Mr. Hawkins said:
"Washington, we seem to be hopelessly fallen, hopelessly involved. I am ready to give up. I do not know where to turn--I never have been down so low before, I never have seen things so dismal. There are many mouths to feed; Clay is at work; we must lose you, also, for a little while, my boy. But it will not be long--the Tennessee land----"
He stopped, and was conscious of a blush. There was silence for a moment, and then Washington--now a lank, dreamy-eyed stripling between twenty-two and twenty-three years of age--said:
"If Col. Sellers would come for me, I would go and stay with him a while, till the Tennessee land is sold. He has often wanted me to come, ever since he moved to Hawkeye."
"I'm afraid he can't well come for you, Washington. From what I can hear--not from him of course, but from others--he is not far from as bad off as we are--and his family is as large, too. He might find something for you to do, maybe, but you'd better try to get to him yourself, Washington--it's only thirty miles."
"But how can I, father? There's no stage or anything."
"And if there were, stages require money. A stage goes from Swansea, five miles from here. But it would be cheaper to walk."
"Father, they must know you there, and no doubt they would credit you in a moment, for a little stage ride like that. Couldn't you write and ask them?"
"Couldn't you, Washington--seeing it's you that wants the ride? And what do you think you'll do, Washington, when you get to Hawkeye? Finish your invention for making window-glass opaque?"
"No, sir, I have given that up. I almost knew I could do it, but it was so tedious and troublesome I quit it."
"I was afraid of it, my boy. Then I suppose you'll finish your plan of coloring hen's eggs by feeding a peculiar diet to the hen?"
"No, sir. I believe I have found out the stuff that will do it, but it kills the hen; so I have dropped that for the present, though I can take it up again some day when I learn how to manage the mixture better."
"Well, what have you got on hand--anything?"
"Yes, sir, three or four things. I think they are all good and can all be done, but they are tiresome, and besides they require money. But as soon as the land is sold----"
"Emily, were you about to say something?" said Hawkins.
Yes, sir. If you are willing, I will go to St. Louis. That will make another mouth less to feed. Mrs. Buckner has always wanted me to come."
"But the money, child?"
"Why I think she would send it, if you would write her--and I know she would wait for her pay till----"
"Come, Laura, let's hear from you, my girl."
Emily and Laura were about the same age--between seventeen and eighteen. Emily was fair and pretty, girlish and diffident--blue eyes and light hair. Laura had a proud bearing, and a somewhat mature look; she had fine, clean-cut features, her complexion was pure white and contrasted vividly with her black hair and eyes; she was not what one calls pretty-- she was beautiful. She said:
"I will go to St. Louis, too, sir. I will find a way to get there. I will make a way. And I will find a way to help myself along, and do what I can to help the rest, too."
She spoke it like a princess. Mrs. Hawkins smiled proudly and kissed her, saying in a tone of fond reproof:
"So one of my girls is going to turn out and work for her living! It's like your pluck and spirit, child, but we will hope that we haven't got quite down to that, yet."
The girl's eyes beamed affection under her mother's caress. Then she straightened up, folded her white hands in her lap and became a splendid ice-berg. Clay's dog put up his brown nose for a little attention, and got it. He retired under the table with an apologetic yelp, which did not affect the iceberg.
Judge Hawkins had written and asked Clay to return home and consult with him upon family affairs. He arrived the evening after this conversation, and the whole household gave him a rapturous welcome. He brought sadly needed help with him, consisting of the savings of a year and a half of work--nearly two hundred dollars in money.