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SIMEON TETLOW'S SHADOW ***




Produced by David Widger from page images generously
provided by Google Books









SIMEON TETLOW'S SHADOW

By Jennette Lee

New York: The Century Co.

1909

[Illustration: 0011]

[Illustration: 0012]


TO

GERALD STANLEY LEE





SIMEON TETLOW'S SHADOW




I


IT was turning dusk in the office, though it was scarcely three o'clock
and outside the sun was still shining, beyond the busy streets. The two
men sitting on opposite sides of the small room bent closer to their
desks. The younger glanced up and got up to turn on the electric light.
The little scowl that had begun to form itself on the face of the older
man changed to a look of relief. His pen moved faster over the paper.

The older man was Simeon Tetlow, President of the "R. and Q." Railroad.
It might almost be said that he _was_ the road. Its minute ramifications
and its great divisions were hardly more than the nerves and arteries
that threaded Simeon Tetlow's thin frame. And the orders that went out
from the tiny office, high up in the big block, were the play of his
flitting finger-tips upon the keyboard of the whole clanking system. The
tiny, shriveled figure gave no hint of the power that ticked carloads of
live stock and human beings to their destination and laid its hand upon
roads half dead, or dying, or alive and kicking, sweeping them gently
into the system, with hardly a gulp.

Simeon Tetlow was an iron man, wiry and keen - an intellect without heart
or soul or conscience, his co-workers would have told you. Each new
road absorbed, each influx of power, seemed only to tighten a spring
somewhere inside that shot the bolt. He conld work day and night without
tiring; and that was the reason, in part, why at forty-two he was
president of the "R. and Q." road; and the reason why at forty-two his
hand, when it reached ont for its abstemious glass of water, trembled so
that it was quickly withdrawn. No one knew the man. No one guessed the
nervous horror that often racked the small frame driven relentlessly by
its big brain.

He reached out for a slip of paper that lay at hand and ran his eye over
it, jotting down a few figures. Then he pushed it to one side and went
on writing. The younger man came across the office and laid another slip
of paper on the desk. He took the one that had been pushed aside, made
a memorandum on it, and filed it in a pigeon-hole at the right. He was a
short, young man, with broad shoulders and a round face. The face as
it bent above the slip of paper had a dull look. There was a kind of
patience in it not usual in so young a man, and when he turned his eyes
to his employer they glowed with a clear light, as if something were
shining behind them.

"What is it, John?" The man reached out a nervous, groping hand. His
gaze had not left the page before him.

"This one next, sir." The young man touched the outstretched hand with
the slip of paper.

"Yes, yes." It was almost testy.

The other returned to his desk and the scratching pens raced with the
minutes.

A call-boy entered with a handful of letters. The young man took them
and ran them through his fingers. He arranged them in piles, reserving
a part for himself. These he read, making notes and filing them rapidly.
One letter, the one at the bottom of the pack, was not addressed to the
great corporation, but - in a fine, small hand - to "John Bennett." He
read this one last, looking thoughtfully at the lines and folding it
with slow fingers. The patient look was still in his face, but the light
of the eyes was gone. It seemed to have sunk back, leaving the flesh
dull and heavy.

His employer glanced up suddenly. His quick eye sought the electric
bulb, with a flash of impatience, and returned to its work.

The young man rose and turned on more lights. He moved about the room,
putting things away for the night.

Simeon Tetlow finished his letters and pushed them from him. The young
man came across and began to gather them up. His dull face came in range
of his employer's eye.

"Give those I 've marked to Hanscom. Have the rest ready in the morning.
I shall dictate."

"Yes, sir." The young man finished gathering them up.

The man glanced again, half-impatiently, at the heavy face. The room
seemed suddenly gloomy, in spite of the red-hot wires looping the light
about them.

The young man brought a hat and coat and laid them beside his employer.
"May I speak to you a minute, sir?" he asked as he put them down.

The other glanced again, sharply, at his face. "Go ahead." His hand was
reaching for the hat.

"I shall have to hand in my resignation, sir." The young man said it
slowly, as if repeating something he had learned by heart.

The hand on the hat drew back. "What 's that?" He laughed curtly and
shot a look of suspicion at the impassive face. "More money?"

The face flushed. "No, sir." He hesitated a little. "My mother is sick."

"Umph!" The man's face cleared. "You don't need to resign for _that_."
He did not ask what was the matter with the mother. He had not known
that John had a mother. She seemed to be springing into existence very
inconveniently. "Get a nurse," he said.

"She has had a nurse. But she needs me, I think." He did not offer more
details.

The older man shrugged his shoulders a little - a quick shrug. He pushed
forward a chair with his foot. "Sit down. Your father dead?" quickly.

"No, sir. But - father is - father." He said it with a little smile.
"She's never had anybody but me," he went on quickly. "She's been sick
ever since I was a little thing, and I've taken care of her. It frets
her to have a woman around. She does n't wash the dishes clean, and her
cooking is n't really very good." He was smiling a little as he said it.

The man shot a quick look at him. "You 're going home to wash dishes?"

"Yes, sir."

"Um-m." The fingers played a little tune on the desk. "I 'll raise you
twenty-five a month. Get a better nurse."

The boy shook his head. "I 'm afraid it would n't do." He was
hesitating. "I think she misses me."

"Umph! Very likely!" The man glanced at him over quick spectacles.
"What 's the matter with her? Sit down." He touched the chair again with
his foot.

The young man sat down. "We don't know what it is. She cannot
walk - cannot stand - a good deal of the time - and sometimes she suffers.
But it is a kind of nervousness that is hardest to bear. She cannot lie
quiet. Something seems to drive her."

The man nodded. His fingers opened and closed. "What else?" he said
brusquely.

"That 's all - except that it quiets her to have me around. I can get
work in Bridgewater and do the housework nights and mornings."

The man was scowling at him intently.

"It 's what I 've always done, till I came here," he said quickly.

"Washed dishes and cooked and made beds?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's no work for a _man_."

"I know." The dull face smiled a little. "The boys always called me
'Sissie Johnny.'"

"Umph! I 'm glad they did!... 'Sissie Johnny'!" He smiled grimly
and took a card from the desk before him, holding it a minute in his
fingers, snapping it back and forth. "Has she ever seen a specialist?"

The young man shook his head. "No, sir." The man wrote a few words on
the card and blotted it quickly. "Take her to see Dr. Blake. He is the
best nerve specialist in five hundred miles. If she is n't well enough
to go to him, have him come to her. I 'll pay the bill." He thrust
himself into his hat and coat and got himself out of the room, shrugging
nervously.

The young man stood with the card in his hand, looking at it, a little
smile on his lips. Then he went about, turning out all the bulbs but one
and putting away papers and arranging the room for the night.

It was a small, rough room - hardly more than a corner cut off from the
top floor by board partitions. The rest of the floor, outside, was
used only for storage. Simeon Tetlow had achieved here what he
wanted - complete solitude. There was, on the first floor, a magnificent
apartment with lordly mahogany chairs, a baize-covered table and oil
paintings, where twice a year he met his directors; and on the floor
above it was a spacious room bearing on its panel the bronze token,
"President's Office." It was occupied at present by three young lady
typewriters who clacked their machines and arranged their hair
and adjusted the shades on the plate-glass windows to suit their
convenience, while in the little room at the top of the building the
president of the corporation hunched himself over a four-dollar desk and
scowled at the dim light that came through the half-sized windows. For
three days after it was finished, Simeon Tetlow occupied the spacious
room below designed for the president of the corporation. Then he
gathered together his few belongings and fled to the top. His gigantic
brain could only work when free from distraction. The mere sense that
some one might rap, even on the outer door of the stately office,
paralyzed him, and his nervous frame, once set a-jangle, trembled,
and palpitated for hours. The mere forbidding of intrusion was not
sufficient. Some well-meaning idiot, laden with news of importance,
would break over the command, and hours of careful thought would be
whirled aloft in the smoke of Simeon's wrath. He fled to the
loft, dropping, as it were, a trapdoor behind him. No one was to
follow - unless summoned. No literary man was ever more jealous of
solitude. But no mere literary man could think a railroad into existence
or quench a wheat crop with a nod. If Simeon Tetlow's body had matched
his brain, there would have been no limit to his power. As it was, he
remained a mighty general without an army, a head without hands and
feet. The details of life frustrated him at every point. He could meet
his directors, serene in the knowledge that the road was prospering
beyond all bounds. He could carry to them the facts and figures and
proofs of prosperity - in his head. But the papers that recorded these
facts, the proofs in black and white, were never forthcoming at the
right moment. They took to themselves wings - of paper; they flitted and
skulked and hid; they lay on the top of the pile before him and grinned
at him, their very faces changed to a diabolic scorn that he should not
know them.

This was the Simeon Tetlow of three years ago. Then there entered, one
morning, in response to his summons for a call-boy, a short, square
youth with a dull face. Simeon did not note him as he came in. He forgot
that he had called for a boy. His mind was busy with projects of import.
When it came back, with a start, he recognized that some one had been
with him, for ten minutes or more, who had not worried and irritated him
by merely being alive. He shot a keen glance at the dull face. The light
of the eyes was turned to him, waiting to serve him.

After that Simeon summoned the boy again and again, on one pretext or
another. He made excuses to see him. He advanced him from post to post.

At last, about a year ago, he nodded at a desk that had been installed,
overnight, across the room: "You are to work there and your pay will be
raised a hundred."

The boy took possession of the desk with as little stir as if he had
received some casual order. He did not ask what his work was to be,
and Simeon Tetlow did not tell him. The big brain had found hands
and feet - almost, it might seem, lungs and a few other useful, vital
organs - and it used them, as it had used the nervous, shaking body
before - relentlessly. For the first time in his life Simeon found his
papers ready to his hand. He attended his first directors' meeting,
sitting at the head of the green baize table, like a man in a dream. The
right paper slipped to his finger-tips and lingered there; the figures
formed themselves in seemly ranks and marched up and down the green
baize parade in orderly file. The effect upon the directors was, at
first, a little startling. They had become wonted to Simeon hurried,
gasping, and impatient - and to dividends. They were almost afraid of
these cold facts and figures. They looked at them cautiously, through
gold-rimmed glasses, received their dividends - and took heart.

Each day some new comfort found its way to Simeon's desk. The morning
that the box of elastic bands appeared there was a holocaust of joy
among the papers. He used nearly the whole box the first day. He had
never owned an elastic band before. He was president of the great
corporation, but it had not occurred to him that he had a right to
elastic bands. He slid them up and down his nervous fingers in sheer
energy of delight. But he did not mention them to John, nor John to him.
It was John who provided the new letter-file that cut the work in
half, and had the grimy windows washed till they shone like plate,
and arranged the desk 'phone so that Simeon could dictate to the
stenographer three floors below, without knowing, or caring, who sat at
the other end taking his crisp words with harried, compliant fingers.
Hitherto, dictating had burdened Simeon's life. He had written dozens
of letters himself rather than endure the presence of a stenographer for
even half an hour; and the sound of a girl clacking drove him wild.

The letters that were not dictated into the telephone were written in
John's round, conscientious-looking hand. If there were anything that
one human being could do for another that was not done in the office,
Simeon did not know what it was - nor did John. A clothes-brush that
brushed them twice a day hung by Simeon's hat and coat; and if Simeon's
neckties were still shabby and his collars a little frayed, it was
because John had not yet discovered the remedy. Some days a luncheon
appeared on Simeon's desk, and some days he went out to luncheon; and he
could not have told which, except that it was always the thing that he
would have done had he devoted hours of thought to it all.

He did not give thanks to John, and John did not expect them. The lamps
in his eyes had not been lighted for that - nor for money....

He went about the room now in his slow, considerate way, attending to
each detail of locking up, as carefully as if he were not to be first
on the ground in the morning.... He would return to start the day.
Later - perhaps at noon - he would slip away. That would make least
trouble.... To come in the morning and find him gone! - John felt,
through all his short, square figure, the shock to the nervous,
quivering one. He did not need to reason it out. He did not even know
that he thought it. It was an instinct - born the first day he came into
Simeon Tetlow's office and saw the thin figure seated before its chaotic
desk wrestling its way through mighty things.... He had thought of his
mother as he stood there waiting for orders. She had fairly driven him
away. "Go and be a _man!_" she had said; "I shall ruin you." And she
had smiled at him courageously.... And he had come away, and had taken
the first thing at hand - a call-boy, kicking his heels against a bench
with a dozen others. And this was his employer.... So he had stood
waiting when Simeon Tetlow had looked up and seen the lamps aglow.

That was three years ago. And tonight Simeon, plodding home through the
foggy gloom, was swearing a little under his breath.

"It 's the weak spot in the boy," he said testily; "I believe he's soft
at the core."

He inserted his latchkey, grumbling still. "Wash dishes - will he? Damn
him! - Umph! - Damn him!" And yet it was as if he had said: "Bless him!"
The great door swung noiselessly open, and he went in.




II


The woman was looking into the dusk. Her hair, short like a boy's,
curled a little about the ears. She pushed it back as she looked, her
eyes deepening and widening. It was a gentle face, with a sharp line
between the eyes, that broke its quiet. She sank back with a little
sigh. Foolish to look.... He could not come. She must think of
something.... The twilights were long and heavy.... What was it he had
written?... Hollyhocks? yes; that was it! - in the garden. He had said
she should have them - next summer. She leaned back with closed eyes
and folded hands, watching them - pink and rose and crimson, white with
flushing red, standing stiff and straight against the wall. They were so
cool and sturdy, and they brought the sunshine.... The dark floated wide
and lost itself in a sky of light. The smile crept back to her lips.
She stirred a little. The door opened and closed.... His hands scarcely
touched her as he bent and kissed her.

"It's you - !" a little cry of doubt and delight.

"It's me, mother." The words laughed to her quietly.

She put out a hand. "How long can you stay?" She was stroking his coat.

"Always."

"What - ?" The hand pushed him from her. The eyes scanned his face.

"Always," he repeated cheerfully, "if you want me."

She shook her head. "I don't want you. I wrote you I was - happy."

"Yes. You wrote it too often - and too hard." He was smiling at her. But
the lamps were misty. "Did you think I would n't see?"

"Oh, dear - oh, dear - dear, dear!" It was a little wail of reproach at
his foolishness - and hers. "And you were doing so well!"

"I can do better here. What's burning!" He sniffed a little.

She glanced anxiously toward the kitchen. "Your father put some crusts
in the oven to brown. It can't he - "

"It can't be anything else," said John.

When he came back he told her of the great Dr. Blake.

They sat in silence while the room drew dark about them.

Now and then she reached out and touched his coat softly.

"Tomorrow then - !" half-doubtfully, when he bade her good night.

"Tomorrow we shall see the great doctor," he assented cheerfully. "Good
night, mother."

"Good night, my son."

The great doctor looked her over keenly, with eyes that saw everything
and saw nothing.

"A little trouble in walking!"

"Yes."

"And nervous sometimes - a little!"

He might have been a neighbor, inquiring after her health. The little
woman forgot herself and her fear of him. She told him, very simply, of
the long nights - when the walls seemed closing in and there was no
air except under the sky, and her feet refused to carry her. The line
between her eyes grew deeper as she talked, but the hands in her lap
were very quiet. She did' not shrink while the doctor's sensitive
fingers traveled up and down her spine with almost roseleaf touch. Only
once she gave a quick cry of pain.

"I see. I see. A little tender."

"Yes." It was almost a gasp, with a quick drawing in of the lip.

"I see." He nodded. "Yes. That will do - very nicely."

He led her away to another room - to rest a little before the journey.
When he returned his glance met the boy's absently.

He arranged trifles on his desk - paperweight and pens and blotter - as
affairs of importance, before he spoke, casually:

"She will always be ill - Yes. It is a hopeless case - Yes." He paused a
little between the words, giving the boy time. "She will suffer - more
than she has yet. But we can help a little." He had drawn a paper toward
him and was writing his hieroglyphics with slow care, not looking up.
"We will ease it, all we can. Keep her mind at rest. Make her happy."
He turned his spectacles on the young man. "You can make her happy. That
will do more for her than I can.... Will she live? Yes, yes. Longer than
the rest, perhaps.... Shall you tell her? - not today, I think - some
other time. She is a little tired. She is a brave woman."




III


SIMEON Tetlow glanced up sharply. The door had opened without a sound.
"You 've come. Umph!" He shoved the pile of letters from him.

"Sit down."

The air was full of sunshine. Even in the dingy office it glinted and
shone.

Across its radiance Simeon studied the dull face. "Well!"

The eyes of the boy met his, half-wistfully, it seemed. "She needs me,
sir," he said. Simeon stirred uneasily. "Seen Dr. Blake?"

"Yes, sir. He says he cannot help her."

"Umph!" Simeon shifted again in his chair. His eye dropped to the pile
of papers beside him.

The boy's hands had reached out to them. Almost instinctively the
fingers were threading their way among them, sorting and arranging in
neat piles.

Simeon watched the fingers jealously. It was as if he might spring upon
them and fasten them there forever. The young man's eyes traveled about
the room, noting signs of disorder. "I can stay today," he said slowly.
He hesitated. "I can stay a week, sir, if you want me."

"I don't want you a week." The man was looking at him savagely. "You
must bring them here!" he said.

"Here!" in doubt.

The man nodded. "They can live here as well as anywhere!"

The boy pondered it a minute. He shook his head slowly.

"They would n't be happy," he said. "She has friends there, in
Bridgewater - people she's known ever since she was a little girl - and
father has his work. He 's an old man. It would n't be easy for him to
get work here. He has an easy job - "

"Work enough here," growled Simeon. He was studying the boy's face
keenly. Was it possible the fellow was making capital of all this? He
threw off the thought. "Work enough here," he repeated.

John considered it again. He looked up. The lamps threw their clear
light into the future. "I 'd thought of that, sir," he said slowly, "and
I 've talked about it - a little. But I saw it hurt them. So I dropped
it."

"You 're missing the chance of a lifetime," said Simeon. "There are men
working below that'd give ten years off their life to get what you've
got without trying."

The boy's quiet eye met his.

"Oh, you 've tried - you've tried. I don't mean that," he said testily.
"But it's a case of fitness - the chance of a lifetime," he repeated
significantly.

The boy looked at him. "I know it, sir. I've thought about it a long
time. It 's hard to do. But, you see, we never have but one father and
mother."

The other met it, blinking. "Umph!"

"I shall try to get something at the Bridgewater office. I thought
perhaps you would recommend me if there was a vacancy."

"There is n't any," said Simeon shortly - almost with relief.

"The second shipping-clerk left week before last."

"You don't want that?"

"I think I do."

Simeon turned vaguely toward the pigeonholes. The boy's quick eye was
before him. "This is the one, sir."

Simeon smiled grimly. He drew out a blank from its place and filled it
in. "You won't like it," he said, holding the pen in his teeth while he
reached for the blotter. "It 's heavy lifting, and Simpson 's no angel
to work under. No chance to rise, either." He was glaring at the boy, a
kind of desperate affection growing in his eyes..

The boy returned the look mistily. "You make it a little hard, sir. I
wish I could stay." He half held out his hand and drew it back.

Simeon ignored it. He had taken down a ledger and picked a letter from
the pile before him. The interview was over. The President of the "R.
and Q." Railroad was not hanging on anybody's neck.

"It 's the other ledger, sir," said John quickly, "the farther one." He
reached over and laid it deftly before his employer.

Simeon pushed it from him savagely. "Go to the devil!" he said.

The boy went, shutting the door quietly behind him.




IV


IT was six o'clock - the close of a perfect June day. Not even the
freight engines, pulling and hauling up and down the yard, with their
puffs of black smoke, could darken the sky. Over in the meadow, beyond
the network of tracks, the bobolinks had been tumbling and bubbling all
day. It was time to close shop now, and they had subsided into the long
grass. In the office the assistant shipping-clerk was finishing the last
bill of lading. He put it to one side and looked at his watch. A look of
relief crossed his face as he replaced it and climbed down from the high
stool. It had been a hard day in the Bridge-water freight-office.
News had come, in the early morning, of a wreck, three miles down the
track - a sleeper and a freight had collided where the road curves by
the stonework of the long bridge, and John had been sent down to help in
looking after the freight.

It was one of the worst wrecks the road had known. No one placed the
blame. Those on the ground were too busy to have theories; and those at
a distance had to change their theories a dozen times during the day.
At noon word came that the president of the road was on his way to the
scene of the accident. The news reached John as he was getting into the
wrecking-car to return to the office. He paused for a flying minute,
one foot on the step of the car. Then he swung off, and the car moved on


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