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   Chapter 6 No.6

Children of the Whirlwind By Leroy Scott Characters: 10843

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

Larry was still gazing at where Maggie had stood, flashing her defiance at him, when Hunt came thumping down the stairway.

"Hello, young fellow; what you been doing to Maggie?" demanded the painter.


"Her door was open when I came by and I called to her. She didn't answer, but, oh, what a look! What's in the air?"

And then Hunt noted the Duchess apart in her corner. "I say, Duchess-what were Larry and Maggie rowing about?"

"Grandmother!" Larry exclaimed with a start. "I'd forgotten you were here! You must have heard it all-go ahead and tell him."

"Tell him yourself," returned the Duchess.

Larry and Hunt took chairs, and Larry gave the gist of what he had said about his decision to Barney and Old Jimmie and Maggie. The Duchess, still motionless at her desk as she had been all during Larry's scene with Old Jimmie and Barney, and then his scene with Maggie, regarded her grandson with that emotionless, mummified face in which only the red-margined eyes showed life or interest.

"So you're going to go straight, eh?" queried Hunt. The big painter sat with his long legs sprawling in front of him, a black pipe in his mouth, and looked at Larry skeptically. "You certainly did hand a jolt to your friends who'd been counting on you. And yet you're sore because they were sore at you and didn't believe in you."

"Did I say that I was sore?" queried Larry.

"No, but you're acting it. And you're sore at Maggie because she didn't believe that you could make good or that you'd stick it out. Well, I don't believe you will either."

"You're a great painter, Hunt, and a great cook-but I don't give a damn what you believe."

"Keep your shirt on, young fellow," Hunt responded, puffing imperturbably. "I say I believe you won't win out-but that's not saying I don't want you to win out. If that's what you want to do, go to it, and may luck be with you, and may the devil stay in hell. The morals of other people are out of my line-none of my business. I'm a painter, and it's my business to paint people as I find them. But Maggie certainly did put her finger on the tough spot in your proposition: for a crook to find a job and win the confidence of people. It's up grade all the way, and it takes ten men's nerve to stick it out to the top. Yep, Maggie was sure right!"

And then the Duchess broke her accustomed silence with her thin croak:

"Never you mind Maggie! She thinks she knows everything, but she doesn't know anything."

Larry looked in surprise at his grandmother. There was a flash in her old eyes; but the next moment the spark was gone.

"Sure you're up against it-but I'll be rooting for you." Hunt was grinning. "But say, young fellow, what made you decide to vote the other ticket?"

Larry was trained at reading faces; and in the rough-hewn, grinning features of Hunt he read good-fellowship. Larry swiftly responded in kind, for from the moment he had pulled the mask of being a fool from the painter and shown him to be a real artist, he had felt drawn toward this impecunious swashbuckler of the arts. So he now repeated the business motives which he had presented to Barney and Old Jimmie. As Larry talked he became more spontaneous, and after a time he was telling of the effect upon him of seeing various shrewd men locked up and unexercised in prison. And presently his reminiscence settled upon one prison acquaintance: a man past middle age, clever in his generation, who had already done some fifteen years of a long sentence. He was, said Larry, grim and he rarely spoke; but a close, wordless friendship had developed between them. Only once, in an unusually relaxed mood, had the old convict spoken of himself, but what he had then said had had a greater part in rousing Larry to his new decision than the words of any other man.

"It was a queer story Joe let out," continued Larry. "Before he was sent away he had a kid, just a baby whose mother was dead. He told me he wanted to have his kid brought up without ever knowing anything about the kind of people he knew and the kind of life he'd lived. He wanted it to grow up among decent people. He had money put away and he had an old friend, a pal, that he'd trust with anything. So he turned over his money and his baby to his friend, and gave orders that the kid was to be brought up decent, sent to school, and that the kid was never to know anything about Joe. Of course the baby was too young then ever to remember him; and when he gets out he's going to keep absolutely clear of the kid's life-he wants his kid to have the best possible chance."

"What is his whole name, and what was he sent up for?" queried the Duchess, that flickering fire of interest once more in her old eyes.

"Joe Ellison. He was an old-time confidence man. He got caught in a jam-there had been drinking-there was some shooting-and he had attempted manslaughter tacked on to the charge of swindling. But Joe said everybody had been drinking and that the shooting was accidental."

"Joe Ellison-I knew him," said the Duchess. "He was about the cleverest man of his day. But I never knew he had a child. Who was this best friend of his?"

"Joe Ellison didn't mention his name," answered Larry. "You see Joe spoke of his story only once. But he then said that he'd had letters once a month telling how fine the kid was getting on-till three or four years ago when he got word that his friend

had died. The way things stand now, Joe won't know how to find the kid when he gets out even if he should want to find it-and he wouldn't know it even if he saw it. Up in Sing Sing when I had nothing else to do," concluded Larry, "I tell you I thought a lot about that situation-for it certainly is some situation: Joe Ellison for fifteen years in prison with just one big idea in his life, the idea being the one thing he felt he was really doing or ever could do, his very life built on that one idea: that outside, somewhere, was his kid growing up into a fine young person-never guessing it had such a father-and Joe never intending to see it again and not being able to know it if he ever should see it. I tell you, after learning Joe's story, it made me feel that I'd had enough of the old life."

Again the Duchess spoke. "Did Joe ever mention its name?"

"No, he just spoke of it as 'his kid.'"

Larry was quiet a moment. "You see," he added, "I want to get settled before Joe comes out-his time's up in a few months-so that I can give him some sort of place near me. He's all right, Joe is; but he's too old to have any show at a fresh start if he tries to make it all on his own."

"Larry, you haven't got such a tough piece of old brass for a heart yourself," commented Hunt. "What are your own plans?"

"I know I've got the makings of a real business man-I've already told you that," said Larry confidently. He had thought this out carefully during his days as a coal-passer and his long nights upon the eighteen-inch bunk in his cell. "I've got a lot of the finishing touches; I know the high spots. What I need are the rudiments-the fundamentals-connecting links. You see, I had part of a business college training a long time before I went to work in a broker's office, stenography and typewriting; I've been a secretary in the warden's office the last few months and I've brushed up on the old stuff and I'm pretty good. That ought to land me a job. Then I'm going to study nights. Of course, I'd get on faster if I could have private lessons with one of the head men of one of these real business schools. I'd mop up this stuff about organization and management mighty quick, for that business stuff comes natural to me. A bit of that sort of going to school would connect up and give a working unity to what I already know. But then I'll find a job and work the thing out some way. I'm in this to win out, and win out big!"

Once more the rarely heard voice of the Duchess sounded, and though thin it had a positive quality:

"You're not going to take any job at first. First thing, you're going to give all your time to those private lessons."

Larry gazed at the Duchess, surprised by the tone in which she spoke. "But, grandmother, these lessons cost money. And I didn't have a thin dime left when my lawyers finished with me."

"I've got plenty of money-and it's yours. And the money you get from me will be honest money, too; the interest on loans made in my pawnshop is honest all right. It'll be better, anyhow, for you to be out in the world a few days, getting used to it, before you take a job."

"Why, grandmother!"

The explanation seemed bald and inadequate, but Larry did not know what else to say, he was so taken aback. The Duchess, as far as he had been able to see, had never shown much interest in him. And now, unless he was mistaken, there was something very much like emotion quavering in her thin voice and shining in her old eyes.

"I don't interfere with what people want to do," she continued-"but, Larry, I'm glad you've decided to go straight."

And then the Duchess went on to make the longest speech that any living person had ever heard issue from her lips, and to reveal more than had yet been heard of that unmysterious mystery which lived within her shriveled, misshapen figure:

"That's what made me interested in Joe Ellison's story-his wanting to get his child clear of the life he was living; though I didn't know he had any such ideas till you told me. Larry, I couldn't get out of this life myself; I was part of it, I belonged to it. But I felt the same as Joe Ellison, and over forty years ago I got your mother out of it, and your mother never came back to it. I did that much. After she died it made me sick when you, all I've got left, began to go crooked. But I had no control over you; I couldn't do anything. So I'm glad that at last you're going to go straight. I'm glad, Larry!"

The emotion that had given her voice a strange and increasing vibrance, was suddenly brought under control or snuffed out; and she added in her usual thin, mechanical tone: "The money will be ready for you in the morning."

Startled and embarrassed by this outbreak of things long hidden beneath the dust in the secret chambers of her being, and wishing to avoid the further embarrassment of thanks, the Duchess turned quickly and awkwardly back to her desk, and her bent old body became fixed above her figures. In a moment the ever-alert Hunt had out the little block of drawing-paper he always carried in a pocket, and with swift, eager strokes he was sketching the outline of that bent, shrunken shape that had subsided so swiftly from emotion to the commonplace.

Larry gazed at the Duchess in silent bewilderment. He had thought he had known his grandmother. He was now realizing that perhaps he did not know his grandmother at all.

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