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- A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill - 10/51 -
Another burst of tears, then a resolute effort at self-control.
"He meant to do what's right. I know he did! He promised to give up drinking and gambling and go to work."
"He made a good start!" The Colonel knocked the ashes from his pipe. "And after he got into the fracas, what in thunder did he run away for? Why didn't he stay and face it out? Any fool would know that if Dillingham is cleared, the suspicion would all be on him."
"But, Daddy, we haven't heard his side yet. If I could just hear from him, or see him."
"See him!" he exploded. "What in the name of the devil do you want to see him for? No siree! Not while Bob Carsey's got any buckshot left in his gun! Do you think there's any chance of his prowling 'round here while I'm gone? That settles it! I'll not budge an inch. Tell Jimpson! Tell Caroline! Unpack my things."
"But, Daddy, wait! He is probably out at the coast by this time. Besides, he hasn't written or sent any word. How do we know that... that he wants to come back?" "He'll try it all right. I saw how things were going. I saw how he looked at you. The impudent young hound!"
"Daddy! Please don't! You don't know him. He will explain everything when he writes, I know he will!"
"But he won't write! He won't have the face to. The idea of his going straight off from my girl, and getting mixed up in a scrape like this! You've got to promise me never to speak to the young scoundrel again!"
"But if he explains?"
"Why hasn't he done so? Because he can't. Besides, I don't want him to. We are through with him from now on. Promise me never to have anything more to do with him."
She hesitated, and the Colonel began to fling the things out of his bag in great agitation.
"Please, Squire Daddy!" She caught his hands, and looked at him, and something in her pleading eyes and quivering lips was so reminiscent of another face he had loved, that he broke down completely and had to have recourse to one of his four clean handkerchiefs that were still in the bag.
He was an old fool, he declared between violent blowings of his nose, and clearings of his throat. Was only doing what he thought was his duty. Didn't mean to make her unhappy. Didn't have sense enough to bring up a girl. Had tried to, though! Always would try. Only she mustn't be unhappy; he couldn't stand that. It would kill him if she dared to be unhappy!
And Miss Lady with her arms about his neck, making futile dabs at his streaming eyes with her little wet knot of a handkerchief, passionately declared that she would promise him anything under the sun, that she was going to be happy, that she _was_ happy!
"Not yet," said the Colonel, with much mopping of his brow; "but you will be! We'll straighten it out. Soon as I get back, I'll take the matter up. Sift it clean to the bottom. We'll give Morley every chance to square himself. But 'til then, you won't see him if you can help it, or read his letters, if he writes? You don't mind promising me that much, do you?"
"I promise, Daddy."
Oh! the promises made for a day, and kept through the years, what a lot of tangled lives they have to answer for!
Miss Lady put the Colonel's things back in his bag, and stooped to kiss him good night.
"Sure you don't mind my going?", he asked, studying her face. "I'll be back Saturday night."
"All right. Good-by, I won't be up in the morning when you start. Have a good time, Daddy dear, and--and don't worry about me."
He lit her candle for her and carried it to the steps where he kissed her again.
"My little girl," he whispered.
The house grew still. Out on the landing the tall clock ticked off the hours to midnight; the fire died to an ember; from the porch without came the drip, drip, drip of the gutter. Still the Colonel sat in his split-bottom chair, his little eyes like watch fires in the gloom, listening for the faintest sound of restlessness from the room above.
The sudden light of publicity that had fallen upon the Cant-Pass-It saloon sent a glow over that entire region of Billy-goat Hill. Everybody had something to talk about, and everybody talked, except Chick.
Phineas Flathers appointed himself headquarters for information, and devoted himself exclusively to arguing about the matter. Myrtella, his twin sister, who for fifteen years had presided over innumerable cooking ranges throughout the city, almost lost her new place through her interest in the affair.
The one subject upon which Myrtella Flathers considered herself a connoisseur was murder. In sundry third floors back, she had for years followed the current casualties with burning interest. Realism, romance, intrigue, adventure, she found them all, in these grim recitals of daily crime.
Myrtella and Phineas Flathers had been cast into the sea of life at an early age to sink or swim as they saw fit. Myrtella had survived by combating the waves, while Phineas adopted the less arduous expedient of floating.
To him work appeared a wholly artificial and abnormal action, self- imposed and unnecessary. The stage of life presented so many opportunities for him to exercise his histrionic ability, that the idea of settling down to a routine of labor seemed a waste of talent. With far-reaching discernment he had early perceived that a straight part was not for him.
In casting about for a field that promised the widest opportunity for his talent, he discovered the Immanuel Church in the city. Here philanthropy burned with such zealous enthusiasm that the harvest was not sufficient for the laborers. Phineas saw his chance and grasped it. He became a Prodigal Son.
From that time on his sole vocation was attending church. Three times a week, regardless of the inclemency of the weather, he unwound his long legs from the chair rungs in the Cant-Pass-It, carefully smoothed his red hair, and made his way to a front pew in the Immanuel Church. At intervals, calculated to a nicety, he fell from grace, and was reclaimed, passing from periods of grave backsliding into periods of great religious fervor. Meanwhile he followed the Scriptures literally and took no thought of the morrow. His reliance in Providence and the Ladies' Aid became, in time, absolute.
Nor did Phineas Flathers' self-respect suffer in the least by this mode of living. In no sense did he consider himself an incumbent. Did he not three times a week give a masterly presentation of "our needy poor," "our brother-in-misfortune"? Did he not freely offer up his family for each new church society to cut its wisdom teeth upon? Had Maria, his wife, not labored wearily through unintelligible tracts, and Chick, his adopted son, done penance in Sunday School, as often as three Sundays in succession? Considering all things, Phineas felt that the church got a great deal for its money.
Myrtella Flathers, following another method, had for fifteen years fought every obstacle that crossed her path. She had left in her wake traditions of unexcelled cooking, and unparalleled cleanliness, together with a vanquished army of mistresses, housemaids, laundresses, and butlers. She belonged to the order of Cooks Militant, and she had long since won her spurs.
Among the things which Myrtella in her sweeping condemnation of life in general disapproved, none loomed larger than her brother and his family. But the bond of blood, stronger than likes or dislikes, favor or prejudice, brought her back to him again and again, to share with him her substance, and to criticize his conduct.
On this particular afternoon she had started out for Billy-goat Hill to hear about the shooting, and to break the news to the family, that she had gotten a new place. This happened with such regularity, that it would not have deserved attention, had not the astounding fact to be added that Myrtella was pleased. In her fifteen years of rebellious services she had never before approximated a place that gave satisfaction. To be sure there were dark and not-to-be-remembered instances where she had failed to give satisfaction herself, but usually it was the place, "the new place," with its varying code of musts and must-nots, that caused Myrtella to spend many of her days in the Intelligence Office, or on street-cars, or tramping through the streets in quest of that ever elusive "good home."
She had started out on her pilgrimage in a fairly equable frame of mind, but before she got well under way, the wind had made her furious. It was a frisky March breeze that had gotten left behind and now wandered into May, bent on mischief.
Myrtella tacked into it, like a sailing sloop, full rigged and all sails set, an angular, heavy-set person with a belligerent expression strangely at variance with the embarrassed, almost timid movements of her hands and feet. Short locks of straight black hair whipped across her face, her skirts, blown tightly back against her knees, bellied in the wind, while her wide-brimmed hat caught the full force of the blast, like a veritable top-sail.
By the time she had taken three tacks to cross the common, and was ready to come about at the corner, there was a balloon jibe, that sent the sails all flapping against the mast, and left her in such a flurry of indignation, that she failed to see a string that stretched its insidious length, two inches above the pavement, from fence to curb.
After her fall, instead of expiring of apoplexy, as might have been expected from her countenance, Myrtella picked herself up from the pavement and, peeping through a crack in the fence, smiled. It was an expression so unfamiliar to her features that they scarcely knew how
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