Laura Richards.

Pippin; A Wandering Flame



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"His family?" repeated the chaplain.

"His family, that I heard him tell you about; the family that wasn't just exactly regular, but yet was as dandy as any Ц I haven't forgot!" cried Mary with a sob. "Where do I come in, I should like to know? Why doesn't he go to his dandy family?"

The chaplain's face, that had been set as steel, broke into lines of exquisite kindness.

"My soul!" he said. "And I've only five minutes. Listen, my dear child! I'm sorry I scolded you!"

Briefly he told her of the family, of Ma and Pa, Little Gal and the baby; how the lonely boy had fashioned them out of his great longing heart, had warmed himself at the shadow fire of their affection.

"Till you came!" cried the chaplain. "Till love came! Then Ц he has just been telling me, poor boy!†Ц his shadows grew cold and dim. He has lost them; he gets nothing in return. Mary!"

"But Ц " Mary pressed her hands to her head, bewildered Ц "the child! I saw the child; he calls him Ц Daddy. I heard him say so; I heard him say, 'He is mine!'"

"My soul!" cried Hadley again. "Where were you when he told us? The child? A waif like himself, a lost baby whom he found on the road being cruelly beaten by a brute of an Italian padrone. Pippin thrashed the brute and took the child. What else would he do, being Pippin? Mary!" he opened the door and spoke over his shoulder. "He is out in the barn now. I told him to wait ten minutes. Good-by! Remember, opportunity comes once!"

But even as he left the room, there was a swift movement behind him; he heard a sob; his hand was caught and a swift, shy kiss dropped on it.

"Ain't got any too much time to spare!" said anxious Jacob, gathering up the reins.

"Thank the Lord! I mean Ц we'll fetch it!" said the chaplain. The first words broke unconsciously from him, for he had seen from the gate a light figure emerge from the house and hasten toward the barn.

"Well," said Bailey, "what d'he say when you put it to him? Saw reason, didn't he? He would! He's real reasonable, Pippin is."

The chaplain hung his head. "I Ц I forgot!" he said. "I'll come over again next week!"

Panting, sobbing, so blinded with tears that she could hardly see her way, Mary fled out of the house, across the wide barnyard. The turkey cock, her terror and abomination, ruffled his feathers, spread his tail, and advanced upon her with swelling gobbles of wrath, but she neither saw nor heard him. There never was such a barnyard; there seemed no end to it, and she kept stumbling, now over the puppy, gamboling to meet her, now over the Muscovy duck that would waddle directly in front of her. At last she reached the barn, but only to pause, for she heard voices. No! one voice, Pippin's, loud and angry, as she had never heard it before!

"I tell you, beat it while your shoes are new! I've got no use for you, and don't you forget it. I know all you're tellin' me, and I tell you I don't care!"

Wondering much, Mary peeped round the corner of the barn, and saw Pippin standing in the middle of the doorway.

No one else was in sight, but his eyes, shining with angry light, were bent forward on something that he saw plain enough. Mary, this is a matter too hard for you. Were the chaplain here, he would know all about it. He might even smile, and murmur to himself, "Dominic!" or "Francis!" as the notion took him; for he knows that the mystic did not pass with the Middle Ages, but is to be found in the twentieth century as in the twelfth. Mary, of temperament wholly non-mystical, could only look and listen in terror as the voice rang out again.

"I know all you've got to say. I know I've lost 'em, Pa and Ma and all. I know I'll never get 'em back. And I know I'll never get my girl; never! never!" His voice broke, but next moment it rang clear again: "And I say to you what I said before, what I'll say while I have a tongue to speak. You, Satan, beat it! you hear me!"

Now, Mary! Oh, now, run forward! Clasp his hand, your own true lover; cry to him:

"You can have your girl! She is yours, yours, yours, every inch of her, now and always!"

Her feet were starting forward; her lips were opening to speak, when she heard something beside her, a breath drawn sharply in with a hissing sound. She turned, and met the eyes of the imbecile girl, gazing at her with strange and deadly looks.

CHAPTER XXIV
PRIMAL FORCES

COMIN' in to supper, Brand? The horn has blew!" Mr. Wisk paused, one foot uplifted for the next step.

To realize what a tribute to the blind man's personality lay in this pause, one must have known Mr. Wisk. As his internal clock pointed the approach of supper time he had been standing, poised for flight, an elderly and ramshackle Mercury on a half-dug potato hill. At sound of the horn he started, head bent forward, nose pointing as straight for the kitchen as ever porker's for the trough. He would not have stopped to put away his spade, because the corner behind the right-hand door jamb of the barn had been long since appropriated by him for this purpose; he could reach it without breaking step or slackening his pace. Probably nothing on earth would have checked him except the very sight that now met his eyes: the blind man standing just inside the door, feeling over various things on a shelf so high that he (a very tall man) could but just reach it. Mr. Wisk hesitated; it was his happy boast never to have been late to a meal since he came to manhood.

"Want Ц want I should help you?" he quavered.

"No, thank you, Wisk! I'll be in presently, tell Mrs. Bailey. I have to look for something just a minute, tell her."

He smiled at the sigh of conscious heroism which drifted back from the departing Wisk; but the smile faded quickly, and his face was anxious enough as his fingers closed round one object and another on the shelf; a bottle, a jar, a row of paper bags neatly tied with twine. To the casual eye these bags were all alike; one must read the label, see the skull and crossbones, to distinguish them; the blind man needed no labels.

"Lime, Paris green, Bordeaux mixture, arsenate of lead Ц one, two, three, four Ц there should be five. Lime, Paris green, Bordeaux mixture Чwhere is the hellebore?"

He paused, his hand resting in an empty space between two bags. The hellebore should be there; it was always there. He had used it himself yesterday. He had counted these objects every night for the past ten years, and never before had one been missing. No one but he could reach the shelf; even Jacob Bailey had to stand on the bucket to get at it, and the rule was strict that none but one of these two was ever to touch any object on it. Brand stood pondering, with bent head, his hand still on the shelf. Who had been in the barn this afternoon? He himself, Jacob, Pippin, and the child. No one else Ц except the little girl; Brand always called Flora May the little girl. She had been there, not half an hour ago; he had heard her step, had spoken to her, but she did not answer. In one of her odd spells, probably, poor child! But she could not reach the shelf, even if Ч

The supper table was less gay than usual that evening; silence prevailed instead of the usual cheerful chatter. A stranger, glancing round the table, would have seen for the most part faces absent or absorbed. Jacob was thinking about Pippin, regretting that the chaplain had failed to have that talk with him, wondering how he should himself make the matter clear to the boy. His wife was disturbed about Flora May who was evidently on the verge of one of her odd spells, for she had acted strangely all day, and she looked wrong to-night. When she crumbled her bread and didn't seem to know the way to her mouth, look out for trouble!

In the minds of Miss Pudgkins and Mr. Wisk the same thought reigned supreme. The pie looked to be smaller than common; would she cut it in six and fetch in another, or would she make it go round? Miss Whetstone was inwardly lamenting that she had not told Mr. Hadley of Jonas Cattermole's having been two years in the legislature. He'd see plain enough then that folks was folks, even if they found it convenient to board a spell with relations that happened to hold a town office. Miss Whetstone raised her nose loftily, and told Mr. Wisk with a grand air that she would trouble him for just a mite of them pickles if he could spare any.

And Mary?

Mary had changed her seat, with a murmured excuse about a draft on her back. She had usually sat between Jacob Bailey and Flora May, sat there with an inward protest. She shrank from contact with the imbecile girl: the instinctive shrinking of the healthy from the sick, the unconscious cruelty of the normal toward the abnormal. Hitherto she had given no sign of this, ashamed of an instinct that was yet too strong for her; conscious, too, under the skin of her mind, of the warmth of compassion, the tenderness of courtesy, with which Pippin always treated the poor girl. If she had been the First Lady of the Land, he could have shown her no more attention, Mary thought.

But to-night there was something more; Mary was afraid. The look she had met, out there by the barn, the dreadful look which seemed to strike like a sword at her springing hope and lay it cold and dead Ц she shuddered now at thought of it; she would not meet it again. If she had turned her eyes toward Flora May, she would have seen the beautiful face sombre but quiet, the eyes cast down, the girl's whole air listless and brooding; only Ц if she had looked longer Ц she might have seen now and then the heavy white lids tremble, lift a little way, and a glance dart from under the long lashes toward Pippin where he sat opposite her.

Mary dared not look at Pippin either, for she felt his eyes upon her. Not yet, not before all these people, could she give him back look for look, tell him silently all that was crying out within her; but soon, soon, Pippin! Meantime she had drawn the child Peppino into the seat next her, and was lavishing on him all the innocent wiles of the child-hungry woman; and the child nestled close to her, and looked up at her with adoring eyes. Pippin would see, would understand. All would be well.

Pippin saw, but did not understand. He had wrestled and overcome, but the stress of conflict was still upon him, the air was still full of the clash of arms, the sound of great wings. His shadow world was gone, swept away into nothingness; and of the actual flesh-and-blood realities he saw nothing except Mary Blossom. There she sat opposite him, in all her loveliness; surely he might look at her now, might for once take his fill of gazing on the lovely head with its clustering hair ("The color of a yearlin' heifer Ц Poor old mutt! What a way to speak of it! Wouldn't that give you a pain?"), on the long dark lashes against the exquisite curve of the rose-white cheek, on the perfect mouth Ч

Pippin's eyes grew misty; the world fell away from him Ц say, rather, it narrowed to a point, and life and death and every other creature were merged in that fair head of the love he thought he had lost.

"Flora May!" Mrs. Bailey spoke abruptly, almost sharply; every one started. "Wake up, Flora, and set up straight; you're all slid down in your chair. Here! Take this cup o' tea to Miss Blossom, dear!"

The brooding face lightened, sharpened, in a strange way; the girl rose with a swift, sudden movement, and went obediently to the end of the table to take the cup. If Mrs. Bailey had looked up then Ц but she was busy over her tea things.

"You put the sugar in, dearie Ц she likes two lumps Ц and cream! Mr. Brand, you ready for another cup?"

Pippin had started with the rest, when Mrs. Bailey spoke. Now his eyes followed Flora May for a moment; she had turned her back to the table, and was Ц what was she doing?

An old-fashioned mirror hung against the wall, dim with age, yet not so dim but that Pippin saw in it the graceful figure of the girl reflected. She paused, the cup in her left hand, drew from her bosom a folded paper, shook into the cup what looked like a white powder, replaced the paper carefully. Now what was that poor thing doing? Putting salt in Mary's tea for a joke like? Lacking reason, they were like monkeys, some way Ч

Then the girl lifted her head, and Pippin saw her eyes. In a flash he was beside her, and had taken the cup from her hand; now he lifted it, smiling, as if to drink.

"I guess that's my cup, ain't it, Miss Flora May? I guess Mis' Bailey made a mistake for once!"

It all happened in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Before the cup touched his lips, the girl struck it out of his hand. It fell with a sharp crash on the floor. She threw up her arms with a cry which rang through the house, and darted out into the night.

"She's got a spell on her!" said Jacob Bailey, rising quickly. "It's been coming on this week past, m' wife says. Come, Pippin; come, Wisk! We'll have to find the poor child and bring her home."

He spoke sadly, but without surprise, as of a thing well known.

"You come too, Brand! Oftentimes she'll answer your voice when she won't another. The barn first!"

"She was there this afternoon," said the blind man, following. "Likely she's gone to put back something she Ц borrowed!"

Not in the barn; not in the corncrib, where she used to sit by the hour, crooning her wordless songs; not in the kennel with old Rover, where they had found her more than once, poor thing, her arms around the dumb creature who perhaps Ц who knows?†Ц was nearer her dumb mind than the human beings around her.

"This way!" said Brand. "Here's a thread of her dress on the gatepost. She's gone to the wood lot."

Not in the wood lot; no answer to the calls of friendly, tender voices.

"Flora! Flora May! Where be you, little gal? Speak up, won't you?"

Further on, through the meadows, guided by the blind man's unerring fingers which found here a broken twig, there a shred of cotton, here again a knot of ribbon caught in a bramble wreath; searching, calling, searching, through weary hours.

So at last to the distant pasture where the lily pond gleamed under the moon.

There they found her, poor Flora May. Lying among the lily pads, her lovely hair twined about the brown stems, her fair face turned upwards, the clear shallow water dimpling and wavering above her, so that she seemed to smile at them in faint, disdainful mockery; so they found her, lying quietly in the place of her rest.

"Don't cry, mother! don't ye! the Lord has took His poor lamb home. Don't take on so, Lucy!"

Thus Jacob, patting his wife's shoulder with clumsy, tender hand. He had never seen her so overcome; the calm, self-contained woman was crying and sobbing like a child.

But now she collected herself with an effort, and dried her eyes.

"I know, Jacob! I know I hadn't ought; I know she's better off; but Ц 'tis so pitiful! Oh, 'tis so pitiful! She couldn't help it, my poor girl; she couldn't help it. 'Twas stronger than her. And, oh, Jacob, I can't but think Ц if her father had been Ц different Ц "

"There, Lucy! There! Such things is beyond us."

"They hadn't ought to be!" cried Lucy Bailey, and her tears broke out afresh. "They hadn't ought to be beyond us. The Lord intended we should live clean and decent, and made us accordin'; and them as don't, it's their children must pay, like the Bible says. But what keeps comin' back and back on my mind is Ц she was so innocent and so pretty! Full as pretty as what Mary is, to my thinkin'. Seein' her lyin' there, so pretty Ц oh, so pretty! I couldn't but think Ц I couldn't but think Ц if she had had a fair chance Ц "

If she had had a fair chance! So Pippin thought, as he stood by the little white bed in the narrow room. He had carried her home in his young strong arms, had laid her here Ц reverently, as he would have laid a royal princess Ц on the bed where she had tossed and moaned her heart out for him; now she had no thought for him, she was all for sleep. He had left her to the women, and gone to join the older men, a sorrowful little group about the kitchen fire; but now, when all the house was still, there could be no harm in his entering the quiet room once more, humbly, with bowed head, to say a word of farewell to the poor sweet pretty creatur'; to say a little prayer, too, and maybe Ц whisperin' like, not to wake a soul Ц to sing a little hymn, seeing she used to set by his singing. He looked round the room, neat and bare, yet a girl's room, with pretty touches here and there: a bird's nest on a mossy twig, a bunch of feathery grasses in a graceful jug, bright Christmas cards framing the little mirror, drooping over them a necklace of wooden beads carved by Brand for his little girl. Beside these things, on a stand by the bedside, some pond lilies in a glass bowl, drooping with folded petals. Pippin shivered, and his eyes turned to the still figure, the white lovely face.

Kneeling humbly by the humble bed, he said his prayer; then raised his head, and softly, softly, a golden thread of sound Ц sure no one could hear!†Ц his voice stole out in the hymn she had loved best:


"There is rest for the weary,
There is rest for the weary,
There is rest for the weary,
There is rest for you!


"On the other side of Jordan,
In the green fields of Eden,
Where the tree of life is blooming,
There is rest for your soul!"

Pippin rose and stood for some moments looking down on the quiet face; then he made his reverence Ц bowing lower than usual, with a gesture of his hands as if taking leave of something high and noble Ц and turned away.

Closing the door softly, he paused, looking into the darkness of the passage with wistful eyes. He was very, very lonely; his heart was sad as death. Could he Ц might he not, once more, call up to comfort him the shadow faces he had loved so well? Now? Just this once! He bent forward, his eyes fixed intently.

"Ma!" he said softly. "You there?"

A moment's pause; then a sob broke from him and he turned to go.

But then Ц oh, then!†Ц came a rustle of something soft, came a flash of something white. Two arms were flung round his neck, pressing him close, close; a radiant head lay on his shoulder.

"Will I do?" cried Mary Blossom. "Oh, Pippin, Pippin! Will I do instead?"

CHAPTER XXV
PIPPIN OVERCOMES

WELL, how about it?" said John Aymer.

A council was being held in the pleasant parlor with the rose-colored shades. John Aymer, Lucy his wife, and Lawrence Hadley, his wife's brother, were sitting together, talking of things with which we have some concern.

"How about it?" repeated the hardware merchant. He planted both elbows on his knees, rested his chin on his hands, and, as he would have said, squared away for action. The others looked up inquiringly. "Pippin is your hunt, Larry, and from your point of view Ц and his Ц he is on the right track, and it's all highcockolorum Erin go Bragh. But Mary is our hunt, Lucy's and mine, and we don't feel so sure about all this."

"I do part of the time, John!" Mrs. Aymer spoke with a certain timidity, unlike her usual gay decisiveness. "When I talk with Larry, or see Pippin Ц even just look at him Ц it seems all as right as right; but then Ц "

"But then you look at Mary, and it doesn't. See here, Lar!" John Aymer laid down his pipe, a token of strong interest with him. "Pippin is what you call a mystic and I call a glorified crank. All he wants in the world Ц beside Mary Ц is a chance to help, as he says; and it's great. I know it is, and I'm proud to know the chap, and all that. But that isn't all Mary wants!"

The chaplain looked up with a grave nod of comprehension.

"Mary Blossom," John Aymer went on, "is a fine girl, and she's an ambitious girl. She has done well herself, got a first-rate education of its kind, made herself a first-rate all-round young woman, capable of doing Ц within limits Ц anything she sets her hand to. Now Ц she's as dead stuck on Pippin as he is on her Ц "

"John! What language! She adores him, if that is what you mean."

"Well, she adores him, then Ц doesn't sound half as real Ц but she doesn't adore the line of life he is laying out for himself and her. I don't believe she takes any more stock in it than Ц than I should. She would like to see her husband a church member in regular standing: a vestryman; doing no end of pious work, you know Ц he has to do that or bust; even I can see that Ц but doing it in a regular respectable kind of way: chairman of Boards Ц what? Frock coat, handsome rooms, subcommittees, secretaries, that kind of thing. She wants to see him a leader, and she believes he can be. This picking up a boy here and a tramp there, singing and praying, hurrah boys and God bless you, doesn't cut much ice with Mary. Poor little soul, she cried an hour on Lucy's shoulder the other night. Lucy cried, too, of course; water works all over the house, almost drowned me out."

"John!"

"Well, sir, that kind of thing Ц the chairman, frock coat, committee-room thing, is what Mary wants for her husband; and who can say but she's right? I don't say she is, mind! I'm not a spiritual kind of man, and I know it; but I do say that Pippin ought to realize how she feels and the kind of life she would choose. Then he can face it, squarely, and make his own decision, knowing what it means to her. You say Ц " he turned to his wife, who was listening intently Ц "he's had no education. Granted Ц in a way! But you can't keep Pippin from education any more than you can keep a dog from water when he's thirsty. (Nip's bowl is empty, by the way, Lucy; might cry into that next time, what?) I don't say it will be book education; much good my books have done me, and as you say, Lucy, my English resembles a tinker's Ц well, thought it, if you didn't say it Ц well Ц what do you say, Reverend?"



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