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  • 1896
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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 mind.

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 mine?’

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 conjured.

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 and nail.

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 danger!’

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 thing!’

‘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 earthworm!’

‘Rhoda!’

‘Yes’m!’

‘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 her!’

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 reason.

‘Lost! my twinnies, all lost and gone!’ she whispered brokenly, with long, shuddering sobs between the words. ‘I look–look–look; never, never find!’

‘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 quiet slumber.

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- ton.

I do not advertise in papers nor at residence. Ladies $1.50. Gents $2.
Yours truly,

MRS. PANSY SYLVESTER,
3 Eden Place near 4th,
Lower bell

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 rates.

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 cheery remark.

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 his existence.

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 slouched away.

‘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 subject.

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 the heart.

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 hearers spellbound.

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 overcometh.’

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 still there.

‘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 required.”‘

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 others.

‘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- sill!

‘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 there now!”

‘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 violent.”

‘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 truest.

‘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’;

or –

‘Under the holly, now,
Sing and be jolly, now,
Christmas has come and the children are glad’;

or –

‘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 to suspicion.

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 dove!

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?

“Pas Ewig-Weibliche
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.

‘YOUR SOLITARY.’

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 sentence.

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 do.’

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 force.

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 there?’

‘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 worthless one.

‘Fool! crazy fool!’ people ejaculated, with tears of reverence in their eyes.

‘Darling, splendid fool!’ cried Mary. ‘Fool worth all the wise ones among us!’

‘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 none.

‘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 club you!’

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 safe descent.

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 the window.

‘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 said.

‘The fire company’s comin’! I hear ’em!’ cried somebody else.

‘They’ll be too late,’ moaned Rhoda, ‘too late! Oh, Mary, make her jump!’

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 one comfort!’

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 seen.

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 Lisa’s attention.

‘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 moments.

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 her.

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 downcast eyelids.

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