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Chapter 24

The magistrate conceived of Boyne's case with a readiness that gave the judge a high opinion of his personal and national intelligence. He even smiled a little, in accepting the explanation which Breckon was able to make him from Boyne, but he thought his duty to give the boy a fatherly warning for the future. He remarked to Breckon that it was well for Boyne that the affair had not happened in Germany, where it would have been found a much more serious matter, though, indeed, he added, it had to be seriously regarded anywhere in these times, when the lives of sovereigns were so much at the mercy of all sorts of madmen and miscreants. He relaxed a little from his severity in his admonition to say directly to Boyne that queens, even when they wished to speak with people, did not beckon them in the public streets. When this speech translated to Boyne by Breckon, whom the magistrate complimented on the perfection of his Dutch, Boyne hung his head sheepishly, and could not be restored to his characteristic dignity again in the magistrate's presence. The judge gratefully shook hands with the friendly justice, and made him a little speech of thanks, which Breckon interpreted, and then the justice shook hand with the judge, and gracefully accepted the introduction which he offered him to Ellen. They parted with reciprocal praises and obeisances, which included even the detectives. The judge had some question, which he submitted to Breckon, whether he ought not to offer them something, but Breckon thought not.

Breckon found it hard to abdicate the sort of authority in which his knowledge of Dutch had placed him, and when he protested that he had done nothing but act as interpreter, Ellen said, "Yes, but we couldn't have done anything without you," and this was the view that Mrs. Kenton took of the matter in the family conclave which took place later in the evening. Breckon was not allowed to withdraw from it, in spite of many modest efforts, before she had bashfully expressed her sense of his service to him, and made Boyne share her thanksgiving. She had her arm about the boy's shoulder in giving Breckon her hand, and when Breckon had got away she pulled Boyne to her in a more peremptory embrace.

"Now, Boyne," she said, "I am not going to have any more nonsense. I want to know why you did it."

The judge and Ellen had already conjectured clearly enough, and Boyne did not fear them. But he looked at his younger sister as he sulkily answered, "I am not going to tell you before Lottie."

"Come in here, then," said his mother, and she led him into the next room and closed the door. She quickly returned without him. "Yes," she began, "it's just as I supposed; it was that worthless fellow who put him up to it. Of course, it began with those fool books he's been reading, and the notions that Miss Rasmith put into his head. But he never would have done anything if it hadn't been for Mr. Trannel."

Lottie had listened in silent scorn to the whole proceedings up to this point, and had refused a part in the general recognition of Breckon as a special providence. Now she flashed out with a terrible volubility: "What did I tell you? What else could you expect of a Cook's tourist? And mom—mother wanted to make me go with you, after I told her what he was! Well, if I had have gone, I'll bet I could have kept him from playing his tricks. I'll bet he wouldn't have taken any liberties, with me along. I'll bet if he had, it wouldn't have been Boyne that got arrested. I'll bet he wouldn't have got off so easily with the magistrate, either! But I suppose you'll all let him come bowing and smiling round in the morning, like butter wouldn't melt in your mouths. That seems to be the Kenton way. Anybody can pull our noses, or get us arrested that wants to, and we never squeak." She went on a long time to this purpose, Mrs. Kenton listening with an air almost of conviction, and Ellen patiently bearing it as a right that Lottie had in a matter where she had been otherwise ignored.

The judge broke out, not upon Lottie, but upon his wife. "Good heavens, Sarah, can't you make the child hush?"

Lottie answered for her mother, with a crash of nerves and a gush of furious tears: "Oh, I've got to hush, I suppose. It's always the way when I'm trying to keep up the dignity of the family. I suppose it will be cabled to America, and by tomorrow it will be all over Tuskingum how Boyne was made a fool of and got arrested. But I bet there's one person in Tuskingum that won't have any remarks to make, and that's Bittridge. Not, as long as Dick's there he won't."

"Lottie!" cried her mother, and her father started towards her, while Ellen still sat patiently quiet.

"Oh, well!" Lottie submitted. "But if Dick was here I know this Trannel wouldn't get off so smoothly. Dick would give him a worse cowhiding than he did Bittridge."

Half the last word was lost in the bang of the door which Lottie slammed behind her, leaving her father and mother to a silence which Ellen did not offer to break. The judge had no heart to speak, in his dismay, and it was Mrs. Kenton who took the word.

"Ellen," she began, with compassionate gentleness, "we tried to keep it from you. We knew how you would feel. But now we have got to tell you. Dick did cowhide him when he got back to Tuskingum. Lottie wrote out to Dick about it, how Mr. Bittridge had behaved in New York. Your father and I didn't approve of it, and Dick didn't afterwards; but, yes, he did do it."

"I knew it, momma," said Ellen, sadly.

"You knew it! How?"

"That other letter I got when we first came—it was from his mother."

"Did she tell—"

"Yes. It was terrible she seemed to feel so. And I was sorry for her. I thought I ought to answer it, and I did. I told her I was sorry, too. I tried not to blame Richard. I don't believe I did. And I tried not to blame him. She was feeling badly enough without that."

Her father and mother looked at each other; they did not speak, and she asked, "Do you think I oughtn't to have written?"

Her father answered, a little tremulously: "You did right, Ellen. And I am sure that you did it in just the right way."

"I tried to. I thought I wouldn't worry you about it."

She rose, and now her mother thought she was going to say that it put an end to everything; that she must go back and offer herself as a sacrifice to the injured Bittridges. Her mind had reverted to that moment on the steamer when Ellen told her that nothing had reconciled her to what had happened with Bittridge but the fact that all the wrong done had been done to themselves; that this freed her. In her despair she could not forbear asking, "What did you write to her, Ellen?"

"Nothing. I just said that I was very sorry, and that I knew how she felt. I don't remember exactly."

She went up and kissed her mother. She seemed rather fatigued than distressed, and her father asked her. "Are you going to bed, my dear?"

"Yes, I'm pretty tired, and I should think you would be, too, poppa. I'll speak to poor Boyne. Don't mind Lottie. I suppose she couldn't help saying it." She kissed her father, and slipped quietly into Boyne's room, from which they could hear her passing on to her own before they ventured to say anything to each other in the hopeful bewilderment to which she had left them.

"Well?" said the judge.

"Well?" Mrs. Kenton returned, in a note of exasperation, as if she were not going to let herself be forced to the initiative.

"I thought you thought—"

"I did think that. Now I don't know what to think. We have got to wait."

"I'm willing to wait for Ellen!"

"She seems," said Mrs. Kenton, "to have more sense than both the other children put together, and I was afraid—"

"She might easily have more sense than Boyne, or Lottie, either."

"Well, I don't know," Mrs. Kenton began. But she did not go on to resent the disparagement which she had invited. "What I was afraid of was her goodness. It was her goodness that got her into the trouble, to begin with. If she hadn't been so good, that fellow could never have fooled her as he did. She was too innocent."

The judge could not forbear the humorous view. "Perhaps she's getting wickeder, or not so innocent. At any rate, she doesn't seem to have been take in by Trannel."

"He didn't pay any attention to her. He was all taken up with Lottie."

"Well, that was lucky. Sarah," said the judge, "do you think he is like Bittridge?"

"He's made me think of him all the time."

"It's curious," the judge mused. "I have always noticed how our faults repeat themselves, but I didn't suppose our fates would always take the same shape, or something like it." Mrs. Kenton stared at him. "When this other one first made up to us on the boat my heart went down. I thought of Bittridge so."

"Mr. Breckon?"

"Yes, the same lightness; the same sort of trifling—Didn't you notice it?"

"No—yes, I noticed it. But I wasn't afraid for an instant. I saw that he was good."

"Oh!"

"What I'm afraid of now is that Ellen doesn't care anything about him."

"He isn't wicked enough?"

"I don't say that. But it would be too much happiness to expect in one short life."

The judge could not deny the reasonableness of her position. He could only oppose it. "Well, I don't think we've had any more than our share of happiness lately."

No one except Boyne could have made Trannel's behavior a cause of quarrel, but the other Kentons made it a cause of coldness which was quite as effective. In Lottie this took the form of something so active, so positive, that it was something more than a mere absence of warmth. Before she came clown to breakfast the next morning she studied a stare in her mirror, and practised it upon Trannel so successfully when he came up to speak to her that it must have made him doubt whether he had ever had her acquaintance. In his doubt he ventured to address her, and then Lottie turned her back upon him in a manner that was perfectly convincing. He attempted a smiling ease with Mrs. Kenton and the judge, but they shared neither his smile nor his ease, and his jocose questions about the end of yesterday's adventures, which he had not been privy to, did not seem to appeal to the American sense of humor in them. Ellen was not with them, nor Boyne, but Trannel was not asked to take either of the vacant places at the table, even when Breckon took one of them, after a decent exchange of civilities with him. He could only saunter away and leave Mrs. Kenton to a little pang.

"Tchk!" she made. "I'm sorry for him!"

"So am I," said the judge. "But he will get over it—only too soon, I'm afraid. I don't believe he's very sorry for himself."

They had not advised with Breckon, and he did not feel authorized to make any comment. He seemed preoccupied, to Mrs. Kenton's eye, when she turned it upon him from Trannel's discomfited back, lessening in the perspective, and he answered vaguely to her overture about his night's rest. Lottie never made any conversation with Breckon, and she now left him to himself, with some remnants of the disapproval which she found on her hands after crushing Trannel. It could not be said that Breckon was aware of her disapproval, and the judge had no apparent consciousness of it. He and Breckon tried to make something of each other, but failed, and it all seemed a very defeating sequel to Mrs. Kenton after the triumphal glow of the evening before. When Lottie rose, she went with her, alleging her wish to see if Boyne had eaten his breakfast. She confessed, to Breckon's kind inquiry, that Boyne did not seem very well, and that she had made him take his breakfast in his room, and she did not think it necessary to own, even to so friendly a witness as Mr. Breckon, that Boyne was ashamed to come down, and dreaded meeting Trannel so much that she was giving him time to recover his self-respect and courage.

William Dean Howells

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