Read Chapter V. of Mercy Philbrick's Choice, free online book, by Helen Hunt Jackson, on ReadCentral.com.

When Stephen White saw his new tenants’ first preparations for moving into his house, he was conscious of a strangely mingled feeling, half irritation, and half delight.  Four weeks had passed since the unlucky evening on which he had taken Mercy to his mother’s room, and he had not seen her face again.  He had called at the hotel twice, but had found only Mrs. Carr at home.  Mercy had sent a messenger with only a verbal message, when she wished the key of the house.

She had an undefined feeling that she would not come into any relation with Stephen White, if it could be avoided.  She was heartily glad that she had not been in the house when he called.  And yet, had she been in the habit of watching her own mental states, she would have discovered that Stephen White was very much in her thoughts; that she had come to wondering why she never met him in her walks; and, what was still more significant, to mistaking other men for him, at a distance.  This is one of the oddest tricks of a brain preoccupied with the image of one human being.  One would think that it would make the eye clearer-sighted, well-nigh infallible, in the recognition of the loved form.  Not at all.  Waiting for her lover to appear, a woman will stand wearily watching at a window, and think fifty times in sixty minutes that she sees him coming.  Tall men, short men, dark men, light men; men with Spanish cloaks, and men in surtouts,-all wear, at a little distance, a tantalizing likeness to the one whom they in no wise resemble.

After such a watching as this, the very eye becomes disordered, as after looking at a bright color it sees a spectrum of a totally different tint; and, when the long looked-for person appears, he himself looks unnatural at first, and strange.  How well many women know this curious fact in love’s optics!  I doubt if men ever watch long enough, and longingly enough, for a woman’s coming, to be so familiar with the phenomenon.  Stephen White, however, had more than once during these four weeks quickened his pace to overtake some slender figure clad in black, never doubting that it was Mercy Philbrick, until he came so near that his eyes were forced to tell him the truth.  It was truly a strange thing that he and Mercy did not once meet during all these weeks.  It was no doubt an important element in the growth of their relation, this interval of unacknowledged and combated curiosity about each other.  Nature has a myriad of ways of bringing about her results.  Seed-time and harvest are constant, and the seasons all keep their routine; but no two fields have the same method or measure in the summer’s or the winter’s dealings.  Hearts lie fallow sometimes; and seeds of love swell very big in the ground, all undisturbed and unsuspected.

When Mercy and her mother drove up to the house, Stephen was standing at his mother’s window.  It was just at dusk.

“Here they are, mother,” he said.  “I think I will go out and meet them.”

Mrs. White lifted her eyes very slowly towards her son, and spoke in the measured syllables and unvibrating tone which always marked her utterance when she was displeased.

“Do you think you are under any obligation to do that?  Suppose they had hired a house of you in some other part of the town:  would you have felt called upon to pay them that attention?  I do not know what the usual duties of a landlord are.  You know best.”

Stephen colored.  This was the worst of his mother’s many bad traits,-an instinctive, unreasoning, and unreasonable jealousy of any mark of attention or consideration shown to any other person than herself, even if it did not in the smallest way interfere with her comfort; and this cold, sarcastic manner of speaking was, of all the forms of her ill-nature, the one he found most unbearable.  He made no reply, but stood still at the window, watching Mercy’s light and literally joyful movements, as she helped her mother out of, and down from, the antiquated old carriage, and carried parcel after parcel and laid them on the doorstep.

Mrs. White continued in the same sarcastic tone,-

“Pray go and help move all their baggage in, Stephen, if it would give you any pleasure.  It is nothing to me, I am sure, if you choose to be all the time doing all sorts of things for everybody.  I don’t see the least occasion for it, that’s all.”

“It seems to me only common neighborliness and friendly courtesy, mother,” replied Stephen, gently.  “But you know you and I never agree upon such points.  Our views are radically different, and it is best not to discuss them.”

“Views!” ejaculated Mrs. White, in a voice more like the low growl of some animal than like any sound possible to human organs.  “I don’t want to hear any thing about ‘views’ about such a trifle.  Why don’t you go, if you want to, and be done with it?”

“It is too late now,” answered Stephen, in the same unruffled tone.  “They have gone in, and the carriage is driving off.”

“Well, perhaps they would like to have you put down their carpets for them, or open their boxes,” sneered Mrs. White, still with the same intolerable sarcastic manner.  “I don’t doubt they could find some use for your services.”

“O mother, don’t!” pleaded Stephen, “please don’t.  I do not wish to go near them or ever see them, if it will make you any less happy.  Do let us talk of something else.”

“Who ever said a word about your not going near them, I’d like to know?  Have I ever tried to shut you up, or keep you from going anywhere you wanted to?  Answer me that, will you?”

“No, mother,” answered Stephen, “you never have.  But I wish I could make you happier.”

“You do make me very happy, Steve,” said Mrs. White, mollified by the gentle answer.  “You’re a good boy, and always was; but it does vex me to see you always so ready to be at everybody’s beck and call; and, where it’s a woman, it naturally vexes me more.  You wouldn’t want to run any risk of being misunderstood, or making a woman care about you more than she ought.”

Stephen stared.  This was a new field.  Had his mother gone already thus far in her thoughts about Mercy Philbrick?  And was her only thought of the possibility of the young woman’s caring for him, and not in the least of his caring for her?

And what would ever become of the peace of their daily life, if this kind of jealousy-the most exacting, most insatiable jealousy in the world-were to grow up in her heart?  Stephen was dumb with despair.  The apparent confidential friendliness and assumption of a tacit understanding and agreement between him and her on the matter, with which his mother had said, “You wouldn’t want to be misunderstood, or make a woman care more for you than she ought,” struck terror to his very soul.  The apparent amicableness of her remark at the present moment did not in the least blind him to the enormous possibilities of future misery involved in such a train of feeling and thought on her part.  He foresaw himself involved in a perfect network of espionage and cross-questioning and suspicion, in comparison with which all he had hitherto borne at his mother’s hands would seem trivial.  All this flashed through his mind in the brief instant that he hesitated before he replied in an off-hand tone, which for once really blinded his mother,-

“Goodness, mother! whatever put such ideas into your head?  Of course I should never run any such risk as that.”

“A man can’t possibly be too careful,” remarked Mrs. White, sententiously.  “The world’s full of gossiping people, and women are very impressionable, especially such high-strung women as that young widow.  A man can’t possibly be too careful.  Read me the paper now, Stephen.”

Stephen was only too thankful to take refuge in and behind the newspaper.  A newspaper had so often been to him a shelter from his mother’s eyes, a protection from his mother’s tongue, that, whenever he saw a storm or a siege of embarrassing questioning about to begin, he looked around for a newspaper as involuntarily as a soldier feels in his belt for his pistol.  He had more than once smiled bitterly to himself at the consciousness of the flimsy bulwark; but he found it invaluable.  Sometimes, it is true, her impatient instinct made a keen thrust at the truth, and she would say angrily,-

“Put down that paper!  I want to see your face when I speak to you;” but his reply, “Why, mother, I am reading.  I was just going to read something aloud to you,” would usually disarm and divert her.  It was one of her great pleasures to have him read aloud to her.  It mattered little what he read:  she was equally interested in the paragraphs of small local news, and in the telegraphic summaries of foreign affairs.  A revolt in a distant European province, of which she had never heard even the name, was neither more nor less exciting to her than the running away of a heifer from the premises of an unknown townsman.

All through the evening, the sounds of moving of furniture, and brisk going up and down stairs, came through the partition, and interrupted Stephen’s thoughts as much as they did his mother’s.  They had lived so long alone in the house in absolute quiet, save for the semi-occasional stir of Marty’s desultory house-cleaning, that these sounds were disturbing, and not pleasant to hear.  Stephen did not like them much better than his mother did; and he gave her great pleasure by remarking, as he bade her good-night,-

“I suppose those people next door will get settled in a day or two, and then we can have a quiet evening again.”

“I should hope so,” replied his mother.  “I should think that a caravan of camels needn’t have made so much noise.  It’s astonishing to me that folks can’t do things without making a racket; but I think some people feel themselves of more consequence when they’re making a great noise.”

The next morning, as Stephen was bidding his mother good-morning, he accidentally glanced out of the window, and saw Mercy walking slowly away from the house with a little basket on her arm.

“She’ll go to market every morning,” he thought to himself.  “I shall see her then.”

Not the slightest glance of Stephen’s eye ever escaped his mother’s notice.

“Ah! there goes the lady,” she said.  “I wonder if she is always going down town at this hour?  You will have to manage to go either earlier or later, or else people will begin to talk about you.”

Stephen White had one rule of conduct:  when he was uncertain what to do, not to do any thing.  He broke it in this instance, and had reason to regret it long.  He spoke impulsively on the instant, and revealed to mother his dawning interest in Mercy, and planted then and there an ineffaceable germ of distrust in her mind.

“Now, mother,” he said, “what’s the use of you beginning to set up this new worry?  Mrs. Philbrick is a widow, and very sad and lonely.  She is the friend of my friend, Harley Allen; and I am in duty bound to show her some attention, and help her if I can.  She is also a bright, interesting person; and I do not know so many such that I should turn my back on one under my own roof.  I have not so many social pleasures that I should give up this one, just on account of a possible gossip about it.”

Silence would have been wiser.  Mrs. White did not speak for a moment or two; then she said, in a slow and deliberate manner, as if reflecting on a problem,-“You enjoy Mrs. Philbrick’s society, then, do you, Stephen?  How much have you seen of her?”

Still injudicious and unlike himself, Stephen answered, “Yes, I think I shall enjoy it very much, and I think you will enjoy it more than I shall; for you may see great deal of her.  I have only seen her once, you know.”

“I don’t suppose she will care any thing about me,” replied Mrs. White, with an emphasis on the last personal pronoun which spoke volumes.  “Very few people do.”

Stephen made no reply.  It had just dawned on his consciousness that he had been blundering frightfully, and his mind stood still for a moment, as a man halts suddenly, when he finds himself in a totally wrong road.  To turn short about is not always the best way of getting off a wrong road, though it may be the quickest way.  Stephen turned short about, and exclaimed with a forced laugh, “Well, mother, I don’t suppose it will make any great difference to you, if she doesn’t.  It is not a matter of any moment, anyhow, whether we see any thing of either of them or not.  I thought she seemed a bright, cheery sort of body, that’s all.  Good-by,” and he ran out of the house.

Mrs. White lay for a long time with her eyes fixed on the wall.  The expression of her face was of mingled perplexity and displeasure.  After a time, these gave place to a more composed and defiant look.  She had taken her resolve, had marked out her line of conduct.

“I won’t say another word to Stephen about her,” she thought.  “I’ll just watch and see how things go.  Nothing can happen in this house without my knowing it.”

The mischief was done; but Mrs. White was very much mistaken in the last clause of her soliloquy.

Meantime, Mercy was slowly walking towards the village, revolving her own little perplexities, and with a mind much freer from the thought of Stephen White than it had been for four weeks.  Mercy was in a dilemma.  Their clock was broken, hopelessly broken.  It had been packed in too frail a box; and heavier boxes placed above it had crashed through, making a complete wreck of the whole thing,-frame, works, all.  It was a high, old-fashioned Dutch clock, and had stood in the corner of their sitting-room ever since Mercy could recollect.  It had belonged to her father’s father, and had been her mother’s wedding gift from him.

“It’s easy enough to get a clock that will keep good time,” thought Mercy, as she walked along; “but, oh, how I shall miss the dear old thing!  It looked like a sort of belfry in the corner.  I wonder if there are any such clocks to be bought anywhere nowadays?” She stopped presently before a jeweller’s and watchmaker’s shop in the Brick Row, and eagerly scrutinized the long line of clocks standing in the window.  Very ugly they all were,-cheap, painted wood, of a shining red, and tawdry pictures on the doors, which ran up to a sharp point in a travesty of the Gothic arch outline.

“Oh, dear!” sighed Mercy, involuntarily aloud.

“Bless my soul!  Bless my soul!” fell suddenly upon her ear, in sharp, jerking syllables, accompanied by clicking taps of a cane on the sidewalk.  She turned and looked into the face of her friend, “Old Man Wheeler,” who was standing so near her that with each of his rapid shiftings from foot to foot he threatened to tread on the hem of her gown.

“Bless my soul!  Bless my soul!  Glad to see ye.  Missed your face.  How’re ye gettin’ on?  Gone into your house?  How’s your mother?  I’ll come see you, if you’re settled.  Don’t go to see anybody,-never go! never go!  People are all wolves, wolves, wolves; but I’ll come an’ see you.  Like your face,-good face, good face.  What’re you lookin’ at?  What’re you lookin’ at?  Ain’t goin’ to buy any thin’ out o’ that winder, be ye?  Trash, trash, trash!  People are all cheats, cheats,” said the old man, breathlessly.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to, sir,” replied Mercy, vainly trying to keep the muscles of her face quiet.  “I must buy a clock.  Our clock got broken on the way.”

“Broken?  Clock broken?  Mend it, mend it, child.  I’ll show you a good man, not this feller in here,-he’s only good for outsides.  Holler sham, holler sham!  What kind o’ clock was it?”

“Oh, that’s the worst of it.  It was an old clock my grandfather brought from Holland.  It reached up to the ceiling, and had beautiful carved work on it.  But it’s in five hundred pieces, I do believe.  A heavy box crushed it.  Even the brass work inside is all jammed and twisted.  Our things came by sea,” replied Mercy.

“Bless my soul!  Bless my soul!  Come on, come on!  I’ll show you,” exclaimed the eccentric old man, starting off at a quick pace.  Mercy did not stir.  Presently, he looked back, wheeled, and came again so near that he nearly trod on her gown.

“Bless my soul!  Didn’t tell her,-bad habit, bad habit.  Never do make people understand.  Come on, child,-come on!  I’ve got a clock like yours.  Don’t want it.  Never use it.  Run down twenty years ago.  Guess we can find it.  Come on, come on!” he exclaimed.

“But, Mr. Wheeler,” said Mercy, half-frightened at his manner, yet trusting him in spite of herself, “do you really want to sell the clock?  If you have no use for it, I’d be very glad to buy it of you, if it looks even a little like our old one.  I will bring my mother to look at it.”

“Fine young woman! fine young woman!  Good face.  Never mistaken in a face yet.  Don’t sell clocks:  never sold a clock yet.  I’ll give yer the clock, if yer like it.  Come on, child,-come on!” and he laid his hand on Mercy’s arm and drew her along.

Mercy held back.  “Thank you, Mr. Wheeler,” she said.  “You’re very kind.  But I think my mother would not like to have you give us a clock.  I will buy it of you; but I really cannot go with you now.  Tell me where the clock is, and I will come with my mother to see it.”

The old man stamped his foot and his cane both with impatience.  “Pshaw! pshaw!” he said:  “women all alike, all alike.”  Then with an evident effort to control his vexation, and speak more slowly, he said, “Can’t you see I’m an old man, child?  Don’t pester me now.  Come, on, come on!  I tell you I want to show yer that clock.  Give it to you ’s well ’s not.  Stood in the lumber-room twenty years.  Come on, come on!  It’s right up here, ten steps.”  And again he took Mercy by the arm.  Reluctantly she followed him, thinking to herself, “Oh, what a rash thing this is to do!  How do I know but he really is crazy?”

He led the way up an outside staircase at the end of the Brick Row, and, after fumbling a long time in several deep pockets, produced a huge rusty iron key, and unlocked the door at the head of the stairs.  A very strange life that key had led in pockets.  For many years it had slept under Miss Orra White’s maidenly black alpacas, and had been the token of confinement and of release to scores of Miss Orra’s unruly pupils; then it had had an interval of dignified leisure, lifted to the level of the Odd Fellows regalia, and only used by them on rare occasions.  For the last ten years, however, it had done miscellaneous duty as warder of Old Man Wheeler’s lumber-room.  If a key could be supposed to peep through a keyhole, and speculate on the nature of the service it was rendering to humanity, in keeping safe the contents of the room into which it gazed, this key might have indulged in fine conjectures, and have passed its lifetime in a state of chronic bewilderment.  Each time that the door of this old storehouse opened, it opened to admit some new, strange, nondescript article, bearing no relation to any thing that had preceded it.  “Old Man Wheeler” added to all his other eccentricities a most eccentric way of collecting his debts.  He had dealings of one sort or another with everybody.  He drove hard bargains, and was inexorable as to dates.  When a debtor came, pleading for a short delay on a payment, the old man had but one reply,-

“No, no, no!  What yer got? what yer got?  Gie me somethin’, gie me somethin’.  Settle, settle, settle!  Gie me any thin’ yer got.  Settle, settle, settle!” The consequences of twenty years’ such traffic as this can more easily be imagined than described.  The room was piled from floor to roof with its miscellaneous collections:  junk-shops, pawnbrokers’ cellars, and old women’s garrets seemed all to have disgorged themselves here.  A huge stack of calico comforters, their tufts gray with dust and cobwebs, lay on top of two old ploughs, in one corner:  kegs of nails, boxes of soap, rolls of leather, harnesses stiff and cracking with age, piles of books, chairs, bedsteads, andirons, tubs, stone ware, crockery ware, carpets, files of old newspapers, casks, feather-beds, jars of druggists’ medicines, old signboards, rakes, spades, school-desks,-in short, all things that mortal man ever bought or sold,-were here, packed in piles and layers, and covered with dust as with a gray coverlid.  At each foot-fall on the loose boards of the floor, clouds of stifling dust arose, and strange sounds were heard in and behind the piles of rubbish, as if all sorts of small animals might be skurrying about, and giving alarms to each other.

Mercy stood still on the threshold, her face full of astonishment.  The dust made her cough; and at first she could hardly see which way to step.  The old man threw down his cane, and ran swiftly from corner to corner, and pile to pile, peering around, pulling out first one thing and then another.  He darted from spot to spot, bending lower and lower, as he grew more impatient in his search, till he looked like a sort of human weasel gliding about in quest of prey.

“Trash, trash, nothin’ but trash!” he muttered to himself as he ran.  “Burn it up some day.  Trash, trash!”

“How did you get all these queer things together, Mr. Wheeler?” Mercy ventured to say at last “Did you keep a store?”

The old man did not reply.  He was tugging away at a high stack of rolls of undressed leather, which reached to the ceiling in one corner.  He pulled them too hastily, and the whole stack tumbled forward, and rolled heavily in all directions, raising a suffocating dust, through which the old man’s figure seemed to loom up as through a fog, as he skipped to the right and left to escape the rolling bales.

“O Mr. Wheeler!” cried Mercy, “are you hurt?”

He laughed a choked laugh, more like a chuckle than like a laugh.

“He! he! child.  Dust don’t hurt me.  Goin’ to return to ’t presently.  Made on ’t! made on ’t!  Don’t see why folks need be so ’fraid on ’t!  He! he!  ’T is pretty choky, though.”  And he sat down on one of the leather rolls, and held his sides through a hard coughing fit.  As the dust slowly subsided, Mercy saw standing far back in the corner, where the bales of leather had hidden it, an old-fashioned clock, so like her own that she gave a low cry of surprise.

“Oh, is that the clock you meant, Mr. Wheeler?” she exclaimed.

“Yes, yes, that’s it.  Nice old clock.  Took it for debt.  Cost me more’n ’t’s wuth.  As fur that matter, ‘tain’t wuth nothin’ to me.  Wouldn’t hev it in the house ‘n’ more than I’d git the town ’us tower in for a clock.  D’ye like it, child?  Ye can hev it’s well’s not.  I’d like to give it to ye.”

“I should like it very much, very much indeed,” replied Mercy.  “But I really cannot think of taking it, unless you let us pay for it.”

The old man sprung to his feet with such impatience that the leather bale rolled away from him, and he nearly lost his balance.  Mercy sprang forward and caught him.

“Bless my soul!  Bless my soul!  Don’t pester me, child!  Don’t you see I’m an old man?  I tell ye I’ll give ye the clock, an’ I won’t sell it ter ye,-won’t, won’t, won’t,” and he picked up his cane, and stood leaning upon it with both his hands clasped on it, and his head bent forward, eagerly scanning Mercy’s face.  She hesitated still, and began to speak again.

“But, Mr. Wheeler,”-

“Don’t ‘but’ me.  There ain’t any buts about it.  There’s the clock.  Take it, child,-take it, take it, take it, or else leave it, just’s you like.  I ain’t a-goin’ to saddle ye with it; but I think ye’d be very silly not to take it,-silly, silly.”

Mercy began to think so too.  The clock was its own advocate, almost as strong as the old man’s pleading.

“Very well, Mr. Wheeler,” she said.  “I will take the clock, though I don’t know what my mother will say.  It is a most valuable present.  I hope we can do something for you some day.”

“Tut, tut, tut!” growled the old man.  “Just like all the rest o’ the world.  Got no faith,-can’t believe in gettin’ somethin’ for nothin’.  You’re right, child,-right, right.  ’S a general thing, people are cheats, cheats, cheats.  Get all your money away,-wolves, wolves, wolves!  Stay here, child, a minute.  I’ll get two men to carry it.”  And, before Mercy realized his intention, he had shut the door, locked it, and left her alone in the warehouse.  Her first sensation was of sharp terror; but she ran to the one window which was accessible, and, seeing that it looked out on the busiest thoroughfare of the town, she sat down by it to await the old man’s return.  In a very few moments, she heard the sounds of steps on the stairs, the door was thrown open, and the old man, still talking to himself in muttered tones, pushed into the room two ragged vagabonds whom he had picked up on the street.

They looked as astonished at the nature of the place as Mercy had.  With gaping mouths and roving eyes, they halted on the threshold.

“Come in, come in!  What ’re ye ’bout?  Earn yer money, earn yer money!” exclaimed the old man, pointing to the clock, and bidding them take it up and carry it out.

“Now mind!  Quarter a piece, quarter a piece,-not a cent more.  Do ye understand?  Hark ’e! do ye understand?  Not a cent more,” he said, following them out of the door.  Then turning to Mercy, he exclaimed,-

“Bless my soul!  Bless my soul!  Forgot you, child.  Come on, come on!  I’ll go with you, else those rascals will cheat you.  Men are wolves, wolves, wolves.  They’re to carry the clock up to your house for a quarter apiece.  But I’ll come on with you.  Got half a dollar?”

“Oh, yes,” laughed Mercy, much pleased that the old man was willing she should pay the porters.  “Oh, yes, I have my portemonnaie here,” holding it up.  “This is the cheapest clock ever sold, I think; and you are very good to let me pay the men.”

The old man looked at her with a keen, suspicious glance.

“Good? eh! good?  Why, ye didn’t think I was goin’ to give ye money, did ye?  Oh, no, no, no!  Not money.  Never give money.”

This was very true.  It would probably have cost him a severer pang to give away fifty cents than to have parted with the entire contents of the storehouse.  Mercy laughed aloud.

“Why, Mr. Wheeler,” she said, “you have given me just the same as money.  Such a clock as this must have cost a good deal, I am sure.”

“No, no, child!  It’s very different, different.  Clock wasn’t any use to me, wasn’t wuth any thin’.  Money’s of use, use, use.  Can’t have enough on’t.  People get it all away from you.  They’re wolves, wolves, wolves,” replied the old man, running along in advance of Mercy, and rapping one of the men who were carrying the clock, sharply on his shoulder.

“Keep your end up there! keep it up!  I won’t pay you, if you don’t carry your half,” he exclaimed.

It was a droll procession, and everybody turned to look at it:  the two ragged men carrying the quaint-fashioned old clock, from which the dust shook off at every jolt, revealing the carved scrolls and figures upon it:  following them, Mercy, with her expressive face full of mirth and excitement; and the old man, now ahead, now lagging behind, now talking in an eager and animated manner with Mercy, now breaking off to admonish or chastise the bearers of the clock.  The eccentric old fellow used his cane as freely as if it had been a hand.  There were few boys in town who had not felt its weight; and his more familiar acquaintances knew the touch of it far better than they knew the grip of his fingers.  It “saved steps,” he used to say; though of steps the old man seemed any thing but chary, as he was in the habit of taking them perpetually, without advancing or retreating, changing from one foot to the other, as uneasily as a goose does.

Stephen White happened to be looking out of the window, when this unique procession of the clock passed his office.  He could not believe what he saw.  He threw up the window and leaned out, to assure himself that he was not mistaken.  Mercy heard the sound, looked up, and met Stephen’s eye.  She colored violently, bowed, and involuntarily quickened her pace.  Her companion halted, and looked up to see what had arrested her attention.  When he saw Stephen’s face, he said,-

“Pshaw!” and turned again to look at Mercy.  The bright color had not yet left her cheek.  The old man gazed at her angrily for a moment, then stopped short, planted his cane on the ground, and said in a loud tone, all the while peering into her face as if he would read her very thoughts,-

“Don’t you know that Steve White isn’t good for any thin’?  Poor stock, poor stock!  Father before him poor stock, too.  Don’t you go to lettin’ him handle your money, child.  Mind now!  I’ll be a good friend to you, if you’ll do ’s I say; but, if Steve White gets hold on you, I’ll have nothin’ to do with you.  Mind that, eh? eh?”

Mercy had a swift sense of angry resentment at these words; but she repelled it, as she would have resisted the impulse to be angry with a little child.

“Mr. Wheeler,” she said with a gentle dignity of tone, which was not thrown away on the old man, “I do not know why you should speak so to me about Mr. White.  He is almost an entire stranger to me as yet.  We live in his house; but we do not know him or his mother yet, except in the most formal way.  He seems to be a very agreeable man,” she added with a little tinge of perversity.

“Hm! hm!” was all the old man’s reply; and he did not speak again till they reached Mercy’s gate.  Here the clock-carriers were about to set their burden down.  Mr. Wheeler ran towards them with his cane outstretched.

“Here! here! you lazy rascals!  Into the house! into the house, else you don’t get any quarter!

“Well I came along, child,-well I came along.  They’d ha’ left it right out doors here.  Cheats!  People are all cheats, cheats, cheats,” he exclaimed.

Into the house, without a pause, without a knock, into poor bewildered Mrs. Carr’s presence he strode, the men following fast on his steps, and Mercy unable to pass them.

“Where’ll you have it?  Where’ll you have it, child?  Bless my soul! where’s that girl!” he exclaimed, looking back at Mercy, who stood on the front doorstep, vainly trying to hurry in to explain the strange scene to her mother.  Mrs. Carr was, as usual, knitting.  She rose up suddenly, confused at the strange apparitions before her, and let her knitting fall on the floor.  The ball rolled swiftly towards Mr. Wheeler, and tangled the yarn around his feet.  He jumped up and down, all the while brandishing his cane, and muttering, “Pshaw! pshaw!  Damn knitting!  Always did hate the sight on’t.”  But, kicking out to the right and the left vigorously, he soon snapped the yarn, and stood free.

“Mother! mother!” called Mercy from behind, “this is the gentleman I told you of,-Mr. Wheeler.  He has very kindly given us this beautiful clock, almost exactly like ours.”

The sound of Mercy’s voice reassured the poor bewildered old woman, and, dropping her old-fashioned courtesy, she said timidly,-

“Pleased to see you, sir.  Pray take a chair.”

“Chair? chair?  No, no!  Never do sit down in houses,-never, never.  Where’ll you have it, mum?  Where’ll you have it?

“Don’t you dare put that down!  Wait till you are told to, you lazy rascals!” he exclaimed, lifting his cane, and threatening the men who were on the point of setting the clock down, very naturally thinking they might be permitted at last to rest a moment.

“Oh, Mr. Wheeler!” said Mercy, “let them put it down anywhere, please, for the present.  I never can tell at first where I want a thing to stand.  I shall have to try it in different corners before I am sure,” and Mercy took out her portemonnaie, and came forward to pay the bearers.  As she opened it, the old man stepped nearer to her, and peered curiously into her hand.  The money in the portemonnaie was neatly folded and assorted, each kind by itself, in a separate compartment.  The old man nodded, and muttered to himself, “Fine young woman! fine young woman!  Business, business!-Who taught you, child, to sort your money that way?” he suddenly asked.

“Why, no one taught me,” replied Mercy.  “I found that it saved time not to have to fumble all through a portemonnaie for a ten-cent piece.  It looks neater, too, than to have it all in a crumpled mass,” she added, smiling and looking up in the old man’s face.  “I don’t like disorder.  Such a place as your store-room would drive me crazy.”

The old man was not listening.  He was looking about the room with a dissatisfied expression of countenance.  In a few moments, he said abruptly,-

“’S this all the furniture you’ve got?”

Mrs. Carr colored, and looked appealingly at Mercy; but Mercy laughed, and replied as she would have answered her own grandfather,-

“Oh, no, not all we have!  We have five more rooms furnished.  It is all we have for this room, however.  These rooms are all larger than our rooms were at home, and so the things look scanty.  But I shall get more by degrees.”

“Hm! hm!  Want any thing out o’ my lumber-room?  Have it’s well’s not.  Things no good to anybody.”

“Oh, no, thank you, Mr. Wheeler.  We have all we need.  I could not think of taking any thing more from you.  We are under great obligation to you now for the clock,” said Mercy; and Mrs. Carr bewilderedly ejaculated, “Oh, no, sir,-no, sir!  There isn’t any call for you to give us any thin’.”

While they were speaking, the old man was rapidly going out of the house; with quick, short steps like a child, and tapping his cane on the floor at every step.  In the doorway he halted a moment, and, without looking back, said, “Well, well, let me know, if you do want any thing.  Have it’s well’s not,” and he was gone.

“Oh, Mercy! he’s crazy, sure’s you’re alive.  You’ll get took up for hevin’ this clock.  Whatever made you take it, child?” exclaimed Mrs. Carr, walking round and round the clock, and dusting it here and there with a corner of her apron.

“Well, mother, I am sure I don’t know.  I couldn’t seem to help it:  he was so determined, and the clock was such a beauty.  I don’t think he is crazy.  I think he is simply very queer; and he is ever, ever so rich.  The clock isn’t really of any value to him; that is, he’d never do any thing with it.  He has a huge room half as big as this house, just crammed with things, all sorts of things, that he took for debts; and this clock was among them.  I think it gave the old man a real pleasure to have me take it; so that is one more reason for doing it.”

“Well, you know best, Mercy,” said Mrs. Carr, a little sadly; “but I can’t quite see it’s you do.  It seems to me amazin’ like a charity.  I wish he hadn’t never found you out.”

“I don’t, mother.  I believe he is going to be my best crony here,” said Mercy, laughing; “and I’m sure nobody can say any thing ill-natured about such a crony as he would be.  He must be seventy years old, at least.”

When Stephen came home that night, he received from his mother a most graphic account of the arrival of the clock.  She had watched the procession from her window, and had heard the confused sounds of talking and moving of furniture in the house afterward.  Marty also had supplied some details, she having been surreptitiously overlooking the whole affair.

“I must say,” remarked Mrs. White, “that it looks very queer.  Where did she pick up Old Man Wheeler?  Who ever heard of his being seen walking with a woman before?  Even as a young man, he never would have any thing to do with them; and it was always a marvel how he got married.  I used to know him very well.”

“But, mother,” urged Stephen, “for all we know, they may be relations or old friends of his.  You forget that we know literally nothing about these people.  So far from being queer, it may be the most natural thing in the world that he should be helping her fit up her house.”

But in his heart Stephen thought, as his mother did, that it was very queer.