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A Philanthropist

Josephine Daskam Bacon

  Produced by David Widger


  By Josephine Daskam

  Copyright, 1903, by Charles Scribner's Sons

  "I suspected him from the first," said Miss Gould, with some irritation,to her lodger. She spoke with irritation because of the amused smileof the lodger. He bowed with the grace that characterized all his lazymovements.

  "He looked very much like that Tom Waters that I had at the ReformedDrunkards' League last year. I even thought he was Tom--"

  "I do not know Tom?" hazarded the lodger.

  "No. I don't know whether I ever mentioned him to you. He came twice tothe League, and we were really quite hopeful about him, and the thirdtime he asked to have the meeting at his house. We thought it a greatsign--the best of signs, in fact. So as a great favor we went thereinstead of meeting at the Rooms. I was a little late--I lost theway--and when I got there I heard a great noise as if they were singingdifferent songs at the same time. I hurried in to lead them--they getso mixed in the singing--and--it makes me blush now to think of it!--thewretch had invited them all early, and--and they were all intoxicated!

  "I am sorry I told you," she added with dignity; for the lodger, in anendeavor to smile sympathetically, had lost his way and was convulsedwith a mirth entirely unregretful.

  "Not at all, not at all," he murmured politely. "It is a delightfulstory. I would not have missed it--a choir of reformed drunkards! But doyou not, my dear Miss Gould, perceive in these little setbacks a warningagainst further attempts? Do you still attend the League? It is notpossible!"

  "Possible?" echoed his visitor; for owing to certain recent and untowardcircumstances, Miss Gould was half reclining in her lodger's greatIndian chair, sipping a glass of his '49 port. "Indeed I do! Theyhad every one of them to be reformed all over again! It was mostdisgraceful!"

  Her lodger checked a rising smile, and leaned solicitously toward her,regarding her firm, fine-featured face with flattering attention.

  "Are you growing stronger? Can I bring you anything?" he inquired.

  Miss Gould's color rose, half with anger at her weakness of body, halfwith a vexed consciousness of his amusement.

  "Thank you, no," she returned coldly, "I am ashamed to have been soweak-minded. I must go now and tell Henry to pile the wood again in theeast corner. There will probably come another tramp very soon--they arevery prevalent this month, I hear."

  Her lodger left his low wicker seat--a proof of enormous excitement--andfrowned at her.

  "Do you seriously mean, Miss Gould, that you are going to run the riskof another such--such catastrophe? It is absurd. I cannot believe it ofyou! Is there no other way--"

  But he had been standing a long while, it occurred to him, and heretired to the chair again. A splinter of wood on his immaculate whiteflannel coat caught his eye, and a slow smile spread over his handsome,lazy face. It grew and grew until at last a distinct chuckle penetratedto the dusky corner where the Indian chair leaned back against dullOriental draperies. Its occupant attempted to rise, her face stern, hermouth unrelenting. He was at her side instantly.

  "Take my arm--and pardon me!" he said with an irresistible grace. "It isonly my fear for your comfort, you know, Miss Gould. I cannot bear thatyou should be at the mercy of every drunken fellow that wishes to imposeon you!"

  As she crossed the hall that separated her territory from his, her fine,full figure erect, her dark head high in the air, a whimsical regretcame over him that they were not younger and more foolish.

  "I should certainly marry her to reform her," he said to the birch logthat spluttered on his inimitable colonial fire-dogs. And then, as theremembrance of the events of the morning came to him, he laughed again.

  He had been disturbed at his leisurely coffee and roll by a rapidand ceaseless pounding, followed by a violent rattling, and varied bystifled cries apparently from the woodshed. The din seemed to come fromthe lower part of the house, and after one or two futile appeals to theman who served as valet, cook, and butler in his bachelor establishment,he decided that he was alone in his half of the house, and that thenoise came from Miss Gould's side. He strolled down the beautifulwinding staircase, and dragged his crimson dressing-gown to the topof the cellar stairs, the uproar growing momentarily more terrific.Half-way down the whitewashed steps he paused, viewing the remarkablescene below him with interest and amazement. The cemented floor wasliterally covered with neatly chopped kindling-wood, which rose as in atide under the efforts of a large red-faced man who, with the regularityof a machine, stooped, grasped a billet in either hand, shook them inthe face of Miss Gould, who cowered upon a soap-box at his side, andflung them on the floor. From the woodhouse near the cellar muffledshouts were heard through a storm of blows on the door. From therattling of this door, and the fact that the red-faced man aimed everythird stick at it, the observer might readily conclude that some onedesirous of leaving the woodhouse was locked within it.

  For a moment the spectator on the stairs stood stunned. The noisewas deafening; the appearance of the man, whose expression was one ofsettled rage but whose actions were of the coldest regularity, was mostbewildering, partially obscured as it was by the flying billets ofwood; the mechanical attempts of Miss Gould to rise from the soap-box,invariably checked by a fierce brandishing of the stick just taken fromthe lessening pile, were at once startling and fascinating, inasmuchas she was methodically waved back just as her knees had unbent for thetrial, and as methodically essayed her escape again, alternately risingwith dignity and sinking back in terror.

  The red dressing-gown advanced a step, and met her gaze. Dignity andterror shifted to relief.

  "Oh, Mr. Welles!" she gasped. Her lodger girded up his _robe de chambre_with its red silk cord and advanced with decision through the chaos ofbirch and hickory. A struggle, sharp but brief, and he turned to findMiss Gould offering a coil of clothes-rope with which to bind theconquered, whom conflict had sobered, for he made no resistance.

  "What do you mean by such idiotic actions?" the squire of damesdemanded, as he freed the maddened Henry from his durance vile in thewoodhouse and confronted the red-faced man, who had not uttered a word.

  He cast a baffled glance at Miss Gould and a triumphant smile at Henrybefore replying. Then, disdaining the lady's righteous indignation andthe hired man's threatening gestures, he faced the gentleman in thescarlet robe and spoke as man to man.

  "Gov'nor," he said with somewhat thickened speech, "I come here an' Iasked for a meal. An' she tol' me would I work fer it? An' I said yes.An' she come into this ol' vault of a suller, an' she pointed to thatol' heap o' wood, an' she tol' me ter move it over ter that corner.An' I done so fer half an hour. An' I says to that blitherin' fool overthere, who was workin' in that ol' wood-house, what the devil did shecare w'ich corner the darned stuff was in? An' he says that she didn'tcare a hang, but that she'd tell the next man that come along to moveit back to where I got it from; he said 'twas a matter er principlewith her not to give a man a bite fer nothin'! So I shut him in his ol'house, an' w'en she come down I gave her a piece of my mind. I don'tmind a little work, mister, but when it come to shufflin' kind-lin'sround in this ol' tomb fer half an hour an' makin' a fool o' myself fernothin', I got my back up. My time ain't so vallyble to me as 'tis tosome, gov'nor, but it's worth a damn sight more'n that!"

  Miss Gould's lodger shuddered as he remembered the quarter he hadsurreptitiously bestowed upon the man, and the withering scorn thatwould be his portion were the weakness known. He smiled as he recalledthe scene in the cellar when he had helped Miss Gould up the stairs andreturned to soothe Henry, who regretted that he had left one timber ofthe woodhouse upon another.

  "Though I'm bound to say, Mr. Welles, that I see how he felt. I've oftenfelt like a
fool explainin' how they was to move that wood back an'forth. It does seem strange that Miss Gould has to do it that way. Give'em some-thin' an' let 'em go, I say!"

  It was precisely his own view--but how fundamentally immoral theposition was he knew so well! He recalled Miss Gould's lectures on thesubject, miracles of eloquence and irrefutably correct in deductionsthat interested him not nearly so much as the lecturer.

  "So firm, so positive, so wholesome!" he would murmur to himself intacit apology for the instructive hours spent before their commonground, the great fireplace in the central hall. He never sat therewithout remembering their first interview: her resentment