The train on which Regenia Underwood was a passenger, had left in the distance many a mile post, before the excitement under which she labored had sufficiently subsided to permit her to take a sober inventory of the events which had transpired in the past few hours. She did not question the wisdom of leaving the "Elms" so hastily; this she had determined to do, be the action wise or foolish. She would not eat the crumbs of charity that fell from the table of Dr. Leighton. Her woman's intuition told her that all was not right. She did not suspect the forgery that had been so cleverly sprung by Dr. Leighton, but she suspected his intentions toward her, and rightly decided that her greatest safety lay in instant flight.
As the cars sped along her anxiety increased. She sat idly looking out of the coach window, counting the miles she must yet travel before reaching the end of her journey, and after the stop at each station consulting her traveling guide and timing the distance to the next stop. It seemed to Regenia that the space between Mt. Clare and Minton had lengthened since last she passed that way. The car was crowded, hot and poorly ventilated. She tried to while away the time by trying to surmise where so many people were going, what their mission, and who awaited their coming? Would sorrow or happiness crown the end of their journeys? "Some of them, perhaps, are going home," she mused. "Home!" she said to herself, and for the first time in her life she realized what it is to be without a home. Alas, she had no place she could call her home. No home—how the sad admission echoed through her young heart. "Perhaps everyone in this coach has a home, but me," she thought. "I have neither home nor friends." Dropping her young head into her hands, she began to picture to herself the miseries of a friendless, homeless life. How little she had ever thought of this before. She realizes now, how cold and perfunctory had been her sympathy for others similarly situated.
After what seemed to Regenia an unending journey, she welcomed the brakeman's nasal cry, "Minton." As the crowded surface car wended its way from the depot, Regenia noticed that nearly every passenger carried a package. It slowly dawned upon her that it was Christmas eve—"Christmas for all the world," she thought, "but how sad indeed it will be for me?"
Regenia was tired and thoroughly unhappy before the creeping car stopped at the corner of the street a few doors from her friend's house. She almost ran in her impatience to reach the door. She rushed up the steps of the house she had left but a few weeks before and rang the bell. She waited, but no answer; she rang again and after ages, it seemed to her, an upstairs shutter was slowly opened and a voice she knew and welcomed called out: "Who's there?"
"It is I," said Regenia. "Do you not know me?"
The window went down with a crash and flying feet were heard hastening down the stairs. Then the door flew wide open and the two friends threw themselves into each other's arms.
"Come right in," said Lucile. "What a surprise your gave me. I knew it was not Clement; he would have let himself in by his latchkey. Why did you not write? Did you want to give us a real surprise?"
Lucile did not expect these questions to be answered, but in her happy excitement she seized a woman's right to ask all the questions she chose.
Regenia, now that she was safe with Lucile, could not say a word, but with her arms around her friend's neck, she wept until she was calm enough to tell her story.
"Do not try to speak, my poor dear," said Lucile, after a time. "I do not care if you wait weeks to tell me all about it." Stroking the girl's hair and now and then affectionately kissing her, Regenia soon became composed enough to tell her all.
"We thought as much," she indignantly replied when she had heard Regenia's story. "Clement has been looking for just such a finale. I could not believe that Dr. Leighton could be such a doubly-dyed villain. But Clement was right about him, as he is about most people," she replied with pardonable pride. "You are just right in refusing to touch a cent of his blood-money."
Lucile has scarcely finished her sympathetic remarks before she heard Mr. St. John's key in the door. She hastened to meet him and said, "I have a great surprise for you."
"Maybe you are not alone with your surprises, my little woman, seeing this is Christmas eve," he said pleasantly.
"No but I have a real surprise, one in human flesh."
Mr. St. John surveyed his wife a second time saying, "Now that's a 'poser.'"
"You mean thing," said Lucile, slapping him fondly.
"Come in here," she continued at the same time opening the door.
"Why Regenia," he said, "this is a delight indeed that Lucile has brought as a Christmas gift."
Regenia hardly had time to respond to his royal welcome before Lucile, anticipating her, related the whole story.
"Why did you not write to us?" said Clement, a little hurt by Regenia's apparent reticence.
"I could get no reply to my letters, and naturally supposed that Lucile, happy in her new life, could not find time to devote to idle correspondence."
"I did answer your last letter, dear, and receiving no reply wrote a second time, with the same result," said Lucile.
"I have never received a line from you since I left your house the night of the wedding," replied Regenia with astonishment.
"Your mail has been intercepted; of this you may be assured," said Clement, hotly. "I more than suspect that is the reason you have not heard from another quarter."
"Just the very reason, dear, you have not heard from Mr. Stone. Poor Lotus!" continued the impetuous Lucile. "He has been eating his heart out with grief, I know."
In the mind of Mrs. St. John the matter was quite satisfactorily explained.
"I am inclined to think you have hit the mark this time, my little woman," said Clement, amused at his wife's rapid conclusions.
"Of course I am correct. Am I not always so?" asked Lucile.
"Yes, yes, certainly you are—and Mrs. Levitt, what has become of her?" inquired Clement turning to Regenia.
"Mysteriously disappeared. She went to church two weeks ago last Sunday night and has never returned. The doctor advertised and exhausted every means to find her without success." Said Regenia, the tears chasing each other down her cheeks. "Dr. Leighton thinks she will be found, though," she added through her tears.
"He does?" said Clement, with a sneer. "I wonder if he does? Doctor seems to be a very hopeful man. Did Mrs. Levitt know anything about Mrs. Underwood's affairs?"
On receiving an affirmative reply, he continued, "She will never turn up if Dr. Leighton can prevent it."
For awhile the big awkward fellow sat looking into the fire thinking—thinking of the past summer and the transient nature of everything in this world.
His face took on a blacker look, his form assumed a more rigid tension, and gazing at Regenia sitting there so frail and sad, he said:
"In happier days, my little friend, I promised perhaps thoughtlessly, to be your knight. You took my card and very wisely call at my home for a redemption of former pledges. What I said then in playful pastime, I repeat now in terrible earnest. You know how welcome you are here with Lucile, just as welcome as if you were her sister. You have been wronged, the cause of the wronged innocent is my cause. Lucile is your sister, I am your friend. We'll make common warfare. Mrs. Levitt will be found and for every sorrow that white-livered villain has caused you and her to suffer, he shall suffer doubly."
The two girls sat looking at Clement, and each seem to see the rough hard face lose itself in the beautiful heroic man who sat before them, the personification of every holy virtue.
Lucile stole softly behind his chair and with her arms around his neck and her glowing cheek against his gnarled face, silently thanked God that heaven had sent her such a man. Regenia rose, also, and taking his hand, knelt beside him, covering the unshapely member with kisses; over this blissful scene the angels that surprised the lowly shepherds so many years before were chanting in seraphic harmony, "Peace on earth, good will to men."
Regenia first found her voice and in broken words stammered her thanks to Mr. St. John.
"I never thought of asking you to take up my cause. I did not come because I wanted you to trouble about me; but there was no one else to go to. I am alone and moneyless."
"There, there, not another word. Of course you would come to your Lucile. I should never have quite forgiven you if you had not. Let me take your things up to your room. Come with me," she said, slipping her arm around Regenia's waist in her old girl-like way. "Are you going to hang up your stocking? I am," she continued without awaiting a reply.
Lucile was not long in making Regenia feel at home. Clement sat by the fire, musing for sometime, then hearing Regenia's cheery laugh vibrate through the hall and musically ring in his ears, he arose with a complaisant smile on his earnest face and noiselessly stole into the street to make his stock of Christmas presents meet the demands of his recently increased family.
When he returned, the house was dark, but by the flickering glare of the dying embers he discovered on each side of the mantel, limp and black, the "sister's" stockings. With a happiness akin to bliss, for the first time in his life he played the part which Santa Claus is believed by all good children to fill so delightfully. This being done, he silently crept off to bed. It was late the next morning when he awoke. As he lay there turning over in his mind the events of the evening before, the voice of his wife ringing out a "Merry Christmas," was heard without the door.
When he descended to the sitting room, he found the two girls bubbling over with joy. Each had received or pretended to have received the very thing that she most desired. Clement did not go to the office that day, a holiday edition of "The Events," having been sent to its destination the day previous; he thought that he could well afford to make the day a happy one fore his wife and her unexpected visitor. No references to the sorrows of yesterday were allowed to intrude themselves upon the unalloyed pleasures of the day. The consummate skill with which Lucile filled the duties of hostess, kept Regenia's mind too much occupied to prey upon itself. What, with a matinee in the afternoon, dinner at six, and a round of pleasant levees and receptions at night, excepting the nameless void, too deep for utterance, which filled Regenia's heart, she almost forgot her unhappiness.
The day passed all too soon, as happy days will pass, and Sunday following, she had time to brood over her misfortunes. She found it no easy thing to determine what course to pursue in her sad distress. Upon one thing she had early resolved, she would not sit in idleness an expense to her kind friends, a misery to herself. She would work if work could be found. During the afternoon she ventured to indicate to Mr. St. John her wish to find something to do as soon as possible. He counseled patience and promised, in the mean time, to keep a sharp lookout for a position.
"Try to content yourself here with Lucile," he said, kindly.
"I could live with her forever," she hastened to reply, "but now that I shall be obliged to look out for myself, the sooner I face the stern truth by actual experience, the better."
"What would you like to do? I understand," he continued, interpreting her look, "but while we are at it we might as well try to find something congenial. If that is not possible, why then we can try for the next best, and so on down to the end of the list," he said laughingly.
"Now you are laughing at me," said Regenia, a little discomfited.
"Oh, no, indeed; not at you, but rather at my own thoughts. I was thinking as I spoke how far down we should go before you cried, 'Hold, enough!' I was wondering if at the end of the list we found a laundry, how long it would take you to rub out both patience and muscle?"
"I have determined to do any kind of house work rather than eat the bread of idleness. Of course I have my preference, but no choice," she added with a sigh of resignation.
"How would you like to teach?"
"Better than anything else. You may put that at the head of the list. I love the little folks so dearly, that I cried when my six weeks in the 'School of Practice' were ended," she said eagerly.
He did not reply to her enthusiastic expression of preference, but arose and hastily left the room. He shortly returned bearing in his hand an open letter, which he silently passed to Regenia.
"Write that I will accept the position," she said, rising excitedly.
"You are not going now, are you?" he asked with a smile. "At least, you will say good-bye to Lucile," he continued, his smile now spreading into a broad grin.
She either did not hear or ignored his question. Sitting down, as if forgetful of where she was, she asked earnestly: "How far is it to Grandville?"
"Too far to walk to-night. Had you not better wait and take an early breakfast and a fresh start to-morrow morning?" said Clement.
"Oh, Mr. St. John, do not trifle with me, I am so much in earnest."
"So I observe," he replied.
"What is the matter?" said Lucile, coming in just as her husband was finishing his observations.
"Nothing, only I have just informed this young lady of a school away down in 'Dixie,' and she wants to start off walking before supper," replied Mr. St. John with a merry laugh.
Well he knew what heart drippings awaited this enthusiastic young woman in her eagerness to rush into an unknown world. His jolly laughter was only the cloak that disguised the pity which filled his big, loving heart.
"Of all things," said Lucile, "teaching is the last which I should wish to try. Why do you want to go down into that heathen country? It is bad enough for a man, let alone a little frail mite like you," she said, slipping her arm around Regenia's slender waist. "You stay here with me, I was just thinking a moment ago, Clement, it would nice to teach Regenia stenography."
"I would rather teach," Regenia replied. "I believe it is my work. I have determined to accept this place and try it, anyway. If I do not like it, I will come back next summer and learn stenography."
So it was decided that Regenia would go South and take up the ferule and the pointer. Mr. St. John wrote immediately to the trustees of Grandville that he had secured a teacher, and on New Year's night, after much good advice and as many precautions as if Regenia were going among the cannibals of the South Sea Islands, Mr. St. John and Lucile kissed her good-bye and bade her God-speed.
Chapter 15 -- Chapter 17