Chapter XIII - James Fisbee
On Monday morning three men sat in council in the "Herald" office; that is, if staring out of dingy windows in a demented silence may be called sitting in council; that was what Mr. Fisbee and Parker and Ross Schofield were doing. By almost desperate exertions, these three and Bud Tipworthy had managed to place before the public the issues of the paper for the previous week, unaided by their chief, or, rather, aided by long accounts of his condition and the manner of his mishap; and, in truth, three copies were at that moment in the possession of Dr. Gay, accompanied by a note from Parker warning the surgeon to exhibit them to his patient only as a last resort, as the foreman feared the perusal of them might cause a relapse.
By indiscriminate turns, acting as editors, reporters, and typesetters-- and particularly space-writers--the three men had worried out three issues, and part of the fourth (to appear the next morning) was set up; but they had come to the end of their string, and there were various horrid gaps yet to fill in spite of a too generous spreading of advertisements. Bud Tipworthy had been sent out to besiege Miss Tibbs, all of whose recent buds of rhyme had been hot-housed into inky blossom during the week, and after a long absence the youth returned with a somewhat abrupt quatrain, entitled "The Parisians of Old," which she had produced while he waited--only four lines, according to the measure they meted, which was not regardful of art--less than a drop in the bucket, or, to preserve the figure, a single posy where they needed a bouquet. Bud went down the rickety outside stairs, and sat on the lowest step, whistling "Wait till the Clouds Roll by, Jenny"; Ross Schofield descended to set up the quatrain, and Fisbee and Parker were left to silence and troubled meditation.
They were seated on opposite sides of Harkless's desk. Sheets of blank scratch-paper lay before them, and they relaxed not their knit brows. Now and then, one of them, after gazing vacantly about the room for ten or fifteen minutes, would attack the sheet before him with fiercest energy; then the energy would taper off, and the paragraph halt, the writer peruse it dubiously, then angrily tear off the sheet and hurl it to the floor. All around them lay these snowballs of defeated journalism.
Mr. Parker was a long, loose, gaunt gentleman, with a peremptory forehead and a capable jaw, but on the present occasion his capability was baffled and swamped in the attempt to steer the craft of his talent up an unaccustomed channel without a pilot. "I don't see as it's any use, Fisbee," he said, morosely, after a series of efforts that littered the floor in every direction. "I'm a born compositor, and I can't shift my trade. I stood the pace fairly for a week, but I'll have to give up; I'm run plumb dry. I only hope they won't show him our Saturday with your three columns of 'A Word of the Lotus Motive,' reprinted from February. I begin to sympathize with the boss, because I know what he felt when I ballyragged him for copy. Yes, sir, I know how it is to be an editor in a dead town now."
"We must remember, too," said his companion, thoughtfully, "there is the Thursday issue of this week to be prepared, almost at once."
"Don't! Please don't mention that, Fisbee!" Parker tilted far back in his chair with his feet anchored under the desk, preserving a precarious balance. "I ain't as grateful for my promotion to joint Editor-in-Chief as I might be. I'm a middling poor man for the hour, I guess," he remarked, painfully following the peregrinations of a fly on his companion's sleeve.
Mr. Fisbee twisted up another sheet, and employed his eyes in following the course of a crack in the plaster, a slender black aperture which staggered across the dusty ceiling and down the dustier wall to disappear behind a still dustier map of Carlow County. "That's the trouble!" exclaimed Parker, observing the other's preoccupation. "Soon as you get to writing a line or two that seems kind of promising, you begin to take a morbid interest in that blamed crack. It's busted up enough copy for me, the last eight days, to have filled her up twenty times over. I don't know as I ever care to see that crack again. I turned my back on it, but there wasn't any use in that, because if a fly lights on you I watch him like a brother, and if there ain't any fly I've caught a mania for tapping my teeth with a pencil, that is just as good."
To these two gentlemen, thus disengaged, reentered (after a much longer absence than Miss Selina's quatrain justified) Mr. Ross Schofield, a healthy glow of exertion lending pleasant color to his earnest visage, and an almost visible laurel of success crowning his brows. In addition to this imaginary ornament, he was horned with pencils over both ears, and held some scribbled sheets in his hand.
"I done a good deal down there," he announced cheerfully, drawing up a chair to the desk. "I thought up a heap of things I've heard lately, and they'll fill up mighty well. That there poem of Miss Seliny's was a kind of an inspiration to me, and I tried one myself, and it didn't come hard at all. When I got started once, it jest seemed to flow from me. I didn't set none of it up," he added modestly, but with evident consciousness of having unearthed genius in himself and an elate foreknowledge of the treat in store for his companions. "I thought I'd ort to see how you liked it first." He offered the papers to Mr. Parker, but the foreman shook his head.
"You read it, Ross," I said. "I don't believe I feel hearty enough to-day. Read the items first--we can bear the waiting."
"What waiting?" inquired Mr. Schofield.
"For the poem," replied Parker, grimly.
With a vague but not fleeting smile, Ross settled the sheets in order, and exhibited tokens of that pleasant nevousness incident to appearing before a critical audience, armed with literature whose merits should delight them out of the critical attitude. "I run across a great scheme down there," he volunteered amiably, by way of preface; "I described everything in full, in as many words as I could think up; it's mighty filling, and it'll please the public, too; it gives 'em a lot more information than they us'ally git. I reckon there's two sticks of jest them extry words alone."
"Go on," said the foreman, rather ominously.
Ross began to read, a matter necessitating a puckered brow and at times an amount of hesitancy and ruminating, as his results had already cooled a little, and he found his hand difficult to decipher. "Here's the first," he said:
"'The large and handsome, fawn-colored, two years and one-half year old Jersey of Frederick Bibshaw Jones, Esquire----'"
The foreman interrupted him: "Every reader of the 'Herald' will be glad to know that Jersey's age and color! But go on."
"'--Frederick Bibshaw Jones, Esquire,'" pursued his assistant, with some discomfiture, "'--Esquire, our popular and well-dressed fellow-citizen---- '"
"You're right; Bib Jones is a heavy swell," said Parker in a breaking voice.
"'--Citizen, can be daily seen wandering from the far end of his pasturelot to the other far end of it.'"
"'His!'" exclaimed Parker. "'His pasture-lot?' The Jersey's?"
"No," returned the other, meekly, "Bib Jones's."
"Oh," said Parker. "Is that the end of that item? It is! You want to get out of Plattville, my friend; it's too small for you; you go to Rouen and you'll be city editor of the 'Journal' inside of a week. Let's have another."
Mr. Schofield looked up blankly; however, he felt that there was enough live, legitimate news in his other items to redeem the somewhat tame quality of the first, and so, after having crossed out several of the extra words which had met so poor a reception, he proceeded:
"'Whit Upton's pigs broke out last Wednesday and rooted up a fine patch of garden truck. Hard luck, Whit.'
"'Jerusalem Hawkins took a drive yesterday afternoon. He had the bay to his side-bar. Jee's buggy has been recently washed. Congratulations, Jee.'"
"There's thrilling information!" shouted the foreman. "That'll touch the gentle reader to the marrow. The boss had to use some pretty rotten copy himself, but he never got as low as that. But we'll use it; oh, we'll use it! If we don't get her out he'll have a set-back, but if they show her to him it'll kill him. If it doesn't, and he gets well, he'll kill us. But we'll use it, Ross. Don't read any more to us, though; I feel weaker than I did, and I wasn't strong before. Go down and set it all up."
Mr. Schofield rejoined with an injured air, and yet hopefully: "I'd like to see what you think of the poetry--it seemed all right to me, but I reckon you ain't ever the best judge of your own work. Shall I read it?" The foreman only glanced at him in silence, and the young man took this for assent. "I haven't made up any name for it yet."
Glancing at his auditors, he was a trifle abashed to observe a glaze upon the eyes of Mr. Parker, while a purple tide rose above his neck-band and unnaturally distended his throat and temples. With a placative little laugh, Mr. Schofield remarked: "I git the swing to her all right, I reckon, but somehow it doesn't sound so kind of good as when I was writing it." There was no response, and he went on hurriedly:
The poet paused to say, with another amiable laugh: "It's sort of hard to git out of them ill, hill, chill rhymes once you strike 'em. It runs on like this:
"I guess that's all right, to use 'hill' twice; don't you reckon so?
That day Ross read no more, for the tall printer, seemingly incapable of coherent speech, kicked the desk impotently, threw his arms above his head, and, his companions confidently looking to see him foam at the mouth, lost his balance and toppled over backward, his extensive legs waving wildly in the air as he struck the floor. Mr. Schofield fled.
Parker made no effort to rise, but lay glaring at the ceiling, breathing hard. He remained in that position for a long time, until finally the glaze wore away from his eyes and a more rational expression settled over his features. Mr. Fisbee addressed him timidly: "You don't think we could reduce the size of the sheet?"
"It would kill him," answered his prostrate companion. "We've got to fill her solid some way, though I give up; I don't know how. How that man has worked! It was genius. He just floated around the county and soaked in items, and he wrote editorials that people read. One thing's certain: we can't do it. We're ruining his paper for him, and when he gets able to read, it'll hurt him bad. Mighty few knew how much pride he had in it. Has it struck you that now would be a precious good time for it to occur to Rod McCune to come out of his hole? Suppose we go by the board, what's to stop him? What's to stop him, anyway? Who knows where the boss put those copies and affidavits, and if we did know, would we know the best way to use 'em? If we did, what's to keep the 'Herald' alive until McCune lifts his head? And if we don't stop him, the 'Carlow County Herald' is finished. Something's got to be done!'"
No one realized this more poignantly than Mr. Fisbee, but no one was less capable of doing something of his own initiation. And although the Tuesday issue was forthcoming, embarrassingly pale in spots--most spots--Mr. Martin remarked rather publicly that the items were not what you might call stirring, and that the unpatented pages put him in mind of Jones's field in winter with a dozen chunks of coal dropped in the snow. And his observations on the later issues of the week (issues which were put forth with a suggestion of spasm, and possibly to the permanent injury of Mr. Parker's health, he looked so thin) were too cruelly unkind to be repeated here. Indeed, Mr. Fisbee, Parker, the luckless Mr. Schofield, and the young Tipworthy may be not untruthfully likened to a band of devoted mariners lost in the cold and glaring regions of a journalistic Greenland: limitless plains of empty white paper extending about them as far as the eye could reach, while life depended upon their making these terrible voids productive; and they shrank appalled from the task, knowing no means to fertilize the barrens; having no talent to bring the still snows into harvests, and already feeling-in the chill of Mr. Martin's remarks--a touch of the frost that might wither them.
It was Fisbee who caught the first glimpse of a relief expedition clipping the rough seas on its lively way to rescue them, and, although his first glimpse of the jaunty pennant of the relieving vessels was over the shoulder of an iceberg, nothing was surer than that the craft was flying to them with all good and joyous speed. The iceberg just mentioned assumed--by no melting process, one may be sure--the form of a long letter, first postmarked at Rouen, and its latter substance was as follows:
"Henry and I have always believed you as selfish, James Fisbee, as you are self-ingrossed and incapable. She has told us of your 'renunciation'; of your 'forbidding' her to remain with you; how you 'commanded,' after you had 'begged' her, to return to us, and how her conscience told her she should stay and share your life in spite of our long care of her, but that she yielded to your 'wishes' and our entreaty. What have you ever done for her and what have you to offer her? She is our daughter, and needless to say we shall still take care of her, for no one believes you capable of it, even in that miserable place, and, of course, in time she will return to her better wisdom, her home, and her duty. I need scarcely say we have given up the happy months we had planned to spend in Dresden. Henry and I can only stay at home to pray that her preposterous mania will wear itself out in short order, as she will find herself unfitted for the ridiculous task which she insists upon attempting against the earnest wishes of us who have been more than father and mother to her. Of course, she has talked volumes of her affection for us, and of her gratitude, which we do not want--we only want her to stay with us. Please, please try to make her come back to us--we cannot bear it long. If you are a man you will send her to us soon. Her excuse for not returning on the day we wired our intention to go abroad at once (and I may as well tell you now that our intention to go was formed in order to bring affairs to a crisis and to draw her away from your influence--we always dreaded her visit to you and held it off for years)--her excuse was that your best friend, and, as I understand it, your patron, had been injured in some brawl in that Christian country of yours--a charming place to take a girl like her--and she would not leave you in your 'distress' until more was known of the man's injuries. And now she insists--and you will know it from her by the next mail--on returning to Plattville, forsooth, because she has been reading your newspaper, and she says she knows you are in difficulties over it, and it is her moral obligation--as by some wild reasoning of her own she considers herself responsible for your ruffling patron's having been alone when he was shot--to go down and help. I suppose he made love to her, as all the young men she meets always do, sooner or later, but I have no fear of any rustic entanglements tor her; she has never been really interested, save in one affair. We are quite powerless--we have done everything; but we cannot alter her determination to edit your paper for you. Naturally, she knows nothing whatever about such work, but she says, with the air of triumphantly quelching all such argument, that she has talked a great deal to Mr. Macauley of the 'Journal.' Mr. Macauley is the affair I have alluded to; he is what she has meant when she has said, at different times, that she was interested in journalism. But she is very business-like now. She has bought a typewriter and purchased a great number of soft pencils and erasers at an art shop; I am only surprised that she does not intend to edit your miserable paper in water-colors. She is coming at once. For mercy's sake don't telegraph her not to; your forbiddings work the wrong way. Our only hope is that she will find the conditions so utterly discouraging at the very start that she will give it up and come home. If you are a man you will help to make them so. She has promised to stay with that country girl with whom she contracted such an incomprehensible friendship at Miss Jennings's.
"Oh, James, pray for grace to be a man once in your life and send her back to us! Be a man--try to be a man! Remember the angel you killed! Remember all we have done for you and what a return you have made, and be a man for the first time. Try and be a man!
"Your unhappy sister-in-law,
Mr. Fisbee read the letter with a great, rising delight which no sense of duty could down; indeed, he perceived that his sense of duty had ceased to conflict with the one strong hope of his life, just as he perceived that to be a man, according to Martha Sherwood, was, in part, to assist Martha Sherwood to have her way in things; and, for the rest, to be the sort of man she persuaded herself she would be were she not a woman. This he had never been able to be.
By some whimsy of fate, or by a failure of Karma (or, perhaps, by some triumph of Kismetic retribution), James Fisbee was born in one of the most business-like and artless cities of a practical and modern country, of money-getting, money-saving parents, and he was born a dreamer of the past. He grew up a student of basilican lore, of choir-screens, of Persian frescoes, and an ardent lounger in the somewhat musty precincts of Chaldea and Byzantium and Babylon. Early Christian Symbolism, a dispute over the site of a Greek temple, the derivation of the lotus column, the restoration of a Gothic buttress--these were the absorbing questions of his youth, with now and then a lighter moment spent in analytical consideration of the extra-mural decorations of St. Mark's. The world buzzed along after its own fashion, not disturbing him, and his absorptions permitted only a faint consciousness of the despair of his relatives regarding his mind. Arrived at middle-age, and a little more, he found himself alone in the world (though, for that matter, he had always been alone and never of the world), and there was plenty of money for him with various bankers who appeared to know about looking after it. Returning to the town of his nativity after sundry expeditions in Syria-- upon which he had been accompanied by dusky gentlemen with pickaxes and curly, long-barrelled muskets--he met, and was married by, a lady who was ambitious, and who saw in him (probably as a fulfilment of another Kismetic punishment) a power of learning and a destined success. Not long after the birth of their only child, a daughter, he was "called to fill the chair" of archaeology in a newly founded university; one of the kind which a State and a millionaire combine to purchase ready-made. This one was handed down off the shelf in a more or less chaotic condition, and for a period of years betrayed considerable doubt as to its own intentions, undecided whether they were classical or technical; and in the settlement of that doubt lay the secret of the past of the one man in Plattville so unhappy as to possess a past. From that settlement and his own preceding action resulted his downfall, his disgrace with his wife's relatives, the loss of his wife, the rage, surprise, and anguish of her sister, Martha, and Martha's husband, Henry Sherwood, and the separation from his little daughter, which was by far to him the hardest to bear. For Fisbee, in his own way, and without consulting anybody--it never occurred to him, and he was supposed often to forget that he had a wife and child--had informally turned over to the university all the money which the banks had kindly taken care of, and had given it to equip an expedition which never expedited. A new president of the institution was installed; he talked to the trustees; they met, and elected to become modern and practical and technical; they abolished the course in fine arts, which abolished Fisbee's connection with them, and they then employed his money to erect a building for the mechanical engineering department. Fisbee was left with nothing. His wife and her kinsfolk exhibited no brilliancy in holding a totally irresponsible man down to responsibilities, and they made a tragedy of a not surprising fiasco. Mrs. Fisbee had lived in her ambitions, and she died of heartbreak over the discovery of what manner of man she had married. But, before she died, she wisely provided for her daughter.
Fisbee told Parker the story after his own queer fashion.
"You see, Mr. Parker," he said, as they sat together in the dust and litter of the "Herald" office, on Sunday afternoon, "you see, I admit that my sister-in-law has always withheld her approbation from me, and possibly her disapproval is well founded--I shall say probably. My wife had also a considerable sum, and this she turned over to me at the time of our marriage, though I had no wish regarding it one way or the other. When I gave my money to the university with which I had the honor to be connected, I added to it the fund I had received from her, as I was the recipient of a comfortable salary as a lecturer in the institution and had no fear of not living well, and I was greatly interested in providing that the expedition should be perfectly equipped. Expeditions of the magnitude of that which I had planned are expensive, I should, perhaps, inform you, and this one was to carry on investigations regarding several important points, very elaborately; and I am still convinced it would have settled conclusively many vital questions concerning the derivation of the Babylonian column, as: whether the lotus column may be without prejudice said to--but at the present moment I will not enter into that. I fear I had no great experience in money matters, for the transaction had been almost entirely verbal, and there was nothing to bind the trustees to carry out my plans for the expedition. They were very sympathetic, but what could they do? they begged leave to inquire. Such an institution cannot give back money once donated, and it was clearly out of character for a school of technology and engineering to send savants to investigate the lotus column."
"I see," Mr. Parker observed, genially. He listened with the most ingratiating attention, knowing that he had a rich sensation to set before Plattville as a dish before a king, for Fisbee's was no confidential communication. The old man might have told a part of his history long ago, but it had never occurred to him to talk about his affairs--things had a habit of not occurring to Fisbee--and the efforts of the gossips to draw him out always passed over his serene and absent head.
"It was a blow to my wife," the old man continued, sadly, "and I cannot deny that her reproaches were as vehement as her disappointment was sincere." He hurried over this portion of his narrative with a vaguely troubled look, but the intelligent Parker read poor Mrs. Fisbee's state of mind between the sentences. "She never seemed to regard me in the same light again," the archaeologist went on. "She did not conceal from me that she was surprised and that she could not look upon me as a practical man; indeed, I may say, she appeared to regard me with marked antipathy. She sent for her sister, and begged her to take our daughter and keep her from me, as she did not consider me practical enough-I will substitute for her more embittered expressions--to provide for a child and instruct it in the world's ways. My sister-in-law, who was childless, consented to adopt the little one, on the conditions that I renounced all claim, and that the child legally assumed her name and should be in all respects as her own daughter, and that I consented to see her but once a year, in Rouen, at my brother-in-law's home.
"I should have refused, but I--my wife--that is--she was--very pressing-- in her last hours, and they all seemed to feel that I ought to make amends--all except the little girl herself, I should say, for she possessed, even as an infant, an exceptional affection for her father. I had nothing; my salary was gone, and I was discomfited by the combined actions of the trustees and my relatives, so--I--I gave her up to them, and my wife passed away in a more cheerful frame of mind, I think. That is about all. One of the instructors obtained the position here for me, which I--I finally--lost, and I went to See the little girl every New Year's day. This year she declared her intention of visiting me, but she was persuaded by friends who were conversant with the circumstances to stay with them, where I could be with her almost as much as at my apartment at Mr. Tibbs's. She had long since declared her intention of some day returning to live with me, and when she came she was strenuous in insisting that the day had come." The old man's voice broke suddenly as he observed: "She has--a very--beautiful--character, Mr. Parker."
The foreman nodded with warm confirmation. "I believe you, sir. Yes, sir; I saw her, and I guess she looks it. You take that kind of a lady usually, and catch her in a crowd like the one show-day, and she can't help doing the Grand Duchess, giving the tenants a treat--but not her; she didn't seem to separate herself from 'em, some way."
"She is a fine lady," said the other simply. "I did not accept her renunciation, though I acknowledge I forbade it with a very poignant envy. I could not be the cause of her giving up for my sake her state of ease and luxury--for my relatives are more than well-to-do, and they made it plain she must choose between them and me, with the design, I think, of making it more difficult to choose me. And, also, it seemed to me, as it did to her, that she owed them nearly everything, but she declared I had lived alone so long that she owed me everything, also. She is a-- beautiful--character, Mr. Parker."
"Well," said Parker, after a pause, "the town will be upside down over this; and folks will be mighty glad to have it explained about your being out there so much, and at the deepo, and all this and that. Everybody in the place has been wondering what in--that is--" he finished in some confusion--"that is--what I started to say was that it won't be so bad as it might be, having a lady in the office here. I don't cuss to speak of, and Ross can lay off on his till the boss comes back. Besides, it's our only chance. If she can't make the 'Herald' hum, we go to the wall."
The old man did not seem to hear him. "I forbade the renunciation she wished to make for my sake," he said, gently, "but I accept it now for the sake of our stricken friend--for Mr. Harkless."
"And for the Carlow 'Herald,'" completed the foreman.
The morning following that upon which this conversation took place, the two gentlemen stood together on the station platform, awaiting the arrival of the express from Rouen. It was a wet gray day; the wide country lay dripping under formless wraps of thin mist, and a warm, drizzling rain blackened the weather-beaten shingles of the station; made clearreflecting puddles of the unevenly worn planks of the platform, and dampened the packing-cases that never went anywhere too thoroughly for occupation by the station-lounger, and ran in a little crystal stream off Fisbee's brown cotton umbrella and down Mr. Parker's back. The 'bus driver, Mr. Bennett, the proprietor of two attendant "cut-unders," and three or four other worthies whom business, or the lack of it, called to that locality, availed themselves of the shelter of the waiting-room, but the gentlemen of the "Herald" were too agitated to be confined, save by the limits of the horizon. They had reached the station half an hour before train time, and consumed the interval in pacing the platform under the cotton umbrella, addressing each other only in monosyllables. Those in the waiting-room gossiped eagerly, and for the thousandth time, about the late events, and the tremendous news concerning Fisbee. Judd Bennett looked out through the rainy doorway at the latter with reverence and a fine pride of townsmanship, declaring it to be his belief that Fisbee and Parker were waiting for her at the present moment. It was a lady, and a bird of a lady, too, else why should Cale Parker be wearing a coat, and be otherwise dooded and fixed up beyond any wedding? Judd and his friends were somewhat excited over Parker.
Fisbee was clad in his best shabby black, which lent an air of state to the occasion, but Mr. Parker--Caleb Parker, whose heart, during his five years of residence in Plattville, had been steel-proof against all the feminine blandishments of the town, whose long, lank face had shown beneath as long, and lanker, locks of proverbially uncombed hair, he who had for weeks conspicuously affected a single, string-patched suspender, who never, even upon the Sabbath day, wore a collar or blacked his shoes-- what aesthetic leaven had entered his soul that he donned not a coat alone but also a waistcoat with checks?--and, more than that, a gleaming celluloid collar?--and, more than that, a brilliant blue tie? What had this iron youth to do with a rising excitement at train time and brilliant blue ties?
Also, it might have been inquired if this parade of fashion had no connection with the simultaneous action of Mr. Ross Schofield; for Ross was at this hour engaged in decorating the battered chairs in the "Herald" editorial room with blue satin ribbon, the purchase of which at the Dry Goods Emporium had been directed by a sudden inspiration of his superior of the composing force. It was Ross's intention to garnish each chair with an elaborately tied bow, but, as he was no sailor and understood only the intricacies of a hard-knot, he confined himself to that species of ornamentation, leaving, however, very long ends of ribbon hanging down after the manner of the pendants of rosettes.
It scarcely needs the statement that his labors were in honor of the new editor-in-chief of the Carlow "Herald." The advent and the purposes of this personage were, as yet, known certainly to only those of the "Herald" and to the Briscoes. It had been arranged, however, that Minnie and her father were not to come to the station, for the journalistic crisis was immoderately pressing; the "Herald" was to appear on the morrow, and the new editor wished to plunge directly, and without the briefest distraction, into the paper's difficulties, now accumulated into a veritable sea of troubles. The editor was to be delivered to the Briscoes at eventide and returned by them again at dewy morn; and this was to be the daily programme. It had been further--and most earnestly--stipulated that when the wounded proprietor of the ailing journal should be informed of the addition to his forces, he was not to know, or to have the slenderest hint of, the sex or identity of the person in charge during his absence. It was inevitable that Plattville (already gaping to the uttermost) would buzz voluminously over it before night, but Judge Briscoe volunteered to prevent the buzz from reaching Rouen. He undertook to interview whatever citizens should visit Harkless, or write to him--when his illness permitted visits and letters--and forewarn them of the incumbent's desires. To-day, the judge stayed at home with his daughter, who trilled about the house for happiness, and, in their place, the "Herald" deputation of two had repaired to the station to act as a reception committee.
Far away the whistle of the express was heard, muffled to sweetness in the damp, and the drivers, whip in hand, came out upon the platform, and the loafers issued, also, to stand under the eaves and lean their backs against the drier boards, preparing to eye the travellers with languid raillery.
Mr. Parker, very nervous himself, felt the old man's elbow trembling against his own as the great engine, reeking in the mist, and sending great clouds of white vapor up to the sky, rushed by them, and came to a standstill beyond the platform.
Fisbee and the foreman made haste to the nearest vestibule, and were gazing blankly at its barred approaches when they heard a tremulous laugh behind them and an exclamation.
"Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber! Just behind you, dear."
Turning quickly, Parker beheld a blushing and smiling little vision, a vision with light-brown hair, a vision enveloped in a light-brown raincloak and with brown gloves, from which the handles of a big brown travelling bag were let fall, as the vision disappeared under the cotton umbrella, while the smitten Judd Bennett reeled gasping against the station.
"Dearest," the girl cried to the old man, "you were looking for me between the devil and deep sea--the parlor-car and the smoker. I've given up cigars, and I've begun to study economy, so I didn't come on either."
There was but this one passenger for Plattville; two enormous trunks thundered out of the baggage car onto the truck, and it was the work of no more than a minute for Judd to hale them to the top of the omnibus (he well wished to wear them next his heart, but their dimensions forbade the thought), and immediately he cracked his whip and drove off furiously through the mud to deposit his freight at the Briscoes'. Parker, Mr. Fisbee, and the new editor-in-chief set forth, directly after, in one of the waiting cut-unders, the foreman in front with the driver, and holding the big brown bag on his knees in much the same manner he would have held an alien, yet respected, infant.
"'O, the orphan boy stood on the hill,
The wind blew cold and very chill--'"
"'But there he saw the little rill--'"
That curved and spattered around the hill.'
"'And the orphan he stood there until
The wind and all gave him a chill;
And he sickened--'"