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  • 1899
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wide-eyed and mute at a horrible something that lay across the bed. Outside the long sweet march music of many bands floated in as if in mockery, and the flash of rockets and Bengal lights illumined the dead, white face of the girl troubadour.

LITTLE MISS SOPHIE

When Miss Sophie knew consciousness again, the long, faint, swelling notes of the organ were dying away in distant echoes through the great arches of the silent church, and she was alone, crouching in a little, forsaken black heap at the altar of the Virgin. The twinkling tapers shone pityingly upon her, the beneficent smile of the white-robed Madonna seemed to whisper comfort. A long gust of chill air swept up the aisles, and Miss Sophie shivered not from cold, but from nervousness.

But darkness was falling, and soon the lights would be lowered, and the great massive doors would be closed; so, gathering her thin little cape about her frail shoulders, Miss Sophie hurried out, and along the brilliant noisy streets home.

It was a wretched, lonely little room, where the cracks let the boisterous wind whistle through, and the smoky, grimy walls looked cheerless and unhomelike. A miserable little room in a miserable little cottage in one of the squalid streets of the Third District that nature and the city fathers seemed to have forgotten.

As bare and comfortless as the room was Miss Sophie’s life. She rented these four walls from an unkempt little Creole woman, whose progeny seemed like the promised offspring of Abraham. She scarcely kept the flickering life in her pale little body by the unceasing toil of a pair of bony hands, stitching, stitching, ceaselessly, wearingly, on the bands and pockets of trousers. It was her bread, this monotonous, unending work; and though whole days and nights constant labour brought but the most meagre recompense, it was her only hope of life.

She sat before the little charcoal brazier and warmed her transparent, needle-pricked fingers, thinking meanwhile of the strange events of the day. She had been up town to carry the great, black bundle of coarse pants and vests to the factory and to receive her small pittance, and on the way home stopped in at the Jesuit Church to say her little prayer at the altar of the calm white Virgin. There had been a wondrous burst of music from the great organ as she knelt there, an overpowering perfume of many flowers, the glittering dazzle of many lights, and the dainty frou-frou made by the silken skirts of wedding guests. So Miss Sophie stayed to the wedding; for what feminine heart, be it ever so old and seared, does not delight in one? And why should not a poor little Creole old maid be interested too?

Then the wedding party had filed in solemnly, to the rolling, swelling tones of the organ. Important-looking groomsmen; dainty, fluffy, white-robed maids; stately, satin-robed, illusion-veiled bride, and happy groom. She leaned forward to catch a better glimpse of their faces. “Ah!”–

Those near the Virgin’s altar who heard a faint sigh and rustle on the steps glanced curiously as they saw a slight black-robed figure clutch the railing and lean her head against it. Miss Sophie had fainted.

“I must have been hungry,” she mused over the charcoal fire in her little room, “I must have been hungry;” and she smiled a wan smile, and busied herself getting her evening meal of coffee and bread and ham.

If one were given to pity, the first thought that would rush to one’s lips at sight of Miss Sophie would have been, “Poor little woman!” She had come among the bareness and sordidness of this neighbourhood five years ago, robed in crape, and crying with great sobs that seemed to shake the vitality out of her. Perfectly silent, too, she was about her former life; but for all that, Michel, the quartee grocer at the corner, and Madame Laurent, who kept the rabbe shop opposite, had fixed it all up between them, of her sad history and past glories. Not that they knew; but then Michel must invent something when the neighbours came to him as their fountain-head of wisdom.

One morning little Miss Sophie opened wide her dingy windows to catch the early freshness of the autumn wind as it whistled through the yellow-leafed trees. It was one of those calm, blue-misted, balmy, November days that New Orleans can have when all the rest of the country is fur-wrapped. Miss Sophie pulled her machine to the window, where the sweet, damp wind could whisk among her black locks.

Whirr, whirr, went the machine, ticking fast and lightly over the belts of the rough jeans pants. Whirr, whirr, yes, and Miss Sophie was actually humming a tune! She felt strangely light to-day.

“Ma foi,” muttered Michel, strolling across the street to where Madame Laurent sat sewing behind the counter on blue and brown-checked aprons, “but the little ma’amselle sings. Perhaps she recollects.”

“Perhaps,” muttered the rabbe woman.

But little Miss Sophie felt restless. A strange impulse seemed drawing her up town, and the machine seemed to run slow, slow, before it would stitch all of the endless number of jeans belts. Her fingers trembled with nervous haste as she pinned up the unwieldy black bundle of finished work, and her feet fairly tripped over each other in their eagerness to get to Claiborne Street, where she could board the up-town car. There was a feverish desire to go somewhere, a sense of elation, a foolish happiness that brought a faint echo of colour into her pinched cheeks. She wondered why.

No one noticed her in the car. Passengers on the Claiborne line are too much accustomed to frail little black-robed women with big, black bundles; it is one of the city’s most pitiful sights. She leaned her head out of the window to catch a glimpse of the oleanders on Bayou Road, when her attention was caught by a conversation in the car.

“Yes, it’s too bad for Neale, and lately married too,” said the elder man. “I can’t see what he is to do.”

Neale! She pricked up her ears. That was the name of the groom in the Jesuit Church.

“How did it happen?” languidly inquired the younger. He was a stranger, evidently; a stranger with a high regard for the faultlessness of male attire.

“Well, the firm failed first; he didn’t mind that much, he was so sure of his uncle’s inheritance repairing his lost fortunes; but suddenly this difficulty of identification springs up, and he is literally on the verge of ruin.”

“Won’t some of you fellows who’ve known him all your lives do to identify him?”

“Gracious man, we’ve tried; but the absurd old will expressly stipulates that he shall be known only by a certain quaint Roman ring, and unless he has it, no identification, no fortune. He has given the ring away, and that settles it.”

“Well, you ‘re all chumps. Why doesn’t he get the ring from the owner?”

“Easily said; but–it seems that Neale had some little Creole love-affair some years ago, and gave this ring to his dusky-eyed fiancee. You know how Neale is with his love-affairs, went off and forgot the girl in a month. It seems, however, she took it to heart,–so much so that he’s ashamed to try to find her or the ring.”

Miss Sophie heard no more as she gazed out into the dusty grass. There were tears in her eyes, hot blinding ones that wouldn’t drop for pride, but stayed and scalded. She knew the story, with all its embellishment of heartaches. She knew the ring, too. She remembered the day she had kissed and wept and fondled it, until it seemed her heart must burst under its load of grief before she took it to the pawn-broker’s that another might be eased before the end came,–that other her father. The little “Creole love affair” of Neale’s had not always been poor and old and jaded-looking; but reverses must come, even Neale knew that, so the ring was at the Mont de Piete. Still he must have it, it was his; it would save him from disgrace and suffering and from bringing the white-gowned bride into sorrow. He must have it; but how?

There it was still at the pawn-broker’s; no one would have such an odd jewel, and the ticket was home in the bureau drawer. Well, he must have it; she might starve in the attempt. Such a thing as going to him and telling him that he might redeem it was an impossibility. That good, straight-backed, stiff-necked Creole blood would have risen in all its strength and choked her. No; as a present had the quaint Roman circlet been placed upon her finger, as a present should it be returned.

The bumping car rode slowly, and the hot thoughts beat heavily in her poor little head. He must have the ring; but how–the ring–the Roman ring–the white-robed bride starving–she was going mad–ah yes–the church.

There it was, right in the busiest, most bustling part of the town, its fresco and bronze and iron quaintly suggestive of mediaeval times. Within, all was cool and dim and restful, with the faintest whiff of lingering incense rising and pervading the gray arches. Yes, the Virgin would know and have pity; the sweet, white-robed Virgin at the pretty flower-decked altar, or the one away up in the niche, far above the golden dome where the Host was. Titiche, the busybody of the house, noticed that Miss Sophie’s bundle was larger than usual that afternoon. “Ah, poor woman!” sighed Titiche’s mother, “she would be rich for Christmas.”

The bundle grew larger each day, and Miss Sophie grew smaller. The damp, cold rain and mist closed the white-curtained window, but always there behind the sewing-machine drooped and bobbed the little black-robed figure. Whirr, whirr went the wheels, and the coarse jeans pants piled in great heaps at her side. The Claiborne Street car saw her oftener than before, and the sweet white Virgin in the flowered niche above the gold-domed altar smiled at the little supplicant almost every day.

“Ma foi,” said the slatternly landlady to Madame Laurent and Michel one day, “I no see how she live! Eat? Nothin’, nothin’, almos’, and las’ night when it was so cold and foggy, eh? I hav’ to mek him build fire. She mos’ freeze.”

Whereupon the rumour spread that Miss Sophie was starving herself to death to get some luckless relative out of jail for Christmas; a rumour which enveloped her scraggy little figure with a kind of halo to the neighbours when she appeared on the streets.

November had merged into December, and the little pile of coins was yet far from the sum needed. Dear God! how the money did have to go! The rent and the groceries and the coal, though, to be sure, she used a precious bit of that. Would all the work and saving and skimping do good? Maybe, yes, maybe by Christmas.

Christmas Eve on Royal Street is no place for a weakling, for the shouts and carousels of the roisterers will strike fear into the bravest ones. Yet amid the cries and yells, the deafening blow of horns and tin whistles, and the really dangerous fusillade of fireworks, a little figure hurried along, one hand clutching tightly the battered hat that the rude merry-makers had torn off, the other grasping under the thin black cape a worn little pocketbook.

Into the Mont de Piete she ran breathless, eager. The ticket? Here, worn, crumpled. The ring? It was not gone? No, thank Heaven! It was a joy well worth her toil, she thought, to have it again.

Had Titiche not been shooting crackers on the banquette instead of peering into the crack, as was his wont, his big, round black eyes would have grown saucer-wide to see little Miss Sophie kiss and fondle a ring, an ugly clumsy band of gold.

“Ah, dear ring,” she murmured, “once you were his, and you shall be his again. You shall be on his finger, and perhaps touch his heart. Dear ring, ma chere petite de ma coeur, cherie de ma coeur. Je t’aime, je t’aime, oui, oui. You are his; you were mine once too. To-night, just one night, I’ll keep you–then–to-morrow, you shall go where you can save him.”

The loud whistles and horns of the little ones rose on the balmy air next morning. No one would doubt it was Christmas Day, even if doors and windows were open wide to let in cool air. Why, there was Christmas even in the very look of the mules on the poky cars; there was Christmas noise in the streets, and Christmas toys and Christmas odours, savoury ones that made the nose wrinkle approvingly, issuing from the kitchen. Michel and Madame Laurent smiled greetings across the street at each other, and the salutation from a passer-by recalled the many-progenied landlady to herself.

“Miss Sophie, well, po’ soul, not ver’ much Chris’mas for her. Mais, I’ll jus’ call him in fo’ to spen’ the day with me. Eet’ll cheer her a bit.”

It was so clean and orderly within the poor little room. Not a speck of dust or a litter of any kind on the quaint little old-time high bureau, unless you might except a sheet of paper lying loose with something written on it. Titiche had evidently inherited his prying propensities, for the landlady turned it over and read,–

LOUIS,–Here is the ring. I return it to you. I heard you needed it. I hope it comes not too late. SOPHIE.

“The ring, where?” muttered the landlady. There it was, clasped between her fingers on her bosom,–a bosom white and cold, under a cold happy face. Christmas had indeed dawned for Miss Sophie.

SISTER JOSEPHA

Sister Josepha told her beads mechanically, her fingers numb with the accustomed exercise. The little organ creaked a dismal “O Salutaris,” and she still knelt on the floor, her white-bonneted head nodding suspiciously. The Mother Superior gave a sharp glance at the tired figure; then, as a sudden lurch forward brought the little sister back to consciousness, Mother’s eyes relaxed into a genuine smile.

The bell tolled the end of vespers, and the sombre-robed nuns filed out of the chapel to go about their evening duties. Little Sister Josepha’s work was to attend to the household lamps, but there must have been as much oil spilled upon the table to-night as was put in the vessels. The small brown hands trembled so that most of the wicks were trimmed with points at one corner which caused them to smoke that night.

“Oh, cher Seigneur,” she sighed, giving an impatient polish to a refractory chimney, “it is wicked and sinful, I know, but I am so tired. I can’t be happy and sing any more. It doesn’t seem right for le bon Dieu to have me all cooped up here with nothing to see but stray visitors, and always the same old work, teaching those mean little girls to sew, and washing and filling the same old lamps. Pah!” And she polished the chimney with a sudden vigorous jerk which threatened destruction.

They were rebellious prayers that the red mouth murmured that night, and a restless figure that tossed on the hard dormitory bed. Sister Dominica called from her couch to know if Sister Josepha were ill.

“No,” was the somewhat short response; then a muttered, “Why can’t they let me alone for a minute? That pale-eyed Sister Dominica never sleeps; that’s why she is so ugly.”

About fifteen years before this night some one had brought to the orphan asylum connected with this convent, du Sacre Coeur, a round, dimpled bit of three-year-old humanity, who regarded the world from a pair of gravely twinkling black eyes, and only took a chubby thumb out of a rosy mouth long enough to answer in monosyllabic French. It was a child without an identity; there was but one name that any one seemed to know, and that, too, was vague,–Camille.

She grew up with the rest of the waifs; scraps of French and American civilization thrown together to develop a seemingly inconsistent miniature world. Mademoiselle Camille was a queen among them, a pretty little tyrant who ruled the children and dominated the more timid sisters in charge.

One day an awakening came. When she was fifteen, and almost fully ripened into a glorious tropical beauty of the type that matures early, some visitors to the convent were fascinated by her and asked the Mother Superior to give the girl into their keeping.

Camille fled like a frightened fawn into the yard, and was only unearthed with some difficulty from behind a group of palms. Sulky and pouting, she was led into the parlour, picking at her blue pinafore like a spoiled infant.

“The lady and gentleman wish you to go home with them, Camille,” said the Mother Superior, in the language of the convent. Her voice was kind and gentle apparently; but the child, accustomed to its various inflections, detected a steely ring behind its softness, like the proverbial iron hand in the velvet glove.

“You must understand, madame,” continued Mother, in stilted English, “that we never force children from us. We are ever glad to place them in comfortable–how you say that?–quarters –maisons–homes–bien! But we will not make them go if they do not wish.”

Camille stole a glance at her would-be guardians, and decided instantly, impulsively, finally. The woman suited her; but the man! It was doubtless intuition of the quick, vivacious sort which belonged to her blood that served her. Untutored in worldly knowledge, she could not divine the meaning of the pronounced leers and admiration of her physical charms which gleamed in the man’s face, but she knew it made her feel creepy, and stoutly refused to go. Next day Camille was summoned from a task to the Mother Superior’s parlour. The other girls gazed with envy upon her as she dashed down the courtyard with impetuous movement. Camille, they decided crossly, received too much notice. It was Camille this, Camille that; she was pretty, it was to be expected. Even Father Ray lingered longer in his blessing when his hands pressed her silky black hair.

As she entered the parlour, a strange chill swept over the girl. The room was not an unaccustomed one, for she had swept it many times, but to-day the stiff black chairs, the dismal crucifixes, the gleaming whiteness of the walls, even the cheap lithograph of the Madonna which Camille had always regarded as a perfect specimen of art, seemed cold and mean.

“Camille, ma chere,” said Mother, “I am extremely displeased with you. Why did you not wish to go with Monsieur and Madame Lafaye yesterday?”

The girl uncrossed her hands from her bosom, and spread them out in a deprecating gesture.

“Mais, ma mere, I was afraid.”

Mother’s face grew stern. “No foolishness now,” she exclaimed.

“It is not foolishness, ma mere; I could not help it, but that man looked at me so funny, I felt all cold chills down my back. Oh, dear Mother, I love the convent and the sisters so, I just want to stay and be a sister too, may I?”

And thus it was that Camille took the white veil at sixteen years. Now that the period of novitiate was over, it was just beginning to dawn upon her that she had made a mistake.

“Maybe it would have been better had I gone with the funny-looking lady and gentleman,” she mused bitterly one night. “Oh, Seigneur, I ‘m so tired and impatient; it’s so dull here, and, dear God, I’m so young.”

There was no help for it. One must arise in the morning, and help in the refectory with the stupid Sister Francesca, and go about one’s duties with a prayerful mien, and not even let a sigh escape when one’s head ached with the eternal telling of beads.

A great fete day was coming, and an atmosphere of preparation and mild excitement pervaded the brown walls of the convent like a delicate aroma. The old Cathedral around the corner had stood a hundred years, and all the city was rising to do honour to its age and time-softened beauty. There would be a service, oh, but such a one! with two Cardinals, and Archbishops and Bishops, and all the accompanying glitter of soldiers and orchestras. The little sisters of the Convent du Sacre Coeur clasped their hands in anticipation of the holy joy. Sister Josepha curled her lip, she was so tired of churchly pleasures.

The day came, a gold and blue spring day, when the air hung heavy with the scent of roses and magnolias, and the sunbeams fairly laughed as they kissed the houses. The old Cathedral stood gray and solemn, and the flowers in Jackson Square smiled cheery birthday greetings across the way. The crowd around the door surged and pressed and pushed in its eagerness to get within. Ribbons stretched across the banquette were of no avail to repress it, and important ushers with cardinal colours could do little more.

The Sacred Heart sisters filed slowly in at the side door, creating a momentary flutter as they paced reverently to their seats, guarding the blue-bonneted orphans. Sister Josepha, determined to see as much of the world as she could, kept her big black eyes opened wide, as the church rapidly filled with the fashionably dressed, perfumed, rustling, and self-conscious throng.

Her heart beat quickly. The rebellious thoughts that will arise in the most philosophical of us surged in her small heavily gowned bosom. For her were the gray things, the neutral tinted skies, the ugly garb, the coarse meats; for them the rainbow, the ethereal airiness of earthly joys, the bonbons and glaces of the world. Sister Josepha did not know that the rainbow is elusive, and its colours but the illumination of tears; she had never been told that earthly ethereality is necessarily ephemeral, nor that bonbons and glaces, whether of the palate or of the soul, nauseate and pall upon the taste. Dear God, forgive her, for she bent with contrite tears over her worn rosary, and glanced no more at the worldly glitter of femininity.

The sunbeams streamed through the high windows in purple and crimson lights upon a veritable fugue of colour. Within the seats, crush upon crush of spring millinery; within the aisles erect lines of gold-braided, gold-buttoned military. Upon the altar, broad sweeps of golden robes, great dashes of crimson skirts, mitres and gleaming crosses, the soft neutral hue of rich lace vestments; the tender heads of childhood in picturesque attire; the proud, golden magnificence of the domed altar with its weighting mass of lilies and wide-eyed roses, and the long candles that sparkled their yellow star points above the reverent throng within the altar rails.

The soft baritone of the Cardinal intoned a single phrase in the suspended silence. The censer took up the note in its delicate clink clink, as it swung to and fro in the hands of a fair-haired child. Then the organ, pausing an instant in a deep, mellow, long-drawn note, burst suddenly into a magnificent strain, and the choir sang forth, “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison.” One voice, flute-like, piercing, sweet, rang high over the rest. Sister Josepha heard and trembled, as she buried her face in her hands, and let her tears fall, like other beads, through her rosary.

It was when the final word of the service had been intoned, the last peal of the exit march had died away, that she looked up meekly, to encounter a pair of youthful brown eyes gazing pityingly upon her. That was all she remembered for a moment, that the eyes were youthful and handsome and tender. Later, she saw that they were placed in a rather beautiful boyish face, surmounted by waves of brown hair, curling and soft, and that the head was set on a pair of shoulders decked in military uniform. Then the brown eyes marched away with the rest of the rear guard, and the white-bonneted sisters filed out the side door, through the narrow court, back into the brown convent.

That night Sister Josepha tossed more than usual on her hard bed, and clasped her fingers often in prayer to quell the wickedness in her heart. Turn where she would, pray as she might, there was ever a pair of tender, pitying brown eyes, haunting her persistently. The squeaky organ at vespers intoned the clank of military accoutrements to her ears, the white bonnets of the sisters about her faded into mists of curling brown hair. Briefly, Sister Josepha was in love.

The days went on pretty much as before, save for the one little heart that beat rebelliously now and then, though it tried so hard to be submissive. There was the morning work in the refectory, the stupid little girls to teach sewing, and the insatiable lamps that were so greedy for oil. And always the tender, boyish brown eyes, that looked so sorrowfully at the fragile, beautiful little sister, haunting, following, pleading.

Perchance, had Sister Josepha been in the world, the eyes would have been an incident. But in this home of self-repression and retrospection, it was a life-story. The eyes had gone their way, doubtless forgetting the little sister they pitied; but the little sister?

The days glided into weeks, the weeks into months. Thoughts of escape had come to Sister Josepha, to flee into the world, to merge in the great city where recognition was impossible, and, working her way like the rest of humanity, perchance encounter the eyes again.

It was all planned and ready. She would wait until some morning when the little band of black-robed sisters wended their way to mass at the Cathedral. When it was time to file out the side-door into the courtway, she would linger at prayers, then slip out another door, and unseen glide up Chartres Street to Canal, and once there, mingle in the throng that filled the wide thoroughfare. Beyond this first plan she could think no further.

Penniless, garbed, and shaven though she would be, other difficulties never presented themselves to her. She would rely on the mercies of the world to help her escape from this torturing life of inertia. It seemed easy now that the first step of decision had been taken.

The Saturday night before the final day had come, and she lay feverishly nervous in her narrow little bed, wondering with wide-eyed fear at the morrow. Pale-eyed Sister Dominica and Sister Francesca were whispering together in the dark silence, and Sister Josepha’s ears pricked up as she heard her name.

“She is not well, poor child,” said Francesca. “I fear the life is too confining.”

“It is best for her,” was the reply. “You know, sister, how hard it would be for her in the world, with no name but Camille, no friends, and her beauty; and then–“

Sister Josepha heard no more, for her heart beating tumultuously in her bosom drowned the rest. Like the rush of the bitter salt tide over a drowning man clinging to a spar, came the complete submerging of her hopes of another life. No name but Camille, that was true; no nationality, for she could never tell from whom or whence she came; no friends, and a beauty that not even an ungainly bonnet and shaven head could hide. In a flash she realised the deception of the life she would lead, and the cruel self-torture of wonder at her own identity. Already, as if in anticipation of the world’s questionings, she was asking herself, “Who am I? What am I?”

The next morning the sisters du Sacre Coeur filed into the Cathedral at High Mass, and bent devout knees at the general confession. “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,” murmured the priest; and tremblingly one little sister followed the words, “Je confesse a Dieu, tout puissant–que j’ai beaucoup peche par pensees–c’est ma faute–c’est ma faute–c’est ma tres grande faute.”

The organ pealed forth as mass ended, the throng slowly filed out, and the sisters paced through the courtway back into the brown convent walls. One paused at the entrance, and gazed with swift longing eyes in the direction of narrow, squalid Chartres Street, then, with a gulping sob, followed the rest, and vanished behind the heavy door.

THE PRALINE WOMAN

The praline woman sits by the side of the Archbishop’s quaint little old chapel on Royal Street, and slowly waves her latanier fan over the pink and brown wares.

“Pralines, pralines. Ah, ma’amzelle, you buy? S’il vous plait, ma’amzelle, ces pralines, dey be fine, ver’ fresh.

“Mais non, maman, you are not sure?

“Sho’, chile, ma bebe, ma petite, she put dese up hissef. He’s hans’ so small, ma’amzelle, lak you’s, mais brune. She put dese up dis morn’. You tak’ none? No husban’ fo’ you den!

“Ah, ma petite, you tak’? Cinq sous, bebe, may le bon Dieu keep you good!

“Mais oui, madame, I know you etranger. You don’ look lak dese New Orleans peop’. You lak’ dose Yankee dat come down ‘fo’ de war.”

Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, chimes the Cathedral bell across Jack- son Square, and the praline woman crosses herself.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace–

“Pralines, madame? You buy lak’ dat? Dix sous, madame, an’ one lil’ piece fo’ lagniappe fo’ madame’s lil’ bebe. Ah, c’est bon!

“Pralines, pralines, so fresh, so fine! M’sieu would lak’ some fo’ he’s lil’ gal’ at home? Mais non, what’s dat you say? She’s daid! Ah, m’sieu, ’tis my lil’ gal what died long year ago. Misere, misere!

“Here come dat lazy Indien squaw. What she good fo’, anyhow? She jes’ sit lak dat in de French Market an’ sell her file, an’ sleep, sleep, sleep, lak’ so in he’s blanket. Hey, dere, you, Tonita, how goes you’ beezness?

“Pralines, pralines! Holy Father, you give me dat blessin’ sho’? Tak’ one, I know you lak dat w’ite one. It tas’ good, I know, bien.

“Pralines, madame? I lak’ you’ face. What fo’ you wear black? You’ lil’ boy daid? You tak’ one, jes’ see how it tas’. I had one lil’ boy once, he jes’ grow ‘twell he’s big lak’ dis, den one day he tak’ sick an’ die. Oh, madame, it mos’ brek my po’ heart. I burn candle in St. Rocque, I say my beads, I sprinkle holy water roun’ he’s bed; he jes’ lay so, he’s eyes turn up, he say ‘Maman, maman,’ den he die! Madame, you tak’ one. Non, non, no l’argent, you tak’ one fo’ my lil’ boy’s sake.

“Pralines, pralines, m’sieu? Who mak’ dese? My lil’ gal, Didele, of co’se. Non, non, I don’t mak’ no mo’. Po’ Tante Marie get too ol’. Didele? She’s one lil’ gal I ‘dopt. I see her one day in de strit. He walk so; hit col’ she shiver, an’ I say, ‘Where you gone, lil’ gal?’ and he can’ tell. He jes’ crip close to me, an’ cry so! Den I tak’ her home wid me, and she say he’s name Didele. You see dey wa’nt nobody dere. My lil’ gal, she’s daid of de yellow fever; my lil’ boy, he’s daid, po’ Tante Marie all alone. Didele, she grow fine, she keep house an’ mek’ pralines. Den, when night come, she sit wid he’s guitar an’ sing,

“‘Tu l’aime ces trois jours,
Tu l’aime ces trois jours,
Ma coeur a toi,
Ma coeur a toi,
Tu l’aime ces trois jours!’

“Ah, he’s fine gal, is Didele!

“Pralines, pralines! Dat lil’ cloud, h’it look lak’ rain, I hope no.

“Here come dat lazy I’ishman down de strit. I don’t lak’ I’ishman, me, non, dey so funny. One day one I’ishman, he say to me, ‘Auntie, what fo’ you talk so?’ and I jes’ say back, ‘What fo’ you say “Faith an’ be jabers”?’ Non, I don’ lak I’ishman, me!

“Here come de rain! Now I got fo’ to go. Didele, she be wait fo’ me. Down h’it come! H’it fall in de Meesseesip, an’ fill up–up–so, clean to de levee, den we have big crivasse, an’ po’ Tante Marie float away. Bon jour, madame, you come again? Pralines! Pralines!”

ODALIE

Now and then Carnival time comes at the time of the good Saint Valentine, and then sometimes it comes as late as the warm days in March, when spring is indeed upon us, and the greenness of the grass outvies the green in the royal standards.

Days and days before the Carnival proper, New Orleans begins to take on a festive appearance. Here and there the royal flags with their glowing greens and violets and yellows appear, and then, as if by magic, the streets and buildings flame and burst like poppies out of bud, into a glorious refulgence of colour that steeps the senses into a languorous acceptance of warmth and beauty.

On Mardi Gras day, as you know, it is a town gone mad with folly. A huge masked ball emptied into the streets at daylight; a meeting of all nations on common ground, a pot-pourri of every conceivable human ingredient, but faintly describes it all. There are music and flowers, cries and laughter and song and joyousness, and never an aching heart to show its sorrow or dim the happiness of the streets. A wondrous thing, this Carnival!

But the old cronies down in Frenchtown, who know everything, and can recite you many a story, tell of one sad heart on Mardi Gras years ago. It was a woman’s, of course; for “Il est toujours les femmes qui sont malheureuses,” says an old proverb, and perhaps it is right. This woman–a child, she would be called elsewhere, save in this land of tropical growth and precocity–lost her heart to one who never knew, a very common story, by the way, but one which would have been quite distasteful to the haughty judge, her father, had he known.

Odalie was beautiful. Odalie was haughty too, but gracious enough to those who pleased her dainty fancy. In the old French house on Royal Street, with its quaint windows and Spanish courtyard green and cool, and made musical by the plashing of the fountain and the trill of caged birds, lived Odalie in convent-like seclusion. Monsieur le Juge was determined no hawk should break through the cage and steal his dove; and so, though there was no mother, a stern duenna aunt kept faithful watch.

Alas for the precautions of la Tante! Bright eyes that search for other bright eyes in which lurks the spirit of youth and mischief are ever on the look-out, even in church. Dutifully was Odalie marched to the Cathedral every Sunday to mass, and Tante Louise, nodding devoutly over her beads, could not see the blushes and glances full of meaning, a whole code of signals as it were, that passed between Odalie and Pierre, the impecunious young clerk in the courtroom.

Odalie loved, perhaps, because there was not much else to do. When one is shut up in a great French house with a grim sleepy tante and no companions of one’s own age, life becomes a dull thing, and one is ready for any new sensation, particularly if in the veins there bounds the tempestuous Spanish-French blood that Monsieur le Juge boasted of. So Odalie hugged the image of her Pierre during the week days, and played tremulous little love-songs to it in the twilight when la Tante dozed over her devotion book, and on Sundays at mass there were glances and blushes, and mayhap, at some especially remembered time, the touch of finger-tips at the holy-water font, while la Tante dropped her last genuflexion.

Then came the Carnival time, and one little heart beat faster, as the gray house on Royal Street hung out its many-hued flags, and draped its grim front with glowing colours. It was to be a time of joy and relaxation, when every one could go abroad, and in the crowds one could speak to whom one chose. Unconscious plans formulated, and the petite Odalie was quite happy as the time drew near.

“Only think, Tante Louise,” she would cry, “what a happy time it is to be!”

But Tante Louise only grumbled, as was her wont.

It was Mardi Gras day at last, and early through her window Odalie could hear the jingle of folly bells on the maskers’ costumes, the tinkle of music, and the echoing strains of songs. Up to her ears there floated the laughter of the older maskers, and the screams of the little children frightened at their own images under the mask and domino. What a hurry to be out and in the motley merry throng, to be pacing Royal Street to Canal Street, where was life and the world!

They were tired eyes with which Odalie looked at the gay pageant at last, tired with watching throng after throng of maskers, of the unmasked, of peering into the cartsful of singing minstrels, into carriages of revellers, hoping for a glimpse of Pierre the devout. The allegorical carts rumbling by with their important red-clothed horses were beginning to lose charm, the disguises showed tawdry, even the gay-hued flags fluttered sadly to Odalie.

Mardi Gras was a tiresome day, after all, she sighed, and Tante Louise agreed with her for once.

Six o’clock had come, the hour when all masks must be removed. The long red rays of the setting sun glinted athwart the many-hued costumes of the revellers trooping unmasked homeward to rest for the night’s last mad frolic.

Down Toulouse Street there came the merriest throng of all. Young men and women in dainty, fairy-like garb, dancers, and dresses of the picturesque Empire, a butterfly or two and a dame here and there with powdered hair and graces of olden time. Singing with unmasked faces, they danced toward Tante Louise and Odalie. She stood with eyes lustrous and tear-heavy, for there in the front was Pierre, Pierre the faithless, his arms about the slender waist of a butterfly, whose tinselled powdered hair floated across the lace ruffles of his Empire coat.

“Pierre!” cried Odalie, softly. No one heard, for it was a mere faint breath and fell unheeded. Instead the laughing throng pelted her with flowers and candy and went their way, and even Pierre did not see.

You see, when one is shut up in the grim walls of a Royal Street house, with no one but a Tante Louise and a grim judge, how is one to learn that in this world there are faithless ones who may glance tenderly into one’s eyes at mass and pass the holy water on caressing fingers without being madly in love? There was no one to tell Odalie, so she sat at home in the dull first days of Lent, and nursed her dear dead love, and mourned as women have done from time immemorial over the faithlessness of man. And when one day she asked that she might go back to the Ursulines’ convent where her childish days were spent, only to go this time as a nun, Monsieur le Juge and Tante Louise thought it quite the proper and convenient thing to do; for how were they to know the secret of that Mardi Gras day?

LA JUANITA

If you never lived in Mandeville, you cannot appreciate the thrill of wholesome, satisfied joy which sweeps over its inhabitants every evening at five o’clock. It is the hour for the arrival of the “New Camelia,” the happening of the day. As early as four o’clock the trailing smoke across the horizon of the treacherous Lake Pontchartrain appears, and Mandeville knows then that the hour for its siesta has passed, and that it must array itself in its coolest and fluffiest garments, and go down to the pier to meet this sole connection between itself and the outside world; the little, puffy, side-wheel steamer that comes daily from New Orleans and brings the mail and the news.

On this particular day there was an air of suppressed excitement about the little knot of people which gathered on the pier. To be sure, there were no outward signs to show that anything unusual had occurred. The small folks danced with the same glee over the worn boards, and peered down with daring excitement into the perilous depths of the water below. The sun, fast sinking in a gorgeous glow behind the pines of the Tchefuncta region far away, danced his mischievous rays in much the same manner that he did every other day. But there was a something in the air, a something not tangible, but mysterious, subtle. You could catch an indescribable whiff of it in your inner senses, by the half-eager, furtive glances that the small crowd cast at La Juanita.

“Gar, gar, le bateau!” said one dark-tressed mother to the wide-eyed baby. “Et, oui,” she added, in an undertone to her companion. “Voila, La Juanita!”

La Juanita, you must know, was the pride of Mandeville, the adored, the admired of all, with her petite, half-Spanish, half-French beauty. Whether rocking in the shade of the Cherokee-rose-covered gallery of Grandpere Colomes’ big house, her fair face bonnet-shaded, her dainty hands gloved to keep the sun from too close an acquaintance, or splashing the spray from the bow of her little pirogue, or fluffing her skirts about her tiny feet on the pier, she was the pet and ward of Mandeville, as it were, La Juanita Alvarez, since Madame Alvarez was a widow, and Grandpere Colomes was strict and stern.

And now La Juanita had set her small foot down with a passionate stamp before Grandpere Colomes’ very face, and tossed her black curls about her wilful head, and said she would go to the pier this evening to meet her Mercer. All Mandeville knew this, and cast its furtive glances alternately at La Juanita with two big pink spots in her cheeks, and at the entrance to the pier, expecting Grandpere Colomes and a scene.

The sun cast red glows and violet shadows over the pier, and the pines murmured a soft little vesper hymn among themselves up on the beach, as the “New Camelia” swung herself in, crabby, sidewise, like a fat old gentleman going into a small door. There was the clang of an important bell, the scream of a hoarse little whistle, and Mandeville rushed to the gang-plank to welcome the outside world. Juanita put her hand through a waiting arm, and tripped away with her Mercer, big and blond and brawny. “Un Americain, pah!” said the little mother of the black eyes. And Mandeville sighed sadly, and shook its head, and was sorry for Grandpere Colomes.

This was Saturday, and the big regatta would be Monday. Ah, that regatta, such a one as Mandeville had never seen! There were to be boats from Madisonville and Amite, from Lewisburg and Covington, and even far-away Nott’s Point. There was to be a Class A and Class B and Class C, and the little French girls of the town flaunted their ribbons down the one oak-shaded, lake-kissed street, and dared anyone to say theirs were not the favourite colours.

In Class A was entered, “La Juanita,’ captain Mercer Grangeman, colours pink and gold.” Her name, her colours; what impudence!

Of course, not being a Mandevillian, you could not understand the shame of Grandpere Colomes at this. Was it not bad enough for his petite Juanita, his Spanish blossom, his hope of a family that had held itself proudly aloof from “dose Americain” from time immemorial, to have smiled upon this Mercer, this pale-eyed youth? Was it not bad enough for her to demean herself by walking upon the pier with him? But for a boat, his boat, “un bateau Americain,” to be named La Juanita! Oh, the shame of it! Grandpere Colomes prayed a devout prayer to the Virgin that “La Juanita” should be capsized.

Monday came, clear and blue and stifling. The waves of hot air danced on the sands and adown the one street merrily. Glassily calm lay the Pontchartrain, heavily still hung the atmosphere. Madame Alvarez cast an inquiring glance toward the sky. Grandpere Colomes chuckled. He had not lived on the shores of the treacherous Lake Pontchartrain for nothing. He knew its every mood, its petulances and passions; he knew this glassy warmth and what it meant. Chuckling again and again, he stepped to the gallery and looked out over the lake, and at the pier, where lay the boats rocking and idly tugging at their moorings. La Juanita in her rose-scented room tied the pink ribbons on her dainty frock, and fastened cloth of gold roses at her lithe waist.

It was said that just before the crack of the pistol La Juanita’s tiny hand lay in Mercer’s, and that he bent his head, and whispered softly, so that the surrounding crowd could not hear,–

“Juanita mine, if I win, you will?”

“Oui, mon Mercere, eef you win.”

In another instant the white wings were off scudding before the rising breeze, dipping their glossy boat-sides into the clear water, straining their cordage in their tense efforts to reach the stake boats. Mandeville indiscriminately distributed itself on piers, large and small, bath-house tops, trees, and craft of all kinds, from pirogue, dory, and pine-raft to pretentious cat-boat and shell-schooner. Mandeville cheered and strained its eyes after all the boats, but chiefly was its attention directed to “La Juanita.”

“Ah, voila, eet is ahead!”

“Mais non, c’est un autre!”

“La Juanita! La Juanita!”

“Regardez Grandpere Colomes!”

Old Colomes on the big pier with Madame Alvarez and his granddaughter was intently straining his weather-beaten face in the direction of Nott’s Point, his back resolutely turned upon the scudding white wings. A sudden chuckle of grim satisfaction caused La Petite’s head to toss petulantly.

But only for a minute, for Grandpere Colomes’ chuckle was followed by a shout of dismay from those whose glance had followed his. You must know that it is around Nott’s Point that the storm king shows his wings first, for the little peninsula guards the entrance which leads into the southeast waters of the stormy Rigolets and the blustering Gulf. You would know, if you lived in Mandeville, that when the pines on Nott’s Point darken and when the water shows white beyond like the teeth of a hungry wolf, it is time to steer your boat into the mouth of some one of the many calm bayous which flow silently throughout St. Tammany parish into the lake. Small wonder that the cry of dismay went up now, for Nott’s Point was black, with a lurid light overhead, and the roar of the grim southeast wind came ominously over the water.

La Juanita clasped her hands and strained her eyes for her namesake. The racers had rounded the second stake-boat, and the course of the triangle headed them directly for the lurid cloud.

You should have seen Grandpere Colomes then. He danced up and down the pier in a perfect frenzy. The thin pale lips of Madame Alvarez moved in a silent prayer; La Juanita stood coldly silent.

And now you could see that the advance guard of the southeast force had struck the little fleet. They dipped and scurried and rocked, and you could see the sails being reefed hurriedly, and almost hear the rigging creak and moan under the strain. Then the wind came up the lake, and struck the town with a tumultuous force. The waters rose and heaved in the long, sullen ground-swell, which betokened serious trouble. There was a rush of lake-craft to shelter. Heavy gray waves boomed against the breakwaters and piers, dashing their brackish spray upon the strained watchers; then with a shriek and a howl the storm burst full, with blinding sheets of rain, and a great hurricane of Gulf wind that threatened to blow the little town away.

La Juanita was proud. When Grandpere and Madame led her away in the storm, though her face was white, and the rose mouth pressed close, not a word did she say, and her eyes were as bright as ever before. It was foolish to hope that the frail boats could survive such a storm. There was not even the merest excuse for shelter out in the waters, and when Lake Pontchartrain grows angry, it devours without pity.

Your tropical storm is soon over, however, and in an hour the sun struggled through a gray and misty sky, over which the wind was sweeping great clouds. The rain-drops hung diamond-like on the thick foliage, but the long ground-swell still boomed against the breakwaters and showed white teeth, far to the south.

As chickens creep from under shelter after a rain, so the people of Mandeville crept out again on the piers, on the bath-houses, on the breakwater edge, and watched eagerly for the boats. Slowly upon the horizon appeared white sails, and the little craft swung into sight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, counted Mandeville. Every one coming in! Bravo! And a great cheer that swept the whole length of the town from the post-office to Black Bayou went up. Bravo! Every boat was coming in. But–was every man?

This was a sobering thought, and in the hush which followed it you could hear the Q. and C. train thundering over the great lake-bridge, miles away.

Well, they came into the pier at last, “La Juanita” in the lead; and as Captain Mercer landed, he was surrounded by a voluble, chattering, anxious throng that loaded him with questions in patois, in broken English, and in French. He was no longer “un Americain” now, he was a hero.

When the other eight boats came in, and Mandeville saw that no one was lost, there was another ringing bravo, and more chattering of questions.

We heard the truth finally. When the storm burst, Captain Mercer suddenly promoted himself to an admiralship and assumed command of his little fleet. He had led them through the teeth of the gale to a small inlet on the coast between Bayou Lacombe and Nott’s Point, and there they had waited until the storm passed. Loud were the praises of the other captains for Admiral Mercer, profuse were the thanks of the sisters and sweethearts, as he was carried triumphantly on the shoulders of the sailors adown the wharf to the Maison Colomes.

The crispness had gone from Juanita’s pink frock, and the cloth of gold roses were wellnigh petalless, but the hand that she slipped into his was warm and soft, and the eyes that were upturned to Mercer’s blue ones were shining with admiring tears. And even Grandpere Colomes, as he brewed on the Cherokee-rose-covered gallery, a fiery punch for the heroes, was heard to admit that “some time dose Americain can mos’ be lak one Frenchman.”

And we danced at the betrothal supper the next week.

TITEE

It was cold that day. The great sharp north-wind swept out Elysian Fields Street in blasts that made men shiver, and bent everything in their track. The skies hung lowering and gloomy; the usually quiet street was more than deserted, it was dismal.

Titee leaned against one of the brown freight cars for protection against the shrill norther, and warmed his little chapped hands at a blaze of chips and dry grass. “Maybe it’ll snow,” he muttered, casting a glance at the sky that would have done credit to a practised seaman. “Then won’t I have fun! Ugh, but the wind blows!”

It was Saturday, or Titee would have been in school, the big yellow school on Marigny Street, where he went every day when its bell boomed nine o’clock, went with a run and a joyous whoop, ostensibly to imbibe knowledge, really to make his teacher’s life a burden.

Idle, lazy, dirty, troublesome boy, she called him to herself, as day by day wore on, and Titee improved not, but let his whole class pass him on its way to a higher grade. A practical joke he relished infinitely more than a practical problem, and a good game at pin-sticking was far more entertaining than a language lesson. Moreover, he was always hungry, and would eat in school before the half-past ten recess, thereby losing much good playtime for his voracious appetite.

But there was nothing in natural history that Titee did not know.

He could dissect a butterfly or a mosquito hawk, and describe their parts as accurately as a spectacled student with a scalpel and microscope could talk about a cadaver. The entire Third District, with its swamps and canals and commons and railroad sections, and its wondrous, crooked, tortuous streets, was an open book to Titee. There was not a nook or corner that he did not know or could not tell of. There was not a bit of gossip among the gamins, little Creole and Spanish fellows, with dark skins and lovely eyes, like spaniels, that Titee could not tell of. He knew just exactly when it was time for crawfish to be plentiful down in the Claiborne and Marigny canals; just when a poor, breadless fellow might get a job in the big bone-yard and fertilising factory, out on the railroad track; and as for the levee, with its ships and schooners and sailors, how he could revel in them! The wondrous ships, the pretty little schooners, where the foreign-looking sailors lay on long moonlight nights, singing to their guitars and telling great stories,–all these things and more could Titee tell of. He had been down to the Gulf, and out on its treacherous waters through the Eads jetties on a fishing-smack with some jolly brown sailors, and could interest the whole school-room in the talk-lessons, if he chose.

Titee shivered as the wind swept round the freight-cars. There isn’t much warmth in a bit of a jersey coat.

“Wish ’twas summer,” he murmured, casting another sailor’s glance at the sky. “Don’t believe I like snow; it’s too wet and cold.” And with a last parting caress at the little fire he had builded for a minute’s warmth, he plunged his hands in his pockets, shut his teeth, and started manfully on his mission out the railroad track toward the swamps.

It was late when Titee came home, to such a home as it was, and he had but illy performed his errand; so his mother beat him and sent him to bed supperless. A sharp strap stings in cold weather, and a long walk in the teeth of a biting wind creates a keen appetite. But if Titee cried himself to sleep that night, he was up bright and early next morning, had been to mass, devoutly kneeling on the cold floor, blowing his fingers to keep them warm, and was home almost before the rest of the family were awake.

There was evidently some great matter of business on the young man’s mind, for he scarcely ate his breakfast, and left the table soon, eagerly cramming the remainder of his meal in his pockets.

“Ma foi, but what now?” mused his mother, as she watched his little form sturdily trudging the track in the face of the wind; his head, with the rimless cap thrust close on the shock of black hair, bent low; his hands thrust deep in the bulging pockets.

“A new live play-toy h’it may be,” ventured the father; “he is one funny chil.”

The next day Titee was late for school. It was something unusual, for he was always the first on hand to fix some plan of mechanism to make the teacher miserable. She looked reprovingly at him this morning, when he came in during arithmetic class, his hair all wind-blown, his cheeks rosy from a hard fight with the sharp blasts. But he made up for his tardiness by his extreme goodness all day; just think, Titee did not even eat once before noon, a something unparalleled in the entire previous history of his school life.

When the lunch-hour came, and all the yard was a scene of feast and fun, one of the boys found him standing by a post, disconsolately watching a ham sandwich as it rapidly disappeared down the throat of a sturdy, square-headed little fellow.

“Hello, Edgar,” he said, “what you got fer lunch?”

“Nothin’,” was the mournful reply.

“Ah, why don’t you stop eatin’ in school, fer a change? You don’t ever have nothin’ to eat.”

“I didn’t eat to-day,” said Titee, blazing up.

“You did!”

“I tell you I didn’t!” and Titee’s hard little fist planted a punctuation mark on his comrade’s eye.

A fight in the schoolyard! Poor Titee was in disgrace again. Still, in spite of his battered appearance, a severe scolding from the principal, lines to write, and a further punishment from his mother, Titee scarcely remained for his dinner, but was off down the railroad track with his pockets partly stuffed with the remnants of the scanty meal.

And the next day Titee was tardy again, and lunchless too, and the next, until the teacher, in despair, sent a nicely printed note to his mother about him, which might have done some good, had not Titee taken great pains to tear it up on the way home.

One day it rained, whole bucketsful of water, that poured in torrents from a miserable, angry sky. Too wet a day for bits of boys to be trudging to school, so Titee’s mother thought; so she kept him at home to watch the weather through the window, fretting and fuming like a regular storm in miniature. As the day wore on, and the rain did not abate, his mother kept a strong watch upon him, for he tried many times to slip away.

Dinner came and went, and the gray soddenness of the skies deepened into the blackness of coming night. Someone called Titee to go to bed, and Titee was nowhere to be found.

Under the beds, in closets and corners, in such impossible places as the soap-dish and water-pitcher even, they searched, but he had gone as completely as if he had been spirited away. It was of no use to call up the neighbors, he had never been near their houses, they affirmed, so there was nothing to do but to go to the railroad track where Titee had been seen so often trudging in the shrill north-wind.

With lanterns and sticks, and his little yellow dog, the rescuing party started down the track. The rain had ceased falling, but the wind blew a gale, scurrying great gray clouds over a fierce sky. It was not exactly dark, though in this part of the city there is neither gas nor electricity, and on such a night as this neither moon nor stars dared show their faces in so gray a sky; but a sort of all-diffused luminosity was in the air, as though the sea of atmosphere was charged with an ethereal phosphorescence.

Search as they did, there were no signs of Titee. The soft earth between the railroad ties crumbled between their feet without showing any small tracks or footprints.

“Mais, we may as well return,” said the big brother; “he is not here.”

“Oh, mon Dieu,” urged the mother, “he is, he is; I know it.”

So on they went, slipping on the wet earth, stumbling over the loose rocks, until a sudden wild yelp from Tiger brought them to a standstill. He had rushed ahead of them, and his voice could be heard in the distance, howling piteously.

With a fresh impetus the little muddy party hurried forward. Tiger’s yelps could be heard plainer and plainer, mingled now with a muffled, plaintive little wail.

After a while they found a pitiful little heap of sodden rags, lying at the foot of a mound of earth and stones thrown upon the side of the track. It was Titee with a broken leg, all wet and miserable and moaning.

They picked him up tenderly, and started to carry him home. But he cried and clung to the mother, and begged not to go.

“Ah, mon pauvre enfant, he has the fever!” wailed the mother.

“No, no, it’s my old man. He’s hungry,” sobbed Titee, holding out a little package. It was the remnants of his dinner, all wet and rain-washed.

“What old man?” asked the big brother.

“My old man. Oh, please, please don’t go home till I see him. I’m not hurting much, I can go.”

So, yielding to his whim, they carried him farther away, down the sides of the track up to an embankment or levee by the sides of the Marigny Canal. Then the big brother, suddenly stopping, exclaimed:

“Why, here’s a cave. Is it Robinson Crusoe?”

“It’s my old man’s cave,” cried Titee. “Oh, please go in; maybe he’s dead.”

There cannot be much ceremony in entering a cave. There is but one thing to do,–walk in. This they did, and holding up the lantern, beheld a weird sight. On a bed of straw and paper in one corner lay a withered, wizened, white-bearded old man with wide eyes staring at the unaccustomed light. In the other corner was an equally dilapidated cow.

“It’s my old man!” cried Titee, joyfully. “Oh, please, grandpa, I couldn’t get here to-day, it rained all mornin’ an’ when I ran away, I fell down an’ broke something, an’, oh, grandpa, I’m all tired an’ hurty, an’ I’m so ‘fraid you’re hungry.”

So the secret of Titee’s jaunts down the railroad was out. In one of his trips around the swamp-land, he had discovered the old man exhausted from cold and hunger in the fields. Together they had found this cave, and Titee had gathered the straw and paper that made the bed. Then a tramp cow, old and turned adrift, too, had crept in and shared the damp dwelling. And thither Titee had trudged twice a day, carrying his luncheon in the morning and his dinner in the afternoon.

“There’s a crown in heaven for that child,” said the officer of charity to whom the case was referred.

But as for Titee, when the leg was well, he went his way as before.