Margaret Wade Campbell Deland.

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I'll go halves with you!"

Her recoil as he handed her one of the gold pieces made him give her a
keen look; but all she said was: "Oh _no_! I wouldn't touch it!" Then
she seemed to get herself together: "I don't need it, thank you, sir,"
she said.

When she went away Doctor Lavendar, looking after her, thrust out his
lower lip. "_Lydia_ not 'need' an eagle?" he said. "How long since?" And
after a while he added, "Now, what on earth - ?"

Old Chester, too, said, "What on earth - ?" when, in December, Miss Lydia
turned the key in her front door and, with her carpetbag and bandbox,
took the morning stage for Mercer.

And we said it again, a few weeks later, when Mrs. Barkley received a
letter in which Miss Lydia said she had been visiting friends in Indiana
and had been asked by them to take care of a beautiful baby boy, and she
was bringing him home with her, and she hoped Mrs. Barkley would give
her some advice about taking care of babies, for she was afraid she
didn't know much - ("'Much'?" Mrs. Barkley snorted. "She knows as much
about babies as a wildcat knows about tatting!") - and she was, as ever,
Mrs. Barkley's affectionate Lyddy.

The effect of this letter upon Old Chester can be imagined. Mrs. Drayton
said, "What I would like to know is, _whose baby is it_?"

Mrs. Barkley said in a deep bass: "Where will Lyddy get the money to
take care of it? As for advising her, I advise her to leave it on the
doorstep of its blood relations!"

Doctor Lavendar said: "Ho, hum! Do you remember what the new Mr. Smith
said about her when she gave her party? Well, I agree with him!" Which
(if you recall Mr. Smith's exact words) was really a shocking thing for
a minister of the gospel to say!

Mrs. William King said, firmly, that she called it murder, to intrust a
child to Miss Lydia Sampson. "She'll hold it upside down and never know
the difference," said Mrs. King; and then, like everybody else, she
asked Mrs. Drayton's question "Whose baby is it?"

There were many answers, mostly to the effect that Lydia was so
scatterbrained - as witness her "party," and her blue-silk dress, and her
broken engagements, etc., etc., that she was perfectly capable of
letting anybody shove a foundling into her arms! Mrs. Drayton's own
answer to her question was that the whole thing looked queer - "not that
I would imply anything against poor Lydia's character, but it looks
_queer_; and if you count back - "

Miss Lydia's reply - for of course the question was asked her as soon as
she and the baby, and the bandbox and the carpetbag got off the stage
one March afternoon - Miss Lydia's answer was brief:

"A friend's."

She did emerge from her secrecy far enough to say to Mrs. Barkley that
she was to receive "an honorarium" for the support of the little
darling. "Of course I won't spend a cent of it on myself," she added,
simply.

"Is it a child of shame?" said Mrs. Barkley, sternly.

Miss Lydia's shocked face and upraised, protesting hands, answered her:
"My baby's parents were married persons! After they - passed on, a friend
of theirs intrusted the child to me."

"When did they die?"

Miss Lydia reflected. "I didn't ask the date."

"Well, considering the child's age, the mother's death couldn't have
been very long ago," Mrs. Barkley said, dryly.

And Miss Lydia said, in a surprised way, as if it had just occurred to
her: "Why, no, of course not! It was an accident," she added.

"For the mother?"

"For both parents," said Miss Sampson, firmly. And that was all Old
Chester got out of her.

"Well," said Mrs. Drayton, "_I_ am always charitable, but uncharitable
persons might wonder. . . . It was last May, you know, that that Rives
man deserted her at the altar."

"Only fool persons would wonder anything like that about Lydia Sampson!"
said Mrs. Barkley, fiercely. . . . But even in Old Chester there were
two or three fools, so for their especial benefit Mrs. Barkley, who had
her own views about Miss Sampson's wisdom in undertaking the care of a
baby, but who would not let that Drayton female speak against her,
spread abroad the information that Miss Lydia's baby's parents, who had
lived out West, had both been killed at the same time in an accident.

"What kind?"

"Carriage, I believe," said Mrs. Barkley; "but they left sufficient
money to support the child. So," she added, "Old Chester need have no
further anxiety about Lydia's poverty. Their names? Oh - Smith."

She had the presence of mind to tell Lydia she had named the baby, and
though Miss Lydia gave a little start - for she had thought of some more
distinguished name for her charge - "Smith," and the Western parents and
the carriage accident passed into history.




CHAPTER II


DURING the first year that the "Smith" baby lived outside the brick wall
of Mr. Smith's place, the iron gates of the driveway were not opened,
because business obliged Mr. Smith to be in Europe. (Oh, said Old
Chester, so that was why Mary's wedding had to be hurried up?) When he
returned to his native land he never, as he drove past, looked at the
youngster playing in Miss Lydia's dooryard. Then once Johnny (he was
three years old) ran after his ball almost under the feet of the Smith
horses, and as he was pulled from between the wheels his grandfather
couldn't help seeing him.

"Don't do that tomfool thing again!" the old man shouted, and Johnny,
clasping his recovered ball, grinned at him.

"He sinks Johnny 'f'aid," the little fellow told Miss Lydia.

A month or two afterward Johnny threw a stone at the victoria and
involuntarily Mr. Smith glanced in the direction from which it came.
But, of course, human nature being like story books, he did finally
notice his grandson. At intervals he spoke to Miss Lydia, and when
Johnny was six years old he even stopped one day long enough to give the
child a quarter. Mr. Smith had aged very much after his daughter's
marriage - and no wonder, Old Chester said, for he must be lonely in that
big house, and Mary never coming to see him! Such behavior on the part
of a daughter puzzled Old Chester. We couldn't understand it - unless it
was that Mr. Smith didn't get along with his son-in-law? And Mary, of
course, didn't visit her father because a dutiful wife always agrees
with her husband! A sentiment which places Old Chester chronologically.

The day that Mr. Smith bestowed the quarter upon his grandson he spoke
of his daughter's "dutifulness" to Miss Lydia. Driving toward his house,
he overtook two trudging figures, passed them by a rod or two, then
called to the coachman to stop. "I'll walk," he said, briefly, and
waited, in the dust of his receding carriage until Miss Lydia and her
boy reached him. Johnny was trudging along, pulling his express wagon,
which was full of apples picked up on the path below an apple tree that
leaned over the girdling wall of the Smith place.

As Miss Lydia approached her landlord her heart came up in her throat;
it always did when she saw him, because she remembered the Olympian
thunders he had loosed on that awful night six years ago.

"How do?" said Mr. Smith. His dark eyes under bristling, snow-white
eyebrows blazed at her. He didn't notice the little boy.

"How do you do?" said Miss Lydia, in a small voice. She looked tousled
and breathless and rather spotted, and so little that Mr. Smith must
have felt he could blow her away if he wanted to. Apparently he didn't
want to. He only said:

"You - ah, never hear from - ah, my daughter, I suppose, Miss Sampson?"

"No, sir," said Miss Lydia.

"She doesn't care to visit me without her husband, and I won't have him
under my roof!" His lip lifted for an instant and showed his teeth. "I
see her when I go to Philadelphia, and she writes me duty letters
occasionally, but she never mentions - "

"Doesn't she?" said Miss Lydia.

"I don't, either. But I just want to say that if you ever need any - ah,
extra - "

"I don't, thank you."

Then, reluctantly, the flashing black eyes looked down at Johnny.
"Doesn't resemble - anybody? Well, young man!"

"Say, 'How do you do?' Johnny," Miss Lydia commanded, faintly.

"How do?" Johnny said, impatiently. He was looking over his apples and,
discovering some bruised ones, frowned and threw them away.

"Where did you get your apples?" said Mr. Smith.

"On the road," said Johnny; "they ain't yours when they drop on the
road."

"Say 'aren't,' Johnny," said Miss Lydia. "It isn't nice to say 'ain't.'"

"Why aren't they mine?" said the old man. He was towering up above the
two little figures, his feet wide apart, his hands behind him, switching
his cane back and forth like a tail.

"'Cause I've got 'em," Johnny explained, briefly.

"Ha! The nine-tenths! You'll be a lawyer, sir!" his grandfather said.
"Suppose I say, 'Give me some'?"

"I won't," said Johnny.

"Oh, you won't, eh? You'll be a politician!" Mr. Smith said.

"It isn't right to say, 'I won't,'" Miss Lydia corrected Johnny,
panting.

Mr. Smith did not notice her nervousness; the boy's attitude, legs wide
apart, hands behind him, clutching the tongue of his express wagon, held
his eye. "He's like me!" he thought, with a thrill.

"Isn't it right to say, 'I won't say I won't'?" Johnny countered.

"Jesuit!" Mr. Smith said, chuckling. "The church is the place for him,
Miss Sampson."

"Anyway," Johnny said, crossly, "I _will not_ give any of my apples
back. They're mine."

"How do you make that out?" said Mr. Smith. (And in an undertone to Miss
Lydia, "No fool, eh?")

"Because I picked 'em up," said Johnny.

"Well, here's a quarter," said his grandfather, putting his hand in his
pocket.

Johnny took the coin with an air of satisfaction, but even as he slid it
into his pocket he took it out again.

"Looky here," he said. "I thought I'd buy a pony with it, but I don't
mind paying you for your apples - " And he held out the quarter.

Mr. Smith laughed as he had not laughed for a long time. "You're a
judge of horseflesh!" he said, and walked off, switching his tail behind
him.

[Illustration: "I WILL NOT GIVE ANY OF MY APPLES BACK. THEY'RE MINE"]

The story-book plot should begin here - the rich grandfather meets the
unacknowledged grandchild, loves him, and makes him his heir - and, of
course, incidentally, showers his largess upon the poor and virtuous
lady who has cared for the little foundling; so everybody lives happy
and dies wealthy. This intelligent arrangement of fiction might have
been carried out if only Miss Lydia had behaved differently! But about
two years later her behavior -

"She's put a spoke in my wheel!" Mr. Smith told himself, blankly. It was
when Johnny was eight that the spoke blocked the grandfather's
progress. . . . He had gradually grown to know the boy very well, and,
after much backing and filling in his own mind, decided to adopt him. He
did not reach this decision easily, for there were risks in such an
arrangement; resemblances might develop, and people might put two and
two together! However, each time he decided that the risk was too great,
a glimpse of Johnny - stealing a ride by hanging on behind his
grandfather's victoria, or going in swimming in deeper water than
some of the older boys were willing to essay, or, once, blacking another
fellow's eye - such a glimpse of his own flesh and blood gave him
courage. Courage gained the day when his grandson had scarlet fever and
William King, meeting him after a call at Miss Lydia's, happened to say
that Johnny was a pretty sick child. The new Mr. Smith felt his heart
under his spreading white beard contract sharply.

"Sick! Very sick? Good God! the wet hen won't know how to take care of
him!" His alarm was so obvious that Doctor King looked at him in
surprise.

"You are fond of the little fellow?"

"Oh, I see him playing around my gate," Mr. Smith said, and walked off
quickly, lest he should find himself urging more advice, or a nurse, or
what not. "King would wonder what earthly difference it could make to
me!" he said to himself, in a panic of secrecy. It made enough
difference to cause him to write to his daughter: "I hear the child is
very sick and may die. Congratulations to Robertson."

Mary, reading the cruel words and never guessing the anxiety which had
dictated them, grew white with anger. "I will never forgive father!"
she said to herself, and went over to her husband and put her soft hands
on his shoulders and kissed him.

"Carl," she said, "the - the little boy is sick"; his questioning look
made her add, "Oh, he'll get well" - but she must have felt some unspoken
recoil in her husband, for she cried out, in quick denial, "Of course I
don't want anything to - to happen to him!"

They did not speak of Johnny's illness for two or three days; then Mary
said, "If anything had happened, we should have heard by this time?"

And Carl said, "Oh, of course."

When Johnny was well again his grandfather's fear that Doctor King might
"wonder," ebbed. "It's safe enough to take him," he said to himself; "he
doesn't look like anybody. And if I adopt him I can see that he's
properly educated - and it will scare Robertson to death!" he added,
viciously, and showed his teeth. He even discussed adopting his
grandchild with Doctor Lavendar:

"Mary hasn't done her duty," he said. "I've no grandchildren! I've a
great mind to adopt some youngster. I'm fond of children."

"Good idea," said Doctor Lavendar.

"I've taken a fancy to that little rascal who lives just at my gate.
Bright youngster. Not a cowardly streak in him! Quick-tempered, I'm
afraid. But _I_ never blame anybody for that! I've thought, once or
twice, that I'd adopt him."

"And Miss Lydia, too?" Doctor Lavendar inquired, mildly.

"Oh, I should look after her, of course," said Mr. Smith. But it was
still another six months before he really made up his mind. "I'll do
it!" he said to himself. "But I suppose," he reflected, "I ought to tell
Mary - and the skunk."

He went on to Philadelphia for the purpose of telling Mary, but he did
it when Carl was not present.

Mary blenched. "Father, _don't_! People might - "

"Damn people! I like the boy. You're a coward, Mary, and so
is - Robertson."

"No! He isn't! Carl isn't. I am."

"I won't compromise you," he ended, contemptuously. "Tell Robertson I
mean to do it. If he has anything to say he can say it in a letter."
Then he kissed her perfunctorily and said, "Goo'-by - goo'-by," and took
the night train for Mercer.

He lost no time when he got back to Old Chester in putting his plan
through. The very next afternoon, knowing that Johnny would be at Doctor
Lavendar's Collect Class, he called on Miss Lydia. Miss Sampson's little
house was more comfortable than it used to be; the quarterly check which
came from "some one" patched up leaky roofs, and bought a new carpet,
and did one or two other things; but it did not procure any luxuries,
either for Johnny or for herself, and it never made Miss Lydia look like
anything but a small, bedraggled bird; her black frizette still got
crooked and dipped over one soft blue eye, and she was generally
shabby - except on the rare occasions when she wore the blue silk - and
her parlor always looked as if a wind had blown through it. "I wouldn't
_touch_ their money for myself!" she used to think, and saved every cent
to give to Johnny when he grew up.

Into her helter-skelter house came, on this Saturday afternoon, her
landlord. He had knocked on her front door with the gold head of his
cane, and when she opened it he had said, "How do? How do?" and walked
ahead of her into her little parlor. It was so little and he was so big
that he seemed to fill the room.

Miss Lydia said, in a fluttered voice, "How do you do?"

"Miss Sampson," he said - he had seated himself in a chair that creaked
under his ruddy bulk and he put both hands on the top of his cane; his
black eyes were friendly and amused - "I've had it in mind for some time
to have a little talk with you."

"Yes, sir," said Miss Lydia.

"I need not go back to - to a painful experience that we both remember."

Miss Lydia put her head on one side in a puzzled way, as if her memory
had failed her.

"You will know that I appreciated your attitude at that time. I
appreciated it deeply."

Miss Lydia rolled her handkerchief into a wabbly lamplighter; she seemed
to have nothing to say.

"I have come here now, not merely to tell you this, but to add that I
intend to relieve you of the care of - ah, the little boy."

Miss Lydia was silent.

"There are things I should like to give him. He says he wants a pony.
And I mean to educate him. It would seem strange to do this as an
outsider; it might cause - ah, comment. So I am going to take him."

"Any grandfather would want to," said Lydia Sampson.

Mr. Smith raised his bushy eyebrows. "Well, we won't put it on that
ground. But I like the boy, though I hear he gets into fights; I'm
afraid he has the devil of a temper," said Mr. Smith, chuckling proudly.
"But I've watched him, and he's no coward and no fool, either. In fact,
I hear that he is a wonder mathematically. God knows where he got his
brains! Well, I am going to adopt him. But that will make no difference
in your income. That is assured to you as long as you live. I am
indebted to you, Miss Sampson. Profoundly indebted."

"Not at all," said Miss Lydia.

"I shall have a governess for him," said Mr. Smith; "but I hope you will
not be too much occupied" - his voice was very genial, and as he spoke he
bore down hard on his cane and began to struggle to his feet - "not too
much occupied to keep a friendly eye upon him." He was standing now, a
rather Jove-like figure, before whom Miss Lydia looked really like a
little brown grasshopper. "Yes, I trust you will not lose your interest
in him," he ended.

"I won't," she said, faintly.

"I have made all the arrangements," said Johnny's grandfather. "I simply
told - ah, the people who know about him, that I was going to take him."
He was standing, switching his cane behind him; it hit an encroaching
table leg and he apologized profusely. "Mary was badly scared. As if I
could not manage a thing like that! I like to scare - him" - the new Mr.
Smith lifted his upper lip, and his teeth gleamed - "but, of course, I
told her not to worry. Well, I hope you will see him frequently."

"I shall," said Miss Lydia.

"Of course you and I must tell the same story as to his antecedents. So
if you will let me know how you have accounted for him, I'll be a very
good parrot!"

"I haven't told any stories. I just let people call him Smith, and I
just said - to Johnny, and everybody - that I was a friend of his
mother's. That's true, you know."

"It is true, madam; it is, indeed!" said Mary's father. He bowed with
grave courtliness. "There was never a better friend than you, Miss
Sampson."

"I've been very careful not to tell anything that wasn't true," said
Miss Lydia. "I told Johnny his father and mother had lived out West;
they did, you know, for four months. Johnny began to ask questions when
he was only five; he said he wished _he_ had a mother like other little
boys. I had to tell him something, so I told him her name had been
Norton. That is true, you know. Mary's middle name is Norton. And I said
I didn't know of any cousins or uncles; and that's true. And I said 'I
had been told' that his father and mother had been killed in a carriage
accident. I _was_ told so; people made it up," said Miss Lydia, simply,
"so I just let 'em. I never said his parents had died that way. Well, it
made Johnny cry. He used to say: 'Poor mamma! Poor mamma!' I haven't
told what you'd call lies; I have only reserved the truth."

"Pathetic, his 'wanting' a mother," said Mr. Smith. "Damn my son-in-law!
Excuse me, madam."

"It would be nice if you would forgive him," Miss Lydia suggested,
timidly.

He shrugged his shoulders. "I never forgive. . . . Well, I will keep up
the geographical fiction and the runaway horses. And now I must not
detain you further. I will take the boy to-morrow."

He put out his big hand, and Miss Lydia, putting her little one into it,
said:

"Who is going to adopt him?"

"Who?" said Mr. Smith. "Why, I! Who did you suppose was going
to - Robertson? My dear Miss Sampson, reassure yourself on that point!
That hound shall never get hold of him!"

"Of course," Miss Lydia agreed, nodding, "Johnny's parents, or his
grandfather, have a right to him."

Mr. Smith was just leaving the room, but he paused on the threshold and
flung a careless word back to her: "His parents could never take him.
The thing would come out."

"If his _grandfather_ takes him it will come out," said Miss Lydia,
following him into the hall.

"Yes, but his 'grandfather' won't take him," the old man said, with a
grunt of amusement; "it is 'Mr. Smith' who is going to do that."

"'Mr. Smith' can't."

Her caller turned and stared at her blankly.

"His 'grandfather' can have him," said Miss Lydia.

"_What!_"

"His relations can have Johnny."

"But I - "

"If you are a relation," Miss Lydia said - her voice was only a little
whisper - "you can have him."

They stood there in the hall, the big man, and the small, battling
gambler of a woman, who was staking her most precious possession - a
disowned child - on the chance that the pride of the man would outweigh
his desire for ownership. Their eyes - misty, frightened blue, and
flashing black - seemed to meet and clash. "He won't dare," she was
saying to herself, her heart pounding in her throat. And Johnny's
grandfather was saying to himself, very softly, "The devil!" He bent a
little, as an elephant might stoop to scrutinize a grasshopper which was
trying to block his way, and looked at her. Then he roared with
laughter.

"Well, upon my word!" he said. He put his cane under his arm, fumbled
for his handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. "Miss Sampson," he said, "you
are a bully. And you would be a highly successful blackmailer. But you
are no coward; I'll say that for you. You are a damned game little
party! I'll see to you, ma'am, I'll see to you! - _and I'll get the
child_. But I like you. Damned if I don't!"




CHAPTER III


THE gambler went on her trembling legs back to her cluttered parlor and
sat down, panting and pallid. The throw of the dice had been in her
favor!

It was curious that she had no misgiving as to what she was doing in
thus closing the door of opportunity to Johnny - for of course, the new
Mr. Smith's protection would mean every sort of material opportunity for
him! If it had been his "grandfather's" protection which had been
offered, perhaps she might have hesitated, for that would have meant
material opportunity plus a love great enough to tell the truth; and
Miss Lydia's own love - which was but a spiritual opportunity - could not
compete with that! As it was, she tested opportunities by saying, "His
_grandfather_ can have him."

Of course it was just her old method of choosing the better part. . . .
All her life this gallant, timid woman had weighed values. She had
weighed the reputation of being a jilt as against marriage to a man she
did not respect - and she found the temporary notoriety of the first
lighter than the lifelong burden of the second. She weighed values
again, when she put her hundred dollars' worth of generosity on one side
of the scales, and William's meanness on the other - and when generosity
kicked the beam she was glad to be jilted. She had even weighed the
painful unrealities of concealed poverty as against open shabbiness, and
she saw that a dress she couldn't afford was a greater load to carry
than the consciousness of the spot on her old skirt - especially as the
spot was glorified by the memory of a friend's hospitality!

So now, when the new Mr. Smith considered adopting her boy, this simple
soul weighed values for Johnny: Mr. Smith - or Johnny's grandfather?
Pride - or love? And pride outweighed love. Miss Lydia put her hands over
her face and prayed aloud: "God, keep him proud, so I can keep Johnny!"

Apparently God did, for it was only "Mr. Smith" who made further efforts
to get her child. They were very determined efforts. Miss Lydia's
landlord saw her again, and urged. She met what he had to say with a
speechless obstinacy which made him extremely angry. When he saw her a
third time he offered her an extraordinary increase in the
honorarium - for which he had the grace five minutes later to apologize.
He saw her once more, and threatened he would "take" Johnny, anyhow!

"How?" said poor, shaking Miss Lydia. Then, as a last resort, he sent
his lawyer to her, which scared her almost to death. But the interview
produced, for Mr. Smith, nothing except legal assurance that he could


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Online LibraryMargaret Wade Campbell DelandAn Old Chester secret → online text (page 2 of 6)