« AnkstesnisTęsti »
pleasant, ruddy color had faded, her lips were compressed; there was a sort of classic and repressed fury about her.
Presently, after a decent interval, she rose, excused herself, and vanished into the kitchen, whence came sounds of dishes gently handled, the clinking of knives and forks, and her firm footsteps passing to and fro.
"The ice-cream!" murmured young Robert.
"And we 'll see the tea-set!" his sister added. Then Mollie drew aside the curtains that shut off the dining-room, showing a table lavishly set with cakes, jellies, a tall cylinder of ice-cream, and smoking cups of cocoa. They all walked
in soberly and sat down in their appointed places.
"But, Mollie!" cried little Lucy.
"Yes, my pet?" asked Mollie.
pleasant face the look unmistakable of one suffering from an intolerable outrage. She sat down and talked to them, the first time she had ever sat in their presence with idle hands, but she not at all embarrassed, because the situation was altogether correct. She was in her own home and mistress of it and entitled to her due meed of consideration. No; it was not embarrassment or constraint that disturbed her; it was some emotion profound and novel. Her
Something very wrong here! There they were eating from earthenware plates, cups and saucers that did n't match.
"Is n't-was n't- "ventured Mrs. Keating.
"Steve has n't come home with it yet," said Mollie.
Two spots of bright color came out over her high cheek-bones; she could not maintain her lifelong re
"When I saw he was n't going to work this morning," she went on, "I said to myself I'd send him to fetch the tea-set. He 'd not been drinking at all. I thought I'd be safe trusting him. Coupons is not like money, either. I sent him at nine o'clock. I thought it would give me a grand chance to get plenty of water heated, the way I could wash it as soon as he 'd bring it."
She had an air of trying to force back a torrent of words, almost a physical struggle. A few more escaped her.
"I'd the shelves all scrubbed the night before," she said, "and clean scalloped paper with a fancy green edge laid along them, all ready."
"And you 've heard nothing of him. since nine o'clock this morning?" Mrs. Keating asked.
"No, ma'am; I have not."
Mr. Keating suggested that perhaps he had met with an accident.
"Yes, sir, I dare say," she answered grimly.
They resumed eating. But her delicacies had lost their flavor, had turned pathetically bitter on their cracked plates. Even the children were impressed and very grave; they knew as well as any one that this feast without the tea-set was a wedding without a bride, a travesty, a mockery.
Dusk came, and Mollie lighted a wonderful lamp made of two round balls of blue china, one on top of the other, with a design of pink roses painted over it. They had gone back into the parlor again, and it was evident to all of them that the occasion was over, that it was time to go home. Yet they lingered; Mrs. Keating could n't make a move. Suddenly and loudly the front door-bell rang; Mollie went to answer it, and returned, followed by Steve.
Perhaps some obscure instinct of self-justification made them remember him forever afterward as almost superhumanly repulsive; or it may be that he really was so. Mrs. Keating described him later as looking "drowned in whisky." He had, she said, such a disgustingly wet look, his long black mustache, his hair, his red face. And he had his usual offensive manner; he was collarless, unshaven, he reeked of whisky, and he had the gross politeness of a beggar.
Mr. Keating looked at him severely. "Well, Steve," he said, "let's see the tea-set."
"I ain't got the tea-set, Mr. Keating, sir. I used them valu'ble coupons for something more useful-like, as 'd benefit the two of us."
"O Steve!" murmured Mrs. Keating, reproachfully. But Mollie, standing by, said nothing at all.
Steve laid a paper bundle on the table in the bright light of the blue china lamp and began to unwrap it-a jumble of cords, blocks, staples, and hooks.
"What is it?" Mr. Keating asked, with a frown.
"Well, boss, I went, like the old woman told me, and got the tea-set."
There was a faint sound from Mollie, but no one turned toward her.
"Just like in the book it was. Mighty fine and pretty. Too fine and pretty for us, I thought, and I said so to a young fella I seen outside. "Take this instead,' says he, 'I'll give it ye for yer chiny.' He was standing outside." Outside what, Steve did not say. "Step in,' he says, 'and I'll show ye my little invention,' says he; "T will save yer life,' says he, 'and is n't that worth more than cups and dishes and plates and jugs and the like?' So I steps in, and he shows me how does it work. So after I 'd sat with him a bit, to be sociable-like, I came home."
There was a long silence.
"Come on!" Keating said suddenly to his family. "Time to go."
But Steve would n't hear of that; he insisted, with a pompous, half-defiant insistence, that they should wait and watch him demonstrate the little invention. And for Mollie's sake, rather than that she should see Steve knocked out of the way, Mr. Keating complied.
Steve led the way into the kitchen and lighted the gas-jet there, revealing those empty shelves covered with clean scalloped paper, prepared for the teaset. They all stood about awkwardly, Mrs. Keating holding her little girl by the hand, Mr. Keating in the doorway, the inquisitive young Robert near the window where Steve was securing his contrivance. It took a preposterous length of time. His hands moved busily, and he whistled under his breath, while close beside him, handing him this, that, and the other tool, tying knots, straightening tangles, stood his silent wife.
"Ah!" he cried at last, triumphantly, and opened the window. A raw, wet wind came blowing in, making the gaslight flicker and lifting his sodden hair from his forehead. He leaned far out and threw out one end of his device. The metal weight at the end of it clanked dismally on the stones four stories below.
"She 's down," he announced, and sat down on the window-sill, with his legs hanging out.
Mr. Keating seized him by the coatcollar. "Do you
"Come in here!" he cried. want to kill yourself?"
"No, I don't, boss. But I'm going to show you how this little invention works. In case of fire-"
"Don't play the fool. Come in!"
"Mr. Keating, sir, I'm going down on my fire-escape," said Steve, solemnly and loudly. "No one at all can stop me. I know all about it. I understand it. I tried it this morning with the young fella that invented it."
"Rob, don't let him!" cried Mrs. Keating.
Keating tried to haul him in, but Steve was a much larger and heavier man than himseir, and he could n't move him.
"I'm going down on me new-invented fire-escape," Steve answered him. "The more of you watches me, the better. 'T will be a lesson. Ye 'll all want thim whin you 've seen me."
Without an instant's warning he disappeared. Mrs. Keating shrieked, but his voice reassured her, and the sight of his face reappearing just above the sill, looking more drowned than ever.
"Don't be uneasy, ma'am," he said. "I've only to let meself down now. Whin the iron weight comes up here again, you'll know that I 've touched the ground. Now, then, Mollie, take another look that all thim ropes is tight."
"Come in!" he cried again. "You are drunk. You don't know what you are doing."
The sound of their voices had attracted the attention of the neighbors; windows across the narrow court were opened and heads thrust out.
"What the hell are you doing there at all, Steve?" called out a friendly voice opposite. "Get the legs of you inside."
Mollie turned to Mr. Keating as if she were about to speak; but she turned away again abruptly and leaned out of the window; she was busy there for what seemed to be a long time.
"Hi!" shouted her husband. "Whatever are you doing, Mollie? You 've only to see that thim ropes is all tight."
Mr. Keating came forward, exasperated and alarmed by her fumbling.
"Let me see-" he began, but Mollie sprang back suddenly, almost upsetting him.
"All right!" she cried. "Go ahead!" And suddenly, like a shot, the iron weight came whizzing up and crashed through the top of the window.
They did n't comprehend for an instant. Then came a babel of shrieks and shouts.
"Take the children home at once," Keating ordered. "Get a taxi somewhere. Hurry up and get out."
Mrs. Keating obeyed blindly, hurried down the long flights of stairs holding Lucy by one hand and Robert by the other, flew down the dark, narrow street in a panic.
"Don't talk!" she commanded the children, sharply. "Wait till your father comes home; he 'll tell you all about it."
They were forced to go to bed unsatisfied, and their mother had a solitary and anxious dinner, for Mr. Keating did n't come home until ten o'clock. She jumped up when she heard a cab stop before the house, and hurried to the door.
"O Rob!" she began, but saw behind him the portly form of Mollie, with that very same black bag-composed, placid Mollie.
"I'll go into the kitchen, ma'am, if I may, and ask cook for a cup of tea," she said, and disappeared before having been quite realized by Mrs. Keating.
"I suggested her coming back to us,' said Keating, "and she seemed pleased. I thought you 'd be glad to have her." Mrs. Keating did n't trouble to reply to so obvious a statement.
"Then is Steve" she asked. "Dead. One of the ropes slipped. The police came, of course, and an ambulance, and so on. But it was too late. And, upon my word," he added vehemently, "it's a good thing, too. Worthless brute!"
Mrs. Keating remained silent for some time, frowning thoughtfully. "Rob," she said at last.
He started in a guilty way. "Well?"
"Are you sure do you think-the rope really slipped?"
He scowled at her, but she persisted. "Because, Rob, I 'm quite sure. I saw her pulling one of the little hooks or screws or "
"For the love of heaven!" cried Keating, jumping up, "if that's not just like a woman! Can't let well enough alone. Were n't you longing to have her back? Did n't you tell me morning, noon, and night that she was the ideal nurse?"
"She is, of course," his wife replied, but could n't resist adding, "She is the ideal nurse even if she did."
N Buenos Aires I became what a local Englishspeaking newspaper called "office boy" to the American consul-general. The consul had turned out to be a vicarious friend of long standing; his overworked force was sadly in need of an American assistant familiar with Spanish, the one that had been sent down from Washington months before having been lost in transit; moreover, the consul, being a discerning as well as a kind-hearted man, knew that even a rolling stone requires an occasional handful of moss.
Two years of wandering among the Andes and the jungles of South America is in a way the best possible preparation for a visit to the greatest city south of the United States. The man who approaches it from this corridor will experience to the full the astonishment which it is almost certain to produce upon an unprepared visitor; he will be in ideal condition to appreciate the urban artificialities which make it perhaps the greatest antithesis on earth of the more than rural simplicity of nearly all the rest of the southern continent. Like the majority of Americans, I suppose, though I had now and then heard rumors of its increase and improvement, I had a mental picture of the Argentine capital which was as out of date as the
spelling "Buenos Ayres" that still persists among even the best of English and American authorities.
It is with something stronger than surprise, therefore, that the new-comer finds the Argentine capital of to-day the largest Spanish-speaking city on the globe, second only to Paris among the Latin cities of the world, equal to Philadelphia in population, resembling Chicago in extent, as well as in situation, rivaling New York in many of its metropolitan features, and outdoing every city of our land in some of its civic improvements.
Personally, I confess to having wandered its endless streets in a semi-dazed condition for some time after my arrival. It was hard to believe that those miles upon miles of modern wharves, surrounding artificial basins capable of accommodating the largest ships in existence, backed by warehouses that measure their capacity in millions of tons, were situated on the same continent as medieval Quito, that the teeming city behind them was inhabited by the same race that founded languid La Paz and sleepy Asunción. I found myself gazing with limp lower jaw at the unexpected cosmopolitan uproar that surrounded me wherever my footsteps turned.
The city of to-day has so completely