The Cobweb Sweeper
A Story Combining Love, Business and Christmas
A. C. Allenson
Who wrote “The Bluewater Prodigal,” etc.
NOT in this generation, nor the next, will the financial panic of a few years ago be forgotten in
the manufacturing district around Fulcherville and its neighboring town Frampton. It followed a decade of prosperity during which money had been shovelled up rather than made, and the inevitable bonanza ills had accompanied it. Country financial frogs, the Napoleons of provincial puddles, sought to match the metropolitan oxen, and dreamed themselves into the Morgan class. They began feverishly to advertise their advent by purchasing rare tapestries, old masters, and famous manuscripts. Manufacturers who had been ordinary workingmen a few years before, bloomed overnight into captains of industry. Their wives and daughters, happy heretofore on a hundred a month and Sunday supplement dreams, became, on a thousand, wretched with envyings, and the horrible toil of social greased-pole climbing.
Their sons began to regard work as the servile bondage of the great unwashed, and to be afflicted, in virulent degree, with yearnings after polo, and other undemocratic diversions that are supposed to mark the caste of Vere de Vere. Then came the deluge, the Lord being very gracious. The rains descended, the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon the houses that were long on castellated battlements and short on foundations, and they fell, and great was the fall thereof. After the cyclone the world was sweeter, fairer, cleaner.
It blew incipient hell out and permanent salvation in. There are young men round that district to-day, first-rate, good fellows, working hard six days a week to the everlasting profit of their immortal souls, married to cured climbers who are self-broke to kneading board and gingham aprons, and raising perfectly satisfactory boys and girls, instead of pedigree pups and the general devil. The cyclone stripped away the rococo and gingerbread, and the sufferers learned in amaze that, after all, they were really men and women, instead of things for ingenious
tailors, valets, dressmakers and lady’s maids to experiment upon.
IT was ten o’clock of a brilliant October morning that Miss Pandora Fulcher’s car set her down before the doors of a big office block in Grantchester. Even the bustling, selfcentered business men, streaming to and from the elevators, turned to cast a second glance at the tall, big-framed, plainly dressed woman, who seemed to bring with her, as she strode through the crowd, something of the swing and majesty of the seas.
Verging on sixty, her eyes, dark, direct, piercing, were expressive and full of the fire of youth. In her strong, ivory-tinted face was something of the severe immobility of the Indian. The prominent cheekbones, the firm, rather full lips, and powerful beaked nose, emphasized the impres-
Among those who hurried along were doubtless some who recognized the multimillionaire mistress of the great chain of factories that were scattered over the Eastern States of America and Eastern Canada, whose summer home in the Thousand Islands, and mansion on Fifth Avenue, New York City, were famous from one end of the land to the other, and whose steam yacht, the Xantippe, was known on all the Seven Seas.
It was left, however, for Jimmy McShane, the senior elevator man, to give formal expression of Grandchester’s welcome to its distinguished daughter. Jimmy had been expecting her, for he had seen in the papers the notice of the return of the Xantippe from its summer cruise through the Norwegian Fjords. By nature, and experience as an elevator man, Jimmy was a misogynist, but as his eye caught the redoubtable figure, his Saturnine map-of-Ireland face cleft in a wide smile, and he doffed his cap in profound salute. The only other being to whom Jimmy did this honor was his Maker, when he enterdd church on Sunday. There was a little story back of this —a story of Jimmy's crippled boy, Danny, an incurable invalid, so it had been said; of a famous surgeon who worked wonderful miracles upon little crippled children like Danny, and made them straight and strong again, but whose fees were far beyond the range of the purse of an elevator man; nnd of a formidable-looking, sharp-tongued woman, who sent the child to the big doctor, paid all the big bills,
and then took him with his mother and nurse, in her yacht over far seas to pleasant lands, and brought him back to Jimmy strong and straight and hale. McShane had the burning Irish heart, keenly sensitive to wrongs, and more so to kindness, and from that day God, to him, walked abroad in the streets of Grandchester in strange guise.
A BRIEF, hearty chat with Jimmy ended, Miss Fulcher made her way to the city offices of the Fulcherville Company on the fifth floor. The business year of the firm ended with August. The balance sheet, together with a voluminous and itemized report of the work of the various departments had been sent to her at Copenhagen, and she had studied it on the way home, for she was a shrewd business woman, and kept an experienced eye on the general progress of the mills. Ezra Flaxton, her general manager, a tall, spare, rather bilious-looking man, who had grown up in the mills from “doffer” lad to superintendent, and whose strong, capable hand was on every part of their complex organization, was awaiting her. In a few minutes they were busy with reports and balance sheets. The year had been prosperous, orders abundant, and profits large. There was, as usual, little to criticize, but the sharp eye of the mistress detected one bare spot in the generally prosperous field.
“What’s the matter with mohairs this year, Ezra?’’ she enquired. “Production has fallen off, and profits considerably reduced.”
“A bit of extra sharp competition that caught us napping in the early part of the season,” he admitted. “There was a time when we had that field pretty much to ourselves, but young Lathrop of Frampton, has jumped into it, and he got away with business our travellers thought they owned. I don’t think, though, he’ll catch us that way again.” “Who’s Lathrop?” asked Miss Pandora, interested at once.
“Just a bright youngster who bought the old Slade mill at Frampton,” he replied. “Penstock, the money-lender, got his hooks into Tom Slade, foreclosed, bought in at the sale, and sold to Lathrop, on a basis of so much down and the balance in annual instalments.”
“So the Slades are gone?” she mused. “I remember the time when they thought the country hinged on them.”
“And the last of them is down to borrowing quarters for drinks," said Ezra.
“That’s the way of it, sabots to silken shoes, and silken shoes to sabots again. ‘Clogs to clogs in three generations,’ the Old Country folk put it,” quoted Miss Pandora. “The earlier generation made
its money like a chain-gang laborer, the last spent it like a drunken sailor. Who is the new man, Lathrop?"
“A boy with his head screwed on the right way, and lots of hustle and pluck,” replied Ezra, generously. The Fulcherville folk were big enough not to grudge the small man his place in the sun. They would make him fight his best, but in the scrap they would use their weight fairly, and a little more than that. “He’ll make his way all right, if he can weather the storm that is coming.”
“There is trouble ahead, then?” she asked. “I heard whispers and prophecies on the other side.”
“Big trouble,” he replied. “It is here now, right overhead, and black as ink. After the hot spell come the lightnings and winds and floods, and it has been a hot spell all right. Reckless borrowing and lending and spending, without a thought of the morrow. You would think a bottomless gold mine had been discovered by the new smarties who grew richer the deeper they went. Banks and trust companies are as mad as the rest, or madder, and now the paying time has come, and they’ll pay to the skin and bone of ’em. There’ll be fewer paper millionaires this time three months, and a lot of good, wholesome business that can’t get clear of the wreckage will be swept away. Lathrop out yonder is tied up to some shaky concerns, and he’ll find Penstock hard as the nether millstone if he makes a slip. The boy’s a live competitor, but I’d hate to see him swamped. He’s married to a nice little girl, and just getting to his feet.”
“Sentimental as a housemaid still, Ezra,” sniffed Miss Pandora. “Business is war, and the time to sympathize with a competitor is when you send the ‘Gates Ajar’ to his funeral. When he’s living knock him on the head, and it will cost little to say what a fine fellow he was when he’s in his coffin and won’t buck your trade any more. Well, I’ll get back home. What a day it would be at sea! I’ll take a run up to Fulcherville some day next week to look over things, and then I’ll begin to prepare for the trip South with the turn of the year. I’ll be miserable in Heaven, Ezra, if there’s no sea there.”
Looking back on events in the light of subsequent history, it is borne in on one that the zenith o f Frampton’s halcyon day was attained on the
Saturday of Mrs. Milton Penstock’s "Five O’clock” at the Country Club. The day looms up, in retrospect, with a “night before Waterloo” halo about it.
Mrs. Milton Penstock, a large, floridly handsome woman, was one of the leaders of the little manufacturing town’s haut monde. Ancestry and lineage, antecedent to a possible grandfather, few Framptonians could boast, and those were to be found among the poorer and humbler, the has-been and down-and-out financially, who consequently counted no longer.
Social status fixed itself automatically, on the sliding scale principle, in sympathy with the size of the individual or family dollar pile.
Mr. William Milton Penstock had been known in his humbler days as Billy, but with the acquisition of money and status, his reserve name had come into use. He was Frampton’s most brilliant illustration of the trite adage that there’s plenty of room at the top. His ascent from a second-hand furniture dealer’s business, to a chattel mortgage money-lender, and thence to a real estate magnate, had been monkey-like in its rapid agility. The poor we have always writh us, hence the success of the Penstock kind, those skilled fishers in the troubled waters of the unfortunates’ world. He now called himself a banker, an elastic term that covers a wide diversity of financial operations. One of his most earnest pursuits was to obey the apostolic behest, forgetting the things that are behind, and pressing forward to the prizes ahead. A neat, suave little man, with shrewd, grey, cold eyes, sharp nose, relentless steel grip, and a store of pompous moral platitudes that would have ornamented the discourse of a bishop. He could foreclose on the home of a widow so sympathetically, that she would almost believe him to be the hap-
less victim of some inexorable legal process that compelled him to do what he hated with all his soul. Blunt-spoken men called him a variety of harsh and nasty names, but, on the whole, he was in good repute, for money covers a multitude of sins in the popular recollection.
He had purchased and presented a rare folio Shakespeare to the Frampton Public Library, and the gem of the local Art Gallery was an Old Master, representing Joseph cornering the wheat crop of Egypt, presented, so the elaborate gift scroll above it ran, by William Milton Penstock, Esquire.
NOW the Country Club’s five o’clock teas were among the high-water mark functions of Frampton’s social life, and none was more brilliant or exclusive than that of Mrs. Penstock. This particular afternoon the pretty club house, the “Dormy House,” as it was rather plagiaristically named, with its spacious grounds, furnished a very charming scene. On the far meadows two teams of helmeted and malleted Frampton ians of the blood dashed hither and thither on ratty ponies.
The fair green of the golf course w'as pleasantly flecked with the bright colors of moving players. On the tennis courts the white balls flashed to and fro like swift shuttles. A company of matronly ladies, attracted by social rather than sporting pleasure, sat about the breezy angle of the wide veranda, for the Indian summer day was hot. The players would not return from their various amusements for some time, so social converse, of a more or less intimate and gossipv kind, whiled away the pleasant hour ‘There were some present who had heard and seen, with wondering anxiety, the whisperings and signs of the coming storm, but the day and scene were so fair and idyllic that it was hard to believe that there could be serious ill in so agreeable a world.
IT was in this calm, beautiful hour that the strange woman appeared. None knew whence she came. She just manifested herself, dark, grey, grim, a veritable perambulating portent, so she seemed. She strolled across the course near the eighteenth hole, skirted the flowerbordered lawn, and stood for some min-
utes surveying the general effect of the handsome house, herself the cynosure of a score of wondering eyes, many of them frankly amused. Mrs. Penstock raised her lorgnette and swept the woman from her stout laced walking shoes, upwards. Short cloth skirt, white blouse, dark gipsy face, and amazing hat. No such hat had ever been seen within the precincts of the Frampton Country Club. It was little less than appalling, and looked like nothing in the world so much as the cone-shaped top of a discarded straw beehive of generous proportions.
In her ungloved hand the strange visitor carried a stout hazel walkingstick. Mrs. Penstock lowered her lorgnette and announced that she would speak very severely to the steward about permitting friends of the servants to ramble about the lawms on Five-O’Clock days. She was about to summon a waiter and request him to direct the misguided creature to the kitchens, when the stranger, her architectural study finished, marched up the steps, surveyed the assembled throng with democratic imperialism, noded to it collectively with friendly impartiality, strode to the opposite end of the veranda, and seated herself comfortably.
“Mullins!” gasped the horrified hostess to a servant, glancing at the human bomb that had deposited itself in the sanctum sanctorum of Frampton. “Is that—er—person—a member of the Club”
“I do not seem to recognize the lady, Madame,” replied the man.
“See the steward immediately, and find out,” she ordered, sharply.
“Very well, Madame,” and Mullins escaped. Passing along the veranda the stranger saw and summoned him.
“Mullins,” she said, a twinkle in her eye. “Bring me tea and biscuits, please.” Mullins knew a lady when he saw and heard one. He inclined his head with great respect, and bustled off to execute her order.
ALICE LATHROP, a pretty young matron, with a little girl at her side, watched the scene with some indignation and some quiet enjoyment. She was sure the old lady had heard Mrs. Penstock, but her eyes sparkled with delight at the calm assurance of the extraordinary interloper. There was a fine challenging truculence about the woman, a chippiness of the shoulders, an indefinable air of frank and breezy personality. Alice was seized by a great desire to go over and chat with the stranger, but while she hesitated, fearing intrusion, her littjle girl ran away from her, pattered over the veranda to the woman, and put out her arms to be taken up.
“Why, you sweet little cherub!” said the woman, lifting the child to her lap.
“No, that’s not my name,” replied the mite. “I am Mary Lathrop, and daddy calls me honeybunch. That’s mother
over there, the pretty lady in the white dress. Who are you, please?”
“I am old Mother Hubbard who went to the cupboard, and I am the Old Woman who lived in a Shoe, and—” replied the stranger.
“No, you are not.” The little maid shook her curls, laughing. “Where are all your babies, then? Did you spank them all and send them to bed before you came out?” And her silvery mirth rang over the lawns.
“I know who you are,” she continued confidentially.
“Well, who am I? There’s the nicest, prettiest box of candy the steward can bring if you can tell me truly,” said the woman.
“You are the old lady who sweeps the cobwebs off the sky, and this is your broomstick.” And the child took up the hazel staff. “Guess you sweeped the broom part all off?”
The woman chuckled with delight.
“What a clever little honeybunch, to guess right away,” she said. “That is just who I am. The sky was so dreadfully black and dirty, and therewere such lots of spiders spinning their ugly webs there. I guess I’ll have to buy a new broom. Now we’ll go hunt up that candy box.”
And hand in hand the big, grim woman and the dainty child passed indoors to the steward’s counter, returning a few minutes later with a great pictured box
Continued on page 56.
The Cobweb Sweeper
Continued, from page 46.
of chocolates. Young Mrs. Lathrop met them as they came out.
“Oh, Mummy!” said the child. “See what the old lady who sweeps the cobwebs off the sky has given me.”
“I am afraid I have a very rude little girl,” said Alice, apologetically. “You really should not have given her such a lovely box.”
“She’s a darling, my dear,” said the woman. “You are Mrs. Lathrop—Mrs. Charles Lathrop, I suppose?”
“Yes,” replied Alice. “You know my husband? He is out on the links just
“No, but I have heard of you,” the other answered. “Won’t you sit down a moment? I’m afraid I ran into some function here of unusual solemnity. May I ask who the lady is who apparently regards me as some odd biological specimen?”
“I think you mean Mrs. Milton Penstock,” said Alice, a smile playing about the corners of her mouth.
“Very likely. She rather resembles the name,” observed the woman, with quiet tartness. “I rather fancy she must be the girl from the cigar store who married the pawnbroker.” There was nothing cattish or offensive about the manner of the audible reflection. It was simply the relation of a biographical fact, but little Mrs. Lathrop nearly collapsed with suppressed merriment. Whoever the terrible old woman might be, she knew somethings of the buried corpses of by-gone Frampton history.
At any rate the old lady chatted to Alice and the child for a pleasant half hour over the teacups, then a cab drove up for her, and she took her departure.
“I am coming to see you and little honeybunch the very next time I am in Frampton,” she said, waving her hand as she drove off.
“Who on earth is she?” asked two or three ladies, as Alice rejoined the circle. The men were coming in by this time.
“I haven’t the remotest idea,” laughed Mrs. Lathrop. “She knows something of Frampton and its people, at least by the latter’s names, but she was not at all communicative as to her own.”
“I don’t like these mysterious gipsy people prowling about the place. Fancy the woman having the effrontery to ask for tea here as if it was a common roadside hotel,” snapped the dignified Mrs. Penstock. “The steward should be warned to keep a sharp eye on such people and the club silver.”
“She’s the old lady who sweeps the cobwebs off the sky,” piped the child, nodding her head very positively.
“And gives bad little babies five-dollar boxes of candy,” said Charlie Lathrop, grabbing up his small daughter.
“Pardon me, Madame,” said the polite Mullins reappearing. “The lady you enquired about registered before she left.” Mullins smiled decorously. Who, more than a waiter, should be a humorist? Moreover, it was not often he pocketed a tip of the size the strange woman had given him—and he had taken a look at the book on his own account.
“Bring the volume, Mullins!” commanded Mrs. Penstock. He obeyed. She grabbed it, and read the entry. Her lorgnette and jaw dropped simultaneously. She lay back in her chair, almost
gasping from emotion and mortification. Lathrop took up the book.
“Pandora Fulcher!” he read aloud, amid impressive silence. Oh! the agony and reniorse of the “might have been!” Pandora Fulcher, donor of the grounds, mistress of millions, of Fulcherville, with its ten thousand workpeople, of the great mansion on Fifth Avenue, to say nothing of the Thousand Islands abode. Pandora Fulcher of the far-famed Xantippe, who was reputed to have snubbed the Kaiser, and told the Crown Prince that it was a misfortune he hadn’t been obliged to work for a living. The woman whose social recognition, the mere acceptance of a cup of tea, would have meant fadeless glory to Mrs. Milton Penstock!
Such are life’s little ironies. Mrs. Penstock could almost have hated little Mrs. Lathrop and her child for having basked three-quarters of an hour in the sunlight of that august presence. How it would have read in the “Social Whirl” column of the Frampton Eagle: “Mrs.
Milton Penstock entertained at the Country Club on Saturday afternoon a small but exclusive party of Frampton’s elite. Among the guests were Miss Pandora Fulcher-.”
These are the tears of things. The glorious sunlight was throwing long shadows over the green hillsides, on lawn and river, upland and wood, but the word “Ichabod!” was stamped over all. Its glory had departed.
Mrs. Penstock drove home, bullied her husband acutely, and spent the next forty-eight hours in bed with a severely mortified temper. She had stood at the open gates of Paradise, and, like a fool, had failed to walk in.
IT was a remark overheard on his way from church one Sunday morning that first gave Lathrop uneasiness. The Frampton Trust Company, one of the chief banking concerns in town, had been seeking extra financial accommodation in the metropolis, and had not been successful, so rumor ran. After a prolonged period of abundant money, a sudden stringency developed, and this, coming on the heels of profuse prodigality, became a revelation of horror. During lunch Charlie was quieter than usual.
Times were becoming chaotic, he knew, but his home bank he had never suspected. Pillars deemed immovable were shaking, institutions supposedly firm-based as the hills were quivering like windblown houses of cards.
That his own supports were doubtful he had never imagined for an instant. Now he had grave reason for anxiety, depending as much as he did on the assistance of his bankers. He had bought his mill cheaply, all his money was sunk in it, he still owed Penstock $25,000, payable in yearly instalments of $5,000. On the coming Saturday an instalment would be due, and he had made, as he supposed, provision for it, but if anything happened to the bank, he would be swept away with it. He knew that no mercy was to be expected from Penstock, who would want the letter of his bond to the day and hour, though the world should fall, and would regard Lathrop’s calamity as his providential opportunity.
The young manufacturer said nothing to his wife of his fears, and when Monday passed uneventfully he was glad he had been silent. She was busy with preparations for Christmas, which was only ten days off.
The thing was doubtless only idle or malicious rumor after all.
When he went down to his mill early on Tuesday morning he saw a knot of people gathered about the bank doors, hours before opening time. Before noon there was a full-blast run on the institution. For two days the bank stood up to it, courageously but vainly seeking to stem the wild torrent. It closed late on Wednesday evening, with the assurance that the worst was over. It was, perhaps. The doubt, the fearfulness and anxiety were done with, for the bank never opened
LATHROP was not the man to go down without a fight. There were two other banks in town, and he tried both. The first turned him down at once, though a week earlier it would have jumped at his account. They were, however, calling in and not paying out, and snuggling down with shortened sail for the hurricane. For a few hours he thought he might succeed with the other, but that failed him, too. Penstock was one of the directors, as was Flaxton, the Fulcherville manager. Lathrop did not think that dour old Flaxton, though a business rival, would block him, but Penstock hinted, with many condolences, that the Fulcherville man had been rather spiteful. For two days he hunted high and low for relief, making that humiliating and agonizing appeal for help, that shows a man how bare a place the world can be, and sufficiently illustrates the hollowness and sham of much social and religious profession, where the almighty, divine dollar is concerned. He had splendid security, was amply solvent, had a fine growing business, but sheer terror drove the moneyed interests to close cover, and greed egged on the wreckers. One humiliation Lathrop resolved he would not suffer, and that was to appeal to Pen-
He would take his failure to meet this particular obligation as decisive. When Friday night came he had tried every available source of relief and had failed. Everybody was sorry for him, but nobody was prepared to put their sorrow on a money basis.
ALICE knew his failure aä soon as she saw him coming up the garden path. She had put the child to bed. Her man would need all she could be to him this night. She had had her own troubles during the day. The little town knew of the impending collapse, there was a reference to the rumor in the evening paper. Tradesmen were dropping round in that, nervously casual way of theirs for smalT accounts. Sympathetic friends had looked! in, some curious to know if the pretty little house would be sold, and, if it were to be sold, how much did she think it would be likely to fetch at the sheriff’s sale? Others tried the piano disparagingly and asked whether she did not think the dealer had stuck them in the price. One or two were especially curious to know whether she thought of parting with that runabout that Charlie had given her on her last birthday.
Shylock was importunate and obstinate, but he was open-handed, free-hearted, de-
licately considerate, in comparison with the female of his kind. Alice had never before realized the brutal, bargain-hunting, soulessness of women until now. She had cried a little after they had gone and then, ashamed of her tears, had made the sacrifice in her heart, and waited in quiet, smiling courage, to cheer and stimulate that of her husband.
“I’m beaten, little wife,” he said, bitter words for a husband to utter. No matter how blameless he may be, the realization that his hostages, wife and child, must suffer with him, and because of him,
“It has got to be a fresh start, right from the bottom rung, but we can do it, girlie, can’t we? No man can be kept down who has a woman like you at his side.”
They faced it resolutely, cheerfully. The worst was over. He told her of his search and failure, and then of something pleasanter.
Nothing had been harder than for him to know that there would be no wages for his workpeople on the morrow, artd Christ» mas just ahead. They would have to wait till the liquidators got things straightened, and he had feared his collapse would darken many Christmas homes. But now he told her that his workpeople, hearing of his trouble, had come to him, offering to continue work for a month and wait for their wages, and some had even been ready to lend him their small savings.
It is the poor who are generous in the pinches. They know the meaning of the -struggle.
THE evening was far advanced when they heard footsteps on the garden
P “Sympathetic bill collector, I suppose,” said Charlie, rising.
“You stay here, I’ll attend to him,” said Alice, hurrying from the room, and closing the door behind her.
“An unholy hour for making calls, my dear,” said a voice out of the gloom. “I am leaving the neighborhood to-morrow, Christmas foolishness, you know, and I wanted to see you and little honeybunch before I went.”
«Miss Fulcher!” said Alice in amaze, drawing her out of the cold into the little hall.
“So you found me out?” said that lady. “How is the lorgnette woman who thought I was after the club silver? I heard all about it later. One of the advantages of being old, ugly, and plainly dressed is that you get pretty close to the world’s mind about you.”
“How do you do, Mr. Lathrop?” she continued, as Alice made the introduction. “I was curious to know the man who deserved so charming a wife, and such a dear little girl as little honeybunch.” “Good fortune doesn’t always desert the ill-deserving, Miss Fulcher,” laughed Lathrop. “I take my good luck without worrying about my ill desert.”
“Pretty sensible thing to do,” agreed the lady. “Well, a humble man’s the noblest work of God, and a lot rarer than the honest one they crack up so much, though he’s not over-plentiful. No, my dear child, I dined an hour ago, but if you will give me a cup of tea, I’ll be glad of it. The beverage of that name at the Fulcherville Hotel is the most infernal poison ever brewed by an amateur Lady Macbeth of a cook.”
“It is delicious, my dear,” she said, as she sipped the tea. “And now we are
comfortable, please sit down, child, here by me. 1 love pretty faces. I came here to have a chat with you two babes in the wood. You know I am an old maid, and fearfully inquisitive, as perhaps you do not know. What’s all this hullaballoo I was reading about in to-night’s papers? Troubles, eh?”
The two sat silently a moment, not knowing how to begin or what to say. Neither of them was given to parading trouble.
“Oh, my dears, my dears!” said Miss Pandora. “I am old enough almost to be your grandmother, so you needn’t mind talking to me.”
“Yes, we are in pretty deep trouble, Miss Fulcher,” said Charlie. And he told her the story from first to last, wondering, as he spoke, at the strange power the stranger woman had to draw out of him what he had scarcely told his wife.
"A hundred families to be thrown out of work at Christmas time, and a useful business ruined by a pawn-broking Shylock!” she exclaimed, when he ended the tale. _ “And you two and little honeybunch put practically into the street? What a pretty home you have, children ! Come, let me see little honeybunch.”
Alice went and fetched the child, all rosy with sleep. When she saw Miss Pandora, the child held out her arms.
“The old lady who sweeps the cobwebs off the sky,” she said, nestling her sunny little head against the old maid’s breast. They played together for some time, and then Miss Pandora carried her up to bed again and tucked her in. When she came down, she prepared to leave, and held out her hand to Lathrop.
“Good-night, Mr. Lathrop,” she said. “And, by the way, can you be at your office in the morning at nine?”
“Yes, Miss Fulcher,” he said, his face paling.
“Very well, I'll be there with my lawyer, Dick Ambler. Fine boy, Dick, never be Chief Justice, but can sail a boat smartly as Charlie Barr,” she continued. “I’ve been making enquiries about you to-day. Do you know you have a thick and thin friend in my friend and manager, Ezra Flaxton? He says you hack prices disgracefully sometimes, and have beaten him to a few orders, but he loves a fighter. I have great faith in his judgment, and a lot more in my own. He hates Penstock like the very devil, and he’s the most vindictive and poisonous hater I ever knew. He tells me that he he won’t have you swamped, and used quite violent and improper and unladylike language in intimating it. It would be bad, he said, for local trade, bad for a lot of industrious workpeople, and what is more, it would be good for Penstock. What Ezra says on such topics goes with me.
“You can let the world know to-morrow morning that in this squall, blow high or blow low, Pandora Fulcher and Ezra Flaxton are with you. The Xantippe never yet ran from a craft in distress, and we are too old to learn new tricks now. Mr. Ambler will bring over money for
the wages to-morrow, and there’s any part of $50,000 you need to pay off Shylock, and keep the ship afloat, at your call as soon as the hank opens.
“Dick Ambler will fix things, and remember there are no strings to it. Fight Flaxton all you want. He’s getting run down because things go too easily with him. Make him scrap and you’ll put years on to his life, but be sure of this you’ll have no snap with him. He’s a cunning old fighter. God bless you, children, you musn’t get the notion into your heads at your time of life that we are all thugs and sandbaggers.
“Folks say we are queer people at Fulcherville, and have queer ways. Maybe it’s true.”