The Chicago Letter
The mother was still laughing and struggling in the irresistible
embrace when both became aware that a third person was regarding them in
"'Zekiel, let me go!" commanded the scandalized woman, and pushed
herself free from her tormentor, who forthwith returned rather
sheepishly to his buckles.
The young man with trim-pointed beard and mirthful eyes, who stood
in the driveway, had just dismounted from a shining buggy. Doubt and
astonishment were apparently holding him dumb.
The housekeeper, smoothing her disarranged locks and much flushed of
face, returned his gaze, rising from her chair.
"I couldn't believe it was you, Mrs. Forbes!" declared the newcomer.
"Fanshaw isn't--" He looked around vaguely.
"No, he isn't, Dr. Ballard," returned Mrs. Forbes shortly. "He forgot to
rub down Essex Maid one evening when she came in hot, and that finished
him with Mr. Evringham."
The young doctor's lips twitched beneath his mustache as he looked at
'Zekiel, polishing away for dear life.
"You seem to have some one else here--some friend," he remarked
"Friend!" echoed the housekeeper with exasperation, feeling to see just
how much Zeke had rumpled her immaculate collar. "We looked like friends
when you came up, didn't we!"
"Like intimate friends," murmured the doctor, still looking curiously at
the big fair-haired fellow, who was crimson to his temples.
"I don't know how long we shall continue friends if he ever grabs me
again like that just after I've put on a clean collar. He's got beyond
the place where I can correct him. I ought to have done it oftener when
I had the chance. This is my boy 'Zekiel, Dr. Ballard," with a proud
glance in the direction of the youth, who looked up and nodded, then
continued his labors. "Mr. Evringham has engaged him on trial. He's been
with horses a couple of years, and I guess he'll make out all right."
"Glad to know you, 'Zekiel," returned the doctor. "Your mother has been
a good friend of mine half my life, and I've often heard her speak of
you. Look out for my horse, will you? I shall be here half an hour or
When the doctor had moved off toward the house Mrs. Forbes nodded at her
"Might's well walk Hector into the barn and uncheck him, Zeke," she
said. "They'll keep him more'n a half an hour. That young man, 'Zekiel
Forbes,--that young man's my hope." Mrs. Forbes spoke impressively and
shook her forefinger to emphasize her words.
"What you hoping about him?" asked 'Zekiel, laying down the harness and
proceeding to lead the gray horse up the incline into the barn.
"Shouldn't wonder a mite if he was our deliverer," went on Mrs. Forbes.
"I saw it in Mrs. Evringham's eye that he suited her, the first night
that she met him here at dinner. I like him first-rate, and I don't mean
him any harm; but he's one of these young doctors with plenty of money
at his back, bound to have a fashionable practice and succeed. His face
is in his favor, and I guess he knows as much as any of 'em, and he
can afford the luxury of a wife brought up the way Eloise Evringham has
been. That's right, Zeke. Unfasten the check-rein, though the doctor
don't use a mean one, I must say. I only hope there's a purgatory for
the folks that use too short check-reins on their horses. I hope they'll
have to wear 'em themselves for a thousand years, and have to stand
waiting at folks' doors frothing at the mouth, and the back of their
necks half breaking when the weather's down to zero and up to a hundred.
That's what I hope!"
'Zekiel grinned. "You want 'em to try the cold place and the hot one
too, do you?"
"Yes I do, and to stay in the one that hurts the most. The man that uses
a decent check-rein on his horse," continued Mrs. Forbes, dropping into
a philosophizing tone, "is apt to be as decent to his wife. The doctor
would be a great catch for that girl, and I think," dropping her
voice, "her mother'd be liable to live with 'em."
"You're keeping that dark from the doctor, I s'pose?" remarked 'Zekiel.
"H'm. You needn't think I go chattering around that house the way I do
out here. I've got a great talent, if I do say it, for minding my own
"Good enough," drawled 'Zekiel. "I heard tell once of a firm that made a
great fortune just doing that one thing."
"Don't you be sassy now. I've always waited on Mr. Evringham while he
ate his meals, and that's the time he'd often speak out to me about
things if he felt in the humor, so that in all these years 't isn't any
wonder if I've come to feel that his business is mine too."
"Just so," returned 'Zekiel, with a twinkle in his eye.
"It's been as plain as your nose that the interlopers don't like to have
me there. Not that they have anything special against me, but they'd
like to have someone younger and stylisher to hand them their plates.
I'll never forget one night when they'd been here about a week, and I
think Mr. Evringham had begun to suspect they were fixtures,--I'd felt
it from the first,--Mrs. Evringham said, 'Why father, does Mrs. Forbes
always wait on your table? I had supposed she was temporarily taking the
place of your butler or your waitress.'"
The housekeeper's effort to imitate the airy manner she remembered
caused her son to chuckle as he gathered up the shining harness.
"You should have seen the look Mr. Evringham gave her. Just as if he
didn't see her at all. 'Yes,' he answered, 'I hope Mrs. Forbes will wait
on my table as long as I have one.' And I will if I have my health,"
added the speaker, bridling with renewed pleasure at the memory of that
triumphant moment. "They think I'm a machine without any feelings or
opinions, and that I've been wound up to suit Mr. Evringham and run
his establishment, and that I'm no more to be considered than the big
Westminster clock on the stairs. Mrs. Evringham did try once to get into
my employer's rooms and look after his clothes." Mrs. Forbes shook her
head and tightened her lips at some recollection.
"She bucked up against the machine, did she?" inquired Zeke.
The housekeeper glanced around to see if any one might be approaching.
"I saw her go in there, and I followed her," she continued almost in a
whisper. "She sort of started, but spoke up in her cool way, 'I wish to
look over father's clothes and see if anything needs attention.'
'Thank you, Mrs. Evringham, but everything is in order,' I said, very
respectful. 'Well, leave it for me next time, Mrs. Forbes,' she says.
'I shall take care of him while I am here.' 'Thank you,' says I, 'but
he wouldn't want your visit interfered with by that kind of work.' She
looked at me sort of suspicious and haughty. 'I prefer to do it,' she
answers, trying to look holes in me with her big eyes. 'Then will you
ask him, please,' said I very polite, 'before I give you the keys,
because we've got into habits here. I've taken care of Mr. Evringham's
clothes for fifteen years.' She looked kind of set back. 'Is it so
long?' she asks. 'Well, I will see about it.' But I guess the right time
for seeing about it never came," added the housekeeper knowingly.
"You're still doing business at the old stand, eh?" rejoined Zeke.
"Well, I'm glad you like your job. It's my opinion that the governor's
"Ahem, ahem!" Mrs. Forbes cleared her throat with desperate loudness
and tugged at her son's shirt sleeve with an energy which caused him to
Coming up the sunny driveway was a tall man with short, scrupulously
brushed iron-gray hair, and sweeping mustache. The lines under his eyes
were heavy, his glance was cold. His presence was dignified, commanding,
The housekeeper and coachman both stood at attention, the latter
mechanically pulling down his rolled-up sleeves.
"So you're moving out here, Mrs. Forbes," was the remark with which the
newcomer announced himself.
"Yes, Mr. Evringham. The man has been here to put in the electric bell
you ordered. I shall be as quick to call as if I was still in the house,
sir, and I thank you--'Zekiel and I both do--for consenting to my making
it home-like for him. Perhaps you'd come up and see the rooms, sir?"
"Not just now. Some other time. I hope 'Zekiel is going to prove himself
worth all this trouble."
The new coachman's countenance seemed frozen into a stolidity which did
"I'm sure he'll try," replied his mother, "and Fanshaw's livery fits him
to such a turn that it would have been flying in the face of Providence
not to try him. Did you give orders to be met at this train, sir?" Mrs.
Forbes looked anxiously toward the set face of her heir.
"No--I came out unexpectedly. I have received news that is rather
The housekeeper had not studied her employer's moods for years without
understanding when she could be of use.
"I will come to the house right off," was her prompt response. "It's a
pity you didn't know the bell was in, sir."
"No, stay where you are. I see Dr. Ballard is here. We might be
interrupted. You can go, 'Zekiel."
The young fellow needed no second invitation, but turned and mounted the
stairway that led to the chambers above.
Mr. Evringham took from his pocket a bunch of papers, and selecting a
letter handed it to Mrs. Forbes, motioning her to the battered chair,
which was still in evidence. He seated himself on the stool Zeke had
vacated, while his housekeeper opened and read the following letter:--
CHICAGO, April 28, 19--.
DEAR FATHER,--The old story of the Prodigal Son has always plenty
of originality for the Prodigal. I have returned, and thank Heaven
sincerely I do not need to ask you for anything. My blessed girl Julia
has supported herself and little Jewel these years while I've been
feeding on husks. I don't see now how I was willing to be so revoltingly
cruel and cowardly as to leave her in the lurch, but she has made
friends and they have stood by her, and now I've been back since
September, doing all in my power to make up what I can to her and Jewel,
as we call little Julia. They were treasures to return to such as I
deserved to have lost forever; but Julia treats me as if I'd been white
to her right all along. I've lately secured a position that I hope to
keep. My wife has been dressmaking, and this is something in the dry
goods line that I got through her. The firm want us to go to Europe
to do some buying. They will pay the expenses of both; but that leaves
Jewel. I've heard that Lawrence's wife and daughter are living with you.
I wondered if you'd let us bring Jewel as far as New York and drop her
with you for the six weeks that we shall be gone. If we had a little
more ahead we'd take the child with us. She is eight years old and
wouldn't be any trouble, but cash is scarce, and although we could board
her here with some friend, I'd like to have her become acquainted with
her grandfather, and I thought as Madge and Eloise were with you, they
would look after her if Mrs. Forbes is no longer there. This has all
come about very suddenly, and we sail next Wednesday on the Scythia, so
I'll be much obliged if you will wire me. I shall be glad to shake your
Your repentant son,
Mrs. Forbes looked up from the letter to find her employer's eyes upon
her. Her lips were set in a tight line.
"Well?" he asked.
"I'd like to ask first, sir, what you think of it?"
"It strikes me as very cool. Harry knows my habits."
The housekeeper loosened the reins of her indignation.
"The idea of your having a child here to clatter up and down the stairs
at the very time you want to take a nap!" she burst forth. "You've had
enough to bear already."
"A deal of company in the house as it is, eh?" he rejoined. It was the
first reference he had ever made to his permanent guests.
"It's what I was thinking, sir."
"You're not for it, then, Mrs. Forbes?"
"So far as taking care of the child goes, I should do my duty. I don't
think Mrs. Evringham or her daughter would wish to be bothered; but I
know very little about children, except that your house is no place for
them to be racing in. One young one brings others. You would be annoyed,
sir. Some folks can always ask favors." The housekeeper's cheeks were
flushed with the strength of her repugnance, and her bias relieved Mr.
"I agree with you," he returned, rising. "Tell 'Zekiel to saddle the
Maid. After dinner I will let him take a telegram to the office."
He returned to the house without further words, and Mrs. Forbes called
to her son in a voice that had a wrathful quaver.
"What you got your back up about?" inquired Zeke softly, after a careful
look to see that his august master had departed.
"Never you mind. Mr. Evringham wants you should saddle his horse and
bring her round. I want he should see you can do it lively."
"Ain't she a beaut'!" exclaimed Zeke as he led out the mare. "She'd
ought to be shown, she had."
"Shown! Better not expose your ignorance where Mr. Evringham can hear
you. That mare's taken two blue ribbons already."
"Showed they knew their business," returned Zeke imperturbably. "I
s'pose the old gent don't care any more for her than he does for his
"I guess he loves her the best of anything in this world."
"Love! The governor love anything or anybody! That's good," remarked
the young fellow, while Essex Maid watched his movements about her with
gentle, curious eyes.
"I do believe she misses Fanshaw and notices the difference," remarked
"Glad to, too. Ain't you, my beauty? She's going to be stuck on me
before we get through. She don't want any Britishers fooling around
"You've certainly made her look fine, Zeke. I know Mr. Evringham will be
pleased. She just shines from her pretty little ears to her hoofs. Take
her around and then come back. I want to talk to you."
"If I don't come back," returned the boy, "you'll know the governor's
looked at me a little too hard and I've been struck so."
"Don't be any foolisher than you can help," returned Mrs. Forbes, "and
On 'Zekiel's return to the barn he saw that his mother's face was
portentous. "Lawrence was at least handsome like his father," she began
without preamble, looking over Zeke's shoulder, "but Harry was as homely
as he was no account. I should think that man had enough of his sons'
belongings hanging on him already. What do you think, 'Zekiel Forbes?
Mr. Evringham's youngest son Harry has turned up again!"
"I should think it was the old Harry by your tone," rejoined Zeke
"He and his wife, poor as church mice, are getting their expenses paid
to Europe on business, and they have the nerve--yes, the cheek--to ask
Mr. Evringham to let them leave their young one, a girl eight years old,
with him while they're gone."
"I hope it's a real courageous youngster," remarked Zeke.
"A child! A wild Western dressmaker's young one in Mr. Evringham's
"Is the old Harry a dressmaker?" asked Zeke mildly.
"No, his wife is. His Julia! They've named this girl for her, and I
suppose they called her Jule, and then twisted it around to Jewel.
"When is she coming?" asked Zeke, seeing that he was expected to say
"Coming? She isn't coming," cried his mother irefully. "Not while Mr.
Evringham has his wits. They haven't a particle of right to ask him.
Harry has worried him to distraction already. The child would be sure to
"He'd devour her the second day, then," returned Zeke calmly. "It would
be soon over."