For three weeks the weather had been chilly and disagreeable. “The winter will set in early,” the oldest inhabitants were prophesying, when suddenly the full glory of the Indian summer burst upon the city.
Berty was delighted. “Dear Grandma will get better now,” she kept saying, hopefully. “This is what she wants—just a little warm sunshine before the winter comes.”
Grandma’s health had for some time been a cause of anxiety to her many friends. All through the autumn she had been ailing, and strangely quiet, even for her. And she had complained of feeling cold, a thing she had never done before in her life. Nothing seemed to warm her, not even the blazing fires that Berty kept in some of the many open fireplaces with which the old house was well supplied.
To-day there was a change. When the warm, lovely sunshine came streaming into her room, Grandma had got out of bed. She had come down-stairs, and, very quietly, but with a gentle smile that sent Berty into an ecstasy of delight, she had visited every room in the house.
The guinea-pigs and pigeons in the wood-shed, the two women working in the kitchen, had been made glad by a call from her, and now she was resting on a sofa in the parlour.
“I feel twenty years younger to see you going about!” exclaimed Berty, delightedly, as she tucked a blanket round her.
“Twenty years!” murmured Grandma.
“Of course that’s exaggeration,” explained Berty, apologetically. “I know that you know I’m not twenty yet. I just wanted you to understand how glad I feel.”
“Go out on the veranda,” said Grandma, “and breathe the fresh air. You have been in the house too much with me lately.”
Berty’s upper lip was covered with a dew of perspiration. She was hot all the time, partly from excitement and anxiety about Grandma, and partly from her incessant activity in waiting on her in the heated atmosphere of the house.
Berty reluctantly made her way to the veranda, where she promptly dislodged from a rocking-chair the mongrel pup, who, after long hesitation, had finally chosen to take up his abode with her.
The pup, however, crawled up beside her after she sat down, and she gently swayed to and fro in the rocking-chair, absently stroking his head and gazing out at the stripped grain-fields across the river.
“The ripened sheaves are garnered in,
Garnered in, garnered in,”
she was singing softly to herself, when some one remarked in an undertone, “Well, how goes it?”
“Oh,” she said, looking up, “it is you, is it, the omnipresent Tom?”
“Yes, I just slipped up for a minute to see how Grandma is. Won’t this sunshine set her up?”
“You saw her as you came through the room?”
“Yes, but she was asleep, so I did not speak. How is she?”
“Better, much better, and I am so glad.”
“So am I,” responded Tom, heartily; “it makes us all feel bad to have her ill, but, I say, Berty, you must not take it so to heart. You’re looking thin.”
“I can’t help worrying about Grandma, Tom.”
“How long since you’ve been out?”
“That’s too long for one of your active disposition to stay in the house. Come, take your dog and walk back to town with me. See, he is all ready to come.”
Mugwump, indeed, was fawning round Tom in a servile manner.
“He’s liked me ever since he had a taste of my coat,” observed the young man.
“If you won’t take a walk with me, let me row you over to Bobbetty’s Island this afternoon,” pursued Tom.
Berty shook her head, but said, eagerly, “Do tell me how Mafferty is getting on.”
“Finely—he says that’s a first-class shanty we put up for him—the stove is a beauty, and, Berty, another consignment of cats has arrived.”
“Oh, Tom, what are they like?”
The young man launched into a description of the new arrivals. “There are four white kittens—one pair yellow eyes, three pairs blue, for which you should charge twenty dollars to intending purchasers; three black Persian kings, worth thirty dollars, and a few assorted kittens from five dollars up.”
Berty listened in rapt attention. When he had finished, she said, “You’ve been tremendously good about my tramp, Tom.”
“I like partnerships,” he said, modestly; “in fact, I—”
“That reminds me,” interrupted Berty, unceremoniously; “has he had another letter from his wife?”
“Yes, she is coming in ten days.”
The girl clasped her dog so energetically round the neck that he squealed in protest. “Isn’t it just lovely, that we have been able to do something for that man? Oh, do you suppose he will be happy there with his wife and the cats?”
“No, certainly not,” said Tom, coolly. “He’s going to have his bursts, of course.”
“And what are we to do?” asked Berty, sorrowfully.
“Forgive him, and row him back to the island,” said Tom, hopefully. “It’s as much our business to look after him as anybody’s.”
Berty turned in her chair, and stared at him long and intently. “Tom Everest, you are changing.”
“Pray Heaven, I am,” he said earnestly, and something in the bright, steady gaze bent on her made her eyes fill with tears.
“I have learned a lot from you,” he continued, in a low voice. “When I heard you talking to those men the other day, it stirred my heart. It seemed pitiful Berty, that a girl like you, who might think only of amusing herself, should be so touched by her neighbours’ woes that she should give up her own peace of mind in order to try to help them. Then I heard that though you could not move the men, the women of the street were much put out at the thought of your leaving, and so exasperated with the men, that they told them they had got to do something to help their families. I said to myself, ‘I’ve only been giving Berty a half assistance up to this. She shall have my whole assistance now.’”
Berty’s face was glowing. “Tom,” she said, gently, “if we live, we shall see great reforms on River Street.”
“I hope so,” he replied, heartily.
“We shall see,” and she upraised one slim brown hand, “perhaps, oh, perhaps and possibly, but still, I trust, truly, we shall see this our city one of the best governed in America.”
“Oh, I hope so,” returned Tom, with a kind of groan.
“Don’t doubt it,” continued the girl. “Who lives will see. I tell you, Tom, the women are desperate. The River Street houses are growing older and older. What woman can endure seeing her children die, and know that they are poisoned out of existence? I tell you, Tom, the men have got to do something or emigrate.”
“They’ll not emigrate,” said Tom, shortly, “and upon my word,” and he looked round about him, “I don’t know but what I’d be willing to live on River Street myself, to help reform it.”
Berty was silent for a long time, then she said, in a low voice, “You will not regret that speech, Tom Everest.”
“All right, little girl,” he replied, cheerfully, and jumping up from his low seat. “Now I must get back to work. Come, Mugwump, I guess your missis will let you have a walk, even if she won’t go herself.”
The lawless dog, without glancing at Berty for permission, bounded to his side and licked his hand.
“You haven’t very good manners, dog,” said Tom, lightly, “but I guess your mistress likes you.”
“I always did like the bad ones best,” said Berty, wistfully. “It seems as if they had more need of friends—good-bye, Tom.”
“Good-bye, little girl,” he returned, throwing her a kiss from the tips of his fingers. “Maybe I’ll run up this afternoon.”