they left her to meet him alone. She faltered and he waited constrained by her constraint.

"Is it all a mistake, Clementina?" he asked, with a piteous smile.

"No, no!"

"Am I so much changed?"

"No; you are looking better than I expected."

"And you are not sorry-for anything?"

"No, I am—Perhaps I have thought of you too much! It seems so strange."

"I understand," he answered. "We have been like spirits to each other, and now we find that we are alive and on the earth like other people; and we are not used to it."

"It must be something like that."

"But if it's something else—if you have the least regret,—if you would rather"—He stopped, and they remained looking at each other a moment. Then she turned her head, and glanced out of the window, as if something there had caught her sight.

"It's a very pleasant view, isn't it?" she said; and she lifted her hands to her head, and took off her hat, with an effect of having got home after absence, to stay.

William Dean Howells