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- A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill - 30/51 -
he'd be back before six, an' wouldn't stand no foolin'. What you goin' to do, Flathers?"
Before Miss Lady and Mrs. Ivy could make their exit, the way was blocked by a heavy-set, muscular, one-eyed man who placed a hand on either side of the door jamb and unnecessarily announced that there he was. Frantic efforts on the part of Phineas to signify to the newcomer by winks and gestures, that the presence of guests would prevent his talking business, were without effect.
"You ladies'll have to excuse me," said the intruder cheerfully, "but I can't fool with this bunch no longer. It's pay, or git out, this time and no mistake."
Maria began to cry, and forgot to jolt the Boarder, and the Boarder who insisted upon being jolted every instant he was not sleeping or eating, began to cry also. Whereupon Loreny, who had been laid upon the kitchen table, heard the noise and felt called upon to add her voice to the chorus.
By this time Chick and his colleagues, scenting excitement from afar, had followed its trail and now presented themselves breathless and interested to await developments. "Puttin' out" was not a particular novelty in Bean Alley, but the presence of guests added a picturesque feature.
"If you can wait a week longer," said Phineas with some attempt at dignity, "I'll be in a position to settle up to date. I'm expectin' to git a job--"
At this the rent man threw back his head and laughed, and the youngsters back of him laughed, and even the Boarder stopped crying a moment to see what had happened.
"But he really is," insisted Miss Lady, coming to Phineas' assistance. "He's going to work the first of the week. Surely you can wait a week longer."
"I can, Miss!" said the man in the door, gallantly. "I been waiting a week longer on Flathers for more'n two months. There ain't absolutely no use in arguing the matter further. It's pay up, or git out, _to-day_."
"Well, if this ain't the limit!" said Phineas, with the air of one who had reached it many times before, but never such a limitless limit as this.
"But if we pay this month's rent for him, can't you let him make up the back rent later?" argued Miss Lady, trying to comfort Maria who threatened to become hysterical.
"When you've known Flathers as long as I have, you won't talk about him paying up."
"But you can't put them out like this, with that little baby and no place to go!"
"There's the Charity Organization, and the Alms House," suggested Mrs. Ivy, wiping her eyes through sympathy.
"I'd hate to drive 'em to that," said the man doggedly, "but I got my own family to consider, and I ain't what I once was, since I lost my eye."
"Poor man," sighed Mrs. Ivy; "how fortunate It was the left one! How did it happen?"
"Shot out," said the man, nothing loath to enter into particulars. "In a scrap between a pair of young swells that was hangin' round my place. Shot out in cold blood when I wasn't lookin'."
"But, my good man, didn't you prosecute?" asked Mrs. Ivy. "You know we have a Legal Aid Society for just such cases as yours."
[Illustration: Maria began to cry, and forgot to jolt the Boarder]
"Yes'm, but one of the young gentlemen skipped the country, lit out fer foreign parts, took to the tall timber, as you might say."
"But he was not the one who did the shooting, was he?" asked Miss Lady, a sudden bright spot on either cheek, and the steady determination in her eye that had been Flathers' undoing.
"I ain't never been able to say which one done it," said the man, faltering under her steady gaze.
"Perhaps it was worth your while not to say?"
The man shot a quick glance of suspicion at her, then his eye came back to Phineas.
"Of course, I don't want to push him into the Poor House, and if he expects to get work--"
"I do, Dick," said Phineas fervently. "Monday morning I put my shoulder-blade to the wheel somewhere."
"Well, if the ladies'll stand for this month," said the man, evidently anxious to get away, "I'll wait a week longer on the back rent."
Miss Lady was preoccupied and silent on the way home. The world sometimes seemed desperately sordid, and human nature a baffling proposition.
At her gate Mrs. Ivy halted suddenly: "Do you know," she said, "it has just occurred to me! I shouldn't be one bit surprised if that horrid one-eyed man was the very one Mr. Morley shot!"
Christmas night on Billy-goat Hill, and twinkling lights, beginning with candles set in bottles in the humblest cottages in Bean Alley, dotted the hillside here and there, until they all seemed to converge at one brilliant spot on the summit, where a veritable halo of light hung above the hilltop.
For Angora Heights was having a house-warming, and never since old Bob Carsey brought home his young bride from Alabama, had such preparations been known for a social function. All the carriages in the neighborhood had been pressed into service, and a half dozen motors had been sent out from town to convey the guests from the station to the house.
Within the mansion everything was magnificently new. Period rooms, carried out with conscientious accuracy, opened into each other through arcaded doorways. Massive gilt mirrors accentuated the wide spaces of the hall, and repeated the lights of innumerable chandeliers. If a stray memory or an old association had by any chance crept into the Christmas ball, it would have found no familiar object on which to dwell. The atmosphere was as formal and impersonal as that of a museum.
In the middle of the drawing-room, like a general issuing last orders before a battle, stood Mrs. Sequin, her ample figure encased in an armor of glistening black spangles, and her elaborately puffed coiffure surmounted by an incipient helmet of blazing gems.
"Pull those portieres back a trifle," she commanded, "and lower that window from the top. Has Jimpson gone to the station for the Queeringtons?"
"Yes, madam, half an hour ago," answered the maid.
"The moment he returns tell him that he is to take the small wagon and go back to the station at ten o'clock. The caterer has just 'phoned that he is sending the extra ices out on the last train, but that he cannot send another waiter. Jenkins, leaving the way he did, has upset everything. I suppose it is too late to get anybody now; the special car gets here at nine. What is that noise? It sounds like some one singing in the dining-room."
"It's the new furnace man, madam, that Mrs. Queerington sent. It looks like he can't keep himself quiet."
"I'll quiet him!" said Mrs. Sequin, who was as near irritation as full dress would permit.
Phineas Flathers, having replenished the fire, was pausing a moment to admire himself in the Dutch mirror above the mantel when Mrs. Sequin startled him by inquiring peremptorily if he was the new man.
"I am," said Phineas with pronounced deference, "_the_ new man and _a_ new man. Regenerated, born again, mam, the spirit of evil having departed from me."
Mrs. Sequin gasped. "What is your name?"
"Dreadful! I will call you Benson."
"Benson it is. Better men than me have changed their names. There was Saul now, Saul of Tarsus--"
"Turn the drafts off in the furnace and don't come up-stairs again on any account. But no,--wait a moment." Mrs. Sequin's keen eye swept him from head to foot. "Have you ever had any experience in serving?"
Phineas, whose only claim to serving was that "they also serve who only stand and wait," dropped his eyes.
"Only the communion, mam, and the collection. But I ain't above lending a hand, mam. You'd do as much for me. I was just saying to the lady in the kitchen, that anybody was fortunate to work for a person with as generous a face as yours."
"Clean yourself up, and put on Jenkins' coat, and if another waiter is absolutely necessary, they can call on you," directed Mrs. Sequin hurriedly, then calling to the maid, "Has Miss Margery come down yet?"
"She's in the library, mam."
Margery, pale and listless, turned from the window as her mother entered.
"I was just watching for Miss Lady," she said; "it will be rather
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