Roger, sitting in his office at the iron works, from time to time raised his grave face to look at Bonny, who was fidgeting restlessly about the room.
Next to his wife, Roger loved his young brother-in-law,—the fair-haired, genial lad, everybody’s favourite, no one’s enemy but his own.
He wondered why the boy had come to him. Probably he was in some scrape and wanted help.
Presently the boy flung himself round upon him. “Roger—why don’t some of you good people try to reform me?”
Roger leaned back in his chair and stared at the disturbed young face.
“Come, now, don’t say that you don’t think I need reformation,” said the boy, mockingly.
“I guess we all need that,” replied his brother-in-law, soberly, “but you come of pretty good stock, Bonny.”
“‘WHY DON’T SOME OF YOU GOOD PEOPLE TRY TO REFORM ME?’”
“The stock’s all right. That’s why I’m afraid of breaking loose and disgracing it.”
“What have you been doing?” asked Roger, kindly.
“I haven’t been doing anything,” said the boy, sullenly. “It’s what I may do that I’m afraid of.”
Roger said nothing. He was just casting about in his mind for a suitable reply, when the boy went on. “If you’ve been brought up just like a parson, and had all kinds of sentiments and good thoughts lived at you, and then don’t rise to the goodness you’re bursting with, it’s bound to rebel and give you a bad time.”
The man, having got a clue to the boy’s mental trouble, hastened to say, “You act all right. I shouldn’t say you were unhappy.”
“Act!” repeated the boy. “Act, acting, actors, actresses,—that’s what we all are. Now I’d like to have a good time. I don’t think I’m far out of the way; but there’s Grandma—she just makes me rage. Such goings on!”
“What has your grandmother been doing?”
“She hasn’t done much, and she hasn’t said a word, but, hang it! there’s more in what Grandma doesn’t say than there is in what other women do say.”
“You’re right there, my boy.”
“Now, what did she want to go give me a latch-key for?” asked the boy, in an aggrieved tone, “just after I’d started coming in a little later than usual? Why don’t she say, ‘My dear boy, you are on the road to ruin. Staying out late is the first step. May I not beg of you to do better, my dear young grandson? Otherwise you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.’”
“This is what she didn’t say?” asked Roger, gravely.
“This is what she didn’t say,” repeated the boy, crossly, “but this is what she felt. I know her! The latch-key was a bit of tomfoolery. An extra lump of sugar in my coffee is more tomfoolery.”
“Do you want her to preach to you?”
“No,” snarled the handsome lad. “I don’t want her to preach, and I don’t want you to preach, and I don’t want my sisters to preach, but I want some one to do something for me.”
“State your case in a more businesslike way,” said the elder man, gravely. “I don’t understand.”
“You know I’m in the National Bank,” said Bonny, shortly.
“Certainly I know that.”
“Grandma put me there a year ago. I don’t object to the bank, if I’ve got to work. It’s as easy as anything I could get, and I hate study.”
“Being in the bank, I’d like to rise,” Bonny went on, irritably, “but somehow or other there seems a little prejudice in the air against me. Has any one said anything to you?”
“Not a word.”
The boy drew a long breath. “Perhaps it’s partly imagination. They’re very down on fun in our bank. Now when hours are over, and I come out, there’s a whole gang of nice fellows ready to do anything that’s going. Sometimes we play billiards. On fine days we’re always on the river. There’s no harm in that, is there?”
“Not that I see,” observed Roger, cautiously.
“Then, when evening comes, and we want to sit down somewhere, we have a quiet little game of cards. There’s no harm in that, is there?”
“Do you play for money?”
“Sometimes—well, perhaps nearly always, but there’s no harm in that, is there?”
“Let me hear the rest of your story.”
“Sometimes I’m late getting home. We get interested, but that’s nothing. I’m almost a man. Five hours’ sleep is enough for me.”
A long pause followed, broken finally by Roger, who said, calmly, “You have given an account of your time. What is wrong with it?”
“It’s all wrong,” blurted the boy, “and you know it.”
“I haven’t said so.”
“But you feel it. You’re just like Grandma—bother it! Don’t I know she thinks I ought to spend my evenings at home, reading about banking, so as to work myself up to a president’s chair?”
“Don’t you get any time for reading through the day?”
“How can I?” said the boy, eloquently, “when I was almost brought up out-of-doors, and as soon as the bank closes every square inch of flesh of me is squealing to get on the river. Now what do you think I ought to do?”
“It’s a puzzling case,” said Roger, with a slow shake of his head. “According to your own account, you are leading a blameless life. Yet, according to the same account, you are not happy in it, though no one is finding fault with you.”
“No one finding fault!” said the boy, sulkily. “Why, the very stones in the street stare at me and say, ‘Animal! Animal! you don’t care for anything but fun. You’d skip the bank every day if you dared.’”
“Why don’t you?”
Bonny gave himself a resounding thwack on the chest. “Because,” he said, “Grandma has planted something here that won’t be downed. Something that won’t let me have a good time when I know she isn’t pleased with me. Sometimes I get so mad that I think I will run away, but that wouldn’t do any good, for she’d run with me. She’d haunt my dreams—I don’t know what I’m going to do!”
Roger, carefully concealing all signs of compassion, gazed steadily at the distressed face. “Do you want to break away from your set?” he asked, at last.
“No, I don’t. They’re good fellows.”
“Well, what are you going to do about that bad feeling inside of you?”
“I don’t know,” said Bonny, bitterly. “I know Grandma thinks I’m going to be like Walt Everest, big and fat and jolly, and everybody’s chum, who can sing a song, and dance a jig, and never does any business, and never will amount to anything.”
“Did she ever say so?”
“No,” growled the boy, “but don’t I tell you I know what Grandma’s thinking about?”
“How does your sister Berty take you?” asked Roger.
“Just like Grandma,” blazed the boy, in sudden wrath, “never says a word but a pleasant one, catches me in a corner and kisses me—kisses me!—just think of it!”
Roger thought deeply for a few minutes, while Bonny took up his miserable ramble about the room.
“Look here, boy,” he said, finally. “You do as I tell you for a week. Begin from this minute. Read that magazine, then go home with me to dinner. After dinner come back here and help me. I’m working on some accounts for a time. That will be an excuse to the boys for not playing cards.”
Bonny’s face was clearing. “A good excuse, too,” he muttered. “If I said I was going with Grandma or the girls, they’d laugh at me.”
“You tell them you are working on my books, and I am paying you. That will shut their mouths, and you’ll not object to the extra money.”
“I guess I won’t. I’m hard pushed all the time.”
“Don’t you save anything from your salary for Grandma?” asked Roger, keenly.
“How can I?” said the boy, indignantly. “She has brought me up to be clean. It takes nearly everything I get to pay my laundry bill—I dare say you think I’m a brute to be so selfish.”
“I’ll send you home every night at ten, and mind you go to bed,” said Roger, calmly. “Five hours’ sleep is not enough for a boy of eighteen. Get up in the morning and go to the bank. As soon as it closes in the afternoon I’ll have business in Cloverdale that will take you on a drive there.”
“You’re a daisy, Roger,” said Bonny, in a low voice.
Roger cast down his eyes. That flushed, disturbed face reminded him of his own beautiful Margaretta. Pray Heaven, he would never see such trouble and dissatisfaction in her blue eyes.
Bonny had already thrown himself into a deep leather-covered armchair, and was apparently absorbed in the magazine. Presently he looked up. “Roger, don’t you tell the girls what I’ve been saying.”
“No, I won’t.”
“No, nor Grandma.”
But Grandma knew. There was no hoodwinking that dear, shrewd old lady, and when next she met Roger, which was the following morning, as he was on his way to his office, and she was on her way to call on his wife, her deep-set eyes glistened strangely, and instead of saying “Good morning, dear grandson-in-law,” as she usually did, she said “Good morning, dear son.” She considered him as much one of the family as her three beloved orphan grandchildren.
Yes, Grandma knew, and Grandma approved of what he was doing for her poor, wilful, troubled Bonny.
Every evening for five evenings the lad came to the iron works, and steadfastly set his young face to the sober, unexciting examination of dull rows of figures, stretching indefinitely across white pages.
On the fifth night something went wrong with him. In the first place, he was late in coming. In the second place, his nerves seemed to be stretched to their utmost tension.
“What’s up with you?” asked Roger, when, after a few minutes’ work Bonny pushed aside the big books, and said, “I’m going home.”
“I’m tired,” said Bonny. “I hate this bookkeeping.”
“All right,” said his brother-in-law, composedly. “I’m tired myself. Let’s have a game of chess.”
“I hate chess,” said Bonny, sulkily.
“I wonder whether it’s too early for supper?” asked Roger, good-humouredly getting up and going to a closet.
He looked over his shoulder at Bonny as he spoke. Every night at half-past nine he was in the habit of producing cakes, candy, syrup, fruit, and nuts for the boy’s supper. It was not very long since he had been a boy himself, and he remembered his chronic craving for sweet things.
“You’re always stuffing me,” replied Bonny, disagreeably. “You think you’ll make me good-natured.”
“What’s the matter with you, Bonny?” asked Roger, closing the door and returning to his seat.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me,” snarled Bonny, miserably, rolling his head about on his folded arms resting on the table. “I hate everything and everybody. I could kill you, Roger.”
“All right—there’s a pair of Indian clubs over there in the corner,” said his brother-in-law, cheerfully.
“I thought I’d be an angel after a few nights’ association with you,” continued the lad, “and you make me feel worse than ever.”
“Looks as if I were a bad sort of a fellow, doesn’t it?” remarked Roger, philosophically.
“You’re not bad,” snapped Bonny. “You’re a tremendous good sort. I’m the brute. Roger, why don’t you preach to me?”
For some time Roger stared at him in silence; then he said, “Seems to me you can preach better to yourself. If I were going to set up for a preacher I’d only hold forth to the impenitent.”
“The fellows are going to a dance at Hickey’s to-night,” said Bonny, suddenly pounding on the table with his fist, “and I’m not in it, and then at midnight they’re going to see the circus arrive, and I’m not in that.”
“At Hickey’s—where is that?”
“Up the road; don’t you know?”
“Oh, yes; rather gay people, aren’t they?”
“Well, they’re not in Margaretta’s set; but then she is mighty particular.”
“Would you take her there if she cared to go?”
“No, I wouldn’t—well, go on, Roger.”
“Go on where?” asked the elder man, in slight bewilderment.
“To embrace your opportunity—administer a rebuke—cuff a sinner,” sneered Bonny.
Roger grinned at him.
“My dear boy,” began Bonny, in an exasperated tone, “let me exhort, admonish, and counsel you never to go to any place, or visit any resort, or indulge in any society where you could not take your venerable grandmother and your beloved sisters.”
“Not bad for a beginner,” said Roger, patronizingly.
“I’m going,” said the boy, abruptly jumping up. “I feel as if I should fly in fifty pieces if I stayed here any longer—till I see you again, Roger.”
He was already on the threshold, but Roger sauntered after him. “Hold on a bit—four days ago you came to me in something of a pickle.”
“You bet your iron works I did,” replied Bonny.
“I helped you out of it.”
“I guess you did.”
“For four evenings you have come here and helped me, and I am going to pay you well for it.”
“Glory on your head, you are,” said Bonny, wildly.
“In these four days,” continued Roger, “you have been early at the bank—you have done your work faithfully there. You have not shirked.”
“Not a hair’s breadth, and mighty tired I am of it. I’m sick of reformation. I’m going to be just as bad as I can be. Hurrah for Hickey’s,” and he was just about darting off, when Roger caught him by the arm.
“Listen to me for a minute. I ask you to give me one day more. Stay here with me to-night. Do your work as usual. Go home to bed. Fill in to-morrow properly, then in the evening, at this time, if you want to go back to your old silly tricks, go. I wash my hands of you.”
Bonny turned his face longingly toward the city, thought deeply for a few minutes, then retraced his steps. “I’ll be good to-night,” he said, threateningly, “but just you wait till to-morrow night comes.”
“You’ve got a conscience,” said Roger, sternly; “if you choose to choke it and play the fool, no one is strong enough to hold you—pass me that ledger, will you?”
“Oh, shut up,” blurted Bonny, under his breath. However, he sat down quietly enough, and did his work until the clock struck ten.
Then he stifled a yawn, jumped up, and said, “I’m going now.”
“Mind, seven-thirty to-morrow evening,” said Roger, stiffly.
“All right; seven-thirty for once more, and only once,” said Bonny, with glistening eyes, “for once more and only once! I’m tired of your stuffy old office, and strait-laced ways.”
“Good night,” said Roger, kindly, “and don’t be a fool.”
Bonny ran like a fox down the long lane leading to the city. “He’s making for his burrow,” said Roger, with a weary smile. “He’s a scamp, but you can trust him if he once gives his word. I wish I were a better sort of a man,” and with mingled reverence and humility he lifted his gaze to the stars. “If that boy is going to be saved, something has got to be done mighty quick!”