by Laura E. Richards
A PAPER-MILL STORY
“I wouldn’t, Lena!”
“Well, I guess I shall!”
“Don’t, Lena! please don’t! you will be sorry, I am sure, if you do it. It cannot bring good, I know it cannot!”
“The idea! Mary Denison, you are too old-fashioned for anything. I’d like to know what harm it can do.”
The rag-room was nearly deserted. The whistle had blown, and most of the girls had hurried away to their dinner. Two only lingered behind, deep in conversation; Mary Denison and Lena Laxen.
Mary was sitting by her sorting-table, busily sorting rags as she talked. She was a fair, slender girl, and looked wonderfully fresh and trim in her gray print gown, with a cap of the same material fitting close to her head, and hiding her pretty hair. The other girl was dark and vivacious, with laughing black eyes and a careless mouth. She was picturesque enough in her blue dress, with the scarlet handkerchief tied loosely over her hair; but both kerchief and dress showed the dust plainly, and the dark locks that escaped here and there were dusty too, showing little of the care that may keep one neat even in a rag-room.
“It’s just as pretty as it can be!” Lena went on, half-coaxing, half-defiant. “You ought to see it, Mame! A silk waist, every bit as good as new, only of course it’s mussed up, lying in the bag; and a skirt, and lots of other things, all as nice as nice! I can’t think what the folks that had them meant, putting such things into the rags: why, that waist hadn’t much more than come out of the shop, you might say. And do you think I’m going to let it go through the duster, and then be thrown out, and somebody else get it? No, sir! and it’s no good for rags, you know it isn’t, Mary Denison.”
“I know that it is not yours, Lena, nor mine!” said Mary, steadily. “But I’ll tell you what you might do; go straight to Mr. Gordon, and tell him about the pretty waist,–very likely it got in by mistake, –tell him it is no good for rags, and ask if you may have it. Like as not he’ll let you have it; and if not, you will find out what his reason is. I think we ought to suppose he has some reason for what he does.”
Lena laughed spitefully.
“Like as not he’s going to take it home to his own girl!” she said. “I saw her in the street the other day, and I wouldn’t have been seen dead with the hat she had on; not a flower, nor even a scrap of a feather; just a plain band and a goose-quill stuck in it. Real poorhouse, I thought it looked, and he as rich as a Jew. I guess I sha’n’t go to Mr. Gordon; he’s just as hateful as he can be. He gave out word that no one was to touch that bag, nor so much as go near it; and he had it set off in a corner of the outer shed, close by the chloride barrels, so that everything in it will smell like poison. If that isn’t mean, I don’t know what is.
“Well, I can’t stay here all day, Mame. Aren’t you coming?”
“Pretty soon!” said Mary. “Don’t wait for me, Lena! I want to finish this stint, so as to have the afternoon off. Mother’s poorly to-day, and I want to cook something nice for her supper.”
Lena nodded and went out, shutting the door with a defiant swing. Mary looked after her doubtfully, as if hesitating whether she ought not to follow and make some stronger plea; but the next moment she bent over her work again.
“I must hurry!” she said. “I’ll see Lena after dinner, and try to make her promise not to touch that bag. I don’t see what has got into her.”
Mary worked away steadily. The rags were piled in an iron sieve before her; they were mostly the kind called “Blue Egyptians,” cotton cloth dyed with indigo, which had come far across the sea from Egypt. Musty and fusty enough they were, and Mary often turned her head aside as she sorted them carefully, putting the good rags into a huge basket that stood beside her on the floor, while the bits of woollen cloth, of paper and string and other refuse, went into different compartments of the sorting-table, which was something like an old-fashioned box-desk.
Mary was a quick worker, and her basket was already nearly full of rags. Fastened upright beside her seat was a great knife, not unlike a scythe-blade, with which she cut off the buttons and hooks and eyes, running the garment along the keen edge with a quick and practised hand. Usually she amused herself by imagining stories about the buttons and their former owners, for she was a fanciful girl, and her child-life, without brothers or sisters, had bred in her the habit of solitary play and “make-believe,” which clung to her now that she was a tall girl of sixteen. But to-day she was not thinking of the Blue Egyptians. Her thoughts were following Lena on her homeward way, and she was hoping devoutly that her own words might have had some effect, and that Lena might pass by the forbidden bag without lingering to be further tempted. It was strange that this one special bundle of rags, coming from a village at some distance, should have been kept apart when the day’s allowance was put into the dusters. But–“Mother always says we ought to suppose there is a reason for things!” she said to herself. And she shook her head resolutely, and tried to make a “button-play.”
She pulled from the heap before her a dark blue garment, and turned it over, examining it carefully. It seemed to be a woman’s jacket. It was of finer material than most of the “Egyptians,” and the fashion was quaint and graceful. There were remnants of embroidery here and there, and the heavy glass buttons were like nothing Mary had ever seen before.
“I’ll keep these,” she said, “for little Jessie Brown; she will be delighted with them. That child does make so much out of so little, I’m fairly ashamed sometimes. These will be a fortune to Jessie. I’ll tell her that I think most likely they belonged to a princess when they were new; they were up and down the front of a dress of gold cloth trimmed with pearls, and she looked perfectly beautiful when she had it on, and the Prince of the Fortunate Islands fell in love with her.”
Buttons were a regular perquisite of the rag-girls in the Cumquot Mill; indeed, any trifle, coin, or seal, or medal, was considered the property of the finder, this being an unwritten law of the rag-room.
Mary cut the buttons off, and slipped them into her pocket; then she ran her fingers round the edge of the jacket, in case there were any hooks or other hard substance that had escaped her notice, and that might blunt the knives of the cutter, into which it would next go.
In a corner of the lining, her fingers met something hard. Here was some object that had slipped down between the stuff and the lining, and must be cut out. Mary ran the jacket along the cutting-knife, and something rolled into her lap. Not a button this time! she held it up to the light, and examined it curiously. It was a brooch, of glass, or clear stones, in a tarnished silver setting. Dim and dusty, it still seemed full of light, and glanced in the sun as Mary held it up.
“What a pretty thing!” she said. “I wonder if it is glass. I must take this to Mr. Gordon, for I never found anything like it before. Jessie cannot have this.”
She laid it carefully aside, and went on with her sorting, working so quickly that in a few moments the sieve was empty, and the basket piled with good cotton rags, ready for the cutting-machine.
Taking her hat and shawl, Mary passed out, holding the brooch carefully in her hand. There were few people in the mill, only the machine-tenders, walking leisurely up and down beside their machines, which whirred and droned on, regardless of dinnertime. The great rollers went round and round, the broad white streams flowed on and on over the screens, till the mysterious moment came when they ceased to be wet pulp and became paper.
Mary hardly glanced at the wonderful machines; they were an old story to her, though in every throb they were telling over and over the marvellous works of man. The machine-tenders nodded kindly in return to her modest greeting, and looked after her with approval, and said, “Nice gal!” to each other; but Mary hurried on until she came to the finishing-room. Here she hoped to find a friend whom she could consult about her discovery; and, sure enough, old James Gregory was sitting on his accustomed stool, tying bundles of paper with the perfection that no one else could equal. His back was turned to the door, and he was crooning a fragment of an old paper-mill song, which might have been composed by the beating engine itself, so rhythmic and monotonous it was.
“‘Gene, ‘Gene, Made a machine; Joe, Joe, Made it go; Frank, Frank, Turned the crank, His mother came out, And gave him a spank, And knocked him over The garden bank.”
At Mary’s cheerful “Good morning, Mr. Gregory!” the old man turned slowly, and looked at the young girl with friendly eyes.
“Good day, Mary! glad to see ye! goin’ along home?”
“In just a minute! I want to show you something, Mr. Gregory, and to ask your advice, please.”
The old finisher turned completely round this time, and looked his interest. Mary opened her hand, and displayed the brooch she had found.
James Gregory drew his lips into the form of a whistle, but made no sound. He looked from the brooch to Mary, and back again.
“Well?” he said.
“I found it in the rags; blue Egyptians, you know, Mr. Gregory. It was inside the lining of a jacket. Do you think–what do you think about it? is it glass, or–something else?”
Gregory took the ornament from her, and held it up to the light, screwing his eyes to little points of light; then he polished it on his sleeve, and held it up again.
“Something else!” he said, briefly.
“Is it–do you think it might be worth something, Mr. Gregory?” asked Mary, rather timidly.
“Yes!” roared Gregory, with a sudden explosion. “I do! I b’lieve them’s di’monds, sure as here I sit. Mary Denison, you’ve struck it this time, or I’m a Dutchman.”
He got off his stool in great excitement, and walked up and down the room, still holding the brooch in his hand. Mary looked after him, and her face was very pale. She said one word softly, “Mother!” that was all.
Mary Denison and her mother were poor. Mrs. Denison was far from strong, and they had no easy time of it, for there was little save Mary’s wages to feed and clothe the two women and pay their rent. James Gregory knew all this; his pale old face was lighted with emotion, and he stumped up and down the room at a rapid pace.
Suddenly he stopped, and faced the anxious girl, who was following him with bewildered eyes.
“Findin’s havin’!” he said, abruptly. “That’s paper-mill law. Some folks would tell ye to keep this to yourself, and sell it for what you could get.”
Mary’s face flushed.
“But you do not tell me that!” she said, quietly.
“No!” roared the old man, with another explosion, stamping violently on the floor. “No, I don’t. You’re poor as spring snakes, and your mother’s sickly, and you’ve hard work to get enough to keep the flesh on your bones; but I don’t tell ye to do that. I tell ye to take it straight to the Old Man, and tell him where ye found it, and all about it. I’ve knowed him ever since his mustash growed, and before. You go straight to him! He’s in the office now.”
“I was going!” said Mary, simply. “I thought I’d come and see you first, Mr. Gregory, you’ve always been so good to mother and me. You–you couldn’t manage to come with me, could you? I am afraid of Mr. Gordon; I can’t help it, though he is always pleasant to me.”
“I’ll go!” said old James, with alacrity. “You come right along with me!”
In his eagerness he seized Mary by the arm, and kept his hold on her as they passed out through the mill. The few “hands” who were at work here and there gazed after them in amazement; for the old man was dragging the girl along as if he had caught her in some offence, and was going to deliver her up to justice.
The same impression was made in the office, when the pair appeared there. The two clerks stared open-mouthed, and judged after their nature; for one of them said, instantly, to himself, “It’s a mistake!” while the other said, “I always knew that Denison girl was too pious to last!”
A tall man who sat at a desk in the corner looked up quietly.
“Ah, Gregory!” he said. “What is it? Mary Denison? Good morning, Mary! Anything wrong in the rag-room?”
Gregory waved his hat excitedly.
“If you’d look here, sir!” he said. “If you would just cast your eye over that article, and tell this gal what you think of it! Blue Egyptians, sir! luckiest rags that ever come into this mill, I’ve always said. Well, sir?”
Mr. Gordon was not easily stirred to excitement. It seemed an age to the anxious girl and the impetuous old man, as he turned the brooch over and over, holding it up in every light, polishing it, breathing on it, then polishing it again. Gregory’s hands twitched with eagerness, and Mary felt almost faint with suspense.
“You found this in the rags?” he asked at length, turning to Mary. He spoke in his ordinary even tone, and Mary’s heart sank, she could not have told why.
“Yes, sir!” she faltered. “I found it in a blue jacket. It was in between the stuff and the lining. There were glass buttons on the jacket.”
She drew them from her pocket and held them out; but Mr. Gordon, after a glance, waved them back.
“Those are of no value!” he said. “About this brooch, I am not so sure. The stones may be real stones–I incline to think they are; but it is possible that they may be paste. The imitations are sometimes very perfect; no one but a jeweller can tell positively. I will take it to Boston with me to-morrow, and have it examined.”
He dropped the brooch into a drawer at his side, turned the key and put it in his pocket, all in his quiet, methodical way, as if he were in the habit of examining diamond brooches every day; then he nodded kindly to the pair, and bent over his papers again.
Mary went out silently, and Gregory followed her with a dazed look on his strong features. He looked back at the door two or three times, but said nothing till they were back in the finishing-room.
Then–“It’s one of his days!” he said. “I’ve knowed him ever since his mustash growed, and there’s days when he’s struck with a dumb sperit, just like Scriptur’. Don’t you fret, Mary! He’ll see you righted, or I’ll give you my head.”
Mary might have thought that Mr. Gregory’s head would be of little use to her without the rest of him. She felt sadly dashed and disappointed. She hardly knew what she had expected, but it was something very different from this calm, every-day reception, this total disregard of her own and her companion’s excitement.
“I guess he thinks they’re nothing great!” she said, wearily. “What was that he said about paste, Mr. Gregory? You never saw any paste like that, did you?
“No!” said Gregory, “I’ve heered of Di’mond Glue, but ‘twan’t nothin’ like stones–nor glass neither. You may run me through the calenders if I know what he’s drivin’ at. But I’ll trust him!” he added, vehemently. “I done right to tell you to go to him. He’s in one of his moods to-day, but you’ll hear from him, if there’s anything to hear, now mark my words! And now I’d go home, if I was you, and see your ma’am, and get your dinner. And–Mary–I dono as I’d say anything about this, if I was you. Things get round so in a mill, ye know.”
Mary nodded assurance, and went home, trying to feel that nothing of importance had happened. Do what she would, however, the golden visions would come dancing before her eyes. Suppose–suppose the stones should be real, after all! and suppose Mr. Gordon should give her a part, at least, of the money they might bring in Boston. It might–she knew diamonds were valuable–it might be thirty or forty dollars. Oh! how rich she would be! The rent could be paid some time in advance, and her mother could have the new shawl she needed so badly: or would a cloak be better? cloaks were more in fashion, but Mother said a good shawl was always good style.
Turning the corner by her mother’s house, she met one of the clerks who had been in the office when she went in there. He looked at her with the smile she always disliked, she hardly knew why.
“You did the wrong thing that time, Miss Denison!” he said.
“What do you mean, Mr. Hitchcock?” asked Mary.
“You’ll never see your diamonds again, nor the money for them!” replied the man. “That’s easy guessing. He’ll come back and tell you they’re glass or paste, and that’s the last you’ll hear of them. And the diamonds–for they are diamonds, right enough–will go into his pocket, or on to his wife’s neck. I know what’s what! I wasn’t born down in these parts.”
“You don’t know Mr. Gordon!” said Mary, warmly. “That isn’t the way he is thought of by those who do know him.”
The clerk was a newcomer from another State, and was not liked by the mill-workers.
“I know his kind!” he said, with a sneer; “and they’re no good to your kind, Mary Denison, nor to mine. Mark my words, you’ll hear no more of that breastpin.”
Mary turned away so decidedly that he said no more, but his eyes followed her with a sinister look.
Next moment he was greeting Lena Laxen cordially, and she was dimpling and smiling all over at his compliments. Lena thought Mr. Hitchcock “just elegant!” and believed that Mary was jealous when she said she did not like him. Something now prompted her to tell him about the silk waist in the forbidden sack; he took her view at once and zealously. The boss (for he did not use the kindly title of “Old Man,” by which the other mill-hands designated Mr. Gordon, though he was barely forty) had his eye on the things, most likely, as he had on the pin Mary Denison found. Hadn’t Lena heard about that? Well, it was a burning shame, he could tell her; he would see that she, Lena, wasn’t fooled that way. And Lena, listening eagerly, heard a story very different from that which had been told to Mr. Gordon.
In an hour the whole mill knew that Mary Denison had found a diamond pin in the rags, and that Mr. Gordon had told her it was nothing but hard glue, and had sold it himself in Boston for a thousand dollars, and spent the money on a new horse.
Nor was this all! Late that evening Lena Laxen stole from her home with a shawl over her head, and met the clerk by the corner of the outer shed. A few minutes of whispering and giggling, and she stole back, with a bundle under her shawl; while Hitchcock tied a bright silk handkerchief round his neck, and strutted off with the air of a conqueror.
Next morning, as Mary Denison was going to her work, Lena rapped on the window, and called her attention by signs to the bodice she had on. It was a gay striped silk, little worn, but still showing, in spite of pressing, the marks of crumpling and tossing. The bright colors suited Lena’s dark skin well, and as she stood there with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, Mary thought she had never seen her look prettier. At first she nodded and smiled in approval; but the next moment a thought darted into her mind that made her clasp her hands, and cry anxiously:
“Oh! Lena, you didn’t do it! you never did it! it’s not that waist you have on?”
Lena affected not to hear. She only nodded and laughed triumphantly, and turned away, leaving Mary standing pale and distressed outside the window.
Mary hesitated. Should she go in and reason further with the wilful girl, and try to persuade her to restore the stolen garment? Something told her it would be useless; but still she was on the point of going in, when old James Gregory came by, and asked her to walk on with him.
She complied, but not without an anxious look back at the window, where no one was now to be seen.
“Well, May,” said Gregory, “how’re ye feelin’ to-day? hearty? that’s clever! I hope you wasn’t frettin’ about that pin any. Most girls would, but you ain’t the fool kind.”
“I don’t know, Mr. Gregory!” said Mary, laughing. “I’m afraid I have thought about it more or less, but I haven’t been fretting. Where’s the use?”
“Jes’ so! jes’ so!” assented the old man, with alacrity.
“And I didn’t say anything to Mother,” Mary went on. “I didn’t want her to know about it unless something was really coming of it. Poor Mother! she has enough to think about.”
“She has so!” said Gregory. “A sight o’ thinkin’ your mother doos, Mary, and good thoughts, every one of ’em, I’ll bet my next pay. She’s a good woman, your mother; I guess likely you know it without me sayin’ so. I call Susan Denison the best woman I know, and I’ve told my wife so, more times than she says she has any occasion for. I don’t say she’s an angel, but she’s a good woman, and that’s as fur as we’re likely to get in this world.
“But that ain’t what I wanted to say to you, May! Somehow or ‘nother, the story’s got round about your findin’ that pin yesterday. You didn’t say nothin’?”
“Not a word!” said Mary. “How could it–“
“‘Twas that pison Hitchcock, I expect!” said Gregory. “I see him lookin’ up with his little eyes, as red as a ferret, and as ugly. I bet he started the hull thing; and he’s tacked on a passel of lies, and the endurin’ place is hummin’ with it. Thought I’d tell ye before ye went in, so’s ye could fix up a little what to say.”
Mary thanked him cordially, and passed on into the mill: the old man looked after her with a very friendly glance in his keen blue eyes.
“She’s good stuff, May is!” he murmured. “Good stuff, like her mother.
“Folks is like rags, however you look at ’em. Take a good linen rag, no matter how black it is, and put it through the washers, and the bleachers, and the cutters, and all the time it’s gettin’ whiter and whiter, and sweeter and sweeter, the more you bang it round; till at last you have bank-note paper, and write to the Queen of England on it, if you’re a mind to, and she won’t have none better. And take jute or shoddy, and the minute you touch to wash it, it cockles up, or drops to pieces, and it ain’t no good to mortal man. Jest like folks, I tell ye! and May and her mother’s pure linen clippin’s, if ever I see ’em.”
Forewarned is forearmed, and Mary met quietly the buzz of inquiry that greeted her when she entered the rag-room. The girls crowded round her, the men were not far behind. To each and all Mary told the simple truth, trying not to say a word too much. “The tongue is a fire!” her mother’s favorite text, was constantly in her mind, and she was determined that no ill word should be spoken of Mr. Gordon, if she could help it. Almost every one in the mill liked and respected the “Old Man;” but the human mind loves a sensation, and Lena and Hitchcock had told their story so vividly the day before that Mary’s account seemed tame and dull beside it; and some of the hands preferred to think that “Mame Denison was a sly one, and warn’t goin’ to let on, fear some one’d git ahead of her.”
Lena, who came shortly, in her usual dress, fostered this feeling, not from malice, but from sheer love of excitement and gossip. In spite of Mary’s efforts, the excitement increased, and when, late in the afternoon, word came that Mary Denison was wanted in the office, the rag-room was left fairly bubbling with wild surmise.
Mr. Gordon did not see Mary when she came in. He was standing at his desk, with an open letter in his hand, and his face was disturbed as he spoke to the senior clerk.
“Myers, it is as I feared about that bag of rags from Blankton. You have kept it carefully tied up, and close by the chlorides, as I told you?”
Myers, a clear-eyed, honest-browed man, looked troubled.
“I did, sir!” he said. “I have looked at the bag every time I passed that way, and have cautioned every one in the mill not to go near it, besides keeping the shed-gate locked; but this morning I found that it had been tampered with, and evidently something taken out. I hope there is nothing wrong, sir!”
George Gordon struck his hand heavily on the desk. “Wrong!” he repeated. “There have been two fatal cases of smallpox in Blankton, and that bag has been traced to the house where they were.”
There was a moment of deathly silence. He went on:
“I suspected something wrong, the moment you told me of things that looked new and good; but I did not want to raise a panic in the mill, when there might be some other explanation. I thought I had taken every precaution–what is that?”
He turned quickly, hearing a low cry behind him. Mary Denison was standing with clasped hands, her face white with terror.
“Mary!” said Mr. Gordon, in amazement. “You–surely you have had nothing to do with this?”
“No, sir!” cried Mary. “Oh, no, Mr. Gordon, indeed I have not. But I fear–I fear I know who has. Oh, poor thing! poor Lena!”
Then, with an impulse she could not explain, she turned suddenly upon Hitchcock.
“Who let Lena Laxen into the yard last night?” she cried. “She could not have got in without help. You had a key–you were talking to her after I left her yesterday. Oh! look at him, Mr. Gordon! Mr. Myers, look at that man!”
But Hitchcock did not seem to hear or heed her. He sat crouched over his desk, his face a greenish-gray color, his eyes staring, his hands clutching the woodwork convulsively; an awful figure of terror, that gasped and cowered before them. Then suddenly, with a cry that rattled in his throat, he dashed from his seat and ran bareheaded out of the door.
Myers started up to pursue him, but Mr. Gordon held up his hand.
“Let him go!” he said, sternly. “It may be that he carries his punishment with him. In any case we shall see him no more.”
Quickly and quietly he gave Myers his orders; to take Lena Laxen to her home, notify the physician, and proclaim a strict quarantine; to burn the infected rags without loss of time; to have every part of the shed where the fatal bag had stood thoroughly disinfected. When the man had hastened away, Mr. Gordon turned to Mary, and his stern face lightened.
“Do not distress yourself, Mary,” he said, kindly. “It may be that Lena will escape the infection; it seems that she only had the garment on a few minutes; and you did all you could, I am sure, to dissuade her from this piece of fatal and dishonest folly.”
“Oh! I might have said more!” cried Mary, in an agony of self-reproach. “I meant to go into her house this morning, and try to make her hear reason; it might not have been too late then.”
“Thank Heaven you did not!” said Mr. Gordon, gravely. “The air of the house was probably already infected. No one save the doctor must go near that house till all danger of the disease developing is over.”
He then told Mary briefly why he had sent for her. Finding that he could not go to Boston himself at present, as he had planned, he had sent the brooch by express to a jeweller whom he knew, and would be able to tell her in a few days whether it was of real value or not. Mary thanked him, but his words fell almost unheeded on her ears. What were jewels or money, in the face of a danger so awful as that which now threatened her friend, and, through her, the whole village?
Days of suspense followed. From the moment when the weeping, agonized Lena was taken home and put, tenderly, pityingly, in her mother’s hands (it was Mr. Gordon himself who had done this, refusing to let any other perform the duty), an invisible line was drawn about the Laxen cottage, which few dared pass. The doctor came and went, reporting all well to the eager questioners. Mr. Gordon called daily to inquire, and every evening Mary Denison stole to the door with a paper or magazine for Lena and her mother, or some home-made delicacy that might please the imprisoned girl. Lena was usually at the window, sometimes defiant and blustering, sometimes wild with fright, sometimes again crying for sheer loneliness and vexation; but always behind her was her mother’s pale face of dread, and her thin voice saying that Lena was “as well as common, thank ye,” and she and Mary would exchange glances, and Mary would go away drawing breath, and thanking the Lord that another day was gone.
So on, for nine anxious days; but on the tenth, when Mary looked up at the window, the mother stood there alone, crying; and the doctor, coming out of the house at the moment, told Mary harshly to keep away from him, and not to come so near the house.
In the dreadful days that followed, his people learned to know George Gordon as they had never known him before. The grave, silent man, who never spoke save when speech was necessary, was now among them every day, going from room to room with cheerful greetings, encouraging, heartening, raising the drooping spirits, and rebuking sharply the croakers, who foretold with dismal unction a general epidemic. While taking every possible precaution, he made light of the actual danger, and by his presence and influence warded off the panic which might have brought about the dreaded result.
As a matter of fact, there were no more cases in the mill; and Lena herself had the terrible disease more lightly than any one had dared to hope. The doctor, hurrying through back ways and alleys to change his clothes and take his bath of disinfectants, was hailed from back gates and windows at every step; and he never failed to return a cheery “Doing well! out of it soon now! No, not much marked, only a few spots here and there.”
This was when he left the quarantined house; but when he sought it, he might be seen to stop at one gate and another, picking up here a jar, there a bowl, here again a paper bag; till by the time he reached the Laxen gate he stood out all over with packages like a summer Santa Claus.
“There ain’t anybody goin’ to starve round here, if they have got the smallpox!” was the general verdict, voiced by James Gregory, and when he added, for the benefit of the mill-yard, that he had heard Mr. Gordon order ice-cream, oranges, and oysters, all at once, for Lena, a growl of pleasure went round, which deepened into a hearty “What’s the matter with the Old Man? he’s all right!”
At length, one happy day, Mary Denison met Mr. Gordon at the Laxens’ gate, and heard the good news that Lena was sitting up; that in a day or two now the quarantine would be taken off, the house disinfected, and Lena back in her place at the mill. The manager looked with satisfaction at Mary’s beaming face of happiness; then, as she was turning away to spread the good tidings, he said:
“Wait a moment, Mary! I have some other news for you. Have you forgotten the brooch that you found in the Blue Egyptians?”
The color rushed to Mary’s face, and Mr. Gordon had his answer.
“Because,” he added, “I have not forgotten, though you might well think I had done so. All this sad business has delayed matters, but now I have it all arranged. I am ready to-day, Mary, to give you either the brooch itself, or–what I think will be better–five hundred dollars, the sum I find it to be worth. Yes, my child, I am speaking the truth! The stones are fine ones, and the Boston jeweller offers you that sum for them. Well, Mary, have you nothing to say? What, crying? this will never do!”
But Mary had nothing to say, and she was crying, because she could not help it. Presently she managed to murmur something about “Too much! too great kindness–not fair for her to have it all!” but Mr. Gordon cut her short.
“Certainly you are to have it all, every penny of it! Finding’s having! that is paper-mill law; ask James Gregory if it is not! There comes James this moment; go and tell him of your good fortune, and let him bring you up to my house this evening to get the money.
“But, Mary,”–he glanced at a letter in his hand, and his face, which had been bright with kindness and pleasure, grew very grave,– “there is something else for you to tell James, and all the hands. James Hitchcock died yesterday, of malignant smallpox!”