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Title: Janet, or, The Christmas Stockings
Author: Gibbons, Louise Élise
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.

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STOCKINGS***


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      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).



JANET

Or

The Christmas Stockings

by

LOUISE ÉLISE GIBBONS

Author of “Truth” and Other Stories



The Knickerbocker Press
New York
1899



                               DEDICATED

                            (BY PERMISSION)

                         TO THE RIGHT REVEREND

                   HENRY CODMAN POTTER, D.D., D.C.L.

                           BISHOP OF NEW YORK



                                 JANET

                                   I


IN the doorway of an old tenement-house, far down in the slums of New
York, two women were standing, their heads close together as they
gossiped about the passers-by.

A young girl—she might have been thirteen—tripped along the sidewalk,
kicking her legs out in front of her as she went, so that she could see
her stockings.

Her odd movements caught the women’s eyes, and they asked each other
what could be the cause of them.

“I never see her act like that before. Puttin’ on such airs! Dear! dear!
Saw ye ever the likes of it?”

“Oh, see her new stockings!” said the younger woman. “What mighty fine
ones! Did you ever?”

“I doubt she came by them in no good way,” said the other. “Janet, young
un! See here!”

The child stopped, holding up her tattered gown to show her pretty
stockings. “Who give you _them_?” cried the woman who had called her.

The girl replied quietly, “’Twas the Bishop give me ’em.”

At this the women exclaimed in chorus, “The Bishop! That’s a fine tale!
How’d you know it was the Bishop?”

Janet said Roy, the newsboy, told her; and the women asked her, “How is
it your father hasn’t got hold of ’em? He’d sell ’em for drink inside of
a minute.”

“Oh, I only wears ’em on the street,” said Janet, “and I takes ’em off
an’ hides ’em before I go home.”

The women begged her to tell them all about it, and settled themselves
comfortably to hear the story.

The girl’s tale ran thus: one day a lot of children were dancing on the
sidewalk to the tune of an old organ-grinder, and she began dancing with
them. Roy then came by with his newspapers, and, putting them down on a
step, seized her round the waist and whirled her off among the little
children. He stopped suddenly, for a gentleman who was passing wanted a
paper. The girl was overheated with her dancing, and began to fan
herself with one of Roy’s papers; Roy said afterwards her eyes were as
bright as stars.

The gentleman asked her name, and where she lived; and when she told
him, he said, “Janet, if you will come to yonder church,” pointing to
the steeple, “at seven o’clock on Christmas night, I will give you
something to take home with you.” Then he paid Roy for the paper, and
gave the change to Janet, saying with a smile, “This will buy some
refreshments for the ball.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said. “I am very hungry. I have had nothing to eat
since yesterday noon.”

At this the gentleman didn’t smile any more, but looked sad. “Why did
you dance, then?” he said.

Roy spoke before she had a chance to answer: “Sir, Janet was hungry and
cold, and that was the best way to get warm.” The gentleman walked away,
and she could see him rub the back of his hand across his eyes. She
asked Roy what his name was, and he said he didn’t know, but it was the
Bishop.

She bought something to eat with the money, and divided it with Roy, and
he ran off to sell his papers. The organ-grinder went on his way, and
the children stopped dancing.

So on Christmas night, Janet went early to the big church, as the Bishop
had told her to do. When she got inside the door, she stood still with
wonder, for there was a great tree, as big as an out-door tree, all
lighted with little candles from the floor to the top, and all over it
were hanging sparkling toys. And when she came near to it, she saw the
Bishop standing by it.

She did not think he would know her again, but he smiled and said,
“Janet, I was expecting you.” And then he took a stick with a hook on
the end of it, and, reaching over the heads of some fine ladies who were
arranging things at the foot of the tree, he took the stockings down and
put them in her hands. Then he put his white hands on her head, and
said, “God bless you, my child! Remember, keep yourself pure and clean
to your life’s end.” Each stocking had a silver dollar in the toe, and
was filled with candy, and tied around the top with a blue ribbon to
keep the candy in.

“See!” said Janet, as she told the story, “I tie the ribbon on each leg
to keep me from getting out.” She lifted the ragged gown to show the
ribbon garters. She said she skipped out of the great big church,
hugging the stockings close to her and covering them with a bit of her
shawl to hide her treasure from the people she passed.

“Don’t you know such a fine bishop’s name?” asked one of the women.

“No,” said the child, “but Roy said he was the good Bishop who stays
down here with us, and don’t go away frolicking. And now I must go to
see Roy. There he is calling his extras at the corner.”

“Well, I never!” said one of the women, as the child skipped away. “She
seems to make friends, don’t she? She and that boy are awful fond of
each other; and now there ’s this Bishop!”

“Well,” said the other, “Janet is a pretty girl, with her dark eyes, and
her hair always braided in one long plait down her back—and even if she
is in rags, her hair is always tidy.”

“Her father sells everything that people give her—it ’s a wonder he
don’t cut off her hair and sell that. Well, the girl has a white skin,
and a pretty mouth, and a straight nose just like her mother’s. She
don’t look and she don’t act like as if she was born and raised here
among us poor folks.”

“That she don’t; and she ’s such a little mite for her age, with those
little hands and feet. You wouldn’t take her to be fourteen, would you,
now?”

While the women were talking her over, Janet went to find Roy, who stood
at the corner shivering with the cold, with his papers under his arm.

“Hello, Roy!” said she, “see my beautiful stockings! That Bishop gave
’em to me off the tree, and they was full of candy and money!” Coming
close to him, she said in a whisper, “Here ’s some for you!” and she
took a little paper bag full of candy from under her ragged shawl where
she had hidden it.

“Oh, Roy,” she said, “it was the finest tree you ever did see! And the
Bishop gave me the stockings his own self, and when he gave them to me
he put his hands on my head, and what do you think he said? He said,
‘God bless you, my child! Remember to keep yourself pure and clean to
the end of your life.’ And when he was a-saying it, he looked up at a
sugar boy with shiny wings that was hanging on the top of the tree.”

The boy and girl parted at the corner, he to sell his papers through the
cold and the mire of the slums, and she to go to her poor, wretched
home.

She mounted the rickety stairs of an old tenement-house, up to the top
floor, where, in one small garret, the whole family lived. In one corner
of the room was an old ragged straw mattress, on which the father,
mother, and baby slept. The baby was asleep now, the father was drinking
in a saloon near by. In another corner was a pile of straw where Janet
and her sister Bessie slept; and in yet another, on a heap of rags and
paper, lay two pretty little boys, sound asleep, unconscious of the fact
that they were cold and hungry. One could see, in spite of rags and
dirt, that they were like cherubs, with their sunny curls.

The poor mother sat by the feeble light of a candle, the wick burned
nearly down to the bottle which served for a candlestick. She was sewing
on a coarse garment that she wanted to finish, in order to buy bread for
the children with the few pennies she would get for it.

All that any of them had eaten that day was some candy that Janet had
slyly put in their mouths, not letting them know where she kept it.
Janet went to her mother, the poor, tired, sick woman, and, bidding her
open her mouth, she fed her with sweet chocolate and brought her a drink
of water.

Then she sat down by the suffering woman, and hugged her poor cold feet
to her heart, trying to warm them. In a low voice, so as not to waken
the sleeping children, she gave her mother a description of the
beautiful tree, and how the Bishop had given her the stockings himself.

“I take them off and hide them when I get home,” she said, “so father
will not sell them; and the candy I hid last night under my pile of
straw—that’s how I had these good chocolates for you now.”

And then she repeated again to her mother the words of the good Bishop,
“Remember, keep yourself pure and clean to the end of your life.”

The mother swallowed hard, as though her throat hurt her, and she became
deadly pale.

“Oh, mother!” said the child, “the Bishop has made me feel so happy—and
even this old garret looks better than it did, because I am so happy.”

The mother said: “I feel peaceful and happy too while I listen to you.
You make my thoughts go back to when I was a little girl. I remember a
hymn I used to sing in Sunday-school.” And in a broken way, gasping for
breath, she repeated the last two lines:

                   “Cover my—defenceless head
                       With the shadow—of—Thy wing.”

She leaned back, raising her eyes, as though she could see the angels
looking down upon her, though to the outward eye only the rough,
weather-stained rafters were above her.

Janet fell asleep at her mother’s feet. The woman’s head fell forward on
the unfinished work. The candle burned down, and the fallen wick
spluttered in the grease.

Heavy steps ascended the stairs. An unsteady hand opened the door; and a
large man fell heavily to the floor. It was the drunken father,
returning from the saloon.... The gray streaks of early dawn came into
the dingy garret, and revealed the face of the dead man.

A few hours later the body was removed. The two dollars the Bishop had
given Janet was paid out for back rent, so the poor woman and her
children were allowed to stay in the wretched room a little longer.
Janet took her mother’s work back to the shop, which was some distance
away. She trudged through the snow, cold, wet, and hungry.

When she returned late in the afternoon, climbed the rickety stairs, and
entered the room, she stood speechless in the middle of the floor.

The sun was shining through the broken panes of the one window in the
garret, and its rays fell like a shower of gold all over the child as
she stood there, crowning her head as with a halo. But she heeded not
its beauty. She stood there, struck dumb with astonishment.

There was absolutely nothing and no one in the room but herself! Father,
mother, children, mattress, straw—all gone—the room utterly empty!

She knew not how long she had stood there, speechless in her misery,
when she heard steps ascending the stairs. Some one fumbled in the dark
hall for the latch, and finally opened the door. Two burly men entered,
and asked Janet who she was. From them she learned that the people who
had lived there were gone, that they had the room to rent, and would
take the key at six o’clock, by which time she must be gone.

When they went out, she did not move from the sunshine. A child of the
slums, she was used to rough men and women, and was not afraid of them.
But she was stunned with this new trouble—with her absolute loneliness.
Where were her people? What did it all mean? Where should she go to find
them?

Light steps came swiftly up the stairs, and after a gentle knock the
door was opened. It was Roy who stepped into the spot of fading sunshine
beside her.

“Oh, Janet!” said he.

“Oh, Roy!” was all she could answer.

And the boy and girl stood crowned with the golden halo, in absolute
silence.

At last, as the sun’s rays were passing away, Roy spoke:

“Janet, they’re all gone! Taken away while you went with the work.
Janet, the baby was dead in the night.”

The child said but one word, “Froze?”

“No,” said Roy, “it was the dipthery. And your mother had it, too.
Somebody told on ’em, an’ so the Board of Health sent in a jiffy, an’ a
great black ambulance came an’ took her an’ all the children, and then
some men came and took everything out and burned it all, and did
something to the room. I came and looked at them awhile, but they sent
me away. I see the ambulance drive off. I was close to it.”

“Where?” Janet gasped.

“I don’t know,” said the boy.

Again there was silence. The children of the slums, born in poverty,
sorrow, and disgrace, do not cry. Life is too stern a reality.

Then Roy spoke in a whisper, as if in his untutored mind he felt that in
the presence of such sorrow a loud word would be a sacrilege—“Janet!”

She turned and looked him in the face. He was pale and trembling, and
the words came painfully, as if he feared to hurt her any more.

“Janet—when they took your mother out of here, she was dead. I seed her
face. I didn’t say nothin’, but I know she was dead, and I come now to
tell you. But I wish I hadn’t—you look so white and scared.”

The only sound was a choking gasp from the poor child.

Roy took her hand in his. “Janet, I love you! Don’t look so white! It
scares me. If anything happened to you it would kill me. You’re all I’ve
got in the world. Don’t look so—I can’t stand it. I’ll take care of you.
I earn a good bit of money some days. I’ll work hard, and then when we
are older——”

“What?” said the girl simply.

“Why, then we’ll get the good Bishop to marry us. There now, Janet, be a
good girl and come away, before the men come back, for I saw them goin’
out in the street, an’ if they catch us here when they come for the key,
they’ll say we have it too, and they’ll take us away in that ugly black
ambulance.”

So she let him lead her out of that garret so full of memories, down the
dark rickety stairs, into the cold street. They were homeless,
friendless orphans, starting out on life’s stormy sea, hungry, cold,
forsaken.

They walked hand in hand until they were several blocks away, in another
part of the slums, where Janet had never been. Then, standing in the
shelter of a doorway, they looked at each other for some time in
silence. At last Roy spoke:

“Janet, dear—I don’t know where to take you.”

“Where do you go, Roy, at night?” said she.

“Oh, anywheres! Sometimes us boys sleeps in boxes, and sometimes they
have straw in ’em, and more times not. But you see, Janet, that won’t do
for the likes of you.”

He thought in silence for a moment. “Let me see,” he said. “I’ve got ten
cents in my pocket. That ought to lodge you for one night—but where? Oh,
I know! Now, Janet, listen to me, and do just what I tell you. I’m going
to take you to an old apple-woman near here, and don’t you open your
mouth about the dipthery, and don’t say nothin’ ’bout where you lived or
that you had any people, nor nothin’, ’cause if you do nobody ’ll let us
come near ’em; and I’ll do what I can with the cross old apple-woman.
She sort o’ takes to me, an’ she gives me specked apples for runnin’
errands for her.”

So they went on until they came to the apple-stand, over which a torch
was burning.

“Aunt Betsy,” said Roy, “here ’s a poor little girl that can’t be left
out on the street to freeze. Won’t you let the kid sleep on your floor
for to-night?”

“Now, Roy,” said the old woman, “you know you’ve picked up a
good-for-nothing vagabone on the street. Why don’t you take her to the
’ciety?”

“Lawks, Aunt Betsy, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout ’cieties, an’ fore we
could find one she’d be froze stiff, so if you won’t take her in, she’ll
have to lie down any place and die. I’ve got ten cents in my pocket, and
I’ll give it to you if you’ll keep the kid to-night.”

“Oh, you’ve got ten cents, have you? Well, all right, she can sleep on a
bit of a mat on my floor. And where might you be goin’?”

“Well,” said he, “I’ve got to sell some extrys late to-night, and I’ll
scare up a box to turn in somewheres. Say,” he added, “she’s awful
hungry. If you’ll give her a bit of grub, I’ll pay you for it to-morrow
when I come round, and give you a paper.”

“All right, Roy, I’ll do what I kin.”

So Janet was settled for the night. It is true she had to sleep on the
floor and put up with some scraps to eat. But things go by comparison in
this world, and to poor, cold, starving Janet it seemed like living in a
palace. Tired and worn out, she slept soundly, forgetting all her
sorrows.

At last the sun rose in the glory of a new day, making the icicles
sparkle in its light, and decking vines, bushes, and trees with a
covering of diamonds. Dame Nature in all her glory of sparkling jewels
smiled at the ladies of the world, wearing their paltry gems, as they
drove to the slums to leave some little dolls, and wooden horses, and
tin watches that wouldn’t go, for starving, ragged, weary children. Dame
Nature longed to teach them if they would learn of her; for, besides her
beauty, she was very wise in all things. But they thought they knew, and
turned a deaf ear to all her teachings.



                                   II


WHEN Janet opened her eyes, she rubbed them hard to collect her
scattered senses. After a few minutes everything came back to her, and
with a heart full of sorrow she realized her desolation. Mother,
brothers, sisters, all she loved—gone! Even the drunken father did not
seem so bad, now she had no one to love her. Yes, there was Roy! And
then her heart seemed filled to overflowing with love and gratitude to
him.

She got up and asked the apple-woman if she had any chores for her to
do. The old woman gave her some apples to shine and pile, with the red
side up, to tempt the customers as they passed by. After this was done,
she gave her one of them, and a piece of bread.

About noon Roy came along, with three cents and a paper. Then Janet
remembered the thirty cents she had been paid for her mother’s sewing;
she had been too full of other things to think of it before. Roy
invested them in matches and pins, and started her out to sell them on
the street. He thought they would be doing well if, between them, they
could make enough to keep body and soul together and find some shelter
at night.

Janet could make no plans. She only knew enough to do as Roy told her. A
child of the slums, she had never been inside of any house but the most
wretched tenement. She was ignorant of the names and use of the simplest
things; so it was impossible to find a place of service for her. All she
had ever seen were the windows of forlorn second-hand clothing stores,
pawnshops, saloons, and factories. Roy’s sale of papers took him into a
wider field, so that he knew a little more about civilized life.

The old apple-woman had a mongrel dog that she had raised. He helped to
guard her stand, and was a very sagacious animal. Janet and the dog
became fast friends, and he would leave the stand and follow her on her
rounds. This did not please old Aunt Betsy, so she tied him to the
stand. Janet and the dog, however, still continued the best of friends.

The morning that Janet had gone with her mother’s work, she had dressed
herself in a short skirt of her mother’s and an old straw hat with a bit
of black ribbon round the crown, while over her shoulders was a coarse
woollen shawl. These garments were patched and mended, but they were
better than the rags the poor child wore when we first saw her, dancing
on the pavement.

The winter passed away, and the blessed summer, which is so much easier
for the poor, came in its turn. Then Janet could sleep out-of-doors
under some shed.

But the summer, too, went on its way; and now October was here, with its
chilly, windy nights; and the poor child was forced to appeal to the old
apple-woman again. She consented to let her stay for five cents a night,
provided she would bring enough sticks for the fire, and shine the
apples, and scrub the floor. When this was done, the child, often very
weary, would start out to sell her wares. Her appearance was so pitiful
and appealing that although she only tried to sell to those who were
nearly as poor as herself, she generally made at least enough to pay
Aunt Betsy her five cents and get herself some food.

Roy was now employed by a regular newsdealer, so he made somewhat more.
But their clothes were now very ragged, and Janet’s feet were nearly
bare.

A few days after the Christmas when Janet got the stockings, the good
Bishop was called out of town. Not forgetting the poor little waif he
had befriended, he gave special instructions to some of his
fellow-workers to investigate the case, and if it was found worthy, to
minister to the wants of the family. They endeavored to carry out his
instructions, but found the miserable garret occupied by strangers who
knew nothing of little Janet or her family. When they inquired of the
neighbors, they were told that the whole family had died of diphtheria,
and everything that was in the room had been destroyed. Believing this
report, of course they made no further effort to find poor little Janet.
It seemed as if a network of misery had enveloped her, as if every
avenue of relief had been blocked up.

But she still had Roy, and he had Janet, and each kept hope alive in the
heart of the other. It was hope on which the two children lived day by
day. It gave them sweet dreams at night, and with its beacon-light
before them they were even happy in the midst of their miserable
surroundings.

One day in October, Janet was trying to sell her wares along the Bowery;
Roy was calling some extras on the other side, a little farther up the
street.

Suddenly Janet missed the shrill voice, and looking to see what had
become of him, she saw a crowd collecting about the spot where only a
few minutes before she had seen Roy.

In an agony of dread, she hurried over, and, pushing her way through the
crowd, followed the men who were carrying something into a drugstore.
There she found poor Roy, stretched out, bleeding, on the floor. In
crossing the street, he had been knocked down by a heavy wagon, and the
wheel had crushed him.

With a cry of pain, she pushed her way to him and knelt down by his
side. He opened his eyes when he heard her voice. They met hers in one
long gaze. Their hands clasped; his lips moved. Bending over him, she
heard him whisper, “Good-by, Janet!”

Roy was gone from her, and she was left alone.

She felt a warm breath on the hand that still held Roy’s, and, looking
down, she saw the mongrel dog, who had broken away from the apple-stand
and followed her. He licked her hand, and her tears fell on his head. As
she put her arms round him, she felt that he was now her only friend.

The men who carried poor Roy away pushed her roughly aside, and in a
bewildered way she followed the dog, who seemed trying to lead her to
the apple-woman. When Aunt Betsy saw the dog, she gave Janet an apple
for bringing him back. But Janet could not eat it, though she had had
nothing all day.

She tried to tell the woman about Roy, but the words would not come.
Death, to Janet, meant only the agony of separation. An hour ago, she
had Roy with her—and now he was not with her. This was all there was in
it to the poor child—nothing beyond, no hope of meeting again. Is it to
be wondered at? Uneducated, she knew nothing but her toiling daily life.
She had never been in a church but that one Christmas night, and so had
learned nothing through that channel of a life beyond. When Roy’s dying
lips murmured “Good-by, Janet!” it was forever. No home, no books, no
intelligence in her life, she was but little above the plane of her only
friend, the dog.

To others, death is but the change from darkness to light. But to Janet
and to the dog it meant the end. She was only so much above the dumb
brute that she could look into life a little farther, and so could
suffer more.

A newsboy came along and told the apple-woman the tale Janet was unable
to tell. She was shocked for the moment, for she had in her rough way
liked Roy. But the hard, business part of her nature was uppermost in a
little while. Here she was with this child on her hands. When Janet
could sell nothing, as was often the case, Roy generally had a few cents
to give her, so she had always felt that she was sure of some little pay
for the poor shelter she gave the child. But now the case was different,
and so she told Janet in no gentle way:

“You must get away from here.”

“Where?” asked Janet in a bewildered tone.

“Oh, I don’t know. Go to some of the s’cieties, or to that Bishop as
gave you them old ragged stockings you think so much of.”

“I can’t,” said the girl, despairingly. “I don’t know where to find
him.”

“Well,” said the woman, “you can stay here to-night, and I’ll give you a
bit to eat in the morning before you go.”

Janet cried all night for her companion, for she knew that in the
morning she would not hear his voice calling the papers. Roy was gone
from her—had he not said “Good-by” to her? The dog slept beside her on
the floor, and tried in every way he knew to comfort her, as he felt her
tears fall upon his head. While the old woman slept, he stole to the box
and brought Janet an apple in his mouth. Somehow his kindness comforted
her; she dried her tears and kissed his shaggy head. For his sake she
ate the apple and tried, but in vain, to sleep.

Morning at length dawned, and Janet rose, her plans all made. She did
the work for the old woman, ate the dry bread and drank the weak coffee
that was given her, and, after tying the dog, went forth again into the
cold, hard world. The dog whined so piteously when Janet kissed him, and
gave her such a pleading look which she could not misunderstand, that it
was impossible to resist it. She left him tied, but in such a way that
if he tried he could wriggle himself loose. She bade the old woman
good-by, and thanked her for the shelter she had given her.

Roy had told her once that there was a beautiful park somewhere in the
city, but it was a great way off. He told her there was lovely green
grass in the park, and big, shady trees, and quiet pools of water; that
the birds sang there all day long, and beautiful flowers bloomed there
until almost winter-time. So the heart of the lonely waif, deserted and
cast out by all mankind, turned to this beautiful spot of nature. She
gathered her rags about her and started to walk to the park. She was not
strong—starvation and exposure do not give strength to children—and when
hope dies, the cup of sorrow runs over, and the little strength left is
soon exhausted.

So she trudged along, sometimes stopping for a moment to look at what
she passed, and often gazing at the food displayed in the shop-windows,
for she was very hungry. Something in her wan, white face must have
appealed to a man who passed her, for he stopped and gave her a penny.
She bought a roll with it, devoured it like an animal, not like a child,
and then walked on.

At last a lady passed her and asked her to carry one of the many bundles
she was laden with a few blocks for her. Janet rose to oblige her, for
she was sitting on the steps of a house to rest. When she had carried
the bundle as far as was desired, the woman gave her five cents, and,
noticing how utterly miserable the child looked, asked her where she was
going.

“To the park,” replied Janet.

“Why, my child,” she said, “that is very far away from here. You had
better ride in the cars.”

“But I don’t know how to get the right one,” said Janet.

The woman showed her the car, and with the five cents she rode and
rested at the same time.

At last she came to what she knew must be the beautiful park. After she
had entered it, she went along in a timid, fearful way till at last she
came to a secluded spot. She seated herself on one of the benches, but
from time to time she looked over her shoulder to see if the policeman
(the greatest terror of the poor) was coming.

She rested a long time under the overhanging branches of a large
tree—how long she did not know. After a while she saw throngs of people
on the road, driving in gay carriages. She wondered if she could cross
over to the water, where Roy had told her there were boats; but she was
afraid to move, for fear the police would lay hold of such a
ragged-looking thing as she felt herself to be.

On this beautiful October afternoon the grass, lately mowed, looked like
an emerald carpet spread down. The sunbeams and the shadows chased each
other across it, as the leaves of the trees stirred in the gentle
breeze. Now and then some dry, crisp leaves fell around Janet, for there
had been a frost already in the early autumn.

Little Janet was very hungry, and the look of starvation in her young
eyes was enough to melt a heart of stone. She kept her feet carefully on
the path, for fear of touching the grass, for all around she saw the
signs, “Keep off the grass,” and she was afraid of trespassing.

At last a thought struck her. She could make herself look a little
better! Putting her hand in her bosom, she pulled out the stockings the
Bishop had given her. Taking off her ragged, rusty shoes, she carefully
drew them on.

They were very different now from what they were when the Bishop took
them off the tree and handed them to her. In each one there was a hole
in the toe and a hole in the heel, and a number of other smaller holes
all the way up, until they all joined at the top to make a ragged edge.
It was not easy to get the torn stockings on, but she pulled them up
tight, and tied a bit of string around them to keep them in place. Then
she pulled them about so as to show the fewest holes, and dexterously
drew the old shoes over them. She patted the stockings lovingly, as her
thoughts went back to that Christmas and the tree in the church, saying
softly to herself: “And the Bishop said to me, ‘God bless you, my child!
Remember to keep yourself clean and pure to the end of your life.’ And
he looked up at that sugar boy with the shining wings on the top of the
tree. Now I wonder who that was, and what he meant when he said, ‘God
bless you, my child’? Who is God? ‘Remember to keep yourself clean to
the end of your life.’ I’m ragged, but I guess I’m clean. And pure, he
said, too. I wonder what ‘pure’ means? I can’t make it all out. I do
wish grand people would say words poor, ragged little girls like me
could make out; but I suppose the Bishop couldn’t do that. And I’ll
never know what he wanted me to do. Well! I’ll try to find them boats
Roy told me about.”

She looked carefully around, and, watching her chance when the
policeman’s back was turned towards her, she passed behind him across
the walk, and then sped away to the water’s edge, still hiding behind
trees and bushes.

When she got to the water, she was struck dumb with the beautiful scenes
around her. On the top of the bank, on the drive, walked another
policeman. She skipped behind a tree at the edge of the water. Then she
saw ducks, swans, and geese, swimming right up to the land. She saw
troops of children of all ages, children of the rich, beautiful, with
plump cheeks and curly hair, and such lovely clothes. She saw little
tots, with bonnets almost as large as themselves. They were joyous and
happy, laughing and talking as they fed the feathered tribe. To Janet’s
horror, these favored children pulled grass by the handfuls, and fed the
waterfowl, while the policemen talked to the nurses on the drive. Little
Janet always had before her eyes the sign, “Keep off the grass.”

A pretty child dropped a biscuit on the ground. Janet’s hungry eyes were
fixed upon it, but she dared not touch it, for fear of the dreaded
policeman. The lovely child looked up and caught the glance; and, like
children in their fraternal, natural way, she said, “Do you want it,
little girl?” Janet nodded, and the child picked it up and gave it to
her, to feed the swans with.

Just then the nurse looked up from her novel and saw the child talking
and handing something to this ragged little creature. She screamed, with
horror in her voice, “Susie! Come here this instant! What are you doing
with that ragged vagrant?” And to Janet: “Be off with you! I’ll tell the
policeman to take you away. Such vagabonds as you are not allowed in the
park!”

Janet moved off with a full heart, wondering why she had not good
clothes and pretty curls like those children, and why the nurses and
every one drove her away from them. She was too weary and bewildered to
think any more. She was near the boat-house, so, sitting down on the
steps, she ate her biscuit, and dipped up water in her hand and drank it
to quench her thirst. At the top of the bank she saw more policemen, but
they were interested in more important things; so she passed on by the
edge of the water until she came to a hill densely covered with trees
and bushes. She turned away from the drive and climbed the hill.

When she got to the top, she sat down on the ground and took off her
stockings because the twigs caught in the holes and tripped her. She
took one off slowly, and dropped it on the walk in a little heap, and
then its mate in another little heap.

She was so exhausted that she crawled under a bush whose branches bent
over and touched the ground. There, completely hidden, she felt safe. No
people passing, no policemen, no one to call her ragged. This seemed a
forsaken and lonely spot, apparently not worth guarding. So she soon
fell asleep and forgot all her woes.

She slept for hours, and woke with a chill, wondering where she could
be. It was some time before she could remember and tell how she got
there. Then memory asserted itself, and all her misery rushed back upon
her.

She sat up and crept out of her hiding-place, feeling that she was alone
in the world. No father, mother, sisters, or brothers, no Roy, no one in
the wide, wide world.

Not only no one to love her, but no one even to know that she existed.
Alone—all alone!

The throngs of people had left the park and gone to their homes, to eat,
drink, and be merry. Little children were tucked snugly in their beds,
and all the great city was at its ease. Janet was alone in the silence
of the night. No sound was heard in the darkness. The night was cloudy,
and she was cold, hungry, and miserable.

Her brain was weak from starvation, and she said in a whisper: “Yes,
Bishop, I’ve kept myself clean and pure. Your stockings are here,
Bishop. There’s a hole in the toe, a hole in the heel, and holes all
between the toe and the heel—but I’ve got them yet.”

She put on the old shoes, and seemed to be looking for something. Her
braided hair had come loose, and fell like a veil about her. Her eyes
were raised to the sky. The clouds parted and a bright star appeared.

She cried out with delight: “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking for
you a long time. I was afraid you had forgotten me. You need not blink
at me and twinkle so. I see you! I know you! I promised to see you
to-night, so I’ve come on this hill to be near you. You know what I
want. Don’t go away and leave me! It’s so dark, it frightens me. I’m
coming to you! You are the only friend I have.

                I’m coming! Pretty star, stay!
                I’m coming! Don’t, oh don’t go away.
                Don’t leave me alone, little star!
                For I am down here, and you are so far.”

Other children had been put to bed hours before, and told that angels
would guard their beds through the night. The little ones thought they
came down on ladders, from some place they were taught to call heaven.
Janet knew nothing of warm beds, good food, or fine clothes—of heaven,
or of angels that came down on ladders.

There was a rustling of the dried leaves on the bank, near the water.
Janet held her breath in fear, but the sound died away. Then she
continued to whisper to the star, “You have talked to me so many nights,
blinking at me through the window. I’m coming!”

The child of ignorance, poverty, and despair stood on a stone to be
nearer the star. The wind had risen, and wrapped the girl’s black hair
around her like a mantle. Her arms were stretched out to the star, and
her eyes were fixed with unutterable love on the shining orb. And who
shall say that there were no angels, waiting for her to ascend on high?

Silently the child stood there, with clasped hands and wide, staring
eyes, until the star went out, as she thought. Then she looked down into
the water, and saw the star there, for the clouds had parted once more,
and it seemed nearer to her than it did up above.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As the clouds rolled away, the silence of the night was broken by
crackling twigs and loosened stones rolling down the steep side of the
hill. A splash in the water, which seemed to smile, as it rippled in
circle after circle, until it again settled into stillness; and the star
shone brilliantly as ever, but told nothing of what it had seen.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Standing on the avenue after midnight was a watchful policeman. Out of
the park came a mongrel dog, which ran up to him and with a piteous
whine put his paws upon him and looked up into his face.

The policeman was a kindly man, and, taking some food from his pocket,
he offered it to the dog, talking to him and patting him. But the dog
refused all kindness for himself. That was not what he wanted. It seemed
as if tears were almost in his eyes, and he spoke as plainly as a dog
could speak, looking from the policeman over to the great lonely park.
The officer more than half understood him, but he was not allowed to
leave his beat. The dog continued his pleading until he saw that it was
of no avail. He ran back into the park and up the hill to the top, where
on the walk he sniffed around the Bishop’s stockings that lay where
Janet had dropped them. Then, with a piteous cry, he sprang down the
steep side of the hill, and the water once more seemed to smile as it
gently rippled to the bank.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



Transcriber’s note:

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in hyphenation have been retained as they were in the
original publication.





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