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He was glad when they fell to playing games with each other quite
naturally, yet not entirely forgetting his propinquity, as their
occasional furtive glances at his movements showed him. He, too,
became presently absorbed in his work, until it was finished and it
was time for him to take it to the office of the "Informer." The
wild idea seized him of also taking the children afterwards for a
holiday to the Mission Dolores, but he prudently remembered that
even this negligent mother of theirs might have some rights over
her offspring that he was bound to respect.

He took leave of them gayly, suggesting that the doll be replaced
in his bed while he was away, and even assisted in "tucking it up."
But during the afternoon the recollection of these lonely
playfellows in the deserted house obtruded itself upon his work and
the talk of his companions. Sunday night was his busiest night,
and he could not, therefore, hope to get away in time to assure
himself of their mother's return.

It was nearly two in the morning when he returned to his room. He
paused for a moment on the threshold to listen for any sound from
the adjoining room. But all was hushed.

His intention of speaking to the night watchman was, however,
anticipated the next morning by that guardian himself. A tap upon
his door while he was dressing caused him to open it somewhat
hurriedly in the hope of finding one of the children there, but he
met only the embarrassed face of Roberts. Inviting him into the
room, the editor continued dressing. Carefully closing the door
behind him, the man began, with evident hesitation,--

"I oughter hev told ye suthin' afore, Mr. Breeze; but I kalkilated,
so to speak, that you wouldn't be bothered one way or another, and
so ye hadn't any call to know that there was folks here"--

"Oh, I see," interrupted Breeze cheerfully; "you're speaking of the
family next door--the landlord's new tenants."

"They ain't exactly THAT," said Roberts, still with embarrassment.
"The fact is--ye see--the thing points THIS way: they ain't no
right to be here, and it's as much as my place is worth if it leaks
out that they are."

Mr. Breeze suspended his collar-buttoning, and stared at Roberts.

"You see, sir, they're mighty poor, and they've nowhere else to go--
and I reckoned to take 'em in here for a spell and say nothing
about it."

"But the landlord wouldn't object, surely? I'll speak to him
myself," said Breeze impulsively.

"Oh, no; don't!" said Roberts in alarm; "he wouldn't like it. You
see, Mr. Breeze, it's just this way: the mother, she's a born lady,
and did my old woman a good turn in old times when the family was
rich; but now she's obliged--just to support herself, you know--to
take up with what she gets, and she acts in the bally in the
theatre, you see, and hez to come in late o' nights. In them cheap
boarding-houses, you know, the folks looks down upon her for that,
and won't hev her, and in the cheap hotels the men are--you know--a
darned sight wuss, and that's how I took her and her kids in here,
where no one knows 'em."

"I see," nodded the editor sympathetically; "and very good it was
of you, my man."

Roberts looked still more confused, and stammered with a forced
laugh, "And--so--I'm just keeping her on here, unbeknownst, until
her husband gets"-- He stopped suddenly.

"So she has a husband living, then?" said Breeze in surprise.

"In the mines, yes--in the mines!" repeated Roberts with a
monotonous deliberation quite distinct from his previous
hesitation, "and she's only waitin' until he gets money enough--
to--to take her away." He stopped and breathed hard.

"But couldn't you--couldn't WE--get her some more furniture?
There's nothing in that room, you know, not a chair or table; and
unless the other room is better furnished"--

"Eh? Oh, yes!" said Roberts quickly, yet still with a certain
embarrassment; "of course THAT'S better furnished, and she's quite
satisfied, and so are the kids, with anything. And now, Mr.
Breeze, I reckon you'll say nothin' o' this, and you'll never go
back on me?"

"My dear Mr. Roberts," said the editor gravely, "from this moment I
am not only blind, but deaf to the fact that ANYBODY occupies this
floor but myself."

"I knew you was white all through, Mr. Breeze," said the night
watchman, grasping the young man's hand with a grip of iron, "and I
telled my wife so. I sez, 'Jest you let me tell him EVERYTHIN','
but she"-- He stopped again and became confused.

"And she was quite right, I dare say," said Breeze, with a laugh;
"and I do not want to know anything. And that poor woman must
never know that I ever knew anything, either. But you may tell
your wife that when the mother is away she can bring the little
ones in here whenever she likes."

"Thank ye--thank ye, sir!--and I'll just run down and tell the old
woman now, and won't intrude upon your dressin' any longer."

He grasped Breeze's hand again, went out and closed the door behind
him. It might have been the editor's fancy, but he thought there
was a certain interval of silence outside the door before the night
watchman's heavy tread was heard along the hall again.

For several evenings after this Mr. Breeze paid some attention to
the ballet in his usual round of the theatres. Although he had
never seen his fair neighbor, he had a vague idea that he might
recognize her through some likeness to her children. But in vain.
In the opulent charms of certain nymphs, and in the angular
austerities of others, he failed equally to discern any of those
refinements which might have distinguished the "born lady" of
Roberts's story, or which he himself had seen in her children.

These he did not meet again during the week, as his duties kept him
late at the office; but from certain signs in his room he knew that
Mrs. Roberts had availed herself of his invitation to bring them in
with her, and he regularly found "Jinny's" doll tucked up in his
bed at night, and he as regularly disposed of it outside his door
in the morning, with a few sweets, like an offering, tucked under
its rigid arms.

But another circumstance touched him more delicately; his room was
arranged with greater care than before, and with an occasional
exhibition of taste that certainly had not distinguished Mrs.
Roberts's previous ministrations. One evening on his return he
found a small bouquet of inexpensive flowers in a glass on his
writing-table. He loved flowers too well not to detect that they
were quite fresh, and could have been put there only an hour or two
before he arrived.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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