Chapter XIV - A Rescue
The drizzle and mist blew in under the top of the cut-under as they drove rapidly into town, and bright little drops sparkled on the fair hair above the new editor's forehead and on the long lashes above the new editor's cheeks.
She shook these transient gems off lightly, as she paused in the doorway of the office at the top of the rickety stairway. Mr. Schofield had just added the last touch to his decorations and managed to slide into his coat as the party came up the stairs, and now, perspiring, proud, embarrassed, he assumed an attitude at once deprecatory of his endeavors and pointedly expectant of commendation for the results. (He was a modest youth and a conscious; after his first sight of her, as she stood in the doorway, it was several days before he could lift his distressed eyes under her glance, or, indeed, dare to avail himself of more than a hasty and fluttering stare at her when her back was turned.) As she entered the room, he sidled along the wall and laughed sheepishly at nothing.
Every chair in the room was ornamented with one of his blue rosettes, tied carefully (and firmly) to the middle slat of each chair-back. There had been several yards of ribbon left over, and there was a hard knot of glossy satin on each of the ink-stands and on the door-knobs; a blue band, passing around the stovepipe, imparted an antique rakishness suggestive of the charioteer; and a number of streamers, suspended from a hook in the ceiling, encouraged a supposition that the employees of the "Herald" contemplated the intricate festivities of May Day. It needed no genius to infer that these garnitures had not embellished the editorial chamber during Mr. Harkless's activity, but, on the contrary, had been put in place that very morning. Mr. Fisbee had not known of the decorations, and, as his glance fell upon them, a faint look of pain passed over his brow; but the girl examined the room with a dancing eye, and there were both tears and laughter in her heart.
"How beautiful!" she cried. "How beautiful!" She crossed the room and gave her hand to Ross. "It is Mr. Schofield, isn't it? The ribbons are delightful. I didn't know Mr. Harkless's room was so pretty."
Ross looked out of the window and laughed as he took her hand (which he shook with a long up and down motion), but he was set at better ease by her apparent unrecognition of the fact that the decorations were for her. "Oh, it ain't much, I reckon," he replied, and continued to look out of the window and laugh.
She went to the desk and removed her gloves and laid her rain-coat over a chair near by. "Is this Mr. Harkless's chair?" she asked, and, Fisbee answering that it was, she looked gravely at it for a moment, passed her hand gently over the back of it, and then, throwing the rain-cloak over another chair, said cheerily:
"Do you know, I think the first thing for us to do will be to dust everything very carefully."
"You remember I was confident she would know precisely where to begin?" was Fisbee's earnest whisper in the willing ear of the long foreman. "Not an instant's indecision, was there?"
"No, siree!" replied the other; and, as he went down to the press-room to hunt for a feather-duster which he thought might be found there, he collared Bud Tipworthy, who, not admitted to the conclave of his superiors, was whistling on the rainy stairway. "You hustle and find that dust brush we used to have. Bud," said Parker. And presently, as they rummaged in the nooks and crannies about the machinery, he melted to his small assistant. "The paper is saved, Buddie--saved by an angel in light brown. You can tell it by the look of her."
"Gee!" said Bud.
Mr. Schofield had come, blushing, to join them. "Say, Cale, did you notice the color of her eyes?"
"Yes; they're gray."
"I thought so, too, show day, and at Kedge Halloway's lecture; but, say, Cale, they're kind of changeable. When she come in upstairs with you and Fisbee, they were jest as blue!--near matched the color of our ribbons."
"Gee!" repeated Mr. Tipworthy.
When the editorial chamber had been made so Beat that it almost glowed-- though it could never be expected to shine as did Fisbee and Caleb Parker and Ross Schofield that morning--the editor took her seat at the desk and looked over the few items the gentlemen had already compiled for her perusal. Mr. Parker explained many technicalities peculiar to the Carlow "Herald," translated some phrases of the printing-room, and enabled her to grasp the amount of matter needed to fill the morrow's issue.
When Parker finished, the three incompetents sat watching the little figure with the expression of hopeful and trusting terriers. She knit her brow for a second--but she did not betray an instant's indecision.
"I think we should have regular market reports," she announced, thoughtfully. "I am sure Mr. Harkless would approve. Don't you think he would?" She turned to Parker.
"Market reports!" Mr. Fisbee exclaimed. "I should never have thought of market reports, nor, do I imagine, would either of my--my associates. A woman to conceive the idea of market reports!"
The editor blushed. "Why, who would, dear, if not a woman, or a speculator, and I'm not a speculator; and neither are you, and that's the reason you didn't think of them. So, Mr. Parker, as there is so much pressure, and if you don't mind continuing to act as reporter as well as compositor until after to-morrow, and if it isn't too wet--you must take an umbrella--would it be too much bother if you went around to all the shops--stores, I mean--to all the grocers', and the butchers', and that leather place we passed, the tannery?--and if there's one of those places where they bring cows, would it be too much to ask you to stop there?--and at the flour-mill, if it isn't too far?--and at the dry-goods store? And you must take a blank-book and sharpened pencil, And will you price everything, please, and jot down how much things are?"
Orders received, the impetuous Parker was departing on the instant, when she stopped him with a little cry: "But you haven't any umbrella!" And she forced her own, a slender wand, upon him; it bore a cunningly wrought handle and its fabric was of glistening silk. The foreman, unable to decline it, thanked her awkwardly, and, as she turned to speak to Fisbee, bolted out of the door and ran down the steps without unfolding the umbrella; and as he made for Mr. Martin's emporium, he buttoned it securely under his long "Prince Albert," determined that not a drop of water should touch and ruin so delicate a thing. Thus he carried it, triumphantly dry, through the course of his reportings of that day.
When he had gone the editor laid her hand on Fisbee's arm. "Dear," she said, "do you think you would take cold if you went over to the hotel and made a note of all the arrivals for the last week--and the departures, too? I noticed that Mr. Harkless always filled two or three--sticks, isn't it?--with them and things about them, and somehow it 'read' very nicely. You must ask the landlord all about them; and, if there aren't any, we can take up the same amount of space lamenting the dull times, just as he used to. You see I've read the 'Herald' faithfully; isn't it a good thing I always subscribed for it?" She patted Fisbee's cheek, and laughed gaily into his mild, vague old eyes.
"It won't be this scramble to 'fill up' much longer. I have plans, gentlemen," she cried, "and before long we will print news. And we must buy 'plate matter' instead of 'patent insides'; and I had a talk with the Associated Press people in Rouen--but that's for afterwhile. And I went to the hospital this morning before I left. They wouldn't let me see him again, but they told me all about him, and he's better; and I got Tom to go to the jail--he was so mystified, he doesn't know what I wanted it for --and he saw some of those beasts, and I can do a column of description besides an editorial about them, and I will be fierce enough to suit Carlow, you may believe that. And I've been talking to Senator Burns--that is, listening to Senator Burns, which is much stupider--and I think I can do an article on national politics. I'm not very well up on local issues yet, but I--" She broke off suddenly. "There! I think we can get out to-morrow's number without any trouble. By the time you get back from the hotel, father, I'll have half my stuff written--'written up,' I mean. Take your big umbrella and go, dear, and please ask at the express office if my typewriter has come."
She laughed again with sheer delight, like a child, and ran to the corner and got the cotton umbrella and placed it in the old man's hand. As he reached the door, she called after him: "Wait!" and went to him and knelt before him, and, with the humblest, proudest grace in the world, turned up his trousers to keep them from the mud. Ross Schofield had never considered Mr. Fisbee a particularly sacred sort of person, but he did from that moment. The old man made some timid protest, at his daughter's action, But she answered; "The great ladies used to buckle the Chevalier Bayard's spurs for him, and you're a great deal nicer than the Chev---- You haven't any rubbers! I don't believe any of you have any rubbers!" And not until both Fisbee and Mr. Schofield had promised to purchase overshoes at once, and in the meantime not to step in any puddles, would she let her father depart upon his errand. He crossed the Square with the strangest, jauntiest step ever seen in Plattville. Solomon Tibbs had a warm argument with Miss Selina as to his identity. Miss Selina maintaining that the figure under the big umbrella--only the legs and coat-tails were visible to them--was that of a stranger, probably an Englishman.
In the "Herald" office the editor turned, smiling, to the paper's remaining vassal. "Mr. Schofield, I heard some talk in Rouen of an oil company that had been formed to prospect for kerosene in Carlow County. Do you know anything about it?"
Ross, surfeited with honor, terror, and possessed by a sweet distress at finding himself tete-a-tete with the lady, looked at the wall and replied:
"Oh, it's that Eph Watts's foolishness."
"Do you know if they have begun to dig for it yet?"
"Ma'am?" said Ross.
"Have they begun the diggings yet?"
"No, ma'am; I think not. They've got a contrapshun fixed up about three mile south. I don't reckon they've begun yet, hardly; they're gittin' the machinery in place. I heard Eph say they'd begin to bore--dig, I mean, ma'am, I meant to say dig----" He stopped, utterly confused and unhappy; and she understood his manly purpose, and knew him for a gentleman whom she liked.
"You mustn't be too much surprised," she said; "but in spite of my ignorance about such things, I mean to devote a good deal of space to the oil company; it may come to be of great importance to Carlow. We won't go into it in to-morrow's paper, beyond an item or so; but do you think you could possibly find Mr. Watts and ask him for some information as to their progress, and if it would be too much trouble for him to call here some time to-morrow afternoon, or the day after? I want him to give me an interview if he will. Tell him, please, he will very greatly oblige us."
"Oh, he'll come all right," answered her companion, quickly. "I'll take Tibbs's buggy and go down there right off. Eph won't lose no time gittin' here!" And with this encouraging assurance he was flying forth, when he, like the others, was detained by her solicitous care. She was a born mother. He protested that in the buggy he would be perfectly sheltered; besides, there wasn't another umbrella about the place; he liked to get wet, anyway; had always loved rain. The end of it was that he went away in a sort of tremor, wearing her rain-cloak over his shoulders, which garment, as it covered its owner completely when she wore it, hung almost to his knees. He darted around a corner; and there, breathing deeply, tenderly removed it; then, borrowing paper and cord at a neighboring store, wrapped it neatly, and stole back to the printing-office on the ground floor of the "Herald" building, and left the package in charge of Bud Tipworthy, mysteriously charging him to care for it as for his own life, and not to open it, but if the lady so much as set one foot out of doors before his return, to hand it to her with the message: "He borrowed another off J. Hankins."
Left alone, the lady went to the desk and stood for a time looking gravely at Harkless's chair. She touched it gently, as she had touched it once before that morning, and then she spoke to it as if he were sitting there, and as she would not have spoken, had he been sitting there.
"You didn't want gratitude, did you?" she whispered, with sad lips.
Soon she smiled at the blue ribbons, patted the chair gaily on the back, and, seizing upon pencil and pad, dashed into her work with rare energy. She bent low over the desk, her pencil moving rapidly, and, except for a momentary interruption from Mr. Tipworthy, she seemed not to pause for breath; certainly her pencil did not. She had covered many sheets when her father returned; and, as he came in softly, not to disturb her, she was so deeply engrossed she did not hear him; nor did she look up when Parker entered, but pursued the formulation of her fast-flying ideas with the same single purpose and abandon; so the two men sat and waited while their chieftainess wrote absorbedly. At last she glanced up and made a little startled exclamation at seeing them there, and then gave them cheery greeting. Each placed several scribbled sheets before her, and she, having first assured herself that Fisbee had bought his overshoes, and having expressed a fear that Mr. Parker had found her umbrella too small, as he looked damp (and indeed he was damp), cried praises on their notes and offered the reporters great applause.
"It is all so splendid!" she cried. "How could you do it so quickly? And in the rain, too! This is exactly what we need. I've done most of the things I mentioned, I think, and made a draught of some plans for hereafter. And about that man's coming out for Congress, I must tell you it is my greatest hope that he will. We can let it go until he does, and then----But doesn't it seem to you that it would be a good notion for the 'Herald' to have a woman's page--'For Feminine Readers,' or, 'Of Interest to Women'--once a week?"
"A woman's page!" exclaimed Fisbee. "I could never have thought of that, could you, Mr. Parker?"
"And now," she continued, "I think that when I've gone over what I've written and beat it into better shape I shall be ready for something to eat. Isn't it almost time for luncheon?"
This simple, and surely natural, inquiry had a singular, devastating effect upon her hearers. They looked upon each other with fallen jaws and complete stupefaction. The old man began to grow pale, and Parker glared about him with a wild eye. Fortunately, the editor was too busy at her work to notice their agitation; she applied herself to making alterations here and there, sometimes frowningly crossing out whole lines and even paragraphs, sometimes smiling and beaming at the writing; and, as she bent earnestly over the paper, against the darkness of the rainy day, the glamour about her fair hair was like a light in the room. To the minds of her two companions, this lustre was a gentle but unbearable accusation; and each dreaded the moment when her Work should be finished, with a great dread. There was a small "store-room" adjoining the office, and presently Mr. Parker, sweating at the brow, walked in there. The old man gave him a look of despairing reproach, but in a moment the foreman's voice was heard: "Oh, Mr. Fisbee, can you step here a second?"
"Yes, indeed!" was Fisbee's reply; and he fled guiltily into the "storeroom," and Parker closed the door. They stood knee-deep in the clutter and lumber, facing each other abjectly.
"Well, we're both done, anyway, Mr. Fisbee," remarked the foreman.
"Indubitably, Mr. Parker," the old man answered; "it is too true."
"Never to think a blame thing about dinner for her!" Parker continued, remorsefully. "And her a lady that can turn off copy like a rotary snowplough in a Dakota blizzard! Did you see the sheets she's piled up on that desk?"
"There is no cafe--nothing--in Plattville, that could prepare food worthy of her," groaned Fisbee. "Nothing!"
"And we never thought of it. Never made a single arrangement. Never struck us she didn't live on keeping us dry and being good, I guess."
"How can I go there and tell her that?"
"She cannot go to the hotel----"
"Well, I guess not! It ain't fit for her. Lum's table is hard enough on a strong man. Landis doesn't know a good cake from a Fiji missionary pudding. I don't expect pie is much her style, and, besides, the Palace Hotel pies--well!--the boss was a mighty uncomplaining man, but I used to notice his articles on field drainage got kind of sour and low-spirited when they'd been having more than the regular allowance of pie for dinner. She can't go there anyway; it's no use; it's after two o'clock, and the dining-room shuts off at one. I wonder what kind of cake she likes best."
"I don't know," said the perplexed Fisbee. "If we ask her--"
"If we could sort of get it out of her diplomatically, we could telegraph to Rouen for a good one."
"Ha!" said the other, brightening up. "You try it, Mr. Parker. I fear I have not much skill in diplomacy, but if you----"
The compositor's mouth drooped at the corners, and he interrupted gloomily: "But it wouldn't get here till to-morrow."
"True; it would not."
They fell into a despondent reverie, with their chins in their bosoms. There came a cheerful voice from the next room, but to them it brought no cheer; in their ears it sounded weak from the need of food and faint with piteous reproach.
"Father, aren't you coming to have luncheon with me?"
"Mr. Parker, what are we to do?" whispered the old man, hoarsely.
"Is it too far to take her to Briscoes'?"
"In the rain?"
"Take her with you to Tibbs's."
"Their noon meal is long since over; and their larder is not--is not-- extensive."
"Father!" called the girl. She was stirring; they could hear her moving about the room.
"You've got to go in and tell her," said the foreman, desperately, and together they stumbled into the room. A small table at one end of it was laid with a snowy cloth and there was a fragrance of tea, and, amidst various dainties, one caught a glimpse of cold chicken and lettuce leaves. Fisbee stopped, dumfounded, but the foreman, after stammeringly declining an invitation to partake, alleging that his own meal awaited, sped down to the printing-room, and seized upon Bud Tipworthy with a heavy hand.
"Where did all that come from, up there?"
"Leave go me! What 'all that'?"
"All that tea and chicken and salad and wafers--all kinds of things; sardines, for all I know!"
"They come in Briscoes' buckboard while you was gone. Briscoes sent 'em in a basket; I took 'em up and she set the basket under the table. You'd seen it if you'd 'a' looked. Quit that!" And it was unjust to cuff the perfectly innocent and mystified Bud, and worse not to tell him what the punishment was for.
Before the day was over, system had been introduced, and the "Herald" was running on it: and all that warm, rainy afternoon, the editor and Fisbee worked in the editorial rooms, Parker and Bud and Mr. Schofield (after his return with the items and a courteous message from Ephraim Watts) bent over the forms downstairs, and Uncle Xenophon was cleaning the store-room and scrubbing the floor.
An extraordinary number of errands took the various members of the printing force up to see the editor-in-chief, literally to see the editorin-chief; it was hard to believe that the presence had not flown--hard to keep believing, without the repeated testimony of sight, that the dingy room upstairs was actually the setting for their jewel; and a jewel they swore she was. The printers came down chuckling and gurgling after each interview; it was partly the thought that she belonged to the "Herald," their paper. Once Ross, as he cut down one of the temporarily distended advertisements, looked up and caught the foreman giggling to himself.
"What in the name of common-sense you laughin' at, Cale?" he asked.
"What are you laughing at?" rejoined the other.
The day wore on, wet and dreary outside, but all within the "Herald's" bosom was snug and busy and murmurous with the healthy thrum of life and prosperity renewed. Toward six o'clock, system accomplished, the new guiding-spirit was deliberating on a policy as Harkless would conceive a policy, were he there, when Minnie Briscoe ran joyously up the stairs, plunged into the room, waterproofed and radiant, and caught her friend in her eager arms, and put an end to policy for that day.
But policy and labor did not end at twilight every day; there were evenings, as in the time of Harkless, when lamps shone from the upper windows of the "Herald" building. For the little editor worked hard, and sometimes she worked late; she always worked early. She made some mistakes at first, and one or two blunders which she took more seriously than any one else did. But she found a remedy for all such results of her inexperience, and she developed experience. She set at her task with the energy of her youthfulness and no limit to her ambition, and she felt that Harkless had prepared the way for a wide expansion of the paper's interests; wider than he knew. She had a belief that there were possibilities for a country newspaper, and she brought a fresh point of view to operate in a situation where Harkless had fallen, perhaps, too much in the rut; and she watched every chance with a keen eye and looked ahead of her with clear foresight. What she waited and yearned for and dreaded, was the time when a copy of the new "Herald" should be placed in the trembling hands of the man who lay in the Rouen hospital. Then, she felt, if he, unaware of her identity, should place everything in her hands unreservedly, that would be a tribute to her work--and how hard she would labor to deserve it! After a time, she began to realize that, as his representative and the editor of the "Herald," she had become a factor in district politics. It took her breath--but with a gasp of delight, for there was something she wanted to do.
Above all, she brought a light heart to her work. One evening in the latter part of that first week of the new regime, Parker perceived Bud Tipworthy standing in the doorway of the printing-room, beckoning him silently to come without.
"What's the matter, Buddie?"
"Listen. She's singin' over her work."
Parker stepped outside. On the pavement, people had stopped to listen; they stood in the shadow, looking up with parted lips at the open, lighted Windows, whence came a clear, soft, reaching voice, lifted in song; now it swelled louder, unconsciously; now its volume was more slender and it melted liquidly into the night; again, it trembled and rose and dwelt in the ear, strong and pure; and, hearing it, you sighed with unknown longings. It was the "Angels' Serenade."
Bud Tipworthy's sister, Cynthia, was with him, and Parker saw that she turned from the window and that she was crying, quietly; she put her hand on the boy's shoulder and patted it with a forlorn gesture which, to the foreman's eye, was as graceful as it was sad. He moved closer to Bud and his big hand fell on Cynthia's brother's other shoulder, as he realized that red hair could look pretty sometimes; and he wondered why the editor's singing made Cynthy cry; and at the same time he decided to be mighty good to Bud henceforth. The spell of night and song was on him; that and something more; for it is a strange, inexplicable fact that the most practical chief ever known to the "Herald" had a singularly sentimental influence over her subordinates, from the moment of her arrival. Under Harkless's domination there had been no more steadfast bachelors in Carlow than Ross Schofield and Caleb Parker, and, like timorous youths in a graveyard, daring and mocking the ghosts in order to assuage their own fears, they had so jibed and jeered at the married state that there was talk of urging the minister to preach at them; but now let it be recorded that at the moment Caleb laid his hand on Bud's other shoulder, his associate, Mr. Schofield, was enjoying a walk in the far end of town with a widow, and it is not to be doubted that Mr. Tipworthy's heart, also, was no longer in his possession, though, as it was after eight o'clock, the damsel of his desire had probably long since retired to her couch.
For some faint light on the cause of these spells, we must turn to a comment made by the invaluable Mr. Martin some time afterward. Referring to the lady to whose voice he was now listening in silence (which shows how great the enthralling of her voice was), he said: "When you saw her, or heard her, or managed to be around, any, where she was, why, if you couldn't git up no hope of marryin' her, you wanted to marry somebody."
Mr. Lige Willetts, riding idly by, drew rein in front of the lighted windows, and listened with the others. Presently he leaned from his horse and whispered to a man near him:
"I know that song."
"Do you?" whispered the other.
"Yes; he and I heard her sing it, the night he was shot."
"Yes, sir. It's by Beethoven."
"It's a seraphic song," continued Lige.
"No!" exclaimed his friend; then, shaking his head, he sighed: "Well, it's mighty sweet."
The song was suddenly woven into laughter in the unseen chamber, and the lights in the windows went out, and a small lady and a tall lady and a thin old man, all three laughing and talking happily, came down and drove off in the Briscoe buckboard. The little crowd dispersed quietly; Lige Willetts plucked to his horse and cantered away to overtake the buckboard; William Todd took his courage between his teeth, and, the song ringing in his ears, made a desperate resolve to call upon Miss Bardlock that evening, in spite of its being a week day, and Caleb Parker gently and stammeringly asked Cynthia if she would wait till he shut up the shop, and let him walk home with her and Bud.
Soon the Square was quiet as before, and there was naught but peace under the big stars of July.
That day the news had come that Harkless, after weeks of alternate improvement and relapse, hazardously lingering in the borderland of shadows, had passed the crucial point and was convalescent. His recovery was assured. But from their first word of him, from the message that he was found and was alive, none of the people of Carlow had really doubted it. They are simple country people, and they know that God is good.