Part 2 out of 3
tiny medicine cupboard; then under the benches and behind the charts
in the parlour; even under the kitchen sink, among the pots and pans,
and in the stove, where she poked tremulously among the ashes. Her
newfound wit seemed temporarily to have deserted her, and she was a
pitiable thing as she wandered about, her breath coming in long-drawn
sighs, with now and then a half-stifled sob.
Suddenly she darted into the street again. Perhaps they had followed
their aunt Cora. Distance had no place in her terror-stricken heart.
She traversed block after block, street after street, until she
reached Pocahontas Hall, a building and locality she knew well. She
crept softly up the main stairs, and from the landing slipped into
the gallery above. Mrs. Grubb sat in the centre of the stage, with a
glass of water, a bouquet of roses, and a bundle of papers and tracts
on the table by her side. In the audience were twenty or thirty
women and a dozen men, their laps filled, and their pockets bulging,
with propaganda. They stood at intervals to ask superfluous or
unanswerable questions, upon which Mrs. Grubb would rise and reply,
with cheeks growing pink and pinker, with pleasant smile and gracious
manner, and a voice fairly surcharged with conviction. Most of the
ladies took notes, and a girl with a receding chin was seated at a
small table in front of the platform, making a stenographic report.
All this Marm Lisa saw, but her eyes rested on nothing she longed to
see. Mrs. Grubb's lecture voice rose and fell melodiously, floating
up to her balcony heights in a kind of echo that held the tone, but
not the words. The voice made her drowsy, for she was already worn
out with emotion, but she roused herself with an effort, and stole
down the stairs to wander into the street again. Ah, there was an
idea! The coat-shop! Why had she not thought of it before?
The coat-shop was a sort of clothing manufactory on a small scale, a
tall, narrow building four stories high, where she had often gone
with Atlantic and Pacific. There were sewing-machines on the ground-
floor, the cutters and pressers worked in the middle stories, and at
the top were the finishers. It was neither an extensive nor an
exciting establishment, and its only fascination lay in the fact that
the workwomen screamed with laughter at the twins' conversation, and
after leading them to their utmost length, teasing and goading them
into a towering passion, would stuff them with nuts or dates or cheap
sweetmeats. The coat-shop was two or three miles from the hall, and
it was closing time and quite dark when Lisa arrived. She came out
of the door after having looked vainly in every room, and sat down
dejectedly in the entrance, with her weary head leaning against the
wall. There was but a moment's respite for her, for the manager came
out of his office, and, stumbling over her in the dusk, took her by
the shoulders and pushed her into the street with an oath.
'Go and sit on your own doorstep, can't you?' he muttered, 'and not
make me break my legs over you!'
She was too spent to run any further. She dragged her heavy feet
along slowly, almost unconsciously, neither knowing nor caring
whither they led her. Home she could not, dared not go, bearing that
heavy burden of remorse! Mrs. Grubb would ask for Atlantic and
Pacific, and then what would become of her? Mr. Grubb would want to
give Pacific her milk. No, Mr. Grubb was dead. There! she hadn't
looked in the perambulator. No, there wasn't any perambulator. That
was dead, too, and gone away with Mr. Grubb. There used to be
babies, two babies, in the perambulator. What had become of them?
Were they lost, too? And the umbrella that she used to hold until
her arm ached, and the poor, pale, weeping mother always lying on a
bed,--were they all gone together? Her head buzzed with worrying,
unrelated thoughts, so that she put up her hands and held it in place
on her shoulders as she shuffled wearily along. A heavy, dripping
mist began to gather and fall, and she shivered in the dampness,
huddling herself together and leaning against the houses for a
shelter. She sat down on the curb-stone and tried to think, staring
haggardly at the sign on the corner fruit-shop. In that moment she
suddenly forgot the reason of her search. She had lost--what? She
could not go home to Eden Place, but why? Oh yes! It came to her
now: there was something about a perambulator, but it all seemed
vague to her. Suddenly a lamplighter put his ladder against a post
in front of her, and, climbing up nimbly, lighted the gas-jet inside
of the glass frame. It shone full on a flight of broad steps, a
picture so much a part of her life-dream that she would go up to the
very gate of heaven with its lines burned into her heart and brain.
She crept up and turned the knob of the outer door. It was unlocked,
and she stole into the inner room, the Paradise, place of joy and
sweet content, heart's rest, soul's heaven, love's own abode. The
very atmosphere soothed her. She heard the janitress clatter through
the halls, lock the door, and descend the stairs to her own rooms in
the basement. The light from the street lamps shone in at the two
end windows, so that the room was not in utter darkness. She would
lie down here and die with Mr. Grubb and the babies and the umbrella.
Atlantic and Pacific would be sure to come back; nobody who had ever
known it could live without this place. Miss Mary would find them.
She would make everything right. The mere thought of Mistress Mary
brought a strange peace into poor Lisa's over-wrought, distraught
She opened the closet door. It was as dainty and neat as Mistress
Mary herself, and the mere sight of it bred order in Lisa's thoughts.
On the top of a pile of envelopes lay the sewing-picture that
Atlantic had spoiled that day. It had been a black morning, and the
bit of cardboard was torn and soiled and bent. Lisa looked at it
with a maternal and a prophetic eye. She could see the firm line of
Rhoda's lip as she bore down upon the destructive urchin. She could
almost hear the bright challenging tone as Rhoda would say: 'Now,
Atlantic, let us see what we can do! Cut off the chewed edges with
these scissors, paste these thin pieces of paper over the torn
places, and rub the card with this crust of bread. A new one?
Certainly NOT, my young friend!'
Lisa took the poor little object in her hand, and, seeing Mistress
Mary's white apron, pressed her cheek against it in a transport of
tenderness and hung it over her arm. Just then she caught sight of
the clay bird's-nest that Pacific had modelled--such a lovely bird's-
nest that it had been kept for the cabinet. She carried her
treasures over to the old-fashioned lounge where the babies took
their occasional nap, put them carefully in a small red chair close
beside it, and then, stretching her weary length on the cushions, she
kissed the smooth folds of the apron, and clasped it in her arms.
Mistress Mary would come soon. She would come in her cloud of white,
and her steel fillet would gleam and shine when the sunshine fell
upon it, and make star-rays and moonbeams and lightning-flashes; and
the tiny points would twinkle and wink and laugh and blink whenever
she turned her head. She would smile, and everything would suddenly
be clear; she would speak, and the weary buzzing of windmills in the
brain would be hushed. Under her touch the darkness and heaviness
would vanish, and there would be no more night there--no more night.
As these healing visions stole upon Marm Lisa, the torture and the
anguish, the long hours of bewilderment, faded little by little,
little by little, till at length a blessed sleep crept over her
eyelids, blotting into a merciful nothingness the terror and the
misery of the day.
CHAPTER X--THE TWINS JOIN THE CELESTIALS
Meanwhile, Atlantic and Pacific had been enjoying themselves even
unto the verge of delirium. In the course of their wanderings they
had come upon a Chinaman bearing aloft a huge red silken banner
crowned by a badger's tail. Everything young that had two legs was
following him, and they joined the noble army of followers. As they
went on, other Chinamen with other banners came from the side-alleys,
and all at once the small procession thus formed turned a corner and
came upon the parent body, a sight that fairly stunned them by its
Oriental magnificence. It was the four thousandth anniversary of the
birth of Yeong Wo, had the children realised it (and that may have
been the reason that they awoke in a fever of excitement)--Yeong Wo,
statesman, philanthropist, philosopher, and poet; and the great day
had been chosen to dedicate the new temple and install in it a new
joss, and to exhibit a monster dragon just arrived from China. The
joss had been sitting in solemn state in his sanctum sanctorum for a
week, while the priests appeased him hourly with plenteous libations
of rice brandy, sacrifices of snow-white pigeons, and offerings of
varnished pork. Clouds of incense had regaled his expansive mahogany
nostrils, while his ears of ivory inlaid with gold and bronze had
been stimulated with the ceaseless clashing of gongs and wailings of
Chinese fiddles. Such homage and such worship would have touched a
heart of stone, and that of the joss was penetrable sandalwood; so as
the days of preparation wore away the smile on the teakwood lips of
the idol certainly became more propitious. This was greatly to the
satisfaction of the augurs and the high priest; for a mighty joss is
not always in a sunny humour on feast-days, and to parade a sulky god
through the streets is a very depressing ceremony, foretelling to the
initiated a season of dire misfortune. So his godship smiled and
shook his plume of peacock feathers benignantly on Yeong Wo's
birthday, and therefore the pageant in which Atlantic and Pacific
bore a part was more gorgeous than anything that ever took place out
of the Flowery Kingdom itself.
Fortune smiled upon the naughty creatures at the very outset, for
Pacific picked up a stick of candy in the street, and gave half of it
to a pretty Chinese maiden whose name in English would have been
Spring Blossom, and who looked, in any language, like a tropical
flower, in her gown of blue-and-gold-embroidered satin and the sheaf
of tiny fans in her glossy black hair. Spring Blossom accepted the
gift with enthusiasm, since a sweet tooth is not a matter of
nationality, and ran immediately to tell her mother, a childish
instinct also of universal distribution. She climbed, as nimbly as
her queer little shoes would permit, a flight of narrow steps leading
to a balcony; while the twins followed close at her heels, and wedged
their way through a forest of Mongolian legs till they reached the
front, where they peeped through the spaces of the railings with
Spring Blossom, Fairy Foot, Dewy Rose, and other Celestial babies,
quite overlooked in the crowd and excitement and jollity. Such a
very riot of confusion there was, it seemed as if Confucius might
have originally spelled his name with an s in the middle; for every
window was black with pigtailed highbinders, cobblers, pork butchers,
and pawnbrokers. The narrow streets and alleys became one seething
mass of Asiatic humanity; while the painted belles came out on their
balconies like butterflies, sitting among a wealth of gaudy paper
flowers that looked pale in comparison with the daubs of vermilion on
their cheeks and the rainbow colours of their silken tunics.
At last the pageant had gathered itself together, and came into full
view in all its magnificence. There were pagodas in teakwood inlaid
with gold; and resting on ebony poles, and behind them, on a very
tame Rosinante decked with leopard skins and gold bullion fringes, a
Chinese maiden dressed to represent a queen of Celestial mythology.
Then came more pagodas, and companies of standard-bearers in lavender
tunics, red sashes, green and orange leggings and slippers; more and
more splendid banners, painted with dragons sprawling in distressed
attitudes; litters containing minor gods and the paraphernalia they
were accustomed to need on a journey like this; more litters bearing
Chinese orchestras, gongs going at full blast, fiddles squeaking,
drums rumbling, trumpets shrieking, cymbals clashing,--just the sort
of Babel that the twins adored.
And now came the chariot and throne of the great joss himself, and
just behind him a riderless bay horse, intended for his imperial
convenience should he tire of being swayed about on the shoulders of
his twelve bearers, and elect to change his method of conveyance.
Behind this honoured steed came a mammoth rock-cod in a pagoda of his
own, and then, heralded by a fusilade of fire-crackers, the new
dragon itself, stretching and wriggling its monster length through
one entire block. A swarm of men cleared the way for it,
gesticulating like madmen in their zeal to get swimming-room for the
sacred monster. Never before in her brief existence had Pacific
Simonson been afraid of anything, but if she had been in the street,
and had so much as caught the wink of the dragon's eye, or a wave of
its consecrated fin, she would have dropped senseless to the earth;
as it was, she turned her back to the procession, and, embracing with
terror-stricken fervour the legs of the Chinaman standing behind her,
made up her mind to be a better girl in the future. The monster was
borne by seventy-four coolies who furnished legs for each of the
seventy-four joints of its body, while another concealed in its head
tossed it wildly about. Little pigtailed boys shrieked as they
looked at its gaping mouth that would have shamed a man-eating shark,
at the huge locomotive headlights that served for its various sets of
eyes, at the horns made of barber poles, and the moustache of twisted
hogshead hoops. Behind this baleful creature came other smaller
ones, and more flags, and litters with sacrificial offerings, and
more musicians, till all disappeared in the distance, and the crowd
surged in the direction of the temple.
There was no such good fortune for the twins as an entrance into this
holy of holies, for it held comparatively few besides the
dignitaries, aristocrats, and wealthy merchants of the colony; but
there was still ample material for entertainment, and they paid no
heed to the going down of the sun. Why should they, indeed, when
there were fascinating opium dens standing hospitably open, where
they could have the excitement of entrance even if it were followed
by immediate ejectment? As it grew darker, the scene grew more weird
and fairylike, for the scarlet, orange, and blue lanterns began to
gleam one by one in the narrow doorways, and from the shadowy corners
of the rooms behind them. In every shop were tables laden with
Chinese delicacies,--fish, flesh, fowl, tea, rice, whisky, lichee
nuts, preserved limes, ginger, and other sweetmeats; all of which,
when not proffered, could be easily purloined, for there was no
spirit of parsimony or hostility afloat in the air. In cubby-holes
back of the counters, behind the stoves, wherever they could find
room for a table, groups of moon-eyed men began to congregate for
their nightly game of fan-tan, some of the players and onlookers
smoking, while others chewed lengths of peeled sugar-cane.
In the midst of festivities like these the twins would have gone on
from bliss to bliss without consciousness of time or place, had not
hunger suddenly descended upon them and sleep begun to tug at their
eyelids, changing in a trice their joy into sorrow and their mirth
into mourning. Not that they were troubled with any doubts, fears,
or perplexities. True, they had wandered away from Eden Place, and
had not the slightest idea of their whereabouts. If they had been a
couple of babes in a wood, or any two respectable lost children of
romance, memories of lullabies and prayers at mother's knee would
have precipitated them at this juncture into floods of tears; but
home to them was simply supper and bed. The situation did not seem
complex to their minds; the only plan was, of course, to howl, and to
do it thoroughly,--stand in a corner of the market-place, and howl in
such a manner that there could be no mistake as to the significance
of the proceeding; when the crowd collected,--for naturally a crowd
would collect,--simply demand supper and bed, no matter what supper
nor which bed; eat the first, lie down in the second, and there you
are! If the twins had been older and more experienced, they would
have known that people occasionally do demand the necessities of life
without receiving them; but in that case they would also have known
that such a misfortune would never fall upon a couple of lost
children who confide their woes to the public. There was no
preconcerted plan between them, no system. They acted without
invention, premonition, or reflection. It was their habit to scream,
while holding the breath as long as possible, whenever the universe
was unfriendly, and particularly when Nature asserted herself in any
way; it was a curious fact that they resented the intervention of
Nature and Providence with just as much energy as they did the
discipline of their caretakers. They screamed now, the moment that
the entertainment palled and they could not keep their eyes open
without effort; and never had they been more successful in holding
their breath and growing black in the face; indeed, Pacific, in the
midst of her performance, said to Atlantic, 'Yours is purple, how is
A crowd did gather, inevitably, for the twins' lungs were capable of
a body of tone more piercing than that of a Chinese orchestra, and
the wonder is that poor Lisa did not hear them as she sat shivering
on the curbstone, miles away; for it was her name with which they
The populace amused itself for a short space of time, watching the
fine but misdirected zeal of the performance, and supposing that the
parents of the chanting cherubs were within easy reach. It became
unpleasant after a while, however, and a policeman, inquiring into
the matter, marched the two dirty, weary little protestants off to a
station near by,--a march nearly as difficult and bloody as Sherman's
memorable 'march to the sea'; for the children associated nothing so
pleasant as supper and bed with a blue-coated, brass-buttoned person,
and resisted his well-meant advances with might and main, and tooth
The policeman was at last obliged to confine himself to Atlantic, and
called a brother-in-arms to take charge of Pacific. He was a man who
had achieved distinction in putting down railroad riots, so he was
well calculated for the task, although he was somewhat embarrassed by
the laughter of the bystanders when his comrade called out to him,
'Take your club, Mike, but don't use firearms unless your life's in
The station reached, the usual examination took place. Atlantic
never could tell the name of the street in which he lived, nor the
number of the house. Pacific could, perhaps, but would not; and it
must be said, in apology for her abnormal defiance, that her mental
operations were somewhat confused, owing to copious indulgence in
strong tea, ginger, sugar-cane, and dried fish. She had not been
wisely approached in the first place, and she was in her sulkiest and
most combative humour; in fact, when too urgently pressed for
information as to her age, ancestry, and abiding-place, she told the
worthy police-officer to go to a locality for which he felt utterly
unsuited, after a life spent in the exaltation of virtue and the
suppression of vice. (The vocabulary of the twins was somewhat
poverty-stricken in respect to the polite phrases of society, but in
profanity it would have been rich for a parrot or a pirate.) The
waifs were presently given to the care of the police matron, and her
advice, sought later, was to the effect that the children had better
be fed and put to bed, and as little trouble expended upon them as
was consistent with a Christian city government.
'It is possible their parents may call for them in the morning,' she
said acidly, 'but I think it is more than likely that they have been
deserted. I know if they belonged to me they'd be lost for ever
before I tried to find them!' and she rubbed a black-and-blue spot on
her person, which, if exposed, would have betrayed the shape, size,
and general ground-plan of Pacific's boot.
CHAPTER XI--RHODA FREES HER MIND
Morning dawned, and Mistress Mary and Rhoda went up the flight of
broad steps rather earlier than usual,--so early that the janitress,
who had been awake half the night with an ailing baby, was just going
in to dust the rooms.
It was she who first caught sight of the old sofa and its occupant,
and her exclamation drew Mary and Rhoda to the spot. There lay poor
Marm Lisa in the dead sleep of exhaustion, her dress torn and
wrinkled, her shoes travel-stained, her hair tangled and matted.
Their first idea was that the dreaded foe might have descended upon
her, and that she had had some terrible seizure with no one near to
aid and relieve her. But the longer they looked, the less they
feared this; her face, though white and tear-stained, was tranquil,
her lips only slightly pale, and her breathing calm and steady. Mary
finally noted the pathetic grouping of little objects in the red
chair, and, touched by this, began to apprehend the significance of
her own white apron close clasped in the child's loyal arms, and fell
a-weeping softly on Rhoda's shoulder. 'She needed me, Rhoda,' she
said. 'I do not know for what, but I am sure she needed me.'
'I see it all,' said Rhoda, administering soft strokes of
consolation: 'it is something to do with those little beasts; yes, I
will call them beasts, and if you don't let me, I'll call them
brutes. They lost themselves yesterday, of course, and dear old Lisa
searched for them all the afternoon and half the night, for aught we
know, and then came here to be comforted, I suppose--the blessed
'Hush! don't touch her,' Mary whispered, as Rhoda went impetuously
down on her knees by the sofa; 'and we must not talk in this room,
for fear of waking her. Suppose you go at once to Mrs. Grubb's,
dear, and, whatever you learn about the twins there, I shall
meanwhile call a carriage and take Lisa home to my own bed. The
janitress can send Edith to me as soon as she comes, and I will leave
her with Lisa while I run back here to consult with you and Helen. I
shall telegraph for Dr. Thorne, also, to be sure that this sleep is
as natural and healing a thing as it appears to be.'
Mrs. Grubb was surprised, even amused, at Rhoda's exciting piece of
news, but she was perfectly tranquil.
'Well, don't they beat all!' she exclaimed, leaning against the door-
frame and taking her side hair out of waving-pins as she talked.
'No, I haven't seen them since noon yesterday. I was out to a picnic
supper at the Army Headquarters at night, and didn't get home till
later than usual, so I didn't go up to their room. I thought they
were in bed; they always have been in bed when it was bedtime, ever
since they were born.' Here she removed the last pin, and put it
with the others in the bosom of her dress for safe-keeping. 'This
morning, when they didn't turn up, I thought some of you girls had
taken a fancy to keep them overnight; I didn't worry, supposing that
Lisa was with them.'
'Nobody on earth could take a fancy to the twins or keep them an hour
longer than necessary, and you know it, Mrs. Grubb,' said Rhoda, who
seldom minced matters; 'and in case no one should ever have the bad
manners to tell you the whole truth, I want to say here and now that
you neglect everything good and sensible and practical,--all the
plain, simple duties that stare you directly in the face,--and waste
yourself on matters that are of no earthly use to anybody. Those
children would have been missed last night if you had one drop of
mother's blood in your veins! You have three helpless children under
what you are pleased to call your care' (and here Rhoda's lip curled
so scornfully that Mrs. Grubb was tempted to stab her with a curling-
pin), 'and you went to sleep without knowing to a certainty whether
they had had supper or bed! I don't believe you are a woman at all--
you are just a vague abstraction; and the only things you've ever
borne or nursed or brooded in your life have been your miserable,
bloodless little clubs and bands and unions!'
Rhoda's eyes flashed summer lightning, her nostrils quivered, her
cheeks flamed scarlet, and Mrs. Grubb sat down suddenly and heavily
on the front stairs and gasped for breath. According to her own
belief, her whole life had been passed in a search for truth, but it
is safe to say she had never before met it in so uncompromising and
disagreeable a shape.
'Perhaps when you are quite through with your billingsgate,' she
finally said, 'you will take yourself off my steps before you are
ejected. You! to presume to criticise me! You, that are so low in
the scale of being, you can no more understand my feelings and
motives than a jellyfish can comprehend a star! Go back and tell
Miss Mary,' she went on majestically, as she gained confidence and
breath, 'that it is her duty and business to find the children, since
they were last seen with her, and unless she proves more trustworthy
they will not be allowed to return to her. Tell her, too, that when
she wishes to communicate with me, she must choose some other
messenger besides you, you impudent, grovelling little earthworm!
Get out of my sight, or you will unfit me for my classes!'
Mrs. Grubb was fairly superb as she launched these thunderbolts of
invective; the staircase her rostrum, her left hand poised
impressively on the baluster, and the three snaky strands of brown
hair that had writhed out of the waving-pins hissing Medusa-wise on
each side of her bead.
Rhoda was considerably taken aback by the sudden and violent slamming
of the door of No. 1 Eden Place, and she felt an unwelcome misgiving
as to her wisdom in bringing Mrs. Grubb face to face with truth. Her
rage had somewhat subsided by the time she reached Mistress Mary's
side, for she had stopped on the way to ask a policeman to telephone
the various stations for news of the lost children, and report at
once to her. 'There is one good thing,' she thought: 'wherever they
may be, their light cannot be hid any more than that of a city that
is set on a hill. There will be plenty of traces of their journey,
for once seen they are never forgotten. Nobody but a hero would
think of kidnapping them, and nobody but an idiot would expect a
ransom for them!'
'I hope you didn't upbraid Mrs. Grubb,' said Mary, divining from
Rhoda's clouded brow that her interview had not been a pleasant one.
'You know our only peaceful way of rescuing Lisa from her hold is to
make a friend of her, and convert her to our way of thinking. Was
she much disturbed about the children?'
'Disturbed!' sniffed Rhoda disdainfully. 'Imagine Mrs. Grubb
disturbed about anything so trivial as a lost child! If it had been
a lost amendment, she might have been ruffled!'
'What is she doing about it, and in what direction is she searching?'
'She is doing nothing, and she will do nothing; she has gone to a
Theosophy lecture, and we are to find the twins; and she says it's
your fault, anyway, and unless you prove more trustworthy the seraphs
will be removed from your care; and you are not to send me again as a
messenger, if you please, because I am an impudent, grovelling little
'Did she call you that?'
'Yes'm, and a jellyfish besides; in fact, she dragged me through the
entire animal kingdom; but she is a stellar being--she said so.'
'What did you say to her to provoke that, Rhoda? She is thoroughly
illogical and perverse, but she is very amiable.'
'Yes, when you don't interfere with her. You should catch her with
her hair in waving-pins, just after she has imbibed apple-sauce! Oh,
I can't remember exactly what I said, for I confess I was a trifle
heated, and at the moment I thought only of freeing my mind. Let me
see: I told her she neglected all the practical duties that stared
her directly in the face, and squandered herself on useless fads and
vagaries--that's about all. No-o, now that I come to think of it, I
did say that the children would have been missed and found last
night, if she had had a drop of mother's blood in her veins.'
'That's terse and strong--and tactful,' said Mary; 'anything more?'
'No, I don't think so. Oh yes! now that I reflect, I said I didn't
believe she was a woman at all. That seemed to enrage her beyond
anything, somehow; and when I explained it, and tried to modify it by
saying I meant that she had never borne or loved or brooded anything
in her life but her nasty little clubs, she was white with anger, and
told me I was too low in the scale of being to understand her. Good
gracious! I wish she understood herself half as well as I understand
Mary gave a hysterical laugh. 'I can't pretend you didn't speak the
truth, Rhoda, but I am sadly afraid it was ill advised to wound Mrs.
Grubb's vanity. Do you feel a good deal better?'
'No,' confessed Rhoda penitently. 'I did for fifteen minutes,--yes,
nearly half an hour; but now I feel worse than ever.'
'That is one of the commonest symptoms of freeing one's mind,'
observed Mary quietly.
It was scarcely an hour later when Atlantic and Pacific were brought
in by an officer, very dirty and dishevelled, but gay and
irresponsible as larks, nonchalant, amiable, and unrepentant. As
Rhoda had prophesied, there had been no difficulty in finding them;
and as everybody had prophesied, once found there had not been a
second's delay in delivery. Moved by fiery hatred of the police
matron, who had illustrated justice more than mercy, and illustrated
it with the back of a hair-brush on their reversed persons; lured
also by two popcorn balls, a jumping-jack, and a tin horse, they
accepted the municipal escort with alacrity; and nothing was ever
jauntier than the manner in which Pacific, all smiles and molasses,
held up her sticky lips for an expected salute--an unusual offer
which was respectfully declined as a matter of discipline.
Mary longed for Rhoda's young minister in the next half-hour, which
she devoted to private spiritual instruction. Psychology proved
wholly unequal to the task of fathoming the twins, and she fancied
that theology might have been more helpful. Their idea seemed to be-
-if the rudimentary thing she unearthed from their consciousness
could be called an idea--that they would not mind repenting if they
could see anything of which to repent. Of sin, as sin, they had no
apparent knowledge, either by sight, by hearsay or by actual
acquaintance. They sat stolidly in their little chairs, eyes roving
to the windows, the blackboard, the pictures; they clubbed together
and fished a pin from a crack in the floor during one of Mary's most
thrilling appeals; finally they appeared so bored by the whole
proceeding that she felt a certain sense of embarrassment in the
midst of her despair. She took them home herself at noon, apologised
to the injured Mrs. Grubb for Rhoda's unfortunate remarks, and told
that lady, gently but firmly, that Lisa could not be moved until she
was decidedly better.
'She was wandering about the streets searching for the twins from
noon till long after dark, Mrs. Grubb--there can be no doubt of it;
and she bears unmistakable signs of having suffered deeply. I have
called in a physician, and we must all abide by his advice.'
'That's well enough for the present,' agreed Mrs. Grubb reluctantly,
'but I cannot continue to have my studies broken in upon by these
excitements. I really cannot. I thought I had made an arrangement
with Madame Goldmarker to relieve me, but she has just served me a
most unladylike and deceitful trick, and the outcome of it will be
that I shall have to send Lisa to the asylum. I can get her examined
by the commissioners some time before Christmas, and if they decide
she's imbecile they'll take her off my hands. I didn't want to part
with her till the twins got older, but I've just found a possible
home for them if I can endure their actions until New Year's. Our
Army of Present Perfection isn't progressing as it ought to, and it's
going to found a colony down in San Diego County, and advertise for
children to bring up in the faith. A certain number of men and women
have agreed to go and start the thing and I'm sure my sister, if she
was alive would be glad to donate her children to such a splendid
enterprise. If the commissioners won't take Lisa, she can go to Soul
Haven, too--that's the name of the place;--but no, of course they
wouldn't want any but bright children, that would grow up and spread
the light.' (Mary smiled at the thought of the twins engaged in the
occupation of spreading light.) 'I shall not join the community
myself, though I believe it's a good thing; but a very different
future is unveiling itself before me' (her tone was full of mystery
here), 'and some time, if I can ever pursue my investigations in
peace, you will knock at this door and I shall have vanished! But I
shall know of your visit, and the very sound of your footfall will
reach my ear, even if I am inhabiting some remote mountain fastness!'
When Lisa awoke that night, she heard the crackling of a wood fire on
the hearth; she felt the touch of soft linen under her aching body,
and the pressure of something cool and fragrant on her forehead. Her
right hand, feebly groping the white counterpane, felt a flower in
its grasp. Opening her eyes, she saw the firelight dancing on tinted
walls, and an angel of deliverance sitting by her bedside--a dear
familiar woman angel, whose fair crowned head rose from a cloud of
white, and whose sweet downward gaze held all of benignant motherhood
that God could put into woman's eyes.
Marm Lisa looked up dumbly and wonderingly at first, but the mind
stirred, thought flowed in upon it, a wave of pain broke over her
heart, and she remembered all; for remembrance, alas, is the price of
'Lost! my twinnies, all lost and gone!' she whispered brokenly, with
long, shuddering sobs between the words. 'I look--look--look; never,
'No, no, dear,' Mary answered, stroking the lines from her forehead,
'not lost any more; found, Lisa--do you understand? They are found,
they are safe and well, and nobody blames you; and you are safe, too,
your new self, your best self unharmed, thank God; so go to sleep,
little sister, and dream happy dreams!'
Glad tears rushed from the poor child's eyes, tears of conscious
happiness, and the burden rolled away from her heart now, as
yesterday's whirring shuttles in her brain had been hushed into
silence by her long sleep. She raised her swimming eyes to Mistress
Mary's with a look of unspeakable trust. 'I love you! oh, I love,
love, love you!' she whispered, and, holding the flower close to her
breast, she breathed a sigh of sweet content, and sank again into
CHAPTER XII--FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
It may be said in justice to Mrs. Grubb that she was more than
usually harassed just at this time.
Mrs. Sylvester, her voluble next-door neighbour, who had lifted many
sordid cares from her shoulders, had suddenly become tired of the
'new method of mental healing,' and during a brief absence of Mrs.
Grubb from the city had issued a thousand embossed gilt-edged cards,
announcing herself as the Hand Reader in the following terms
TO THE ELITE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE CITY!
I take this method of introducing myself to your kind consideration
as a Hand Reader of RARE and GENUINE MERIT; catering merely to the
Creme du le Creme of this city. No others need apply.
Having been educated carefully and refinedly, speaking French
fluently, therefore I only wish to deal with the elite of the bon-
I do not advertise in papers nor at residence.
Ladies $1.50. Gents $2.
MRS. PANSY SYLVESTER,
3 Eden Place near 4th,
PS. Pupil of S. CORA GRUBB.
Inasmuch as Mrs. Sylvester had imbibed all her knowledge from Mrs.
Grubb, that prophet and scholar thought, not unnaturally, that she
might have been consulted about the enterprise, particularly as the
cards were of a nature to prejudice the better class of patients, and
lower the social tone of the temple of healing.
As if this were not vexatious enough, her plans were disarranged in
another and more important particular. Mrs. Sylvester's manicure had
set up a small establishment for herself, and admitted as partner a
certain chiropodist named Boone. The two artists felt that by
sharing expenses they might increase profits, and there was a
sleeping thought in both their minds that the partnership might ripen
into marriage if the financial returns of the business were
satisfactory. It was destined, however, to be a failure in both
respects; for Dr. Boone looked upon Madame Goldmarker, the vocal
teacher in No. 13 Eden Place, and to look upon her was to love her
madly, since she earned seventy-five dollars a month, while the
little manicure could barely eke out a slender and uncertain twenty.
In such crises the heart can be trusted to leap in the right
direction and beat at the proper rate.
Mrs. Grubb would have had small interest in these sordid romances had
it not been that Madame Goldmarker had faithfully promised to look
after Lisa and the twins, so that Mrs. Grubb might be free to hold
classes in the adjoining towns. The little blind god had now
overturned all these well-laid plans, and Mrs. Grubb was for the
moment the victim of inexorable circumstances.
Dr. Boone fitted up princely apartments next his office, and Madame
Goldmarker Boone celebrated her nuptials and her desertion of Eden
Place by making a formal debut at a concert in Pocahontas Hall. The
next morning, the neighbourhood that knew them best, and many other
neighbourhoods that knew them not at all, received neat printed
circulars thrust under the front door. Upon one side of the paper
were printed the words and music of 'Home, Sweet Home,' 'as sung by
Madame Goldmarker Boone at her late concert in Pocahontas Hall.' On
the reverse side appeared a picture of the doctor, a neat cut of a
human foot, a schedule of prices, and the alluring promise that the
Madame's vocal pupils would receive treatment at half the regular
Many small disputes and quarrels were consequent upon these business,
emotional, and social convulsions, and each of the parties concerned,
from Mrs. Grubb to the chiropodist, consulted Mistress Mary and
solicited her advice and interference.
This seemed a little strange, but Mistress Mary's garden was the sort
of place to act as a magnet to reformers, eccentrics, professional
philanthropists, and cranks. She never quite understood the reason,
and for that matter nobody else did, unless it were simply that the
place was a trifle out of the common, and she herself a person full
of ideas, and eminently sympathetic with those of other people.
Anybody could 'drop in,' and as a consequence everybody did--
grandmothers, mothers with babes in arms, teachers, ministers,
photographers, travellers, and journalists. A Russian gentleman who
had escaped from Siberia was a frequent visitor. He wanted to marry
Edith and open a boarding-house for Russian exiles, and was perfectly
confident of making her happy, as he spoke seven languages and had
been a good husband to two Russian ladies now deceased. An Alaskan
missionary, home on a short leave, called periodically, and attempted
to persuade Mary to return with him to his heathen. These suitors
were disposed of summarily when they made their desires known; but
there were other visitors, part of the flotsam and jetsam of a great
city, who appeared and disappeared mysteriously--ships passing
Mistress Mary in the night of sorrow, and, after some despairing,
half-comprehended signal, vanishing into the shadows out of which
they had come. Sometimes, indeed, inspired by the good cheer of the
place, they departed, looking a little less gloomy; sometimes, too,
they grew into a kind of active if transitory relation with the busy
little world, and became, for a time, a part of it.
Mistress Mary went down to the street corner with the children one
noon to see them safely over the crossing. There was generally a
genial policeman who made it a part of his duty to stand guard there,
and guide the reckless and stupid and bewildered ones among the
youngsters over the difficulties that lay in their path. Sometimes
he would devote himself exclusively to Atlantic and Pacific Simonson,
who really desired death, though they were not spiritually fitted for
it, and bent all their energies towards getting under trucks rather
than away from them. Marm Lisa never approached the spot without a
nervous trembling and a look of terror in her eyes, and before the
advent of the helpful officer had always taken a twin by each arm,
and the three had gone over thus as a solid body, no matter how
strong the resistance.
On this special morning there was no guardian of the peace in
evidence, but standing on the crossing was a bearded man of perhaps
forty years. Rather handsome he was, and well though carelessly
dressed, but he stood irresolutely with his hands in his pockets, as
if quite undecided what to do next. Mary simply noted him as an
altogether strange figure in the neighbourhood, but the unexpected
appearance of a large dog on the scene scattered the babies, and they
fell on her in a weeping phalanx.
'Will you kindly help a little?' she asked after a moment's waiting,
in which any chivalrous gentleman, she thought, should have flung
himself into the breach.
'I?' he asked vaguely. 'How do you mean? What shall I do?'
She longed to say, 'Wake up, and perhaps an idea will come to you';
but she did say, with some spirit, 'Almost anything, thank you.
Drive the dog away, and help some of the smallest children across the
street, please. You can have these two' (indicating the twins
smilingly), 'or the other ninety-eight--whichever you like.'
He obeyed orders, though not in a very alert fashion, but showed a
sense of humour in choosing the ninety-eight rather than the two, and
Mary left him on the corner with a pleasant word of thanks and a
The next morning he appeared at the garden gate, and asked if he
might come in and sit a while. He was made welcome; but it was a
busy morning, and he was so silent a visitor that everybody forgot
He made a curious impression, which can hardly be described, save
that any student of human nature would say at once, 'He is out of
relation with the world.' He had something of the expression one
sees in a recluse or a hermit. If you have ever wandered up a
mountain side, you may have come suddenly upon a hut, a rude bed
within it, and in the door a man reading, or smoking, or gazing into
vacancy. You remember the look you met in that man's eyes. He has
tasted life and found it bitter; has sounded the world and found it
hollow; has known man or woman and found them false. Friendship to
him is without savour, and love without hope.
After watching the children for an hour, the stranger slipped out
quietly. Mistress Mary followed him to the door, abashed at her
unintentional discourtesy in allowing him to go without a good
morning. She saw him stand at the foot of the steps, look first up,
then down the street, then walk aimlessly to the corner. There, with
hands in pockets, he paused again, glancing four ways; then, with a
shrug and a gait that seemed to say, 'It makes no difference,' he
'He is simply a stranger in a strange city, pining for his home,'
thought Mary, 'or else he is a stranger in every city, and has
nowhere a home.'
He came again a few days later, and then again, apologising for the
frequency of his visits, but giving no special reason for them. The
neophytes called him 'the Solitary,' but the children christened him
after a fashion of their own, and began to ask small favours of him.
'Thread my needle, please, Mr. Man!' 'More beads,' or 'More paper,
Mr. Man, please.'
It is impossible to keep out of relation with little children. One
of these mites of humanity would make a man out of your mountain
hermit, resist as he might. They set up a claim on one whether it
exists or not, and one has to allow it, and respond to it at least in
some perfunctory fashion. More than once, as Mr. Man sat silently
near the circle, the chubby Baker baby would fall over his feet, and
he would involuntarily stoop to pick her up, straighten her dress,
and soothe her woe. There was no hearty pleasure in his service even
now. Nobody was certain that he felt any pleasure at all. His
helpfulness was not spontaneous; it seemed a kind of reflex action, a
survival of some former state of mind or heart; for he did his
favours in a dream, nor heard any thanks: yet the elixir was working
in his veins.
'He is dreadfully in the way,' grumbled Edith; 'he is more ever-
present than my ardent Russian.'
'So long as he insists on coming, let us make him supply the paternal
element,' suggested Rhoda. 'It may be a degrading confession, but we
could afford to part with several women here if we could only secure
a really fatherly man. The Solitary cannot indulge in any day-dreams
or trances, if we accept him as the patriarch of the institution.'
Whereupon they boldly asked him, on his subsequent visits, to go upon
errands, and open barrels of apples, and order intoxicated gentlemen
off the steps, and mend locks and window-fastenings, and sharpen
lead-pencils, and put on coal, and tell the lady in the rear that her
parrot interfered with their morning prayers by shrieking the hymns
in impossible keys. He accepted these tasks without protest, and
performed them conscientiously, save in the parrot difficulty, in
which case he gave one look at the lady, and fled without opening the
It could not be said that he appeared more cheerful, the sole sign of
any increased exhilaration of spirits being the occasional
straightening of his cravat and the smoothing of his hair--
refinements of toilet that had heretofore been much neglected, though
he always looked unmistakably the gentleman.
He seemed more attracted by Lisa than by any of the smaller children;
but that may have been because Mary had told him her story, thinking
that other people's stories were a useful sort of thing to tell
people who had possible stories of their own.
Lisa was now developing a curious and unexpected facility and talent
in the musical games. She played the tambourine, the triangle, the
drum, as nobody else could, and in accompanying the marches she
invented all sorts of unusual beats and accents. It grew to be the
natural thing to give her difficult parts in the little dramas of
child life: the cock that crowed in the morn to wake the sleeping
birds and babies, the mother-bird in the nest, the spreading willow-
tree in the pond where the frogs congregated,--these roles she
delighted in and played with all her soul.
It would have been laughable, had it not been pathetic, to watch her
drag Mr. Man into the games, and to see him succumb to her
persuasions with his face hanging out flaming signals of
embarrassment. In the 'Carrier Doves' the little pigeons flew with
an imaginary letter to him, and this meant that he was to stand and
read it aloud, as Mary and Edith had done before him.
'It seems to be a letter from a child,' he faltered, and then began
stammeringly, '"My dear Mr. Man"'--there was a sudden stop. That
there was a letter in his mind nobody could doubt, but he was too
greatly moved to read it. Rhoda quickly reached out her hand for the
paper, covering his discomfiture by exclaiming, 'The pigeons have
brought Mr. Man a letter from some children in his fatherland! Yes'
(reading), 'they hope that we will be good to him, because he is far
away from home, and they send their love to all Mistress Mary's
children. Wasn't it pretty of the doves to remember that Mr. Man is
a stranger here?'
The Solitary appeared for the last time a week before Thanksgiving
Day, and he opened the door on a scene of jollity that warmed him to
In the middle of the floor was a mimic boat, crowded from stem to
stern with little Pilgrim fathers and mothers trying to land on
Plymouth Rock, in a high state of excitement and an equally high sea.
Pat Higgins was a chieftain commanding a large force of tolerably
peaceful Indians on the shore, and Massasoit himself never exhibited
more dignity; while Marm Lisa was the proud mother of the baby
Oceanus born on the eventful voyage of the Mayflower.
Then Mistress Mary told the story of the festival very simply and
sweetly, and all the tiny Pilgrims sang a hymn of thanksgiving. The
Solitary listened, with his heart in his eyes and a sob in his
throat; then, Heaven knows under the inspiration of what memory, he
brushed Edith from the piano-stool, and, seating himself in her
place, played as if he were impelled by some irresistible force. The
hand of a master had never swept those keys before, and he held his
There was a silence that could be felt. The major part of the
audience were not of an age to appreciate high art, but the
youngsters were awed by the strange spectacle of Mr. Man at the
piano, and with gaping mouth and strained ear listened to the divine
harmonies he evoked. On and on he played, weaving the story of his
past into the music, so it seemed to Mistress Mary. The theme came
brokenly and uncertainly at first, as his thoughts strove for
expression. Then out of the bitterness and gall, the suffering and
the struggle--and was it remorse?--was born a sweet, resolute,
triumphant strain that carried the listeners from height to height of
sympathy and emotion. It had not a hint of serenity; it was new-born
courage, aspiration, and self-mastery the song of 'him that
When he paused, there was a deep-drawn breath, a sigh from hearts
surcharged with feeling, and Lisa, who had drawn closer and closer to
the piano, stood there now, one hand leaning on Mr. Man's shoulder
and the tears chasing one another down her cheeks.
'It hurts me here,' she sighed, pressing her hand to her heart.
He rose presently and left the room without a word, while the
children prepared for home-going with a subdued air of having
assisted at some solemn rite.
When Mistress Mary went out on the steps, a little later, he was
'It is the last time! Auf wiedersehen!' he said.
'Auf wiedersehen,' she answered gently, giving him her hand.
'Have you no Thanksgiving sermon for me?' he asked, holding her
fingers lingeringly. 'No child in all your flock needs it so much.'
'Yes,' said Mary, her eyes falling, for a moment, beneath his earnest
gaze; but suddenly she lifted them again as she said bravely, 'I have
a sermon, but it is one with a trumpet-call, and little balm in it.
"Unto whomsoever anything is given, of him something shall be
When he reached the corner of the street he stopped, but instead of
glancing four ways, as usual, he looked back at the porch where
Mistress Mary stood. She carried Jenny Baker, a rosy sprig of
babyhood, in the lovely curve of her arm; Bobby Baxter clasped her
neck from behind in a strangling embrace; Johnny, and Meg, and Billy
were tugging at her apron; and Marm Lisa was standing on tiptoe
trying to put a rose in her hair. Then the Solitary passed into the
crowd, and they saw him in the old places no more.
CHAPTER XIII--LEAVES FROM MISTRESS MARY'S GARDEN
'We have an unknown benefactor. A fortnight ago came three bushels
of flowers: two hundred tiny nosegays marked "For the children,"
half a dozen knots of pink roses for the "little mothers," a dozen
scarlet carnations for Lisa, while one great bunch of white lilies
bore the inscription, "For the Mother Superior." Last week a barrel
of apples and another of oranges appeared mysteriously, and to-day
comes a note, written in a hand we do not recognise, saying we are
not to buy holly, mistletoe, evergreens, Christmas tree, or baubles
of any kind, as they will be sent to us on December 22. We have
inquired of our friends, but have no clue as yet, further than it
must be somebody who knows our needs and desires very thoroughly. We
have certainly entertained an angel unawares, but which among the
crowd of visitors is it most likely to be? The Solitary, I wonder?
I should never have thought it, were it not for the memory of that
last day, the scene at the piano, the "song of him that overcometh,"
and the backward glance from the corner as he sprang, absolutely
sprang, on the car. There was purpose in it, or I am greatly
mistaken. Mr. Man's eyes would be worth looking into, if one could
find purpose in their brown depths! Moreover, though I am too
notorious a dreamer of dreams to be trusted, I cannot help fancying
he went BACK to something; it was not a mere forward move, not a
sudden determination to find some new duty to do that life might grow
nobler and sweeter, but a return to an old duty grown hateful. That
was what I saw in his face as he stood on the crossing, with the noon
sunshine caught in his tawny hair and beard. Rhoda, Edith, and I
have each made a story about him, and each of us would vouch for the
truth of her particular version. I will not tell mine, but this is
Rhoda's; and while it differs from my own in several important
particulars, it yet bears an astonishing resemblance to it. It is
rather romantic, but if one is to make any sort of story out of the
Solitary it must be a romantic one, for he suggests no other.
'Rhoda began her tale with a thrilling introduction that set us all
laughing (we smile here when still the tears are close at hand;
indeed, we must smile, or we could not live): the prelude being
something about a lonely castle in the heart of the Hartz Mountains,
and a prattling golden-haired babe stretching its arms across a
ruined moat in the direction of its absent father. This was in the
nature of an absurd prologue, but when she finally came to the
Solitary she grew serious; for she made him in the bygone days a
sensitive child and a dreamy, impetuous youth, with a domineering,
ill-tempered father who was utterly unable and unwilling to
understand or to sympathise with him. His younger brother (for Rhoda
insists on a younger brother) lived at home, while he, the elder,
spent, or misspent, his youth and early manhood in a German
university. As the years went on, the relations between himself and
his father grew more and more strained. Do as the son might, he
could never please, either in his line of thought and study or in his
practical pursuits. The father hated his books, his music, his
poetry, and his artist friends, while he on his part found nothing to
stimulate or content him in his father's tasks and manner of life.
His mother pined and died in the effort to keep peace between them,
but the younger brother's schemes were quite in an opposite
direction. At this time, Mr. Man flung himself into a foolish
marriage, one that promised little in the shape of the happiness he
craved so eagerly. (Rhoda insists on this unhappy marriage; I am in
doubt about it.) Finally his father died, and on being summoned
home, as he supposed, to take his rightful place and assume the
management of the estate, he found himself disinherited. He could
have borne the loss of fortune and broad acres better than this
convincing proof of his father's dislike and distrust, and he could
have endured even that, had it not befallen him through the perfidy
of his brother. When, therefore, he was met by his wife's bitter
reproaches and persistent coldness he closed his heart against all
the world, shook the dust of home from off his feet, left his own
small fortune behind him, kissed his little son, and became a
wanderer on the face of the earth.
'This is substantially Rhoda's story, but it does not satisfy her
completely. She says, in her whimsical way, that it needs another
villain to account properly for Mr. Man's expression.
'Would it not be strange if by any chance we have brought him to a
happier frame of mind? Would it not be a lovely tribute to the
secret power of this place, to the healing atmosphere of love that we
try to create--that atmosphere in which we bathe our own tired
spirits day by day, recreating ourselves with every new dawn? But
whether our benefactor be the Solitary or not, some heart has been
brought into new relation with us and with the world. It only
confirms my opinion that everybody is at his or her best in the
presence of children. In what does the magic of their influence
consist? This morning I was riding down in the horse-cars, and a
poor ragged Italian woman entered, a baby in her arms, and two other
children following close behind. The girl was a mite of a thing,
prematurely grave, serious, pretty, and she led a boy just old enough
to toddle. She lifted him carefully up to the seat (she who should
have been lifted herself!), took his hat, smoothed his damp, curly
hair, and tucked his head down on her shoulder, a shoulder that had
begun its life-work full early, poor tot! The boy was a feeble,
frail, ill-nourished, dirty young urchin, who fell asleep as soon as
his head touched her arm. His child-nurse, having made him
comfortable, gave a sigh of relief, and looked up and down the car
with a radiant smile of content. Presto, change! All the railroad
magnates and clerks had been watching her over their newspapers, and
in one instant she had captured the car. I saw tears in many eyes,
and might have seen more had not my own been full. There was
apparently no reason for the gay, winsome, enchanting smile that
curved the red mouth, brought two dimples into the brown cheeks, and
sunny gleams into two dark eyes. True, she was riding instead of
walking, and her charge was sleeping instead of waking and wailing;
but these surely were trifling matters on which to base such rare
content. Yet there it was shining in her face as she met a dozen
pairs of eyes, and saw in each of them love for her sweet motherly
little self, and love for the "eternal womanly" of which she was the
visible expression. There was a general exodus at Brett Street, and
every man furtively slipped a piece of silver into the child's lap as
he left the car; each, I think, trying to hide his action from the
'It is of threads such as these that I weave the fabric of my daily
happiness,--a happiness that my friends never seem able to
comprehend; the blindest of them pity me, indeed, but I consider
myself like Mary of old, "blessed among women."'
Another day.--'God means all sorts of things when he sends men and
women into the world. That he means marriage, and that it is the
chiefest good, I have no doubt, but it is the love forces in it that
make it so. I may, perhaps, reach my highest point of development
without marriage, but I can never do it unless I truly and deeply
love somebody or something. I am not sure, but it seems to me God
intends me for other people's children, not for my own. My heart is
so entirely in my work that I fancy I have none left for a possible
husband. If ever a man comes who is strong enough and determined
enough to sweep things aside and make a place for himself willy-
nilly, I shall ask him to come in and rest; but that seems very
unlikely. What man have I ever seen who would help me to be the
woman my work helps me to be? Of course there are such, but the Lord
keeps them safely away from my humble notice, lest I should die of
love or be guilty of hero-worship.
'Men are so dull, for the most part! They are often tender and often
loyal, but they seldom put any spiritual leaven into their
tenderness, and their loyalty is apt to be rather unimaginative.
Heigho! I wish we could make lovers as the book-writers do, by
rolling the virtues and graces of two or three men into one! I'd
almost like to be a man in this decade, a young, strong man, for
there are such splendid giants to slay! To be sure, a woman can
always buckle on the sword, and that is rather a delightful
avocation, after all; but somehow there are comparatively few men
nowadays who care greatly to wear swords or have them buckled on.
There is no inspiration in trying to buckle on the sword of a man who
never saw one, and who uses it wrong end foremost, and falls down on
it, and entangles his legs in it, and scratches his lady's hand with
it whenever he kisses her! And therefore, these things, for aught I
see, being unalterably so, I will take children's love, woman's love,
and man's friendship; man's friendship, which, if it is not life's
poetry, is credible prose, says George Meredith,--"a land of low
undulations, instead of Alps, beyond the terrors and deceptions."
That will fill to overflowing my life, already so full, and in time I
shall grow from everybody's Mistress Mary into everybody's Mother
Mary, and that will be the end of me in my present state of being. I
am happy, yes, I am blessedly happy in this prospect, and yet--'
Another day.--'My beloved work! How beautiful it is! Toniella has
not brought little Nino this week. She says he is ill, but that he
sits every day in the orchard, singing our songs and modelling birds
from the lump of clay we sent him. When I heard that phrase "in the
orchard," I felt a curious sensation, for I know they live in a
tenement house; but I said nothing, and went to visit them.
'The orchard is a few plants in pots and pans on a projecting window-
'My heart went down on its knees when I saw it. The divine spark is
in those children; it will be a moving power, helping them to
struggle out of their present environment into a wider, sunnier one--
the one of the real orchards. How fresh, how full of possibilities,
is the world to the people who can keep the child heart, and above
all to the people who are able to see orchards in window-boxes!'
Another day.--'Lisa's daily lesson is just finished. It was in
arithmetic, and I should have lost patience had it not been for her
musical achievements this morning. Edith played the airs of twenty
or thirty games, and without a word of help from us she associated
the right memory with each, and illustrated it with pantomime. In
some cases, she invented gestures of her own that showed deeper
intuition than ours; and when, last of all, the air of the Carrier
Doves was played, a vision of our Solitary must have come before her
mind. Her lip trembling, she held an imaginary letter in her
fingers, and, brushing back the hair from her forehead (his very
gesture!), she passed her hand across her eyes, laid the make-believe
note in Rhoda's apron, and slipped out of the door without a word.
"'Mr. Man! Mr. Man! It is Mr. Man when he couldn't read his
letter!" cried the children. "Why doesn't he come to see us any
more, Miss Rhoda?"
'"He is doing some work for Miss Mary, I think," answered Rhoda, with
a teasing look at me.
'Lisa came back just then, and rubbed her cheek against my arm. "I
went to the corner," she whispered, "but he wasn't there; he is never
'It was the remembrance of this astonishing morning that gave me
courage in the later lesson. She seems to have no idea of numbers--
there will be great difficulty there,--but she begins to read well,
and the marvel of it is that she has various talents! She is weak,
uneducated; many things are either latent or altogether missing in
her as yet, and I do not know how many of them will appear, nor how
long a process it will be; but her mind is full of compensations, and
that is the last thing I expected. It is only with infinite struggle
that she LEARNS anything, though she is capable of struggle, and that
is a good deal to say; but she has besides a precious heritage of
instincts and insights, hitherto unsuspected and never drawn upon.
It is precisely as if there had been a bundle of possibilities folded
away somewhere in her brain, but hidden by an intervening veil, or
crushed by some alien weight. We seem to have drawn away that
curtain or lifted that weight, and the faculties so long obscured are
stretching themselves and growing with their new freedom. It reminds
me of the weak, stunted grass-blades under a stone. I am always
lifting it and rolling it away, sentimentally trying to give the
struggling shoots a chance. One can see for many a long day where
the stone has been, but the grass forgets it after a while, when it
breathes the air and sunshine, tastes the dew and rain, and feels the
miracle of growth within its veins.'
Another day.--'The twins are certainly improving a trifle. They are
by no means angelic, but they are at least growing human; and if ever
their tremendous energy--a very whirlwind--is once turned in the
right direction, we shall see things move, I warrant you! Rhoda says
truly that the improvement cannot be seen with the naked eye; but the
naked eye is never in use with us, in our work, nor indeed with the
Father of Lights, who teaches us all to see truly if we will.
'The young minister has spent a morning with us. He came to make my
acquaintance, shook me warmly by the hand, and--that was the last I
saw of him, for he kept as close to Rhoda's side as circumstances
would permit! The naked eye is all one needs to discern his motives!
Psychological observations, indeed! Child study, forsooth! It was
lovely to see Rhoda's freshness, spontaneity, and unconsciousness, as
she flitted about like a pretty cardinal-bird. Poor young minister,
whose heart is dangling at the strings of her scarlet apron! Lucky
young minister, if his arm ever goes about that slender red-ribboned
waist, and his lips ever touch that glowing cheek! But poor me! what
will the garden be without our crimson rose?'
CHAPTER XIV--MORE LEAVES
'It has been one of the discouraging days. Lisa was wilful; the
twins had a moral relapse; the young minister came again, and, oh,
the interminable length of time he held Rhoda's hand at parting! Is
it not strange that, with the whole universe to choose from, his
predatory eye must fall upon my blooming Rhoda? I wonder whether the
fragrance she will shed upon that one small parsonage will be as
widely disseminated as the sweetness she exhales here, day by day,
among our "little people all in a row"? I am not sure; I hope so; at
any rate, selfishness must not be suffered to eclipse my common-
sense, and the young minister seems a promising, manly fellow.
'When we have had a difficult day, I go home and sit down in my cosy
corner in the twilight, the time and place where I always repeat my
credo, which is this:-
'It is the children of this year, of every new year, who are to bring
the full dawn, that dawn that has been growing since first the world
began. It is not only that children re-create the world year by
year, decade by decade, by making over human nature; by transforming
trivial, thoughtless men and women into serious, earnest ones; by
waking in arid natures slumbering seeds of generosity, self-
sacrifice, and helpfulness. It is not alone in this way that
children are bringing the dawn of the perfect day. It is the
children (bless them! how naughty they were to-day!) who are going to
do all we have left undone, all we have failed to do, all we might
have done had we been wise enough, all we have been too weak and
stupid to do.
'Among the thousands of tiny things growing up all over the land,
some of them under my very wing--watched and tended, unwatched and
untended, loved, unloved, protected from danger, thrust into
temptation, among them somewhere is the child who will write a great
poem that will live for ever and ever, kindling every generation to a
loftier ideal. There is the child who will write the novel that is
to stir men's hearts to nobler issues and incite them to better
deeds. There is the child (perhaps it is Nino) who will paint the
greatest picture or carve the greatest statue of the age; another who
will deliver his country in an hour of peril; another who will give
his life for a great principle; and another, born more of the spirit
than the flesh, who will live continually on the heights of moral
being, and, dying, draw men after him. It may be I shall preserve
one of these children to the race--who knows? It is a peg big enough
on which to hang a hope, for every child born into the world is a new
incarnate thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility.'
Another day.--'Would I had the gift to capture Mrs. Grubb and put her
between the covers of a book!'
'It tickles Rhoda's fancy mightily that the Vague Lady (as we call
her) should take Lisa before the Commissioners of Lunacy! Rhoda says
that if she has an opportunity to talk freely with them, they will
inevitably jump at the conclusion that Lisa has brought HER for
examination, as she is so much the more irrational of the two! Rhoda
facetiously imagines a scene in which a reverend member of the body
takes Lisa aside and says solemnly, "My dear child, you have been
wise beyond your years in bringing us your guardian, and we cannot
allow her to be at large another day, lest she becomes suddenly
'Of late I have noticed that she has gradually dropped one club and
society after another, concentrating her attention more and more upon
Theosophy. Every strange weed and sucker that can grow anywhere
flourishes in the soil of her mind, and if a germ of truth or common-
sense does chance to exist in any absurd theory, it is choked by the
time it has lain there among the underbrush for a little space; so
that when she begins her harvesting (which is always a long while
before anything is ripe), one can never tell precisely what sort of
crop was planted.
'It seems that the Theosophists are considering the establishment of
a colony of Mahatmas at Mojave, on the summit of the Tehachapi
Mountains. Their present habitat is the Himalayas, but there is no
reason why we should not encourage them to settle in this country.
The Tehachapis would give as complete retirement as the Himalayas,
while the spiritual advantages to be derived from an infusion of
Mahatmas into our population are self-evident. "Think, my sisters,"
Mrs. Grubb would say, "think, that our mountain ranges may some time
be peopled by omniscient beings thousands of years old and still
growing!" Up to this last aberration I have had some hope of Grubb
o' Dreams. I thought it a good sign, her giving up so many societies
and meetings. The house is not any tidier, but at least she stays in
it occasionally. In the privacy of my own mind I have been ascribing
this slight reformation to the most ordinary cause,--namely, a
Particular Man. It would never have occurred to me in her case had
not Edith received confidential advices from Mrs. Sylvester.
'"We're going to lose her, I feel it!" said Mrs. Sylvester. "I feel
it, and she alludes to it herself. There ain't but two ways of her
classes losing her, death and marriage; and as she looks too healthy
to die, it must be the other one. She's never accepted any special
attentions till about a month ago, when the Improved Order of Red Men
held their Great Council here. You see she used to be Worthy Wenonah
of Pocahontas Lodge years ago, when my husband was Great Keeper of
the Wampum, but she hasn't attended regularly; a woman is so
handicapped, when it comes to any kind of public work, by her home
and her children.--I do hope I shall live long enough to see all
those kind of harassing duties performed in public, co-operative
institutions.--She went to the Council to keep me company, mostly,
but the very first evening I could see that William Burkhardt, of
Bald Eagle No. 62, was struck with her; she lights up splendidly,
Mrs. Grubb does. He stayed with her every chance he got during the
week: but I didn't see her give him any encouragement, and I should
never have thought of it again if she hadn't come home late from one
of the Council Fires at the Wigwam. I was just shutting my bedroom
blinds. I tried not to listen, for I despise eavesdropping, of all
things, but I couldn't help hearing her say, "No, Mr. Burkhardt, you
are only a Junior Sagamore, and I am ambitious. When you are a Great
Sachem, it will be time enough to consider the matter."'
'Mrs. Sylvester, Edith, and I agreed that this was most significant,
but we may have been mistaken, according to her latest development.
The "passing away" so feelingly alluded to by Mrs. Sylvester is to be
of a different sort. She has spoken mysteriously to me before of her
reasons for denying herself luxuries; of the goal she expected to
reach through rigid denial of the body and training of the spirit; of
her longing to come less in contact with the foul magnetism of the
common herd, so detrimental to her growth; but she formally announced
to me in strict confidence to-day her ambition to be a Mahatma. Of
course she has been so many things that there are comparatively few
left; still, say whatever we like, she has the spirit of all the
Argonauts, that woman! She has been an Initiate for some time, and
considers herself quite ready for the next step, which is to be a
Chela. It is unnecessary to state that she climbs the ladder of
evolution much faster than the ordinary Theosophist, who is somewhat
slow in his movements, and often deals in centuries, or even aeons.
'I did not know that there were female Mahatmas, reasoning
unconsciously from the fact that an Adept is supposed to hold his
peace for many years before he can even contemplate the possibility
of being a Mahatma. (The idea of Grubb o' Dreams holding her peace
is too absurd for argument.) There are many grades of Adepts, it
seems, ranging from the "topmost" Mahatmas down. The highest of all,
the Nirmanakayas, are self-conscious without the body, travelling
hither and thither with but one object, that of helping humanity. As
we descend the scale, we find Adepts (and a few second-class
Mahatmas) living in the body, for the wheel of Karma has not entirely
revolved for them; but they have a key to their "prison" (that is
what Mrs. Grubb calls her nice, pretty body!), and can emerge from it
at pleasure. That is, any really capable and energetic Adept can
project his soul from its prison to any place that he pleases, with
the rapidity of thought. I may have my personal doubts as to the
possibilities of this gymnastic feat, but Mrs. Grubb's intellectual
somersaults have been of such thoroughness and frequency that I am
sure, if anybody can perform the gyration, she can! Meantime, there
are decades of retirement, meditation, and preparation necessary, and
she can endure nothing of that sort in this present incarnation, so
the parting does not seem imminent!
'She came to consult me about Soul Haven for the twins. I don't
think it a wholly bad plan. The country is better for them than the
city; we can manage occasional news of their welfare; it will tide to
get over the brief interval of time needed by Mrs. Grubb for growing
into a Chela; and in any event, they are sure to run away from the
Haven as soon as they become at all conscious of their souls, a
moment which I think will be considerably delayed.
'Mrs. Grubb will not yield Lisa until she is certain that the Soul
Haven colonists will accept the twins without a caretaker; but unless
the matter is quietly settled by the new year I shall find some
heroic means of changing her mind. I have considered the matter
earnestly for many months without knowing precisely how to find
sufficient money for the undertaking. My own income can be stretched
to cover her maintenance, but it is not sufficient to give her the
proper sort of education. She is beyond my powers now, and perhaps--
nay, of a certainty, if her health continue to improve--five years of
skilful teaching will make her--what it will make her no one can
prophesy, but it is sure to be something worth working for. No doubt
I can get the money by a public appeal, and if it were for a dozen
children instead of one I would willingly do it, as indeed I have
done it many times in the past.
'That was a beautiful thought of Pastor Von Bodelschwingh, of the
Colony of Mercy in Germany. "Mr. Man" told me about him in one of
the very few long talks we had together. He had a home for adults
and children of ailing mind and body, and when he wanted a new house
for the little ones, and there was no money to build or equip it, he
asked every parent in Germany for a thank-offering to the Lord of one
penny for each well child. Within a short fortnight four hundred
thousand pennies flowed in--four hundred thousand thank-offerings for
children strong and well. The good pastor's wish was realised, and
his Baby Castle an accomplished fact. Not only did the four hundred
thousand pennies come, but the appeal for them stimulated a new sense
of gratitude among all the parents who responded, so that there came
pretty, touching messages from all sides, such as: "Four pennies for
four living children; for a child in heaven, two." "Six pennies for
a happy home." "One penny for the child we never had." "Five
pennies for a good wife."
'Ah! never, surely, was a Baby Castle framed of such lovely timber as
this! It seems as if heaven's sweet air must play about the towers,
and heaven's sunshine stream in at every window, of a house built
from turret to foundation-stone of such royal material. The Castle
might look like other castles, but every enchanted brick and stone
and block of wood, every grain of mortar, every bit of glass and
marble, unlike all others of its kind, would be transformed by the
thought it represented and thrilled with the message it bore.
'Such an appeal I could make for my whole great family, but somehow
this seems almost a private matter, and I am sensitive about giving
it publicity. My love and hope for Lisa are so great, I cannot bear
to describe her "case," nor paint her unhappy childhood in the hues
it deserves, for the sake of gaining sympathy and aid. I may have to
do it, but would I were the little Croesus of a day! Still,
Christmas is coming, and who knows?
"Everywhere the Feast o' the Babe,
Joy upon earth, peace and good-will to men!
We are baptized."
Merry Christmas is coming. Everybody's hand-grasp is warmer because
of it, though of course it is the children whose merriment rings
'There are just one or two things, grown up as I am, that I should
like to find in the toe of my stocking on Christmas morning; only
they are impalpable things that could neither be put in nor taken out
of real stockings.
'Old as we are, we are most of us mere children in this, that we go
on hoping that next Christmas all the delicious happenings we have
missed in other Christmases may descend upon us by the old and
reliable chimney-route! A Santa Claus that had any bowels of
compassion would rush down the narrowest and sootiest chimney in the
world to give me my simple wishes. It isn't as if I were petitioning
nightly for a grand house, a yacht, a four-in-hand, a diamond
necklace, and a particular man for a husband; but I don't see that
modesty finds any special favour with St. Nick. Now and then I
harbour a rascally suspicion that he is an indolent, time-serving
person, who slips down the widest, cleanest chimneys to the people
who clamour the loudest; but this abominable cynicism melts into thin
air the moment that I look at his jolly visage on the cover of a
picture-book. Dear, fat, rosy, radiant Being! Surely he is
incapable of any but the highest motives! I am twenty-eight years
old, but age shall never make any difference in the number or extent
of my absurdities. I am going to write a letter and send it up the
chimney! It never used to fail in the long-ago; but ah! then there
were two dear, faithful go-betweens to interpret my childish messages
of longing to Santa Claus, and jog his memory at the critical time!'
CHAPTER XV--'THE FEAST O' THE BABE'
It was sure to be a green Christmas in that sunny land, but not the
sort of 'green Yule' that makes the 'fat kirkyard.' If the New
Englanders who had been transplanted to that shore of the Pacific
ever longed for a bracing snowstorm, for frost pictures on the
window-panes, for the breath of a crystal air blown over ice-fields--
an air that nipped the ears, but sent the blood coursing through the
veins, and made the turkey and cranberry sauce worth eating,--the
happy children felt no lack, and basked contentedly in the soft
December sunshine. Still further south there were mothers who sighed
even more for the sound of merry sleigh-bells, the snapping of logs
on the hearth, the cosy snugness of a fire-lit room made all the
snugger by the fierce wind without: that, if you like, was a place
to hang a row of little red and brown woollen stockings! And when
the fortunate children on the eastern side of the Rockies, tired of
resisting the Sand Man, had snuggled under the great down comforters
and dropped off to sleep, they dreamed, of course, of the proper
Christmas things--of the tiny feet of reindeer pattering over the
frozen crust, the tinkle of silver bells on their collars, the real
Santa Claus with icicles in his beard, with red cheeks, and a cold
nose, and a powder of snow on his bearskin coat, and with big fur
mittens never too clumsy to take the toys from his pack.
Here the air blew across orange groves and came laden with the
sweetness of opening buds; here, if it were a sunny Christmas Day, as
well it might be, the children came in to dinner tired with playing
in the garden: but the same sort of joyous cries that rent the air
three thousand miles away at sight of hot plum-pudding woke the
echoes here because of fresh strawberries and loquats; and although,
in the minds of the elders, who had been born in snowdrifts and bred
upon icicles, this union of balmy air, singing birds, and fragrant
bloom might strike a false note at Christmastide, it brought nothing
but joy to the children. After all, if it were not for old
associations' sake, it would seem that one might fitly celebrate the
birthday of the Christ-child under sunshine as warm and skies of the
same blue as those that sheltered the heavenly Babe in old Judea.
During the late days of October and the early days of November the
long drought of summer had been broken, and it had rained steadily,
copiously, refreshingly. Since then there had been day after day of
brilliant, cloudless sunshine, and the moist earth, warmed gratefully
through to the marrow, stirred and trembled and pushed forth myriads
of tender shoots from the seeds that were hidden in its bosom; and
the tender shoots themselves looked up to the sun, and, with their
roots nestled in sweet, fragrant beds of richness, thought only of
growing tall and green, dreamed only of the time when pink pimpernels
would bloom between their waving blades, and when tribes of laughing
children would come to ramble over the hillsides. The streets of the
city were full of the fragrance of violets, for the flower-vendors
had great baskets of them over their arms, and every corner tempted
the passers-by with the big odorous purple bunches that offered a
royal gift of sweetness for every penny invested.
Atlantic and Pacific Simonson had previously known little, and Marm
Lisa less, of Christmas-time, but the whole month of December in
Mistress Mary's garden was a continual feast of the new-born Babe.
There was an almost oppressive atmosphere of secrecy abroad. Each
family of children, working in the retirement of its particular
corner, would shriek, 'Oh, don't come!' and hide small objects under
pinafores and tables when Mary, Rhoda, Edith, or Helen appeared. The
neophyte in charge was always in the attitude of a surprised hen,
extending her great apron to its utmost area as a screen to hide
these wonderful preparations. Edith's group was slaving over Helen's
gift, Rhoda's over Edith's, and so on, while all the groups had some
marvellous bit of co-operative work in hand for Mistress Mary. At
the afternoon council, the neophytes were obliged to labour
conscientiously on presents destined for themselves, rubbing off
stains, disentangling knots, joining threads, filling up wrong holes
and punching right ones, surreptitiously getting the offerings of
love into a condition where the energetic infants could work on them
again. It was somewhat difficult to glow and pale with surprise when
they received these well-known and well-worn trophies of skill from
the tree at the proper time, but they managed to achieve it.
Never at any other season was there such a scrubbing of paws, and in
spite of the most devoted sacrifices to the Moloch of cleanliness the
excited little hands grew first moist, and then grimy, nobody knew
how. 'It must leak out of the inside of me,' wailed Bobby Baxter
when sent to the pump for the third time one morning; but he went
more or less cheerfully, for his was the splendid honour of weaving a
frame for Lisa's picture, and he was not the man to grudge an inch or
two of skin if thereby he might gain a glorious immortality.
The principal conversation during this festival time consisted of
phrases like: 'I know what you're goin' to have, Miss Edith, but I
won't tell!' 'Miss Mary, Sally 'most told Miss Rhoda what she was
makin' for her.' 'Miss Helen, Pat Higgins went right up to Miss
Edith and asked her to help him mend the leg of his clay frog, and
it's his own Christmas present to her!'
The children could not for the life of them play birds, or
butterflies, or carpenter, or scissors-grinder, for they wanted to
shout the live-long day -
'Christmas bells are ringing sweet,
We too the happy day must greet';
'Under the holly, now,
Sing and be jolly, now,
Christmas has come and the children are glad';
'Hurrah for Santa Claus!
Long may he live at his castle in Somewhere-land!'
There was much whispering and discussion about evergreens and
garlands and wreaths that were soon to come, and much serious
planning with regard to something to be made for mother, father,
sister, brother, and the baby; something, too, now and then, for a
grandpapa in Sweden, a grandmamma in Scotland, a Norwegian uncle, an
Irish aunt, and an Italian cousin; but there was never by chance any
cogitation as to what the little workers themselves might get. In
the happier homes among them, there was doubtless the usual
legitimate speculation as to doll or drum, but here in this enchanted
spot, this materialised Altruria, the talk was all of giving, when
the Wonderful Tree bloomed in their midst--the Wonderful Tree they
sang about every morning, with the sweet voice
'telling its branches among
Of shepherd's watch and of angel's song,
Of lovely Babe in manger low, -
The beautiful story of long ago,
When a radiant star threw its beams so wide
To herald the earliest Christmastide.'
The Tree was coming--Mistress Mary said so; and bless my heart, you
might possibly meddle with the revolution of the earth around the
sun, or induce some weak-minded planet to go the wrong way, but you
would be helpless to reverse one of Mistress Mary's promises! They
were as fixed and as unchangeable as the laws of the Medes and
Persians, and there was a record of their fulfilment indelibly
written in the memories of two hundred small personages--personages
in whom adult caprice and flexibility of conduct had bred a tendency
The Tree, therefore, had been coming for a fortnight, and on the 22nd
it came! Neither did it come alone, for it was accompanied by a
forest of holly and mistletoe, and ropes of evergreen, and wreaths
and garlands of laurel, and green stars by the dozen. And in a great
box, at present hidden from the children, were heaps of candles,
silver and crystal baubles, powdered snowflakes, glass icicles,
gilded nuts, parti-coloured spheres, cornucopias full of goodies,
and, above all, two wonderful Christmas angels, and a snow-white
Neither tree, nor garlands, nor box contained any hint of the donor,
to the great disappointment of the neophytes. Rhoda had an idea, for
Cupid had 'clapped her i' the shoulder,' and her intuitions were
preternaturally keen just now. Mary almost knew, though she had
never been in love in her life, and her faculties were working only
in their every-day fashion; but she was not in the least surprised
when she drew a letter from under the white dove's wing. Seeing that
it was addressed to her, she waited until everybody had gone, and sat
under the pepper-tree in the deserted playground, where she might
read it in solitude.
'DEAR MISTRESS MARY,' it said, 'do you care to hear of my life?
Zieht uns hinan,"
and I am growing olives. Do you remember what the Spanish monk said
to the tree that he pruned, and that cried out under his hook? "It is
not beauty that is wanted of you, nor shade, but olives." The sun is
hot, and it has not rained for many a long week, it seems to me, but
the dew of your influence falls ever sweet and fresh on the dust of
my daily task.
'Enclosed please find the wherewithal for Lisa's next step higher.
As she needs more it will come. I give it for sheer gratitude, as
the good folk gave their pennies to Pastor Von Bodelschwingh. Why am
I grateful? For your existence, to be sure! I had lived my life
haunted by the feeling that there was such a woman, and finally the
mysterious wind of destiny blew me to her, "as the tempest brings the
rose-tree to the pollard willow."
'Do not be troubled about me, little mother-of-many! There was once
upon a time a common mallow by the roadside, and being touched by
Mohammed's garment as he passed, it was changed at once into a
geranium; and best of all, it remained a geranium for ever after.
CHAPTER XVI--CLEANSING FIRES
It was the afternoon of the day before Christmas, and all the little
people had gone home, leaving the room vacant for the decking of the
Wonderful Tree. Edith, Helen, and others were perched on step-
ladders, festooning garlands and wreaths from window to window and
post to post. Mary and Rhoda were hanging burdens of joy among the
green branches of the tree.
The room began to look more and more lovely as the evergreen stars
were hung by scarlet ribbons in each of the twelve windows, and the
picture-frames were crowned with holly branches. Then Mistress Mary
was elevated to a great height on a pyramid of tables and chairs, and
suspended the two Christmas angels by invisible wires from the
ceiling. When the chorus of admiration had subsided, she took the
white dove from Rhoda's upstretched hands (and what a charming
Christmas picture they made--the eager, upturned rosy face of the
one, the gracious fairness of the other!), and laying its soft breast
against her cheek for a moment, perched it on the topmost branch of
waving green with a thought of 'Mr. Man,' and a hope that the blessed
day might bring him a tithe of the cheer he had given them. The
effect of the dove and the angels was so electrical that all the
fresh young voices burst into the chorus of the children's hymn:
'He was born upon this day
In David's town so far away,
He the good and loving One,
Mary's ever-blessed Son.
Let us all our voices lend,
For he was the children's Friend,
He so lovely, He so mild,
Jesus, blessed Christmas Child!'
As the last line of the chorus floated through the open windows, an
alarm of fire sounded, followed by a jangle of bells and a rumble of
patrol wagons. On going to the west window, Edith saw a blaze of red
light against the sky, far in the distance, in the direction of Lone
Mountain. Soon after, almost on the heels of the first, came another
alarm with its attendant clangings, its cries of 'Fire!' its
chatterings and conjectures, its rushing of small boys in all
directions, its tread of hurrying policemen, its hasty flinging up of
windows and grouping of heads therein.
The girls were too busy labelling the children's gifts to listen
attentively to the confused clamour in the streets,--fires were
common enough in a city built of wood; but when, half an hour after
the first and second alarms, a third sounded, they concluded it must
be a conflagration, and Rhoda, dropping her nuts and cornucopias, ran
to the corner for news. She was back again almost immediately,
excited and breathless.
'Oh, Mary!' she exclaimed, her hand on her panting side, 'unless they
are mistaken, it is three separate fires: one, a livery-stable and
carriage-house out towards Lone Mountain; another fearful one on
Telegraph Hill--a whole block of houses, and they haven't had enough
help there because of the Lone Mountain fire; now there's a third
alarm, and they say it's at the corner of Sixth and Dutch streets.
If it is, we have a tenement house next door; isn't that clothing-
place on the corner? Yes, I know it is; make haste! Edith and Helen
will watch the Christmas things.'
Mary did not need to be told to hasten. She had her hat in her hand
and was on the sidewalk before Rhoda had fairly finished her
They hurried through the streets, guided by the cloud of smoke that
gushed from the top of a building in the near distance. Almost
everybody was running in the opposite direction, attracted by the
Telegraph Hill fire that flamed vermilion and gold against the grey
sky, looking from its elevation like a mammoth bonfire, or like a
hundred sunsets massed in one lurid pile of colour.
'Is it the Golden Gate tenement house?' they asked of the
neighbourhood locksmith, who was walking rapidly towards them.
'No, it's the coat factory next door,' he answered hurredly.
''Twouldn't be so much of a blaze if they could get the fire company
here to put it out before it gets headway; but it's one o' those
blind fires that's been sizzling away inside the walls for an hour.
The folks didn't know they was afire till a girl ran in and told 'em-
-your Lisa it was,--and they didn't believe her at first; but it
warn't a minute before the flames burst right through the plastering
in half a dozen places to once. I tell you they just dropped
everything where it was and run for their lives. There warn't but
one man on the premises, and he was such a blamed fool he wasted five
minutes trying to turn the alarm into the letter-box on the lamp-
post, 'stead of the right one alongside. I'm going home for some
tools--Hullo! there's the flames coming through one corner o' the
roof; that's the last o' the factory, I guess; but it ain't much
loss, any way; it's a regular sweatin'-shop. They'll let it go now,
and try to save the buildings each side of it--that's what they'll
That is what they were doing when Mary and Rhoda broke away from the
voluble locksmith in the middle of his discourse and neared the scene
of excitement. The firemen had not yet come, though it was rumoured
that a detachment was on the way. All the occupants of the tenement
house were taking their goods and chattels out--running down the
narrow stairways with feather-beds, dropping clocks and china
ornaments from the windows, and endangering their lives by crawling
down the fire-escapes with small articles of no value. Men were
scarce at that hour in that locality, but there was a good contingent
of small shopkeepers and gentlemen-of-steady-leisure, who were on the
roof pouring-water over wet blankets and comforters and carpets. A
crazy-looking woman in the fourth story kept dipping a child's
handkerchief in and out of a bowl of water and wrapping it about a
tomato-can with a rosebush planted in it. Another, very much
intoxicated, leaned from her window, and, regarding the whole matter
as an agreeable entertainment, called down humorous remarks and
ribald jokes to the oblivious audience. There was an improvised
hook-and-ladder company pouring water where it was least needed, and
a zealous self-appointed commanding officer who did nothing but shout
contradictory orders; but as nobody obeyed them, and every man did
just as he was inclined, it did not make any substantial difference
in the result.
Mary and Rhoda made their way through the mass of interested
spectators, not so many here as on the cooler side of the street.
Where was Lisa? That was the first, indeed the only question. How
had she come there? Where had she gone? There was a Babel of
confusion, but nothing like the uproar that would have been heard had
not part of the district's population fled to the more interesting
fire, and had not the whole thing been so quiet and so lightning-
quick in its progress. The whole scene now burst upon their view. A
few harassed policemen had stretched ropes across the street, and
were trying to keep back the rebellious ones in the crowd who ever
and anon would struggle under the line and have to be beaten back by
As Mary and Rhoda approached, a group on the outskirts cried out,
'Here she is! 'Tain't more 'n a minute sence they went to tell her!
Here she is now!'
The expected fire-brigade could hardly be called 'she,' Mary thought,
as she glanced over her shoulder. She could see no special reason
for any interest in her own movements. She took advantage of the
parting of the crowd, however, and as she made her way she heard, as
in a waking dream, disjointed sentences that had no meaning at first,
but being pieced together grew finally into an awful whole.
'Why didn't the factory girls bring 'em out? Didn't know they was
'Say, one of 'em was saved, warn't it?'
'Which one of 'em did she get down before the roof caught?'
'No, 'tain't no such thing; the manager's across the bay; she gave
the alarm herself.'
'She didn't know they was in there; I bet yer they'd run and hid, and
she was hunting 'em when she seen the smoke.'
'Yes, she did; she dropped the girl twin out of the second-story
window into Abe Isaac's arms, but she didn't know the boy was in the
building till just now, and they can't hardly hold her.'
'She's foolish, anyhow, ain't she?'
Mary staggered beyond Rhoda to the front of the crowd.
'Let me under the rope!' she cried, with a mother's very wail in her
tone--'let me under the rope, for God's sake! They're my children!'
At this moment she heard a stentorian voice call to some one, 'Wait a
minute till the firemen get here, and they'll go for him! Come back,
girl, d-n you! you shan't go!'
'Wait? No! NOT wait!' cried Lisa, tearing herself dexterously from
the policeman's clutches, and dashing like a whirlwind up the
tottering stairway before any one else could gather presence of mind
to seize and detain her.
Pacific was safe on the pavement, but she had only a moment before
been flung from those flaming windows, and her terrified shrieks rent
the air. The crowd gave a long-drawn groan, and mothers turned their
eyes away and shivered. Nobody followed Marm Lisa up that flaming
path of death and duty: it was no use flinging a good life after a
'Fool! crazy fool!' people ejaculated, with tears of reverence in
'Darling, splendid fool!' cried Mary. 'Fool worth all the wise ones
'He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it!' said a pious
Methodist cobbler with a patched boot under his arm.
In the eternity of waiting that was numbered really but in seconds, a
burly policeman beckoned four men and gave them a big old-fashioned
counterpane that some one had offered, telling them to stand ready
for whatever might happen.
'Come closer, boys,' said one of them, wetting his hat in a tub of
water; 'if we take a little scorchin' doin' this now, we may git it
cooler in the next world!'
'Amen! Trust the Lord!' said the cobbler; and just then Marm Lisa
appeared at one of the top windows with a child in her arms. No one
else could have recognised Atlantic in the smoke, but Rhoda and Mary
knew the round cropped head and the familiar blue gingham apron.
Lisa stood in the empty window-frame, a trembling figure on a
background of flame. Her post was not at the moment in absolute
danger. There was hope yet, though to the onlookers there seemed
'Throw him!' 'Drop him!' 'Le' go of him!' shouted the crowd.
'Hold your jaws, and let me do the talking!' roared the policeman.
'Stop your noise, if you don't want two dead children on your
consciences! Keep back, you brutes, keep back o' the rope, or I'll
It was not so much the officer's threats as simple, honest awe that
caused a sudden hush to fall. There were whisperings, sighs, tears,
murmurings, but all so subdued that it seemed like silence in the
midst of the fierce crackling of the flames.
'Drop him! We'll ketch him in the quilt!' called the policeman,
standing as near as he dared.
Lisa looked shudderingly at the desperate means of salvation so far
below, and, turning her face away as much as she could, unclasped her
arms despairingly, and Atlantic came swooping down from their
shelter, down, down into the counterpane; stunned, stifled, choked by
smoke, but uninjured, as Lisa knew by the cheers that greeted his
A tongue of fire curled round the corner of the building and ran up
to the roof towards another that was licking its way along the top of
'Jump now yourself!' called the policeman, while two more men
silently joined the four holding the corners of the quilt. Every eye
was fixed on the motionless figure of Marm Lisa, who had drawn her
shawl over her head, as if just conscious of nearer heat.
The wind changed, and blew the smoke away from her figure. The men
on the roof stopped work, not caring for the moment whether they
saved the tenement house or not, since a human life was hanging in
the balance. The intoxicated woman threw a beer-bottle into the
street, and her son ran up from the crowd and locked her safely in
her kitchen at the back of the house.
'Jump this minute, or you're a dead girl!' shouted the officer,
hoarse with emotion. 'God A'mighty, she ain't goin' to jump--she's
terror-struck! She'll burn right there before our eyes, when we
could climb up and drag her down if we had a long enough ladder!'
'They've found another ladder and are tying two together,' somebody
'The fire company's comin'! I hear 'em!' cried somebody else.
'They'll be too late,' moaned Rhoda, 'too late! Oh, Mary, make her
Lisa had felt no fear while she darted through smoke and over charred
floors in pursuit of Atlantic--no fear, nothing but joy when she
dragged him out from under bench and climbed to the window-sill with
him,--but now that he was saved she seemed paralysed. So still she
was, she might have been a carven statue save for the fluttering of
the garments about her thin childish legs. The distance to the
ground looked impassable, and she could not collect her thoughts for
the hissing of the flame as it ate up the floor in the room behind
her. Horrible as it was, she thought it would be easier to let it
steal behind her and wrap her in its burning embrace than to drop
from these dizzy heights down through that terrible distance, to hear
her own bones snap as she touched the quilt, and to see her own blood
staining the ground.
'She'll burn, sure,' said a man. 'Well, she's half-witted--that's
Mary started as if she were stung, and forced her way still nearer to
the window; hoping to gain a position where she could be more plainly
Everybody thought something was going to happen. Mary had dozens of
friends and more acquaintances in that motley assemblage, and they
somehow felt that there were dramatic possibilities in the situation.
Unless she could think of something, Marm Lisa's last chance was
gone: that was the sentiment of the crowd, and Mary agreed in it.
Her cape had long since dropped from her shoulders, her hat was
trampled under foot, the fair coil of hair had loosened and was
falling on her neck, and the steel fillet blazed in the firelight.
She stepped to the quilt and made a despairing movement to attract
'Li-sa!' she called, in that sweet, carrying woman's voice that goes
so much further than a man's.
The child started, and, pushing back the shawl, looked out from under
its cover, her head raised, her eyes brightening.
Mary chanced all on that one electrical moment of recognition, and,
with a mien half commanding and half appealing, she stretched out
both her arms and called again, while the crowd held its breath:
'Come to me, darling! Jump, little sister! NOW!'
Not one second did Marm Lisa hesitate. She would have sprung into
the fire at that dear mandate, and, closing her eyes, she leaped into
the air as the roof above her head fell in with a crash.
Just then the beating of hoofs and jangling of bells in the distance
announced the coming of the belated firemen; not so long belated
actually, for all the emotions, heart-beats, terrors, and despairs
that go to make up tragedy can be lived through m a few brief
In that sudden plunge from window to earth Marm Lisa seemed to die
consciously. The grey world, the sad world, vanished, 'and the
immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-
coloured,' beamed on her darkness. She kept on falling, falling,
falling, till she reached the abysmal depths of space--then she knew
no more: and Mary, though prone on the earth, kept falling, falling,
falling with her into so deep a swoon that she woke only to find
herself on a friendly bed, with Rhoda and Lisa herself, weeping over
At five o'clock, Mrs. Grubb, forcibly torn from a meeting and
acquainted with the afternoon's proceedings, hurried into a lower
room in the tenement house, where Mary, Rhoda, and the three children
were gathered for a time. There were still a hundred people in the
street, but they showed their respect by keeping four or five feet
away from the windows.
The twins sat on a sofa, more quiet than anything save death itself.
They had been rocked to the very centre of their being, and looked
like nothing so much as a couple of faded photographs of themselves.
Lisa lay on a cot, sleeping restlessly; Mary looked pale and wan, and
there were dark circles under her eyes.
As Mrs. Grubb opened the door softly, Mary rose to meet her.
'Have you heard all?' she asked.
'Yes, everything!' faltered Mrs. Grubb with quivering lips and
Mary turned towards Lisa's bed. 'Mrs. Grubb,' she said, looking
straight into that lady's clear, shallow eyes, 'I think Lisa has
earned her freedom, and the right to ask a Christmas gift of you.
Stand on the other side of the cot and put your hand in mine. I ask
you for the last time, will you give this unfinished, imperfect life
into my keeping, if I promise to be faithful to it unto the end,
whatever it may be?'
I suppose that every human creature, be he ever so paltry, has his
hour of effulgence, an hour when the mortal veil grows thin and the
divine image stands revealed, endowing him, for a brief space at
least with a kind of awful beauty and majesty.
It was Mistress Mary's hour. Her pure, unswerving spirit shone with
a white and steady radiance that illuminated Mrs. Grubb's soul to its
very depths, showing her in a flash the feeble flickerings and
waverings of her own trivial purposes. At that moment her eye was
fitted with a new lens, through which the road to the summit of the
Tehachapi Mountains and Mahatmadom suddenly looked long, weary, and