Puslapio vaizdai
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"When she was sixteen the shop caught fire. Trying to get away, she fell. When the doctor told me she could never be well again, I made her marry me right away. I got us a room in Lancing Mews, only a step from the theater, where I could reach her in a hurry. Daytimes I waited in a chop-house at the top of the street. Nights I worked at the theater. We got along better than you'd think; but what broke me was to know that she 'd never see a play again. So when a new play came on, I'd keep an eye out, then tell her as much as I could; act out bits even. It helped her pass the time.

"One night her back was cruel' bad. She had n't slept in a good bit. I slipped down to the Arcade, begged a goods-box, and bought a handful of penny dolls and a roll of gilt paper. I built a toy stage, and carried it in and set it by her bed. Well, I'll be bound she was as daft as if I'd brought her the Empire itself. We played with it till near daybreak. I was as keen over it as she was.

"After that we staged every play that the Empire put on. I made whole sets of pasteboard-and-muslin scenery, and whittled out the props. Till you try, you'd never believe how far a cigar-box will go toward a set of drawing-room furniture. Then we began tinkering our pet stories into plays. I'd work out the dialogue, and when she'd had a comfortable day, and could use her hands a little, Lucie would make the costumes and set the scenes. Then we found we could make up new plots out of our own heads. That was the best sport going, and Lucie never tired of it. Even the last year our theater could always help her forget the pain.

"We had good neighbors. That helped." "Good neighbors are always a help," said I.

"Yes. There was one woman who lived two flights above us. Mrs. Hicks, her name was. She was a charwoman, and she was old, and knocked up with rheumatism, and I dare say she could just about keep body and soul together. Every week, as regular as Sunday morning came round, she'd drop in and scrub up for · Lucie, and make everything clean and sweet. Lucie enjoyed that above everything. I tried, but somehow I was n't smart enough to do things right. It is n't a man's job, maybe."

"No, it is n't a man's job," said I. "That's what you rich folk miss," he went on absently. "Only the poor can ever savor it-the beautiful neighborliness of the poor."

I nodded, but I was n't nodding in assent, for I know very well what neighborliness means. I thought of the long, dreadful summer when Frederic lay ill, and how our neighbors had stood by us month on month. I minded how Stephen King had snatched precious days from his own crops to harvest our grain, that it should not rot in the fields. I thought of Mary, his wife, who had baked for me and churned for me, who had tended my babies by day, and watched by my sick at night, and poured her love and her courage into me, and kept my soul alive in me. Oh, I know what neighborliness means. To be sure, I 've never known what it meant to be downright poor; yet I remembered how poor I 'd felt, the goose I was, when I was putting little Barbara into short clothes, and had n't a stitch of new muslin in the house, nor a penny to spend, so I had to make her first little dresses out of flour-sacking, though I boiled the red letters out, you better believe. She was the prettiest baby I ever had, and it all but broke my heart to see her taking her first darling tottery steps in those coarse things; but we could n't afford anything else. As Frederic said, with a rueful twinkle, we could n't afford little Barbara. But I've been thankful for forty years that we did.

"Yes, we had good friends, those days." Sir Christopher gave me a slow, thinking glance. "I wish you 'd been a neighbor of Lucie's."

"I wish so, too," said I.

"And then-" he halted-"then when she died, it was as if-as if I was n't walking on solid ground any longer. I had to hang on to something. So I hung on to our little theater. I played with it every night. I even made up new plays alone. Dare say it sounds foolish. But it seemed like there was a bit of her still clinging to those dolls and that tinsel. I kept working with 'em times whenwhen it seemed like I 'd drown. Maybe you know."

Yes, I know how drowning feels. Only I've always had my children to cling to. They kept my head above water. But

that lonely boy, shut in his garret, with only a tinseled box to hold fast to, how had he lived through that black flood? How had he fought his way through?

"A year or so after, I broke my leg. It was a bad smash. I was laid up three months. All that time I lay there and read and read. I paid a boy to bring me books of plays from the penny library, and I gobbled them all. I sketched out some plays of my own, too. When I got up, I was lame. I could n't get my place back at the Empire. At last, when I was quite at the end of my rope, the fancy struck me that I might do something with my plays. "Yes, it seems as if I must have been light-headed; but I went about it as coolly as you like. I took four of them, and went straight to Mr. Delaroche, at the Brunswick. I had to break my way in, but I got in, mind that. You've seen him? A big man, with thick, fair hair, heavy eyelids, and a thrust jaw, like a pugilist. He looked at me as if I'd been a fly on the wall. Then he took the plays, and he read one through as you 'd read the head-lines on one of your newspapers. Then he looked at me again, like I was n't more than half there. I was n't, either. The life was nigh frightened out of me.

"I'll take this matter up with you later in the week,' he said. 'I want an option on these. Have you written any more?'

"A goods-box full,' said I.

"Go home and fetch them. This for the option.' He tossed a bit of paper into my hands. When I got outside, I unfolded it. There were ten five-pound notes screwed together. He 'd not even asked for a receipt. That 's Mr. Delaroche.

"After that-oh, there's no more to tell. I've worked with Mr. Delaroche ever since, but our great successes have been the stories that Lucie and I wrote together, 'White Shamrock' and 'The Princess Wakens.' Here, let's do the princess now."

Once more the protean shoe-box changed its guise. Now it was a green bower in a green glen. Within, the princess slept on her rude couch of lilacboughs. Down the glen, singing like a mavis at the dawn, rode the boy minstrel, his young face glowing in the wind, his young voice calling.

"He made a shadow-princess for the baby, too," I said, "just with his fingers, on the wall."

"He? Who?"

I stared back at Sir Christopher's questioning face. My stupid old wits went groping, groping.

"The old gentleman who made the shadow-pictures-for my baby," I stammered, clutching for that memory. But again, as swift as a flying shadow, it slipped my grasp. "I don't know when it was or where. If only-"

Then crashing through those mists of recollection came the roar of a racing engine, the rush of wheels.

"O Mother! At last! When we 've been hunting you all over Westchester County!"

The spell was shattered. The hour fell in crystal fragments.

I sprang up, tumbling princess and minstrel and bower into a heap. Bewildered, my eyes still hazy with dreams, I met Gwendolen's accusing face. Past her, the eight heaven-born occupants of the pall-bearers' carriage looked on in courteous amaze. I shriveled miserably. Here I sat, not on a tropic island, not in a leafy Trossachs glen, but flat on the dusty porch floor of a dusty modern cottage, my frilled bonnet awry, my lap full of absurd toys, and a grimy baby clinging to my neck, and already drawing deep, ominous breaths of preparation. Well, one comfort: the foremost English dramatist was sitting flat on that porch floor, too, and looking even more sheepish than I felt.

"That stupid new chauffeur! He sent us up the wrong cross-roads. But, Mother dear, what have you been doing?" She pounced upon the scissors, still in my guilty hands.

"Sir Christopher and I have been amusing this baby," said I, serenely. "Sir Christopher has showed us how he mounts his plays."

"Oh." That sigh of relief spoke volumes. If only her eminent guest had diverted himself, it mattered not how, even if he 'd been reduced to building a doll'shouse for a childish old lady and a grubby small boy. "I 'm sorry to spoil the fun, but-"

I looked at my fellow-magician. There was regret in his eye.

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'Cockcrow. Time to break the en

chantment," said I, sadly. I kissed our little dimpled host, and tucked him inside the screen door, with all the paper dragons to keep him company, and so we went

away.

So

Despite the warring fates, both luncheons were triumphantly successful. was Sir Christopher's speech, Gwen said. I heard very little of it, though, for I was n't really listening. I was looking past that calm, distinguished presence away down the years. I could see the little motherless, neglected tad crying his papers down the wintry streets; then the two children, comrades and sweethearts, sitting breathless before the wonders of the first play; then the boy, hardly grown, taking upon his shoulders the care of the frail young wife; the long hours of work; the short treasured minutes when they wrote together, and toiled upon their plays; the tragedy of it all, the unfathomable pity. Then, like a picture blotted from a screen, it all fled. Again, for the thousandth time, I was striving to see my own picture, my own memory, that always fled my search. Only the one tiny glimpse stayed fast-the figure of the old man sitting always by the dull wall; on his knee the sleepy, happy child, who watched always the old man's sinewy hands as they bent and wound, painting those romping shadow-pictures on the wall. This could I see, no more. And the mystery of it irked me and teased me and flouted me. When? Where? Where?

"You look a little tired, Mother," said Gwendolen. "It has been a full day for you."

"Yes," I agreed, "it has been a full day, but it was worth it."

that peers forever to the west, my own particular hero.

"I say, Granny," - Peter roused from a long silence,-"when I saw you towing your celebrity around to-day, I wondered. Surely, in your long life, you must have known a lot of grand and famous folk."

Peter took me home, and stayed to dinner. For all his mischief, Peter is the most companionable child I ever had. He's exactly like Frederic used to be. You never need explain things to him. He always understands.

I

After dinner we sat out on the little balcony. Peter smoked contentedly. sat looking down the long, dusk, sparkling avenue. If my old eyes could have pierced the twilight, they would have seen, rising dark among those white fires, the great, grave statue that towers above its bench at Madison Square; the tall, erect figure, the grave, steadfast old face,

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"I wish so, too, Peter," I began. Then the absurdity of it struck me, for Peter would never have seen us. Peter, the lordly young plutocrat, would have had no eyes for the thin, scared girl in rusty black, her arms heaped with bundles, her fretful brood clinging to her lank skirts. He would n't have known his own father even, for nowadays Charles Edward is tall and gray and taciturn, and a bit ironic around the edges. Then he was a curlyheaded, apple-cheeked little chub, and he wore a short-waisted green-calico dress, made out of one of my old gowns, and rather painfully skimped over his fat little

chest, where the goods ran short, and he was cindery from the long, hard trip, and, I fear, decidedly crumby from the ginger cookies that were all the lunch they 'd had, poor babies. No, he was n't what Peter, that sumptuous young snob, would choose to-day for a progenitor, although to my eyes he was a mighty satisfactory descendant.

"When I found we could n't get a train till morning, I did n't know which way to turn. I sat down and tried to pacify the children. They were cold and cross, and hungry, too, poor lambs!"

"Hungry! Good Lord! Ugh, it makes me sick to think of your bucking all that, Granny. Was n't there a tea-room somewhere?"

"Tea-rooms did n't flourish on the Kansas prairie forty years ago, Peter."

That was sneaking, and I knew it. There was a lunch-counter right in the station, and the smell of hot food tantalized us with every whiff; but I could n't tell Peter that I dared not spend the money. It had taken almost all I had to buy our tickets back home.

"I was afraid to stay there the night, so I went and asked the station-agent what to do. He he was n't uncivil, exactly; but if I'd been afraid before, I was wild with terror now."

"The hound! Would n't I like to give him his!" Peter's huge fists clinched. His breath came hard.

"I went back to the children. They were crying now, and I could n't stop them. Maybe I was so panic-smitten I did n't half try. But presently an old man came across the waiting-room. He stooped and touched my arm. It's forty years and more, Peter, but I can see him as clear as daylight. He was a sober, precise old gentleman, dressed in fine oldfashioned broadcloth and linen. He spoke gently, but in a deep, authoritative voice. 'You are coming with me, Madam,' he said. 'You and your children will do me the honor to sup with me.'

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"Um, I see, Granny." Peter's arm shut over my shoulders with a hard grip. Sometimes Peter understands just a little too well.

"He hoisted the children on the high stools, and tied napkins around their necks, and fed Barbara her bread and milk, as if he 'd never done anything else," I hurried on. "At first I could n't eat, but he made me swallow some hot tea, then he coaxed the food down by morsels. He was as tender as my own father, yet I had to obey him. I could n't resist.

"Then he took us back to the warm corner by the box stove. He laid his great-coat on a bench, and put me on it, with my jacket for a pillow.

"'Go to sleep,' he said. 'I must wait till morning for my train. I'll take care of the children.'

"I'd like to give him his, too," said Peter, with a heartfelt sigh.

"I had n't the sense to thank him. I was as drowsy and as contented as little sleepy Barbara on his knee. Norton and Charles Edward had already cuddled down on my old shawl, like two blissful, stuffed puppies. 'Most all that I remember of that night is the warmth and comfort of that great, soft coat wrapped round my aching body, the warmth and comfort of that old, grave, watching presence that sat beside me. But once I heard an excited little crow from Barbara, and I pinched myself awake to see what the old man might be doing.

"He sat with Barby tucked into the crook of his arm. Both hands were free, and with both hands he was making shadow-pictures for her on the whitewashed wall-such shadow-pictures as you 've never seen, Peter, my poor child. Knights and kings and princesses; clowns and pixies and rabbit-dancers-oh, how often I 've wished that I 'd kept on pinching and lain awake to see! But the next thing I knew, the old gentleman was shaking me gently awake. It was almost daybreak. In the dim light the old man looked gray and haggard. Sitting there, hour after hour, holding sleeping little Barbara, he must have been cramped and Ichilled to the bone.

"'Your train is in, Madam. I will put you aboard.'

"He gathered up the little boys and

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