Jennie Gerhardt 3
of the low cottage. Crossing the street, he stood in the weak shade of the
snow-laden trees. The light was burning with a yellow glow in a rear
window. All about was the white snow. In the woodshed he could hear
the voices of the children, and once he thought he detected the form of
Mrs. Gerhardt. After a time another form came shadow-like through the
side gate. He knew who it was. It touched him to the quick, and he bit
his lip sharply to suppress any further show of emotion. Then he turned
vigorously on his heel and walked away.
The chief grocery of the city was conducted by one Manning, a stanch
adherent of Brander, and one who felt honored by the Senator's acquaintance.
To him at his busy desk came the Senator this same night.
"Manning," he said, "could I get you to undertake a little work for me
"Why, certainly, Senator, certainly," said the grocery-man. "When did
you get back? Glad to see you. Certainly."
"I want you to get everything together that would make a nice Christmas
for a family of eight—father and mother and six children—
Christmas tree, groceries, toys—you know what I mean."
"Certainly, certainly, Senator."
"Never mind the cost now. Send plenty of everything. I'll give you the
address," and he picked up a note-book to write it.
"Why, I'll be delighted, Senator," went on Mr. Manning, rather affected
himself. "I'll be delighted. You always were generous."
"Here you are, Manning," said the Senator, grimly, from the mere necessity
of preserving his senatorial dignity. "Send everything at once, and
the bill to me."
"I'll be delighted," was all the astonished and approving grocery-man
The Senator passed out, but remembering the old people, visited a
clothier and shoe man, and, finding that he could only guess at what
sizes might be required, ordered the several articles with the privilege of
exchange. When his labors were over, he returned to his room.
"Carrying coal," he thought, over and over. "Really, it was very
thoughtless in me. I mustn't forget them any more."
The desire to flee which Jennie experienced upon seeing the Senator
again was attributable to what she considered the disgrace of her position.
She was ashamed to think that he, who thought so well of her,
should discover her doing so common a thing. Girl-like, she was inclined
to imagine that his interest in her depended upon something else than
her mere personality.
When she reached home Mrs. Gerhardt had heard of her flight from
the other children.
"What was the matter with you, anyhow?" asked George, when she
"Oh, nothing," she answered, but immediately turned to her mother
and said, "Mr. Brander came by and saw us."
"Oh, did he?" softly exclaimed her mother. "He's back then. What
made you run, though, you foolish girl?"
"Well, I didn't want him to see me."
"Well, maybe he didn't know you, anyhow," she said, with a certain
sympathy for her daughter's predicament.
"Oh yes, he did, too," whispered Jennie. "He called after me three or
Mrs. Gerhardt shook her head.
"What is it?" said Gerhardt, who had been hearing the conversation
from the adjoining room, and now came out.
"Oh, nothing," said the mother, who hated to explain the significance
which the Senator's personality had come to have in their lives. "A man
frightened them when they were bringing the coal."
The arrival of the Christmas presents later in the evening threw the
household into an uproar of excitement. Neither Gerhardt nor the mother
could believe their eyes when a grocery wagon halted in front of their
cottage and a lusty clerk began to carry in the gifts. After failing to persuade
the clerk that he had made a mistake, the large assortment of good
things was looked over with very human glee.
"Just you never mind," was the clerk's authoritative words. "I know
what I'm about. Gerhardt, isn't it? Well, you're the people."
Mrs. Gerhardt moved about, rubbing her hands in her excitement, and
giving vent to an occasional "Well, isn't that nice now!"
Gerhardt himself was melted at the thought of the generosity of the
unknown benefactor, and was inclined to lay it all to the goodness of a
great local mill owner, who knew him and wished him well. Mrs. Gerhardt
tearfully suspected the source, but said nothing. Jennie knew, by
instinct, the author of it all.
The afternoon of the day after Christmas Brander encountered the
mother in the hotel, Jennie having been left at home to look after the
"How do you do, Mrs. Gerhardt," he exclaimed genially extending his
hand. "How did you enjoy your Christmas?"
Poor Mrs. Gerhardt took it nervously; her eyes filled rapidly with
"There, there," he said, patting her on the shoulder. "Don't cry. You
mustn't forget to get my laundry to-day."
"Oh no, sir," she returned, and would have said more had he not
From this on, Gerhardt heard continually of the fine Senator at the
hotel, how pleasant he was, and how much he paid for his washing.
With the simplicity of a German workingman, he was easily persuaded
that Mr. Brander must be a very great and a very good man.
Jennie, whose feelings needed no encouragement in this direction, was
more than ever prejudiced in his favor.
There was developing in her that perfection of womanhood, the full
mold of form, which could not help but attract any man. Already she
was well built, and tall for a girl. Had she been dressed in the trailing
skirts of a woman of fashion she would have made a fitting companion
for a man the height of the Senator. Her eyes were wondrously clear and
bright, her skin fair, and her teeth white and even. She was clever, too, in
a sensible way, and by no means deficient in observation. All that she
lacked was training and the assurance of which the knowledge of utter
dependency despoils one. But the carrying of washing and the compulsion
to acknowledge almost anything as a favor put her at a
Nowadays when she came to the hotel upon her semi-weekly errand
Senator Brander took her presence with easy grace, and to this she responded.
He often gave her little presents for herself, or for her brothers
and sisters, and he talked to her so unaffectedly that finally the overawing
sense of the great difference between them was brushed away, and
she looked upon him more as a generous friend than as a distinguished
Senator. He asked her once how she would like to go to a seminary,
thinking all the while how attractive she would be when she came out.
Finally, one evening, he called her to his side.
"Come over here, Jennie," he said, "and stand by me."
She came, and, moved by a sudden impulse, he took her hand.
"Well, Jennie," he said, studying her face in a quizzical, interrogative
way, "what do you think of me, anyhow?"
"Oh," she answered, looking consciously away, "I don't know. What
makes you ask me that?"
"Oh yes, you do," he returned. "You have some opinion of me. Tell me
now, what is it?"
"No, I haven't," she said, innocently.
"Oh yes, you have," he went on, pleasantly, interested by her transparent
evasiveness. "You must think something of me. Now, what is it?"
"Do you mean do I like you?" she asked, frankly, looking down at the
big mop of black hair well streaked with gray which hung about his forehead,
and gave an almost lionine cast to his fine face.
"Well, yes," he said, with a sense of disappointment. She was barren of
the art of the coquette.
"Why, of course I like you," she replied, prettily.
"Haven't you ever thought anything else about me?" he went on.
"I think you're very kind," she went on, even more bashfully; she realized
now that he was still holding her hand.
"Is that all?" he asked.
"Well," she said, with fluttering eyelids, "isn't that enough?"
He looked at her, and the playful, companionable directness of her answering
gaze thrilled him through and through. He studied her face in
silence while she turned and twisted, feeling, but scarcely understanding,
the deep import of his scrutiny.
"Well," he said at last, "I think you're a fine girl. Don't you think I'm a
pretty nice man?"
"Yes," said Jennie, promptly.
He leaned back in his chair and laughed at the unconscious drollery of
her reply. She looked at him curiously, and smiled.
"What made you laugh?" she inquired.
"Oh, your answer" he returned. "I really ought not to laugh, though.
You don't appreciate me in the least. I don't believe you like me at all."
"But I do, though," she replied, earnestly. "I think you're so good." Her
eyes showed very plainly that she felt what she was saying.
"Well," he said, drawing her gently down to him; then, at the same instant,
he pressed his lips to her cheek.
"Oh!" she cried, straightening up, at once startled and frightened.
It was a new note in their relationship. The senatorial quality vanished
in an instant. She recognized in him something that she had not felt before.
He seemed younger, too. She was a woman to him, and he was
playing the part of a lover. She hesitated, but not knowing just what to
do, did nothing at all.
"Well," he said, "did I frighten you?"
She looked at him, but moved by her underlying respect for this great
man, she said, with a smile, "Yes, you did."
"I did it because I like you so much."
She meditated upon this a moment, and then said, "I think I'd better be
"Now then," he pleaded, "are you going to run away because of that?"
"No," she said, moved by a curious feeling of ingratitude; "but I ought
to be going. They'll be wondering where I am."
"You're sure you're not angry about it?"
"No," she replied, and with more of a womanly air than she had ever
shown before. It was a novel experience to be in so authoritative a position.
It was so remarkable that it was somewhat confusing to both of
"You're my girl, anyhow," the Senator said, rising. "I'm going to take
care of you in the future."
Jennie heard this, and it pleased her. He was so well fitted, she
thought, to do wondrous things; he was nothing less than a veritable magician.
She looked about her and the thought of coming into such a life
and such an atmosphere was heavenly. Not that she fully understood his
meaning, however. He meant to be good and generous, and to give her
fine things. Naturally she was happy. She took up the package that she
had come for, not seeing or feeling the incongruity of her position, while
he felt it as a direct reproof.
"She ought not to carry that," he thought. A great wave of sympathy
swept over him. He took her cheeks between his hands, this time in a superior
and more generous way. "Never mind, little girl," he said. "You
won't have to do this always. I'll see what I can do."
The outcome of this was simply a more sympathetic relationship
between them. He did not hesitate to ask her to sit beside him on the arm
of his chair the next time she came, and to question her intimately about
the family's condition and her own desires. Several times he noticed that
she was evading his questions, particularly in regard to what her father
was doing. She was ashamed to own that he was sawing wood. Fearing
lest something more serious was impending, he decided to go out some
day and see for himself.
This he did when a convenient morning presented itself and his other
duties did not press upon him. It was three days before the great fight in
the Legislature began which ended in his defeat. Nothing could be done
in these few remaining days. So he took his cane and strolled forth, coming
to the cottage in the course of a half hour, and knocked boldly at the
Mrs. Gerhardt opened it.
"Good-morning," he said, cheerily; then, seeing her hesitate, he added,
"May I come in?"
The good mother, who was all but overcome by his astonishing presence,
wiped her hands furtively upon her much-mended apron, and, seeing
that he waited for a reply, said:
"Oh yes. Come right in."
She hurried forward, forgetting to close the door, and, offering him a
chair, asked him to be seated.
Brander, feeling sorry that he was the occasion of so much confusion,
said: "Don't trouble yourself, Mrs. Gerhardt. I was passing and thought
I'd come in. How is your husband?"
"He's well, thank you," returned the mother. "He's out working today."
"Then he has found employment?"
"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Gerhardt, who hesitated, like Jennie, to say what it
"The children are all well now, and in school, I hope?"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Gerhardt. She had now unfastened her apron, and
was nervously turning it in her lap.
"That's good, and where is Jennie?"
The latter, who had been ironing, had abandoned the board and had
concealed herself in the bedroom, where she was busy tidying herself in
the fear that her mother would not have the forethought to say that she
was out, and so let her have a chance for escape.
"She's here," returned the mother. "I'll call her."
"What did you tell him I was here for?" said Jennie, weakly.
"What could I do?" asked the mother.
Together they hesitated while the Senator surveyed the room. He felt
sorry to think that such deserving people must suffer so; he intended, in
a vague way, to ameliorate their condition if possible.
"Good-morning," the Senator said to Jennie, when finally she came
hesitatingly into the room. "How do you do to-day?"
Jennie came forward, extending her hand and blushing. She found
herself so much disturbed by this visit that she could hardly find tongue
to answer his questions.
"I thought," he said, "I'd come out and find where you live. This is a
quite comfortable house. How many rooms have you?"
"Five," said Jennie. "You'll have to excuse the looks this morning.
We've been ironing, and it's all upset."
"I know," said Brander, gently. "Don't you think I understand, Jennie?
You mustn't feel nervous about me."
She noticed the comforting, personal tone he always used with her
when she was at his room, and it helped to subdue her flustered senses.
"You mustn't think it anything if I come here occasionally. I intend to
come. I want to meet your father."
"Oh," said Jennie, "he's out to-day."
While they were talking, however, the honest woodcutter was coming
in at the gate with his buck and saw. Brander saw him, and at once recognized
him by a slight resemblance to his daughter.
"There he is now, I believe," he said.
"Oh, is he?" said Jennie, looking out.
Gerhardt, who was given to speculation these days, passed by the
window without looking up. He put his wooden buck down, and,
hanging his saw on a nail on the side of the house, came in.
"Mother," he called, in German, and, then not seeing her, he came to
the door of the front room and looked in.
Brander arose and extended his hand. The knotted and weatherbeaten
German came forward, and took it with a very questioning expression
"This is my father, Mr. Brander," said Jennie, all her diffidence dissolved
by sympathy. "This is the gentleman from the hotel, papa, Mr.
"What's the name?" said the German, turning his head.
"Brander," said the Senator.
"Oh yes," he said, with a considerable German accent.
"Since I had the fever I don't hear good. My wife, she spoke to me of
"Yes," said the Senator, "I thought I'd come out and make your acquaintance.
You have quite a family."
"Yes," said the father, who was conscious of his very poor garments
and anxious to get away. "I have six children—all young. She's the oldest
Mrs. Gerhardt now came back, and Gerhardt, seeing his chance, said
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I'll go. I broke my saw, and so I had to stop
"Certainly," said Brander, graciously, realizing now why Jennie had
never wanted to explain. He half wished that she were courageous
enough not to conceal anything.
"Well, Mrs. Gerhardt," he said, when the mother was stiffly seated, "I
want to tell you that you mustn't look on me as a stranger. Hereafter I
want you to keep me informed of how things are going with you. Jennie
won't always do it."
Jennie smiled quietly. Mrs. Gerhardt only rubbed her hands.
"Yes," she answered, humbly grateful.
They talked for a few minutes, and then the Senator rose.
"Tell your husband," he said, "to come and see me next Monday at my
office in the hotel. I want to do something for him."
"Thank you," faltered Mrs. Gerhardt.
"I'll not stay any longer now," he added. "Don't forget to have him
"Oh, he'll come," she returned.
Adjusting a glove on one hand, he extended the other to Jennie.
"Here is your finest treasure, Mrs. Gerhardt," he said. "I think I'll take
"Well, I don't know," said her mother, "whether I could spare her or
"Well," said the Senator, going toward the door, and giving Mrs. Gerhardt
his hand, "good-morning."
He nodded and walked out, while a half-dozen neighbors, who had
observed his entrance, peeked from behind curtains and drawn blinds at
the astonishing sight.
"Who can that be, anyhow?" was the general query.
"See what he gave me," said the innocent mother to her daughter the
moment he had closed the door.
It was a ten-dollar bill. He had placed it softly in her hand as he said
Having been led by circumstances into an attitude of obligation toward
the Senator, it was not unnatural that Jennie should become imbued with
a most generous spirit of appreciation for everything he had done and
now continued to do. The Senator gave her father a letter to a local mill
owner, who saw that he received something to do. It was not much, to be
sure, a mere job as night-watchman, but it helped, and old Gerhardt's
gratitude was extravagant. Never was there such a great, such a good
Nor was Mrs. Gerhardt overlooked. Once Brander sent her a dress,
and at another time a shawl. All these benefactions were made in a spirit
of mingled charity and self-gratification, but to Mrs. Gerhardt they
glowed with but one motive. Senator Brander was good-hearted.
As for Jennie, he drew nearer to her in every possible way, so that at
last she came to see him in a light which would require considerable analysis
to make clear. This fresh, young soul, however, had too much innocence
and buoyancy to consider for a moment the world's point of view.
Since that one notable and halcyon visit upon which he had robbed her
her original shyness, and implanted a tender kiss upon her cheek, they
had lived in a different atmosphere. Jennie was his companion now, and
as he more and more unbended, and even joyously flung aside the habiliments
of his dignity, her perception of him grew clearer. They
laughed and chatted in a natural way, and he keenly enjoyed this new
entrance into the radiant world of youthful happiness.
One thing that disturbed him, however, was the occasional thought,
which he could not repress, that he was not doing right. Other people
must soon discover that he was not confining himself strictly to conventional
relations with this washer-woman's daughter. He suspected that
the housekeeper was not without knowledge that Jennie almost invariably
lingered from a quarter to three-quarters of an hour whenever she
came for or returned his laundry. He knew that it might come to the ears
of the hotel clerks, and so, in a general way, get about town and work
serious injury, but the reflection did not cause him to modify his
conduct. Sometimes he consoled himself with the thought that he was
not doing her any actual harm, and at other times he would argue that
he could not put this one delightful tenderness out of his life. Did he not
wish honestly to do her much good?
He thought of these things occasionally, and decided that he could not
stop. The self-approval which such a resolution might bring him was
hardly worth the inevitable pain of the abnegation. He had not so very
many more years to live. Why die unsatisfied?
One evening he put his arm around her and strained her to his breast.
Another time he drew her to his knee, and told her of his life at Washington.
Always now he had a caress and a kiss for her, but it was still in a
tentative, uncertain way. He did not want to reach for her soul too
Jennie enjoyed it all innocently. Elements of fancy and novelty entered
into her life. She was an unsophisticated creature, emotional, totally inexperienced
in the matter of the affections, and yet mature enough mentally
to enjoy the attentions of this great man who had thus bowed from
his high position to make friends with her.
One evening she pushed his hair back from his forehead as she stood
by his chair, and, finding nothing else to do, took out his watch. The
great man thrilled as he looked at her pretty innocence.
"Would you like to have a watch, too?" he asked.
"Yes, indeed, I would," said Jennie, with a deep breath.
The next day he stopped as he was passing a jewelry store and bought
one. It was gold, and had pretty ornamented hands.
"Jennie," he said, when she came the next time, "I want to show you
something. See what time it is by my watch."
Jennie drew out the watch from his waistcoat pocket and started in
"This isn't your watch!" she exclaimed, her face full of innocent
"No," he said, delighted with his little deception. "It's yours."
"Mine!" exclaimed Jennie. "Mine! Oh, isn't it lovely!"
"Do you think so?" he said.
Her delight touched and pleased him immensely. Her face shone with
light and her eyes fairly danced.
"That's yours," he said. "See that you wear it now, and don't lose it."
"You're so good!" she exclaimed.
"No," he said, but he held her at arm's length by the waist, to make up
his mind what his reward should be. Slowly he drew her toward him
until, when very close, she put her arms about his neck, and laid her
cheek in gratitude against his own. This was the quintessence of pleasure
for him. He felt as he had been longing to feel for years.
The progress of his idyl suffered a check when the great senatorial
fight came on in the Legislature. Attacked by a combination of rivals,
Brander was given the fight of his life. To his amazement he discovered
that a great railroad corporation, which had always been friendly, was
secretly throwing its strength in behalf of an already too powerful candidate.
Shocked by this defection, he was thrown alternately into the
deepest gloom and into paroxysms of wrath. These slings of fortune,
however lightly he pretended to receive them, never failed to lacerate
him. It had been long since he had suffered a defeat—too long.
During this period Jennie received her earliest lesson in the vagaries of
men. For two weeks she did not even see him, and one evening, after an
extremely comfortless conference with his leader, he met her with the
most chilling formality. When she knocked at his door he only troubled
to open it a foot, exclaiming almost harshly: "I can't bother about the
clothes to-night. Come tomorrow."
Jennie retreated, shocked and surprised by this reception. She did not
know what to think of it. He was restored on the instant to his far-off,
mighty throne, and left to rule in peace. Why should he not withdraw
the light of his countenance if it pleased him. But why—
A day or two later he repented mildly, but had no time to readjust
matters. His washing was taken and delivered with considerable formality,
and he went on toiling forgetfully, until at last he was miserably defeated
by two votes. Astounded by this result, he lapsed into gloomy dejection
of soul. What was he to do now?
Into this atmosphere came Jennie, bringing with her the lightness and
comfort of her own hopeful disposition. Nagged to desperation by his
thoughts, Brander first talked to her to amuse himself; but soon his distress
imperceptibly took flight; he found himself actually smiling.
"Ah, Jennie," he said, speaking to her as he might have done to a child,
"youth is on your side. You possess the most valuable thing in life."
"Yes, but you don't realize it. You never will until it is too late."
"I love that girl," he thought to himself that night. "I wish I could have
her with me always."
But fortune had another fling for him to endure. It got about the hotel
that Jennie was, to use the mildest expression, conducting herself
strangely. A girl who carries washing must expect criticism if anything
not befitting her station is observed in her apparel. Jennie was seen wearing
the gold watch. Her mother was informed by the housekeeper of the
state of things.
"I thought I'd speak to you about it," she said. "People are talking.
You'd better not let your daughter go to his room for the laundry."
Mrs. Gerhardt was too astonished and hurt for utterance. Jennie had
told her nothing, but even now she did not believe there was anything to
tell. The watch had been both approved of and admired by her. She had
not thought that it was endangering her daughter's reputation.
Going home she worried almost incessantly, and talked with Jennie