The Humours of School Life
BY MYRA KELLY
ILLUSTRATED BY W. D. STEVENS
TO MY MOTHER
A Little Matter of Real Estate
The Uses of Adversity
A Christmas Present for a Lady
Love Among the Blackboards
Morris and the Honourable Tim
When a Man's Widowed
H.R.H. The Prince of Hester Street
The Land Of Heart's Desire
A Passport to Paradise
The Touch of Nature
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Say, Teacher, I got something for you". Frontispiece
Isidore Belchatosky, the Adonis of the class
"I got two swollen legs over her"
"My dear little chap, you mustn't cry like that"
"Dismissed with the common herd at three o'clock"
"I must ask you to leave this room"
"Teacher, I tells you 'scuse"
"So you want lick, so you can lick"
"She's a beautiful yonge uptown lady, but easy scared. Oh, awful easy scared!"
"Don't you dast to touch me," he yelled
"Look at your back!"
"You'll wish you minded your own —— business before I get through with you"
"I washes me the face"
"Ain't you never comin' on the school for to see mine teacher?"
A LITTLE MATTER OF REAL ESTATE
Four weeks of teaching in a lower East Side school had deprived Constance Bailey of many of the "Ideals in Education" which, during four years at college, she had trustingly acquired. But, despite many discouragements, despite an unintelligible dialect and an autocratic "Course of Study," she clung to an ambition to establish harmony in her kingdom and to impress a high moral tone upon the fifty-eight little children of Israel entrusted to her care. She was therefore troubled and heavy of heart when it was borne in upon her that two of her little flock—cousins to boot, and girls—had so far forgotten the Golden Rule as to be "mad on theirselves und wouldn't to talk even," as that Bureau of Fashionable Intelligence, Sarah Schrodsky, duly reported.
"Und Teacher," Sarah continued, "Eva Gonorowsky's mamma has a mad on Sadie Gonorowsky's mamma, und her papa has a mad on her papa, und her gran'ma has a mad on both of papas und both of mammas, und her gran'pa has a mad somethin' fierce on both of uncles, und her auntie—"
Here Miss Bailey sent the too communicative Sarah to her place and called the divided house of Gonorowsky to her desk for instant judgment. And as she held forth she was delighted to see that her words were falling upon good ground, for the dark and dainty features of her hearers expressed a flattering degree of conviction and of humility. She was admiring the wonderful lashes lying damp and dark on Eva's smooth cheek when the beautiful eyes unclosed, gazed straight across the desk at Sadie, and Eva took a flying leap into Teacher's lap to cling with arms and knees and fingers to her chosen refuge.
"Oh, Teacher, Teacher," she wailed, "Sadie makes on me such a snoot I got a scare over it."
Miss Bailey turned to the so lately placid face of Sadie in search of the devastating "snoot," but met only a serene glance of conscious guilelessness and the assurance:
"No ma'an, I don't makes no snoot on nobody. I get killed as anything off of my mamma sooner I makes a snoot. It ain't polite." This with a reassuring smile and direct and candid gaze.
"Teacher, yiss ma'an, she makes all times a snoot on me," cried the now weeping Eva, "all times. She turns her nose around, und makes go away her eyes, und comes her tongue out long. On'y I dassent to fight mit her while I'm cousins mit her. Und over cousins you got all times kind feelings."
"Well, Sadie," Teacher questioned, "what have you to say?"
The dark eyes met Teacher's with no shadow in their depths as Sadie uttered her denial:
"I never in my world done no snoot."
A shudder of admiring awe swept over the assembled class—followed by a gasp of open contradiction as Sadie went on with her vindication. For Sadie's snoots were the envy of all the class. Had not Morris Mogilewsky paid three cents for lessons in the art, and, with the accomplishment, frightened a baby into what its angry mother described as "spine-yell convulsions"? And now Sadie was saying, "I couldn't to make no snoot. Never. But, Teacher, it's like this: Eva makes me whole bunches of trouble. Bertha Binderwitz und me is monitors in the yard when the childrens comes back from dinner. So-o-oh, I says, 'front dress,' like you says, so the childrens shall look on what head is in front of them. On'y Eva she don't 'front dress' at all, but extra she longs out her neck und rubs on me somethin' fierce—"
"It's a lie!" interrupted Eva gently. "I don't make nothing like that. I stands by my line und Sadie she makes faces on me with her hand. It ain't polite." This with plaintive self-righteousness. "No ma'an, it ain't polite—you makes snoots mit your hand like this." And as Eva illustrated with outspread fingers and a pink thumb in juxtaposition to a diminutive nose, Teacher, with uncertain gravity, was forced to admit that snoots of that description are sanctioned by few books of etiquette.
"Now, my dear little girls," said she, "this quarrelling must stop. I want you to kiss each other as cousins should."
This suggestion was a distinct failure. Eva and Sadie, with much fluttering of aprons and waving of curls, sought opposite corners of the schoolroom, while up started Sarah Schrodsky with: "Teacher, they couldn't to make no kissing. They're mad on theirselves 'cause their mammas has a mad. Sadie's mamma says like this on Eva's mamma, 'Don't you dast to talk to me—you lives by the fifth floor und your man is a robber.' Und Eva's mamma says—"
When Teacher had managed to silence Sarah she led the weeping Gonorowskys back to their places and the scholastic world wagged on in outward tranquillity.
Hostilities were temporarily suspended some days later owing to the illness of Sadie, by far the more aggressive of the opposing parties. Eva led a placid life for three peaceful days, and then—as by law prescribed and postal card invited—Sadie's mother came to explain her daughter's absence. Large of person, bland of manner, in a heavy black shawl and a heavier black wig, Mrs. Lazarus Gonorowsky stood beaming and bobbing in the hall.
"I likes I should Sadie Gonorowsky's teacher see," she began, in the peculiar English of the adult population of the East Side. Mrs. Gonorowsky could neither use nor understand her young daughter's copious invective. Upon being assured that the diminutive form before her was indeed clothed with authority, she announced:
"Comes a letter I should by the school come. I was Sadie's mamma." Here she drew from the inner recesses of the black shawl a bundle which, being placed in a perpendicular position, proved to be the most recent addition to the Gonorowsky household. She smoothed it with a work-worn but tender hand, and repeated in a saddened voice: "Yes, ma'am, I was her mamma und she lays now on the bed."
The increasing sadness of Mrs. Gonorowsky's announcement and its sinister phraseology startled Teacher. "Not dead!" she cried. "Oh, surely not dead!"
"Sure not," was the indignant response. "She's got such a sickness she must lay on the bed, und comes the doctor. Sadie's papa holds much on that child, Miss Teacher, und all times he has a worry over her. Me too. She comes by the school tomorrow maybe, und I ask you by a favour you should do me the kindness to look on her. So she feel again sick she should better on the house come. She say, 'Oh, mamma, I got a lovely teacher; I likes to look on her the while she has such a light face.'"
Having thus diplomatically led up to a question, Mrs. Gonorowsky with great suavity asked, "Sadie is a good girl, hein?"
"Oh, yes, indeed."
"She is shmardt, hein? She don't make you no troubles?"
"Well," Miss Bailey answered, "she has rather bothered me lately by quarrelling with her little cousin, Eva."
"So-o-oh!" exclaimed Sadie's parent ponderously. "So-o-oh, Eva Gonorowsky makes you troubles; she is a bad girl—I tell Sadie—Sadie is a good girl—I tell her she should make nothings with Eva soch a bad girl. For what you not put her back by baby class? She is not shmardt."
"Oh, but she is; she is a bright little thing," cried Teacher. "I couldn't think of putting her back. She's a dear little girl and I can't imagine why Sadie quarrels with her."
Mrs. Gonorowsky drew her ample form to a wonderful erectness, readjusted her shawl, and answered with much stateliness:
"It was a trouble from off of real estate." With dignity and blandness she proceeded to kiss Teacher's hand, and signified entire willingness to entrust her precious Sadie to the care of so estimable a young person, inquired solicitously if the work were not too much for so small a lady, and cautioned the young person against rainy mornings. Had she a mackintosh? Mr. Gonorowsky was selling them off that week. Were her imperceptibles sufficiently warm? Mr. Gonorowsky, by a strange chance, was absolutely giving away "fine all from wool" imperceptibles, and the store was near. Mrs. Gonorowsky then withdrew, leaving a kindly sentiment in Teacher's heart and an atmosphere of ironing-boards and onions in the hall. On the following morning Sadie returned to her "light-faced" teacher, and for one whole day hostilities were suspended.
But on the morning after this truce Eva was absent from her accustomed place and Sadie blandly disclaimed all knowledge of her whereabouts. After the noon recess a pathetic little figure wavered in the doorway with one arm in a sling and one eye in a poultice. The remaining eye was fixed in deep reproach on the face of Isidore Belchatosky, the Adonis of the class, and the eye was the eye of Eva.
"Eva!" exclaimed Teacher, "oh, Eva, what can you have been doing? What's the matter with your eye?"
"Isidore Belchatosky he goes und makes me this here shiner," said Eva's accusing voice, as the eye under the poultice was uncovered for a moment. It was indeed a "shiner" of aggravated aspect, and Isidore cringed as it met his affrighted gaze. The sling and the bandages were of gay chintz, showing forth the adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and their lurid colours made them horribly conspicuous. Friday scampered across Eva's forehead, pursued by savages; and Crusoe, under his enormous umbrella, nestled close to her heart.
"Surely Isidore would never hit a little girl?" Teacher remonstrated.
"Teacher, yiss ma'an; he makes me this here shiner. Sadie she goes und tells him she kisses him a kiss so he makes me a shiner. He's lovin' mit her und she's got kind feelin's by him, the while his papa's got a candy cart. It's a stylish candy cart mit a bell und a horn. So-o-oh I was yesterday on the store for buy my mamma some wurst, und I don't make nothings mit nobody."
Here the poor, half-blind Eva, with her love and talent for pantomime, took a gay little walk past Teacher's desk, with tossing head and swinging skirts. Then with a cry she recoiled from the very memory of her wrongs.
"Come Isidore! Und he hits me a hack on my leg so I couldn't to hold it even. So I falls und I make me this here shiner. Und when my mamma seen how comes such a bile on my bone she had a mad; she hollered somethin' fierce."
One could well sympathize with the harassed Mrs. Nathan Gonorowsky.
"So-o-oh," continued Eva with melancholy enjoyment, "my mamma she puts medsin at a rag und bangages up mine eye. Und now I ain't healthy."
"Sadie Gonorowsky, come here!" commanded Miss Bailey, in a voice which lifted Sadie bodily from the place to which she had guiltily determined to cling. And Sadie went, jaunty of air, but with shifting eyes.
"Isidore Belchatosky, come here!" commanded Miss Bailey, and Isidore slunk after his divinity.
Teacher was savagely angry, but bylaws forbade corporal punishment, and principles—and the Principal—forbade noisy upbraidings. And so with long, strange words, to supply the element of dread uncertainty, she began to speak, slowly and coldly as one ever should when addressing ears accustomed to much sputtering profanity.
"Sadie and Isidore, did you dare to interfere with the life, the liberty and the happiness of our cherished young friend, Eva Gonorowsky? Did you dare?"
"No ma'an," said Sadie with a sob.
"It's a lie!" said Isidore with a snuffle.
"Did you, Isidore, allow yourself to be tempted by beauty to such inconceivable depravity as to blacken Eva's eye?"
"No ma'an. Self done it."
"Did you, Sadie, descend so low as to barter kisses with Isidore Belchatosky?"
"No ma'an," this with much scorn. "I wouldn't to kiss him; he's a scare-cat, und he tells out."
"What did he tell?" asked Teacher.
"He tells out how I say I kiss him a kiss so he make Eva a shiner. Und I wouldn't to do it. Never. So he gave me five cents even, I wouldn't to kiss no scare-cat."
"Well, then, why did you promise?"
"'Cause I couldn't to hit her mineself," said the doughty Sadie. She was inches taller than her victim, and stout withal. "I couldn't, 'cause I ain't so healthy; I'm a nervous child, Teacher, und I was day-before-yesterday sick on the bed."
Here the plaintive plaintiff showed a desire to testify once more, and Teacher appointed three-thirty that afternoon as the hour most suitable for a thorough examination of the case.
When the last arm had been twisted into the last sleeve, when the last chin had been tied into the last shawl, when the last dispute as to ownership in disreputable mittens had been settled, the great case of Gonorowsky vs. Gonorowsky was called. On either side of the desk stood a diminutive Gonorowsky; Eva still plaintive, and Sadie, redly, on the defensive. Directly in front stood that labourer defrauded of his hire, that tool in the hands of guileful woman—Isidore Belchatosky.
"Now," Teacher began, "I want to hear nothing but the truth. Isidore, did you hit Eva?"
"For a kiss."
Here Sadie muttered a threat "to lay him down dead if he tells," and Isidore required promise of safe conduct to his own block before he consented to murmur:
"Did you get the kiss?"
"Do you know anything about this fight?"
"Well, then, you may go home now, and bring your mother with you to-morrow morning."
Isidore left with a heavy heart and the enquiry was continued.
"What has Sadie been doing to you, Eva?" asked Teacher, and Eva, with resigned mien, answered:
"All things," and then details followed. "She makes on me a snoot, she pulls me on the bottom of my hair, she goes und takes her pencil und gives me a stick in my face. When I was marchin' she extra takes her shoes und steps at my legs; I got two swollen legs over her. Und now"—here a sob—"you could to look on how she makes me biles und shiners."
As Eva's voice droned out these many accusations, Sadie grew more emphatic in her favourite repartee:
"It's a lie! It's a lie! It's a lie!"
"And now, Eva, will you tell me why Sadie has been doing all these naughty things?"
"Teacher, I don't know."
"Oh, yes; you do!"
"No ma'an; I don't. I could swear if I do. I kiss up to God." She wafted a kiss towards the ceiling. "I got all times a kind feelin' over Sadie, on'y she wouldn't to be glad on me. I seen yesterday her little brother in the street mit Sadie und she make he shouldn't to talk to me. My heart it breaks when she make like that; I'm got no brother und no sister und I'm lovin' so much mit my little cousin. She goes und makes he should say nothin' und in mine eyes stands tears. I was sad."
"Well, dear, that's a shame," said Teacher, "and if you really don't understand, go out into the assembly room and wait for me. Sadie is going to tell me all about it."
Eva vanished, only to return with the lurid bandage in her hand and the query:—"Can I make this wet?"
Upon receiving permission so to do she retired with her courteous "Good-afternoon, Teacher," and her unchanged "Good-by, Sadie; I'm got yet that kind feelin'." Truly the "pangs of disprized love" seemed hers.
Several kinds of persuasion were practised in Room 18 during the next five minutes. Then Sadie accepted defeat, faced the inevitable, and began:
"It's like this: I dassent to be glad on Eva. So I want even, I dassent. My mamma has the same mad, und my papa. My mamma she says like this: So my papa gets sooner glad on my uncle she wouldn't to be wifes mit him no more! Such is the mad she has!"
"Well. Mine uncle he come out of Russia. From long he come when I was a little bit of baby. Und he didn't to have no money for buy a house. So my papa—he's awful kind—he gives him thousen dollers so he could to buy. Und say, Teacher, what you think? he don't pays it back. It ain't polite you takes thousen dollers und don't pays it back."
Sadie's air, as she submitted this rule of social etiquette to Teacher's wider knowledge, was a wondrous thing to see—so deferential was it and yet so assured.
"So my papa he writes a letter on my uncle how he could to pay that thousen dollers. Goes months. Comes no thousen dollers. So my papa he goes on the lawyer und the lawyer he writes on my uncle a letter how he should to pay. Goes months. Comes no thousen dollers." At each repetition of these fateful words Sadie shook her serious head, pursed up her rosy mouth, folded her hands resignedly, and sighed deeply. Clearly this was a tale more than twice told, for the voice and manner of Sadie were as the voice and manner of Mrs. Lazarus Gonorowsky, and the recital was plagiarism—masterly and complete.
"And then?" prompted Teacher, lest the conversation languish.
"Well, my papa writes some more a letter on mine uncle. Oh-o-oh, a awful bossy-und-mad letter. All the mad words what my papa knows he writes on mine uncle. Und my mamma she sets by my papa's side und all the mad words what my mamma knows she tells on my papa und he writes them, too, on mine uncle. Mine uncle (that's Eva's papa) could to have a fierce mad sooner he seen that bossy letter. But goes two days. Comes no thousen dollers."
Here ensued a long and dramatic pause.
"Well, comes no thousen dollers. Comes nothings. On'y by night my mamma she puts me on my bed; when comes my uncle! He comes und makes a knopping on our door. I couldn't to tell even how he makes knopping. I had such a scare I was green on the face, und my heart was going so you could to hear. I'm a nervous child, Missis Bailey, und my face is all times green sooner I gets a scare."
This last observation was a triumph of mimicry, and recalled Mrs. Gonorowsky so vividly as to make her atmosphere of garlic and old furniture quite perceptible. "So my mamma hears how my uncle knopps und says 'Lemme in—lemme in.' She says ('scuse me, Teacher)—she says 'he must be' ('scuse me) 'drunk.' That's how my mamma says.
"So goes my papa by the door und says 'Who stands?' Und my uncle he says 'Lemme in.' So-o-oh my papa he opens the door. Stands my unclemit cheeky looks und he showed a fist on my papa. My papa has a fierce mad sooner he seen that fist—fists is awful cheeky when somebody ain't paid. So my papa he says ('scuse me)—it's fierce how he says, on'y he had a mad over that fist. He says ('scuse me), 'Go to hell!' und my uncle, what ain't paid that thousen dollers, he says just like that to my papa. He says too ('scuse me, Teacher), 'Go to hell!' So-o-oh then my papa hits my uncle (that's Eva's papa), und how my papa is strong I couldn't to tell even. He pulls every morning by the extrasizer, und he's got such a muscles! So he hits my uncle (that's Eva's papa), und my uncle he fall und he fall und he fall—we live by the third floor, und he fall off of the third floor by the street—und even in falling he says like that ('scuse me, Teacher), 'Go to hell! go to hell! go to hell!' Ain't it somethin' fierce how he says? On all the steps he says, 'Go to hell! go to hell! go to hell!'"
Miss Bailey had listened to authoritative lectures upon "The Place and Influence of the Teacher in Community Life," and was debating as to whether she had better inflict her visit of remonstrance upon Mr. Lazarus Gonorowsky, of the powerful and cultivated muscle, or upon Mr. Nathan Gonorowsky, of the deplorable manners, when this opportunity to bring the higher standards of living into the home was taken from her. The house of Gonorowsky, in jagged fragments, was tested as by fire and came forth united.
Eva was absent one morning, and Sadie presented the explanation in a rather dirty envelope:
Excuse pliss that Eva Gonarofsky comes not on the school. We was moving und she couldn't to find her clothes. Yurs Resptphs, Her elders, Nathan Gonorowsky, Becky Ganurwoski.
"Is Eva going far away?" asked Teacher. "Will she come to this school any more?"
"Teacher, yiss ma'an, sure she comes; she lives now by my house. My uncle he lives by my house, too. Und my aunt."
"And you're not angry with your cousin anymore?"
"Teacher, no ma'an; I'm loving mit her. She's got on now all mine best clothes the while her mamma buys her new. My aunt buys new clothes, too. Und my uncle."
Sadie reported this shopping epidemic so cheerily that Teacher asked with mild surprise:
"Where are all their old things?"
"Teacher, they're burned. Und my uncle's store und his all of goods, und his house und his three sewing machines. All, all burned!"
"Oh, dear me!" said Teacher. "Your poor uncle! Now he can never pay that thousand dollars."
Sadie regarded Teacher with puzzled eyes.
"Sure he pays. He's now 'most as rich like Van'pilt. I guess he's got a hundred dollers. He pays all right, all right, und my papa had a party over him: he had such a awful glad!"
"Glad on your uncle?" cried Teacher, startled into colloquialisms.
"Yiss ma'an. Und my mamma has a glad on Eva's mamma, und my gran'ma has a glad on both of papas und both of mammas, und my gran'pa has a glad just like my gran'ma. All, all glad!"
As Teacher walked towards Grand Street that afternoon, she met a radiant little girl with a small and most unsteady boy in tow. She recognized Eva and surmised the cousin whose coldness had hurt her even unto tears.
"Well, Eva, and what little boy is this?" she asked.
And the beaming and transformed Eva answered:
"It's my little cousin. He's lovin' mit me now. Sadie, too, is lovin'. I take him out the while it's healthy he walks, on'y he ain't so big und he falls. Say, Teacher, it's nice when he falls. I holds him in my hands."
And fall he did. Eva picked him up, greatly to their mutual delight, and explained:
"He's heavy, und my this here arm ain't yet so healthy, but I hold him in my hands the while he's cousins mit me, und over cousins I'm got all times that kind feelin'."
THE USES OF ADVERSITY
"I guess I don't need I should go on the school," announced Algernon Yonowsky.
"I guess you do," said his sister.
"I guess I don't need I should go on the school, neither," remarked Percival.
"You got to go," Leah informed her mutinous brothers. "I got a permit for you from off the Principal; he's friends mit me the while I goes on that school when I was little. You got to go on the school, und you got to stay on the school. It's awful nice how you learn things there."
But the prospect did not appeal to the Yonowsky twins. It seemed to forbode restraint and, during their six tempestuous years, they had followed their own stubborn ways and had accepted neither advice nor rebuke from any man. The evening of the day which had seen their birth had left Leah motherless, and her father broken of heart and of ambition. Since then Mr. Yonowsky had grown daily more silent and morose, and Leah had been less and less able to cope with "them devil boys."
A room high up in a swarming tenement had been the grave of her youth and pleasure. She was as solitary there as she could have been in a desert, for the neighbours who had known and assisted her in the first years of her bereavement had died or moved to that Mecca of the New World, Harlem. And their successors were not kindly disposed towards a family comprising a silent man, a half-grown girl, and two twin demons who made the block a terror to the nervous and the stairs a menace to the unwary. No one came to gossip with Leah. She was too young to listen understandingly to older women's adventures in sickness or domestic infelicity, and too dispirited to make any show of interest in the toilettes or "affaires" of the younger. For what were incompetent doctors, habit-backed dresses, wavering husbands, or impetuous lovers to Leah Yonowsky, who had assumed all the responsibilities of a woman's life with none of its consolations?
Of course she had, to some extent, failed in the upbringing of her brothers, but she had always looked forward hopefully to the time when they should be old enough to be sent to school. There they should learn, among much other lore, to live up to the names she had selected for them out of the book of love and of adventure which she had been reading at the time of their baptism. During all the years of her enslavement she had been a patron of the nearest public library, and it had been a source of great disappointment to her that Algernon and Percival had made no least attempt to acquire the grace of speech and manner which she had learned to associate with those lordly titles.
And now they were refusing even to approach the Pierian Spring! "I guess I don't go," Algernon was persisting. "I guess I plays on the street."
"Me, too," added Percival. "Patrick Brennan he goes on that school und he gives me over yesterday, a bloody nose. I don' need I should go on no school mit somebody what makes like that mit me."
But with the assistance of the neighbours, the policeman on the beat and the truant officer, they were finally dragged to the halls of learning and delivered into the hands of Miss Bailey, who installed them in widely separated seats and seemed blandly unimpressed by their evident determination to make things unpleasant in Room 18. She met Leah's anticipatory apologies with:
"Of course they'll be good. I shall see that they behave. Yes, I shall see, too, that Patrick Brennan does not fight with Percival. You musn't worry about them any more, but I fear they have made worrying a habit with you. If you will send them to school at a quarter to nine every morning, and at ten minutes to one in the afternoon, I shall do the rest."
And Leah went out into the sunshine free, for the first time in six years. Free to wander through the streets, to do a little desultory shopping, to go down to the river and to watch the workmen driving rivets in the great new bridge. Never had she spent so pleasant a morning, and her heart was full of gratitude and peace when she reflected that hours such as these would henceforth be the order of the day.
The advantages of a free education did not appeal to "them Yonowsky devils." Leah was forced to drag her reluctant charges twice a day to the school-house door—sometimes even up the stairs to Room 18—and the reports with which Miss Bailey met her were not enthusiastic. Still, Teacher admitted, too much was not to be expected from little boys coming in contact, for the first time, with authority.
"Only send them regularly," she pleaded, "and perhaps they will learn to be happy here." And Leah, in spite of countless obstacles and difficulties, sent them.
They were unusually mutinous one morning, and their dressing had been one long torment to Leah. They persisted in untying strings and unbuttoning buttons. They shrieked, they lay upon the floor and kicked, they spilled coffee upon their "jumpers," and systematically and deliberately reduced their sister to the verge of distraction and of tears. They were already late when she dragged them to the corner of the school, and there they made their last stand by sitting stolidly down upon the pavement.
Leah could not cope with their two rigid little bodies, and, through welling tears of weariness and exasperation, she looked blankly up and down the dingy street for succour. If only her ally, Mr. Brennan, the policeman on the beat, would come! But Mr. Brennan was guarding a Grand Street crossing until such time as the last straggling child should have safely passed the dangers of the horse-cars, and nothing came in answer to Leah's prayer but a push-cart laden with figs and dates and propelled by a tall man, long-coated and fur-capped. His first glance read the tableau, and in an instant he grasped Percival, shook him into animation, threw him through the big door, and turned to reason with Algernon. But that rebel had already seen the error of his ways and was meekly ascending the steps and waving a resigned adieu to his sister. The heavy door clanged. Leah raised grateful eyes to her knight, and the thing was done. For the rest of that day Aaron Kastrinsky sold dates and figs at a reckless discount and dreamed of the fair oval of a girl's face framed in a shawl no more scarlet than her lips, while Leah's heart sang of a youth in a fur cap and a long coat who had been able to "boss them awful boys."
Daily thereafter did Aaron Kastrinsky establish his gay green push-cart outside the school door set apart for the very little boys and drive a half hour's bustling trade ere the children were all housed. And daily two naughty small boys were convoyed to the door by a red-shawled, dark-eyed sister. Very slowly greetings grew from shy glance to shy smile, from swift drooping of the lashes to swift rise of colour, from gentle sweep of eyes to sustained regard, from formal good-morning to protracted chats. But before this happy stage was reached the twins decided that they no longer required safe conduct to the fountain of knowledge, and that Leah's attendance covered them with ridicule in the eyes of more independent spirits. But she refused to relax her vigilance, nay, rather she increased it; for she began to force her mutinous brothers to the synagogue on Sabbath mornings. The twins soon came to associate the vision of Aaron Kastrinsky with the idea of restraint and of stern virtue, for on the way to the synagogue he walked by Leah's side—looking strangely incomplete without his green push-cart—and drove them by the sheer force of his will to walk decorously in front. Decorously, too, he marched them back again, and stood idly talking to Leah at the steps of her tenement while the twins escaped to their enjoyments.
When waiting milk-cans were thrown into cellars, when the wheels of momentarily deserted wagons were loosened, when pushcarts disappeared, when children bent on shopping were waylaid and robbed, when cats were tortured, horses' manes clipped, windows broken, shop-keepers enraged, babies frightened, and pit-falls set upon the stairs, the cry was always, "Them Yonowsky devils." Leah could do nothing with them. Mr. Yonowsky made no effort to control them, and Aaron Kastrinsky was not always there. Not half, not a quarter as often as he wished, for Leah promptly turned away from all his attempts to make her understand how greatly she would gain in peace and comfort if she would but marry him. They would move to a larger flat and he would manage the boys. But Leah's view of life and marriage was tinged with no glory of romance. She had no illusions, no ignorances, and she was afraid, she told her suitor, afraid.
"But of what?" asked the puzzled Aaron. "Thou canst not be afraid of me. Thou knowest how dear thou art to me. What canst thou fear?"
"I'm afraid of being married," was her ultimatum. She confessed that she loved no one else—she had never, poor child, known anyone else to love; she admitted the allurements of the larger flat and the strong hand always ready for the twins, was delighted to go with him to lectures at the Educational Alliance when her father could be aroused to responsible charge of the twins, rejoiced when he prospered in the world and exchanged the push-cart for a permanent fruit-stand—she even assisted at its decoration—but to marry him she was afraid. Yes, she liked him; yes, she would walk with him—and the twins—along Grand Street in the early evening. Yes, she would wear her red dress since he admired it; but to marry him—ah, no! Please, no! she was afraid of being married.
Aaron was by birth and in his own country one of the learned class, and he promptly set about supplementing Leah's neglected education. She had lived so solitary a life that her Russian remained pure and soft and was quite distinct from the mixture of Yiddish, German, English, and slang which her neighbours spoke. English, which she read easily, she spoke rarely and haltingly, and Jewish in a prettily pedantic manner, learned from her mother, whose father had been a Rabbi. Aaron lent her books in these three languages, which straightway carried her into strange and glorious worlds. Occasionally the twins stole and sold the books, but their enlightenment remained. To supplement the reading he took her to lectures and to night schools, and thus one evening they listened to an illustrated "talk" on "Contagion and Its Causes." There had been an epidemic of smallpox in the quarter and Panic was abroad. Parents who spoke no English fought wildly with ambulance surgeons who spoke no Jewish, and refused to entrust the sufferers to the care of the Board of Health. Many disturbances resulted and the authorities arranged that, in all the missions, night schools, and settlements of the East Side, reassuring lecturers should spread abroad the folly of resistance, the joys of hospital life, the surety of recovery in the arms of the board, with a few remarks upon the sources of contagion.
Leah and Aaron listened to one of the most calming of these orators. The lecturer spoke with such feeling—and such stereopticon slides—that smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, and diphtheria seemed the "open sesame" to bliss unutterable, and the source of these talismans rather to be sought for diligently than shunned. "Didst hear?" Leah asked Aaron as they went home. "For a redness on the skin one may stay in bed for a week and rest."
"Ay, but one is sick," said Aaron sagely.
"Not if one goes where the gentleman said. One lies in bed for a week—three weeks—and there be ladies who wait on one, and one rests—all days one rests. And there be no twins. Think of it, Aaron! rest and no twins!"
A few days later she climbed home after a morning's shopping to find Algernon, heavy of eye and red of face, crouched near the locked door with a whimper in his voice and a card in his hand.
"I'm got somethin'," he announced, with the pride of the invalid.
"Where didst get it?" asked Leah, automatically; she was accustomed to brazen admission of guilt.
"Off of a boy at school."
"Thou wilt steal once too often," his sister admonished him. "Go now, confess to Miss Bailey, and return what thou hast taken."
"The boy has it too," retorted Algernon. "It's a sickness—a taking sickness; und comes a man und gives me a card und says I should come by my house; I'm sick."
Leah gazed on the card in despairing envy. She had hopefully searched her person for rash or redness, thinking thereby to achieve a ticket to that promised land where beautiful ladies—as the stereopticon had shown—sat graciously waving fans beside a smooth, white bed whereon one lay and rested: only rested: quiet day after quiet day. There had been no twins in her imaginings, yet here was Algernon already set upon the way; Algernon, who would be naughty in that blissful place, and who might even "talk sassy" to the beautiful ladies. Slow tears of disappointment grew under Leah's heavy lids and splashed upon the coveted ticket. And the doctor from the Board of Health, come to verify the more superficial examination of his colleague, misguidedly launched forth upon a resume of the reassuring lectures.
"You mustn't cry," he remonstrated. "It's only measles and he won't be very sick. Why, you might keep him here, and I could send you a nurse to show you how to take care of him if it weren't for that butcher shop on the ground floor. But he'll be all right. Don't cry."
In a short space the house of Yonowsky was bereft of its more noisy son, and peace reigned. Percival went lonely and early to bed. Leah sat late on the steps with Aaron, and, on the next morning, Percival duplicated the redness, the diagnosis, and the departure of his brother, and Leah came into her own.
Then were the days wondrous long. There was time for all the pleasures from which she had been so long debarred. Time to read, time to sew, time to pay and to receive shy, short morning calls, time to scrub and polish until her room shone, time for experiments in cookery, time to stretch her father's wages to undreamed-of lengths, even time so to cheer and wheedle Mr. Yonowsky that she dared to ask his permission to bring Aaron up to her spotless domain. And Aaron, with a thumping of the hearts not due entirely to the height and steepness of the stairs, came formally to call upon his young divinity. The visit was a great success. Mr. Yonowsky blossomed under the sun of Aaron's deference and learning into an expansiveness which amazed his daughter, and the men discussed the law, the scriptures, the election, the Czar, nihilism, socialism, the tariff, and the theatre. But here Mr. Yonowsky lapsed into gloom. He had not visited a theatre for seven years—not since his wife's death.
"And Miss Leah?" Aaron questioned.
"Never, oh, never!" she breathed resignedly, yet so longingly that Aaron then and there arranged that he and she and Mr. Yonowsky should visit the Thalia Theatre on the following night. And Leah, with the glad and new assurance that the boys were safe, fell into happy devisings of a suitable array. When young Kastrinsky left after formal and prescribed adieus to his hostess, he dragged his host out to listen to a campaign speech.
During the weeks that followed, even Mr. Yonowsky came to see the sweet uses of the Board of Health and to ponder long and deeply upon the nature of the "taking sickness." No longer forced to do perpetual, though ineffective, sentinel duty, he gradually resumed his place in the world of men and spent placid evenings at the synagogue, the Educational Alliance, the theatre, and the East Side Democratic Union. Leah bore him company at the theatre when she might, and Aaron followed Leah until parental pride swelled high under Mr. Yonowsky's green Prince Albert coat. For well he saw the looks of admiration which were turned upon his daughter as she sat by his side and consumed cold pink lemonade.
He received two of the roundabout proposals which etiquette demands, and began to gather a dowry for Leah and to recall extraordinary outstanding securities to that end. But, before these things were accomplished, his sons and his troubles returned upon him. With renewed energy, stimulated imagination, and enriched profanity, "them Yonowsky devils" came home, and their reign of mischief set in afresh.
They had always been unruly; they were utterly unmanageable now. Daily was Leah summoned to the big red school-house by the long-suffering Miss Bailey, and nightly was Mr. Yonowsky forced to cancel engagements at club or synagogue and to stay at home to "explanation them boys" to outraged neighbours.
Aaron could still control them, but he was never brought upstairs now. How could Leah expect him to enjoy conversations carried on amid the yells of Algernon and Percival in freedom, or their shrieks in durance?
The twins came home one noontime full of gossip and excitement. They clamoured over their cabbage soup that a classmate of theirs, one Isidore Belchatosky, had "a sickness—a taking sickness, what he took from off his sister Sadie."
"Is it a bad sickness?" asked the father.
"Somethin' fierce!" Percival assured him. "Pimples stands on his face, und he says he's got 'em everywheres, but I guess maybe he lies. He says it's a chicken sickness what he has. Mit pimples everywheres!"
"You don't know no names from sicknesses," Algernon broke in contemptuously. "It ain't the chicken sickness. It's the chicken puffs."
"Where is his house?" asked Leah eagerly. And she joyously despatched the twins with kind inquiries and proffers to sit with the sufferer; for had not the prophesying gentleman explained that there was no surer way of attaining to hospital tickets than by speech and contact with one who had already "arrived"? And Algernon and Percival, spurred on by the allurement of the "pimples everywheres," pressed past all barriers and outposts until they feasted their eyes upon the neatly spotted Izzie, who proudly proved his boast of the "everywheres" and the exceeding puffiness of the chicken puffs.
Two weeks later the little emissaries of love were in sorry case. The "pimples everywheres" appeared, the ambulance reappeared, the twins disappeared. The cleaning and polishing were resumed, Aaron invited to supper, Mr. Yonowsky pledged to deliver a lecture on "The Southern Negro and the Ballot," and a stew of the strongest elements set to simmer on the stove.
Leah had learned the path to freedom and trod it with a light heart. Algernon and Percival enjoyed a long succession of diseases, contagious and infectious, and each attack meant a holiday of varying but always of considerable length. Under ordinary conditions Leah might have been forced to nurse her brothers through their less serious disorders, but there was a butcher shop on the ground floor of the Yonowsky tenement, and the by-laws of the Board of Health decreed that, such being the case, the children should be removed for nearly all the ills to which young and ill-nourished flesh is heir.
"Them Yonowsky devils" became only visitors to their native block, but since they returned after each retirement more unruly and outrageous, they were not deeply mourned. Only the butcher objected, because his store was occasionally quarantined when Leah had achieved some very virulent excuse for summoning the ambulance and shipping her responsibilities. Mr. Yonowsky was puzzled but grateful, and Aaron was grateful too.
Month after month went by and the twins had exhausted the lists of the lecturer and had enjoyed several other ailments, when Leah and her father went to bring them home from their typhoid-fever holiday.
"You've been having a hard time with these boys," the man at the desk said kindly. "The worst luck I ever knew in the many years I've been here. But they're all right now. They've had everything on the list except water on the brain and elephantiasis, and they can't get them."
"But some what they had they could some more get," Leah suggested in the English she so rarely used.
"I think not," the official answered cheeringly. "They hardly ever do. No, I guess you'll be able to keep them at home now. Good luck to you!"
But it was bad luck, the worst of luck. Mr. Yonowsky's public spirit died within his breast; Leah's coquetry vanished before a future unrelieved by visits from the black and friendly ambulance, and when Aaron climbed the well-known stairs that evening he heard, while he was yet two floors short of his destination, the shrieks of the twins, the smashing of crockery, and the grumbling of the neighbours. Suddenly a little figure darted upon him and Leah was in his arms.
"Aaron," she sobbed. "Oh, Aaron, mine heart it breaks. There ain't no more taking sicknesses in all the world. So says the gentleman."
"My golden one," said Aaron, who was a bit of a philosopher; "all good things come to an end except only Love. And the twins have had taking sicknesses in great and unheard-of numbers."
"But now they are more than ever bad. I can do nothing with them and I am afraid of them. In hospitals, where one is very happy, one grows very big, and the twins are no longer little boys."
"If you marry me—" Aaron began.
"You will love me always?"
"Yea, mine gold."
"And for me you will boss them twins?"
"Yea, verily, for thee I will boss the twins."
And the betrothal of Leah Yonowsky to Aaron Kastrinsky was signed and sealed immediately.
A CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR A LADY
It was the week before Christmas, and the First-Reader Class had, almost to a man, decided on the gifts to be lavished on "Teacher." She was quite unprepared for any such observance on the part of her small adherents, for her first study of the roll-book had shown her that its numerous Jacobs, Isidores, and Rachels belonged to a class to which Christmas Day was much as other days. And so she went serenely on her way, all unconscious of the swift and strict relation between her manner and her chances. She was, for instance, the only person in the room who did not know that her criticism of Isidore Belchatosky's hands and face cost her a tall "three for ten cents" candlestick and a plump box of candy.
But Morris Mogilewsky, whose love for Teacher was far greater than the combined loves of all the other children, had as yet no present to bestow. That his "kind feeling" should be without proof when the lesser loves of Isidore Wishnewsky, Sadie Gonorowsky, and Bertha Binderwitz were taking the tangible but surprising forms which were daily exhibited to his confidential gaze, was more than he could bear. The knowledge saddened all his hours and was the more maddening because it could in no wise be shared by Teacher, who noticed his altered bearing and tried with all sorts of artful beguilements to make him happy and at ease. But her efforts served only to increase his unhappiness and his love. And he loved her! Oh, how he loved her! Since first his dreading eyes had clung for a breath's space to her "like man's shoes" and had then crept timidly upward past a black skirt, a "from silk" apron, a red "jumper," and "from gold" chain to her "light face," she had been mistress of his heart of hearts. That was more than three months ago. And well he remembered the day!
His mother had washed him horribly, and had taken him into the big, red school-house, so familiar from the outside, but so full of unknown terrors within. After his dusty little shoes had stumbled over the threshold he had passed from ordeal to ordeal until at last he was torn in mute and white-faced despair from his mother's skirts.
He was then dragged through long halls and up tall stairs by a large boy, who spoke to him disdainfully as "greenie," and cautioned him as to the laying down softly and taking up gently of those poor dusty shoes, so that his spirit was quite broken and his nerves were all unstrung when he was pushed into a room full of bright sunshine and of children who laughed at his frightened little face. The sunshine smote his timid eyes, the laughter smote his timid heart, and he turned to flee. But the door was shut, the large boy gone, and despair took him for its own.
Down upon the floor he dropped, and wailed, and wept, and kicked. It was then that he heard, for the first time the voice which now he loved. A hand was forced between his aching body and the floor, and the voice said: "Why, my dear little chap, you mustn't cry like that. What's the matter?"
The hand was gentle and the question kind, and these, combined with a faint perfume suggestive of drug stores and barber shops—but nicer than either—made him uncover his hot little face. Kneeling beside him was a lady, and he forced his eyes to that perilous ascent; from shoes to skirt, from skirt to jumper, from jumper to face, they trailed in dread uncertainty, but at the face they stopped. They had found—rest.
Morris allowed himself to be gathered into the lady's arms and held upon her knee, and when his sobs no longer rent the very foundations of his pink and wide-spread tie, he answered her question in a voice as soft as his eyes, and as gently sad.
"I ain't so big, und I don't know where is my mamma."
So, having cast his troubles on the shoulders of the lady, he had added his throbbing head to the burden, and from that safe retreat had enjoyed his first day at school immensely.
Thereafter he had been the first to arrive every morning, and the last to leave every afternoon; and under the care of Teacher, his liege lady, he had grown in wisdom and love and happiness. But the greatest of these was love. And now, when the other boys and girls were planning surprises and gifts of price for Teacher, his hands were as empty as his heart was full. Appeal to his mother met with denial prompt and energetic.
"For what you go und make, over Christmas, presents? You ain't no Krisht; you should better have no kind feelings over Krishts, neither; your papa could to have a mad."
"Teacher ain't no Krisht," said Morris stoutly; "all the other fellows buys her presents, und I'm loving mit her too; it's polite I gives her presents the while I'm got such a kind feeling over her."
"Well, we ain't got no money for buy nothings," said Mrs. Mogilewsky sadly. "No money, und your papa, he has all times a scare he shouldn't to get no more, the while the boss"—and here followed incomprehensible, but depressing, financial details, until the end of the interview found Morris and his mother sobbing and rocking in one another's arms. So Morris was helpless, his mother poor, and Teacher all unknowing.
And the great day, the Friday before Christmas came, and the school was, for the first half hour, quite mad. Doors opened suddenly and softly to admit small persons, clad in wondrous ways and bearing wondrous parcels. Room 18, generally so placid and so peaceful, was a howling wilderness full of brightly coloured, quickly changing groups of children, all whispering, all gurgling, and all hiding queer bundles. A newcomer invariably caused a diversion; the assembled multitude, athirst for novelty, fell upon him and clamoured for a glimpse of his bundle and a statement of its price.
Teacher watched in dumb amaze. What could be the matter with the children, she wondered. They could not have guessed the shrouded something in the corner to be a Christmas-tree. What made them behave so queerly, and why did they look so strange? They seemed to have grown stout in a single night, and Teacher, as she noted this, marvelled greatly. The explanation was simple, though it came in alarming form. The sounds of revelry were pierced by a long, shrill yell, and a pair of agitated legs sprang suddenly into view between two desks. Teacher, rushing to the rescue, noted that the legs formed the unsteady stem of an upturned mushroom of brown flannel and green braid, which she recognized as the outward seeming of her cherished Bertha Binderwitz; and yet, when the desks were forced to disgorge their prey, the legs restored to their normal position were found to support a fat child—and Bertha was best described as "skinny"—in a dress of the Stuart tartan tastefully trimmed with purple. Investigation proved that Bertha's accumulative taste in dress was an established custom. In nearly all cases the glory of holiday attire was hung upon the solid foundation of every-day clothes as bunting is hung upon a building. The habit was economical of time, and produced a charming embonpoint.
Teacher, too, was more beautiful than ever. Her dress was blue, and "very long down, like a lady," with bands of silk and scraps of lace distributed with the eye of art. In her hair she wore a bow of what Sadie Gonorowsky, whose father "worked by fancy goods," described as black "from plush ribbon—costs ten cents."
Isidore Belchatosky, relenting, was the first to lay tribute before Teacher. He came forward with a sweet smile and a tall candlestick—the candy had gone to its long home—and Teacher, for a moment, could not be made to understand that all that length of bluish-white china was really hers "for keeps."
"It's to-morrow holiday," Isidore assured her; "and we gives you presents, the while we have a kind feeling. Candlesticks could to cost twenty-five cents."
"It's a lie. Three for ten," said a voice in the background, but Teacher hastened to respond to Isidore's test of her credulity:
"Indeed, they could. This candlestick could have cost fifty cents, and it's just what I want. It is very good of you to bring me a present."
"You're welcome," said Isidore, retiring; and then, the ice being broken, the First-Reader Class in a body rose to cast its gifts on Teacher's desk, and its arms around Teacher's neck.
Nathan Horowitz presented a small cup and saucer; Isidore Applebaum bestowed a large calendar for the year before last; Sadie Gonorowsky brought a basket containing a bottle of perfume, a thimble, and a bright silk handkerchief; Sarah Schrodsky offered a pen-wiper and a yellow celluloid collar-button, and Eva Kidansky gave an elaborate nasal douche, under the pleasing delusion that it was an atomizer.
Once more sounds of grief reached Teacher's ears. Rushing again to the rescue, she threw open the door and came upon Woe personified. Eva Gonorowsky, her hair in wildest disarray, her stocking fouled, ungartered, and down-gyved to her ankle, appeared before her teacher. She bore all the marks of Hamlet's excitement, and many more, including a tear-stained little face and a gilt saucer clasped to a panting breast.
"Eva, my dearest Eva, what's happened to you now?" asked Teacher, for the list of ill-chances which had befallen this one of her charges was very long. And Eva's wail was that a boy, a very big boy, had stolen her golden cup "what I had for you by present," and had left her only the saucer and her undying love to bestow.
Before Eva's sobs had quite yielded to Teacher's arts, Jacob Spitsky pressed forward with a tortoise-shell comb of terrifying aspect and hungry teeth, and an air showing forth a determination to adjust it in its destined place. Teacher meekly bowed her head; Jacob forced his offering into her long-suffering hair, and then retired with the information, "Costs fifteen cents, Teacher," and the courteous phrase—by etiquette prescribed—"Wish you health to wear it." He was plainly a hero, and was heard remarking to less favoured admirers that "Teacher's hair is awful softy, and smells off of perfumery."
Here a big boy, a very big boy, entered hastily. He did not belong to Room 18, but he had long known Teacher. He had brought her a present; he wished her a Merry Christmas. The present, when produced, proved to be a pretty gold cup, and Eva Gonorowsky, with renewed emotion, recognized the boy as her assailant and the cup as her property. Teacher was dreadfully embarrassed; the boy not at all so. His policy was simple and entire denial, and in this he persevered, even after Eva's saucer had unmistakably proclaimed its relationship to the cup.
Meanwhile the rush of presentation went steadily on. Other cups and saucers came in wild profusion. The desk was covered with them, and their wrappings of purple tissue paper required a monitor's whole attention. The soap, too, became urgently perceptible. It was of all sizes, shapes and colours, but of uniform and dreadful power of perfumes Teacher's eyes filled with tears—of gratitude—as each new piece or box was pressed against her nose, and Teacher's mind was full of wonder as to what she could ever do with all of it. Bottles of perfume vied with one another and with the all-pervading soap until the air was heavy and breathing grew labourious. But pride swelled the hearts of the assembled multitude. No other Teacher had so many helps to the toilet. None other was so beloved.
Teacher's aspect was quite changed, and the "blue long down like a lady dress" was almost hidden by the offerings she had received. Jacob's comb had two massive and bejewelled rivals in the "softy hair." The front of the dress, where aching or despondent heads were wont to rest, glittered with campaign buttons of American celebrities, beginning with James G. Blaine and extending into modern history as far as Patrick Divver, Admiral Dewey, and Captain Dreyfus. Outside the blue belt was a white one, nearly clean, and bearing in "sure 'nough golden words" the curt, but stirring, invitation, "Remember the Maine." Around the neck were three chaplets of beads, wrought by chubby fingers and embodying much love, while the waist-line was further adorned by tiny and beribboned aprons. Truly, it was a day of triumph.
When the waste-paper basket had been twice filled with wrappings and twice emptied; when order was emerging out of chaos; when the Christmas-tree had been disclosed and its treasures distributed, a timid hand was laid on Teacher's knee and a plaintive voice whispered, "Say, Teacher, I got something for you;" and Teacher turned quickly to see Morris, her dearest boy charge, with his poor little body showing quite plainly between his shirt-waist buttons and through the gashes he called pockets. This was his ordinary costume, and the funds of the house of Mogilewsky were evidently unequal to an outer layer of finery.
"Now, Morris dear," said Teacher, "you shouldn't have troubled to get me a present; you know you and I are such good friends that—"
"Teacher, yiss ma'an," Morris interrupted, in a bewitching and rising inflection of his soft and plaintive voice. "I know you got a kind feeling by me, and I couldn't to tell even how I got a kind feeling by you. Only it's about that kind feeling I should give you a present. I didn't"—with a glance at the crowded desk—"I didn't to have no soap nor no perfumery, and my mamma she couldn't to buy none by the store; but, Teacher, I'm got something awful nice for you by present."
"And what is it, deary?" asked the already rich and gifted young person. "What is my new present?"
"Teacher, it's like this: I don't know; I ain't so big like I could to know"—and, truly, God pity him! he was passing small—"it ain't for boys—it's for ladies. Over yesterday on the night comes my papa to my house, und he gives my mamma the present. Sooner she looks on it, sooner she has a awful glad; in her eyes stands tears, und she says, like that—out of Jewish—'Thanks,' un' she kisses my papa a kiss. Und my papa, how he is polite! he says—out of Jewish too—'You're welcome, all right,' un' he kisses my mamma a kiss. So my mamma, she sets und looks on the present, und all the time she looks she has a glad over it. Und I didn't to have no soap, so you could to have the present."
"But did your mother say I might?"
"Teacher, no ma'an; she didn't say like that, und she didn't to say not like that. She didn't to know. But it's for ladies, un' Ididn't to have no soap. You could to look on it. It ain't for boys."
And here Morris opened a hot little hand and disclosed a tightly folded pinkish paper. As Teacher read it he watched her with eager, furtive eyes, dry and bright, until hers grew suddenly moist, when his promptly followed suit. As she looked down at him, he made his moan once more:
"It's for ladies, und I didn't to have no soap."
"But, Morris, dear," cried Teacher unsteadily, laughing a little, and yet not far from tears, "this is ever so much nicer than soap—a thousand times better than perfume; and you're quite right, it is for ladies, and I never had one in all my life before. I am so very thankful."
"You're welcome, all right. That's how my papa says; it's polite," said Morris proudly. And proudly he took his place among the very little boys, and loudly he joined in the ensuing song. For the rest of that exciting day he was a shining point of virtue in the rest of that confused class. And at three o'clock he was at Teacher's desk again, carrying on the conversation as if there had been no interruption.
"Und my mamma," he said insinuatingly—"she kisses my papa a kiss."
"Well?" said Teacher.
"Well," said Morris, "you ain't never kissed me a kiss, und I seen how you kissed Eva Gonorowsky. I'm loving mit you too. Why don't you never kiss me a kiss?"
"Perhaps," suggested Teacher mischievously, "perhaps it ain't for boys."
But a glance at her "light face," with its crown of surprising combs, reassured him.
"Teacher, yiss ma'an; it's for boys," he cried as he felt her arms about him, and saw that in her eyes, too, "stands tears."
"It's polite you kisses me a kiss over that for ladies' present."
Late that night Teacher sat in her pretty room—for she was, unofficially, a greatly pampered young person—and reviewed her treasures. She saw that they were very numerous, very touching, very whimsical, and very precious. But above all the rest she cherished a frayed and pinkish paper, rather crumpled and a little soiled. For it held the love of a man and a woman and a little child, and the magic of a home, for Morris Mogilewsky's Christmas present for ladies was the receipt for a month's rent for a room on the top floor of a Monroe Street tenement.
LOVE AMONG THE BLACKBOARDS
An organized government requires a cabinet, and, during the first weeks of her reign over Room 18, Miss Bailey set about providing herself with aides and advisors. She made, naturally, some fatal and expensive mistakes, as when she entrusted the class pencils to the care of one of the Yonowsky twins who, promptly falling ill of scarlet fever and imparting it to his brother, reduced the First-Reader Class to writing with coloured chalk.
But gradually from the rank and file of candidates, from the well-meaning but clumsy; from the competent but dishonest; from the lazy and from the rash, she selected three loyal and devoted men to share her task of ruling. They were Morris Mogilewsky, Prime Minister and Monitor of the Gold-Fish Bowl; Nathan Spiderwitz, Councillor of the Exchequer and Monitor of Window Boxes; and Patrick Brennan, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces and Leader of the Line.
The members of this cabinet, finding themselves raised to such high places by the pleasure of their sovereign, kept watchful eyes upon her. For full well they knew that cruelest of all the laws of the Board of Education, which decrees: "That the marriage of a female teacher shall constitute resignation." This ruling had deprived them of a Kindergarten teacher of transcendent charm and had made them as watchful of Miss Bailey as a bevy of maiden aunts could have been. Losing her they would lose love and power, and love and power are sweet.
Morris was the first to discover definite grounds for uneasiness. He met his cherished Miss Bailey walking across Grand Street on a rainy morning, and the umbrella which was protecting her beloved head was held by a tall stranger in a long and baggy coat. After circling incredulously about this tableau, Morris dashed off to report to his colleagues. He found Patrick and Nathan in the midst of an exciting game of craps, but his pattering feet warned them of danger, so they pocketed their dice and turned to hear his news.
"Say," he panted; "I seen Teacher mit a man."
"No!" said Patrick, aghast.
"It's a lie!" cried Nathan; "it's a lie!"
"No; it's no lie," said Morris, with a sob half of breathlessness and half of sorrow; "I seen her for sure. Und the man carries umbrellas over her mit loving looks."
"Ah, g'wan," drawled Patrick; "you're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about."
"Sure do I," cried Morris. "I had once a auntie what was loving mit a awful stylish salesman—he's now floorwalkers—und I see how they makes."
"Well," said Patrick, "I had a sister Mary and she married the milkman, so I know, too. But umbrellas doesn't mean much."
"But the loving looks," Morris insisted. "My auntie makes such looks on the salesman—he's now floorwalkers—und sooner she marries mit him."
"Say, Patrick," suggested Nathan; "I'll tell you what to do. You ask her if she's goin' to get married."
"Naw," said Patrick. "Let Morris ask her. She'd tell him before she'd tell any of us. She's been soft on him ever since Christmas. Say, Morris, do you hear? You've got to ask Teacher if she's going to get married."
"Oo-o-oh! I dassent. It ain't polite how you says," cried Morris in his shocked little voice. "It ain't polite you asks like that. It's fierce."
"Well, you've got to do it, anyway," said Patrick darkly, "and you've got to do it soon, and you've got to let us hear you."
"It's fierce," protested Morris, but he was overruled by the dominant spirit of Patrick Brennan, that grandson of the kings of Munster and son of the policeman on the beat. His opportunity found him on the very next morning. Isidore Wishnewsky, the gentlest of gentle children, came to school wearing his accustomed air of melancholy shot across with a tender pride. His subdued "Good morning" was accompanied with much strenuous exertion directed, apparently, to the removal and exhibition of a portion of his spine. After much wriggling he paused long enough to say:
"Teacher, what you think? I'm got a present for you," and then recommenced his search in another layer of his many flannels. His efforts being at length crowned with success, he drew forth and spread before Teacher's admiring eyes a Japanese paper napkin.
"My sister," he explained. "She gets it to a weddinge."
"Oh, Isidore," cried the flattered Teacher; "it's very pretty, isn't it?"
"Teacher—yiss ma'an," gurgled Isidore. "It's stylish. You could to look on how stands birds on it and flowers. Mine sister she gives it to me und I gives it to you. I don't need it. She gives me all times something the while she's got such a kind feelin' over me. She goes all times on weddinges. Most all her younge lady friends gettin' married; ain't it funny?"
At the fateful word "married," the uneasy cabinet closed in about Teacher. Their three pairs of eyes clung to her face as Isidore repeated:
"All gettin' married. Ain't it funny?"
"Well, no, dear," answered Teacher musingly. "You know nearly all young ladies do it."
Patrick took a pin from Teacher's desk and kneeled to tie his shoe-string. When he rose the point of the pin projected half an inch beyond the frayed toe of his shoe, and he was armed. Morris was most evidently losing courage—he was indeed trying to steal away when Patrick pressed close beside him and held him to his post.
"Teacher," said Isidore suddenly, as a dreadful thought struck him, "be you a lady or be you a girl?"
And Teacher, being of Hibernian ancestry, answered one question with another:
"Which do you think, Isidore?"
"Well," Isidore answered, "I don't know be you a forsure lady or be you a forsure girl. You wears your hair so tucked up und your dress so long down like you was a lady, but you laffs und tells us stories like you was a girl. I don't know."
Clearly this was Morris's opening. Patrick pierced his soul with a glance of scorn and simultaneously buried the pin in his quaking leg. Thus encouraged, Morris rushed blindly into the conversation with:
"Say, Teacher, Miss Bailey, be you goin' to get married?" and then dropped limply against her shoulder.
The question was not quite new to Teacher and, as she bestowed Morris more comfortably on her knee, she pondered once again. She knew that, for the present, her lines had fallen in very pleasant places, and she felt no desire to change to pastures new. And yet—and yet—. The average female life is long, and a Board, however thoughtful as to salary and pension, is an impersonal lord and master, and remote withal. So she answered quite simply, with her cheek against the boy's:
"Well, perhaps so, Morris. Perhaps I shall, some day."
"Teacher, no ma'an, Miss Bailey!" wailed the Monitor of the Gold-Fish. "Don't you go and get married mit nobody. So you do you couldn't be Teacher by us no more, and you're a awful nice teacher by little boys. You ain't too big. Und say, we'd feel terrible bad the while you goes and gets married mit somebody—terrible bad."
"Should you really, now?" asked Teacher, greatly pleased. "Well, dear, I too should be lonely without you."
Here Isidore Wishnewsky, who considered this conversation as his cherished own, and saw it being torn from him, determined to outdo the favoured Morris as a squire of dames.
"Teacher, yiss ma'an," he broke in. "We'd all feel terrible the while we ain't got you by teacher. All the boys und all the girls they says like this—it's the word in the yard—we ain't never had a teacher smells so nice like you."
While Teacher was in the lenient mood, resulting from this astounding tribute, Nathan forged yet another chain for her securing.
"Teacher," said he, "you wouldn't never go and get married mit nobody 'out saying nothing to somebody, would you?"
"Indeed, no, my dear," Miss Bailey assured him. "When I marry, you and Patrick and Morris shall be ushers—monitors, you know. Now are you happy, you funny little chaps?"
"Teacher, yiss ma'an," Morris sighed, as the bell rang sharply, and the aloof and formal exercise of the assembly room began.
Some days later Teacher arranged to go to a reception, and as she did not care to return to her home between work and play, she appeared at school in rather festive array. Room 18 was delighted with its transformed ruler, but to the board of monitors this glory of raiment brought nothing but misery. Every twist in the neat coiffure, every fold of the pretty dress, every rustle of the invisible silk, every click of the high heels, meant the coming abdication of Teacher and the disbanding of her cabinet. Just so had Patrick's sister Mary looked on the day she wed the milkman. Just such had been the outward aspect of Morris's auntie on the day of her union to the promising young salesman who was now a floorwalker and Morris's Uncle Ikey.
Momentarily they expected some word of farewell—perhaps even an ice-cream party—but Teacher made no sign. They decided that she was reserving her last words for their private ear and were greatly disconcerted to find themselves turned out with the common herd at three o'clock. With heavy hearts they followed the example of Mary's little lamb and waited patiently about till Teacher did appear. When she came she was more wonderful than ever, in a long and billowy boa and a wide and billowy hat. She had seemed in a breathless hurry while up in Room 18, but now she stood quite placidly in a group of her small adherents on the highest of the school-house steps. And the cabinet, waiting gloomily apart, only muttered, "I told ye so," and "It must be a awful kind feeling," when the tall stranger came swinging upon the scene. When Teacher's eyes fell upon him she began to force her way through her clinging court, and when he was half way up the steps she was half way down. As they met he drew from his pocket a hand and the violets it held and Teacher was still adjusting the flowers in her jacket when she passed her lurking staff. "I didn't expect you at all," she was saying. "You know it was not a really definite arrangement, and men hate receptions."
A big voice replied in a phrase which Morris identified as having been prominent in the repertoire of the enamoured salesman—now a floorwalker—and Teacher with her companion turned to cross the street. Her heels clicked for yet a moment and the deserted cabinet knew that all was over.
The gloom obscuring Patrick's spirit on that evening was of so deep a dye that Mrs. Brennan diagnosed it as the first stage of "a consumption." She administered simple remedies and warm baths with perseverance, but without effect. And more potent to cure than bath or bottle was the sight of Teacher on the next morning in her accustomed clothes and place.
The Board of Monitors had hardly recovered from this panic when another alarming symptom appeared. Miss Bailey began to watch for letters, and large envelopes began to reward her watchfulness. Daily was Patrick sent to the powers that were to demand a letter, and daily he carried one, and a sorely heavy heart, back to his sovereign. In exactly the same sweetly insistent way had he been sent many a time and oft to seek tidings of the laggard milkman. His colleagues, when he laid these facts before them, were of the opinion that things looked very dark for Teacher. Said Nathan:
"You know how she says we should be monitors on her weddinge? Well, it could to be lies. She marries maybe already."
Patrick promptly knocked the Monitor of Window Boxes down upon the rough asphalt of the yard and kicked him.
"Miss Bailey's no sneak," he cried hotly. "If she was married she'd just as lief go and tell."
"Well," Morris began, "I had once a auntie—"
"Your auntie makes me sick," snapped Patrick. But Morris went on quite undisturbedly:
"I had once a auntie und she had awful kind feelings over a stylish floorwalker, und he was loving mit her. So-o-oh! They marries! Und they don't say nothings to nobody. On'y the stylish floor walker he writes on my auntie whole bunches of lovin' letters."
"She ain't married," Patrick reiterated. "She ain't."
"Well, she will be," muttered Nathan vindictively. "Und the new teacher will lick you the while you fights. It's fierce how you make me biles on my bones. Think shame."
When the ruffled Monitor of the Window Boxes had been soothed by the peaceful Guardian of the Gold-Fish, the cabinet held council. Nathan suggested that it might be possible to bribe the interloper. They would give him their combined wealth and urge him to turn his eyes upon Miss Blake, whose room was across the hall. She was very big and would do excellently well for him, whereas she was entirely too long and too wide for them.
Morris maintained that Teacher might be held by gratitude. A list should be made out, and, each in turn, a child a day, should give her a present.
Patrick listened to these ideas in deep and restive disgust. He urged instant and copious bloodshed. His big brother's gang could "let daylight into the dude" with enjoyment and despatch. They would watch him ceaselessly and they would track him down.
The watching was an easy matter, for Teacher, in common with the majority of rulers, lived much in the public eye. The stranger was often detected prowling in her vicinity. He even began to bring her to school in the mornings, and on these occasions there were always violets in her coat. He used to appear at luncheon time and vanish with her. He used to come in the afternoon and have tea in Room 18 with two other teachers and with Teacher. The antagonism of the Monitor of Gold Fish became so marked that Miss Bailey was forced to remonstrate.
"Morris, dear," she began one afternoon, when they were alone together, "you were very rude to Doctor Ingraham yesterday. I can't allow you to stay here with me if you're going to behave so badly. You sulked horribly and you slammed the door against his foot. Of course it was an accident, but how would you feel, Morris, if you had hurt him?"
"Glad," said the Monitor of the Gold-Fish savagely. "Glad."
"Morris! What do you mean by saying such a thing? I'm ashamed of you. Why should you want to hurt a friend of mine?"
"Don't you be friends mit him!" cried Morris, deserting his fish and throwing himself upon his teacher. "Don't you do it, Teacher Missis Bailey. He ain't no friends for a lady." And then, in answer to Teacher's stare of blank surprise, he went on:
"My mamma she seen him by your side und she says—I got to tell you in whispering how she says."
Teacher bent her head and Morris whispered in an awe-struck voice:
"My mamma says she like that: 'He could to be a Krisht,'" and then drew back to study Teacher's consternation. But she seemed quite calm. Perhaps she had already faced the devastating fact, for she said:
"Yes, I know he's a Christian. I'm not afraid of them. Are you?"
"Teacher, no ma'an, Missis Bailey, I ain't got no scare over Krishts, on'y they ain't no friends for ladies. My papa says like that on my auntie, und my auntie she's married now mit a stylish floorwalker. We'm got a Krisht in our house for boarder, so I know. But you couldn't to know 'bout Krishts."
"Yes, I do. They're very nice people."
"No ma'an," said Morris gently. And then still more courteously: "It's a lie. You couldn't to know about Krishts."
"But I do know all about them, Morris dear. I'm a Christian."
Again Morris remembered his manners. Again he replied in his courtly phrase:
"It's a lie." As he said it, with a bewitching rising inflection, it was almost a caress. "It's a lie. Teacher fools. You couldn't to be no Krisht. You ain't got no looks off of Krishts."
Teacher was mildly surprised. She was as Irish as Patrick Brennan and, in her own way, she looked it. Truly her eyes were brown, but the face and the faith of her fathers were still strongly hers. Morris, meanwhile, examined his sovereign with admiring eyes. He could well understand the heart of that Krisht, for Teacher was very beautiful and of splendid array. Her jumper was red, with golden buttons, and her collar was white, and her hair was soft, with combs. And she had a light face and a little bit of nose and teeth. Her apron was from silk with red ribbons and red flowers, and she had like man's-shoes and a watch. This vision of feminine perfection was bestowing time and smiles on him. She was actually appealing to his judgment.
"Not look like a Christian?" she was saying. "Well, then, Morris, what do I look like?"
And Morris, ever going straight to the point, replied: "You looks like a stylish Sheeny," and waited for this intoxicating praise to bring blushes to the light face he loved. It brought the blushes, but they were even redder and hotter than he had expected. There was also a gasp on which he had not counted and a queer flash in the brown eyes.
"Morris," said Teacher, "Morris, did you ever see a Sheeny with a nose like mine?"
Morris raised his head from the red jumper, climbed off the from-silk apron and solemnly contemplated the little bit of nose. The truth broke over him in sickening waves. The star of his life had set; his doll was stuffed with sawdust; his idol had feet of clay; his light-faced lady was a Christian. And yet she was his teacher and greatly to be loved, so he bore the knowledge, for her dear sake, as bravely as he could. He returned to the from-silk apron, wound a short arm round the white collar, and sobbed:
"Teacher, yiss ma'an, you'm got a Krisht nose. But don't you care, no one couldn't never to know like you ain't a for sure Sheeny the while you got such terrible Sheeny eyes. Oh, but they couldn't never to think you're a Krisht. Und say, don't you have a frightened. I wouldn't never to tell nobody. Never. I makes a swear over it. I kiss up to God. I hopes I drops down if I tells."
At the end of a month the high heels and the festive raiment appeared again, and the staff knew that the time for action had really come. They must bring the Krisht to terms before he should see Teacher in her present and irresistible array. He was always first at the trysting place, and there they would have speech with him. They arranged to escape from Room 18 before three o'clock. The Commander-in-Chief feigned a nose-bleed, the Prime Minister developed an inward agony, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after some moments of indecision, boldly plucked out a tottering tooth and followed—bloody but triumphant—in their wake. They found the enemy just as they had expected, and Morris, being again elected spokesman, stepped forward and took him by his dastard hand. The adversary yielded, thinking that Teacher had been forced to greater caution. The Commander-in-Chief and the Chancellor followed close behind, they having consented, in view of the enormous issues involved, to act as scouts. Around the corner they went into a dark and narrow alley, and, when they had reached a secluded spot between the high wall of the school and the blank windows of a recently burned tenement house, Morris began:
"Teacher don't wants to go on the party mit you the while she ain't got no more that kind feeling over you."
"What?" cried the astonished Doctor Ingraham.
"She don't wants to be married mit you."
"Did Miss Bailey send you with any message to me?"
The question was so fierce that the truth was forced from the unwilling lips of the spokesman.
"No ma'an—no sir," they faltered. "On'y that's the feeling what she had. Und so you go away now 'out seeing Teacher, me und the other fellows we gives you FIVE cents."
The cabinet drew near to hear the answer to this suggestion. It puzzled them, for—
"Now, look here, boy," said Doctor Ingraham, "you'd better go home and get to bed. You aren't well."
Morris conferred with his colleagues and returned with:
"We gives you SEVEN cents so you go home now 'out seeing Teacher. A nickel und two pennies so you go now. Und say, Miss Blake could to go by your side. She has kind feelings over you."
"Nonsense," said the man. "When will your teacher be down?"
"She ain't coming at all. She has no more feelings. So you goes now we gives you a dime and a penny. ELEVEN cents. We ain't got it; on'y we could to get. Teacher gives me all times pennies."
Just as the stranger was wondering how much of truth these extraordinary children knew, Teacher, calm-eyed and unruffled, appeared upon the scene. She said, as she generally did:
"Doctor Ingraham! Who would have thought to find you here!" And then, "Are you talking to my little people? They are the cleverest little things, and such friends of mine. Morris here and I are the greatest of cronies."
Teacher's manner, as she began her greeting, was serene and bright, but a gloomy, even a morose, glance from Doctor Ingraham's cold blue eye quite changed her. His voice too, considered as the voice of love, sounded sulkily as he said:
"So it seems. He has given me an answer which you refused me."
"How generous of Morris and how thoughtful! He's always trying to save me trouble. And the question, now, to which the answer belonged. May one know that?"
"You know it well enough," with a glance up and down the deserted alley, for even Patrick had realized that discretion is the better part of statesmanship.