"She's too young and pretty—and Mart, ye're lame! And, howly saints, man, ye look old! I wouldn't have known ye but fer the mouth and the eyes of ye. Ye have the same old grin."
"The same to you."
"I get little chance to practise it these days." "'Tis the same here." "But how came ye hurt?"
"A felly with a grievance poured a load of buckshot if into me side, and one of them lodged in me spine, so they say."
She clicked her tongue in ready sympathy. "Dear, dear! But come in and sit ye down. Ask yer girl to come in—I'm not perticular."
"She's me lawful wife," he said, and his tone changed her manner into something like sweetness and dignity.
"Go ye in, Mart. I'll fetch her."
As the young wife sat in her carriage before this wretched little home and watched that slatternly sister of her husband approach, she rose on a wave of self-appreciation. Haney lost in dignity and power by this association. For the first time in her life the girl acknowledged a fixed difference between her blood and that of Mart Haney. She was disgusted and ashamed as Mrs. McArdle, coming to the carriage side, said bluffly: "'Tis a poor parlor I have, Mrs. Haney, but if yell light out and come in I'll send for Pat. He'll be wantin' to see ye both."
Bertha would have given a good deal to avoid this visit, but seeing no way to escape she stepped from the carriage under the keen scrutiny of her hostess and walked up the rickety steps with something of the same squeamish care she would have shown on entering a cow-barn.
"Here, Benny!" called Mrs. McArdle. "Run you to Dad and tell him me brother Mart has come, and to hurry home. Off wid ye now!"
The poverty of this city working-man's home was plain to see. It struck in upon Bertha with the greater power by reason of her six months of luxury. It was not a dirty home, but it was cluttered and hap-hazard. The old wooden chairs were worn with scouring, but littered with children's rags of clothing. The smell of boiling cabbage was in the air, for dinner-time was nigh. There were three rooms on the ground-floor and one of these was living-room and dining-room, the other the kitchen, and a small bedroom showed through an open door. For all its disorder it gave out a familiar odor of homeliness which profoundly moved Haney.
"Ye've grown like the mother, Fan. And I do believe some of these chairs are her's."
"They are. When Dad broke up the house and went to live with Kate I put in a bid for the stuff and I brought some of it out here with me."
"I'm glad ye did. That old rocker now—sure it's the very one we used to fight for. I'll give ye twenty-five dollars for it, Fan."
"Ye can have it for the askin', Mart," she generously replied—tears of pleasure in her eyes. "Sure, after all the tales I heard of ye—it's to see you takin' fine to the mother's chair. She was a good mother to us, Mart."
"She was!" he answered.
"And if the old Dad had been as much of a man as she was, we'd all stand in better light to-day I'm think-in'—though the father did the best he knew."
"The worst he did was to let us all run wild. A club about our shoulders now and then would have kept our tempers sweeter."
Bertha, in rich new garments, seemed as alien to the scene as any fine lady visiting among the slums. She was struggling, too, between disgust of her sister-in-law's slovenly house and untidy dress, and the good humor, tender sentiment and innate motherliness of her nature. There was charm in her voice and in her big gray eyes. Irish to the core, she could storm at one child and coo with another an instant later. She was like Mart, or rather Mart became every moment more of her kind and less of the bold and remorseless desperado he had once seemed to be. The deeper they dug into the past the more of his essential kinship to this woman he discovered. He greeted her children with kindly interest, leaving a dollar in each chubby, dirty fist, and when McArdle came into the room Fan had quite conquered her awe of Bertha's finery.
McArdle was a small bent man, with a black beard, a pale serious face and speculative eyes. He looked like a wondering, rather cautious animal as he came in. He wore a cheap gray suit and a celluloid collar, and was as careless in his way as his wife. It was plain that he was gentle, absent-minded, and industrious.
He listened to his wife's voluble explanations in silence, inwardly digesting all that was said, then shook hands—still without a word. And when all these preliminaries were over he laid his hat aside and ran his fingers through his thin hair with a perplexed and troubled gesture, asking, irrelevantly: "How's the weather out there?"
Nobody saw the humor of this but his wife, who explained: "Pat is a fiend on the weather. He was raised on a farm, ye see, and he can't get over it. I say to him: What difference does the state o' the weather make to you, that's under a roof all day ?' But divil a change does it make in him. The first thing in the morning he turns to the weather report."
McArdle's eyes showed traces of a smile. "If it weren't for the papers and the weather reports, me days would be alike. But sit by," he added, hospitably, waving his hand towards the table, on which the dinner was steaming.
They were drawing up to the board when a puffing and blowing, and the furious clatter of feet announced the inrushing of the children.
Not the mother's shrill whooping, but the sight of the strange guests, transformed them into mutes. The carriage outside had filled them with wild alarms, but the sight of their parents alive, and entertaining guests of shining quality, was almost as satisfyingly unusual as death and a funeral.
They were a noisy, hearty throng, and Bertha's heart went out to poor Patrick McArdle, who sat amid the uproar, silent, patient, the heroic breadwinner for them all. No wonder he was old before his time. Slowly her antipathy died out. She began to find excuses even for the mother. To feed such a herd of little pigs and calves, even out of wooden troughs, would require much labor; to keep them buttoned, combed, and fit for school was an appalling task. "Mart must help these folks," she said to herself.
McArdle had nothing to say during the meal, and Bertha could see that his family did not expect him to do more than answer a plain question. Indeed, the children created a hubbub that quite cut off any connected intercourse, and Fan, with a grin of despair, at last said: "They'll be gorged in a few minutes, and then we'll have peace."
"This is what lack of money means," Bertha was thinking. And her house, her automobile, her horses, became at the moment as priceless, as remote, as crown jewels and papal palaces. Then, conversely, she grew to a larger conception of the possibilities which lay in sixty thousand dollars a year. Not only did it lift her and all hers above the heat and mire and distress of the world of toil, it enabled them to help others.
Swiftly the children filled their stomachs, and, seizing each a piece of cake or pie, withdrew, leaving the old folks and their guests in peace.
Thereupon, McArdle, taking a pipe from his pocket and knocking it absent-mindedly on the seat of the chair, dryly remarked: "Now that we can hear ourselves think, let's have it all over again. Who air ye, and why air ye here ?"
Being told a second time that this was his brother-in-law, a miner from Colorado, he shook hands all over again, and accepted Mart's cigar with careful fingers, as if fearing to drop and break the precious thing.
Bertha said: "I think we'd better be going, Captain. Our carriage is outside."
"Gracious Peter," cried Mrs. McArdle, "I forgot all about it! Is he by the day or by the hour?"
Mart answered, with an amused smile. "Well, now, I don't know. I think by the hour."
"Ye're makin' a big bluff, Mart. We're properly impressed," said his sister. "Go pay him off, and save the money."
McArdle put in a query. "You must have a good thing out there?"
"'Tis enough to pay me carriage hire," answered Mart. And his tone satisfied McArdle, who, with reflective eye on Bertha, puffed away at his cigar, while Mart gave his promise to call again. "I'll come over and get you all, and take you to the theatre in me auto-car," he said, as he rose. "But we must be going now."
Fan was beginning to perceive in him more and more of the man of power and substance, and her manner changed. "Ye were always the smartest of the lot of us, Mart."
"No, I was not. Charles was the bright boy."
M So he was, but he was lazy. That was why he took up with play-acting—'tis an easy job."
"Even that is too much work for him," remarked McArdle.
"I reckon that's right," laughed Mart, as he turned towards the door.
"Come again, if ye find time," called Fan, as they went down the steps.
McArdle, with his cigar in his hand, waved it in a sign of parting. And so their visit to the McArdles closed.
Mart turned to his silent and thoughtful wife, and said, with a great deal of meaning in his voice: "Well, now, what do you think of that for a fine litter of pups?"
"They seem hearty."
"They do. 'Tis on such that the future of the ray-public rests." And then he added: "Sure, Bertie, it gripped me heart to see the mother's old chair"