BY MARY E. WALLER
Author of "The Wood Carver of Lympus," "The Daughter of the Rich," "The Little Citizen," etc.
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS BY G. PATRICK NELSON
A. L. BURT COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1910, BY MARY E. WALLER Published September, 1910
Reprinted, September, 1910; November, 1910; December, 1910
TO THOSE WHO TOIL
THE BATTERY IN LIEU OF A PREFACE
PART FIRST, A CHILD FROM THE VAUDEVILLE
PART SECOND, HOME SOIL
PART THIRD, IN THE STREAM
PART FOURTH, OBLIVION
PART FIFTH, SHED NUMBER TWO
THE LAST WORD
"She sang straight on, verse after verse without pause"
"Those present loved in after years to recall this scene"
"What a picture she made leaning caressingly against the charmed and patient Bess"
"'Unworthy—unworthy!' was Champney Googe's cry, as he knelt before Aileen"
"Abysmal deeps repose Beneath the stout ship's keel whereon we glide; And if a diver plunge far down within Those depths and to the surface safe return, His smile, if so it chance he smile again, Outweighs in worth all gold."
The Battery in Lieu of a Preface
A few years ago, at the very tip of that narrow rocky strip of land that has been well named "the Tongue that laps the Commerce of the World," the million-teeming Island of Manhattan, there was daily presented a scene in the life-drama of our land that held in itself, as in solution, a great national ideal. The old heroic "Epic of the Nations" was still visible to the naked eye, and masquerading here among us of the then nineteenth century in the guise of the arrival of the immigrant ship.
The scenic setting is in this instance incomparably fine. As we lean on the coping of the sea wall at the end of the green-swarded Battery, in the flush of a May sunset that, on the right, throws the Highlands of the Navesink into dark purple relief and lights the waters of Harbor, River, and Sound into a softly swelling roseate flood, we may fix our eyes on the approach to The Narrows and watch the incoming shipping of the world: the fruit-laden steamer from the Bermudas, the black East Indiaman heavy with teakwood and spices, the lumberman's barge awash behind the tow, the old three-masted schooner, low in the water, her decks loaded with granite from the far-away quarries of Maine. We may see, if we linger, the swift approach of a curiously foreshortened ocean steamship, her smokestack belching blackness, and the slower on-coming of a Norwegian bark, her sails catching the sunset light and gleaming opaline against the clear blue of the southern horizon. These last are the immigrant ships.
An hour later in old Castle Garden the North and South of Europe clasp hands on the very threshold of America. Four thousand feet are planted on the soil of the New World. Four thousand hands are knocking at its portals. Two thousand hearts are beating high with hope at prospect of the New, or palpitating with terror at contact with the Strange.
A thousand tragedies, a thousand comedies are here enacted before our very eyes: hopes, fears, tears, laughter, shrieks, groans, wailings, exultant cries, welcoming words, silent all-expressing hand-clasp, embrace, despairing wide-eyed search, hopeless isolation, the befriended, the friendless, the home-welcomed, the homeless—all commingled.
But an official routine soon sorts, separates, pairs, locates; speaks in Norwegian, speaks in Neapolitan. An hour passes; the dusk falls; the doors are opened; the two thousand, ticketed, labelled, are to enter upon the new life. The confusing chatter grows less and less. A child wails, and is hushed in soft Italian—a Neapolitan lullaby—by its mother as she sits on a convenient bench and for the first time gives her little one the breast in a strange land. An old Norwegian, perhaps a lineal descendant of our Viking visitors some thousand years ago, makes his way to the door, bent beneath a sack-load of bedding; his right hand holds his old wife's left. They are the last to leave.
The dusk has fallen. To the sea wall again for air after the thousands of garlic-reeking breaths in old Castle Garden. The sea is dark. The heavens are deep indigo; against them flashes the Liberty beacon; within them are set the Eternal Lights. Upon the waters of the harbor the illumined cabin windows of a multitude of river craft throw quivering rays along the slow glassy swell.
For a moment on River, and Harbor, and Sound, there is silence. But behind us we hear the subdued roar and beat of the metropolis, a sound comparable to naught else on earth or in heaven: the mighty systole and dyastole of a city's heart, and the tramp, tramp of a million homeward bound toilers—the marching tune of Civilization's hosts, to which the feet of the newly arrived immigrants are already keeping time, for they have crossed the threshold of old Castle Garden and entered the New World.
A Child from the Vaudeville
The performance in itself was crude and commonplace, but the demonstration in regard to it was unusual. Although this scene had been enacted both afternoon and evening for the past six weeks, the audience at the Vaudeville was showing its appreciation by an intent silence.
The curtain had risen upon a street scene in the metropolis at night. Snow was falling, dimming the gas jets at the corner and half-veiling, half-disclosing the imposing entrance-porch of a marble church. The doors were closed; the edifice dark. As the eyes of the onlookers became accustomed to the half-lights, they were aware of a huddle of clothes against the iron railing that outlined the curve of the three broad entrance-steps. As vision grew keener the form of a child was discernible, a little match girl who was lighting one by one a few matches and shielding the flame with both hands from the draught. Suddenly she looked up and around. The rose window above the porch was softly illumined; the light it emitted transfused the thickly falling snow. Low organ tones became audible, although distant and muffled.
The child rose; came down the centre of the stage to the lowered footlights and looked about her, first at the orchestra, then around and up at the darkened house that was looking intently at her—a small ill-clad human, a spiritual entity, the only reality in this artificial setting. She grasped her package of matches in both hands; listened a moment as if to catch the low organ tones, then began to sing.
She sang as a bird sings, every part of her in motion: throat, eyes, head, body. The voice was clear, loud, full, strident, at times, on the higher notes from over-exertion, but always childishly appealing. The gallery leaned to catch every word of "The Holy City."
She sang straight on, verse after verse without pause. There was no modulation, no phrasing, no interpretation; it was merely a steady fortissimo outpouring of a remarkable volume of tone for so small an instrument. And the full power of it was, to all appearance, sent upwards with intent to the gallery. In any case, the gallery took the song unto itself, and as the last words, "Hosanna for evermore" rang upward, there was audible from above a long-drawn universal "Ah!" of satisfaction.
It was followed by a half minute of silence that was expressive of latent enthusiasm. The child was still waiting at the footlights, evidently for the expected applause from the higher latitudes. And the gallery responded—how heartily, those who were present have never forgotten: roar upon roar, call upon call, round after round of applause, cries of approbation couched in choice Bowery slang, a genuine stampede that shook the spectators in their seats. It was an irresistible, insatiable, unappeasable, overwhelming clamor for more. The infection of enthusiasm was communicated to floors, balconies, boxes; they answered, as it were, antiphonally. Faces were seen peeking from the wings; hands were visible there, clapping frantically. In the midst of the tumultuous uproar the little girl smiled brightly and ran off the stage.
The lights were turned on. A drop-scene fell; the stage was transformed, for, in the middle distance, swelling green hills rose against a soft blue sky seen between trees in the foreground. Sunshine lay on the landscape, enhancing the haze in the distance and throwing up the hills more prominently against it. The cries and uproar continued.
Meanwhile, in the common dressing-room beyond the wings, there was being enacted a scene which if slightly less tumultuous in expression was considerably more dangerous in quality. A quick word went the round of the stars' private rooms; it penetrated to the sanctum of the Japanese wrestlers; it came to the ear of the manager himself: "The Little Patti's struck!" It sounded ominous, and, thereupon, the Vaudeville flocked to the dressing-room door to see—what? Merely a child in a tantrum, a heap of rags on the floor, a little girl in white petticoats stamping, dancing, pulling away from an old Italian woman who was trying to robe her and exhorting, imploring, threatening the child in almost one and the same breath.
The manager rushed to the rescue for the house was losing its head. He seized the child by the arm. "What's the matter here, Aileen?"
"I ain't goin' ter dance a coon ter-night—not ter-night!" she cried defiantly and in intense excitement; "he's in the box again, an' I'm goin' to give him the Sunday-night song, like as I did before when he give me the flowers, so now!"
Nonna Lisa, the old Italian, slipped the white dress deftly over the mutinous head, so muffling the half-shriek. The manager laughed. "Hurry up then—on with you!" The child sprang away with a bound. "I've seen this too many times before," he added; "it's an attack of 'the last night's nerves.'—Hark!"
The tumult was drowning the last notes of the orchestral intermezzo, as the little girl, clad now wholly in white, ran in upon the stage and coming again down the centre raised her hand as if to command silence. With the gallery to see was to obey; the floor and balconies having subsided the applause from above died away.
The child, standing in the full glare of the footlights with the sunny skyey spaces and overlapping blue hills behind her, half-faced the brilliant house as, without accompaniment, she began to sing:
"There is a green hill far away Without a city wall."
The childish voice sustained the simple melody perfectly, and it was evident when the little girl began the second verse that she was singing wholly to please herself and some one in a proscenium box. Before the close of the first stanza the gallery experienced a turn, the audience as a whole a sensation. Night after night the gallery gods had made it a point to be present at that hour of the continuous performance when the Little Patti—such was the name on the poster—sang either her famous Irish song "Oh, the praties they are small", or "The Holy City", and followed them by a coon dance the like of which was not to be seen elsewhere in New York; for into it the child threw such an abandonment of enthusiasm that she carried herself and her audience to the verge of extravagance—the one in action, the other in expression.
And now this!
A woman sobbed outright at the close of the second verse. The gallery heard—it hated hysterics—and considered whether it should look upon itself as cheated and protest, or submit quietly to being coerced into approval. The scales had not yet turned, when someone far aloft drew a long breath in order to force it out between closed teeth, and this in sign of disapproval. That one breath was, in truth, indrawn, but whether or no there was ever an outlet for the same remained a question with the audience. A woollen cap was deftly and unexpectedly thrust between the malevolent lips and several pair of hands held it there until the little singer left the stage.
What appeal, if any, that childish voice, dwelling melodiously on the simple words, made to the audience as a whole, cannot be stated because unknown; but that it appealed powerfully by force of suggestion, by the power of imagination, by the law of association, by the startling contrast between the sentiment expressed and the environment of that expression, to three, at least, among the many present is a certainty.
There is such a thing in our national life—a constant process, although often unrecognized—as social anastomosis: the intercommunication by branch of every vein and veinlet of the politico-social body, and thereby the coming into touch of lives apparently alien. As a result we have a revelation of new experiences; we find ourselves in subjection to new influences of before unknown personalities; we perceive the opening-up of new channels of communication between individual and individual as such. We comprehend that through it a great moral law is brought into operation both in the individual and the national life. And in recognition of this natural, though oft hidden process, the fact that to three men in that audience—men whose life-lines, to all appearance, were divergent, whose aims and purposes were antipodal—the simple song made powerful appeal, and by means of that appeal they came in after life to comprehend something of the workings of this great natural law, need cause no wonderment, no cavilling at the so-called prerogative of fiction. The laws of Art are the laws of Life, read smaller on the obverse.
The child was singing the last stanza in so profound a silence that the fine snapping of an over-charged electric wire was distinctly heard:
"Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved And we must love him too, And trust in his redeeming blood, And try his works to do."
The little girl waited at the footlights for—something. She had done her best for an encore and the silence troubled her. She looked inquiringly towards the box. There was a movement of the curtains at the back; a messenger boy came in with flowers; a gentleman leaned over the railing and motioned to the child. She ran forward, holding up the skirt of her dress to catch the roses that were dropped into it. She smiled and said something. The tension in the audience gave a little; there was a low murmur of approval which increased to a buzz of conversation; the conductor raised his baton and the child with a courtesy ran off the stage. But there was no applause.
During the musical intermezzo that followed, the lower proscenium box was vacated and in the first balcony one among a crowd of students rose and made his way up the aisle.
"Lien's keller, Champ?" said a friend at the exit, putting a hand on his shoulder; "I'm with you."
"Not to-night." He shook off the detaining hand and kept on his way. The other stared after him, whistled low to himself and went down the aisle to the vacant seat.
At the main entrance of the theatre there was an incoming crowd. It was not late, only nine. The drawing-card at this hour was a famous Parisian singer of an Elysee cafe chantant. The young fellow stepped aside, beyond the ticket-office railing, to let the first force of the inrushing human stream exhaust itself before attempting egress for himself. In doing so he jostled rather roughly two men who were evidently of like mind with him in their desire to avoid the press. He lifted his hat in apology, and recognized one of them as the occupant of the proscenium box, the gentleman who had given the roses to the little singer. The other, although in citizen's dress, he saw by the tonsure was a priest.
The sight of such a one in that garb and that environment, diverted for the moment Champney Googe's thoughts from the child and her song. He scanned the erect figure of the man who, after immediate and courteous recognition of the other's apology, became oblivious, apparently, of his presence and intent upon the passing throng.
The crowd thinned gradually; the priest passed out under the arch of colored electric lights; the gentleman of the box, observing the look on the student's face, smiled worldly-wisely to himself as he, too, went down the crimson-carpeted incline. Champney Googe's still beardless lip had curled slightly as if his thought were a sneer.
The priest, after leaving the theatre, walked rapidly down Broadway past the marble church, that had been shown on the stage, and still straight on for two miles at the same rapid gait, past the quiet churchyards of St. Paul's and Trinity into the comparative silence of Battery Park and across to the sea wall. There he leaned for half an hour, reliving in memory not only the years since his seven-year old feet had crossed this threshold of the New World, but recalling something of his still earlier childhood in his native France. The child's song had been an excitant to the memory in recalling those first years in Auvergne.
"There is a green hill far away Without a city wall."
How clearly he saw that! and his peasant father and mother as laborers on or about it, and himself, a six-year old, tending the goats on that same green hill or minding the geese in the meadows at its foot.
All this he saw as he gazed blankly at the dark waters of the bay, saw clearly as if visioned in crystal. But of subsequent movings and wanderings there was a blurred reflection only, till the vision momentarily brightened, the outlines defined themselves again as he saw his tired drowsy self put to bed in a tiny room that was filled with the fragrance of newly baked bread. He remembered the awakening in that small room over a bread-filled shop; it belonged to a distant great-uncle baker on the mother's side, a personage in the family because in trade. He could remember the time spent in that same shop and the brick-walled, brick-floored, brick-ovened room behind it. He recalled having stood for hours, it might have been days, he could not remember—for then Time was forever and its passing of no moment—before the deep ovens with a tiny blue-eyed slip of a girl. P'tite Truite, Little Trout, they called her, the great-uncle baker's one grandchild.
And the shop—he remembered that, so light and bright and sweet and clean, with people coming and going—men and women and children—and the crisp yard-long loaves carried away in shallow baskets on many a fine Norman head in the old seaport of Dieppe. And always the Little Trout was by his side, even when the great-uncle placed him in one of the huge flat-bottomed bread baskets and drew the two up and down in front of the shop. Then all was dim again; so dim that except for the lap and backward sucking of the waters against the sea wall, whereon he leaned, he had scarcely recalled a ship at the old pier of Dieppe, and the Little Trout standing beside her grandfather on the stringer, frantically waving her hand as the ship left her moorings and the prow nosed the first heavy channel sea that washed against the bulkhead and half-drowned her wailing cry:
The rest was a blank until he landed here almost on this very spot in old Castle Garden and, holding hard by his father's hand, was bidden to look up at the flag flying from the pole at the top of the queer round building—a brave sight even for his young eyes: all the red and white and blue straining in the freshening wind with an energy of motion that made the boy dance in sympathetic joy at his father's side—
And what next?
Again a confusion of journeyings, and afterwards quiet settlement in a red brick box of a house in a mill town on the Merrimac. He could still hear the clang of the mill-gates, the ringing of the bells, the hum and whir and roar of a hundred thousand spindles, the clacking crash of the ponderous shifting frames. He could still see with the inner eye the hundreds of windows blazing in the reflected fires of the western sun, or twinkling with numberless lights that cast their long reflections on the black waters of the canal. There on the bank, at the entrance to the footbridge, the boy was wont to take his stand regularly at six o'clock of a winter's day, and wait for the hoisting of the mill-gates and the coming of his father and mother with the throng of toilers.
So he saw himself—himself as an identity emerging at last from the confusion of time and place and circumstance; for there followed the public school, the joys of rivalry, the eager outrush for the boy's Ever New, the glory of scrimmage and school-boy sports, the battle royal for the little Auvergnat when taunted with the epithet "Johnny Frog" by the belligerent youth, American born, and the victorious outcome for the "foreigner"; the Auvergne blood was up, and the temperament volcanic like his native soil where subterranean heats evidence themselves in hot, out-welling waters. And afterwards, at home, there were congratulations and comfortings, plus applications of vinegar and brown butcher's paper to the severely smitten nose of this champion of his new Americanhood. But at school and in the street, henceforth there was due respect and a general atmosphere of "let bygones be bygones."
Ah, but the pride of his mother in her boy's progress! the joy over the first English-French letter that went to the great-uncle baker; the constant toil of both parents that the savings might be sufficient to educate their one child—that the son might have what the parents lacked. Already the mother had begun to speak of the priesthood: she might yet see her son Jean a priest, a bishop, and archbishop. Who could tell? America is America, and opportunities infinite—a cardinal, perhaps, and the gift of a red hat from the Pope, and robes and laces! There was no end to her ambitious dreaming.
But across the day-dreams fell the shadow of hard times: the shutting down of the mills, the father's desperate illness in a workless winter, his death in the early spring, followed shortly by that of the worn-out and ill-nourished mother—and for the twelve-year-old boy the abomination of desolation, and world and life seen dimly through tears. Dim, too, from the like cause, that strange passage across the ocean to Dieppe—his mother's uncle having sent for him to return—a weight as of lead in his stomach, a fiery throbbing in his young heart, a sickening craving for some expression of human love. The boyish tendrils, although touched in truth by spring frosts, were outreaching still for some object upon which to fasten; yet he shrank from human touch and sympathy on that voyage in the steerage lest in his grief and loneliness he scream aloud.
Dieppe again, and the Little Trout with her grandfather awaiting him on the pier; the Little Trout's arms about his neck in loving welcome, the boy's heart full to bursting and his eyelids reddened in his supreme effort to keep back tears. Dependent, an orphan, and destined for the priesthood—those were his life lines for the next ten years. And the end? Revolt, rebellion, partial crime, acquittal under the law, but condemnation before the tribunal of his conscience and his God.
There followed the longing to expiate, to expiate in that America where he was not known but where he belonged, where his parents' dust mingled with the soil; to flee to the Church as to a sanctuary of refuge, to be priest through expiation. And this he had been for years while working among the Canadian rivermen, among the lumbermen of Maine, sharing their lives, their toil, their joys and sorrows, the common inheritance of the Human. For years subsequent to his Canadian mission, and after his naturalization as an American citizen, he worked in town and city, among high and low, rich and poor, recognizing in his catholicity of outlook but one human plane: that which may be tested by the spirit level of human needs. Now, at last, he was priest by conviction, by inner consecration.
He stood erect; drew a long full breath; squared his shoulders and looked around him. He noticed for the first time that a Staten Island ferryboat had moved into the slip near him; that several passengers were lingering to look at him; that a policeman was pacing behind him, his eye alert—and he smiled to himself, for he read their thought. He could not blame them for looking. He had fancied himself alone with the sea and the night and his thoughts; had lost himself to his present surroundings in the memory of those years; he had suffered again the old agony of passion, shame, guilt, while the events of that pregnant, preparatory period in France, etched deep with acid burnings into his inmost consciousness, were passing during that half hour in review before his inner vision. Small wonder he was attracting attention!
He bared his head. A new moon was sinking to the Highlands of the Navesink. The May night was mild, the sea breeze drawing in with gentle vigor. He looked northwards up the Hudson, and southwards to the Liberty beacon, and eastwards to the Sound. "God bless our Land" he murmured; then, covering his head, bowed courteously to the policeman and took his way across the Park to the up-town elevated station.
Yes, at last he dared assert it: he was priest by consecration; soul, heart, mind, body dedicate to the service of God through Humanity. That service led him always in human ways. A few nights ago he saw the poster: "The Little Patti". A child then? Thought bridged the abyss of ocean to the Little Trout. Some rescue work for him here, possibly; hence his presence in the theatre.
That the priest's effort to rescue the child from the artificial life of the stage had been in a measure successful, was confirmed by the presence, six months later, of the little girl in the yard of the Orphan Asylum on ——nd Street.
On an exceptionally dreary afternoon in November, had any one cared to look over the high board fence that bounds three sides of the Asylum yard, he might have seen an amazing sight and heard a still more amazing chorus:
"Little Sally Waters Sitting in the sun, Weeping and crying for a young man; Rise, Sally, rise, Sally, Wipe away your tears, Sally; Turn to the east And turn to the west, And turn to the one that you love best!"
Higher and higher the voices of the three hundred orphans shrilled in unison as the owners thereof danced frantically around a small solitary figure in the middle of the ring of girls assembled in the yard on ——nd Street. Her coarse blue denim apron was thrown over her head; her face was bowed into her hands that rested on her knees. It was a picture of woe.
The last few words "you love best" rose to a shriek of exhortation. In the expectant silence that followed, "Sally" rose, pirouetted in a fashion worthy of a ballet dancer, then, with head down, fists clenched, arms tight at her sides, she made a sudden dash to break through the encircling wall of girls. She succeeded in making a breach by knocking the legs of three of the tallest out from under them; but two or more dozen arms, octopus-like, caught and held her. For a few minutes chaos reigned: legs, arms, hands, fingers, aprons, heads, stockings, hair, shoes of three hundred orphans were seemingly inextricably entangled. A bell clanged. The three hundred disentangled themselves with marvellous rapidity and, settling aprons, smoothing hair, pulling up stockings and down petticoats, they formed in a long double line. While waiting for the bell to ring the second warning, they stamped their feet, blew upon their cold fingers, and freely exercised their tongues.
"Yer dassn't try that again!" said the mate in line with the obstreperous "Sally" who had so scorned the invitation of the hundreds of girls to "turn to the one that she loved best".
"I dass ter!" was the defiant reply accompanied by the protrusion of a long thin tongue.
"Yer dassn't either!"
"I dass t'either!"
"Git out!" The first speaker nudged the other's ribs with her sharp elbow.
"Slap yer face for two cents!" shrieked the insulted "Sally", the Little Patti of the Vaudeville, and proceeded to carry out her threat. Whereupon Freckles, as she was known in the Asylum, set up a howl that was heard all along the line and turned upon her antagonist tooth and nail. At that moment the bell clanged a second time. A hush fell upon the multitude, broken only by a suppressed shriek that came from the vicinity of Freckles. A snicker ran down the line. The penalty for breaking silence after the second bell was "no supper", and not one of the three hundred cared to incur that—least of all Flibbertigibbet, the "Sally" of the game, who had forfeited her dinner, because she had been caught squabbling at morning prayers, and was now carrying about with her an empty stomach that was at bottom of her ugly mood.
"One, two—one, two." The monitor counted; the girls fell into step, all but Flibbertigibbet—the Asylum nickname for the "Little Patti"—who contrived to keep out just enough to tread solidly with hobnailed shoe on the toes of the long-suffering Freckles. It was unbearable, especially the last time when a heel was set squarely upon Freckles' latest bunion.
"Ou, ou—oh, au—wau!" Freckles moaned, limping.
"Number 207 report for disorder," said the monitor.
Flibbertigibbet giggled. Number 207 stepped out of the line and burst into uncontrollable sobbing; for she was hungry, oh, so hungry! And the matron had chalked on the blackboard "hot corn-cakes and molasses for Friday". It was the one great treat of the week. The girl behind Flibbertigibbet hissed in her ear:
"Yer jest pizen mean; dirt ain't in it."
A back kick worthy of a pack mule took effect upon the whisperer's shin. Flibbertigibbet moved on unmolested, underwent inspection at the entrance, and passed with the rest into the long basement room which was used for meals.
Freckles stood sniffing disconsolately by the door as the girls filed in. She was meditating revenge, and advanced a foot in hope that, unseen, she might trip her tormentor as she passed her. What, then, was her amazement to see Flibbertigibbet shuffle along deliberately a little sideways in order to strike the extended foot! This man[oe]uvre she accomplished successfully and fell, not forward, but sideways out of line and upon Freckles. Freckles pushed her off with a vengeance, but not before she heard a gleeful whisper in her ear:
"Dry up—watch out—I'll save yer some!"
That was all; but to Freckles it was a revelation. The children filed between the long rows of wooden benches, that served for seats, and the tables. They remained standing until the sister in charge gave the signal to be seated. When the three hundred sat down as one, with a thud of something more than fifteen tons' weight, there broke loose a Babel of tongues—English as it is spoken in the mouths of children of many nationalities.
It was then that Freckles began to "watch out."
Flibbertigibbet sat rigid on the bench, her eyes turned neither to right nor left but staring straight at the pile of smoking corn-meal cakes trickling molasses on her tin plate. She was counting: "One, two, three, four, five," and the prospect of more; for on treat nights, which occurred once a week, there was no stinting with corn-meal cakes, hulled corn, apple sauce with fried bread or whatever else might be provided for the three hundred orphans at the Asylum on ——nd Street, in the great city of New York.
Freckles grew nervous as she watched. What was Flibbertigibbet doing? Her fingers were busy untying the piece of red mohair tape with which her heavy braid was fastened in a neat loop. She put it around her apron, tying it fast; then, blousing the blue denim in front to a pouch like a fashion-plate shirt waist, she said in an undertone to her neighbor on the right:
"Gee—look! Ain't I got the style?"
"I ain't a-goin' ter look at yer, yer so pizen mean—dirt ain't in it," said 206 contemptuously, and sat sideways at such an angle that she could eat her cakes without seeing the eyesore next her.
"Stop crowdin'!" was the next command from the bloused bit of "style" to her neighbor on the left. Her sharp elbow emphasized her words and was followed by a solid thigh-to-thigh pressure that was felt for the length of at least five girls down the bench. The neighbor on the left found she could not withstand the continued pressure. She raised her hand.
"What is the trouble with 205?" The voice from the head of the table was one of controlled impatience.
"Please 'um—"; but she spoke no further word, for the pressure was removed so suddenly that she lost her balance and careened with such force towards her torment of a neighbor that the latter was fain to put her both arms about her to hold her up. This she did so effectually that 205 actually gasped for breath.
"I'll pinch yer black an' blue if yer tell!" whispered Flibbertigibbet, relaxing her hold and in turn raising her hand.
"What's wanting now, 208?"
"A second helpin', please 'um."
The tin round was passed up to the nickel-plated receptacle, that resembled a small bathtub with a cover, and piled anew. Flibbertigibbet viewed its return with satisfaction, and Freckles, who had been watching every move of this by-play, suddenly doubled up from her plastered position against the wall. She saw Flibbertigibbet drop the cakes quick as a flash into the low neck of her apron, and at that very minute they were reposing in the paunch of the blouse and held there by the mohair girdle. Thereafter a truce was proclaimed in the immediate vicinity of 208. Her neighbors, right and left, their backs twisted towards the tease, ate their portions in fear and trembling. After a while 208's hand went up again. This time it waved mechanically back and forth as if the owner were pumping bucketfuls of water.
"What is it now, 208?" The voice at the head of the table put the question with a note of exasperation in it.
"Please 'um, another helpin'."
The sister's lips set themselves close. "Pass up 208's plate," she said. The empty plate, licked clean of molasses on the sly, went up the line and returned laden with three "bloomin' beauties" as 208 murmured serenely to herself. She ate one with keen relish, then eyed the remaining two askance and critically. Freckles grew anxious. What next? Contrary to all rules 208's head, after slowly drooping little by little, lower and lower, dropped finally with a dull thud on the edge of the table and a force that tipped the plate towards her. Freckles doubled up again; she had seen through the man[oe]uvre: the three remaining cakes slid gently into the open half—low apron neck and were safely lodged with the other four.
"Number 208 sit up properly or leave the table."
The sister spoke peremptorily, for this special One Three-hundredth was her daily, almost hourly, thorn in the flesh. The table stopped eating to listen. There was a low moan for answer, but the head was not lifted. Number 206 took this opportunity to give her a dig in the ribs, and Number 205 crowded her in turn. To their amazement there was no response.
"Number 208 answer at once."
"Oh, please, 'um, I've got an awful pain—oo—au—." The sound was low but piercing.
"You may leave the table, 208, and go up to the dormitory."
208 rose with apparent effort. Her hands were clasped over the region where hot corn-meal cakes are said to lie heavily at times. Her face was screwed into an expression indicative of excruciating inner torment. As she made her way, moaning softly, to the farther door that opened into the cheerless corridor, there was audible a suppressed but decided giggle. It proceeded from Freckles. The monitor warned her, but, unheeding, the little girl giggled again.
A ripple of laughter started down the three tables, but was quickly suppressed.
"Number 207," said the much-tried and long-suffering sister, "you have broken the rule when under discipline. Go up to the dormitory and don't come down again to-night." This was precisely what Freckles wanted. She continued to sniff, however, as she left the room with seemingly reluctant steps. Once the door had closed upon her, she flew up the two long flights of stairs after Flibbertigibbet whom she found at the lavatory in the upper dormitory, cleansing the inside of her apron from molasses.
Oh, but those cakes were good, eaten on the broad window sill where the two children curled themselves to play at their favorite game of "making believe about the Marchioness"!
"But it's hot they be!" Freckles' utterance was thick owing to a large mouthful of cake with which she was occupied.
"I kept 'em so squeezin' 'em against my stommick."
"Where the pain was?"
"M-m," her chum answered abstractedly. Her face was flattened against the window in order to see what was going on below, for the electric arc-light at the corner made the street visible for the distance of a block.
"I've dropped a crumb," said Freckles ruefully.
"Pick it up then, or yer'll catch it—Oh, my!"
"Wot?" said Freckles who was on her hands and knees beneath the window searching for the crumb that might betray them if found by one of the sisters.
"Git up here quick if yer want to see—it's the Marchioness an' another kid. Come on!" she cried excitedly, pulling at Freckles' long arm. The two little girls knelt on the broad sill, and with faces pressed close to the window-pane gazed and whispered and longed until the electric lights were turned on in the dormitory and the noise of approaching feet warned them that it was bedtime.
Across the street from the Asylum, but facing the Avenue, was a great house of stone, made stately by a large courtyard closed by wrought-iron gates. On the side street looking to the Asylum, the windows in the second story had carved stone balconies; these were filled with bright blossoms in their season and in winter with living green. There was plenty of room behind the balcony flower-boxes for a white Angora cat to take her constitutional. When Flibbertigibbet entered the Asylum in June, the cat and the flowers were the first objects outside its walls to attract her attention and that of her chum, Freckles. It was not often that Freckles and her mate were given, or could obtain, the chance to watch the balcony, for there were so many things to do, something for every hour in the day: dishes to wash, beds to make, corridors to sweep, towels and stockings to launder, lessons to learn, sewing and catechism. But one day Flibbertigibbet—so Sister Angelica called the little girl from her first coming to the Asylum, and the name clung to her—was sent to the infirmary in the upper story because of a slight illness; while there she made the discovery of the "Marchioness." She called her that because she deemed it the most appropriate name, and why "appropriate" it behooves to tell.
Behind the garbage-house, in the corner of the yard near the railroad tracks, there was a fine place to talk over secrets and grievances. Moreover, there was a knothole in the high wooden fence that inclosed the lower portion of the yard. When Flibbertigibbet put her eye to this aperture, it fitted so nicely that she could see up and down the street fully two rods each way. Generally that eye could range from butcher's boy to postman, or 'old clothes' man; but one day, having found an opportunity, she placed her visual organ as usual to the hole—and looked into another queer member that was apparently glued to the other side! But she was not daunted, oh, no!
"Git out!" she commanded briefly.
"I ain't in." The Eye snickered.
"I'll poke my finger into yer!" she threatened further.
"I'll bite your banana off," growled the Eye.
"Yer a cross-eyed Dago."
"You're another—you Biddy!" The Eye was positively insulting; it winked at her.
Flibbertigibbet was getting worsted. She stamped her foot and kicked the fence. The Eye laughed at her, then suddenly vanished; and Flibbertigibbet saw a handsome-faced Italian lad sauntering up the street, hands in his pockets, and singing—oh, how he sang! The little girl forgot her rage in listening to the song, the words of which reminded her of dear Nonna Lisa and her own joys of a four weeks' vagabondage spent in the old Italian's company. All this she confessed to Freckles; and the two, under one pretence or another, managed to make daily visits to the garbage house knothole.
That hole was every bit as good as a surprise party to them. The Eye was seen there but once more, when it informed the other Eye that it belonged to Luigi Poggi, Nonna Lisa's one grandson; that it was off in Chicago with a vaudeville troupe while the other Eye had been with Nonna Lisa. But instead of the Eye there appeared a stick of candy twisted in a paper and thrust through; at another time some fresh dates, strung on a long string, were found dangling on the inner side of the fence—the knothole having provided the point of entrance for each date; once a small bunch of wild flowers graced it on the yard side. Again, for three months, the hole served for a circulating library. A whole story found lodgement there, a chapter at a time, torn from a paper-covered novel. Flibbertigibbet carried them around with her pinned inside of her blue denim apron, and read them to Freckles whenever she was sure of not being caught. Luigi was their one boy on earth.
The Marchioness of Isola Bella, that was the name of the story; and if Flibbertigibbet and Freckles on their narrow cots in the bare upper dormitory of the Orphan Asylum on ——nd Street, did not dream of sapphire lakes and snow-crowned mountains, of marble palaces and turtledoves, of lovely ladies and lordly men, of serenades and guitars and ropes of pearl, it was not the fault either of Luigi Poggi or the Marchioness of Isola Bella. But at times the story-book marchioness seemed very far away, and it was a happy thought of Flibbertigibbet's to name the little lady in the great house after her; for, once, watching at twilight from the cold window seat in the dormitory, the two orphan children saw her ladyship dressed for a party, the maid having forgotten to lower the shades.
Freckles and Flibbertigibbet dared scarcely breathe; it was so much better than the Marchioness of Isola Bella, for this one was real and alive—oh, yes, very much alive! She danced about the room, running from the maid when she tried to catch her, and when the door opened and a tall man came in with arms opened wide, the real Marchioness did just what the story-book marchioness did on the last page to her lover: gave one leap into the outstretched arms of the father-lover.
While the two children opposite were looking with all their eyes at this unexpected denouement, the maid drew the shades, and Freckles and Flibbertigibbet were left to stare at each other in the dark and cold. Flibbertigibbet nodded and whispered:
"That takes the cake. The Marchioness of Isola Bella ain't in it!"
Freckles squeezed her hand. Thereafter, although the girls appreciated the various favors of the knothole, their entire and passionate allegiance was given to the real Marchioness across the way.
One day, it was just after Thanksgiving, the Marchioness discovered her opposite neighbors. It was warm and sunny, a summer day that had strayed from its place in the Year's procession. The maid was putting the Angora cat out on the balcony among the dwarf evergreens. The Marchioness was trying to help her when, happening to look across the street, she saw the two faces at the opposite window. She stared for a moment, then taking the cat from the window sill held her up for the two little girls to see. Flibbertigibbet and her mate nodded vigorously and smiled, making motions with their hands as if stroking the fur.
The Marchioness dropped the cat and waved her hand to them; the maid drew her back from the window; the two girls saw her ladyship twitch away from the detaining hand and stamp her foot.
"Gee!" said Flibbertigibbet under her breath, "she's just like us."
"Oh, wot's she up ter now?" Freckles whispered.
Truly, any sane person would have asked that question. The Marchioness, having gained her point, was standing on the window seat by the open window, which was protected by an iron grating, and making curious motions with her fingers and hands.
"Is she a luny?" Freckles asked in an awed voice.
Flibbertigibbet was gazing fixedly at this apparition and made no reply. After watching this pantomime a few minutes, she spoke slowly:
"She's one of the dumb uns; I've seen 'em."
The Marchioness was now making frantic gestures towards the top of their window. She was laughing too.
"She's a lively one if she is a dumber," said Freckles approvingly. Flibbertigibbet jumped to her feet and likewise stood on the window sill.
"Gee! She wants us to git the window open at the top. Here—pull!" The two children hung their combined weight by the tips of their fingers from the upper sash, and the great window opened slowly a few inches; then it stuck fast. But they both heard the gleeful voice of their opposite neighbor and welcomed the sound.
"I'm talking to you—it's the only way I can—the deaf and dumb—"
The maid lifted her down, struggling, from the window seat, and they heard the childish voice scolding in a tongue unknown to them.
Flibbertigibbet set immediately about earning the right to learn the deaf-and-dumb alphabet; she hung out all monitor Number Twelve's washing—dish towels, stockings, handkerchiefs—every other day for two weeks in the bitter December weather. She knew that this special monitor had a small brother in the Asylum for Deaf Mutes; this girl taught her the strange language in compensation for the child's time and labor. It was mostly "give and take" in the Asylum.
"That child has been angelic lately; I don't know what's going to happen." Long-suffering Sister Agatha heaved a sigh of relief.
"Oh, there is a storm brewing you may be sure; this calm is unnatural," Sister Angelica replied, smiling at sight of the little figure in the yard dancing in the midst of an admiring circle of blue-nosed girls. "I believe they would rather stand and watch her than to run about and get warm. She is as much fun for them as a circus, and she learns so quickly! Have you noticed her voice in chapel lately?"
"Yes, I have"; said Sister Agatha grumpily, "and I confess I can't bear to hear her sing like an angel when she is such a little fiend."
Sister Angelica smiled. "Oh, I'm sure she'll come out all right; there's nothing vicious about her, and she's a loyal little soul, you can't deny that."
"Yes, to those she loves," Sister Agatha answered with some bitterness. She knew she was no favorite with the subject under discussion. "See her now! I shouldn't think she would have a whole bone left in her body."
They were playing "Snap-the-whip". Flibbertigibbet was the snapper for a line of twenty or more girls. As she swung the circle her legs flew so fast they fairly twinkled, and her hops and skips were a marvel to onlookers. But she landed right side up at last, although breathless, her long braid unloosened, hair tossing on the wind, cheeks red as American beauty roses, and gray eyes black with excitement of the game. Then the bell rang its warning, the children formed in line and marched in to lessons.
The two weeks in December in which Flibbertigibbet had given herself to the acquisition of the new language, proved long for the Marchioness. Every day she watched at the window for the reappearance of the two children at the bare upper window opposite; but thus far in vain. However, on the second Saturday after their first across-street meeting, she saw to her great joy the two little girls curled up on the window sill and frantically waving to attract her attention. The Marchioness nodded and smiled, clapped her hands, and mounted upon her own broad window seat in order to have an unobstructed view over the iron grating.
"She sees us, she sees us!" Freckles cried excitedly, but under her breath; "now let's begin."
Flibbertigibbet chose one of the panes that was cleaner than the others and putting her two hands close to it began operations. The Marchioness fairly hopped up and down with delight when she saw the familiar symbols of the deaf-and-dumb alphabet, and immediately set her own small white hands to work on her first sentence:
Flibbertigibbet nodded emphatically; the conversation was begun again and continued for half an hour. It was in truth a labor as well as a work of love. The spelling in both cases was far from perfect and, at times, puzzling to both parties; but little by little they became used to each other's erratic symbols together with the queer things for which they stood, and no conversation throughout the length and breadth of New York—yes, even of our United States—was ever more enjoyed than by these three girls. Flibbertigibbet and the Marchioness did the finger-talking, and Freckles helped with the interpretation. In the following translation of this first important exchange of social courtesies, the extremely peculiar spelling, and wild combinations of vowels in particular, are omitted: but the questions and answers are given exactly as they were constructed by the opposite neighbors.
"Go slow." This as a word of warning from the Marchioness.
"Isn't this fun?"
"Beats the band."
"What is your name?"
Flibbertigibbet and her chum looked at each other; should it be nickname or real name? As they were at present in society and much on their dignity they decided to give their real names.
"Aileen Armagh." Thereupon Flibbertigibbet beat upon her breast to indicate first person singular possessive. The Marchioness stared at her for a minute, then spelled rather quickly:
"It's lovely. We call you something else."
"Aunt Ruth and I."
"What do you call me?"
"Git off!" cried Flibbertigibbet, recklessly shoving Freckles on to the floor. "Gee, how'd she know!" And thereupon she jumped to her feet and, having the broad window sill to herself, started upon a rather restricted coon dance in order to prove to her opposite neighbor that the nickname belonged to her by good right. Oh, but it was fun for the Marchioness! She clapped her hands to show her approval and catching up the skirt of her dainty white frock, slowly raised one leg at a right angle to her body and stood so for a moment, to the intense admiration of the other girls.
"That's what they call me here," said Flibbertigibbet when they got down to conversation again.
"What is hers?" asked the Marchioness, pointing to Freckles.
"Margaret O'Dowd, but we call her Freckles."
How the Marchioness laughed! So hard, indeed, that she apparently tumbled off the seat, for she disappeared entirely for several minutes, much to the girls' amazement as well as chagrin.
"It's like she broke somethin'," whimpered Freckles; "a bone yer know—her nose fallin' that way when she went over forrard."
"She ain't chany, I tell yer; she's jest Injy rubber," said Flibbertigibbet scornfully but with a note of anxiety in her voice. At this critical moment the Marchioness reappeared and jumped upon the seat. She had a curious affair in her hand; after placing it to her eyes, she signalled her answer:
"I can see them."
"Wot's she givin' us?" Freckles asked in a perplexed voice.
"She's all right," said Flibbertigibbet with the confidence of superior knowledge; "it's a tel'scope; yer can see the moon through, an' yer freckles look to her as big as pie-plates."
Freckles crossed herself; it sounded like witches and it had a queer look.
"Ask her wot's her name," she suggested.
"What's your name?" Flibbertigibbet repeated on her fingers.
"Alice Maud Mary Van Ostend."
"Gee whiz, ain't that a corker!" Flibbertigibbet exclaimed delightedly. "How old are you?" She proceeded thus with her personal investigation prompted thereto by Freckles.
"And Freckles?" The Marchioness laughed as she spelled the name.
"Ask her if she's an orphant," said Freckles.
"Are you an orphan, Freckles says."
"Half," came the answer. "What are you?"
"Whole," was the reply. "Which is your half?"
"I have only papa—I'll introduce him to you sometime when—"
This explanation took fully five minutes to decipher, and while they were at work upon it the maid came up behind the Marchioness and, without so much as saying "By your leave", took her down struggling from the window seat and drew the shades. Whereupon Flibbertigibbet rose in her wrath, shook her fist at the insulting personage, and vowed vengeance upon her in her own forceful language:
"You're an old cat, and I'll rub your fur the wrong way till the sparks fly."
At this awful threat Freckles looked alarmed, and suddenly realized that she was shivering, the result of sitting so long against the cold window. "Come on down," she pleaded with the enraged Flibbertigibbet; and by dint of coaxing and the promise of a green woollen watch-chain, which she had patiently woven, and so carefully, with four pins and an empty spool till it looked like a green worm, she succeeded in getting her away from the dormitory window.
If the Marchioness of Isola Bella had filled many of Flibbertigibbet's dreams during the last six months, the real Alice Maud Mary Van Ostend now filled all her waking hours. Her sole thought was to contrive opportunities for more of this fascinating conversation, and she and Freckles practised daily on the sly in order to say more, and quickly, to the real Marchioness across the way.
By good luck they were given a half-hour for themselves just before Christmas, in reward for the conscientious manner in which they made beds, washed dishes, and recited their lessons for an entire week. When Sister Angelica, laying her hand on Flibbertigibbet's shoulder, had asked her what favor she wanted for the good work of that week, the little girl answered promptly enough that she would like to sit with Freckles in the dormitory window and look out on the street, for maybe there might be a hurdy-gurdy with a monkey passing through.
"Not this cold day, I'm sure," said Sister Angelica, smiling at the request; "for no monkey could be out in this weather unless he had an extra fur coat and a hot water bottle for his toes. Yes, you may go but don't stay too long in the cold."
But what if the Marchioness were to fail to make her appearance! They could not bear to think of this, and amused themselves for a little while by blowing upon the cold panes and writing their names and the Marchioness' in the vapor. But, at last—oh, at last, there she was! The fingers began to talk almost before they knew it. In some respects it proved to be a remarkable conversation, for it touched upon many and various topics, all of which proved of equal interest to the parties concerned. They lost no time in setting about the exchange of their views.
"I'm going to a party," the Marchioness announced, smoothing her gown.
"Five o'clock, but I'm all ready. I am going to dance a minuet."
This was a poser; but Flibbertigibbet did not wish to be outdone, although there was no party for her in prospect.
"I can dance too," she signalled.
"I know you can—lovely; that's why I told you."
"I wish I could see you dance the minute."
The Marchioness did not answer at once. Finally she spelled "Wait a minute," jumped down from the broad sill and disappeared. In a short time she was back again.
"I'm going to dance for you. Look downstairs—when it is dark—and you'll see the drawing-room lighted—I'll dance near the windows."
The two girls clapped their hands and Flibbertigibbet jumped up and down on the window sill to express her delight.
"When do you have to go to bed?" was the next pointed question from Alice Maud Mary.
"A quarter to eight."
"Who puts you in?"
This was another poser for even Flibbertigibbet's quick wits.
"Wot does she mane?" Freckles demanded anxiously.
"I dunno; anyhow, I'll tell her the sisters."
"The sisters," was the word that went across the street.
"Oh, how nice! Do you say your prayers to them too?"
Freckles groaned. "Wot yer goin' to tell her now?"
"Shut up now till yer hear me, an' cross yerself, for I mane it." Such was the warning from her mate.
"No; I say them to another lady—Our Lady."
"Oh gracious!" Freckles cried out under her breath and began to snicker.
"What lady?" The Marchioness looked astonished but intensely interested.
"The Holy Virgin. I'll bet she don't know nothin' 'bout Her," said Flibbertigibbet in a triumphant aside to Freckles. The Marchioness' eyes opened wider upon the two children across the way.
"That is the mother of Our Lord, isn't it?" she said in her dumb way. The two children nodded; no words seemed to come readily just then, for Alice Maud Mary had given them a surprise. They crossed themselves.
"I never thought of saying my prayers to His mother before, but I shall now. He always had a mother, hadn't he?"
Flibbertigibbet could think of nothing to say in answer, but she did the next best thing: she drew her rosary from under her dress waist and held it up to the Marchioness who nodded understandingly and began to fumble at her neck. In a moment she brought forth a tiny gold chain with a little gold cross hanging from it. She held it up and dangled it before the four astonished eyes opposite.
"Gee! Yer can't git ahead of her, an' I ain't goin' to try. She's just a darlint." Flibbertigibbet's heart was very full and tender at that moment; but she giggled at the next question.
"Do you know any boys?"
One finger was visible at the dormitory window. The Marchioness laughed and after telling them she knew ever so many began to count on her fingers for the benefit of her opposite neighbors.
"One, two, three, four, five," she began on her right hand—
"I don't believe her," said Freckles with a suspicious sniff.
Flibbertigibbet turned fiercely upon her. "I'd believe her if she said she knew a thousand, so now, Margaret O'Dowd, an' yer hold yer tongue!" she cried; but in reprimanding Freckles for her want of faith she lost count of the boys.
"I must go now," said the Marchioness; "but when the drawing-room downstairs is lighted, you look in—there'll be one boy there to dance with me. Be sure you look." Suddenly the Marchioness made a sign that both girls understood, although it was an extra one and the very prettiest of all in the deaf-and-dumb alphabet of the affections: she put her fingers to her lips and blew them a kiss.
"Ain't she a darlint!" murmured Flibbertigibbet, tossing the same sign across the street. When the Marchioness had left the window, the two girls spent the remaining minutes of their reward in planning how best to see the dance upon which they had set their hearts. They thought of all the places available, but were sure they would not be permitted to occupy them. At last Flibbertigibbet decided boldly, on the strength of a good conscience throughout one whole week, to ask at headquarters.
"I'm goin' straight to Sister Angelica an' ask her to let us go into the chapel; it's the only place. Yer can see from the little windy in the cubby-hole where the priest gits into his other clothes."
Freckles looked awestruck. "She'll never let yer go in there."
Her mate snapped her fingers in reply, and catching Freckles' hand raced her down the long dormitory, down the two long flights of stairs to the schoolroom where Sister Angelica was giving a lesson to the younger girls.
"Well, Flibbertigibbet, what is it now?" said the sister smiling into the eager face at her elbow. When Sister Angelica called her by her nickname instead of by the Asylum number, Flibbertigibbet knew she was in high favor. She nudged Freckles and replied:
"I want to whisper to you."
Sister Angelica bent down; before she knew it the little girl's arms were about her neck and the child was telling her about the dance at the stone house across the way. The sister smiled as she listened to the rush of eager words, but she was so glad to find this madcap telling her openly her heart's one desire, that she did what she had never done before in all her life of beautiful child-consecrated work: she said "Yes, and I will go with you. Wait for me outside the chapel door at half-past four."
Flibbertigibbet squeezed her around the neck with such grateful vigor that the blood rushed to poor Sister Angelica's head. She was willing, however, to be a martyr in such a good cause. The little girl walked quietly to the door, but when it had closed upon her she executed a series of somersaults worthy of the Madison Square Garden acrobats. "What'd I tell yer, what'd I tell yer!" she exclaimed, pirouetting and somersaulting till the slower-moving Freckles was a trifle dizzy.
Within a quarter of an hour the three were snugly ensconced in the window niche of the "cubby-hole," so Flibbertigibbet termed the robing-room closet, and looking with all their eyes across the street. They were directly opposite what Sister Angelica said must be the drawing-room and on a level with it. As they looked, one moment the windows were dark, in the next they were filled with soft yet brilliant lights. The lace draperies were parted and the children could see down the length of the room.
There she was! Hopping and skipping by the side of her father-lover and drawing him to the central window. Behind them came the lovely young lady and the Boy! The two were holding hands and swinging them freely as they laughed and chatted together.
"That's the Boy!" cried Flibbertigibbet, wild with excitement.
"And that must be the Aunt Ruth she told about—oh, ain't she just lovely!" cried Freckles.
"Watch out now, an' yer'll see the minute!" said Flibbertigibbet, squeezing Sister Angelica's hand; Sister Angelica squeezed back, but kept silence. She was learning many things before unknown to her. The four came to the middle window and looked out, up, and all around. But although the two children waved their hands wildly to attract their attention, the good people opposite failed to see them because the little window suffered eclipse in the shadow of the large electric arc-light's green cap.
"She's goin' to begin!" cried Flibbertigibbet, clapping her hands.
The young lady sat down at the piano and began to play. Whether Flibbertigibbet expected a variation of a "coon dance" or an Irish jig cannot be stated with certainty, but that she was surprised is a fact; so surprised, indeed, that for full two minutes she forgot to talk. To the slow music, for such it was—Flibbertigibbet beat time with her fingers on the pane to the step—the Marchioness and the Boy, pointing their daintily slippered feet, moved up and down, back and forth, swinging, turning, courtesying, bowing over the parquet floor with such childishly stately yet charming grace that their rhythmic motions were as a song without words.
The father-lover stood with his back to the mantel and applauded after an especially well executed flourish or courtesy; Aunt Ruth looked over her shoulder, smiling, her hands wandering slowly over the keys. At last, the final flourish, the final courtesy. The Marchioness' dress fairly swept the floor, and the Boy bowed so low that—well, Flibbertigibbet never could tell how it happened, but she had a warm place in her heart for that boy ever after—he quietly and methodically stood head downwards on his two hands, his white silk stockings and patent leathers kicking in the air.
The Marchioness was laughing so hard that she sat down in a regular "cheese" on the floor; the father-lover was clapping his hands like mad; the lady swung round on the piano stool and shook her forefinger at the Boy who suddenly came right side up at last, hand on his heart, and bowed with great dignity to the little girl on the floor. Then he, too, laughed and cut another caper just as a solemn-faced butler came in with wraps and furs. But by no means did he remain solemn long! How could he with the Boy prancing about him, and the Marchioness playing at "Catch-me-if-you-can" with her father-lover, and the lady slipping and sliding over the floor to catch the Boy who was always on the other side of the would-be solemn butler? Why, he actually swung round in a circle by holding on to that butler's dignified coat-tails!
Nor were they the only ones who laughed. Across the way in one of the Orphan Asylum windows, Sister Angelica and the children laughed too, in spirit joining in the fun, and when the butler came to the window to draw the shades there were three long "Ah's," both of intense disappointment and supreme satisfaction.
"Watch out, now," said Flibbertigibbet excitedly on the way down into the basement for supper and dishwashing, for it was their turn this week, "an' yer'll see me dance yer a minute in the yard ter-morrow."
"Yer can't dance it alone," replied doubting Freckles; "yer've got to have a boy."
"I don't want one; I'll take you, Freckles, for a boy." Clumsy Freckles blushed with delight beneath her many beauty-spots at such promise of unwonted graciousness on the part of her chum, and wondered what had come over Flibbertigibbet lately.
* * * * *
A few hours afterwards when they went up to bed, they whispered together again concerning the dance, and begged Sister Angelica to let them have just one peep from the dormitory window at their house of delight—a request she was glad to grant. They opened one of the inside blinds a little way, and exclaimed at the sight. It was snowing. The children oh'ed and ah'ed under their breath, for a snowstorm at Christmas time in the great city is the child's true joy. At their opposite neighbor's a faint light was visible in the balcony room; the wet soft flakes had already ridged the balustrade, powdered the dwarf evergreens, topped the cap of the electric arc-light and laid upon the concrete a coverlet of purest white.
The long bare dormitory filled with the children—the fatherless and motherless children we have always with us. Soon each narrow cot held its asylum number; the many heads, golden, brown, or black, busied all of them with childhood's queer unanchored thoughts, were pillowed in safety for another night.
And without the snow continued to fall upon the great city. It graced with equal delicacy the cathedral's marble spires and the forest of pointed firs which made the numberless Christmas booths that surrounded old Washington Market. It covered impartially, and with as pure a white, the myriad city roofs that sheltered saint and sinner, whether among the rich or the poor, among the cherished or castaways. It fell as thickly upon the gravestones in Trinity's ancient churchyard as upon the freshly turned earth in a corner of the paupers' burying ground; and it set upon black corruption wherever it was in evidence the seal of a transient stainlessness.
"Really, I am discouraged about that child," said Sister Agatha just after Easter. She was standing at one of the schoolroom windows that overlooked the yard; she spoke as if thoroughly vexed.
"What is it now—208 again?" Sister Angelica looked up from the copybook she was correcting.
"Oh, yes, of course; it's always 208."
"Oh, she doesn't mean anything; it's only her high spirits; they must have some vent."
"It's been her ruin being on the stage even for those few weeks, and ever since the Van Ostends began to make of her and have her over for that Christmas luncheon and the Sunday nights, the child is neither to have nor to hold. What with her 'make believing' and her 'acting' she upsets the girls generally. She ought to be set to good steady work; the first chance I get I'll put her to it. I only wish some one would adopt her—"
"I heard Father Honore—"
"Look at her now!" exclaimed Sister Agatha interrupting her.
Sister Angelica joined her at the window. They could not only see but hear all that was going on below. With the garbage house as a stage-setting and background to the performance, Flibbertigibbet was courtesying low to her audience; the skirt of her scant gingham dress was held in her two hands up and out to its full extent. The orphans crouched on the pavement in a triple semi-circle in front of her.
"All this rigmarole comes of the theatre," said Sister Agatha grimly.
"Well, where's the harm? She is only living it all over again and giving the others a little pleasure at the same time. Dear knows, they have little enough, poor things."
Sister Agatha made no reply; she was listening intently to 208's orders. The little girl had risen from her low courtesy and was haranguing the assembled hundreds:
"Now watch out, all of yer, an' when I do the minute yer can clap yer hands if yer like it; an' if yer want some more, yer must clap enough to split yer gloves if yer had any on, an' then I'll give yer the coon dance; an' then if yer like that, yer can play yer gloves are busted with clappin' an' stomp yer feet—"
"But we can't," Freckles entered her prosaic protest, "'cause we're squattin'."
"Well, get up then, yer'll have to; an' then if you stomp awful, an' holler 'On-ko—on-ko!'—that's what they say at the thayertre—I'll give yer somethin' else—"
"Wot?" demanded 206 suspiciously.
"Don't yer wish I'd tell!" said 208, and began the minuet.
It was marvellous how she imitated every graceful movement, every turn and twist and bow, every courtesy to the imaginary partner—Freckles had failed her entirely in this role—whose imaginary hand she held clasped high above her head; her clumsy shoes slid over the flagging as if it had been a waxed floor under dainty slippers. There was an outburst of applause; such an outburst that had the audience really worn gloves, every seam, even if French and handsewed, must have cracked under the healthy pressure.
208 beamed and, throwing back her head, suddenly flung herself into the coon dance which, in its way, was as wild and erratic as the minuet had been stately and methodical. Wilder and wilder grew her gyrations—head, feet, legs, shoulders, hair, hands, arms, were in seemingly perpetual motion. The audience grew wildly excited. They jumped up, shouting "On-ko—on-ko!" and accompanied their shouts with the stamping of feet. A dexterous somersault on the dancer's part ended the performance; her cheeks were flushed with exercise and excitement, her black mane was loosened and tossed about her shoulders. The audience lost their heads and even 206 joined in the prolonged roar:
"On-ko, 208—on-ko-o-o-oor! On-ko, Flibbertigibbet—some more—some more!"
"It's perfectly disgraceful," muttered Sister Agatha, and made a movement to leave the window; but Sister Angelica laid a gently detaining hand on her arm.
"No, Agatha, not that," she said earnestly; "you'll see that they will work all the better for this fun—Hark!"
There was a sudden and deep silence. 208 was evidently ready with her encore, a surprise to all but the performer. She shook back the hair from her face, raised her eyes, crossed her two hands upon her chest, waited a few seconds until a swift passenger train on the track behind the fence had smothered its roar in the tunnel depths, then began to sing "The Holy City." Even Sister Agatha felt the tears spring as she listened. A switch engine letting off steam drowned the last words, and there was no applause. Flibbertigibbet looked about her inquiringly; but the girls were silent. Such singing appeared to them out of the ordinary—and so unlike 208! It took them a moment to recover from their surprise; they gathered in groups to whisper together concerning the performance.
Meanwhile Flibbertigibbet was waiting expectantly. Where was the well earned applause? And she had reserved the best for the last! Ungrateful ones! Her friends in the stone house always praised her when she did her best,—but these girls—
She stamped her foot, then dashed through the broken ranks, making faces as she ran, and crying out in disgust and anger:
"Catch me givin' yer any more on-kos, yer stingy things!" and with that she ran into the basement followed by Freckles who was intent upon appeasing her.
The two sisters, pacing the dim corridor together after chapel that evening, spoke again of their little wilding.
"I didn't finish what I was going to tell you about 208," said Sister Angelica. "I heard the Sister Superior tell Father Honore when he was here the other day that Mr. Van Ostend had been to see her in regard to the child. It seems he has found a place for her in the country with some of his relations, as I understand it. He said his interest in her had been roused when he heard her for the first time on the stage, and that when he found Flibbertigibbet was the little acquaintance his daughter had made, he determined to further the child's interests so far as a home is concerned."
"Then there is a prospect of her going," Sister Agatha drew a breath of relief. "Did you hear what Father Honore said?"
"Very little; but I noticed he looked pleased, and I heard him say, 'This is working out all right; I'll step across and see Mr. Van Ostend myself.'—I shall miss her so!"
Sister Agatha made no reply. Together the two sisters continued to pace the dim corridor, silent each with her thoughts; and, pacing thus, up and down, up and down, the slender, black-robed figures were soon lost in the increasing darkness and became mere neutral outlines as they passed the high bare windows and entered their respective rooms.
Even so, a few weeks later when Number 208 left the Orphan Asylum on ——nd Street, they passed quietly out of the child's actual life and entered the fitfully lighted chambers of her childish memory wherein, at times, they paced with noiseless footsteps as once in the barren halls of her orphanage home.
A land of entrancing inner waters, our own marvellous Lake Country of the East, lies just behind those mountains of Maine that sink their bases in the Atlantic and are fitly termed in Indian nomenclature Waves-of-the-Sea. Bight and bay indent this mountainous coast, in beauty comparable, if less sublime yet more enticing, to the Norwegian fjords; within them are set the islands large and small whereon the sheep, sheltered by cedar coverts, crop the short thick turf that is nourished by mists from the Atlantic. Above bight and bay and island tower the mountains. Their broad green flanks catch the earliest eastern and the latest western lights. Their bare summits are lifted boldly into the infinite blue that is reflected in the waters which lap their foundations.
Flamsted lies at the outlet of Lake Mesantic, on the gentle northward slope of these Waves-of-the-Sea, some eighteen miles inland from Penobscot Bay. Until the last decade of the nineteenth century it was unconnected with the coast by any railroad; but at that time a branch line from Hallsport on the Bay, encouraged by the opening of a small granite quarry in the Flamsted Hills, made its terminus at The Corners—a sawmill settlement at the falls of the Rothel, a river that runs rapidly to the sea after issuing from Lake Mesantic. A mile beyond the station the village proper begins at its two-storied tavern, The Greenbush.
From the lower veranda of this hostelry, one may look down the shaded length of the main street, dignified by many an old-fashioned house, to The Bow, an irregular peninsula extending far into the lake and containing some two hundred acres. This estate is the ancestral home of the Champneys, known as Champ-au-Haut, in the vernacular "Champo." At The Bow the highway turns suddenly, crosses a bridge over the Rothel and curves with the curving pine-fringed shores of the lake along the base of the mountain until it climbs the steep ascent that leads to Googe's Gore, the third division of the town of Flamsted.
As in all New England towns, that are the possessors of "old families," so in Flamsted;—its inhabitants are partisans. The result is, that it has been for years as a house divided against itself, and heated discussion of the affairs of the Googes at the Gore and the Champneys at The Bow has been from generation to generation an inherited interest. And from generation to generation, as the two families have ramified and intermarriages occurred more and more frequently, party spirit has run higher and higher and bitter feelings been engendered. But never have the factional differences been more pronounced and the lines of separation drawn with a sharper ploughshare in this mountain-ramparted New England town, than during the five years subsequent to the opening of the Flamsted Quarries which brought in its train the railroad and the immigrants. This event was looked upon by the inhabitants as the Invasion of the New.
The interest of the first faction was centred in Champ-au-Haut and its present possessor, the widow of Louis Champney, old Judge Champney's only son. That of the second in the Googes, Aurora and her son Champney, the owners of Googe's Gore and its granite outcrop.
The office room of The Greenbush has been for two generations the acknowledged gathering place of the representatives of the hostile camps. On a cool evening in June, a few days after the departure of several New York promoters, who had formed a syndicate to exploit the granite treasure in The Gore and for that purpose been fully a week in Flamsted, a few of the natives dropped into the office to talk it over.
When Octavius Buzzby, the factotum at Champ-au-Haut and twin of Augustus Buzzby, landlord of The Greenbush, entered the former bar-room of the old hostelry, he found the usual Saturday night frequenters. Among them was Colonel Milton Caukins, tax collector and assistant deputy sheriff who, never quite at ease in the presence of his long-tongued wife, expanded discursively so soon as he found himself in the office of The Greenbush. He was in full flow when Octavius entered.
"Hello, Tave," he cried, extending his hand in easy condescension, "you're well come, for you're just in time to hear the latest; the deal's on—an A. 1 sure thing this time. Aurora showed me the papers to-day. We're in for it now—government contracts, state houses, battle monuments, graveyards; we've got 'em all, and things'll begin to hum in this backwater hole, you bet!"
Octavius looked inquiringly at his brother. Augustus answered by raising his left eyebrow and placidly closing his right eye as a cautionary signal to lie low and await developments.
It was the Colonel's way to boom everything, and simply because he could not help it. It was not a matter of principle with him, it was an affair of temperament. He had boomed Flamsted for the last ten years—its climate, its situation, its scenery, its water power, its lake-shore lands as prospective sites for mansion summer cottages, and the treasures of its unopened quarries. So incorrigible an optimist was Milton Caukins that any slight degree of success, which might attend the promotion of any one of his numerous schemes, caused an elation that amounted to hilarity. On the other hand, the deadly blight of non-fulfilment, that annually attacked his most cherished hopes for the future development of his native town, failed in any wise to depress him, or check the prodigal casting of his optimistic daily bread on the placid social waters where, as the years multiplied, his enthusiasms scarce made a ripple.
"I see Mis' Googe yisterd'y, an' she said folks hed been down on her so long for sellin' thet pass'l of paster for the first quarry, thet she might ez well go the hull figger an' git 'em down on her for the rest of her days by sellin' the rest. By Andrew Jackson! she's got the grit for a woman—and the good looks too! She can hold her own for a figger with any gal in this town. I see the syndicaters a-castin' sheeps' eyes her ways the day she took 'em over The Gore prospectin'; but, by A. J.! they hauled in their lookin's when she turned them great eyes of her'n their ways.—What's the figger for the hull piece? Does anybody know?"
It was Joel Quimber, the ancient pound-master, who spoke, and the silence that followed proved that each man present was resenting the fact that he was not in a position to give the information desired.
"I shall know as soon as they get it recorded, that is, if they don't trade for a dollar and if they ever do get it recorded." The speaker was Elmer Wiggins, druggist and town clerk for the last quarter of a century. He was pessimistically inclined, the tendency being fostered by his dual vocation of selling drugs and registering the deaths they occasionally caused.
Milton Caukins, or the Colonel, as he preferred to be called on account of his youthful service in the state militia and his present connection with the historical society of The Rangers, took his cigar from his lips and blew the smoke forcibly towards the ceiling before he spoke.
"She's got enough now to put Champ through college. The first forty acres she sold ten years ago will do that."
"I ain't so sure of thet." Joel Quimber's tone implied obstinate conviction that his modestly expressed doubt was a foregone conclusion. "Champ's a devil of a feller when it comes to puttin' through anything. He's a chip off the old block. He'll put through more 'n his mother can git out if he gits in any thicker with them big guns—race hosses, steam yachts an' fancy fixin's. He could sink the hull Gore to the foundations of Old Time in a few of them suppers I've heerd he gin arter the show. I heerd he gin ten dollars a plate for the last one—some kind of primy-donny, I heerd. But Champ's game though. I heerd Mr. Van Ostend talkin' 'bout him to one of the syndicaters—mebbe they're goin' to work him in with them somehow; anyway, I guess Aurory don't begrutch him a little spendin' money seein' how easy it come out of the old sheep pasters. Who'd 'a' thought a streak of granite could hev made sech a stir!"
"It's a stir that'll sink this town in the mud." Mr. Wiggins' voice was what might be called thorough-bass, and was apt to carry more weight with his townspeople than his opinions, which latter were not always acceptable to Colonel Caukins. "Look at it now! This town has never been bonded; we're free from debt and a good balance on hand for improvements. Now along comes three or four hundred immigrants to begin with—trade following the flag, I suppose you call it, Colonel," (he interpolated this with cutting sarcasm)—"a hodge-podge of Canucks, and Dagos, and Polacks, and the Lord knows what—a darned set of foreigners, foreign to our laws, our ways, our religion; and behind 'em a lot of men that would be called windbags if it wasn't for their money-bags. And between 'em our noses are going to be held right down on the grindstone. I tell you we'll have to bond this town to support the schooling for these foreign brats, and there's a baker's dozen of 'em every time; and there'll be tooting and dancing and singing and playing on Sunday with their foreign gimcranks,—mandolin-banjos and what-all—"
"Good heavens, my dear fellow!" the Colonel broke in with an air of impatience, "can't you see that it's this very 'stir,' as you term it, that is going to put this town into the front rank of the competing industrial thousands of America?"
The Colonel, when annoyed at the quantity of cold water thrown upon his redhot enthusiasm, was apt to increase the warmth of his patronizing address by an endearing term.
"I see farther than the front ranks of your 'competing industrial thousands of America,' Milton Caukins; I see clear over 'em to the very brink, and I see a struggling wrestling mass of human beings slipping, sliding to the bottomless pit of national destitution, helped downwards by just such darned boomers of what you call 'industrial efficiency' as you are, Milton Caukins." He paused for breath.
Augustus Buzzby, who was ever a man of peace, tried to divert this raging torrent of speech into other and personal channels.
"I ain't nothin' 'gainst Mis' Googe as a woman, but she played me a mean trick when she sold that first quarry. It killed my trade as dead as a door nail. You can't hire them highflyers to put themselves into a town their money's bankin' on to ruin in what you might call a summer-social way. I found that out 'fore they left this house last week."
"Yes, and she's played a meaner one now." Mr. Wiggins made the assertion with asperity and looked at the same time directly at Octavius Buzzby. "I know all about their free dispensaries that'll draw trade away from my very counter and take the bread and butter out of my mouth; and as for the fees—there won't be a chance for recording a homestead site; there isn't any counting on such things, for they're a homeless lot, always moving from pillar to post with free pickings wherever they locate over night, just like the gypsies that came through here last September."
"It's kinder queer now, whichever way you've a mind to look at it," Joel Quimber remarked meditatively. His eyes were cast up to the ceiling; his fore-fingers and thumbs formed an acute triangle over the bridge of his nose; the arms of his chair supported his elbows. "Queer thet it's allus them upper tens an' emigrants thet keep a-movin' on, fust one place then t'other. Kinder looks ez if, arter all, there warn't no great real difference when it comes to bein' restless. Take us home folks now, we're rooted in deep, an' I guess if we was to be uprooted kinder suddin', p'raps we'd hev more charity for the furriners. There's no tellin'; I ain't no jedge of sech things, an' I'm an out-an-out American. But mebbe my great-great-great-granther's father could hev' told ye somethin' wuth tellin'; he an' the Champneys was hounded out of France, an' was glad 'nough to emigrate, though they called it refugeein' an' pioneerin' in them days."
Augustus Buzzby laid his hand affectionately on the old man's shoulder. "You're a son of the soil, Joel; I stand corrected. I guess the less any of us true blue Americans say 'bout flinging stones at furriners the safer 'twill be for all on us."
But Mr. Wiggins continued his diatribe: "There ain't no denying it, the first people in town are down on the whole thing. Didn't the rector tell me this very day that 'twas like ploughing up the face of nature for the sake of sowing the seeds of political and social destruction—his very words—in this place of peace and happy homes? He don't blame Mrs. Champney for feeling as she does 'bout Aurora Googe. He said it was a shame that just as soon as Mrs. Champney had begun to sell off her lake shore lands so as her city relatives could build near her, Mrs. Googe must start up and balk all her plans by selling two hundred acres of old sheep pasture for the big quarry."
"Humph!" It was the first sound that Octavius Buzzby had uttered since his entrance and general greeting. Hearing it his brother looked warningly in his direction, for he feared that the factional difference, which had come to the surface to breathe in his own and Elmer Wiggins' remarks, might find over-heated expression in the mouth of his twin if once Tave's ire should be aroused. But his brother gave no heed and, much to Augustus' relief, went off at a tangent.
"I heard old Judge Champney talk on these things a good many times in his lifetime, an' he was wise, wiser'n any man here." He allowed himself this one thrust at Mr. Wiggins and the Colonel. "He used to say: 'Tavy, it's all in the natural course of things, and it's got to strike us here sometime; not in my time, but in my boy's. No man of us can say he owns God's earth, an' set up barriers an' fences, an' sometimes breastworks, an' holler "hands off" to every man that peeks over the wall, "this here is mine or that is ours!" because 't isn't in the natural order of things, and what isn't in the natural order isn't going to be, Tavy.' That's what the old Judge said to me more'n once."
"He was right, Tavy, he was right," said Quimber eagerly and earnestly. "I can't argify, an' I can't convince; but I know he was right. I've lived most a generation longer'n any man here, an' I've seen a thing or two an' marked the way of nater jest like the Jedge. I've stood there where the Rothel comes down from The Gore in its spring freshet, rarin', tearin' down, bearin' stones an' rocks along with its current till it strikes the lowlands; then a racin' along, catchin' up turf an' mud an' sand, an' foamin' yaller an' brown acrost the medders, leavin' mud a quarter of an inch thick on the lowlands; and then a-rushin' into the lake ez if 't would turn the bottom upside down—an' jest look what happens! Stid of kickin' up a row all along the banks it jest ain't nowhere when you look for it! Only the lake riled for a few furlongs off shore an' kinder humpin' up in the middle. An' arter a day or two ye come back an' look agin, an' where's the rile? All settled to the bottom, an' the lake as clear as a looking-glass. An' then ye look at the medders an' ye see thet, barrin' a big boulder or two an' some stuns thet an ox-team can cart off, an' some gullyin' out long the highroad, they ain't been hurt a mite. An' then come 'long 'bout the fust of July, an' ye go out an' stan' there and look for the silt—an' what d' ye see? Why, jest thet ye're knee deep in clover an' timothy thet hez growed thet high an' lush jest on account of thet very silt!
"Thet's the way 't is with nateral things; an' thet's what the old Jedge meant. This furrin flood's a-comin'; an' we've got to stan' some scares an' think mebbe The Gore dam'll bust, an' the boulders lay round too thick for the land, an' the mud'll spile our medders, an' the lake show rily so's the cattle won't drink—an' we'll find out thet in this great free home of our'n, thet's lent us for a while, thet there's room 'nough for all, an', in the end—not in my time, but in your'n—our Land, like the medders, is goin' to be the better for it."
"Well put, well put, Quimber," said the Colonel who had been showing signs of restlessness under the unusual and protracted eloquence of the old pound-master. "We're making the experiment that every other nation has had to make some time or other. Take old Rome, now—what was it started the decay, eh?"
As no one present dared to cope with the decline of so large a subject, the Colonel had the floor. He looked at each man in turn; then waved the hand that held his cigar airily towards the ceiling. "Just inbreeding, sir, inbreeding. That's what did it. We Americans, are profiting by the experience of the centuries and are going to take in fresh blood just as fast as it can attain to an arterial circulation in the body politic, sir; an arterial circulation, I say—" the Colonel was apt to roll a fine phrase more than once under his tongue when the sound thereof pleased him,—"and in the course of nature—I agree perfectly with the late Judge Champney and our friend, Quimber—there may be, during the process, a surcharge of blood to the head or stomach of the body politic that will cause a slight attack of governmental vertigo or national indigestion. But it will pass, gentlemen, it will pass; and I assure you the health of the Republic will be kept at the normal, with nothing more than passing attacks of racial hysteria which, however undignified they may appear in the eyes of all right-minded citizens, must ever remain the transient phenomena of a great nation in the making."
The Colonel, having finished his peroration with another wave of his cigar towards the ceiling, lowered his feet from their elevated position on the counter, glanced anxiously at the clock, which indicated a quarter of nine, and remarked casually that, as Mrs. Caukins was indisposed, he felt under obligations to be at home by half-past nine.
Joel Quimber, whom such outbursts of eloquence on the Colonel's part in the usual town-meeting left in a generally dazed condition of mind and politics, remarked that he heard the whistle of the evening train about fifteen minutes ago, and asked if Augustus were expecting any one up on it.
"No, but the team's gone down to meet it just the same. Maybe there'll be a runner or two; they pay 'bout as well as the big guns after all; and then there's a chance of one of the syndicaters coming in on me at any time now.—There's the team."
He went out on the veranda. The men within the office listened with intensified interest, strengthened by that curiosity which is shown by those in whose lives events do not crowd upon one another with such overwhelming force, that the susceptibility to fresh impressions is dulled. They heard the land-lord's cordial greeting, a confusion of sounds incident upon new arrivals; then Augustus Buzzby came in, carrying bags and travelling shawl, and, following him, a tall man in the garb of a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Close at his side was a little girl. She was far from appearing shy or awkward in the presence of strangers, nodding brightly to Octavius, who sat nearest the door, and smiling captivatingly upon Joel Quimber, whereupon he felt immediately in his pockets for a peppermint which, to his disappointment, was not there.
The Colonel sprang to his feet when the guests entered, and quickly doffed his felt hat which was balancing in a seemingly untenable position on the side of his head. The priest, who removed his on the threshold, acknowledged the courtesy with a bow and a keen glance which included all in the room; then he stepped to the desk on the counter to enter his name in the ponderous leather-backed registry which Augustus opened for him. The little girl stood beside him, watching his every movement.
The Flamstedites saw before them a man in the prime of life, possibly forty-five. He was fully six feet in height, noticeably erect, with an erectness that gave something of the martial to his carriage, spare but muscular, shoulders high and square set, and above them a face deeply pock-marked, the features large but regular, the forehead broad and bulging rather prominently above the eyes. The eyes they could not see; but the voice made itself heard, and felt, while he was writing. The men present unconsciously welcomed it as a personality.
"Can you tell me if Mrs. Louis Champney lives near here?" he said, addressing his host.
"Yes, sir; just about a mile down the street at The Bow."
"Oh, please, yer Riverence, write mine too," said the child who, by standing on tiptoe at the high counter, had managed to follow every stroke of the pen.
The priest looked at the landlord with a frankly interrogatory smile.
"To be sure, to be sure. Ain't you my guest as long as you're in my home?" Augustus replied with such whole-souled heartiness that the child beamed upon him and boldly held out her hand for the pen.
"Let me write it," she said decidedly, as if used to having her way. Colonel Caukins sprang to place a high three-legged stool for the little registree, and was about to lift her on, but the child, laughing aloud, managed to seat herself without his assistance, and forthwith gave her undivided attention to the entering of her name.
Those present loved in after years to recall this scene: the old bar, the three-legged stool, the little girl perched on top, one foot twisted over the round—so busily intent upon making a fine signature that a tip of her tongue was visible held tightly against her left cheek—the coarse straw hat, the clean but cheap blue dress, the heavy shoes that emphasized the delicacy of her ankles and figure; and above her the leaning priest, smiling gravely with fatherly indulgence upon this firstling of his flock in Flamsted.
The child looked up for approval when she had finished and shaken, with an air of intense satisfaction, a considerable quantity of sand over the fresh ink. Evidently the look in the priest's eyes was reward enough, for, although he spoke no word, the little girl laughed merrily and in the next moment hopped down rather unexpectedly from her high place and busied herself with taking a survey of the office and its occupants.
The priest took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Augustus, saying as he did so:
"This is Mr. Buzzby, I know; and here is a letter from Mr. Van Ostend in regard to this little girl. Her arrival is premature; but the matron of the institution, where she has been, wished to take advantage of my coming to Flamsted to place her in my care. Mr. Van Ostend would like to have her remain here with you for a few days if Mrs. Champney is not prepared to receive her just now."
There was a general movement of surprise among the men in the office, and all eyes, with a question-mark visible in them, were turned towards Octavius Buzzby. Upon him, the simple announcement had the effect of a shock; he felt the need of air, and slipped out to the veranda, but not before he received another bright smile from the little girl. He waited outside until he saw Augustus show the newcomers upstairs; then he re-entered the office and went to the register which was the speculative focus of interest for all the others. Octavius read:
June 18, 1889—FR. JOHN FRANCIS HONORE, NEW YORK. AILEEN ARMAGH, ORPHAN ASYLUM, NEW YORK CITY.
The Colonel was in a state of effervescing hilarity. He rubbed his hands energetically, slapped Octavius on the back, and exclaimed in high feather: