The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 5
FLOYD BEGINS AT THE BOTTOM
In Avalon the very rich and the miserably poor lived upon the same street. It entered the town at the western end low down by the river, skirting the foundries and mills; it emerged at the eastern end upon a hilltop, which was covered with great houses and wide gardens and lawns. Floyd, looking out of the trolley car, saw an almost precipitous slope ascending on one side, descending on the other, with houses flattening themselves against the wall, seeming to hang on one another's shoulders, boosting, clinging hard for toe-hold,—some with only the top story peering above the sidewalk, others mounting for two stories in front and dropping down for four behind. They all seemed temporary, as if a gust of wind would sweep them down in an avalanche of rotten wood and broken brick. Below them were the abysmal iron mills, in a continuous, three-mile line. At this hour the families, having finished supper, were strewn along the sidewalks or crowded together upon the doorsteps; the children playing hopscotch or dancing to the tune of a hand-organ, the women resting and gossiping, the men smoking their pipes, reading newspapers, sitting most of them coatless and collarless. They had brought chairs out upon the sidewalk and were tipped back against the house walls, or against their picket fences, for there were some who had reserved and fenced in a few feet of slanting, weedy green. The young men loafed in front of the saloons. Along this street of squalid, swarming life the car traveled with incessantly clanging gong; then it climbed a hill and drew away from the river and the iron works, and entered a neighborhood of patient, dingy, retiring poverty. And at last, at the summit of another hill, the closely built-up city ceased; shrillness and smoke did not reach here; and along the shaded street and off over the wide gardens and lawns that stretched away from it were the cool silence and smell of the benignant summer. The hydrangea bushes were in bloom; the gardeners were sprinkling lawns and flowers, and the spraying water trickled pleasantly upon the quiet of the evening; the shade-trees, maple and oak and poplar, were still and dark against the lingering yellow rim of the sky.
"Halket's Road," called the conductor; the car stopped and Floyd alighted in front of a great arched gateway of yellow brick. The two iron wings were wide open, in hospitable contrast to the fence of eight-foot iron spears which ran for several hundred yards along the pavement, and to which the lawn descended in an open, gradual slope. Except for one great clump of willows, every tree and shrub had been uprooted in this sweep of acres; it was now all one clean, clear lawn, with just the horseshoe of maples fringing the driveway, which ascended on one side and descended on the other. This double row of trees curving up over the distant hill concealed the house, but even in the dusk one could see from the street the terrace of the garden—a yellow brick wall against which grew grapevines, and above that the dim masses of the shrubs and flowers and low trees, and the great fountain playing in the centre.
Floyd walked up the smooth driveway between the rows of maples. He was tired and hungry and thinking of nothing but how good it would be to get into a bath and then in clean clothes sit down to dinner. He looked at his watch and quickened his steps; the family dined at half-past seven, and it was a quarter past seven now. Where the driveway turned toward the house, the hill that he had been ascending fell away slowly on the other side, and he looked down its slope upon the park that his grandfather had given to the city. Avalon as well as New Rome had its Halket Park. The electric lamps here had been lighted and shone at intervals among the trees. In the near foreground the Casino was illuminated and the strains of band music came faintly from it up the hill. Floyd, hurrying toward the house, had a moment's thought of the families he had passed who spent their summer evenings in the street. The city park was at the doors of the rich, and remote from the poor. "Downtown," where the poor lived, there was no place for parks—not a green square or public grass-plot; land could not be wasted upon such purposes. There was not much gayety in Avalon.
The Halket house had not been built; it had been contrived from time to time. Its one homogeneous feature was the yellow brick, for which in all his constructive undertakings its owner had so marked a liking. Originally a square building with a mansard roof and conventional tower, it now bristled with additions; on each side a new wing had been built, and these wings had in turn received accessions,—on the right, a great dome-like music-room, on the left a long, flat-topped bowling-alley. Jutting out in front from one end of the piazza was the conservatory, and projecting from the upper part of the house were afterthoughts in the way of bath-rooms and canopied galleries.
Floyd crossed the loggia of red tiles that had the year before replaced the old wooden piazza, pushed open the iron gateway and then the ponderous iron-bound and barred door, and entered the house. The hall had recently been done over into what Colonel Halket termed "early baronial;" its dark panels were hung with tapestries and armor, under which were heavy carved stalls; at the back rose the winding staircase; great candelabra of twisted iron stood on the newel-posts, every antler tipped with an incandescent light. Over the stairway was a stained-glass window, representing the combat of Saint George and the Dragon, and under this was the Halket coat-of-arms, for the Colonel, whose knowledge of his family went back but two generations to his blacksmith grandfather, had engaged a professional genealogist to make researches. These had resulted in the gratifying discovery that the Colonel was a lineal descendant of Sir John Hakluyt, the Elizabethan voyager. "Why the devil did this Samuel Halket back in 1720 want to change a distinguished name!" exclaimed the Colonel, poring over the records; and he set about making a collection of all the early editions of Sir John's Travels, and of contemporary books in which there was reference to his ancestor. Eventually he came to have the most extensive library of Hakluytiana in America; and being a thorough person he made himself familiar with Sir John's career.
Floyd ran up the red-carpeted stairs to his room, which was not early baronial at all, but had matting on the floor and a small writing-desk in one corner, half a dozen sporting prints and a couple of photographs upon the walls; he shed his dusty clothes hastily and stepped into his bathroom under the shower, where on the marble slabs he soaped and scrubbed himself and whistled "Fair Harvard"—his one tune, which he had acquired with great difficulty and patriotism, and which was his invariable companion in the bath. Then he dressed by leaps and bounds, and just as he was slipping into his dinner-coat the electric bell in his room rang, and he opened the door while the chimes downstairs were still sounding. He congratulated himself on not being late; it annoyed Colonel Halket exceedingly if one of the family was tardy to a meal.
Floyd entered the library, kissed his grandmother and made a quick playful military salute to his grandfather, who gravely returned it. A stately pair they were, carrying off their years with youthful grace; Mrs. Halket, with a tiny cap on her gray head, very tall and slender in her black dress—indeed, with the same figure that she had had thirty years before,—with a light Indian shawl thrown over her bare shoulders, with her head held as proudly as ever on her slim, unwrinkled neck, yet with her gray eyes and pale face showing a kindly soul; her husband, big, deep-chested, with white hair carefully parted on one side and then allowed to wave plume-like and unbrushed, with a face lean, and of a hard, sunburned brown, with lines across the brow and about the mouth that gave him an expression of thoughtfulness as well as of decision, with white mustache and imperial, and dark, deep-set eyes, of a singular piercing luminousness, but always piercing, never softening into a merry and twinkling light, never really accompanying his smile—and he smiled now at Floyd. He was striking, impressive, very handsome; he could hardly have been put into a gathering of men where he would not have been one of the two or three most commanding. Avalon was preëminently a town in which the richest must have been the leading citizen; it was extraordinary that this man should in all respects have the natural outward gifts to carry such distinction. It is quite probable that the professional genealogist was an inventive diplomat, but no one who ever saw Colonel Halket could doubt that blood as noble as Sir John Hakluyt's flowed in his veins.
In the dining-room, the butler was standing behind Mrs. Halket's chair; behind each of the other chairs waited a footman. The family entered to their places; with a concerted movement, the three servants thrust the three chairs forward; the family sat down. They bowed their heads; behind them the servants stood erect, staring; Colonel Halket said in his deep, musical voice, "Bless, O Lord, this food to Thy use, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
Then, after this moment of stillness, there was brisk activity,—a shaking of napkins, a scurrying back of the servants, and a scurrying forward again with three plates of soup. Floyd fell to hungrily; his grandfather, more deliberate, asked in a complacent way, "And how did you find things, Floyd?"
"First-rate—booming," Floyd answered. "I've fixed it all up—had a good talk with Mr. Gregg—went into the works and watched the job that I'm to begin on next Monday—engaged a room—"
"Oh, Floyd!" His grandmother leaned back in her chair; she seemed distressed. "You're going to start in so soon?"
"Oh, we must n't coddle ourselves and spoil the boy," her husband said in his cheerful, authoritative voice. "The sooner he begins his apprenticeship, the sooner he'll be through with it. Open-Hearth Number Two, Gregg thought; was that it?—Hendricks, take away this soup; say to the cook that I'm surprised at his sending up soup that's burnt. Floyd, don't take any more of it; see, your grandmother can't touch it."
"I don't mind it," Floyd said. "I'm too hungry." Inwardly a whimsical question occurred to him,—whether after saying grace, one should reject in disfavor food that had possibly been blessed in answer to the prayer. He knew that it would be unwise to suggest this to his grandfather, but he thought he might amuse his grandmother with the query when they should be alone.
"There's one thing I can do," Mrs. Halket said, speaking in a resigned voice, "and that is, come out and see that you are comfortable in your rooms, Floyd. I do hope they are pleasant. I will help you to fix them up. I shall feel so much better if I know you 're comfortable."
Floyd's eyes twinkled, and he reached out and stroked his grandmother's hand.
"I have the cosiest quarters in New Rome," he said, "and I won't allow you to do a thing to them. When I get tired, I'll move somewhere else. You see, Grandmother, when you 're a mill-hand, you've got to live like one;—isn't that so, Grandfather?"
"That's the way I started," said the Colonel, nodding his head with vast approval. "And it's a good thing for a young fellow to know what plain and simple living is."
"Indeed, Robert, if you really think so, would n't it have been better to bring him up to have some experience of it before now?" cried Mrs. Halket.
"Am I such a tender little plant?" asked Floyd reproachfully. "I feel as if I had had some knocking round in my life."
"Oh, I know; boys will be boys, of course, and at school and college it was all well enough; I suppose you did knock round," said his grandmother with spirit. "And it was good for you. And though, as you and your grandfather know, I don't want you to go into the mills, I do not stand in the way, since your grandfather says it is necessary. But it is n't necessary for you to live—to live—oh, I don't know how—"
"And just because you don't know how, you think it's sure to be horrible," Floyd laughed.
"No, but in squalor and bareness and on poor food and with rough, coarse people; it's all wrong, Floyd; you don't know what you're doing."
"Now, listen," said Floyd, "and while you're listening sit up to the table like a good girl and pretend you like our food. I picked out my room because it was in the most attractive looking house in all New Rome, with a nice little lawn and garden and peach-tree in front, the best kept-up little place that I saw. It's a small room, of course, but I'll be comfortable enough in it. As for the rough, coarse people,—there are just two people in the house,—mother and daughter,—and I broke in on them while the girl was giving her mother a birthday supper and entertaining her young man. And he was a good fellow, too."
"That sounds better," conceded Mrs. Halket. "I'm glad you were so sensible. But anyway I shall go out and see what I can do to make the room attractive. We can drive out to-morrow."
"All right," said Floyd. "It will only make you unhappy, but if you insist.—You'll think the girl is quite a wonder, anyway—splendid red hair."
"Did you let them know who you were?" the Colonel asked.
"Yes, they found out."
"And how did they take it? A little surprised, were they—and agitated?"
Colonel Halket leaned forward, with an eager smile to hear the gratifying details. Floyd rehearsed them all; Colonel Halket was greatly amused upon hearing how overcome Mrs. Bell had been. He was less pleased to learn of the daughter's indifference and self-possession, and shook his head over it, though Mrs. Halket thought she must be a girl of some character—rather bright, too. "The young women of the present day," pronounced Colonel Halket, "are too independent—they have a tendency to fortify themselves against the proprieties—not to be deferential. In all classes."
"I should imagine," Floyd said, "from the way she looks and carries herself, that she's more used to getting deference than to giving it. She's handsome enough, too."
"When I was young," continued Colonel Halket, "the girl who was pert and had an air and all that was n't much courted; it was the quiet, gentle girl who was always pleased with any little attention and acted as if she never expected it and was n't used to having it, that was attractive to men."
"Robert," cried Mrs. Halket, with some asperity, "was I that kind of girl?"
Colonel Halket paused, somewhat confused, and then his face cleared in a smile. Only with his wife did he seem to have a simple humor, untainted by vanity or self-consciousness, always courtly in expression. "Now that you remind me of it, my dear," he said, "I do recollect some infirmities of spirit—I will not say of temper—on your part, which I should otherwise have forgotten. But just the same, Floyd,"—and he spoke loudly behind his hand,—"your grandmother was quite a nice, attractive girl. What did you say is the landlady's name?"
"Bell," said Floyd. "Mrs. Edward Bell."
"We will look it up in the card-catalogue after dinner," his grandfather promised.
This card-catalogue was perhaps the crowning achievement of Colonel Halket's genius—or insanity—for organization. It required a room for itself. The name of every man who had ever worked in any capacity in the Halket Mills was registered; also his record—his time of entering employment, his promotions if any, his time of leaving the mills if he had left them, the cause, and, when it was known, his occupation since. When a man died his card was not removed; it remained to record the history of his family. The catalogue contained more than fifteen thousand names—all the past and present employees of the works. Once a month the registrar of the company came to Colonel Halket's house to go over the list, make such additions or corrections as he could, and bring it up to date.
After dinner, Floyd accompanied his grandparents into the long, high-raftered library. Books lined one side from floor to top, and their bright bindings and the leather chairs of cardinal red that were set about the great mahogany table gave the room a tone of warmth and cheerfulness. Here Colonel Halket read his evening newspaper, his wife took up a magazine, and Floyd, having mounted the little movable ladder, found on the top book-shelf "Richard Feverel,"—the novel that he had already been through three times. With the book in his hand he stopped by his grandmother's chair to whisper in her ear the humorous query that had occurred to him during dinner; she laughed a little, but with an apprehensive glance towards her husband. Then Floyd lighted one of his grandfather's cigars and settled himself by an open window. Deep in the story, he did not notice that his grandfather had left the room; he looked up with some surprise when Colonel Halket stood before him holding a card in his hand and saying,—
"Here it is, Floyd; here's the record. Edward Bell was a machinist in the company's employ; drew twenty-five dollars a week; he died two years ago. Good workman; thrifty; left wife and daughter comfortably off. They still live in the same house. The daughter a year ago obtained a position in the Halket Library, and has made a satisfactory record there. Now we know what sort of people they are; it seems all right, Rebecca."
"Yes, that part of it," answered his wife; and Colonel Halket turned and walked into the next room to restore the card to its place.
Floyd's thoughts lapsed for a few moments from his book. What an untiring assiduity his grandfather had in tracking down details! what a memory for trivialities, as well as for real matters! what a wonderful devotion, even in the pettiest affairs, to the idea of organization! It had oppressed Floyd to find since his return from college how complicated life in the household must be—not so far as family relations were concerned, for they had remained singularly natural and simple, but in the mere ordering of one's day. His grandfather seemed to have introduced an elaborate formality into the most ordinary performances, and to take pleasure in its observance; Mrs. Halket supported him in it, Floyd suspected, glancing at her pale face, loyally, but a little wearily. Colonel Halket, as Floyd began to understand, caused to be observed towards himself, even in his most secluded and private moments, the ceremonious deference that he deemed due to the first citizen of Avalon. What pleased his vanity had also honestly become to his mind a duty. Floyd had an uncomfortable sense at times that there was something in this grotesque even to the verge of mania. Yet now, when he thought of the establishment which he had seen that afternoon, created, mills and town, out of nothing by this one man, carrying with it the hopes and fears and destinies of ten thousand souls, dominated still as it had been developed by one man, who had in his grasp every detail of its workings, every detail of its life, down even to the condition of its pensioners, it seemed then fitting, if it pleased him, that Colonel Halket should bear himself imperially and conduct his household on as stately principles as if it were a royal court. And Floyd had a glimmering perception that just as his grandfather had turned with more and more favor to this mode of life, by so much the more might Avalon feel that he was honoring it and be glad to exhibit him as its first citizen.
So the boy returned to the book that records the disaster of an attempt to build and guide a life by a system.
At half-past ten o'clock, chimes sounded remotely from the dining-room. Floyd laid aside his book; Colonel Halket took up the Bible and sat waiting. Presently the servants, men and women, fifteen or twenty in number, entered the room and stood in line across one end of it. Colonel Halket put on his glasses and read a chapter from Job; then, closing the Bible, he took the Prayer-Book and rose. Floyd and Mrs. Halket rose with him; they and the servants stood with bowed heads while he read the prayer. After the general mumbled Amen, the servants marched out in single file.
Usually Mrs. Halket went to her room after prayers, leaving her husband to sit reading or writing till midnight; these late evening hours he gave with a methodical regularity to what he had not yet advanced beyond terming "self-culture." Since his attainment of eminence, he found himself called upon frequently and often unexpectedly to preside at meetings, to introduce speakers, to present prizes, to address assemblages of all kinds. With his natural dignity of speech and his retentive memory, which supplied him on occasions with happy passages from Shakespeare or Milton, he had acquired a facility in this on which he plumed himself; but he was ambitious, wishing in everything that he undertook to excel on each new occasion his past accomplishments. Therefore he read widely, made notes, and memorized, devoting at least one hour every evening to this employment. He liked to have the library to himself, that he might walk up and down repeating aloud what he had learned, and accordingly Mrs. Halket had submitted to withdrawing after prayers. But this evening Floyd said, before she could leave the room,—
"Grandfather, when are you and Grandmother going to open the Ridgewood house?"
"Oh, Floyd," Mrs. Halket cried, before her husband had time to answer, "I don't want to go to Ridgewood this year; I want to stay right at home and be near you. I can't bear to think of leaving you all forlorn at New Rome, with no home to go to on Sundays—"
"There," said Floyd to his grandfather, "I suspected that was what would come next when she insisted on staying here till after I had started in to work. It's perfectly senseless, when you own a whole Canadian lake, not to use it; and you know, Grandmother, you'd rather be there than here; you hate the summer here. And I'll make a bargain with you; I'll let you come out to-morrow and fix up my room if you and Grandfather will promise to start for Ridgewood next Monday."
"Good enough," said Colonel Halket; "Throw yourself entirely on your own resources; burn your bridges behind you; that's right. I'm ready for Ridgewood whenever your grandmother is; what do you say, Rebecca?"
"Floyd,"—she addressed her grandson entreatingly,—"do say you want me to stay. I don't care about going to Ridgewood now—truly, I don't."
"If you stayed, I should be so angry that I would never come to see you," he answered firmly. "Next Monday for Ridgewood, Grandfather."
"Next Monday, I think," Colonel Halket agreed. He was quite impatient to have them both leave the room and to resume his digging of feasible remarks out of Boswell. "Good-night, my dear; good-night, Floyd."
But neither of them went immediately to bed. Mrs. Halket took Floyd into her sitting-room and talked to him for nearly an hour; he came away feeling a little sad and more than ever touched by her affection. For she had made him see how much indeed he was to her; she had told him of his father, her only child, who for his thirty years of life had been the growing light and happiness of Colonel Halket and of herself. After his untimely death, the young widow had not long survived him; and then the grandparents had taken the baby, and, said Mrs. Halket to Floyd, "It was as if we were beginning life all over, and with the knowledge that the best of it could never be ours again. Oh, it was worse than that, Floyd; I can't tell you what it was at first when we had to feel that we had you, poor little baby indeed, but not, not our dear boy. Yet now you're ours, just as much as your father ever was; we began life all over again, your grandfather and I; we've toiled through it again, watching you grow and develop; we love you as if you were your father, and now you're about to continue and fill out his career. Can you see how much you mean? You've been away from me much the last few years; it was necessary; I don't lament it; you must be away from me now; that is hard, too, and still I won't complain. But oh, Floyd, if anything should happen to you—do I seem very silly and absurd, my dear? Yet it wakes me in the night, to think of—and it is, you know, dangerous there in the mills—it's a dangerous employment, Floyd, and I say a prayer every night of my life for the safety of the poor men who work there for your grandfather. And if anything should happen to you, and I were away—not that it would be any less awful if I were here, but the idea of being away somehow makes it seem more possible that something might happen—my not being here to warn you to be careful and to be silly about you—ah, Floyd, you're laughing, but you will be careful, won't you?—for you see, you must see, how much you mean."
Floyd kissed her and laughed and said that she must not worry about him. He knew why she was nervous; she wanted to get away into the country where she could rest. She admitted that perhaps she was tired. "At Ridgewood you won't have so many complications," Floyd said, and she smiled a little. "No, it's simple—comparatively—there," she answered. "Good-night, Floyd; we'll drive out to New Rome to-morrow."
The next morning Mrs. Halket and Floyd alighted at Mrs. Bell's gate from the victoria that had been the amazement of all the women who lived upon the street and happened to be looking out of their windows at that hour. Mrs. Bell was one of these and was filled with consternation and pride. "How ever shall I go to the door!" she exclaimed, bursting into the dining-room where her daughter sat sewing. And at that moment the bell rang. "It's Mr. Halket and the old lady herself—in their carriage—and me looking as I am. Go, for goodness gracious, child, and hold them in the parlor till I can change my dress."
"I don't look any too well myself," observed Letty, with feminine dissatisfaction, but her mother was already on the stairs. "Well, somebody's got to answer the bell," and she rose, and with her capable hands pushed and puffed her mass of brilliant hair up above her ears. Then, smoothing out her dress, she went to the door.
"This is my grandmother, Miss Bell," Floyd said to her. "She thought she would like to see the room; she's going away next week and wants to give me some pictures and things for it."
"I'll tell my mother you've come," said Letty ingenuously. "She's just gone upstairs. Won't you walk into the parlor?"
She left them and escaped to her mother, who was struggling into her best dress. "Letty!" cried Mrs. Bell reproachfully, "you did n't leave them alone down there! Run right back and entertain them till I come."
"Here," said Letty, putting aside her mother's ineffectual, trembling fingers and buttoning her dress for her.
"What do they want?" cried Mrs. Bell.
"To make his room more like what he's used to," Letty replied, baldly, but without bitterness.
"It's aired out and read up anyway. To think of having Mrs. Robert Halket in my house! Letty, do go down and talk to her till I can come."
"I guess they can sit alone together for a few minutes without fighting," rejoined Letty.
"To think of having Mrs. Robert Halket in my house!" repeated Mrs. Bell, in lamentation and ecstasy. "Was she awful, Letty?"
"She's a human being," said Letty.
"There, there, that'll do—where's my handkerchief? Shall I help you fix yourself up—your hair?"
"No, I'm not going down, mother."
"Letty, you must." Mrs. Bell was in despair. "I can't face her alone—my goodness, child."
Letty was obdurate. "She's just come on business; she's not making a call on us; I'm not going to tag round and look at her."
"Oh, if you ain't the unmanageable!" cried Mrs. Bell, on the verge of tears.
Letty opened the door and gently pushed her out into the hall; then closed the door definitely upon her.
Mrs. Halket was not inclined to be severe. The timorousness of the little woman touched her kindly heart; she was never the grand lady in the homes of the poor. She complimented Mrs. Bell on her garden, climbed the two flights of stairs to the attic room, and refrained from discouraging comment. "I think you will be quite snug here, Floyd," she said. She poked the mattress and approved of it, was surprised at the roominess of the closet, and said that with the pictures she would send and a little bookcase he would be as comfortable as possible.
"I suppose that was your daughter, Mrs. Bell, that I saw at the door," she said casually.
"Yes, ma'am, my daughter Letty; she does the cataloguing at the library; but she's having her vacation now."
"She's a very handsome girl," Mrs. Halket observed.
"And as good as she is beautiful, I think," Mrs. Bell replied.
At the door Mrs. Halket shook hands with the landlady, who immediately became agitated and began to murmur unintelligible hopes and fears.
"Oh," laughed Mrs. Halket, "I know you'll take good care of him; I see that he's in good hands."
Then Mrs. Bell had one blissful moment, standing at her gate, while Mrs. Halket, from her seat in her open carriage, in full view of all the neighborhood, smiled and nodded to her as she was rolled away.
Floyd went to work at Open-Hearth Mill Number Two the next Monday morning. He was assigned to the squad at the furnace where a few days before he had watched operations; he found himself working with the man from whom he had derived the story of the unfortunate victim of fumes. This man looked hard at him several times, but said nothing. Floyd was kept busy obeying directions to stir the heat, to take a crowbar and turn a valve, to pitch in steel scrap or limestone, to give a hand at a hoist; he did not have much time to rest and talk; the mills were running full, and every man was eager to make his tonnage.
By noon, Floyd's hands, that he had believed were well toughened, were blistered, and his muscles, that he thought compared not unfavorably with those of the other men, ached. He took his tin dinner-pail in which Mrs. Bell had put up his luncheon of cold beef sandwiches, apple pie, and cold coffee, and seated himself on a bench beside the workman who had entertained him a few days before.
"Ain't used to this kind of thing?" said the workman, not unfriendly, glancing at Floyd's hands.
"No," Floyd said soberly. "But I find that the worst of it is the fumes."
The man stopped with his pie poised in air. "Say," he said, "I thought your face was familiar. Was that you I was joshing the other day?"
"It was," said Floyd.
"And you knowed it all the time and did n't let on. Say, that was a good one. What's your name?"
"Ah, you're tryin' to get even with me for my jolly."
"I'll get even with you all right. But that's my name."
The man was silent for some time. At last he remarked, mainly to himself, "Well, if that ain't the hell of a note."
"What's your name?" said Floyd.
Floyd drew out his pipe and tobacco-pouch.
"Have some?" And he opened the pouch for his friend.
"Thanks, don't mind if I do," and Shelton dug down with his grimy fingers and wadded a capacious pipe. He turned to Floyd with a twinkle in his eyes. "This what the old man smokes?"
"Once in a while. But he does n't care much for a pipe."
"To think," Shelton observed, again mainly to himself, "of me using some of his mixture! Boardin' out here, are you? The Widow Bell's? Good folks they are, too.—Here, Bill! here, Tom!" and he called to two of the workmen who, having finished their lunch, were going outside to pitch quoits; "let me make you acquainted with the new helper, Mr. Floyd Halket. Grandson of the old man."
They shook hands with Floyd silently, staring at him with steady, prejudiced eyes. They were heavy and surly looking young men, with none of Shelton's geniality. "I'll bet you and me could lick 'em at that game," Shelton said to Floyd. "Come along." As they passed out, Floyd heard Tom say to Bill, "Let's lick the hell out of 'em," and he gathered that the impression he had made had not been favorable.
Tom and Bill and Shelton were experts at pitching quoits; Floyd, with his blistered and sore fingers, was by no means their equal. When they saw after a few minutes that his hand was bleeding and that he continued to pitch without paying attention to his hurt, they showed less indifference, and unbent so far as to utter an objurgation when one of their throws went wild. Once Tom stooped to pick up his quoits and claim the point, and Floyd stopped him peremptorily and demanded that the distance be measured. The measurement showed Tom's claim to have been good, and Floyd said good-naturedly, "Your eye is better than mine." A few moments later Tom suggested to him that he might tie a rag round his hand; the suggestion was made grudgingly, with embarrassment. Floyd replied that he could pitch better just as he was. By the end of the game Tom and Bill, whose surliness had principally been shyness, were not unfriendly to the new helper.
In the course of ten days Floyd had accustomed himself to the work; his hands had toughened, and his muscles did not ache when he went home at night or when he awoke in the morning. He went to bed at half-past eight and was roused at five by Letty or her mother knocking at his door. He began to receive letters from his grandmother at Ridgewood; the lake was beautiful, the country lovely after the smoke and grime of Avalon, his grandfather was like a boy again; if only they could have Floyd with them! She hoped he was not having too hard a time; she could hardly wait to hear, and he must write frankly. The letters that he sent in reply were cheerful; it was hard work, but he was learning how to make steel; his studies in chemistry had helped him and he thought he should graduate from the open-hearth furnaces in a few months. Three nights a week he sat with Mrs. Bell and Letty after supper and talked or read Dickens aloud—taking turns in this with Letty; the other three nights he went up to his room and read by himself or wrote letters, "for on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays," he explained, "the young roller, Hugh Farrell, comes to see Letty. They pretend they're not engaged, but you ought to see me get Letty rattled whenever I want to. She's a pretty good girl, too, and does n't get rattled about other things. I'm quite one of the family now." And he wrote in an equally cheerful vein about his work. "Plenty of time for breathing-spells when you once get on to your job," he assured his grandmother. "And you soon get used to being a salamander. At noon we gobble our lunch; then Joe Shelton and I pitch quoits with Tom and Bill the rest of the hour. We're pretty even now; they used to beat us. Joe and I can pretty near lick any team in the works. They say there are a couple of coons over at Open-Hearth One that are the champions; when we get a little better, we'll challenge them. Mr. Gregg is very nice; he had me round at his house to dinner last Sunday. It made me a little uncomfortable, though, because Mrs. G. had so evidently laid herself out on my account; she was worried all through lest things shouldn't be done just right, and it was n't half as natural as it is at the Bells'. It's kind of hard luck on Mrs. Gregg; I guess she's a relic of the Superintendent's early days and has never had an opportunity to learn anything else — been stuck here in New Rome all her life; stepped from doing all her own work into command of an establishment; her husband never takes her away for more than a month at a time, and then they go to some big summer hotel. The two young Greggs are purse-proud little brats, that ought to be sent to boarding-school and have the snobbishness knocked out of them; then I'd like to have them put under me in the works. They are quite too good for anybody else in New Rome. I'm comfortable; the bath-room is always mine between six and half-past. On the odd nights, Letty plays the piano and Hugh Farrell the bass viol; Letty is pretty good, but Farrell is better with the tongs. He is making a thundering noise just now, and all the windows are wide open, for it's a hot night, so I will close."
If in his letters to his family Floyd put his best foot foremost, it was no more than many another forlorn and lonely soul has done.