“You say Mrs. Farry is visiting your mother?”
“Yes’m—not just visiting—you see, she had to come. Well of course, little baby Clara, she was so bruised up and mauled, where he’d been hittin’ her with his cane——”
“You mean that your uncle had done such a thing as that!” exclaimed Miss Spence, suddenly disarmed by this scandal.
“Yes’m, and mamma and Margaret had to sit up all night nursin’ little Clara—and aunt Clara was in such a state somebody had to keep talkin’ to her, and there wasn’t anybody but me to do it, so I——”
“But where was your father?” she cried.
“Where was your father while——”
“Oh—papa?” Penrod paused, reflected; then brightened. “Why, he was down at the train, waitin’ to see if Uncle John would try to follow ’em and make ’em come home so’s he could persecute ’em some more. I wanted to do that, but they said if he did come I mightn’t be strong enough to hold him and——” The brave lad paused again, modestly. Miss Spence’s expression was encouraging. Her eyes were wide with astonishment, and there may have been in them, also, the mingled beginnings of admiration and self-reproach. Penrod, warming to his work, felt safer every moment.
“And so,” he continued, “I had to sit up with Aunt Clara. She had some pretty big bruises, too, and I had to——”
“But why didn’t they send for a doctor?” However, this question was only a flicker of dying incredulity.
“Oh, they didn’t want any doctor,” exclaimed the inspired realist promptly. “They don’t want anybody to hear about it because Uncle John might reform—and then where’d he be if everybody knew he’d been a drunkard and whipped his wife and baby daughter?”
“Oh!” said Miss Spence.
“You see, he used to be upright as anybody,” he went on explanatively. “It all begun——”
“Yes’m. It all commenced from the first day he let those travelling men coax him into the saloon.” Penrod narrated the downfall of his Uncle John at length. In detail he was nothing short of plethoric; and incident followed incident, sketched with such vividness, such abundance of colour, and such verisimilitude to a drunkard’s life as a drunkard’s life should be, that had Miss Spence possessed the rather chilling attributes of William J. Burns himself, the last trace of skepticism must have vanished from her mind. Besides, there are two things that will be believed of any man whatsoever, and one of them is that he has taken to drink. And in every sense it was a moving picture which, with simple but eloquent words, the virtuous Penrod set before his teacher.