"Well, whose eggs were they?" John had inquired, half asleep by the stove, his tired legs outstretched, the evening paper dropping from his hand.
"Oh, I don't say that they are not Kling's right enough, John. Masie is his child, I know. But what I say is that the mother is stamped all over the darling, and that Otto can't put a finger on any part and call it his own."
Whether Kitty were right or wrong regarding the mystery is no part of our story, but certain it was that the soul of the unhappy young mother looked through the daughter's eyes, that the sweetness of the child's voice was hers, and the grace of every movement a direct inheritance from one whose frail spirit had taken so early a flight.
To Felix this companionship, with the glimpses it gave him of a child's heart, refreshed his own as a summer rain does a thirsty plant. Had she been his daughter, or his little sister, or his niece, or grandchild, a certain sense of responsibility on his part and of filial duty on hers would have clouded their perfect union. He would have had matters of education to insist upon—perhaps of clothing and hygiene. She would have had her secrets—hidden paths on which she wandered alone—things she could never tell to one in authority. As it was, bound together as they were by only a mutual recognition, their joy in each other knew no bounds. To Masie he was a refuge, some one who understood every thought before she had uttered it; to O'Day she was a never-ending and warming delight.
And so this man of forty-five folded his arms about this child of ten, and held her close, the opening chalice of her budding girlhood widening hourly at his touch—a sight to be reverenced by every man and never to be forgotten by one privileged to behold it.
And with the intimacy which almost against his will held him to the little shop, there stole into his life a certain content. Springs long dried in his own nature bubbled again. He felt the sudden, refreshing sense of those who, after pent-up suffering, find the quickening of new life within.
Mike noticed the change in the cheery greetings and in the passages of Irish wit with which the new clerk welcomed him whenever he appeared in the store, and so did Kling, and even the two Dutchies when Felix would drop into the cellar searching for what was still good enough to be made over new. And so did Kitty and John and all at their home.
Masie alone noticed nothing. To her, "Uncle Felix," as she now called him, was always the same adorable and comprehending companion, forever opening up to her new vistas of interest, never too busy to answer her questions, never too preoccupied to explain the different objects he was handling. If she were ever in the way, she was never made to feel it. Instead, so gentle and considerate was he, that she grew to believe herself his most valuable assistant, daily helping him to arrange the various new acquisitions.
One morning in June when they were busy over a lot of small curios, arranging bits of jade, odd silver watches, seals, and pinchbeck rings, in a glass case that had been cleaned and revarnished, the door opened and an old fellow strolled in—an odd-looking old fellow, with snow-white hair and beard, wearing a black sombrero and a shirt cut very low in the neck. But for a pair of kindly eyes, which looked out at you from beneath the brim of the hat, he might have been mistaken for one of the dwarfs in "Rip Van Winkle." Fudge, having now been disciplined by Felix, only sniffed at his trousers.
"I see an old gold frame in your window," began the new customer. "Might I measure it?"
"Which one, sir?" replied Felix. "There are half a dozen of them, I believe."
"Well; will you please come outside? And I will point it out. It is the Florentine, there in the corner—perhaps a reproduction, but it looks to me like the real thing."
"It is a Florentine," answered Felix. "There are two or three pictures in the Uffizi with similar frames, if I recall them aright. Would you like a look at it?"
"I don't want to trouble you to take it out," said the old man apologetically. "It might not do, and I can't afford to pay much for it anyway. But I would like to measure it; I've got an Academy picture which I think will just fit it, but you can't always tell. No, I guess I'll let it go. It's all covered up, and you would have to move everything to reach it."
"No, I won't have to move a thing. Here, you bunch of sunshine! Squeeze in there, Masie, dear, and let me know how wide and high that frame is—the one next the glass. Take this rule."
The child caught up the rule and, followed by Fudge, who liked nothing so well as rummaging, crept among the jars, mirrors, and candelabra crowding the window, her steps as true as those of a kitten. "Twenty inches by thirty-one—no, thirty," she laughed back, tucking her little skirts closer to her shapely limbs so as to clear a tiny table set out with cups and saucers.
"You're sure it's thirty?" repeated the painter.
"Yes, sir, thirty," and she crept back and laid the rule in O'Day's hand.
"Thank you, my dear young lady," bowed the old gnome. "It is a pleasure to be served by one so obliging and bright. And I am glad to tell you," he added, turning to O'Day, "that it's a fit—an exact fit. I thought I was about right. I carry things in my eye. I bought a head once in Venice, about a foot square, and in Spain three months afterward, on my way down the hill leading from the Alhambra to the town, there on a wall outside a bric-a-brac shop hung a frame which I bought for ten francs, and when I got to Paris and put them together, I'll be hanged if they didn't fit as if they had been made for each other."
"And I know the shop!" broke out Felix, to Masie's astonishment. "It's just before you get to the small chapel on the left."
"By cracky, you're right! How long since you were there?"
"Oh, some five years now."
"Picking up things to sell here, I suppose. Spain used to be a great place for furniture and stuffs; I've got a lot of them still—bought a whole chest of embroideries once in Seville, or rather, at that hospital where the big Murillo hangs. You must know that picture—Moses striking water from the rock—best thing Murillo ever did."
Felix remembered it, and he also remembered many of the important pictures in the Prado, especially the great Velasquez and the two Goyas, and that head of Ribera which hung on the line in the second gallery on the right as you entered. And before the two enthusiasts were aware of what was going on around them, Masie and Fudge had slipped off to dine upstairs with her father, Felix and the garrulous old painter still talking—renewing their memories with a gusto and delight unknown to the old artist for years.
"And now about that frame!" the gnome at last found time to say. "I've got so little money that I'd rather swap something for it, if you don't mind. Come down and see my stuff! It's only in 10th Street—not twenty minutes' walk. Maybe you can sell some of my things for me. And bring that blessed little girl—she's the dearest, sweetest thing I've seen for an age. Your daughter?"
Felix laughed gently. "No, I wish she were. She is Mr. Kling's child."
"And your name?"
"Irish, of course—well, all the same, come down any morning this week. My name is Ganger; I'm on the fourth floor—been there twenty-two years. You'll have to walk up—we all do. Yes, I'll expect you."
Kling, whom Felix consulted, began at once to demur. He knew all about the building on 10th Street. More than one of his old frames—part of the clearing-out sale of some Southern homestead, the portraits being reserved because unsalable—had resumed their careers on the walls of the Academy as guardians and protectors of masterpieces painted by the denizens of this same old rattletrap, the Studio Building. Some of its tenants, too, had had accounts with him—which had been running for more than a year. Bridley, the marine painter; Manners, who took pupils; Springlake, the landscapist; and half a dozen others had been in the habit of dropping into his shop on the lookout for something good in Dutch cabinets at half-price, or no price at all, until Felix, without knowing where they had come from, had put an end to the practice.
"Got a fellow up to Kling's who looks as if he had been a college athlete, and knows it all. Can't fool him for a cent," was the talk now, instead of "Keep at the old Dutchman and you may get it. He don't know the difference between a Chippendale sideboard and a shelf rack from Harlem. Wait for a rainy day and go in. He'll be feeling blue, and you'll be sure to get it."
Kling, therefore, when he heard some days later, of Felix's proposed visit, began turning over his books, looking up several past-due accounts. But Felix would have none of it.
"I'm going on a collecting tour, Mr. Kling, this lovely June morning," he laughed, "but not for money. We will look after that later on. And I will take Masie. Come, child, get your hat. Mr. Ganger wanted you to come, and so do I. Call Hans, Mr. Kling, if the shop gets full. We will be back in an hour."
"Vell, you know best," answered Kling in final surrender. "Ven it comes to money, I know. You go 'long, little Beesvings. I mind de shop."
"And I'll take Fudge," the child cried, "and we'll stop at Gramercy Park."
Fudge was out first, scampering down the street and back again before they had well closed the door, and Masie was as restless. "Oh, I'm just as happy as I can be, Uncle Felix. You are always so good. I never had any one to walk with until you came, except old Aunty Gossberger, and she never let me look at anything."
Days in June—joyous days with all nature brimful with laughter—days when the air is a caress, the sky a film of pearl and silver, and the eager mob of bud, blossom, and leaf, having burst their bonds, are flaunting their glories, days like these are always to be remembered the world over. But June days about Gramercy Park are to be marked in big Red Letters upon the calendar of the year. For in Gramercy Park the almanac goes to pieces.
Everything is ahead of time. When little counter-panes of snow are still covering the baby crocuses away off in Central Park, down in Gramercy their pink and yellow heads are popping up all over the enclosure. When the big trees in Union Square are stretching their bare arms, making ready to throw off the winter's sleep, every tiny branch in Gramercy is wide awake and tingling with new life. When countless dry roots in Madison Square are still slumbering under their blankets of straw, dreading the hour when they must get up and go to work, hundreds of tender green fingers in Gramercy are thrust out to the kindly sun, pleading for a chance to be up and doing.
And the race keeps up, Gramercy still ahead, until the goal of summer is won, and every blessed thing that could have burst into bloom has settled down to enjoy the siesta of the hot season.
Masie was never tired of watching these changes, her wonder and delight increasing as the season progressed.
In the earlier weeks there had been nothing but flower-beds covered with unsightly clods, muffled shrubs, and bandaged vines. Then had come a blaze of tulips, exhausting the palette. And then, but a short time before—it seemed only yesterday—every stretch of brown grass had lost its dull tints in a coat of fresh paint, on which the benches, newly scrubbed, were set, and each foot of gravelled walks had been raked and made ready for the little tots in new straw hats who were then trundling their hoops and would soon be chasing their first butterflies.
And now, on this lovely June morning, summer had come—REAL SUMMER—for a mob of merry roses were swarming up a trellis in a mad climb to reach its top, the highest blossom waving its petals in triumph.
Felix waited until she had taken it all in, her face pressed between the bars (only the privileged possessing a key are admitted to the gardens within), Fudge scampering up and down, wild to get at the two gray squirrels, which some vandal has since stolen, and then, remembering his promise to Ganger, he called her to him and continued his walk.
But her morning outing was not over. He must take her to the marble-cutter's yard, filled with all sorts of statues, urns, benches, and columns, and show her again the ruts and grooves cut in the big stone well-head, and tell her once more the story of how it had stood in an old palace in Venice, where the streets were all water and everybody went visiting in boats. And then she must stop at the florist's to see whether he had any new ferns in his window, and have Felix again explain the difference between the big and little ferns and why the palms had such long leaves.
She was ready now for her visit to the two old painters, but this time Felix lingered. He had caught sight of a garden wall in the rear of an old house, and with his hand in hers had crossed the street to study it the closer. The wall was surmounted by a solid, wrought-iron railing into which some fifty years or more ago a gardener had twisted the tendrils of a wistaria. The iron had cut deep, and so inseparable was the embrace that human skill could not pull them apart without destroying them both.
As he reached the sidewalk and got a clearer view of the vine, tracing the weave of its interlaced branches and tendrils, Masie noticed that he stopped suddenly and for a moment looked away, lost in deep thought. She caught, too, the shadow that sometimes settled on his face, one she had seen before and wondered over. But although her hand was still in his, she kept silent until he spoke.
"Look, dear Masie," he said at last, drawing her to him, "see what happens to those who are forced into traps! It was the big knot that held it back! And yet it grew on!"
Masie looked up into his thoughtful face. "Do you think the iron hurts it, Uncle Felix?" she asked with a sigh.
"I shouldn't wonder; it would me," he faltered.
"But it wasn't the vine's fault, was it?"
"Perhaps not. Maybe when it was planted nobody looked after it, nor cared what might happen when it grew up. Poor wistaria! Come along, darling!"
At last they turned into 10th Street, Fudge scurrying ahead to the very door of the grim building, where a final dash brought him to Ganger's, his nose having sniffed at every threshold they passed and into every crack and corner of the three flights of stairs.
Felix's own nostrils were now dilating with pleasure. The odor of varnish and turpentine had brought back some old memories—as perfumes do for us all. A crumpled glove, a bunch of withered roses, the salt breath of an outlying marsh, are often but so many fairy wands reviving comedies and tragedies on which the curtains of forgetfulness have been rung down these many years.
Something in the aroma of the place was recalling kindred spirits across the sea, when the door was swung wide and Ganger in a big, hearty voice, cried:
"Mr. O'Day, is it? Oh, I am glad! And that dear child, and—Hello! who invited you, you restless little devil of a dog? Come in, all of you! I've a model, but she doesn't care and neither do I. And this, Mr. O'Day, is my old friend, Sam Dogger—and he's no relation of yours, you imp!"—with a bob of his grizzled head at Fudge—"He's a landscape-painter and a good one—one of those Hudson River fellows—and would be a fine one if he would stick to it. Give me that hat and coat, my chick-a-biddy, and I'll hang them up. And now here's a chair for you, Mr. O'Day, and please get into it—and there's a jar full of tobacco, and if you haven't got a pipe of your own you'll find a whole lot of corncobs on the mantelpiece and you can help yourself."
O'Day had stood smiling at the painter, Masie's hand fast in his, Fudge tiptoeing softly about, divided between a sense of the strangeness of the place and a certainty of mice behind the canvases. Felix knew the old fellow's kind, and recognized the note of attempted gayety in the voice—the bravado of the poor putting their best, sometimes their only, foot foremost.
"No, I won't sit down—not yet," he answered pleasantly; "I will look around, if you will let me, and I will try one of your pipes before I begin. What a jolly place you have here! Don't move"—this to the model, a slip of a girl, her eyes muffled in a lace veil, one of Ganger's Oriental costumes about her shoulders—"I am quite at home, my dear, and if you have been a model any length of time you will know exactly what that means."
"Oh, she's my Fatima," exclaimed Ganger. "Her real name is Jane Hoggson, and her mother does my washing, but I call her Fatima for short. She can stop work for the day. Get down off the platform, Jane Hoggson, and talk to this dear little girl. You see, Mr. O'Day, now that the art of the country has gone to the devil and nobody wants my masterpieces, I have become an Eastern painter, fresh from Cairo, where I have lived for half a century—principally on Turkish paste and pressed figs. My specialty at present—they are all over my walls, as you can see—is dancing-girls in silk tights or without them, just as the tobacco shops prefer. I also do sheiks, muffled to their eyebrows in bath towels, and with scimitars—like that one above the mantel. And very profitable, too; MOST profitable, my dear sir. I get twenty doldars for a real odalisk and fifteen for a bashi-bazouk. I can do one about every other day, and I sell one about every other month. As for Sam Dogger here—Sam, what is your specialty? I said landscapes, Sam, when Mr. O'Day came in, but you may have changed since we have been talking."
The wizened old gentleman thus addressed sidled nearer. He was ten years younger than Ganger, but his thin, bloodless hands, watery eyes, their lids edged with red, and bald head covered by a black velvet skull-cap made him look that much older.
"Nat talks too much, Mr. O'Day," he piped in a high-keyed voice. "I often tell Nat that he's got a loose hinge in his mouth, and he ought to screw it tight or it will choke him some day when he isn't watching. He! He!" And a wheezy laugh filled the room.
"Shut up, you old sardine! You don't talk enough. If you did you'd get along better. I'll tell you, Mr. O'Day, what Sam does. Sam's a patcher-up—a 'puttier.' That's what he is. Sam can get more quality out of a piece of sandpaper, a pot of varnish, and a little glue than any man in the business. If you don't believe it, just bring in a fake Romney, or a Gainsborough, or some old Spanish or Italian daub with the corners knocked off where the signature once was, or a scrape down half a cheek, or some smear of a head, with half the canvas bare, and put Sam to work on it, and in a week or less out it comes just as it left the master's easel—'Found by his widow after his death' or 'The property of an English nobleman on whose walls it has hung for two centuries.' By thunder! isn't it beautiful?" He chuckled. "Wonderful how these bullfrogs of connoisseurs swallow the dealers' flies! And here am I, who can paint any blamed thing from a hen-coop to a battle scene, doing signs for tobacco shops; and there is Sam, who can do Corots and Rousseaus and Daubignys by the yard, obliged to stick to a varnish pot and a scraper! Damnable, isn't it? But we don't growl, do we, Sammy? When Sammy has anything left over, he brings half of it down to me—he lives on the floor above—and when I get a little ahead and Sammy is behind, I send it up to him. We are the Siamese twins, Sammy and I, aren't we, Sam? Where are you, anyway? Oh, he's after the dog, I see, moving the canvases so the little beggar won't run a thumb-tack in his paw. Sam can no more resist a dog, my dear Mr. O'Day, than a drunkard can a rum-mill, can you, Sam?"
"At it again, are you, Nat?" wheezed the wizened old gentleman, dusting his fingers as he reappeared from behind the canvases, his watery eyes edged with a deeper red, due to his exertions. "Don't pay any attention to him, Mr. O'Day. What he says isn't half true, and the half that is true isn't worth listening to. Now tell me about that frame he's ordered. He don't want it, and I've told him so. If you are willing to lend it to him, he'll pay you for it when the picture is sold, which will never be, and by that time he'll—"
"Dry up, you old varnish pot!" shouted Ganger, "how do you know I won't pay for it?"
"Because your picture will never be hung—that's why!"
"Mr. Ganger did not want to buy it," broke in Felix, between puffs from one of his host's corn-cob pipes. "He wanted to exchange something for it—'swap' he called it."
"Oh, well," wheezed Sam, "that's another thing. What were you going to give him in return, Nat? Careful, now—there's not much left."
"Oh, maybe some old stuff, Sammy. Move along, you blessed little child—and you, too, Jane Hoggson! You're sitting on my Venetian wedding-chest—real, too! I bought it forty years ago in Padua. There are some old embroideries down in the bottom, or were, unless Sam has been in here while I—Oh, no, here they are! Beg pardon, Sammy, for suspecting you. There—what do you think of these?"
Felix bent over the pile of stuffs, which, under Ganger's continued dumpings, was growing larger every minute—the last to see the light being part of a priest's Cope and two chasubles.
"There—that is enough!" said Felix. "This chasuble alone is worth more than the frame. We will put the Florentine frame at ten dollars and the vestment at fifteen. What others have you, Mr. Ganger? There's a great demand for these things when they are good, and these are good. Where did you get them?"
"Worth more than the frame? Holy Moses!" whistled Ganger. "Why, I thought you'd want all there was in the chest! And you say there are people out of a lunatic asylum looking for rags like this?" And he held up one end of the cope.
"Yes, many of them. To me, I must say, they are worth nothing, as I don't like the idea of mixing up church and state. But Mr. Kling's customers do, and if they choose to say their prayers before a chasuble on a priest's back on Sunday and make a sofa cushion of it the next day, that is their affair, not mine. And now, what else? You spoke of some costumes this morning."
"Yes, I did speak of my costumes, but I'm afraid they are too modern for you—I make 'em up myself. Get up, Jane, and let Mr. O'Day see what you've got on!"
Jane jumped to her feet, looking less Oriental than ever, her spangled veil having dropped about her shoulders, her red hair and freckled face now in full view.
"I think her dress is beautiful, Uncle Felix," whispered Masie.
"Do you, sweetheart? Well, then, maybe I might better look again. What else have you in the way of Costumes, Mr. Ganger?"
Dogger stepped up. "He hasn't got a single thing worth a cent; he buys these pieces down in Elizabeth Street, out of push-carts, and Jane Hoggson's mother sews them together. But, my deary"—here he laid his hand on Masie's head—"would you like to see some REAL ONES, all-gold-and-silver lace—and satin shoes—and big, high bonnets with feathers?"
Masie clapped her hands in answer and began whirling about the room, her way of telling everybody that she was too happy to keep still.
"Well, wait here; I won't be a minute."
"Sam's fallen in love with her, too," muttered Ganger, "and I don't blame him. Come here, you darling, and let me talk to you. Do you know you are the first little girl that's ever been inside this place for ever—and ever and EVER—so long? Think of that, will you? Not one single little girl since—Oh, well, I just can't remember—it's such an awful long time. Dreadful, isn't it? Hear that old Sam stumbling down-stairs! Now let's see what he brings you."
Dogger's arms were full. "I've a silk dress," he puffed, "and a ruffled petticoat, and a great leghorn hat—and just look at these feathers, and you never saw such a pair of slippers and silk stockings! And now let's try 'em on!"
The child uttered a little scream of delight. "Oh, Uncle Felix! Isn't it lovely? Can't I have them? Please, Uncle Felix!" she cried, both hands around his shirt collar in supplication.
"Take 'em all, missy," shouted Sam. Then, turning to Felix: "They belonged to an actor who hired half of my studio and left them to pay for his rent, which they didn't do, not by a long chalk, and—Oh, here's another hat—and, oh, such a lovely old cloak! Yes, take 'em all, missy—I'm glad to get rid of 'em—before Nat claps them on Jane and goes in for Puritan maidens and Lady Gay Spankers. Oh, I know you, Nat! I wouldn't trust you out of my sight! Take 'em along, I say." He stopped and turned toward Felix again.
"Couldn't you bring her down here once in a while, Mr. O'Day?" he continued, a strange, pathetic note in his wheezing voice. "Just for ten minutes, you know, when she's out with the dog, or walking with you. Nobody ever comes up these stairs but tramps and book agents—even the models steer clear. It would help a lot if you'd bring her. Wouldn't you like to come, missy? What did you say her name was? Oh, yes—Masie—well, my child, that's not what I'd call you; I'd call you—well, I guess I wouldn't call you anything but just a dear, darling little girl! Yes, that's just what I'd call you. And you are going to let me give them to her, aren't you, Mr. O'Day?"
Felix grasped the old fellow's thin, dry hand in his own strong fingers. For an instant a strange lump in his throat clogged his speech. "Of course, I'll take the costumes, and many thanks for your wish to make the child happy," he answered at last. "I am rather foolish about Masie myself; and may I tell you, Mr. Dogger, that you are a very fine old gentleman, and that I am delighted to have made your acquaintance, and that, if you will permit me I shall certainly come again?"
Dogger was about to reply when Masie, Looking up into the wizened face, cried: "And may I put them on when I like, if I'm very, very—oh, so VERY careful?"
"Yes, you buttercup, and you can wear them full of holes and do anything else you please to them, and I won't care a mite."
And then, with Jane Hoggson's help, he put on Masie's own hat and coat, which Ganger had hung on an easel, and Masie called Fudge from his mouse-hole, and Felix shook hands first with Nat and then with Sam, and last of all with Jane, who looked at him askance out of one eye as she bobbed him half a courtesy. And then everybody went out into the hall and said good-by once more over the banisters, Felix with the bundle under his arm, Masie throwing kisses to the two old gnomes craning their necks over the banisters, Fudge barking every step of the way down the stairs.
The glimpse which Felix had caught of these two poor, unappreciated old men, living contentedly from hand to mouth, gayly propping each other up when one or the other weakened, had strangely affected him. If, as he reasoned, such battered hulks, stranded these many years on the dry sands of incompetency, with no outlook for themselves across the wide sea over which their contemporaries were scudding with all sails set before the wind of success—if these castaways, their past always with them and their hoped-for future forever out of their reach, could laugh and be merry, why should not he carry some of their spirit into his relations with the people among whom his lot was now thrown?
That these people had all been more than good to him, and that he owed them in return something more than common politeness now took possession of his mind. Few such helping hands had ever been held out to him. When they had been, the proffered palm had generally concealed a hidden motive. Hereafter he would try to add what he could of his own to the general fund of good-fellowship and good deeds.
He would continue his nightly search—and he had not missed a single evening—but he would return earlier, so as to be able to spend an hour reading to Masie before she went to bed, or with his other friends and acquaintances of "The Avenue"—especially with Kitty and John. He had been too unmindful of them, getting back to his lodgings at any hour of the night, either to let himself in by his pass-key—all the lights out and everybody asleep—or to find only Kitty or John, or both, at work over their accounts or waiting up for Mike or Bobby or for one of their wagons detained on some dock. And since Kling had raised his salary, enabling him not only to recover his dressing-case, which then rested on his mantel, but to take his meals wherever he happened to be at the moment—he had seldom dined at home—a great relief in many ways to a man of his tastes.
Kitty, though he did not know it, had demurred and had talked the matter over with John, wondering whether she had neglected his comfort. When she had questioned him, he had settled it with a pat on her shoulders. "Just let me have my way this time, my dear Mrs. Cleary," he had said gently but firmly. "I am a bad boarder and cause you no end of trouble, for I am never on time. And please keep the price as it is, for I don't pay you half enough for all your goodness to me."
Now under the impulse of his new resolution, and rather ashamed of his former attitude in view of all her unremitting attentions, he resumed his place at her table. Nor did he stop here. He taught her to broil a chop over her coal fire by removing the stove lid—until then they had been fried—and a new way with a rasher of bacon, using the carving-fork instead of a pan. The clearing of the famous coffee-pot with an egg—making the steaming mixture anew whenever wanted instead of letting the dented old pot simmer away all day on the back of the stove—was another innovation, making the evening meal just that much more enjoyable, greatly to the delight of the hostess, who was prouder of her boarder than of any other human being who had come into her life, except John and Bobby.
These renewed intimacies opened his eyes to another phase of the life about him, and he soon found himself growing daily more interested in the sweet family relations of the small household.
"What do I care for what we haven't got," Kitty said to him one night when some economies in the small household were being discussed. "I'm better off than half the women who stop at my door in their carriages. I got two arms, and I can sleep eight hours when I get the chance, and John loves me and so does Bobby and so does my big white horse Jim. There ain't one of them women as knows what it is to work for her man and him to work for her." All the other married couples he had seen had pulled apart, or lived apart—mentally, at least. These two seemed bound together heart and soul.
More than once he contrived to stop at the Studio Building, where both of the old fellows were almost always to be found sitting side by side, and, picking them up bodily, he had set them down on hard chairs in a rathskeller on Sixth Avenue, where they had all dined together, the old fellows warmed up with two beers apiece. This done, he had escorted them back, seen them safely up-stairs, and returned to his lodgings.
It was after one of these mild diversions that, before going to his room, he pushed open the door of the Clearys' sitting-room with a cheery "May I come in, Mistress Kitty?"
"Oh, but I'm glad to see ye!" was the joyous answer. "I was sayin' to myself: 'Maybe ye'd come in before he went.' Here's Father Cruse I been tellin' ye about—and, Father, here's Mr. O'Day that's livin' wid us."
A full-chested man of forty, in a long black cassock, standing six feet in his stockings, his face alight with the glow of a freshly kindled pleasure, rose from his chair and held out his hand. "The introduction should be quite unnecessary, Mr. O'Day," he exclaimed in the full, sonorous voice of a man accustomed to public speaking. "You seem to have greatly attached these dear people to you, which in itself is enough, for there are none better in my parish."
Felix, who had been looking the speaker over, taking in his thoughtful face, deep black eyes, and more especially the heavy black eyebrows that lay straight above them, felt himself warmed by the hearty greeting and touched by its sincerity. "I agree with you, Father, in your praise of them," he said as he grasped the priest's hand. "They have been everything to me since my sojourn among them. And, if I am not mistaken, you and I have something else in common. My people are from Limerick."
"And mine from Cork," laughed the priest as he waved his hand toward his empty chair, adding: "Let me move it nearer the table."
"No, I will take my old seat, if you do not mind. Please do not move, Mr. Cleary; I am near enough."
"And are you an importation, Father, like myself?" continued Felix, shifting the rocker for a better view of the priest.
"No. I am only an Irishman by inheritance. I was brought up on the soil, born down in Greenwich village—and a very queer old part of the town it is. Strange to say, there are very few changes along its streets since my boyhood. I found the other day the very slanting cellar door I used to slide on when I was so high! Do you know Greenwich?"
He was sitting upright as he spoke, his hands hidden in the folds of his black cassock, wondering meanwhile what was causing the deep lines on the brow of this high-bred, courteous man, and the anxious look in the deep-set eyes. As priest he had looked into many others, framed in the side window of the confessional—the most wonderful of all schools for studying human nature—but few like those of the man before him; eyes so clear and sincere, yet shadowed by what the priest vaguely felt was some overwhelming sorrow.
"Oh, yes, I know it as I know most of New York," Felix was saying; "it is close to Jefferson Market and full of small houses, where I should think people could live very cheaply"; adding, with a sigh, "I have walked a great deal about your city," and as suddenly checked himself, as if the mere statement might lead to discussion.
Kitty, who had been darning one of John's gray yarn stockings—the needle was still between her thumb and forefinger—leaned forward. "That's the matter with him, Father, and he'll never be happy until he stops it," she cried. "He don't do nothin' but tramp the streets until I think he'd get that tired he'd go to sleep standin' up."
Felix turned toward her. "And why not, Mrs. Cleary?" he asked with a smile. "How can I learn anything about this great metropolis unless I see it for myself?"
"But it's all Sunday and every night! I get that worried about ye sometimes, I'm ready to cry. And ye won't listen to a thing I say! I been waitin' for Father Cruse to get hold of ye, and I'm goin' to say what's in my mind." Here she looked appealingly to the priest. "Now, ye just talk to him, Father, won't ye, please?"
The priest, laughing heartily, raised his protesting hands toward her. "If he fails to heed you, Mrs. Cleary, he certainly won't listen to me. What do you say for yourself, Mr. O'Day?"
Felix twisted his head until he could address his words more directly to his hostess. "Please keep on scolding me, my dear Mrs. Cleary. I love to hear you. But there is Father Cruse, why not sympathize with him? He tramps to some purpose. I am only the Wandering Jew, who does it for exercise."
Kitty held the point of the darning-needle straight out toward Felix. "But why must you do it Sundays, Mr. O'Day? That's what I want to know."
"But Sunday is my holiday."
"Yes, and there's early mass. Ye'd think he'd come, wouldn't ye, Father?"
One of O'Day's low, murmuring laughs, that always sounded as if he had grown unaccustomed to letting the whole of it pass his lips, filtered through the room.
"You see what a heathen I am, Father," he exclaimed. "But I am going to turn over a new leaf. I shall honor myself by visiting St. Barnabas's some day very soon, and shall sit in the front pew—or, perhaps, in yours, Mrs. Cleary, if you will let me—now that I know who officiates," and he inclined his head graciously toward the priest. "I hope the service is not always in the morning!"
"Oh, no, we have a service very often at night, sometimes at eight o'clock."
"And how long does that last?"
"Perhaps an hour."
"And so if I should come at eight and wait until you are free, you could give me, perhaps, another hour of yourself?"
"Yes, and with the greatest pleasure. But why at those hours?" asked the priest with some curiosity.
"Because I am very busy at other times. But I want to be quite frank. If I come, it will not be because I need your service, but because I shall want to see YOU. Your church is not my church, and never has been, but your people—especially your priests—have always had my admiration and respect. I have known many of your brethren in my time. One in particular, who is now very old—a dear abbe, living in Paris. Heaven is made up of just such saints."
The priest clasped his hands together. "We have many such, sir," he replied solemnly. The acknowledgment came reverently, with a gleam that shone from under the heavy brows.
Felix caught its brilliance, and the sense of a certain bigness in the man passed through him. He had been prepared for his quiet, well-bred dignity. All the priests he had known were thoroughbreds in their manner and bearing; their self-imposed restraint, self-effacement, absence of all unnecessary gesture, and modulated voices had made them so; but the warmth of this one's underlying nature was as unexpected as it was pleasurable.
"Yes, you have many such," O'Day repeated simply after a slight pause during which his thoughts seemed to have wandered afar. "And now tell me," he asked, rousing himself to renewed interest, "where your work lies—your real work, I mean. The mass is your rest."
The priest turned quickly. He wondered if there were a purpose behind the question. "Oh, among my people," he answered, the slow, even, non-committal tones belying the eagerness of his gesture.
"Yes, I know; but go on. This is a great city—greater than I had ever supposed—greater, in many ways, than London. The luxury and waste are appalling; the misery is more appalling still. What sort of men and women do you put your hands on?"
"Here are some of them," answered the priest, his forefinger pointing to Kitty and John.
"We could all of us do without churches and priests," ventured Felix, his eyes kindling, "if your parishioners were as good as these dear people."
"Well, there's Bobby," laughed the priest, his face turned toward the boy, who was sound asleep in his chair, Toodles, the door-mat of a dog, sprawled at his feet.
"And are there no others, Father Cruse?"
The priest, now convinced of a hidden meaning in the insistent tones, grew suddenly grave, and laid his hand on O'Day's knee. "Come and see me some time, and I will tell you. My district runs from Fifth Avenue to the East River, from the homes of the rich to the haunts of the poor, and there is no form of vice and no depth of suffering the world over that does not knock daily at my study door. Do not let us talk about it here. Perhaps some day we may work together, if you are willing."
Kitty, who had been listening, her heart throbbing with pride over Felix, who had held his own with her beloved priest, and still fearing that the talk would lead away from what was uppermost in her mind—O'Day's welfare—now sprang from her chair before Felix could reply. "Of course he'll come, Father, once he's seen ye."
"Yes, I will," answered Felix cordially. "And it will not be very long either, Father. And now I must say good night. It has been a real pleasure to meet you. You have been a most kindly grindstone to a very dull and useless knife, and I am greatly sharpened up. After all, I think we both agree that it is rather difficult to keep anything bright very long unless you rub it against something still brighter and keener. Thank you again, Father," and with a pat of his fingers on Kitty's shoulder as he passed, and a good night to John, he left the room on his way to his chamber above.
Kitty waited until the sound of O'Day's footsteps told her that he had reached the top of the stairs and then turned to the priest. "Well, what do ye think of him? Have I told ye too much? Did ye ever know the beat of a man like that, livin' in a place like this and eatin' at my table, and never a word of complaint out o' him, and everybody lovin' him the moment they clap their two eyes on him?"
The priest made no immediate answer. For some seconds he gazed into the fire, then looked at John as if about to seek some further enlightenment, but changing his mind faced Kitty. "Is his mail sent here?"
"What? His letters?"
"He don't have any—not one since he's been wid us."
"Anybody come to see him?"
"Niver a soul."
The priest ruminated for a moment more, and then said slowly, as if his mind were made up: "It does not matter; somebody or something has hurt him, and he has gone off to die by himself. In the old days such men sought the monasteries; to-day they try to lose themselves in the crowd."
Again he ruminated, the delicate antennae of his hands meeting each other at the tips.
"A most extraordinary case," he said at last. "No malice, no bitterness—yet eating his heart out. Pitiful, really; and the worst thing about it is that you can't help him, for his secret will die with him. Bring him to me sometime, and let me know before you come so I may be at home."
"You don't think there's anything crooked about him, Father, do you?" said John, who had sat tilted back against the wall and now brought the front legs of his chair to the floor with a bang.
"What do you mean by crooked. John?" asked the priest.
"Well, he blew in here from nowheres, bringin' a couple of trunks and a hat-box, and not much in 'em, from what Kitty says. And he might blow out again some fine night, leavin' his own full of bricks, carting off instead some I keep on storage for my customers, full of God knows what!—but somethin' that's worth money, or they wouldn't have me take care of 'em. There ain't nothin' to prevent him, for he's got the run of the place day and night. And Kitty's that dead stuck on him she'll believe anything he says."
Kitty wheeled around in her seat, her big strong fist tightly clinched. "Hold your tongue, John Cleary!" she cried indignantly. "I'd knock any man down—I don't care how big he was—that would be a-sayin' that of ye without somethin' to back it up, and that's what'll happen to ye if ye don't mend your manners. Can't ye see, Father, that Mr. Felix O'Day is the real thing, and no sham about him? I do, and Kling does, and so does that darlin' Masie, and every man, woman, and child around here that can get their hands on him or a word wid him. Shame on ye, John! Tell him so, Father Cruse!"
The priest kept silent, waiting until the slight family squall—never very long nor serious between John and Kitty—had spent itself.
"Well, I'm not sayin' anything against Mr. O'Day, Kitty," broke in John. "I'm only askin' for information. What do you think of him, Father? What's he up to, anyhow? There ain't any of 'em can fool ye. I don't want to watch him—I ain't got no time—and I won't if he's all right."
The priest rose from his chair and stood looking down at Kitty, his hands clasped behind his back. "You believe in him, do you not?"
"I do—up to the handle-and I don't care who knows it!"
"Then I would not worry, John Cleary, if I were you."
"Well, what does she know about it, Father?"
"What every good woman always knows about every good man. And now I must go."
As was to be expected, Kitty's first words to O'Day on the following morning related to his meeting with Father Cruse. "Ye'll not find a better man anywhere," she had said to him, "and there ain't a trouble he can't cure."
Felix had smiled at her enthusiasm for her idol and comforted her by saying that it had given him distinct pleasure to meet him, adding: "A big man with a big soul, that priest of yours, Mistress Kitty. I begin to see now why you and your husband lead such human lives. Yes—a fine man."
But no closer intimacy ensued, nor did he pursue the acquaintance—not even on the following Sunday, when Kitty urged him, almost to importunity, to go and hear the Father say mass. He was not ready as yet, he said to himself, for friendships among men of his own intellectual caliber. In the future he might decide otherwise. For the present, at least, he meant to find whatever peace and comfort he could among the simple people immediately around him—meagrely educated, often strangely narrow-minded, but possessing qualities which every day aroused in him a profounder admiration.
With the quick discernment of the man of the world—one to whom many climes and many people were familiar—he had begun to discover for himself that this great middle class was really the backbone of the whole civil structure about him, its self-restraint, sanity, and cleanliness marking the normal in the tide-gauge of the city's activities; the hysteria of the rich and the despair of the poor being the two extremes.
Here, as he repeatedly observed, were men absorbed in their several humble occupations, proud of their successes, helpful of those who fell by the wayside, good citizens and good friends, honest in their business relations, each one going about his appointed task and leaving the other fellow unmolested in his. Here, too, were women, good mothers to their children and good wives to their husbands, untiring helpmates, regarding their responsibilities as mutual, and untroubled as yet by thoughts of their own individual identities or what their respective husbands owed to them.
This was why, instead of renewing his acquaintance with Father Cruse, he preferred to halt for a few minutes' talk with some one of Kitty's neighbors—it might be the liveryman next door who had been forty years on the Avenue, or one of the shopkeepers near by, most of whom were welcome to Kitty's sitting-room and kitchen, and all of whom had shared her coffee. Or it might be that he would call at Digwell's, whose undertaker's shop was across the way and whose door was always open, the gas burning as befitted one liable to be called upon at any hour of the day or night; or perhaps he would pass the time of day with Pestler, the druggist; or give ten minutes to Porterfield, listening to his talk about the growing prices of meat.
Had you asked his former associates why a man of O'Day's intelligence should have cultivated the acquaintance of an undertaker like Digwell, for instance, whose face was a tombstone, his movements when on duty those of a crow stepping across wet places in a cornfield, they would have shaken their heads in disparaging wonder. Had you asked Felix he would have answered with a smile: "Why to hear Digwell laugh!" And then, warming to his subject, he would have told you what a very jolly person Digwell really was, if you were fortunate enough to find him unoccupied in his private den, way back in the rear of his shop. How he had entertained him by the hour with anecdotes of his early life when he was captain of a baseball team, and what fun he had gotten out of it, and did still, when he could sneak away to help pack the benches.
Had you inquired about Pestler, the druggist, there would have followed some such reply as: "Pestler? Did you say? Because Pestler is one of the most surprising men I know. He has kept that same shop, he tells me, for twenty-two years. Of course, he knows only a very little about drugs—just enough to keep him out of the hands of the police—but then none of you are aware, perhaps, that Pestler is also a student? You might think, when you saw only the top of his fuzzy, half-bald head sticking up above the wooden partition, that he was putting up a prescription, but you would be wrong. What he is really doing, with the aid of his microscope, is dissecting bugs, and pasting them on glass slides for use in the public schools. And he plays the violin—and very well, too! He often entertains me with his music."
Sanderson, the florist, was another denizen who interested him. To look at Sanderson tying ribbons on funeral wreaths, no one would ever have supposed that there was rarely a first night at the opera at which he was not present, paying for his ticket, too, and rather despising Pestler, who got his theatre tickets free because he allowed the managers the use of his windows for advertisements. Felix forgave even his frozen roses whenever the Scotchman, having found a sympathetic listener, launched out upon his earlier experiences among opera stars, especially his acquaintance with Patti, whom he had known before she became great and whom he always spoke of as devotees do of the Madonna—with bated breath and a sigh of despair that he would never hear her again.
Then, too, there was Codman. O'Day was always enthusiastic over Codman. "I have taken a great fancy to that fishmonger, and a fine fellow he is," he said one night to Kitty and John. "His shop was shut when I first called on him, but he was good enough to open it at my knock, and I have just spent half an hour, and a very delightful half-hour, watching him handle the sea food, as he calls it, in his big refrigerator. I got a look, too, at his chest and his arms, and at his pretty wife and children. She is really the best type of the two. American, you say, both of them, and a fine pair they are, and he tells me he pulled a surf-boat in your coast-guard when he was a lad of twenty, then took up fishing, and then went into Fulton Market, helping at a stall, and now he is up here with two delivery wagons and four assistants and is a member of a fish union, whatever that is. It's astonishing! And yet I have met him many a time pushing his baby-carriage around the block."
"Yes," Kitty answered, putting on a shovel of coal, "and I'll lay ye a wager, Mr. O'Day, that Polly Codman will be drivin' through Central Park in her carriage before five years is out; and she deserves it, for there ain't a finer woman from here to the Battery."
"I am quite sure of it, Mistress Kitty. That is where the American comes in—or, perhaps it is the New Yorker. I have not been here long enough to find out."
Of all these neighbors, however, it was Timothy Kelsey, the hunchback, largely because of his misfortunes and especially because of his vivid contrast to all the others, who appealed to him most. Tim, as has been said, kept the second-hand book-shop, half-way down the block on the opposite side of the street. He was but a year or two older than O'Day, but you would never have supposed it had Tim not told you—and not then unless you had looked close and followed the lines of care deep cut in his face and the wrinkles that crowded close to his deep, hollowed-out eyes. When he was a boy of two, his sister, a girl of six, had let him drop to the sidewalk, and he had never since straightened his back. The customary outlets by which fully equipped men earn their living having been denied Tim, he had passed his boyhood days in one of the small, down-town libraries cataloguing the books. With this came the opportunity to attend the auction sales when some rare volume was to be bid for, he representing the library. A small shop of his own followed in the lower part of the town, and then the one a little below Kling's, where he lived alone with only a caretaker to look after his wants.
Kelsey had arrived one morning shortly after Felix had entered Kling's service, carrying a heavily bound book which he laid on a glass case under Otto's nose. "Take a look at it, Otto," he said, after pausing a moment to get his breath, the volume being heavy. "There is more brass than leather on the outside, and more paint than text on the inside. I have two others from the same collection. It is in your line rather than in mine, I take it. What do you think of it? Could you sell it?"
Kling dropped his glasses from his forehead to the bridge of his flat nose. "Vell! Dot is a funny-looking book, Tim. Dot is awful old, you know."
"Yes, seventeenth century, I think," replied Tim.
"Vot you tink, Mr. O'Day? Ain't dot a k'veer book? Oh, you don't have met my new clerk, have you, Tim? Vell dot's funny, for he lives over at Kitty's. Vell, dis is him—Mr. Felix O'Day. Tim Kelsey is an olt friend of mine, Mr. O'Day. You must have seen dot k'veer shop vich falls down into de cellar from de sidevalk—vell, dat's Tim's."
Felix smiled good-naturedly, bowed to Kelsey, and taking the huge, brass-bound volume in his hands, passed his fingers gently across the leather and then over the heavy clamps, turning the book to the light of the window so as to examine the chasing the closer. Tim, who had been watching him, remarked the ease with which he handled the volume and the care with which he ran his eye along the edges of the inside of the back before paying the slightest attention to the quality of the vellum or to the title-page.
"Did you say you thought it was seventeenth century, Mr. Kelsey?" Felix asked thoughtfully.
"Yes, I should say so."
"I would put it somewhat earlier. The binding is wholly tool-work, much older than the brasses, which, I think, have been renewed—at least the clamps—certainly one of them is of a later period. The vellum and the illuminated text"—again he scrutinized the title-page, this time turning a few of the inside leaves—"is before Gutenberg's time. Handwork, of course, by some old monk. Very curious and very interesting. And you say there are two others like this one?"
The hunchback, whose big, shaggy head reached but a very little above the case over which the colloquy was taking place, stretched himself upon his toes as if to see Felix the better. "You seem to know something of books, sir," he remarked in a surprised tone. "May I ask where you picked it up?"
Again Felix smiled, a curious expression lurking around his thin lips—a way with him when he intended to be non-committal. He was now more interested in the speaker than in the object before him, especially in the big dome head and sunken eyes, shaded by bushy eyebrows, the only feature of the man which seemed to have had a chance to grow to its normal size. He had caught, too, a certain high-pitched note, one of suffering running through the hunchback's speech—often discernible in those who have been robbed of their full physical strength and completeness.
"Oh, I don't know, Mr. Kelsey. There are, as you know, but few old clamp books like this in existence. There are some in the Bibliotheque in Paris, and a good many in Spain. I remember handling one some years ago in Cordova. When you have seen a fine example you are not apt to forget it. Why do you sell it?"
Kelsey settled down upon his heels—the upper half of his misshapen body telescoping the lower—and shoved both hands into his pockets. "I did not come here to sell it"—there was a touch of irony in his voice—"I came to find out whether Kling could sell it. Do you think YOU could?"
"I might, or I might not. Only a few people about here, so I understand, can appreciate this sort of thing."
"What is it worth?" He was still eying him closely. People who praised his things were those who never wanted to buy.
"Not very much," replied Felix.
"Oh, but I thought you said it was very rare?"
"So it is—almost too rare—and almost too old. If it had been done fifty or more years later, on one of Gutenberg's presses, Quaritch might give you two thousand pounds for it. Hand-work—which ought really to be more valuable than machine-work—is worth pence, where the other sells for pounds. One of Gutenberg's Bibles sold here a year ago for three thousand guineas, so I am told. What are the other two like?"
"No difference—a clasp is gone from one. The other is—" He stopped, his mien suddenly changing to one of marked respect, even to one of awe. "Will you do me a favor, sir?"
"With pleasure"—again the same quiet smile. He had read the financial workings of the bookseller's mind with infinite amusement and decided to see more of him. "What can I do for you?"
"I want you to come over with me to my shop. You won't object, will you, Otto? I won't keep him a minute."
"Let me come a little later, sir, say about nine o'clock. I have work here until six and an engagement, which is important, until nine. You are open as late as that?"
"Oh, I am always open, or can be," Kelsey answered. "What would I shut up shop for except to keep out the rats—human and otherwise? I live in my place, and, as I live alone, nobody ever disturbs me—nobody I want to see—and I do want you, and want you very much. Well, then, come at nine, and if the blinds are up, ring the bell." And so the acquaintance began.
And yet, interesting as he found these diversions with his neighbors, there were moments when, despite his determination to be cheerful and to add his quota to the general fund of good-fellowship, he had to summon all his courage to prevent his spirit sinking to its lowest ebb. It was then he would turn to the thing that lay nearest to hand, his work—work often so irksome to him that, but for his sense both of obligation and of justice to his employer and his love for Masie, he would have abandoned it altogether.
A possible relief came when through the protests of a customer he had begun to realize the clearer Kling's deficiencies and had, in consequence, cast about for some plan of helping him to do a larger and more remunerative business.
Several ways by which this could be accomplished were outlined in his mind. The disorder everywhere apparent in the shop should first come to an end. The present chaos of tables, chairs, bureaus, and sideboards, heaped higgledy-piggledy one upon the other—the customers edging their way between lanes of dusty furniture—must next be abolished. So must the jumble of glass, china, curios, and lamps. This completed, color and form would be considered, each taking its proper place in the general scheme.
To accomplish these results, all the unsalable, useless, and ugly furniture taking up valuable space must be carted away to some auction room and sold for what it would bring. Light, air, and much-needed room would then follow, and prices advanced to make up for the loss on the "rattletrap" and the "rickety." Stuffs which had been poked away in worthless bureau drawers for years, as being too ragged even to show, were next to be hauled out, patched, and darned, and then hung on the bare white walls, concealing the dirt and the cracks.
And these improvements, strange to say—Kling being as obstinate as the usual Dutch cabinetmaker, and as set in his ways—were finally carried out; slowly at first, and with a rush later when every customer who entered the door began by complimenting Otto on the improvement. Soon the sales increased to such an extent and the stock became so depleted that Kling was obliged to look around for articles of a better and higher grade to take its place.
At this juncture a happy and unforeseen accident came to his aid. A bric-a-brac dealer with a shop in Jersey City filled with some very good English and Italian patterns and a fine assortment of European gatherings—most of them rare, and all of them good—fell ill and was ordered to Colorado for his health. His wife had insisted on going with him, and thus the whole concern, including its good-will—worthless to Kling—was offered to him at half its value.
O'Day spent the entire morning crawling in and out of the interstices of the choked-up Jersey City shop; Masie, as his valuable assistant, propped up with Fudge on a big table until he had finished. The next day the bargain was made. Mike, Bobby, the two Dutchies, and both Kitty's teams were then called in and the transfer began.
It was when this collection of things really worth having were being moved into their new home under Felix's personal direction that Masie announced to him an important event. They were on the second floor at the time, overlooking Hans and Mike, who had just brought up-stairs the first of the purchase, a huge, high-backed gilt chair, stately in its proportions—Spanish, Felix thought—with a few renovations about the arms and back, but a good specimen withal. The chair had evidently excited her imagination, reminding her, perhaps, of some of the pictures in Tim Kelsey's fairy books, for after looking at it for a moment she began clapping her hands and whirling about the room.
"I've thought of such a lovely thing, Uncle Felix! Let's play kings and queens! I will sit in this chair and will dress Fudge up like a page and everybody will come up and courtesy, or I will be the fairy princess and you will be my beauty prince, and—"
Felix, who was holding up the heavy end of a piece of tapestry while the two men were clearing a place for it behind the chair, called out, "When's all this to happen, Tootcoms?"—one of his pet names; he had a dozen of them.
"Why next Saturday?"
"Because then I'm eleven years old, and you know that a great many fairy princesses are never any older."
Down went the tapestry. "Your birthday! You blessed little angel! Eleven years old! My goodness, how time flies! Pretty soon you will be in long dresses, with your hair in a knot on the top of your head. You never told me a word about it!"
"No, but I do now. And I am just going to have a party—a real party. And I am going to invite everybody, all the girls I know and all the boys and all the old people."
Felix had her beside him now, her fresh young cheek against his. "You don't tell me! Well! I never heard anything like it! And what will your father say?"
Her face fell. "Don't let's tell him! Let's have a surprise."
Felix shook his head. "I am afraid we could never do that, unless we locked him up in the cellar and did not give him a thing to eat until everything was ready. Oh, just think how he would beg for mercy!"
Masie rubbed her cheek up and down that of Felix in disapproval. "No, you wouldn't be so mean to poor Popsy."
"Well, then, suppose—suppose—" and he held her teasingly from him to note the effect of his words—"suppose we make him go away—way off somewhere, to buy something—so far away that he could not come back until the next day. How would that do?"
"No, that won't do—not a little bit! I've got a better plan. You go right down-stairs this minute and tell him it's all fixed, and that I'm going out this very afternoon to invite everybody myself."
Felix made a wry fate. "Suppose he sends me about my business?"
"He won't. He thinks you are the most WONDERFUL man in the world—he told Mr. Kelsey so; I heard him—and he won't refuse you anything—oh, Uncle Felix"—both arms were around his neck now, always her last argument—"I do so want a birthday party and I want it right here in this room."
Felix smoothed back the hair from her pleading eyes and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. For a moment there was silence between them, he continuing to smooth back her hair, she cuddling the tighter, her usual way. She always let him think a while and it always came out right. But he had made up his mind. It had been years since a birthday of his own had been celebrated; nor had he ever helped, so far as he could recollect, to celebrate the birthday of any child. Yes, Masie should have her birthday, if he could bring it about, and it should be the happiest of all her life.
Suddenly he rose, releasing his neck from her grasp, and ran his eyes around the almost bare interior—the big chair being the only article, so far, in place. "It will make a grand banquet hall, Masie," he said, as if speaking more to himself than to her. "Let me see!" He walked half the length of the floor and began studying the walls and the bare rafters of the ceiling. These last had once been yellow-washed, age and dust having turned the kalsomine to an old-gold tint, reminding him of a ceiling belonging to a Venetian palace.
"Yes," he continued, with the same abstracted air, his head upturned, "there's a good place for hanging a big lamp, if there is one in the new lot, and there are spots where I can hang twenty or more smaller ones. I will cover the side walls with stuffs and embroideries and put those long Italian settees against—yes, Tweety-kins, it will come out all right. It will make a splendid banquet hall! And after the party we will leave it just so. Fine, my child! And I have an idea, too—a brilliant idea. Hans, ask Mr. Kling to be good enough to come up here!"
With the surrender of her Uncle Felix, Masie resumed her spinning around the room and kept it up until the father's bald head showed clear above the top of the stairs.
"Masie has had one brilliant idea, Mr. Kling, and I have another. I will tell you mine first." It was wonderful how thoroughly he understood the Dutchman.
"Vell, vot is it?" Otto had sniffed something unusual in the atmosphere and was on the defensive. When there was only one to deal with he sometimes had his way; never when they were leagued together.
"I propose," continued O'Day, "to turn this whole floor into the sort of a room one could live in—like many of the great halls I have seen abroad—and I think we have enough material to make a success of it, plenty of space in which to put everything where it belongs. Leave that big chair where I have placed it, throw some rugs on the floor, nail the stuffs and tapestries to the walls, fasten the brackets and sconces and appliques on top of them, filled with candles, and hang the lanterns and church lamps to the rafters. When I finish with it, you will have a room to which your customers will flock."
Kling, bewildered, followed the play of O'Day's fingers in the air as if he were already placing the ornaments and hangings with which his mind was filled.
"Vell, vot ve do vid de stuff dot's comin'—all dem sideboards and chairs and de pig tables? Ve ain't got de space."
"Half of them will go here, and the balance we will pile away on the top floor. When these are sold then we'll bring down the others—always keeping up the character of the room. That is my idea. What do you think of it?"
The shopkeeper hesitated, his fat features twisted in calculation. Every move of his new salesman had brought him in double his money. The placing of his goods so that a customer would be compelled to crawl over a table in order to see whether a chair had three whole legs or two, dust and darkness helping, had always seemed to him one of the tricks of the trade and not to be abandoned lightly.
"You mean dot ve valk 'round loose in de middle, and everyting is shoved back de Vall behind, so you can see it all over?"
Felix smothered a smile. "Certainly, why not?"
"Vell, Mr. O'Day, I don't know." Then, noticing the quickly drawn brows of his clerk's face and the shadow of disappointment: "Of course, ve can try it, and if it don't vork ve do it over, don't ve?"
Masie slipped her arm through O'Day's and began a joyous tattoo with her foot. She knew now that Felix had carried the day.
"And now for Masie's idea, Mr. Kling."
"Oh, dere is someting else, eh? I tought dere vould be ven you puts your two noddles togedder—Vell, vot is dot all about, eh?"
"She is to have a birthday. She will be eleven years old next Saturday."
"By Jeminy, yes, dot's so! I forgot dot, Masie. Yes, it comes on de tventy-fust. Vy you don't tell me before, little Beesvings?"
"Yes, next Saturday; only four days off," continued Felix, forging ahead to avoid any side-tracking of his main theme. "And what are you going to do for her? Not many more of them before she will be out of the window like a bird, and off with somebody else."
Otto ruminated. He loved his daughter, even if he did sometimes forget her very existence. "Oh, I don't know. I guess ve buy her sometings putty—vot you like to have, Beesvings? Or maybe you like to go to de teater vid Auntie Gossburger. I get de tickets."
The child disengaged her hand from O'Day's arm, pushed back her hair and tiptoed to her father. "I want a party, Popsy—a real party," she whispered, tipping his chin back with her fingers, so he could look at her through his spectacles—not over them, like an ogre.
"Vere you have it?" This came in a bewildered way, as if the pair had the big ballroom at Delmonico's in the back of their heads.
"Here, in this very place," broke in Felix, "after I get it in order."
Kling, gently freeing himself from Masie's hold, stared at his clerk. "Dot vill cost a lot of money, don't it?"
"No, I do not think so."
"Vell, who is coming? De childer all around?"
"Everybody is coming—big, little, and middle-sized," answered Felix. The cat was all out of the bag now.
"Vell, dot's vot I said. You don't can get someting for nodding. You must have blenty to eat and drink."
"No. Some simple refreshment will do—sandwiches, cake, and some ice-cream. I'll take care of that myself, if you'll permit me."
"Vell, now stop a minute vunce—here is anudder idea. Suppose ve make it a Dutch treat—everybody bring sometings. Ve had vun last vinter at Budvick's, de upholsterer, ven he vas married tventy-five years. I give de apples—more as half a peck."
Felix broke into a hearty, ringing laugh—one of the few either Masie or his employer had ever heard escape his lips.
"We will let you off without even the apples this time," he said, when he recovered himself. "They are not coming to get something to eat this time. I will give them something better."
"And you say everybody is comin'. Who is dot everybody?"
"Just leave it all to me, Mr. Kling. And give yourself no concern. I am going to use everything we have: all our cups and saucers, no matter whether they are Spode, Lowestoft, or Worcester; all the platters, German beer mugs, candlesticks—even that rare old tablecloth trimmed with church lace. This is an entertainment to be given by a distinguished antiquary in honor of his lovely daughter"—and he bowed to each in turn—"the whole conducted under the management of his junior clerk, Mr. F. O'Day, who is very much at your service, sir."
Bright and early the following morning Felix began work, and for the next two days took entire charge of the room, walking up and down its length, an absolute dictator, brooking no interference from any one. When Mike's frowsy head or Hans's grimy hands appeared above the level of the landing from the floor below, steadying with their chins some new possession, it was either, "here, in the middle of the room, men!" or, if it were big and cumbersome, "up-stairs, out of the way!" This had gone on until the banquet hall was one conglomerate mass of mixed chattels from the Jersey shop, Kling's old stock being stowed in some other part of the building. Then began the picking out. First the doubtful, but rich in color, tapestries, then the rugs—some fairly good ones—stuffs, old and new, and every available rag which would hold together were spread over the four walls and the front windows. The heavier and more decorative pieces of furniture came next—among them a huge wooden altar which had never been put together and which was now backed close against the tapestries and hanging rugs in the centre of the long wall. Two Venetian wedding-chests, low enough to sit upon, were next placed in position, and between them three Spanish armchairs in faded velvet and one in crinkly leather, held together by big Moorish nails of brass. Above these chests and chairs were hung gilt brackets holding church candles, Spanish mirrors so placed that the shortest woman in the party could see her face, and big Italian disks of dull metal. The walls were wonderful in their rich simplicity, and so was the disposition of the furniture, Felix's skilful eye having preserved the architectural proportions in both the selection and placing of the several articles.
More wonderful than all else, however, was the great gold throne at the end of the room, on which Masie was to sit and receive her guests and which was none other than the big cardinal's chair, incrusted with mouldy gilt, that had first inspired her with the idea of the party. This was hoisted up bodily and placed on an auctioneer's platform which Mike had found tilted back against the wall in the cellar. To hide its dirt and cracks, rugs were laid, pieced out by a green drugget which extended half across the floor, now swept of everything except two refreshment tables.
Next came the ceiling. What Felix did to that ceiling, or rather what that ceiling did for Felix, and how it looked when he was through with it is to this very day a topic of discussion among the now scattered inhabitants of "The Avenue." Masie knew, and so did deaf Auntie Gossburger, who often spent the day with the child. She, with Masie, had been put in charge of the china and glass department, and when the old woman had pulled up from the depths of a barrel first one red cup without a handle and then a dozen or more, and had asked what they were for, Felix had seized them with a cry of joy: "Oil cups! They fit on the tops of these church lamps. I never expected to find these! Mike! Go over to Mr. Pestler's and tell him to send me a small box of floating night-tapers—the smallest he has. Now, Tootcums, you wait and see!"
And then the step-ladder was moved up, and Mike and one of the Dutchies passed up the lamps to Felix, who drove the hooks into the rafters—twenty-two of them—and then slid down to the floor, taking in the general effect, only to clamber up again to lengthen this chain, or shorten that, so that the whole ceiling, when the cups were filled and the tapers lighted, would be a blaze of red stars hung in a firmament of dull, yellow-washed gold.
The final touch came last. This was both a surprise and a discovery. Hans had found it flattened out on the top of a big, circular table, and was about to tear it loose when Felix, who let nothing escape his vigilant eye, seized its metal handle, whereupon the mass sagged, tilted, straightened, and then rounded out into a superb Chinese lantern of yellow silk, decorated with black dragons, with only one tear in its entire circumference, and that one Auntie Gossburger darned so skilfully that nobody noticed the hole. This, Felix, after much consideration, swung to the rafter immediately over the throne, so that its mellow light should fall directly on the child's face.
Kling, while these preparations were in progress, was in a state of mind bordering on the pathetic. Felix had made him promise not to come up until the room was finished, but every few hours his head would be thrust up over the edge of the stairs, his eyes screwed up in his fat face, an expression of wonder, not unmixed with anxiety, flitting across his countenance. Then he would back down-stairs, muttering to himself all the time; his chief cause of complaint being the hiding of so many things his customers might want to buy and the displaying of so many others at which they might only want to look!
There was, however, even after the decorations seemed complete, a bare corner to be filled with something neither too big, nor too small, nor too insistent in color or form. Felix went twice over the stock, old and new, twisted and turned, and was about to give up when he suddenly called to Masie, his face lighting under the glow of a fresh inspiration:
"I have it now! Come, Tootcums, with me! Mr. Sanderson will help us out." All of which came true; for Mr. Sanderson, ten minutes later, had bent his head close to the child's lips to hear the better, and had said: "Only two? Why, Masie, you can have the lot." And that was how the bare corner was filled with three great palms—the biggest he had in his shop—and the grand salon of the Grande Duchesse Masie Beeswings de Kling at last made ready for her guests.
This done, Felix made a final inspection of the room, adding a touch here and there—shifting a piece of pottery or redraping the frayed end of a square of tapestry—and finding that everything kept its place in the general effect, without a single discordant note, drew Masie to a seat beside him on one of the old Venetian chests. Here, with his arms about the enthusiastic child, he laid bare the next and to him the most important number on the programme.
And in this he wrought another upheaval, one almost as great as had taken place in the room. The time-honored custom of all birthday parties entailing upon the invited the giving of presents as proof of affection, was not, he hinted gently, to be observed upon this occasion. "It is Masie who is to give the presents," he whispered, holding her closer, "and not her guests."
The child at first had protested. The long procession of guests coming up to hand her their gifts, and her fun next day when looking them over—knowing how queer some of them would be—had been part of her joyful anticipation, but Felix would not yield.
"You see, Masie, darling," he coaxed, "now that you are going to be a real princess," he was smoothing back her curls as he spoke, "you are going to be so high up in the world that nobody will dare to give you any presents. That is the way with all princesses. Kings and queens are never given presents on their birthdays unless their permission is asked, but, just because they ARE kings and queens, they give presents to everybody else. And then again, Masie, dear, if you stop to think about it, people really get a great deal more fun out of giving things than they do of having things given to them."
She succumbed, as she always did, when her "Uncle Felix," with his voice lowered to a whisper, his lips held close to her ear, either counselled or chided her, and a new joy thrilled through her as he explained how his plan was to be carried out.
Kling lifted up his hands in protest when he heard of O'Day's innovation, but was overruled and bowled over before he had framed his first sentence. It was the sentiment, Felix insisted, which was to be considered, the good feeling behind the gift, not the cost of it. He and Masie had worked it all out together, and please not to interfere.
But Kling did interfere, and right royally, too, when he found time to think it over. Some one of the old German legends must have worked its way through the dull crust of his brain, bringing back memories of his childhood. Perhaps his conscience was pricked by his clerk's attitude. Whatever the cause, certain it is that he crept up-stairs a few hours before his house was to be thrown open to Masie's guests, and, finding the banquet hall completely finished and nobody about, Felix and Masie having gone out together to perfect some little detail connected with the gifts, walked around in an aimless way, overwhelmed by the beauty and charm of the interior as it lay before him in the afternoon light.
On his way down he met the deaf Gossburger coming up.
"Dot is awful nice!" he shouted. "I couldn't believe dot was possible! Dot is a vunderful—VUNderful man! I don't see how dem rags and dot stuff look like dot ven you get 'em togedder anodder vay. And now dere is vun thing I don't got in my head yet: Vot is it about dese presents?"
The old woman recounted the details as best she could.
"And dot is all, is it, Auntie Gossburger? Only of pasteboard boxes vid candies in 'em, and little pieces paper vid writings on 'em dot Mr. O'Day makes? Is dot vot you mean?"
The old woman nodded.
Kling turned suddenly, went down-stairs with his head up and shoulders back, called Hans to keep shop, and put on his hat.
When he returned an hour later, he was followed by a man carrying a big box. This was placed behind Masie's throne and so concealed by a rug that even Felix missed seeing it.
That everybody had accepted—everybody who had been invited—"big, little, and middle-sized"—goes without saying. Masie had called at each house herself, with Felix as cavalier—just as he had promised her. And they had each and every one, immediately abandoned all other plans for that particular night, promising to be there as early as could be arranged, it being a Saturday and the shops on "The Avenue" open an hour later than usual—an indulgence counterbalanced by the fact that next day was Sunday and they could all sleep as long as they pleased.
And not only the neighbors, but Nat Ganger and Sam Dogger accepted. Felix had gone down himself with Masie's message, and they both had said they would come—Sam to be on hand half an hour before the appointed hour of nine so as to serve as High Lord of the Robes, Masie having determined that nobody but "dear old Mr. Dogger" should show her how to put on the costume he had given her.
As for these two castaways, when they did enter the gorgeous room on the eventful night they fairly bubbled over.
"Don't let old Kling touch it," Ganger roared out as soon as he stepped inside, before he had even said "How do you do?" to anybody. "Keep it as an exhibit. Better still, send circulars up and down Fifth Avenue, and open it up as a school—not one of 'em knows how to furnish their houses. How the devil did you—Oh, I see! Just plain yellow-wash and the reflected red light. Looks like a stained-glass window in a measly old church. Where's Sam. Oh, behind that screen. Well come out here and look at that ceiling!"
Sam didn't come out, and didn't intend to. He was busy with the child's curls, which were bunched up in the fingers of one hand, while the other was pressing the wide leghorn hat into the precise angle which would become her most, the Gossburger standing by with the rest of the costume, Masie's face a sunburst of happiness.
"And now the long skirt, Mrs. Bombagger, or whatever your name is. That's it, over her head first and then down along the floor so she will look as if she was grown up. And now the big ostrich-plume fan—a little seedy, my dear, and yellow as a kite's foot, but nobody'll see it under that big, yellow lantern. Now let me look at you! Nat, NAT! where are you, you beggar, stop rummaging around that dead stuff and come behind here and look at this live child! yes, right in here. Now look! Did you ever in all your born days see anything half so pretty?" the outburst ending with, "Scat, you little devil of a dog!" when Fudge gave a howl at being stepped upon.
Masie, as she listened, plumed her head as a pigeon would preen its feathers, stood up to see her train sweep the floor, sat down again to watch the stained satin folds crumple themselves about her feet, and was at last so overcome by it all that she threw her arms around Sam, to his intense delight, and kissed him twice, and would have given Nat an equal number had not Felix called to him that the guests were beginning to arrive.
As to these guests, you could not have gotten their names on one side of Kitty's order-book, nor on both sides, for that matter. There was brisk, bustling Bundleton the grocer in a green necktie, white waistcoat, and checked trousers, arm and arm with his thin wife in black silk and mitts; there was Heffern the dairyman in funeral black, relieved by a brown tie, and his daughter, in variegated muslin, accompanied by two young men whom neither Kling nor Felix nor the Gossburger had ever heard of or seen before, but who were heartily welcomed; there were fat Porterfield the butcher in his every-day clothes, minus his apron, with his two girls, aged ten and fourteen, their hair in pigtails tied with blue ribbons; there were Mr. and Mrs. Codman, all in their best "Sunday-go-to-meetings," with their little daughter Polly, named after the mother, pretty as a picture and a great friend of Masie—most distinguished people were the Codmans, he looking like an alderman and his wife the personification of good humor, her rosy cheeks matching the tint of her husband's necktie.
There was Digwell the undertaker in his professional clothes, enlivened by a white waistcoat and red scarf, quite beside himself with joy because nobody had died or was likely to die so far as he had heard, thus permitting him to "send dull care to the winds!"—his own way of putting it. There was Pestler the druggist in an up-to-date dress suit as good as anybody's—almost as good as the one Felix wore, and from which, for the first time since he landed, he had shaken the creases. There was Tim Kelsey, in the suit of clothes he wore every day, the only difference being the high collar instead of the turned-down one, the change giving him the appearance of a man with a bandaged neck, so narrow were his poor shoulders and so big was the fine head overtopping it. There were Mike and Bobby and the two Dutchies and Sanderson, who came with his hands full of roses for Masie, and a score of others whose names the scribe forgets, besides lots and lots of children of all sizes and ages.
And there were Kitty and John—and they were both magnificent—at least Kitty was—she being altogether resplendent in black alpaca finished off by a fichu of white lace, her big, full-bosomed, robust body filling it without a crease; and he in a new suit bought for the occasion, and which fitted him everywhere except around the waist—a defect which Kitty had made good by means of a well-concealed safety-pin in the back.
It was for Kitty that Felix had been on the lookout ever since the guests began to arrive, and no sooner did her rosy, beaming face appear behind that of her husband, than he pushed his way through the throng to reach her side. "No, not out here, Mistress Kitty," he cried. Had she been of royal blood he could not have treated her with more distinction. "You are to stand alongside of Masie when she comes in; the child has no mother, and you must look after her."
"No mother! Mr. O'Day! God rest your soul, she won't need to do without one long, she's that lovely. There'll be plenty will want to mother, and brother her, too, for that matter. My goodness, what a place ye made of it! Look at them lamps, all fireworks up there, and that big chair! I wonder who robbed a church to get it! Well—well—-WELL! John! did ye ever see the like? Otto, ye ought to rent this place out for a chowder-party ball. Well, well, I NEVER!"
The comments of some of the others, while they voiced their complete surprise, were less enthusiastic. Bundleton, after shaking hands with Felix and Kitty, and then with Kling, dropped his wife and made a tour of the room without uttering a sound of any kind until he reached Felix again, when he remarked gravely: "I should think it would worry you some to keep the moths out of this stuff," and then passed on to tell Kling he must look out "them lamps didn't spill and set things on fire."
Porterfield, as was to be expected, was distinctly practical. "Awful lot of truck when you get it all together, ain't it, Mr. O'Day? I was just tellin' my wife that them two chairs up t'other side of the room wouldn't last long in my parlor, they're that wabbly. But maybe these Fifth Avenue folks don't do no sittin'—just keep 'em in a glass case to look at."
Pestler was more discerning. He had come across an iridescent glass jar, and was edging around for an opportunity to ask Kling the price without letting Felix overhear him—it being an occasion, he knew, in which Mr. O'Day would feel offended if business were mentioned. "Might do to put in my window, if it didn't cost too much," he had begun, and as suddenly stopped as he caught Felix's eyes fastened upon him.
There were others, however, whose delight could not be repressed. Tim Kelsey, after the proper greetings were over, had wandered off down the room, stopping to examine each article in its place on the walls. Finally some pieces of old Delft caught his eye. He made a memorandum of two in a little book he took from his inside pocket, and later on, when a break in the surrounding conversation made it possible, remarked to Felix: "They seem to get everything in the new Delft but the old delicious glaze. On a wall it doesn't matter, but you don't feel like putting real old Delft on a wall. I like to stroke it, as I would a friend's hand."
These inspections and comments over, and that peculiar timidity which comes over certain classes lifted out of their customary environment and doing their best to become accustomed to new surroundings having begun to wear away under the tactful welcome of Felix, and the hour having arrived for the grand ceremony of gift-giving, the throne was pushed back, Masie called from behind her screen, and O'Day's wicker basket filled with the presents was laid by the side of the big chair.
Kling and Kitty were now beckoned to and placed on the left of the throne, Felix taking up his position on the right.
The stir on the platform caused by these arrangements soon attracted everybody's attention and a sudden hush fell upon the room. What was about to happen nobody knew, but something important, or Mr. O'Day would not have stepped to its edge, nor would Otto have been so red in the face, nor Kitty so radiant.
Felix raised his hand to command supreme silence.
"Masie wishes me," he began in his low, even voice, "to tell you that she has done her best to remember every one, and that she hopes nobody has been forgotten. These little trifles she is about to give you are not gifts, but just little mementos to express her thanks for your kindness in coming to her first party. She bids me tell you, too, that her love goes out to every one of you on this the happiest night of her life and that she welcomes you all with her whole heart."
He turned, stepped back a pace, made the radiant child a low bow, held out his hand, and led her into full view of the audience, the rays of the big lantern softening the tones of the quaint, picturesque costume which concealed her slight figure, transforming the child of eleven into the woman of eighteen.
For at least ten seconds, and that is a long period of time when your heart is in your mouth and you are ready to explode with uncontrollable delight, not a sound of any kind broke the silence, no handclap of welcome, no murmur of applause; just plain, simple astonishment, the kind that takes your breath away. That Kling's little girl stood before them, nobody believed. O'Day had fooled them with this new vision, just as he had bewitched them by the glamour of the decorated room. Only when a few simple words of welcome fell from her lips were the flood-gates opened. Then a shout went up which set the candles winking—a shout only surpassed in volume and good cheer when Felix began handing up the little packages from Masie's basket. And dainty little packages they were, filled with all sorts of inexpensive souvenirs that she and Felix (not much money between the two of them) had picked up at Baxter's Toy Shop on Third Avenue, all suggested by some peculiarity of the recipient, all kindly and good-natured, and each one enlivened by a quotation or some original line in Felix's own handwriting.
During the whole delightful ceremony Otto had stood on the left of his daughter, his heart thumping away, his face growing redder every minute, his eyes intent on each guest elbowing a way through the crowd as Masie handed them their gifts, noting the general happiness and the laughter that followed the reading of the lines, wondering all the time why no one was offended at the size and, to him, worthlessness of the several offerings.
When it was all over and the basket empty, he jumped down from the platform, his fat back bent in excitement, tossed aside the rug, lifted the big box, placed it beside the gilt throne, and raised his puffy hands to command attention: "Now listen, everybody! I got someting to say. Beesvings don't have all dis to herselluf. Now it is my turn. Come up closer so I get hold of you. Vait, and I git back on de platform. Here, you olt frent of mine, Dan Porterfield, here is a new butcher-knife sharpener for you, to sharpen your knives on ven you cuts dem bifsteaks. And, Heffern, come close; here is a silver-plated skimmer for dot cream you make, and a pig fan for your daughter. And Polly Codman—git out of de way dere, and let Polly Codman come up!—here, Polly, is a pair of gloves for you and a muffler for Codman, and here is more gloves and neckties and—I got a lot more; I didn't got much time and I bought dem all in a hurry—and dey are all from me and Masie and don't you forgit dot. I ain't never been so happy as I am to-night, and you vas awful good to come and see my little girl dot don't got no mudder. And you must all tank Mr. O'Day for de great help he vas. Now dot's all I got to say."
He drew his hand across his eyes, made an awkward bow, and sat down. Everybody gasped in amazement. Many of them had known him for years, ever since he moved into "The Avenue"—twenty years, at least—but nobody had ever seen him as he was to-night. That he had in his intended generosity overlooked half of his friends made no difference. Those who received something showed it for weeks afterward to everybody who came. Those who had nothing forgave him in their delight over the good-will he had shown to the others. Even Felix, who had been watching him soften and thaw out under the warmth of the child's happiness, and who thought he knew the man and his nature, was astounded, and showed it by grasping for the first time his employer's hand, looking him in the eyes as he said, "I owe you an apology, sir," a proceeding Otto often pondered over, its meaning wholly escaping him.
But the great surprise of the evening, in which even Felix had had no share, was yet to come. He had carried out his promise to provide the simple refreshments, and a table had been set apart for their serving. The sandwiches made at the bakeshop a block below had already arrived and been put in place, and he was about to announce supper, when he became aware that a mysterious conference was being held near the top of the stairs, in which Kitty, Polly Codman, and Heffern's daughter Mary, were taking part. He had already noticed, with some discomfiture, the absence of a number of male guests, half of them having left the room without presenting themselves before Masie to bid her good night, and was about to ask Kitty for an explanation, when a series of thumping sounds reached his ear; something heavy was being rolled along the floor beneath his feet. As the noise increased, Kitty and her beaming coconspirators craned their necks over the banisters and a welcoming roar went up. Bundleton's head now came into view, a wreath of smilax wound loosely around his neck, followed by one of his men carrying a keg of beer; another shouldering a sawhorse, a wooden mallet, and a wooden spigot; and still a third with a basket of stone mugs.
"Come, folks and neighbors, everybody have a glass of beer with me!" shouted Bundleton.
Up went the sawhorse before you would wink your eye! Down went the keg across its arms, the smilax around it! Bang went the bung! In went the wooden spigot! And out flew the white froth!
Another roar now went up, accompanied by great clapping of hands. It was Codman's head this time, a cook's cap resting on his ears, his hands bearing a great dish athwart which lay a cold salmon that the baker had cooked for him that morning. Close behind came Pestler with a tray filled with boxes of candy, and next Sanderson with a flattish basket piled high with carnations, each one tied as a boutonniere; and Porterfield with a bunch of bananas; and so on and so on—each arrival being received with fresh roars and shouts of welcoming approval. Last of all came Kitty, her face one great, pervading, all-embracing laugh, her own big coffee-pot filled to the brim and smoking hot on a waiter, her boy Bobby following, loaded down with cups and saucers.