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´╗┐Title: How It Happened
Author: Bosher, Kate Langley, 1865-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "How It Happened" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



HOW IT HAPPENED

BY

KATE LANGLEY BOSHER

AUTHOR OF

THE MAN IN LONELY LAND,
MARY CARY, ETC

ILLUSTRATED


PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 1914


TO
MY FAITHFUL FRIEND
ARIADNE ELIZABETH VAUGHAN LATHAM



ILLUSTRATIONS

"WHICH DO YOU LIKE BEST, SARDINES WITH LEMON ON 'EM, OR TOASTED CHEESE
ON TOAST?"

"YOU WOULD NOT LET ME THANK YOU THIS MORNING. MAY I THANK YOU NOW
FOR--"



HOW IT HAPPENED



CHAPTER I


Head on the side and chin uptilted, she held it at arm's-length,
turning it now in one direction, now in another, then with
deliberation she laid it on the floor.

"I have wanted to do it ever since you were sent me; now I am going
to."

Hands on hips, she looked down on the high-crown, narrow-brim hat of
stiff gray felt which was at her feet, and nodded at it with firmness
and decision. "It's going to be my Christmas present to
myself--getting rid of you. Couldn't anything give me as much pleasure
as smashing you is going to give. Good-by--"

Raising her right foot, Carmencita held it poised for a half-moment
over the hated hat, then with long-restrained energy she brought it
down on the steeple-crown and crushed it into shapelessness. "I wish
she could see you now." Another vigorous punch was given, then with a
swift movement the battered bunch of dull grayness, with its yellow
bird and broken buckle of tarnished steel, was sent in the air, and as
it landed across the room the child laughed gaily, ran toward it, and
with the tip of her toes tossed it here and there. Sending it now up
to the ceiling, now toward the mantel, now kicking it over the table,
and now to the top of the window, she danced round and round the room,
laughing breathlessly. Presently she stooped, picked it up, stuck it
on her head, and, going to the stove, opened its top, and with a shake
of her curls dropped the once haughty and now humbled head-gear in the
fire and watched it burn with joyous satisfaction.

"The first time she wore it we called her Coachman Cattie, it was so
stiff and high and hideous, and nobody but a person like her would
ever have bought it. I never thought it would some day come to me.
Some missioners are nice, some very nice, but some--"

With emphasis the lid of the stove was put back, and, going to the
table in the middle of the room, Carmencita picked up the contents of
the little work-basket, which had been knocked over in her rushing
round, and put them slowly in place. "Some missioners seem to think
because you're poor everything God put in other people's hearts and
minds and bodies and souls He left out of you. Of course, if you
haven't a hat you ought to be thankful for any kind." The words came
soberly, and the tiniest bit of a quiver twisted the lips of the
protesting mouth. "You oughtn't to know whether it is pretty or ugly
or becoming or--You ought just to be thankful and humble, and I'm not
either. I don't like thankful, humble people; I'm afraid of them."

Leaving the table where for a minute she had jumbled needles and
thread and scissors and buttons in the broken basket, she walked
slowly over to the tiny mirror hung above a chest of drawers, and on
tiptoes nodded at the reflection before her--nodded and spoke to it.

"You're a sinner, all right, Carmencita Bell, and there's no natural
goodness in you. You hate hideousness, and poorness, and other
people's cast-offs, and emptiness in your stomach, and living on the
top floor with crying babies and a drunken father underneath, and
counting every stick of wood before you use it. And you get furious
at times because your father is blind and people have forgotten about
his beautiful music, and you want chicken and cake when you haven't
even enough bacon and bread. You're a sinner, all right. If you were
in a class of them you would be at the head. It's the only thing you'd
ever be at the head of. You know you're poverty-poor, and still you're
always fighting inside, always making out that it is just for a little
while. Why don't you--"

The words died on her lips, and suddenly the clear blue eyes, made for
love and laughter and eager for all that is lovely in life, dimmed
with hot tears, and with a half-sob she turned and threw herself face
downward on the rug-covered cot on the opposite side of the room.

"O God, please don't let Father know!" The words came in tones that
were terrified. "Please don't ever let him know! I wasn't born good,
and I hate bad smells, and dirty things, and ugly clothes, and not
enough to eat, but until I am big enough to go to work please,
_please_ help me to keep Father from knowing! Please help me!"

With a twisting movement the child curled herself into a little ball,
and for a moment tempestuous sobbing broke the stillness of the room,
notwithstanding the knuckles of two little red hands which were
pressed to the large sweet mouth. Presently she lifted the hem of her
skirt and wiped her eyes, then she got up.

"I wish I could cry as much as I want to. I never have had a place
convenient to do it all by myself, and there's never time, but it gets
the choked things out and makes you feel much better. I don't often
want to, just sometimes, like before Christmas when you're crazy to do
a lot of things you can't do--and some people make you so mad! If I'd
been born different and not minding ugly things and loving pretty
ones, I wouldn't have hated that hat so. That's gone, anyhow. I've
been wanting to see how high I could kick it ever since Miss Cattie
sent it to me, and now I've done it. I've got a lot of old clothes I'd
like to send to Ballyhack, but I can't send."

She stopped, smoothed her rumpled dress, and shook back the long loose
curls which had fallen over her face. "I must be getting sorry for
myself. If I am I ought to be spanked. I can't spank, but I can dance.
If you don't head it off quick it goes to your liver. I'll head!"

With a swift movement Carmencita sprang across the room and from the
mantel took down a once beribboned but now faded and worn tambourine.
"You'd rather cry," she said, under her breath, "but you sha'n't cry.
I won't let you. Dance! Dance! Dance!"

Aloft the tambourine was shaken, and its few remaining bells broke
gaily on the air as with abandon that was bewildering in grace and
suppleness the child leaped into movement swift and light and amazing
in beauty. Around the room, one arm akimbo, one hand now in the air,
now touching with the tambourine the hard, bare floor, now tossing
back the loose curls, now waving gaily overhead, faster and faster she
danced, her feet in perfect rhythm to the bells; then presently the
tambourine was thrown upon the table, and she stopped beside it, face
flushed, eyes shining, and breath that came in quick, short gasps.

"That was much better than crying." She laughed. "There isn't much you
can do in this world, Carmencita, but you can dance. You've got to do
it, too, every time you feel sorry for yourself. I wonder if I could
see Miss Frances before I go for Father? I _must_ see her. Must! Those
Beckwith babies have got the croup, and I want to ask her if she
thinks it's awful piggy in me to put all my money, or 'most all, in
Father's present. And I want to ask her--I could ask Miss Frances
things all night. Maybe the reason I'm not a thankful person is I'm so
inquiring. I expect to spend the first hundred years after I get to
heaven asking questions."

Going over to the mantel, Carmencita looked at the little clock upon
it. "I don't have to go to the wedding-place for father until after
six," she said, slowly, "and I'd like to see Miss Frances before I go.
If I get there by half past five I can see the people get out of their
automobiles and sail in. I wish I could sail somewhere. If I could see
some grandness once and get the smell of cabbage and onions out of my
nose, which I never will as long as the Rheinhimers live underneath
us, I wouldn't mind the other things so much, but there isn't any
chance of grandness coming as high up in the air as this. I wonder if
God has forgot about us! He has so many to remember--"

With a swift turn of her head, as if listening, Carmencita's eyes grew
shy and wistful, then she dropped on her knees by the couch and buried
her face in her arms. "If God's forgot I'll remind Him," she said, and
tightly she closed her eyes.

"O God"--the words came eagerly, fervently--"we are living in the
same place, and every day I hope we will get in a better one, but
until we do please help me to keep on making Father think I like it
better than any other in town. I thought maybe You had forgotten where
we were. I'm too little to go to work yet, and that's why we're still
here. We can't pay any more rent, or we'd move. And won't You please
let something nice happen? I don't mean miracles, or money, or things
like that, but something thrilly and exciting and romantic, if You can
manage it. Every day is just the same sort of sameness, and I get so
mad-tired of cooking and cleaning and mending, before school and after
school and nights, that if something don't happen soon I'm afraid
Father will find out what a pretending person I am, and he mustn't
find. It's been much better since I knew Miss Frances. I'm awful much
obliged to You for letting me know her, but she isn't permanent,
Mother McNeil says, and may go away soon. I'm going to try to have a
grand Christmas and be as nice as I can to Mrs. Rheinhimer, but she's
so lazy and dirty it's hard not to tell her so. And if You could let a
nice thing happen for Christmas I hope You will. If it could be a
marriage and I could be bridesmaid I'd like that best, as I've never
been to an inside wedding, just outside on the street. I don't care
for poor marriages. Amen."

On her feet, Carmencita hesitated, then, going to a closet across the
room, took from its top shelf a shabby straw hat and put it on. "This
was bought for me and fits," she said, as if to some one by her side,
"and, straw or no straw, it feels better than that Coachman Cattie,
which is gone for evermore. Some day I hope I can burn you up,
too"--she nodded to the coat into which she was struggling--"but I
can't do it yet. You're awful ugly and much too big, but you're warm
and the only one I've got. I'll have half an hour before it's time to
go for Father. If Miss Frances is home I can talk a lot in half an
hour."



CHAPTER II


Carmencita knocked. There was no answer. She knocked again. After the
third knock she opened the door and, hand on the knob, looked in.

"Oh, Miss Frances, I was afraid you had gone out! I knocked and
knocked, but you didn't say come in, so I thought I'd look. Please
excuse me!"

The girl at the sewing-machine, which was close to the window and far
from the door, stopped its running, turned in her chair, and held out
her hand. "Hello, Carmencita! I'm glad it's you and not Miss Perkins.
I wouldn't want Miss Perkins to see me trying to sew, but you can see.
Take off your coat. Is it cold out?"

"Getting cold." The heavy coat was laid on one chair, and Carmencita,
taking up a half-made gingham dress from another, sat in it and laid
the garment in her lap. "I didn't know you knew how to sew."

"I don't." The girl at the machine laughed. "Those Simcoe children
didn't have a dress to change in, and I'm practising on some skirts
and waists for them. Every day I'm finding out something else I don't
know how to do. I seem to have been taught a good many things there is
no special need of knowing, and very few I can make use of down here."

"You didn't expect to come down here when you were learning things,
did you?" Carmencita's eyes were gravely watching the efforts being
made to thread the machine's needle. "I guess when you were a little
girl you didn't know there were things like you see down here. What
made you come here, Miss Frances? You didn't have to. What made you
come?"

Into the fine fair face color crept slowly, and for a moment a sudden
frown ridged the high forehead from which the dark hair, parted and
brushed back, waved into a loose knot at the back of her head; then
she laughed, and her dark eyes looked into Carmencita's blue ones.

"Why did I come?" The gingham dress on which she had been sewing was
folded carefully. "I came to find out some of the things I did not
know about. I wasn't of any particular use to anybody else. No one
needed me. I had a life on my hands that I didn't know what to do
with, and I thought perhaps--"

"You could use it down here? You could use a dozen down here, but you
weren't meant not to get married. Aren't you ever going to get
married, Miss Frances?"

"I hardly think I will." Frances Barbour got up and pushed the machine
against the wall. "The trouble about getting married is marrying the
right man. One so often doesn't. I wouldn't like to make a mistake."
Again she smiled.

"Don't see how you could make a mistake. Isn't there some way you can
tell?"

"My dear Carmencita!" Stooping, the child's face was lifted and
kissed. "I'm not a bit interested in men or marriage. They belong
to--to a long, long time ago. I'm interested now in little girls like
you, and in boys, and babies, and gingham dresses, and Christmas
trees, and night classes, and the Dramatic School for the children who
work, and--"

"I'm interested in them, too, but I'm going to get married when I'm
big enough. I know you work awful hard down here, but it wasn't what
you were born for. I'm always feeling, right inside me, right
here"--Carmencita's hand was laid on her breast--"that you aren't
going to stay here long, and it makes an awful sink sometimes. You'll
go away and forget us, and get married, and go to balls and parties
and wear satin slippers with buckles on them, and dance, and I'd do
it, too, if I were you. Only--only I wish sometimes you hadn't come.
It will be so much harder when you go away."

"But I'm not going away." At the little white bureau in the plainly
furnished room of Mother McNeil's "Home," Frances stuck the pins
brought from the machine into the little cushion and nodded gaily to
the child now standing by her side. "I've tried the parties and balls
and--all the other things, and for a while they were very nice; and
then one day I found I was spending all my time getting ready for them
and resting from them, and there was never time for anything else. If
I had died it would not have mattered the least bit that I had lived.
And--"

"Didn't you have a sweetheart that it mattered to? Not even one?"

Into hers Carmencita's eyes were looking firmly, and, turning from
them, Frances made effort to laugh; then her face whitened.

"One can never be sure how much things matter to others, Carmencita.
We can only be sure of how much they matter--to us. But it was
Christmas we were to talk about. It's much nicer to talk about
Christmas. We can't talk very long, for I meet the 'Little Mothers' at
half past six, and after that I--"

"And I've got to go at half past five to meet Father when he's through
with that wedding up-town, and then we're going shopping. I've got a
lot to talk about. The Beckwith babies are awful sick. I guess it
would be a good thing if they were to die. They are always having
colic and cramps and croup, and they've got a coughing mother and a
lazy father; but they won't die. Some babies never will. Did you know
Mr. Rheinhimer had been on another spree?" Carmencita, feet fastened
in the rounds of her chair, elbows on knees, and chin in the palms of
her hand, nodded affirmatively at the face in front of her. "Worst one
yet. He smashed all the window-panes in the bedroom, and broke two
legs of their best chairs doing it, and threw the basin and pitcher
out of the window. He says he'd give any man living five hundred
dollars, if he had it, if he'd live with his wife a month and not
shake her. She is awful aggravating. She's always in curl papers, and
don't wear corsets, and nags him to death. She says she wishes you'd
send him to a cure or something. And I want to tell you about Father's
present."

For twenty minutes they talked long and earnestly. Carmencita's list
of names and number of pennies were gone over again and again, and
when at last she got up to go the perplexities of indecision and
adjustment were mainly removed, and she sighed with satisfaction.

"I'm very much obliged to you for helping me fix it." The piece of
paper was carefully pinned to the inside of the coat. "I'm not going
to get anything but Father's present to-night. I won't have to go to
school to-morrow, and I want the buying to last as long as possible.
Isn't it funny the way Christmas makes you feel?"

Carmencita's hands came suddenly together, and, pressing them on her
breast, her eyes grew big and shining. Standing first on one foot and
then on the other, she swayed slightly forward, then gave a leap in
the air.

"I can't help it, Miss Frances, I really can't! It's something inside
me--something that makes me wish I was all the world's mother! And
I'm so squirmy and thrilly and shivery, thinking of the things I'd do
if I could, that sometimes I'm bound to jump--just bound to! I'm
almost sure something nice is going to happen. Did you ever feel that
way, Miss Frances?"

"I used to feel that way." The clear dark eyes for a moment turned
from the eager ones of the child. "It's a very nice way to feel. When
one is young--though perhaps it is not so much youth as hope in the
heart, and love, and--"

"I don't love everybody. I loathe Miss Cattie Burns. She's the very
old dev--I promised Father I wouldn't say even a true mean thing
about anybody for a month, and I've done it twice! I'd much rather
love people, though. I love to love! It makes you feel so nice and
warm and homey. If I had a house I'd have everybody I know--I mean all
the nice everybodies--to spend Christmas with me. Isn't it funny that
at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for--for--I don't know
what for, exactly, but it's something you don't mind so much not
having at other times."

Carmencita's arms opened to their full length, then circled slowly,
and her hands crossed around her neck. "It's the time to wipe out and
forget things, Father says. It's the home-time and the heart-time
and--" In her voice was sudden anxiety. "You are not going away for
Christmas are you, Miss Frances?"

"Not for Christmas eve." She hesitated. "I'm not quite sure what I'm
going to do on Christmas day. My people live in different places and
far apart. It is all very different from what it used to be. When one
is alone--"

She stopped abruptly and, going over to the window, looked down on the
street below; and Carmencita, watching, saw the face turned from hers
twist in sudden pain. For a moment she stood puzzled and helpless.
Something she did not understand was troubling, something in which she
could not help. What was it?

"You couldn't be alone at Christmas, Miss Frances." Slowly she came
toward the window, and shyly her hand slipped into that of her friend.
"There are too many wanting you. Father and I can't give fine presents
or have a fine dinner, but there wouldn't be words in which to tell
you how thankful we'd be if you'd spend it with us. Would you--would
you come to us, Miss Frances?"

Into the eager blue eyes looking up the dark eyes looked down, and,
looking, grew misty. "Dear child, I'd come to you if I were here, but
I do not think I'll be here." Her head went up as if impatient with
herself. "I'm going away on Christmas day--going--" She took out her
watch hurriedly and looked at it. "It's after half past five,
Carmencita. You will have to hurry or you won't see the wedding guests
go in. Good-by, dear. Have a good time and tuck away all you see to
tell me later. I will be so busy between now and Christmas, there will
be no time for talking, but after Christmas--Why, you've got on your
straw hat, Carmencita! Where is the winter one Miss Cattie gave you?
She told me she had given you a perfectly good hat that would last a
long time."

"She did." Carmencita's hands were stuck in the deep pockets of her
long coat, and again her big blue eyes were raised to her friend's.
"It would have lasted for ever if it hadn't got burned up. It fell in
the fire and got burned up." Out in the hall she hesitated, then came
back, opened the door, and put her head in. "It did get burned up,
Miss Frances. I burned it. Good-by."

Late into the night Frances Barbour sat at her desk in the bare and
poorly furnished room which she now called hers, and wrote letters,
settled accounts, wrapped bundles, assorted packages, and made lists
of matters to be attended to on the next day. When at last through,
with the reaction that comes from overtired body and nerves she leaned
back in her chair and let her hands fall idly in her lap, and with
eyes that saw not looked across at the windows, on whose panes bits of
hail were tapping weirdly. For some minutes thought was held in
abeyance; then suddenly she crossed her arms on the table, and her
face was hidden in them.

"Oh, Stephen! Stephen!" Under her breath the words came wearily. "We
were so foolish, Stephen; such silly children to give each other up!
All through the year I know, but never as I do at Christmas. And
we--we are each other's, Stephen!" With a proud uplifting of her head
she got up. "I am a child," she said, "a child who wants what it once
refused to have. But until he understood--" Quickly she put out the
light.



CHAPTER III


He was ashamed of himself for being ashamed. Why on earth should he
hesitate to tell Peterkin he would dine alone on Christmas day? It was
none of Peterkin's business how he dined, or where, or with whom. And
still he had not brought himself to the point of informing Peterkin,
by his order for dinner at home, that he was not leaving town for the
holidays, that he was not invited to dine with any one else, and that
there was no one he cared to invite to dine with him. It was the 22d
of December, and the custodian in charge of his domestic arrangements
had not yet been told what his plans were for the 25th. He had no
plans.

He might go, of course, to one of his clubs. But worse than telling
Peterkin that he would dine alone would be the public avowal of having
nowhere to go which dining at the club would not only indicate, but
affirm. Besides, at Christmas a club was ghastly, and the few who
dropped in had a half-shamed air at being there and got out as quickly
as possible. He could go to Hallsboro, but Hallsboro no longer bore
even a semblance to the little town in which he had been born--had,
indeed, become something of a big city, bustling, busy, and new, and
offensively up-to-date; and nowhere else did he feel so much a
stranger as in the place he had once called home. He was but twelve
when his parents moved away, and eight months later died within a week
of each other, and for years he had not been back. Had there been
brothers and sisters--Well, there were no brothers and sisters, and by
this time he should be used to the fact that he was very much alone in
the world.

Hands in his pockets, Stephen Van Landing leaned back in his chair and
looked across the room at a picture on the wall. He did not see the
picture; he saw, instead, certain things that were not pleasant to
see. No, he would not go to Hallsboro for Christmas.

Turning off the light in his office and closing the door with
unnecessary energy, Van Landing walked down the hall to the elevator,
then turned away and toward the steps. Reaching the street, he
hesitated as to the car he should take, whether one up-town to his
club or one across to his apartment, and as he waited he watched the
hurrying crowd with eyes in which were baffled impatience and
perplexity. It was incomprehensible, the shopping craze at this season
of the year. He wished there was no such season. Save for his very
young childhood there were few happy memories connected with it, but
only of late, only during the past few years, had the recurrence
awakened within him a sort of horror, its approach a sense of
loneliness that was demoralizing, and its celebration an emptiness in
life that chilled and depressed beyond all reason. Why was it that as
it drew near a feeling of cowardice so possessed him that he wanted to
go away, go anywhere and hide until it was over, go where he could not
see what it meant to others? It was humanity's home-time, and he had
no home. Why--

"An ass that brays is wiser than the man who asks what can't be
answered," he said, under his breath. "For the love of Heaven, quit
it! Why-ing in a man is as inexcusable as whining in a woman. There's
my car--crowded, of course!"

For some minutes longer he waited for a car on which there was chance
to get a foothold, then, buttoning his overcoat, put his hands in his
pockets and began the walk to his club. The season had been mild so
far, but a change was coming, and the two days left for Christmas
shopping would doubtless be stormy ones. On the whole, it might be
fortunate. There was a good deal of nonsense in this curious custom of
once a year getting on a giving jag, which was about what Christmas
had degenerated into, and if something could prevent the dementia that
possessed many people at this season it should be welcomed. It had
often puzzled him, the behavior of the human family at this so-called
Christian holiday in which tired people were overworked, poor people
bought what they couldn't afford, and the rich gave unneeded things to
the rich and were given unwanted ones in return. The hands of all
people--all places--had become outstretched. It wasn't the giving of
money that mattered. But what did matter was the hugeness of the habit
which was commercializing a custom whose origin was very far removed
from the spirit of the day.

With a shrug of his shoulders he shoved his hands deeper down into
his pockets. "Quit again," he said, half aloud. "What do you know of
the spirit of the day?"

Not only of the spirit of the day did he know little, but of late with
acute conviction it was dawning on him that he knew little of many
other things. Certainly he was getting little out of life. For a
while, after professional recognition had come to him, and with it
financial reward, he had tested society, only to give it up and settle
down to still harder work during the day and his books when the day
was done. The only woman he had ever wanted to marry had refused to
marry him. His teeth came down on his lips. He still wanted her. In
all the world there was but one woman he loved or could love, and for
three years he had not seen her. It was his fault. He was to blame. It
had taken him long to see it, but he saw it now. There had been a
difference of opinion, a frank revealing of opposing points of view,
and he had been told that she would not surrender her life to the
selfishness that takes no part in activities beyond the interests of
her own home. He had insisted that when a woman marries said home and
husband should alone claim her time and heart, and in the multitude
of demands which go into the cultural and practical development of a
home out of a house there would be sufficient opportunity for the
exercise of a woman's brain and ability. He had been such a fool. What
right had he to limit her, or she him? It had all been so silly and
such a waste, such a horrible waste of happiness.

For she had loved him. She was not a woman to love lightly, as he was
not a man, and hers was the love that glorifies life. And he had lost
it. That is, he had lost her. Three years ago she had broken their
engagement. Two years of this time had been spent abroad. A few months
after their return her mother died and her home was given up. Much of
the time since her mother's death had been spent with her married
sisters, who lived in cities far separated from one another, but not
for some weeks had he heard anything concerning her. He did not even
know where she was, or where she would be Christmas.

"Hello, Van!"

The voice behind made him turn. The voice was Bleeker McVeigh's.

"Where are the wedding garments? Don't mean you're not going!"

"Going where?" Van Landing fell into step. "Whose wedding?"

McVeigh lighted a fresh cigarette. "You ought to be hung. I tell you
now you won't be bidden to my wedding. Why did you tell Jockie you'd
come, if you didn't intend to?"

Van Landing stopped and for a minute stared at the man beside him. "I
forgot this was the twenty-second," he said. "Tell Jock I'm dead. I
wish I were for a week."

"Ought to be dead." McVeigh threw his match away. "A man who ignores
his fellow-beings as you've ignored yours of late has no right to
live. Better look out. Don't take long to be forgotten. Good night."

It was true that it didn't take long to be forgotten. He had been
finding that out rather dismally of late, finding out also that a good
many things Frances had told him about himself were true. Her eyes
could be so soft and lovely and appealing; they were wonderful eyes,
but they could blaze as well. And she was right. He was selfish and
conventional and intolerant. That is, he had been. He wished he could
forget her eyes. In all ways possible to a man of his type he had
tried to forget, but forgetting was beyond his power. Jock had loved
half a dozen women and this afternoon he was to be married to his last
love. Were he on Jock's order he might have married. He wasn't on
Jock's order.

Reaching his club, he started to go up the steps, then turned and
walked away. To go in would provoke inquiry as to why he was not at
the wedding. He took out his watch. It was twenty minutes of the hour
set for the ceremony. He had intended to go, but--Well, he had
forgotten, and was glad of it. He loathed weddings.

As he reached the building in which was his apartment he again
hesitated and again walked on. An unaccountable impulse led him in the
direction of the house, a few blocks away, in which his friend was to
be married, and as he neared it he crossed the street and in the
darkness of the late afternoon looked with eyes, half mocking, half
amazed, at the long line of limousines which stretched from one end of
the block to the other. At the corner he stopped. For some minutes he
stood looking at the little group of people who made effort to press
closer to the entrance of the awning which stretched from door to
curbing, then turned to go, when he felt a hand touch him lightly on
the arm.

"If you will come up to the top of the steps you can see much better,"
he heard a voice say. "I've seen almost everybody go in. I just ran
down to tell you."



CHAPTER IV


Turning, Van Landing looked into the little face upraised to his, then
lifted his hat. She was so enveloped in the big coat which came to her
heels that for half a moment he could not tell whether she was ten or
twenty. Then he smiled.

"Thank you," he said. "I don't know that I care to see. I don't know
why I stopped."

"Oh, but it is perfectly grand, seeing them is! You can see everything
up there"--a little bare hand was waved behind her in the direction of
the porch--"and nothing down here. And you looked like you wanted to
see. There have been kings and queens, and princes and princesses, and
dukes and duchesses, and sirs, and--" She looked up. "What's the lady
name for sir? 'Tisn't siress, is it?"

"I believe not." Van Landing laughed. "I didn't know there was so much
royalty in town." "There is. They are royals--that kind of people."
Her hand pointed in the direction of the house from which could be
heard faint strains of music. "They live in palaces, and wave wands,
and eat out of gold plates, and wear silk stockings in the morning,
and--oh, they do everything that's splendid and grand and magnificent
and--"

"Do you think people are splendid and grand and magnificent because
they live in palaces and wear--"

"Goodness gracious!" The big blue eyes surveyed the speaker with
uncertainty. "Are you one of them, too?"

"One what?"

"Damanarkists. Mr. Leimberg is one. He hates people who live in
palaces and wave wands and have _dee_-licious things to eat. He don't
believe in it. Mr. Ripple says it's because he's a damanarkist and
very dangerous. Mr. Leimberg thinks men like Mr. Ripple ought to be
tarred and feathered. He says he'd take the very last cent a person
had and give it to blood-suckers like that"--and again the red little
hand was waved toward the opposite side of the street. "Mr. Ripple
collects our rent. I guess it does take a lot of money to live in a
palace, but I'd live in one if I could, though I'd try not to be very
particular about rents and things. And I'd have chicken-pie for dinner
every day and hot oysters for supper every night; and I'd ask some
little girls sometimes to come and see me--that is, I think I would.
But maybe I wouldn't. It's right easy to forget in a palace, I guess.
Oh, look--there's somebody else going in! Hurry, mister, or you won't
see!"

Following the child up the flight of stone steps, Van Landing stood at
the top and looked across at the arriving cars, whose occupants were
immediately lost to sight in the tunnel, as his new acquaintance
called it, and then he looked at her.

Very blue and big and wonder-filled were her eyes, and, tense in the
effort to gain the last glimpse of the gorgeously gowned guests, she
stood on tiptoe, leaning forward eagerly, and suddenly Van Landing
picked her up and put her on top of the railing. Holding on to his
coat, the child laughed gaily.

"Aren't we having a good time?" Her breath was drawn in joyously.
"It's almost as good as being inside. Wouldn't you like to be? I
would. I guess the bride is beautiful, with real diamonds on her
slippers and in her hair, and--" She looked down on Van Landing. "My
father is in there. He goes to 'most all the scrimptious weddings that
have harps to them. He plays on the harp when the minister is saying
the words. Do you think it is going to be a very long wedding?"

A note of anxiety in the child's voice made Van Landing look at her
more closely, and as she raised her eyes to his something stirred
within him curiously. What an old little face it was! All glow and
eagerness, but much too thin and not half enough color, and the hat
over the loose brown curls was straw.

"I don't think it will be long." His voice was cheerfully decisive.
"That kind is usually soon over. Most of a wedding's time is taken in
getting ready for it. Did you say your father was over there?"

The child's head nodded. "They have a harp, so I know they are nice
people. Father can't give lessons any more, because he can't see but
just a teensy, weensy bit when the sun is shining. He used to play on
a big organ, and we used to have oysters almost any time, but that was
before Mother died. Father was awful sick after she died, and there
wasn't any money, and when he got well he was almost blind, and he
can't teach any more, and 'most all he does now is weddings and
funerals. I love him to go to weddings. He makes the others tell him
everything they see, and then he tells me, and we have the grandest
time making out we were sure enough invited, and talking of what we
thought was the best thing to eat, and whose dress was the prettiest,
and which lady was the loveliest--Oh, my goodness! Look there!"

Already some of the guests were departing; and Van Landing, looking at
his watch, saw it was twenty minutes past six. Obviously among those
present were some who failed to feel the enthusiasm for weddings that
his new friend felt. With a smile he put the watch away, and, placing
the child's feet more firmly on the railing, held her so that she
could rest against his shoulder. She could hardly be more than twelve
or thirteen, and undersized for that, but the oval face was one of
singular intelligence, and her eyes--her eyes were strangely like the
only eyes on earth he had ever loved, and as she settled herself more
comfortably his heart warmed curiously, warmed as it had not done for
years. Presently she looked down at him.

"I don't think you're a damanarkist." Her voice was joyous. "You're
so nice. Can you see good?"

"Very good. There isn't much to see. One might if it weren't for
that--"

"Old tunnel! I don't think they ought to have them if it isn't snowing
or raining. Oh, I do hope Father can come out soon! If I tell you
something will you promise not to tell, not even say it to yourself
out loud?" Her face was raised to his. "I'm going to get Father's
Christmas present to-night. We're going down-town when he is through
over there. He can't see me buy it, and it's something he wants
dreadfully. I've been saving ever since last Christmas. It's going to
cost two dollars and seventy-five cents." The eager voice trailed off
into an awed whisper. "That's an awful lot to spend on something
you're not bound to have, but Christmas isn't like any other time. I
spend millions in my mind at Christmas. Have you bought all your
things, Mr.--Mr.--don't even know your name." She laughed. "What's
your name, Mr. Man?"

Van Landing hesitated. Caution and reserve were inherent
characteristics. Before the child's eyes they faded.

"Van Landing," he said. "Stephen Van Landing."

"Mine is Carmencita. Father named me that because when I was a teensy
baby I kicked my feet so, and loved my tambourine best of all my
things. Have you bought all your Christmas gifts, Mr. Van--I don't
remember the other part."

"I haven't any to buy--and no one to buy for. That is--"

"Good gracious!" The child turned quickly; in her eyes and voice
incredulity was unrestrained. "I didn't know there was anybody in all
the world who didn't have anybody to buy for! Are you--are you very
poor, Mr. Van? You look very nice."

"I think I must be very poor." Van Landing fastened his glasses more
securely on his nose. "I'm quite sure of it. It has been long since I
cared to buy Christmas presents. I give a few, of course, but--"

"And don't you have Christmas dinner at home, and hang up your
stocking, and buy toys and things for children, and hear the music in
the churches? I know a lot of carols. Father taught me. I'll sing one
for you. Want me? Oh, I believe they are coming out! Father said they
wouldn't want him as long as the others. If I lived in a palace and
was a royal lady I'd have a harp longer than anything else, but Father
says it's on account of the food. Food is awful high, and people would
rather eat than hear harps. Oh, there's Father! I must go, Mr. Van.
Thank you ever so much for holding me."

With a movement that was scientific in its dexterity the child slipped
from Van Landing's arms and jumped from the railing to the porch, and
without so much as a turn of the head ran down the steps and across
the street. Darting in between two large motor-cars, Van Landing saw
her run forward and take the hand of a man who was standing near the
side-entrance of the house in which the wedding had taken place. It
was too dark to distinguish his face, and in the confusion following
the calling of numbers and the hurrying off of guests he felt
instinctively that the man shrank back, as is the way of the blind,
and an impulse to go over and lead him away made him start down the
steps.

At the foot he stopped. To go over was impossible. He would be
recognized. For half a moment he hesitated. It was his dinner hour,
and he should go home; but he didn't want to go home. The stillness
and orderliness of his handsome apartment was suddenly irritating. It
seemed a piece of mechanism made to go so smoothly and noiselessly
that every element of humanness was lacking in it; and with something
of a shiver he turned down the street and in the direction opposite to
that wherein he lived. The child's eyes had stirred memories that must
be kept down; and she was right. He was a poor man. He had a house,
but no home, and he had no Christmas presents to buy.



CHAPTER V


"Mr. Van! Mr. Van!"

He turned quickly. Behind, his new-made acquaintance was making effort
to run, but to run and still hold the hand of her father was
difficult. With a smile he stopped.

"Oh, Mr. Van!" The words came breathlessly. "I was so afraid we would
lose you! Father can't cross quick, and once I couldn't see you. Here
he is, Father." She took Van Landing's hand and laid it in her
father's. "He can tell by hands," she said, "whether you're a nice
person or not. I told him you didn't have anybody, and--"

Van Landing's hand for a moment lay in the stranger's, then he shook
the latter's warmly and again raised his hat. In the circle of light
caused by the electric lamp near which they stood the blind man's face
could be seen distinctly, and in it was that one sees but rarely in
the faces of men, and in Van Landing's throat came sudden tightening.

"Oh, sir, I cannot make her understand, cannot keep her from talking
to strangers!" The troubled voice was of a strange quality for so
shabbily clothed a body, and in the eyes that saw not, and which were
lifted to Van Landing's, was sudden terror. "She believes all people
to be her friends. I cannot always be with her, and some day--"

"But, Father, you said that whoever didn't have any friends must be
our friend, because--because that's all we can be--just friends. And
he hasn't any. I mean anybody to make Christmas for. He said so
himself. And can't he go with us to-night and see the shops? I know
he's nice, Father. Please, please let him!"

The look of terrified helplessness which for a moment swept over the
gentle face, wherein suffering and sorrow had made deep impress, but
in which was neither bitterness nor complaint, stirred the heart
within him as not for long it had been stirred, and quickly Van
Landing spoke.

"It may not be a good plan generally, but this time it was all right,"
he said. "She spoke to me because she thought I could not see what
was going on across the street, and very kindly shared her better
position with me. I--" He hesitated. His name would mean nothing to
the man before him. Their worlds were very different worlds. It was
possible, however, that this gentle, shrinking creature, with a face
so spiritualized by life's denials that it shamed him as he looked,
knew more of his, Van Landing's, world than he of the blind man's, and
suddenly, as if something outside himself directed, he yielded to a
strange impulse.

It was true, what the child had said. He had few friends--that is,
friends in the sense the child meant. Of acquaintances he had many,
very many. At his club, in business, in a rather limited social set,
he knew a number of people well, but friends--If he were to die
to-morrow his going would occasion but the usual comment he had often
heard concerning others. Some years ago he had found himself
continually entertaining what he called his friends, spending foolish
sums of money on costly dinners, and quite suddenly he had quit. As
long as he entertained he was entertained in return, and for some time
after he stopped he still received invitations of many sorts, but in
cynical realization of the unsatisfactoriness of his manner of life
he had given it up, and in its place had come nothing to answer the
hunger of his heart for comradeship and human cheer. His opinion of
life had become unhealthy. As an experience for which one is not
primarily responsible it had to be endured, but out of it he had
gotten little save what men called success; and that, he had long
since found, though sweet in the pursuit, was bitter in achievement if
there was no one who cared--and for his nobody really cared. This
blind man with the shabby clothes and ill-nourished body was richer
than he. He had a child who loved him and whom he loved.

"It is true what your little girl has told you." Van Landing took off
his glasses and wiped them. "I have no one to make Christmas for, and
if you don't mind I wish you would let me go with you to the shops
to-night. I don't know much about Christmas buying. My presents are
chiefly given in mon----I mean I don't know any little children."

"And I know forty billion!" Carmencita's arms were outstretched and
her hands came together with ecstatic emphasis. "If I didn't stop to
blink my eyes between now and Christmas morning I couldn't buy fast
enough to fill all the stockings of the legs I know if I had the money
to buy with. There's Mrs. McTarrens's four, and the six Blickers, and
the ashman's eight, and the Roysters, and little Sallie Simcoe, and
old Mr. Jenkinson, and Miss Becky who mends pants and hasn't any front
teeth, and Mr. Leimberg. I'd get him specs. He has to hold his book
like this"--and the palms of two little red hands were held close to
Carmencita's eyes. "Oh, Father, please let him go!"

Hesitating, the blind man's eyes were again upturned, and again Van
Landing spoke.

"You are right to be careful; but you need not fear. My name is Van
Landing, and my office--"

"You are a gentleman!" Two hands with their long slender fingers were
outstretched, and swiftly they stroked Van Landing's arms and body and
face. "Your voice, your hands, tell me your class, and your clothes
that you have money. Why--oh, why do you want to go with us?" Quickly
his right hand drew his child toward him, and in terror he pressed her
to his side. "She is my all, my light, my life! Away from her I am in
darkness you could not understand. No, you must not go with us. You
must go away and leave us!"

For a moment Van Landing hesitated, puzzled by the sudden fear in the
man's face, then over his own crept grayness, and the muscles in it
stiffened.

"My God!" he said, and his mouth grew dry. "Have men brought men to
this?"

For another half-moment there was silence which the child, looking
from one to the other, could not understand, and her hands, pressed
close to her breast, gripped tightly her cold fingers. Presently Van
Landing turned.

"Very well," he said. "I will go. It was just that I know little of a
real Christmas. Good night."

"Oh, don't go--don't go, Mr. Van! It's going to be Christmas two days
after to-morrow, Father, and the Christ-child wouldn't like it if you
let him go!" Carmencita held the sleeve of Van Landing's coat with a
sturdy clutch. "He isn't a damanarkist. I can tell by his eyes. They
are so lonely-looking. You aren't telling a story, are you Mr. Van? Is
it truly truth that you haven't anybody?"

"It is truly truth," he said. "I mean anybody to make Christmas for."

"No mother or father or a little girl like me? Haven't you even got a
wife?"

"Not even a wife." Van Landing smiled.

"You are as bad as Miss Barbour. She hasn't anybody, either, now, she
says, 'most everybody being--"

"Miss who?" Van Landing turned so sharply that the child jumped. "Who
did you say?"

"Miss Barbour." The eyes which were so like those he could not forget
were raised to his. "If you knew Miss Barbour she could tell you of
plenty of people to make Christmas for. She's living right now with
Mother McNeil, who isn't really anybody's mother, but just
everybody's. But she don't live there all the time. Most of her people
are dead or married and don't need her, so she came to Mother McNeil
to see how children down there live. What's the matter, Mr. Van?"

To hide the upleaping flame in his face and the sudden trembling of
his hands Van Landing stooped down and picked up the handkerchief he
had dropped; then he stepped back and out of the circle of light in
which he had been standing. For a moment he did not speak lest his
voice be as unsteady as his hands, but, taking out his watch, he
looked at it, then put it back with fumbling fingers.

"Her first name--Miss Barbour's first name," he said, and the dryness
of his throat made his words a little indistinct. "What is it?"

With mouth rounded into a little ball, Carmencita blew on her stiff
finger-tips. "Frances," she said, and first one foot and then the
other was stamped for purpose of warmth. "The damanarkist says God
made her, but the devil has more to do with most women than anybody
else. He don't like women. Do you know her, Mr. Van?"

"If your friend is my friend--I know her very well," he said, and put
his hands in his pockets to hide the twitching of his fingers. "A long
time ago she was the only real friend I had, and I lost her. I have
wanted very much to find her."

"Oh, Father, if he knows Miss Barbour he's bound to be all right!"
Carmencita's arms were flung above her head and down again, and on her
tiptoes she danced gaily round and round. "We can show him where she
lives." She stopped. "No, we can't. She told me I must never do that.
I mustn't send any one to her, but I could tell her of anybody I
wanted her to know about." Head uplifted, her eyes searched Van
Landing's, and her words came in an awed whisper, "Was--was she your
sweetheart, Mr. Van?"

"She was." Again Van Landing wiped his forehead. It didn't in the
least matter that he was telling to this unknown child the most
personal of matters. Nothing mattered but that perhaps he might find
Frances. "You must take me to her," he said. "I must see her
to-night."

"I can't take you to see her to-night. She wouldn't like it. Oh, I
know!" Carmencita made another rapid whirl. "We can go down-town and
get"--she nodded confidentially to her new-made friend and pointed her
finger in her father's direction--"and then we can come back and have
some toast and tea; and then I'll send for Miss Barbour to come quick,
as I need her awful, and when she comes in you can say: 'Oh, my lost
and loved one, here I am! We will be married right away, this minute!'
I read that in a book once. Won't it be grand? But you won't--" The
dancing ceased, and her hands stiffened in sudden anxiety. "You won't
take her away, will you?"

"If she will come with me I will not take her where she won't come
back. Can't we start?"

But the child was obdurate. She would do nothing until her purchase
was made, and to her entreaties her father finally yielded, and a few
minutes later Van Landing and his new acquaintances were on a
down-town car, bound for a shopping district as unknown to him as the
shops in which he was accustomed to deal were unknown to them.

Still a bit dazed by his chance discovery, he made no comment on the
child's continual chatter, but let her exuberance and delight have
full play while he tried to adjust himself to a realization that made
all thought but a chaotic mixture of hope and doubt, of turbulent fear
and determined purpose, and of one thing only was he sure. Three years
of his life had been wasted. Another hour should not be lost were it
in his power to prevent.



CHAPTER VI


When the store was reached Van Landing for the first time was able to
see distinctly the faces of Carmencita and her father, and as for a
moment he watched the slim little body in its long coat, once the
property, undoubtedly, of a much bigger person, saw her eager,
wonder-filled eyes, and the wistful mouth which had learned to smile
at surrender, the strings of his heart twisted in protest, and for the
"damanarkist" of whom she had spoken, for the moment he had sympathy
of which on yesterday there would have been no understanding. She
could not be more than twelve or thirteen, he thought, but condition
and circumstance had made her a woman in many matters, and the art of
shopping she knew well. Slowly, very slowly, she made her way to the
particular counter at which her precious purchase was to be made,
lingering here and there to gaze at things as much beyond her hope of
possession as the stars of heaven; and, following her slow-walking,
Van Landing could see her eyes brighten and yearn, her lips move, her
hand outstretch to touch and then draw back quickly, and also every
now and then he could see her shake her head.

"What is it?" he asked. "Why do you do that? Is there anything in here
you would like to get, besides the thing you came for?"

"Anything I'd like to get!" The words were repeated as if not heard
aright. "Anybody would know you'd never been a girl. There isn't much
in here I wouldn't like to get if I didn't have to pay for it."

"But not rattles and dolls and drums and pop-guns and boxing-gloves
and all the other things you've looked at. Girls of your age--"

"This girl wasn't looking at them for herself. I'm 'most grown up now.
But everybody on our street has got a baby, and a lot of children
besides. Mrs. Perry has twins and a baby, and Mrs. Latimer always has
two on a bottle at the same time. I'm just buying things in my mind.
It's the only way I can buy 'em, and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas
if you couldn't buy some way. Sallie Simcoe will go crazy if she don't
get a doll that whistles. She saw one in a window once. It was a
Whistling Jim and cost a dollar. She won't get it. Oh, here it is, Mr.
Van! Here's the counter where the jewelry things are."

As she neared it she nodded to Van Landing and pointed to her father,
who, hand on her shoulder, had kept close to her, then beckoned him to
come nearer. "He can't see, I know"--her voice was excited--"but take
him away, won't you? I wouldn't have him guess it, not for _anything_
on earth! I'll be through in a minute."

In moments incredibly few, but to Van Landing tormentingly long, she
was back again, and close to her heart she was hugging a tiny package
with one hand, while the other was laid on her father's arm. "I got
it," she whispered; "it's perfectly beautiful." She spoke louder. "I
guess we'd better be going now. I know you're hungry, and so am I.
Come on. We can walk home, and then I'll make the tea."

For a second Van Landing hesitated, then he followed the odd-looking
couple out into the street, but as they started to turn the corner he
stopped.

"I say"--he cleared his throat to hide its embarrassed
hesitation--"don't you want to do me a favor? Where I live I don't
buy the things I eat, and I've often thought I'd like to. If you are
going to make the tea and toast, why can't I get the--the chicken,
say, and some salad and things? That's a good-looking window over
there with cooked stuff in it. We'll have a party and each put in
something."

"Chicken?" Into his face the child gazed with pitying comprehension of
his ignorance, and in her voice was shrill amusement. "_Chicken!_ Did
you ever price one? I have, when I'm having kings and queens taking
dinner with me in my mind. People don't have chicken 'cept at
Christmas, and sometimes Sundays if there hasn't been anybody out of
work for a long time. Come on. I've got a box of sardines. Just think,
Father, he wants to buy a _chicken_!"

With a gay little laugh in which was shrewd knowledge of the
unthinkableness of certain indulgences, the child slipped one arm
through her father's and another through Van Landing's, and with a
happy skip led the way down the poorly lighted street. A solid mass of
dreary-looking houses, with fronts unrelieved by a distinguishing
feature, stretched as far as the eye could see, and when a few blocks
had been walked it was with a sense of relief that a corner was
turned and Van Landing found himself at the foot of a flight of steps
up which the child bounded and beckoned him to follow.

The house was like the others, one of a long row, and dull and dark
and dingy, but from its basement came a baby's wailing, while from the
floor above, as the hall was entered, could be heard the rapid click
of a sewing-machine. Four flights of steps were mounted; then
Carmencita took the key from her father's pocket and opened the door.

"This is our suite," she said, and courtesied low. "Please strike a
match, if you have one, Mr. Van. This house is very old, and history
houses don't have electric lights. The ghosts wouldn't like it. Some
of my best friends are ghosts. I'll be back in a minute."

As she ran into the little hall room adjoining the large room which he
saw comprised their "suite," Van Landing lighted the lamp near the
mantel and looked around. In the center was a marble-topped table, and
on it a lamp, a work-basket, and several magazines with backs half
gone. The floor was bare save for a small and worn rug here and there,
and on the sills of the uncurtained windows two hardy geraniums were
blooming bravely. A chest of drawers, a few chairs, a shelf of books,
a rug-covered cot, a corner cupboard, a wash-stand behind a screen,
and a small table near the stove, behind which a box of wood could be
seen, completed its furnishings; and still, despite its bareness,
there was something in it which was not in the place wherein he lived,
and wonderingly he again looked around. Had he found himself in the
moon or at the bottom of the Dead Sea it would be hardly less
remarkable than finding himself here. Adventures of this sort were
entirely out of his experience. As regulated as a piece of machinery
his life had become of late, and the routine of office and club and
house had been accepted as beyond escape, and the chance meeting of
this little creature--

"Oh, my goodness! I forgot to put the kettle on!"

With a spring that came apparently from the door opposite the stove
near which he was standing Carmencita was by his side, and, swift
movement following swift movement, the lid of the stove was lifted,
wood put in, the kettle of water put on, and the table drawn farther
out in the floor. A moment more the lamp was lighted, her father's
coat and hat in place, his chair drawn up to the now roaring fire;
then, with speculation in her eyes, she stood for half a moment, hands
on hips, looking first at Van Landing and then at the cupboard in the
corner.

For the first time he saw well the slender little body out of its
long, loose coat, the heavy, brown curls which tumbled over the oval
face, the clear eyes that little escaped, so keen was their quality,
and the thin legs with their small feet in large shoes, and as he
looked he smiled.

"Well," he asked, "can I help you? You seem very uncertain."

"I am. Put your hat and coat over there"--she pointed to the covered
cot close to the wall--"then come back and tell me."

He did as directed and, hands in pockets, stood again in front of her.
"Is"--his face whitened--"is it about Miss Barbour? Can you send her
word?"

"Send now? I guess not!" On tiptoes the child looked for something on
the mantel-piece. "We haven't had supper yet, and I'm so hungry I
could eat air. Besides, she has a class to-night--The Little Big
Sisters. I'm one when I can go, but I can't go often." She waved her
hand in the direction of her father. "I'll send for her 'bout half
past nine. Which do you like best, sardines with lemon on 'em, or
toasted cheese on toast with syrup afterward? Which?"

The tone was one of momentous inquiry. Miss Barbour's coming was a
matter that could wait, but supper necessitated a solemn decision
which must be made at once. Hands clasped behind her, the blue eyes
grew big with suspense, and again she repeated, "Which?"

"I really don't know. Both are very good. I believe I like sardines
better than--Oh no, I don't." He had caught the flicker of
disappointment in the anxious little face. "I mean I think toasted
cheese the best thing to eat that's going. Let's have that!"

"All right." With another spring the child was at the cupboard, and
swiftly she went to work. "Read to father, won't you?" she called,
without looking round. "In that magazine with the geranium leaf
sticking out is where I left off. You'll have to read right loud."

Drawing his chair close to the lighted lamp, Van Landing took his seat
near the blind musician, and for the first time noticed the slender,
finely formed fingers of the hands now resting on the arms of the
chair in which he sat; noticed the shiny, well-worn coat and the lock
of white hair that fell across the high forehead; saw the sensitive
mouth; and as he looked he wondered as to the story that was his. An
old one, perhaps. Born of better blood than his present position
implied, he had evidently found the battle of life more than he was
equal to, and, unfit to fight, he had doubtless slipped down and down
in the scale of human society until to-day he and his child were
dwellers on the borderland of the slums.

He found the article and began to read. The technicalities of musical
composition had never appealed to him, but, though by him the writer's
exhaustive knowledge of his subject was not appreciated, by his
listener it was greatly so, and, in tense eagerness to miss no word,
the latter leaned forward and kept his sightless eyes in the direction
of the sound of his voice.

Not for long could he read, however. In a few moments Carmencita's
hands were outstretched, and, giving one to each, she led them to the
table, and at it he sat down as naturally as though it were a familiar
occurrence. In the center was a glass jar with a spray of red geranium
in it, and behind the earthen tea-pot the child presided with the
ease of long usage. As she gave him his tea he noticed it was in the
only unchipped cup, and on the one kept for herself there was no
handle. Under his breath he swore softly. Why--He mentally shook
himself. This was no time for why-ing.

[Illustration: "WHICH DO YOU LIKE BEST, SARDINES WITH LEMON ON 'EM, OR
TOASTED CHEESE ON TOAST?"]

As an appetizer the toasted cheese on toasted bread was excellent, but
the supper--if she had only let him get it. He had not dared insist,
and never had he been more consciously a guest, but could people live
on fare so scant as this? It was like Frances to want to know how
other people lived--and not to be content with knowing. But after she
knew how could she sleep at night? Great God! If there was to be a day
of judgment what could men say--men like himself and his friends?



CHAPTER VII


For half an hour longer Carmencita chatted gaily, offering dish after
dish of imaginary food with the assurance that it would cause no
sickness or discomfort, and at the child's spirit and imagination Van
Landing marveled. The years of ignorance and indifference, in which he
had not cared to know what Frances knew all men should know, came back
disquietingly, and he wondered if for him it were too late.

As Carmencita got up to clear the table he took out his watch and
looked at it, then put it quickly back lest she should see. Who was
going to take the note? Why couldn't he go to the place at which was
held the class of Little Big Sisters and get Frances? With a quick
indrawing breath he handed his host cigars.

"I hope you smoke," he said; "that is, if Carmencita does not object."

"Oh, I don't object. Smoke!" Carmencita's hand was waved. "After I
wash the dishes I'll write the note, then I'll go down and get Noodles
to take it. I'll ask Mr. Robinsky to bring the harp up, Father. He
brought it home for us; he's a flute-er." The explanation was made to
Van Landing. "He always brings it home when Father and I are going
somewhere else. Smoke, please. I love to smell smoke smell."

With a splash the remaining water in the tea-kettle was poured in the
dish-pan, and for a few moments the clatter of knives and forks and
spoons prevented talk. Over the blind man's face crept the content
that comes from a good cigar, and in silence he and his guest smoked
while Carmencita did her work. Not long was there silence, however,
for very shortly the child was on a stool at Van Landing's feet, in
her hands a pad of paper, and on her knee a backless magazine.

For half a minute she looked in Van Landing's face. "Isn't it nice and
funny--your being here? I like you." Her voice was joyous. "If I tell
you something, you won't tell?" She leaned forward, hands on his
knees. "This afternoon before I went out I asked God please to let
something nice happen. There hasn't anything very nice happened for so
long, I was afraid He had forgot. What must I write, Mr. Van?"

Into Van Landing's face the color surged, then died away and left it
strangely white. The child's eyes were holding his, and he did not try
to avoid them. It didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was to
get Frances quickly.

"Tell her I must see her to-night, that I must come to her. Why can't
I go to her, Carmencita?"

"Because she doesn't want anybody to come to see her that she doesn't
tell to come. She told me so herself, and I wouldn't break her rules
for a gold ring with a ruby in it. I know. I'll tell her I'm bound to
show her something to-night or I won't sleep a wink. And you'll be
_It_! You can go in Father's room, and when she comes in you will come
out and say--What will you say, Mr. Van?"

"I don't know. Perhaps I sha'n't say anything. Sometimes one can't."

"I'll look in that book I read once and see what he said, if you want
me to. It was a beautiful book. It had an awful lot of love in it. I
know what I'm going to write."

For some moments she wrote laboriously on the pad, which wabbled
badly on her knees, then she folded the piece of paper and, getting
up, went toward the door. Van Landing followed her.

"The boy," he said. "Will you give him this and tell him if the note
is delivered to Miss Barbour personally there will be more when he
comes back?" He held out his hand.

As if not seeing aright, Carmencita looked closely at what was held
toward her, then up in Van Landing's face. "You must have plenty of
money, if you haven't any friends," she said, and in her voice was
faint suspicion. "Noodles can't have that. He'd never go anywhere for
me again if he got that much." Her hand waved his away. "When he comes
back, if you'll give him a quarter he'll stand on his head. It's hard
and hollow, and he makes right smart standing on it and wriggling his
feet." She shook her head. "It would ruin him to give him a dollar.
Please read to Father."

Her visitor's face flushed. Why couldn't he remember? "Very well," he
said; "manage it your way. Tell him to hurry, will you?'"

Would she come? With his lips Stephen Van Landing was pronouncing the
words of the article he had again begun to read to the blind harpist,
but in his heart, which was beating thickly, other words were surging,
and every now and then he wiped his forehead lest its dampness be seen
by the child's keen eyes. Would she come? Three years had passed since
senseless selfishness on his part had made her spirit flare and she
had given him back his ring. For a moment he had held it, and in the
dancing flames of the logs upon the hearth in the library of her
beautiful old-fashioned home its stones had gleamed brilliantly,
flashed protesting fire; then he had dropped it in the blaze and
turned and left the room. Had she forgotten, or had she suffered, too?

With mechanical monotony the words continued to come from his lips,
but his thoughts were afar off, and presently Carmencita took the
magazine out of his hand.

"Excuse me," she said, "but Father is asleep, and you don't know a
word you're saying. You might as well stop."

Putting the magazine on the table, Carmencita drew the stool on which
she was sitting closer to Van Landing's chair, and, hands clasped
around her knees, looked up into his eyes. In hers was puzzled
questioning.

"I beg your pardon." His face flushed under the grave scrutiny bent
upon him. "I was reading abominably, but I couldn't get my mind--"

"I know," Carmencita nodded understandingly. "I do that way sometimes
when I'm saying one thing and thinking another, and Father always
takes a little nap until I get out of the clouds. He says I spend a
lot of my time in the clouds. I'm bound to soar sometimes. If I didn't
make out I wasn't really and truly living here, on the top floor, with
the Rheinhimers underneath, but just waiting for our house to be fixed
up, I couldn't stand it all the time. I'd go--"

She hesitated, then again went on. "You see, it's this way. There 're
a lot of things I hate, but I've got to stand them, and the only way I
can do it is to get away from them in my mind sometimes. Father says
it's the way we stand things that proves the kind of person we are;
but Father is Father, and I am me, and letting out is a great relief.
Did you ever feel as if you're bound to say things sometimes?"

"I'm afraid I've not only felt I had to say them, but I said them."
Van Landing looked at his watch. "Your Father is doubtless right,
but--"

"Noodles hasn't had time to get back yet, and she might not be
there." Carmencita glanced toward the clock. "And Father is always
right. He's had to sit so many hours alone and think and think and
think, that he's had time to ask God about a good many things we don't
take time to ask about. I pray a lot, but my kind of prayers isn't
praying. They're mostly asking, and Father says prayer is
receiving--is getting God in you, I mean. I don't understand, but he
does, and he doesn't ask for things like I do, but for patience and
courage and--and things like that. No matter what happens, he keeps on
trusting. I don't. I'm not much of a truster. I want to do things my
way, myself." She leaned forward. "If I tell you something will you
promise not to tell anybody, not even Miss Frances when--when it's all
right?"

"I promise."

Van Landing nodded at the eager little face upraised to his. It was
singularly attractive and appealing, and the varying emotions that
swept over it indicated a temperament that took little in life calmly,
or as a commonplace happening, and a surge of protest at her
surroundings swept over him.

"I promise," he repeated. "I won't tell."

"Cross your heart and shut your eyes and I will tell you."

Hands on his knees, Carmencita watched the awkward movements of Van
Landing's fingers, then she laughed joyously, but when she spoke her
voice was in a whisper.

"I'm writing a book."

"You are doing what?"

"Writing a book! It's perfectly grand. That is, some days it is, but
most days it is a mess. It was a mess yesterday, and I burned up every
single word I wrote last week. I'll show it to you if you want to see
it."

Without waiting for an answer Carmencita sprang to her feet, and with
noiseless movement skipped across the room, and from the middle drawer
of the chest between the windows took out a large flat box.

"This is it." Again taking her seat on the stool at Van Landing's
feet, she opened the box carefully. One by one she lifted out of it
pieces of paper of varying size and color and held them toward her
visitor, who, hands clasped between knees, was bending forward and
watching with amazed interest the seemingly exhaustless contents of
the box beside him.

"I use pad-paper when I have it." Several white sheets were laid in a
pile by themselves. "But most of the chapters are on wrapping-paper.
Mrs. Beckwith gives me all of hers, and so does Mrs. Rheinhimer when
her children don't chew it up before she can save it. That's chapter
fourteen. I don't like it much, it's so squshy, but I wrote it that
way because I read in a newspaper once that slops sold better than
anything else, and I'm writing this to sell, if I can."

"Have you named it?" Van Landing's voice was as serious as
Carmencita's. "I've been told that a good title is a great help to a
book. I hope yours will bring you a good deal of money, but--"

"So do I." Carmencita's hands came together fervently. "I'm bound to
make some money, and this is the only way I can think of until I'm
fourteen and can go to work. I'm just thirteen and two months, and I
can't go yet. The law won't let me. I used to think it took a lot of
sense to write a book, but the Damanarkist says it don't, and that
anybody who is fool enough to waste time could write the truck people
read nowadays. He don't read it, but I do, all I can get--I like it."

"I've never tried to write." Van Landing again glanced at the clock.
Noodles was staying an interminably long time. "Like you, I imagined
it took some measure of ability--"

"Oh, but it don't. I mean it doesn't take any to write things like
that." Carmencita's finger pointed to several backless magazines and a
couple of paper-bound books on the table behind her. "I read once that
people like to read things that make them laugh and cry and--and
forget about the rent money, and tell all about love-dovies and
villains and beautiful maidens, and my book's got some of all those
kinds of things in it. It hasn't got any--What did you say you thought
it took to write a book?"

"Ability--that is, a little of it."

"I guess that depends on the kind of book it is. I put something of
everything I could think of in mine, but I didn't put any ability in.
I didn't have any to put, and, besides, I wanted it to sell. That's
the chapter I love best." A large piece of brown paper was waved in
the air. "It's the one in which the Princess Patricia gets ready to
die because she hears her sweetheart making love to some one else, and
then she comes to her senses and makes him marry the other girl so
they can live miserable ever after, and the Princess goes about doing
good like Miss Frances. But I'm going to marry her to somebody before
I'm through--I'm--"

"You believe in marriage, then." Van Landing smiled, and, stooping,
picked up several sheets of paper evidently torn from a blank-book.
"This must be the courtship chapter. It seems rather sentimental."

"It is. Regular mush slush. It's the kind of courting a man who isn't
much does--that is, I guess it's the kind, but the Princess
understands. She's been fooled once. Tell me"--Carmencita leaned
forward and, arms again crossed on Van Landing's knees, looked
anxiously in his face--"what does a man say when he's really and truly
courting? I mean a nice man. When the Real one comes, the Right
one--what will he say? I'm just about there, and I don't know how to
go on."

"I wish I could tell you." Van Landing leaned back in his chair and,
taking out his watch again, looked at it. "I shouldn't dare to try to
write a novel, consequently--"

"I'll try anything while I'm waiting to go to work." Carmencita sat
back dejectedly. "Is a book a novel because it has love in it?"

"It is generally supposed to be. When you are older you may write
your love scenes with greater knowledge and--"

"No, I won't. I don't expect to have any love scenes when I get
married. I've read a lot of that, and it don't last. All I want my
husband to say is, 'Will you marry me, Carmencita?' and I will say,
'Yes,' and I hope we'll keep on liking each other. Some don't." Her
face changed, and she sat upright, her hands pressed to her breast.
"_This_ is a novel--to--night is! We're living one, and you're the
Prince and Miss Frances is the Princess, and I found you! Oh, my
goodness! what is that?"

With a swift movement she was on her feet and at the door. Van
Landing, too, rose quickly. Below could be heard loud voices, the
moving of furniture, and the cries of frightened children, and
cautiously Carmencita turned the knob and went into the hall.

"Old Beer-Barrel is drunk again." Tiptoeing to the banister, she
leaned over it. "When he gets like this he's crazy as a loon, and some
day he'll kill somebody. Goodness gracious! he's coming up here!"

Before Van Landing could reach her she was inside and at the
wash-stand. Taking up the pitcher filled with water, she again ran
into the hall, and as the cursing, stumbling man began to mount the
stairs she leaned over the banister and poured the contents of the
pitcher on his head. As if shot, the man stood still, face upturned,
hair drenched, hands trembling, then he sat down on the steps.

Giving the pitcher to Van Landing, she told him to fill it and pointed
to a faucet in the hall. "I don't think he'll need another; one is
generally enough. I've seen him like this before. His wife won't throw
water in his face, but I throw." She leaned farther over the railing.
"If you'll be quiet and go back quick I won't put any more water on
you; it's awful cold, but if you don't--"

Slowly, and as if dazed, the man on the steps got up, and as he
disappeared Carmencita nodded to her visitor to go back to her Father,
now standing by the table. Closing the door, she came toward him and
pushed him again in his chair, smoothing lightly the snow-white hair
and kissing the trembling fingers, then at his feet she took her seat.

"I'm so sorry he waked you. It was just old Beer-Barrel. He oughtn't
to drink"--she raised her eyes to Van Landing's--"but a man who's got
a wife like his is bound to do something, and sometimes I wish I could
put the water on her instead of him."



CHAPTER VIII


For a moment Van Landing walked up and down the room, hands in his
pockets and heart pounding in a way of which he was ashamed.
Ordinarily the sight of a drunken man would have awakened little
emotion save disgust, but the realization of the helplessness of the
two people before him filled him with inward rage, and for some time
he could not trust himself to speak. A sickening horror of this
hideous side of life filled him with strange protest. Yesterday he had
not known and had not cared that such things could be, and now--

On Carmencita's face was none of the alarm that had come into his. Her
father, too, was getting over his fright. For this helpless old man
and fair, frail child, whose wit and courage were equal to situations
of which she had the right of childhood to be ignorant, the scene just
witnessed had the familiarity of frequent repetition, but for him it
was horribly new, and if the Damanarkist of whom Carmencita so often
spoke should come in he would be glad to shake his hand.

A noise at the door made him start. They were coming. The boy and
Frances. He dug his hands deeper in his pockets to hide their
trembling, and his face went white.

But it was not Noodles. It was Mr. Robinsky, who had brought the harp,
and, though he evidently intended to sit down and talk, with
consummate skill and grace he was led into the hall by Carmencita and
told good night with sweetness and decision. It was wonderfully
managed. No man could have done it, and in his heart Van Landing
thanked her; but before he could speak there was a loud pounding on
the door, and both he and Carmencita started nervously toward it.

"It's Noodles. I know his knock." Carmencita's hands clasped tightly,
and in her voice was eager trembling. "I'm so excited I can't breathe
good! It's like being in a book. Go in the room over there quick, Mr.
Van. Come in!"

With inward as well as outward rigidity Van Landing waited. To the
movements of Carmencita's hand waving him away he paid no attention.
In thick, heavy throbs his heart sent the blood to his face, then it
receded, and for a moment the room was dark and he saw nothing. To the
"come in" of Carmencita the door opened, and he looked in its
direction. Noodles was alone.

"Where is she?" Carmencita's voice was high and shrill in excitement
and dismay. "I told you to wait for her! You know I told you to wait
for her!"

Cap in hand, Noodles looked first at Van Landing and then at the
child. "Warn't no her to wait for," he said, presently. "She ain't
there, and she didn't go to the class to-night. Miss James went for
her. Some of her kin-folks is in town staying with some their
kin-folks, and she is spending the night with 'em." The now soiled and
crumpled note was held toward Carmencita. "She won't be back till day
after to-morrow, what's Christmas eve, though she might come back
to-morrow night, Fetch-It said. Warn't nobody there but
Fetch-It--leastways warn't nobody else I seen."

Van Landing looked at Carmencita, then turned sharply and went over
toward the window. A choking, stifling sensation made breathing
difficult, and, the tension of the past few hours relaxed, he felt as
one on the edge of a precipice from which at any moment he might
topple over. It was too cold to open the window, but he must have air.
Going to the couch, he took up his hat and coat, then came back and
held out his hand.

"Give him this"--he nodded at Noodles, "and tell your father good
night. And thank you, Carmencita, thank you for letting me come.
To-morrow--" The room was getting black. "I will see you to-morrow."

A moment later he was out of the room and down the steps and on the
street, and in the darkness he walked as one who feels something in
his way he cannot see; and then he laughed, and the laugh was hard and
bitter, and in it was a sound that was not good to hear.

The cold air stung his face, made breathing better, and after a while
he looked up. For many blocks he had walked unheedingly, but, hearing
a church-bell strike the hour, he took out his watch and glanced at
it. To go home was impossible. Turning into a side-street, he walked
rapidly in a direction that led he knew not whither, and for a while
let the stinging sensation of disappointment and rebellion possess him
without restraint. It was pretty cruel, this sudden shutting of the
door of hope in his face. The discovery of Frances's presence in the
city had brought again in full tumultuous surge the old love and
longing, and the hours of waiting had been well-nigh unendurable. And
now he would have to wait until day after to-morrow. He would go
to-morrow night to this Mother Somebody. What was her name? He could
remember nothing, was, indeed, as stupid as if he had been knocked in
the head. Well, he had been. Where did this woman live? The child had
refused to tell him. With a sudden stop he looked around. Where was
he? He had walked miles in and out of streets as unknown to him as if
part of a city he had never been in, and he had no idea where he was.
A sudden fear gripped him. Where did Carmencita live? He had paid no
attention to the streets they were on when she took him to the house
she called home. He was full of other thought, but her address, of
course, he would get before he left, and he had left without asking.
What a fool he was! What a stupid fool! For half a moment he looked
uncertainly up and down the street whose name he did not know. No
policeman was in sight; no one was in sight except a woman on the
opposite pavement, who was scurrying along with something under her
shawl hugged close to her breast, and a young girl who was coming his
way. Turning, he retraced his steps. He did not know in which
direction to go. He only knew he must keep on. Perhaps he could find
his way back to the place where Carmencita lived.

He did not find it. Through the night he walked street after street,
trying to recall some building he had passed, but he had walked as
blind men walk, and nothing had been noticed. To ask of people what
they could not tell was useless. He did not know the name of the
street he wanted to find, and, moreover, a curious shrinking kept him
from inquiring. In the morning he would find it, but he did not want
to make demands upon the usual sources for help until he had exhausted
all other means of redeeming his folly in not learning Carmencita's
full name and address before he left her. Was a man's whole life to be
changed, to be made or unmade, by whimsical chance or by stupid
blunder? In the gray dawn of a new day he reached his home and went to
bed for a few hours' sleep.

When, later, he left his house to renew his search for Carmencita the
weather had changed. It had begun to snow, and tiny particles of ice
stung his face as he walked, and the people who passed shivered as
they hurried by. On every street that offered chance of being the one
he sought he went up and down its length, and not until he felt he was
being noticed did he take into partial confidence a good-natured
policeman who had nodded to him on his third passing. The man was
kindly, but for hay-stack needles there was no time and he was
directed to headquarters. To find a house, number unknown, on a
street, name unknown, of a party, full name again unknown, was too
much of a puzzle for busy times like these. Any other time than
Christmas--He was turned from that an inquiry from a woman with a
child in her arms might be answered.

"Any other time than Christmas!"

With a sense of demoralization it was dawning on him that he might not
find her, or Carmencita, in time for Christmas, and he _must_ find
them. A great hunger for the day to be to him what it seemed to be to
others possessed him feverishly, and with eyes that saw what they had
never seen before he watched, as he walked, the faces of the people
who passed, and in his heart crept childish longing to buy something
for somebody, something that was wanted very much, as these people
seemed to be doing. He had made out the checks he usually sent to
certain institutions and certain parties at this season of the year
for his head clerk to mail. By this time they had been received, but
with them had gone no word of greeting or good will; his card alone
had been inclosed. A few orders had been left at various stores, but
with them went no Christmas spirit. He wondered how it would feel to
buy a thing that could make one's face look as Carmencita's had looked
when she made her purchase of the night before. It was a locket she
had bought--a gold locket.

In a whispered confidence while in the car she had told him it was for
her mother's picture. The picture used to be in her father's watch,
but the watch had to be sold when he was sick, after her mother's
death, and he had missed the touch of the picture so. She knew, for
often she had seen him holding his watch in his hand, open at the
back, where the picture lay, with his fingers on it, and sometimes he
would kiss it when he thought she was out of the room. After the watch
was sold the picture had been folded up in one of her mother's
handkerchiefs, and her father kept it in the pocket of his coat; but
once it had slipped out of the handkerchief, and once through a hole
in the pocket, and they thought it was lost. Her father hadn't slept
any that night. And now he could sleep with the locket around his
neck. She would put it on a ribbon. Wasn't it grand? And Carmencita's
hands had clasped ecstatically.

Up and down the streets he went, looking, looking, looking. The
district in which he found himself was one of the poorest in the city,
but the shops were crowded with buyers, and, though the goods for sale
were cheap and common and of a quality that at other times would have
repelled, to-day they interested. Carmencita might be among the
shoppers. She had said she had a few things to get for some
children--penny things--and she was possibly out, notwithstanding the
snow which now was falling thick and fast.

Some time after his usual lunch-hour he remembered he must have
something to eat; and, going into a dingy-looking restaurant, he sat
down at a table, the only one which had a vacant seat at it, and
ordered coffee and oysters. His table companion was a half-grown boy
with chapped hands and a thin white face; but his eyes were clear and
happy, and the piece of pie he was eating was being swallowed in huge
hunks. It was his sole order, a piece of awful-looking pie. As the
coffee and oysters were brought him Van Landing saw the boy look at
them hungrily and then turn his eyes away.

"I beg your pardon." Van Landing, whose well-regulated life permitted
of few impulses, turned to the boy. "I ordered these things"--he
pointed to the steaming food--"and I don't want them. I want something
else. Would you mind having them? It's a pity to throw them away."

The boy hesitated, uncertain what was meant, then he laughed. "It sure
is," he said. "If you don't want them I'll help you out. I'm hollow as
a hound what's been on a hunt. Good thing Christmas don't come but
once a year. You can cut out lunch better'n anything else for a
save-up, though. That girl over there"--he pointed his finger behind
him--"ain't had nothing but a glass of milk for a month. She's got
some kiddie brothers and sisters, and they're bound to have Christmas,
she says. Rough day, ain't it?"

Van Landing gave another order. Had it not been for the gnawing
restlessness, the growing fear, which filled him, the scene would have
interested. A few days ago he would have seen only the sordid side of
it, the crudeness and coarseness; but the search he was on had
humanized what hitherto had only seemed a disagreeable and
objectionable side of life, and the people before him were of an odd
kinship. In their faces was hunger. There were so many kinds of hunger
in the world. He got up, and with a nod to the boy paid his bill and
went out.

Through the afternoon hours he walked steadily. Dogged determination
made him keep on, just as sensitive shrinking prevented his making
inquiries of others. It was silly to ask what couldn't be answered. He
must have been mad the night before not to have noticed where he was
going, not to have asked Carmencita her name.

By four o'clock the street-lights had been turned on, making of the
dark, dingy tenements a long lane with high, unbroken walls, and on a
corner he stood for a moment wondering which was the best way to go.
To his left were shops; he went toward them, and each face of the
children coming in or going out was scanned intently. Seeing a group
pressed close to a window in which was displayed an assortment of
dolls of all sorts and sizes, with peculiar clothing of peculiar
colors, he went toward them, stood for a moment by their side. One of
the children was the size of Carmencita.

"That's mine--that one in the pink-silk dress"--a dirty little finger
was pointed to a huge and highly decorated doll in the center of the
window--"that and the blue beads, and that box of paints with the
picture on it, and--"

"You're a pig, all right. Want the earth, don't you? Well, you can't
have it." And valiantly a child with a shawl on her head pushed closer
to the window, now clouded by the steam from many little mouths. "I
want that one--the one in long clothes with a cap on. What you want,
Lizzie Lue? Look out there and keep your elbows where they
belong"--this to the jostling, pushing crowd behind. "Come on, kid;
kick if you have to; only way you can manage some folks. Which one you
want, Lizzie Lue?" And a tiny scrap of a child was held up in arms but
little bigger than her own.

As Van Landing listened a sudden impulse to take the children in and
get for them the things they wanted came over him; then he walked
away. If only he could find Carmencita and let her do the buying. Was
Christmas like this every year? These children with no chance--was
there no one to give them their share of childhood's rights?
Settlement workers, churches, schools, charity associations--things of
that sort doubtless saw to them. It was not his business. But wasn't
it his business? Could it possibly be his business to know--and care?

"I beg your pardon, sir."

Van Landing looked up. A tall, slender man in working-clothes, a
basket on one arm, his wife holding to the other, tried to touch his
hat. "The crowd makes walking hard without pushing. I hope I didn't
step on your foot."

"Didn't touch it." The man had on no overcoat, and his hands were red
and chapped. He was much too thin for his height, and as he coughed
Van Landing understood. "Shopping, I suppose?"

Why he asked he did not know, and it was the wife he asked, the young
wife whose timid clutch of her husband's arm was very unlike the
manner of most of the women he had passed. She looked up.

"We were afraid to wait until to-morrow, it's snowing so hard. We
might not be able to get out, and the children--"

"We've got three kiddies home." The man's thin face brightened, and he
rubbed his coat sleeve across his mouth to check his cough. "Santa
Claus is sure enough to them, and we don't want 'em to know different
till we have to. A merry Christmas, sir!"

As they went on Van Landing turned and looked. They were poor people.
But were they quite so poor as he? He had seen many for whom he might
have made Christmas had he known in time--might have saved the
sacrifices that had to be made; but would it then have been Christmas?
Slowly, very slowly, in the shabby street and snow-filled air, an
understanding of things but dimly glimpsed before was coming to him,
and he was seeing what for long had been unseen.



CHAPTER IX


"Think hard, Father--oh, _please_ think hard! It was Van--Van--"
Carmencita, hands clutched tightly behind her back, leaned forward on
her tiptoes and anxiously peered into her father's face for sign of
dawning memory. "If I hadn't been so Christmas-crazy I'd have listened
better, but I wasn't thinking about his name. Can't you--_can't_ you
remember the last part? It was Van--Van--"

Slowly her father shook his head. "I wish I could, Carmencita. I don't
hear well of late and I didn't catch his name. You called him Mr.
Van."

"I called him that for short. I'm a cutting-down person even in
names." The palms of Carmencita's hands came together and her fingers
interlocked. "If I'd had more sense and manners I'd have called his
name right from the first, and we wouldn't have lost him. I could
have found him to-day if I'd known what to look for in the
telephone-book, or if Miss Frances had been at Mother McNeil's. She
might as well be lost, too, but she'll be back at seven, and that's
why I am going now, so as to be there the minute she gets in, to ask
her what his--"

"She might not like your asking, Carmencita. You must be careful,
child. Miss Barbour is not a lady one can--"

"Not a lady one can what?" Carmencita stopped her nervous swaying, and
the big blue eyes looked questioningly at her father. "Was there ever
a lady who didn't want to find her lost lover if he was looking for
her? That's what he is. And she wants to find him, if she don't know
it exactly. She's working it off down here with us children, but she's
got something on her mind. He's it. We've got to find him, Father--got
to!"

With a dexterous movement of her fingers Carmencita fastened the
buttons of her coat and pulled her hat down on her head. "I'm going
back to Mother McNeil's," she said, presently, and the large and
half-worn rubbers which she had tied on over her shoes were looked at
speculatively. "The Damanarkist is going to take me. As soon as Miss
Frances tells me Mr. Van's name I'll telephone him to come quick, but
I won't tell her that. She might go away again. In that slushy book I
read the girl ought to have been shook. She was dying dead in love
with her sweetheart and treated him like he was a poodle-dog. Miss
Frances wouldn't do that, but I don't know what she might do, and I'm
not going to tell her any more than I can help. I want her to think it
just happened. Good-by, and go to sleep if you want to, but don't
smoke, please. You might drop the sparks on your coat. Good-by."

With a swift kiss she was gone and, meeting the Damanarkist, who was
waiting outside the door, they went down the three flights of steps
and out into the street. The wind was biting, and, turning up the
collar of her coat, Carmencita put her hands in her pockets and made
effort to walk rapidly through the thick snow into which her feet sank
with each step. For some minutes conversation was impossible. Heads
ducked to keep out of their faces the fast-falling flakes, they
trudged along in silence until within a few doors of Mother McNeil's
house, and then Carmencita looked up.

"Do--do you ever pray, Mr. Leimberg--pray hard, I mean?"

"Pray!" The Damanarkist drew in his breath and laughed with smothered
scorn. "Pray! Why should I pray? I cut out prayer when I was a kid.
No, I don't pray."

"It's a great comfort, praying is." Carmencita's hand was taken out of
her pocket and slipped through the arm of her disillusioned friend.
"Sometimes you're just bound to pray. It's like breathing--you can't
help it. It--it just rises up. I prayed yesterday for--for something,
and it pretty near happened, but--"

"And you think your praying helped to make it happen!" Mr. Leimberg
drew Carmencita's hand farther through his arm, and his lips twisted
in contemptuous pity. "You think there is a magician up--oh,
somewhere, who makes things happen, do you? Think--"

"Yes." Carmencita's feet skipped in spite of the clogging snow. "I
think that somewhere there is Somebody who knows about everything, but
I don't think He means us to ask for anything we want just because we
want it and don't do a lick to get it. I've been praying for months
and months about my temper and stamping my foot when I get mad, and
if I remember in time and hold down the up-comings my prayers are
always answered; but when I let go and forget--" Carmencita whistled a
long, low, significant note. "I guess then I don't want to be
answered. I want to smash something. But I didn't pray yesterday about
tempers and stamping. It was pretty near a miracle that I asked for,
though I said I wasn't asking for miracles or--"

"All people who pray ask for miracles. Since the days when men feared
floods and famines and pestilence and evil spirits they have cried out
for protection and propitiated what to them were gods." The
Damanarkist spit upon the ground as if to spew contempt of pretense
and cupidity. "I've no patience with it. If there is a God, He knows
the cursed struggle life is with most of us; and if there isn't,
prayer is but a waste of time."

Carmencita lifted her eyes and for a moment looked in the dark, thin
face, embittered by the losing battle of life, as if she had not heard
aright, then she laughed softly.

"If I didn't know you, dear Mr. Damanarkist, I'd think you really
meant it--what you said. And you don't. I don't guess there's anybody
in all the world who doesn't pray sometimes. Something in you does it
by itself, and you can't keep it back. You just wait until you feel
all lost and lonely and afraid, or so glad you are ready to sing out
loud, then you'll do it--inside, if you don't speak out. If I prayed
harder to have more sense and not talk so much, and not say what I
think about people, and not hate my ugly clothes so, and despise the
smell of onions and cabbage and soap-suds, I might get more answers,
but you can't get answers just by praying. You've got to work like the
mischief, and be a regular policeman over yourself and nab the bad
things the minute they poke their heads out. If I'd prayed differently
yesterday I wouldn't have been looking for--for somebody all to-day,
and be a jumping-jack to-night for fear I won't find him. Did--did you
ever have a sweetheart, Mr. Damanarkist?" Before answer could be made
Mother McNeil's house was reached, and with steps that were leaps
Carmencita was at the door, and a moment later inside. Finding that
Miss Frances had returned, she called to Mr. Leimberg to come for her
on his way back from the station library where he was to get his book,
and breathlessly she ran to Miss Barbour's door and knocked violently
upon it.

To the "come in" she entered, eyes big and shining, and cheeks stung
into color by the bitter wind; and with a rush forward the hands of
her adored friend were caught and held with a tight and nervous grip.

"Miss Frances! Miss Frances!"

Two arms were flung around Miss Barbour's waist, and for a moment the
curly brown head was buried on her breast and words refused to come;
instead came breathing short and quick; then Carmencita looked up.

"What--oh, what is his name, Miss Frances? He was found and now is
lost, and I promised--I promised I'd get you for him!"

Frances Barbour lifted the excited little face and kissed it. "What's
the matter, Carmencita? You look as if you'd seen a ghost, and you're
talking as if--"

"I'm crazy--I'm not. And there isn't any time to lose. He said he
_must_ find you before Christmas. There isn't a soul to make Christmas
for him, and he hasn't anybody to buy things for, and he's as lonely
as a--a desert person, and he doesn't want any one but you. Oh, Miss
Frances, what is his name?"

Frances Barbour leaned back in the chair in which she had taken her
seat, and her face whitened. "What are you talking about, and who
is--"

"I'm talking about--Him." On her knees Carmencita crouched against her
friend's chair, and her long, slender fingers intertwined with those
which had suddenly grown nerveless. "I'm talking about your
sweetheart, Miss Frances. I found him for you, and then I lost him.
I'll tell you how it happened after I know all of his name and--If you
had seen his face when I told him I knew you and knew where you lived
you'd hurry, you'd--"

"If he wishes to see me, why doesn't he--I mean--" Sudden color surged
into the face turned from the child's eager eyes. "What are we talking
about, Carmencita? There is evidently some mistake."

"There is. An awful one. It's three years old. And we're talking about
the gentleman Father and I met yesterday and lost last night. You're
his sweetheart, and he wants you for Christmas and for ever after, and
he may be dead by to-morrow if he doesn't find you. He came to our
house, and I wrote you a note to come, too, and when you didn't do it
he looked as if he'd been hit in the face and couldn't breathe good,
and he stumbled down the steps like a blind man, and we'd forgot to
tell him our name, and he didn't know the number of our house, and--"
She paused for breath and brushed back the curls from her face. "I
know he's been looking all day. Where does he live, Miss Frances, and
what is his name?"

"If you will tell me of whom you are talking I will tell you whether
or not I know him. Until you do--"

"I told you I didn't remember any of his name but the Van part. Don't
you know the name of the person you love best on earth? It's his name
I want."

Frances Barbour got up and walked over to the bureau and opened its
top drawer. "You are asking questions that in any one else I would not
permit, Carmencita. I am sure you do not mean to be--"

"I don't mean anything but that I want to know all of Mr. Van's name,
and if you don't tell me you are not a Christian!"

With a change of expression Carmencita sprang to her feet and, hands
clasped behind her back, she stood erect, her eyes blazing with
indignation. "If you don't tell him where you are, don't let him come,
I'll think it's all just make-believe and put on, your coming and
doing for people you don't really and truly know, and doing nothing
for those you do, and letting the ones you love best be lonely and
miserable and having Christmas all by themselves when they're starving
hungry for you. What is his name?" Carmencita's voice was high and
shrill, and her foot was stamped vehemently. "What is his name?"

"Stephen Van Landing."

Face to face, Frances Barbour and Carmencita looked into each other's
eyes, then with a leap Carmencita was out of the room and down the
steps and at the telephone. With hands that trembled she turned the
pages of the book she was holding upside down, then with disgust at
her stupidity she righted it and ran her finger down the long line of
V's. Finding at last the name she wanted, she called the number, then
closed her eyes and prayed fervently, feverishly, and half-aloud the
words came jerkily:

"O God, please let him be home, and let him get down here quick before
Miss Frances goes out. She and Mother McNeil are going somewhere and
won't be back until eleven, and that would be too late for him to
come, and--Hello!" The receiver was jammed closer to her ear. "Is
that Mr. Van Landing's house? Is he home? He--he--isn't home!" The
words came in a little wail. "Oh, he must be home! Are you
sure--_sure_? Where can I get him? Where is he? You don't know--hasn't
been at the office all day and hasn't telephoned? He's looking--I mean
I guess he's, trying to find somebody. Who is this talking? It's--it's
a friend of his, and tell him the minute he comes in to call up Pelham
4293 and ask for Miss Frances Barbour, who wants to talk to him. And
listen. Tell him if she's out to come to 14 Custer Street, to Mother
McNeil's, and wait until she gets home. Write it down. Got it? Yes,
that's it. Welcome. Good-by."

The receiver was hung upon its hook, and for a moment Carmencita
stared at the wall; then her face sobered. The strain and tension of
the day gave way, and the high hopes of the night before went out as
at the snuffing of a candle. Presently she nodded into space.

"I stamped my foot at Miss Frances. _Stamped my foot_! And I got mad,
and was impertinent, and talked like a gutter girl to a sure-enough
lady. Talked like--"

Her teeth came down on her lips to stop their sudden quivering, and
the picture on the wall grew blurred and indistinct.

"There isn't any use in praying." Two big tears rolled down her cheeks
and fell upon her hands. "I might as well give up."



CHAPTER X


For a half-moment after Carmencita left the room Frances Barbour stood
in the middle of the floor and stared at the door, still open, then
went over and closed it. Coming back to the table at which she had
been writing, she sat down and took up her pen and made large circles
on the sheet of paper before her. Slowly the color in her face cooled
and left it white.

Carmencita was by nature cyclonic. Her buoyancy and bubbling spirits,
her enthusiasms and intensities, were well understood, but how could
she possibly know Stephen Van Landing? All day he had been strangely
on her mind, always he was in her heart, but thought of him was forced
to be subconscious, for none other was allowed. Of late, however,
crowd it back as she would, a haunting sense of his presence had been
with her, and under the busy and absorbed air with which she had gone
about the day's demands there had been sharp surge of unpermitted
memories of which she was impatient and ashamed.

Also there had been disquieting questions, questions to which she had
long refused to listen, and in the crush and crowd they had pursued
her, peered at her in unexpected places, and faced her in the quiet of
her room, and from them she was making effort to escape when
Carmencita burst in upon her. The latter was too excited, too full of
some new adventure, to talk clearly or coherently. Always Carmencita
was adventuring, but what could she mean by demanding to know the name
of her sweetheart, and by saying she had found him and then lost him?
And why had she, Frances Barbour, told her as obediently as if their
positions were reversed and she the child instead of Carmencita?

Elbow on the table and chin in the palm of her hand, she tapped the
desk-pad with her pen and made small dots in the large circles she had
drawn on the paper, and slowly she wrote a name upon it.

What could Stephen Van Landing be doing in this part of the town? He
was one of the city's successful men, but he did not know his city.
Disagreeable sights and sounds had by him been hitherto avoided, and
in this section they were chiefly what was found. Why should he have
come to it? That he was selfish and absorbed in his own affairs, that
he was conventional and tradition--trained, was as true to-day,
perhaps, as when she had told him so three years ago, but had they
taught him nothing, these three years that were past? Did he still
think, still believe--

With a restless movement she turned in her chair, and her hands
twisted in her lap. Was she not still as stubborn as of old, still as
proud and impatient of restraint where her sense of freedom and
independence of action were in question, still as self-willed? And was
it true, what Carmencita had said--was she giving herself to others
and refusing herself to the only one who had the right to claim her,
the royal right of love?

But how did she know he still needed her, wanted her? When she had
returned to her own city after long absence she had told of her
present place of residence to but few of her old friends. Her own
sorrow, her own sudden facing of the inevitable and unescapable, had
brought her sharply to a realization of how little she was doing with
the time that was hers, and she had been honest and sincere when she
had come to Mother McNeil's and asked to be shown the side of life she
had hitherto known but little--the sordid, sinful, struggling side in
which children especially had so small a chance. In these years of
absence he had made no sign. Even if it were true, what Carmencita had
said, that he--that is, a man named Van Something--was looking for
her, until he found her she could not tell him where she was.

She had not wished her friends to know. Settlements and society were
as oil and water, and for the present the work she had undertaken
needed all her time and thought. If only people knew, if only people
understood, the things that she now knew and had come to understand,
the inequalities and injustices of life would no longer sting and
darken and embitter as they stung and darkened and embittered now, and
if she and Stephen could work together--

He was living in the same place, his offices were in the same place,
and he worked relentlessly, she was told. Although he did not know she
was in the city, she knew much of him, knew of his practical
withdrawal from the old life, knew of a certain cynicism that was
becoming settled; and a thousand times she had blamed herself for the
unhappiness that was his as well as hers. She loved her work, would
always be glad that she had lived among the people who were so
singularly like those other people who thought themselves so
different, but if he still needed her, wanted her, was it not her
duty--

With an impatient movement of her hands she got up and went over to
the window. There was no duty about it. It was love that called him to
her. She should not have let Carmencita go without finding from her
how it happened that she had met Stephen Van Landing on Custer Street.
She must go to Carmencita and ask her. If he were really looking for
her they might spend Christmas together. The blood surged hotly to her
face, and the beating of her heart made her hands unsteady. If
together--

A noise behind made her turn. Hand on the door-knob, Carmencita was
standing in the hall, her head inside the room. All glow was gone, and
hope and excitement had yielded to dejection and despair.

"I just came to beg your pardon for--for stamping my foot, and I'm
sorry I said what I did." The big blue eyes looked down on the floor
and one foot twisted around the other. "It isn't any use to forgive
me. I'm not worth forgiving. I'm not worth--"

The door was slammed violently, and before Miss Barbour could reach
the hall Carmencita was down the steps and out into the street, where
the Damanarkist was waiting.



CHAPTER XI


Late into the night Stephen Van Landing kept up his hurried walking.
Again and again he had stopped and made inquiries of policemen, of
children, of men and women, but no one knew that of which he asked. A
blind man who played the harp, a child named Carmencita, a boy called
Noodles, a settlement house, he supposed, over which Mother Somebody
presided--these were all he had to go on. To ask concerning Miss
Barbour was impossible. He could not bring himself to call her name.
He would have to go to headquarters for help. To-morrow would be
Christmas eve. He _would not_ spend Christmas alone--or in the usual
way.

"Say, mister, don't you wish you was a boy again? Get out the way!"

With a push the boy swept by him, pulling on a self-constructed sleigh
a still smaller boy, and behind the two swarmed a bunch of yelling
youngsters who, as they passed, pelted him with snow. One of them
stopped to tie the string of his shoe, and, looking down, Van Landing
saw--Noodles.

With a swift movement he reached down to grab him, but, thinking it
was a cop, the boy was up and gone with a flash and in half a moment
was out of sight. As swiftly as the boy Van Landing ran down the
street and turned the corner he had seen the boy turn. His heart was
beating thickly, his breath came unevenly, and the snow was blinding,
but there was no thought of stopping. He bumped into a man coming
toward him, and two hats flew in the air and on the pavement, but he
went on. The hat did not matter, only Noodles mattered, and Noodles
could no longer be seen. Down the street, around first one corner and
then another, he kept on in fierce pursuit for some moments; then,
finding breathing difficult, he paused and leaned against the step
railing of a high porch, to better get his bearings. Disappointment
and fury were overmastering him. It was impossible and absurd to have
within one's grasp what one had been looking for all day and part of
two nights, and have it slip away like that.

"Come on. No use--that--" The policeman's voice was surly. "If you'll
walk quiet I won't ring up. If you don't you'll get a free ride. Come
on."

"Come on?" Van Landing put his hand to his head. His hat was gone. He
looked down at his feet. They were soaking wet. His overcoat was
glazed with a coating of fine particles of ice, and his hands were
trembling. He had eaten practically nothing since his lunch of
Tuesday, had walked many miles, and slept but a few hours after a
night of anxious searching, and suddenly he felt faint and sick.

"Come on?" he repeated. "Come where?"

"Where you belong." The policeman's grasp was steadying. "Hurry up. I
can't wait here all night."

"Neither can I." Van Landing took out his handkerchief and wiped his
face. "I wish you'd get my hat." The crowd was pressing closer. He was
losing time and must get away. Besides, he could not trust himself.
The man's manner was insolent, and he was afraid he would kick him.
Instead he slipped some money in his hand.

"Mistake, my friend. You'd have your trouble for nothing if you took
me in. There's no charge save running. I want to find a boy who
passed me just now. Name is Noodles. Know him?"

For a moment the cop hesitated. The man's voice, dress, manner, were
not the sort seen in this section, and the bill slipped in his hand
had a yellow tinge--still--

"I've dropped my hat. Get it, will you?" Van Landing threw some change
in the still gathering crowd, and as they scampered for it he turned
to the policeman, then caught hold of the railing. A hateful faintness
was coming over him again. On the edge of the crowd a girl with a
middle-aged woman had stopped, and the girl was making her way toward
him.

"What is it, Mr. Cronklin? Not one of our boys?" The clear voice
reached him as if at his side. He steadied himself, stared, and tried
to speak.

"Frances," he said, and held out his hands. "You've made me walk so
far, Frances, and Christmas is--"

In the snow his feet slipped. The cop was such a fool. He had never
fainted in his life.

Some one was standing near him. Who was it, and where was he? This
wasn't his room. On his elbow, he looked around. Nothing was
familiar. It must be a woman's room; he could see photographs and a
pin-cushion on the bureau, and flowers were growing on a table near
the window. The bed he was in was small and white. His was big and
brass. What had happened? Slowly it came to him, and he started to get
up, then fell back. The surge of blood receded, and again there was
giddiness. Had he lost her? Had she, too, slipped out of his hands
because of his confounded fall? It was a durned outrage that he should
have fallen. Who was that man with his back to the bed?

The man turned. "All right, are you? That's good!" His pulse was felt
with professional fingers, but in the doctor's voice was frank
interest. "You were pretty nearly frozen, man. It's well she saw you."

"Where is she?" Van Landing sat up. "Where are my clothes? I must get
up."

"I guess not." The doctor laughed, but his tone was as decisive as his
act. Van Landing was pushed back on the pillow and the covering pulled
up. "Do you mean Miss Barbour?"

"Yes. Where is Miss Barbour?"

The doctor wrote something on a slip of paper. "Down-stairs, waiting
to hear how you are. I'll go down and tell her. I'll see you in the
morning."

"Where am I? Whose house is this?"

"Your house at present." The doctor laughed again. "It's Mother
McNeil's house, but all who need it use it, and you needed it, all
right. You struck your head on the bottom step of the porch three
doors from here. Had it been an inch nearer the temple--Pretty bad
knock-out, as it was, but you'll be all right to-morrow. If you wake
up in a couple of hours take another one of these"--a pill was
obediently swallowed--"but you're to see no one until I see you again.
No talking."

"Sorry, but I must see Miss Barbour." In Van Landing's voice was sharp
fear. "Christmas isn't over yet? I haven't missed it, have I? Are you
sure she's in this house?"

"Sure. She's getting ready for to-morrow. To-morrow will be the
busiest day in the year. It's Christmas eve."

Van Landing slipped down in the bed and his face went deep in the
pillows. Reaction was on. A horrible fear that he was going to cry,
going to do some abominably childish thing, made him stuff the
covering in his mouth and press his feet hard against the foot of the
bed. He would _not_ be cheated out of Christmas! He had believed he
hated it, thought he wanted to be dead during it, and now if it were
over and nothing done--Presently he spoke.

"Will you ask Miss Barbour if I may speak to her in the
morning--before she goes out? My name is Van Landing--Stephen Van
Landing. I was a friend of hers once."

"One now." The doctor's voice was dryly emphatic. "Lucky she
recognized you. Rather startled her, finding an old friend so
unexpectedly." Over his spectacles his kind, shrewd eyes looked down
on the man in the bed. "I'll see her. Miss Barbour is an exceptional
woman, but she's a woman, which means when she knows you are all right
she may not have time to see you. At present she's outside your door.
That's her knock. Guess she's got the milk."

With breath held, Van Landing listened. Very low were the words
spoken, then the door was closed again. His heart was calling to her.
The long and empty years in which he had hoped against hope, and yet
could make no effort to find her, faded as mist fades before the light
that dawns and glows; and to say no word when she was near, to hold
hands still that longed to outstretch, to make no sign when he would
kneel for pardon at her feet--it was not to be endured. He would not
wait; the doctor must let her in!

But it was not the doctor who was at his bed. It was a short, plump
woman of more than middle age, with twinkling gray eyes and firm, kind
hands and a cheery voice.

"It's the milk, my son," she said, and the steaming glass was held to
his lips. "When you've had it you will sleep like a baby. It's warm,
are you--and the feet good and hot? Let me feel that water-bag? Bless
my soul if it's even lukewarm, and your feet still shivery! It's no
wonder, for they were ice itself when they brought you in."

With dexterous fingers the hot-water bag was withdrawn from the foot
of the bed and Mother McNeil was out of the room. Back again, she
slipped it close to his feet, tucked in the covering, patted the
pillows, and, lowering the light, turned to leave the room. At the
door she stopped.

"Is there anything you're needing, my son--anything I can do for you?"

For a moment there was silence, broken only by the ticking of a tiny
clock on the mantel, then Van Landing spoke.

"Yes." His voice was boyishly low. "Will you ask Miss Barbour if I may
see her to-morrow before she goes out? I _must_ see her."

"Of course I will. And you can tell her how it happened that you were
right near our door when you fell, and you didn't even know she was in
town. Very few of her up-town friends know. There wasn't time for both
up-town and down-town, and there were things she wanted to find out.
She tells me you are an old friend, and I'm glad you've come across
each other again. It pleases some folks to believe in chance, but I
get more comfort thinking God has His own way. Good night, Mr. Van
Landing. Good dreams--good dreams!"

The door was closed softly, and under the bedclothes Van Landing again
buried his face in the pillows, and his lips twitched. Chance--was it
chance or was it God? If only God would give him a chance!



CHAPTER XII


He was too tired, too utterly relaxed by warmth and medicine, to think
clearly. To-morrow he would find Carmencita, and she should get the
things the children wanted. They were very strange, the places and
people he had seen to-day. Of course he had known about such places
and people, read about them, heard about them, but seeing for one's
self was different. There were a lot of bummers among these people he
had passed; much of their misery was of their own making (he had made
much of his), but the wonder was they were no worse.

Bold, bad faces, cold, pinched, hungry ones, eager, earnest, pathetic
and joyous, worn and weary, burdened and care-free, they again passed
before him, misty and ill-defined, as though the snow still veiled and
made them hazy, and none of them he knew. He wished they would stop
passing. He was very tired. They, too, were tired. Would they for
ever be passing before him, these people, these little children, he
had seen to-day? If they would go away he could think more clearly,
could think of Frances. She was here, in the house with him. At first
it had seemed strange, but it wasn't strange. It would be strange if
she were not here when he needed her, wanted her so. To-morrow would
not be too late. One could do a good deal on Christmas eve. Everybody
had been busy except himself. He would telephone to-morrow and tell
Herrick to close the office and give Miss Davis holiday until after
New-Year.

But she had nowhere to go. He had heard her tell Herrick so, and
Herrick had nowhere to go, either. Both lived in boarding-houses, he
supposed. He had never thought to ask. Herrick was a faithful old
plodder--never would be anything else--but he couldn't get on without
him. He ought to raise his salary. Why didn't Herrick ask for more
money if he wanted it? And then he could get married. Why didn't he
get married, anyhow? Once or twice he had seen him talking to Miss
Davis about something that evidently wasn't business. She was a pretty
little thing and quick as lightning--just the opposite of old
Herrick. Wouldn't it be funny if they were in love; not, of course,
like--

They had nowhere to go Christmas. If Frances would let them they might
come here--no, not here, but at his home, their home. His home was
Frances's. It wouldn't be home for him if it weren't for her also. He
would ask her. And Carmencita and her blind father, they could come,
too. It would be horrible to have a Christmas dinner of sardines or
toasted cheese and crackers--or one in a boarding-house. Other people
might think it queer that he should have accidentally met Carmencita,
and that Carmencita should have mentioned the name of Miss Barbour,
and that he should have walked miles and miles--it must have been
thousands of miles--trying to find her, and, after all, did not find
her. She found him. But it wasn't queer. He had been looking for her
ever since--for three years he had been looking for her, and what one
looks for long enough one always finds. To-morrow--to-morrow--would
--be--Christmas eve.

He opened his eyes slowly. The sun was blinding, and he blinked.
Mother McNeil and the doctor were standing at the foot of the bed,
and as he rubbed his eyes they laughed.

"It's a merry Christmas you're to have, my son, after all, and it's
wanting to be up and after it you are, if I'm a judge of looks." And
Van Landing's hand, holding the coverlid close to his neck, was patted
understandingly by Mother McNeil. "Last night the doctor was a bit
worried about your head--you took your time in coming to--but I didn't
believe it was as bad as he feared, and it's well it wasn't, for it's
a grand day in which to be living, and you'll need your head. Is it
coffee or tea, now, that you like best for breakfast? And an egg and a
bit of toast, doctor, I think will taste well. I'll get them." And
without answer Mother McNeil was gone.

The doctor sat down, felt his patient's pulse, took his temperature,
investigated the cut on the forehead, then got up. "You're all right."
His tone was one of gruff relief. "One inch nearer your temple,
however--You can get up if you wish. Good day." And he, too, was gone
before Van Landing could ask a question or say a word of thanks.

It was bewildering, perplexing, embarrassing, and for a moment he
hesitated. Then he got up. He was absurdly shaky, but his head was
clear, and in his heart humility that was new and sweet. The day was
great, and the sun was shining as on yesterday one would not have
dreamed it could ever shine again. Going over to the door, he locked
it and hurriedly began to dress. His clothes had a rough, dry
appearance that made them hardly recognizable, and to get on his
shoes, which evidently had been dried near the furnace, was difficult.
In the small mirror over the bureau, as he tied his cravat, his face
reflected varying emotions: disgust at his soiled collar, relief that
he was up again, and gratitude that made a certain cynicism, of late
becoming too well defined, fade into quiet purpose.

Unlocking the door, he went back to the window and looked across at
the long row of houses, as alike as shriveled peas in a dry pod, and
down on the snow-covered streets. Brilliantly the sun touched here and
there a bit of cornice below a dazzling gleaming roof, and threw rays
of rainbow light on window-pane and iron rail, outlined or hidden
under frozen foam; and the dirt and ugliness of the usual day were
lost in the white hush of mystery.

Not for long would there be transforming effect of the storm,
however. Already the snow was being shoveled from door-steps and
sidewalks, and the laughter of the boys as they worked, the scraping
of their shovels, the rumble of wagon-wheels, which were making deep
brown ruts in the middle of the street, reached him with the muffled
sound of something far away, and, watching, he missed no detail of
what was going on below.

"Goodness gracious! I've almost cried myself to death! And she found
you--found you!"

Van Landing turned sharply. The door was open, though he had not heard
the knock, and with a spring Carmencita was beside him, holding his
hands and dancing as if demented with a joy no longer to be held in
restraint.

"Oh, Mr. Van, I've almost died for fear I wouldn't find you in time!
And you're here at Mother McNeil's, and all yesterday I looked and
looked, and I couldn't remember your last name, and neither could
Father. And Miss Frances was away until night, and I never prayed so
hard and looked so hard in my life! Oh, Mr. Van, if you are a
stranger, I love you, and I'm so glad you're found!"

She stopped for breath, and Van Landing, stooping, lifted Carmencita's
face and kissed it.

"You are my dear friend, Carmencita." His voice, as his hands, was a
bit shaky. "I, too, am very glad--and grateful. Will you ask her to
come, ask her to let me see her? I cannot wait any longer."

"You'll have to." Carmencita's eyes were big and blue in sudden
seriousness. "The Little Big Sisters have their tree to-night, and
she's got a million trillion things to do to-day, and she's gone out.
She's awful glad you're better, though. I asked her, and she said she
was. And I asked her why she didn't marry you right straight away, or
to-morrow if she didn't have time to-day, and--"

"You did what, Carmencita?"

"That. I asked her that. What's the use of wasting time? I told her
you'd like a wife for a Christmas gift very much, if she was the wife.
Wouldn't you? Wouldn't you really and truly rather have her than
anything else?"

Van Landing turned and looked out of the window. The child's eyes and
earnest, eager face could not be met in the surge of hot blood which
swept over him, and his throat grew tight. All his theories and ideas
were becoming but confused upheaval in the manipulations of fate, or
what you will, that were bringing strange things to pass, and he no
longer could think clearly or feel calmly. He must get away before he
saw Frances.

"Wouldn't you, Mr. Van?"

In the voice beside him was shy entreaty and appeal, and, hands
clasped behind her, Carmencita waited.

"I would." Van Landing made effort to smile, but in his eyes was no
smiling. Into them had come sudden purpose. "I shall ask her to marry
me to-morrow."

Arms extended to the limit of their length, Carmencita whirled round
and round the room, then, breathless, stopped and, taking Van
Landing's hand, lifted it to her lips.

"I kiss your hand, my lord, and bring you greetings from your faithful
subjects! I read that in a book. I'll be the subject. Isn't it grand
and magnificent and glorious?" She stopped. "She hasn't any new
clothes. A lady can't get married without new clothes, can she? And
she won't have time to get any on Christmas eve. Whether she'll do it
or not, you'll have to make her, Mr. Van, or you'll lose her again.
You've--got--to--just--make--her!"

Carmencita's long slender forefinger made a jab in Van Landing's
direction, and her head nodded with each word uttered. But before he
could answer, Mother McNeil, with breakfast on a tray, was in the room
and Carmencita was out.

Sitting down beside him, as he asked her to do, Van Landing told her
how it happened he was there, told her who he was. Miss Barbour was
under her care. She had once been his promised wife. He was trying to
find her when he fell, or fainted, or whatever it was, that he might
ask her again to marry him. Would she help him?

In puzzled uncertainty Mother McNeil had listened, fine little folds
wrinkling her usually smooth forehead, and her keen eyes searching the
face before her; then she got up.

"I might have known it would end like this. Well, why not?" Hands on
her hips, she smiled in the flushed face looking into hers. Van
Landing had risen, and his hands, holding the back of his chair,
twitched badly. "The way of love is the way of life. If she will marry
you--God bless you, I will say. It's women like Frances the work we're
in is needing. But it's women like her that men need, too. She's out,
but she asked me to wish you a very happy Christmas."



CHAPTER XIII


"A very happy Christmas!" Van Landing smiled. "How can I have it
without--When can I see her, Mother McNeil?"

At the open door Mother McNeil turned. "She has some shopping to do.
Yesterday two more families were turned over to us. Sometimes she gets
lunch at the Green Tea-pot on Samoset Street. She will be home at
four. The children come at eight, and the tree is to be dressed before
they get here." A noise made her look around. "Carmencita,--you are
out of breath, child! It's never you will learn to walk, I'm fearing!"

Carmencita, who had run down the hall as one pursued, stopped, pulled
up her stocking, and made effort to fasten it to its supporter.
"Christmas in my legs," she said. "Can't expect feet to walk on
Christmas eve. I've got to tell him something, Mother McNeil. Will
you excuse me, please, if I tell him by himself?"

Coming inside the room, Carmencita pulled Van Landing close to her and
closed the door, and for half a minute paused for breath.

"It was Her. It was Miss Barbour at the telephone, and she says I must
meet her at the Green Tea-pot at two o'clock and have lunch with her
and tell her about the Barlow babies and old Miss Parker and some
others who don't go to Charities for their Christmas--and she says I
can help buy the things. Glory! I'm glad I'm living!" She stopped. "I
didn't tell her a word about you, but--Have you got a watch?"

Van Landing looked at his watch, then put it back. "I have a watch,
but no hat. I lost my hat last night chasing Noodles. It's nine
o'clock. I'm going to the Green Tea-pot at two to take lunch also.
Want to go with me?"

"I'm not going with you. You are going with me." Carmencita made
effort to look tall. "That's what I came to tell you. And you can ask
her there. I won't listen. I won't even look, and--"

Van Landing took up his overcoat, hesitated, and then put it on. "I've
never had a sure-enough Christmas, Carmencita. Why can't I get those
things for the kiddies you spoke of, and save Miss Barbour the
trouble? She has so much to do, it isn't fair to put more on her.
Then, too--"

"You can have her by yourself after we eat, can't you? Where can you
go?"

"I haven't thought yet. Where do you suppose? She ought to rest."

"Rest!" Carmencita's voice was shrilly scornful. "Rest--on Christmas
eve. Besides, there isn't a spot to do it in. Every one has bundles in
it." Hands clasped, her forehead puckered in fine folds, then she
looked up. "Is--is it a nice house you live in? It's all right, isn't
it?"

"It is considered so. Why?"

"Because what's the use of waiting until to-morrow to get married? If
she'll have you you all could stop in that little church near the
Green Tea-pot and the man could marry you, and then she could go on up
to your house and rest while you finished your Christmas things, and
then you could go for her and bring her down here to help fix the
Christmas tree, and to-morrow you could have Christmas at home.
Wouldn't it be grand?" Carmencita was on tiptoe, and again her arms
were flung in the air. Poised as if for flight, her eyes were on the
ceiling. Her voice changed. "The roof of this house leaks. It ought to
be fixed."

Van Landing opened the door. "Your plan is an excellent one,
Carmencita. I like it immensely, but there's a chance that Miss
Barbour may not agree. Women have ways of their own in matters of
marriage. I do not even know that she will marry me at all."

"Then she's got mighty little sense, which isn't so, for she's got a
lot. She knows what she wants, all right, and if she likes you she
likes you, and if she don't, she don't, and she don't make out she
does. Did--did you fuss?"

"We didn't fuss." Van Landing smiled slightly. "We didn't agree about
certain things."

"Good gracious! You don't want to marry an agree-er, do you? Mrs.
Barlow's one. Everything her husband thinks, she thinks, too, and
sometimes he can't stand her another minute. Where are you going now?"

"I'm going to telephone for a taxi-cab. Then I'm going home to change
my clothes and get a hat, and then I'm going to my office to look
after some matters there; then I'm going with you to do some
shopping, and then I'm going to the Green Tea-pot to meet Miss
Barbour. If you could go with me now it would save time. Can you go?"

"If I can tell Father first. Wait for me, will you?"

Around the corner Carmencita flew, and was back as the taxi-cab
stopped at Mother McNeil's door. Getting in, she sat upright and shut
her eyes. Van Landing was saying good-by and expressing proper
appreciation and mentally making notes of other forms of expression to
be made later; and as she waited her breath came in long, delicious
gasps through her half-parted lips. Presently she stooped over and
pinched her legs.

"My legs," she said, "same ones. And my cheeks and my hair"--the
latter was pulled with vigor--"and my feet and my hands--all me, and
in a taxi-cab going Christmas shopping and maybe to a marriage, and I
didn't know he was living last week! Father says I mustn't speak to
people I don't know, but how can you know them if you don't speak? I
was born lucky, and I'm so glad I'm living that if I was a rooster I'd
crow. Oh, Mr. Van, are you ready?"

The next few hours to Carmencita were the coming true of dreams that
had long been denied, and from one thrill to another she passed in a
delicious ecstasy which made pinching of some part of her body
continually necessary. While Van Landing dressed she waited in his
library, wandering in wide-eyed awe and on tiptoe from one part of the
room to the other, touching here and there with the tips of her
fingers a book or picture or piece of furniture, and presently in
front of a footstool she knelt down and closed her eyes.

Quickly, however, she opened them and, with head on the side, looked
around and listened. This wasn't a time to be seen. The silence
assuring, she again shut her eyes very tight and the palms of her
hands, uplifted, were pressed together.

"Please, dear God, I just want to thank you," she began. "It's awful
sudden and unexpected having a day like this, and I don't guess
to-morrow will be much, not a turkey Christmas or anything like that,
but to-day is grand. I'd say more, but some one is coming. Amen." And
with a scramble she was on her feet, the stool behind her, as Van
Landing came in the room.

The ride to the office through crowded streets was breathlessly
thrilling, and during it Carmencita did not speak. At the window of
the taxi she pressed her face so closely that the glass had
continually to be wiped lest the cloud made by her breath prevent her
seeing clearly; and, watching her, Van Landing smiled. What an odd,
elfish, wistful little face it was--keen, alert, intelligent, it
reflected every emotion that filled her, and her emotions were many.
In her long, ill-fitting coat and straw hat, in the worn shoes and
darned gloves, she was a study that puzzled and perplexed, and at
thought of her future he frowned. What became of them--these children
with little chance? Was it to try and learn and help that Frances was
living in their midst?

In his office Herrick and Miss Davis were waiting. Work had been
pretty well cleared up, and there was little to be done, and as Van
Landing saw them the memory of his half-waking, half-dreaming thought
concerning them came to him, and furtively he looked from one to the
other.

In a chair near the window, hands in her lap and feet on the rounds,
Carmencita waited, her eyes missing no detail of the scene about her,
and at Miss Davis, who came over to talk to her, she looked with
frank admiration. For a moment there was hesitating uncertainty in Van
Landing's face; then he turned to Herrick.

"Come into the next room, will you, Herrick? I want to speak to you a
minute."

What he was going to say he did not know. Herrick was such a steady
old chap, from him radiated such uncomplaining patience, about him was
such aloofness concerning his private affairs, that to speak to him on
personal matters was difficult. He handed him cigars and lighted one
himself.

"I'm going to close the office, Herrick, until after New-Year," he
began. "I thought perhaps you might like to go away."

"I would." Herrick, whose cigar was unlighted, smiled slightly. "But I
don't think I'll go."

"Why not?"

Herrick hesitated, and his face flushed. He was nearing forty, and his
hair was already slightly gray. "There are several reasons," he said,
quietly. "Until I am able to be married I do not care to go away. She
would be alone, and Christmas alone--"

"Is--is it Miss Davis, Herrick?" Van Landing's voice was strangely
shy; then he held out his hand. "You're a lucky man, Herrick. I
congratulate you. Why didn't you tell me before; and if you want to
get married, why not? What's the use of waiting? The trip's on me.
Christmas alone--I forgot to say I've intended for some time to raise
your salary. You deserve it, and it was thoughtlessness that made me
put it off." He sat down at his desk and took his check-book out of a
spring-locked drawer and wrote hastily upon it. "That may help to
start things, Herrick, and if there's any other way--"

In Herrick's astonished face the blood pumped deep and red, and as he
took the check Van Landing put in his hands his fingers twitched
nervously. It was beyond belief that Van Landing should have
guessed--and the check! It would mean the furnishing of the little
flat they had looked at yesterday and hoped would stay unrented for a
few months longer; meant a trip, and a little put aside to add to
their slow savings. Now that his sister was married and his brother
out of school, he could save more, but with this--He tried to speak,
then turned away and walked over to the window.

"Call her in, Herrick, and let's have it settled. Why not get the
license to-day and be married to-morrow? Oh, Miss Davis!" He opened
the door and beckoned to his stenographer, who was showing Carmencita
her typewriter. "Come in, will you? Never mind. We'll come in there."



CHAPTER XIV


Miss Davis, who had risen, stood with one hand on her desk; the other
went to her lips. Something was the matter. What was it?

"I hope you won't mind Carmencita knowing." Van Landing drew the child
to him. "She is an admirable arranger and will like to help, I'm sure.
Miss Davis and Mr. Herrick are going to be married to-morrow,
Carmencita, and spend their holiday--wherever they choose. Why, Miss
Davis--why, you've never done like this before!"

Miss Davis was again in her chair, and, with arms on her desk and face
buried in them, her shoulders were making little twitchy movements.
She was trying desperately hard to keep back something that mustn't be
heard, and in a flash Carmencita was on her knees beside her.

"Oh, Miss Davis, I don't know you much, but I'm so glad, and of course
it's awful exciting to get married without knowing you're going to do
it; but you mustn't cry, Miss Davis--you mustn't, really!"

"I'm not crying." Head up, the pretty brown eyes, wet and shining,
looked first at Herrick and then at Van Landing, and a handkerchief
wiped two quivering lips. "I'm not crying, only--only it's so sudden,
and to-morrow is Christmas, and a boarding-house Christmas--" Again
the flushed face was buried in her arms and tears came hot and
fast--happy, blinding tears.

Moving chairs around that were not in the way, going to the window and
back again, locking up what did not require locking, putting on his
hat and taking it off without knowing what he was doing, Van Landing,
nevertheless, managed in an incredibly short time to accomplish a good
many things and to make practical arrangements. Herrick and Miss Davis
were to come to his apartment at one o'clock to-morrow and bring the
minister. They would be married at once and have dinner immediately
after with him--and with a friend or two, perhaps. Carmencita and her
father would also be there, and they could leave for a trip as soon as
they wished. They must hurry; there was no time to lose--not a
minute.

With a few words to the office-boy, the elevator-boy, the janitor, and
additional remembrances left with the latter for the charwoman, the
watchman, and several others not around, they were out in the street
and Carmencita again helped in the cab.

For a moment there was dazed silence, then she turned to Van Landing.
"Would you mind sticking this in me?" she asked, and handed him a bent
pin. "Is--is it really sure-enough what we've been doing, or am I
making up. Stick hard, please--real hard."

Van Landing laughed. "No need for the pin." He threw it away. "You're
awake, all right. I've been asleep a long time, and you--have waked
me, Carmencita."

For two delicious hours the child led and Van Landing followed. In and
out of stores they went with quickness and decision, and soon on the
seat and on the floor of the cab boxes and bundles of many shapes and
sizes were piled, and then Carmencita said there should be nothing
else.

"It's awful wickedness, Mr. Van, to spend so much." Her head nodded
vigorously. "The children will go crazy, and so will their mothers,
and they'll pop open if they eat some of all the things you've bought
for them, and we mustn't get another one. It's been grand, but--You're
not drunk, are you, Mr. Van, and don't know what you're doing?"

Her voice trailed off anxiously, and in her eyes came sudden, sober
fear.

Again Van Landing laughed. "I think perhaps I am drunk, but not in the
way you mean, Carmencita. It's a matter of spirits, however. Something
has gone to my head, or perhaps it's my heart. But I know very well
what I'm doing. There's one thing more. I forgot to tell you. I have a
little friend who has done a good deal for me. I want to get her a
present or two--some clothes and things that girls like. Your size, I
think, would fit her. I'd like--"

"Is she rich or poor?"

Van Landing hesitated. "She is rich. She has a wonderful imagination
and can see all sorts of things that others don't see, and her friends
are--"

"Kings and queens, and fairies and imps, and ghosts and devils. I
know. I've had friends like that. Does she like pink or blue?"

"I think she likes--blue." Again Van Landing hesitated. Silks and
satins might be Carmencita's choice. Silks and satins would not do. "I
don't mean she has money, and I believe she'd rather have practical
things."

"No, she wouldn't! Girls hate practical things." The long, loose,
shabby coat was touched lightly. "This is practical. Couldn't she have
one pair of shiny slippers, just one, with buckles on them? Maybe
she's as Cinderellary as I am. I'd rather stick my foot out with a
diamond-buckle slipper on it than eat. I do when my princess friends
call, and they always say: 'Oh, Carmencita, what a charming foot you
have!' And that's it. _That_!" And Carmencita's foot with it's coarse
and half-worn shoe was held out at full length. "But we've got to
hurry, or we won't be at the Green Tea-pot by two o'clock. Come on."

With amazing discrimination Carmencita made her purchases, and only
once or twice did she overstep the limitations of practicality and
insist upon a present that could be of little use to its recipient.
For the giving of joy the selection of a pair of shining slippers, a
blue satin sash, and a string of amber beads were eminently suitable,
however, and, watching, Van Landing saw her eyes gleam over the
precious possessions she was supposedly buying for some one else, a
child of her own age, and he made no objection to the selections made.

"Even if she don't wear them she will have them." And Carmencita drew
a long, deep sigh of satisfaction. "It's so nice to know you have got
something you can peep at every now and then. It's like eating when
you're hungry. Oh, I do hope she'll like them! Is it two, Mr. Van?"

It was ten minutes to two, and, putting Carmencita into the
bundle-packed cab, Van Landing ordered the latter to the Green
Tea-pot, then, getting in, leaned back, took off his hat, and wiped
his forehead. Tension seemed suddenly to relax and his heart for a
moment beat thickly; then with a jerk he sat upright. Carmencita was
again absorbed in watching the crowds upon the streets, and, when the
cab stopped, jumped as if awakened from a dream.

"Are we here already? Oh, my goodness! There she is!"

Miss Barbour was going in the doorway, and as Van Landing saw the
straight, slender figure, caught the turn of the head, held in the way
that was hers alone, the years that were gone slipped out of memory
and she was his again. His--With a swift movement he was out of the
cab and on the street and about to follow her when Carmencita touched
him on the arm.

"Let me go first. She doesn't know you're coming. We'll get a table
near the door."

The crowd separated them, but through it Carmencita wriggled her way
quickly and disappeared. Waiting, Van Landing saw her rush up to Miss
Barbour, then slip in a chair at a table whose occupants were leaving,
and motion Frances to do the same. As the tired little waitress, after
taking off the soiled cloth and putting on a fresh one, went away for
necessary equipment Van Landing opened the door and walked in and to
the table and held out his hand.

"You would not let me thank you this morning. May I thank you now
for--"

[Illustration: "YOU WOULD NOT LET ME THANK YOU THIS MORNING. MAY I
THANK YOU NOW FOR--"]

"Finding him?" Carmencita leaned halfway over the table, and her big
blue eyes looked anxiously at first one and then the other. "He was
looking for you, Miss Frances; he'd been looking all day and all night
because he'd just heard you were somewhere down here, and he's come to
have lunch with us, and--Oh, it's Christmas, Miss Frances, and please
tell him--say something, do something! He's been waiting three
years, and he can't wait another minute. Gracious! that smells good!"

The savory dish that passed caused a turn in Carmencita's head, and
Frances Barbour, looking into the eyes that were looking into hers,
held out her hand. At sight of Van Landing her face had colored
richly, then the color had left it, leaving it white, and in her eyes
was that he had never seen before.

"There is nothing for which to thank me." Her voice with its freshness
and sweetness stirred as of old, but it was low. She smiled slightly.
"I am very glad you are all right this morning. I did not know you
knew our part of the town." Her hand was laid on Carmencita's.

"I didn't until I met your little friend. I had never been in it
before. I know it now very well."

"And he was so fighting mad because he couldn't see you when I sent
the note that he went out, not knowing where he was or how to get
back, and when his senses came on again and he tried to find out he
couldn't find, and he walked 'most all night and was lost like people
in a desert who go round and round. And the next day he walked all
day long and 'most froze, and he'd passed Mother McNeil's house a
dozen times and didn't know it; and he was chasing Noodles and just
leaning against that railing when the cop came and you came. Oh, Miss
Frances, it's Christmas! Won't you please make up and--When are we
going to eat?"

Miss Barbour's hand closed over Carmencita's twisting ones, and into
her face again sprang color; then she laughed. "We are very hungry,
Mr. Van Landing. Would you mind sitting down so we can have lunch?"

An hour later Carmencita leaned back in her chair, hands in her lap
and eyes closed. Presently one hand went out. "Don't ask me anything
for a minute, will you? I've got to think about something. When you're
ready to go let me know."

Through the meal Carmencita's flow of words and flow of spirits had
saved the silences that fell, in spite of effort, between Van Landing
and Miss Barbour, and under the quiet poise so characteristic of her
he had seen her breath come unsteadily. Could he make her care for him
again? With eyes no longer guarded he looked at her, leaned forward.

"From here," he said, "where are you going?"

"Home. I mean to Mother McNeil's. Carmencita says you and she have
done my shopping." She smiled slightly and lifted a glass of water to
her lips. "The tree is to be dressed this afternoon, and to-night the
children come."

"And I--when can I come?"

"You?" She glanced at Carmencita, who was now sitting with her chin on
the back of her chair, arms clasping the latter, watching the strange
and fascinating scene of people ordering what they wanted to eat and
eating as much of it as they wanted. "I don't know. I am very busy.
After Christmas, perhaps."

"You mean for me there is to be no Christmas? Am I to be for ever kept
outside, Frances?"

"Outside?" She looked up and away. "I have no home. We are
both--outside. To have no home at Christmas is--" Quickly she got up.
"We must go. It is getting late, and there is much to do."

For one swift moment she let his eyes hold hers, and in his burned all
the hunger of the years of loss; then, taking up her muff, she went
toward the door. On the street she hesitated, then held out her hand.
"Good-by, Mr. Van Landing. I hope you will have a happy Christmas."

"Do you?" Van Landing opened the cab door. "Get in, please. I will
come in another cab." Stooping, he pushed aside some boxes and bundles
and made room for Carmencita. "I'll be around at four to help dress
the tree. Wait until I come." He nodded to the cabman; then, lifting
his hat, he closed the door with a click and, turning, walked away.

"Carmencita! oh, Carmencita!" Into the child's eyes the beautiful ones
of her friend looked with sudden appeal, and the usually steady hands
held those of Carmencita with frightened force. "What have you done?
What have you done?"

"Done?" Carmencita's fingers twisted into those of her beloved, and
her laugh was joyous. "Done! Not much yet. I've just begun. Did--did
you know you were to have a grand Christmas present, Miss Frances? You
are. It's--it's alive!"



CHAPTER XV


The time intervening before his return to help with the tree was spent
by Van Landing in a certain establishment where jewels were kept and
in telephoning Peterkin; and the orders to Peterkin were many. At four
o'clock he was back at Mother McNeil's.

In the double parlor of the old-fashioned house, once the home of
wealth and power, the tree was already in place, and around it, in
crowded confusion, were boxes and barrels, and bundles and toys, and
clothes and shoes, and articles of unknown name and purpose, and for a
moment he hesitated. Hands in his pockets, he looked first at Mother
McNeil and then at a little lame boy on the floor beside an open
trunk, out of which he was taking gaily-colored ornaments and
untangling yards of tinsel; and then he looked at Frances, who, with a
big apron over her black dress, with its soft white collar open at the
throat, was holding a pile of empty stockings in her hands.

"You are just in time, my son." Mother McNeil beamed warmly at the
uninvited visitor. "When a man can be of service, it's let him serve,
I say, and if you will get that step-ladder over there and fix this
angel on the top of the tree it will save time. Jenkins has gone for
more tinsel and more bread. We didn't intend at first to have
sandwiches and chocolate--just candy and nuts and things like
that--but it's so cold and snowy Frances thought something good and
hot would taste well. You can slice the bread, Mr. Van Landing. Four
sandwiches apiece for the boys and three for the girls are what we
allow." She looked around. "Hand him that angel, Frances, and show him
where to put it. I've got to see about the cakes."

Never having fastened an angel to the top of a tree, for a half-moment
Van Landing was uncertain how to go about it, fearing exposure of
ignorance and awkwardness; then with a quick movement he was up the
ladder and looking down at the girl who was handing him a huge paper
doll dressed in the garments supposedly worn by the dwellers of
mansions in the sky, and as he took it he laughed.

"This is a very worldly-looking angel. She apparently enjoys the
blowing of her trumpet. Stand off, will you, and see if that's right?"
Van Landing fastened the doll firmly to the top of the tree. "Does she
show well down there?"

It was perfectly natural that he should be here and helping. True, he
had never heard of Mother McNeil and her home until two nights before,
never had dressed a Christmas tree before, or before gone where he was
not asked, but things of that sort no longer mattered. What mattered
was that he had found Frances, that it was the Christmas season, and
he was at last learning the secret of its hold on human hearts and
sympathies. There was no time to talk, but as he looked he watched,
with eyes that missed no movement that she made, the fine, fair face
that to him was like no other on earth, and, watching, he wondered if
she, too, wondered at the naturalness of it all.

The years that had passed since he had seen her had left their
imprint. She had known great sorrow, also she had traveled much, and,
though about her were the grace and courage of old, there was
something else, something of nameless and compelling appeal, and he
knew that she, too, knew the loneliness of life.

Quickly they worked, and greater and greater grew the confusion of
the continually appearing boxes and bundles, and, knee-deep, Mother
McNeil surveyed them, hands on her hips, and once or twice she brushed
her eyes.

"It's always the way, my son. If you trust people they will not fail
you. When we learn how to understand there will be less hate and more
help in the world. Jenkins, bring that barrel of apples and box of
oranges over here and get a knife for Mr. Van Landing to cut the bread
for the sandwiches. It's time to make them. Matilda, call Abraham in.
He can slice the ham and cheese. There must be plenty. Boys are
hollow. Frances, have you seen my scissors?"

Out of what seemed hopeless confusion and chaotic jumbling, out of
excited coming and going, and unanswered questions, and slamming of
doors, and hurried searchings, order at last evolved, and, feeling
very much as if he'd been in a football match, Van Landing surveyed
the rooms with a sense of personal pride in their completeness. Around
the tree, placed between the two front windows, were piled countless
packages, each marked, and from the mantelpiece hung a row of bulging
stockings, reinforced by huge mounds of the same on the floor,
guarded already by old Fetch-It. Holly and cedar gave color and
fragrance, and at the uncurtained windows wreaths, hung by crimson
ribbons, sent a welcome to the waiting crowd outside.

If he were not here he would be alone, with nothing to do. And
Christmas eve alone! He drew in his breath and looked at Frances. In
her face was warm, rich color, and her eyes were gay and bright, but
she was tired. She would deny it if asked. He did not have to ask. If
only he could take her away and let her rest!

She was going up-stairs to change her dress. Half-way up the steps he
called her, and, leaning against the rail of the banisters, he looked
up at her.

"When you come down I must see you, Frances--and alone. I shall wait
here for you."

"I cannot see you alone. There will be no time."

"Then we must make time. I tell you I must see you." Something in her
eyes made him hesitate. He must try another way. "Listen, Frances. I
want you to do me a favor. There's a young girl in my office, my
stenographer, who is to be married to-morrow to my head clerk. She is
from a little town very far from here and has no relatives, no
intimate friends near enough to go to. She lives in a boarding-house,
and she can't afford to go home to be married. I have asked Herrick to
bring her to my apartment to-morrow and marry her there. I would like
her to have--Carmencita and her father are coming, and I want you to
come, too. It would make things nicer for her. Will you come--you and
Mother McNeil?"

Over the banisters the beautiful eyes looked down into Van Landing's.
Out of them had gone guarding. In them was that which sent the blood
in hot surge through his heart. "I would love to come, but I am going
out of town to-morrow--going--"

"Home?" In Van Landing's voice was unconcealed dismay. The glow of
Christmas, new and warm and sweet, died sharply, leaving him cold and
full of fear. "Are you going home?"

She shook her head. "I have no home. That is why I am going away
to-morrow. Mother McNeil will have her family here, and I'd be--I'd be
an outsider. It's everybody's home day--and when you haven't a home--"

She turned and went a few steps farther on to where the stairs
curved, then suddenly she sat down and crumpled up and turned her face
to the wall. With leaps that took the steps two at a time Van Landing
was beside her.

"Frances!" he said, "Frances!" and in his arms he held her close.
"You've found out, too! Thank God, you've found out, too!"

Below, a door opened and some one was in the hall. Quickly Frances was
on her feet. "You must not, must not, Stephen--not here!"

"Goodness gracious! they've done made up."

At the foot of the steps Carmencita, as if paralyzed with delight,
stood for a moment, then, shutting tight her eyes, ran back whence she
came; at the door she stopped.

"Carmencita! Carmencita!" It was Van Landing's voice. She turned her
head. "Come here, Carmencita. I have something to tell you."

Eyes awed and shining, Carmencita came slowly up the steps. Reaching
them, with a spring she threw her arms around her dear friend's neck
and kissed her lips again and again and again, then held out her hands
to the man beside her. "Is--is it to be to-morrow, Mr. Van?"

"It is to be to-morrow, Carmencita."

For a half-moment there was quivering silence; then Van Landing spoke
again. "There are some things I must attend to to-night. Early
to-morrow I will come for you, Frances, and in Dr. Pierson's church we
will be married. Herrick and Miss Davis are coming at one o'clock, and
my--wife must be there to receive them. And you, too, Carmencita--you
and your father. We are going to have--" Van Landing's voice was
unsteady. "We are going to have Christmas at home, Frances. Christmas
at home!"



CHAPTER XVI


Lifting herself on her elbow, Carmencita listened. There was no sound
save the ticking of the little clock on the mantel. For a moment she
waited, then with a swift movement of her hand threw back the covering
on the cot, slipped from it, and stood, barefooted, in her nightgown,
in the middle of the floor. Head on the side, one hand to her mouth,
the other outstretched as if for silence from some one unseen, she
raised herself on tiptoe and softly, lightly, crossed the room to the
door opening into the smaller room wherein her father slept. Hand on
the knob, she listened, and, the soft breathing assuring her he was
asleep, she closed the door, gave a deep sigh of satisfaction, and
hurried back to the cot, close to which she sat down, put on her
stockings, and tied on her feet a pair of worn woolen slippers, once
the property of her prudent and practical friend, Miss Cattie Burns.
Slipping on her big coat over her gown, she tiptoed to the mantel,
lighted the candle upon it, and looked at the clock.

"Half past twelve," she said, "and Father's stocking not filled yet!"

As she got down from the chair on which she had stood to see the hour
her foot caught in the ripped hem of her coat. She tripped, and would
have fallen had she not steadied herself against the table close to
the stove, and as she did so she laughed under her breath.

"Really this kimono is much too long." She looked down on the loosened
hem. "And I oughtn't to wear my best accordion-pleated pale-blue crepe
de Chine and shadow lace when I am so busy. But dark-gray things are
so unbecoming, and, besides, I may have a good deal of company
to-night. The King of Love and the Queen of Hearts may drop in, and I
wouldn't have time to change. Miss Lucrecia Beck says I'm going to
write a book when I'm big, I'm so fond of making up and of
love-things. She don't know I've written one already. If he hadn't
happened to be standing on that corner looking so--so--I don't know
what, exactly, but so something I couldn't help running down and
asking him to come up--I never would have had the day I've had to-day
and am going to have to-morrow."

Stooping, she pinned the hem of her coat carefully, then, stretching
out her arms, stood on her tiptoes and spun noiselessly round and
round. "Can't help it!" she said, as if to some one who objected. "I'm
so glad I'm living, so glad I spoke to him, and know him, that I'm
bound to let it out. Father says I mustn't speak to strangers; but I'd
have to be dead not to talk, and I didn't think about his being a man.
He looked so lonely."

With quick movements a big gingham apron was tied over the bulky coat,
and, putting the candle on the table in the middle of the room,
Carmencita began to move swiftly from cot to cupboard, from chairs to
book-shelves, and from behind and under each bundles and boxes of
varying sizes were brought forth and arrayed in rows on the little
table near the stove. As the pile grew bigger so did her eyes, and in
her cheeks, usually without color, two spots burned deep and red.
Presently she stood off and surveyed her work and, hands clasped
behind, began to count, her head nodding with each number.

"Thirteen big ones and nineteen little ones," she said, "and I don't
know a thing that's in one of them. Gracious! this is a nice world to
live in! I wonder what makes people so good to me? Mrs. Robinsky
brought up those six biggest ones to-night." Lightly her finger was
laid on each. "She said they were left with her to be sent up
to-morrow morning, but there wouldn't be a thing to send if she
waited, as the children kept pinching and poking so to see what was in
them. I'd like to punch myself. Noodles gave me that." Her head nodded
at a queer-shaped package wrapped in brown paper and tied with green
cord. "He paid nineteen cents for it. He told me so. I didn't pay but
five for what I gave him. He won't brush his teeth or clean his
finger-nails, and I told him I wasn't going to give him a thing if he
didn't, but I haven't a bit of hold-out-ness at Christmas. I wonder
what's in that?"

Cautiously her hand was laid on a box wrapped in white tissue-paper
and tied with red ribbons. "I'll hate to open it and see, it looks so
lovely and Christmasy, but if I don't see soon I'll die from wanting
to know. It rattled a little when I put it on the table. It's Miss
Frances's present, and I know it isn't practical. She's like I am. She
don't think Christmas is for plain and useful things. She thinks it's
for pleasure and pretty ones. I wonder--" Her hands were pressed to
her breast, and on tiptoes she leaned quiveringly toward the table. "I
wonder if it could be a new tambourine with silver bells on it! If it
is I'll die for joy, I'll be so glad! I broke mine to-night. I shook
it so hard when I was dancing after I got home from the tree
that--Good gracious! I've caught my foot again! These diamond buckles
on my satin slippers are always catching the chiffon ruffles on my
petticoats. I oughtn't to wear my best things when I'm busy, but I
can't stand ugly ones, even to work in. Mercy! it's one o'clock, and
the things for Father's stocking aren't out yet."

Out of the bottom drawer of the old-fashioned chest at the end of the
room a box was taken and laid on the floor near the stove, into which
a small stick of wood was put noiselessly, and carefully Carmencita
sat down beside it. Taking off the top of the box, she lifted first a
large-size stocking and held it up.

"I wish I was one hundred children's mother at Christmas and had a
hundred stockings to fill! I mean, if I had things to fill them with.
But as I'm not a mother, just a daughter, I'm thankful glad I've got
a father to fill a stocking for. He's the only child I've got. If he
could just see how beautiful and red this apple is, and how yellow
this orange, and what a darling little candy harp _this_ is, I'd be
thankfuler still. But he won't ever see. The doctor said so--said I
must be his eyes."

One by one the articles were taken out of the box and laid on the
floor; and carefully, critically, each was examined.

"This cravat is an awful color." Carmencita's voice made an effort to
be polite and failed. "Mr. Robinsky bought it for father himself and
asked me to put it in his stocking, but I hate to put. I'll have to do
it, of course, and father won't know the colors, but what on earth
made him get a green-and-red plaid? Now listen at me! I'm doing just
what Miss Lucrecia does to everything that's sent her. The only
pleasure she gets out of her presents is making fun of them and
snapping at the people who send them. She's an awful snapper. The
Damanarkist sent these cigars. They smell good. He don't believe in
Christmas, but he sent Father and me both a present. I hope he'll like
the picture-frame I made for his mother's picture. His mother's dead,
but he believed in her. She was the only thing he did believe in. A
man who don't believe in his mother--Oh, _my_ precious mother!"

With a trembling movement the little locket was taken from the box and
opened and the picture in it kissed passionately; then, without
warning, the child crumpled up and hot tears fell fast over the
quivering face. "I do want you, my mother! Everybody wants a mother at
Christmas, and I haven't had one since I was seven. Father tries to
fill my stocking, but it isn't a mother-stocking, and I just ache and
ache to--to have one like you'd fix. I want--" The words came
tremblingly, and presently she sat up.

"Carmencita Bell, you are a baby. Behave--your--self!" With the end of
the gingham apron the big blue eyes were wiped. "You can't do much in
this world, but you can keep from crying. Suppose Father was to know."
Her back straightened and her head went up. "Father isn't ever going
to know, and if I don't fill this stocking it won't be hanging on the
end of the mantelpiece when he wakes up. The locket must go in the
toe."



CHAPTER XVII


In half an hour the stocking, big and bulging, was hung in its
accustomed place, the packages for her father put on a chair by
themselves, and those for her left on the table, and as she rearranged
the latter something about the largest one arrested her attention,
and, stopping, she gazed at it with eyes puzzled and uncertain.

It looked--Cautiously her fingers were laid upon it. Undoubtedly it
looked like the box in which had been put the beautiful dark-blue coat
she had bought for the little friend of her friend. And that other box
was the size of the one the two dresses had been put in; and that was
a hat-box, and that a shoe-box, and the sash and beads and gloves and
ribbons, all the little things, had been put in a box that size. Every
drop of blood surged hotly, tremblingly, and with eyes staring and
lips half parted her breath came unsteadily.

In the confusion of their coming she had not noticed when Mrs.
Robinsky had brought them up and put them under the cot, with the
injunction that they were not to be opened until the morning, and for
the first time their familiarity was dawning on her. Could it
be--could _she_ be the little friend he had said was rich? She wasn't
rich. He didn't mean money-rich, but she wasn't any kind of rich; and
she had been so piggy.

Hot color swept over her face, and her hands twitched. She had told
him again and again she was getting too much, but he had insisted on
her buying more, and made her tell him what little girls liked, until
she would tell nothing more. And they had all been for her. For her,
Carmencita Bell, who had never heard of him three days before.

In the shock of revelation, the amazement of discovery, the little
figure at the table stood rigid and upright, then it relaxed and with
a stifled sob Carmencita crossed the room and, by the side of her cot,
twisted herself into a little knot and buried her face in her arms and
her arms in the covering.

"I didn't believe! I didn't believe!"

Over and over the words came tremblingly. "I prayed and prayed, but I
didn't believe! He let it happen, and I didn't believe!"

For some moments there were queer movements of twitching hands and
twisting feet by the side of the cot, but after a while a
tear-stained, awed, and shy-illumined face looked up from the arms in
which it had been hidden and ten slender fingers intertwined around
the knees of a hunched-up little body, which on the floor drew itself
closer to the fire.

It was a wonderful world, this world in which she lived. Carmencita's
eyes were looking toward the window, through which she could see the
shining stars. Wonderful things happened in it, and quite beyond
explaining were these things, and there was no use trying to
understand. Two days ago she was just a little girl who lived in a
place she hated and was too young to go to work, and who had a blind
father and no rich friends or relations, and there was nothing nice
that could happen just so.

"But things don't happen just so. They happen--don't anybody know how,
I guess." Carmencita nodded at the stars. "I've prayed a good many
times before and nothing happened, and I don't know why all this
beautifulness should have come to me, and Mrs. Beckwith, who is good
as gold, though a poor manager with babies, shouldn't ever have any
luck. I don't understand, but I'm awful thankful. I wish I could let
God know, and the Christ-child know, how thankful I am. Maybe the way
they'd like me to tell is by doing something nice for somebody else. I
know. I'll ask Miss Parker to supper Christmas night. She's an awful
poky person and needs new teeth, but she says she's so sick of mending
pants, she wishes some days she was dead. And I'll ask the
Damanarkist. He hasn't anywhere to go, and he hates rich people so
it's ruined his stomach. Hate is an awful ruiner."

For some moments longer Carmencita sat in huddled silence, then
presently she spoke again.

"I didn't intend to give Miss Cattie Burns anything. I've tried to
like Miss Cattie and I can't. But it was very good in her to send us a
quarter of a cord of wood for a Christmas present. She can't help
being practical. I'll take her that red geranium to-morrow. I raised
it from a slip, and I hate to see it go, but it's all I've got to
give. It will have to go.

"And to-morrow. I mean to-day--this is Christmas day! Oh, a happy
Christmas, everybody!" Carmencita's arms swung out, then circled
swiftly back to her heart. "For everybody in all the world I'd make it
happy if I could! And I'm going to a wedding to-day--a wedding! I
don't wonder you're thrilly, Carmencita Bell!"

For a half-moment breath came quiveringly from the parted lips, then
again at the window and the stars beyond the little head nodded.

"But I'll never wonder at things happening any more. I'll just wonder
at there being so many nice people on this earth. All are not nice.
The Damanarkist says there is a lot of rot in them, a lot of meanness
and cheatingness, and nasty people who don't want other people to do
well or to get in their way; but there's bound to be more niceness
than nastiness, or the world couldn't go on. It couldn't without a lot
of love. It takes a lot of love to stand life. I read that in a book.
Maybe that's why we have Christmas--why the Christ-child came."

Shyly the curly head was bent on the upraised knees, and the palms of
two little hands were uplifted. "O God, all I've got to give is love.
Help me never to forget, and put a lot in my heart so I'll always
have it ready. And I thank You and thank You for letting such grand
things happen. I didn't dream there'd really be a marriage when I
asked You please to let it be if you could manage it; but there's
going to be two, and I'm going to both. I've got a new dress to wear,
and slippers with buckles, and amber beads, and lots of other things.
And most of all I thank You for Mr. Van and Miss Frances finding each
other. And please don't let them ever lose each other again. They
might, even if they are married, if they don't take care. Please help
them to take care, for Christ's sake. Amen."

       *       *       *       *       *

On her feet, Carmencita patted the stocking hanging from the mantel,
took off the big coat, kicked the large, loose slippers across the
room, blew out the candle, and stood for a moment poised on the tip of
her toes.

"If I could"--the words came breathlessly--"if I could I'd dance like
the lady I was named for, but it might wake Father. I mustn't wake
Father. Good night, everybody--and a merry Christmas to all this nice,
big world!"

With a spring that carried her across the room Carmencita was on her
cot and beneath its covering, which she drew up to her face. Under
her breath she laughed joyously, and her arms were hugged to her
heart.

"To-morrow--I mean to-day--I am going to tell them. They don't
understand yet. They think it was just an accident." She shook her
head. "It wasn't an accident. After they're married I'm going to tell
them. Tell them how it happened."

THE END





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translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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