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Title: A Silent Singer
Author: Morris, Clara
Language: English
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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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A Silent Singer



  A Silent Singer

  BY
  Clara Morris

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK
  BRENTANO’S
  1899



  COPYRIGHT 1899
  BY
  CLARA MORRIS HARRIOTT



  TO

  That small public of my very own--the
  two who have listened to me unweariedly--criticised
  gently, and encouraged heartily--to
  that patient pair--my Mother and my Husband,
  I dedicate these little stories.

                               CLARA MORRIS HARRIOTT.
  May 1st, 1899.



Contents


                                        PAGE

  A Silent Singer                          1

  An Old Hulk                             35

  The Gentleman Who Was Going To Die      71

  Old Myra’s Waiting                      93

  “In Paris, Suddenly----”               161

  Two Buds                               173

  The Ambition of MacIlhenny             197

  John Hickey: Coachman                  217

  Black Watch                            241

  Dinah                                  257

  Life’s Aftermath                       293



A Silent Singer



A Silent Singer


It had been a hot day, and the minister had brought us, my mother
and myself, from the city to his country home, in a mysterious,
antediluvian species of buggy. Of all the race of men it is the country
minister alone who can discover this particular breed of buggy. They
are always gifted with strange powers of endurance; never being
purchased until they have seemingly reached the point of dissolution,
they will thereafter, for years and years, shake and totter, and rattle
and rock, carrying all the time not only people but almost every
conceivable kind of merchandise, from a few pounds of groceries to a
pumpkin or a very youthful calf, without coming one step nearer their
final wreck.

This special buggy could hold one person in comfort, two in discomfort
and three in torture. I had been the party of the _third_ part in
that day’s ride, and worn out and crumpled and dusty, we passed from
darkness into a room full of lamplight and faces. I was trying to
support myself steadily upon a pair of legs so recently aroused from
dumb sleep that they had barely reached the ticklish stage, and the
ten thousand needle-prickling power was in full blast when the Rev.
Hyler introduced me to his seven sons. My dazzled eyes and tired mind
made them seem full seventeen to me, and they were so big and rough and
noisy, I hung my head, confused, disappointed, frightened even, and
then I felt the gentle pressure of her hot little hand on mine.

I raised my childish eyes and saw the sweetness of the smile upon her
pallid face, saw it dawn upon her lips, pass swiftly to the dimple in
her cheek, hide a moment there, only to reappear the next dancing in
the sapphire blueness of her eyes--saw and mentally bowed down and
worshipped her from that moment. Physically, I clung close to her
burning hand and gave her back a smile of such astounding breadth and
frankness as must have revealed to her my entire dental economy; and
when, a few minutes later, I learned that she whispered because her
voice was gone--lost forever, I felt such a passion of love and pity
for her, such a longing to spare her suffering, that, but for its
absurdity, I could have wounded my own flesh that I might bear the pain
in her name. Grown-ups do not always understand the strength of feeling
young things are capable of.

Next day we two round pegs began fitting ourselves into the new holes
prepared for us, and though they were not absolutely square, they were
still far enough from roundness to be very uncomfortable holes indeed.
My mother began her never-ending duties of housekeeper. Mrs. Hyler had
broken down from overwork and sick-nursing, and I having, as my mother
once declared, “as many eyes as had a peacock’s tail,” began my almost
unconscious observations of a new form of poverty. (I already had a
really exhaustive knowledge of the subject both from observation and
from personal experience, and I had come to the conclusion that the
bitterness of poverty was greatly influenced by the manner in which it
was accepted. I had known abject, ragged poverty to enjoy streaks of
real merriment on comparatively comfortable occasions, while higher
up in life those who openly acknowledged their poverty seemed only
to suffer its inconvenience and to know nothing of the shame and
humiliation of those who tried to hide theirs by agonizing makeshifts.)
Here I found it was accepted in sullen silence, but, nevertheless,
bitter resentment lowered on every face save my dear Miss Linda’s.

She always turned to those eighteen watchful, loving eyes a
sweetly-smiling, pallid face with serene brows; but I saw her sometimes
when smile and serenity were both gone and her face was anguished.

The Rev. Hyler, minister, farmer, father of seven sons, was himself a
seventh son, and had he been examined at his birth with that closeness
of scrutiny given to first-born babies, I’m positive the word “failure”
could have been found plainly stamped upon his small person. He was a
tall, gray, narrow man, and seemed always to have a bitter taste in
his mouth. Black-coated, white-tied and pale, he seemed to have been
pressed between the leaves of some old volume of sermons and left there
till all the color and sap had dried out of him as it might dry out
of a pressed violet or pansy. Perpetual ill-humor had stamped to the
very bone the three-lined frown he wore between his eyebrows. He was
an educated man and full of information--that was of no use to him. He
could give statistics as to the number of the inhabitants of Palestine,
but he could not tell whether an unsatisfactory field required
topdressing or under-draining. He had been an instructor, a teacher;
had, in fact, been at the head of one of the State colleges, but failed
and came back, much embittered, to the small church he had left with
such high hopes; but finding he had provided himself with more mouths
than his salary could well fill he had taken to farming, at which he
seemed to be the greatest failure of all.

Narrow and cold by nature, soured by disappointment, he loved but one
person on earth, and that person was his first-born child, his only
daughter, Linda. He admired her, he was proud of her, he loved her,
truly and tenderly, beyond a doubt; but, alas, as surely beyond a
doubt, his was a jealous and a selfish love, and she, with eyes whose
power and penetration fully equalled their rare beauty of coloring,
read him through and through, as she might have read a book! Saw the
dry, gray man’s weakness of resolve, his bitter temper, his small
tyrannies, and worse--far worse, because that was a most repellant
sin--his hypocrisy; saw all these things and with no touch of sympathy
for any one of them, but, with what seemed almost divine compassion,
she gave him reverent service and such tender, loyal love as many a
better father fails all his life to win.

And this sweet Linda, woman-grown--this young lady who had “come out,”
and had had a season of social gaiety in the city--who--oh, wondrous
being! had had real “for true” lovers--she stooped from her high estate
to honor me with her attention, her conversation--even, to a certain
point, her confidence--while I had only reached that humiliating stage
in life where old ladies could refer to me as a “growing-girl.” And
this condescension filled me with such joy--such stupendous pride--I
marvel it did not precede a mighty fall. But, looking back upon it all,
I think I see a pathetic reason for that unequal companionship. My
mother, knowing me to be painfully sensitive to suffering or sorrow,
kept from me the knowledge that the girl I so loved was slowly dying,
a victim of that fell disease, consumption! Her days were so surely
numbered that no one had the faintest hope that she would see the
yellowing of the leaves that now danced greenly on the trees. I saw
her pale and very, very fragile, and only loved her more. I saw her
faint sometimes, but I had seen other women faint when I knew they were
not ill, and, to my childish ideas, anyone who rose from her bed and
dressed each day must surely be quite well. So it came about that in my
eyes alone she belonged still to the world of the living--in my face
alone could she read love without anxiety, and when she laughed, as she
often did, it was only in my eye she found a hearty, gay response, for
every other glance was full of anguished pity.

If my ignorance was not bliss, it was, at least, I truly think, a
comfort to her, since by its help she could forget for a time, at
least, that she was doomed and set aside as having nothing more to do
with life. And my profound interest and _naïf_ admiration egged her on
to tell me of the gay, sweet past--such an innocent, pitifully short
past it was--of her small triumphs and her pretty frocks. Sometimes
she would even show me her few girlish trinkets, but I was quick to
observe that if I ever asked about her future use of them a sort of
shudder passed over her white face and her eyes would close quickly
for a moment; then she would answer evasively, gently; yet there was a
flatness in the tones of her voice, and she would surely remark, “that
she would try now to doze a little.”

It was not long before my observation brought me closer to her tender
heart, while slowly I learned, little by little, something of the
weight of the cross this fragile girl was bearing on her trembling
shoulders.

Mrs. Hyler was, I think, the most disconcerting person in this
uncomfortable family. Her manner toward them was that of a moderately
devoted housekeeper--head nurse, who presumed slightly by reason of her
long service. The last scant drop of kindness--the last ray of warmth
of affection--I dare not use a stronger word--was for her Linda! But we
must remember that for four and twenty years she had listened to what
the Rev. Hyler “was going to do,” and had suffered from what the Rev.
Hyler “did not do,” and there was no hope left in her.

I shall not introduce her sons individually, but will simply state
that between the Spanish-looking eldest one--brave, loyal, honest and
kind--and the impish youngest, with the face of a blond seraph and
a heart like a nether mill-stone, there were five others, each one
striving to be--or so it seemed--as unlike his brothers as possible. In
all their lives they had found but two subjects they could agree upon;
on these, however, they were as one boy. Their honest, hearty love for
“Sister Linda” was one subject, and a fixed determination to “get even”
with their father was the other.

Linda Hyler loved music profoundly, and she had not only natural
talent, but powers of concentration and a capacity for hard work
that might have made an artist of her. And the poor child had had
her opportunity--for one with means and power and the inclination to
use them, attracted by the purity and volume of her voice and by her
earnest ambition, had offered to assist her to that stern training,
so difficult in those days to obtain, even when one had the money to
pay for it. But if she had talent, she also had a father, and he with
the bitter taste seemingly strong in his mouth, refused the kindly
offer, giving no nobler reason for his act than that “she was his only
daughter and he would miss her far too much.” She pleaded with him in
vain, and had the pain of seeing her one opportunity float away from
her, taking on, as it went, all the airy grace, all the glancing
beauty of a bubble floating in the sunshine.

Had her father not provided so much material for its building, the
cross she bore might not have been so heavy. Up to the time of our
arrival, Linda had managed to sit a little while each day before
the battered old organ that stood in an otherwise empty room. To
any other family it would have been the parlor--to this family it
was a thing without a name. But even as you have seen a timid,
lonely woman appear at her window, whistling loudly and wearing a
man’s hat--by means of which she convinces would-be burglars of
the presence there of a large and very destructive man--so these
parlor windows were well curtained, that the occasional humped-over,
slow-driving passer-by might be convinced that this parlor held--(as
much ingrain-horse-hair-worsted-crocheting, and high art plaster
cats, with round black spots and heavy coats of varnish as any)--and
I suppose that one trick was quite as convincing as the other--any
way, there sat Linda in that dreary room, before the organ, drawing
from its sulky and unwilling interior sounds of such solemn sweetness
as made one pray involuntarily; and sometimes she played simply an
accompaniment--sitting with lifted face and closed eyes, the veins
swelling in her throat, but no sound coming from her moving lips.
Already I had become her second shadow, and so I’d creep into the empty
room after her, and listen to her playing, and once when I was greatly
moved, she turned to me and said: “Little Sister”--the pet name she had
graciously bestowed on me--“what does that make you think of?”

And without a pause I answered eagerly: “A church--not,” I hurriedly
explained, “not our church, but a great one with pictures, and lots of
people, and lights and sweet-smoke!”

Ah, how she laughed, and though it was but a husky whispering affair,
it was still a very merry laugh, because of the light that danced so
gaily to it in her eyes. She then informed me that the music had been a
mere scrap from a famous oratorio, and that my “sweet-smoke” was called
incense, and though she set me right, it was her harmless jest to use
the word “sweet-smoke” herself ever after.

We had been there but a little while, when one day I noticed something
wrong with the music; the tones were weak and wavering, there seemed to
be no certainty in her touch. Her little hand could not hold a simple
chord with firmness, and then the next moment there was a soft crash
of the yellow, old keys, as Linda sank forward helpless and panting. I
sprang to help her, and between two struggling, unwilling breaths, I
heard her whisper: “Must this go too? Dear God! must this go too?”

By chance the little brother had been present. He called his
mother, and presently Linda was on the sofa in the other room,
and the inevitable farm-house remedy for all mortal ills, the
camphor-bottle--or to use the rural term, the “camfire”--had been
produced, and soon Linda raised her eyes and called up the old, sweet
smile; while little Arthur stood with sturdy legs far apart--his hands
in his small pockets, and his father’s own special brand of frown upon
his brow--watching his sister’s restoration; then he remarked: “Linda,
it was blowin’ wind into that d--blamed old organ, that busted yer
all up just now!--so it was!--and after this yer just pull yer feet
back out of the way, and I’ll crawl under there, and work them ‘pedal
treadle things,’ and blow yer all the wind yer want--and if I blow so
hard it busts the thing, papa darsent lick me, ’cause I’ll be doin’ it
for you!” and he danced with malicious glee!

Next day he kept his word, and though Miss Linda played a little while,
somehow the spirit seemed to have gone out of her music. But when
Arthur came out on all-fours from under the instrument’s front, hot,
red and tousled, his sister shook his little hand and thanked him and
kissed him tenderly--and he, swelling with gratified pride and love,
went out behind the smoke-house, where he swore a little for practice,
and tried to kill the cat.

Next morning early, as I left our room, I glanced into Miss Linda’s,
and saw it had not been put in order yet. Being ever eager to do
something in her service, I thought I might slip in and beat up her
pillows and place them in the sun as I had seen the “grown-ups” do.
So in I went and, snatching up the nearest pillow, I gave a startled
“Oh!” and stood staring, for beneath it lay the miniature of a man,
whose questioning brown eyes looked up at me from a face young yet
stern to the point of sombreness. My first impulse was to restore the
pillow and run away, but next moment I noticed, lying close to the
picture, all crumpled up into a little wad, Miss Linda’s handkerchief.
I leaned over and touched it, and it was still damp with tears. A great
lump rose in my throat and, though I was but a “growing-girl,” it was
the heart of a woman that was giving those quick, hard blows in my
breast and making me understand. I sprang across the room and softly
closed the door. I said to myself: “Miss Linda loves him, and she is
unhappy and grieves, and she does not wish them to know!”

I went to her bureau and took a fresh handkerchief from the drawer,
then I took the miniature--it was on ivory, and, from its small, gold
frame, I fancied it had been intended for an ornament--and slipped it
into the velvet case I found near by; then I carefully rolled the case
inside of the handkerchief and started downstairs, trying hard to look
unconcerned as I entered the dining-room.

Breakfast had just been placed upon the table, and every one save Linda
was moving toward it. A little, drooping figure still seated, she
seemed very ill that morning, and the great, dark circles about her
eyes looked like purple stains on her white face. I crossed directly to
her, thus turning my back upon every one else, and leaning over her
and thrusting my small package into her hand with a warning pressure of
the fingers, I said: “I have brought a fresh handkerchief for you, Miss
Linda--do you want it?”

The moment she touched the parcel she understood. Her eyes sent one
startled glance toward her father--then she looked at me. The white
weariness faded all away, and warmly, rosily I saw her love blossom
sweetly in her face, while she answered: “Thank you, little sister--yes
I want it,” and slipped the handkerchief into the pocket of her gown,
just as her father pushed me impatiently aside that he might assist her
to her place at table.

He instantly noted the color in her face and sharply exclaimed: “What’s
this--what’s this! is this a feverish manifestation, at this hour of
the day?”

And Linda smiled and charged him with “cultivating his imagination,
instead of his corn,” and by the time she was in her place the color
had faded, the waxen pallor was back upon her face, and the small
incident had been safely passed.

Late that afternoon Linda was lying on, or perhaps I should say
clinging to, the hard and slippery thing they called a sofa--Heaven
save the mark! It was long and hard, and smoothly covered with shiny
leather. It arched up in its middle over very powerful springs, and the
springs and the slipperiness did the trick for every one. You could not
snuggle on it to save your life, and if you attempted to be friendly
with it and tried to rest your book or fan or smelling bottle beside
you--hoop la!--with an intensity of malice known only to the inanimate
enemy it would hitch up its back and fire everything off onto the floor
well out of your reach--and if you showed any marked annoyance it would
fire you after them. There was not a day that it did not shoot Miss
Linda’s pillow from under her head, and twice I saw it slide her bodily
to the floor.

I had found just one thing that could hold on to this slippery fiend,
and that was a blanket--but who on earth wanted to lie on a blanket in
the summer-time? So there Miss Linda lay on the glassy-surfaced “sofa,”
with a chair pushed close up to it to prevent her sliding off, and I on
the floor slowly fanning her and hoping she might be asleep, she was
so very quiet. But no, she was not sleeping, for presently, without
opening her eyes or making the least movement, she whispered: “Little
sister, you saved three of us much grief and pain by your caution and
your thoughtfulness to-day, and now, dear, I will explain about the
picture.”

I turned hot and shame-faced, and rubbing my head upon her hands like
an affectionate young puppy, I muttered confusedly, “that, if she
pleased, I’d rather not!” But she smiled; not her family smile, but a
sad, slow smile, and stroked my hair and went on gently: “It is right
that you should know. He, the man of the miniature, was to have been
my--” She stopped; she swallowed hard at something. She moistened her
lips and started again: “He--at least, I was to have been his wife! I
wore his ring--I--I--” Suddenly her eyes opened wide on mine, and she
said with a sort of rush: “Child, child! Heaven will have to be a very
glorious place to make me forget the happiness I knew with him! and I
loved him so! oh, I loved him so!”

In a very transport of sympathy I broke in: “But he was good, I am sure
he was! and he don’t look as if he were dead?”

She smiled kindly at me, and fully understood my blundering, hurried
words: “Yes, dear,” she said, “you are right; he is not dead, and he is
good! A little hard, perhaps--” Her eyes closed again. “Yes, perhaps,
a little hard, but--well, men must be hard or they cannot succeed!
We were very happy, dear! Papa--” Her brows drew together quickly
for a moment;--“papa gave his consent. He--Roger--had a noble voice;
we sang together at the church, we rode, we planned--we planned--”
A pause, a long, long, shivering sigh, and then: “Papa changed his
mind. I was not of age--even had I been, I had been bred up to such
strict obedience--I--oh, I don’t know!--but Roger, he could not bear
dependence on another man’s whims for two long years! He was one
of the college professors; he needed quiet, regularity, positively
settled plans, or the quality of his work might suffer! Papa broke his
promise--he gave no reason. Roger said ‘he was jealous of us.’ I only
know he broke his promise! Roger would not wait! Father commanded--he
demanded! They were two angry men--I stood between them, dear--and I am
crushed!”

“Oh,” I cried, “he did not love you hard enough, dear Miss Linda!
What was enduring two years of Mr. Hyler compared to enduring a whole
life without _you_?” It was not exactly a polite way to speak of the
reverend gentleman or of her lover, and she laid her finger on my
lips, as she resumed: “Papa does not understand--time has passed--but,
oh, child, child!--each day of my life--I lose my love--each day the
pain of it--is fresh and new! Had papa known of the picture to-day--he
might have understood--he might have--suffered remorse--and he is old
and--and--‘As we forgive those who trespass against us!’”

Her whisper died away on the last word; she lay quite still. I fanned
her gently, slowly, and kissed her little, paper-dry hands now and
then, and by-and-by the smile faded quite away, the sweet lips took a
downward droop, the heavy waves of her brown hair made her face look
piteously small and wasted, and, with hot tears dropping down into my
lap, I took my first look at the real Linda. The little songster, with
the song stopped in her throat! The loving little woman, with her heart
crushed in her breast!--and as it was my first so it was my last look
at that Linda, for it was the only time I ever saw her asleep, and when
awake she was always on dress-parade, and wore her smile as an officer
would his sword.

Shortly after this I began to worry, for though I was still in
ignorance, even I could see that as these hot days went panting by
each one of them took with it some small portion of dear Miss Linda’s
strength. The dandelion in seed, lifting in air its phantom, downy
globe, was scarcely whiter, lighter or more frail than she. Then I
was worried about myself. The family were taking suddenly too deep
an interest in me, my tastes and my desires. I was even asked what
I would do under such and such circumstances, or how I would decide
between this claim and that, and when I entered a room the “grown-ups”
were almost sure, of late, to stop speaking, or they would clear their
throats and speak of the weather with an elephantine lightness that
could not deceive a goggle-eyed infant negotiating teeth with a rubber
ring.

Once my very own mother, speaking excitedly, too, stopped short when
I came in, and though I looked and looked at her with forty-horse
questioning power in my eyes, she answered nothing, and my most
penetrating and gimlet-like glance finally brought out a very
brief, not to say sharp, suggestion that I sit down and stare at my
spelling-book awhile--which, like most good advice, was neither kindly
given nor willingly followed. So I was worrying, when one morning I
stood listening to Miss Linda’s unspeakably sad music. She was playing
with fervor and more strength than usual, and suddenly she was seized
with a paroxysm of coughing. Instead of going to her at once, I ran
into the next room for some troches that were on a table, and before
I could return with them she had fallen and was lying motionless on
the floor. My cry and the shouts of little Arthur gave the alarm. Mrs.
Hyler entered first. She went very white, but she stooped and lifted
Linda like a child, and I thought it strange that, as she carried her,
she held a handkerchief to her face. Mr. Hyler appearing suddenly,
exclaimed in excited tones: “Ice--ice! Salt--linen!” and, taking these
exclamations as orders, I ran forward, intending to carry the message
to my mother. At that moment Mrs. Hyler stretched out her hand to push
the door more widely open, and on the breast of her light dress, just
where Miss Linda’s head was resting, a great, red stain was slowly,
evilly spreading. I glanced from it to the handkerchief in her hand,
and it was red! red!! red!!! With stiffening lips, I whispered: “Miss
Linda--oh, Miss Linda!” and suddenly there came a mighty roaring in my
ears--a cold air on my face, and as I sank into the windy darkness,
afar off I heard a voice cry: “There she goes! Catch the child--ah! she
saw it all.”

Yes, in very truth I had seen all! And when, with a general sense of
discomfort, I opened my eyes upon the sunlight again, I found myself
attended by two of the seven sons, who cast water on me with lavish
hand and pounded me with an affectionate brutality that left marks by
which my fainting might be remembered for days after. I looked stupidly
at them at first and wondered, and then I saw that great, red, growing
stain beneath the wasted, white face, and I broke into such sobs as
fairly frightened them. I was crouching on the top step of the porch,
with my feet drawn up and my arms and head resting on my knees, and
as I glanced downward I saw four bare, brown, boyish feet, and noted
how restless they were. With my heart almost bursting with pain, some
portion of my brain made a note of the fact that one of the four great
toes before me had received a recent cut that must have been given by a
hoe. Then the elder one thumped me kindly on the back and said: “Don’t,
Carrie, don’t!”--and the other one said, in a husky voice: “Why, didn’t
yo’ never know at all that sister Linda was a-goin’ to die?”

I gave an agonized cry at the words, and the elder boy exclaimed:
“What did yer want to say that for? For two cents I’d give yer a good
lickin’!”--while he, of the toe, said: “No, yer won’t give me a lickin’
for two cents, nor for one cent, neither!”

“Why won’t I?”

“Why didn’t Jack eat his supper, eh?”

And then they grabbed at each other over my head, but a grave voice
said: “Boys, I never was so shamed by you before!”

It was Alfred, the eldest of the seven, and a “grown-up” himself. He
paid no attention to their explanations--their recriminations; he
simply stooped, and, lifting my shaking body in his arms, carried me
into the house. As he was going up the narrow stairs a splash came on
my cheek that was no tear of mine. A thrill went through me from head
to foot--I lifted my swollen lids to look at him. His face wore that
gray tint paleness brings to dark people, and in his always sad eyes I
saw slow tears gathering. I buried my own face in his bosom, and laying
my shaking, little hand across his eyes, I sobbed: “Don’t, oh, please
don’t! She couldn’t bear it if she knew!”

He took me to my mother’s room and, placing me high against the
pillows, deftly tied a wet handkerchief about my hot brows, and then he
stood looking down at me for a moment before he said, with a quivering
voice: “You know now, don’t you, Carrie?”

I nodded my head and wrung my hands silently. “Yes,” he went on,
“she is going soon, dear--and--and--it’s rough! Good God! Carrie! if
you could have seen her three years ago--if you could have heard her
sing! I think sometimes my father is a devil! There--there--I didn’t
mean to say that!--but see, dear, little girl!” He knelt down quickly
by the bed and took my hands in his. He spoke rapidly--pressing my
fingers tightly, to hold my attention: “They are going to ask you to do
something--to-morrow, perhaps--this awful attack of Linda’s will hurry
things--I can’t tell you _what_ they will ask; I have not the time,
but, Carrie, refuse! Don’t be badgered--don’t be coaxed--not even by
darling Linda! One martyr is enough! Refuse, refuse! for, oh, we will
be a hard lot when sister has left us!”

His body shook with sobs; for a moment he let his head rest on the edge
of the bed. Then he rose and left the room to go to his own, where I
heard him lock himself in. And that day ended my ignorance about Miss
Linda’s fate, and it also ended Miss Linda’s music--she had played her
last note.

That I had received a shock was evident to the whole family, and I
heard the sick girl say to her father: “Wait, papa, dear, don’t speak
to Carrie yet--give her a little time.”

But my grief was greater than my curiosity, and I never asked myself
what he could have to speak to me about, or what he could possibly ask
of me. I only thought of her--to fan her, hand her a drink, bring her a
flower, carry a message, or, above all, during that afternoon hour, to
crouch at her side and watch her “silent singing,” as I called it. She
never seemed to do it before her mother or anyone but me. But while she
was supposed to be taking a nap, and I fanned her quietly, she would
lie, with closed eyes, and softly beat time with her shadowy hand,
and her throat would swell and her lips move, but no sound came; and
through much watching of her, with my heart in my eyes, I came to know
what she sang. Often it was “Lead, Kindly Light,” but more often, to my
torture now, it was that expression of absolute submission, “Just as I
Am, Without One Plea.” And when her pale lips found the words, “O, Lamb
of God, I Come,” I would bite my lips and hold my breath, that I might
not break into the wild sobs that would have sore distressed her.

I had not liked the Rev. Hyler at any time, but when I learned that,
minister as he was, the sole religious observance for the family was
a hasty, almost angry, snatch at a blessing on the food, while for
visitors there were family prayers both night and morning, my dislike
became marked. Linda saw it as she saw everything, and unable to defend
him, she suffered and was ashamed, but kept silent until that hot
afternoon, when she said: “Little sister, you are not fond of papa, but
try, dear--to put out of your mind--that matter of the prayers, and
only think how old and tired and tried he is--and” (I heard his step
approaching, and his dry, little cough)--“and listen to him kindly--and
try to do what he asks of you--try, dear, for all our sakes.”

And then, to my bewilderment, the Rev. Hyler and his worn and helpless
wife made solemn entry and seated themselves, and I, having risen
respectfully, stood there and received the blood-curdling proposal that
I should become the sister of the seven--the adopted daughter of the
Rev. Hyler! Amazement kept me silent, and they went on to explain, with
their eyes turned away from Linda’s face, “how bad it would be for the
boys to be without a sister’s influence--and how they had been greatly
gratified, though much surprised, to see that the younger boys had
taken a strong liking to me,” and, glancing at their two grim faces, I
wondered what they would say or do if they knew that their boys’ liking
was founded upon a generous but downright falsehood, told by me to
save the second youngest from a most unjust and cruel thrashing; after
which I had gone at once to my mother, confessed the lie and accepted
my punishment with a cheerful acquiescence that filled the seven with
admiration and made them declare, with enthusiastic vulgarity, that I
was “the biggest thing on ice!”

At last it dawned upon them that, for mere form’s sake, they should ask
an answer from me, and it came in a swift and emphatic “NO!” They were
surprised and angry, but to all their half-sneering questions--as to
why and wherefore--wide-eyed and amazed, I had but one word for answer:
“Mother!” The Rev. Hyler answered: “My wife will be your mother!”--and
I almost laughed; then with large conclusiveness I replied: “But my
mother loves me, sir!”

Miss Linda caught my hand and said: “Think, Carrie--a
home--brothers--father and mother to love you.”

I looked at him a walking bitterness, I looked at her a withering
disappointment and said: “No! no, dear Miss Linda, they love you, but
they would not love me--and” I triumphantly added, “they will not tell
you so!”

She turned questioningly to them, but the challenge was not accepted.
Angrily her father bade me go, saying, “I might know what hunger was
some day.”

But I answered cheerfully: “Oh, I have been hungry sometimes, and so
has mother, but we were together, so it was all right. You know when
you’re orphans and widows, you always come all right”--a speech that
was as perfect in faith as it was imperfect in grammar.

The Rev. Hyler, with a vindictive gleam in his eye, “hoped I might be
hungry again, that I might appreciate what I was rejecting”--and Miss
Linda kissed me with a disappointed face, and whispered for me to go,
now.

After that life became intolerable there, and soon there came a morning
when, ready for an early start, I crept into Miss Linda’s room and
knelt down by her bed, and with hands tight-clasped we looked--and
looked--and looked, and spoke not one word between us. Then there
came a call for me, and I rose to go. As I bent over to kiss her, she
lifted a thin, little, warning hand and tried to turn my face away,
but with a smothered cry of indignation, I caught her hand and held it
while I slipped my other arm beneath her incredibly frail shoulders,
and lifting her, I kissed her shadowy hair, her brow, her cheeks
and her pale, dry lips. Then with a long, long look into her dark,
sapphire-blue eyes, I laid her down and went out, and saw her no more
forever. As I closed the door gently behind me, I heard, for the last
time, the husky whisper that had grown so dear to me, and all it said
was, “Little sister!”

I stumbled down the stairs, and slipping my hand into my mother’s, we
faced the world once more, I having faith to believe that somewhere
in its mighty length and breadth there was a home for us, and that
together we should somehow find it.

For two years the gentle, little silent singer had been lying in her
lonely and neglected grave, when I paid my only visit to the Hyler
family. Circumstances had brought me into the neighborhood, and I felt
in duty bound to “pay my respects,” as they called it. Poor Alfred’s
fear seemed to have been justified, for the neighbors declared that
since Linda’s death the boys had become a “hard lot,” and seemed
actually to be growing more boldly bad week by week.

The Rev. Hyler and his wife at first seemed to derive a sort of sour
satisfaction from my visit to them. The boys received me with noisy
greetings and many poundings on the shoulders, and young savages that
they were, they expressed their hospitality by the making of gifts,
such as horse-hair rings, matched jack-stones, and several chunks
of not-too-clean flag-root, both the smell and taste of which were
particularly offensive to me.

Before tea was over all the kindness had gone out of Mrs. Hyler’s face,
and it began to wear the look I had known well in former days, of dull,
sullen dissatisfaction. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, she said: “I
suppose, Carrie, you have heard all about Linda?”

With some hesitation I answered: “Yes, I think so. I heard that
she--she went away in her sleep, and that you held her hand--but never
knew when--”

“Oh yes,” she broke in, angrily, “and they told you, too, that I had
sat there asleep, or I would have known--I know their tales.”

“Oh dear, Mrs. Hyler,” I cried, “indeed no one ever implied such a
cruel thing! They only said she passed so gently that no one could have
known the actual moment.”

She seemed somewhat mollified by this assurance, and went on more
rapidly, and as she spoke she slowly turned her cup round and round in
its saucer: “Linda had been so much better that last day that it seemed
almost foolish when she expressed her wish to see each one of the boys
alone for a few minutes. I told her so, but she only smiled and said,
‘so much the better for the boys.’ The memory of her last words to
them should not be associated with suffering and pain, and so she had
her way, and held each brother in her arms and whispered some last
words--but smiling, smiling all the time.”

I clasped my hands tight beneath the table, and my heart seemed to beat
out those cruel words, “smiling, smiling all the time,” and I whispered
“Miss Linda, oh, dear Miss Linda!”

“Yes, and she had a little gift for each--and--well, later in the
afternoon she was lying on the sofa, her eyes were closed, and beneath
the cover her hand seemed to be moving all the time. Perhaps she was
nervous, but she was saying, or repeating-to-herself-like, the words--”

I could not help it--from my lips sprang the line: “Just as I Am,
Without One Plea!”

There followed a sort of general exclamation, and Mr. Hyler
leaned forward, saying sharply: “How’s this? Who gave you your
information--not the boys, I’m sure?”

Hot and confused, I said: “Nobody told me, I had only guessed,” (his
disbelief was palpable) “because dear Miss Linda was so very fond of
that hymn, and sang it nearly every day to herself.”

“And Mr. Hyler sneeringly assured me that, as Linda has lost her voice
more than a year before her death, my statement had at least the
element of surprise about it!” I sat mute--I could not explain to them
about the silent singing.

Then Mrs. Hyler took up the hateful ball and sent it rolling toward
me with the suggestion, “that as I was a good guesser, perhaps I had
guessed all that she had been going to say?”

I steadied my voice and answered, respectfully, “that I had not guessed
anything else,” and with mock surprise she said: “Indeed?” and then
went on: “After a silence Linda spoke of you, Carrie.”

I looked up joyfully--my mortification all forgotten: “She said you
were a remarkable girl” (even at that moment I was proud that she had
not called me child, but “girl”). “I told her you were well enough, but
in no way remarkable. She insisted, however, and then added, that if I
ever saw you again I was to give you a remembrance. I thought the gift
she chose very odd and unattractive, but she said” (how slowly she was
speaking now) “she said you would understand it.”

She paused so long that I looked up. Her eyes were like a ferret’s, and
Mr. Hyler, with his head in his hand, was watching me from between his
fingers.

“Yes, ma’am,” I whispered, faintly, vaguely. Then she spoke loudly,
roughly: “She told me to give you a handkerchief, and say to you, the
longer you lived the better you would understand her gratitude, for
your _golden silence_.”

I felt the blood fairly pushing through my veins--my downcast eyes
noted that the very backs of my hands were turning red. Then Mrs.
Hyler struck the table sharply and said: “Well, was she right--do you
understand?”

I had no time to answer, for Mr. Hyler sprang up and, violently
thrusting his chair against the wall, cried: “What folly to ask the
question--of course she understands! Is not her knowledge burning red
in her face?”

He stepped across the room and flung wide the door leading to his
_study_, as he termed it--the boys called it “The Place of Horrors,”
because they were always thrashed there with peculiar malevolence and
ingenuity, and generally unjustly--they seldom got punished when they
deserved it. There he waved me in. But grave and stern, Alfred’s voice
came: “Father--father! Carrie is but a child--she is here alone, and
she is a visitor!”

“Visitor or no visitor!” was the answer, “I will not permit this
stranger, this mere nobody, to have knowledge of my daughter that is
unknown to me!”

With wistful voice I meekly asked Mrs. Hyler: “Please ma’am, may I have
the handkerchief?” and she sharply answered: “No--no! you shall have no
handkerchief” (Alfred quickly left the room a moment) “until you have
confessed every word that ever passed between you and Linda!”

Here Alfred came in again and, leaning over, placed in my hand the
little gift, and kissing me, gently said: “There, Carrie, it was
Linda’s own!” Then as he passed his mother, he laid his hand on her
shoulder and said: “Dear mother, it was not yours to withhold--we must
all honor sister’s wishes.”

Mr. Hyler fairly shouted: “Take your seat and be silent, sir! As for
you,” (turning to me) “into that room! I will know what conduct my
daughter was guilty of that she should be grateful for the shelter of
your ‘golden silence’!”

The four eldest boys sprang furiously to their feet, but the cry that
rang the wildest in that room, that might have been the cry of a
woman-grown, came from my lips. I stood gasping a moment, and all I
thought was: “Miss Linda, oh my Miss Linda--he insulted you--he--he,
whom you always spared!” And then I began to grow cold--bodily,
mentally! My shamefacedness, my fear, all fell away from me. I must
have gone very white, for No. 5, a rather timid, gentle boy, said
lowly: “Oh, mother, will Carrie faint? She won’t die too, will she?”

I lifted my eyes to the Rev. Hyler, and I felt a great contempt for
him; while down deep in my heart there was growing a bitter anger that
merged, at last, into a vindictive longing to see him suffer. I threw
up my head and marched into “The Place of Horrors,” and turning, waited
for him to follow me. He paused and looked at me with the same gleam
in his eyes that shone there the day he wished “I might know hunger
again.” Then, with petty triumph, he exclaimed: “When you leave this
room I shall understand this thing!”

But he was only partially right, for when I left that room he
understood several things. He banged the door shut, and then seated
himself at his writing table, leaving me to stand at his opposite side,
as a culprit stands before a judge. I looked at him and saw all the
narrow, gray man’s meanness, his eager curiosity that was like that of
a scandal-monger’s. Yet, I gave him one chance, for when he demanded:
“Well, now, Miss?” I said: “Mr. Hyler, you _must_ know, there is
nothing wrong about dear Miss Linda’s kind message to me--she simply--”
“Stop, where you are!” he cried. “I’ll have no prevarication! Where
there is secrecy there is shame! No one ever conceals what is right!
I’ll have the truth, now, and the meaning of this message!”

And I answered: “Yes, sir, you shall have the truth!” and I told him
briefly of Miss Linda’s silent singing, and of her undying sorrow for
her lost lover. As I spoke, utter amazement grew upon his face--he
stammered out: “Why--why--what are you saying? She never spoke of
him! Why--nearly three years had passed--since--since--the--r--the
break--and ’er--you don’t know what you are talking about--she did not
grieve!”

“Oh, yes, she did!” I tranquilly replied. “That was why she would never
have a light in her room at night for fear the picture might be seen.
She slept with it beneath her cheek, and washed it with her tears, and
dried it with her kisses. Oh, yes, she grieved!”

His eyes began to look sunken and his face was working convulsively.
Then I told him how I had found the picture and wrapped it in a
handkerchief and had given it silently to her in his presence, and
she had been grateful, not because she was ashamed of her love or her
sorrow, but because she wished to spare him suffering. And with his
clenched fist he struck the table, blow after blow, crying furiously:
“You lie--you baggage--you lie!” Then suddenly turning his trembling
hands palms upward, he pleaded: “Carrie--tell me that you lie!” But
coldly I answered: “I do not lie at all, sir--and you know I do
not--besides, here are dear Miss Linda’s very own words: ‘Every day of
my life I lose my love--and every day the pain is fresh and new!’”

His eyes roamed from side to side--little bubbles formed in the
corners of his lips, his hand went up to his throat and tried to
loosen his collar, and I could just hear the whispered words that
left his lips: “Linda--Linda--Linda!” and then, I struck my last blow
at him. (Oh, Miss Linda, to-day, I ask your pardon, but then I was
hard and pitiless, as only the very young can be.) And I went coldly
on: “She said to me, she did not wish you to know of her sorrow,
because, _perhaps_”--I leaned on the table and brought myself nearer to
him--“_perhaps_ you _might_ feel remorse!”

He threw one hand above his head and gave a cry: “Perhaps? perhaps?
only perhaps?” and suddenly fell forward on the table, with outspread
arms, and I heard him call upon the God he had never truly served and
ask the mercy he had denied his own child! And, as I left the room by
a second door opening into the entry where hung my hat and cloak, the
vindictive devil that possessed me made me say quite clearly: “As a
father pitieth his own children!”

I was tying on my hat when I distinctly heard the boys quarreling as
to whether or no there would be prayers held in my honor--some saying,
“yes, because I was company,” and the younger ones arguing that, as I
was not a “grown-up,” “there’d be no family prayers,” then suddenly
there was a howl, and I knew they were coming to blows.

I slipped from the house, without good-bye to any one, and as I passed
the study window, I glanced in and saw the “gray head” bowed upon the
table and two hands beating feebly, aimlessly, and suddenly I seemed to
hear Miss Linda’s husky whisper saying: “And only remember how old and
tired and tried he is, dear!”

And I cried aloud: “Forgive me, forgive me, dear Miss Linda--I did it
because I loved you so!” and looking across the years--I say now--I
love you so, dear LITTLE SILENT SINGER.



An Old Hulk



An Old Hulk


Old Thomas Brockwell--sometimes called Bull Brockwell, he of the
mighty thews and sinews--had been for some years a widower, and had he
remained a widower I should have been the poorer by one good friend--a
lowly one--oh, yes--but you know that true friendship is one of the few
things the lowly can afford to give.

But the broad-shouldered, ruddy-faced old Briton had married an
American wife in the person of the mother of my closest chum--and so I
learned many things about the narrow, hard, honest old giant--things
that sometimes filled my eyes with tears of laughter; sometimes with
stinging drops of anguished pity. The only surprising thing about
Brockwell’s second marriage was that it had not taken place years
before--for given a working-class Englishman of middle age--owning
a house of his own--you have the worst material in the world for a
widower. But, like most of his race, he was a bit contrary, and when
all his housekeepers and his elderly unmarried friends pursued him
openly--without even trying to hide the matrimonial _lasso_ with a few
flowers of sentiment or delicacy--he shook his obstinate, old head and
plunged away.

Then Emily had arrived upon the scene, whom he described as “a fine
figure of a woman” (she weighed something over two hundred), and if
she was too inert to join in the general pursuit of him, she was also
too inert to _avoid_ pursuit herself--hence the marriage, and though,
while praising her housekeeping, he openly expressed his doubts of
her soul’s salvation--the new, phlegmatic Mrs. Brockwell remained
quite undisturbed. She was an experienced chewer of gum--she said
she _had_ to chew it to aid her digestion--but be that as it may, a
certain mental clearness, a sort of spiritual calm, seemed to come to
her from her steady, cow-like munching. On the occasion of her second
marriage she had contentedly chewed until she took her place before
the lean, old minister; then, having no bridesmaid to act for her, she
stuck her gum on her breast-pin, temporarily, while she promised to
accept the big party at her side, and all his belongings, and to nurse
him for the rest of his life without further remuneration--and with
the nuptial benediction she had resumed her gum and had gone forth a
slowly-chewing, contented bride--and on Sunday, he wishing, probably,
to do all that was courteous and polite under the circumstances, took
his new wife out to the cemetery and proceeded to introduce her--as it
were--to the other members of the family.

A hideous chunk of stone stood in the middle of a plot, from which the
graves rayed out like the spokes of a wheel--and old Thomas, with a
cane, which so surely only appeared on Sundays that a bad little boy
once said: “God made the Sabbath day and old Brockwell’s cane!”--with
this cane he immediately bored a little hole at the foot of one grave
and remarked: “I buried my _first_ wife there”--and Emily brought
her jaws to with a snap, and bowed her head slightly, as though
acknowledging an introduction. Then she chewed again, and old Thomas
yanked out the cane with some effort, as though Mrs. Brockwell No. 1
was holding on to it. Then he bored another little hole at the foot
of another grave with the cane and announced: “I buried my eldest son
here”--another stoppage of the jaws and another bow--and so the old
“borer” went on, till each member of the family had been presented to
the new-comer in turn, and then he gave the final touch of brightness
to this very original bridal outing by carefully measuring with the
cane the space, to see if there was enough left for two more spokes to
his family “wheel of death.”

Mrs. Brockwell was wont to declare she would remember that day as
long as she lived. Not because her sensibilities were wounded, but
because she had not been constructed for rapid action, and she declared
she would never have lived through the homeward walk but for the
sustaining power of an extra piece of gum, which she luckily had in her
pocket--for this was the golden age of the world when women still had
pockets.

Old Thomas Brockwell narrowly--very narrowly--escaped being a religious
monomaniac. Unquestionably sincere, his religion was yet a thing so
warped and bitter as to fill most people with shrinking dread. He
studied only the Old Testament, rarely reading the New. In his ears
the rolling thunders of Sinai drowned the gentle “Voice” preaching from
the “Mount.” He believed in a personal Devil--he believed in a material
Hell.

I have never known anyone who got as much satisfaction out of the
_whole_ of his religion as he got out of Hell alone. He talked of it,
thought of it, and, in regretful tones, told many of his friends that
they were going _there_. All its accessories were dear to him. The
“brimstone,” the “burning lake” and that “undying worm,” which seemed,
in his imagination, something between a boaconstrictor and a Chinese
dragon, while the “bottomless pit” not only gave him two words to
roll sweetly under his tongue, but provided an ideal place to shake
frightened little boys over at Sunday-school--for he labored faithfully
Sunday after Sunday to frighten sinful youth into the church or the
idiot asylum.

His God was a bitterly revengeful God! The Bible told him to fear Him
and to obey His commandments. The base of his religion was “an eye
for an eye--a tooth for a tooth!” He knew no “turning of the other
cheek”--no “forgiveness of enemies,” and many a time, in his efforts
to show his disapproval of the loving, gentle, yet strong teaching of
the New Testament, he blasphemed unconsciously. Few things made him so
angry as to suggest “a Hell of remorse”--of “tortured conscience”--of
“mental agony”--while a hint at “atonement”--a final winning of
forgiveness--was a rag so red as to set him madly charging through the
harshest and most cruelly just punishments meted out in the Bible--and
the worse one promised for the future--_Hell_! “And _their_ future is
_now_!” he would shout, with glaring eyes! “_Now_, do you understand?
All these disobedient servants of the Lord are in fiery torments _now!_
and _will_ be forever! Ah! it’s a big place--a _mighty_ big place!--far
and far away bigger than Heaven! It has to be, there’s so many more to
go there!”

Night and morning he read a portion of the Bible, and prayed loud and
long--and right there he came in conflict with his Emily. There was
just one point they differed on--they did not quarrel, because Emily
was too slow in speech. There’s no comfort to be had out of a quarrel,
unless it’s quick--_very_ quick; and if Emily had had her choice she
would a good deal rather have died than try to be quick.

The point of difference between this otherwise peaceful pair was
whether the chewing of gum was un-Christianlike and disrespectful when
indulged in during family service. The first time he had caught her in
the heinous act he had roared out: “Woman, have you no decency? Would
you chaw the ten commandments up into a hunk of gum?”

Emily had mildly stated that she chewed “to keep herself awake,” and
after many struggles it had come to a compromise--she was only to chew
while he read; _not_ while he prayed.

Emily explained matters to me one day in this way: “You see, Mr.
Brockwell, he gets riled up because I chew gum while he’s reading
gospel, but it’s really his own fault; if he’d only read one chapter,
like an ordinary Christian man! My father, now, was a deacon, and he
never read mor’n one chapter at a time at family service; but Mr.
Brockwell, when he gets a smiting people hip and thigh, and a raining
down plagues and things; why, there’s no stop to him; he goes right
along over ever so many chapters--and I don’t take to the stoning
and the killing--and so I go off to sleep, unless I chew gum right
hard. Why, never once since we’ve been married has Mr. Brockwell been
satisfied with the ‘Fall of Jericho’ for one reading. On he goes,
and tackles that city of ‘Ai,’ and I always feel sorry when that
line comes about the ‘men and _women_ that were slaughtered bein’
twelve thousand.’ But, land sakes! it’s all sweeter than honey to Mr.
Brockwell--’specially the hanging of the king, and piling stones on
his body for the beginning of an altar--nasty, bad-smelling idea I
call it. _But_ when Mr. Brockwell begins with them ‘seven trumpets
of rams’ horns’ I begin to chew hard, for I know there’s a lot to be
gone over before praying begins. If he’d read oftener about Hannah and
little Samuel I’d keep awake. Ain’t that a nice little Samuel on the
mantel--his left foot’s broken, but kneeling like that you’d never know
it, unless you turn him around.” That being the sort of tangent Mrs.
Emily was apt to go off on during a conversation.

The old man might have lived without working at that time, but he held
idleness as sinful, so he, without any feeling of shame, acted as
night watchman in a large building down town. One winter there were
many burglaries, and his employer grew a bit uneasy, knowing his was
a tempting establishment and remembering that Thomas Brockwell was an
elderly man. So he asked his watchman if he would not like to have
some one to help him during the rest of the winter. And Brockwell was
hot with anger and answered that he could take care of his employer’s
property, but he didn’t want to protect some young nincompoop besides.
“I am able to take care of any burglars that come my way. A man of the
Lord can always lick a law-breaker,” and looking at the really splendid
old body of his watchman, the gentleman had laughingly declared he
“believed old Brockwell would be up to two or three younger men!” and
let him go his obstinate, lonely way, and like many another word spoken
in jest, these words proved true.

One bitter night, after reading with great enjoyment of the prompt
action of the bears in the taking off of those ribald little boys
who had made unpleasant remarks about the scarcity of hair among the
prophets (surprising how alike the boys of to-day are with the boys of
the scriptural epoch), and had prayed till Emily had fallen asleep,
with her face squelched in the seat of the chair she knelt by, and had
awakened and acknowledged her fault. “For,” as she said to me, “after
he had fallen over my legs without waking me, he might have thought I
was lying if I had said I was just thinking.”

And I had quite agreed with her and complimented her on her truthful
nature--and he had taken his tin pail of coffee in his mittened hand
and his package of sandwiches in his pocket and gone forth to his
night’s watch. He had been a sailor in his early manhood, and, in
addition to the tattooed anchor and star on the backs of his hands, he
still retained a few words from his sailor’s vocabulary which he used
now and then with bewildering effect upon the landsmen. Mrs. Brockwell
found that habit particularly trying. She was one of those women who
always get drabbled when they walk. Long street dresses were worn in
her day, and had she possessed six hands instead of two, she would have
failed still to keep her dress out of the wet or the mud. On Sundays
when she was crowded into her best gown and was clutching her skirt in
the most useless places, trying to pick her way across a muddy street,
old Thomas was wont to exclaim from the rear: “Take a reef in the
la’board side of your petticoat, Emily!” and Emily would hoist high
the right side instead, and the left would go trailing through the
mud, while the old man pounded the walk with his Sunday cane, crying:
“La’board--la’board--la’board, not sta’board. Now just look at your
sails! Oh, woman, the ignorance of you at forty-six, not to know your
la’board from your sta’board side!” And meek Emily never suggested
that left and right were the generally accepted terms for use on shore.

And as old Thomas walked through the biting cold, he congratulated
himself on the honesty his wife had shown in admitting she had fallen
asleep during prayers, and said to himself that it was the end of _her_
day’s work and he supposed she was tired--and--“great guns, how cold
it was!” And so he maundered on and reached his store and entered and
made his rounds, and finally at about two o’clock he took his coffee
from the heater and began to drink it, when he paused--to listen. Then
he put the coffee gently down and stole softly to the office--and saw
two men at the safe, and with a cry, “Avast there!” he was upon them,
striving to grasp them both! The smaller one was like an eel and had
slipped from his clutch, but the larger one he held on to, and after
a short struggle, he got his head “in chancery.” He had just put in a
couple of good blows--when he heard an ominous click behind him--at the
same instant the man he was pounding fiercely growled: “No, no, don’t
use the ‘barker’--you fool, you’ll ‘jug’ us all yet! Choke the devil
off, so I can do something--choke him, I say!”

With beautiful obedience and the spring of a wild-cat, No. 2 was on
Brockwell’s back, and doing his best to carry out orders. But it was
that neck--that had given rise to the name _Bull_ Brockwell; and the
small ruffian tried in vain to get his clever thief’s fingers in a
choking grasp about the massive throat; but his weight was disturbing
and distressing, and old Brockwell loosed No. 1 for a moment, while he
reached up and tore the incubus from his shoulders. In the effort he
wheeled half round and found himself facing a third man in the doorway.
He had just time to note that the man had a bull’s-eye lantern in one
hand, some weapon in the other, and wore a half-mask on his face--when
he received a crushing blow upon the head. He felt the hot blood leap
forth in swift response to that savage gash. He staggered a bit,
too, but did not fall, to the amazement of the brawny scoundrel, who
exclaimed: “Well, I’ll be damned!” Those words were like a veritable
“slogan” to old Brockwell. “Aye, aye,” he cried, “right you are, my
hearty! Damned you will be, sure, and the burning lake of brimstone
you’ll get for this night’s work!” and then they were upon him. He
threw No. 3 out of the doorway and took that place himself, thus
keeping all of them before him, and like an old bear “baited” by a pack
of snapping, snarling dogs, he was slowly driven back until he found
himself in the room again where stood his coffee. While he placed many
blows where they would do the most good, still a great many more had
fallen short. He felt his wind was going, and the streaming blood from
his head impaired his sight, and just at that moment of threatened
weakness the little thief struck him in the face, not with his fist
but with his open hand--slapped him, in fact. With a roar of rage,
old Brockwell caught up the pail and dashed the hot coffee full into
his assailant’s face, then shouting, “You little whelp, you cur, you
worm!” with a mighty blow he drove the tin pail hard and tight on to
the thief’s head, half cutting off his ears with its rim, and as the
other men made at him, by a happy fluke, he caught each man by the back
of the neck and with every ounce of power to be had from his great arms
and shoulders, he drove their two heads together in a smashing blow,
and dropped their bodies as a well-bred terrier drops the rats he has
shaken the life from. Then he turned for the little foe, just in time
to catch upon his arm the blow that had been meant for his heart, and,
by the hot smarting of his skin, he knew he had been cut by the little
ruffian, whom he hammered into submission easily. Then Bull Brockwell
sounded his whistle at the door for the police, and when they came
he laid his hand on one of the officers’ shoulder and faintly asked:
“Why--don’t--you--hold still--officer? You keep--going up--and down--,”
and then old Thomas went down, and for a time knew neither prayer, nor
burglar, nor even burning brimstone, but only darkness.

When his senses came back to him he gave an exhibition of what might be
called pig-headed honesty. There was a drug store and a doctor’s office
about two blocks away, and the policeman, on seeing the sorry condition
of the old man, urged him to go and have his hurts cared for. _They_
would see that all was safe during his absence, but he refused point
blank, saying: “If a man was a watchman, he watched! If he was a night
watchman he watched till the night was gone, or deserved the ‘cat.’
His employer paid him to stay in that building till daylight, and he’d
stay, and be tended to afterwards.”

Half angrily the policeman exclaimed: “You obstinate, old bull! Do you
want to bleed to death, then?” And the “bull,” with some embarrassment,
had acknowledged that he did not really desire death, but with a sigh
of satisfaction, he suddenly announced: “The Lord will settle all that.
All I’ve got to do--is my duty--and though I don’t feel just what you
might call--hearty--I--I--guess--I’ll hold out--till time’s up and--”
and his gray white lips trembled into silence.

The policeman, finding him immovable in his determination, sent for
help, and soon the battered “old Brockwell” was being washed and
strapped and bandaged and stitched, and had a few feet of plaster over
some strained muscles, and was generally “made over.” And then the
stunned burglars had recovered their scattered senses and received a
smiling and joyous welcome from the policemen, such as is only offered
when the lost is found--and indeed one of these gentlemen had been
lost--from the penitentiary--for several months. When the party of
three were rounded up, ready for an early morning stroll to the station
house, No. 1 had turned to Brockwell and growled: “See here, you old
slugger, next time I come up against you just hit me over the head
with a loaded cane, or the butt-end of a revolver or something _soft_
like that, will you? I don’t want to be ‘put out’ no more with another
‘mug’s’ head, now I tell you fair!”

“A--a--ah!” cried the little fellow, “he’s a fightin’ freak, he is! He
ought to be a doin’ time for jamming a tin pail over a man’s head and
half cutting off his ears!”

And so they went forth, cursing the night they had tackled “old Bull
Brockwell!”

And then he had returned home, “sans buttons et sans reproche,” and
finding a barrel of flour standing at the side door, had picked it up
and carried it into the house, apparently to convince himself that
he was not much hurt. Then, beginning to feel stiff and lame, he put
himself into Emily’s hands, and she promptly put him into his bed,
and scrambled through the “Fall of Jericho,” stuck her gum upon the
bed-post while she did it, then she had looked at his head and said,
“she’d no idea a man could sew so neatly!” and then old Brockwell got
hot and feverish, and his eye and cheek had blackened, and the doctor
said he must be kept quiet a few days, at which dictum Emily had
groaned aloud: “Kept quiet? Him? Good Lord!”

And, truly, had she been alone with him those days, her work would
have been cut out for her. The ideal “bull in a china shop” would have
proved an inoffensive and lymphatic creature compared to this pawing,
plunging, irritable old Bull Brockwell! Bad enough at any time, when
his eyes had swelled so he could no longer by the aid of his Bible put
women and children to “the edge of the sword,” nor erect altars, nor
even calculate the dollars’ worth of a “wedge of gold of fifty shekels
weight,” he proceeded to fret himself into a fever, and I was moved
partly by pity and partly, I am sorry to say, by a spirit of mischief,
to seat myself by his side, and with the air of one who carefully
selects a soothing and pleasant topic for sick-room conversation, I
brought forward the subject of eternal punishment, and for my reward
had his fixed attention in a moment.

For a time he expatiated on the strong points of that place of
torment, seeing no inconsistency in _paving_ with broken promises a
_bottomless_ pit, and as he began to run down, assuming the air of one
eager for information, I asked his opinion of that place of eternal
coldness--that frozen lake.

“Coldness--coldness?” he repeated, “Why, I don’t seem to remember!” and
then another thought came to him and he broke out: “Fine! Splendid!
I never felt such pain in my life as when I went near a fire with my
frosted hands. Cold _and_ fire! That’s good! Ah, it would have been
better to have respected them commandments--only ten of ’em too!”

Egged on by his evident satisfaction, I went on introducing to him
“circle” after “circle” of the great Italian’s Vision of Hell, and if
Mr. Thomas Brockwell ever knew a genuinely happy afternoon, _that_
was the one. And when I got a soft pencil and made black lines about
the inside of his shaving-mug to illustrate the idea of the “circle,”
he eagerly peered in with his nearly-closed, discolored eyes and
triumphantly cried: “And the old, burning-brimstone lake right at the
bottom--eh?”

All the punishments had met with his hearty approval save one. That
great, black, “windy horror,” through which unfortunate lovers beat
their blind way--seeking, eternally seeking their sinful mates--met
with instant condemnation. “If they had sinned--they had broken a very
important law--a law, mind you, that Moses had received direct from
Heaven. Just flying round in the dark was no punishment for such a sin!
They got worse than that when they were alive!” For, you see, the old
man was very material, and he failed to imagine the anguish of that
“eternal, loving, despairing search!”

All went well. Old Brockwell not only kept to his bed, but enjoyed
himself until night and time for family service arrived, and then the
“snag” appeared in my way that I should have seen from the first.
Suddenly suspicious, he placed his hand on the book and asked: “Just
in what part of ‘this’ did you find all that new ‘Hell’ you’ve been
telling me about, lass?”

I sat stupidly silent. I had a vision of myself being driven away
as unworthy to enter in with true believers, having jested upon the
great subject. I tried to force my lips to speak, to tell him I would
bring the book I had read it all in--but, truth to tell, I was too
frightened to speak, and his brow blackening with anger, Mattie, his
step-daughter, calmly asked: “Mother where was it in the old-world they
found those ‘sacred’ manuscripts the other day?” (Poor Emily wasn’t at
all sure there was an old-world.) “Mr. Brockwell, you’ll know--Egypt
wasn’t it? Those wise men are working over them, you know, to translate
them; they say they are parts of the old--”

“Egypt,” declared the battered Brockwell. “Egypt, and very interesting
they are too!”

“But,” I meekly started, “but”--then Mattie cleared her throat loudly,
and bending over me, muttered: “Don’t be a fool--leave well-enough
alone!” and I followed her advice and was silent. A month later, I told
them “good-bye,” my profession taking me far from them, and I could not
help admiring the upright, powerful figure of the old man, as he stood
at his gate--so perfectly proportioned that it was hard to believe
that he was inches over six feet in height. As I reached the walk I
looked back. Emily, large and buxom, stood in the door, a soft, red
shawl about her ample shoulders--her jaws working with a slow precision
that told me plainly she was “breaking in” a new piece of gum. Bull
Brockwell waved his hat to me, and, against the westering sun, he
loomed up black and big! And I said to myself: “In faith as in body--a
giant!”

Three years had passed before I saw him again, three vivid, crowded
years for me! Success had perched upon the lonely, little banner I
had carried into that strange campaign where each one fights according
to his own individual plan, and I was back in the old city, and
because of that success was in great haste to seek my lowly, old
friends out--for self respect, even a suspicious pride, renders it
very hard for the lowly to make the first advance toward one who has
risen ever so slightly. I had heard nothing of them during my absence,
and standing at the door waiting a good, long wait--for Emily, like
most large bodies, moved slowly--I said to myself: “I shall not see
the dear, old ‘Bull’ for a couple of hours yet, as he will surely be
sleeping now, but by six o’clock--” and then the door opened, and Mrs.
Emily was before me, quite unchanged--and had taken me into a big
comfortable embrace--and kissed me warmly and loudly, and expressed her
gratification so noisily that I wondered she was not afraid of waking
her husband--and then she led the way to the sitting-room, without one
word of warning or explanation--which was so like Emily--and crying
out, “My, Mr. Brockwell, but here _is_ some one you’ll be glad to
see,” she moved aside and left me in the doorway, where I stood quite
still, the smile of welcome drying stiffly on my lips, while with
pained astonishment I stared at--Mr. Brockwell (?)--oh, yes; that
thick thatch of hair was neither whiter nor thinner than before. There
was the splendid, old torso with all its depth of chest and breadth
of shoulder. But why was he in that dread wheel-chair? Why were his
great limbs covered with a quilt? and, worst of all, why that strange
expression in his face? Meeting that piteous, appealing glance, I felt
the tears begin to fall, for I realized that in spite of the presence
here of Mr. Brockwell--old Bull Brockwell was no more! The painful
silence was broken by the trembling voice of Emily: “Father, I clean
forgot to tell her--anything--and--and, I declare, she does take it
right hard--don’t she, now?” and she slipped out of the room, wiping
her own eyes furtively as she went!

As I crossed the room toward him, his chin sank upon his breast, and
shaking his old head slowly, he sadly murmured: “From him that _hath
not_, shall be taken away even that which he _hath_!”

I took his great hand between both of mine, and my lips were just
forming the words: “Surely this is but temporary?” when he raised his
eyes, and, looking into them, I saw that hope was dead and buried
there. I sank upon my knees beside him and said: “Tell me about it, Mr.
Brockwell.” He glanced towards his wife’s room, but I persisted gently:
“No--I want you to tell me,” for my true sympathy had bridged the years
between us, and we were like old friends.

In low tones he told his simple, commonplace story. It was the
construction he put upon the usual that made it seem unusual, and brief
and simple as his story was, it was intensely characteristic. He had
started earlier than usual to his night’s work, and was swinging his
coffee-pail to the measure of the old hymn, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I
Stand,” when, turning into a cross-street, he found himself in a crowd
of running men and women, and in a few moments was in the midst of all
the turmoil and commotion attending a fire, and he soon saw there was
cause for the cries of the women and the curses of the men. There had
been a nasty accident, and it had come to the first engine approaching
the fire. It had been a case of strange driver and a too-short turn,
and there, in a terrible heap, lay one horse flat, the other on its
knees, and behind them a partly overturned engine. Worst of all, not
only were its own services lost, but it was keeping other engines
from entering the street, save by a long detour. Now, if ever there
was a demand for lifting-power that demand was made right there, and
old Brockwell sat down his coffee-pail and began to remove his heavy
coat (it was early November then), when he learned quite suddenly that
the burning house was a haunt of evil doers, was in fact a place that
honest folk turned their faces from as they passed, and for the moment
he hesitated, then flinging his coat fiercely off, he shouted: “Help!
men, help! That fire _must_ be quenched, to give those people one
last chance to save themselves from eternal fire,” and the “old Bull”
was with the firemen, working with a will and showing such splendid
lifting-power that the crowd cheered the “gray old Hercules” lustily,
and among other happenings some “company’s hose” had burst, and many
were wetted thoroughly, among them old Brockwell. A church clock had
boomed out the hour, and it was time for him to go on to his work,
and then he felt how wet he was. He might have gone home and changed
his clothing and only have been a little late in getting to the store.
There was no one to make comment or to report his action, but he would
be late, and he was proud, (the old man’s lips had twisted painfully in
uttering that word), proud of his punctuality, and--well--he had gone
on to the store, wet as he was, and the night had been long, and now
and then, strange, deep, burning pains, that seemed a mile long, had
run from hip to heel, but he had watched the night out--and--and he
would never watch again--that was all. He had, in fact, “scuttled his
own ship,” but in ignorance, lass! In ignorance, not in villainy. Yes,
it was rheumatism first. He hadn’t minded that so very much, because
he had the awful pain to fight, but _this_ (again that piteous twist
of the lips), _this_ partial paralysis--well there was nothing even to
fight now.

Had I not seen hope dead in his eye? His head sank low on his breast.
I touched my lips to his hand, and whispered, “How you have suffered!”
His eyes closed wearily, and he answered lowly: “I have eaten ashes
like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,” then, almost with a
sob, he said: “Aye, aye--in very truth my sin hath found me out!”

I started almost angrily, exclaiming: “Your sin? What sin? You have
loved--at least you have feared God all your life long! His word has
ever been upon your lips. You have striven to obey His laws--what sin
has found you out?” He raised his head, crying: “And to think I was so
blind--so self-satisfied! To think how I tried to keep the boys from
going to perdition by way of Sunday ball, and the girls by way of their
vanity in their bits of ribbons! The blind ‘leading the blind,’ in good
truth! Even when I was stricken I did not understand, until a neighbor
made my sin plain to me.”

“Ah,” I said, “and had that neighbor removed the beam from his own eye,
that he could see so very plainly the mote in yours?”

“I do not know,” he answered, “but he said that pride went before a
fall. And when I looked a bit surprised he added, ‘you have been eaten
up with vanity and puffed up with pride all your life, because of your
great strength,’ and oh, lass! lass! I was sore ashamed! Ah, well, I
have no strength to sin with now--I am just naught but a useless, old
hulk, or what is worse, ‘a derelict!’”

“No,” I said, “a ‘derelict’ is a menace and a floating danger to many
men--you are no derelict!”

But he, shaking his clenched hand above his head in impotent sorrow,
went on: “Worse! I’m worse than a danger to men! Men are strong and can
save themselves, but here I hang like a mill-stone about the neck of
that poor woman there--my wife, and she’ll have to bear the dragging
and the weight for years and years. For, mind you, I’m not like to die.
The doctors say these things inside of me that they call ‘organs’ are
all sound and strong, and that a man lives _by them_, not his legs,
and so I’m to sit here rusting away, and watching her grow sick at the
sight of me!”

Two slow, difficult tears stood chill and unshed in his eyes, and I
felt, with a pang, how great must be the storm of sorrow that could
cast its spray into those stern, old eyes.

“I don’t suppose,” he went on, “that she realizes it yet; she’s good as
gold. She takes care of me, helpless as I am, always just as smiling
and pleasant, and sets right by me, and don’t even go to church--just
talks a little over the fence with the neighbors, so she can come and
tell me what’s going on. Why, she even offered to give up gum, and she
a needing it for her digestion so, ’cause she thought it might make
me restless-like (and there is a kind of gum, you know, that squeaks
a good deal when it’s new); but I ain’t so selfish as all that. But,
oh, if I could just die decently, as a man should when he’s no more
use, and not be a burden and a drag! For, you see, Emily’s a mighty
fine figure of a woman, and she might easily find a new home, with some
good, sound man for a husband--who would protect her, and not sit, as
I do, waiting for the day to come when his wife will look at him with
loathing.”

“Mr. Brockwell,” I cried, “do you know that you are cruel to yourself
and unjust to your wife?” He looked hard at me, but made no answer.
“Your wife was always proud of you!” His face quivered--I had struck a
wrong note--I hurried on: “proud of your character and standing, and of
the pretty, little home you had so hardly earned, and now, oh, believe
me, dear old friend, I know her heart better than you do yet--now she
is proud to be the world for you, to be your feet, your nurse, your
companion, your friend as well as wife.”

He sadly shook his head: “She is a slave,” he said. “Yes, if you will,
she is a slave to her love for you, therefore she is a happy slave.
You have said, yourself, that she smiles on you constantly. She never
looked better in her life, and why does she call you ‘father’ now?”

His face brightened a little. “Yes,” he answered, “she has called me
‘father’ ever since the--the--(how he shrank from the word) since the
paralysis came upon me--yes, ever since.”

“And,” I went on, “can’t you see what that means? She used to call you
Mr. Brockwell--but when your cruel affliction came upon you she felt
the absolute need of some term of endearment, because she loved you.”
Still, with the perversity of unhappiness, he exclaimed: “But Emily
didn’t say that. She never told me that she--she--”

“Oh, indeed,” I broke in, “and have you given her a chance to tell you?
Have you ever asked her if she loved you still?” And the old man, with
a mind full of clean and wholesome memories, blushed at the question
with a swift swirl of color in his cheeks that a girl of eighteen
might have envied. “Have you?” I persisted. “Come, now, let us have a
little fair play. You know she can’t speak first. You know that, like
every other modest, self-respecting woman, she must be dumb about her
feelings--her emotions, until the man breaks the silence. You know she
has been trained to silence from her earliest girlhood. Yet, knowing
all that, you gnaw your heart in bitterness, because she does not dare
lay her arms about your neck and assure you of her faithful love.”

His eyes glowed, his great hands opened and shut nervously. He
stammered and stumbled over his few words: “You think I haven’t steered
a straight course with Emily, eh? You actually believe, if I take a
new tack, eh?--if I tell her how I--how,--well, how things are with
me--that she’ll come around to the helm--I mean--” and then suddenly
his face fell and, shaking his fist in impotent rage at his helpless
limbs, he cried: “Oh, she can’t, she can’t! Look at the miserable ‘old
hulk,’ just rottin’ slowly away between the tides of Time and Eternity,
and talk of a woman lovin’ it--a-a-h!”

I saw Emily’s troubled face at the door and swiftly waved her away.
Then I said, as brightly as I could: “Well, all ‘hulks’ are not
despised! I saw a real one a few weeks ago!” He looked up quickly.
“Where?” he asked.

“By the sea,” I answered. “What kind of a hulk was it--some unfinished
failure of a ‘tub,’ I suppose?”

“No, a wreck! A great, gaunt-ribbed thing; stately even in its ruin.
The waves--” He caught my dress as I rose to my feet. “Tell me about
the ‘hulk,’ lass, tell me!” He pleaded just as a child pleads for a
story.

“Very well,” I said, “I’ll tell you, but you must let me go to the
spare room to lay off my hat. I’m going to stay all night, if your wife
will let me!” I laughed at his request “for me to hurry,” and said:
“Mr. Brockwell, before I go, I want to say just one more word about
your wife. _You_ may doubt, but I am certain, _certain_, that should
you have your cruel wish and die to-morrow, and should Emily be spared
for many, many years to come, at the very end she will lie at your
side, and will carry your name to her grave”; and as I passed Emily I
whispered eagerly: “Don’t be angry with me; I’ll explain later, but,
for God’s sake, go straight to your husband and kiss him!” The tears
rushed into her eyes--she nodded her head and passed into the room
where he sat.

I loitered long over the removal of my hat and wrap; I even waited
to bathe my reddened eyes, and then, as I slowly descended the tiny
staircase, Emily’s voice, mildly indignant, came up to me, crying, “Oh,
father, how could you, how could you?” and from the deep, bass rumble
that followed there escaped these words: “A mighty fine figure of a
woman, Emily!”

Then I sneezed loudly and entered the room to find them discussing the
rival merits of “beaten” and “raised” biscuit, one of which we were to
have for “tea.” Mrs. Brockwell, being of a slow and peaceful nature,
naturally preferred “raised” biscuit, but Mr. Brockwell, being more
aggressive, took a great interest in the “beating” process. Once he
asked, indeed, if _he_ might not beat the dough, and Emily delightedly
assented, putting a big, white apron about him and bringing everything
close to his chair. But the poor, old giant’s second blow had split
the bread-board, and that had been the end of biscuit-beating for him.
While Emily was pounding vigorously, if somewhat slowly, at her dough,
I told my old friend of that other hulk, bleached white as chalk by the
blazing sun, lying high upon the beach, listing over so that it made
a sort of shelter for people to sit under, with the fine, pale sand
slowly filling it--slowly piling up about it; how, when I saw it, the
ocean which had cast it there was stretched out waveless beneath the
sun, with only a slow, deep, regular heave, that was like the breathing
of some mighty monster at rest. I told him of that awful night when the
signals of distress were sent up into the pitiless sky, and were seen
and heard by helpless, distracted men and women on shore; and how, in
the gray morning, they were astounded to see the big ship high upon
the beach, and dumbfounded when they saw she was a coffin, for there
was the body of a woman there. Slight and young and small of foot
and hand, and a Catholic, since a “scapula” was about her neck--and
that was all. How the young stranger had been buried on the high land
overlooking the sea and the wreck, and how, down below and up above,
both were waiting, one for utter destruction, the other, for a glorious
resurrection; and meantime the old hulk had become not only a landmark,
but a thing beloved. Oh, yes; he need not shake his head, for that old
hulk was the loyal friend of all true lovers. The great, gray, maimed
thing sheltered many a shrinking pair from prying eyes. Brown, young
rustics, who were fairly stricken dumb in the “sittin’-rooms” of their
sweethearts, here, in the velvety, black shadow of the friendly, old
hulk, found their tongues, and told swiftly and well the one old story
that is ever new; while, as to summer nights--why, the old hulk was the
trysting-place of lovers from half the countryside. It was so public,
and yet so sheltered--so protecting. And it was so wise, the gray, old,
sand-filled thing--it knew so much of Love, and Love’s dear brother,
Death!--so much--good God, so much! and yet was silent--ever silent!

Half the young married women of the little town had received their
engagement rings within the sheltering arms of the old hulk, and some
of them had carried their little children there, later on, that they
might take their first, uncertain steps upon the soft, pale sands that
were drifting ever higher about the bleaching wreck, just as one might
take the first spring blossoms to some spot that was sacred to us.

That noble ship that on even keel, with mighty spread of snowy canvas,
had sat the water a living thing of strength and beauty, had had a
commercial value only, but wrecked, it had become a precious thing
to them all, garlanded with the tenderest sentiments of both men and
women, draped with the radiant hopes of youth, and each day gilded anew
with ever-living love. As it sank deeper in the sand, so it sank deeper
in their memories--their beloved “old hulk”!

The old man had listened so closely to my story that I was somewhat
puzzled when he remarked on my last word: “If I was sure and certain
that Emily was telling the truth about that patch-work, I don’t know
but what I might get to be more that sort of hulk myself, lass! If
I could just be of a little use--ever so little, but real!--I could
get along, but I don’t want to be fooled, like a child, into doing
_useless_ things. The Lord says: ‘A man should rejoice in his work!’
but a man can’t rejoice if it’s only make-believe work!”

I began dimly to comprehend, and, proceeding cautiously, I remarked
“that it would not be easy to deceive him, and I did not believe anyone
would try!” He looked doubtful and, lowering his voice so that his wife
might not hear him, asked: “You know what a master hand Emily is at
piecing patch-work, don’t you?”

I did know! I recalled the really handsome quilts she had shown me.
It was the only way she had to gratify her natural love of color, and
the workmanship was exquisite. The quilting in “fan” and “shell” and
“diamond” forms equalling the piecing. Indeed, patch-work was a fine
art in Mrs. Brockwell’s hands. “Yes, I knew!”

Then his keen, old, blue eyes took fast hold upon mine and, in an
aggressive tone, he made this astonishing statement: “Well, Emily can’t
cut out any of her patch-work herself. She can’t cut any two pieces
exactly alike, to save her life!” Oh, Emily, Emily! poor, bungling,
loving Sapphira! I understood and thought fast while those piercing,
old eyes held me! I tried to laugh naturally, as I exclaimed: “Well,
there’s a pair of us, then! I have lovely pieces--enough for two
quilts, but I can’t cut pieces alike, and am ashamed to ask anyone to
do it for me; so there they lie!”

“Oh, you!” he impatiently answered, “but Emily, now!” I thought of
those quilts upstairs, while he went on: “See this thing, now!” He
pointed to the small quilt over his knees. I required no invitation,
goodness knows! for the ugly, ill-made thing had forced my attention
long ago. No two pieces matched in length; they were puckered and
stretched (the old man called them “we-wahed”).

“That’s _her_ cutting,” he announced! I was about to explain, when I
saw Emily behind him in the kitchen-door frantically signing me to
keep quiet. “Oh, dear!” I moaned to myself, “what about those quilts
upstairs?”

“Yes;” he went on, “that’s a woman’s cuttin’ out! Yes (argumentatively),
I saw her do it! And think of those quilts upstairs! (Ah, I thought!)
Why, Emily says she would have had enough for herself and for her
daughters’ marrying, if she could have got her first husband to cut her
pieces for her! (O, Emily!) but she had to beg and beg, and he wouldn’t
cut a single piece for a whole year sometimes. She says he was ashamed
to do it, she reckons! Well!” he hotly ejaculated, “I’m not ashamed to
do _anything_ for _my_ wife, unless”--he cooled suddenly again--“unless
she’s only making believe so as to give me employment!”

“Well,” I said, “if you choose to doubt your wife, after looking at
that awful quilt, you may. But you can’t well suspect _me_, and if you
will cut pieces for one quilt for me I’ll give you silk enough for a
quilt for yourself. Will you do it?”

The last suspicion faded! He threw back his head and laughed: “Will
I? You’ll see! Say, lass, just step over to the sta’board side of
that sewing machine and hand me up that cuttin’ board, and I’ll show
you what’s the matter with the ‘cuttin’ out’ of all you women. You
see,”--he spoke with an air of growing authority as he unrolled some
bits of calico--“you will just have your pattern cut out of a bit of
cotton or delaine, and then you smack that down onto, perhaps, _several
pieces_ of goods together, never mind whether bias or straight, just to
save time. Great guns! save time! Look at _that_ thing over my knees!
Well, _I_ take the ‘sun observation,’ and I get my pattern all right,
and _then_ I cuts her out in good, stiff pasteboard, ma’am, and if it’s
a hard pattern, like ‘bride in the mist’ or ‘the risin’ sun,’ I have
the thing cut out of a thin sheet of tin. A--a--ho! I don’t make no
mistakes, even with ‘brides in the mist,’ when I’ve a good, tin pattern
to work by!”

As so often happens, enthusiasm was too much for his grammar. He
talked and planned all through tea and right along to bed time, and I
carried the big Bible to him and placed it open upon his lap. His hand
instinctively began to turn the leaves in the front of the volume, but
I rested my hand on the place I had selected, and, laughing, I said:
“You have chosen for three whole years, _I’m company_ to-night, and you
must let me choose!”

He laughed a little and yielded, but when he saw my choice was from
the New Testament, he frowned heavily, then cleared his brow as with
an effort and read. He was not so familiar with the script as usual,
and he read slowly and carefully, and when he came to that gentle,
generous invitation and that all-comprehending promise, “Come to me
_all ye_--_all ye_--who are weary and heavy laden--and I will give you
rest!” he stopped! To this day I believe I felt the old man’s thought,
which was of the astounding comprehension by Jesus of his one craving
wish--not for great joy--not for the inheritance of the earth--no, not
for anything but that which was promised: “_Rest_.”

“Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give
you rest!” Slowly, with trembling lips, he repeated the words a second
time. Then he leant forward, tore a bit from the evening paper, and
placing it as a marker, he closed the book. Emily and I knelt, and
for once I felt no sense of the ridiculous in hearing a poor, finite
creature explaining matters to the Infinite Being who knows all things.
Very humbly the old believer explained to the God he had made so
fearsome to himself why he lifted his voice in prayer in this unseemly
attitude, instead of on his knees in humble, _loving_ humility!

I gasped--I felt Emily’s hand slip over and grasp mine--which proved
lucky later on. Never before had that word been heard in that way, in
this house of faith. But, oh, when the old man asked forgiveness for
having wickedly doubted for a time the perfect truthfulness of one very
near to him--his truest friend--Emily gave a plunge and tried to pull
away from me. “I can’t,” she gasped. “I can’t bear it! I must confess
my lie!”

“Oh!” I moaned under cover of his bass rumble, “keep still! He’s so
happy now! Confess to heaven!” She tried again to pull her hand away.
I clung tight, and putting my lips close to her ear, whispered: “_He_
will forgive you because of your love! You know,” I muttered wildly,
“much shall be forgiven because she loved much! That’s not it, but you
know what I mean!”

The bass rumble stopped suddenly--so did I--but thank heaven,
Emily’s spurt of remorseful courage was over--her loving falsehood
unconfessed! The rumble was resumed, and all was well!

Next day, as I came in hatted and cloaked to say “good-bye,” old
Brockwell--bright and ruddy--had his cutting board on his knees,
bits of calico all over him. A foot-rule, a blue pencil, and several
envelopes before him, and the air of “this is my busy day” of a
railroad magnate at least. His “log-cabin” pattern had been found
in a “rocky-mountain” envelope, and in fact things were all at
loggerheads--but by-and-by they would be ship-shape. I was just to wait
till I saw some of his _own_ designs! Emily was going to go right _at_
one--of “anchors”--blue anchors on a white ground, and did I suppose
any of my pieces would be long enough--he couldn’t well have those
anchors less than six or seven inches long, and then a bit of the old
Adam came out in him, when he lowered his voice to tell me: “_He_ was
not ashamed to cut patch-work, and he was not afraid--that in a year
from now there would be quilts _downstairs_ that could outsail anything
upstairs that had been cut out only after beggin’ and coaxin’!”

I looked at the mighty wreck before me! I thought of the three men he
had put out in that early morning fight! Of how, strained and patched
and stitched, he had picked up that barrel of flour and carried it in
from very pride in his strength! How he had won cheers for his splendid
lifting-power at that fire, and now he had come to _this_! He sat there
helpless as a child, his only work cutting up scraps of calico for
quilts. He was, as he himself said, “an old hulk!” and yet he looked
brightly up to me and said: “You remember old lady Brighton, don’t you,
lass? Unbeliever, poor old thing! Emily and I are going to make a real
pretty ‘star quilt’ and give to her. Star-pattern works up such small
pieces, you know! Nothing, most, too small for that, and so bright too!”

It was no use denying it--this wreck _was_ dearer--was more valuable to
others, _as_ a wreck, than it had been in full panoply and strength. He
was accepting things--he was conquering himself, and he was “greater
than he who taketh a city!”

So there I left him. For background, he had his honest, toilsome,
clean-thinking past! His old wife’s faithful love was as the blue sky,
bowing gently over him. The slow, still sands of Time piling steadily
about him, and before him that great, illimitable ocean of Eternity,
which will at last receive into its bosom this fine, old hulk!



The Gentleman Who Was Going to Die



The Gentleman Who Was Going to Die


Of course he had a name, and we both knew it, yet we invariably spoke
of him not as Clarks nor as Mr. Clarks, but as “the gentleman who
was going to die.” We must have been a troublesome pair of “little
pitchers” to have about, with our widely open ears, in such a place and
at such a time; and I remember quite well that our elders were much
annoyed when they found that we knew that “the gentleman was going to
die.”

I was three years older than my companion, and very, very serious;
indeed, he was the only child who ever made me enjoy a game of romps.
Pretty, golden-haired, laughing little fellow, no one ever resisted
him. He passed through his short life a baby Prince Charming, a little,
conquering hero.

His father was the Sheriff of the city, and, for the time being, the
Sheriff’s family lived in that portion of the jail reserved for home
life; and my mother was paying a long visit to the Sheriff’s wife.
That’s how it happened that two young children were living within those
sullen walls, taking their exercise in its grim corridors and playing
their games within the very shadow of the scaffold.

In pleasant weather we used to play out in the jail-yard; it was small,
but not so closed in as it now is by the Court-house. At that time
the court stood over in the Park, or Public Square, as it was called.
Out there we played “escaping prisoner.” I, as the Sheriff, had to
run down and bring back little Goldy-locks (Charley was his real name)
as prisoner. He was very realistic in his struggles for freedom, as
certain, big, blue marks on my arms used to testify; but whenever
he saw them he would put penitent little lips to them and tell me
reassuringly not to mind, “cause he would play Sheriff to-morrow and I
cud ’scape,” in which case I knew he would have nearly pounded the life
out of me, so I very much preferred to keep my part of Sheriff.

In other weather, and it was mostly “other” weather, we sought the
corridors of the jail. The dwelling-rooms were small and crowded,
and, besides, the big people were all the time “don’ting” us--“Don’t
do this” and “don’t do that”--so Charley would rumple his curls with
a small, impatient hand, look very cross for a moment, then come and
whisper, “Let’s go to jail,” and straight we went in search of the
turnkey, who was Charley’s uncle as well as slave, and he would put a
key into a great lock and we would push at the big, heavy door. Then in
we would tumble, and the door would be closed behind us, unless some
of the prisoners’ cells were open. In that case the turnkey remained
inside the corridor with us, but that was unusual.

The first thing we always did was to run to each cell and peer in to
see if anyone was lying down. No one had ever made the suggestion to
us, but of our own accord we had made it a point of honor never to make
a noise there if we found anyone who remained on his cot after our
arrival. Generally every one sprang up and came to the barred doors
to greet us, always with nice words, sometimes with very gentle ones.
Often they would lay wagers on the result of our games. We used to play
“tag” and “blind man’s buff,” and we played “puss-in-the-corner” by
counting every other cell door a corner.

That corridor had two great attractions for us. One was that the late
afternoon sunlight fell through the barred window at its end. The other
was that “the gentleman who was going to die” had his cell there, and
Charley loved him, while I was filled with terror, dread and pity
by the sight of him. There were three long, troubled years between
Goldy-locks and me, and I knew dreadful things about Charley’s friend,
things I dared not tell him.

With every human being in or about the jail the boy was the pet, the
favorite with one single exception--“the gentleman who was going to
die.” He favored me almost to the point of adoration, no one guessing
why till he himself explained the mystery.

My heavy, brown braids and solemn, saucer eyes seemed to blind him
utterly to the touching beauty of Goldy-locks, and when we stood before
his cell door while he told wonderful stories, selected especially to
suit the boy’s taste, his eyes were on my face, his fingers held a bit
of my little, white apron, or he drew one of my long braids between the
crossed bars of his door and stroked and kissed it. Though at that
time I loved the stories and liked him, I could never quite make up my
mind to kiss him, and Charley used to be angry about it, and once he
told me “I wasn’t dratefu’, not one we’est bit on earf, not to kiss
dear ‘Mr. No. 3’”; that’s what we always called him before we knew he
was going to die--three being the number of the cell in which he was
confined.

When I first learned that Mr. Clarks was going to surely die, on a
certain positively named day, I was utterly amazed to find that,
instead of being frightened and sorry and sending for doctors,
everybody seemed to be pleased--that is, everybody out in the streets
and in the stores and markets, and being an active, “two-legged why,”
I sought information and obtained it in that form known to man as
“straight.” He to whom I had applied was a very young man, who knew no
reason why a child should be spared such horrible knowledge, and so,
with brutal frankness and ample detail, he had explained exactly why
Charles Clarks was going to die.

It was the first tale of crime that had been poured into my shrinking,
childish ears, and it gave me a distinct shock. I was quite feverish by
evening and had to have wet cloths applied to my burning head, while
during the night I cried out again and again about the “lightning and
the knife,” and the next day found me white and miserable, with only
one strong wish, and that was to keep away from “the gentleman who was
going to die.”

It was so hard to associate the man with the bright, blue eyes, the
manly voice, the gentle hands--ugh! those hands!--with that wretch
who had hacked the life out of a fellow creature for a sum of money.
It seems curious, but the actual taking of the man’s life had not
near the power to torture and torment me that this complete ignoring
of a certain sentiment had. The victim had been a fellow-countryman
who was unutterably homesick, and whose joy was boundless when he met
a friend from the dear, old English home. I would moan aloud when I
thought of the awful surprise and horror the man must have felt when
he received the first knife-thrust in his breast from the hand of a
brother-Englishman in a strange land. Then the shocking details that
followed the death! The crime was committed at night during a memorable
storm. The body lay upon a railroad bridge; the victim’s identity must
be destroyed! The murderer attempted to remove the head; he had but his
big clasp-knife, and it was not strong and sharp enough to sever the
bone in the neck. He would have to leave the bridge to find a stone to
serve as a hammer in this frightful deed! But in that inky darkness
how was he to find his way back? He could only wait for the dazzling
glare of God’s great flashlight, the lightning; and so with unshaken
nerves, bit by bit he worked his unhallowed will. He found the stone
and crammed it into his pocket (the other held the dead man’s effects);
the knife he carried between his teeth. The mighty wind so tore at him
that on the bridge he had to creep upon his hands and knees. He hacked
off the head and tied it in a silk neckerchief, and no man knows more
unto this day. The stream was dragged, trees chopped down, open ground
carefully plowed, all in vain. The head was never found.

With devilish mirth the murderer would sometimes offer to find the
head. “Leave me my hands free and send but two men, your bravest,
strongest picked men to guard me, and I will send you back the head--I
swear it!” he would say; and to the Sheriff’s smiling question, “And
you? You say ‘send,’ not ‘bring.’ Would you not bring the head back?”
he would reply, “Oh, I say now, you don’t think me quite a fool, do
you?” and though he would laugh heartily enough, there would be a
quickening of his breath and a hot spark away back in his eye not very
pleasant nor by any means reassuring to the man who was responsible for
his safe keeping.

Two days after I had picked this bitter fruit from the tree of
knowledge I found myself, under the orders of my yellow-haired, little
tyrant, slowly and unwillingly entering the jail corridor again.
Holding me by the hand, he pulled me past the turnkey and made straight
for the dreaded cell. At our entrance various greetings reached us:
“Hello, babies!” “How are you, little ones?” “Come up here, youngster,
where I can see you!” while the man with the cough called out, “Sissy,
come here and I’ll give you half of my licorice!”

But I stood in silence, my eyes fixed upon the stone pavement, while my
little companion, trembling with excitement, put his first, troubled,
anxious question: “Dear Mr. No. 3, are you truly a-goin’ to die?”

The silence that came upon the occupants of the other cells at this
question might have been the silence of death. Mr. No. 3 made a little
sound like that the grown-ups make sometimes, and afterward say: “Oh,
I had, a stitch in my side!” and then he answered, “Why--er--yes, my
boy--we are all going to die--you know that!”

Charley’s delicate brows knit themselves together distressfully as he
slowly murmured, “Yes, evweybody. My papa is the biggest mans in this
town and he’s goin’ to die, the whole of him, only, only--” suddenly
his brow cleared and he hurried on--“only he and us allis jus’ goin’ to
die som’time, not a ’xac’ly day to know about. Are you goin’ to die in
free weeks? Please don’t!”

Instead of answering directly, he turned to me with, “What’s the
matter, little lass? Why don’t you speak; are you sick, child?”

I thought of the lightning and the knife, and truly I was sick, but I
could not speak; I only slipped my hand through one of the openings in
the door and clung silently to a bar. Charley turned and looked at me,
and said in his important, little way: “I dess she’s got the aches in
her head ag’in! But please, Mr. No. 3, what’s a-goin’ to be the matter
wiv you, if you are goin’ to die?”

And then No. 3 laughed a laugh that made me cold, and said, “Well, your
father and some of his friends think I am going to die of a throat
trouble, but I’ll bet five dollars they are mistaken!” and then again
he spoke quietly to me: “What is it, child; why are you so pale?”

He gently took my little hand in his. I gave a scream and tore it so
roughly from him that it was badly cut in passing the bars. I raised
my face--and I suppose some of my loathing fear and horror must have
been written there, for never shall I forget that next moment! He was
looking down straight into my eyes, when suddenly his own flared wide
open, then as quickly narrowing to the merest, glittering slit, he gave
the most awful oath I ever heard, and angrily muttered: “They have told
her! She knows all, this little child! Oh, how could they do it! How
could they do it! What cruel beasts men are!” And then rang through
the building one great, appalling cry, like that of some wild beast in
pain and rage. At that cry all was wild commotion. The turnkey struck
out one peal from the alarm bell, and was tearing open the great lock
of the main door. No. 3 suddenly clenched his soft, white hand and
drove it with all his force against the iron bars. The blood seemed
to leap from his gashed wrist and hand and fall in streams down into
his sleeve. He seized the bars of his door and shook them as another
man might have shaken a wooden lattice. The turnkey was at the cell;
was in; there was a scuffle of feet. The heavy, wordless breathing of
desperate men, two clear, cold-sounding clicks, and No. 3, with white,
drawn face, lifted his manacled hands high above his head to strike a
killing blow, stopped suddenly, and pitched forward on his cot, face
downward, and as the turnkey hurried us out of the corridor I heard
that dreadful sound that wrings with pain all there is of womanhood in
any female thing, whether she be seventy or seven years old--the sound
of a strong man’s sobs.

The next morning at breakfast we learned that we were all invited to
visit Charley’s grandmother in the country, and his father was going to
send us in a day or two.

Little Goldy-locks raised surprised eyes and remarked, “I fought we
always made hot visits to drandma’s?”

Now his adoring grandparent would undoubtedly have admitted that
Charley did make his visits warm for her, but what he meant was that
their visits had always been paid at the farm in hot weather. Getting
no answer, he went on: “What’s the use, there ain’t anything grode yet?”

“Oh, yes,” said his mother, “there’s grass and flowers, and perhaps the
peach trees will be in blossom.”

There was a little silence, then lifting his dear eyes to his
father’s face, he asked, “Papa, will it be free weeks while we’s
away?” No answer came; then again, “Papa, I love drandma very much,
but--but--the gentleman might die while we’s all away, and I’d be so
sorry, papa.” His little head drooped, and the tears ran fast down his
cheeks. My mother was nearest to him, and she took him in her arms and
stroked his curly hair while exchanging looks with his mother, and his
father raised up his six-feet-two of height and simply fled in silence
from the sight of that innocent, childish grief.

But I was happy--happy at the thought of getting away from the place
where “the gentleman was going to die.” Charley was anxious to go to
his friend at once; he said he had “free whole things to tell him, most
’ticular.”

So he dragged me off with him, and lo! there sat a strange man inside
the corridor and right beside No. 3’s door. We would not go in while
he was there, so we went out and down to the yard together, talking
excitedly, and wondering who the strange man was.

There we heard, as we managed to hear everything, that Mr. No. 3 was
going to be put into another cell. Back we went to the corridor to ask
about that, and there sat the strange man. Then Charley grew quite
angry, and, turning to his uncle, said, “Why don’t you give that man a
cell and not have ’im settin’ roun’ in the way all the time?”

And, under cover of the shouts of laughter of the prisoners, we retired
a second time, defeated. It was late in the afternoon when we made our
third attempt to see “the gentleman who was going to die.” We had
little hope of success, but suddenly, to Charley’s great joy, we saw in
a big, square cell, the strange man, with some others, trying the bars
with hammers, and we slipped past and begged the turnkey to let us into
our corridor quick. He smiled and said, “All right, chicks; I guess
this is your last chance at No. 3 without the watch. Even his wife
won’t see him alone next time she comes.”

As we tumbled past the big door the sunlight burst out from behind a
cloud. Charley gave a shout, and crying, “You can’t catch me ’fore I
touch the sunshine,” bounded away toward the window. He was well ahead,
but I started after him, and almost in the same instant I saw him slip
and throw out his arms. He did not trip; he slid exactly as though he
had been on the ice, and then fell heavily, face down on the stone
floor. There were many exclamations of pity as I rushed to him, crying,
“Oh, Charley, darling! are you hurt very badly?”

I stooped over to help him, but instead of rising at once, he turned
slowly over and sat for a moment on the floor and said, “What made
me slip?” I only repeated, “Are you hurt, dear?” and though his lips
quivered piteously, he bravely answered, “No; only some places smart
some, that’s all.”

And all the time that I was lifting him to his feet and noting the
steady spread of that cruel mark on his face, I was conscious, coldly
conscious, that at No. 3’s door I had seen no face, from No. 3’s cell
I had heard no voice. Once again Charley lifted up his puzzled eyes to
me and said, “What made me slip?” and putting his arm around my waist
to steady himself, he raised his right foot, and resting it on his left
knee he looked at the sole of his little slipper and it was wet.

I leaned over and passed my forefinger across it to make sure, then
without thought drew my finger down my white apron and left a long
red smear. The man in the cell nearest us groaned. I gasped, “Blood!”
and Charley hid his face in my garments and trembled like a leaf.
Holding him tight with my both arms I looked behind me, and there
across the gray, stone floor, slow, sluggish and sinister, there crept
a narrow, dark-red stream, silent, so stealthily silent, and yet in
that instant’s pause I seemed to understand the excitement it would
presently create.

A moment we stood a pair of terror-shaken children; then holding
Charley in my arms I rushed madly for the corridor door. The turnkey,
peacefully reading his paper, heard us coming and said, “Not through
already?”

Then as he turned his head his face went white as he finished with,
“What is it?”

I laid my hand upon the smear on my white apron and gasped, “Blood!”

He was unlocking the door as he said, “Where?”

I pointed a flickering forefinger at the slow stream and answered, “No.
3,” and as he rushed past us he cried, “I knew it! God! I knew it!”

Before he reached the cell door he called back to me, “Ring the
bell--hard--hard!”

I pulled the big bell and then pandemonium broke loose. The narrow,
silent, little stream was beginning to show its power. I hurried down
the back stairs and put Charley in the hands of a housemaid, who cared
for his hurts and put him in bed and sat by him, while I, making myself
as small as possible, crept back through the jail corridors because I
could not keep away.

All was excitement. The wildest rumors had already reached the private
part of the building. No one noticed me. I crept up the stairs, and for
a little while dared go no farther. While I waited there people went
and came. One man, tall and bearded, with a black box or case like a
big book in his hand, I recognized as a doctor.

I softly followed the path that all had taken to No. 3’s corridor. I
stood still in the doorway for the very excellent reason that I had
lost all power of movement. Once glance told me the little, red stream
I had seen creeping from beneath the door of cell No. 3 was gone, the
stones being still wet from their washing, while a second one told
me more washing would be required presently. At the far end of the
hall, on the floor beneath the window, was stretched the form of “the
gentleman who was going to die.” His lower limbs were fully clothed,
but from the upper part of his body they had cut the clothing and he
was nude. At his feet knelt two men who used all their strength in
trying to hold him down. At each shoulder knelt a man who grasped him
by wrist and forearm, and with dripping brows bent over him with the
same purpose in view. The doctor, on his knees, was leaning across him,
while a step away Charley’s mother stood with her face covered with
both hands, and each and every one had fearsome, bright red stains upon
them. A sudden thought came piercing through my dulled brain, a thought
that brought me near to my undoing. I said, “Can this be justice! Are
they going to repeat here in this very jail the awful act committed on
the railroad bridge that stormy night?” I am certain that a roll of
thunder at that moment would have killed me outright. As it was, my
eyes closed, and I had a faint feeling of wonder as to whether I was
going to fall asleep. Fortunately, I heard certain words that dismissed
the grotesque fear and gave me back a little strength; words of advice,
of stem command, of argument, and once sobbing words of entreaty.
But through them almost continuously there rose a sound of horror. I
thought then, and I have never changed the thought since, that it was
like the fierce growling and snapping of a mad dog. Encouraged by the
words I had heard from all, I opened my eyes. At that same instant the
doctor, with a gesture of despair, raised himself, and I was looking
full into the awful face of Charles Clarks, murderer and would-be
suicide. He had attacked the citadel of his life at his throat. With
an almost ludicrously inadequate weapon he had done terrific work,
and had almost carried out his purpose. He lay there now, that thing
to marvel at--a fighting Englishman brought to bay. And I, a little,
shivering child, stood there witness to a savage struggle, awful
beyond description, and gathered up and let go of my apron with the
regularity of a mechanical toy, while in a whisper I said, and said,
and said, perhaps a thousand times--I do not know--“Oh, our Father!
Oh, our Father! Oh, our Father!” And one man with a gashed throat
and veins nearly empty battled madly for death against six strong
fellow-creatures who fought with equal desperation to save him! “Oh,
our Father!” What a smile when he heard the doctor say, “Chloroform
could not be brought before the light had gone.” The doctor saw, and
his face grew like stone, and he said, “He shall be held! The wounds
must be stitched at once!”

He bent again to his attempted work, and instantly the ghastly head was
jerked this way and that, and there rose again the growling and the
snapping. The doctor raised his head and said coldly, “Mrs. B----, you
must save us; you must hold his head!”

A cry rang through the jail, and in an instant No. 3 was still. She
said, “I can’t! I can’t!”

The doctor insisted. “Your husband will be a ruined man if this
prisoner dies before his time. Kneel there!”

She knelt. No. 3 said, in his strange, whistling sort of voice, “You
have been good to me, but do this thing and I will curse you here and
from the Hell I’m going to.”

The doctor commanded, “Put one hand here, the other there, and hold
firmly with all your strength!” Then as five held him the sewing was
accomplished, and I turned to fly from the hurt I thought the needle
might give him, and stumbled to my mother’s bed. She was not there; all
thought I was safe by little Charley, and I fell upon my knees and went
right on muttering “Oh, our Father!” until I began to feel very light,
and then to float, float, and the next I knew it was morning and I was
very sick, but a maid told me that “the gentleman who was going to die”
was not dead yet.

The attempted suicide caused the greatest confusion and excitement both
inside and outside the jail. People were coming and going at all hours,
and the grown-ups were more than ever anxious to get us away to the
country. Mrs. B---- would not leave her husband at such a time, so my
mother was to take us both the next day.

Little Goldy-locks never gave up his intention of seeing and saying
good-bye to the gentleman who was trying so hard to die (in his own
way). So through tears and kisses, and by bringing to bear all his
graces of body and manner, the little fellow won his way, and just
before leaving mother led us (dressed for our journey) to the cell, and
the uncle-turnkey let us in. A nurse crossly admonished us all not to
talk too much, and then we were standing by the bed. At the first sight
of the ghastly face--the grimly bandaged throat and jaws and brow--the
little lad gave a cry of terror. But when Mr. No. 3 said softly,
“Charley!” he ran and swarmed up the bed with legs and arms, crying,
“Oh, dear, dear Mr. No. 3! I fought it wasn’t you! Who hurted you?
My papa will find out and he will put the man in a cell, and we won’t
never go and see ’im, never!”

Then being told he must not talk so loud and that he must hurry, he
said very earnestly, as he brought from his pocket a small, red wad,
“Here, Mr. No. 3, here’s my wed stocking; I got it my ownse’f for you.
If your froat should get sore, like you said, you dess put it on at
night and you’ll come all well in the morning--dess like I did.”

A smile parted the man’s white lips as he said, “Thank you, my boy--I
may try it--though I suppose--hemp would suit--my case--better than
wool.”

All this time his eyes had gone past Charley and were on me. My
mother noticed it, and now he hurriedly whispered “Good-bye,” and
as Charley was taken down he motioned to have me lifted up into his
place. Then in a whispering voice he said to my mother, “You think--it
strange--eh, well!--it’s because she is--so wonderfully like--my
child--my only one--my Annie. It’s marvelous--the likeness. It’s not
that they both--have that same--surprising length of hair--the same
wide, gray-blue eyes--the same tricks--of manner and movement--even to
that habit of standing--with hands behind the back--gently pulling at
the two great braids. But it’s the voice. I’ve been ready--to swear
at times--that my wife--had broken her vow--and had brought--Annie
to see me. And though I starve--for the sight of her--until at times
I’m almost mad--I’d kill my wife--if she brought--the child here--to
know my shame. And this little one--is so like her--so like and yet so
different--for Annie loves me--while this child----”

I felt my face flame with hot blood, for my mother did not know I had
been told of the murder, and I was frightened, but he went on gently,
“Ah, well, there is no reason why this one should--love me--a stranger.”

The nurse exclaimed, “Too much talk.”

Mother moved toward the door, but Charley broke from her and once more
climbed up on the bed. “I have dess one ’ticular thing to say, dess
one!” he pleaded, and he stooped to whisper to the sick man, “Dear,
dear Mr. No. 3--try to get well--and--and--I know you don’t like the
preacher man, but I know my own night ‘prays’ my ownse’f, and when I
say ‘my soul to keep’ I’ll say ‘your soul to keep,’ too, every time!”

And Clarks groaned, “For God’s sake take him away!” and Goldy-locks
put his clean, sweet, little pink lips lovingly to those sin-stained,
fever-parched ones and said “Good-bye, good-bye!” and slid down and ran
and hid his tears in the folds of my mother’s dress.

I moved to leave the bed, but he laid a detaining hand lightly upon me.
I shivered, and looking up I met his gaze and was held by it. It was
pleading--commanding, almost compelling. I understood him perfectly,
and I tried hard to break away from that controlling glance, but all
in vain, until a dimness came across his eyes and slow tears gathered
there. Then I wrenched my eyes from his and hung my head and whispered,
“Good-bye.” As my mother called me I slid off the bed to go to her,
but the hoarse whisper came, “Little torment!” and I stopped. Again,
“Dear, little torment!” and foolishly I looked at him, and for the
last time our struggle was renewed, and now I had to resist not only
his pleading, but that of something within me that said, “Think of his
little daughter who cannot tell him good-bye, and kiss him for her
sake.” Almost I yielded--and then--the homesick friend, the bridge,
the knife, and I threw back my head violently and exclaimed, “No! No!
I can’t! but----” and I laid my little hand against his lips. He took
it gently, gently, and sighing heavily he kissed it, palm and back, and
every dimple, including the tiny one in my wrist, and every finger-tip,
and then said under his breath, as it were, “Good-bye, little maid who
knows her own mind,” and as the key was turning in the lock after we
had gone from the cell we heard him give a husky laugh and say, “She’s
got a will--it’s stronger than mine--for, mind you, she never kissed
me!”

And that was our last sight of “the gentleman who was going to
die,” because that bright day, when Charley and I were out making
the acquaintance of a very remarkable calf--remarkable because its
forequarters were mild and gentle, while its hindquarters stung like an
adder--and we were about to play marketing, and we both had a desire
to purchase the forequarters of the calf, and as we never quarreled
we drew lots for choice, while the calf slowly chewed up our market
basket--and at that very moment, in the city, Goldy-locks’ beloved “Mr.
No. 3” was heading a procession to the scaffold with many a jest about
the “blue funk” he said the men were in about him. He remarked their
pale faces and trembling hands, and actually encouraged and advised
them, himself directing the proper placing of the fatal knot. Then
with alert, springy step, bright eye and cheerful voice he mounted the
scaffold, stepped with quick obedience upon the trap, and was hurled
out of this world into--what?

White and cold and silent his wife removed her coffined dead, and when
we returned “the gentleman who was going to die” had died. He was gone,
and his cell and corridor knew him no more.



Old Myra’s Waiting



Old Myra’s Waiting


Was she mad? I do not know. I only know that she was old, oh! very
old, and had known such sorrows as break the heart and blast the
intellect of many of her sex. So old, so fragile--so poor--with a wit
like polished steel and a tongue like an adder. I was her one friend
in the world and was as helpless as herself. We each earned our own
living--that was the one experience we had in common. Save for that,
there was a whole world between us. She stood wavering and unstrung at
one end of life--I stood quivering and tense at the other end. She had
known it all, all, and only wished to sleep, to forget--I knew nothing,
and only longed to learn, to feel, to know.

The first time I saw her she stood on the bank of the lake, a little,
swaying, black-robed figure, facing a blinding gale. The wild wind tore
her pitifully thin shawl from her shoulders and sent it whirling down
the lonely street. I set my long, young legs in motion and ran it down,
and returning, put it about her sharp, old shoulders.

She gave me one piercing glance from the blackest eyes I ever saw. Her
dry, pale lips drew back across her rather long, narrow teeth in a sort
of smile, and she said: “My dear, you are a wonder; few young people
condescend to run like that, particularly for the old. I thank you!”

She turned her face again to the lake. Though I found it hard to keep
my position, she somehow managed to maintain hers, frail as she was. I
was puzzled--why was she standing there, so thinly clad? I hesitated a
moment, then I said as respectfully as I could:

“Madame--could you not go into one of those houses, or home, perhaps,
and let me wait here for your message or--or friend, and then come and
tell you?”

She turned her sharp eyes upon my face, and exclaimed: “God bless my
soul! the girl means a kindness to me!” and she laughed a shrill, thin
peal of mocking laughter that made me hot with shame and anger too, and
I turned away with a brief “I beg your pardon;” but she could be quick
if she was old, and her claw-like hand was on my wrist in a moment, and
her sharp voice reached me through the wind: “I can’t, my dear, I can’t
leave now! You see my treasures are out there, and if they should be
given up, I want to be at hand. Go home! my dear--go home, where people
are not old and mad, and do not wait for the sea to give up their
dead,” and turned again to face the gale, while I flew like the wind
from her strange presence.

Some weeks passed before I saw her again, and then, as it happened, was
able to do her a second small service. The day was wet and windy, the
streets muddy. I was hurrying down Bank street and was about to cross
an alley-way, which opens on that street, when I heard a little cry
behind me, and there rolled past my feet a very neatly done up, small
package, with a large seal on it in red wax. It stopped in the middle
of the alley directly in front of an advancing dray-horse. I snatched
it up and sprang across to the sidewalk, where I waited for the owner,
who came hurrying across with anxious face and outstretched hands; and
behold! there was my strange, old lady again.

She seized the package, and examining it carefully, she muttered, more
to herself than to me: “I hope it’s safe, a fortune blowing about the
muddy streets like that!”

My face must have been an expressive one; at all events she read it
like a book, and went on rather sneeringly:

“Oh, I’m not mad; at least, not _now_! This does not belong to me;
it would not be a fortune if it did; it’s lace--old, rare and very
valuable! Had it been ruined? Oh, it makes me quite faint to think of
such a chance! I am really very grateful to you, my child!”

She spoke her thanks so gracefully that I felt myself grow pink with
pleasure.

We walked side by side a little way, when she said: “My dear, I’m not a
stupid woman, but I can’t quite make you out. Your speech and bearing
says one thing, but your being out so much, quite unattended, says
another. Oh! I’ve seen you many times since that day at the lake.
Then, your clothes--they are too good for poverty; but you wear the
same things too often to have generous and well-to-do parents. No, I
don’t quite understand.”

We were right at the door of the old “Academy” then, and I stopped,
saying: “I go in here; there is a rehearsal; I am a member of the
company.”

I never saw such fire as could leap into those fierce, old eyes of
hers--at that moment they fairly blazed.

“Here, you!--you with that clean, honest, young face! For fifty years
I’ve had a curse, hot and burning in my heart, for theatres and all
connected with them!”

Then angrily shaking her forefinger at me, she cried:

“You run up your flag, girl!--your flag of red and black, of paint and
dye!--that honest craft may know there’s a pirate in these waters!”
and, dragging her veil across her face, she left me standing there,
divided between the desire to laugh and the desire to cry. A pirate? I
was such a harmless, well-meaning, little pirate that even had I shown
the flag, and blackened my lashes and rouged my cheeks, I doubt if I
should have created a very great panic in the Cleveland shipping--and
so, at last, the laugh won; and between laughs I said aloud: “I am a
pirate! I am a pirate!” And so a member of the company found me, and
paused and looked me gravely over, and, wagging his head desperately,
said: “It seems incredible, such meanness in one so young, but you will
bear in mind I _saw_ this myself--a girl of sixteen, who knows a good
story, takes herself out into a cold, damp hall, and tells this story
to herself, and laughs and laughs all to herself, and then wipes her
mouth and goes in seriously and sadly to join her defrauded brother and
sister artistes. Clara, I wouldn’t have believed it of you!”

I had to tell him what I was really laughing at.

“Good Lord!” he said, “that was old Mrs. Worden. Do you mean to tell me
you don’t know her? She’s a terror, is old Myra! She used to carry this
town in her pocket. She was young then, and rich, and they do say Myra
was a beauty. Hard to believe that, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Her features are really perfect. Her
eyes must have been very fine; her hair black, and her figure very
graceful.”

“Perhaps,” he yawned, “but she has the sharpest tongue and the longest
memory in Cleveland. How she does lash some of our public men! You
know the rector of Christ Church, the party who abuses theatres so
often? Well, one day there was a race between the ancient Myra and the
long-winded Reverend. She was overhauling him fast, and he knew it.
These doors stood open--theatre doors. He was between the devil and the
deep sea, and--well, quite properly, he chose the deep sea, and slid
in here, and behind that billboard. Had he only known it, he need not
have gone behind that board for shelter, for nothing on earth could
induce the ancient dame to enter the door of a theatre; so he would
have been safe had he merely stepped inside. As soon as she had passed,
he tried to slip out unnoticed, but _I_ was on the spot, I am proud
to say, when I was least wanted, and, lifting my hat, I informed him
that if he wanted seats he would find the box-office at the head of the
stairs. He _glared_ at me, and then I offered to run up and get him a
programme of the evening’s performance, but he snorted something about
‘mistaking the entrance,’ and got away. Well,” my companion added, with
a self-satisfied look, “if there is anyone in town who has _not_ heard
of that chase and escape, it’s not my fault.”

“But why,” I asked, “does Mrs. Worden dislike theatres so greatly?”

“My dear girl,” replied my friend Lewis, “I just love to instill
knowledge into your hungry, young mind, but fifty cents are always
full fifty cents to me, and if I stand here stuffing you with valuable
information, I shall be late to rehearsal, and fifty cents forfeit will
be torn from my unwilling pocket-book. So _en avant_,” and we both
turned our faces stageward.

The next day was very stormy and bitter cold. My mother insisted upon
my wrapping her shawl about me as an extra protection, but I had not
gone more than a block or two before I was in trouble. The wind tore
at me, the small pins could not stand the strain, they gave way, open
went the shawl. The wind caught it, and slapped my face with it, and
flung it flapping noisily through the air. I grabbed for it, jumped
up at it, waltzed around and tried to catch it; but truth to tell
that shawl could be found most any place in the street except on my
shoulders. While I was laboring like a ship in a high sea, I heard
some one knocking on a window-pane, and just as I began thinking
I should have to scud under bare poles for home, the knocking was
repeated so very loudly that I looked up, and, to my astonishment,
there stood Mrs. Worden! I was amazed, because I had supposed the
house to be unoccupied. The lower part was so, but at the upper window
she was standing and making signs for me to cross over to her. Still
wrestling madly with the shawl, I plunged over. The old lady opened
the front door, showing an empty and bare hall, and holding tightly to
the door itself, to keep from being blown backward, she motioned with
her head for me to come in. I obeyed, and stood leaning against the
unfriendly-looking wall, trying to regain my breath. Mrs. Worden smiled
sardonically at me, and remarked:

“I don’t think you will get to your precious rehearsal to-day at that
rate of speed. I’ve been watching you prancing about with that shawl,
and I’ve brought you down this.”

She held out to me a shawl-pin. As I took it, I found it was yet warm
from the hand of its maker since it was formed of a stout darning
needle with a ball of red sealing wax for a head. She had seen my
trouble and had hastily made this shawl-pin especially for me. I was
surprised beyond speech for a moment, and she mistook my silence, for
she began to jeer.

“Oh, use it, use it! If you can keep that shawl about you it may save
you from a sickness. Then you can hide the pin from the sight of those
lords and ladies at your great, fine theatre. They are so artistic, I
fear its roughness and lack of finish might jar upon them.”

But I shook my head, and, smiling broadly at her, I said:

“It’s no use, Mrs. Worden, you can never frighten me again. I know you
now, and you are good and kind.”

A sort of wonder came upon her: “Good God!” she cried. “You must
be madder than I am!” then she turned her eyes to the rough, gray
lake spreading far before us, and on her face there grew the look it
wore the first time I saw her. She spoke out quite distinctly, but
apparently not to me:

“I wonder if you hear?” she said. “I wonder? You used to call me good
and kind, aye, and dear, but that’s five and forty years ago, a weary
time my prettys! Perhaps the sign is coming soon--”

I stood a moment, then I laid my hand gently on her arm and said: “See,
now, how safe the shawl is; I thank you very much, and I shall get to
the rehearsal in time, after all.” She looked a bit bewildered for a
moment, then she asked: “Shall you be long to-day?”

“Oh, no,” I answered, “I shall be through very early.”

“Then suppose you stop in here a bit and have a cup of coffee?”

I accepted the invitation eagerly, and, as I ran down the steps, she
called to me: “You, girl, who won’t be frightened any more, I may be
out when you come; see, here’s where you’ll find the key, and just go
right up to the front room and wait for me.”

I nodded, and started again, but once more through the wind came her
shrill call: “You, girl, don’t you touch the fire, if you have to wait;
mind now, don’t touch it; I attend to that myself.”

The door slammed shut, and I was slammed down the windy street,
but in considerable comfort, now that the thick shawl was fastened
securely about me. I have seen--owned very handsome shawl pins since
then--some double, with connecting chains of silver or of gold, and
cunningly decorated by the goldsmith’s skill, but none ever gave me
better service than did that darning needle with its head of wax, made
beautiful in my eyes by the kindly thought that prompted its creation.
I was really quite excited at the prospect of seeing her at home. She
was an acquired taste. I had found her bitter at first, but now there
was a faint hint of sweetness rising above the bitterness, and I liked
it. I hurried to keep my appointment, and as I approached I was struck
by the resemblance the house bore to the woman who lived in it. Both
were so old, so gaunt, so lonely, and, above all, so frail. Surely, I
thought, that trembling, old, frame shell of a house cannot be safe in
any great off-lake gale. And when I first entered it and mounted its
sagging, old stairs I was really frightened when it jarred at every
quick movement and shook in each blast of wind.

Mrs. Worden was out when I arrived, and so I entered gladly the front
room she had indicated, for, silly as it sounds, I must admit I am, and
always have been, afraid of an empty house. I went in and closed the
door.

Now, the French say, when colors do not agree ‘that they swear at each
other,’ but never, surely, did inanimate things swell to such a storm
of profanity as did the furnishings of this room. The floor was bare,
the boards were narrow and warped and hungry-looking. Guiltless of
stain or paint, they had been scrubbed to a creamy whiteness, which
somehow gave the whole floor a peculiarly frigid, unfriendly look.
It had a Pharisaical air, as though it were thanking its maker “that
it was not as other floors.” Then, exactly opposite the door, there
hung upon the glaring, whitewashed wall, in a magnificent frame, a
life-sized, full-length portrait in oil, of a charming girl of about
ten years. The “swearing” here was almost audible. The windows,
ill-fitting and rattling in their cases, looked out directly upon the
lake. The bedstead had been a grand affair in its long-passed day, but
now, stripped of all its luxurious hangings, it stretched its thin,
old posts up, only to meet the skeleton of its former canopy, while
the silken spread of patch-work, of a brain-destroying intricacy of
pattern, was worn clear through in places, so that the cotton wadding
showed plainly. As I turned slowly around, I found another great
portrait. This time it was a boy who smiled happily at me from the
canvas; such a handsome, manly little chap, for all his absurd dress.
One only smiled with him, not at him. I was very much impressed, for
I had only been in two houses where there were family portraits, and
I knew they meant a great expenditure. And then, ignorant as I was of
such matters, I felt sure these portraits were the work of some great
artist, and I was right, for later on I learned they had been painted
by the most famous artist of his time.

Two small tables, a bureau, a few chairs, all of the commonest, and a
small corner cupboard, completed the furniture of this odd room. Oh,
yes; I must not omit the screen, then a very unusual object, a tall,
narrow, three-panelled screen, which played an important part in its
owner’s daily life. And the fire! Thank Heaven, I thought, for one
thing, that did not look cold. I think there was about one scant quart
of fire, and, as I threw off my shawl, I started to put on some coal,
when suddenly I remembered that injunction, ‘You girl! don’t touch the
fire!’ and I stayed my hand, but when I looked into the box and saw
there just four pieces of coal, and so suspiciously exact in size one
to the other, and leaning at the end of the box a hammer, my heart
melted with pity; I began to understand. With a sigh I left the fire,
precious but inadequate, and turned to study the painted pair. The
boy, swarthy, smiling, happy, won your love at once; but the girl’s
blonde, young arrogance slightly repelled. The portrait, considered
as a picture, was quite lovely. The dainty figure, in the soft,
yellowish-pink gown, stood out well from the olives and dull greens of
the brocaded curtain behind her. On the table lay her great hat, while
just slipping from her shoulder was the black velvet pelisse which,
by contrast, brought out so beautifully the milky whiteness of her
childish neck. The features, the lift of the head, the thin, slightly
shrewish, delicate lips were all wonderfully like Mrs. Worden. But the
color scheme was wrong. This handsome, overbearing child was blonde
as she could be, while the boy, with but one feature of her face, her
piercing eyes, was surely darker than she had ever been. So while I
stood before the girl and thought how clever had been the artist, who
had painted the boy with his hand upon his dog’s head--while in the
girl’s hand he had placed a broken necklace--in these bits of detail, I
thought he has given his idea of their character, and just then I heard
Mrs. Worden approaching.

Like many people who live much alone, she had the habit of talking to
herself--she was talking then. I heard her say, “That’s fifteen years
ago, you fool! yes, all of that. Now, what the devil did I do it for?”

I felt quite certain she was referring to the invitation she had
given to me, and I shook with laughter. When she opened the door, her
eyes were snapping viciously and her brows were brought together in an
inky frown; only her hair was white, her brows were black as they had
ever been, but when she saw me standing, my hands behind me, evidently
studying the portrait, the frown unknit itself, her eyes softened,
and when I asked: “Who are they, the handsome girl and the laughing,
little man?” she answered proudly: “They are my treasures, my man-child
Philip, and my Edith, gift-of-God; because of whom I have not cursed
Him long ago and died.”

At the words, “my treasures,” I suddenly recalled her speech at the
lake, and instinctively my eyes turned towards it. She caught the look,
and, going to the window, she went on: “My treasures, precious beyond
rubies, they lie out there now; I watch them and wait for the sign.”

Then, pointing with her long, bony finger, she said: “You see that dark
line out there on the water; no, no, the darker, purplish one? That’s
where they lie. Yes, yes, my prettys, I know, I know! but it’s weary
waiting, dearies; weary, weary!”

Her voice died away so drearily that I felt the tears rising in my
eyes. A movement of mine made her turn to me. She put her hand up and
passed it across her brow and eyes once or twice, and then, quite
naturally, she went on: “I was wondering, when I came in, what I asked
you here for.”

I interrupted to say: “I think it was to give me pleasure.” “No,” she
answered, “it wasn’t that. I know now. I thought I’d like to hear some
one talk again.”

I felt a bit flattered at that, but she finished with: “I haven’t heard
anyone talk at home since my parrot died.”

Down sat my vanity, flat. The old lady had taken off her bonnet, and,
as she motioned me to a chair, she said, musingly: “I never can quite
remember whether I learned to swear from the parrot, or the parrot
learned from me.”

She heaved a sigh and proceeded to prepare the tray for our coffee. As
she moved about she continued her remarks: “Yes, we did a fairish bit
of swearing between us, Poll and I; her name, by the way, was not Poll,
but Sally, and, of course, I suppose some one must have taught her to
do it, but it was delicious to hear the ‘bloomin’’ cussing she would
give to any one who called her Sarah. Yes, all things considered, there
was in the past considerable profanity in this room.”

And I, glancing at the splendid frame against the whitewashed wall,
recklessly made answer: “And it is not absolutely absent at this
moment.”

Her bright, old eye glanced from wall to frame, then back to me, her
quick comprehension making my unfinished thought her finished one in
an instant. She wagged her head and said: “That’s not bad, you girl,”
then, with somewhat unnerving loudness, she went on: “She’s young
and green, oh! but upon my soul, she’s not a fool.” Then addressing
me again: “So you know some French sayings, do you? Not many though,
I think; but look, you, young ears are sharp, and you should have
been here before the hangings of my bed fell to bits. They were of
brocatelle and lined with silk, and they cursed that whitewashed wall
so venomously, had you been here in the bed, you’d not have slept
one wink, unless your soul’s already gray instead of white,” and she
laughed that odd, stinging laughter that was so like the crackling of
thin ice upon a wintry day.

While she had talked and laughed and nodded, she had prepared her
coffee, and we seated ourselves at either side of the little table, she
taking care to sit facing the tossing lake.

Oh, that tray! It really seemed as though the things thereon must come
to blows, so fiercely did they contradict each other. The coffee pot
of make and material precisely like those good “Bridgets” purchase
for the use of honest “Patricks.” The knives and forks--they appeared
a bit later--were of that brand which always makes you wish that you
were dead, they make of life a thing so hideous. While cheek by jowl
with these rough things stood a few pieces of old porcelain, deserving,
each one of them, a satin-lined box to rest in. And to keep them in
countenance, there were four spoons of silver, paper-thin, initials and
dates quite worn away, and all a trifle bent and dented in spite of
the owner’s care of them; while the linen, I could have cried over that
eye-destroying mass of delicate darning. Truly, there were places in my
napkin where the darning had itself been darned again. But the coffee,
like the fire, which had been increased by the addition of one small
cube of coal, was inadequate in quantity, but the quality? oh, well, it
was perfection, that’s all; absolute perfection.

I tasted it and smiled, and sighed. She understood, and snapped her
old eyes at me approvingly, and _she_ tasted and sighed, and then she
slowly said: “Whenever I drink good coffee I always rejoice that God
created it. It would have been an infernal shame had it been invented
by some fool man!”

I laughed aloud--I always did, I’m sorry to confess--whenever she
swore, she did it in such an impersonal way, never, never in anger,
never, even when she was busily engaged in flaying alive some victim of
her memory and her tongue. She generally swore to herself, and nearly
always when in a reflective mood. When I laughed, she gave me a glance
and asked quickly: “What is it, eh? Did I swear? Well, don’t you do it,
that’s all. But Lord! you won’t have to live fifteen or twenty years
alone with a ‘cussing’ parrot, as I did. For some time after Sally died
I used to say ‘damnation.’ Oh, I don’t say it now; don’t open your
eyes any wider, you’ll meet with an accident. But, you see, for nearly
twenty years that bird told me twice a day that her coffee was ‘too
damnation hot,’ and after she was gone I had to say it now and then to
break the silence.”

As she talked she fidgeted uneasily with her spoon and cup; at last
she broke out with: “My dear, I asked you just to have coffee with me,
but now--well, to tell you the truth--I am quite faint. I breakfast
at half-past six, that I may have the strong morning light for my
work, and somehow I feel a bit exhausted to-day, and--and I’d like
my dinner now, if you can pardon an old woman’s offence against all
conventionalities, and stay and dine with me!”

Could I have known, I would have taken the coffee only and denied my
hunger; but I knew nothing, and cheerfully consented to dine with her.
I wondered where her kitchen was, and, supposing she would be some time
preparing the simplest meal, I looked about for something to help me
pass away the time. There was no paper, and but one book in the room,
a family bible that might have been bound in a pair of old boots--its
leather was so browned with age, so worn, so scruffed it looked. I went
over to take it up, when my hostess, with distinct satisfaction in
her voice, announced, “Dinner!” All my life long my generally-absent
appetite has been pursued like an “_ignus fatuus_” by those near to me,
but this time my appetite met its match; old Myra’s saw mine and went
it about four better. The knives and forks had now appeared, simply
as a mockery, I believe. Lying on a plate were four biscuits, or, as
we called them then, crackers. They belonged to that branch of the
cracker family known as “soda”--soda crackers, and while I looked on
in stupid wonder, she carefully opened a handsomely-cut, glass box,
with a silver lid, which, beyond the shadow of a doubt, had been her
powder-box in days gone by, and delicately lifted out _four little,
thin scraps_ of smoked beef--four crackers and those scraps of beef--no
more, no less--and we fell to and “dined” upon them. But when I saw
her trying not to eat too eagerly, I had a lump in my throat bigger
than our whole dinner. No wonder her weight was less than a pound for
each year of her weary life. I wished I could gather her up in my arms
and kiss the fierceness out of her eyes and promise her fire enough
for real comfort, and coffee, and food--real food--that would not make
the promise of nourishment to the eye to break it to the stomach. My
thoughts were broken by “You, girl! is there anything the matter with
your dinner?”

“Nothing in the world,” I cried, “but I was not very hungry, and, in
fact, I do want to get back to my coffee.”

“Well,” she answered, “I must say you eat fairer than ever Sally did,
for, I give you my word, for years on end that parrot cheated me out of
at least half a cracker every day of her life, and yet, my dear, when
she died she was as thin as I am.”

When I was about leaving her, she said to me: “You, girl, I like you!
You are queer. You are uneven, and you make me guess. You know more
and you know less than most girls of your age, and, thank God, you
don’t giggle! You may come again.” She paused and looked at me with a
deprecating expression, and finished almost meekly: “That is, if you
care to share your spare time with me.”

I told her, and I told her truly, how glad I should be to come. How
glad I was to live in Lake street too, and so near to her, and then,
rather shyly, I added: “I think, if you will let me, I will tell you my
name, Mrs. Worden”--and I mentioned it.

She was looking out at the dreary lake again, and, without
withdrawing her eyes, she made answer: “H’m’m! Clara, eh? Cla--ra,
Claire--Clarice--that’s a fool name, Clarice? but Clara--that’s light,
illustrious, clear, bright! My dear, I’m glad you are named Clara. It’s
a good name. I hope it may fit you as well as mine has fitted me. My
French mother meant to call me Marie, which is, you know, a form of
Mary--‘Star of the Sea,’ and he who did the sprinkling and the crossing
and the rest was deaf, and he named me Myra--‘she who weeps.’ Good
God! Good God! Have I not been well named? ‘She who weeps.’ The tears
are all gone from the eyes, now, and they are dry enough, but hot, my
dearies--so very hot! Internal, cruel tears that ooze slowly, like
drops of thin, old blood, still fall from my heart, my dearies, while
I wait and wait. Aye, it was before the altar, and with the sign of
the sacred cross, and the touch of the holy-water on my brow, that he
baptized me ‘Myra’--‘she who weeps!’”

I stole out of the room, where well-bred hunger showed its teeth so
plainly, and softly closed the door, leaving her in the gathering
darkness, a ghost talking to other ghosts, from whom she was separated
by the thinnest, frailest shell of mortality I ever saw.

And so we went our ways, and did the work that fell to us. Some
nights I pranced cheerily about the stage in country dances, and made
announcements anent that carriage that always seemed to be waiting for
some one in the old plays, particularly the comedies. “My Lord, the
carriage waits!” It is a famous line, a short one, I know, but powerful
enough to produce temporary paralysis of the limbs and complete
dumbness, for the moment, in strong and lusty youths and maidens.
Well, I was on most friendly terms with that line, and some nights
said nothing more, while on other nights I went on and played really
first-class parts, that being the manner in which we used to work our
way upward from the very bottom, and felt no shame in it either; but
_nous avons changés tout cela_.

While I was thus bobbing up and down upon the restless waters of my
profession, my strange “old lady,” who had grown to be my friend,
was sitting “like a gray, old Fate, toiling, toiling, weaving” the
fairy-like stitches that made whole again the torn or injured among
rare and precious laces. Her knowledge of them was wonderful, her love
for them almost tender. She would shake her head and croon over them,
when they were, in her words, “badly hurt.” The day she came nearest
to loving me was the day I said I thought laces were the poetry of
a woman’s wardrobe. “Aye, aye,” she answered, “that’s a good word
and well said, girl Clara. It’s strange that, without teaching or
information, your keen instinct guides you to the _real_ beauties of
life as surely as the sense of smell guides a young hound on the trail.
There’s nothing made by the hand of poverty that is so beautiful as
lace; so delicate yet so strong. Ah! girl Clara, some day, may you see
a bit of Venetian ‘point,’ ‘round point,’ but if you do, you’ll smash a
commandment, mark my words!”

Laces were sent to her from distant cities, and the package I had
caught up from under the horses’ feet came, as did many others, from
the then greatest merchant of New York. She had received much work from
the South, but the war deprived her of that. So she went on cutting her
expenses down to meet her earnings, starving quite slowly and making
her moan to no man.

One day I paid a long-promised, much-dreaded visit to a young friend
of mine. We had made our first appearance in the ballet together, the
same night, the same play, and she was still in the ballet. She was the
young person who gave me the decorated fly-trap for a Christmas gift.
Somehow that remarkable selection of a gift always seems to have had
something to do with her remaining so many years the chief ornament of
that ballet. I had gone with her from rehearsal to her boarding-house.
Now, there are boarding-houses and boarding-houses, but this was just a
boarding-house. The sadly experienced ones will understand exactly what
I mean. The happy, inexperienced ones may just skip the sentence.

Rehearsal had been long, so we were late for dinner and we seated
ourselves at the long, narrow, untidy, unfriendly-looking table, with
heavy forebodings. Everything seemed to have been devoured by the
boarders before us, except the pickles. They alone coldly and sourly
faced us. But when the slatternly waitress came in, I asked myself why,
oh, why had I come at all? A slattern with a cheerful face is hard to
bear, but a slattern who sulks is more than even a boarder should be
asked to endure. I saw my friend, whose name was Mary, quail as this
fell creature looked insolently at her; but before our doom was sealed
the landlady passed through the room. Now, Mary always said that had
she been alone that incident would have passed for nothing, and that
she would have dined on pickles and cold water, or not dined at all,
but I was there, and Mrs. Bulkley knew of me, and being stricken for
the moment with madness, saw in me a possible boarder, therefore she
paused and greeted me, and rather unnecessarily explained that the
dinner was all gone, but added that she reckoned they could scrape
something together for us. And Mary rather ungratefully whispered,
“she was used to living on scrapings now.” While we waited, the sulky
slattern, regardless of our presence, proceeded with her duties,
snatching everything from the table, except the shame-faced cover and
the pickles.

Presently Mrs. Bulkley appeared, and our dinner materialized in the
form of liver and bacon and warmed potatoes, a vulgar dish, but, being
freshly cooked, a welcome one to two tired and hungry girls. Had it not
been for the table-cover we might have been quite happy, but the sins
of the boarders against it had been many, and as they had not yet been
washed away, they were not pleasant to look upon.

Just as we were being served, Mary remarked that she had “seen that
awful, old Mrs. Worden giving a gentleman fits in the street that
morning, and that two other gentlemen were waiting for him, and they
had laughed at him,” and she ended by asking me “had I ever seen her?”

“Oh, yes,” I answered, “I saw her in her room yesterday.”

“What?” cried Mrs. Bulkley, dropping the spoon noisily from her hand.
“What’s that? You saw Mrs. Worden in her room, her own room where she
lives? Oh, nonsense, you don’t mean our Mrs. Worden! She hasn’t had a
soul inside that room since old poll Sal died.”

I explained that my Mrs. Worden was “Myra,” owner of Sally, living at
number so-and-so Lake street, mender of laces, etc., and then Mrs.
Bulkley dropped herself, a friendly chair catching her; then she said:
“Well, I’m dummed!” Then she took off her spectacles and wiped them on
a corner of the table-cover, which made them worse, as I knew it would,
and she took them off again and wiped them on a grimy handkerchief, and
put them on, and looked hard at me and said: “She had you in her room,
and you a theatre-girl? Well, then, she’s breaking up at last. Well!
Well!”

She leaned her head upon her ugly, old hand, and I asked:

“Do you know her personally?”

“Do I know her!” she snapped out at me. “Don’t she come here every once
in a while? and sometimes she takes tea with me!”

“Yes,” faintly murmured Mary, “and when she comes, a clean cloth goes
on the table, and every boarder in the house who has ‘a past,’ keeps in
his or her own room.”

I smiled comprehendingly, while Mrs. Bulkley went on: “Do I know her?
good Lord! haven’t I known her since I was a green girl in my early
’teens?”

I was startled. Looking at her foxy, false front, her steel-bowed
spectacles, her leathery skin, and the small framed platter she wore on
her chest as a breast-pin, it was so hard to believe she had ever had
any ‘’teens’ at all!

“Yes,” she went on, “I know her, as my mother before me did. She worked
for Mrs. Worden for more than eighteen years, and now she’s breaking
up. Here, Hannah, make me some tea! You, oh, well, yes--you may make
enough for us three, and bring it here. I feel all tuckered out.”

And the old body did look worried and anxious. I was surprised, and I
was grateful for her interest in Mrs. Worden, for whom I now had a real
affection as well as a great pity.

“Oh, Mrs. Bulkley!” I cried, “don’t be uneasy; Mrs. Worden seems quite
as well as usual. She works as hard as ever, too, and she is very kind
to me.”

“There!” exclaimed Mrs. Bulkley, “that settles it! Myra Worden kind to
anyone in her eighty-third year? She’s breaking; she’ll get the sign
she’s been waiting for so long pretty soon, I reckon, poor thing!”

I simply could not help putting the question: “Do you know, Mrs.
Bulkley, why Mrs. Worden hates theatres so bitterly?”

“Do I know, my Suz!--Oh, here’s the tea, and glad I am for it!”

The tea was good, and I saw by the gratified astonishment of Mary’s
face that it was a treat. When the “Busy B” (as Mrs. Bulkley was
generally called behind her back) had had her first cup, as a
pick-me-up--a sort of green-tea cocktail--she felt better. She loosened
her specs and let them slide well down her nose, so she could look at
me over their tops; she planted her black alpaca elbow on the dingy
table, and unlimbered, ready for conversation, while, for the first
time in my life, I recognized these signs in a landlady without
instantly taking flight. “Why,” she began, “it was like this: Right
from the first every one said she’d throwed herself away when she took
up with that great, big, pink-and-white chuckle-head, Phil Worden. But
she was just plumb crazy in love with him. I suppose he must have cared
a little for her at first, but mother always said he just married her
out of vanity--like gals do sometimes--she being the biggest catch in
town. Good looks, and money and family the hull thing! Well, anyway,
he was a foolin’ her, or thought he was, before they was married a
year. She knew of it in no time. Mother thought there’d be an awful
rumpus, but Mrs. Worden shut herself up all afternoon alone, and walked
and walked, but when supper-time come she just met him as kind and as
sweet! Oh! Myra used to be sweet enough in them days, and she just
talked and laughed, and he looked like a great school-boy expecting a
good trouncing. Well, that blowed over, but Myra Worden was always on
the watch, I reckon, after that. Mother used to say he was, somehow,
afraid of her. She loved books--good Lord! the books she had; lots of
’em writ in French, too; and she first off tried to talk of ’em to him,
same as to visitors, and he didn’t know a thing about ’em. Then she
tried to read them to him, and mother said she didn’t know which one
she felt the sorriest for, him or her; him trying to keep awake, or
her trying to hide her disappointment. Well, by-and-by, she gives it
all up, and, if you’ll believe me, that educated, fine-minded woman
just took to readin’ out loud to him a nasty, low-down paper--I can’t
just call its name now, but all about cock-fights--oh, yes! they had
dog-fights and cock-fights in my time, my dear--and ring fights, and
horse-races, and he’d just drink it all in, every word. She was fond
of music, and he couldn’t tell one tune from another, he said; but
that was just an excuse, because he hated to have to sit and listen to
decent music. Common fiddling suited him well enough. He was almost
stupid in behavior or sulky-like in company--proper company; but
if, by chance, he was left home at night and his wife was out, he’d
carry on with the servants, and sing songs, and play tricks with the
cards, and imitate things--pigs gruntin’ and corks poppin’, and that
like, until you’d laugh to split. In that sort of way, mother used to
say, she thought he felt afraid of his wife’s finding out his real
disposition, and she--why, she just followed him about with them black
eyes of hers, and fair worshipped him. She was nigh tickled to death
when her girl baby came into the world; yellow-headed like him. She
was only like him in color, however, for of all the domineerin’ little
hectoring brats I ever saw! Well, as I was saying, Mrs. Worden was the
law of this town then, and it was card parties and coach parties and
sleigh parties and lake moonlight parties, accordin’ to the time a
year, and dinners and suppers and ‘routs’--that’s what they called ’em
then, I remember--and people used to come from other places and they’d
stay a week at a time, and them weeks was Phil Worden’s picnics, his
two-forty-on-a-plank days, I tell you. Now, I never see nobody so dead
crazy about theatres as Miss Worden was. Whenever a company came here
she had the first box, and every night of her life, unless she gave
a ‘rout,’ she was in that old theatre. Yes, I know it, an alley now,
and only a few low variety shows go there, and no women ever enters
its doors, but then it was, my Suz! it just was a fine theatre. Well,
Phil was fond of the show, too, and she was awful proud of that, and
it was ‘my Philip is so fond of the play,’ and ‘Mr. Worden will be at
the theatre whether or no--’ Poor soul! it was so seldom they liked
the same things, but Lord! even then she was deceivin’ herself. He
didn’t care for no play; he just went for them dances they used to
have between the acts, and the slack wire performers and that like;
but he knew every man and woman behind the scenes, and knocked about
with them in the daytime, and I don’t mean no slurs against you two
girls now, but in them days actors was a rather common lot. The men
nearly all drank too much, and, what’s worse, some of the women did,
too; and well, one crowd came here for a long stay, and Phil Worden was
just cock of the walk with them, and before long there was talk about
one special female. She wasn’t even a leadin’ actor among ’em, just
a brazen hussy who put paint an inch thick on her cheeks and daubed
her mouth with a dye thing they called ‘vinegar rouge,’ because it
wouldn’t come off easy, and she was poorer than Job, and all at once
she had beaver bonnets and velvet pelisses and feathers and long gloves
and a muff big enough for a bass drum. And because the woman was drunk
oftener and oftener, and in her cups was a noisy and quarrelsome jade
who would fight her best friend, and talked everything right out, all
Cleveland began to wink and nod and say Phil Worden. Well, of course,
Myra must have suspected, but never one cross word did she give him,
nor show him the frown mother said she had on pretty often them days
when he was away. But, one day, in he comes, near supper-time--even
Mrs. Worden took her dinner at two o’clock them times, and people said
it was all airs to have dinner so sinful late. Well, in he comes, all
bunged up, a sight to see! His eye was all swelled up, and there was
blood smears on his face, and his lip was hurt. Mother happened to be
right there when he came in, and she looked first thing at Mrs. Worden,
and she said her eyes flashed fire. She stood right in her tracks,
looking in her husband’s face, and her hands were shut tight, and at
last she said, and her voice cut like a knife: ‘_How did you get your
hurt, Mr. Worden?_’ and he looked away across the room and mumbled
something about ‘sky-larking with a fellow who was drunk and hit harder
than he knew,’ and she, as white as death and as cold as ice, said:
‘You lie, you coward! You lie! Not even a drunken man fights with
his nails! A woman did that work for you--’ and she threw open the
door and pointed for him to go, but in came the two children in their
gowns, with the nurse behind, to tell them both good-night. Her arm
fell like a log, and she made a spring and caught him by the shoulder
and turned him so the young ones couldn’t see his face, and pushed him
towards her dressin’-room and said all in one moment, ‘poor daddy! has
got hurted, so mammy must tell you good-night alone this time,’ and
when she kissed them the boy said, ‘Sall ’ou tiss him hurt, mammy?’
and she says: ‘God knows! God knows!’ and mother said she got away
with the dresses she was carryin’ and only knows that Myra nursed him
faithfully till he was able to face the world again, and for her pay,
one week later he left her, to follow the third-rate actress, who beat
him in her drunken frenzies--like the dog he was. He left a letter for
her. My mother stood, shaking like a leaf with fright, but Mrs. Worden
stood like a rock and read it all out loud: ‘How he was not her equal,
how she had been too generous and too kind,’ and then mother said he
quite worked up there, and blamed her hard for not flying out at him
when he done wrong. He said he could have stood it better if she had
abused him, but she held her tongue or only spoke gently to him, and at
the very end that’s what he said, ‘You should have lashed me, I could
have understood that, but your tongue was not sharp enough,’ and then
she stopped, my mother said, and then she read that line again, ‘your
tongue was not sharp enough,’ and then, says she, with blazing eyes
and white lips, ‘By God! no other man shall make that complaint of me!
I’ll sharpen my tongue like a serpent’s, and adder’s poison shall lurk
under my lips!’ and then suddenly she began to laugh and laughed and
laughed, and while we all went a running for doctors, she laughed her
way into the fever that came nigh to killin’ her.”

The tears were on my cheeks, and my tea was stone cold, when Mrs.
Bulkley paused to refill her exhausted lungs and swallow another
bracer. Mary had, meantime, been steadily eating, grinding with
the regularity of a machine, swallowing with the satisfaction of a
_gourmet_. She had devoured her own share of the meal and was now
making predatory attacks upon certain portions belonging by rights to
me, and I, believing that the “Busy B” was only getting her second wind
and would start again directly, told her in a whisper to go ahead and
eat it all, an arrangement satisfactory to us both, since I preferred
Mrs. Worden’s story to eating, and Mary preferred eating to any story
of any woman alive or dead. Mrs. Bulkley was about to resume her
narrative, when she paused to shout an order to the cook in the kitchen
“not to use none of that _good_ butter in no cooking out there,” and I
actually felt my flesh creep. It was the double shock that told upon
the nerves. There was first that awful attack upon poor Lindley Murray,
pounding him with negatives, then there were the rending possibilities
connected with the butter that _would_ be used in the cooking out
there. And I was glad that I was not Mary. Mary, hearing that order,
had simply let her eyebrows slide up her forehead a bit and then slide
down again, while she went on eating. Mrs. Bulkley suddenly remarked:
“I see you’re crying; well, well, I used to cry about Myra Worden
myself, sometimes. But when you get old your tears come harder, like
everything else, pretty nigh. I don’t know’s I exactly sense why you
should cry for her losin’ that great hulk of a fellow, though.”

“Oh!” I cried, “her pride, think of that! To have been abandoned for
some great woman, some rare beauty, would have been bad enough, but to
have been cast aside for a gross and common thing that cursed and tore
him like a beast, and all in the very face of the public! How could she
bear it all, poor thing?”

“Well,” said Mrs. Bulkley, “she done it somehow. But I must tell you
a queer sort of thing about when she was sick--yet it jest shows you
what dummed fools women be. Mrs. Worden had the most amazin’ head of
hair I ever seen in my born days, as black as jet and hangin’ to a
length I darsen’t name, for fear you’d think it lies, and thick! good
mercy! Well, she was in for a long sickness, the doctor said, and no
nurse could do anything with that mop of hern; and so they ups and
cuts it off, and mother cryin’ like a baby when they done it. But when
she found out herself what they had done to her--good Lord! she give a
screech, and wrung her hands and sobbed: ‘It was the only thing that
Philip ever loved about me. He called it his great, black mantle, and
once he wound it round and round and round his strong, white throat,
and now _it’s_ gone; thanks to these meddlin’ fools, who don’t see that
I can’t die!’ and she jest cursed every man and woman in the house,
and raved over that hair of hern every hour when she was out of her
head--when she was right-minded she never let on she noticed about it.
Well, at last she got well, and straight she put on the widow’s weeds
that she’s worn for five and fifty years. Poor soul! she held her head
so high and looked so hard right into folks’s eyes, they darsen’t ask
the questions nor make the remarks they’d like to. And she used to
spend an awful lot of time and money on the poor--and she jest guarded
them children as though they was chuck full of dimonds. But ’twas
_then_ she began to use the sharp edge of her tongue. She didn’t talk
_about_ folks, she never was one for slander, but the things she’d say
_to_ ’em was jest awful, and the worst of it all was, that she always
told the truth. If she’d jest been abusive and have made up things
outen whole cloth, nobody would ’a cared much; but what was it, now,
that big lawyer said about her once? Let’s see, she had been giving him
a hidin’ right before folks, and when she was done, he says, ‘The woman
who is armed with sarcasm and truth is a woman whose tongue is sharp on
both edges.’ Yes, them’s the words.

“But trouble jest follow’d right along after, yes, and pretty close
after. ‘Mrs. Myra Worden,’ that’s what her cards said _then_; they
used to say Mrs. Philip Worden--but when the black went on the ‘Philip’
came off. Mother said that she never heard her speak that name but jest
once, after the time she stood laughin’ like mad over his last letter.
Some one told Mrs. Worden that some one else had said that ‘she had a
tongue like a serpent’s,’ and mother says her eyes give a flash and
she throw’d up her head and she said almost wild-like: ‘I swore me an
oath and I’m keepin’ it. You should have waited; my nails are long now,
and sharp; already I have a serpent’s tongue. I might yet learn to
cuff, and curse and tear you with the rest! Ah! you should have waited,
Philip!’ My Suz! then came the trouble. Didn’t the biggest man, most,
we had in town up and blow out his miserable, dishonest, old brains,
because he had first lost his own money, and then had thrown away a
hull lot of Myra Worden’s after it--expectin’ to get both back, he
said. It was an awful loss. She didn’t say anythin’, hardly, but she
shook her head a bit, while she watched the young ones playing; she
only cared for their sakes. Some one said to her, ‘Such a disgrace, I
do wonder what his family will do?’ and she says so quiet-like: ‘Get
a much larger monument than is usual, and see that it’s of whitest
Carrara, I suppose. That’s what’s generally done in such cases.’

“Well, she give up livin’ in that house, and give up all the carriages
but jest a family affair that the children could be sent about in,
and came down to Lake Street. It was a pretty house, but Lord! not
like _her_ a bit. And if you’ll believe me, that girl, that Edith of
hern, cut up more monkey-shines and was madder than a hornet about it.
Little Phil thought it was fine; fact was, the little devil was in the
lake about half his time, but nobody liked to tell, and everybody knew
the dog would take care of him anyhow. They got along all right for a
while, she living for the work she could do for the poor and for the
love of them children, and they for lessons and fun. My Suz! she had
’em so they could jabber French all the time they was dressin’ and
until lunch, and then at that meal that Dutch woman she had, great
flat-faced, stupid thing, used to pitch in and make ’em eat that
meal in Dutch, or German she call’d it--though I vum! I can’t see no
difference between the two. And dancin’ lessons! and, O, Lord! I can’t
remember half they were studyin’ at, and so their mother let ’em have
lots of play too. So one day, she’d promised to take ’em to the circus
at night, and they were sure the day would be a year long; and some one
invited ’em to go out on the lake for a sail, and she ups and says,
‘_no_.’ Well, they was mad; but she was weather-wiser than any woman I
ever see, and she said to ’em, ‘No, my dearies, it’s fair now, but it’s
a treacherous fairness. I dare not let you go.’ Well, after sulkin’ a
bit, they asked if they might go and spend the day at Auntie Anna’s?
She wasn’t their true aunt, they jest called her that, and she was
nothin’ but a slave to ’em, and spoiled ’em--well, don’t talk! ‘But,’
said their mother, ‘if you go there to take tea, you will not have time
to dress for the circus!’ ‘Why, then, dress us now; we’ll be careful of
our things, mammy,’ said Edith, ‘and then we’ll come right from tea,
by our ownselves--oh! please, mammy, yes by our ownselves, and we’ll
stand on the corner over there and wave our hands and handkerchers to
you for a sign for you to come to us, and then we’ll all go on up town
together.’ They were jest sot on that plan. They felt it would be so
big for them to come alone, those few blocks, and then to stand on the
corner and make signs for her to come to them, and seein’ as she had
already cross’d them once, she consented, and right away they were
dressed and started off under the servant’s care to their auntie’s
house for the rest of the day. When they had kissed her good-by about a
dozen times--for the way they loved her jest was a caution now, I tell
you--little Phil runs back and he up and said, ‘Mammy, I’ll take care
of Edie--she’s the biggest, but I’m the strongest, and I’m the nearest
to a man, ain’t I? So, I’ll hold her hand all the way when we’re alone,
mammy, and I won’t let anybody speak to her, ’till you come down to
us,’ and she kissed him again, and called him, as she often did, her
‘man-child,’ and away he went after Edie. The next time she saw the
poor, little things, Phil was a keepin’ his word.

“Mrs. Worden went on with her doin’s, whatever they was, and along
couple hours later she sees the sky darkenin’. There had been a good
many small boats out on the water, and she felt uneasy when she
noticed ’twas getting dark. Everythin’ along the bank was different
then to what it’s now, you know. Some of them long slopes was all
green and right pretty to sit out on, and lots of people used to walk
there and look at the lake and do their sparkin’, and sometimes people
would crowd the bank to watch a wreck and shout and yell, if anyone
was saved. Well, as I was sayin’, Mrs. Worden she goes to look out,
when a girl comes screechin’ to her ‘that a boat had been capsized,
and the folks that had gone out to save the upset people were now in
danger from the wind that was blowin’, and there was crowds out there
watchin’ already!’ Mrs. Worden wraps herself up in a cloak and goes
out, too, to the bank. Lord! Lord! that storm! and the shortness of it.
I had a sailor boardin’ here then--nasty, drunken brute he was, too--he
said somethin’ about their having where he come from what was called
a ‘black squall,’ and that that was one. Well, I don’t know nothin’
about black squalls, but I do know, and you know, and every one else
as knows ‘Old Erie’ at all, knows there ain’t no lake on God’s earth
that’s as treacherous or as lightenin’ quick in evil-doing, and when
Mrs. Worden gets out there, the crowd was already cryin’ out, and
wringin’ hands, and runnin’ up and down. And, sure enough, there right
close in was a bit of a pleasure boat of some sort, and, oh, dear! I
can’t tell you no rights or wrongs, I was there too, but when I seen
them poor creatures hold out their arms towards us standin’ safe on
solid ground, I jest sot right down on the bank, for my legs couldn’t
hold me up. Then a rumor ran through the crowd that there was children
on the boat, and one great groan went up, and Mrs. Worden says: ‘God
pity some poor mother’s heart! my own children might have been there,
for they begged to go out to-day, but I forbade it,’ and right behind
her stopped a woman who had come up runnin’ like mad, and was movin’
her lips and not makin’ a single sound, and that woman was Aunt Anna.
At that moment a vivid flash of color was seen on the deck, it was
a girl’s pink dress; next instant the crowd groaned: ‘The children,
oh! God! see the children! and they are holdin’ hands, they look this
way!’ A man was standin’, holdin’ a pair of glasses to his eyes, and
without a word Mrs. Worden put out her shakin’ hand and seized them,
while the silent woman, with the ashen grey face, fell down upon her
knees and bowed her head behind her. The instant the glass was at
her eyes Mrs. Worden stopped shakin’. She stood solid as a rock and
she jest said: ‘Oh! Mother of God!’ and there she stood, and it was
only a moment or two after that, oh! well, there was awful screechin’
from the women and some groans from the men, and it was all over. I
looked at her. She took the glass from her eyes, and holdin’ it in
her hand a minute, she stood looking down at it, then she gave a kind
of start-like, and she holds it out to the man, and she said slowly,
each word kind of by itself, ‘I thank you, sir, it is a good glass,’
and she turned and walked a step or two, and then without a sound,
fell all her length, upon the ground. They carried her to her home,
but Aunt Anna was taken to another house and cared for, and there she
told how she had not been strong enough to refuse them, when they had
entreated, and the people who invited them were old friends of hers,
and would, she knew, be very careful; but where she took on the worst,
was when she told about how the dog had to be tied, to keep him from
following them. The ladies feared he might jump into the water and get
in the boat again and spoil their dresses; and he fought like mad to
get loose, and howled and barked his voice clean away. And I haven’t
no doubt but he’d a saved one of ’em, for he was that strong, and a
regular water-dog, and he’d brought the boy out against his will more
than once, when people had sent him after Phil just for fun. Well, Aunt
Anna was afraid of her life to meet Mrs. Worden, but she needn’t have
been, for she hardly noticed her when she did see her. The doctors
that come that time didn’t like her doin’s at all. She never cried a
minute. That’s the truth, and she had seen her own and only children go
to the bottom of the lake hand in hand. People that went there cried;
the help just cried buckets full, and she looked at ’em, and one day
she said: ‘I wonder how they do it? I can’t!’ and the doctor, once he
got kind of mad-like, and he says: ‘Bend, woman, bend, or you’re bound
to break! Do you think you have the strength to bear this blow as you
bore the other one?’ but she only answered calmly: ‘I am what I am! I
did not make myself.’ When he left he felt all upsot and he was cross
as a bear with a sore head, and he said when Aunt Anna came up to ask
about her, ‘She will cry, or die, or go mad; and the last looks the
likeliest to me,’ and off he went. The minister he tried what he could
do. He was a pudgy, kind-hearted man, and he had young children of his
own, and he tried to talk resignation and that sort of thing, and she
jest said to him when he got good and through, ‘Has _your_ house been
made desolate to you in one hour?’ and he jest burst right out crying,
and he says, ‘Ah! you poor woman, how can you bear it?’ and she jumped
from her chair and lifted up her face, and beating on her breast with
both her clinched fists, she almost screamed out: ‘Bear it? Bear it?
Why I--’ she stopped right in a minute and she sat down and said, ‘You
will pardon me, won’t you? But, see now, you have little ones, yours,
your own blood in their veins, and you can imagine, can’t you, the
hunger, the agony of hunger I suffer for a sight of my little ones’
faces? I could wait a thousand years if only I could see them then, but
they’re out there!’ waving her hand toward the lake. ‘Never, never,
shall I see them again!’ and he, poor, old man, he jest sobbed and
said: ‘Never, till the sea gives up its dead!’ At them words she gave a
great cry--that’s the way the minister put it--she gave a great cry and
she said: ‘My God! My God! I had forgotten--when the sea gives up its
dead, and His words stand firmer than the everlasting hills!’ She threw
herself upon her knees, and holding up her hands she cried out loud,
‘Lord, thou hast sent my soul down into hell, but for Thy great words,
will I praise Thee forever!’ She turned and kissed the minister’s hand
and blessed him for reminding her. ‘They are truthful children, and
have long memories,’ she said, ‘and when the sea gives up its dead,
they will give the promised sign, and I will join them, and we will
all go on together. So I will watch and wait, just watch and wait for
my dear ones’ sign!’ And that was full fifty years ago, for I was but
eighteen then, and Myra Worden has watched at that lake’s side faithful
ever since; though from that day people have called her mad, and I
suppose she _is_, poor soul.”

I bowed my head upon my hands; dully I heard Mrs. Bulkley going on
about some bank’s failure, something about a fire that had followed
close upon the failure, and the word ruin, many times repeated, but my
real attention was fixed upon a picture that rose before me. I saw, as
plainly as I ever saw anything in my life, a great, level plain, and
far away against the angry sunset sky, a line of low unwooded hills
encircled it. It was unspeakably dreary--no trees, no water, no rise
and fall, dip or break in the monotonous, dead level of the ground.
Far away to the left, in the growing darkness, I saw the towers and
cupolas of a fair, white city, and from its distant gates a path was
worn across the dismal plain--a path so faint, so narrow, it could
only have been made by one lone traveler’s feet. At the very farthest
end, and on either side, there were faint outlines as of fallen bodies,
and there were broken urns, and jars, and some withered garlands; but
for all its greater length, it was narrow, faint and bare. And while
I looked, suddenly, at its opposite end, that nearest to the hills,
there appeared the figure of that traveler whose weary feet had worn
that piteous path. Behind her, the fair, white city; before her, the
bleak and savage hills. The tall figure, in its sombre garments, seemed
the very spirit of desolation. The face was turned away from me, but
there was that in the figure which made my heart leap up in quick
recognition, and then, so truly as you live, _then_ I heard a voice,
clear and distinct, but seemingly very, very far away, and it said: “I
am Myra, ‘she who weeps!’”

I gave a start so violent that I turned my tea-cup completely over,
and, putting it hastily to rights again, saw Mrs. Bulkley looking her
grimy handkerchief over carefully to find a promising bit to rub her
glasses with. Her false front was much awry, and her small eyes were
red, and she was finishing, as she had begun, with the assertion that
“Mrs. Worden was breaking up, no doubt of that, since she had taken up
with a theatre-girl, of all people on the footstool, well! well!”

I thanked the “Busy B” for her tea and her information, and I greatly
fear I proved an unsatisfactory confidant for Mary, who dearly loved
plenty of “oh’s!” and “ah’s!” and “did you ever’s?” while she poured
forth tales of the numbers of magnificent male creatures who madly
pursued her through life, she always baffling them, however. By the
way, she must have kept up her habit of baffling the magnificent ones,
because she eventually married a baker with a veritable low-comedy
name, by the side of which “Bowersocks,” would look grave and dignified.

The pain I felt in hearing Mrs. Worden coarsely and disrespectfully
spoken of opened my eyes to the extent of the veneration and affection
I had grown to feel for her. That creature in whom the world saw a
desolate woman, whose haughty, old head was held high, and whose
piercing, hawk’s eye spied out its weakness, but in whom I saw the
wearily faithful, old watcher, by the restless lake, waiting through
the long years, always “waiting for the sign.” To me, her sorrows had
made her sacred.

I had never seen any creature who seemed so absolutely bloodless as did
old Mrs. Worden, and no matter how often I might meet her, the moment
my eye took in the waxen pallor of her face, I experienced an uncanny
feeling of familiarity. I would ask myself, “Of whom does she remind
me?” knowing all the time that I had never seen anyone who resembled
her in the slightest degree.

But one day as she sat, as ever, facing the lake, with her eyes cast
down upon her cup, the cold, dull light falling upon the clear-cut
features of her wax-white face, turning it into a veritable mask of
death, I looked steadily at the hollow of her temples--not the faintest
pulsation there. I gazed steadily at her throat--not a pulse-beat could
I see, though I knew my own full throat would throb and swell at times
as though it had an independent existence. As I looked, I thought, if
she should run a needle deep into her finger I believe nothing would
follow its withdrawal, and so, like a flash, it leaped into my mind who
she was like. The very counterpart of old King Duncan! He of the mighty
tragedy--the victim of that woman who raved in her crime-haunted sleep;
not of pity at his “taking off,” not of remorse, but only of that
stupendous surprise: “Who would have thought the old man had so much
blood in him!”

The good, old man with the wool-white locks, and the saintly soul
housed in the parchment-like body--yes! like this he looked. Yet her
dagger thrust had been followed by a rush of royal blood that not only
“laced” all his followers and “pooled” about his body, but stained her
hand with a stain too deep for an ocean’s waves to wash away.

Never since have I read or thought of Duncan without seeing Mrs.
Worden’s features beneath the golden round of sovereignty. All the
life, the strength, the spirit she had left, was gathered up into
the fire of her eyes, and when the ashes of her lids covered their
glow, her face was as the face of Duncan, dead. Were Mrs. Worden
living now, she would probably be called a “mind reader.” Then many
people declared her to be clairvoyant. Be that as it may, she had,
beyond doubt, a wonderful power of reading or guessing other people’s
thoughts, a power which added greatly to the terror with which she
inspired some of her townsmen whose thoughts were not always of a
quality or nature to invite close feminine inspection. As for myself,
she had divined my thoughts, time and again, with a calm exactitude
that filled me with awe; and that day, while I still gazed at her
mask-like face, she raised her eyes, looked steadily into mine a
moment, and in an even voice asked: “Well? Whom am I like? The Witch of
Endor?” and, without a moment’s pause, obediently as a little child, I
made answer: “No, ma’am, you are like King Duncan!”

A quick frown knit her black brows. Never since that far-away day of
the giving of the shawl-pin, had she, by word or sign, hinted at her
knowledge of my being an actress, and I saw the allusion to Macbeth was
unwelcome to her. However, she quickly recovered from her annoyance,
and, with her usual aptness, asked: “Do you find the likeness purely
physical, or do I, like the old soldier king, ‘lag superfluous on the
stage of life’?”

To which I gaily and gratefully replied: “At all events I shall not,
like Mistress Macbeth, try to ‘push you from your stool’!”

And her answer, to my annoyance, was: “How--how--is she going to do
it?”

She was thinking aloud, but I knew only too well that her question
referred to me; and equally well I knew that a bad quarter of an hour
was directly before me. Several times the old lady had declared that I
was going to make my mark in the world, but she was greatly puzzled,
very naturally, to know how I was to do it. She had, therefore, fallen
into a way of analyzing my character, before my very face, with
positively brutal frankness, and, so far, she had always failed to find
out how I was to attain the success she foretold for me.

Really, it seemed a form of vivisection she subjected me to, and I
squirmed in unpleasant anticipation when I heard that: “How--how is she
going to do it?”

I had no suggestion to offer, so I drank my coffee silently. She
studied my face a moment, and then she said: “Yes--yes, you will, I
tell you! But, _how_! You are not aggressive enough to win by _force_!
Oh, you can fight fast enough, flaring nostrils! but you will always
fight on the defensive. You are clever, but you are not clever enough!
Intellect isn’t going to win for you. How _are_ you going to do it?
Yet you are to dominate, to have power. I’ve seen it in the arch of
your bared foot, in the unbeautiful square of your shoulders, in the
tenacious grasp of your hand. If you had great beauty now--there, don’t
redden that way: never blush above the eyes, it’s not becoming--you
are all right; you’re straight, and fair, and wholesome. You have
enough good looks for men to hang their lies upon, but you have not a
world-conquering beauty. Deuce take me, girl, if I can make it!”

While she had been harrying me I had once turned my head to see why the
room had darkened so noticeably, and saw a heavy fog was creeping in
from the lake, and now that she had come to her “giving it up” place,
she turned her eyes slowly toward their usual resting place, the lake,
and a quick change came over her. She started a little, then her head
drooped slowly until her chin rested on her hand. With unwinking eyes
she stared straight ahead of her, while gradually the brightness all
died out of them, a slightly distressed raising of her brows threw deep
furrows across her forehead, her nostrils were pinched, her thin lips
tight pressed, while over all her face grew a look only to be described
by one word--a look of woe!

It wrung my heart! I looked and looked at her--the tears rose thick
in my eyes, then slowly, slowly I seemed to understand, to _know_,
what was grieving her. It was the surrounding fog, silently, steadily,
blotting out everything between heaven and earth! Even her longing
mother’s eyes could not pierce that soft density, could not distinguish
the purplish, dark line that, to her belief, marked her darlings’
resting place out there in the great lake.

I bore it as long as I could, and then I leant across the tiny table,
and, laying my warm hand upon her chill one, I said: “Dear Mrs. Worden,
do not grieve, the fog often lifts at sunset. Then, perhaps, you may
see the purple line before the night comes on!”

Her eyes came slowly back to mine, she smiled gratefully at me, and
then all suddenly the fire flashed into them again. She rose to her
feet, her head held high in her imperious way, and cried, triumphantly:
“I have it now, girl! You have given me the clue! You will succeed
by your power of sympathy! You will not fight the world, you will
open your great heart to its sorrows, and the many-headed public will
neither growl at nor tear you, but will come at your call, your friend
and your defender. When you know you have succeeded, say once to
yourself, ‘Old Myra saw, old Myra told me true.’”

Then with an indescribably tragic gesture she pressed one hand upon her
breast and said: “She who weeps!” while her other hand fell softly upon
my head, and she murmured, “Clear, Light, Illustrious!”

Her tone thrilled me, there was such sincerity, such intensity in it.
I sat quite silent, but I drew her cold hand down and pressed my check
against it, and that moment there came a heavy knocking on the lower
front door. I sprang up, saying: “Let me go, Mrs. Worden, please!” and,
without awaiting permission, went cautiously down the sagging stairs
and found a man at the door with the usual sealed package for Mrs.
Worden. When the signing for it was all over, I ran back, calling out
joyously, “Lace! lace! Mrs. Worden--more lace! You will open it before
I go, won’t you, so that I may see it?”

Mrs. Worden, meeting my request with, “You girl! When are you going to
learn not to prance when you are pleased? Can’t you keep your joy out
of your legs?” went, all the same, to the other table for scissors to
cut the cord and seals at once; for she really enjoyed showing me her
precious charges; and I eagerly watched her every movement. The note
enclosed she laid aside with a scornful, “Humph! as if I didn’t know
what to do without their telling me.”

Then she unrolled the inner tissue-paper. There were two pieces of lace
within. One delicate, oh! as cobweb, I thought, as it lay there in its
folds. The other heavier, and a mere scrap.

“Why,” said she, taking it up first, “why, this must be, is a bit of
old Flanders cut-work, but what a scrap! Oh, yes! I see now, it belongs
to some collector; it is simply an example of the brave, old work,
and I see, girl Clara, it needs two, yes, three, little brides or
braces--see where they are broken? I’ll have a time, now, to wait for
thread to darken to anything like that tone.”

And she talked earnestly, almost happily on, about her little tricks
and devices for staining threads, etc. Then she laid her hands upon the
folded lace: “Ah, I think you’re going to have a treat now, this is--”
the words died on her lips. From her throat came a sound, strange,
startling, neither sob nor groan, and yet like unto both! She held a
length of lace between her hands; she swayed slightly back and forth,
and turning my frightened eyes upon her face, I thought: “Behold! a
miracle!”

From somewhere, somehow, the weary, old heart had forced through her
shrunken veins one wave of blood strong enough to mount to her face,
where the pained color slowly grew until it burned into two bright
spots high upon her cheeks. Those two fierce spots, glowing in the
awful pallor of her face, to me were terrible. I ran to her and,
throwing my arm about her, lowered her light body into the chair close
to the table. Her haughty, old head was bent; one hand still clutched
the lace. I did not know what to do, but it hurt me to the heart to see
her bow her head. Timidly I laid my hand upon her shoulder. She looked
up at me, and in a husky voice she said, with a glance at the lace:
“I owned it once, yes, it was mine! I wore it while I was yet a happy
bride!”

I shivered and turned away, while I mutely prayed that torturing color
might fade from her face before I looked again. I pressed my forehead
to the window, I could see nothing; no tree, no building loomed darkly
through the fog; I could not even see the pavement below me. So far as
sight went, there were but two living creatures in the world, and one
of _them_ longed to leave it!

I was so lonely and so sad, I turned back again. She sat there still,
one hand moving back and forth over the lace. The spots were yet on
her cheeks, but they were not so fiercely bright. I did not know her
like that. I wish she would accuse me of “prancing,” or tell me I “sat
down too quickly,” or “jumped up” when I rose. I wished she would snap
at me--that her dear, old head would lift itself imperiously again. I
had not spoken one word since she told me the lace had been hers, and
so, still silent, I crossed back to her and sat down at her feet and,
hesitatingly, I asked: “Dear Mrs. Worden, is the lace much injured?”

The words acted like magic upon her. In one moment she had the length
of lace passing swiftly between her inquiring fingers, and an instant
later she gave a cry of anger: “Oh! shame! just look at this--the
cruel hurt! and the soil! Why, some vulgar, new, rich, money-flaunting
creature owns this dear lace now! She is ignorant and coarse! Oh, I
know, girl! Don’t you see? She has dragged this delicate web about on
the _bottom_ of her gown! Its beauty was lost in such a position. It
was simply done to show the owner’s utter indifference to expense. I’d
wager something that it has been sent, now, by some maid or companion
to be repaired. Ah! I should have recognized it any way--but look you,
here is the proof that it is mine!”

She held out to me a fold of the lace, and careful examination showed
where a former tear had been exquisitely repaired. I nodded my head and
she went on, her eyes fixed upon the old scar: “As if I could forget!
He did that, my fair-haired giant--man without soul--therefore, husband
without honor! But, truly, he was good to look upon!”

I moved restlessly; she took no notice; evidently I had ceased to
exist for her: “Fickle, changeable as a child, unstable as water! But,
he loved me for a little while. He loved me _then_, the night I wore
this lace to the _rout_. It was falling full and deep about my bare
shoulders, as they rose from the golden yellow of my gown that was
brocaded with a scarlet flower. I wore some diamonds and stood with
others in my hands, hesitating, when he came in--my Philip--and looked
at me reflected in the glass, and, standing behind me, he said, in
the great voice I loved: ‘Burn my body, but you are a handsome woman,
Myra!’ and he kissed me on the shoulder. ’Twas like wine taken on a
cold day; I felt it mounting to my brain! We were at Christmas-tide,
and a bough of holly was hanging above the dressing table. He broke
a bunch of its scarlet berries and dark, bright leaves, and, with a
great jewel, fastened it here, in the lace at my bosom. His fingers
were clumsy and the leaves were sharp as needles, and so my lace was
torn--but what cared I? The sharp leaf-points wounded my neck, too, and
drew more than one drop of blood, but had they come straight from the
heart, I would still have worn the ornament his hand had placed. My
Philip! so much I loved him--loved him! Bibber of wine and companion
of harlots; fair, like a God, yet without soul; so, being soulless,
why should he be cursed for riotously living in the sunlight, and for
following in the train of the scarlet woman--with the laughter of fools
ringing in his ears! The lace is here, the smooth, white shoulders are
shrivelled and bent, the black crown of hair he loved is gone, he is
gone, only the lace and my memory are left!”

I drew softly away from her. I felt as guilty in listening to her
self-communing as I could have felt had I opened and read one of her
letters. I took my cloak, and as I drew it on, I heard her low voice
saying: “You said my tongue was not sharp enough, Philip; that was
because I loved you! _Her_ tongue was sharp, she cursed and flouted
you, and stung and maddened, and tossed you a favor as a bone is tossed
to a dog! She was not even beautiful, your frail one, but she knew well
the ways that lead down to darkness and to death! She led, steeped in
vice and reeling with wine, and you followed because you were without
soul, my Philip!”

I crept out of the door and left the bowed, weary, old woman patiently
examining the torn meshes of two webs. One her web of lace, the other
her web of life. And as I stole through the chilly, gaunt, old house
not one of its faint voices--and it had many--whispered to me: “It is
nearly over--a little while and you will come no more! A little while
and she will have gone, and there will be no one, and nothing here only
the old, old house, and we, its voices!”

Some very busy days followed--long rehearsals every morning, and a new
part, of greater or lesser length, every night; and it must have been a
fortnight later when, being out of the bill, I put a bit of work in my
pocket, took a book in my hand, and thus prepared for finding my old
friend either in or out, started to make her a visit.

As I approached her door, I heard her talking, and said to myself, she
must be over by the fire-place, her voice is so indistinct.

I tapped, but received no answer. Just then there came a pause in the
talk within, and I tapped again; this time more loudly, but, to my
surprise, I received no invitation to enter, though the talking was
resumed in another moment.

I felt somewhat hurt, and turned to go away, but something restrained
me, and I thought I would first make _quite sure_ that she knew of my
presence, I would knock loudly. As I raised my hand to do so, I heard a
groan. That was enough for me; I waited no longer for permission, but
opened the door and stepped in, and there amazement held me motionless;
I no not know how long, for this room, whose orderliness had always
been of that precise and rigid kind suggesting daily measurements
with a foot-rule, was now in complete confusion. Chairs out of place,
garments here and there, and the usually spotless hearth a mass of gray
ashes and fallen black cinders.

And that small, rumpled heap of clothing at the foot of the bed,
with white hair tossed and tangled--was that--could that be my Mrs.
Worden?--she whose habits of neatness and purity were carried to the
extremities; she who on a bitter winter morning, as on every other
morning, sought such cramped privacy as her gaunt, old screen could
secure for her, in the farthest, bleakest corner of her room, and
there, with unskimped thoroughness, went through with the same process
of grooming she had indulged in sixty years before, when she had
had her maids to help her, after which she put herself into a sort
of bolster case, with a hole in the far end for the passage of her
head--and in this blue linen bag she became her own housemaid, and when
the toilet of the room was finished to the points of its very fingers
she again retired to the privacy of her screen and finally emerged
“clothed and in her right mind,” as she used to say, when she appeared
in her worn, old black gown, her black silk apron, her snow-white
collar and small cuffs, and her bit of white tulle, by way of cap, upon
her satin-smooth hair--and was this she, was this her room?

Suddenly Mrs. Worden drew down the arm which had been resting across
her face, and, looking at me, exclaimed: “Oh, Betty, you are so late!
Is breakfast ready now? My head aches, Betty; you never kept me waiting
so long before!”

She rolled her head from side to side, and moaned a little, and while
I threw off my wraps I recalled, with a heavy heart, the words of Mrs.
Bulkley: “She’s breakin’ up; old Myra Worden is breakin’ fast.”

I hastened to reduce the room to something like order, to mend the fire
and prepare some tea and rather doubtful toast, and when I had placed
her in her chair and her eyes took in the familiar picture of the
lake, they cleared perceptibly. She nodded her head and murmured: “Yes,
my dearies, yes! I’m waiting for the sign, you won’t be long now! no,
not long, not long!”

I came to her, then, with the tea and the toast, and was delighted when
she called me “you girl” again, and hoped she would scold me about the
fire I had made, but she scolded me no more forever.

She had asked so many times for breakfast, yet now she could not
eat one morsel, but she drank her tea like one famishing. While I
arranged her bed, she babbled on, and most of the time she talked to
her children. Once, however, she declared that if Sally stole another
cracker she would throw her from the window, and vowed no one in town
would be fool enough to pick her and her vocabulary up.

When I was smoothing her white hair into something like its usual
order, one lock escaped my fingers and fell forward on her chest.
She saw it and cried out: “They have cut it off, oh, curse them!
curse them! Betty, do you see? It’s gone, and--” she paused, looking
curiously at the thin, glittering strand of hair--“and, Betty, either
I’ve gone mad or it’s quite white! Oh, Betty, I _can’t_ understand!”

And so, as Betty--some long-dead Betty from her past--I put the
suffering woman back into her great skeleton of a bed, and smoothed her
brow and wet her lips times uncountable, wondering at the heat in her
dry, parchment-like skin, while I tried to decide what ought to be done
in this emergency.

I felt that a doctor should be summoned, but I stood in absolute awe
of her will, her commands, and I knew her fixed determination never to
have a physician’s care. She held “she _could_ not die, no matter what
her ailments, until she had ‘the sign,’ and that when ‘the sign’ had
once been given no power on earth could keep her here.”

So I dared not summon proper help; my next thought had been, naturally
enough, of Mrs. Bulkley, the only friend of the old days left to her,
but as fate would have it, Mrs. Bulkley was absent from the city on
business that would detain her two or three days. Had I not heard my
friend Mary rejoicing the night before over the very “high Jinks” the
boarders were hoping to enjoy during that absence?

Then indeed my spirits sank, and I could only sit there and watch over
her until she became calmer, and then I thought I would slip out and
tell my landlady and get her to advise me what to do. And so the hours
passed slowly by, and I looked them in the face with young, impatient
eyes, and never noted their dread solemnity. For all my anxiety for the
woman who was “breakin’ fast,” I had no faintest suspicion that she was
_already broken_--that each time the clock struck off the afternoon
hours--the four, or five, or six--it was, for the ancient woman in her
gaunt, old bed, the _last time_.

To know that we are doing a thing for the _last_ time lends a touching
grace to even the commonest act; but I was blind with that black
density of blindness that can come only upon the very young, and
therefore the very ignorant, and I only waited for the chance to slip
away and ask for help for her.

She had been quiet for some time, and I softly rose and tried to leave
the room, but she stopped me. “Do not go, girl Clara,” she calmly
said, and I, rejoiced, went back to her. She was quite reasonable
again, expressed a small want or two, wished to be lifted higher that
she might see the lake better; and when all had been accomplished,
she asked me if I would stay the night with her. Then, with great
diffidence, I told her I thought she should have a doctor first; she
raised her hand and looked at me with such imperious fire in her black,
old eyes that I silenced myself and stood quite meekly before her,
while in a few sharp words she disposed of the “doctor” question.

“Pray, what was wrong any way? She supposed she had wandered a little
in her speech. Well, what of it? All Cleveland called her mad. I must
have heard that often enough? Why, then, a doctor to-day in special? As
for Mrs. Bulkley, if she or anyone else entered this room, she would
find strength to put her on the proper side of the door. Ah! she would,
she was not so helpless, etc.”

In terror, lest she should again bring on her fever, I yielded to every
demand, and so peace came again.

In the long silence that followed, I noticed that the wind was rising
fast, that each blast was stronger and longer than the one preceding
it, and that the old house trembled ominously under each fierce gust.
The shadows, that earlier in the day had been content to linger in
the corners, had with stealthy boldness advanced till they had filled
the room with darkness, through which I heard the faint, fluttering
breathing of the sick woman in her great bed, and the shrill scream
of the wind as it swept across the lake to hurl itself upon the
challenging city.

I rose at last to light the lamp, and lifting it, was about to place
it back of the tall head-board of the bed, that its direct rays might
not disturb the possible sleeper, when by chance the light fell full
upon the painted face of the laughing, little Phil. The effect was
wonderful; it seemed a face alive. The roguish eyes, the merry smile
betraying the whitely even teeth, the little brown hand holding back
the panting dog. He was joyous life personified, and I stood there
wondering where the laughing child had found the courage to meet death
so bravely; and, as if in answer to my thought, the faint voice of
his mother came from the old bed, saying: “Yes, he was very brave, my
man-child Philip, brave, brave! You know I saw it all. Aye, it was a
good glass, a strong glass, and I saw. She was afraid, though she was
the older, and her poor, blue eyes were strained and wild, and her
quivering lips were white like her cheeks. But my Philip held her hand
and stood still, while many raced madly to and fro. At one great,
approaching wave I saw his lips move and I felt he cried, ‘Mammy!’
I, too, thought it was the end, but as it broke and surged away they
were still standing hand in hand, and I knew Eternity in the moment I
stood waiting there, waiting for that which came! There were cries and
groans about me. The mighty wave seemed for one second to stand quite
still, then with blinding, crushing force it struck its awful blow! It
was enough; the solid deck sank swiftly from beneath their feet, the
water rushed between their frightened, little lips into their laboring
lungs, and it was over! With uplifted faces, and hands tight-clasped
together, they went down before my tortured eyes! Ah, God! ’twas hard;
in one hour my life made desolate! Yet will I worship Thee, forever!
Hast Thou not said, ‘the sea shall give up its dead’? Aye, and for that
great promise I worship and bow down! By the word of the Lord were the
heavens made. The word of the Lord is true!”

The thin, curiously faint voice sank into silence for a few moments.
I placed the lamp as I had intended, and seated myself by her bedside
again. She faced the lake--the curtains drawn entirely away from the
window. I faced her, leaning slightly against the bed. Her eyes were
nearly closed, but her lips were moving, and presently she said, as if
continuing a conversation: “No, you do not care for her. No! because
her golden head is high, and she holds the broken necklace in her
hand. Why broken? Did he have second sight, that artist? Did he know,
and was the broken necklace in her hand meant as a warning to me?
You care for my man-child, because he laughs. You do not care for my
‘gift-of-God,’ because of an air, a manner; you are wrong. ’Tis but a
way, a trick of movement. On my breast, with love-tightened, little
arms about my neck, she was as sweetly lovable as the meekest little
maiden in the land. And when they knelt in prayer, with folded hands,
her head was bowed as humbly! Oh!” she suddenly cried, “Oh! not to have
their sweet bodies to love and caress and care for, not to have their
eager minds to guard, to direct, to develop!”

She moaned piteously, and then, giving a great sigh, she added: “But
His word is true, and there is the sign to wait for”--and so sank into
a long silence.

I was watching her closely, and suddenly she seemed to cease to
breathe. I rubbed her hands; I called her loudly. She feebly opened her
eyes and turned them toward the cupboard in the corner. I flew to it,
and searching eagerly, I found two or three bottles there, one marked
cordial. I administered some as quickly as I could, and saw her revive,
but from that moment I was frightened, and I noted every word she spoke
and every movement that she made. Her first words made me shiver. She
said: “I am not afraid, girl Clara, but I must have the sign. I cannot
go without it.”

After a pause, while I resumed my seat facing her, she said: “It’s
very good of you to stay with me. Strange, after so many years alone,
to have companionship at the last. Old Myra Worden watched over by an
actress! Verily, the world does move!” A pause, and then she babbled
on: “Ever since the night you came to me out of the storm and tried to
be kind to me, I have known you were some way connected with the sign.
You admired my treasures there, you loved my old laces, and sometimes I
thought--I almost thought that you liked me.”

“Dear Mrs. Worden,” I cried, “I love you very much!” and I lifted the
hand I was holding to my lips and kissed it. I felt her start, her
black, old eyes flashed wide open, she gave me a piercing glance and
exclaimed: “What?--what’s that you say--you say--you----?”

I repeated with tears in my eyes: “I say, I love you very much,” and
again I pressed my lips upon her cold and trembling hand. She closed
her eyes; she pressed her thin lips close, but could not hide their
quivering, and presently, in almost a whisper, she murmured: “Fifty and
odd years since those words were used to me. ’Tis almost like a foreign
tongue. But, oh, my girl, my girl! it’s mighty pleasant hearing.
You--You--”

“I love you--I love you very much,” I slowly and lowly repeated, and
she nodded her head at each word, and, smiling faintly, sank into
quietude. The time was long, the clock struck more than once, and she
had not moved. My hand was holding hers. I feared to release it lest I
might disturb her. The fire was long out, and I was cold. I wondered
if she was asleep. I had twice been deceived on that subject, and
dare not venture an opinion. I longed for dawn. Leaning on the bed,
holding her hand closely in mine, I raised my tired eyes and began
dully following the involved design carved upon the high head-board.
I do not know just when I lost the design, but I felt no shock when I
realized that I was looking at the lake, though I had not turned round.
I wondered faintly how it could be, but I went on gazing quietly across
the heaving, tossing, gray, repellant waste, and in the changes that
followed I heard certain words, but whether those words were spoken by
myself or fell from the lips of the ancient woman at my side, I shall
never know. I only know I heard--I saw.

At first the sky was dull and gray and heavy, like the lake; but as
I looked far, far off, where the sky and water met, there came a
whiteness of the purity of snow, and it grew and spread and filled up
all the sky so far as eye could reach, and then I heard a voice say,
faint and low: “Can it be mist?”

And at the words the whiteness became lambent with living fire. As
sheet-lightning plays across the summer sky, so this soft fire flashed
on, in, through, up, down and across the milky wonder, while the
lake--oh, marvelous! The heavy gray was gone, the water clear, pure,
brilliant, vast--lay like a mighty crystal, and the voice murmured: “As
a sea of glass!”

Presently this lambent whiteness began to throb and thrill with color;
streams of pink and rose, of amber, blue or violet, played up and down
the sky--a green so vivid, so acutely pure, that the voice, speaking
from the great book, said: “A rainbow like unto an emerald.”

Between me and that great background of living, opulent color I dimly
saw a movement in the air, and then it thickened with crowding,
opaque, white shapes, even as one has seen the air thicken with the
white movement of the snow-flakes--so now, from horizon to zenith
and to horizon again, all the air was filled with the swift-moving,
never-resting, great, white-winged host, and ere the cry in my throat
could escape my lips, these unnumbered ones fell apart into two vast
bodies, while between them there lay straight across the bosom of the
crystal waters a broad path of glittering light.

My heart was plunging wildly against my ribs when I heard the voice,
so low, saying: “The sea knew Him--knew His voice--His touch! How the
waves must have rushed upon the sand to kiss the precious foot-prints
His sacred feet had made!” And while these words were uttered, out,
far out, upon the glittering path arose a radiance, even then intense,
almost beyond the power of mortal eye to bear; my swift lids fell to
shield my dazzled sight. Yet one moment more I gazed and saw--I say I
_saw_ that supernatural radiance taking form and substance and assuming
the attitude of most majestic humanity.

I could bear no more; I threw the sick woman’s hand from me to clutch
at my own strangling throat, and all was gone! I saw the carved
head-board--nothing more!

Shaking like a leaf, I turned my head toward Mrs. Worden’s face, and
dimly I understood that, by some route of nerves, _her_ vision had
been conveyed to my brain. She sat there against her pillows gasping,
her nostrils quivering, her black eyes fairly blazing. She passed
her tongue across her parched lips, and I heard the low voice say:
“It cannot be--no, it cannot! for He has said no man shall look upon
His face! But it might be, perhaps, that! Oh! I can raise my eyes no
higher--the light is blinding--and yet, and yet--oh! ’tis He! It is the
Master!”

Her hands were clasped upon her breast, her body shaken by her laboring
heart--while in terror of that recognition--her soft, white hair
crisped itself, and moved upon her brow and hollow temples, while in
a husky whisper she repeated: “’Tis _He_!--the All-Beautiful! Do I
not see His sacred feet, beneath the falling robe press the gently
yielding, watery path? Can He have come in fulfillment of the great
promise?”

Then, with a piercing cry, she stretched out her arms pleadingly,
saying: “Master! Master! I may not look upon the glory of Thy face, but
Thou wilt hear me! Oh! Thou lover of little children--pause--pause!
They lie so near Thee, but one step away! Thou wilt not pass them by!
Summon them, Son of Mary! always pitiful to mothers, pity me! and
summon them! Ah! the Hand is raised--the Blessed Hand, irradiating
Light--is raised, and there--there--Oh King of Kings!--they are there!
Hand clasped in hand--at the Beloved Master’s knee--they smile at
me! they raise their little hands, and, Power Supreme! _they make the
sign!_”

The room rang with her wild, triumphant cry of joy! She flung her frail
arms wide, and repeated: “The sign! The sign!” then, “Yes, my dearies,
mother’s coming! We will fall down and worship, and then we will all go
on together!”

Her arms dropped suddenly--her black eyes closed--and she fell sidewise
into my arms; and even in the very moment of placing her upon her
pillow I cast one glance through the uncovered window and saw but the
sullen sky bending low over the still more sullen lake.

She never opened her eyes again, and as she lay there so still, so
white, I could not but notice how gentle her face had grown, and
bending down for the first and last time, I kissed her tenderly. A slow
smile came about her lips, and she spoke for the last time, when she
said softly, happily: “The sign! _It is_ the sign!”

A moment later there was a long sigh, broken by a shiver, and then
stillness, perfect stillness, and I whispered: “They have all gone on
together!”



“In Paris Suddenly----”



“In Paris Suddenly----”


I saw it in the _Herald_ this morning: “In Paris suddenly, Madame de
B----.” Nothing remarkable about that announcement. Nothing to affect
the general reader, but to me the letters were luminous.

“In Paris suddenly, Madame Miriam de B----.” The creep is in my blood
yet, for you see, I met Madame Miriam de B---- once, and if I were to
live in this world even unto a hundred years, I should not forget that
brief meeting.

The house was crowded; we were yet in the first act of the running
play, one night, when a companion, a young society woman (who was
trying to unlearn in a theatre all she had been taught as an amateur)
edged close to me and whispered: “Look at the woman in the box; is she
not beautiful?”

I looked and answered quickly: “She is handsome, not beautiful.”

“I can’t see any difference between the meaning of the words,” she
pouted, “but look well at her, I have something to tell you when----.”

Here the action of the play parted us, but brought me close to the
box. I had needed no urging to look well at its occupant. I could
scarcely take my eyes from her, there was something so strange, so odd
about her. She was not young. She was most stately in air and figure.
Her head was most beautifully shaped, her features regular, her chin
firm and deeply cleft, and her eyes--not black, not brown--yet dark,
radiantly dark. Their soft shining seeming to contradict the cold
strength of her face. Her brows--ah, at last, here was the bizarre
touch! Her eyebrows formed one straight line. I don’t mean that they
nearly met or were thinly joined; they were thickly and darkly united,
in one threatening sweep, above her glowing eyes, giving that hint of
tragedy to her face that so surely accompanies united brows on either
man or woman.

Once her eyes caught mine and calmly held them fast, and in that
moment, as a child may flash a blinding ray of sunlight from a mirror
into your face, there flashed into my mind these words: “Only a
qualified admiration, eh? And you feel something, eh? You don’t know
what? No! and you won’t know either, my dear!” and I ended the act with
cheeks as hot from wounded feeling as though the words had actually
been spoken to me.

I was not in the second act, neither was the “young society woman,”
or at least she was on the stage for about three minutes, after which
she came, swelling visibly with importance, for in very truth she had
something to reveal, and first exacting, on word of honor, promise not
to tell (I only do it now, when: “In Paris suddenly----”). She quickly
began: “You can see she is a lady, can’t you? Born in Boston--perfectly
lovely family--old--very old, you know! Was splendidly educated, and
the very day of her _début_ in society--I don’t know who brought her
out, her mother was dead, you know--that very day her father killed
himself! Ruined--no courage and all that--she had no near relatives!
Went off alone--went abroad--worked at teaching or companioning or
something! Things then went wrong--troubles came, awful troubles!
Oh--oh!” The speaker’s eyes looked fairly scared, her hands trembled,
she drew close to me, and holding fast a fold of my dress, she with
desperate haste flung out these words: “She--that American woman--that
lady sitting there--she has been accused of murder! Why, she has stood
trial for her life!”

I could only gaze at her in stupid silence, and after a moment she
rambled on about her uncle being Madame de B----’s lawyer, and
his having charge of her affairs over here, as she would not live
here--would not settle anywhere in fact--just wandered from place to
place, etc.

As last I broke in, with a gasp: “Murderess! She a murderess? But
why--how?”

“Oh!” cried my informant: “She was innocent, of course, or I should not
know her (I had not thought of that). But she had a narrow escape, and
owed it to a man she had always hated; to the dead man’s valet.”

Again, and more impatiently, I broke in: “But why--how--who?”

She caught the last word, “who,” and went on: “Who was killed? Why,
Count de Varney! He was a wicked, old wretch! Had a palsied arm, and
was broken in health when Miriam first met him! Well, for years she
bore his name, and she was the active mistress of his great, lonely
home, and a most devoted nurse to him, but she was terribly alone! The
servants, who disliked her because she was a foreigner, she ignored
all save one, the Count’s valet--him she loathed! She tried to have
him sent away and failed, and he knew she had failed. Not a pleasant
situation, was it? I must tell you, that in the left wing of the great
building there was a room whose windows chanced to overlook those of
the private apartments of the Count and Countess, in the main building.
This peculiarity was well known, too, and highly valued by the spying
servants, and from that room came the evidence that so nearly ruined
their hated mistress. The Count had been improving, but as his strength
increased his temper roughened, and one day, through one of his
bursts of rage, she learned that she had been cruelly, deliberately
betrayed--tricked!--by the merest mockery of a marriage; one that, in
France at least, was utterly worthless! Surprise--anguish--shame--all
at last were lost in fury! A fury so wild--so filled with threats--that
the Count fairly quailed before it--begged to be spared a
scandal--swore he would yet marry her--nay, he would now, this moment,
draw up his will and make her his heiress! Give all to her in her
maiden name--so that she should be protected, should aught happen to
him before he could marry her! This will he proceeded to have drawn
up at once, for you see, during those past years, Miriam had learned
much of his outrageous past--knew more of his secret ill-doings than
he quite realized--knew, indeed, that he had placed himself within the
reach of law! And now, in her otherwise helpless anger, she determined
to at least punish him with a great fright. So she secretly prepared
and sent an unsigned letter, of seeming friendly warning, to the Count,
telling him of the very worst of his past acts. That he had been
discovered at last, and that by the evening of that day the officers
would arrive at the _château_ to arrest him! The letter came--Count de
Varney read it! Miriam had thought to frighten him, and she succeeded
so perfectly that the old man--white-lipped--rose from the table, and
took his trembling way to his own room, where he hurriedly and clumsily
hung himself.”

“Why,” I cried, “I thought you said he had been murdered?”

“Wait!” she said impatiently--“Wait! Over in the wing-room there was
a woman, not spying on the movements of her master or mistress--she
afterwards swore--but being in love with the valet, she was watching
for him, and so happened to be a witness to the hanging of the old
Count. No sooner--swore this woman--had her master kicked away the
chair on which he had been standing, than a door opened and Madame de
Varney entered. For one instant she stood apparently stunned by the
sight before her--and then she laughed! She made no movement to call
for help--she offered no help herself, but came closer to the writhing,
horribly-struggling, hanging figure! The woman swore that once her
master threw out his hand imploringly--that she thought he touched her
mistress, she was so close to him--but she, the witness, turned faint
just then at the awful drawing up of the hanging man’s limbs and did
not see quite clearly--but another servant joined just then, and both
watched--and swore that only when the master was quite still did the
mistress move, and then she went first to a desk and looked at some
papers, and then rushed to the door, throwing it open and calling for
help! She rang the bell violently, and the valet rushed in at her
call, as if he had been standing at the very door--but before he made
a movement to cut down the body, he spoke fiercely and rapidly to the
Countess, and turned to the swaying figure of the Count de Varney, who
had died horribly of slow strangulation!

“The trial was long, for that part of the world. The scandal was
great, the mock-marriage being scoffed at and Madame Miriam de B----
treated simply as an adventuress. The will in her favor told against
her greatly, but, to the stupefaction of every one, the valet defended
her--swearing _he_ had seen his master before his mistress had--that
he was _dead before she entered the room_--that he had gone for help,
not wishing to touch the body without a witness being present, etc.
She swore that her husband was dead when she found him--but without
the valet she would certainly have been condemned to long, long
imprisonment at the very least. She lives under an assumed name now,
and just wanders over the world, as houseless as----”

“Third act; everybody ready!” shouted the call-boy.

I looked about in a bewildered way for my fan and my handkerchief, and
went to my place on the stage, saying to myself: “I will not look that
way again to-night.”

The third act was known, in theatrical parlance, as the strong act of
the play. In it I had to attempt to poison my rival, who had formerly
been my beloved friend, and at the very last moment, when the poison
was at her very lips, with a strong revulsion of feeling, I had to
snatch it away and swallow it myself, and then proceed with the death
scene, which naturally followed.

I had kept my promise; I had not looked once toward the stage-box. I
had worked myself well into my character again and was doing my best
to be _it_, and not myself. That night I had just reached my half
unconscious victim and was cautiously raising the poisoned drink to her
lips, when some absolutely _outside_ power dragged my unwilling eyes
from her face and left me staring straight into the eyes of the woman
“who had been tried for her life”!

The actress beside me wondered what had happened--what I had forgotten!
No fly enmeshed in spider’s web was ever held more helplessly than I
was held for a moment’s time by that devilish face, leaning from the
shadow of the curtained box. Strained and eager, it was white as chalk.
The lips were parted--the nostrils quivering--while her thunderous
brows frowned fiercely above the cruel eyes that held me! And while I
looked, so surely as ever Murder raised its head to look through human
eyes, so surely Murder triumphant looked at me through hers!

The actress at my side made a faint movement; the spell was broken! I
gave the shuddering cry that belonged to the situation, and raising the
glass to my own lips, quickly swallowed the poison, and at the very
moment of so doing, from the private box, low, but perfectly distinct,
came the contemptuous words: “You fool! You fool!”

I went on with my scene and ended the play.

At the end no sign of approbation came from the private box. With some
irritation, I asked myself if she expected me to change the action of a
play to gratify her savage taste?

The box was what is called a “stage-box,” and it is generally held by
the manager for his family, or for visiting artists, as it is apt to
open just inside the stage door. As I approached, I saw the box door
open. Two or three steps led up to it. At the foot of them stood the
young lady who had told me the story, and who was the hostess of Madame
de B----. She saw me and called: “Madame wishes to see you!”

Madame de B---- looked her name--Miriam--as she stood there. Her
stately figure was so beautiful, her face so calm and handsome--but I
shrank from her now; I could not forget the face I had seen but a few
moments ago. She stood at the top of the steps; I was one step lower,
while her young hostess waited at the door. She did not speak. I noted
the elegance of her gown, and followed the movement of her white,
ungloved hands as she raised some black lace to drape about her head
and shoulders--Spanish fashion--and so I met her eyes, and instantly
there was neither theatre nor hostess--there was nothing--there was
no one, but just she and I. I set my teeth hard and bore her look. A
hot flush swept over me, then I felt my eyebrows lifting of their own
accord, a faint chill crept slowly about the roots of my hair, and
presently I saw the evil, hot light glowing in her eyes again, and
dreading the coming of what I had seen there before, I spoke suddenly,
imploringly, and said: “O Madame, _was_ he dead, or _was_ he alive,
when you found him?”

Her lips drew back in silent laughter, her eyes danced in burning
triumph: “_Alive! Alive!! Poor, little fool! Alive!!_” and then she
leaned over me, and gripping me hard upon the shoulders, she looked
deep down into my eyes, and then she said slowly, with the devil in her
face: “I--wonder--what--became--of--that--devoted--valet?”

She laughed aloud, turned suddenly to gather up her skirt, and I threw
out my hand and felt my way by the wall, down the steps, and so into my
own dressing room, where I burst into wild sobbing.

Two or three nights passed, and then my friend remarked that dear,
handsome Madame de B---- had sailed again.

“It was funny,” she said, “the idea of asking you to come to her box,
and then never opening her lips to you, wasn’t it?”

I looked stupidly at her: “Why, what do you mean?” I asked. “You stood
in the door all the time--you must have heard her speaking?”

“Why, she never opened her lips--except when she laughed, as you went
out!”

I was sorely puzzled--until perhaps a week after--_apropos_ of nothing,
my little chatter-box remarked: “You know poor Madame de B---- was one
of Count de Varney’s nurses at the very first of their acquaintance. He
was a victim of insomnia. A doctor called the Count’s attention to her.
She used to make him sleep, sometimes even against his will. The doctor
said she had most unusual _mesmeric_ power.”

       *       *       *       *       *

We never spoke again of Madame de B----, but sometimes on an
autumn night, dark and chill, with the rain falling stealthily on
the sodden leaves that give forth no rustle when a cautious foot
presses them, I have caught myself repeating those ominous words:
“I--wonder--what--became--of--that--devoted--valet?” But now to that
query there can be but one answer: “In Paris suddenly, Madame de
B----.”



Two Buds



Two Buds


“There is no poetry in life to-day!” We were walking down Euclid
Avenue, and my friend had been expressing her hot disapproval of
many things in this really excellent world of ours, ending with that
youthfully positive assertion: “There is no poetry in life to-day!”

I mildly suggested that she might not recognize it as poetry, if she
saw it, as poems were not always bound in white and silver nor yet in
blue and gold--some, indeed, never reaching the honor (?) of binding at
all.

By the fierceness of her contempt for the opinion of another, one
could easily measure her utter inexperience, but she finally closed
her address by haughtily informing me that she was not to be deceived
by “bindings”--that all poetry was sacred to her, whether she found it
in the polished, metrical form of verse, or simply expressing itself
in human action--but in these days there was no poetry--conscious or
unconscious--for--she got no further; my fingers were on her wrist in
that unintentionally savage clutch that never fails to secure immediate
attention and later remembrance--and I was whispering: “Look! Look
well! at the old man approaching!”

I’m sure, though, she needed no such reminder--no one could help
looking at him--and, at first glance, only his snowy hair kept the
laugh from one’s lips. A well-grown boy of twelve would have been
“mad as a hopper” if he had not stood, at least, even in height with
this old, old man. His gait was half-trot, half-shuffling walk, and
his speed remarkable--but little as he was, he leant forward in a
peculiar way. His nationality, after fifty-five unbroken years in
America, was stamped so clearly on face and figure that his tongue’s
thick, disobedient English was not needed to proclaim him an ancient
Dutchman. His garments would have wrung laughter from a telegraph
pole--the saddest thing on earth. That his wife made his trousers there
could be no doubt, for if you looked at _them_ only, you could never
tell which way the man was going to walk. Then, short as his little
legs were, his trouser-legs were still shorter, while he could have
stowed away quite a nice, little outfit in that portion of them known
as the “slack.” This breadth of beam and shortness of keel gave to the
public gaze a generous margin of clean, white stocking. His collar,
which was an integral part of his shirt--and not, to use his own
words, “a flimsy-flamsy yump-a-bout-ting what wont stay hitched!”--was
of immaculate whiteness, but utterly innocent of starch, and on his
venerable head he wore an antique, “panama” hat. A Dutch friend, who
cultivated coffee, had picked this “panama” in Java, when it was
green--so to speak--and sent it here, and the older citizens had, for
twenty-odd years, watched its slow ripening under the American sun--and
in its wearer’s eyes it had just reached its prime. Before the quaint,
little body reached us, I whispered: “It is not poverty that makes
him dress like that--he owns the big ‘Buckeye Block,’ besides his
dwelling-house up town,” and I saw her eye renew its slackening hold
on him, so great is our unconscious deference to money that already
he seemed less grotesque to her, because she saw him through the
softening, yellow light his gold cast upon him--and then he dragged off
his well-ripened “panama,” and stopped to tell me “youst how glad vas
he to see me!”

For he had entered this country j-less, and j-less he remained, using
y in place of j with such smiling confidence that it was “all right”
that no one had the heart to sternly put him in the wrong by correcting
him. My wise, young friend smiled quite brightly upon him, and when he
had passed, demanded of me all I knew about him, “because he was such a
dear--and so individual--you know!”

I assured her there was nothing to tell--that he was simply an ignorant
but honest man, who by the hardest work and almost incredible economy
had risen to wealth, and she surprised me by replying “that there was
more than that in his face, even for her, a stranger, to see--and what
was the secret of the almost child-like gentleness of his clear, blue
eyes?”

Whereupon, we lunched in a quiet corner of a quiet room and over
many--too many--cups of coffee, I told her that his name was
Knights--Jacobus Knights--and I had made his acquaintance while I was
still so young that the salient features of my own personality were
the length of my braids and the whiteness of my aprons. He used to
rear vegetables and then sell them from a cart, which he pushed when
it was full and dragged when it was empty. Being sent after him one
day by a lady, I called out lustily: “Boy--boy--you boy! Stop--stop--I
say!” thus making the mistake that many an older and wiser person made
daily, and one that was greatly facilitated by the tailless jacket and
flat cap the little man wore. Really, it savored of the uncanny to thus
address a question to the back of childhood and receive your answer
from the unshaven lip of maturity. He seemed to be quite used to the
error, and only laughed and said: “Dat is noddings--youst noddings at
all! Whad I make mit you--onion--squash--eh, whad now?”

Two years later I came to live on S---- street, and right opposite,
little Mr. Knights had his little play-house of a home, his doll of a
blond baby, and his tremendous wife. No, her size was not the result
of comparison, she was really a tremendously big woman, from whose
deep chest and strong, column-like throat there issued the thin,
little voice of a complaining, “cheeping” chick too weak to break its
imprisoning shell. She was a spring of pure Dutch undefiled. Not one
English sentence could she command, but she was a friendly creature,
and hobnobbed deprecatingly but successfully with her neighbors through
the medium of a ponderous but expressive and ever-smiling pantomime.

Never were such workers known before. I doubt if they could have
recognized their own breakfast had they met it, by daylight. Certainly
they had, for at least forty years, taken that meal by artificial
light--candle or oil, whichever was the cheaper. Any morning between
half-past four and five o’clock the neighbors could see, through the
dim light, a pretty little incident. The cart, heavily laden, stood
outside the gate; the small pedler with the boy-body and the man-face,
with a broad, leather band or collar across his neck, hooked its ends
to the shafts of the cart, thus placing on his shoulders part of the
heavy weight and at the same time causing the curious forward bend of
body that disfigured his walk to-day. When he was quite ready for his
start, the door opened and the big woman appeared, holding in her brown
arms a little, night-gowned figure, its bare, pink feet curled up in
her one broad hand--baby dreams still lingering mistily in the sleepy,
blue eyes, and while one wee hand pushed back impatiently the blond
tangle of curls, the other one tossed uncounted kisses to the father
dimly seen, while a sweet, bird-like voice cried: “Bye-bye, Papa!
Bye-bye! Ick lief dy! Bye-bye!”

For this little one had the gift of tongues, and from babyhood Dutch
and English were simply convertible terms with her--and the adoring
father, with cap off, stood and smiled, and smiled, and waved his
earth-stained, stumpy hand, and blessed her with all the tender Dutch
blessings that he knew, and then put on his cap--took up his load
and started on the way that would have been so hard, so ugly, but for
those baby kisses that bloomed like flowers on his path and sweetened
all his day. When he had gone quite out of sight the little Rosie
was returned to the great, Dutch bed to complete her sleep, and in a
few moments the mother was crouching between the rows of vegetables,
looking like a monster toad, and was weeding--weeding--weeding,
until with almost breaking back she began to carry water and
sprinkle--sprinkle--sprinkle, and after that the household tasks of
other women began--washing--scrubbing--ironing--baking, yet always
and ever with it all, there were little, white garments for Rosie,
and time to put them on, and when the child outgrew the vegetable
basket she had passed a great part of her life in, playing with a few
marigolds or a hollyhock flower--she could not have salable ones like
mignonette or pinks--the mother feared many things--for, as “Little
Knights” (that was what the neighbors called him), explained in slow,
back-end-first sentences, the vegetable basket arrangement had been
very satisfactory to both parties, and his wife could plant or hoe or
weed without anxiety, having simply to put out her hand now and then
and pull the basket after her. But now that was all past, and his wife
was “full up mit dem fears,” and when questioned as to the nature of
the fears that were filling her up, his blue eyes seemed both surprised
and reproachful that they could not see for themselves the possible
dangers in small Rosie’s path. “In place of first,” he explained, “der
was de cleanness--she mighd get dirty de garden in! Den,” his eyes
grew round at that, “der vas de red-peppers--she might touch dem and
aftervards rup her sveet eyes!” but when at the end of a long list of
possibilities, he cried out: “Unt dem pees--dem honey pees--what pite
mit dere tails--suppose dey make mit dere stingers on her? Ach Gott!
Ach Gott!” and, caught in a linguistic tangle, he fell into deep Dutch,
from which he emerged breathless and excited. Now that is a condition
no Dutchman will endure, so without apology, he trotted off home to
soothe himself with the one smoke he allowed himself each day, and
then to--rest? Oh, no, there was much work done in that small house by
night as well as by day--and mind, there are old neighbors still to
support this statement--they used actually to work in the garden by
moonlight--not habitually, but often enough, Heaven knows! And what was
the object of all this ceaseless labor--of their astonishing economies?

Before the coming of their baby girl, they had been little more than
two patient, dumb beasts of burden. Born and bred to work--they
worked--but dully--without hope or special object--but when God had
sent into their lives that laughing, pretty thing, and formed her
delicately that she might arouse their tenderness, they had changed.
They looked at one another, and each, smiling, saw the other anew.
They dreamed for her--they hoped now for her--they prayed now heavy,
laborious, loving prayers for her. Truly she had been the “locust and
wild honey” that fed them in their wilderness--so now it was for her
they labored and were therefore never tired.

As the years passed I, who had long since ceased to live in S----
street, often went there to visit my friends who had remained, stopping
with them from Saturday till Monday, and these visits kept me still in
touch with “Little Knights” and his idol. It seemed strange that Rosie
was quite unspoiled by so much adulation. She was a favorite with all
the neighbors, was polite and obedient outside her own domain, while
within it, an absolute monarch, she ruled with gentlest strength her
idolatrous subjects. Derision or contempt shown to them was swiftly and
sharply resented by her, while the only time she had to sternly exert
her authority was when she made some demand upon the treasury that was
for _their_ benefit instead of hers.

The Knights’ Sunday went like this: When it was time for Sunday-school
the front door opened (mind you, in any other family of like position
in life, that door would have opened for only one of three things--a
wedding, a funeral, or the first visit of the clergyman, so think how
they honored that mere child)--then big Mrs. Knights appeared and
brushed the step over with a cloth and retired from view (a pause),
then little Rosie appeared, balancing a moment on the step like one of
her own pet, white doves, her many short skirts and her white dress
starched to the uttermost limit of rattling stiffness, open-work white
stockings and black slippers, with an ankle strap fastened with a gold
button, a broad, pink sash about her waist, pink ribbon bows on each
long, blond braid, a big leghorn hat secured first by an elastic band,
and over that by broad, pink ribbons tied in a large bow under her
milk-white chin. In her little, mitted hands she held a testament, and
from between its leaves peeped a pink or a rose--a handkerchief the
size of a large postage stamp finished her outfit--and so, gravely and
with great propriety, she came down the narrow path between the “flox”
and “sweet-william,” the “larkspur” and “four o’clocks,” and all the
horde of strong-growing, free-blooming flowers of the poor--herself the
daintiest flower of them all--and at the gate she turned and kissed
her hand to the two heads thrust out at either side of the door--the
fresh-shaven face of her father low down on one side, the broad-smiling
face of her mother high up on the other--then walked sedately on
towards the church, while behind her, the heads gone, the door closed,
seemingly of its own volition--to open no more until the next week.

A few minutes later Mrs. Knights appeared at the side door where there
was a tiny, _tiny_ little platform, with “scarlet-beans” trained
thickly over its morsel of roof. On this porch one chair was carefully
placed on Sunday mornings and occupied by Mrs. Knights, arrayed in a
white petticoat and white bedgown (as the short, loose garment was
called). Her hair was oiled and brushed to a glassy smoothness, a big
horn-comb loomed high above her head, and a pair of gold ear-drops,
that seemed to have been sold by the yard, dangled from her ears. Her
tired, old feet rested in a huge pair of braided list shoes that looked
like boats. Once seated, “Little Knights” trotted out with a Bible of
a size so prodigious one wondered how it ever found a resting place
inside that little bit of a house. Its mighty clasps undone, he placed
it on his wife’s lap, and then made another trip and brought out a
great pair of spectacles, framed in silver, which he solemnly fitted on
her nose, then most carefully and cautiously he adapted himself to such
narrow margin of floor space as was left for him, and their service
began.

It was with a rather wavering, quavering rendering of an old hymn,
after which Mrs. Knights opened the book, and looking over the tops of
her glasses--she could not see a word through them, but she felt they
loaned her a certain dignity as of office--she found the place, and by
the aid of one blunt finger (its stained, cracked nail worn down to the
very quick), she made her way with pathetic slowness across the page
of frenzied Dutch print. Not that they doubted the saving-power of the
English Bible for the English and incidentally for the American sinner,
but they felt that their own sins were so peculiarly Dutch in quality
that nothing short of a Dutch Bible could save them. Wherefore, Mrs.
Knights, each Sunday, with blunt forefinger seemed to dig out words
of Holy-writ from the great book, while her small husband carefully
stored them in the basket of his memory.

After the chapter had come to its laborious close, they both took
breath and wiped their dripping brows, then clasped their hands, bowed
their heads and offered each a silent prayer. I had once come upon them
so, the bees circling about their gray, old heads, while their prayers,
like the perfume of two souls mingling with the perfume of the flowers,
rose through the warm air, straight to that great God who had given
them Rosie.

And that sweet name encompassed all of good his life contained--health
and strength, growing wealth and the respect in which his neighbors
held him, and when he would have offered humble thanks for them,
instead he blessed God for Rosie.

With a slight trace of that peasant cunning which had been his when
the stocking-foot had been his only bank, he tried to hide, as far as
possible, his increasing prosperity. He had long owned the double lot
and the toy house that made home for him, and it was whispered that
certain lots on the outskirts of the town, used by “Little Knights” for
a truck-garden, were really his, though the wily Jacobus often, perhaps
too often, referred to the fact: “Dat he had paid de rent dem gartens
of!” However, the old neighbors to this day tell a story of “Little
Knights” touching upon his secretiveness about money.

Rosie, who, by the way was Rosie to all the world except her
father--he called her ever and always his Rose or his “Little Rose;”
in babyhood, or in womanhood, “My Rose” was the name he gave his
idol! When his Rose had reached the age of fourteen, she stood before
him one evening, holding a match to his pipe, and when the tobacco
glowed evenly all over, she shut down the perforated silver cover, and
said suddenly: “Father, I wonder if you can be rich enough to buy me
something, an expensive something, too, father?” and the old eyes had
fairly danced, and surely in that moment, Jacobus Knights tasted all
the sweetness of prosperity. Yet, Jacobus was a Dutchman, and therefore
cautious, and so assuming as much doubt as was possible over so
absolutely certain a matter, he inquired as to the nature of “dis ting
vat made such expense mit itself,” and Rosie, with clear eyes on his
face, had answered with a little tremble of anxiety in her voice: “A
piano, father.”

And the small father had crushed back a smile, and averted joyous eyes,
and had basely suggested that an accordeon “might answer youst as well.”

But clever Rosie noticed he said no word about not affording it, so she
instantly assumed a patient look of endurance, saying: “No father, an
accordeon will not do; but never mind, I see you are not rich enough
yet, I can wait!” and he had hastily broken in on this meekness with:
“_You see, you see_, youst noddings, my Rose! How many dimes a hunnert
tollars, makes dem bianos mit demselves, all mit der india-rupper
overcoats on ’em, too, unt lots of dat moosic pieces sphilt all de top
over? All--youst all de nice hair-horse biano stools, too, vat twist
round unt round, and make you sick mit yourself--everyting vat goes dat
biano mit? _Dat_ is, vat I come rich enough to give mit my Rose!”

But imagine the stupefaction of every soul who knew “Little Knights,”
when two weeks later, without a word of his intentions to anyone, he
sent men to lay the foundation of a new house on the next-door lot,
which was vacant; and to the excited inquiries of his neighbors he
_naively_ replied, between puffs of smoke: “Vell, you see now, my Rose,
she vant dat biano, unt--(pause)--unt I have to make first de house to
put him in--don’t you see mit me?” And the laugh that followed rolled
around the town and made him known far and wide as the little, Dutch
gardener who built a house for his daughter’s piano.

A few more prosperous years and “Little Knights,” who began to be
called “Little Old Knights” now, was watching, with proud eyes, the
growing train of Rosie’s lovers. She was a charming girl--clever,
well-read, an excellent musician, a perfect little housekeeper, and,
best of all, tenderly, bravely loyal to her big, illiterate mother and
her short-cut, old father.

She was a milk-white blond--a silvery, flaxen blond, and though tints
of mauve and clear, pure blue found favor in her eyes, she still wore
pink for her old father’s sake. He had used to say of her in baby days:
“My Rose is such a vite, liddle Rose--I like dat she be tied up pink
ribbons mit--alvays mit pink!” So now, tied up “mit pink,” she received
her young friends in that one-time “holy of holies”--the front room;
now termed parlor. With a sort of anguished pride big Mrs. Knights
saw sunlight streaming through only thin lace curtains across the new
carpet--saw other books than the Bible and family album there--saw
flowers and open piano, and oh--oh--the chairs all pulled out from
their nice, straight rows against the wall! But then--ach Gott! Rosie
knew! And the ringing of the doorbell was as music in the ears of the
doting, old pair who sat in the inner room--one knitting, the other
smoking--both nodding and smiling and putting severe restraint upon
themselves to keep from rushing in with refreshments before greetings
were hardly over.

That moment of offering refreshments was a moment of joy and of
torture. They would willingly have effaced themselves from the life
of their “American” daughter (as they proudly called her), but she
had neither friend nor acquaintance who did not know--and through
her introduction--her father and mother. With regard to the latter,
Rosie had worked a miracle. In two years’ time, by faithful and almost
desperate effort, she had taught her mother nine simple English words.
They were evidently selected by the astute Rosie with a view to future
social requirements. So now Mrs. Knights could, with portentous gasps
and moistening brow, say: “How do-do?” “Com’ again!” “Good-bye!”
“Ver’ glad!” “Ver’ sorry!” and “My!” And when the moment came for
the long-necked bottles of sparkling German wine--the fruit--the
sandwiches--the cream-cheese, etc., to appear, the old pair, rejoicing
in their hospitality, swelling with pride in Rosie and Rosie’s
popularity, yet nearly crushed by embarrassment, appeared, too. And
Mrs. Knights--“How do-do?” all round--wilted into a big chair in
the corner, from whence she smiled most happily and cast a “My!” of
excellent pronunciation into the general conversation now and then, for
which her Rosie gave her a dozen kisses afterward.

The bright, laughing girl saw that her father had the prettiest
visitor in the room to sit by, and that her own choice of the young
men should wait upon her mother, and so, with wonderful tact, she led
them into her brighter life, instead of shutting them out into the
shamed solitude known to so many lowly parents. Rosie was nineteen
when she made her choice. Young Randall had been a child of wealth
until, at twenty, his father tried to “corner” something and had been
cornered himself and ruined. Then the boy went to work and had been
working for six years when he fell in love with Rosie. Never had there
been such excitement in a Dutchman’s life before! Little Old Knights
was a house-building, present-buying, hand-rubbing, amiable, little
lunatic! His wife smiled in her very sleep at night, and lived in her
Dutch receipt-book all day, while Rosie had to watch the pair with the
eyes of an affectionate lynx to prevent them from buying horse-hair
furniture for her future parlor, and large chunks of amethyst or big,
diamond-set things for ornaments.

But she managed so well that only a few atrocities crept in among her
gifts, and her little home was charming. Many thought that now, as
Rosie entertained a good deal and had new friends in her new home,
she would ignore the old folks. Not she! Whenever she had anything
“on,” from a “coffee-drinking” to an “evening party,” she flew down
to the old home and laced her mother into shape, crowding her into a
stiff, silk gown, that creaked at each labored breath of its wearer,
and when she was in full panoply of war, and Little Old Knights had
been turned about and looked over as if he were a boy getting ready
for Sunday-school, Rosie kissed them both and took them off to her
own home, and set them down in two big chairs with a little table
between them, for their spectacles and handkerchiefs and other small
belongings--and there, like an old pair of children, they sat and
enjoyed all that went on; and when there was dancing, “Old Knights”
never failed to indulge in one waltz with his ancient wife--the memory
of whose youth must have gone into her feet to make her so light on
them still. And while Rosie joined in the laughter this waltz always
aroused, there would be a tremor in her voice and she would hold her
young husband’s hand close and whisper: “Will you love _me_ like that,
Hal, when I have grown old?”

So on radiant wings time flew by, until one morning neighbors heard
laughing in “Little Knights’” garden--laughing that continued and
continued, and when they went over, “Little Knights” was doing
the laughing, with tears running down his cheeks and falling on
the prodigious Bible open on his short knees. When questioned, he
exclaimed: “She has kom’--all safe, she has kom’! I seen her mit mine
eyes--I have tooched her mit dese fingers! De liddle daughter of mine
own Rose! Ach, de Almighty Gott is a most goot Gott!” and then he bowed
his white head and muttered: “Now let Thy servant depart mit peace!”
And so poor, “Little Old Knights” found his cup of joy full to the brim!

And what happens to any cup held in human hands if filled to the
brim? It runs over--and there is cruel loss! And so it came to pass
that Rosie’s little one stayed with them just long enough to smile a
recognition of her girlish mother’s face, and then some sweet, strong
call came from the “beyond” that baby had heard and answered--and they
were left to wonder at the awful void that small absence made in all
their lives.

Poor, Old Knights! Tight in his arms he held the tiny, coffined
dead--moaning over and over: “My liddle pud--my Rose’s liddle
pud!”--until that sad moment when, by sheer force, they took the wee,
dead thing from him, to hide it away beneath the flowers and the
grasses.

Time passed slowly now. Rosie, very gentle--very tender of others--was
sad, so sad. That was not natural to her--so all rejoiced when hope
once more shone in her face--and all was thankful when Little Old
Knights trotted from door to door with the news that his Rose had
“anodder liddle daughter--so like--ach Gott! so like de first--as never
yet dey saw!”

Rosie’s joy was great, but it was not the laughing, unthinking joy of
other days. She felt anxieties and fears. She dreaded this and that,
but her silvery blond baby was so strong and well, and grew so fast,
and “crowed” and laughed, and romped with father and grandfather, and
stood so strong upon her little legs that fears had to give way to
confidence, and her heart bounded with triumph when she heard the baby
voice, cry imperatively; “Ma--ma! ma--ma!”

One day in particular Rosie always remembered--she had toiled for a
good hour at training baby to say: “Pa--pa,” when the father had come
from the office--and when he came the baby had stretched out her arms
to him, looked back roguishly at Rosie, and then fairly screamed:
“Ma--ma! ma--ma!” and they had all laughed and laughed! Good God! how
easy it is for a baby to fill a happy home with merriment! And that
very night “croup” had clutched with murderous fingers the little
throat that was used to swell with laughter as a bird’s throat swells
with song--and darkness and silence came upon the house.

Little Knights--poor, broken, Little Knights--like a small, gray
shadow, flitted back and forth between the two stricken homes. At one
moment he had blasphemed in his misery. His Rose had been lying on his
breast and she had wrung her hands and lifted her tortured eyes to his
and cried: “Father, what have I done? Think back--think hard! What
wickedness did I do, that God should punish me so cruelly? Did I lie?
Did I bear false witness against anyone? Think father--think for me,
dear!”

And then he had lifted up his voice against Almighty God and cursed his
work--and now he remembered his words and shivered, for, with creeping
horror, he felt that there was something approaching him more terrible
even than the loss of the second little bud of love and hope--Rose!
Rose--his worshiped Rose--who wept not--who thought no more for others’
comforts--who sat motionless for long hours at a time, had been taken
possession of by a grotesquely horrible idea that the husband she loved
so was trying to put her legally away, because her children died! And
she would hold his hands and beg piteously that he should wait for her
to die!--that she would not be long about it now! And the poor husband
would kneel at her feet and pour out his love and grief, but all in
vain!

Then she would lay her head on “Little Knights’” breast and tell him
to take her away before the new wife came! He felt what was coming,
and believed _his_ blasphemy had brought destruction upon her when his
Rose became quite mad! At first he tried to take his life, but Mrs.
Knights seemed to have eyes all over--he could not escape them. Then,
suddenly, he cast himself--helpless, hopeless, almost heartbroken, at
the “Blessed Feet,” asking nothing for himself, but entreating mercy
for his Rose!--so innocent, so good! Bye and bye he ceased to bargain
with the Lord, and bowed his head, and with grief-shaken voice, said
simply: “Thy will, not mine, O Gott!” and straight a gleam of sunlight
came back into his life. Rose--his beloved Rose--had recovered her
reason! “Little Knights” held her in his arms and kissed the weary eyes
and drooping lips--and blessed God for her! but knew in his heart he
would never again see his white Rose “tied up mit pink ribbons.”

And time goes on and on, and Rose, gentle, kind, a very angel of
mercy to the poor, devoted to her husband and her parents--rarely
smiling--never laughing--shivers at the sight of a blond baby. Four
years had passed after her second loss, and her silence was deceiving
them all. I think, when one Sunday in church a strange, little,
restless creature in her pew crept along the seat and put its baby hand
on hers, and poor Rosie at that touch had fainted dead away, after that
they understood.

One day I saw “Little Knights” standing uncovered at the side of two
tiny graves. A small white stone at their head had carved upon it two
rosebuds and beneath, three words, clear and plain: “Our little buds!”
I murmured the words half aloud, and “Little Knights,” with tears on
his cheeks, said: “Yays, yays--youst liddle puds--but, oh, whad sweet,
liddle puds dey were! Gott give me youst von Rose--full bloomed unt
perfect--but dese puds? _No! no!_ He say dey may not bloom here!”

He looked up into the clear, far, far blue, and smiled and nodded, and
said, very low: “Oop dere--I think He make ’em bloom out full--dem
puds! I like I can see dat! I don’t want to leaf my Rose--I stay here
as long as she stay--but I vant so much to see my liddle puds bloom!”
and then he placed on each wee grave a beautiful rosebud, and trotted
away home to his good, old wife and his adored Rosie!

“Let me see,” I added, “this is Saturday--is it not? Well, to-morrow,
before four o’clock in the afternoon, should you go to W---- Cemetery,
you would see the ‘little hop o’ my thumb’ I pointed out to you
a while ago come trotting in, holding two beautiful, exquisitely
beautiful, rosebuds in his hand; would see him make his way to those
two tiny graves, and without shame, fall on his knees, and with one
arm stretched across the graves, humbly pray. Then kissing both buds,
he would place one on each grave--then, with falling tears, leave the
cemetery--and that has been done and will be done, winter as well as
summer, by this poor, faithful ‘Little Old Knights.’”

I glanced at my companion and was amazed to see her eyes were brimming,
and as she dashed the tears away, the shameless little turncoat
cried--“And do you now tell me you can’t see poetry in life--when
you have known a man like that? Why, there is all the poetry of
‘fatherhood’ right before your eyes!”

And to this day she wonders why I laughed so long and heartily.



The Ambition of MacIlhenny



The Ambition of MacIlhenny


After mentioning that last name it seems like rank waste of time to say
his first name was Sandy. He couldn’t help it, his parents couldn’t
help it, no one could help it; one name follows the other naturally.

Well, then, being Sandy MacIlhenny, of course he was Scotch. I mention
it for mere form’s sake, as you knew it beforehand, just as you knew
what his first name was. But, fortunately for us all, he had lived in
America so many years that he had lost or thrown away his dialect, and
the only thing in his speech that could suggest his native heath was
the marked preference for the letter “u” instead of “i” in whisky, (and
I think, myself, “whusky” has a more filling sound) and a “burring,” a
b’r’r’r to his “r’s,” as though a very large, bewildered “bumble-bee”
were blundering about the end of his broad tongue, and then bumping
back to the roof of his mouth.

Poor MacIlhenny’s life was a tragedy, and yet it was played, to
the very last act, to an accompaniment of jeers and laughter--not
malicious, not bitter, but simple, thoughtless laughter.

A description of his personal appearance might, I think, go a good
way toward explaining the cause of that general laughter. Had he been
simply ugly, all had been well--there’s nothing injurious in ugliness;
it may even be a power. He was worse than that. In our English
language there is a word that may have been created at the very moment
of Sandy’s birth, for the express use of those wishing to describe him
perfectly but briefly--that word is “grotesque.”

He was tall, very tall, with a sudden, rounding droop of the shoulders
that gave him the look of a button-hook or interrogation point, while
his thickness through the body was about that of a choice, salt
codfish. If he was furnished with the usual number of internal organs
they must have been pressed like autumn leaves in a dictionary, or else
he did not wear them all at one time; that’s how thin he was. Then he
was the only tall man I ever saw pacing through life on bowed-legs.
No, not knock-kneed! Sandy’s legs were bowed to a roundness that let
one see, at a glance, just how a picture of certain portions of the
landscape would look in a perfectly round frame. No man on earth could
command respect while standing on a pair of legs like Sandy’s, unless
they were concealed beneath the protecting petticoat of church or
college. He had very high cheek-bones, across which the skin was drawn
so tightly that they looked like a pair of unexpected knuckles. His
chin was long and straight, without the slightest indentation or curve
about it. His nose shared in the general lengthiness and was thin and
pointed, while, owing to the narrowness of his entire structural plan,
each small, greenish-blue eye turned inwardly and gazed with fixed
resentment at the intervening bridge that seemed to be crowding them.

And these cruelly crossed eyes made MacIlhenny a veritable joy to the
street boys, who would follow him, performing warlike dances, and then
rush before him and wait at street corners with ostentatiously crossed
forefingers between which they gravely spat to avert the ill-luck his
glance might put upon them.

Poor man! In no limb, no feature had he been spared--so that the final
touch of common, coarse ugliness was found in the shining baldness of
the top of his head, and the little flounce of brick-red hair with
which he seemed to be modestly trying to cover its startling nudity.

With such a body to dwell in, one can hardly wonder that his mind
should become distorted and develop only in one direction, as it were,
and such a direction, for the ambition of MacIlhenny, this poor,
cross-eyed, bowlegged Scotchman of the lower laboring class--this
excellent cutter of stone, was to be the greatest _tragic-actor_ of his
day!

Nor was his ambition of the mere “I wish I were!” or “I would like to
be!” order. It was a devouring passion.

A strong word, “devouring,” but since Webster says it means, among
other things, “to consume ravenously, to prey upon, to swallow up, to
appropriate greedily,” it is the right word, for his mad ambition, even
in its beginning, appropriated greedily all his small savings, all his
spare time. It consumed his sense of duty toward his wife--he had no
sense of the ridiculous to consume. It preyed upon his heart as well
as his mind, and finally it swallowed up his very life.

Many of the old acting plays he knew by heart, had memorized literally
from cover to cover, while his knowledge of Shakespeare’s unacted plays
was greater than most actors’ knowledge of the acting ones. Quite
naturally he was given over to the habit of quoting, in season and out
of season, and it was an indulgence in this habit that brought the
stonecutter into touch with the actors of the city.

There was a saloon not far from the theatre, and MacIlhenny, being at
work near by, went in one noon for his mid-day beer. There was a party
of actors there eagerly discussing the morning news of the death of one
of their profession, a very well known and successful actor. Now, as
they all knew, one of this party had been the envious enemy of the dead
man, and now, instead of a respectful silence, they were astonished to
see him assuming deep grief. There was a great pulling of moustaches
and exchanging of glances, but no one replied, and the hypocrite
burst out again, first with fulsome praise, and then with exaggerated
expressions of sorrow. The last word was barely spoken, when a voice
with a burr in it gravely and most distinctly remarked: “The tears live
in an onion that should water this sorrow!”

There was an instant of surprised silence, in which every one
recognized the exquisite fitness of the quotation, and then a roar of
laughter--another and another! Many beers were thrust upon the Scotch
stonecutter, who knew his Shakespeare so well--and--and--oh! poor
MacIlhenny! Straightway he neglected his work; he loitered too long
at his nooning. He could not tear himself away from the actors, who
listened to his quotations and laughed at his antics, as children might
laugh at the capers of a monkey. But MacIlhenny left them with a wild
gleam in his poor, crossed eyes, with jumping, twitching muscles about
his thin lips, fairly drunk with excitement.

It was on one of these occasions that he saw his landlord ahead of him
in the public street--a rotund, little person who seemed to have had
one story left off when he was built. He knew it, too, and tried, with
piled up dignity and high silk hat, to make up the missing height. And
it was to this dignified, black-croated, slow-moving, old gentleman
that MacIlhenny roared: “Turn, hell-hound, turn! Turn, I say! I want to
hand you me month’s rent and save a trip to your house to-morrow!”

That was one of his out of season quotations, for the dignified old
party was no hell-hound, but MacIlhenny had just been discussing
Macbeth, and showing how poorly Mr. Booth understood that character,
admitting that the “laddie did his best, and meant well, still he
(MacIlhenny) was the one man living who had got _inside_ the part”!

Well along in the season, one of the actors was to take a benefit,
and as he was not much of a favorite with the public, he was greatly
worried about arranging an attractive “bill.” Perhaps I should say
that when one takes “a benefit” the fact is announced on the theatre’s
bills. The “beneficiary” has the privilege of selecting the play for
that special performance, and on that one night, he or she receives
one-half, or one-third of the gross receipts of the house, by which he
is benefited (perhaps), hence the term, “To take a benefit!”

A couple of weeks before, at the “leading” man’s benefit, there had
been several volunteers, among them the manager’s young daughter, who
sang for him, and in MacIlhenny’s presence, the worried actor was
mourning because there was no one to volunteer to assist him, when
up rose Sandy MacIlhenny and offered _his_ services. Those who were
farthest away writhed in quiet laughter, while those who were near
him suffered silently. In that silence the stonecutter read dread of
a rival, and he hastened to dispel all anxiety by saying, soothingly:
“Don’t misunderstand me, young man! You have nothing to fear! I do not
ask to play a ‘part’ in your play--since the public could then have
neither eye nor ear for any man but me--and I’d not extinguish anyone’s
light on his benefit--but I’ll do a recitation or a reading-like, for
you--so ‘Put money in thy purse, Cassio,’ and not injure your standing
as an actor!”

It was a trying moment. They liked the funny, old chap, and did not
wish to hurt his feelings--but good Heavens! the idea of turning him
loose before an audience! Again came the voice of MacIlhenny, with the
inevitable quotation: “Why whisper you--and answer not, my lords?”

A laugh followed, and the tormented actor asked: “Well, Sandy man, what
on earth do you propose to read or recite?”

“Why,” answered he, “since you will be doing a tragedy, and I have no
wish to outshine you in any way, I’ll just give them the ‘Trial Scene’
from ‘Pickwick.’”

Through the storm of merriment that followed one or two voices cried:
“Let him do it! Let him do it! It will be great!” And just then, at the
glass door of the saloon, a tall, gaunt woman appeared. She was one of
that body of black-bombazine women who are never ragged, but are always
rusty--who all appear of the same age, as they all seem to have passed
with reluctant feet their fiftieth birthday. She tapped with a black
cotton forefinger on the glass, and MacIlhenny went to her at once, and
spoke with her a few moments--and one exclaimed: “The Two Dromios!”
For indeed had it not been for her straight eyes, she might have been
Sandy’s twin. When he returned some one said: “Your wife, MacIlhenny?”

“Aye,” he said, “aye--and though I don’t claim she’s a beauty, yet
‘I’ll give no blemish to her honor--none!’” At which they howled with
delight, and when they were tired of pounding one another, the voice
arose again: “Let him go on--oh, let him go on!” and another added:
“Yes, let him go on, just to see how many he’ll kill before he gets off
again!”

And so it happened that Sandy MacIlhenny, stonecutter by the grace of
God, became, by the cruel whim of man, an actor, and was duly announced
on the “benefit-bills” to read the “Trial Scene” from “Pickwick.”

Alas, “those whom the Gods will destroy, they first make mad!” It is
an ancient promise, and so truly was it kept with this their chosen
victim, that on the dark and fatal night that was the beginning of the
end for him, poor MacIlhenny saw the radiant dawn of a superb success.

The night came, and a fairly good-sized audience was present. Sandy’s
reading was placed between the first and second plays, and a more
ludicrous figure never appeared before the public. By some mysterious
process he had forced his widely bowed-legs into a pair of very narrow,
straight-cut trousers. They were of an unsympathetic nature, and
as he wore low-cut shoes, they basely betrayed about two inches of
white, womany-looking stockings, thus giving a strong suggestion of
impropriety to his whole “make-up.”

His “wescut,” as he called it, he had brought, as he proudly declared,
from Scotland, and the actors, as with one voice, had cried: “It looks
the part, Sandy, it looks it!”

It was a short-waisted, low-necked vest of a plaid (of course) of red
and green and blue and yellow, and the greatest of these was red, and
it was velvet, and it had two crowded rows of shining, brass buttons.
With quite unnecessary candor, his shirt proclaimed, through dragging
wrinkle and straggling band, that it was of domestic manufacture; while
an ancient black satin stock nearly choked the life out of him. And his
hair--oh, Sandy, Sandy! His wife had curled it on a very small iron,
and had then drawn the comb through it, thus setting it a-flying in a
wild, red fuzz on whose edges the gaslight glittered, until he looked
like some absurd, old Saint with his halo falling off backward!

As this figure of fun appeared, there was a ripple of laughter, and
in a few minutes--in the expressive slang of to-day--the audience
were “on” to him. The laughter grew and grew--and then that strange
_strain_ of cruelty, that has come down to us from our ancient
barbaric forefathers, and is so much easier to arouse in a crowd than
in a single individual, was all alive. They thought they recognized
a victim, and they rose to the occasion. They _baited_ him; they
bombarded him with satirical applause; they demanded certain passages
over again; they addressed him as Mr. Buz-fuz, and they had just
reached the point of throwing things when the reading ended.

As MacIlhenny had no sense of the ridiculous, he could not distinguish
the difference between being laughed _at_ and being laughed _with_,
so it was all like fragrant incense to him, and he came off the stage,
his crossed eyes blazing at the bridge of his nose, on each cheek bone
a spot of scarlet and a burr on his tongue that made his first words of
triumph utterly incomprehensible to those about him. Two of us there
were who drew aside, and pitying him, spoke him fair and respectfully,
but the others, meaning no harm, carrying on a jest, congratulated him
extravagantly, and when he went out from the theatre that night the
promise of the gods had been fulfilled, for MacIlhenny was literally
mad!

He never did another stroke of work. His kit of tools became strangers
to him. He touched chisel and mallet but once more, and that was when
he pawned them that he might buy a play-book, and a little bread, with
which to quiet for a moment the two devils who tormented him, one
gnawing in his brain, the other at his stomach.

In going to and from the theatre I passed the tiny, three-roomed
cottage the MacIlhennys occupied, and morning and evening I could hear
his high, rasping voice declaiming, ranting, pouring forth pages of old
plays, while through the window I could see him brandishing a poker for
a sword, and wildly rumpling his little, red flounce of hair whenever
he pronounced a curse--whether he was Lear or Richelieu or Sir Giles,
it mattered not, he dragged all curses from the roots of his thin, red
hair.

Poor Mrs. Sandy had descended from her former state of bombazine,
and was daily seen in black cotton, going out to jobs of washing or
office-cleaning, so her neighbors told me. And once, when they missed
her comfortable blanket-shawl and noticed that she shivered through the
streets in an old Stella shawl, which was a creation of thin cashmere
meant for summer only, they rashly spoke the sympathy they felt, and
their condemnation of MacIlhenny’s course.

It was the first time and likewise it was every other time, including
the _last_ time they so presumed. She listened in stony silence, and
then with bitter pride and icy resentment in every look and word, she
demanded: “What else shall my man do? Is it for the like of him to be
pounding stone forever, and he the finest actor-man in all the world
to-day?”

Now Mrs. MacIlhenny was a Presbyterian of a blueness like unto indigo,
and of a narrowness inconceivable--who have never in her life entered
a theatre. Therefore it was but natural that one of the surprised
women should ask: “But how do you know that?” And she made answer--oh!
loving, loyal, old Scottish wife--with withering scorn and infinite
conviction: “Why, has the man na’ telled me so hissel’?” and so went
her hard way.

For many weeks MacIlhenny had made the manager’s life a burden to
him--asking, praying, demanding an engagement. “Why, man,” he would
say, “did you not see the public at my very feet--did you not hear
their acclamations, and you know right well that in the absence of
garlands and flowers they would have tossed to me anything their hands
came upon? What are you afraid of? The enmity of your wee bit stars!
I’ll see that you suffer no loss!”

Then steady disappointment told upon him. His temper began to
change--he grew sullen, suspicious, and began to tell strange tales
of being followed at night by certain actors--generally stars. No man
could call Sandy MacIlhenny a sponge or beat. When he reached the
point where he could not extend a general invitation to those present
to drink--he ceased to share in the general invitations of others.
And when he could no longer pay his own footing, he no longer entered
the saloon, but loitered outside to talk to the actors. Imagining
things were not well with him, the actor for whom MacIlhenny had read
asked him to accept some payment, but with ever-ready quotation, Sandy
refused, gravely repeating: “There’s none can truly say he gives--if he
receives!”

Then even the outside visits grew far apart, and through my passing
of his door I was the only one who knew anything of him, and I knew
so little, dear Heaven! so little! Only that he studied, rehearsed,
declaimed! I did not know how many, _many_ days passed without bringing
Mrs. Sandy any job of work, and their pride-sealed lips made no
complaint. The old Scotch couple were not unlike a pair of sharp, old
razors--perfectly harmless if left alone in their own case, but very
unsafe things for general handling--and so in the midst of plenty,
they suffered the pangs--the gnawing pangs--of hunger for weary days
and wearier nights, and no one knew!

One spring-like day, as I passed the cottage--the window being
raised--I heard MacIlhenny’s voice at some distance, and recognized the
lines of Woolsey in Henry VIII.: “Had I but served my God, with half
the zeal that I have served--have served--,” he stopped--so did I. Some
change in his voice held me! What was it? It was weak and husky, to
be sure; but there was something else, some force, some thrill, some
strange quality. Again the voice rose: “Had I but served my God with
half the zeal that I have served--have served--,” almost unconsciously
I gave the words, “My King,” and he, without even turning his face,
took it up, saying “Aye, aye! ‘My King--he would not in mine age have
left me naked to mine enemies!’” and he laughed. As I hurried on, in
all my nerves there was a creeping fear, for in his voice I had felt
the subtle difference between ranting and _raving_--had felt the man
was mad! And that very morning an actor mentioned him, saying he had
seen him in liquor. “Oh, no,” I answered, “MacIlhenny never drinks!”

“Well,” insisted the actor, “when a man staggers in his walk and talks
to himself on the public street, it looks as if he had been drinking
too much rye.” And another standing by, laughingly said: “Perhaps the
old chap has eaten too little, instead of drinking too much!”

Such cruel truths are sometimes said in jest. A few days later, having
only to appear in the farce, I was quite late in going to the theatre,
and as I neared the cottage, I saw lamplight streaming from its window,
and heard Sandy reciting, as usual. But there was some other noise.
His words, too, came in gusts and gasps, and I said to myself: “Why,
that sounds exactly like two men rehearsing a combat for Richard or
Macbeth!” The cottage was flush with the sidewalk and, as I came
opposite the window, I could not help looking in, and there I stood
and stared, for in the center of the room old Sandy and his wife were
struggling desperately for the possession of a hatchet which he held!
“Sandy!” she cried, “Sandy!” and all the time Macbeth’s lines poured
from his lips: “They have tied me to a stake!” Almost he wrenched
himself free from her: “I cannot fly, and bear-like, I must fight the
course!”

At that moment his wife tore the hatchet from his hand and flung it
across the room. He plunged forward to recover it, but in a twinkling
she had a grip upon his arms just above each elbow, and next moment she
had shoved him into the chair close to the window, and leaning over
him, in spite of his writhings, held him tight.

She must have felt my gaze, for suddenly she turned her white face
and saw me. Into her eyes there came both fear and furious anger, and
then, without loosing her hold for one moment on Sandy’s arms, she
thrust her face forward, and catching the shade between her teeth, she
fiercely dragged it down! And though the rebuff was sharp as a blow in
the face, yet for a moment more I stood staring, and saw on the white
shade a black shadow-woman bending over and holding fast a shadow-man,
and, as a kaleidoscope responds to a touch, at a single movement these
shadows blurred, parted, joined again, and this time, though she still
held him close, the shadow-woman was on her knees, and her head was on
the breast of the shadow-man!--and ashamed to have watched so long, I
hurried away and said to myself: “To-morrow I will go there, and sharp
words shall not drive me away, until I learn by what route help can
reach them!”

Next day I stood and rapped and rapped, but no one answered to my
rapping. The house was very quiet, the room seemed empty, but when I
carefully looked I saw a little smoke rising from the chimney. The
following day the shade was down--I saw no smoke--but I was obstinate,
and I went around to the back door and knocked there, and was instantly
met by a white-faced “fury!”

“So,” she cried, “you have come to spy for them! Well, take them the
news! Their work is done! They have no one now to fear--he’s gone!
He that was greater than them all! Come!” dragging me by main force
into the room and to the bed-room door: “See for yourself how he lies
there, dead of slow starvation!” One forced glance I gave at the long,
long, rigid outline on the bed, but even that forced glance caught,
mockingly peeping from under the dead man’s pillow, a yellow-covered
play-book.

Wrenching myself away from the sight, I turned, and putting my arms
about her trembling, old body, I held her close and said: “Oh, you poor
wife! you poor, poor wife!”

She stood within my circling arms quite still for an instant, then
suddenly her hard face broke into convulsive weeping. She thrust me
from her, gasping: “Don’t--don’t! I say!” and fled to him, while I
rushed from the house bearing my ill-news.

Everyone was shocked, and one was wounded, that Sandy had not asked
his help. He did not understand the sturdy pride of the old pair who
accepted nothing they had not earned and asked of the world but one
thing, and that was a decent privacy to suffer in.

Three of the actors went at once to the house, the one who had felt
hurt, a gentle and kindly soul, acting as spokesman. They offered help
to her and burial for Sandy, but they were met with such invective and
imprecation as fairly stunned them, and though, by their secret help,
they later on saved poor MacIlhenny from the Potter’s Field, they were
compelled to beat a retreat before his frenzied widow.

With bitter sarcasm she invited one to enter and “bring a brush and
see if he could find in that house one crumb of bread!” She told them
exactly “how many weeks a man could live upon a kit of tools pawned
one by one;” she reviled them as “thieves” for stealing her husband’s
“great thoughts and ideas of acting;” jeered at them for “cowards,”
that they had not “dared to stab him,” though they had “dogged his
steps with evil intent many a dark night;” hailed them as “hypocrites,”
because they hid their joy and, pretending grief, came here and offered
“decent burial”--and as they slowly withdrew, she stood upon her
doorstep and called after them: “Hypocrites! hypocrites! You starved
him to slow death--and he was broken-hearted!”

The word seemed to catch her own ear. She paused--slowly she repeated,
“broken-hearted!” Then suddenly she caught the clue--flung her gaunt
arms wide--she lifted her tortured eyes to the sky, and with a burst of
bitter triumph, cried: “But a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt
Thou not despise!”

And hearing that splendid declaration--that so thrills with
hope!--those who had all unintentionally worked her woe, bowed their
heads and breathed a quick--Amen!



John Hickey: Coachman



John Hickey: Coachman


  “This is to certify that the bearer, John Hickey, five years in my
  employ, is as honest a man as ever strode a horse.

                                      “(Signed), MCDOWELL, General.”

The bearer, John Hickey, stood tall, straight and uncovered before
me, while I read the above recommendation. There were several others,
but I never looked at them. I knew something of “McDowell, General,”
in California, and I was persuaded that a man who served him for five
years possessed something more than “honesty” in the outfit of his
virtues.

But he had, in my opinion, received a still better recommendation at
the very moment of his coming into our lives, on that bright summer
morning. I had been sitting on the front porch with a dog on each
side of me--that being my usual allowance. Both these dogs--Maida and
Sancho--yearned with a great yearning to exterminate the whole race of
organ-grinders. They also had a profound dislike for that rather large
body of men and women who move back and forth on the earth’s surface
carrying bundles. Therein lay their only fault; otherwise, they were
good, honest, self-respecting dogs. And it must be admitted that this
peculiarity of theirs helped to keep things lively about the place and
our blood in quick circulation. Therefore, when John Hickey entered
the gates, carrying an unusually large valise, there was a roar and a
rush before I could form one word of command or entreaty. The blazing
eyes and white, uncovered fangs of the dogs told so plainly of their
fell intention of reducing him and his valise to a condition resembling
desiccated codfish, that anyone might have been frightened. But before
they reached him I heard a calm voice, and an unmistakable Irish one,
saying: “Well, well! What is it now? What is it?”

Lightning could not have stopped them quicker. Their heads lowered,
their tails sagged down in a shamed sort of a way. They stretched their
heads out and sniffed him a moment. Then, with a wild yelp of joy,
Sancho, with slavering jaws, bounded at his breast, striking staggering
blows by way of welcome, while Maida, the fierce, was standing erect
on hind legs at his side, kissing his protesting hands, and digging
with both great paws in his side. At last they subsided a little. He
stood, showing the traces of their rapturous welcome, while they sat
at his feet, and looking into his face, told him, with shining, loving
eyes and excited beating of their tails, that he was the very fellow
they had been searching forever since the seal of their puppyhood’s
blindness had fallen from their foolish, blue eyes.

During the lull the man produced his little packet of recommendations
and passed them to me. My husband, returning at that moment, engaged
him in a conversation consisting mainly of questions and answers,
and that gave me a chance to look at “the bearer, John Hickey.” The
only Irish thing about him was his voice. He was tall, square of
shoulder, flat of back, clear-skinned and ruddy, with good features,
keen, light-blue eyes, and brown hair, which he wore in an odd way,
parted down the back of his head, and brushed forward and upward toward
his ears, which gave him a peculiarly cocky and alert air. There was
something in the carriage of his head, the turning out of his feet,
the hang of his arms and the position of his hands, when he stood at
“attention,” that said, as plain as words could say, “Soldier, yes;
‘ex,’ if you like, but soldier all the same.” I thought that then; I
knew it by night.

I was just going to put a question to him when the sunlight played him
a trick and betrayed his poor, little secret to me. In vain, then, the
upright pose, the cocky air, and jaunty manner! It must have been some
hours since he had shaved--he wore no hair upon his face, and as he
stood there the sun shone full upon him, revealing on cheek, and chin,
and upper lip, the glittering frost of age, and he stood revealed, an
old man.

I felt touched by the bold bluff he was making against Time, and I
wished to give him a trial. Therefore, I looked steadily at my lord
and master, and, using that great, unwritten language understood and
used by every husband and wife on the top of the earth, I signified
my desire for him to engage John Hickey, and he, being a man of
intelligence and a husband in good standing, replied by the same means:
“All right! but I’m afraid he is a bit elderly. Still, if you wish it!”
And he told John to come with him and he would show him his quarters
and settle about wages, etc. The words were scarcely out of his lips
before the dogs were up and leading the way, with waving tails and many
backward turnings of their heads. I think I have said the day was very
hot, and as the two men stepped from the lawn to the carriage-drive,
my husband, finding his hat oppressive, removed it and held it in his
hand. Thus it happened that he walked with bared head at John Hickey’s
side, while he escorted him to his new home. It was a trivial thing to
notice, yet there came a time when it was sharply recalled to me.

The new man had not to take the horses out that first day at all, and
in about an hour after his installment he sent a messenger to me,
asking if I had a large flag, and if I had one would I not send it down
to him, the coachman, who promised to take good care of it?

We had a large flag--yes. But what on earth did the man want with it
then? There were four good, solid weeks between us and the glorious
Fourth of July. What could he mean? Ah, well! let him have it. So the
flag, a really fine one, as it happened, to his great joy was sent down
to him.

Shortly after that I saw him with a lot of rope and some tools,
tinkering, under the active supervision of both dogs, at the old
flagstaff standing on the hill which rises sharply at the back of the
stable. Later in the afternoon, chancing to glance from the window,
there, sure enough, was the brave, old flag, floating free from the
top of the staff. And very pretty it looked, too, against the blue sky
and above the fresh, green foliage of the young summer-time. Ah, I
thought, that’s it, is it? But I had not got it all, even yet, for just
before dinner I heard an explosion of some sort of firearm! My heart
gave a jump, and I exclaimed: “Good mercy! Has the poor man met with an
accident?”

I ran to the window. Out on the hill, by the flagstaff, stood John,
while through a cloud of smoke the flag came fluttering down just as
the red sun sank from view. I understood at last! My soldier-coachman
was saluting the flag, and firing for a sunset gun a rusty old
blunderbuss that was likely to kick him through the greenhouse every
time he touched it.

I confess I sat down and laughed hysterically. He had intended to
greet the rising sun in the same manner, but as sickness in the family
required quiet at that hour, he contented himself with simply running
up his flag at exactly the proper moment. And when my husband, either
from secret sympathy with “Old John’s” feelings, or from a fear for the
safety of the greenhouse, gave him a good musket and enough ammunition
for a modest sort of battle, John Hickey, coachman, was proud and
happy.

And so he entered upon his life with us. We spoke of hiring? In our
dull way we for some time believed that we had engaged or accepted him,
not at all understanding, till much later, that he had accepted us, and
that the house was his, the place was his, the fruits thereof, and that
the family were his--his household gods--whom he loved devotedly, and
served faithfully all the rest of his life.

We were quick to discover that in “Old John” we had an excellent
servant and an eccentric man, while the slow years piled up proof upon
proof of his loyalty. He won my heart at once by quickly learning the
individual characters of our horses. One in particular, my favorite
saddle-horse, I was a bit anxious about, since he was getting the
reputation of being ugly. He (Creole by name) was a big, spirited
Kentucky horse, with an exquisitely tender mouth, requiring a very
light as well as steady hand. Two or three great fellows, with
sledge-hammer fists, had tried to ride him on his bridle, instead of on
his back, and he had, as the result, lifted them not too gently over
the top of his handsome head, and they raised the cry of ugliness,
when he had simply acted in self-defense, as would any other Kentucky
gentleman.

But when “Old John” returned from exercising Creole for the first time,
he remarked: “Ah, he’s a fine fellow; he’s got a mouth as tender as a
baby’s, and a heart as bold as a lion’s. I will be glad to see you on
him, ma’am.”

John loved the horses as much as people love their children. When he
came to us the horses were most all in their prime, but as the years
crept by they aged and weakened together, and I was always amused,
albeit touched as well, to see “Old John’s” fervent efforts to prove to
the world that they still preserved all the nerve, vitality and fire
of youth. And when the time came when the carriage-horses ought really
to have been replaced, “Old John” was a sorrowful man and an anxious
one; and at our faintest suggestion of a change, with frowning brow
and trembling lips, the old man would march stiffly off to the stable,
where he would assure its occupants that “they were mighty fine horses,
and people ought to know it by this time.”

Like most people of affectionate disposition, he was very fond of
keeping anniversaries. All high-days, holidays, and birthdays were
precious boons to him, but they came to be occasions of more or less
anxiety to the family, owing to his utter inability to express his joy
without the help of an explosion. It would seem that the comparatively
harmless running up of flags, backed by explosions of varying degrees
of heaviness, would be a sufficient outlet for any man’s joy. But John
Hickey had still a “card up his sleeve,” so to speak, for the climax of
his love and enthusiasm, the actual perfect flowering of his joy could
only be attained by the aid of blazing tar. A great bonfire of wood was
not to be despised, but tar was the material worthy of his attention,
and when he had diligently sought for and found the most dangerous
possible places, and had put in each a kettle of flaming tar, and could
gallop wildly back and forth from one kettle to another, trying to
prevent a general conflagration, he was the most perfectly happy man I
ever saw.

Not more than ten minutes after his discovery that my birthday fell
on Saint Patrick’s Day he was at the house, asking if the ladies
wouldn’t let him have some “grane material.” That seemed a very vague
order--“grane material”--leaving such a wide margin for speculation as
to what kind of “grane material” he meant. But the only information he
would give was that he just wanted “grane material, dress goods or the
like.”

Thereupon my mother gave him a deep flounce of all green silk, taken
from a retired stage-dress of mine. This he ripped, and pressed, and
sewed at, till, lo! on Saint Patrick’s morning there fluttered from the
flagstaff a brilliant, green silk flag, and I was informed it was there
in my honor, not Saint Patrick’s. In the years that followed I was very
rarely at home on my birthday, but no matter how far away I might be,
early on Saint Patrick’s morning the green silk flag ran swiftly up
the staff. “But mark this now,” as he himself would say, never even
in my honor, never once did that green flag fly above the “Stars and
Stripes.” Honest, old Irish-American that he was, the flag he had
served with arms in his hands was the first flag in the world for him,
and had to take the place of honor every time.

So thoroughly did he identify himself with the family that when
anything particular was going on, he, without invitation, yet equally
without the faintest idea of presuming, always took his share. On
one occasion “Old John” learned that I was expecting a visit from my
husband’s mother, and hearing me speak of the freshness of her looks,
the brightness of her mind, and her extreme activity as something
remarkable in one of her advanced years, his interest was at once
aroused. Knowing his ways as well as I did know them at that time,
I suppose I should have bridled his fine, Irish enthusiasm; but,
truth to tell, I was so busy with my own joyous preparations for her
welcome coming that I gave no thought to the possible doings of my
eccentric coachman. Mamma H---- had heard much of him, and was amused
by his stately salute to her from the box. As we entered the gate we
met welcome No. 1, in the form of a great flag flying from a staff
in front of the house, a thing which had never happened before, and
never happened after that visit. Then “Old John” drove down to the
stable, while we ascended the stairs, to be met at the top, where we
had the least breath to bear it, with welcome No. 2, in the shape
of an explosion so heavy that it shook the color out of the cheeks
and the breath out of the body of the welcomed lady. Seeing her,
after two or three desperate gasps, recover the breath which had
been literally shaken out of her, we looked at one another, and all
exclaimed together: “John Hickey!” Then she understood, and falling
into a chair, she spread out her hands on its arms, laid her head back,
and laughed--laughed till the tears came. When she could speak again,
she remarked: “What a nice, kind old man, to take so much trouble on my
account--but he is a bit noisy, isn’t he, dear?”

In his preparations for this visit “Old John” not only shaved himself
so closely that he must have removed several layers of cuticle
along with his beard, but I had a suspicion that he had shaved the
cobblestones about the stables as well, so shining clean they were,
and so hopeless was it to search for a blade of grass between them.
Everything was in precise order down there, and I guessed at once that
he wished, himself, to show our guest about his domain. At that time he
had received an injury--was very lame, and secretly suffered greatly.
I say secretly, yet we knew all about it, but it was such a shame and
mortification to him to have his condition noticed or spoken of that
we all mercifully pretended ignorance at that period of his troubles.
When, therefore, we went forth for a morning stroll, and were showing
Mamma H---- about the place, I was not surprised to see him hovering
about, watching for a chance to capture the guest, and the way he did
it was very neat. There was a tiny gutter down there; it must have
been fully six inches broad, and as we approached, “Old John,” tall
and straight (what suffering that forced straightness cost him Heaven
only knows), stepped quickly forward, and with impressive politeness
helped the lady across--the gutter being perfectly dry at the time. But
observe, this action placed him instantly in the position of escort
and guide. We all recognized the fact, and took up second fiddles and
played to “Old John’s” first.

Perhaps I am sentimental, but to me it was rather touching to see how
quickly these two old people recognized each other--one a lady born,
the other brought up to servitude, but each touched with the fine
mystery of old age. With all her gentle dignity, he knew she took a
real interest in him, and he gave her a passionate gratitude for her
evident comprehension of the pains and penalties time exacted of him.
On her part, she saw at a glance the honesty, the courage of the man,
and his great, kind heart, and knew him to be as innocent as a little
child of intentional presumption--knew that his forwardness was the
result of his loving desire to do something to give pleasure to the
family. And so it came to pass that they paced about here, there, and
yonder--he showing her the horses, the framed pedigrees of my little
dogs, two or three wonderful lithographs of myself (all framed at his
own expense), and finally presented her with a receipt for a certain
liniment for a shoulder-strain in horses, and, having completed the
round, he brought her back to us with great pride and dignity.

I never knew a man who loved flowers with such tenderness as did this
queer, old coachman. His garden, principally laid out in lard-pails,
tomato-cans, and an occasional soap-box, filled my heart with envy by
its astounding mass of beautiful bloom. Even the gardeners used to
grunt unwilling admission of his wonderful luck. ’Twas all fish that
came to John’s net. Sunflowers or daisies, lilies or morning-glories,
pinks or japonicas--everything he could beg, buy or pick up--he so
craved, so longed for flowers. As a chicken will rush for a crust of
bread, so would “Old John” rush when sick or dying plants were cast
from the greenhouse. He always gathered them up and carried them out
of sight, to make his examinations in private and decide upon the
course of treatment necessary. A bit later he could be seen, happy and
perspiring, filling yet another lard-pail with leaf-mould, etc., a big
dog on each side watching with restless, inquiring eyes each movement,
and sniffing with infinite curiosity at every article used, while John
worked on and conversed affably with them all the time about the nature
of the plant and his hopes for its future. One of his great successes
was the wonderful restoration to life and opulent beauty of a pair of
castaway begonias, almost leafless, entirely yellow, and sick unto
death. They were thrown out bodily, and when “Old John” picked them
up he was greeted with a roar of laughter from the gardener. The old
man was nettled, but he only remarked: “Suppose ye wait a bit now, and
by-and-by I’ll be laughin’ with ye--perhaps.”

A long time after, as he helped me dismount one day, he asked me
“wouldn’t I go down to his room a minute, he wanted to show me
something.”

And there, in riotous health and beauty, stood two rarely fine
begonias, presenting a mass of foliage and a prodigality of bloom only
to be found in “Old John’s” garden. I was frankly envious, to his great
pride. One plant was loaded with great, coral-like clusters. The other
dripped clear, white, waxen blossoms from trembling pink stems, and
wore such an air of united purity and abundance, that, almost without
thought, I exclaimed: “That flower should be dedicated to the Virgin
Mary!” John gave me a startled glance, and said, “Why-y-y, why, madam!
you’re a Protestant!”

“Well?” I asked, “and because I am a Protestant am I to be denied the
privilege of loving and honoring the immaculate mother of our Lord?”

Now, I had long known that there was something wrong between my
poor, old chap and his Church--the servants declaring that he was no
Catholic, or even that he was an unbeliever. “Old John Hickey?” Why,
Catholicism was born in him! It was in the blood of his veins, in
the marrow of his bones. No matter how harshly he might speak of his
Church, nor how long he might neglect his duties, almost unknown to
himself, down in the bottom of his heart the old faith lived, warm and
strong, and it only needed an emergency to make him turn to the Mother
Church as trustingly as a babe would turn to its mother.

I found that “Old John,” in his fancied quarrel with the Church, had
suffered cruelly. He had neglected his duties, and had then been
unhappy because of that neglect. He was very bitter and deeply wounded,
and that day he exclaimed sadly: “It’s hard, madam--it’s hard that a
man should be made to lose his soul!”

“Never say that again, John!” I cried. “There is just one man created
who can lose your soul for you, and that man is John Hickey.”

He looked at me a moment, then putting one forefinger on my arm he
asked, solemnly: “Madam Clara, are you talking as a Catholic or as a
Protestant, now?”

Laugh I had to, though I saw it hurt the poor, bewildered one before
me and belied the tears in my own eyes. But I made answer quickly:
“I’m speaking neither as Catholic nor Protestant, but simply as a
woman, who, like yourself, has a soul, and does not want to lose it!
Don’t look so unhappy! Your Church is beautiful, great and powerful,
but there is One who is greater, more beautiful and more powerful. In
all the ages there has been but One who left the unspeakable joy of
Heaven to come to earth to suffer and toil, to love and lose, to hope
and despair, and finally to give up His perfect life to an ignominious
death, because His boundless love saw no other way to save us from
the horror of eternal death! He paid too great a price for souls to
cast them easily away. There is but one Saviour for us all, be we what
we may! There is but one God whose smile makes Heaven. We travel by
different paths--oh, yes! We wear different liveries, some showing the
gorgeous vestments of the stately Catholic, some the solemn drab of the
Quaker, others black robes. But the paths all lead to the one place,
and the great questions are, do we love the One we seek, and have we
loved and helped those we traveled with? John, make Christ your Church,
and the mightiest cannot harm you!” and, catching up the scant fold of
my riding-habit, I turned and fled from the only sermon I ever preached
in my life, while from behind me came certain familiar sentences, such
as, “Yis, yis! Ye’re fine horses, that ye are, but it’s too soon for
water yit, y’r know, because,” etc., etc., but all spoken in so husky a
voice it might have been a stranger’s.

Anxious, economical old body, from the early fall he began to watch
over the welfare of our house. We, sleeping in it, knew no sooner
of a loosened shutter than did “Old John,” who immediately began a
still-hunt for the offender. But his drollest habit, I think, was the
making of a slow, close search over all the grounds, and even out into
the road, after every storm, seeking for possible slates torn from
the roof. On one of my homecomings from a long season he met me with
a small bill for mending the roof, and he anxiously explained that he
did it, he knew, without orders, but if he hadn’t, it would have got
worse and made a leak and would have ruined thousands of dollars’ worth
of beautiful frocks up there! Please bear in mind that the figures
mentioned are “Old John’s,” not mine.

I assured him it was all right. I thought his face would clear, but no,
not yet. He carefully produced a large, flat package from under his
table, and when the package was gravely opened, there lay a collection
of broken slates. John had saved them all as his witnesses, and he
would take up the best of them and explain: “If it had broken this way,
instead of that way, it might have been replaced, but as it was, do you
think now, ma’am, that I could have done any different?” The second
assurance satisfied him, and his face resumed its usual contented look.

So we all moved our wonted ways until that lovely spring day, when a
pale-faced messenger ran up to the house to say, “Oh, madam! Old John
has had a fall, and he’s hurt bad!”

I thrust my feet into a pair of bed-room slippers, being myself ill at
the time, flung a loose gown about me, and, with my mother, hurried
with all possible speed down to the stable. He was stretched out--not
sitting--in a horribly unnatural position on a chair. His face was
ghastly, his eyes dim, his pulse almost unfindable. I gave him a
stimulant, praying inwardly that I might not be doing wrong. I learned
from the others that he had washed the pony phaeton, and was pushing
it backward to its place when he had slipped and fallen heavily, face
forward, on those cruel cobblestones.

I was convinced he was seriously injured, and leaving my mother
attending to his wants and directing the men how to get him to his
room, I hurried back to the house, wishing at every step that my
husband would come, and hastily telephoned for the doctor. When the
doctor and Mr. H---- were both on the spot and I could retire to the
background, I was surprised at my feeling of profound depression. “Old
John” had had two falls far and away worse than this one, but that look
on his face, it was neither age nor pain--though both were there--that
so impressed me. It was a look of hopeless finality, and accepting it
as a warning, I hastened to inquire if John would see a priest, and lo!
as I had thought, the old faith was warm within him, since he answered
readily that he’d see the priest, if we would be so kind.

But here the doctor interfered, saying he should prefer the patient to
be kept quiet, and to my eager protest made answer: “He is really safe
for the night; the morning will tell whether he is fatally injured or
not, and I promise I will give you ample notice.”

And so I opened my ears to reason, and shut them hard and close against
that still, small voice that cried, “Send! send!” and kept repeating
the two words I had seen written upon that stricken, old face: “The
end! the end!” In a conflict between reason and instinct I have always
found instinct to be right, but, alas! I yielded to reason that time.

Down in “Old John’s” room all had been arranged for the night. The
gardener was to sit up for the next three hours, then my husband would
come down and watch the rest of the night. To the patient this was an
arrangement of such outrageous impropriety and so exciting that it had
seemingly to be abandoned. The lamp was shaded carefully, an open watch
lay on the table by the medicine-bottle, glass and spoon, and all were
neighbored by a pitcher of lemonade.

Lying on the floor at the foot of the bed was the great dog John had
reared from puppyhood, and in the corner, in the seat of the old
rocking-chair, three calmly-confident cats lay sleeping. It was all so
quiet that when the sick man spoke even his weak tones could be heard
plainly.

“Mr. H----, will you be thanking the ladies for their goodness to me,
and if you please, sir, could me room be made proper-like before either
of them might be looking in to-morrow?”

The promise was given. Then, after a moment, he said: “If you please,
sir, would yer be asking the man to keep the door ajar a bit through
the night, that the dog might have his freedom? Yer see he’s used to
it, sir.”

This promise also was given, and John lay quiet for some minutes.
Suddenly his face became troubled, and once more he opened his weary
eyes, and looking up at his long-time employer, he anxiously asked:
“Sir, has anyone had the sense to bring down the flag?”

And said employer, knowing nothing whatever about it, but anxious only
to quiet the patient’s mind, answered, “Yes, the flag is down,” though
at that moment it was hanging limp at the staff.

“John, would you like a drink of water?” asked my husband, finally.

“Yes, if you’ll be so kind, sir.” (Pause.)

“Do you wish for anything else, John?”

“For nothing in the world, sir.” (Another pause.)

Then after a faint movement or two: “Sir, perhaps you’ll be kind enough
to help me raise my right hand?”

The heavy, nearly helpless hand was raised and laid gently across his
breast. He gave a sigh of seeming contentment and closed his eyes.

“Is that all, John?”

“That’s all, sir.”

“Good-night, then, John!”

“Good-night, sir!” he tenderly replied.

And my husband turned and walked quietly out of the room, to make his
report to me, who, anxious and foreboding, was awaiting him. At the
lifting of “Old John’s” hand I burst into tears. Ah! I thought, he
needed no man’s help to lift that brawny right hand of his when he
swore allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, or later
when he took the solemn oath that made him a soldier under that beloved
flag, beneath whose folds he now lay, old and broken! And even as the
thought passed through my mind, a handful of pebbles came dashing
against the window. We both sprang forward, and looking down we saw the
terrified face of the gardener, gleaming white in the moonlight!

In his fright he babbled Scandinavian to us, but finally dragged from
his unwilling throat one English word, “Come! come!”

My husband rushed with him down to the sick-room, and at the moment of
their entrance found everything so precisely as he had left it that he
felt angry at the man’s stupid fright. But before he could speak, three
shadowy, gray forms slipped from the room, and the dog rose slowly,
giving him a sullen, threatening look, then turned, and resting his
heavy jaws on the foot of the bed, he lifted his great voice in one
long, dismal howl, and dropped to his place again upon the floor, where
he lay half growling, half groaning. Fearing that such a noise would
disturb the sick man, my husband hurried to the bedside, and, laying
his hand upon “Old John’s” head, he stood dumfounded, for from the body
he touched life had flown!

It seemed incredible, for he had never moved. His hand lay on his
breast just as it had been placed there. His face wore the same look of
contentment that had come to it when he had said he wished “for nothing
in the world, sir,” and later, when he had added, “Good-night, sir!”
having, at the same time, bidden “good-night” to life and the world.

So, surrounded by the tender care of the family he adored--in
his bed--under the same roof that sheltered the horses he had
loved--beneath the great flag he reverenced--with his dog at his
feet--quiet, peaceful, dignified, such was the passing of John Hickey,
coachman.

We covered him with flowers. Nothing was too good to be offered in
this last gift to the man who had walked so far with us along life’s
highway. I had already ordered mass to be said for him. And then I paid
him my last visit. I went alone, and talked to him, as foolish women
will talk to their dead, and told him how and why I missed sending for
the priest, and while I looked at him, I noticed for the first time
what a fine head he had, the clearness of his profile, and above all,
the calm dignity of his expression. Slowly, like music, there rolled
through my memory certain words of Holy Writ: “He raiseth up the poor
out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that He may
set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.”

And I knelt at the coffin’s side and prayed for this good and faithful
servant and friend. A little later I stood on the porch, and through
blinding tears saw my husband a second time walk with bared head by
“Old John’s” side--a second time escorting him to a home.

So he passed out of my life, but never will he pass from my memory.
Though he left us without “warning,” and asked for no “recommendation,”
we cannot complain, since he “bettered” himself in following the
summons of the Great Master.



Black Watch



Black Watch


That old, black “Watch” believed himself the general superintendent
of John Tyler’s “back-wood” farm, as well as the guardian of his
family, no one could doubt who noticed his busy self-importance, from
the candle-light breakfast till the eight o’clock retirement of the
family. Then, only, he felt free to visit the secret repository of the
few bones he had acquired, or to take a run down the road, and through
the woods, to pick a fight with the only dog of his weight to be found
within a ten-mile radius.

I should not like to say, off-hand, just what breed “Watch”
represented, but he was black all over--was short-haired, heavy-built,
and mastiff-like in head and chest. One ear had been injured in a fight
with city dogs, and it lopped helplessly ever after, while the good ear
seemed doubly quick and perky by comparison.

Now, it was this faithful creature’s clear, brown eyes that were first
to discover something wrong about young Mrs. Tyler. I don’t suppose
he knew she had worked to the breaking point--that five babies, with
barely a year separating one birth-day from another, were enough to
break the high ambition with which she had begun her life, here in the
woods, helping in rough, out-door work, as well as trying to make a
comfortable home for her husband. And now, that another little one was
expected, her songs had ceased, and often, she would, in the midst of
her work, stop and stand, with eyes fixed on vacancy, a heavy frown on
her face that had always before been so bright and kindly in expression.

“Watch,” alone, noticed this. The children were too little, and John
Tyler too busy, and the brown eyes would study the clouded face until
he could bear his trouble in silence no longer, and he would whimper,
and push his cold, damp nose into her hand, but instead of the pat he
expected, he several times received a sharp rebuke that made him lower
head and tail and retire fully five feet from her, where he sat and
rapped out a faint, deprecating “tattoo” on the bare floor with his
tail.

Sometimes he would rush out and find his master, and climb up and put
his paws on his breast and whine, and look back at the house, and John
would say: “What the deuce is the matter, ‘Watch’? I don’t know what
you want!” and the man that “helped” would say: “Oh, he’s got something
tree’d, I s’pose, and wants you to go help him!”

Then the baby arrived, and John Tyler began to understand that an awful
thing had happened. His wife’s mind was certainly clouded--she was, in
country parlance, “not right,” and worst of all she had a mortal hatred
for the poor, little new-comer. She could hardly force herself to give
it the commonest care, and many a time its wails reached the father
beyond the house, and only when he entered would the mother sullenly
take the child and care for it. “Watch,” though he was the most active
of farm dogs, took in the situation at once, and calmly assumed the
position of nurse to the detested baby.

Never before had he been known to get on the bed, but now he jumped on
it every day and curled himself up beside the little unfortunate, and
many a time when she cried he would stand over her and gravely lick her
tiny face until she stopped, to stare at him in wonder.

He did not wholly neglect his other duties. He saw to the proper
watering of the stock, night and morning, taking a few laps of the
water himself, as if he were testing it. He led the horses to the field
to plow, or to the woods “to haul,” as the case might be, running
anxiously ahead to see that the road was clear, and then ambling back
to bark at their heels a few times before making a circle about the
wagon and trotting underneath it a few minutes, to make quite sure the
running gear was all right.

Neither did the two eldest of the children succeed in getting to
the small creek flowing at the back of the house, without his
companionship, though he knew well he would be sent into the water
by them for about a peck of chips, after which they were absolutely
certain to try to ride him home. Still, it had been his habit to watch
the road closely for any traveling dog, at sight of whom he would rush
forth with waving tail, and after due investigation of his quality,
would either challenge him to mortal combat, or invite him inside the
gate to converse about the state of the roads and the scarcity of
rabbits, etc. But when the family trouble began, he gave such pleasures
up and turned all his attention to his people.

So the day came when John Tyler was compelled to go to town, a great
city now, but then a struggling, little town on the edge of a marsh.
He dared not leave his wife alone with the children, so, with great
difficulty, he secured the help of a young girl, for a couple of days,
and then with a big load to take and a long list of things to bring
back for the winter’s comfort, he started, and was greatly surprised
when old, black “Watch,” who always enjoyed his “city” trip so
thoroughly, after escorting him with leaps and barks and short rushes
at nothing in particular for a half mile, suddenly sat down by the
roadside and staid there, regardless of his master’s inviting whistle.

Back at the house, the morning work was no sooner done than the “girl”
was astonished to see Mrs. Tyler come from her room, dressed in her
Sunday gown--a work-basket hanging from her arm--and carrying the hated
baby. She briefly announced that she was going to visit her neighbor.
The “girl” told her she was not strong enough for such a tramp, but she
muttered something about “a shorter way,” which frightened the girl
into reminding her how many wild animals were still seen in the woods,
and Mrs. Tyler had turned such a white, angry face upon her, she had
not dared to speak again, but, looking after her, saw her twice drive
old “Watch” back, when he tried to follow her.

About one o’clock the Brockway family were surprised to see young Mrs.
Tyler at their door, and were amazed when they found the baby was
not with her! “Oh,” she lightly replied, “the girl was at home, she
would look after all the children.” In those days, unless the mother
died, all babes were reared by the simple rule devised by Mother
Nature--hence the pained surprise of these kindly womenfolk at the
all-day abandonment of so young a child.

As the day wore on, Mrs. Tyler grew more and more absent-minded, and
finally her work fell to her lap, and she sat in perfect silence.
Suddenly she clasped her head in her hands, she looked wildly from one
face to another, then down to her lap, when, with a shriek, she sprang
to her feet, and rushing into the next room began throwing on her
wraps, all the time moaning: “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! help me--help me!”

She paid no attention whatever to remonstrances or questions! They
begged her to wait--they would harness up and take her home! She seemed
not to hear them--only shivered and moaned: “Oh, God help me!” and tore
away from them, and out of the house, and one who followed a little saw
her break into a run as soon as she was out of sight of the windows.

The women were greatly frightened, and calling one of the men from
work, sent him after her. He took down a gun and easily and hastily
followed the tracks her feet had left in the soft earth on that damp
November day. Presently he came upon her work-basket, abandoned at
the point where, by climbing the fence, she could leave the regular
road and make a cross-cut through a strip of dense woodland. He frowned
blackly as he picked it up, saying to himself: “She must be clean crazy
to go through there alone! Why on earth didn’t she bring old, black
‘Watch’ with her? He could bluff four times his weight in wild-cat,
fox, snake, or even in bear-skin! But alone and sick! Good Lord!” and
so grumbling to himself, but with eye, ear and hand alert, he followed
the woman, who still kept ahead of him, until, as he was approaching a
sudden glen-like opening in the woods, he was startled by a piercing
scream, followed by the agonized cry of: “Oh, my God! help me! help
me!” and plunging forward, he came upon Mrs. Tyler, who, in hastily
trying to clamber over a fallen tree, had been caught and was held
firmly by her clothing, and though she fought madly to free herself,
he noticed she never took her eyes, for one instant, from some object
beyond him.

Following the direction of her glance--he stood stupefied. Almost in
the center of an opening stood one noble, hickory tree, and on the damp
earth at its foot lay a small, white bundle from which there came, now
and then, faint, hoarse wails of utter exhaustion, while, with sturdy
legs planted stiffly astride of the abandoned baby, stood old, black
“Watch”--a dog on guard!

From the base of his skull to the root of his tail every separate hair
bristled fiercely up. His forehead wrinkled wickedly! His eyes glowed
with a hot, red fire, while he drew his lips back savagely, laying bare
every tooth he owned in the world.

Just as young Brockway was about to speak, “Watch” half-wheeled about
and gave tongue, for the first time, in one snarling, half-strangled
bark, and, following the movement of the dog with his eyes, the young
fellow, for the first time, realized the true horror of the situation,
when in the dense undergrowth opposite he saw a lumbering shape--caught
a glimpse of pig-like eyes--a flash of white, sharp tushes, and heard
a faint grunt from the brownish-black mass, as its clumsy half-trot
carried it into the depths of the forest.

There was one shot sent wild by a trembling hand, and, almost in the
same moment, a loud, long r--r--rip, r--r--rip, r--r--ripping of
clothing and stitches was heard, and a woman’s slender figure went
flying across the opening, and Mrs. Tyler flung herself upon her knees,
crying: “Give her to me, ‘Watch’! Oh, give her to me!”

Yet, before her hand could touch the child, the dog turned upon her
savagely, while she, seemingly beyond all personal fear, threw her
arms about his rigid neck, pressing her agonized, white face against
his black head and fiercely opened, slavering jaws, while she pleaded
humbly: “Forgive me, ‘Watch’! I know I do not deserve it--and you know
just what I meant should happen! But, forgive me, ‘Watch,’ for her
sake! Give her to me, honest, brave, old ‘Watch’! I promise you I
will love her all my life long!”

He held himself very stiff within her circling arms for a moment,
looking hard into her eyes, then suddenly he brightened visibly--gave
her one all-comprehensive caress reaching from chin to brow--and
gently, cautiously stepping backward, left the piteous bundle within
the reach of her hungry hands. ‘Watch’ first looked across at Brockway
and wagged a courteous greeting to him, then he stretched himself, both
fore and aft, and yawned great, loud, throat-revealing yawns that went
far to show how long a time his muscles and his nerves had been kept
taut and on the strain.

Meantime, the first loving kiss, the first sweet mother-kiss that
blesses where it rests, had been given, and under cover of the
all-concealing, matronly shawl of that period, the baby had established
communication with the quick-lunch-counter Dame Nature superintended.

Mrs. Tyler needed young Brockway’s help in getting home, after the
shock she had received, and at the beginning of their long walk his
horror of her was so evident that, in self defence, she told him
part of her story, and with such effect that there were tears in the
lad’s eyes when he tried to realize what those dreadful months must
have been--during which she could not recall ever to have seen the
sun--could not remember any act of her own doing, all that time--save
that one awful act!--was only conscious of one desire--to destroy this
child, because its coming would prevent her husband from making the
regular payment on the farm, and he might lose it and be ruined--so
she watched and waited for a chance to abandon the baby to the wild
animals--that she might thus save the farm and family--and he rejoiced
with her, as she told of how, suddenly at his home, she had had a loud,
rushing sound in her ears, the sunlight had become visible to her, she
had looked at her lap for her baby, and then remembered she had left it
in the woods to be devoured! How she had run--how she had prayed, and
God had been merciful!--and he, Brockway, would not hate and fear her
now--would he? and he would not speak of this any more than he could
help?--and oh, was not black “Watch” a hero to save her darling’s life?
But the boy thought she owed a good deal to the condition of the bear.
It was fat and sleek--well fed, and therefore good-natured. Had it
been rough-coated, thin, hungry, “Watch” would have probably given his
life--and in vain! And then, at her gasping cry at such a suggestion,
he had, with rustic, bashful awkwardness, “reckon’d he was a plumb fool
at talkin’, and would she please just not count that in at all?” and
so had left her safely at her kitchen-door, while “Watch,” dropping
the work-basket he had carried home, escorted the young man a short
distance down the road, then, taking a jaunty farewell of him, gave
himself up to a careful and thorough smelling of apparently the entire
farm and all its implements. Of course it was troublesome, but it was
the only trustworthy way of finding exactly what had been done during
his absence and that of his master.

Late that night, John Tyler, tired, chilled and anxious, drove home,
and was met some distance down the road by old, black “Watch,” carrying
a lighted lantern, and prancing and plunging about so joyously that the
lantern light seemed like some small animal running along the road,
gliding under bushes, even darting up tree trunks occasionally in its
efforts to escape the pursuing dog. The man was surprised, for he
felt that only his wife would have given “Watch” that light, and the
surprise was pleasant to him.

Then he unharnessed, watered, fed and bedded down the weary horses,
eagerly assisted by “Watch,” who seemed to be in absolutely puppyish
high spirits. Why, even when he had with such frantic violence declared
the presence of a burglar in the far corner where the harness hung and
Mr. Tyler was compelled to pull down and show to him the old blanket he
was mistaking for a burglar (a thing he had never seen in his life and
only heard of from a city dog following his master’s buggy the summer
before)--even then he was neither humiliated nor cast down, but had, as
was his wont, slid into the stall of gray “Billy” (the oldest and best
horse on the place), and, standing up by the manger, proceeded, with
both paws, to dig for some sort of small game in “Billy’s” shoulder.
Then the horse laid back his ears, opened his mouth and bit at “Watch,”
who bit back at him--their teeth sometimes clicking sharply together,
to their seeming great delight. And this continued until the low
whistle of the man separated the friends and play-fellows, and master
and dog went to the house together, leaving the closed stable filled
with humble rustic music, the rhythmic, melodious expression of utter
content, of comfort won, that is produced by the crunch--crunch--crunch
of great, white teeth grinding silvery-yellow oats or crushing the
brittle sweetness of the orange-colored corn. Listen! Count! One,
two, three, crunch--crunch--crunch, now a long, deep, soft sigh, then
crunch--crunch--crunch!

At the house John met another surprise. He had expected to hunt about
in semi-darkness for the bread-crock and the butter or molasses, or
anything almost, and take a “cold bite,” and go to bed, but here was
as good a supper ready for him as the limited contents of their very
primitive larder would allow, and oh!--crowning grace of an American
farmer’s meal--it was hot!

Only pork, white, firm, sweet as a nut, crisply and amiably sharing the
same small frying pan with the sliced potatoes! Hot “corn-dodger” and
hotter coffee! But oh, beyond these comforts there was a look in the
wife’s hazel eyes, a clear, bright, straight look that shook his very
heart--it was so like the good days of the past!

When supper was over, and “Watch” was carefully separating his bits
of corn-bread with gravy on them from those bits which had none, and
after the manner of his race, eating the best portions first, Mrs.
Tyler came to her husband and put one arm about his neck, while with
the other she closely cuddled the baby to her side. As John stood
looking down on them, he felt it was for him a blessed sight, and bent
to kiss her; but she avoided the caress, and hiding her face on his
breast, she made a full confession.

Perhaps it was as well that she could not see the pallor of his face
as she told of the hours the baby lay abandoned in the woods, nor the
drops of perspiration on his brow as she described the bear in the
thicket and old, black “Watch’s” furious defence of the helpless little
one. The silence that followed her plea for forgiveness was for a few
moments broken only by “Watch.” He had sat bolt upright before them,
watching their faces closely with his honest, brown eyes, and now he
sniffed and snuffled, as though on the verge of tears, while with
persuasive tail he rapped on the bare floor so loudly that one might
have mistaken the noise for the nailing down of a carpet.

John raised his big, rough hand and smoothed his wife’s hair. The
clumsy strokes were given the wrong way, and each one pulled harder and
tangled worse, until her brown locks were full of what the children
would have called “rats’ nests.” But the awkward caress was sweet to
her, as precious as it was rare. Then he said slowly: “Never do it
again, Betsey! No! no! I don’t mean that! I mean never worry all alone
again. If you are anxious and troubled about the farm, money, or
anything else, for God’s sake, tell me all about it, and let me share
the worry!” and he kissed her, and then looking down on “Watch,” he
said, gently: “Thank you, old man.”

And then I think he did a curious thing, for you must remember “Watch”
was simply a farm dog who had never been taught one single trick in
all his life. Yet now, when he thanked him, John Tyler offered him
his hand. “Watch,” embarrassed and confused, lifted and lowered his
good ear rapidly, glanced at the hand, then at his master’s face,
half-lifted his left foot, dropped it again, and suddenly raising his
right, laid the black paw firmly in the extended hand, and gravely,
unsmilingly, John Tyler held it a moment and repeated: “Thank you, old
man.”

Ten minutes later the wooden bar was across the door, the candle was
extinguished, and darkness, silence and peace descended upon the
little, back-wood home.

When I, the writer was a little girl, a very, very old lady used on
bright, fair days to lead me down the country road, past many white
houses amid their orchards, and point out a great, old hickory tree,
and tell me that was the spot where she had, in her madness, left her
baby, “who is now Mrs. B----,” she would say.

But I always had to hear over again about “Watch,” whom, the old lady
said, “had scratched and fit, and killed ’chucks and snakes, and taken
the children to and from school for eight years after that! And then,
one night, he had got up from his mat and come into the bed-room and
stood by the bed, and had licked the hand of his master, and had gone
back to his mat, and in the morning he was quite dead. Just as if Death
knew he could only get him away from us by taking him in his sleep!”

And I would lean against the kind, old lady, and say gravely: “What a
pity he had to die before I was born--I would have loved ‘Watch’!”

And I love his memory to-day--brave, old, black “Watch”!



Dinah



Dinah


Dinah was not “all things to all men,” but she was everything to one
small girl, and a good many things to other members of the family. I
think I had better say a few words right here about the aforesaid small
girl. She was an only child, and so far beyond mere prettiness as to
be really beautiful. Quick, clever, and high spirited, the slavish
idolatry of her mother had worked her ruin. _Enfant terrible_, she was
a burden to herself, a terror to all those about her; except during
the rare absence of that mother, when, oh! the pity, the shame of it!
the little Marie became obedient, gracious, and charming; as sweetly
angelic as she was beautiful.

To the friends of the family she was generally known as “Tyler’s
vixen,” “Tyler’s malicious imp,” or that “pretty little devil of
Tyler’s,” which seems to throw considerable light upon her every-day
manners and behavior. Now, it’s almost needless to say that this
child’s path through life had been simply clogged with toys, foreign
and domestic, elaborate and simple, with a strong leaning toward the
most expensive in the market. Even from that early period when she
had but two desires on earth, one to drink long and deep at nature’s
fountain, and the other to sleep profoundly, they had forced her to
keep awake long enough to choose between a rattle of solid silver, with
which she could easily have broken her own wee head, or one of gold
and silver and coral; and her anger being great, she rejected both,
and clutched at a soft rubber affair with a ring handle, offered by
the nurse and positively declined by the mother as too awfully common.
And it was at that point I made the small Marie’s acquaintance, being
led in to look at a baby that was so wise that it had selected a
ring-handle rattle, because it knew it would be cutting teeth by and by
and would need the ring; at least that’s what the nurse said. One can
imagine, then, what a veritable army of dolls must have fallen to the
share of this so cruelly spoiled child. Creatures whose waxen beauty
almost broke the hearts of less favored lookers-on; wardrobes complete
and exquisitely perfect--packed in real for true trunks; tiny sets of
jewelry--toilet-sets--parasols--fans--charming carriages for these
gorgeous beings to ride in; blond, brown, and black-haired dreams of
bisque, china, and wax beauty; families--yes, whole families of tiny,
Swiss dolls, China dolls--from one scant inch to ten in height! It was
maddening, and Marie would, as a wee tot, push away the great, prize
doll, so heavy for her little arms, and bury her weary face in the
pillow and whimper for--she knew not what! Poor, little, _blasé_ baby!
Always deprived of the keen delight of wishing for a thing, of the
hope and fear in waiting, of the thrill of seeing possibility become
probability, and then the rapture of possession!

One day this happened in the presence of a woman, a sempstress, who was
sitting by at work. She was poor in pocket, but rich in knowledge of
life, and kind of heart, and she cried: “Oh, you poor, spoiled child!
If you had a nice, clean rag-doll, such as any work-woman’s child may
play with, you would, I warrant, get more pleasure from it than from
any of these big, hard, silk-clothed ladies that you can’t baby or
coddle to save your life! I’ve a good mind--” then she paused, but the
weary, little face, turned from the splendid doll in dull dislike,
brought her to a determination; she went on: “I’ll have to be quick,
though, for her mother would never give her consent, never!” So Marie
was put to sleep, and the sewing-woman left her proper occupation and
worked hard and fast on something else, for this was the day of the
creation of Dinah.

And I often ask myself this question: If that woman of bright
intelligence and good will, acting under the influence of loving pity
for an unhappy child, could yet produce such a blood-chilling nightmare
as Dinah, what under the blue canopy of Heaven could that same woman
produce if her hand were directed by hate or revenge? Nothing short of
an eye-crossing, world-convulsing creation, I’m sure! At all events, I
made a picture of Dinah, to show a friend of Mrs. Tyler, and when she
looked at it, she had a congestive chill, and it was a good picture too.

Personally, I don’t approve of written descriptions of people,
because they never describe. See descriptions of lost people given to
detectives, where height, weight, and possible age are dwelt on with
great particularity, while a large, seedy wart, mounted conspicuously
on the bridge of his nose, or a drooping, partially paralyzed lid
of the right eye is never mentioned. Then again, though Dinah was
no beauty, I felt so much respect for her powers of endurance, her
silent patience under most trying circumstances, that writing a
personal description of her becomes a painful task. However, if you
will go back to your earliest youth (a longish journey for some of
us, yes, but one still easily made), and recall the paper-dolls of
that period, dolls generally cut from the white margin of the evening
paper by the purloined scissors of that member of the family who most
objected to your using them, you will remember those dolls were always
out in very wide paper pantalettes, modest but ugly, chaste but very
inartistic--well, if you will, in your imagination, trim off the
superfluous width of those pantys, so as to make legs instead, you
will have before your mind’s eye an excellent ground plan of Dinah’s
structure.

The linen being doubled, and Dinah being all in one piece, it followed
that she had great strength of limb, and never, even during the stress
and strain of her hardest years, did she lose either leg or arm. Yet,
whenever the spoiled Marie lost her temper, the bisque, wax, and
china beauties surely lost legs or arms or eyes, Mrs. Tyler lost her
head, and poor Mr. Tyler parted with his hopes of heaven, while Dinah
remained whole and still in one piece. When her figure was complete,
she was about three hands high and without any sign of blood or race
about her. One side of the head having been selected for the back,
because it had puckered a little in the sewing, it was carefully but
lavishly inked, a plain solid coat of ink behind, while about the brow
and temples the ink formed those precise scollops, gracefully termed
by the French “water-waves.” Then followed the eyebrows, still of ink,
and of fearful and wonderful drawing, and below them--eyes?--oh, yes!
eyes of course; what else could there be beneath eyebrows but eyes?
But they certainly were peculiar eyes; there was no wearying monotony
about them, but rather a pleasing variety. One was, I remember, quite
nice and round, and looked to the front in an honest, kindly way, while
the other was square enough to have corners, and it looked downward
and inward, right into that spot where, if she had had any features,
her nose would have been. As to the mouth--I suppose I have to mention
it--there was so much of it, but I wish I could be silent; you see,
the linen was roughly woven, and here and there a coarse, heavy thread
appeared, and when the penful of red ink was applied it touched a
coarse thread, which soaked up the ink like a sponge and led straight
across her entire countenance. Of course the red ink could not be
removed, and the situation and the mouth had to be accepted, though it
seemed the more remarkable because of the infinitesimal mouths always
given to the dolls of commerce.

As to her taste in dress, only words of praise can be given to Dinah.
Never, never did I see her decked out in silk, satin, or velvet, and
only once, in the middle of an oldest inhabitant’s coldest winter, did
I see her in merino.

She usually wore print or gingham, while her undergarments, numerous
and beautifully made, were of a material so coarse and strong as to
cause surprise to strangers, but to those who had the misfortune
to know the little vixen, Marie, these coarse skirts, pantalettes
and chemises, stoutly stitched with about thirty-six cotton, were
luminous with meaning, suggesting as they did the dread possibility of
_tantrums_ on the part of said vixen, Marie.

Dinah was complete save for her shoes, which were already cut from a
pair of old kid gloves, and her name. I remember her creator wished
to call her Lillian, but with all the wisdom of my five full-fledged
years well to the fore, I suggested that it would be well for all
of us to leave the christening to Miss Marie, herself. And she of
thirty-five years bent her head to my five, and the name of Lillian
floated back to the limbo from which it had been so briefly called. As
the second shoe was taken up, Marie showed signs of waking, and the
newly created one was thrust into my hands, and I was told to go and
give it to the little tot. But deep down in my soul I said, “Nay! Nay!”
for mark you, I was a canny child, and ten years of life’s experiences
had been crowded into my five of actual time, and hell and bitter
punishments took prominent places in the religion thus far made known
to me. I said to myself therefore: “This child _is_ wicked, for all
she is so pretty, she’s _awful_, and if for her punishment she is to
be frightened to death by the sight of this nameless thing, I don’t
intend to be the instrument used in her undoing!” So, swiftly I crept
to the great crib-bed, and in a moment crept away again, leaving across
her stomach, like a hideous nightmare, that “deed without a name,” and
then I fled to the hall and waited for things, behind the partly open
door; wondering which of the little cups and glasses on a stand by the
bed, holding cooling drinks, would strike the door first. I waited and
watched. Marie’s eyes opened, a scowl instantly darkened her face; in a
querulous tone she asked, “Is my mamma, home, now?”

The voice of the sempstress answered gently, “No, dear,” and a light
like sunshine came into her brilliant eyes; she smiled sweetly and
asked, “Where’s my Cawie?” her name for me, and as near as she could
get to Carrie, and then she felt the weight across her, and the moment
had come!

She lifted the thing, and they were face to face. The child’s eyes
opened wider and wider, the pupils dilated, the lids flickered
nervously, then came a faint, long-drawn “Oh--h--h!” another pause,
broken at last by the announcement, calmly and gravely made, “She eyes,
don’t fit each other!”

Marie had trouble with her personal pronouns, as well as with her
relatives.

Next moment she rolled over and began to scramble into a sitting
posture, during which she all unconsciously pressed the doll tightly
against her little chest. (Oh, for us, happy accident!) for the next
instant, with a shout of surprise and joy, she cried, “Oh, she cuddles,
she cuddles!”

Two words which were to become familiar to every member of the family,
in the time to come, “She cuddles, and she is Dinah, my peshous! Dinah,
always!”

And she who had thought of Lillian rashly exclaimed, “But why on earth,
Dinah?”

And received for answer, “Caus’, I say so, and caus’ my mamma jess
hates the Dinah song.” A so-called “comic,” named “Wilkins and Dinah”
that Mrs. Tyler raged at when her young brother used to sing it within
her hearing.

So it was pure malice that prompted “Tyler’s little vixen” to name her
new treasure “Dinah”! Then following that rule of action familiar to
all small girls with dolls since before the building of the temple, she
turned Dinah upside down, that she might know quantity, quality, and
condition of her undergarments, and when she found that Dinah possessed
that final charm, that very crown of happy dolldom, the ability to have
her clothes put on and off, to be dressed and undressed at will, the
measure was full, her joy complete.

She turned her Dinah right side up again and kissed her fondly. At
that sight my short legs basely betrayed me, and I sat down with
unnecessary emphasis the deaf might have heard. Instantly the cry
arose: “You, Cawie, Cawie, come here and see my ‘peshous Dinah’!”

I rose and obeyed. Shortly after, when the “peshous one” had been
properly shod, and Marie was dressed for tea, we went forth to walk
Dinah; but Marie, recalling the three handsome dolls sitting bolt
upright in the parlor, suddenly commanded me to return and make faces
at them, “real bad faces, too, for being so stiff and big they couldn’t
cuddle.”

But I suggested that she should wait till the gas was burning, and
then let the dolls see Dinah, and with malicious joy she waited. And
so began the fellowship between those two. Straight into her warm and
tender, little heart the vixen took her “peshous Dinah” and gave her
a love that could not be shaken by a mother’s angry tears, a father’s
bribery, or the contemptuous sneers of friends and neighbors--a love
that lasted so long as Dinah’s self. The effect she produced on people
at first sight was remarkable. There was Mr. Tyler, for instance; a
good-looking man, very quiet, very gentle and very kind. He never
drank, yet the first time he saw Dinah he thought he did, and he was
afraid to kiss his wife, lest she should think so, too; and I saw him
secretly touch Dinah once or twice, to make sure she was real.

Marie’s young uncle, too, he was preparing for college, and though he
was gay and full of fun, his conduct was excellent, and he was very
strict about Sunday observances, but when he met Dinah he exclaimed:
“Well, I’ll be d--d!” Perhaps that was not Dinah’s fault. He might
have been thinking of his future state, and had just arrived at that
conclusion.

Perhaps the most disagreeable occurrence was when the minister,
Presbyterian, called, and not having his glasses on, sat himself down
heavily upon Dinah. He instantly sprang up to remove the foreign
substance he felt beneath him, and meeting the malevolent eye of
the “peshous one,” he exclaimed, in a startled tone: “God bless my
soul!--er--er--I should say--what on earth?”

But with a bound, the vixen, Marie, was at his side, crying: “How dare
you, you too fat, bad old man; you sat on my Dinah and swor’d, you did!”

With a crimson face he answered: “Oh, no; oh, no! my dear little child,
you are mistaken. I----”

But Marie stamped her foot at him and cried: “You swor’d! you swor’d!”
upon which tableau entered Mrs. Tyler.

Gradually, however, Dinah came to be accepted by the family, and it
was surprising to see how useful she became to its various members.
Mr. Tyler, who did a good deal of office work at home, used her almost
continuously as a pen-wiper. Instead of having to pick up a tiny round
of cloth and carefully fit the pen to a narrow fold, Dinah allowed a
largeness and freedom of movement very pleasant to him. Just a swipe
at her in almost any direction, and the pen was clean.

The young uncle, who delighted in the comfort of a rocking-chair, yet
detested its movement, used Dinah as a sort of brake, placing her under
the back of a rocker at just the right angle to prevent action, while
many a time the somewhat flighty housemaid, having forgotten to dust
the “what-not” (indispensable adjunct of the parlor of that date),
would snatch up Dinah and dust all the shelves and their contents with
her, fitting her arm or her leg into the depths of “To a Good Girl,”
or “From Chelsia,” or “Friendship’s Offering”--these cups and mugs,
with their roses and posies and fine gold lettering, being veritable
dust traps, as were the sea shells, with the Lord’s Prayer cut on their
surface, and the parian-marble Rebeccas standing by salt-cellar-like
wells, and of such was the bric-a-brac of that day, you know--the day
of wax things under glass shades.

The entire family used the back of Dinah’s head as a pin cushion, while
again and again I have seen her act as an iron-holder, when a sash
ribbon or bit of lace had to be pressed just there in the sitting-room.

But it was as a weapon of defence that she got in her really fine
work. Grasped firmly by the legs and directed by impassioned energy
toward a wisely selected point, Dinah was capable of giving a blow
as surprising to witness as it was stunning to feel. Practice makes
perfect, and so it came about that that vixen, Marie’s, aim was so
quick, so steady and so true, that she landed with Dinah right on the
intended spot every time. She paid no attention to rules about the belt
line, striking below it with as much vigor as above it. There was never
any clinching, because no one would come near enough for that, but I
have known her to strike a blow with Dinah hard enough to rupture Mrs.
Tyler’s agreement with the cook.

Some months after Dinah’s arrival I became recognized as a sort of
family lightning-rod, since I had the power of deflecting the fluid
wrath and deviltry of Marie’s temper and leading it to comparatively
harmless points.

She was very fond of me, partly because I was older than she was, and
partly because I found so many new things for her to play. Everything I
saw away from home was served up at once as a play for Marie. Oh, that
was a great occasion when I saw a lady faint in a store! Dinah had to
faint so many times in one day that she was wet clear through her whole
body, from her many revivings, and was in such a disgraceful condition
from the brandy we gave her that, being utterly unable to stand, she
had to hang on the clothes-line several hours before she could be
endured in a warm room, and I remember Marie asked me if the lady had
smelled like that.

Mr. Tyler was not a very strong man, not sickly--what a hateful
word--but rather delicate; in fact, though he never _said_ so, he had
nerves, and it must have tried them severely when he came to breakfast
and had to face Dinah, sitting in the middle of the table, with her
back against the big family castor, and her one straight eye fixed upon
his shrinking countenance. The skeleton at the banquet never made half
the effect the “peshous ’un” made, for in the first place the skeleton
was crowned with roses, and there were bright lights and a small
river of wine to help the guests forget the presence of their ghastly
companion; but no skull that was ever bleached had a smile to compare
with Dinah’s, which crossed her entire face and would have gone on and
met at the back of her head had it not been stopped by her side seams,
where her front and her back were sewed together. There were no roses
on Dinah and no wine to dim her effect, and poor Mr. Tyler chipped his
egg and crumbled his roll, but, with that eye upon him, got no further,
and merely taking his coffee, he fled. The rest of us got a side or
back view, so we did not suffer so much. This went on until dyspepsia
developed. I have said before, I was very fond of Mr. Tyler, and I
began to look for some way to help him. One day, at table, the uncle
had nearly betrayed a surprise that was being prepared for the little
Marie, and Mrs. Tyler reached out her foot and pushed him to enforce
silence, a movement at once discovered by that acute young person, who
thereupon made a scene, and thereafter passed much of her time, at
meals, hanging head downward from her chair, trying to see under the
table that she might (in her own language), “see who kicked who,” a
habit which caused many upsettings of things and much discomfort, but
one to which she clung until I made a suggestion which found favor in
her eyes.

“Ah!” said I, “if Dinah belonged to me I’d make her do something
lovely!” “Oh, what?” cried the little vixen, and after much coaxing I
spoke, with the blessed result that for over two weeks, at breakfast,
dinner and tea, Dinah, the dreadful, was carefully placed _under_ the
table to watch “who kicked who.” “Ah!” cried Marie, “yer can’t wink yer
eyes at each other, ’cause I is looking at yer all! Yer can’t kick each
other, ’cause Dinah’s looking at yer hard, and if yer spell things,
I’ll--I’ll--I’ll just hold my breff and die! so now, I’ll have to know
everyfing!”

But Mr. Tyler ate his egg and toast, and smilingly drank a _second_ cup
of coffee mornings, and he patted my shoulder and gave me a big, red
Canadian penny, which Marie, being jealous, took from me and threw down
the well, while the young uncle started the lightning-rod idea, saying
“that I had diverted Marie’s deviltry from the top of the table to the
bottom, where it was harmless.”

I will mention one episode in Dinah’s life, and that will serve to
indicate pretty fairly what the others were like. I always call it the
hail-stone episode. Late one afternoon a violent storm had come on.
We were all frightened, and poor, little, spoiled Marie was quivering
from head to foot with nervous terror. Presently the rain turned to
hail, great lumps of ice came dashing against the windows, and “crack!”
went a big window-pane, and in fell the pieces of glass. Again came the
rushing rain, and the water falling on a table covered with books, the
housemaid caught up _something_ and thrust it into the opening in the
broken window. Alas, and alas! that “something” was Dinah! The “peshous
un”! Dinah the beloved! There she was, her cross-eyes looking at us
from between her glove-shod feet, like a contortionist at a circus,
while her doubled body was thrust out into the hail and rain outside.
And there, all unknown to us, she remained for a long, long time, and
the thunder rolled and the house shook till the spoons rattled and
tinkled in their holder. And suddenly Marie lifted up a marble-white,
little face, and putting out her hand to my mother, said, faintly,
“Aunty? (courtesy title only) tell God, please stop! I’m frightened!”

The awful dazzle of lightning followed her words, and again she
buried her face, laying her tiny hands over her ears, to keep out
the terrifying sounds. A lamp was lighted, and they began to undress
her and prepare her for bed, simply to divert her attention from the
storm. She was very silent, but she shook violently, and her eyes were
strained and wild-looking. Suddenly the heavens seemed to flame! The
crash that followed left the ears ringing! We all cried out, but the
vixen gave a bound and stood in the middle of the room; her eyes fairly
blazed; she raised them to the ceiling, and in a shrill voice she
cried, “Stop! stop, I tell you! I’m frightened!”

Again a dazzle of lightning, again a roar of thunder, and in an instant
that little bundle of nerves had darted to the hall, and with both
hands succeeded in turning the knob (the wind did the rest), and to our
unutterable horror, we saw her little, white-robed figure dart down
the steps, and standing on the bit of rain-soaked lawn, mad with rage,
she lifted her challenging face to the black sky, and stamping her
bare, little foot, she cried, against the wind, “How dare you, God? I’m
little Marie Tyler, and I told you I was afraid! How dare you? a great
big God like you, frighten a little girl like me?” and then she was in
her mother’s arms, and was carried into the house dripping as from a
river, and spitting and hissing like an enraged cat.

The storm ceased at last, at least the _outer_ storm; there was another
coming, for where was my “peshous Dinah”?

Everyone looked, looked high and low, looked until we got to the place,
where we stood and looked stupidly at one another, and then there came,
in a strained whisper, from Marie: “What’s that?”

She pointed at a dripping bundle sticking in the broken window-pane.
Mrs. Tyler screamed outright! Those cross-eyes looking at her from
between those stubby feet. There was a wild _abandon_ in the attitude
that shocked her! But her scream was as nothing compared to the
succession of shrieks that broke from the throat of “Tyler’s pretty
little devil”! “Who? a--a--ah! Who? a--a--ah! Who? a--a--ah!” she
screamed after each “Who?”

At last she finished, “_Who_ put my ‘peshous Dinah’ in that hole? She
shall be killed, all dead! and put in a hole, her own-self! She shall!!
She shall!!!” She caught up a glass from the table and dashed it on
the floor, breaking it in pieces. “Hurry! or I’ll break everything, I
will!!” And when Dinah was pulled out and straightened, words of mine
fail to describe her appearance!

Marie held loving little arms out to receive the dripping stop-gap,
saying: “We’ll go to bed, right now, my ‘peshous Dinah’! Never mind
your nighty, you’ll get cold! Come, and we’ll cuddle up, until you are
all dry again!” And then the storm broke! It was simply impossible
that Marie should be allowed to go to bed with that dripping bundle
pressed in her arms, and it was equally impossible to make her obey
or listen to reason. It was a wretched scene. The mother knelt to the
child she had ruined, calling her, “her angel, her star, her flower,”
and Marie gave her a kick or a push at each word, and swore oaths that
a mule-driver would hesitate before ejecting in a row. Where had she
learned them? Who knows? Who ever knows how a beloved child learns
evil? But on and on went this battle, until at last, worn out with the
past fright and the present rage, the little vixen fainted.

Mrs. Tyler sent for the doctor, and while waiting his coming, and
after Marie’s recovery of consciousness, she said to me: “Carrie, can’t
you think of some way to keep that awful doll away from my darling
to-night? Try, child, try!”

I thought hard enough to turn my hair gray, it seemed to me, before I
was gladdened by an idea. I went to the door and beckoned Mrs. Tyler,
and asked her, in a whisper, two or three questions about an article
she had been reading aloud when the storm arose--an article about
the water-cure, then the very newest fad. She gave me the desired
information, and thus armed, I stole to Marie’s side, and with great
seeming secrecy, told her I had a lovely new play, if only her mother
would allow us (poor Mrs. Tyler!) to play it.

Rather languidly, she answered: “To-morrow, Cawie!”

But I said: “To-morrow would be too late, because Dinah had to be awful
wet to play this game.”

At once she was all eagerness, and commanded me to explain. And so it
came about, that the “peshous un” was stripped under loving eyes and
rolled in a wet dinner-napkin, and then “packed” in wet sheets, all
according to “Hoyle,” or the water-cure doctors. And I engaged to give
her several drinks of water during the night, and assured Marie that
she would find her “peshous Dinah” all right in the morning, and Marie
laughed and talked, while I did the packing. And the doctor found her
with a high pulse and red cheeks, but the wet doll was not in her arms.
She refused to show her tongue, because she said the last time she put
out her tongue at him, he was mad about it, which was very true.

He gave her a powder, she went to sleep, and the rest of us humbly
thanked our Creator.

Dinah was snatched out of her “pack” and put in the warm oven to dry,
while the other members of the family slept the sleep of the weary and
the worn.

Three entire years passed in alternate peace and strife. Acting in
the interest of decency and cleanliness, Mrs. Tyler had covered Dinah
with fresh linen several times. Little Marie had grown taller, more
beautiful, and more impish; while Dinah still reigned supreme, though
almost every bureau in the house had in its bottom drawer a wax doll or
two, rolled up in towels.

For some time before the great disaster, we had been tormented by cats.
Why our garden should have been selected for their mass-meetings, I
can’t imagine. We lived in a fashionable quarter; there was an air of
eternal Sabbath brooding over our heavily shaded street; a few lap-dogs
resided thereon, but no one stooped to cats. Yet night and cats
descended upon us together.

Mrs. Tyler raised many herbs for kitchen use, but after the arrival of
the cats the herbs entered the kitchen no more. The back garden was
destroyed.

They were a musical as well as warlike race, and their head notes,
chest notes, and stomach notes, were poured forth with passionate
ardor, but I never, never learned to distinguish the tenderest love
song from the wail of complete despair, though I was quick to recognize
the gage of battle. I also learned that the bitterness and ferocity of
an engagement was not to be measured so surely by the loss of blood as
by the loss of fur.

But let me stop right here, and not weary the reader with what I
know about cats--tribal, nomadic, domestic; their habits, laws, and
superstitions; their sign-language, being the very same that was
taught to the tail-chasing, sacred kittens of Cheops and the first
Pharaoh--and only state that in the study of feline folklore, I have
known of a student becoming so absorbed that he forgot everything on
earth, even the “lore,” in his mad pursuit of a feline.

Now, one evening, Mr. Tyler brought home an old friend, whom he asked
to dine and pass the night. The old friend had with him a small dog,
who also dined and passed the night. The gentleman was a bachelor then,
and if he is alive and sane, I have the biggest and ugliest silver
dollar in the world to bet against a crooked hair-pin, that he is a
bachelor now. The dog was small, and it had hair--lots of hair--and
judging by sight alone, that was all he had. His master claimed that
he could see a difference between fore and aft, between head and tail.
Well, perhaps he could when the dog was awake, but ’twas base boasting
to make any such claim when he was sleeping. He was named “Bolivar,”
not after the military gentleman, but in memory of his youthful and
almost fatal attempt to swallow whole one of those very large, hard,
round candies boys call “Bolivars.”

This four-legged guest had made that thing adored of men, “a record,”
and it was for killing rats. Now you show me a dog with a record for
killing rats, and I’ll show you a dog who has broken the record killing
cats. It’s perfectly natural; he has to kill the cats or there would
not be rats enough to make a record with.

Bolivar was graciously received by Marie, who knew but little of dogs,
and who asked “why he bit his own back when everybody’s legs were in
his reach,” adding, “If I was a dog I’d bite somebody else every time;”
which was pure and unadulterated truth, I’m sure.

In the forenoon of that day, “Tyler’s pretty devil” had favored us
with one of her wildest tantrums. The servant, Norah, had spilled a
little hot tea over Dinah’s foot, and Marie had gone into a very frenzy
of rage. Seizing Dinah by the legs, she had thrashed the girl out of
the room and the house; had with one sweep of Dinah’s body cleared a
small table of every article it held; had cut her own hand; had held
her breath until she was blue; had indeed furnished her whole family
with healthy but rather unpleasant exercise for both mind and body,
and when she had so stirred her monkeys up that we each chattered our
teeth while we swang madly from our own particular pole, she had
suddenly calmed down and requested me to bandage Dinah’s scalded foot,
and proceed with her to the garden, there to play “sick lady in the
country.”

By some chance there had sprung up, at the very foot of the garden, a
large weed, a most uncommon growth amid such surroundings; a great,
big, coarse-leafed, pinkish-topped thing, a sort of pretty tramp from
the woods or fields; I think it’s called milk-weed, though to Dinah it
was usually an orange orchard, while only occasionally it became a pine
forest in which we lost ourselves and endured great hardships.

I remember it was an orange orchard that day, and after a long play,
when Marie was called to dress for dinner, she advised Dinah to remain
where she was, saying, “When dinner is over I’ll bring you some
dessert.”

So I gave Dinah a book to read, and we left her. We both looked back,
Marie many times, and always kissing her hand. And so I most often see
her in my memory, the “peshous one,” I mean, sitting stiffly against
the trunk of her orange tree, one foot bandaged (without the formality
of first removing her boot), an open almanac on her lap, whose
piteous, gray, old jokes were to entertain her during our absence, her
water-waves trim and neat, her round eye mild and pleasant, her smile
almost meeting behind--so I saw her that last day.

The dinner was over; it had not been what you might call an hilarious
affair. There seems to be something in the blood of wives at enmity
with _uninvited_ guests, and Mrs. Tyler was cold as ice and as bitter
as a black frost.

When dinner was nearly ready, Bolivar sneaked out to the kitchen, where
the cook had given him a large, square meal, feeding him from her own
hand, as she told me afterward in confidence, until “he was that full
his eyes bulged, Miss!” And in that dreadful state he waddled back to
the dining-room, and when dinner was over, sat on end by his master
and laid beseeching, hypocritical paws on his knee, and was fed again,
after which he was in a condition bordering on apoplexy, and quite
unfit to play “soldier,” or “dead-dog,” or do anything in fact, save
retire to the flyless shadows under the piano and there sleep, audibly.
Marie was so interested in Bolivar and so busy flirting with his master
(she was a coquette at one year), that she actually forgot Dinah, who
still sat in the orange orchard.

The bare idea of a dog sleeping in her house filled Mrs. Tyler with
such indignation that other arrangements had to be hastily made for
Bolivar’s accommodation.

Some former tenants had left a kennel behind them. It was brought from
the wood-house, a bit of old carpet put into it, and the sleepy Bolivar
was hitched to it with a piece of cord. After two or three strangling
efforts to follow his master, kennel and all, into the house, he
finally settled himself, and we all separated for the night.

We were all asleep--and then we were all awake again! No, it was not
the “crack of doom” we heard, but if you were to break one boiler
factory into a foundling asylum and beat them together, you might get
an idea of the kind of noise that aroused us. I murmured “Cats,” and
tried to slip back into the sweet land of “Nod,” but there came a new
noise. It had a wooden sound. What was it? My mother said “Is the
wood-pile falling down?” But it sounded to me as though the shed was
jumping up and down. Suddenly we gasped, “The dog! The kennel!”

Next instant the cord broke and with an ear piercing “ky--i, ky--i!”
Bolivar set out to build up another record. It was fearful! The carnage
was great, but the noise was maddening. Our nearest neighbor came to
his window and made very, _very_ personal remarks about people who
would keep a dog where they knew cats came. This gentleman’s head
was like a large, china egg, for baldness, and I think the extreme
hairiness of Bolivar added bitterness to his words.

Had Bolivar been satisfied to kill his cats once only, his record would
have been bigger, but he had a habit of killing his victims several
times, going back to them and shaking and tossing them and crunching
their spines with his front teeth, and while this habit had the
advantage of making his cats and rats very dead indeed, it lost him a
good deal of time.

I slipped out of bed and went to the window and looked out, just as
the triumphant Bolivar tore around the house, dragging his prey and
kicking up the grave as he ran. Just beneath me he paused to re-kill
his victim, shaking it viciously, tossing it over his head, and with
a goatlike spring catching it again. Then, taking it at the head, he,
with savage growls, began nipping it down its back. At that moment I
heard the stairs creak, and some one softly opened the front door, and
then Mr. Tyler’s friend came into view.

He was dressed, or--that is to say--er--er, well, he wasn’t undressed,
quite. His feet were thrust into a pair of heelless slippers, and I
experienced a feeling of some surprise at the number of strings I could
see dangling from him. There were two broad, white ones hanging down
behind from the waist-line, and at least four pieces of white tape
trailed along behind his bare heels, which looked in the moonlight like
a pair of fine onions--moonlight always has that strange, transforming
power.

Yes, though his dress was careless and simple to a degree, still it
answered quite nicely for two o’clock in the morning, though ten hours
later it would have landed him in the fine, new insane asylum waiting
for gentlemen dressed that way.

He conversed with Bolivar a few moments, and his gestures, while a
trifle angular, were really very impressive and expressive. What he
said seemed to fill Bolivar with utter amazement, and finally with
shame and vexation. I am positive that, had he had a tail, it would
have been but a wagless sagging down, and vanity of vanities. As it
was, he could only bow his head and meekly follow his master, carefully
stepping on all four of the trailing tapes, whenever he could, and
making a snap now and then at the broad, white things dangling from the
waist-line.

Once more was he put into the kennel and tied, this time with a
clothes-line, which might have tried the strength of the best steer
in the cattle market. Once more peace descended upon us. Bolivar had
earned fresh laurels to rest upon. The live cats had gone away, and
the dead cats kept perfectly quiet, which was all one had the right to
expect of them.

It was yet very early morning when I heard Norah at Mrs. Tyler’s door,
knocking, and crying in a tearful voice for her to “get up fur huvvens
sake!”

She also called upon such a very large number of Saints to come to her
help that I am sure the house could not have held them had they laid
aside their symbols and things and answered to her call. I suppose they
felt that everybody’s business was nobody’s business, so none of them
responded.

Mrs. Tyler was unmistakably vexed as she opened the door, and Norah was
unmistakably startled, for Mrs. Tyler not only kept her teeth in a cup
of water over night, but, to make it wave, she plaited her front hair
in many, many tight, little braids (that was before crimping-pins),
which looked like nothing so much as a bunch of nicely cleaned and
neatly tied rats’ tails.

“What is the meaning of all this to-do?” asked the lady.

“Oh, Mu’m, its all that divil’s own dog’s doin’s! Him that I fed with
me own two hands, last night, till his shape was gone intirely! And now
she’s tored to pieces! The Saints be good to us!”

“Do you know,” cried Mrs. Tyler, “what you are saying!”

“I do the same!” replied Norah. “I’m a’saying that that dog ‘Bullinger’
has tored her to pieces, and she’s as dead as any mack’rel!”

“Who is dead, Norah?”

“Why, Miss Dinah, poor thing!”

“What!” Mrs. Tyler stepped outside and quickly closed the door behind
her. She took Norah by the wrist, gave her a shake, and asked in a low
tone: “What’s that about Dinah?”

With a burst of excited tears, Norah repeated: “She’s dead, M’um, as
dead as any of them nasty cats down there! And I thought I’d come and
tell you, M’um, and if you please, M’um, before the young lady finds
it out, I’ll just be leavin’ me place! No M’um, you needn’t give me no
character! I’ll just be goin’ peaceable-like, without any character at
all!”

And long and earnest were Mrs. Tyler’s entreaties, and many were the
promises she made of protection from the wrath to come, ere Norah could
be induced to light the kitchen fire, her first unwilling step toward
getting breakfast ready.

Then, white and trembling, Mrs. Tyler called my mother. They went
forth and saw Norah had told the truth. They returned and held a
consultation. Mrs. Tyler was for mad haste and another Dinah! Mother
was positive the deception could not be carried out on such short
notice, and a discovered attempt would add fury to the storm.

But Mrs. Tyler insisted, and together the two women worked wildly, in
the hope of recreating Dinah. With dripping brows and trembling fingers
they were fastening on her boots, when shrill and clear came the cry of
“Dinah! Where’s my peshous Dinah? I want her!”

Truly we all wanted her at that moment!

I was scrambling into my clothes as fast as I could, when through the
open door I caught a glimpse of little Marie; the next instant there
was a cry of indignation, followed by the words: “What’s that? What
ugly fool thing’s that--dressed up just like my Dinah? Who’s been here
already?”

And Mrs. Tyler tremulously cooed that “No one has been here,
darling--it is not even time for breakfast yet.”

Marie, with curled-up, contemptuous lips, held the intended deceiver
out at arm’s length and slowly and derisively put out her spiteful,
red tongue at her--then suddenly caught her by the heels and hurled
her out of the window, remarking: “You nasty, little, ugly beast! I
hope the ’hoppers and the ants’ll get all over you, and fleas in your
stockin-legs, too! And who ever brought you here shall be pinched, all
black! So there! Now, where’s Dinah?”

A pretended search followed, till suddenly Marie remembered she had
left Dinah out in the garden. “Oh, Cawie! Cawie!” she cried, “I
forgotted her, my own, peshous Dinah, and she’s been reading all
night, without her dinner! Oh, Dinah! Dinah!” and away she started
to the porch, on her way to rescue her beloved. And then the old
struggle, between mother and child was renewed. In her foolish endeavor
to deceive Marie a little longer, Mrs. Tyler told falsehood after
falsehood. Now it was a curious thing about the vixen, that she was
utterly truthful, for her mother was a prolific, though inconsequential
liar--her lies so utterly lacking cohesive power that they never were
known to sustain one another, and Marie often berated her mother for
her wrong-doing.

Now nearly distracted, the child suddenly turned to me, asking: “Cawie,
Cawie, has my Dinah fallen down the well?”

I shook my head, and answered, “No, Marie, dear,” while in the same
moment Mrs. Tyler quickly exclaimed: “Yes, my sweet, she is in the
well, but the man will get her out, and to-morrow you shall have her in
all new things!”

Marie glared at her a few seconds, then stamping her foot, cried, “How
dare you, you so wicked mamma! Stop, now! Stop, I say; you make lies
every day, you do. Go do your hair up right, and sit in the parlor and
make lies, and let me find my dear Dinah. Cawie, will help me!” and as
she got through the door and into the dew-wet garden, Mrs. Tyler cried
out: “She’s all right, she is in--in--the oven getting dry. You can
have her soon, only my angel, come and get dressed now!”

But, with a cry of delight, her angel tore out of her hands and darted
into the kitchen, and before Mrs. Tyler could signal, much less speak
to Norah, Marie cried: “Norah, what’s in the oven?” and that honest
bond-maiden answered, “Nothin’, Miss, its not hot enough for biscuit,
see!” and she threw open the door, and into its black maw disappeared
the child’s bright hopes. She stood quite still, and looked first at
one and then at another. I was crying quietly, but I watched her and
saw her face growing paler and paler. At last she took a fold of my
mother’s dress in her hand and said: “Auntie, is my Dinah dead?”

Before she could lift her bent head to answer, Norah, with a mighty
roar, burst forth: “She is, Miss, she’s dead and killed, and all tored
up, and there’s nothing left of her!”

Poor, little soul! Both hands clasped convulsively. That curious quiver
came to her eyelids, and the movement in her slender throat showed that
she swallowed dryly at something--sorrow is always so hard to swallow!
Then she flung out her arms, and giving a cry that pierced like a
knife, she flung herself out of the kitchen, and, of all, places in
the house, made straight for the dark store-room, off the dining-room;
she who feared but two things, lightning and utter darkness, now sought
the latter, and closed the door behind her, where we heard her little
hands feeling for some catch or bolt to fasten it, but luckily, there
was none. Mrs. Tyler was nearly wild; the pantry was very small,
utterly dark, and nearly airless. In it were kept barrels of flour and
sugar, boxes of tea and bags of coffee, and closed, it was black as
night. She prayed, pleaded, flattered, promised, and to each prayer
came a kick at the door, and the threat, “If you touch the door, I’ll
make me dead! I will! I will!”

Everyone stood helpless before this small child’s power to harm
herself. Mrs. Tyler denounced Norah for telling. Other members of the
family begged at the door to speak to Marie a moment, just a moment, in
vain; yet her voice was distinctly weaker, and all were frightened.

“I must bring her out by force!” declared Mr. Tyler.

And then, for the last time, I was called upon to play “lightning-rod.”
The uncle said, “Let Carrie try,” and then all hands were on my
shoulder, pushing me forward, and before I knew it I was alone. I on
one side of the door, stupid and idealess, and Marie on the other side,
heartbroken and relentless. I was quite a big girl then, but I’m afraid
I had my finger in my mouth.

I tried to think, but I didn’t; on the contrary, I discovered a little
nail-hole in the door that had been filled up with putty, and then,
faint and low, almost in a whisper, I heard, “Oh, Cawie, Cawie! Oh, my
Dinah!”

And I sprang to the door, opened it, and went in, and the next instant
I was sitting on a bag of salt, and poor Marie was across my knees,
sobbing as though her heart would break. I had left the door part way
open, and as I heard some one cautiously approaching, I wildly waved my
half-laced boots at them to keep away. I had not said a word; I only
sat smoothing her silky, auburn hair, while she cried, and cried, and
cried, and every now and then gasped, “She’s gone, all gone, every bit
of her! Oh, my Dinah!”

But when she once added, “and I can’t do anything for her in the
world,” my idea at last arrived, hurried, out of breath and belated,
but still an idea, and I eagerly said, “Oh, Marie, dear, there’s a
little of her left, enough to make a beautiful funeral!”

She shook her head, saying, “Got to have their bodies to make funerals.”

“But,” I went on, “don’t you remember the poor men your papa saw all
blowed up by the engine? There wasn’t much left of them, but they had
funerals, every one of them.”

She turned her tear-wet face toward me, and asked, dully, “How much was
left?”

“Oh,” I replied, with an airy assumption of knowledge worthy of my
elders, “bits of skin, and little bones like teeth, you know, and
broken ‘spenders.’”

“But,” objected Marie, “Dinah’s teef hadn’t _growed_ yet, and she
didn’t _wear_ spenders,” and her sobs broke forth anew.

I reassured her by telling her there was quite a large piece of Dinah’s
flannel petticoat left, and over half of her face (including all of her
indestructible smile), and perhaps we might find some more bits if we
looked, and we could put them all in a little, white sheet, in a true
box (a wooden box), and truly bury her just like any other person.

The poor, little vixen sat up and put her hair from her eyes and
listened--she began to be interested--then the tears slipping down her
wan cheeks, she stole her arm about my neck and whispered: “Cawie,
where has the _inside_ Dinah gone?--the--the now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep
Dinah?”

I was silent; and I could feel the trembling of her body increase as
she waited for an answer. Then she wailed: “Oh, Cawie! tell me! tell
me!”

Poor baby! who wanted her doll to be immortal as herself! I dared not
say she was in Heaven, so without an idea of what Paradise meant, I
calmly told her that “Dinah was in dolls’ Paradise”--and that was the
only time I ever knew her to be called a doll.

“What’s that?” asked Marie, eagerly.

“Why,” I answered, “it’s a lovely, clean, sweet place, where dead
dolls wait till their owners get dead too, and call for them on their
way to Heaven.”

May I be forgiven--but I certainly had a fine, able-bodied imagination
in my youth.

“Oh,” cried Marie, and she put her little lips to mine and kissed me
sweetly, “Oh, Cawie! I’se glad, and I do hope she won’t get out and get
lost--she gets lost very easy, you know--before I get dead and go for
her,” and she took my hand and we came forth from the store-closet, and
at sunset, in a deal-box with brass hinges and lock (from the young
uncle), in a white, silk handkerchief (from Papa), Dinah’s scrappy
remains were buried at the foot of the orange tree--buried with flowers
from every one, and passionate tears from Marie, and many promises, as
she kissed the box, not to forget to stop at Paradise for her.

She had not allowed any “grown-ups” to do anything except look on; she
and I did all. The mother, wishing to please her, said: “Should we move
from here, dear one, we will take up Dinah and keep her with us.”

But Marie, with frowning brows, rejected this offer. “No!” she said,
“if her now-I-lay-me part got lost out of Paradise, she could come
right here and find her old self in her home. If the box was moved, she
would be lost everywhere!”

And she went back alone, and I looked and saw her pat the grave gently,
and heard her say: “My peshous Dinah!”



Life’s Aftermath



Life’s Aftermath

“_The grave of all things hath its violet._”


It was in mellow, many-hued October. It was a Sunday--sunny and still.
There was the _feel_ of Sunday in the air. Three years had passed since
the Great Soldier’s prayer, “Let us have peace!” had been answered
with blesséd acquiescence. But when, for any reason, the people came
together in a crowd, it was sad to see how many still wore mourning.
And when the wearer was old or middle-aged, there was something in the
deadly composure of manner that said as plain as words: “This will be
my garb as long as life shall last!”

One woman there was who watched with envious eye those who passed
her wearing “deep mourning.” Envious, because she was herself denied
the sad satisfaction of this outward expression of her great grief.
Her husband--her dearer self--had simply abhorred the custom--the
“social bondage,” as he called it--of mourning! The wrapping up of the
strained and shaken body in black garments, and then the shutting out
of every breath of pure air, every ray of God’s sunlight with yards on
yards of the most hideous product of the manufacturing world--black
_crêpe_--was, he declared, detrimental to good health when worn
willingly, and when worn _unwillingly_, it was hypocrisy as vulgar as
it was cruel. And he had exacted a solemn promise from her, that in
the approaching hour of her loss, she would wear no _crêpe_ at all,
and black only for the briefest possible time; a concession made to
save her from the wondering and satirical comments of her friends and
neighbors.

Now suddenly the church bells, the chimes, burst forth and tossed high
their ringing notes into the pellucid air, sweet reminders to the
Great-All Father that His children, sinning, bewildered, yet loving,
trusting still, were gathering from afar to kneel and humbly pray
together; remembering well those words big with promise: “When two or
three are gathered together in my name!”

And among the moving multitude, two women from opposite sides of the
city were approaching the same church. Both were middle-aged, and
both felt that, in the better sense, their lives were over. Both were
victims of the war; both had lost their nearest and dearest; and one,
her home as well. And now, among strangers, she wore her rusty _crêpe_
with a dignified, almost haughty carriage of body, which, nevertheless,
said plainly: “Here is the poverty which is so cruel to the well-bred
and refined!” She worked to eke out her small pittance of an income,
but there was no sweetness, no savor in her work. She knew she was
growing hard and bitter in her sorrow and loneliness, but what did
it matter now; there was no dear one to be wounded by her sarcastic
speech. “A childless widow!” she murmured, “why do I encumber the
earth? There is no living thing that needs me, that is glad of my
coming,” and she shuddered in her thin, black garments as she thought
of the years that, dull and cold, might be waiting her, and then saw
the church, and tried to bring her thoughts under control.

The other woman (she who sighed to wear black), moving slowly and
heavily, wondered why neither the bright, warm sun nor the heavy,
handsome camel’s-hair shawl in which, to the surprise of her neighbors,
she was closely wrapped this warm day, could conquer that little,
creeping chill in her blood that every now and then developed into a
shiver. But she gave that matter scant thought. Weary and dull to her,
the very bells seemed to ring out over and over again the one word,
“A-lone! A-lone!”

She had her comfortable, even handsome, home; ample means to keep it
up, but it was so empty! There was no one to watch for, to dress for,
to plan for, cook for! No one to give her greeting, or loving thanks
for loving service. She was utterly alone, and she was only forty-four,
and might live--good God! how long? If it were not unlawful so to do,
she would kneel here in the church she was entering and pray to die at
once, that she might fill her appointed place between her husband and
her son, and be at rest.

With such thoughts, these women approached the church and each other.
Foolish, wicked thoughts, you say. Perhaps, but for a woman who is
growing old, whose heart is bleeding from many wounds, it is so hard
a thing to face the great world alone. But so it came about that as
Mrs. Martha Swift, of Ohio, sat in pew 71, an usher waved into pew 72
Mrs. Marion Wallace, of Georgia, who was no sooner comfortably seated
than a quick shiver shaking the shoulders of the woman in front of
her drew her attention to the shoulders and to the shawl about them.
And then an odd thing happened. Her glance, at first a merely casual
one, had quickly intensified into a prolonged and piercing stare. Then
she had raised her veil and studied the shawl as if it had been the
horoscope of one she loved; studied it until from the seeming confusion
of the innumerable morsels of rich, dim colors tossed together, there
came order and a clear design. Then, to the wonderment of two or three
observers, she drew off her glove and, leaning forward, passed her bare
forefinger eagerly along the edge of that bit of solid color always
found in the centre of these precious shawls; did it carefully, as does
a woman who searches for some faint stain or mark, and suddenly the
blood rushed to her face; she drew back swiftly into her place, resumed
her glove, but from “Dearly Beloved,” clear through to “Let Your Light
so Shine,” she never took her eyes from that shawl in front of her.

As Mrs. Swift passed out of church, she thought herself rather
unnecessarily crowded by a tall woman in black. She answered two or
three friendly comments on her bundled-up appearance by saying that,
“heavy shawl and all, she was still cold, at least part of the time,”
and, “yes, come to think of it, she was shivering half her time
yesterday”; “yes, it was a lovely day,” and so slipped away as quickly
as she could, and started to walk across the Public Square, that she
might be alone; and then a woman in black was at her side--a woman
whose eyes were big and bright with anger; whose trembling finger
tapped her on the arm, as she swiftly said: “Madam, this shawl is not
your property; it is mine!”

Mrs. Swift was so startled--so utterly taken aback--that at first she
could only stare at the stranger and say, stupidly: “What--what did you
say?”

And the stranger, in increasing anger, repeated: “This shawl
is not your property--it is mine, I tell you! My most precious
treasure--_mine_--and I can prove it, too, by marks you cannot gainsay!”

But Mrs. Swift drew away from the tapping finger, exclaiming: “Do you
know who you are talking to? You must be crazy! Why, I’ve owned this
shawl these five years!”

“Five years?” scornfully cried the other, “I owned it long enough to
know its full design--the dealer’s private mark--that my boy showed me
when he brought it to me from his first trip abroad--and in the corner,
here on the under side, beneath a rough seam in the border, you will
find two letters worked in white silk--an ‘M’ and a ‘W,’ and beneath
them both a tiny star in many-colored threads. See, then--” She caught
swiftly at the corner of the shawl nearest her--turned it back--scanned
it closely, and then triumphantly pointed out two small, imperfect
letters in white silk--“M” and “W,” with the star beneath, as she had
said.

Mrs. Swift felt her face flush, but she bravely looked the excited
woman in the face: “I do not understand,” she said. “This shawl was a
gift to me from my only son!”

“A poor gift that--of ill-gotten property!” cried the woman in black,
and then Martha Swift lifted stern, blue eyes and said: “Madam, my son
was a soldier! He lies out there, beneath his tombstone now! Do not
insult his memory!”

And she of the black, burning eyes said quickly: “My son fell at the
Bloody Angle--he was not identified--and fills some corner of a trench
that is marked, if marked at all, by a stone bearing the cruel word,
‘Unknown!’ I insult the memory of no soldier, and I pray you pardon me!”

Then, all suddenly, they stood with working faces, holding hard to one
another’s hands, while their tears ran swiftly. They were too deeply
moved to speak much then, and they drew down their veils that they
might not attract attention.

They had exchanged names and addresses, then walked silently as far
as the monument in the centre of the Square. As they were about to
separate, Mrs. Swift said: “Mrs. Wallace, this dear shawl is yours,
beyond the shadow of a doubt--and back it goes to you, be sure of
that--but won’t you come to my house, in a day or two, and tell me its
story?” Then, seeing refusal dawning on the other’s face, she quickly
added, “I would so like to hear about your boy!”

Ah, subtle tempter! What mother could resist such sweet flattery! Not
this one, who for two long years had not named aloud that beloved
son--who entering the army as an elegant young _beau_, had died in
broken shoes and tattered clothing--fighting like a demoniac!

Yes, she would come, and Mrs. Swift would tell her side of the story
too--would she not? And then it would all come clear between them about
the shawl--and there would be blame to no one but herself, perhaps, for
her too hasty speech!

And with these promises they parted--each thinking compassionately of
the other: “How she must suffer, it is so terrible a thing to lose
husband and child too!”

The following Tuesday, on starting out to make the promised visit, Mrs.
Wallace became conscious of a lightness, an alertness of movement--of
a genuine feeling of interest in the approaching interview, as
pleasant as unusual to her. And she wondered a little that she felt
in her heart no enmity for this Northern woman who had, beyond a
doubt, done her small best to help conquer the South and destroy the
beloved “Cause”! But, considered simply as individuals, they were both
conquered--beaten--broken down forever! In tastes, up-bringing and
experience, they were as far apart as the poles, but between those
two great cries of motherhood--one wrung from the body’s anguish at
the man-child’s birth, and the other from the soul’s anguish at his
death--the women understood and sympathized passionately with each
other! With these thoughts in her mind, Mrs. Wallace made her way to
the pretty house, with its bit of lawn, choice shrubs and late flowers,
that belonged to Mrs. Swift, and had the door, after some delay,
thrown open for her by an elderly and very angry gentleman--evidently
a doctor--who continued an unequal contest with two hysterical and
belligerent maidens from the “Old Isle”--one of whom, with the
maddening iteration peculiar to her class, repeated again and again:
“’Twas meself that heard it!--the Banshee! Bad ’cess to yees--’twas
meself that heard it--the Banshee!--the Banshee!” while the other, with
maudlin tears, vowed she’d “lave that minute for she couldn’t stand
hearin’ talkin’ of blood and--shootin’ and such-like things--besides,
when a woman was crazy, she might kill the lot of them--and such
rucktions she couldn’t stand at all--at all! and lave she must and
would!”

Then the doctor locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and
turning to the astonished looker-on, said: “Let us get out of this
hul-a-ba-loo! Come in here, please, where we can escape from that
infernal Banshee! Now, Madam, Mrs. Swift is a very sick woman!” (“Oh,”
thought Mrs. Wallace, “here is the meaning of those shiverings, last
Sunday!”) “She is going to be worse before she’s better; she is
absolutely alone save for these rattle-brained servants, who were bad
enough to begin with, but are for leaving the poor soul here alone
because she has been a bit delirious. You look like a sensible woman
and a kind one. Are you an old friend, and can you by chance help
her and me now, in this emergency?” Remember, you could not “push
the button” then, and let the trained nurse do the rest. There was
no button to push, and no trained nurse to answer it. Each family
had to care for its own sick. To go to the hospital was looked upon
as a degradation. Such nurses as could be had were mostly poor, old,
homeless bodies, as ignorant as they were disobedient, and Mrs. Swift’s
case was not a very uncommon one.

Mrs. Marion Wallace paused--before she answered. She literally could
not say, “I am a stranger.” At her first slow words, “I am not an
_old_ friend,” such a look of despair came into the doctor’s face that
she hurriedly added, “but still a friend, and--,” slowly removing her
bonnet and shawl, she stepped to the hall, took the Banshee’s white
apron from her, tied it about her own waist, sent the Banshee herself
upstairs for a pair of slippers--“anyone’s would do”--and returning
to the parlor, said, quietly: “Now, Doctor, if you will kindly give
me your first instructions in writing, please. You see, I shall have
to get this demoralized household set right again. When all is going
smoothly, I shall only need to be told your wishes, but just at first--”

And the doctor had stared a moment, and then he had caught her hands
and shook them half off, crying: “You’ll stay--you’ll take charge here?
You’re a mighty fine woman, I can tell you that--and what I call a good
Christian, by--!” And so this strange, Southern woman came to nurse
faithfully her Northern sister in sorrow--to guide her household into
ways of clocklike regularity, and so heard the story of the shawl, not
once, but many times--but always told with fever-cracked lips--with
burning eyes and hands wandering and restless, and alas, always with
hoarse entreaties to believe her--her boy could not steal--no, not even
for her, his mother! He had bought the shawl from one who swore he had
come by it honestly! If only the strange woman with the angry eyes
would believe her! “You see, it came about like this”--she would say,
and wearily begin all over again, to explain--to convince--to defend!

Then one day the subject of her rambling talk was changed. She seemed
to be reading some account of a Northern victory--over and over again,
she repeated all the details--the calmness of the great General--the
wild delight of the victorious troops!--the rags and hunger of the
prisoners--and always ended with: “The enemy lost two thousand men
killed and five thousand wounded!”

Mrs. Wallace had listened to the harassing repetition of this Northern
triumph until her strained nerves could bear no more, and was turning
with a flushed face to leave the bedside, when a sort of gasping sob
stopped her. Once more the sick woman repeated: “The enemy lost two
thousand men killed--” and then, in a tone lowered almost to a whisper,
she added: “Oh, the wives and the mothers!--two thousand killed! Oh,
dear God, be merciful to the poor mothers--the heartbroken mothers
of the South!” and Mrs. Wallace sank upon her knees, and taking the
burning hand of the sick woman in her own, she cried: “Great heart! I
will love you all my life, for that gentle prayer!”

The words seemed to reach the inner consciousness of the sufferer--her
hot, blue eyes turned their glance upon the calm, brown ones beside
her, where they wavered for a moment--steadied--rested, and then
recognition dawned in them, and a weak voice whispered: “You said--?”

“I said I loved you for your great heart!” answered Mrs. Wallace.

A faint brightness came to the sick face, and she said: “Then don’t
leave me ever! We can love and mourn our dead together! Life is so
hard--to bear alone--be my sister--Marion!”

They looked long into each other’s eyes. They must have thought of many
things! But it was as if the hands of their dear, dead boys drew them
together. And Mrs. Wallace gently answered: “I will not leave you while
you want me, Martha! We will walk together, if you will it, till we are
called to join our dear ones;” their hands met in a close clasp, and
in ten minutes Mrs. Swift was asleep. After Mrs. Swift had recovered,
the neighbors spent all their spare time, and a good deal that was not
spare, in wondering “when that Southern woman was going away?”

Early in the winter they had seen two trunks and a large picture
brought to the house, but they watched in vain for the exit of the
aforesaid two trunks and picture. What could it mean? They all declared
Mrs. Swift too active a woman to want a housekeeper--too strong to
need a nurse--too proud and too well off to have a boarder! But surely
she would have to go soon, now that spring was almost upon them! And
lo! one sunny spring morning, both ladies, with garden hats firmly
tied on, and loose old gloves protecting their hands, were out in the
garden, making life a misery and bewilderment to the harmless, nearly
useless old gardener, who, doddering about, accepted their orders with
a respectful misunderstanding of them that promised rare developments
for the future. One thing they did, though, with their own hands. Mrs.
Swift had obtained a fine, young magnolia--a gift for Mrs. Wallace. It
was a pretty thought, and Mrs. Wallace accepted shrub and thought with
warm gratitude. And together, with smiles, and may be a tear or two,
they planted the magnolia on the lawn, and at the same time filled the
souls of the neighbors with a very anguish of curiosity.

When summer came, notes from a well-played piano floated from the open
windows of Mrs. Swift’s house, and no matter what classic composition
Mrs. Wallace might begin with, she always closed her playing with “In
the Hazel Dell,” because that had been the favorite song of the young
Northern soldier, and his mother loved to hear the simple, old air for
his dear sake.

Winter came, and the two trunks and the picture had not been removed.
The neighbors had fallen into a sort of torpor. Then, one day, one
rushed to the others, declaring: “They call each other by their first
names! Yes, Mrs. Swift said: ‘Marion, there must be double windows for
your room this winter!’ and that Southern woman answers up: ‘Oh, no,
Martha, that’s not necessary!’ What do you think of that?” Evidently
there was no use in watching the house, after that, for the departure
of the Southern woman.

During the long winter evenings, this elderly couple used to talk
unceasingly of the war, and they would tell one another of this or
that engagement, illustrating the positions of the troops with spools
of thread, the scissors always coming handy for streams that had to be
crossed. Then Mrs. Swift never tired of hearing what the war had meant
to the women of the South. She wept over the burned houses, the looted
property, the hunger, the make-shift for clothing, and would draw her
rocker closer to Mrs. Wallace, as she told how the last precious ounces
of real coffee had been hidden--as people hide gold or jewels--only to
be brought forth in tiny portions for a sick or wounded soldier--told
how she had cut up old garments of her husband’s to make herself shoes,
and had worn skirts made from her sitting-room curtains!

When spring came again, and Decoration Day arrived, Mrs. Wallace
felt that Mrs. Swift, for the first time, showed a lack of tact--of
proper feeling--in insisting upon having her accompany her to the
cemetery that day. It would be very painful to see the graves, all
flower-covered, and to think of her own dear, unhonored dead, lying so
far away. This insistence was so unlike Mrs. Swift’s usual manner, too!
Well, she must bear it! and so she entered the carriage, with a heavy
heart, to drive to the cemetery, and wondered a little why Mrs. Swift
had two great wreaths, instead of one, to lay upon the grave.

When they arrived, she wished to remain in the carriage, but again Mrs.
Swift insisted upon having her company, and together they made their
way to the family plot, and there stood the explanation of Mrs. Swift’s
strange conduct--a fair, white stone, bearing the name of Wallace
instead of Swift. And Mrs. Wallace knelt humbly down to read that this
monument was in memory of the young captain, Marion Wallace, whose body
lay in the distant State where he had fallen fighting for the “cause”
he loved! As she pressed her lips upon the name on the stone, she
solemnly vowed that the welfare of the woman who had done this thing
should be the one object of her life hereafter.

And so they faced the world together. A gentle pair, helping the poor
or the troubled; trusting and admiring each other; Mrs. Swift honestly
believing Mrs. Wallace was the greatest pianist in the city, and that
her feeble little sketches were remarkable works of art, while Mrs.
Wallace stood in speechless wonder at Mrs. Swift’s ability, with only
the help of an inch or two of stubby pencil and a morsel of paper, to
bring perfect order out of the chaos of her accounts. And though she
had something less than three hundred a year, it was really astonishing
the muddle she could get her affairs into! So it’s no wonder that she
respected Mrs. Swift as an mathematician of parts.

The shawl was worn by one as often as the other, though it was
acknowledged to be Mrs. Wallace’s property, since she owned it for
years before that day when young Lieutenant Swift had purchased it from
a soldier who declared he had bought it for a few dollars from an old
contraband camp-follower. And as they shared the shawl, so they shared
everything--duties, pleasures, or personal belongings. Each acted as
housekeeper, month about. If one was daintier, the other had more
executive ability. They came to understand each other so perfectly that
when Mrs. Wallace sometimes sat completely lost in thought, Mrs. Swift
could tell, from the expression of her face, whether she was thinking
of her son’s young manhood and soldierly death or of his baby days when
within the tender circle of her arms he found a very tower of defence
against the world.

The last time I saw them they were in church--the same church where
they first saw each other. Two sweet-faced, old women; one blue-eyed,
one dark-eyed, but both with whitened hair, each anxious to serve the
other; Mrs. Swift a trifle quicker about wraps and foot-stools, but
Mrs. Wallace smilingly ahead in the finding of places in hymnal or
prayer book. As they sat with attentive, uplifted faces, I thought they
looked like two ancient children who had walked hand in hand over a
long, rough road that _alone_ either would have shrunk from.

True sympathy had drawn all bitterness from their grief, while
their unshakable faith in the resurrection of the body and the Life
everlasting, had kept Hope alive in their souls! Hope for that “Life
of the world to come”! And Hope’s sweetness was in their old eyes and
about their paled, tremulous lips, as they worshipped there.

The last prayer said, each instinctively put out her hand to assist
the other to rise. Their hands met; so did their eyes, and they smiled
at each other, and at that very moment the sunlight, striking on the
stained-glass window, flung a very halo of splendid color about their
dear, white heads, the church thus smiling upon them as they smiled
upon each other; and I said to myself: “The Aftermath--truly they have
garnered their Life’s Aftermath!”



  PRINTED AT THE WINTHROP PRESS
  NEW YORK, FOR BRENTANO’S
  MDCCCXCIX



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.



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