About five o'clock that afternoon, the old gentleman came back to Adams's house; and when Alice opened the door, he nodded, walked into the “living-room” without speaking; then stood frowning as if he hesitated to decide some perplexing question.
“Well, how is he now?” he asked, finally.
“The doctor was here again a little while ago; he thinks papa's coming through it. He's pretty sure he will.”
“Something like the way it was last spring?”
“Not a bit of sense to it!” Lamb said, gruffly. “When he was getting well the other time the doctor told me it wasn't a regular stroke, so to speak—this 'cerebral effusion' thing. Said there wasn't any particular reason for your father to expect he'd ever have another attack, if he'd take a little care of himself. Said he could consider himself well as anybody else long as he did that.”
“Yes. But he didn't do it!”
Lamb nodded, sighed aloud, and crossed the room to a chair. “I guess not,” he said, as he sat down. “Bustin' his health up over his glue-works, I expect.”
“I guess so; I guess so.” Then he looked up at her with a glimmer of anxiety in his eyes. “Has he came to yet?”
“Yes. He's talked a little. His mind's clear; he spoke to mama and me and to Miss Perry.” Alice laughed sadly. “We were lucky enough to get her back, but papa didn't seem to think it was lucky. When he recognized her he said, 'Oh, my goodness, 'tisn't YOU, is it!'”
“Well, that's a good sign, if he's getting a little cross. Did he—did he happen to say anything—for instance, about me?”
This question, awkwardly delivered, had the effect of removing the girl's pallor; rosy tints came quickly upon her cheeks. “He—yes, he did,” she said. “Naturally, he's troubled about—about——” She stopped.
“About your brother, maybe?”
“Yes, about making up the——”
“Here, now,” Lamb said, uncomfortably, as she stopped again. “Listen, young lady; let's don't talk about that just yet. I want to ask you: you understand all about this glue business, I expect, don't you?”
“I'm not sure. I only know——”
“Let me tell you,” he interrupted, impatiently. “I'll tell you all about it in two words. The process belonged to me, and your father up and walked off with it; there's no getting around THAT much, anyhow.”
“Isn't there?” Alice stared at him. “I think you're mistaken, Mr. Lamb. Didn't papa improve it so that it virtually belonged to him?”
There was a spark in the old blue eyes at this. “What?” he cried. “Is that the way he got around it? Why, in all my life I never heard of such a——” But he left the sentence unfinished; the testiness went out of his husky voice and the anger out of his eyes. “Well, I expect maybe that was the way of it,” he said. “Anyhow, it's right for you to stand up for your father; and if you think he had a right to it——”
“But he did!” she cried.
“I expect so,” the old man returned, pacifically. “I expect so, probably. Anyhow, it's a question that's neither here nor there, right now. What I was thinking of saying—well, did your father happen to let out that he and I had words this morning?”
“Well, we did.” He sighed and shook his head. “Your father—well, he used some pretty hard expressions toward me, young lady. They weren't SO, I'm glad to say, but he used 'em to me, and the worst of it was he believed 'em. Well, I been thinking it over, and I thought I'd just have a kind of little talk with you to set matters straight, so to speak.”
“Yes, Mr. Lamb.”
“For instance,” he said, “it's like this. Now, I hope you won't think I mean any indelicacy, but you take your brother's case, since we got to mention it, why, your father had the whole thing worked out in his mind about as wrong as anybody ever got anything. If I'd acted the way your father thought I did about that, why, somebody just ought to take me out and shoot me! Do YOU know what that man thought?”
“I'm not sure.”
He frowned at her, and asked, “Well, what do you think about it?”
“I don't know,” she said. “I don't believe I think anything at all about anything to-day.”
“Well, well,” he returned; “I expect not; I expect not. You kind of look to me as if you ought to be in bed yourself, young lady.”
“I guess you mean 'Oh, yes'; and I won't keep you long, but there's something we got to get fixed up, and I'd rather talk to you than I would to your mother, because you're a smart girl and always friendly; and I want to be sure I'm understood. Now, listen.”
“I will,” Alice promised, smiling faintly.
“I never even hardly noticed your brother was still working for me,” he explained, earnestly. “I never thought anything about it. My sons sort of tried to tease me about the way your father—about his taking up this glue business, so to speak—and one day Albert, Junior, asked me if I felt all right about your brother's staying there after that, and I told him—well, I just asked him to shut up. If the boy wanted to stay there, I didn't consider it my business to send him away on account of any feeling I had toward his father; not as long as he did his work right—and the report showed he did. Well, as it happens, it looks now as if he stayed because he HAD to; he couldn't quit because he'd 'a' been found out if he did. Well, he'd been covering up his shortage for a considerable time—and do you know what your father practically charged me with about that?”
“No, Mr. Lamb.”
In his resentment, the old gentleman's ruddy face became ruddier and his husky voice huskier. “Thinks I kept the boy there because I suspected him! Thinks I did it to get even with HIM! Do I look to YOU like a man that'd do such a thing?”
“No,” she said, gently. “I don't think you would.”
“No!” he exclaimed. “Nor HE wouldn't think so if he was himself; he's known me too long. But he must been sort of brooding over this whole business—I mean before Walter's trouble he must been taking it to heart pretty hard for some time back. He thought I didn't think much of him any more—and I expect he maybe wondered some what I was going to DO—and there's nothing worse'n that state of mind to make a man suspicious of all kinds of meanness. Well, he practically stood up there and accused me to my face of fixing things so't he couldn't ever raise the money to settle for Walter and ask us not to prosecute. That's the state of mind your father's brooding got him into, young lady—charging me with a trick like that!”
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I know you'd never——”
The old man slapped his sturdy knee, angrily. “Why, that dang fool of a Virgil Adams!” he exclaimed. “He wouldn't even give me a chance to talk; and he got me so mad I couldn't hardly talk, anyway! He might 'a' known from the first I wasn't going to let him walk in and beat me out of my own—that is, he might 'a' known I wouldn't let him get ahead of me in a business matter—not with my boys twitting me about it every few minutes! But to talk to me the way he did this morning—well, he was out of his head; that's all! Now, wait just a minute,” he interposed, as she seemed about to speak. “In the first place, we aren't going to push this case against your brother. I believe in the law, all right, and business men got to protect themselves; but in a case like this, where restitution's made by the family, why, I expect it's just as well sometimes to use a little influence and let matters drop. Of course your brother'll have to keep out o' this state; that's all.”
“But—you said——” she faltered.
“Yes. What'd I say?”
“You said, 'where restitution's made by the family.' That's what seemed to trouble papa so terribly, because—because restitution couldn't——”
“Why, yes, it could. That's what I'm here to talk to you about.”
“I don't see——”
“I'm going to TELL you, ain't I?” he said, gruffly. “Just hold your horses a minute, please.” He coughed, rose from his chair, walked up and down the room, then halted before her. “It's like this,” he said. “After I brought your father home, this morning, there was one of the things he told me, when he was going for me, over yonder—it kind of stuck in my craw. It was something about all this glue controversy not meaning anything to me in particular, and meaning a whole heap to him and his family. Well, he was wrong about that two ways. The first one was, it did mean a good deal to me to have him go back on me after so many years. I don't need to say any more about it, except just to tell you it meant quite a little more to me than you'd think, maybe. The other way he was wrong is, that how much a thing means to one man and how little it means to another ain't the right way to look at a business matter.”
“I suppose it isn't, Mr. Lamb.”
“No,” he said. “It isn't. It's not the right way to look at anything. Yes, and your father knows it as well as I do, when he's in his right mind; and I expect that's one of the reasons he got so mad at me—but anyhow, I couldn't help thinking about how much all this thing HAD maybe meant to him;—as I say, it kind of stuck in my craw. I want you to tell him something from me, and I want you to go and tell him right off, if he's able and willing to listen. You tell him I got kind of a notion he was pushed into this thing by circumstances, and tell him I've lived long enough to know that circumstances can beat the best of us—you tell him I said 'the BEST of us.' Tell him I haven't got a bit of feeling against him—not any more—and tell him I came here to ask him not to have any against me.”
“Yes, Mr. Lamb.”
“Tell him I said——” The old man paused abruptly and Alice was surprised, in a dull and tired way, when she saw that his lips had begun to twitch and his eyelids to blink; but he recovered himself almost at once, and continued: “I want him to remember, 'Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those that transgress against us'; and if he and I been transgressing against each other, why, tell him I think it's time we QUIT such foolishness!”
He coughed again, smiled heartily upon her, and walked toward the door; then turned back to her with an exclamation: “Well, if I ain't an old fool!”
“What is it?” she asked.
“Why, I forgot what we were just talking about! Your father wants to settle for Walter's deficit. Tell him we'll be glad to accept it; but of course we don't expect him to clean the matter up until he's able to talk business again.”
Alice stared at him blankly enough for him to perceive that further explanations were necessary. “It's like this,” he said. “You see, if your father decided to keep his works going over yonder, I don't say but he might give us some little competition for a time, 'specially as he's got the start on us and about ready for the market. Then I was figuring we could use his plant—it's small, but it'd be to our benefit to have the use of it—and he's got a lease on that big lot; it may come in handy for us if we want to expand some. Well, I'd prefer to make a deal with him as quietly as possible—-no good in every Tom, Dick and Harry hearing about things like this—but I figured he could sell out to me for a little something more'n enough to cover the mortgage he put on this house, and Walter's deficit, too—THAT don't amount to much in dollars and cents. The way I figure it, I could offer him about ninety-three hundred dollars as a total—or say ninety-three hundred and fifty—and if he feels like accepting, why, I'll send a confidential man up here with the papers soon's your father's able to look 'em over. You tell him, will you, and ask him if he sees his way to accepting that figure?”
“Yes,” Alice said; and now her own lips twitched, while her eyes filled so that she saw but a blurred image of the old man, who held out his hand in parting. “I'll tell him. Thank you.”
He shook her hand hastily. “Well, let's just keep it kind of quiet,” he said, at the door. “No good in every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing all what goes on in town! You telephone me when your papa's ready to go over the papers—and call me up at my house to-night, will you? Let me hear how he's feeling?”
“I will,” she said, and through her grateful tears gave him a smile almost radiant. “He'll be better, Mr. Lamb. We all will.”