KLINGEL’S PATCH was bathing, talking, and eating supper. The wooden houses were full of bustle and merriment, and the open windows shared each room’s clamor with the street. Men of the night-shift had gone to the shaft an hour ago; they were cutting coal by this time. The day-shift, the foundrymen, the women, and children, sought companionship and the gayety of warm April weather.
Jonas Mauditis, a Lithuanian, farmer by birth and huckster by his American profession, occupied one of the best houses on the street. Supper was late, and Jonas filled the time with discourse. The agent of whom he rented No. 218 had that day levied upon the furniture for arrears of income. It was a familiar situation, but the subject was one of which the head of the house never tired. Lgnatz Marovaikas, the boarder, was away at work; Antonina, her mother, and two grinning, silent lads in mine-black, made a pleasing audience.
“In Russia,” Jonas began, “I paid no rent. I had my house and my fifteen acres. But I would not go for a soldier, nor have my sons soldiers; and anyway, there was not rye enough on my farm to make bread for as many as dwelt in my house. Now here I have no rye, but much money. I came to this country to be better off. Do you think I will pay rent so long as I have a nice cart to carry our things in ? Is it what I came to this America for ? No, no.”
“The police were here to-day, — two of them, because it was two months’ rent.” Mrs. Mauditis cut the cabbagehead in half with one drive of the knife, and smiled blandly. In her placid, leisurely way she was preparing supper.
“Very good,” nodded the head of the family. “This is Friday. Five days from Friday is Tuesday, — it gives all the Sunday to look about in, without wasting time from our jobs.”
Joszie and Petrukas ran out into the shed.
“Some day,” spoke Antonina from behind the ironing-board, “you will get the beds and tables sold.”
“Not for five days can they touch one stick or one kettle.”
“But every time the police come they make a list,” the girl objected.
“Let them.” Mauditis slapped his thigh. “In this country, see, they are of no account, harmless as rabbits. I am not afraid to let the police have lists of all my goods, in America. So long as I have Rasa, old gray Rasa with the cut-off tail, and a wagon for him to pull, my goods remain mine. So Jong as the nights have their darkness, my goods remain mine. Hoh, the police!”
“Something will come of it yet.”
Her father surveyed the sleek brown head and flushed face pityingly.
“As soon as I came to this country, dukteri, our people told me about the Laws. One has Rights. Each person has them, and it is in everybody’s mouth that you can hold them away from other people by means of the law. I put myself, see, to wisdom. And by means of the Laws, it is assured to me that if once my furniture is out of one house, and under another roof, it is wholly mine once more, and that debt is paid!”
“So you say,” his wife put in. She was a short, stout, easy-going woman, and played the part of on-looker in her own family.
“I do not like it!” cried Antonina, jerking a flatiron vehemently up and down the folds of a sheet. “Do others of our people live this way ? No. Besides, Ignatz says it is a bad thing. And Ignatz, see, has lived in America nine years.”
“Ignatz does not like? Precious, precious ! Marije, how can a woman get supper so slowly? — Well, very simple, too. He knows that I make a sweet profit on his board, better than other boardingbosses, because I have no rent to pay.”
“I went to a ball, and a fellow who was drunk mocked at me, and Ignatz had to lick him because he said you were a ‘deb biet.’ Now I cannot bear those things.”
The pretty flushed face over the ironing-board was wet with angry tears. Antonina was small and well-knit, quick in her movements, gray-eyed, blond, and rosy with the freshness of good health at eighteen.
“Trash! ” said Jonas. He smiled complacently. “So long as I own a house and farm in one part of the world, shall I pay rent to some other man to let me live in his ? Certainly not. I come here to make money.”
“Wages,” said Mrs. Mauditis, “are grand in this America.”
The cabbage was ready; she thrust it into the fish-kettle on the stove.
“I am not a Jew: he need not think I have nowhere to go, nowhere in the world to stay! Maybe he has never owned a farm in his life, while mine has always belonged to my grandfathers, back and back. Hoh! Should I, Jonas Mauditis, pay my money to a thief like that ?”
He dashed out into the shed, where the boys were raising an uproar.
Mrs. Mauditis stood, iron spoon in hand, arms akimbo, and looked long at the girl. Sympathy, or at least concern, was evident in her face.
“He will not let you marry Ignatz,” she said finally.
Antonina shook her head; words did not help matters.
“It will be yes and no, yes and no. It will be off and on and off again. Ignatz is a good boarder. But even Ignatz will lose his patience some time. He will give you up some time.”
“He will get him another girl; no man could stand all this moving and chasing.”
“Let him!” flashed Jonas’s daughter. “I can get me, maybe, another man. They are ten to one girl in this town, among our people. Let him go!”
“Still, Ignatz, you see, is a good fellow. He would make a kind man for you, and he does not drink. Well, well.—But you will lose him. Your father is only teasing him along.”
“Let him go when he likes,” Antonina repeated, turning away to hide the stinging tears.
“He has been our boarder fourteen months now, and moved six times.”
“I never asked him to,” the girl murmured. “ He came because he chose to, I suppose.”
“Well, a man will do much for a girl, when he is mad to be married with her. But not forever. It wears off.”
Antonina spread a starched apron and stretched the snowy hem with care before she answered.
“He says he likes to live with us. He says he likes the food; because a peddler’s family often have to eat up all the things that were not sold from the cart, and that gives variety.”
“He is not comfortable,” returned the mother placidly. “He moves six times; how could a man be comfortable—”
Antonina shrugged. “I do not pity him.” “Well, I do. But he likes to talk to you in the afternoons, after he has had his sleep. He likes that. Your father is out selling, and Joszie and Petrukas are never seen around the house, even when they are not working in the mine. Other houses are crowded with babies and children all day long.”
A slow smile crept about, the corners of the girl’s lips; a pink flush mantled to her hair. Those quiet afternoons had left their memories with another than Ignatz.
“It is his own affair where he boards.”
“You say that, girl. But when he gets another one, and you hear them read off in church on Sunday for the first time, you will be angry. Men are that way, and girls are that way.”
“Then I will hurry and forget.” The flatiron ploughed up and down, up and down, with more violence than cunning. Presently the muslin stuck with the starch. Antonina shrugged and smote her bare foot upon the floor impatiently. “We move to another town, maybe ?”
“ If your father tells me where we go I will tell you, and you can whisper it to your man.”
“Not whisper,” the girl affirmed.
The older woman looked up sharply; she made as if to speak, then,upon second thought, was silent. Family discipline as practiced by the matrons of her world had always seemed beyond her gifts; and it did not now occur to her to undertake her daughter’s struggle against destiny.
The next morning was Saturday. Jonas was off with his cart and his old horse Rasa before daylight. Ignatz Marovaikas came home at six, breakfasted, washed, and went to his own room. As by common consent, mother and daughter said nothing about moving.
Saturday passed, and Sunday. Antonina was alone in the house on Sunday evening when Ignatz came in from a stroll. Life looked rather long and dreary to her just then. She had cried a little, and her lashes were still tear-wet. Marovaikas, pleasantly tired after a day of idleness, noticed nothing unusual. He loafed about in the warm lamplight, hands in pockets, talking commonplaces.
“I cut myself to-day when I shaved,” he remarked. He took the bracket lamp from its hoop, and held it low to study his face the more carefully in the square mirror against the cupboard door. " Um, — Well, not so bad as I thought. Still, it shows, see. On Wednesday I will get a good mirror for my room, and nail it up between the windows where there is light.”
Ignatz was a good-looking fellow, though undersized. Moreover, his best clothes were made to measure by an Irish tailor on Main Street.
“You will ? ” the girl repeated. A sob unaccountably came after.
The room was dim, so that Antonina looked pretty when she wept. Ignatz made haste to offer the primal comfort, a wire-hard shoulder to cry upon.
Commonly, Jonas’s daughter repulsed such civilities; but to-night she leaned upon him, yielding, clinging with tender fingers, sobbing with a quick little catch of the breath. Antonina was eighteen, good to look at, wholesome to the touch. Dreams that had lain half dreamed in Ignatz’s brain woke, and began to stir and dominate his thoughts.
“I supposed, a year ago, that we — ”
Antonina listened motionless, breathholden.
“—that we would be married before this Easter.”
The girl sighed.
“And Easter is three weeks gone, now.”
It was too true; Antonina could not dispute it.
“Instead of marriage, I — well, I keep finding out where you move to.”
“But you know how my father is!” she cried. “He is terrible to persuade: he will not see reason unless he wants to.”
“Run away,” said Ignatz. His voice sounded hoarse and distant to his own ears.
“But still I remember that he is my father.”
“ Forget to remember, then.”Yet Jonas’s daughter, while clinging to her lover with more vehement affection than ever before, was still true to the old-world notion of a father’s rights. To break with Ignatz utterly would break her heart. To leave Ignatz behind without a word, when the midnight flitting should take place, was almost as bad. Nevertheless, Antonina committed herself to nothing. Jonas remained lord paramount in his household, and his word gave the family law.
Monday passed at the Mauditis house without event. Jonas came home at halfpast six, singing to old Rasa in his glee over an uncommonly good day’s business. Silver jingled in the peddler’s pockets as he bent to untie the flap of the tent which served as a stable. He led the old gray carefully up on the raised flooring and removed the harness. Jonas was fond of animals. He scratched the rough head and slapped the scrawny neck, humming a song.
“You ’ungree, ’oss?” he inquired in English. “Much eat, I guess, to-night. To-day much work. Aw-right. I give you lots, because tired, maybe. Very damn ol’ you be, Dew’rop. Hoh!”
From a padlocked chest in the yard Jonas produced oats and an armful of hay. The old horse ate, neck stretched, knees bent awkwardly. His master brought a pailful of water and spoke in the Lithuanian language while he waited.
“There are five house-bosses in this town, — only five, see! I have fooled them all; one I have fooled twice. Ninety-four dollars saved on four men!”
“But there comes an end. Six times the five house-bosses prepare to sell my beds and chairs, and we fooled them, you and I. I hired a good house each time by signing a mark on a paper. But now that we have used up all the house-bosses, what are we to do ? ”
Dewdrop blew a great breath in the oat-box.
“Hoh! You will learn my language yet, you English horse! Well, I tell you.
We went about all day Sunday till we found a house that was bossed by the owner. We move ourselves. The name of the town is a secret for the present. Naturally, you will have to work to-night. I hope you are not very tired?”
The peddler tramped into the house. His family sat about, waiting for orders. Ignatz, of course, was at work.
“I have a house, a very nice house,” Jonas announced, beaming. “Twelve dollars a month, and the water in the kitchen this time.”
“Where?” inquired Joszie.
“ Five miles only. It is very convenient for the streets where I make my trade.”
“New jobs?” suggested Petrukas, cheerfully.
“ For you boys, yes. Work for boys is easy to come at.”
“Noru” (I like), said Joszie.
“Gerai,” Petrukas assented. The brothers relapsed into their grinning silence.
“We leave Ignatz behind, this time. He has a good chamber now in his mine. It would be bad business to give it up. And our new place would be seven miles from his work. Too far, that. We can get another boarder easily.”
“How many rooms? Is there a — ”
“Just like a woman! Oh, dear, dear, dear, hear her! Why fuss about it? — And you, girl.”
“There comes to me nothing to say,” responded Antonina, quite literally.
“Aha! You mourn, that is all. Well, that was a wonderful piece of trading I did about that house. I signed the paper and paid one dollar, but first I talked that priest down, down, from sixteen dollars a month. Anybody can fool a German, — pah! But come, come! Supper first. Then we pack up. Then we place our things in the wagon. Then we move. Haste, hard work, industry. — that’s life! Give me some coffee. Yes. Spry, now, all of you!”
On Tuesday morning, Ignatz came home at five o’clock to a house deserted, fireless. The door-key dangled by a string from the knob; the door stood ajar. The spring dusk showed the kitchen empty. The table was gone, and the chairs and holy pictures. The chimney-hole grinned blackly, and a little dust of soot upon the floor showed where the pipe had come away.
A crumpled newspaper lay in one corner. Ignatz tore strips from it, rolled them into tapers, and mechanically reached to the clock shelf for the matchbox. It was not there, but three matches laid carefully end to end met his fingers.
The man sighed. He was tired, and Antonina was a good girl and did not forget. If he could settle her in a home of his own, and dwell in fixity for more than a month, how gentle life would be! He lighted one of the paper strips and looked about him till he found the candle end. Antonina always left a light for him in these movings; it had happened before.
By the winking flame, the miner searched the four rooms and the shed. Usually there were signs and messages concerning things Jonas wanted done, business transactions, and the like.
To-day, an empty milk bottle, three tickets, and six cents, were upon the kitchen window ledge. That meant the payment of arrears to the milkman; for Jonas was honest, in his way.
Upstairs, Ignatz found his clothing undisturbed. In the pocket of his Sunday coat jingled some silver, — a dollar and eighty-five cents. The boarder counted it twice before its import dawned upon him. Jonas was going farther afield than usual, and did not expect to carry his lodger with him; hence the credit balance was to be refunded. A scrap of paper dangling from his waistcoat button supplemented the message: it bore the name Dolgorski, and the Dolgorskis lived four doors down the alley.
Tub there was none, nor soap, nor hot water. Ignatz removed his sooty shirt and scrubbed off at the hydrant in the yard, shivering in the April chill. Thrifty housewives were astir in neighboring back yards, and Mrs. Szaltas amiably offered a snowy towel over the line fence.
Mrs. Szaltas also leaned upon the chicken coop, asked questions, and offered sympathy, while Ignatz mopped head and torso.
“They left me four times already, just like this,” the homeless one concluded; “and twice, other times, they told me where to come after them. Sometimes two months in one house, sometimes three. Then I go board in some other place again till I find them. Then I go back. Then once more they skip with the furniture by night. And it is all to do over. I have been in seven houses with them in one year.”
“God, how much work it makes, to clean seven new houses a year! ” breathed Mrs. Szaltas, awe-stricken.
“They always pick out good houses,” sighed the abandoned member of the family. “But I, myself, would rather have a cheaper house, and pay, and stop going. They do not feel it so; they put the money in the bank, and are full of strength, and change, change. Nothing can stop them. I suppose I shall have a great fuss to find them, too.”
“Let them go,” advised the matron practically. “Stay at any house you like. Why should you chase after them ?”
“She is my girl.” Ignatz smiled and shook his head. “She can write, but she will not. She says if I do not find her it is all the same; she will get another man, and I can get me another girl. But I do not choose to be forgotten.”
“ God, God, what an idea! ” The brown face of the older woman wrinkled with sly laughter. “What a witch!”
“She leads you by the whiskers, does n’t she? Oh, these girls in America!”
Ignatz caressed his upper lip. “Right. But my time will come. And when it comes, then I command and she listens. She is a good little one, that of mine. She says she is worth some trouble to a man, and myself I think so.”
“I wash to-day,” said the matron, extending a thick arm for the towel. “Go and get some clothes on your chest; it is cold in the dew. I will give you a breakfast, but. you can’t board with me because my house is full already. Dolgorskis, though, have a place for one man.”
Marovaikas went in and dressed himself in clean clothing. There were no beds left, and he had done a laborer’s work besides his own the past night. He threw himself upon the clean boards of his bedroom and slept till noon.
For the rest of the week, Ignatz lived at the Dolgorski house. He was as cheerful as ever, and laughed with the neighborhood over his predicament. None the less, an upright furrow deepened between his brows, as noon by noon he clad himself in second-best, and went out to walk the streets.
For a long time he had no clue. Marovaikas reckoned the chances wearily, and summed up twenty towns and “patches” within easy driving distance of the peddler’s customers. It was a long quest. The country was so thickly settled, the “patches” took so little account of one family more or less, that Jonas Mauditis might move and move again before one could overtake him.
In one particular only did the young man systematize his search. The twenty towns had among them eight Lithuanian churches. Ignatz himself went to church on Christmas and Easter, or occasionally between times. But with the Christian certainty that Antonina never missed mass, the young man began to address himself to weekly religion in good earnest .
What with eight-o’clock mass, ten-o’clock mass, Benediction at half past three, Ignatz spent four hours of his first Sunday actually inside the doors of a church, and time unmeasured in traveling twice to Slaterville and back. Of course he had chosen the wrong town. Evening found him cross and resolute. It was a dreadful bore for a worldling; but sooner or later he would find Antonina by her infernal habit of churchgoing.
On the sixth Sunday, and with the sixth church, the abandoned lover experienced a distinct loss of courage. The weary hour between first and second mass must be yawned through on the steps of a closed store, among strangers, with the emptiness of a strange street in a strange town drawn out east and west before him. Ignatz had come home from the mine at two o’clock that morning, and Mrs. Dolgorski had called him at six in order that he might get an early train. Perching there upon the sill of Miliauckas’s Shoe Parlors, his trouser legs drawn prudently upward to save the creases at the knees, the young man questioned whether girls were worth while.
Then—the world changed. Antonina Mauditis, with Joszie and Petrukas half a step behind her, turned into the long street. She was pale and a little worn. She carried a prayer-book, and beads that were wound into a ball inside her handkerchief; she was going to second mass.
The night-shift does not work on Sunday evenings, and by ten o’clock Marovaikas had moved for the eighth time, and established himself and his trunk in the latest Mauditis domicile. The family were unfeignedly glad to see him. Antonina bloomed and dimpled ravishingly, though her welcome was of an extreme reserve. Life settled comfortably into its old groove.
Sixteen days later, Ignatz walked up the hill from the trolley line in the dewy coolness of a June morning to find confusion and dismay on Rock Street. Some old mine workings, long since abandoned, had begun to cave during the night, and had disturbed the surface in places. The German priest’s property was affected; a small funnel-shaped cave-hole had appeared in the gravel behind the kitchen shed, and a four-inch crevice cleft a corner of the yard.
The house itself was undamaged; it was no more endangered than at any time since it was built. Nevertheless, Jonas Mauditis and his wife had taken the castrophe very seriously. Their furniture was marshaled in the dooryard. Mrs. Mauditis, with bitter tears and imprecations, was packing a trunkful of clothes. Jonas strode up and down the path to the gate, calling his neighbors to witness the danger in which he stood, and firmly avowing his intention to leave without paying the German priest any rent.
Ignatz shouldered his way through between spectators and bedsteads, and went into the kitchen. Antonina was there, beside the fireless stove. Forgetful of his sooty clothes, she sprang to meet him, and clung sobbing.
“I would not go away, not till you came! I told them I would not. I kept the stove hot as long as there was any wood left, and they could not load it. They did n’t know why it stayed hot so long. Oh, Ignatz, Ignatz, at least you are here. You can move with us this time, can’t you ? ”
“A cave is nothing,” Marovaikas assured her. “Lots of people do not mind a cave. There is no danger, if you put the fire out so the house will not catch.”
“Oh, but I am so tired, so tired! And I am afraid to stay.”
“Maybe it will never cave again. And if it begins, pretty one, there is lots of time. If you worked in the mines you would know that a cave on the surface is just nothing. It can’t kill you,”
“But my father is frightened! Even he, see. He says he will move all the time rather than fall through the ground. He will move to — ”
The front door of the house opened rudely. Heavy footsteps, and breathing, like that of men who carry loads, sounded through the hall. Two policemen of the city force tramped in, bearing the kitchen table. A man in brown clothes with a constable’s shield on his waistcoat thrust a patent rocking-chair into the corner. A stout man in Roman collar and clerical black stood in the hall and rumbled orders to three Germans, brawny fellows, who passed dismembered bedsteads in at second-story windows.
“What’s de matter?" Ignatz inquired of the bluecoat, in his best English.
The intonation was frankly IrishAmerican, and the girl was pretty; the officer replied with more civility than he usually accorded to “for’ners,” —
“You dares n’t move to-day, that’s all. Father Rinkstein says you dares n’t.”
“I ain’t anxious to,” Marovaikas responded, grinning wickedly, with a flash of white teeth sharp against the blackness of his face. He tightened an arm aggressively about Antonina’s waist. “I’m fixed pretty good for the day, I guess.”
The officer guessed so. Antonina blushed exceedingly, but made no effort to go free. The constable retreated. The other policeman spoke haltingly: —
“It’s the rent.”
“Well, I ain’t the man that owes it. You want to see him about it. Youse get outer here, please: I want to talk to this here lady.”
The intruders withdrew. While they were busied in other parts of the house, the boarder opened his great subject.
“This is once too many, Antonina. See, I want to get married.”
“I am only eighteen now,” she sighed. " Wait three years. Oh, dear, oh, dear!”
“But I am not willing to wait,” Ignatz pronounced. “And as for moving to another house, I said before and I say now that this was the last time. Here we stay. Here we have the wedding. Or I go to British Columbia and end the affair.”
“I should be sorry,” Antonina admitted, studying the floor.
“There is no reason why your father should not listen to me. Only he has made up his mind that he can keep me always by means of you. And that has come to an end.”
“We treat you badly, Ignatz.”
“Yes. So now it has got to stop.”
“You mean — Oh, but I wish there were no laws in this country. Without a license the priest cannot marry us, and you know he went to the government long ago, and told them not to give us that paper because I was too young. You know how it was when we tried, Ignatz; I remember. They laughed so, all those men. Oh, the wretched day! So how can I do anything but wait to grow older?”
“It can be done if you will show courage, though. Not without.”
“To run away? But no priest will marry you without a letter from your own priest.”
Ignatz laughed. “So! Were you finding out, eh? You asked, maybe ?”
“The priest told me so, my last confession, without asking. I guess my father had been after him too, for it was a dreadful scolding! ”
“Jonas is a fox,” the suitor admitted, shaking his head in grudging admiration. “All law, law; since he came to America he is always hunting after some law or other, and making it serve him.”
A few great tears gathered and rolled down Antonina’s cheeks. Ignatz threw an arm across her shoulders and kissed her.
“ The mayor marries people. So does a squire,”he said persuasively.
Jonas’s daughter drew back with a jerk.
“There! There!” she cried. “What marriage is that ? A deadly sin. You are no good Catholic, Ignatz Marovaikas, to dare think of such wickedness.”
“Well, no,” the wooer agreed. “Maybe I am not, though I have been to church a good deal lately. What I want is to be married; and if the priest won’t earn his pay by doing it for me, I look around for a man who will. Very reasonable.”
“No, no, no! ” cried the girl vehemently, and smote away his hands.
The man laughed, then sighed.
“Very well,” he assented. “It will be a waste of money, a very wicked waste of money. There is one other way. I can afford it if I have to. I have been expecting this trouble. I have been finding out what I could do for a whole week. Listen, you.”
And then, with whispers and due caution, and many glances backward at the open windows of the house, Ignatz discoursed high treason, law, and strategy to Jonas Mauditis’s daughter. Their plan was made.
The koszes stood hot and waiting upon the fire that evening when Jonas came home, at seven o’clock. He fed Dewdrop, then bustled into the house, all confidence and self-gratulation.
“Precious, precious! A priest is not harder to fool in business than any other man, for all the robes look so fine, and send the cold chills down your back when you see him sailing about in them in the altar Sundays. God, a priest’s only a common man when it comes to money questions. If anything, I say he is easier to cheat than wicked people because he supposes we all respect him too much to dare try it. Bul I’m a match for him, I, Jonas! ”
“The police were here again this afternoon,” Mrs. Mauditis contributed.
“They wrote down everything in the house, even the frying-pans and the cups,” piped Joszie, removing a black rye-crust from his mouth to speak. “They never did that before. Maybe these police are smarter than any of those others.”
“They looked smarter,” Antonina added, a curious glint in her usually mild eyes.
But Jonas was above all warnings. He waved aside all doubts.
“Let us eat and have done with it,” he said. “ I have found another house, not so very far off. If is better than this, too, and not caving into the mines. Eat a good supper; then we will take out the fire a second time and let the stove cool, and begin to pack.”
A step sounded in the shed. The door opened, and Ignatz came in. Jonas looked at him with cunning amusement.
“Hoh! You have no job to-night, boy ? Why are you not at work ? ”
“I am not lazy, Jonas. You will find that I can do plenty, if it is necessary.” “God, he is not going to be left behind, cat-fashion, another time! The boy is smart, a keen fellow! Your health could not stand another spell of churchgoing, Ignatz. It would be terribly hard on you. Hoh, Ignatz chasing to three masses on Sunday, the pirate!”
“Sit down and eat with us,” spoke Jonas’s daughter, eves downcast.
“ I ate what was in my can. I am not hungry.”
“Well, I am,” bubbled Jonas, all eagerness. “I have a right to be, too. I have saved two months’ rent on the priest, and all the kindling-wood that lay in the shed into the bargain. I’m glad to move, now that the place is falling into the mines. Good, holy man, Christ, save him! I’ll teach him how to be a house-boss. I’ll move every match and button out of the place before daylight, see.”
“Do you think so ?” questioned Ignatz composedly.
“Nothing will happen. I know the laws. He will not come here and sit and watch the things from now till selling time. Maybe, if he was a sharp man, he might guess the plan I have made, and watch, and have me sent to jail for cheating. But no. He sleeps on the deepest feather tick in town. No danger.”
The meal drew on, Mauditis himself talking continuously. Ignatz sat in the rocking-chair by the window. The women’s conversation turned forebodingly upon soap powders and insecticides.
“Jonas, why don’t you let me get married on your girl, there?” demanded the boarder suddenly, in English.
Mauditis stopped in mid-flow; his mouth fell open.
“I want her. She wants me. Now I want to fix it up in a hurry.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Mauditis. “Better talk our language, though.”
“She is young, young. Three or four years yet.”
“I won’t wait.”
“Neither will I!” cried Antonina.
“Mother of God! Does a girl talk that way to me when I have given her her living free all these years ? Is n’t it time she worked and earned me some money? Well, well! God, she is impudent to her old father!”
“Forty-six years old last Christmas,” supplemented his wife.
“That is all talk,” Ignatz told him squarely.
“No such thing. No, no! I need her this moment. Antonina, wash these dishes. Then carry the chairs out to my wagon. You hear? Be spry. I will move out of here before midnight.”
“Yes, I say!”
“You will not move. Alone, you can go if you choose. The things you brought here are held for two months’ rent, twenty-three dollars; you paid one dollar at the beginning.”
Jonas sputtered. “Me? Me not go ? Why? Who will stop me? Hoh!”
“The house-boss will stop you,” said Marovaikas very quietly. He got to his feet, and stood ready. Jonas was a heavier man than he.
“The priest? Oh, that is the game, is it, my little spy, my dirt-sucking Russian Jew? You’ll help the smart police, will you, and save the priest his money, so as to get him on your side? Very pretty! Dear, dear!”
“It needs no police. I am not an informer. And you know if you are looking at me that I am a good enough fighter to lick you, single!”
Combat was the very elixir of life to Jonas. He came up heavily, eyes wild, arm unready from surprise at the turn affairs had taken, breath all devoted to stupendous oaths in mixed languages.
No sooner was he afoot than his prospective son-in-law felled him with a crashing blow on the mouth. Mauditis fell backwards, and struggled with his chair-legs, so that a few seconds elapsed before he was ready to continue the struggle.
The odds, curiously enough, had lengthened during those few seconds. Jonas apprehended the change in a glance. Ignatz was armed with a mining-needle, a rapier-like rod of steel set in a wooden handle; moreover, he meant to use the tool. And behind, standing eight feet distant, with a short, shiny revolver leveled full at him, menaced his daughter, Antonina.
“I shoot you if you hit my fellow!” quavered the girl’s voice in English. “Heh?”
“Don’t you hit him!”
Mauditis returned to the attack vocally, but his feet and hands unaccountably failed to assist his effort.
“Be careful, girl,” warned Ignatz. “Your hand shakes; if you shoot, try to shoot low and take him in the knees. Otherwise you might kill him.”
“Then you would be hung!” Jonas added briskly. “That is the law in this country, and it will happen to you. I know!”
“Come on, Jonas. Fight if you are going to.”
“What was it about?” parried the huckster cannily, his glance on the mining-needle.
“Do not quarrel about a house-boss,” put in Mrs. Mauditis. “We don’t know him.”
“Yes we do!” cried Antonina.
“I tell you I will move, too!” shouted Mauditis, getting his grievance again in a rush. “I will pack in an hour! I will pack in a minute! And I will put you, tied, in the bottom of the first load, you cat-spawn! ”
“You will not!”
To it they flew again, fighting savagely. At the end of a minute the elder man was down, bruised and bloody, beaten, while the conqueror sat on his neck and rubbed his chin on the flooring.
“Listen,” panted Ignatz. “You will not move the things away till the houseboss gets his rent. See, I am your houseboss now! I bought the house off the priest, debts and all.”
“True! It is true! I saw the paper!” shrilled Antonina, bending over the disordered supper-table.
“I have — the — papers,” Ignatz repeated, rhythmically enforcing his words. “I bought — this house — with my — money. Pay me — the rent. Pay—”
“How much?” cried the peddler, cruelly overwhelmed all at once. “How much did you give for it ? This lot is caving into the mines.”
“It was very cheap,” Ignatz returned. “He was in a hurry to sell. I beat him down, too.”
A hollow groan was all Jonas could utter.
“ I can move the house. Or I can go to law against the coal company for damages.”
“God!” screamed the victim. “I might have done it myself! I could have made much money. And I never thought of it, because I already possess one house of my own, back in the old country! Ah, a fool can make more money than a sensible man can save in a lifetime!”
“Will you — say you will — pay me ? ” inquired the new house-boss. The mining-needle fell with emphasis across Jonas’s legs between words.
“The debt, yes. But I can never do it again. Twelve dollars a month, Ignatz, is an awful price, a cannibal’s price. I will pay up, and move away, and you can rent the house to some one else.”
“You will — not. You have — to stay. One year. You signed — the — lease. You stay — and you — pay. Yes, you — do. It is — the law. You — know what — law is — in America.”
“Let me get up! Oh, Ignatz, my good boy, come to your senses and let me get to the doctor, quick!”
“One other thing, first.”
“Yes, yes. Quickly.”
“You let your girl get married on me. Hoh? You will?”
“You are the man I should pick for her. The very man!” Jonas swore devoutly.
“Right. So it is settled?”
“Settled,” cried the father.
“And the wedding will be this month, eh?”
“Very good! You improve, Jonas. Now here is a fine offer for you: you live in my twelve-dollar-a-month house, and pay me no rent: I marry your girl and live in my house and pay you no board any longer. How is that?”
“Very good. Yes, Ignatz. Does that mean the two months’ rent also ? Or not ? ”
“No, that is separate. You consent?”
“Yes, I consent. Oh, my bones are sore! Marry her as soon as you like, boy. You will have a pretty wife, too. Oh, make her put down that pistol, can’t you, son-in-law ? Women with guns are so uncertain,— dear, dear! Yes, that’s better. Oh, my poor bones, my old bones! Poor Rasa will live beyond his master, I should n’t wonder.”
Careless of possible reprisals, the successful wooer dropped his mining-needle. He strode over to the girl’s side, put an arm around her, and gently took the pistol from her cold fingers.
“It is all right,” he observed, smiling down at her. “The moving has stopped; we will live in one house now and have peace. If there is anything moved at all now, it will be the whole house on rollers, and very likely that will not happen. Kiss me, Antonina. Your father says that he will let you take me, and you can be married by the priest, after all.”
But Antonina, blushing, brought out her little confession.
“I know. Still, I was going to tell you, — If he licked you — the alderman — would do about as well.”