The dog was of the breed which are said to come trotting into Alpine monasteries of a winter’s night with fat American travelers in their mouths, frozen stiff. He was extremely large for his age, whatever that was. On the other hand, the girl was small for her age, which was twenty-four next month; not so much short, you understand, for she was of a reasonable height, as of a dainty slimness, a certain exquisite reticence of the flesh. She had cares and duties and even sober-sided responsibilities in this world, beyond the usual run of girls. Yet her hat was decidedly of the mode that year; her suit was smartly and engagingly cut; her furs were glossy and black and big. Her face, it may be said here as well as later, had in its time given pleasure to the male sex, and some food for critical conversation to the female. A good many of the young men whom she met along the way this afternoon appeared distinctly pleased to speak to her.
The girl was Sharlee Weyland, and Sharlee was the short for Charlotte Lee, as invented by herself some score of years before. One baby-name in a hundred sticks through a lifetime, and hers was the one in that particular hundred. Of the young men along the way, one was so lucky as to catch her eye through a large plate-glass window. It was Semple and West’s window, the ground-floor one in the great new Commonwealth Building, of which the town is rightly so proud, and the young man was no other than West, Charles Gardiner himself. A smile warmed his good-looking face when he met the eye of the girl and the dog; he waved a hand at them. That done, he immediately vanished from the window and reached for his hat and coat; gave hurried directions to a clerk and a stenographer; and sallying forth, overtook the pair before they had reached the next corner.
“Everything’s topsy-turvy,” said he, coming alongside. “Here you are frivolously walking downtown with a dog. Usually at this time you are most earnestly walking uptown, and not a sign of a dog as far as the eye can see. What on earth’s happened?”
“Oh, how do you do?” said she, apparently not displeased to find herself thus surprised from the rear. “I too have a mad kind of feeling, as though the world had gone upside down. Don’t be amazed if I suddenly clutch out at you to keep from falling. But the name of it — of this feeling — is having a holiday. Mr. Dayne went to New York at 12.20.
“Ah, I see. When the cat’s away?”
“Not at all. I am taking this richly earned vacation by his express command.”
“In that case, why might n’t we turn about and go a real walk — cease picking our way through the noisome hum of commerce and set brisk evening faces toward the open road — and all that? You and I and the dog. What is his name? Rollo, I suppose?”
“Rollo! No! Or Tray or Fido, either! His name is Bee, short for Behemoth — and I think that a very captivating 5 little name, don’t you? His old name, the one I bought him by, was Fred — Fred! — but already he answers to the pretty name of Bee as though he were born to it. Watch.” She pursed her lips and gave a whistle, unexpectedly loud and clear. “Here, Bee, here! Here, sir! Look, look. He turned around right away!”
West laughed. “Wonderfully gifted dog. But I believe you mentioned taking a walk in the November air. I can only say that physicians strongly recommend it, valetudinarians swear by it — ”
“Oh — if I only could! — but I simply cannot think of it. Do you know, I never have a holiday without wondering how on earth I could have gotten on another day without it. You can’t imagine what loads of things I’ve done since two o’clock, and loads remain. The very worst job of them all still hangs by a hair over my head. I must cross here.”
West said that evidently her conception of a holiday was badly mixed. As they walked he paid for her society by incessantly taking off his hat; nearly everybody they met spoke to them, many more to him than to her. Though both of them had been born in that city and grown up with it, the girl had only lately come to know West well, and she did not know him very well now. All the years hitherto she had joined in the general admiration of him shyly and from a distance, the pretty waiting-lady’s attitude toward the dazzling young crown prince. She was observant, and so she could not fail to observe now the cordiality with which people of all sorts saluted him, the touch of deference in the greeting of not a few. He was scarcely thirty, but it would have been clear to a duller eye that he was already something of a personage. Yet he held no public office, nor were his daily walks the walks of philanthropic labor for the common good. In fact Semple & West’s was merely a brokerage establishment, which was understood to be cleaning up a tolerable lot of money per annum.
They stood on the corner, waiting for a convenient chance to cross, and West looked at her as at one whom it was 6 pleasant to rest one’s eyes upon. She drew his attention to their humming environment. For a city of that size the life and bustle here were, indeed, such as to take the eye. Trolley cars clanged by in a tireless procession; trucks were rounding up for stable and for bed; delivery wagons whizzed corners and bumped on among them; now and then a chauffeur honked by, grim eyes roving for the unwary pedestrian. On both sides of the street the homeward march of tired humans was already forming and quickening.
“Heigho! We’re living in an interesting time, you and I,” said West. “It is n’t every generation that can watch its old town change into a metropolis right under its eyes.”
“I remember,” said she, “when it was an exciting thing to see anybody on the street you did n’t know. You went home and told the family about it, and very likely counted the spoons next morning. The city seemed to belong to us then. And now — look. Everywhere new kings that know not Joseph. Bee!”
“It’s the law of life; the old order changeth.” He turned and looked along the street, into the many faces of the homeward bound. “The eternal mystery of the people. . . . Don’t you like to look at their faces and wonder what they’re all doing and thinking and hoping and dreaming to make out of the lives?”
“Don’t you think they’re all hoping and dreaming just one thing? — how to make more money than they’re making at present? All over the world,” said Miss Weyland, “bright young men lie awake at night, thinking up odd, ingenious ways to take other people’s money away from them. These young men are the spirit of America. We’re having an irruption of them here now . . . the Goths sacking the sacred city.”
“Clever rascals they are too. I,” said West, “belong to the other group. I sleep of nights and wake up in the morning to have your bright young Goths take my money away from me.”
He laughed and continued: “Little Bobby Smythe, who used to live here, was in my office the other day. I was complimenting him on the prosperity of the plumbers’ supply manufacture — for such is his mundane occupation, in Schenectady, N. Y. Bobby said that plumbers’ supplies were all well enough, but he made his real money from an interesting device of his own. There is a lot of building going on in his neighborhood, it seems, and it occurred to him to send around to the various owners and offer his private watchman to guard the loose building materials at night. This for the very reasonable price of $3.50 a week. It went like hot cakes. ‘But,’ said I, ‘surely your one watchman can’t look after thirty-seven different places.’ ‘No,’ said Bobby, ‘but they think he does.’ I laughed and commended his ingenuity. ‘But the best part of the joke,’ said he, ‘is that I have n’t got any watchman at all.’ ”
Sharlee Weyland laughed gayly. “Bobby could stand for the portrait of young America.”
“You’ve been sitting at the feet of a staunch old Tory Gamaliel named Colonel Cowles. I can see that. Ah, me! My garrulity has cost us a splendid chance to cross. What are all these dreadful things you have still left to do on your so-called holiday?”
“Well,” said she, “first I’m going to Saltman’s to buy stationery. Boxes and boxes of it, for the Department. Bee! Come here, sir! Look how fat this purse is. I’m going to spend all of that. Bee! I wish I had put him to leash. He’s going to hurt himself in a minute — you see!— ”
“Don’t you think he’s much more likely to hurt somebody else? For a guess, that queer-looking little citizen in spectacles over the way, who so evidently does n’t know where he is at.”
“Oh, do you think so? — Bee! . . . Then, after stationery, comes the disagreeable thing, and yet interesting too. I have to go to my Aunt Jennie’s dunning.”
“You are compelled to dun your Aunt Jennie?”
She laughed. “No — dun for her, because she’s too 8 tender-hearted to do it herself. There’s a man there who won’t pay his board. Bee! Bee! — BEE! — O heavens — It’s happened!”
And, too quick for West, she was gone into the mêlée, which immediately closed in behind her, barricading him away.
What had happened was a small tragedy in its way. The little citizen in spectacles, who had been standing on the opposite corner vacantly eating an apple out of a paper bag, had unwisely chosen his moment to try the crossing. He was evidently an indoors sort of man and no shakes at crossing streets, owing to the introspective nature of his mind. A grocery wagon shaved him by an inch. It was doing things to the speed-limit, this wagon, because a dashing police patrol was close behind, treading on its tail and indignantly clanging it to turn out, which it could not possibly do. To avoid erasing the little citizen, the patrol man had to pull sharply out; and this manœuvre, as Fate had written it, brought him full upon the great dog Behemoth, who, having slipped across the tracks, stood gravely waiting for the flying wagon to pass. Thus it became a clear case of sauve qui peut, and the devil take the hindermost. There was nothing in the world for Behemoth to do but wildly leap under the hoofs for his life. This he did successfully. But on the other side he met the spectacled citizen full and fair, and down they went together with a thud.
The little man came promptly to a sitting posture and took stock of the wreck. His hat he could not see anywhere, the reason being that he was sitting on it. The paper bag, of course, had burst; some of the apples had rolled to amazing distances, and newsboys, entire strangers to the fallen gentleman, were eating them with cries of pleasure. This he saw in one pained glance. But on the very heels of the dog, it seemed, came hurrying a girl with marks of great anxiety on her face.
“Can you possibly forgive him? That fire-alarm thing scared him crazy — he’s usually so good! You are n’t hurt, are you? I do hope so much that you are n’t?”
The young man, sitting calmly in the street, glanced up at Miss Weyland with no sign of interest.
“I have no complaint to make,” he answered, precisely; “though the loss of my fruit seems unfortunate, to say the least of it.”
“I know! The way they fell on them,” she answered, as self-unconscious as he — “quite as though you had offered to treat! I’m very much mortified — But — are you hurt? I thought for a minute that the coal cart was going right over you.”
A crown had sprung up in a wink; a circle of interested faces watching the unembarrassed girl apologizing to the studious-looking little man who sat so calmly upon his hat in the middle of the street. Meantime all traffic on that side was hopelessly blocked. Swearing truck drivers stood up on their seats from a block away to see what had halted the procession.
“But what is the object of a dog like that?” inquired the man ruminatively. “What good is he? What is he for?”
“Why — why — why,” said she, looking ready to laugh — “he’s not a utilitarian dog at all, you see! He’s a pleasure-dog, you know — just a big beautiful dog to give pleasure! — ”
“The pleasure he has given me,” said the man, gravely producing his derby from beneath him and methodically undenting it, “is negligible. I may say non-existent.”
From somewhere rose a hoarse titter. The girl glanced up, and for the first time became aware that her position was somewhat unconventional. A very faint color sprang into her cheeks, but she was not the kind to retreat in disorder. West dodged through the blockade in time to hear her say with a final, smiling bow:
“I’m so glad you are n’t hurt, believe me . . . And if my dog has given you no pleasure, you may like to think that you have given him a great deal.”
A little flushed but not defeated, her gloved hand knotted in Behemoth’s gigantic scruff, she moved away, resigning the 10 situation to West. West handled it in his best manner, civilly assisting the little man to rise, and bowing himself off with the most graceful expressions of regret for the mishap.
Miss Weyland was walking slowly, waiting for him, and he fell in beside her on the sidewalk.
“Don’t speak to me suddenly,” said she, in rather a muffled voice. “I don’t want to scream on a public street.”
“Scratch a professor and you find a Tartar,” said West, laughing too. “When I finally caught you, laggard that I was, you looked as if he were being rude.”
Miss Weyland questioned the rudeness; she said that the man was only superbly natural. “Thoughts came to him and he blabbed them out artlessly. The only things that he seemed in the least interested in were his apples and Bee. Don’t you think from this that he must be a floral and faunal naturalist?
“No Goth, at any rate. Did you happen to notice the tome sticking out of his coat pocket? It was The Religion of Humanity, unless my old eyes deceived me. Who under heaven reads Comte nowadays?”
“Not me,” said Miss Weyland.
“There’s nothing to it. As a wealthy old friend of mine once remarked, people who read that sort of books never make over eighteen hundred a year.”
On that they turned into Saltman’s. There much stationery and collateral stuff was bought for cash paid down, and all for the use of the Department. Next, at a harness-store, a leash was bargained for and obtained, and Behemoth bowled over no more young men that day. Thereafter, the two set their faces westerly till they came to the girl’s home, where the dog was delivered to the cook, and Miss Weyland went upstairs to kiss her mother. Still later they set out northward through the lamp-lit night for the older part of town, where resided the aunt on whose behalf there was dunning to be done that night.
Charles Gardiner West asserted that he had not a thing in all this world to do, and that erranding was only another 11 way of taking a walk, when you came to think of it. She was frankly glad of his company; to be otherwise was to be fantastic; and now as they strolled she led him to talk of his work, which was never difficult. For West, despite his rising prosperity, was dissatisfied with his calling, the reason being, as he himself sometimes put it, that his heart did not abide with the money changers.
“Sometimes at night,” he said seriously, “I look back over the busy day and ask myself what it has all amounted to. Suppose I did all the world’s stock-jobbing, what would I really have accomplished? You may say that I could take all the money I made and spend it for free hospitals, but would I do it? No. The more I made, the more I’d want for myself, the more all my interest and ambition would twine themselves around the counting-room. You can’t serve two masters, can you, Miss Weyland? Uplifting those who need uplifting is a separate business, all by itself.”
“You could make the money,” laughed she, “and let me spend it for you. I know this minute where I could put a million to glorious advantage.”
“I’m going to get out of it,” said West. “I’ve told Semple so — though perhaps it ought not to go further just yet. I’d enjoy,” said he, “just such work as yours. There’s none finer. You’d like me immensely as your royal master, I suppose? Want nothing better than to curtsy and kowtow when I flung out a gracious order? — as, for instance, to shut up shop and go and take a holiday?
“Delicious! Though I doubt if anybody in the world could improve on Mr. Dayne.” Suddenly a new thought struck her, and she made a faint grimace. “There’s nothing so very fine about my present work — oh me! I’ll give you that if you want it.”
“I see I must look this gift horse over very closely. What is it?”
“They call it dunning.”
“I forgot. You started to tell me, and then your dog ran 12 amuck and began butting perfect strangers all over the place.”
“Oh,” said she, “It’s the commonest little story in the world. All landladies can tell them to you by the hour. This man has been at Aunt Jennie’s nearly a month, and what’s the color of his money she has n’t the faintest idea. Such is the way our bright young men carve out their fortunes — the true Gothic architecture! Possibly Aunt Jennie has thrown out one or two delicate hints, carefully insulated to avoid hurting his feelings. You know the way our ladies of the old school do — the worst collectors the world has ever seen. So she telephoned me this morning — I’m her business woman, you see — asking me to come and advise her, and I’m coming, and after supper — ”
“Well, what’ll you do?”
“I’m going to talk with him, with the man. I’m simply going to collect that money. Or if I can’t — ”
“What’s the horrid alternative?”
“I’m going to fire him!”
West laughed merrily. His face always looked most charming when he smiled. “Upon my word I believe you can do it.”
“I have done it, lots of times.”
“Ah! And is the ceremony ever attended by scenes of storm and violence?”
“Never. They march like little lambs when I say the word. Hay-foot — straw-foot!”
“But then you aunt loses their arrears of board, I suppose.”
“Yes, and for that reason I never fire except as a last desperate resort. Signs of penitence, earnest resolves to lead a better life, are always noted and carefully considered.”
“If you should need help with this customer to-night — not that I think you will, oh no! — telephone me. I’m amazingly good at handling bright young men. This is your aunt’s, is n’t it?”
“No, no — next to the corner over there. O heavens! Look — look!”
West looked. Up the front steps of Miss Weyland’s 13 Aunt Jennie’s a man was going, a smallish man in a suit of dusty clothes, who limped as he walked. The electric light at the corner illumined him perfectly — glinted upon the spectacles, touched up the stout volume in the coat-pocket, beat full upon the swaybacked derby, whereon its owner had sat what time Charlotte Lee Weyland apologized for the gaucherie of Behemoth. And as they watched, this man pushed open Aunt Jennie’s front door, with never so much as a glance at the door-bell, and stepped as of right inside.
Involuntarily West and Miss Weyland had halted; and now they stared at each other with a kind of wild surmise which rapidly yielded to ludicrous certainty. West broke into a laugh.
“Well, do you think you’ll have the nerve to fire him?”
“I’m surprised,” she said to Mr. Klinker, “Mr. Bylash did n’t go out to give her the glad hand, and welcome her into our humble coturee.”
Mr. Bylash, who had been thinking of doing that very thing, said rather shortly that the ladies present quite satisfied him.
“And who do you think brought her around and right up to the door?” continued William Klinker, taking no 15 notice of their blandishments. “Hon. West — Charles Gardenia West — ”
A scream from Miss Miller applauded the witty hit.
“Oh, it ain’t mine,” said Mr. Klinker modestly. “I heard a fellow get it off at the shop the other day. He’s a pretty smooth fellow, Charles Gardenia is — a little too smooth for my way of thinking. A fellow that’s always so smilin’ — Oh, you Smithy!” he suddenly yelled out the window — “Smithy! Hey! — Aw, I can beat the face off you! — Awright — eight sharp at the same place. — Go on, you fat Mohawk you! . . . But say,” he resumed to the parlor, “y’know that little woman is a stormy petrel for this house — that’s right. Remember the last time she was here — the time we had the Porterhouse? Conference in the dining-room after supper, and the next morning out went the trunks of that red-head fellow — from Baltimore — what’s his name? — Milhiser.”
“Well, she has n’t got any call to intrude in my affairs,” said Mr. Bylash, still rather miffed. “I’m here to tell you that!”
“Oh, I ain’t speakin’ of the reg’lars,” answered Klinker, “So don’t get nervous. But say, I got kind of a hunch that here is where the little Doc gets his.”
Klinker’s hunch was not without foundation; this very question was being agitated at that moment in the room just over his head. Miss Weyland, having passed the parlor portières with no thought that her movements were attracting interest on the other side of them, skipped up the stairs, rapped on her Aunt Jennie’s door, and ran breathlessly into the room. Her aunt was sitting by the bureau, reading a novel from the circulating library. Though she had been sitting right there since about four o’clock, only getting up once to light the gas, she had a casual air like one who is only killing a moment’s time between important engagements. She looked up at the girl’s entrance, and an affectionate smile lit her well-lined face.
“My dear Sharlee! I’m so glad to see you.”
They kissed tenderly.
“Oh, Aunt Jennie, tell me! Is he — this man you telephoned me about — is he a little, small, dried young man, with spectacles and a brown derby, and needing a hair-cut, and the gravest, drollest manner in the world? Tell me — is he?”
“My dear, you have described him to the life. Where did you see him?”
Sharlee collapsed upon the bed. Presently she revived and outlined the situation to Aunt Jennie.
Mrs. Paynter listened with some interest. If humor is a defect, as they tell us nowadays, she was almost a faultless woman. And in her day she had been a beauty and a toast. You hear it said generously of a thousand, but it happened to be true in her case. The high-bred regularity of feature still survived, but she had let herself go in latter years, as most women will who have other things than themselves to think about, and hard things at that. Her old black dress was carelessly put on; she could look at herself in the mirror by merely leaning forward an inch or two, and it never occurred to her to do it — an uncanny thing in a woman.
“I’m sure it sounds quite like him,” said Mrs. Paynter, when her niece had finished. “And so Gardiner West walked around with you. I hope, my dear, you asked him in to supper? We have an exceptionally nice Porterhouse steak to-night. But I suppose he would scorn — ”
The girl interrupted her, abolishing and demolishing such a thought. Mr. West would have been only too pleased, she said, but she positively would not ask him, because of the serious work that was afoot that night.
“The pleasure I’ve so far given your little man,” laughed she, patting her aunt’s cheeks with her two hands, “has been negligible — I have his word for that — and to-night it is going to be the same, only more so.”
Sharlee arose, took off her coat and furs, laid them on the bed, and going to the bureau began fixing her hair in the 17 back before the long mirror. No matter how well a woman looks to the untrained, or man’s, eye, she can always put in some time pleasurably fixing her hair in the back.
“Now,” said Sharlee, “to business. Tell me all about the little dead-beat.”
“It is four weeks next Monday,” said Mrs. Paynter, putting a shoe-horn in her novel to mark the place, “since the young man came to me. He was from New York, and just off the train. He said that he had been recommended to my house, but would not say by whom, nor could he give references. I did not insist on them, for I can’t be too strict, Sharlee, with all the other boarding-places there are and that room standing empty for two months hand-running, and then for three months before that, before Miss Catlett, I mean. The fact is, that I ought to be over on the Avenue, where I could have only the best people. It would be infinitely more lucrative — why, my dear, you should hear Amy Marsden talk of her enormous profits! And Amy, while a dear, sweet little woman, is not clever! I remember as girls — but to go back even of that to the very heart of the matter, who ever heard of a clever Wilkerson? For she, you know, was born . . . ‘
“Never you mind Mrs. Marsden, Aunt Jennie,” said the girl, gently drawing back to the muttons, — “we’ll make lots more money than she some day. So you gave him the room, then?”
“Yes, the room known as the third hall back. A small, neat, economical room, entirely suitable for a single gentleman. I gave him my lowest price, though I must say I did not dream then that he would spend all his time in his room, apparently having no downtown occupation, which is certainly not what one expects from gentlemen, who get low terms on the silent understanding that they will take themselves out of the house directly after breakfast. Nevertheless — will you believe it? — ten days passed and not a word was said about payment. So one morning I stopped him in the hall, as though for a pleasant talk. However, I was careful 18 to introduce the point, by means of an anecdote I told him, that guests here were expected to pay by the week. Of course I supposed that the hint would be sufficient.”
“But is was n’t, alas?”
“On the contrary, ten days again passed, and you might suppose there was no such thing as money in all this world. Then I resolved to approach him directly. I knocked on his door, and when he opened it, I told him plainly and in so many words that I would be very much gratified if he would let me have a check whenever convenient, as unfortunately I had heavy bills due that must be met. I was very much mortified, Sharlee! As I stood there facing that young man, dunning him like a grocer’s clerk, it flashed into my mind to wonder what your great-grandfather, the Governor, would think if he could have looked down and seen me. For as you know, my dear, though I doubt if you altogether realize it at all times, since our young people of to-day, I regret to have to say it — though of course I do except you from this criticism — ”
By gentle interruption and deft transition, Sharlee once more wafted the conversation back to the subject in hand. “And when you went so far as to tell him this, how did he take it?”
“He took it admirably. He told me that I need feel no concern about the matter; that while out of funds for the moment, doubtless he would be in funds again shortly. His manner was dignified, calm, unabashed — ”
“But it did n’t blossom, as we might say, in money?”
“As to that — no. What are you to do, Sharlee? I feel sure the man is not dishonest, — in fact he has a singularly honest face, transparently so, — but he is only somehow queer. He appears an engrossed, absent-minded young man — what is the word I want? — an eccentric. That is what he is, an engrossed young eccentric.”
Sharlee leaned against the bureau and looked at her aunt thoughtfully. “Do you gather, Aunt Jennie, that he’s a gentleman?”
Mrs. Paynter threw out her hands helplessly. “What does the term mean nowadays? The race of gentlemen, as the class existed in my day, seems to be disappearing from the face of the earth. We see occasional survivals of the old order, like Gardiner West or the young Byrd men, but as a whole — well, my dear, I will only say that the modern standards would have excited horror fifty years ago and — ”
“Well, but according to the modern standards, do you think he is?”
“I don’t know. He is and he is n’t. But no — no — no! He is not one. No man can be a gentleman who is utterly indifferent to the comfort and feelings of others, do you think so?”
“Indeed, no! And is that what he is?”
“I will illustrate by an incident,” said Mrs. Paynter. “As I say, this young man spends his entire time in his room, where he is, I believe, engaged in writing a book.”
“Oh, me! Then he’s penniless, depend upon it.”
“Well, when we had the frost and freeze early last week, he came to me one night and complained of the cold in his room. You know, Sharlee, I do not rent that room as a sitting-room, nor do I expect to heat it, at the low price, other than the heat from the halls. So I invited him to make use of the dining-room in the evenings, which, as you know, with the folding-doors drawn, and the yellow lamp lit, is converted to all intents and purposes into a quiet and comfortable reading-room. Somewhat grumblingly he went down. Fifi was there as usual, doing her algebra by the lamp. The young man took not the smallest notice of her, and presently when she coughed several times — the child’s cold happened to be bad that night — he looked up sharply and asked her please to stop. Fifi said that she was afraid she could n’t help it. He replied that it was impossible for him to work in the room with a noise of that sort, and either the noise or he would have to vacate. So Fifi gathered up her things and left. I found her, half an hour later, in her 20little bed-room, which was ice-cold, coughing and crying over her sums, which she was trying to work at the bureau. That was how I found out about it. The child would never have said a word to me.”
“How simply outrageous!” said the girl, and became silent and thoughtful.
“Well, what do you think I’d better do, Sharlee?”
“I think you’d better let me waylay him in the hall after supper and tell him that the time has come when he must either pay up or pack up.”
“My dear! Can you well be as blunt as that?”
“Dear Aunt Jennie, as I view it, you are not running an eleemosynary institution here?”
“Of course not,” replied Aunt Jennie, who really did not know whether she was or not.
Sharlee dropped into a hair and began manicuring her pretty little nails. “The purpose of this establishment it to collect money from the transient and resident public. Now you’re not a bit good at collecting money because you’re so well-bred, but I’m not so awfully well-bred — ”
“You are — ”
“I’m bold — blunt — brazen! I’m forward. I’m resolute and grim. In short, I belong to the younger generation which you despise so — ”
“I don’t despise you, you dear — ”
“Come,” said Sharlee, springing up; “let’s go down. I’m wild to meet Mr. Bylash again. Is he wearing the moleskin vest to-night, do you know? I was fascinated by it the last time I was here. Aunt Jennie, what is the name of this young man — the one I may be compelled to bounce?”
“His name is Queed. Did you ever —?”
“Queed? Queed? Q-u-e-e-d?”
“An odd name, is n’t it? There were no such people in my day.”
“Probably after to-morrow there will be none such once more.”
“Mr. Klinker has christened him the little Doctor — a hit at his appearance and studious habits, you see — and even the servants have taken it up.”
“Aunt Jennie,” said Sharlee at the door, “when you introduce the little Doctor to me, refer to me as your business woman, won’t you? Say ‘This is my niece, Miss Weyland, who looks after my business affairs for me,’ or something like that, will you? It will explain to him why I, a comparative stranger, show such an interest in his financial affairs.”
Mrs. Paynter said, “Certainly, my dear,” and they went down, the older lady disappearing toward the dining-room. In the parlor Sharlee was greeted cordially and somewhat respectfully. Major Brooke, who appeared to have taken an extra toddy in honor of her coming, or for any other reason why, flung aside his newspaper and seized both her hands. Mr. Bylash, in the moleskin waistcoat, sure enough, bowed low and referred to her agreeably as “stranger,” nor did he again return to Miss Miller’s side on the sofa. That young lady was gay and giggling, but watchful withal. When Sharlee was not looking, Miss Miller’s eye, rather hard now, roved over her ceaselessly from the point of her toe to the top of her feather. What was the trick she had, the little way with her, that so delightfully unlocked the gates of gentlemen’s hearts?
At supper they were lively and gay. The butter and preserves were in front of Sharlee, for her to help to; by her side sat Fifi, the young daughter of the house. Major Brooke sat at the head of the table and carved the Porterhouse, upon which when the eyes of William Klinker fell, they irrepressibly shot forth gleams. At the Major’s right sat his wife, a pale, depressed, nervous woman, as anybody who had lived thirty years with the gallant officer her husband had a right to be. She was silent, but the Major talked a great deal, not particularly well. Much the same may be said of Mr. Bylash and Miss Miller. Across the table from Mrs. Brooke stood an empty chair. It belonged to the little 22 Doctor, Mr. Queed. Across the table from Sharlee stood another. This one belonged to the old professor, Nicolovius. When the meal was well along, Nicolovius came in, bowed around the table in his usual formal way, and silently took his place. While Sharlee liked everybody in the boarding-house, including Miss Miller, Professor Nicolovius was the only one of them that she considered at all interesting. This was because of his strongly-cut face, like the grand-ducal villain in a ten-twenty-thirty melodrama, and his habit of saying savage things in a soft, purring voice. He was rude to everybody, and particularly rude, so Sharlee thought, to her. As for the little Doctor, he did not come in at all. Half-way through supper, Sharlee looked at her aunt and gave a meaning glance at the empty seat.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” said Mrs. Paynter sotto voce. “He’s usually so regular.”
To the third floor she dispatched the colored girl Emma, to knock upon Mr. Queed’s door. Presently Emma returned with the report that she had knocked, but could obtain no answer.
“He’s probably fallen asleep over his book,” murmured Sharlee. “I feel certain it’s that kind of book.”
But Mrs. Paynter said that he rarely slept, even at night.
“. . . Right on my own front porch, mind you!” Major Brooke was declaiming. “And, gentlemen, I shook my finger in his face and said, ‘Sir, I never yet met a Republican who was not a rogue!’ Yes, sir, that is just what I told him — ”
“I’m afraid,” said Nicolovius, smoothly, — it was the only word he uttered during the meal, — “your remark harrows Miss Weyland with reminders of the late Mr. Surface.”
The Major stopped short, and a silence fell over the table. It was promptly broken by Mrs. Paynter, who invited Mrs. Brooke to have a second cup of coffee. Sharlee looked at her plate and said nothing. Everybody thought that the old professor’s remark was in bad taste, for it was generally known that Henry G. Surface was one subject that even 23 Miss Weyland’s intimate friends never mentioned to her. Nicolovius, however, appeared absolutely unconcerned by the boarders’ silent rebuke. He ate on, rapidly but abstemiously, and finished before Mr. Bylash, who had had twenty minutes’ start of him.
The last boarder rising drew shut the folding-doors into the parlor, while the ladies of the house remained to superintend and assist in clearing off the supper things. The last boarder this time was Mr. Bylash, who tried without success to catch Miss Weyland’s eye as he slid to the doors. He hung around in the parlor waiting for her till 8.30, at which time, having neither seen nor heard sign of her, he took Miss Miller out to the moving-picture shows. In the dining-room, when Emma had trayed out the last of the things, the ladies put away the unused silver, watered the geranium, set back some of the chairs, folded up the white cloth, placing it in the sideboard drawer, spread the pretty Turkey-red one in its stead, set the reading lamp upon it; and just then the clock struck eight.
“Now then,” said Sharlee.
So the three sat down and held a council of war as to how little Doctor Queed, the young man who would n’t pay his board, was to be brought into personal contact with Charlotte Lee Weyland, the grim and resolute collector. Various stratagems were proposed, amid much merriment. But the collector herself adhered to her original idea of a masterly waiting game.
“Only trust me,” said she. “He can’t spend the rest of his life shut up in that room in a state of dreadful siege. Hunger or thirst will force him out; he’ll want to buy some of those apples, or to mail a letter — ”
Fifi, who sat on the arm of Sharlee’s chair, laughed and coughed. “He never writes any. And he never has gotten but one, and that came to-night.”
“Fifi, did you take your syrup before supper? Well, go and take it this minute.”
“Mother, it does n’t do any good.” 24
“The doctor gave it to you, my child, and it’s going to make you better soon.”
Sharlee followed Fifi out with troubled eyes. However, Mrs. Paynter at once drew her back to the matter in hand.
“Sharlee, do you know what would be the very way to settle this little difficulty? To write him a formal, business-like letter. We’ll — ”
“No, I’ve thought of that, Aunt Jennie, and I don’t believe it’s the way. A letter could n’t get to the bottom of the matter. You see, we want to find out something about this man, and why he is n’t paying, and whether there is reason to think he can and will pay. Besides, I think he needs a talking to on general principles.”
“Well — but how are you going to do it, my dear?”
“Play a Fabian game. Wait! — be stealthy and wait! If he does n’t come out of hiding to-night, I’ll return for him to-morrow. I’ll keep on coming, night after night, night after night, n— Some one’s knocking — ”
“Come in,” said Mrs. Paynter, looking up.
The door leading into the hall opened, and the man himself stood upon the threshold, looking at them absently.
“May I have some supper, Mrs. Paynter? I was closely engaged and failed to notice the time.”
Sharlee arose. “Certainly. I’ll get you some at once,” she answered innocently enough. But to herself she was saying: “The Lord has delivered him into my hand.”