Fleming H. Revell Company
Fleming H. Revell Company
New York — Chicago — Toronto
E. H. D.
In This Book Were
Designed by H. E. Fritz
BY PROXY THE RIVER A GARDEN OF LIES THE CELEBRITY IN LOVE AT MIDNIGHT A MEETING BY CHANCE RENUNCIATION IN THE CURRENT THE CHORISTER ALIENATION A CHILD'S PRAYER
MR. PODDLE'S FINALE HIS MOTHER NEARING THE SEA THE LAST APPEAL
It will be recalled without effort—possibly, indeed, without interest—that the obsequies of the old Senator Boligand were a distinguished success: a fashionable, proper function, ordered by the young widow with exquisite taste, as all the world said, and conducted without reproach, as the undertaker and the clergy very heartily agreed. At the Church of the Lifted Cross, the incident of the child, the blonde lady and the mysteriously veiled man, who sat in awe and bewildered amazement where the shadows gave deepest seclusion, escaped notice. Not that the late Senator Boligand was in life aware of the existence of the child or the lady or the strange fellow with the veil. Nothing of the sort. The one was the widow of Dick Slade, the other his son, born in wedlock; and the third was the familiar counsellor and intimate of them all. The Senator was for once turned to good account: was made contributor to the sweetness of life, to the comfort of the humble. That was all. And I fancy that the shade of the grim old robber, lurking somewhere in the softly coloured gloom of the chancel, was not altogether averse to the farce in which his earthly tabernacle was engaged....
When Dick Slade died in the big red tenement of Box Street, he died as other men die, complaining of the necessity; and his son, in the way of all tender children, sorely wept: not because his father was now lost to him, which was beyond his comprehension, but because the man must be put in a grave—a cold place, dark and suffocating, being underground, as the child had been told.
"I don't want my father," he woefully protested, "to be planted!"
"Planted!" cried the mother, throwing up her hands in indignant denial. "Who told you he'd be planted?"
"She's a liar," said the woman, composedly, without resentment. "We'll cut the planting out of this funeral." Her ingenuity, her resourcefulness, her daring, when the happiness of her child was concerned, were usually sufficient to the emergency. "Why, darling!" she exclaimed. "Your father will be taken right up into the sky. He won't be put in no grave. He'll go right straight to a place where it's all sunshine—where it's all blue and high and as bright as day." She bustled about: keeping an eye alert for the effect of her promises. She was not yet sure how this glorious ascension might be managed; but she had never failed to deceive him to his own contentment, and 'twas not her habit to take fainthearted measures. "They been lying to you, dear," she complained. "Don't you fret about graves. You just wait," she concluded, significantly, "and see!"
The boy sighed.
"Poddle and me," she added, with a wag of the head to convince him, "will show you where your father goes."
"I wish," the boy said, wistfully, "that he wasn't dead."
"Don't you do it!" she flashed. "It don't make no difference to him. It's a good thing. I bet he's glad to be dead."
The boy shook his head.
"Yes, he is! Don't you think he isn't. There ain't nothing like being dead. Everybody's happy—when they're dead."
"He's so still!" the boy whispered.
"It feels fine to be still—like that."
"And he's so cold!"
"No!" she scorned. "He don't feel cold. You think he's cold. But he ain't. That's just what you think. He's comfortable. He's glad to be dead. Everybody's glad to be dead."
The boy shuddered.
"Don't you do that no more!" said the woman. "It don't hurt to be dead. Honest, it don't! It feels real good to be that way."
"I—I—I don't think I'd like—to be dead!"
"You don't have to if you don't want to," the woman replied, thrown into a confusion of pain and alarm. To comfort him, to shield him from agony, to keep the shadow of fear from falling upon him: she desired nothing more; and she was content to succeed if but for the moment. "I tell you," she continued, "you never will be dead—if you don't want to. Your father wanted to be dead. 'I think, Millie,' says he, 'I'd like to be dead.' 'All right, Dick,' says I. 'If you want to, I won't stand in your way. But I don't know about the boy.' 'Oh,' says he, 'the boy won't stand in my way.' 'I guess that's right, Dick,' says I, 'for the boy loves you.' And so," she concluded, "he died. But you don't have to die. You'll never die—not unless you want to." She kissed him. "Don't you be afraid, dear!" she crooned.
"Well, then," she asked, puzzled, "what are you?"
"I don't know," he faltered. "I think it makes me—sick at the—stomach."
He had turned white. She took him in her arms, to comfort and hearten him—an unfailing device: her kisses, her warm, ample bosom, her close embrace; he was by these always consoled....
Next day, then, in accordance with the woman's device, the boy and his mother set out with the veiled man for the Church of the Lifted Cross, where the obsequies of Senator Boligand were to take place. It was sad weather—a cold rain falling, the city gray, all the world black-clad and dripping and sour of countenance. The veiled man said never a word; he held the boy's hand tight, and strode gloomily on—silent of melancholy, of protest, of ill temper: there was no knowing, for his face was hid. The woman, distinguished by a mass of blinding blonde hair and a complexion susceptible to change by the weather, was dressed in the ultra-fashionable way—the small differences of style all accentuated: the whole tawdry and shabby and limp in the rain. The child, a slender boy, delicately white of skin, curly headed, with round, dark eyes, outlooking in wonder and troubled regard, but yet bravely enough, trotted between the woman and the man, a hand in the hand of each.... And when they came to the Church of the Lifted Cross; and when the tiny, flickering lights, and the stained windows, and the shadows overhead, and the throbbing, far-off music had worked their spell upon him, he snuggled close to his mother, wishing himself well away from the sadness and mystery of the place, but glad that its solemn splendour honoured the strange change his father had chosen to undergo.
"Have they brought papa yet?" he whispered.
"Hush!" she answered. "He's come."
For a moment she was in a panic—lest the child's prattle, being perilously indiscreet, involve them all in humiliating difficulties. Scandal of this sort would be intolerable to the young Boligand widow.
"Where is he?"
"Don't talk so loud, dear. He's down in front—where all the lights are."
"Can't we go there?'
"No, no!" she whispered, quickly. "It isn't the way. We must sit here. Don't talk, dear; it isn't the way."
"I'd like to—kiss him."
"Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "It isn't allowed. We got to sit right here. That's the way it's always done. Hush, dear! Please don't talk."
With prayer and soulful dirges—employing white robes and many lights and the voices of children—the body of Senator Boligand was dealt with, in the vast, dim church, according to the forms prescribed, and with due regard for the wishes of the young widow. The Senator was an admirable substitute; Dick Slade's glorious ascension was accomplished. And the heart of the child was comforted by this beauty: for then he knew that his father was by some high magic admitted to the place of which his mother had told him—some place high and blue and ever light as day. The fear of death passed from him. He was glad, for his father's sake, that his father had died; and he wished that he, too, might some day know the glory to which his father had attained.
But when the earthly remains of the late distinguished Senator were borne down the aisle in solemn procession, the boy had a momentary return of grief.
"Is that papa in the box?" he whimpered.
His mother put her lips to his ear. "Yes," she gasped. "But don't talk. It isn't allowed."
The veiled man turned audibly uneasy. "Cuss it!" he fumed.
"Oh, father!" the boy sobbed.
With happy promptitude the veiled man acted. He put a hand over the boy's mouth. "For God's sake, Millie," he whispered to the woman, "let's get out of here! We'll be run in."
"Hush, dear!" the woman commanded: for she was much afraid.
After that, the child was quiet.
From the room in the Box Street tenement, meantime, the body of Dick Slade had been taken in a Department wagon to a resting-place befitting in degree.
"Millie," the veiled man protested, that night, "you didn't ought to fool the boy."
"It don't matter, Poddle," said she. "And I don't want him to feel bad."
"You didn't ought to do it," the man persisted. "It'll make trouble for him."
"I can't see him hurt," said the woman, doggedly. "I love him so much. Poddle, I just can't! It hurts me."
The boy was now in bed. "Mother," he asked, lifting himself from the pillow, "when will I die?"
"Why, child!" she ejaculated.
"I wish," said the boy, "it was to-morrow."
"There!" said the woman, in triumph, to the man. "He ain't afraid of death no more."
"I told you so, Millie!" the man exclaimed, at the same instant.
"But he ain't afraid to die," she persisted. "And that's all I want."
"You can't fool him always," the man warned.
The boy was then four years old....
Top floor rear of the Box Street tenement looked out upon the river. It was lifted high: the activities of the broad stream and of the motley world of the other shore went silently; the petty noises of life—the creak and puff and rumble of its labouring machinery,—straying upward from the fussy places below, were lost in the space between.
Within: a bed, a stove, a table—the gaunt framework of home. But the window overlooked the river; and the boy was now seven years old, unknowing, unquestioning, serenely obedient to the circumstances of his life: feeling no desire that wandered beyond the familiar presence of his mother—her voice and touch and brooding love.
It was a magic window—a window turned lengthwise, broad, low, small-paned, disclosing wonders without end: a scene of infinite changes. There was shipping below, restless craft upon the water; and beyond, dwarfed in the distance, was a confusion of streets, of flat, puffing roofs, stretching from the shining river to the far, misty hills, which lay beside the sea, invisible and mysterious.
But top floor rear was remote from the river and the roofs. From the window—and from the love in the room—the boy looked out upon an alien world, heard the distant murmur, monotonously proceeding, night and day: uncomprehending, but unperturbed....
In the evening the boy sat with his mother at the window. Together they watched the shadows gather—the hills and the city and the river dissolve: the whole broad world turn to points of light, twinkling, flashing, darting, in the black, voiceless gulf. Nor would she fail to watch the night come, whether in gentle weather or whipping rain: but there would sit, the boy in her arms, held close to her breast, her hand straying restlessly over his small body, intimately caressing it.
The falling shadows; the river, flowing unfeelingly; the lights, wandering without rest, aimless, forever astray in the dark: these were a spell upon her.
"They go to the sea!" she whispered, once.
"The ships, mother?"
She put his head in the hollow of her shoulder, where her cheek might touch his hair: all the time staring out at the lights on the river.
"All the ships, all the lights on the river," she said, hoarsely, "go out there."
"The river takes them."
He was made uneasy: being conscious of the deeper meaning—acutely aware of some strange dread stirring in her heart.
"Maybe," he protested, "they're glad to go away."
She shook her head. "One night," she said, leaning towards the window, seeming now to forget the boy, "I seen the sea. All the lights on the river go different ways—when they get out there. It is a dark and lonesome place—big and dark and lonesome."
"Then," said he, quickly, "you would not like to be there."
"No," she answered. "I do not like the sky," she continued; "it is so big and empty. I do not like the sea; it is so big and dark. And black winds are always blowing there; and the lights go different ways. The lights," she muttered, "go different ways! I am afraid of the dark. And, oh!" she moaned, suddenly crushing him to her breast, rocking him, in an agony of tenderness, "I am afraid of something else. Oh, I am afraid!"
"Of what?" he gasped.
"To be alone!" she sobbed.
He released himself from her arms—sat back on her knee: quivering from head to foot, his hands clenched, his lips writhing. "Don't, mother!" he cried. "Don't cry. We will not go to the sea. We will not!"
"We must," she whispered.
She kissed him: her hand slipped under his knees; and she drew him close again—and there held him until he lay quiet in her arms.
"We are like the lights on the river," she said. "The river will take us to a place where the lights go different ways."
"We will not go!"
"The river will take us."
The boy was puzzled: he lifted his head, to watch the lights drift past, far below; and he was much troubled by this mystery. She tried to gather his legs in her lap—to hold him as she used to do, when he was a child at her breast; but he was now grown too large for that, and she suffered, again, the familiar pain: a perception of alienation—of inevitable loss.
"When?" he asked.
She let his legs fall. "Soon," she sighed. "When you are older; it won't be long, now. When you are a little wiser; it will be very soon."
"When I am wiser," he pondered, "we must go. What makes me wiser?"
"Are you wise?"
"God help me!" she answered.
He nestled his head on her shoulder—dismissing the mystery with a quick sigh. "Never mind," he said, to comfort her. "You will not be alone. I will be with you."
"I wonder!" she mused.
For a moment more she looked out; but she did not see the river—but saw the wide sea, wind-tossed and dark, where the great multitude of lights went apart, each upon its mysterious way.
"Mother," he repeated, reproachfully, mystified by her hesitation, "I will always be with you."
"I wonder!" she mused.
To this doubt—now clear to him beyond hope—there was instant response: strangely passionate, but in keeping with his nature, as she knew. For a space he lay rigid on her bosom: then struggled from her embrace, brutally wrenching her hands apart, flinging off her arms. He stood swaying: his hands clenched, his slender body aquiver, as before, his dark eyes blazing reproach. It gave her no alarm, but, rather, exquisite pleasure, to watch his agony. She caught him by the shoulders, and bent close, that by the night-light, coming in at the window, she might look into his eyes: wherein, swiftly, the flare of reproach turned to hopeless woe. And she was glad that he suffered: exalted, so that she, too, trembled.
"Oh," he pleaded, "say that I will always be with you!"
She would not: but continued to exult in his woeful apprehension.
"Tell me, mother!" he implored. "Tell me!"
Not yet: for there was no delight to be compared with the proved knowledge of his love.
"Mother!" he cried.
"You do not love me," she said, to taunt him.
"Oh, don't!" he moaned.
"No, no!" she persisted. "You don't love your mother any more."
He was by this reduced to uttermost despair; and he began to beat his breast, in the pitiful way he had. Perceiving, then, that she must no longer bait him, she opened her arms. He sprang into them. At once his sobs turned to sighs of infinite relief, which continued, until, of a sudden, he was hugged so tight that he had no breath left but to gasp.
"And you will always be with me?" he asked.
"It is the way of the world," she answered, while she kissed him, "that sons chooses for themselves."
With that he was quite content....
For a long time they sat silent at the window. The boy dreamed hopefully of the times to come—serenity restored. For the moment the woman was forgetful of the foreshadowed days, happy that the warm, pulsing little body of her son lay unshrinking in her arms: so conscious of his love and life—so wishful for a deeper sense of motherhood—that she slipped her hand under his jacket and felt about for his heart, and there let her fingers lie, within touch of its steady beating. The lights still twinkled and flashed and aimlessly wandered in the night; but the spell of the river was lifted.
A GARDEN OF LIES
Withal it was a rare mood: nor, being wise, was she given to expressing it in this gloomy fashion. It was her habit, rather, assiduously to woo him: this with kisses, soft and wet; with fleeting touches; with coquettish glances and the sly display of her charms; with rambling, fantastic tales of her desirability in the regard of men—thus practicing all the familiar fascinations of her kind, according to the enlightenment of the world she knew. He must be persuaded, she thought, that his mother was beautiful, coveted; convinced of her wit and gaiety: else he would not love her. Life had taught her no other way.... And always at break of day, when he awoke in her arms, she waited, with a pang of anxiety, pitilessly recurring, lest there be some sign that despite her feverish precautions the heedless world had in her nightly absence revealed that which she desperately sought to hide from him....
Thus, by and by, when the lamp was alight—when the shadows were all chased out of the window, driven back to the raw fall night, whence they had crept in—she lapsed abruptly into her natural manner and practices. She spread a newspaper on the table, whistling in a cheery fashion, the while covertly observing the effect of this lively behaviour. With a knowing smile, promising vast gratification, she got him on her knee; and together, cheek to cheek, her arm about his waist, they bent over the page: whereon some function of the rich, to which the presence of the Duchess of Croft and of the distinguished Lord Wychester had given sensational importance, was grotesquely pictured.
"Now, mother," said he, spreading the picture flat, "show me you."
"This here lady," she answered, evasively, "is the Duchess of Croft."
"Is it?" he asked, without interest. "She is very fat. Where are you?"
"And here," she proceeded, "is Lord Wychester."
"Mother," he demanded, "where are you?"
She was disconcerted; no promising evasion immediately occurred to her. "Maybe," she began, tentatively, "this lady here——"
"Oh, no!" he cried, looking up with a little laugh. "It is not like you, at all!"
"Well," she said, "it's probably meant for me."
He shook his head; and by the manner of this she knew that he would not be deceived.
"Perhaps," she said, "the Duchess told the man not to put me in the picture. I guess that's it. She was awful jealous. You see, dear," she went on, very solemnly, "Lord Wychester took a great fancy to me."
He looked up with interest.
"To—my shape," she added.
"Oh!" said he.
"And that," she continued, noting his pleasure, "made the Duchess hot; for she's too fat to have much of a figure. Most men, you know," she added, as though reluctant in her own praise, "do fancy mine." She brushed his cheek with her lips. "Don't you think, dear," she asked, assuming an air of girlish coquetry, thus to compel the compliment, "that I'm—rather—pretty?"
"I think, mother," he answered, positively, "that you're very, very pretty."
It made her eyes shine to hear it. "Well," she resumed, improvising more confidently, now, "the Duchess was awful mortified because Lord Wychester danced with me seventeen times. 'Lord Wychester,' says she, 'what do you see in that blonde with the diamonds?' 'Duchess,' says he, 'I bet the blonde don't weigh over a hundred and ten!'"
There was no answering smile; the boy glanced at the picture of the wise and courtly old Lord Wychester, gravely regarded that of the Duchess of Croft, of whose matronly charms, of whose charities and amiable qualities, all the world knows.
"What did she say?" he asked.
"'Oh, dear me, Lord Wychester!' says she. 'If you're looking for bones,' says she, 'that blonde is a regular glue-factory!'"
He caught his breath.
"'A regular glue-factory,'" she repeated, inviting sympathy. "That's what she said."
"Did you cry?"
"Not me!" she scorned. "Cry? Not me! Not for no mountain like her!"
"And what," he asked, "did Lord Wychester do?"
"'Back to the side-show, Duchess!' says Lord Wychester. 'You're too fat for decent company. My friend the Dook,' says he, 'may be partial to fat ladies and ten-cent freaks; but my taste runs to slim blondes.'"
No amusement was excited by Lord Wychester's second sally. In the world she knew, it would have provoked a shout of laughter. The boy's gravity disquieted her.
"Did you laugh?" he asked.
"Everybody," she answered, pitifully, "give her the laugh."
He sighed—somewhat wistfully. "I wish," he said, "that you hadn't."
"Why not!" she wondered, in genuine surprise.
"I don't know."
"Why, dear!" she exclaimed, a note of alarm in her voice. "It isn't bad manners! Anyhow," she qualified, quick to catch her cue, "I didn't laugh much. I hardly laughed at all. I don't believe I did laugh."
"I'm glad," he said.
Then, "I'm sure of it," she ventured, boldly; and she observed with relief that he was not incredulous.
"Did the Duchess cry?"
"Oh, my, no! 'Waiter,' says the Duchess, 'open another bottle of that wine. I feel faint.'"
"What did Lord Wychester do then?"
"He paid for the wine." It occurred to her that she might now surely delight him. "Then he wanted to buy a bottle for me," she continued, eagerly, "just to spite the Duchess. 'If she can have wine,' says he, 'there isn't no good reason why you got to go dry.' But I couldn't see it. 'Oh, come on!' says he. 'What's the matter with you? Have a drink.' 'No, you don't!' says I. 'Why not?' says he." She drew the boy a little closer, and, in the pause she patted his hand. "'Because,' says I," she whispered, tenderly, "'I got a son; and I don't want him to do no drinking when he grows up!'" She paused again—that the effect of the words and of the caress might not be interrupted. "'Come off!' says Lord Wychester," she went on; "'you haven't got no son.' 'You wouldn't think to look at me,' says I, 'that I got a son seven years old the twenty-third of last month.' 'To the tall timber!' says he. 'You're too young and pretty. I'll give you a thousand dollars for a kiss.' 'No, you don't!' says I. 'Why not?' says he. 'Because,' says I, 'you don't.' 'I'll give you two thousand,' says he."
She was interrupted by the boy; his arms were anxiously stealing round her neck.
"'Three thousand!' says he."
"Mother," the boy whispered, "did you give it to him?"
Again, she drew him to her: as all mothers will, when, in the twilight, they tell tales to their children, and the climax approaches.
"'Four thousand!' says he."
"Mother," the boy implored, "tell me quick! What did you say?"
"'Lord Wychester,' says I, 'I don't give kisses,' says I, 'because my son doesn't want me to do no such thing! No, sir! Not for a million dollars!'"
She was then made happy by his rapturous affection; and she now first perceived—in a benighted way—that virtue was more appealing to him than the sum of her physical attractions. Upon this new thought she pondered. She was unable to reduce it to formal terms, to be sure; but she felt a new delight, a new hope, and was uplifted, though she knew not why. Later—at the crisis of their lives—the perception returned with sufficient strength to illuminate her way....
Presently the boy broke in upon her musing. "It was blondes Lord Wychester liked," he remarked, with pride; "wasn't it, mother?"
"Slim blondes," she corrected.
She was appalled by the disclosure; and she was taken unaware: nor did she dare discover the extent, the significance, of this new sophistication, nor whence it came, lest she be all at once involved in a tangle of explanation, from which there could be no sure issue. She sighed; her head drooped, until it rested on his shoulder, her wet lashes against his cheek—despairing, helpless.
"What makes you sad?" he asked.
Then she gathered impetuous courage. She must be calm, she knew; but she must divert him. "See," she began, "what it says about your mother in the paper!" She ran her finger down a long column of the fulsome description of the great Multon ball—the list of fashionables, the costumes. "Here it is! 'She was the loveliest woman at the dance.' That's me. 'All the men said so. What if she is a bleached blonde? Some people says that bleached blondes is no good. It's a lie!'" she cried, passionately, to the bewilderment of the boy. "'God help them! There's honest people everywhere.' Are you listening? Here's more about me. 'She does the best she can. Maybe she don't amount to much, maybe she is a bleached blonde; but she does the best she can. She never done no wrong in all her life. She loves her son too much for that. Oh, she loves her son! She'd rather die than have him feel ashamed of her. There isn't a better woman in the world, There isn't a better mother——'"
He clapped his hands.
"Don't you believe it?" she demanded. "Don't you believe what the paper says?"
"It's true!" he cried. "It's all true!"
"How do you know," she whispered, intensely, "that it's all true?"
They were interrupted by the clock. It struck seven times....
In great haste and alarm she put him from her knee; and she caught up her hat and cloak, and kissed him, and ran out, calling back her good-night, again and again, as she clattered down the stairs.... In the streets of the place to which she hurried, there were flaming lights, the laughter of men and flaunting women, the crash and rumble and clang of night-traffic, the blatant clamour of the pleasures of night; shuffling, blear-eyed derelicts of passion, creeping beldames, peevish children, youth consuming itself; rags and garish jewels, hunger, greasy content—a confusion of wretchedness, of greed and grim want, of delirious gaiety, of the sins that stalk in darkness.... Through it all she brushed, unconscious—lifted from it by the magic of this love: dwelling only upon the room that overlooked the river, and upon the child within; remembering the light in his eyes and the tenderness of his kiss.
THE CELEBRITY IN LOVE
While the boy sat alone, in wistful idleness, there came a knock at the door—a pompous rat-tat-tat, with a stout tap-tap or two added, once and for all to put the quality of the visitor beyond doubt. The door was then cautiously pushed ajar to admit the head of the personage thus impressively heralded. And a most extraordinary head it was—of fearsome aspect; nothing but long and intimate familiarity could resign the beholder to the unexpected appearance of it. Long, tawny hair, now sadly unkempt, fell abundantly from crown to shoulders; and hair as tawny, as luxuriantly thick, almost as long, completely covered the face, from every part of which it sprang, growing shaggy and rank at the eyebrows, which served to ambush two sharp little eyes: so that the whole bore a precise resemblance to an ill-natured Skye terrier. It is superfluous to add that this was at once the face and the fortune of Toto, the Dog-faced Man, known in private life, to as many intimates as a jealous profession can tolerate, as Mr. Poddle: for the present disabled from public appearance by the quality of the air supplied to the exhibits at Hockley's Musee, his lungs being, as he himself expressed it, "not gone, by no means, but gittin' restless."
"Mother gone?" asked the Dog-faced Man.
"She has gone, Mr. Poddle," the boy answered, "to dine with the Mayor."
"Oh!" Mr. Poddle ejaculated.
"Why do you say that?" the boy asked, frowning uneasily. "You always say, 'Oh!'"
"Do I? 'Oh!' Like that?"
"Why do you do it?"
"Celebrities," replied Mr. Poddle, testily, entering at that moment, "is not accountable. Me bein' one, don't ask me no questions."
"Oh!" said the boy.
Mr. Poddle sat himself in a chair by the window: and there began to catch and vent his breath; but whether in melancholy sighs or snorts of indignation it was impossible to determine. Having by these violent means restored himself to a state of feeling more nearly normal, he trifled for a time with the rings flashing on his thin, white fingers, listlessly brushed the dust from the skirt of his rusty frock coat, heaved a series of unmistakable sighs: whereupon—and by this strange occupation the boy was quite fascinated—he drew a little comb, a little brush, a little mirror, from his pocket; and having set up the mirror in a convenient place, he proceeded to dress his hair, with particular attention to the eyebrows, which, by and by, he tenderly braided into two limp little horns: so that 'twas not long before he looked much less like a frowsy Skye terrier, much more like an owl.
"The hour, Richard," he sighed, as he deftly parted his hair in the middle of his nose, "has came!"
With such fond and hopeless feeling were these enigmatical words charged that the boy could do nothing but heave a sympathetic sigh.
"You see before you, Richard, what you never seen before. A man in the clutches," Mr. Poddle tragically pursued, giving a vicious little twist to his left eyebrow, "of the tender passion!"
"Oh!" the boy muttered.
"'Fame,'" Mr. Poddle continued, improvising a newspaper head-line, to make himself clear, "'No Shield Against the Little God's Darts.' Git me? The high and the low gits the arrows in the same place."
"Hurt!" cried Mr. Poddle, furiously. "It's perfectly excrugiating! Hurt? Why——"
"Mr. Poddle, excuse me," the boy interrupted, "but you are biting your mustache."
"Thanks," said Mr. Poddle, promptly. "Glad to know it. Can't afford to lose no more hirsute adornment. And I'm give to ravagin' it in moments of excitement, especially sorrow. Always tell me."
"I will," the boy gravely promised.
"The Pink-eyed Albino," Mr. Poddle continued, now released from the necessity of commanding his feelings, in so far as the protection of his hair was concerned, "was fancy; the Circassian Beauty was fascination; the Female Sampson was the hallugination of sky-blue tights; but the Mexican Sword Swallower," he murmured, with a melancholy wag, "is——"
"Mr. Poddle," the boy warned, "you are—at it again."
"Thanks," said Mr. Poddle, hastily eliminating the danger. "What I was about to remark," was his lame conclusion, "was that the Mexican Sword Swallower is love."
The Dog-faced Man snapped a sigh in two. "Richard," he insinuated suspiciously, "what you sayin', 'Oh!' for?"
"Wasn't the Bearded Lady, love?"
"Love!" laughed Mr. Poddle. "Ha, ha! Far from it! Not so! The Bearded Lady was the snare of ambition. 'Marriage Arranged Between the Young Duke of Blueblood and the Daughter of the Clothes-pin King. Millions of the Higgleses to Repair the Duke's Shattered Fortunes.' Git me? 'Wedding of the Bearded Lady and the Dog-faced Man. Sunday Afternoon at Hockley's Popular Musee. No Extra Charge for Admission. Fabulous Quantity of Human Hair on Exhibition At the Same Instant. Hirsute Wonders To Tour the Country at Enormous Expense.' Git me? Same thing. Love? Ha, ha! Not so! There's no more love in that," Mr. Poddle concluded, bitterly, "than——"
"Mr. Poddle, you are——"
"Thanks," faltered Mr. Poddle. "As I was about to remark when you—ah—come to the rescue—love is froze out of high life. Us natural phenomenons is the slaves of our inheritages."
"But you said the Bearded Lady was love at last!"
"'Duke Said To Be Madly In Love With the American Beauty,'" Mr. Poddle composedly replied.
"I don't quite—get you?"
"Us celebrities has our secrets. High life is hollow. Public must be took into account. 'Sacrificed On His Country's Altar.' Git me? 'Good of the Profession.' Broken hearts—and all that."
"Would you have broken the Bearded Lady's heart?"
Mr. Poddle was by this recalled to his own lamentable condition. "I've gone and broke my own," he burst out; "for I'm give to understand that the lovely Sword Swallower is got entangled with a tattooed man. Not," Mr. Poodle hastily added, "with a real tattooed man! Not by no means! Far from it! He's only half done! Git me? His legs is finished; and I'm give to understand that the Chinese dragon on his back is gettin' near the end of its tail. There may be a risin' sun on his chest, and a snake drawed out on his waist; of that I've heard rumors, but I ain't had no reports. Not," said Mr. Poddle, impressively, "what you might call undenigeable reports. And Richard," he whispered, in great excitement and contempt, "that there half-cooked freak won't be done for a year! He's bein' worked over on the installment plan. And I'm give to understand that she'll wait! Oh, wimmen!" the Dog-faced Man apostrophized. "Took by shapes and complexions——"
"Mr. Poddle, excuse me," the boy interrupted, diffidently, "but your eyebrow——"
"Thanks," Mr. Poddle groaned, his frenzy collapsing. "As I was about to say, wimmen is like arithmetic; there ain't a easy sum in the book."
"Thanks," said Mr. Poddle, in deep disgust. "Am I at it again? O'erwhelming grief! This here love will be the ruin of me. 'Bank Cashier Defaulted For a Woman.' I've lost more priceless strands since I seen that charming creature than I'll get back in a year. I've bit 'em off! I've tore 'em out! If this here goes on I'll be a Hairless Wonder in a month. 'Suicided For Love.' Same thing exactly. And what's worse," he continued, dejectedly, "the objeck of my adoration don't look at it right. She takes me for a common audience. No regard for talent. No appreciation for hair in the wrong place. 'Genius Jilted By A Factory Girl.' And she takes that manufactured article of a tattooed man for a regular platform attraction! Don't seem to know, Richard, that freaks is born, not made. What's fame, anyhow?"
The boy did not know.
"Why, cuss me!" the Dog-faced Man exploded, "she treats me as if I was dead-headed into the Show!"
"Excuse me, but——"
"Thanks. God knows, Richard, I ain't in love with her throat and stummick. It ain't because the one's unequalled for resistin' razor-edged steel and the other stands unrivalled in its capacity for holdin' cold metal. It ain't her talent, Richard. No, it ain't her talent. It ain't her beauty. It ain't even her fame. It ain't so much her massive proportions. It's just the way she darns stockings. Just the way she sits up there on the platform darnin' them stockings as if there wasn't no such thing as an admirin' public below. It's just her self. Git me? 'Give Up A Throne To Wed A Butcher's Daughter.' Understand? Why, God bless you, Richard, if she was a Fiji Island Cannibal I'd love her just the same!"
"I think, Mr. Poddle," the boy ventured, "that I'd tell her."
"I did," Mr. Poddle replied. "Much to my regrets I did. I writ. Worked up a beautiful piece out of 'The Lightning Letter-writer for Lovers.' 'Oh, beauteous Sword-Swallower,' I writ, 'pet of the public, pride of the sideshow, bright particular star in the constellation of natural phenomenons! One who is not unknown to fame is dazzled by your charms. He dares to lift his stricken eyes, to give vent to the tumultuous beatings of his manly bosom, to send you, in fact, this note. And if you want to know who done it, wear a red rose to-night.' Well," Mr. Poddle continued, "she seen me give it to the peanut-boy. And knowin' who it come from, she writ back. She writ," Mr. Poddle dramatically repeated, "right back."
The pause was so long, so painful, that the boy was moved to inquire concerning the answer.
"It stabs me," said Mr. Poddle.
"I think I'd like to know," said the boy.
"'Are you much give,' says she, 'to barkin' in your sleep?'"
A very real tear left the eye of Mr. Poddle, ran down the hair of his cheek, changed its course to the eyebrow, and there hung glistening....
It was apparent that the Dog-faced Man's thoughts must immediately be diverted into more cheerful channels. "Won't you please read to me, Mr. Poddle," said the boy, "what it says in the paper about my mother?"
The ruse was effective. Mr. Poddle looked up with a start. "Eh?" he ejaculated.
"Won't you?" the boy begged.
"I been talkin' so much, Richard," Mr. Poddle stammered, turning hoarse all at once, "that I gone and lost my voice."
He decamped to his room across the hall without another word.
At midnight the boy had long been sound asleep in bed. The lamp was turned low. It was very quiet in the room—quiet and shadowy in all the tenement.... And the stair creaked; and footfalls shuffled along the hall—and hesitated at the door of the place where the child lay quietly sleeping; and there ceased. There was the rumble of a man's voice, deep, insistent, imperfectly restrained. A woman protested. The door was softly opened; and the boy's mother stepped in, moving on tiptoe, and swiftly turned to bar entrance with her arm.
"Hist!" she whispered, angrily. "Don't speak so loud. You'll wake the boy."
"Let me in, Millie," the man insisted. "Aw, come on, now!"
"I can't, Jim. You know I can't. Go on home now. Stop that! I won't marry you. Let go my arm. You'll wake the boy, I tell you!"
There was a short scuffle: at the end of which, the woman's arm still barred the door.
"Here I ain't seen you in three year," the man complained. "And you won't let me in. That ain't right, Millie. It ain't kind to an old friend like me. You didn't used to be that way."
"No," the woman whispered, abstractedly; "there's been a change. I ain't the same as I used to be."
"You ain't changed for the better, Millie. No, you ain't."
"I don't know," she mused. "Sometimes I think not. It ain't because I don't want you, Jim," she continued, speaking more softly, now, "that I don't let you in. God knows, I like to meet old friends; but——"
It was sufficient. The man gently took her arm from the way. He stepped in—glanced at the sleeping boy, lying still as death, shaded from the lamp—and turned again to the woman.
"Don't wake him!" she said.
They were still standing. The man was short, long-armed, vastly broad at the shoulders, deep-chested: flashy in dress, dull and kind of feature—handsome enough, withal. He was an acrobat. Even in the dim light, he carried the impression of great muscular strength—of grace and agility. For a moment the woman's eyes ran over his stocky body: then, spasmodically clenching her hands, she turned quickly to the boy on the bed; and she moved back from the man, and thereafter regarded him watchfully.
"Don't make no difference if I do wake him," he complained. "The boy knows me."
"But he don't like you."
"Aw, Millie!" said he, in reproach. "Come off!"
"I seen it in his eyes," she insisted.
The man softly laughed.
"Don't you laugh no more!" she flashed. "You can't tell a mother what she sees in her own baby's eyes. I tell you, Jim, he don't like you. He never did."
"That's all fancy, Millie. Why, he ain't seen me in three year! And you can't see nothing in the eyes of a four year old kid. You're too fond of that boy, anyhow," the man continued, indignantly. "What's got into you? You ain't forgot that winter night out there in Idaho, have you? Don't you remember what you said to Dick that night? You said Dick was to blame, Millie, don't you remember? Remember the doctor coming to the hotel? I'll never forget how you went on. Never heard a woman swear like you before. Never seen one go on like you went on. And when you hit Dick, Millie, for what you said he'd done, I felt bad for Dick, though I hadn't much cause to care for what happened to him. Millie, girl, you was a regular wildcat when the doctor told you what was coming. You didn't want no kid, then!"
"Don't!" she gasped. "I ain't forgot. But I'm changed, Jim—since then."
He moved a step nearer.
"I ain't the same as I used to be in them days," she went on, staring at the window, and through the window to the starry night. "And Dick's dead, now. I don't know," she faltered; "it's all sort of—different."
"What's gone and changed you, Millie?"
"I ain't the same!" she repeated.
"What's changed you?"
"And I ain't been the same," she whispered, "since I got the boy!"
In the pause, he took her hand. She seemed not to know it—but let it lie close held in his great palm.
"And you won't have nothing to do with me?" he asked.
"I can't," she answered. "I don't think of myself no more. And the boy—wouldn't like it."
"You always said you would, if it wasn't for Dick; and Dick ain't here no more. There ain't no harm in loving me now." He tried to draw her to him. "Aw, come on!" he pleaded. "You know you like me."
She withdrew her hand—shrank from him. "Don't!" she said. "I like you, Jim. You know I always did. You was always good to me. I never cared much for Dick. Him and me teamed up pretty well. That was all. It was always you, Jim, that I cared for. But, somehow, now, I wish I'd loved Dick—more than I did. I feel different, now. I wish—oh, I wish—that I'd loved him!"
The man frowned.
"He's dead," she continued. "I can't tell him nothing, now. The chance is gone. But I wish I'd loved him!"
"He never done much for you."
"Yes, he did, Jim!" she answered, quickly. "He done all a man can do for a woman!"
She was smiling—but in an absent way. The man started. There was a light in her eyes he had never seen before.
"He give me," she said, "the boy!"
"You're crazy about that kid," the man burst out, a violent, disgusted whisper. "You're gone out of your mind."
"No, I ain't," she replied, doggedly. "I'm different since I got him. That's all. And I'd like Dick to know that I look at him different since he died. I can't love Dick. I never could. But I could thank him if he was here. Do you mind what I called the boy? I don't call him Claud now. I call him—Richard. It's all I can do to show Dick that I'm grateful."
The man caught his breath—in angry impatience. "Millie," he warned, "the boy'll grow up."
She put her hands to her eyes.
"He'll grow up and leave you. What you going to do then?"
"I don't know," she sighed. "Just—go along."
"You'll be all alone, Millie."
"He loves me!" she muttered. "He'll never leave me!"
"He's got to, Millie. He's got to be a man. You can't keep him."
"Maybe I can't keep him," she replied, in a passionate undertone. "Maybe I do love you. Maybe he'd get to love you, too. But look at him, Jim! See where he lies?"
The man turned towards the bed.
"It's on my side, Jim! Understand? He lies there always till I come in. Know why?"
He watched her curiously.
"He'll wake up, Jim, when I lift him over. That's what he wants. He'll wake up and say, 'Is that you, mother?' And he'll be asleep again, God bless him! before I can tell him that it is. My God! Jim, I can't tell you what it means to come in at night and find him lying there. That little body of a man! That clean, white soul! I can't tell you how I feel, Jim. It's something a man can't know. And do you think he'd stand for you? He'd say he would. Oh, he'd say he would! He'd look in my eyes, Jim, and he'd find out what I wanted him to say; and he'd say it. But, Jim, he'd be hurt. Understand? He'd think I didn't love him any more. He's only a child—and he'd think I didn't love him. Where'd he sleep, Jim? Alone? He couldn't do it. Don't you see? I can't live with nobody, Jim. And I don't want to. I don't care for myself no more. I used to, in them days—when you and me and Dick and the crowd was all together. But I don't—no more!"
The man stooped, picked a small stocking from the floor, stood staring at it.
"I'm changed," the woman repeated, "since I got the boy."
"I don't know what you'll do, Millie, when he grows up."
She shook her head.
"And when he finds out?"
"That's what I'm afraid of," she whispered, hoarsely. "Somebody'll tell him—some day. He don't know, now. And I don't want him to know. He ain't our kind. Maybe it's because I keep him here alone. Maybe it's because he don't see nobody. Maybe it's just because I love him so. I don't know. But he ain't like us. It would hurt him to know. And I can't hurt him. I can't!"
The man tossed the stocking away. It fell upon a heap of little under-garments, strewn upon the floor.
"You're a fool, Millie," said he. "I tell you, he'll leave you. He'll leave you cold—when he grows up—and another woman comes along."
She raised her hand to stop him. "Don't say that!" she moaned. "There won't be no other woman. There can't be. Seems to me I'll want to kill the first that comes. A woman? What woman? There won't be none."
"There's got to be a woman."
"What woman? There ain't a woman in the world fit to—oh," she broke off, "don't talk of him—and a woman!"
"It'll come, Millie. He's a man—and there's got to be a woman. And she won't want you. And you'll be too old, then, to——"
The boy stirred.
"Hist!" she commanded.
They waited. An arm was tossed—the boy smiled—there was a sigh. He was sound asleep again.
"Millie!" The man approached. She straightened to resist him. "You love me, don't you?"
"You want to marry me?"
Still she withdrew; but he overtook her, and caught her hand. She was now driven to a corner—at bay. Her face was flushed; there was an irresolute light in her eyes—the light, too, of fear.
"Go 'way!" she gasped. "Leave me alone!"
He put his arm about her.
"Don't!" she moaned. "You'll wake the boy."
"Millie!" he whispered.
"Let me go, Jim!" she protested, weakly. "I can't. Oh, leave me alone! You'll wake the boy. I can't. I'd like to. I—I—I want to marry you; but I——"
"Aw, come on!" he pleaded, drawing her close. And he suddenly found her limp in his arms. "You got to marry me!" he whispered, in triumph. "By God! you can't help yourself. I got you! I got you!"
"Oh, let me go!"
"No, I won't, Millie. I'll never let you go."
"For God's sake, Jim! Jim—oh, don't kiss me!"
The boy stirred again—and began to mutter in his sleep. At once the woman commanded herself. She stiffened—released herself—pushed the man away. She lifted a hand—until the child lay quiet once more. There was meantime breathless silence. Then she pointed imperiously to the door. The man sullenly held his place. She tiptoed to the door—opened it; again imperiously gestured. He would not stir.
"I'll go," he whispered, "if you tell me I can come back."
The boy awoke—but was yet blinded by sleep; and the room was dim-lit. He rubbed his eyes. The man and the woman stood rigid in the shadow.
"Is it you, mother?"
There was no resisting her command—her flashing eyes, the passionate gesture. The man moved to the door, muttering that he would come back—and disappeared. She closed the door after him.
"Yes, dear," she answered. "It is your mother."
"Was there a man with you?"
"It was Lord Wychester," she said, brightly, "seeing me home from the party."
"Oh!" he yawned.
"Go to sleep."
He fell asleep at once. The stair creaked. The tenement was again quiet....
He was lying in his mother's place in the bed.... She looked out upon the river. Somewhere, far below in the darkness, the current still ran swirling to the sea—where the lights go different ways.... The boy was lying in his mother's place. And before she lifted him, she took his warm little hand, and kissed his brow, where the dark curls lay damp with the sweat of sleep. For a long, long time, she sat watching him through a mist of glad tears. The sight of his face, the outline of his body under the white coverlet, the touch of his warm flesh: all this thrilled her inexpressibly. Had she been devout, she would have thanked God for the gift of a son—and would have found relief.... When she crept in beside him, she drew him to her, tenderly still closer, until he was all contained in her arms; and she forgot all else—and fell asleep, untroubled.
A MEETING BY CHANCE
Came, then, into the lives of these two, to work wide and immediate changes, the Rev. John Fithian, a curate of the Church of the Lifted Cross—a tall, free-moving, delicately spare figure, clad in spotless black, with a hint of fashion about it, a dull gold crucifix lying suspended upon the breast: pale, long of face, the eye-sockets deep and shadowy; hollow-cheeked, the bones high and faintly touched with red; with black, straight, damp hair, brushed back from a smooth brow and falling in the perfection of neatness to the collar—the whole severe and forbidding, indeed, but for saving gray eyes, wherein there lurked, behind the patient agony, often displacing it, a tender smile, benignant, comprehending, infinitely sympathetic, by which the gloomy exterior was lightened and in some surprising way gratefully explained.
By chance, on the first soft spring day of that year, the Rev. John Fithian, returning from the Neighbourhood Settlement, where he had delighted himself with good deeds, done of pure purpose, came near the door of the Box Street tenement, distributing smiles, pennies, impulsive, genuine caresses, to the children as he went, tipping their faces, patting their heads, all in the rare, unquestioned way, being not alien to the manner of the poor. A street piano, at the corner, tinkled an air to which a throng of ragged, lean little girls danced in the yellow sunshine, dodging trucks and idlers and impatient pedestrians with unconcern, colliding and tripping with utmost good nature. The curate was arrested by the voice of a child, singing to the corner accompaniment—low, in the beginning, brooding, tentative, but in a moment rising sure and clear and tender. It was not hard for the Rev. John Fithian to slip a cassock and surplice upon this wistful child, to give him a background of lofty arches and stained windows, to frame the whole in shadows. And, lo! in the chancel of the Church of the Lifted Cross there stood an angel, singing.
The boy looked up, a glance of suspicion, of fear; but he was at once reassured: there was no guile in the smiling gray eyes of the questioner.
"I am waiting," he answered, "for my mother. She will be home soon."
In a swift, penetrating glance, darting far and deep, dwelling briefly, the curate discovered the pathos of the child's life—the unknowing, patient outlook, the vague sense of pain, the bewilderment, the wistful melancholy, the hopeful determination.
"You, too!" he sighed.
The expression of kindred was not comprehended; but the boy was not disquieted by the sigh, by the sudden extinguishment of the beguiling smile.
"She has gone," he continued, "to the wedding of Sir Arthur Coll and Miss Stillison. She will have a very good time."
The curate came to himself with a start and a gasp.
"She's a bridesmaid," the boy added.
"Oh!" ejaculated the curate.
"Why do you say, 'Oh!'" the boy complained, frowning. "Everybody says that," he went on, wistfully; "and I don't know why."
The curate was a gentleman—acute and courteous. "A touch of indigestion," he answered, promptly, laying a white hand on his black waistcoat. "Oh! There it is again!"
"Well, you might call it that."
The boy was much concerned. "If you come up-stairs," said he, anxiously, "I'll give you some medicine. Mother keeps it for me."
Thus, presently, the curate found himself top-floor rear, in the room that overlooked the broad river, the roofs of the city beyond, the misty hills: upon which the fading sunshine now fell. And having gratefully swallowed the dose, with a broad, persistent smile, he was given a seat by the window, that the beauty of the day, the companionship of the tiny craft on the river, the mystery of the far-off places, might distract and comfort him. From the boy, sitting upright and prim on the extreme edge of a chair, his feet on the rung, his hands on his knees, proceeded a stream of amiable chatter—not the less amiable for being grave—to which the curate, compelled to his best behavior, listened with attention as amiable, as grave: and this concerned the boats, afloat below, the lights on the river, the child's mother, the simple happenings of his secluded life. So untaught was this courtesy, spontaneous, native—so did it spring from natural wish and perception—that the curate was soon more mystified than entertained; and so did the curate's smile increase in gratification and sympathy that the child was presently off the chair, lingering half abashed in the curate's neighbourhood, soon seated familiarly upon his knee, toying with the dull gold crucifix.
"What's this?" he asked.
"It is the symbol," the curate answered, "of the sacrifice of our dear Lord and Saviour."
There was no meaning in the words; but the boy held the cross very tenderly, and looked long upon the face of the Man there in torture—and was grieved and awed by the agony....
In the midst of this, the boy's mother entered. She stopped dead beyond the threshold—warned by the unexpected presence to be upon her guard. Her look of amazement changed to a scowl of suspicion. The curate put the boy from his knee. He rose—embarrassed. There was a space of ominous silence.
"What you doing here?" the woman demanded.
She was puzzled—by the word, the smile, the quiet voice. The whole was a new, nonplussing experience. Her suspicion was aggravated.
"What you been telling the boy? Eh? What you been saying about me? Hear me? Ain't you got no tongue?" She turned to the frightened child. "Richard," she continued, her voice losing all its quality of anger, "what lies has this man been telling you about your poor mother?"
The boy kept a bewildered silence.
"What you been lying about?" the woman exclaimed, advancing upon the curate, her eyes blazing.
"I have been telling," he answered, still gravely smiling, "the truth."
Her anger was halted—but she was not pacified.
"Telling," the curate repeated, with a little pause, "the truth."
"You been talking about me, eh?"
"No; it was of your late husband."
"I am a curate of the Church of the Lifted Cross," the curate continued, with unruffled composure, "and I have been telling the exact truth concerning——"
"You been lying!" the woman broke in. "Yes, you have!"
"No—not so," he insisted. "The exact truth concerning the funeral of Dick Slade from the Church of the Lilted Cross. Your son has told me of his father's death—of the funeral, And I have told your son that I distinctly remember the occasion. I have told him, moreover," he added, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder, his eyes faintly twinkling, "that his father was—ah—as I recall him—of most distinguished appearance."
She was completely disarmed.
When, after an agreeable interval, the Rev. John Fithian took his leave, the boy's mother followed him from the room, and closed the door upon the boy. "I'm glad," she faltered, "that you didn't give me away. It was—kind. But I'm sorry you lied—like that. You didn't have to, you know. He's only a child. It's easy to fool him. You wouldn't have to lie. But I got to lie. It makes him happy—and there's things he mustn't know. He must be happy. I can't stand it when he ain't. It hurts me so. But," she added, looking straight into his eyes, gratefully, "you didn't have to lie. And—it was kind." Her eyes fell. "It was—awful kind."
"I may come again?"
She stared at the floor. "Come again?" she muttered. "I don't know."
"I should very much like to come."
"What do you want?" she asked, looking up. "It ain't me, is it?"
The curate shook his head.
"Well, what do you want? I thought you was from the Society. I thought you was an agent come to take him away because I wasn't fit to keep him. But it ain't that. And it ain't me. What is it you want, anyhow?"
"To come again."
She turned away. He patiently waited. All at once she looked into his eyes, long, deep, intensely—a scrutiny of his very soul.
"You got a good name to keep, ain't you?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered. "And you?"
"It don't matter about me."
"And I may come?"
"Yes," she whispered.
After that the curate came often to the room in the Box Street tenement; but beyond the tenants of top floor rear he did not allow the intimacy to extend—not even to embrace the quaintly love-lorn Mr. Poddle. It was now summer; the window was open to the west wind, blowing in from the sea. Most the curate came at evening, when the breeze was cool and clean, and the lights began to twinkle in the gathering shadows: then to sit at the window, describing unrealities, not conceived in the world of the listeners; and these new and beautiful thoughts, melodiously voiced in the twilight, filled the hours with wonder and strange delight. Sometimes, the boy sang—his mother, too, and the curate: a harmony of tender voices, lifted softly. And once, when the songs were all sung, and the boy had slipped away to the comfort of Mr. Poddle, who was now ill abed with his restless lungs, the curate turned resolutely to the woman.
"I want the boy's voice," he said.
She gave no sign of agitation. "His voice?" she asked, quietly. "Ain't the boy's self nothing to your church?"
"Not," he answered, "to the church."
"Not to you?"
"It is very much," he said, gravely, "to me."
He lifted his eyebrows—in amazed comprehension. "I must say, then," he said, bending eagerly towards her, "that I want the boy?"
"The boy," she answered.
For a little while she was silent—vacantly contemplating the bare floor. There had been no revelation. She was not taken unaware. She had watched his purpose form. Long before, she had perceived the issue approaching, and had bravely met it. But it was all now definite and near. She found it hard to command her feeling—bitter to cut the trammels of her love for the child.
"You got to pay, you know," she said, looking up. "Boy sopranos is scarce. You can't have him cheap."
"Of course!" he hastened to say. "The church will pay."
"Money? It ain't money I want."
To this there was nothing to say. The curate was in the dark—and quietly awaited enlightenment.
"Take him!" she burst out, rising. "My God! just you take him. That's all I want. Understand me? I want to get rid of him."
He watched her in amazement. For a time she wandered about the room, distraught, quite aimless: now tragically pausing; now brushing her hand over her eyes—a gesture of weariness and despair. Then she faced him.
"Take him," she said, her voice hoarse. "Take him away from me. I ain't fit to have him. Understand? He's got to grow up into a man. And I can't teach him how. Take him. Take him altogether. Make him—like yourself. Before you come," she proceeded, now feverishly pacing the floor, "I never knew that men was good. No man ever looked in my eyes the way you do. I know them—oh, I know them! And when my boy grows up, I want him to look in the eyes of women the way you look—in mine. Just that! Only that! If only, oh, if only my son will look in the eyes of women the way you look in mine! Understand? I want him to. But I can't teach him how. I don't know enough. I ain't good enough."
The curate rose.
"You can't take his voice and leave his soul," she went on. "You got to take his soul. You got to make it—like your own."
"Not like mine!"
"Just," she said, passionately, "like yours. Don't you warn me!" she flashed. "I know the difference between your soul and mine. I know that when his soul is like yours he won't love me no more. But I can't help that. I got to do without him. I got to live my life—and let him live his. It's the way with mothers and sons. God help the mothers! It's the way of the world.... And he'll go with you," she added. "I'll get him so he'll be glad to go. It won't be nice to do—but I can do it. Maybe you think I can't. Maybe you think I love him too much. It ain't that I love him too much. It's because I love him enough!"
"You offer the boy to me?"
"Will you take him—voice and soul?"
"I will take him," said the curate, "soul and voice."
She began at once to practice upon the boy's love for her—this skillfully, persistently: without pity for herself or him. She sighed, wept, sat gloomy for hours together: nor would she explain her sorrow, but relentlessly left it to deal with his imagination, by which it was magnified and touched with the horror of mystery. It was not hard—thus to feign sadness, terror, despair: to hint misfortune, parting, unalterable love. Nor could the boy withstand it; by this depression he was soon reduced to a condition of apprehension and grief wherein self-sacrifice was at one with joyful opportunity. Dark days, these—hours of agony, premonition, fearful expectation. And when they had sufficiently wrought upon him, she was ready to proceed.
One night she took him in her lap, in the old close way, in which he loved to be held, and sat rocking, for a time, silently.
"Let us talk, dear," she said.
"I think I'm too sick," he sighed. "I just want to lie here—and not talk."
He had but expressed her own desire—to have him lie there: not to talk, but just to feel him lying in her arms.
"We must," she said.
Something in her voice—something distinguishable from the recent days as deep and real—aroused the boy. He touched the lashes of her eyes—and found them wet.
"Why are you crying?" he asked. "Oh, tell me, mother! Tell me now!"
She did not answer.
"I'm sick," he muttered. "I—I—think I'm very sick."
"Something has happened, dear," she said. "I'm going to tell you what." She paused—and in the pause felt his body grow tense in a familiar way. For a moment the prospect frightened her. She felt, vaguely, that she was playing with that which was infinitely delicate—which might break in her very hands, and leave her desolate. "You know, dear," she continued, faltering, "we used to be very rich. But we're not, any more." It was a poor lie—she realized that: and was half ashamed. "We're very poor, now," she went on, hurriedly. "A man broke into the bank and stole all your mother's gold and diamonds and lovely dresses. She hasn't anything—any more." She had conceived a vast contempt for the lie; she felt that it was a weak, unpracticed thing—but she knew that it was sufficient: for he had never yet doubted her. "So I don't know what she'll do," she concluded, weakly. "She will have to stop having good times, I guess. She will have to go to work."
He straightened in her lap. "No, no!" he cried, gladly. "I'll work!"
Her impulse was to express her delight in his manliness, her triumphant consciousness of his love—to kiss him, to hug him until he cried out with pain. But she restrained all this—harshly, pitilessly. She had no mercy upon herself.
"I'll work!" he repeated.
"How?" she asked. "You don't know how."
She laughed—an ironical little laugh: designed to humiliate him. "Why," she exclaimed, "I don't know how to teach you!"
"But," she added, significantly, "the curate knows."
"Then," said he, taking hope, "the curate will teach me."
"But what? Tell me quick, mother!"
"Well," she hesitated, "the curate is so busy. Anyhow, dear," she continued, "I would have to work. We are very poor. You see, dear, it takes a great deal of money to buy new clothes for you. And, then, dear, you see——"
He waited—somewhat disturbed by the sudden failure of her voice. It was all becoming bitter to her, now; she found it hard to continue.
"You see," she gasped, "you eat—quite a bit."
"I'll not eat much," he promised. "And I'll not want new clothes. And it won't take long for the curate to teach me how to work."
She would not agree.
"Tell me!" he commanded.
"Yes," she said; "but the curate says he wants you to live with him."
"Would you come, too?"
"No," she answered.
He did not yet comprehend. "Would I go—alone?"
Quiet fell upon all the world—in the twilighted room, in the tenement, in the falling night without, where no breeze moved. The child sought to get closer within his mother's arms, nearer to her bosom—then stirred no more. The lights were flashing into life on the river—wandering aimlessly: but yet drifting to the sea.... Some one stumbled past the door—grumbling maudlin wrath.
"There is no other way," the mother said.
There was no response—a shiver, subsiding at once: no more than that.
"And I would go to see you—quite often."
She tried to see his face; but it was hid against her.
"It would be better," she whispered, "for you."
"Oh, mother," he sobbed, sitting back in her lap, "what would you do without me?"
It was a crucial question—so appealing in unselfish love, so vividly portraying her impending desolation, that for an instant her resolution departed. What would she do without him? God knew! But she commanded herself.
"I would not have to work," she said.
He turned her face to the light—looked deep in her eyes, searching for the truth. She met his glance without wavering. Then, discerning the effect, deliberately, when his eyes were alight with filial love and concern, at the moment when the sacrifice was most clear and most poignant, she lied.
"I would be happier," she said, "without you."
A moan escaped him.
"Will you go with the curate?" she asked.
He fell back upon her bosom....
There was no delay. 'Twas all done in haste. The night came. Gently the curate took the child from her arms.
"Good-bye," she said.
"I said I would not cry, mother," he faltered. "I am not crying."
"Mother, I am not crying."
"You are very brave," she said, discovering his wish. "Good-bye. Be a good boy."
He took the curate's hand. They moved to the door—but there turned and lingered. While the child looked upon his mother, bravely calling a smile to his face, that she might be comforted, there crept into his eyes, against his will, some reproach. Perceiving this, she staggered towards him, but halted at the table, which she clutched: and there stood, her head hanging forward, her body swaying. Then she levelled a finger at the curate.
"Take him away, you damn fool!" she screamed.
IN THE CURRENT
Seven o'clock struck. It made no impression upon her. Eight o'clock—nine o'clock. It was now dark. Ten o'clock. She did not hear. Still at the window, her elbow on the sill, her chin resting in her hand, she kept watch on the river—but did not see the river: but saw the sea, wind-tossed and dark, where the lights go wide apart. Eleven o'clock. Ghostly moonlight filled the room. The tenement, restless in the summer heat, now sighed and fell asleep. Twelve o'clock. She had not moved: nor dared she move. There was a knock at the door—a quick step behind her. She turned in alarm.
She rose. Voice and figure were well known to her. She started forward—but stopped dead.
"Is it you, Jim?" she faltered.
"Yes, Millie. It's me—come back. You don't feel the way you did before, do you, girl?" He suddenly subdued his voice—as though recollecting a caution. "You ain't going to send me away, are you?" he asked.
"Go 'way!" she complained. "Leave me alone."
He came nearer.
"Give me a show, Jim," she begged. "Go 'way. It ain't fair to come—now. Hear me?" she cried, in protest against his nearer approach, her voice rising shrilly. "It ain't fair——"
"Hist!" he interrupted. "You'll wake the——"
She laughed harshly. "Wake what?" she mocked. "Eh, Jim? What'll I wake?"
"Why, Millie!" he exclaimed. "You'll wake the boy."
"Boy!" she laughed. "What boy? There ain't no boy. Look here!" she cried, rushing impetuously to the bed, throwing back the coverlet, wildly tossing the pillows to the floor. "What'll I wake? Eh, Jim? Where's the boy I'll wake?" She turned upon him. "What you saying 'Hist!' for? Hist!" she mocked, with a laugh. "Talk as loud as you like, Jim. You don't need to care what you say or how you say it. There ain't nobody here to mind you. For I tell you," she stormed, "there ain't no boy—no more!"
He caught her hand.
"Let go my hand!" she commanded. "Keep off, Jim! I ain't in no temper to stand it—to-night."
He withdrew. "Millie," he asked, in distress, "the boy ain't——"
"Dead?" she laughed. "No. I give him away. He was different from us. I didn't have no right to keep him. I give him to a parson. Because," she added, defiantly, "I wasn't fit to bring him up. And he ain't here no more," she sighed, blankly sweeping the moonlit room. "I'm all alone—now."
"Poor girl!" he muttered.
She was tempted by this sympathy. "Go home, Jim," she said. "It ain't fair to stay. I'm all alone, now—and it ain't treating me right."
"Millie," he answered, "you ain't treating yourself right."
She flung out her arms—in dissent and hopelessness.
"No, you ain't," he continued. "You've give him up. You're all alone. You can't go on—alone. Millie, girl," he pleaded, softly, "I want you. Come to me!"
"Come to me!" he repeated, his voice tremulous, his arms extended. "You're all alone. You've lost him. Come to me!"
"Lost him?" she mused. "No—not that. If I'd lost him, Jim, I'd take you. If ever he looked in my eyes—as if I'd lost him—I'd take you. I've give him up; but I ain't lost him. Maybe," she proceeded, eagerly, "when the time comes, he'll not give me up. He loves me, Jim; he'll not forget. I know he's different from us. You can't tell a mother nothing about such things as that. God!" she muttered, clasping her hands, "how strangely different he is. And every day he'll change. Every day he'll be—more different. That's what I want. That's why I give him up. To make him—more different! But maybe," she continued, her voice rising with the intensity of her feeling, "when he grows up, and the time comes—maybe, Jim, when he can't be made no more different—maybe, when I go to him, man grown—are you listening?—maybe, when I ask him if he loves me, he'll remember! Maybe, he'll take me in. Lost him?" she asked. "How do you know that? Go to you, Jim? Go to you, now—when he might take me in if I wait? I can't! Don't you understand? When the time comes, he might ask me—where you was."
"You're crazy, Millie," the man protested. "You're just plain crazy."
"Crazy? Maybe, I am. To love and hope! Crazy? Maybe, I am. But, Jim, mothers is all that way."
"All that way?" he asked, regarding her with a speculative eye.
"Mothers," she repeated, "is all that way."
"Well," said he, swiftly advancing, "lovers isn't."
"Keep back!" she cried.
"No, I won't."
"You'll make a cat of me. I warn you, Jim!"
"You can't keep me off. You said you loved me. You do love me. You can't help yourself. You got to marry me."
She retreated. "Leave me alone!" she screamed. "I can't. Don't you see how it is? Quit that, now, Jim! You ain't fair. Take your arms away. God help me! I love you, you great big brute! You know I do. You ain't fair.... Stop! You hurt me." She was now in his arms—but still resisting. "Leave me alone," she whimpered. "You hurt me. You ain't fair. You know I love you—and you ain't fair.... Oh, God forgive me! Don't do that again, Jim. Stop! Let me go. For God's sake, stop kissing me! I like you, Jim. I ain't denying that. But let me go.... Please, Jim! Don't hold me so tight. It ain't fair.... Oh, it ain't fair...."
She sank against his broad breast; and there she lay helpless—bitterly sobbing.
"Don't cry, Millie!" he whispered.
Still she sobbed.
"Oh, don't cry, girl!" he repeated, tenderly. "It's all right. I won't hurt you. You love me, and I love you. That's all right, Millie. What's the matter with you, girl? Lift your face, won't you?"
"Why not, Millie?"
"I don't know," she whispered. "I think I'm—ashamed."
There was no longer need to hold her fast. His arms relaxed. She did not move from them. And while they stood thus, in the moonlight, falling brightly through the window, he stroked her hair, murmuring, the while, all the reassuring words at his command.
"The boy's gone," he said, at last. "You'd be all alone without me. He ain't here. But he's well looked after, Millie. Don't you fret about him. By this time he's sound asleep."
She slipped from his embrace. He made no effort to detain her: conceiving her secure in his possession. A moment she stood staring at the floor, lost to her surroundings: then quickly turned to look upon him—her face aglow with some high tenderness.
"Asleep?" she asked, her voice low, tremulous.
"How do you know that he's asleep?" she pursued. "Asleep? No; he ain't asleep." She paused—now woebegone. "He's wide awake—waiting," she went on. "He's waiting—just like he used to do—for me to come in.... He's awake. Oh, sore little heart! He's lying alone in the dark—waiting. And his mother will not come.... Last night, Jim, when I come in, he was there in the bed, awake and waiting. 'Oh, mother,' says he, 'I'm glad you're come at last. I been waiting so long. It's lonesome here in the dark without you. And to-morrow I'll wake, and wait, and wait; but you will not come!' He's awake, Jim. Don't you tell me no different. The pillow's wet with his tears.... Lonely child—waiting for me! Oh, little heart of my baby! Oh, sore little heart!"
"It ain't no use no more, Jim. You better go home. I'm all alone. My child's not here. But—he's somewhere. And it's him I love."
The man sighed and went away....
Left alone, she put the little room in order and made the bed, blinded by tears, her steps uncertain: muttering incoherently of her child, whimpering broken snatches of lullaby songs. When there was no more work left for her hands to do, she staggered to the bureau, and from the lower drawer took a great, flaunting doll, which she had there kept, poor soul! against the time when her arms would be empty, her bosom aching for a familiar weight upon it. And for a time she sat rocking the cold counterfeit, crooning, faintly singing, caressing it; but she had known the warmth, the sweet restlessness, the soft, yielding form of the living child, and could not be content. Presently, in a surge of disgust, she flung the substitute violently from her.
"It ain't no baby," she moaned, putting her hands to her face. "It's only a doll!"
She sank limp to the floor. There she lay prone—the moonlight falling softly upon her, but healing her not at all.
The Rev. John Fithian lived alone with a man-servant in a wide-windowed, sombre, red old house, elbowed by tenements, near the Church of the Lifted Cross—once a fashionable quarter: now mean, dejected, incongruously thronged, and fast losing the last appearances of respectability. Sombre without—half-lit, silent, vast within: the whole intolerant of frivolity, inharmony, garishness, ugliness, but yet quite free of gloom and ghostly suggestion. The boy tiptoed over the thick carpets, spoke in whispers, eyed the shadowy corners—sensitive to impressions, forever alert: nevertheless possessing a fine feeling of security and hopefulness; still wistful, often weeping in the night, but not melancholy. Responsive to environment, by nature harmonious with his new surroundings, he presently moved through the lofty old rooms with a manner reflecting their own—the same gravity, serenity, old-fashioned grace: expressing even their stateliness in a quaint and childish way. Thus was the soil of his heart prepared for the seed of a great change.
By and by the curate enlightened the child concerning sin and the Vicarious Sacrifice. This was when the leaves were falling from the trees in the park—a drear, dark night: the wind sweeping the streets in violent gusts, the rain lashing the windowpanes. Night had come unnoticed—swiftly, intensely: in the curate's study a change from gray twilight to firelit shadows. The boy was squatted on the hearth-rug, disquieted by the malicious beating at the window, glad to be in the glow of the fire: his visions all of ragged men and women cowering from the weather.
"It is time, now," the curate sighed, "that I told you the story."
"The story of the Man who died for us."
The boy turned—in wonderment. "I did not know," he said, quickly, "that a man had died for us. What was his name? Why did he do it? My mother never told me that story."
"I think she does not know it."
"Then I'll tell her when I learn."
"Perhaps," said the curate, "she will like to hear it—from you."
Very gently, then, in his deep, mellifluous voice—while the rain beat upon the windows, crying out the sorrows of the poor—the curate unfolded the poignant story: the terms simple, the recital clear, vivid, complete.... And to the heart of this child the appeal was immediate and irresistible.
"And they who sin," the curate concluded, "crucify Him again."
"I love that Jesus!" the boy sobbed. "I love Him—almost as much as mother."
The boy misunderstood. He felt reproved. He flushed—ashamed that the new love had menaced the old. "No," he answered; "but I love Him very much."
"Not as much?"
"Oh, I could not!"
The boy was never afterwards the same. All that was inharmonious in life—the pain and poverty and unloveliness—became as sin: a continuous crucifixion, hateful, wringing the heart....
Late in the night, when he lay sleepless, sick for his mother's presence, her voice, her kisses, her soothing touch, the boy would rise to sit at the window—there to watch shadowy figures flit through the street-lamp's circle of light. Once he fancied that his mother came thus out of the night, that for a moment she paused with upturned glance, then disappeared in woe and haste: returning, halted again; but came no more....
At rare intervals the boy's mother came to the curate's door. She would not enter: but timidly waited for her son, and then went with him to the park, relieved to be away from the wide, still house, her spirits and self-confidence reviving with every step. One mellow evening, while they sat together in the dusk, an ill-clad man, gray and unkempt, shuffled near.
"Mother," the boy whispered, gripping her hand, "he is looking at us."
She laughed. "Let him look!" said she. "It don't matter."
The man staggered to the bench—heavily sat down: limp and shameless, his head hanging.
"Let us go away!" the boy pleaded.
"Why, darling?" his mother asked, puzzled. "What's the matter with you, anyhow?" She looked at him—realizing some subtle change in him, bewildered by it: searching eagerly for the nature and cause. "You didn't used to be like that," she said.
"I don't like him. He's wicked. He frightens me."
The man slipped suddenly from the bench—sprawling upon the walk. The woman laughed.
"Don't laugh!" the boy exclaimed—a cry of reproach, not free of indignation. "Oh, mother," he complained, putting her hand to his cheek, "how could you!"
She did not answer. The derelict picked himself up, whining in a maudlin way.
"How could you!" the boy repeated.
"Oh," said she, lightly, "he's all right. He won't hurt us."
"He's drunk. It don't matter. What's come over you, dear?"
"I'm afraid," said the boy. "He's sinful."
"He's only drunk, poor man!"
High over the houses beyond, the steeple of the Church of the Lifted Cross pierced the blue-black sky. It was tipped with a blazing cross—a great cross, flaming in the night: a symbol of sacrifice, a hope, a protest, raised above the feverish world. To this the boy looked. It transported him far from the woman whose hand he clutched.
"They who sin," he muttered, his eyes still turned to the lifted cross, "crucify the dear Lord again!"
His mother was both mystified and appalled. She followed his glance—but saw only the familiar landmark: an illuminated cross, topping a steeple.
"For God's sake, Richard!" she demanded, "what you talking about?"
He did not hear.
"You ain't sick, are you?" she continued.
He shook his head.
"What's the matter with you?" she implored. "Oh, tell your mother!"
He loosened his hand from her clasp, withdrew it: but instantly caught her hand again, and kissed it passionately. So much concerned was she for his physical health that the momentary shrinking escaped her.
"You're sick," she said. "I know you are. You're singing too much in the church."
"Then you're eating too much lemon pie," she declared, anxiously. "You're too fond of that. It upsets your stomach. Oh, Richard! Shame, dear! I told you not to."
"You told me not to eat much," he said. "So I don't eat any—to make sure."
She was aware of the significance of this sacrifice—and kissed him quickly in fond approval. Then she turned up his coat-sleeve. "The fool!" she cried. "You got cold. That's what's the matter with you. Here it is November! And he ain't put your flannels on. That there curate," she concluded, in disgust, "don't know nothing about raising a boy."
"I'm quite well, mother."
"Then what's the matter with you?"
"I'm sad!" he whispered.
She caught him to her breast—blindly misconceiving the meaning of this: in her ignorance concluding that he longed for her, and was sick because of that.... And while she held him close, the clock of the Church of the Lifted Cross chimed seven. In haste she put him down, kissed him, set him on his homeward way; and she watched him until he was lost in the dusk and distance of the park. Then, concerned, bewildered, she made haste to that quarter of the city—that swarming, flaring, blatant place—where lay her occupation for the night.
Near Christmas, in a burst of snowy weather, the boy sang his first solo at the Church of the Lifted Cross: this at evening. His mother, conspicuously gowned, somewhat overcome by the fashion of the place, which she had striven to imitate—momentarily chagrined by her inexplicable failure to be in harmony—seated herself obscurely, where she had but an infrequent glimpse of his white robe, wistful face, dark, curling hair. She had never loved him more proudly—never before realized that his value extended beyond the region of her arms: never before known that the babe, the child, the growing boy, mothered by her, nursed at her breast, her possession, was a gift to the world, sweet and inspiring. "Angels, ever bright and fair!" She felt the thrill of his tender voice; perceived the impression: the buzz, the subsiding confusion, the spell-bound stillness. "Take, oh, take me to your care!" It was in her heart to strike her breasts—to cry out that this was her son, born of her; her bosom his place....
When the departing throng had thinned in the aisle, she stepped from the pew, and stood waiting. There passed, then, a lady in rich attire—sweet-faced, of exquisite manner. A bluff, ruddy young man attended her.
"Did you like the music?" he asked—a conventional question: everywhere repeated.
"Perfectly lovely!" she replied. "A wonderful voice! And such a pretty child!"
"I wonder," said he, "who the boy can be?"
Acting upon ingenuous impulse, the boy's mother overtook the man, timidly touched his elbow, looked into his eyes, her own bright with proud love.
"He is my son," she said.
The lady turned in amazement. In a brief, appraising glance, she comprehended the whole woman; the outre gown, the pencilled eyebrows, the rouged cheeks, the bleached hair. She took the man's arm.
"Come!" she said.
The man yielded. He bowed—smiled in an embarrassed way, flushing to his sandy hair: turned his back.
"How strange!" the lady whispered.
The woman was left alone in the aisle—not chagrined by the rebuff, being used to this attitude, sensitive no longer: but now knowing, for the first time, that the world into which her child had gone would not accept her.... The church was empty. The organ had ceased. One by one the twinkling lights were going out. The boy came bounding down the aisle. With a glad little cry he leaped into her waiting arms....
This night, after a week of impatient expectation, they were by the curate's permission to spend together in the Box Street tenement. It was the boy's first return to the little room overlooking the river. Thither they hurried through the driving snow, leaning to the blasts, unconscious of the bitterness of the night: the twain in high spirits—the boy chattering, merrily, incoherently, as he trotted at his silent mother's side. Very happy, now, indeed, they raced up the stair, rioting up flight after flight, to top floor rear, where there was a cheery fire, a kettle bubbling on the stove, a lamp turned low—a feeling of warmth and repose and welcome, which the broad window, noisily shaken by a hearty winter wind from the sea, pleasantly accentuated.
The gladness of this return, the sudden, overwhelming realization of a longing that had been agonizing in its intensity, excited the boy beyond bounds. He gave an indubitable whoop of joy, which so startled and amazed the woman that she stared open-mouthed; tossed his cap in the air, flung his overcoat and gloves on the floor, peeped through the black window-panes, pried into the cupboard, hugged his mother so rapturously, so embarrassingly, that he tumbled her over and was himself involved in the hilarious collapse: whereupon, as a measure of protection while she laid the table, she despatched him across the hall to greet Mr. Poddle, who was ill abed, anxiously awaiting him.
The Dog-faced Man was all prinked for the occasion—his hirsute adornment neatly brushed and braided, smoothly parted from crown over brow and nose to chin: so that, though, to be sure, his appearance instantly suggested a porcupine, his sensitive lips and mild gray eyes were for once allowed to impress the beholder. The air of Hockley's Musee had at last laid him by the heels. No longer, by any license of metaphor, could his lungs be said to be merely restless. He was flat on his back—white, wan, gasping: sweat dampening the hair on his brow. But he bravely chirked up when the child entered, subdued and pitiful; and though, in response to a glance of pain and concern, his eyes overran with the weak tears of the sick, he smiled like a man to whom Nature had not been cruel, while he pressed the small hand so swiftly extended.
"I'm sick, Richard," he whispered. "'Death No Respecter of Persons.' Git me? 'High and Low Took By the Grim Reaper.' I'm awful sick."
The boy, now seated on the bed, still holding the ghastly hand, hoped that Mr. Poddle would soon be well.
"No," said the Dog-faced Man. "I won't. 'Climax of a Notable Career.' Git me? It wouldn't—be proper."
"No, Richard. It really wouldn't be proper. 'Dignified in Death.' Understand? Distinguished men has their limits. 'Outlived His Fame.' I really couldn't stand it. Git me?"
"Guess I'll have to tell you. Look!" The Dog-faced Man held up his hand—but swiftly replaced it between the child's warm, sympathetic palms. "No rings. Understand? 'Pawned the Family Jewells.' Git me? 'Reduced to Poverty.' Where's my frock coat? Where's my silk hat? 'Wardrobe of a Celebrity Sold For A Song.' Where's them two pair of trousers? 'A Tragic Disappearance.' All up the spout. Everything gone. 'Not a Stitch to His Name.' Really, Richard, it wouldn't be proper to get well. A natural phenomenon of my standing couldn't—simply couldn't, Richard—go back to the profession with a wardrobe consistin' of two pink night-shirts, both the worse for wear. It wouldn't do! On the Stage In Scant Attire.' I couldn't stand it. 'Fell From His High Estate.' It would break my heart."