The Prize (Daskam)
Caroline sniffed her way luxuriously through the dusky panelled library.
"I think it smells awfully good here, don't you?" she inquired of her hostess.
The lady's wonderful velvet train dragged listlessly behind her. Her neck and arms were dressed in heavy yellowish lace, but all around her slim body waves of deep colored, soft velvet held the light in lustrous pools or darkened into almost black shadows. It was like stained glass in a church, thought Caroline, stroking it surreptitiously, and like stained glass, too, were the lovely books, bloody red, grassy green and brown, like Autumn woods, with edges of gold when the sunlight struck them. They made the walls like a great jewelled cabinet, lined from floor to ceiling: here and there a niche of polished wood held a white, clear-cut head. From the ceiling great opal tinted globes swung on dull brass chains; they swayed ever so slightly when one watched them closely.
"This is my favorite room, Duchess," said Caroline, "isn't it yours?"
"Do you really think I look like one?" returned the lady, "the only duchess I ever saw was fat—horribly fat. It is a very handsome library, of course."
"Then she didn't look like a duchess, that's all," Caroline explained. "What I like about this library is, it's so clean. And you can pull the chairs out and show those big, shiny yellow ones on the bottom shelf."
"Of course; why not?" said the Duchess, dropping into a great carved chair with griffins' heads on the top.
"Why, you can't do that at Uncle Joe's," Caroline confided, sitting on a small griffin stool at the lady's feet, "because General gets at the bottom row and smears 'em. You see he's only two, and you can't blame him, but he licks himself dreadfully and then rubs it on the backs. He marks them, too, inside, with a pencil or a hatpin, or even an orange-wood stick that you clean your nails with. Yours is made of pearl, you know, but most—a great many, I mean—people have them wood. And so the chairs have to be all leaned around against the walls to keep him from the books."
The Duchess drew a long breath. "And your uncle objects?" she said, between her teeth.
"Uncle Joe says," Caroline returned, patting the griffin heads on her little stool, "that if the President had General in his library for half an hour he'd feel different about race suicide."
The Duchess laughed shortly.
"That is possible, too," she agreed. "You said Cousin Joe was well—and Edith?"
"Oh, yes, they're well—I mean, they're very well indeed, thank you," said Caroline. "Uncle Joe says they have to be, with the General's shoes two dollars and a half a pair! You see he has quite thick soles, now—he runs about everywhere. Aunt Edith says he needs a mounted policeman 'stead of a nurse."
"Did Edith get rested after the moving?"
"Oh, yes," Caroline answered absently. She was watching the opal globes sway. "Aunt Edith says before she was married she'd have gone South with a trained nurse after such an experience, but now she has to save the nurse for measles, she s'poses, so she just lies down after lunch."
The Duchess moved restlessly half out of the griffin chair, but sank back again.
"And you have a trained nurse all the time," Caroline mused, stroking the glistering velvet, "isn't that funny? Just so in case you might be sick...." The sunlight peeped and winked on the gold book-edges.
"It amounts to that," the Duchess said, adding very low, "but she is not likely to be needed for measles."
"No," Caroline assented, "you and cousin Richard are pretty old for measles. It's children that have 'em, mostly. I never did, yet. But you don't seem to ever have any children. And such a big house, too! And you're very fond of children, aren't you? It seems so queer that when you like them you can't manage to have any. And people that don't care about them have them all the time. It was only Christmas time that Norah Mahoney—she does the extra washing in the summer—had another. That makes seven. It's a boy. Joseph Michael, he's named, partly after Uncle Joe. Norah says there don't seem to be any end to your troubles, once you're married to a man."
The Duchess turned aside her head, but Caroline knew from the corner of her mouth that her eyes were full of tears. She stroked the hands that clenched the griffin's crest.
"Never mind," she urged, "maybe you'll have some. Most everybody has just one, anyway."
The Duchess shook her head mutely; a large round tear dropped on the griffin.
"Well, then," said Caroline briskly, "why don't you adopt one? The Weavers did, and she was quite a nice girl; I used to play with her. She sucked her thumb, though. But prob'ly they don't, all of them."
"I wouldn't mind, if she did," the Duchess declared. Already she spoke more brightly. "I wanted to adopt one—one could take it when it was very little. But Richard won't hear of it."
"Not a bit?" Caroline looked worried; she knew Richard.
"Not a bit," the Duchess repeated, "that is, he says he is willing under certain conditions, but they are simply impossible. Nobody could find such a child."
"There are lots of 'em in the Catholic Foundling," said Caroline thoughtfully, "all kinds. Aunt Edith went there to sing for them and she took Miss Honey and me. They're all dressed differently and they look so sweet. You can take your choice of them; Aunt Edith cried. But you must let them be Catholics."
"Richard wouldn't let me take one from an institution," the Duchess said, "and somehow I wouldn't care to, myself. But there is a woman I know of who is interested in children that—that aren't likely to grow up happily, and she will get one for anybody, only one can't ask any questions about them. You may have all the rights in them, but you will never know where they came from. And Richard won't have that. I suppose he's right."
"But there are plenty of people who would let you have one, if you would give her a good home and be kind to her," Caroline began, lapsing for the moment into her confusing, adult manner.
"Yes, but Richard says that no people nice enough to have a child we could want would ever give us the child, don't you see," the Duchess interrupted eagerly. "He says the father must be a gentleman—and educated—and the mother a good woman. He says there must be good blood behind it. And they must never see it, never ask about it, never want it. He says he doesn't see how I could bear to have a child that any other mother had ever loved."
"Cousin Richard does make up his mind, so!" she muttered.
"He is unreasonable," said the Duchess suddenly, "unreasonable! He must know all about the child, but the parents must not know about us! Not know our name, even! Just give up the child and withdraw—why, the poorest, commonest people would not do that, and does he expect that people of the kind he requires would be so heartless? We shall never be able to get one—never. And yet he wants one so—almost as much as I!"
The Duchess had forgotten Caroline. Staring at the opal globes she sat, and again the tears rose, brimmed and overflowed.
Caroline slipped off the little stool and walked softly out of the beautiful room. The books glowed jewel-like, the four milky moons swayed ever so little on their brass chains, the white busts looked coldly at the Duchess as she sat crying in her big carved chair, and there was nobody that could help at all.
Through the dark, shiny halls she walked—cautiously, for she had had embarrassing lessons in its waxy polish—and paused from force of habit to pat the great white polar bear that made the little reception room such a delightful place. More than the busts in the library even, he set loose the fancy, and whiled one away to the enchanted North where the Snow Queen drove her white sledge through the sparkling glades, and the Water Baby dived beneath the dipping berg.
Miss Grundman, the trained nurse, appeared in the doorway.
"Did you care to go out with the brougham, to-day, dear?" she asked. "Hunt tells me he has to go 'way down town."
"Yes, I'd like to—can you take care of babies, too?" Caroline returned abruptly.
Miss Grundman started.
"What an odd child you are—of course I can!" she said. "All nurses can; it's part of the training. Have you any you're worried about?" she added pointedly. Caroline flushed.
"You're making fun o' me," she muttered, "you know very well only grown people have them! I don't mean if they're sick, but can you wash them, and cook the milk in that tin thing, and everything like that?"
"Bless the child, of course I can!" Miss Grundman cried, "you bring me one and I'll show you!"
"Oh, I b'lieve you, Miss Grundman, if you say so," Caroline assured her, and slid carefully along the hall for the stairs that led to her hat and coat.
They spun smoothly down the avenue with an almost imperceptible electric whir, Caroline bolt upright on the plum-colored cushion, Hunt and Gleggson bolt upright on the seat outside. It was a matter for congratulation to Caroline that of all the vehicles that glided by them, none boasted a more upright pair than Hunt and Gleggson.
The tall brown houses were gradually changing into bright shops; the carriages grew thicker and thicker; the long procession stopped and waited now almost every moment, so crowded was the brilliant street. Once a massive policeman actually smiled at her as Hunt stopped the brougham close to him, and Caroline's admiring soul crowded to her eyes at the mighty wave of his white, arresting hand. They drew up before a great window filled with broughams and victorias displayed as lavishly as if they had been hats or bonbon boxes—it was like a gigantic toy-shop. Hunt dropped acrobatically to the pavement and was seen describing his mysterious desires to an affable gentleman behind the plate-glass; he measured with his knuckles and illustrated in pantomime the snapping of something over his knee; the clerk shook his head in commiseration and signalled to an attendant, who darted off. Soon Hunt appeared with a small package and they started on again, turning a corner abruptly and winding through less exciting streets. The shops grew smaller and dingier; drays passed lumbering by and street cars jarred along beside them, but vehicles like their own were noticeably lacking. It was plain that they attracted more attention, now, and more than one group of children dancing in the street to the music of the hurdy-gurdy lingered daringly to provoke the thrilling, mellow warning of their horn. At last they stopped at a corner and Hunt dropped again to the pavement, lingering for a short consultation with Gleggson who pointed once or twice behind them to the small occupant of the brougham. On this occasion he took with him a mysterious and powerful handle, and Caroline knew that this was precisely equivalent to running away with the horses. He hurried around an unattractive corner, and Gleggson sat alone in front. Five, ten minutes passed. They seemed very dull to Caroline, and she reached for the plum-colored tube and spoke boldly through it.
"What are we waiting for, please, Gleggson? Where is Hunt?"
"'E just stepped off, Miss, for a minute, like. 'E'll be 'ere directly. Would you wish for me to go and look 'im up, Miss?"
Gleggson spoke very cordially.
"We-ell, I don't know," Caroline said doubtfully. "If you think he'll be right back ... I can wait...."
"Pre'aps I'd better, as you say, Miss," Gleggson continued, "for 'e 'as been gone some time, and I think I could lay me 'and on 'im. You'll not get out, of course, Miss, and I'll be back before you know it."
He clambered down and took the same general course as Hunt had taken, deflecting, however, to enter a little door made like a window-blind, that failed to reach its own door-sill.
"Hunt didn't go there at all," Caroline muttered resentfully, and deliberately opening the door of the brougham, she stepped out.
She had followed Hunt's track quite accurately till a sudden turn confused her, and she realized that after that corner she had no idea in which direction he had gone. She paused uncertainly; the street was dirty, the few children in sight were playing a game unknown to her and not playing very pleasantly, at that; the women who looked at her seemed more curious than kindly. The atmosphere was not sordid enough to be alarming or even interesting; it was merely slovenly and distasteful, and Caroline had almost decided to go back when a young girl stopped by her and eyed her inquisitively.
"Were you lookin' for any particular party?" she asked.
"I was looking for Hunt," said Caroline, "he went this way, I think."
"There's some Hunts across the street there," the girl suggested, "right hand flat, second floor. I seen the name once. I guess you're lost all right, ain't you?"
"Oh, no," Caroline assured her, "I'm not lost. I can go right back. I'll see if Hunt's there."
The threshold was greasy and worn, the stairs covered with faded oil cloth, the side walls defaced and over-scrawled. At the head of the stairs three dingy doors opened in three different directions, and a soiled card on the middle one bore the name of Hunt. A man's voice somewhere behind it talked in a strange loud sing-song; he seemed to be telling a long, confusing story. At the moment of Caroline's timid knock he was saying over and over again,
"Isn't that so? Isn't that so? Who wouldn't have done the same? Put your finger on the place where I made the mistake! Will you? Will anybody? I ask it as a favor—"
"Hush, won't you?" a woman's voice interrupted, "wasn't that a knock?"
Caroline knocked again.
There was a hasty shuffling and a key turned in the door.
"Who is it?" the woman's voice asked. "What do you want? The auction's all over—there's nothing left. We're moving out to-morrow."
Surprise held Caroline dumb. How could one have an auction in such a place? At auctions there were red flags, and horses and carriages gathered around the house, and people brought luncheon; they had often driven to auctions out in the country.
The door opened.
"Why it's only a child!" said the woman, thin and fatigued, with dark rings under her not ungentle eyes. "What do you want here?"
"I'm looking for Hunt," Caroline answered, "doesn't he live here?"
"Heavens, no!" the woman said, "that old card's been there long before we moved in, I guess. They were old renters, most likely. What's the party to you, anyway? Is he your—"
She paused, studying Caroline's simple but unmistakeable clothes and manner.
"He drives the automobile," Caroline explained, "I thought he came this way."
"Come in, won't you?" said the woman, "there's no good getting any more lost than you are, I guess. There's not much to sit on, 'specially if you're used to automobiles, but we can find you something, I hope. I try to keep it better looking than this gen'ally, but this is my last day here. I'm going out West to-morrow."
An old table, two worn chairs and an over-turned box furnished the small room; through an open door Caroline spied a tumbled bed. A kitchen, dismantled and dreary, faced her.
"The agent gave me five dollars for all I left," the woman said, "I don't know which of us got the best o' the bargain. Now, about you. Where do you live? I s'pose they're looking for you right now while we're talking. Do you know where you left the automobile?"
"Oh, yes." Caroline stared frankly about her. "Wasn't there a man in here? Where did he go?"
The woman grunted out a sort of laugh. "If you're not the limit!" she murmured. She stepped to the door of the kitchen, looked in, and beckoned to Caroline.
"I suppose you heard him carrying on," she said, "he's in there. Poor fellow, he's all worn out."
Caroline peered into the kitchen. With his rough, unshaven face resting on his arms, his hair all tossed about, his face drawn in misery, even in his heavy sleep, a young man sat before a table, half lying on it, one hand on a soiled plate still grasping a piece of bread.
"Is he sick?" whispered Caroline.
"N—no, I wouldn't say sick, exactly, but I guess he'd be almost as well off if he was," said the woman. "It would take his mind off. He's had a lot of trouble."
The man scowled in his sleep and clenched his hand, so that the bread crumbled in it.
"And so I won the prize," he muttered, "just as I told her I would. Did I have any pull? Was there any favoritism? No—you know it as well as I do—it was good work won that prize!"
"Was it a bridge prize?" Caroline inquired maturely. The woman stared.
"A bridge prize?" she repeated vaguely. "Why, no, I guess not. It was for writing a story for one of those magazines. He won a thousand dollars."
The man opened his eyes suddenly.
"And if you don't believe it," he said, still in that strange sing-song voice, "just read that letter."
He pulled a worn, creased sheet from an inner pocket and thrust it at Caroline.
"It's typewritten," he added, "it's easy enough to see if I'm lying. Just read it out."
Caroline glanced at the engraved letter-heading and began to read in her careful, childish voice:
My Dear Mr. Williston:
It is with great pleasure that I have to announce the fact that your story, "The Renewal," has been selected by the judges as most worthy of the thousand-dollar prize offered by us.
The woman snatched the paper from her hand.
"The idea!" she cried, "let the child alone, Mr. Williston! Don't you see she's lost?"
The man dropped like a stone on the table.
"Lost!" he whispered, "lost! Oh, that dreadful word! Yes, she's lost. Poor little Lou. It's all over."
The woman drew Caroline back into the sitting room.
"I'm sorry you should see him," she said. "You must excuse him—he don't really know what he's doing. He lost his wife a week ago and he's hardly slept since. It's real sad. I was as sorry as I could be for 'em, and I'd have kept 'em even longer if she'd lived, though they couldn't pay. I'd keep the baby, too, if I could, it's such a cute little thing, but I can't, and I'm to take it to the Foundling to-day. I'll go right out with you, and see that the police—"
"Oh, is there a baby? Let me see it!" Caroline pleaded. "How old is it?"
"Just a week," said the woman. "Yes, you can see him. He's good as gold, and big—! He weighs nine pounds."
In the third room, lying in a roll of blankets on a tumbled cot, a pink, fat baby slept, one fist in his dewy mouth. The red-gold down was thick on his round head; he looked like a wax Christ-child for a Christmas tree.
Caroline sighed ecstatically.
"Isn't he lovely!" she breathed.
"He's a fine child," the woman agreed. "And his mother never saw him, poor little thing. Nor his father either, for that matter."
Caroline looked in amazement toward the kitchen.
"Never laid his eyes on him," the woman went on sadly, "as if it was any good, to blame the poor baby! He's taken a terrible grudge on the little thing. He was awfully fond of his wife, though. He told me he was going to leave him right here, and then, of course, somebody in the house would notify the police, if I didn't take him to the Foundling. And of course he'd get better care, for that matter—there's no doubt about that. It's too bad. There's people that would give their eyes for a fine baby like that, you know."
"I know it," said Caroline simply, "my cousin Richard would be glad to have him—he wants one very much. But he's very particular."
The woman looked at her sharply. "What do you mean?" she asked. "How particular?"
Suddenly she laughed nervously. "I ought to be ashamed of myself," she said, "you ought to be at the police station now. But I'm all worn out, and it does me good to talk to anybody. I don't let the neighbors in much—it's a cheap set of people around here, and Mr. Williston's different from them and I hate to hear him talking to them the way he will. He don't know what he's doing. He tells 'em all about that prize—and it's true, you know, he did get it; that's what they married on, and he thought he could get plenty more that way, and then he never sold another story. It was too bad. He's a real gentleman, though you might not think it to look at him now, not shaved, and all. He thought he could earn a thousand every week, I s'pose, poor fellow. He got work in a department store, fin'ly, and it took all he made to bury her. She was a sweet little thing, but soft. I was real sorry for 'em."
She wiped her eyes hastily.
"Do you know whether he went to Harvard?" Caroline inquired, in a business-like tone.
The woman was heating some milk in a bottle, over a lamp, and did not answer her, but a voice from the door brought her sharply around. The young man stood there. Though still unshaven, he was otherwise quite changed. His hair was parted neatly, his coat brushed, his face no longer flushed, but pale and composed.
"If your extraordinary question refers to me, yes, I went to Harvard," he said in a grating, disagreeable voice. "I have in fact been called a 'typical Harvard man.' But that was some time ago. May I ask who you are?"
The woman lifted the bottle from the tin cup that held it and picked up the baby; the young man shifted his eyes from her immediately and looked persistently over Caroline's head.
"Her family's coachman's name is Hunt," said the woman, "and she thought he lived here, she says. He'd no business to go off and leave her alone. Her family'd be worried to death. When I go out with the baby I'll take her. I suppose you haven't changed your mind about the baby, Mr. Williston?—now you're feeling more like yourself," she added.
"I cannot discuss that subject, Mrs. Ufford," the young man answered, in his rasping, unnatural voice. "When you have disposed of the matter along the lines you yourself suggested, I am at your service till you take the train. After that—after that"—his lips tightened in a disagreeable smile—"I may be able to get to work—and win another prize!"
"There, there!" she cautioned him, "don't talk about that, Mr. Williston, don't, now! Why don't you go out with the little girl and see if you can find her automobile? That'll be less for me to do. Why don't you?"
He turned, muttering something about his hat, but Caroline tugged at his coat.
"Wait, wait!" she urged him, "I want you to tell her to let me take the baby! If you went to Harvard, that's all Cousin Richard said, except about a gentleman"—she paused and scrutinized him a moment. "You are a gentleman, aren't you?" she asked.
He looked at her. "My father was," he answered briefly. "In my own case, I have grave doubts. What do you think?" he asked the woman, looking no lower than her eyes.
She fed the baby deftly. "Oh, Mr. Williston, don't talk so—of course you're a gentleman!" she cried, "you couldn't help about the money. You did your best."
His mouth twisted pitifully.
"That'll do," he said, "what does this child mean? Who is your cousin? Where does he live?"
"He lives on Madison Avenue," Caroline began eagerly, "but I mustn't tell you his last name, you know, because he doesn't want you to know. That's just it. But he'd love the baby. I could take it right back in the automobile."
The man felt in under his coat and detached from his waistcoat a small gold pin. He tore a strip of wrapping paper from the open box near him and wrote rapidly on it.
"There," he said, fastening the pin into the folded paper, "I'm glad I never pawned it. If your cousin is a Harvard man, the pin will be enough, but he can look me up from this paper—all he wants. They're all dead but me, though. Here, wait a moment!"
He went back into the sitting room and fumbled in a heap of waste paper on the floor, picked out of it a stiff sheet torn once through, and attached it with the gold pin to the bit of writing.
"That's her marriage certificate," he said to the woman. She stared at him.
"Mr. Williston, do you believe that child?" she burst out, loosening her hold on the bottle in her hand. "Why, she may be making it all up! I—I—you must be crazy! You don't even know her name! I won't allow it—"
He broke into her excited remonstrance gravely.
"I don't believe a child could make up such details, in the first place, Mrs. Ufford," he said, "she is repeating something she's heard, I think. Did your cousin mention anything else?" he said abruptly to Caroline.
She smiled gratefully at him. "The mother must be a good woman," she quoted placidly.
Both of them started.
"Do you think a child would invent that?" he demanded. "Now, see here. You take Mrs. Ufford home with you in the automobile and she can see if there's anything in what you say, really. If there's not, she can go right on with the—with it, and do as—as we arranged before. It's all written on the paper, and my full consent to the adoption, and if there's anything legal to do about it, Mrs. Ufford can attend to it. But nobody'll trouble 'em—they can be sure of that. My people all died long ago and—and hers—hers...."
He stopped short. With eyes filled and lips vaguely moving he fell into a strange revery, a sort of tranced stupor. So intense were his absent thoughts that they impressed the woman and the child; they knew that he was back in the past and waited patiently while for a few kind moments he forgot. At length his eyes shifted and he took up his broken phrase, unconscious, evidently, of the pause. "—her's are back in New England. They never knew.... I had some pride. They're the I-told-you-so sort, anyhow. And they told her, all right. Oh yes, they told her! Narrow-minded, God-fearing prigs!" He stared at Mrs. Ufford curiously. "But they paid their debts, all the same," he added with a harsh laugh, "and that's more than I've been able to do, I suppose you're thinking."
But almost before the dark red had flushed her tired, lined face, he leaned forward and touched her shoulder kindly.
"I didn't mean that," he apologized. "I'm half crazy, I think. You've been as good as gold, and even when I've paid you the money I owe you, I'll owe you more than I can ever pay. I know that. And you're New England, too."
His sudden softening encouraged the woman, and she looked appealingly up at him, while she patted the bundle on her lap.
"Folks have hearts in New England, Mr. Williston," she began, "and if you was to go to her folks or write to 'em, I guess you'd find—oh, couldn't you?"
His impatient hand checked her.
"He might grow up to be a real comfort to you," she murmured persistently, "and you could look out for him well enough, once you get started. Just see how smart you are, Mr. Williston—look at that prize you got; she was awful proud of it."
His face twisted painfully.
"I looked out for her well, didn't I?" he said coldly, "I was a 'good provider,' as they say up there, wasn't I? Do you think—" his voice rang harshly and he struck the table by his side till it rattled on its unsteady legs—"do you think if I couldn't look out for her, I would look out for that? Get it ready."
The woman rose, her lips pressed together, and rolled the blankets tightly about the quiet child. With one gesture she put on a shabby hat and pinned it to her hair.
"I'll leave the bottle with you," she said to Caroline; "it'll help keep him quiet, when I'm gone. Come on."
The man turned away his head as they passed him. At the outer door she paused a moment, and her face softened.
"I know how you feel, Mr. Williston, and I don't judge you," she said gently, "for the Lord knows you've had more than your share of trouble. But won't you kiss it once before—before it's too late? It's your child, you know. Don't you feel—"
"I feel one thing," he cried out, and the bitterness of his voice frightened Caroline; "I feel that it murdered her! Take it away!"
They shrank through the door.
The woman sobbed once or twice on the stairs, but Caroline patted the flannel bundle excitedly.
They had rounded the corner in a moment, and the woman pointed ahead with her free hand.
"Is that the automobile?" she asked.
Caroline nodded. The brougham stood empty and alone where she had left it.
"They're not back yet!" she cried in disgust, "the idea!"
"Maybe they're looking for you," Mrs. Ufford said shortly.
"Aren't you glad we've got it?" Caroline inquired timidly. "I am, awfully. I didn't expect to get such a good one, so soon," she went on more easily, "but I don't like that man much. He's so cross."
"Child, child, you don't know what you're talkin' about!" the woman cried impatiently. "He's not cross—but his heart's just about broke. He thinks more money would've saved her. And I guess he's right about that. She was a soft little thing. But she stuck to him."
They walked a few steps in silence.
"I don't know as I was actin' right, either, to talk as I did," she continued abruptly. "I s'pose it is better as 'tis, 'specially if your folks will take the baby. They'll do a lot more for it than ever he could, prob'ly. I s'pose they're real rich—regular swells? I can see they've got a fine automobile."
"Oh, yes. Cousin Richard's very rich," Caroline answered, indifferently, "that's only the brougham—there are two more. I have more fun at Aunt Edith's, though."
"'Twas queer about all those things your cousin wanted, wasn't it?" the woman said, musingly. "'Seemed like kind of a sign to him, I could see—going to Harvard College and all. I s'pose it was a sign—maybe."
She walked slowly, perhaps because of her burden.
"That's a fine college, I s'pose?" she said, inquiringly.
"It's good enough," Caroline allowed, "of course Yale's the best. We all go to Yale. Uncle Joe says there had to be something for Yale to beat, so they founded Harvard!"
"You don't say," Mrs. Ufford returned, "that's funny."
They were very near the brougham now. It stood as deserted as when Caroline had left it. The baby in the bundled blanket neither cried nor stirred.
"He's the best child," said the woman, with her tired, kindly smile. "He's next to nothing to tend to. If he'd felt to go back to her folks with it, I'd 'a' gone with him to look after it. I've got enough for that—the things sold real well, and he'd never let me lose, anyhow. He isn't that kind. I took a real likin' to both of 'em. I've kept boarders, all over, for fifteen years and I never lost a cent from anybody like him, not one. You get to know all sorts, keepin' boarders, and Mr. Williston's all right—though you mightn't think so," she ended loyally.
Caroline hardly listened. She saw herself in the bearskin reception room, up the stairs, in the library, her baby in her arms; she heard the incredulous joy of the Duchess, she explained importantly with convincing detail, to Cousin Richard the critical. To her eager soul this thin, friendly woman was merely an incident; that irritable, incoherent man less than a dream.
They paused on the curb, and she opened the brougham door hospitably.
"You get in first," she said, "and then I can hold him a little while, can't I?"
"I never was in one o' these," Mrs. Ufford answered doubtfully, "s'pose you go in first. It can't go—or back, or anything, can it?"
"No, no, of course not," said Caroline impatiently. "There's Hunt 'way up the street—he doesn't see us—how he's hurrying!"
The woman paused, her foot on the broad step.
"'Taint Hunt—it's Mr. Williston," she announced. "What's he want, I wonder? Look—he's wavin' at us! I guess he forgot some paper he wants you to take—he's bound to have it legal," she added with a sigh. "No, dear, let me be. I'll see what he wants before I get in."
The young man was running fast; his face was red, his eyes anxious.
"Have you got it? Is it here?" he cried, panting, and as she lifted the bundle high, his face cleared and Caroline saw that he was very handsome.
"Oh, Mrs. Ufford," he gasped, "read this! Just read it! I found it in my pocketbook—I thought you might be gone—she put it there for me—my poor little Lou! My God, what a brute—what a brute!"
The woman, one foot still on the step of the brougham, supported the child on her raised knee and held the paper in her free hand.
"My dearest husband," she read aloud, "if I get well you will never see this, for I will take it out, but I don't believe I will take it out, for I don't believe I will get well. They say everybody thinks they will die, and of course a great many don't, but some do, and I think I will, I don't know why, but I am sure. But you will have the little girl. I am sure she will be a girl, and I hope she will look like me and be a comfort to you. You will take good care of her, I know. Think how nicely you took care of me and how hard you worked. You take her to my sister, and when she gets big enough, then you take her. She will not be a burden for you will earn lots of money when you can stop working in that horrid store on my account, and have time to do your writing. You must not get discouraged, for your writing is fine. Remember that prize you took. They will all be proud of you some day. You have been so good to me. Your loving wife, Lou."
Her voice broke, and with no further word she held the child out to the young man. Without a word he took it and stared eagerly into its face, pushing the wrappings aside.
"He has her eyes," he murmured, "Lou's eyes!"
The baby felt the grip of a stronger arm, wrinkled its features and appeared to scan the dark, trembling face above it.
"He knows me! Mrs. Ufford, he knows me!" cried the man.
"Maybe so, maybe so," she said, soothingly. "You'll keep him, won't you, now?"
"Keep him? Keep him?" he repeated, "why he's all I've got of hers—all! He's Lou's and mine, together! He's—"
"Hush, hush!" she warned him, "here's a crowd already! We're right out in the street, Mr. Williston! Come back with me. Yes, keep him if you want to."
She turned to Caroline, neglected and wide-eyed, in the brougham.
"You see how it is, dear," she said hastily, "he wants it, after all. I can't help bein' glad. It ain't always that money does the most, you know. And he's the baby's father. Don't you mind, will you?"
"I—I guess not," she answered bravely. "But I did want him!"
"I know. You meant all right," the woman assured her. "You're real—there's your coachman runnin'. He saw the crowd gatherin', prob'ly. Good-by, dear."
She slipped through the curious street children after the tall figure that hurried on with his bundle, a block ahead. Gleggson dashed up to the brougham.
"W'ere was you, Miss, for goodness' sake?" he gasped out, "h'I've been h'all over after yer! Don't, don't tell Hunt on me, will you, Miss? He'd fair kill the life out o' me! He's comin' now. 'e 'ad to go, Miss, fer his little boy was took sick last night and callin' for 'im. So 'e made up the errant. But it'll cost us both our place, y' know, Miss!"
The man's voice shook. Hunt was very near them now, walking hard.
"I'd no business to leave, I know—will you h'overlook it for once, Miss, and keep mum?" the man pleaded.
"All right, Gleggson—all right," she said wearily, "I won't tell."
Confused, disappointed, and yet with a curious sense of joy in the joy of the two even now rounding the corner, she leaned back in the brougham.
"I'm afraid he'll go to Harvard, anyway," she sighed.