Read CHAPTER II - THE CHICAGO LETTER of Jewel A Chapter In Her Life , free online book, by Clara Louise Burnham, on ReadCentral.com.

The mother was still laughing and struggling in the irresistible embrace when both became aware that a third person was regarding them in open-mouthed astonishment.

“’Zekiel, let me go!” commanded the scandalized woman, and pushed herself free from her tormentor, who forthwith returned rather sheepishly to his buckles.

The young man with trim-pointed beard and mirthful eyes, who stood in the driveway, had just dismounted from a shining buggy. Doubt and astonishment were apparently holding him dumb.

The housekeeper, smoothing her disarranged locks and much flushed of face, returned his gaze, rising from her chair.

“I couldn’t believe it was you, Mrs. Forbes!” declared the newcomer. “Fanshaw isn’t-” He looked around vaguely.

“No, he isn’t, Dr. Ballard,” returned Mrs. Forbes shortly. “He forgot to rub down Essex Maid one evening when she came in hot, and that finished him with Mr. Evringham.”

The young doctor’s lips twitched beneath his mustache as he looked at ’Zekiel, polishing away for dear life.

“You seem to have some one else here-some friend,” he remarked tentatively.

“Friend!” echoed the housekeeper with exasperation, feeling to see just how much Zeke had rumpled her immaculate collar. “We looked like friends when you came up, didn’t we!”

“Like intimate friends,” murmured the doctor, still looking curiously at the big fair-haired fellow, who was crimson to his temples.

“I don’t know how long we shall continue friends if he ever grabs me again like that just after I’ve put on a clean collar. He’s got beyond the place where I can correct him. I ought to have done it oftener when I had the chance. This is my boy ’Zekiel, Dr. Ballard,” with a proud glance in the direction of the youth, who looked up and nodded, then continued his labors. “Mr. Evringham has engaged him on trial. He’s been with horses a couple of years, and I guess he’ll make out all right.”

“Glad to know you, ’Zekiel,” returned the doctor. “Your mother has been a good friend of mine half my life, and I’ve often heard her speak of you. Look out for my horse, will you? I shall be here half an hour or so.”

When the doctor had moved off toward the house Mrs. Forbes nodded at her son knowingly.

“Might’s well walk Hector into the barn and uncheck him, Zeke,” she said. “They’ll keep him more’n a half an hour. That young man, ’Zekiel Forbes,-that young man’s my hope.” Mrs. Forbes spoke impressively and shook her forefinger to emphasize her words.

“What you hoping about him?” asked ’Zekiel, laying down the harness and proceeding to lead the gray horse up the incline into the barn.

“Shouldn’t wonder a mite if he was our deliverer,” went on Mrs. Forbes. “I saw it in Mrs. Evringham’s eye that he suited her, the first night that she met him here at dinner. I like him first-rate, and I don’t mean him any harm; but he’s one of these young doctors with plenty of money at his back, bound to have a fashionable practice and succeed. His face is in his favor, and I guess he knows as much as any of ’em, and he can afford the luxury of a wife brought up the way Eloise Evringham has been. That’s right, Zeke. Unfasten the check-rein, though the doctor don’t use a mean one, I must say. I only hope there’s a purgatory for the folks that use too short check-reins on their horses. I hope they’ll have to wear ’em themselves for a thousand years, and have to stand waiting at folks’ doors frothing at the mouth, and the back of their necks half breaking when the weather’s down to zero and up to a hundred. That’s what I hope!”

’Zekiel grinned. “You want ’em to try the cold place and the hot one too, do you?”

“Yes I do, and to stay in the one that hurts the most. The man that uses a decent check-rein on his horse,” continued Mrs. Forbes, dropping into a philosophizing tone, “is apt to be as decent to his wife. The doctor would be a great catch for that girl, and I think,” dropping her voice, “her mother’d be liable to live with ’em.”

“You’re keeping that dark from the doctor, I s’pose?” remarked ’Zekiel.

“H’m. You needn’t think I go chattering around that house the way I do out here. I’ve got a great talent, if I do say it, for minding my own business.”

“Good enough,” drawled ’Zekiel. “I heard tell once of a firm that made a great fortune just doing that one thing.”

“Don’t you be sassy now. I’ve always waited on Mr. Evringham while he ate his meals, and that’s the time he’d often speak out to me about things if he felt in the humor, so that in all these years ’t isn’t any wonder if I’ve come to feel that his business is mine too.”

“Just so,” returned ’Zekiel, with a twinkle in his eye.

“It’s been as plain as your nose that the interlopers don’t like to have me there. Not that they have anything special against me, but they’d like to have someone younger and stylisher to hand them their plates. I’ll never forget one night when they’d been here about a week, and I think Mr. Evringham had begun to suspect they were fixtures,-I’d felt it from the first,-Mrs. Evringham said, ’Why father, does Mrs. Forbes always wait on your table? I had supposed she was temporarily taking the place of your butler or your waitress.’”

The housekeeper’s effort to imitate the airy manner she remembered caused her son to chuckle as he gathered up the shining harness.

“You should have seen the look Mr. Evringham gave her. Just as if he didn’t see her at all. ‘Yes,’ he answered, ’I hope Mrs. Forbes will wait on my table as long as I have one.’ And I will if I have my health,” added the speaker, bridling with renewed pleasure at the memory of that triumphant moment. “They think I’m a machine without any feelings or opinions, and that I’ve been wound up to suit Mr. Evringham and run his establishment, and that I’m no more to be considered than the big Westminster clock on the stairs. Mrs. Evringham did try once to get into my employer’s rooms and look after his clothes.” Mrs. Forbes shook her head and tightened her lips at some recollection.

“She bucked up against the machine, did she?” inquired Zeke.

The housekeeper glanced around to see if any one might be approaching.

“I saw her go in there, and I followed her,” she continued almost in a whisper. “She sort of started, but spoke up in her cool way, ’I wish to look over father’s clothes and see if anything needs attention.’ ‘Thank you, Mrs. Evringham, but everything is in order,’ I said, very respectful. ‘Well, leave it for me next time, Mrs. Forbes,’ she says. ‘I shall take care of him while I am here.’ ‘Thank you,’ says I, ’but he wouldn’t want your visit interfered with by that kind of work.’ She looked at me sort of suspicious and haughty. ‘I prefer to do it,’ she answers, trying to look holes in me with her big eyes. ’Then will you ask him, please,’ said I very polite, ’before I give you the keys, because we’ve got into habits here. I’ve taken care of Mr. Evringham’s clothes for fifteen years.’ She looked kind of set back. ’Is it so long?’ she asks. ‘Well, I will see about it.’ But I guess the right time for seeing about it never came,” added the housekeeper knowingly.

“You’re still doing business at the old stand, eh?” rejoined Zeke. “Well, I’m glad you like your job. It’s my opinion that the governor’s harder-”

“Ahem, ahem!” Mrs. Forbes cleared her throat with desperate loudness and tugged at her son’s shirt sleeve with an energy which caused him to wheel.

Coming up the sunny driveway was a tall man with short, scrupulously brushed iron-gray hair, and sweeping mustache. The lines under his eyes were heavy, his glance was cold. His presence was dignified, commanding, repellent.

The housekeeper and coachman both stood at attention, the latter mechanically pulling down his rolled-up sleeves.

“So you’re moving out here, Mrs. Forbes,” was the remark with which the newcomer announced himself.

“Yes, Mr. Evringham. The man has been here to put in the electric bell you ordered. I shall be as quick to call as if I was still in the house, sir, and I thank you-’Zekiel and I both do-for consenting to my making it home-like for him. Perhaps you’d come up and see the rooms, sir?”

“Not just now. Some other time. I hope ’Zekiel is going to prove himself worth all this trouble.”

The new coachman’s countenance seemed frozen into a stolidity which did not alter.

“I’m sure he’ll try,” replied his mother, “and Fanshaw’s livery fits him to such a turn that it would have been flying in the face of Providence not to try him. Did you give orders to be met at this train, sir?” Mrs. Forbes looked anxiously toward the set face of her heir.

“No-I came out unexpectedly. I have received news that is rather perplexing.”

The housekeeper had not studied her employer’s moods for years without understanding when she could be of use.

“I will come to the house right off,” was her prompt response. “It’s a pity you didn’t know the bell was in, sir.”

“No, stay where you are. I see Dr. Ballard is here. We might be interrupted. You can go, ’Zekiel.”

The young fellow needed no second invitation, but turned and mounted the stairway that led to the chambers above.

Mr. Evringham took from his pocket a bunch of papers, and selecting a letter handed it to Mrs. Forbes, motioning her to the battered chair, which was still in evidence. He seated himself on the stool Zeke had vacated, while his housekeeper opened and read the following letter:-

Chicago, April 28, 19 .

Dear father,-The old story of the Prodigal Son has always plenty of originality for the Prodigal. I have returned, and thank Heaven sincerely I do not need to ask you for anything. My blessed girl Julia has supported herself and little Jewel these years while I’ve been feeding on husks. I don’t see now how I was willing to be so revoltingly cruel and cowardly as to leave her in the lurch, but she has made friends and they have stood by her, and now I’ve been back since September, doing all in my power to make up what I can to her and Jewel, as we call little Julia. They were treasures to return to such as I deserved to have lost forever; but Julia treats me as if I’d been white to her right all along. I’ve lately secured a position that I hope to keep. My wife has been dressmaking, and this is something in the dry goods line that I got through her. The firm want us to go to Europe to do some buying. They will pay the expenses of both; but that leaves Jewel. I’ve heard that Lawrence’s wife and daughter are living with you. I wondered if you’d let us bring Jewel as far as New York and drop her with you for the six weeks that we shall be gone. If we had a little more ahead we’d take the child with us. She is eight years old and wouldn’t be any trouble, but cash is scarce, and although we could board her here with some friend, I’d like to have her become acquainted with her grandfather, and I thought as Madge and Eloise were with you, they would look after her if Mrs. Forbes is no longer there. This has all come about very suddenly, and we sail next Wednesday on the Scythia, so I’ll be much obliged if you will wire me. I shall be glad to shake your hand again.

Your repentant son,

Harry.

Mrs. Forbes looked up from the letter to find her employer’s eyes upon her. Her lips were set in a tight line.

“Well?” he asked.

“I’d like to ask first, sir, what you think of it?”

“It strikes me as very cool. Harry knows my habits.”

The housekeeper loosened the reins of her indignation.

“The idea of your having a child here to clatter up and down the stairs at the very time you want to take a nap!” she burst forth. “You’ve had enough to bear already.”

“A deal of company in the house as it is, eh?” he rejoined. It was the first reference he had ever made to his permanent guests.

“It’s what I was thinking, sir.”

“You’re not for it, then, Mrs. Forbes?”

“So far as taking care of the child goes, I should do my duty. I don’t think Mrs. Evringham or her daughter would wish to be bothered; but I know very little about children, except that your house is no place for them to be racing in. One young one brings others. You would be annoyed, sir. Some folks can always ask favors.” The housekeeper’s cheeks were flushed with the strength of her repugnance, and her bias relieved Mr. Evringham’s indecision.

“I agree with you,” he returned, rising. “Tell ’Zekiel to saddle the Maid. After dinner I will let him take a telegram to the office.”

He returned to the house without further words, and Mrs. Forbes called to her son in a voice that had a wrathful quaver.

“What you got your back up about?” inquired Zeke softly, after a careful look to see that his august master had departed.

“Never you mind. Mr. Evringham wants you should saddle his horse and bring her round. I want he should see you can do it lively.”

“Ain’t she a beaut’!” exclaimed Zeke as he led out the mare. “She’d ought to be shown, she had.”

“Shown! Better not expose your ignorance where Mr. Evringham can hear you. That mare’s taken two blue ribbons already.”

“Showed they knew their business,” returned Zeke imperturbably. “I s’pose the old gent don’t care any more for her than he does for his life.”

“I guess he loves her the best of anything in this world.”

“Love! The governor love anything or anybody! That’s good,” remarked the young fellow, while Essex Maid watched his movements about her with gentle, curious eyes.

“I do believe she misses Fanshaw and notices the difference,” remarked Mrs. Forbes.

“Glad to, too. Ain’t you, my beauty? She’s going to be stuck on me before we get through. She don’t want any Britishers fooling around her.”

“You’ve certainly made her look fine, Zeke. I know Mr. Evringham will be pleased. She just shines from her pretty little ears to her hoofs. Take her around and then come back. I want to talk to you.”

“If I don’t come back,” returned the boy, “you’ll know the governor’s looked at me a little too hard and I’ve been struck so.”

“Don’t be any foolisher than you can help,” returned Mrs. Forbes, “and hurry.”

On ’Zekiel’s return to the barn he saw that his mother’s face was portentous. “Lawrence was at least handsome like his father,” she began without preamble, looking over Zeke’s shoulder, “but Harry was as homely as he was no account. I should think that man had enough of his sons’ belongings hanging on him already. What do you think, ’Zekiel Forbes? Mr. Evringham’s youngest son Harry has turned up again!”

“I should think it was the old Harry by your tone,” rejoined Zeke equably.

“He and his wife, poor as church mice, are getting their expenses paid to Europe on business, and they have the nerve-yes, the cheek-to ask Mr. Evringham to let them leave their young one, a girl eight years old, with him while they’re gone.”

“I hope it’s a real courageous youngster,” remarked Zeke.

“A child! A wild Western dressmaker’s young one in Mr. Evringham’s elegant house!”

“Is the old Harry a dressmaker?” asked Zeke mildly.

“No, his wife is. His Julia! They’ve named this girl for her, and I suppose they called her Jule, and then twisted it around to Jewel. Jewel!”

“When is she coming?” asked Zeke, seeing that he was expected to say something.

“Coming? She isn’t coming,” cried his mother irefully. “Not while Mr. Evringham has his wits. They haven’t a particle of right to ask him. Harry has worried him to distraction already. The child would be sure to torment him.”

“He’d devour her the second day, then,” returned Zeke calmly. “It would be soon over.”