« السابقةمتابعة »
centre of the table. The master stood op. posite to him until he raised his eyes; when their glances met, the master walked up to him.
He had intended to avoid a scene or quarrel, but when he began to speak something kept rising in his throat and retarded his utterance, and his own voice frightened him, it sounded so distant, low, and resonant.
“I understand,” he began, “ that Melissa Smith, an orphan, and one of my scholars, has talked with you about adopting your profession. Is that so ?”
The man with the glazed hat leaned over the table, and made an imaginary shot, that sent the ball spinning round the cushions. Then walking round the table he recovered the ball and placed it upon the spot. This duty discharged, getting ready for another shot, he said,
“S'pose she has ?”
The master choked up again, but, squeezing the cushion of the table in his gloved band, he went on:
“ If you are a gentleman, I have only to tell you that I am her guardian, and responsible for her career. You know as well as I do the kind of life you offer her. As you
may learn of any one here, I have already brought her out of an existence worse than death, - out of the streets and the contamination of vice. I am trying to do so again. Let us talk like men. She has neither father, mother, sister, or brother. Are you seeking to give her an equivalent for these?”
The man with the glazed hat examined the point of his cue, and then looked around for somebody to enjoy the joke with him.
“I know that she is a strange, wilful girl," continued the master, “but she is better than she was. I believe that I have some influence over her still. I beg and hope, therefore, that you will take no further steps in this matter, but as a man, as a gentleman, leave her to me. I am willing” But here something rose again in the master's throat, and the sentence remained unfinished.
The man with the glazed hat, mistaking the master's silence, raised his head with a coarse, brutal laugh, and said in a loud voice,
“ Want her yourself, do you? That cock won't fight here, young man!”
The insult was more in the tone than the words, more in the glance than tone, and more in the man's instinctive nature than all these. The best appreciable rhetoric to this kind of animal is a blow. The master felt this, and, with his pent-up, nervous energy finding expression in the one act, he struck the brute full in his grinning face. The blow sent the glazed hat one way and the cue another, and tore the glove and skin from the master's hand from knuckle to joint. It opened up the corners of the fellow's mouth, and spoilt the peculiar shape of his beard for some time to come.
There was a shout, an imprecation, a scuffle, and the trampling of many feet, Then the crowd parted right and left, and two sharp quick reports followed each other in rapid succession. Then they closed again about his opponent, and the master was standing alone. He remembered picking bits of burning wadding from his coat-sleeve with his left hand. Some one was holding his other hand. Looking at it, he saw it was still bleeding from the blow, but his fingers were clenched around the handle of a glittering knife. He could not remember when or how he got it.
The man who was holding his hand was Mr. Morpher. He hurried the master to the door, but the master held back, and tried to tell him as well as he could with his parched throat about “Mliss.” “It's all right, my boy,” said Mr. Morpher. “She 's home !” And they passed out into the street together. As they walked along, Mr. Morpher said that Mliss had come running into the house a few moments before, and had dragged him out, saying that somebody was trying to kill the master at the Arcade. Wishing to be alone, the master promised Mr. Morpher that he would not seek the agent again that night, and parted from him, taking the road toward the schoolhouse. He was surprised on nearing it to find the door open ; still more surprised to find Mliss sitting there.
The master's nature, as I have hinted before, had, like most sensitive organizations, a selfish basis. The brutal taunt thrown out by his late adversary still rankled in his heart. It was possible, he thought, that such a construction might be put upon his affection for the child, which at best was foolish and Quixotic. Besides, had she not voluntarily abnegated his authority and affection ? And what had everybody else said about her? Why should be alone combat the opin
ion of all, and be at last obliged tacitly to confess the truth of all they had predicted ? And he had been a participant in a low barroom fight with a common boor, and risked his life, to prove what? What had he proved ? Nothing! What would the people say? What would his friends say? What would McSnagley say ?
In his self-accusation the last person he should have wished to meet was Mliss. He entered the door, and, going up to his desk, told the child, in a few cold words, that he was busy, and wished to be alone. As she rose he took her vacant seat, and, sitting down, buried his head in his hands. When he looked up again she was still standing there. She was looking at his face with an anxious expression.
“Did you kill him?" she asked. 6 No!” said the master.
6. That's what I gave you the knife for!” said the child, quickly.
“Gave me the knife ?” repeated the mas. ter, in bewilderment.
“ Yes, gave you the knife. I was there under the bar. Saw you hit him. Saw you both fall. He dropped his old knife. I gave it to you. Why did n't you stick him?"