About eight o’clock that evening Tom Everest ran in to bring Berty some rare wild flowers that he had found in an excursion to the country.
“How is your grandmother?” he asked. “I hear she is ill.”
“Better,” whispered Berty. “Bonny is with her, but I’ve got another trouble.”
“What is it?” inquired Tom, tenderly.
They were standing in the front hall, and he bent his head low to hear what she said.
“There’s a tramp out in the wood-shed,” she went on, “and I don’t know what to do with him.”
“I’ll go put him out,” said Tom, promptly starting toward the back hall.
“No, no, I don’t want him put out. Come back, Tom. I want you to help me do something for him. Just think, he was once a doctor. He cured other people, and couldn’t cure himself. He drinks like a fish.”
“Well, I’ll find a place for him to disport himself other than this,” said Tom, decidedly. “He isn’t going to spend the night in your back yard.”
“Oh, Tom, don’t be foolish. He is as quiet as a lamb. He hasn’t been drinking to-day.”
“I tell you, Berty, he’s got to come out. If you make a fuss, I’ll call Bonny down.”
“Why, Tom Everest, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Your face is as red as a beet. What about the Golden Rule?”
“I beg your pardon, Berty,” said Tom, trying to look calm, “but I know more about tramps than you do. This fellow may be a thief.”
“Tom—suppose you were the thief, and the thief were you? Would you like him to talk about you that way?”
“Yes, I’d enjoy it. Come, Berty, lead the way.”
“What do you want to do with him?” asked the girl, curiously.
“Put him in the street.”
“Well, suppose he is a thief. He may rob your neighbour’s house.”
“My neighbour can look out for himself.”
“You don’t mean that,” said Berty, quickly. “Please do find this man a good place for the night. Keep him out of harm.”
“But, Berty, it won’t do any good. I know those fellows. They are thoroughly demoralized. You might just as well let this one go.”
“Go where?” asked the girl, quickly.
“To his appointed place.”
The two young people stood staring at each other for a few minutes, then Berty said, seriously, “Tom Everest, you are a moral, upright man.”
Tom modestly cast his eyes to the oilcloth on the floor.
“How many other young men are there like you in the republic?” pursued Berty.
“I don’t know,” he said, demurely.
“How many tramps are there?”
“I don’t know that—thousands and thousands, I guess.”
“Well, suppose every honest young man took a poor, miserable tramp under his protection. Suppose he looked out for him, fed him, clothed him, and kept him from being a prey on society?”
“I should say that would be a most undesirable plan for the young men,” said Tom, dryly. “I’d be afraid they’d get demoralized themselves, and all turn tramps. It’s easier to loaf than to work.”
“Tom,” said Berty, firmly, “this is my tramp. I found him, I brought him home, I have a duty toward him. I can’t protect all the tramps in the Union, but I can prevent this one from going on and being a worry to society. Why, he might meet some timid girl to-morrow and frighten her to death.”
“Oho! he tried to scare you, did he?” asked Tom, keenly.
“He asked me for money,” repeated Berty, “but of course I didn’t let him have it.”
“Tell me all about it.”
When she finished, Tom laughed softly. “So this is the gentleman you want me to befriend?”
“Do you feel revengeful toward him?” asked Berty.
“I’d like to horsewhip him.”
“That’s the way I felt at first. Then I said to myself, ‘Berty Gravely, you’ve got to get every revengeful feeling out of your head before you can benefit that man. What’s the use of being angry with him? You only stultify yourself. Try to find out how you can do him good.’”
“Oh, Berty,” interposed Tom, with a gesture of despair, “don’t talk mawkish, sickly sentimentality to me. Don’t throw honey water over tin cans, and expect them to blossom like the rose.”
“They will blossom, they can blossom,” said Berty, persistently, “and even if they won’t blossom, take your old tin cans, clean them, and set them on end. Don’t kick them in the gutter.”
“What do you want me to do?” asked Tom, helplessly. “I see you have some plan in your mind.”
This was Berty’s chance, and for a few minutes she so staggered him by her eloquence that he sank on the staircase, and, feebly propping his head on his hand, stared uninterruptedly at her.
“I’ve been thinking hard,” she said, in low, dramatic tones, “very, very hard for two hours, as I sat by Grandma’s bed. What can we do for wrecks of humanity? Shall we pet them, coddle them, spoil them, as you speak of doing? Not at all. We’ve got to do something, but we mustn’t be foolish. This tramp is like some wet, soggy piece of wood floating down our river. It doesn’t know, feel, nor care. You mustn’t give it a push and send it further down the stream, but pull it ashore, and—and—”
“And dry it, and make a fire and burn it,” said Tom, briskly. “I don’t like your simile, Berty.”
“It was unfortunate,” said the girl. “I will start again. I approve of societies and churches and clubs—I think they do splendid work, and if, in addition to what they do, every one of us would just reach out a helping hand to one solitary person in the world, how different things would be. We would have a paradise here below. It’s wicked, Tom, to say, ‘That is a worthless person, let him go—you can do nothing for him.’ Now I’ve got a plan for this tramp, and I want you to help me.”
“I know you have, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it, but I don’t think I’ll help you, Berty. I don’t favour the gentry of the road.”
“This is my plan,” said Berty, unheedingly; “but first let me say that I will make a concession to you. You may take the tramp with you, put him in a comfortable room for the night, see that he has a good bed, and a good breakfast in the morning.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you,” murmured the young man. “You are so very kind.”
“Don’t give him any money,” continued Berty, seriously, “and if you can keep him locked up without hurting his feelings, I wish you would—but don’t blight his self-respect.”
“His what?” asked Tom, mildly.
“His self-respect—even an animal must be protected in that way. Don’t you know that a dog gets well a great deal quicker, if you keep up his good opinion of himself?”
“Does he?” murmured Tom. “I—I don’t know. I fear I have sometimes helped to lessen a dog’s good opinion of himself.”
“And, furthermore,” pursued Berty, “I want that tramp to stay in Riverport. He’s going to be my tramp, Tom, and yours, too, if you will be good.”
“Oh, I will be good, Berty, extra good to deserve a partnership like that.”
“And you and I will look out for him. Now I’ve been wondering what employment we can find for him, for of course you know it isn’t good for any man to live in idleness.”
“Just so, Berty.”
“Well, we must be very cautious about what work we find for him, for he hasn’t worked for years.”
“Something light and genteel, Berty.”
“Light, but not so very genteel. He isn’t proud. He’s only unaccustomed to work. He talked quite frankly about himself.”
“Yes, and do you know what I have decided?”
“No, I’m sure I don’t.”
“Well, I have just found the very thing for him, and I dare say, if you have any money laid aside, you may want to invest in it. First of all, I want you to hire Bobbetty’s Island.”
“Bobbetty’s Island—out in the river—old man Bobbetty’s?”
“The same, Tom.”
“Ghost thrown in?”
“I want you to hire it,” said Berty, severely, “and get some of your friends to make up a party, and go down there and put up a big, comfortable camp for our tramp to live in.”
“Why the island, Berty?” inquired Tom, in a suppressed voice. “Why not set him up in Grand Avenue. There’s a first-class family mansion to let there, three doors from us.”
“Tom Everest, will you stop your fooling. Our tramp is to live on the island because if he were in the town he would spend half his time in drinking-places.”
“But won’t the river be suggestive, Berty? It would to me, and I’m not a drinking man.”
“No, of course not—he will have his work to do, and twice a week I want you to row over yourself, or get some one to go and bring him to town, for he would go crazy if he were left there alone all the time.”
“I wonder you don’t get a companion for him.”
“I’m going to try. He has a wife, a nice woman in New Hampshire, who left him on account of his drinking habits. He says she will come back to him if he gets a good situation and promises to reform.”
“Has he promised?” asked Tom, acutely.
“He said he would think about it. I rather liked him for the hesitation, for of course he is completely out of the way of continuous application to anything.”
“And what business, may I ask, are you going to establish him in? You seemed to be hinting at something.”
“I am going to start a cat farm, and put him in charge,” replied Berty, with the air of one making a great revelation.
“A cat farm,” echoed Tom, weakly, then, entirely collapsing, he rolled over on his side on the staircase and burst into silent and convulsive laughter.