'The Edenites are possibly too weak and hungry to resist instruction,' said Mary.
'They are neither weak nor hungry,' replied their vice-president, with dignity. 'They eat milk, and stewed fruit, and all the edible grains nicely boiled. It stands to reason that if you can subdue your earthly, devilish, sensual instincts on anything, you can do it on a diet like that. You can't fancy an angel or a Mahatma devouring underdone beef.'
'No,' agreed Mistress Mary; 'but for that matter, the spectacle of an angel eating dried-apple sauce doesn't appeal to my imagination.'
'It's no joking matter,' said Mrs. Grubb, with real tears in her eyes. 'It was my interest in Theosophy that brought me to the Edenic diet. I have good and sufficient motives for denying my appetite, for I've got a certain goal to reach, and I'm in earnest.'
'Then here's my hand, and I respect you for it. Oh, how I should like a hot mutton-chop at this moment!—Do forgive me.'
'I forgive you, because I can see you act up to all the light that has been revealed to you. I don't know as I ought to be proud because I see so much truth. My classes tell me I get these marvellous revelations because I'm so open-minded. Now Mr. Grubb wouldn't and couldn't bear discussion of any sort. His soul never grew, for he wouldn't open a clink where a new idea might creep in. He'd always accompany me to all my meetings (such advantages as that man had and missed!), and sometimes he'd take the admission tickets; but when the speaking began, he'd shut the door and stay out in the entry by himself till it was time to wait upon me home. Do you believe in vaccination?'
'Well, it passes my comprehension how you can be so sure of your beliefs. You'd better come and hear some of the arguments on the opposite side. I am the secretary of the Anti-Vaccination League.' (Mrs. Grubb was especially happy in her anti-societies; negatives seemed to give her more scope for argument.) 'I say to my classes, "You must not blame those to whom higher truths do not appeal, for refusing to believe in that which they cannot understand; but you may reprove them for decrying or ridiculing those laws or facts of nature which they have never investigated with an unprejudiced mind." Well, I must be going. I've sat longer than I meant to, this room is so peaceful and comfortable.'
'But what about Lisa's future? We haven't settled that, although we've had a most interesting and illuminating conversation.'
'Why, I've told you how I feel about her, and you must respect my feeling. The world can only grow when each person allows his fellow- man complete liberty of thought and action. I've kept the child four years, and now when my good care and feeding, together with the regular work and early hours I've always prescribed, have begun to show their fruits in her improved condition, you want she should be put in some institution. Why, isn't she doing well enough as she is? I'm sure you've had a wonderful influence over her.'
'Nothing could induce me to lose sight of her entirely,' said Mistress Mary, 'but we feel now that she is ready to take the next step. She needs a skilled physician who is master both of body and mind, as well as a teacher who is capable of following out his principles. I will see to all that, if you will only give me the privilege.'
Mrs. Grubb sank down in the rocking-chair in despair. 'Don't I need some consideration as well as that little imbecile? Am I, with my ambitions and aspirations, to be for ever hampered by these three nightmares of children? Oh, if I could once get an astral body, I would stay in it, you may be sure!'
'You do not absolutely need Lisa yourself,' argued Mary. 'It is the twins to whom she has been indispensable. Provide for them in some way, and she is freed from a responsibility for which she is not, and never was, fit. It is a miracle that some tragedy has not come out of this daily companionship of three such passionate, irresponsible creatures.'
'Some tragedy will come out of it yet,' said Mrs. Grubb gloomily, 'if I am not freed from the shackles that keep me in daily slavery. The twins are as likely to go to the gallows as anywhere; and as for Lisa, she would be a good deal better off dead than alive, as Mrs. Sylvester says.'
'That isn't for us to decide,' said Mistress Mary soberly. 'I might have been careless and impertinent enough to say it a year ago, but not now. Lisa has all along been the victim of cruel circumstances. Wherever she has been sinned against through ignorance, it is possible, barely possible, that the fault may be atoned for; but any neglect of duty now would be a criminal offence. It does not behove us to be too scornful when we remember that the taint (fortunately a slight one) transmitted to poor little Lisa existed in greater or less degree in Handel and Moliere, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Petrarch, and Mohammed. The world is a good deal richer for them, certainly.'
Mrs. Grubb elevated her head, the light of interest dawned in her eye, and she whipped her notebook out of her pocket.
'Is that a fact?' she asked excitedly.
'It is a fact.'
'Is it generally known?'
'It must be known by all who have any interest in the education of defective persons, since it touches one of the bug-bears which they have to fight.'
'Is there any society in this city devoted to the study of such problems?'
'There is a society which is just on the point of opening an institution for the training of defective children.'
Mrs. Grubb's face fell, and her hand relaxed its grasp upon the pencil. (If there was anything she enjoyed, it was the sensation of being a pioneer in any movement.) Presently she brightened again.
'If it is just starting,' she said, 'then it must need more members, and speakers to stir up the community. Now, I am calculated, by constant association with a child of this character, to be of signal service to the cause. Not many persons have had my chance to observe phenomena. Just give me a letter to the president,—have they elected officers yet?—where do they meet?—and tell him I'll call on him and throw all the weight of my influence on his side. It's wonderful! Handel, Moliere, Buddha, was it—Buddha?—Caesar, Petrarch, and Wellington,—no, not Wellington. Never mind, I'll get a list from you to-morrow and look it all up,—it's perfectly marvellous! And I have one of this great, unhappy, suffering class in my own family, one who may yet be transformed into an Elizabeth Browning or a Joan of Arc!'
Mistress Mary sighed in her heart. She learned more of Mrs. Grubb with every interview, and she knew that her enthusiasms were as discouraging as her apathies.
'How unlucky that I mentioned Napoleon, Caesar, and Mohammed!' she thought. 'I shall be haunted now by the fear that she will go on a lecturing-tour through the country, and exhibit poor Lisa as an interesting example. Mrs. Grubb's mind is like nothing so much as a crazy-quilt.'
CHAPTER VIII—THE YOUNG MINISTER'S PSYCHOLOGICAL OBSERVATIONS
Mrs. Grubb's interest in the education of the defective classes was as short-lived as it was ardent. One interview with the president of the society convinced her that he was not a person to be 'helped' according to her understanding of the term. She thought him a self- sufficient gentleman, inflexible in demeanour, and inhospitable to anybody's ideas or anybody's hobbies but his own. She resented his praise of Mistress Mary and Rhoda, and regarded it fulsome flattery when he alluded to their experiment with Marm Lisa as one of the most interesting and valuable in his whole experience; saying that he hardly knew which to admire and venerate the more—the genius of the teachers, or the devotion, courage, and docility of the pupil.
In the summer months Lisa had gone to the country with Mistress Mary and Edith, who were determined never to lose sight of her until the end they sought was actually attained. There, in the verdant freshness of that new world, Lisa experienced a strange exaltation of the senses. Every wooded path unfolded treasures of leafy bud, blossom, and brier, and of beautiful winged things that crept and rustled among the grasses. There was the ever new surprise of the first wild-flowers, the abounding mystery of the bird's note and the brook's song, the daily greeting of bees and butterflies, frogs and fishes, field-mice and squirrels; so that the universe, which in the dead past had been dreary and without meaning, suddenly became warm and friendly, and she, the alien, felt a sense of kinship with all created things.
Helen had crossed the continent to imbibe the wisdom of the East, and had brought back stores of knowledge to spend in Lisa's service; but Rhoda's sacrifice was perhaps the most complete, for Mrs. Grubb having at first absolutely refused to part with Lisa, Rhoda had flung herself into the breach and taken the twins to her mother's cottage in the mountains.
She came up the broad steps, on a certain appointed day in August, leading her charges into Mistress Mary's presence. They were clean, well dressed, and somewhat calm in demeanour.
'You may go into the playground,' she said, after the greetings were over; 'and remember that there are sharp spikes on the high fence by the pepper-tree.'
'Mary,' she went on impressively, closing the doors and glancing about the room to see if there were any listeners, 'Mary, those children have been with me eight weeks, and I do—not—like—them. What are you going to do with me? Wait, I haven't told you the whole truth,—I dislike them actively. As for my mother, she is not committed to any theory about the essential integrity of infancy, and she positively abhors them.'
'Then they are no more likable in the bosom of the family than they have been here?' asked Mary, in a tone of disappointment.
'More likable? They are less so! Do you see any change in me,—a sort of spiritual effulgence, a saintly radiance, such as comes after a long spell of persistent virtue? Because there ought to be, if my summer has served its purpose.'
'Poor dear rosy little martyr! Sit down and tell me all about it.'
'Well, we have kept a log, but—'
'"WE?" What, Rhoda! did you drag your poor mother into the experiment?'
'Mother? No, she generally locked herself in her room when the twins were indoors, but—well, of course, I had help of one sort and another with them. I have held to your plan of discipline pretty well; at any rate, I haven't administered corporal punishment, although, if I had whipped them whenever they actually needed it, I should have worn out all the young minister's slippers.'
Mary groaned. 'Then there was another young minister? It doesn't make any difference, Rhoda, whether you spend your summers in the woods or by the sea, in the valleys or on the mountains, there is always a young minister. Have all the old ones perished off the face of the earth, pray? And what do the young ones see in you, you dear unregenerate, that they persist in following you about threatening my peace of mind and your future career? Well, go on!'
'Debarred from the use of the persuasive but obsolete slipper,' Rhoda continued evasively, 'I tried milder means of discipline,—solitary confinement for one not very much, you know,—only seventeen times in eight weeks. I hope you don't object to that? Of course, it was in a pleasant room with southern exposure, good view, and good ventilation, a thermometer, picture-books, and all that. It would have worked better if the twins hadn't always taken the furniture to pieces, and mother is so fussy about anything of that sort. She finally suggested the winter bedroom for Atlantic's incarceration, as it has nothing in it but a huge coal-stove enveloped in a somewhat awe-inspiring cotton sheet. I put in a comfortable low chair, a checkerboard, and some books, fixing the time limit at half an hour. By the way, Mary, that's such a pretty idea of yours to leave the door unlocked, and tell the children to come out of their own accord whenever they feel at peace with the community. I tried it,—oh, I always try your pretty ideas first; but I had scarcely closed the door before Pacific was out of it again, a regenerated human being according to her own account. But to return to Atlantic. I went to him when the clock struck, only to discover that he had broken in the circles of isinglass round the body of the coal-stove, removed the ashes with a book, got the dampers out of order, and taken the doors off the hinges! I am sure Mrs. Grubb is right to keep them on bread- and-milk and apple-sauce; a steady diet of beef and mutton would give them a simply unconquerable energy. Oh, laugh as you may, I could never have lived through the ordeal if it hadn't been for the young minister!'
'Do you mean that he became interested in the twins?'
'Oh, yes!—very deeply interested. You have heard me speak of him: it was Mr. Fielding.'
'Why, Rhoda, he was the last summer's minister, the one who preached at the sea-shore.'
'Certainly; but he was only supplying a pulpit there; now he has his own parish. He is taking up a course of child-study, and asked me if he was at liberty to use the twins for psychological observations. I assented most gratefully, thinking, you know, that he couldn't study them unless he kept them with him a good deal; but he counted without his host, as you can imagine. He lives at the hotel until his cottage is finished, and the first thing I knew he had hired a stout nursemaid as his contribution to the service of humanity. I think he was really sorry for me, for I was so confined I could scarcely ever ride, or drive, or play tennis; and besides, he simply had to have somebody to hold the children while he observed them. We succeeded better after the nurse came, and we all had delightful walks and conversations together, just a nice little family party! The hotel people called Atlantic the Cyclone, and Pacific the Warrior. Sometimes strangers took us for the children's parents, and that was embarrassing; not that I mind being mistaken for a parent, but I decline being credited, or discredited, with the maternity of those imps!'
'They are altogether new in my experience,' confessed Mary.
'That is just what the young minister said.'
'Will he keep up his psychological investigation during the autumn?' Mary inquired.
'He really has no material there.'
'What will he do, then?—carry it on by correspondence?'
'No, that is always unsatisfactory. I fancy he will come here occasionally: it is the most natural place, and he is especially eager to meet you.'
'Of course!' said Mistress Mary, reciting provokingly:
'"My lyre I tune, my voice I raise, But with my numbers mix my sighs, And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise I fix my soul on Chloe's eyes."'
'How delightful,' she added, 'how inspiring it is to see a young man so devoted to science, particularly to this neglected science! I shall be charmed to know more of his psychology and observe his observations.'
'He is extremely clever.'
'I have no doubt of it from what you tell me, both clever and ingenious.'
'And his cottage is lovely; it will be finished and furnished by next summer,—Queen Anne, you know.'
Now, this was so purely irrelevant that there was a wicked hint of intention about it; and though Mistress Mary was smiling (and quaking) in the very depths of her heart, she cruelly led back the conversation into safe educational channels. 'Isn't it curious,' she said, 'that we should have thought Lisa, not the twins, the impossible problem? Yet, as I have written you, her solution is something to which we can look forward with reasonable confidence. It is scarcely eighteen months, but the work accomplished is almost incredible, even to me, and I have watched and counted every step.'
'The only explanation must be this,' said Rhoda, 'that her condition was largely the fruit of neglect and utter lack of comprehension. The state of mind and body in which she came to us was out of all proportion to the moving cause, when we discovered it. Her mother thought she would be an imbecile, the Grubbs treated her as one, and nobody cared to find out what she really was or could be.'
'Her brain had been writ upon by the "moving finger,"' quoted Mary, 'though the writing was not graved so deep but that love and science could erase it. You remember the four lines in Omar Khayyam?
"'The moving finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it."'
'Edith says I will hardly know her,' said Rhoda.
'It is true. The new physician is a genius, and physically and outwardly she has changed more in the last three months than in the preceding year. She dresses herself neatly now, braids her own hair, and ties her ribbons prettily. Edith has kept up her gymnastics, and even taught her to row and play nine-pins. For the first time in my life, Rhoda, I can fully understand a mother's passion for a crippled, or a blind, or a defective child. I suppose it was only Lisa's desperate need that drew us to her at first. We all loved and pitied her, even at the very height of her affliction; but now she fascinates me. I know no greater pleasure than the daily miracle of her growth. She is to me the sister I never had, the child I never shall have. When we think of our success with this experiment, we must try to keep our faith in human nature, even under the trying ordeal of the twins.'
'My faith in human nature is absolutely intact,' answered Rhoda; 'the trouble is that the Warrior and the Cyclone are not altogether human. Atlantic is the coldest creature I ever knew,—so cold that he could stand the Shadrach-Meshech-and Abednego test with impunity; Pacific is hot,—so hot-tempered that one can hardly touch her without being scorched. If I had money enough to conduct an expensive experiment, I would separate them, and educate Pacific at the North Pole, and Atlantic in the Tropics.'
'If they are not distinctly human, we must allow them a few human virtues at least,' said Mary; 'for example, their loyalty to each other. Pacific, always at war with the community, seldom hurts her brother; Atlantic, selfish and grasping with all the world, shares generously with his sister. We must remember, too, that Lisa's care has been worse than nothing for them, notwithstanding its absolute fidelity; and their dependence has been a positive injury to her. There! she has just come into the playground with Edith. Will wonders never cease? Pacific is embracing her knees, and Atlantic allows himself to be hugged!'
Marm Lisa was indeed beside herself with joy at the meeting. She clung to the infant rebels, stroked their hair, admired their aprons, their clean hands, their new boots; and, on being smartly slapped by Atlantic for putting the elastic of his hat behind his ears, kissed his hand as if it had offered a caress. 'He's so little,' she said apologetically, looking up with wet eyes to Edith, who stood near.
CHAPTER IX—MARM LISA'S QUEST
It was not long after this conversation that the twins awoke one morning with a very frenzy of adventure upon them. It was accompanied by a violent reaction against all the laws of God and man, and a desire to devour the tree of knowledge, fruit, limbs, and trunk, no matter at what cost.
We have no means of knowing whether there was an excess of electricity in the atmosphere, whether their youthful livers were disordered, or whether the Evil One was personally conducting the day's exercises; judged by the light of subsequent events, all of these suppositions might easily have been true. During the morning they so demeaned themselves that all Mistress Mary's younger neophytes became apostates to the true faith, and went over in a body to the theory of the total depravity of unbaptized infants.
In the afternoon they did not appear, nor did Marm Lisa. This was something that had never occurred before, save when Pacific had a certain memorable attack of mumps that would have carried off any child who was fitted for a better world, or one who was especially beloved.
'Do you suppose anything is wrong?' asked Mary nervously.
'Of course not,' said Edith. 'I remember seeing Lisa in the playground at one o'clock, but my impression is that she was alone, and stayed only a moment. At any rate, I was very busy and did not speak to her. Mrs. Grubb has probably taken the twins to have their hair cut, or something of that sort.'
'What a ridiculous suggestion!' exclaimed Rhoda. 'You know perfectly well that Mrs. Grubb would never think of cutting their hair, if it swept the earth! She may possibly have taken them to join a band; they must be getting to a proper age for membership. At any rate, I will call there and inquire, on my way home, although I can never talk to Mrs. Grubb two minutes without wanting to shake her.'
Rhoda made her promised visit, but the house was closed and the neighbours knew nothing of the whereabouts of the children beyond the fact that Mrs. Grubb was seen talking to them as she went into the yard, a little after twelve o'clock. Rhoda naturally concluded, therefore, that Edith's supposition must be correct, and that Mrs. Grubb had for once indulged in a family excursion.
Such was not the case, however. After luncheon, Marm Lisa had washed the twins' hands and faces in the back-yard as usual, and left them for an instant to get a towel from the kitchen. When she returned, she looked blankly about, for there was no sign of the two dripping faces and the uplifted streaming hands. They had a playful habit of hiding from her, knowing that in no other way could they make her so unhappy; so she stood still for some moments, calling them, at first sharply, then piteously, but with no result. She ran to the front gate; it was closed; the rope-fastening was out of reach, and plainly too complicated even for their preternatural powers. She hurried back to the house, and searched every room in a bewildered sort of fashion, finding nothing. As she came out again, her eye caught sight of a kitchen chair in the corner of the yard. They had climbed the picket fence, then. Yes; Atlantic, while availing himself of its unassuming aid, had left a clue in a fragment of his trousers. She opened the gate, and ran breathlessly along the streets to that Garden of Eden where joy had always hitherto awaited her. Some instinct of fear or secrecy led her to go quietly through all the rooms and search the playground without telling any one of her trouble. That accomplished fruitlessly, she fled home again, in the vain hope of finding the children in some accustomed haunt overlooked in her first search. She began to be thoroughly alarmed now, and thoroughly confused. With twitching hands and nervous shaking of the head, she hurried through the vacant rooms, growing more and more aimless in her quest. She climbed on a tall bureau and looked in a tiny medicine cupboard; then under the benches and behind the charts in the parlour; even under the kitchen sink, among the pots and pans, and in the stove, where she poked tremulously among the ashes. Her newfound wit seemed temporarily to have deserted her, and she was a pitiable thing as she wandered about, her breath coming in long-drawn sighs, with now and then a half-stifled sob.
Suddenly she darted into the street again. Perhaps they had followed their aunt Cora. Distance had no place in her terror-stricken heart. She traversed block after block, street after street, until she reached Pocahontas Hall, a building and locality she knew well. She crept softly up the main stairs, and from the landing slipped into the gallery above. Mrs. Grubb sat in the centre of the stage, with a glass of water, a bouquet of roses, and a bundle of papers and tracts on the table by her side. In the audience were twenty or thirty women and a dozen men, their laps filled, and their pockets bulging, with propaganda. They stood at intervals to ask superfluous or unanswerable questions, upon which Mrs. Grubb would rise and reply, with cheeks growing pink and pinker, with pleasant smile and gracious manner, and a voice fairly surcharged with conviction. Most of the ladies took notes, and a girl with a receding chin was seated at a small table in front of the platform, making a stenographic report.
All this Marm Lisa saw, but her eyes rested on nothing she longed to see. Mrs. Grubb's lecture voice rose and fell melodiously, floating up to her balcony heights in a kind of echo that held the tone, but not the words. The voice made her drowsy, for she was already worn out with emotion, but she roused herself with an effort, and stole down the stairs to wander into the street again. Ah, there was an idea! The coat-shop! Why had she not thought of it before?
The coat-shop was a sort of clothing manufactory on a small scale, a tall, narrow building four stories high, where she had often gone with Atlantic and Pacific. There were sewing-machines on the ground- floor, the cutters and pressers worked in the middle stories, and at the top were the finishers. It was neither an extensive nor an exciting establishment, and its only fascination lay in the fact that the workwomen screamed with laughter at the twins' conversation, and after leading them to their utmost length, teasing and goading them into a towering passion, would stuff them with nuts or dates or cheap sweetmeats. The coat-shop was two or three miles from the hall, and it was closing time and quite dark when Lisa arrived. She came out of the door after having looked vainly in every room, and sat down dejectedly in the entrance, with her weary head leaning against the wall. There was but a moment's respite for her, for the manager came out of his office, and, stumbling over her in the dusk, took her by the shoulders and pushed her into the street with an oath.
'Go and sit on your own doorstep, can't you?' he muttered, 'and not make me break my legs over you!'
She was too spent to run any further. She dragged her heavy feet along slowly, almost unconsciously, neither knowing nor caring whither they led her. Home she could not, dared not go, bearing that heavy burden of remorse! Mrs. Grubb would ask for Atlantic and Pacific, and then what would become of her? Mr. Grubb would want to give Pacific her milk. No, Mr. Grubb was dead. There! she hadn't looked in the perambulator. No, there wasn't any perambulator. That was dead, too, and gone away with Mr. Grubb. There used to be babies, two babies, in the perambulator. What had become of them? Were they lost, too? And the umbrella that she used to hold until her arm ached, and the poor, pale, weeping mother always lying on a bed,—were they all gone together? Her head buzzed with worrying, unrelated thoughts, so that she put up her hands and held it in place on her shoulders as she shuffled wearily along. A heavy, dripping mist began to gather and fall, and she shivered in the dampness, huddling herself together and leaning against the houses for a shelter. She sat down on the curb-stone and tried to think, staring haggardly at the sign on the corner fruit-shop. In that moment she suddenly forgot the reason of her search. She had lost—what? She could not go home to Eden Place, but why? Oh yes! It came to her now: there was something about a perambulator, but it all seemed vague to her. Suddenly a lamplighter put his ladder against a post in front of her, and, climbing up nimbly, lighted the gas-jet inside of the glass frame. It shone full on a flight of broad steps, a picture so much a part of her life-dream that she would go up to the very gate of heaven with its lines burned into her heart and brain.
She crept up and turned the knob of the outer door. It was unlocked, and she stole into the inner room, the Paradise, place of joy and sweet content, heart's rest, soul's heaven, love's own abode. The very atmosphere soothed her. She heard the janitress clatter through the halls, lock the door, and descend the stairs to her own rooms in the basement. The light from the street lamps shone in at the two end windows, so that the room was not in utter darkness. She would lie down here and die with Mr. Grubb and the babies and the umbrella. Atlantic and Pacific would be sure to come back; nobody who had ever known it could live without this place. Miss Mary would find them. She would make everything right. The mere thought of Mistress Mary brought a strange peace into poor Lisa's over-wrought, distraught mind.
She opened the closet door. It was as dainty and neat as Mistress Mary herself, and the mere sight of it bred order in Lisa's thoughts. On the top of a pile of envelopes lay the sewing-picture that Atlantic had spoiled that day. It had been a black morning, and the bit of cardboard was torn and soiled and bent. Lisa looked at it with a maternal and a prophetic eye. She could see the firm line of Rhoda's lip as she bore down upon the destructive urchin. She could almost hear the bright challenging tone as Rhoda would say: 'Now, Atlantic, let us see what we can do! Cut off the chewed edges with these scissors, paste these thin pieces of paper over the torn places, and rub the card with this crust of bread. A new one? Certainly NOT, my young friend!'
Lisa took the poor little object in her hand, and, seeing Mistress Mary's white apron, pressed her cheek against it in a transport of tenderness and hung it over her arm. Just then she caught sight of the clay bird's-nest that Pacific had modelled—such a lovely bird's- nest that it had been kept for the cabinet. She carried her treasures over to the old-fashioned lounge where the babies took their occasional nap, put them carefully in a small red chair close beside it, and then, stretching her weary length on the cushions, she kissed the smooth folds of the apron, and clasped it in her arms.
Mistress Mary would come soon. She would come in her cloud of white, and her steel fillet would gleam and shine when the sunshine fell upon it, and make star-rays and moonbeams and lightning-flashes; and the tiny points would twinkle and wink and laugh and blink whenever she turned her head. She would smile, and everything would suddenly be clear; she would speak, and the weary buzzing of windmills in the brain would be hushed. Under her touch the darkness and heaviness would vanish, and there would be no more night there—no more night.
As these healing visions stole upon Marm Lisa, the torture and the anguish, the long hours of bewilderment, faded little by little, little by little, till at length a blessed sleep crept over her eyelids, blotting into a merciful nothingness the terror and the misery of the day.
CHAPTER X—THE TWINS JOIN THE CELESTIALS
Meanwhile, Atlantic and Pacific had been enjoying themselves even unto the verge of delirium. In the course of their wanderings they had come upon a Chinaman bearing aloft a huge red silken banner crowned by a badger's tail. Everything young that had two legs was following him, and they joined the noble army of followers. As they went on, other Chinamen with other banners came from the side-alleys, and all at once the small procession thus formed turned a corner and came upon the parent body, a sight that fairly stunned them by its Oriental magnificence. It was the four thousandth anniversary of the birth of Yeong Wo, had the children realised it (and that may have been the reason that they awoke in a fever of excitement)—Yeong Wo, statesman, philanthropist, philosopher, and poet; and the great day had been chosen to dedicate the new temple and install in it a new joss, and to exhibit a monster dragon just arrived from China. The joss had been sitting in solemn state in his sanctum sanctorum for a week, while the priests appeased him hourly with plenteous libations of rice brandy, sacrifices of snow-white pigeons, and offerings of varnished pork. Clouds of incense had regaled his expansive mahogany nostrils, while his ears of ivory inlaid with gold and bronze had been stimulated with the ceaseless clashing of gongs and wailings of Chinese fiddles. Such homage and such worship would have touched a heart of stone, and that of the joss was penetrable sandalwood; so as the days of preparation wore away the smile on the teakwood lips of the idol certainly became more propitious. This was greatly to the satisfaction of the augurs and the high priest; for a mighty joss is not always in a sunny humour on feast-days, and to parade a sulky god through the streets is a very depressing ceremony, foretelling to the initiated a season of dire misfortune. So his godship smiled and shook his plume of peacock feathers benignantly on Yeong Wo's birthday, and therefore the pageant in which Atlantic and Pacific bore a part was more gorgeous than anything that ever took place out of the Flowery Kingdom itself.
Fortune smiled upon the naughty creatures at the very outset, for Pacific picked up a stick of candy in the street, and gave half of it to a pretty Chinese maiden whose name in English would have been Spring Blossom, and who looked, in any language, like a tropical flower, in her gown of blue-and-gold-embroidered satin and the sheaf of tiny fans in her glossy black hair. Spring Blossom accepted the gift with enthusiasm, since a sweet tooth is not a matter of nationality, and ran immediately to tell her mother, a childish instinct also of universal distribution. She climbed, as nimbly as her queer little shoes would permit, a flight of narrow steps leading to a balcony; while the twins followed close at her heels, and wedged their way through a forest of Mongolian legs till they reached the front, where they peeped through the spaces of the railings with Spring Blossom, Fairy Foot, Dewy Rose, and other Celestial babies, quite overlooked in the crowd and excitement and jollity. Such a very riot of confusion there was, it seemed as if Confucius might have originally spelled his name with an s in the middle; for every window was black with pigtailed highbinders, cobblers, pork butchers, and pawnbrokers. The narrow streets and alleys became one seething mass of Asiatic humanity; while the painted belles came out on their balconies like butterflies, sitting among a wealth of gaudy paper flowers that looked pale in comparison with the daubs of vermilion on their cheeks and the rainbow colours of their silken tunics.
At last the pageant had gathered itself together, and came into full view in all its magnificence. There were pagodas in teakwood inlaid with gold; and resting on ebony poles, and behind them, on a very tame Rosinante decked with leopard skins and gold bullion fringes, a Chinese maiden dressed to represent a queen of Celestial mythology. Then came more pagodas, and companies of standard-bearers in lavender tunics, red sashes, green and orange leggings and slippers; more and more splendid banners, painted with dragons sprawling in distressed attitudes; litters containing minor gods and the paraphernalia they were accustomed to need on a journey like this; more litters bearing Chinese orchestras, gongs going at full blast, fiddles squeaking, drums rumbling, trumpets shrieking, cymbals clashing,—just the sort of Babel that the twins adored.
And now came the chariot and throne of the great joss himself, and just behind him a riderless bay horse, intended for his imperial convenience should he tire of being swayed about on the shoulders of his twelve bearers, and elect to change his method of conveyance. Behind this honoured steed came a mammoth rock-cod in a pagoda of his own, and then, heralded by a fusilade of fire-crackers, the new dragon itself, stretching and wriggling its monster length through one entire block. A swarm of men cleared the way for it, gesticulating like madmen in their zeal to get swimming-room for the sacred monster. Never before in her brief existence had Pacific Simonson been afraid of anything, but if she had been in the street, and had so much as caught the wink of the dragon's eye, or a wave of its consecrated fin, she would have dropped senseless to the earth; as it was, she turned her back to the procession, and, embracing with terror-stricken fervour the legs of the Chinaman standing behind her, made up her mind to be a better girl in the future. The monster was borne by seventy-four coolies who furnished legs for each of the seventy-four joints of its body, while another concealed in its head tossed it wildly about. Little pigtailed boys shrieked as they looked at its gaping mouth that would have shamed a man-eating shark, at the huge locomotive headlights that served for its various sets of eyes, at the horns made of barber poles, and the moustache of twisted hogshead hoops. Behind this baleful creature came other smaller ones, and more flags, and litters with sacrificial offerings, and more musicians, till all disappeared in the distance, and the crowd surged in the direction of the temple.
There was no such good fortune for the twins as an entrance into this holy of holies, for it held comparatively few besides the dignitaries, aristocrats, and wealthy merchants of the colony; but there was still ample material for entertainment, and they paid no heed to the going down of the sun. Why should they, indeed, when there were fascinating opium dens standing hospitably open, where they could have the excitement of entrance even if it were followed by immediate ejectment? As it grew darker, the scene grew more weird and fairylike, for the scarlet, orange, and blue lanterns began to gleam one by one in the narrow doorways, and from the shadowy corners of the rooms behind them. In every shop were tables laden with Chinese delicacies,—fish, flesh, fowl, tea, rice, whisky, lichee nuts, preserved limes, ginger, and other sweetmeats; all of which, when not proffered, could be easily purloined, for there was no spirit of parsimony or hostility afloat in the air. In cubby-holes back of the counters, behind the stoves, wherever they could find room for a table, groups of moon-eyed men began to congregate for their nightly game of fan-tan, some of the players and onlookers smoking, while others chewed lengths of peeled sugar-cane.
In the midst of festivities like these the twins would have gone on from bliss to bliss without consciousness of time or place, had not hunger suddenly descended upon them and sleep begun to tug at their eyelids, changing in a trice their joy into sorrow and their mirth into mourning. Not that they were troubled with any doubts, fears, or perplexities. True, they had wandered away from Eden Place, and had not the slightest idea of their whereabouts. If they had been a couple of babes in a wood, or any two respectable lost children of romance, memories of lullabies and prayers at mother's knee would have precipitated them at this juncture into floods of tears; but home to them was simply supper and bed. The situation did not seem complex to their minds; the only plan was, of course, to howl, and to do it thoroughly,—stand in a corner of the market-place, and howl in such a manner that there could be no mistake as to the significance of the proceeding; when the crowd collected,—for naturally a crowd would collect,—simply demand supper and bed, no matter what supper nor which bed; eat the first, lie down in the second, and there you are! If the twins had been older and more experienced, they would have known that people occasionally do demand the necessities of life without receiving them; but in that case they would also have known that such a misfortune would never fall upon a couple of lost children who confide their woes to the public. There was no preconcerted plan between them, no system. They acted without invention, premonition, or reflection. It was their habit to scream, while holding the breath as long as possible, whenever the universe was unfriendly, and particularly when Nature asserted herself in any way; it was a curious fact that they resented the intervention of Nature and Providence with just as much energy as they did the discipline of their caretakers. They screamed now, the moment that the entertainment palled and they could not keep their eyes open without effort; and never had they been more successful in holding their breath and growing black in the face; indeed, Pacific, in the midst of her performance, said to Atlantic, 'Yours is purple, how is mine?'
A crowd did gather, inevitably, for the twins' lungs were capable of a body of tone more piercing than that of a Chinese orchestra, and the wonder is that poor Lisa did not hear them as she sat shivering on the curbstone, miles away; for it was her name with which they conjured.
The populace amused itself for a short space of time, watching the fine but misdirected zeal of the performance, and supposing that the parents of the chanting cherubs were within easy reach. It became unpleasant after a while, however, and a policeman, inquiring into the matter, marched the two dirty, weary little protestants off to a station near by,—a march nearly as difficult and bloody as Sherman's memorable 'march to the sea'; for the children associated nothing so pleasant as supper and bed with a blue-coated, brass-buttoned person, and resisted his well-meant advances with might and main, and tooth and nail.
The policeman was at last obliged to confine himself to Atlantic, and called a brother-in-arms to take charge of Pacific. He was a man who had achieved distinction in putting down railroad riots, so he was well calculated for the task, although he was somewhat embarrassed by the laughter of the bystanders when his comrade called out to him, 'Take your club, Mike, but don't use firearms unless your life's in danger!'
The station reached, the usual examination took place. Atlantic never could tell the name of the street in which he lived, nor the number of the house. Pacific could, perhaps, but would not; and it must be said, in apology for her abnormal defiance, that her mental operations were somewhat confused, owing to copious indulgence in strong tea, ginger, sugar-cane, and dried fish. She had not been wisely approached in the first place, and she was in her sulkiest and most combative humour; in fact, when too urgently pressed for information as to her age, ancestry, and abiding-place, she told the worthy police-officer to go to a locality for which he felt utterly unsuited, after a life spent in the exaltation of virtue and the suppression of vice. (The vocabulary of the twins was somewhat poverty-stricken in respect to the polite phrases of society, but in profanity it would have been rich for a parrot or a pirate.) The waifs were presently given to the care of the police matron, and her advice, sought later, was to the effect that the children had better be fed and put to bed, and as little trouble expended upon them as was consistent with a Christian city government.
'It is possible their parents may call for them in the morning,' she said acidly, 'but I think it is more than likely that they have been deserted. I know if they belonged to me they'd be lost for ever before I tried to find them!' and she rubbed a black-and-blue spot on her person, which, if exposed, would have betrayed the shape, size, and general ground-plan of Pacific's boot.
CHAPTER XI—RHODA FREES HER MIND
Morning dawned, and Mistress Mary and Rhoda went up the flight of broad steps rather earlier than usual,—so early that the janitress, who had been awake half the night with an ailing baby, was just going in to dust the rooms.
It was she who first caught sight of the old sofa and its occupant, and her exclamation drew Mary and Rhoda to the spot. There lay poor Marm Lisa in the dead sleep of exhaustion, her dress torn and wrinkled, her shoes travel-stained, her hair tangled and matted. Their first idea was that the dreaded foe might have descended upon her, and that she had had some terrible seizure with no one near to aid and relieve her. But the longer they looked, the less they feared this; her face, though white and tear-stained, was tranquil, her lips only slightly pale, and her breathing calm and steady. Mary finally noted the pathetic grouping of little objects in the red chair, and, touched by this, began to apprehend the significance of her own white apron close clasped in the child's loyal arms, and fell a-weeping softly on Rhoda's shoulder. 'She needed me, Rhoda,' she said. 'I do not know for what, but I am sure she needed me.'
'I see it all,' said Rhoda, administering soft strokes of consolation: 'it is something to do with those little beasts; yes, I will call them beasts, and if you don't let me, I'll call them brutes. They lost themselves yesterday, of course, and dear old Lisa searched for them all the afternoon and half the night, for aught we know, and then came here to be comforted, I suppose—the blessed thing!'
'Hush! don't touch her,' Mary whispered, as Rhoda went impetuously down on her knees by the sofa; 'and we must not talk in this room, for fear of waking her. Suppose you go at once to Mrs. Grubb's, dear, and, whatever you learn about the twins there, I shall meanwhile call a carriage and take Lisa home to my own bed. The janitress can send Edith to me as soon as she comes, and I will leave her with Lisa while I run back here to consult with you and Helen. I shall telegraph for Dr. Thorne, also, to be sure that this sleep is as natural and healing a thing as it appears to be.'
Mrs. Grubb was surprised, even amused, at Rhoda's exciting piece of news, but she was perfectly tranquil.
'Well, don't they beat all!' she exclaimed, leaning against the door- frame and taking her side hair out of waving-pins as she talked. 'No, I haven't seen them since noon yesterday. I was out to a picnic supper at the Army Headquarters at night, and didn't get home till later than usual, so I didn't go up to their room. I thought they were in bed; they always have been in bed when it was bedtime, ever since they were born.' Here she removed the last pin, and put it with the others in the bosom of her dress for safe-keeping. 'This morning, when they didn't turn up, I thought some of you girls had taken a fancy to keep them overnight; I didn't worry, supposing that Lisa was with them.'
'Nobody on earth could take a fancy to the twins or keep them an hour longer than necessary, and you know it, Mrs. Grubb,' said Rhoda, who seldom minced matters; 'and in case no one should ever have the bad manners to tell you the whole truth, I want to say here and now that you neglect everything good and sensible and practical,—all the plain, simple duties that stare you directly in the face,—and waste yourself on matters that are of no earthly use to anybody. Those children would have been missed last night if you had one drop of mother's blood in your veins! You have three helpless children under what you are pleased to call your care' (and here Rhoda's lip curled so scornfully that Mrs. Grubb was tempted to stab her with a curling- pin), 'and you went to sleep without knowing to a certainty whether they had had supper or bed! I don't believe you are a woman at all— you are just a vague abstraction; and the only things you've ever borne or nursed or brooded in your life have been your miserable, bloodless little clubs and bands and unions!'
Rhoda's eyes flashed summer lightning, her nostrils quivered, her cheeks flamed scarlet, and Mrs. Grubb sat down suddenly and heavily on the front stairs and gasped for breath. According to her own belief, her whole life had been passed in a search for truth, but it is safe to say she had never before met it in so uncompromising and disagreeable a shape.
'Perhaps when you are quite through with your billingsgate,' she finally said, 'you will take yourself off my steps before you are ejected. You! to presume to criticise me! You, that are so low in the scale of being, you can no more understand my feelings and motives than a jellyfish can comprehend a star! Go back and tell Miss Mary,' she went on majestically, as she gained confidence and breath, 'that it is her duty and business to find the children, since they were last seen with her, and unless she proves more trustworthy they will not be allowed to return to her. Tell her, too, that when she wishes to communicate with me, she must choose some other messenger besides you, you impudent, grovelling little earthworm! Get out of my sight, or you will unfit me for my classes!'
Mrs. Grubb was fairly superb as she launched these thunderbolts of invective; the staircase her rostrum, her left hand poised impressively on the baluster, and the three snaky strands of brown hair that had writhed out of the waving-pins hissing Medusa-wise on each side of her bead.
Rhoda was considerably taken aback by the sudden and violent slamming of the door of No. 1 Eden Place, and she felt an unwelcome misgiving as to her wisdom in bringing Mrs. Grubb face to face with truth. Her rage had somewhat subsided by the time she reached Mistress Mary's side, for she had stopped on the way to ask a policeman to telephone the various stations for news of the lost children, and report at once to her. 'There is one good thing,' she thought: 'wherever they may be, their light cannot be hid any more than that of a city that is set on a hill. There will be plenty of traces of their journey, for once seen they are never forgotten. Nobody but a hero would think of kidnapping them, and nobody but an idiot would expect a ransom for them!'
'I hope you didn't upbraid Mrs. Grubb,' said Mary, divining from Rhoda's clouded brow that her interview had not been a pleasant one. 'You know our only peaceful way of rescuing Lisa from her hold is to make a friend of her, and convert her to our way of thinking. Was she much disturbed about the children?'
'Disturbed!' sniffed Rhoda disdainfully. 'Imagine Mrs. Grubb disturbed about anything so trivial as a lost child! If it had been a lost amendment, she might have been ruffled!'
'What is she doing about it, and in what direction is she searching?'
'She is doing nothing, and she will do nothing; she has gone to a Theosophy lecture, and we are to find the twins; and she says it's your fault, anyway, and unless you prove more trustworthy the seraphs will be removed from your care; and you are not to send me again as a messenger, if you please, because I am an impudent, grovelling little earthworm!'
'Did she call you that?'
'Yes'm, and a jellyfish besides; in fact, she dragged me through the entire animal kingdom; but she is a stellar being—she said so.'
'What did you say to her to provoke that, Rhoda? She is thoroughly illogical and perverse, but she is very amiable.'
'Yes, when you don't interfere with her. You should catch her with her hair in waving-pins, just after she has imbibed apple-sauce! Oh, I can't remember exactly what I said, for I confess I was a trifle heated, and at the moment I thought only of freeing my mind. Let me see: I told her she neglected all the practical duties that stared her directly in the face, and squandered herself on useless fads and vagaries—that's about all. No-o, now that I come to think of it, I did say that the children would have been missed and found last night, if she had had a drop of mother's blood in her veins.'
'That's terse and strong—and tactful,' said Mary; 'anything more?'
'No, I don't think so. Oh yes! now that I reflect, I said I didn't believe she was a woman at all. That seemed to enrage her beyond anything, somehow; and when I explained it, and tried to modify it by saying I meant that she had never borne or loved or brooded anything in her life but her nasty little clubs, she was white with anger, and told me I was too low in the scale of being to understand her. Good gracious! I wish she understood herself half as well as I understand her!'
Mary gave a hysterical laugh. 'I can't pretend you didn't speak the truth, Rhoda, but I am sadly afraid it was ill advised to wound Mrs. Grubb's vanity. Do you feel a good deal better?'
'No,' confessed Rhoda penitently. 'I did for fifteen minutes,—yes, nearly half an hour; but now I feel worse than ever.'
'That is one of the commonest symptoms of freeing one's mind,' observed Mary quietly.
It was scarcely an hour later when Atlantic and Pacific were brought in by an officer, very dirty and dishevelled, but gay and irresponsible as larks, nonchalant, amiable, and unrepentant. As Rhoda had prophesied, there had been no difficulty in finding them; and as everybody had prophesied, once found there had not been a second's delay in delivery. Moved by fiery hatred of the police matron, who had illustrated justice more than mercy, and illustrated it with the back of a hair-brush on their reversed persons; lured also by two popcorn balls, a jumping-jack, and a tin horse, they accepted the municipal escort with alacrity; and nothing was ever jauntier than the manner in which Pacific, all smiles and molasses, held up her sticky lips for an expected salute—an unusual offer which was respectfully declined as a matter of discipline.
Mary longed for Rhoda's young minister in the next half-hour, which she devoted to private spiritual instruction. Psychology proved wholly unequal to the task of fathoming the twins, and she fancied that theology might have been more helpful. Their idea seemed to be- -if the rudimentary thing she unearthed from their consciousness could be called an idea—that they would not mind repenting if they could see anything of which to repent. Of sin, as sin, they had no apparent knowledge, either by sight, by hearsay or by actual acquaintance. They sat stolidly in their little chairs, eyes roving to the windows, the blackboard, the pictures; they clubbed together and fished a pin from a crack in the floor during one of Mary's most thrilling appeals; finally they appeared so bored by the whole proceeding that she felt a certain sense of embarrassment in the midst of her despair. She took them home herself at noon, apologised to the injured Mrs. Grubb for Rhoda's unfortunate remarks, and told that lady, gently but firmly, that Lisa could not be moved until she was decidedly better.
'She was wandering about the streets searching for the twins from noon till long after dark, Mrs. Grubb—there can be no doubt of it; and she bears unmistakable signs of having suffered deeply. I have called in a physician, and we must all abide by his advice.'
'That's well enough for the present,' agreed Mrs. Grubb reluctantly, 'but I cannot continue to have my studies broken in upon by these excitements. I really cannot. I thought I had made an arrangement with Madame Goldmarker to relieve me, but she has just served me a most unladylike and deceitful trick, and the outcome of it will be that I shall have to send Lisa to the asylum. I can get her examined by the commissioners some time before Christmas, and if they decide she's imbecile they'll take her off my hands. I didn't want to part with her till the twins got older, but I've just found a possible home for them if I can endure their actions until New Year's. Our Army of Present Perfection isn't progressing as it ought to, and it's going to found a colony down in San Diego County, and advertise for children to bring up in the faith. A certain number of men and women have agreed to go and start the thing and I'm sure my sister, if she was alive would be glad to donate her children to such a splendid enterprise. If the commissioners won't take Lisa, she can go to Soul Haven, too—that's the name of the place;—but no, of course they wouldn't want any but bright children, that would grow up and spread the light.' (Mary smiled at the thought of the twins engaged in the occupation of spreading light.) 'I shall not join the community myself, though I believe it's a good thing; but a very different future is unveiling itself before me' (her tone was full of mystery here), 'and some time, if I can ever pursue my investigations in peace, you will knock at this door and I shall have vanished! But I shall know of your visit, and the very sound of your footfall will reach my ear, even if I am inhabiting some remote mountain fastness!'
When Lisa awoke that night, she heard the crackling of a wood fire on the hearth; she felt the touch of soft linen under her aching body, and the pressure of something cool and fragrant on her forehead. Her right hand, feebly groping the white counterpane, felt a flower in its grasp. Opening her eyes, she saw the firelight dancing on tinted walls, and an angel of deliverance sitting by her bedside—a dear familiar woman angel, whose fair crowned head rose from a cloud of white, and whose sweet downward gaze held all of benignant motherhood that God could put into woman's eyes.
Marm Lisa looked up dumbly and wonderingly at first, but the mind stirred, thought flowed in upon it, a wave of pain broke over her heart, and she remembered all; for remembrance, alas, is the price of reason.
'Lost! my twinnies, all lost and gone!' she whispered brokenly, with long, shuddering sobs between the words. 'I look—look—look; never, never find!'
'No, no, dear,' Mary answered, stroking the lines from her forehead, 'not lost any more; found, Lisa—do you understand? They are found, they are safe and well, and nobody blames you; and you are safe, too, your new self, your best self unharmed, thank God; so go to sleep, little sister, and dream happy dreams!'
Glad tears rushed from the poor child's eyes, tears of conscious happiness, and the burden rolled away from her heart now, as yesterday's whirring shuttles in her brain had been hushed into silence by her long sleep. She raised her swimming eyes to Mistress Mary's with a look of unspeakable trust. 'I love you! oh, I love, love, love you!' she whispered, and, holding the flower close to her breast, she breathed a sigh of sweet content, and sank again into quiet slumber.
CHAPTER XII—FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
It may be said in justice to Mrs. Grubb that she was more than usually harassed just at this time.
Mrs. Sylvester, her voluble next-door neighbour, who had lifted many sordid cares from her shoulders, had suddenly become tired of the 'new method of mental healing,' and during a brief absence of Mrs. Grubb from the city had issued a thousand embossed gilt-edged cards, announcing herself as the Hand Reader in the following terms
TO THE ELITE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE CITY!
I take this method of introducing myself to your kind consideration as a Hand Reader of RARE and GENUINE MERIT; catering merely to the Creme du le Creme of this city. No others need apply.
Having been educated carefully and refinedly, speaking French fluently, therefore I only wish to deal with the elite of the bon- ton.
I do not advertise in papers nor at residence. Ladies $1.50. Gents $2. Yours truly,
MRS. PANSY SYLVESTER, 3 Eden Place near 4th, Lower bell
PS. Pupil of S. CORA GRUBB.
Inasmuch as Mrs. Sylvester had imbibed all her knowledge from Mrs. Grubb, that prophet and scholar thought, not unnaturally, that she might have been consulted about the enterprise, particularly as the cards were of a nature to prejudice the better class of patients, and lower the social tone of the temple of healing.
As if this were not vexatious enough, her plans were disarranged in another and more important particular. Mrs. Sylvester's manicure had set up a small establishment for herself, and admitted as partner a certain chiropodist named Boone. The two artists felt that by sharing expenses they might increase profits, and there was a sleeping thought in both their minds that the partnership might ripen into marriage if the financial returns of the business were satisfactory. It was destined, however, to be a failure in both respects; for Dr. Boone looked upon Madame Goldmarker, the vocal teacher in No. 13 Eden Place, and to look upon her was to love her madly, since she earned seventy-five dollars a month, while the little manicure could barely eke out a slender and uncertain twenty. In such crises the heart can be trusted to leap in the right direction and beat at the proper rate.
Mrs. Grubb would have had small interest in these sordid romances had it not been that Madame Goldmarker had faithfully promised to look after Lisa and the twins, so that Mrs. Grubb might be free to hold classes in the adjoining towns. The little blind god had now overturned all these well-laid plans, and Mrs. Grubb was for the moment the victim of inexorable circumstances.
Dr. Boone fitted up princely apartments next his office, and Madame Goldmarker Boone celebrated her nuptials and her desertion of Eden Place by making a formal debut at a concert in Pocahontas Hall. The next morning, the neighbourhood that knew them best, and many other neighbourhoods that knew them not at all, received neat printed circulars thrust under the front door. Upon one side of the paper were printed the words and music of 'Home, Sweet Home,' 'as sung by Madame Goldmarker Boone at her late concert in Pocahontas Hall.' On the reverse side appeared a picture of the doctor, a neat cut of a human foot, a schedule of prices, and the alluring promise that the Madame's vocal pupils would receive treatment at half the regular rates.
Many small disputes and quarrels were consequent upon these business, emotional, and social convulsions, and each of the parties concerned, from Mrs. Grubb to the chiropodist, consulted Mistress Mary and solicited her advice and interference.
This seemed a little strange, but Mistress Mary's garden was the sort of place to act as a magnet to reformers, eccentrics, professional philanthropists, and cranks. She never quite understood the reason, and for that matter nobody else did, unless it were simply that the place was a trifle out of the common, and she herself a person full of ideas, and eminently sympathetic with those of other people. Anybody could 'drop in,' and as a consequence everybody did— grandmothers, mothers with babes in arms, teachers, ministers, photographers, travellers, and journalists. A Russian gentleman who had escaped from Siberia was a frequent visitor. He wanted to marry Edith and open a boarding-house for Russian exiles, and was perfectly confident of making her happy, as he spoke seven languages and had been a good husband to two Russian ladies now deceased. An Alaskan missionary, home on a short leave, called periodically, and attempted to persuade Mary to return with him to his heathen. These suitors were disposed of summarily when they made their desires known; but there were other visitors, part of the flotsam and jetsam of a great city, who appeared and disappeared mysteriously—ships passing Mistress Mary in the night of sorrow, and, after some despairing, half-comprehended signal, vanishing into the shadows out of which they had come. Sometimes, indeed, inspired by the good cheer of the place, they departed, looking a little less gloomy; sometimes, too, they grew into a kind of active if transitory relation with the busy little world, and became, for a time, a part of it.
Mistress Mary went down to the street corner with the children one noon to see them safely over the crossing. There was generally a genial policeman who made it a part of his duty to stand guard there, and guide the reckless and stupid and bewildered ones among the youngsters over the difficulties that lay in their path. Sometimes he would devote himself exclusively to Atlantic and Pacific Simonson, who really desired death, though they were not spiritually fitted for it, and bent all their energies towards getting under trucks rather than away from them. Marm Lisa never approached the spot without a nervous trembling and a look of terror in her eyes, and before the advent of the helpful officer had always taken a twin by each arm, and the three had gone over thus as a solid body, no matter how strong the resistance.
On this special morning there was no guardian of the peace in evidence, but standing on the crossing was a bearded man of perhaps forty years. Rather handsome he was, and well though carelessly dressed, but he stood irresolutely with his hands in his pockets, as if quite undecided what to do next. Mary simply noted him as an altogether strange figure in the neighbourhood, but the unexpected appearance of a large dog on the scene scattered the babies, and they fell on her in a weeping phalanx.
'Will you kindly help a little?' she asked after a moment's waiting, in which any chivalrous gentleman, she thought, should have flung himself into the breach.
'I?' he asked vaguely. 'How do you mean? What shall I do?'
She longed to say, 'Wake up, and perhaps an idea will come to you'; but she did say, with some spirit, 'Almost anything, thank you. Drive the dog away, and help some of the smallest children across the street, please. You can have these two' (indicating the twins smilingly), 'or the other ninety-eight—whichever you like.'
He obeyed orders, though not in a very alert fashion, but showed a sense of humour in choosing the ninety-eight rather than the two, and Mary left him on the corner with a pleasant word of thanks and a cheery remark.
The next morning he appeared at the garden gate, and asked if he might come in and sit a while. He was made welcome; but it was a busy morning, and he was so silent a visitor that everybody forgot his existence.
He made a curious impression, which can hardly be described, save that any student of human nature would say at once, 'He is out of relation with the world.' He had something of the expression one sees in a recluse or a hermit. If you have ever wandered up a mountain side, you may have come suddenly upon a hut, a rude bed within it, and in the door a man reading, or smoking, or gazing into vacancy. You remember the look you met in that man's eyes. He has tasted life and found it bitter; has sounded the world and found it hollow; has known man or woman and found them false. Friendship to him is without savour, and love without hope.
After watching the children for an hour, the stranger slipped out quietly. Mistress Mary followed him to the door, abashed at her unintentional discourtesy in allowing him to go without a good morning. She saw him stand at the foot of the steps, look first up, then down the street, then walk aimlessly to the corner. There, with hands in pockets, he paused again, glancing four ways; then, with a shrug and a gait that seemed to say, 'It makes no difference,' he slouched away.
'He is simply a stranger in a strange city, pining for his home,' thought Mary, 'or else he is a stranger in every city, and has nowhere a home.'
He came again a few days later, and then again, apologising for the frequency of his visits, but giving no special reason for them. The neophytes called him 'the Solitary,' but the children christened him after a fashion of their own, and began to ask small favours of him. 'Thread my needle, please, Mr. Man!' 'More beads,' or 'More paper, Mr. Man, please.'
It is impossible to keep out of relation with little children. One of these mites of humanity would make a man out of your mountain hermit, resist as he might. They set up a claim on one whether it exists or not, and one has to allow it, and respond to it at least in some perfunctory fashion. More than once, as Mr. Man sat silently near the circle, the chubby Baker baby would fall over his feet, and he would involuntarily stoop to pick her up, straighten her dress, and soothe her woe. There was no hearty pleasure in his service even now. Nobody was certain that he felt any pleasure at all. His helpfulness was not spontaneous; it seemed a kind of reflex action, a survival of some former state of mind or heart; for he did his favours in a dream, nor heard any thanks: yet the elixir was working in his veins.
'He is dreadfully in the way,' grumbled Edith; 'he is more ever- present than my ardent Russian.'
'So long as he insists on coming, let us make him supply the paternal element,' suggested Rhoda. 'It may be a degrading confession, but we could afford to part with several women here if we could only secure a really fatherly man. The Solitary cannot indulge in any day-dreams or trances, if we accept him as the patriarch of the institution.'
Whereupon they boldly asked him, on his subsequent visits, to go upon errands, and open barrels of apples, and order intoxicated gentlemen off the steps, and mend locks and window-fastenings, and sharpen lead-pencils, and put on coal, and tell the lady in the rear that her parrot interfered with their morning prayers by shrieking the hymns in impossible keys. He accepted these tasks without protest, and performed them conscientiously, save in the parrot difficulty, in which case he gave one look at the lady, and fled without opening the subject.
It could not be said that he appeared more cheerful, the sole sign of any increased exhilaration of spirits being the occasional straightening of his cravat and the smoothing of his hair— refinements of toilet that had heretofore been much neglected, though he always looked unmistakably the gentleman.
He seemed more attracted by Lisa than by any of the smaller children; but that may have been because Mary had told him her story, thinking that other people's stories were a useful sort of thing to tell people who had possible stories of their own.
Lisa was now developing a curious and unexpected facility and talent in the musical games. She played the tambourine, the triangle, the drum, as nobody else could, and in accompanying the marches she invented all sorts of unusual beats and accents. It grew to be the natural thing to give her difficult parts in the little dramas of child life: the cock that crowed in the morn to wake the sleeping birds and babies, the mother-bird in the nest, the spreading willow- tree in the pond where the frogs congregated,—these roles she delighted in and played with all her soul.
It would have been laughable, had it not been pathetic, to watch her drag Mr. Man into the games, and to see him succumb to her persuasions with his face hanging out flaming signals of embarrassment. In the 'Carrier Doves' the little pigeons flew with an imaginary letter to him, and this meant that he was to stand and read it aloud, as Mary and Edith had done before him.
'It seems to be a letter from a child,' he faltered, and then began stammeringly, '"My dear Mr. Man"'—there was a sudden stop. That there was a letter in his mind nobody could doubt, but he was too greatly moved to read it. Rhoda quickly reached out her hand for the paper, covering his discomfiture by exclaiming, 'The pigeons have brought Mr. Man a letter from some children in his fatherland! Yes' (reading), 'they hope that we will be good to him, because he is far away from home, and they send their love to all Mistress Mary's children. Wasn't it pretty of the doves to remember that Mr. Man is a stranger here?'
The Solitary appeared for the last time a week before Thanksgiving Day, and he opened the door on a scene of jollity that warmed him to the heart.
In the middle of the floor was a mimic boat, crowded from stem to stern with little Pilgrim fathers and mothers trying to land on Plymouth Rock, in a high state of excitement and an equally high sea. Pat Higgins was a chieftain commanding a large force of tolerably peaceful Indians on the shore, and Massasoit himself never exhibited more dignity; while Marm Lisa was the proud mother of the baby Oceanus born on the eventful voyage of the Mayflower.
Then Mistress Mary told the story of the festival very simply and sweetly, and all the tiny Pilgrims sang a hymn of thanksgiving. The Solitary listened, with his heart in his eyes and a sob in his throat; then, Heaven knows under the inspiration of what memory, he brushed Edith from the piano-stool, and, seating himself in her place, played as if he were impelled by some irresistible force. The hand of a master had never swept those keys before, and he held his hearers spellbound.
There was a silence that could be felt. The major part of the audience were not of an age to appreciate high art, but the youngsters were awed by the strange spectacle of Mr. Man at the piano, and with gaping mouth and strained ear listened to the divine harmonies he evoked. On and on he played, weaving the story of his past into the music, so it seemed to Mistress Mary. The theme came brokenly and uncertainly at first, as his thoughts strove for expression. Then out of the bitterness and gall, the suffering and the struggle—and was it remorse?—was born a sweet, resolute, triumphant strain that carried the listeners from height to height of sympathy and emotion. It had not a hint of serenity; it was new-born courage, aspiration, and self-mastery the song of 'him that overcometh.'
When he paused, there was a deep-drawn breath, a sigh from hearts surcharged with feeling, and Lisa, who had drawn closer and closer to the piano, stood there now, one hand leaning on Mr. Man's shoulder and the tears chasing one another down her cheeks.
'It hurts me here,' she sighed, pressing her hand to her heart.
He rose presently and left the room without a word, while the children prepared for home-going with a subdued air of having assisted at some solemn rite.
When Mistress Mary went out on the steps, a little later, he was still there.
'It is the last time! Auf wiedersehen!' he said.
'Auf wiedersehen,' she answered gently, giving him her hand.
'Have you no Thanksgiving sermon for me?' he asked, holding her fingers lingeringly. 'No child in all your flock needs it so much.'
'Yes,' said Mary, her eyes falling, for a moment, beneath his earnest gaze; but suddenly she lifted them again as she said bravely, 'I have a sermon, but it is one with a trumpet-call, and little balm in it. "Unto whomsoever anything is given, of him something shall be required."'
When he reached the corner of the street he stopped, but instead of glancing four ways, as usual, he looked back at the porch where Mistress Mary stood. She carried Jenny Baker, a rosy sprig of babyhood, in the lovely curve of her arm; Bobby Baxter clasped her neck from behind in a strangling embrace; Johnny, and Meg, and Billy were tugging at her apron; and Marm Lisa was standing on tiptoe trying to put a rose in her hair. Then the Solitary passed into the crowd, and they saw him in the old places no more.
CHAPTER XIII—LEAVES FROM MISTRESS MARY'S GARDEN
'We have an unknown benefactor. A fortnight ago came three bushels of flowers: two hundred tiny nosegays marked "For the children," half a dozen knots of pink roses for the "little mothers," a dozen scarlet carnations for Lisa, while one great bunch of white lilies bore the inscription, "For the Mother Superior." Last week a barrel of apples and another of oranges appeared mysteriously, and to-day comes a note, written in a hand we do not recognise, saying we are not to buy holly, mistletoe, evergreens, Christmas tree, or baubles of any kind, as they will be sent to us on December 22. We have inquired of our friends, but have no clue as yet, further than it must be somebody who knows our needs and desires very thoroughly. We have certainly entertained an angel unawares, but which among the crowd of visitors is it most likely to be? The Solitary, I wonder? I should never have thought it, were it not for the memory of that last day, the scene at the piano, the "song of him that overcometh," and the backward glance from the corner as he sprang, absolutely sprang, on the car. There was purpose in it, or I am greatly mistaken. Mr. Man's eyes would be worth looking into, if one could find purpose in their brown depths! Moreover, though I am too notorious a dreamer of dreams to be trusted, I cannot help fancying he went BACK to something; it was not a mere forward move, not a sudden determination to find some new duty to do that life might grow nobler and sweeter, but a return to an old duty grown hateful. That was what I saw in his face as he stood on the crossing, with the noon sunshine caught in his tawny hair and beard. Rhoda, Edith, and I have each made a story about him, and each of us would vouch for the truth of her particular version. I will not tell mine, but this is Rhoda's; and while it differs from my own in several important particulars, it yet bears an astonishing resemblance to it. It is rather romantic, but if one is to make any sort of story out of the Solitary it must be a romantic one, for he suggests no other.
'Rhoda began her tale with a thrilling introduction that set us all laughing (we smile here when still the tears are close at hand; indeed, we must smile, or we could not live): the prelude being something about a lonely castle in the heart of the Hartz Mountains, and a prattling golden-haired babe stretching its arms across a ruined moat in the direction of its absent father. This was in the nature of an absurd prologue, but when she finally came to the Solitary she grew serious; for she made him in the bygone days a sensitive child and a dreamy, impetuous youth, with a domineering, ill-tempered father who was utterly unable and unwilling to understand or to sympathise with him. His younger brother (for Rhoda insists on a younger brother) lived at home, while he, the elder, spent, or misspent, his youth and early manhood in a German university. As the years went on, the relations between himself and his father grew more and more strained. Do as the son might, he could never please, either in his line of thought and study or in his practical pursuits. The father hated his books, his music, his poetry, and his artist friends, while he on his part found nothing to stimulate or content him in his father's tasks and manner of life. His mother pined and died in the effort to keep peace between them, but the younger brother's schemes were quite in an opposite direction. At this time, Mr. Man flung himself into a foolish marriage, one that promised little in the shape of the happiness he craved so eagerly. (Rhoda insists on this unhappy marriage; I am in doubt about it.) Finally his father died, and on being summoned home, as he supposed, to take his rightful place and assume the management of the estate, he found himself disinherited. He could have borne the loss of fortune and broad acres better than this convincing proof of his father's dislike and distrust, and he could have endured even that, had it not befallen him through the perfidy of his brother. When, therefore, he was met by his wife's bitter reproaches and persistent coldness he closed his heart against all the world, shook the dust of home from off his feet, left his own small fortune behind him, kissed his little son, and became a wanderer on the face of the earth.
'This is substantially Rhoda's story, but it does not satisfy her completely. She says, in her whimsical way, that it needs another villain to account properly for Mr. Man's expression.
'Would it not be strange if by any chance we have brought him to a happier frame of mind? Would it not be a lovely tribute to the secret power of this place, to the healing atmosphere of love that we try to create—that atmosphere in which we bathe our own tired spirits day by day, recreating ourselves with every new dawn? But whether our benefactor be the Solitary or not, some heart has been brought into new relation with us and with the world. It only confirms my opinion that everybody is at his or her best in the presence of children. In what does the magic of their influence consist? This morning I was riding down in the horse-cars, and a poor ragged Italian woman entered, a baby in her arms, and two other children following close behind. The girl was a mite of a thing, prematurely grave, serious, pretty, and she led a boy just old enough to toddle. She lifted him carefully up to the seat (she who should have been lifted herself!), took his hat, smoothed his damp, curly hair, and tucked his head down on her shoulder, a shoulder that had begun its life-work full early, poor tot! The boy was a feeble, frail, ill-nourished, dirty young urchin, who fell asleep as soon as his head touched her arm. His child-nurse, having made him comfortable, gave a sigh of relief, and looked up and down the car with a radiant smile of content. Presto, change! All the railroad magnates and clerks had been watching her over their newspapers, and in one instant she had captured the car. I saw tears in many eyes, and might have seen more had not my own been full. There was apparently no reason for the gay, winsome, enchanting smile that curved the red mouth, brought two dimples into the brown cheeks, and sunny gleams into two dark eyes. True, she was riding instead of walking, and her charge was sleeping instead of waking and wailing; but these surely were trifling matters on which to base such rare content. Yet there it was shining in her face as she met a dozen pairs of eyes, and saw in each of them love for her sweet motherly little self, and love for the "eternal womanly" of which she was the visible expression. There was a general exodus at Brett Street, and every man furtively slipped a piece of silver into the child's lap as he left the car; each, I think, trying to hide his action from the others.
'It is of threads such as these that I weave the fabric of my daily happiness,—a happiness that my friends never seem able to comprehend; the blindest of them pity me, indeed, but I consider myself like Mary of old, "blessed among women."'
Another day.—'God means all sorts of things when he sends men and women into the world. That he means marriage, and that it is the chiefest good, I have no doubt, but it is the love forces in it that make it so. I may, perhaps, reach my highest point of development without marriage, but I can never do it unless I truly and deeply love somebody or something. I am not sure, but it seems to me God intends me for other people's children, not for my own. My heart is so entirely in my work that I fancy I have none left for a possible husband. If ever a man comes who is strong enough and determined enough to sweep things aside and make a place for himself willy- nilly, I shall ask him to come in and rest; but that seems very unlikely. What man have I ever seen who would help me to be the woman my work helps me to be? Of course there are such, but the Lord keeps them safely away from my humble notice, lest I should die of love or be guilty of hero-worship.
'Men are so dull, for the most part! They are often tender and often loyal, but they seldom put any spiritual leaven into their tenderness, and their loyalty is apt to be rather unimaginative. Heigho! I wish we could make lovers as the book-writers do, by rolling the virtues and graces of two or three men into one! I'd almost like to be a man in this decade, a young, strong man, for there are such splendid giants to slay! To be sure, a woman can always buckle on the sword, and that is rather a delightful avocation, after all; but somehow there are comparatively few men nowadays who care greatly to wear swords or have them buckled on. There is no inspiration in trying to buckle on the sword of a man who never saw one, and who uses it wrong end foremost, and falls down on it, and entangles his legs in it, and scratches his lady's hand with it whenever he kisses her! And therefore, these things, for aught I see, being unalterably so, I will take children's love, woman's love, and man's friendship; man's friendship, which, if it is not life's poetry, is credible prose, says George Meredith,—"a land of low undulations, instead of Alps, beyond the terrors and deceptions." That will fill to overflowing my life, already so full, and in time I shall grow from everybody's Mistress Mary into everybody's Mother Mary, and that will be the end of me in my present state of being. I am happy, yes, I am blessedly happy in this prospect, and yet—'
Another day.—'My beloved work! How beautiful it is! Toniella has not brought little Nino this week. She says he is ill, but that he sits every day in the orchard, singing our songs and modelling birds from the lump of clay we sent him. When I heard that phrase "in the orchard," I felt a curious sensation, for I know they live in a tenement house; but I said nothing, and went to visit them.
'The orchard is a few plants in pots and pans on a projecting window- sill!
'My heart went down on its knees when I saw it. The divine spark is in those children; it will be a moving power, helping them to struggle out of their present environment into a wider, sunnier one— the one of the real orchards. How fresh, how full of possibilities, is the world to the people who can keep the child heart, and above all to the people who are able to see orchards in window-boxes!'
Another day.—'Lisa's daily lesson is just finished. It was in arithmetic, and I should have lost patience had it not been for her musical achievements this morning. Edith played the airs of twenty or thirty games, and without a word of help from us she associated the right memory with each, and illustrated it with pantomime. In some cases, she invented gestures of her own that showed deeper intuition than ours; and when, last of all, the air of the Carrier Doves was played, a vision of our Solitary must have come before her mind. Her lip trembling, she held an imaginary letter in her fingers, and, brushing back the hair from her forehead (his very gesture!), she passed her hand across her eyes, laid the make-believe note in Rhoda's apron, and slipped out of the door without a word.
"'Mr. Man! Mr. Man! It is Mr. Man when he couldn't read his letter!" cried the children. "Why doesn't he come to see us any more, Miss Rhoda?"
'"He is doing some work for Miss Mary, I think," answered Rhoda, with a teasing look at me.
'Lisa came back just then, and rubbed her cheek against my arm. "I went to the corner," she whispered, "but he wasn't there; he is never there now!"
'It was the remembrance of this astonishing morning that gave me courage in the later lesson. She seems to have no idea of numbers— there will be great difficulty there,—but she begins to read well, and the marvel of it is that she has various talents! She is weak, uneducated; many things are either latent or altogether missing in her as yet, and I do not know how many of them will appear, nor how long a process it will be; but her mind is full of compensations, and that is the last thing I expected. It is only with infinite struggle that she LEARNS anything, though she is capable of struggle, and that is a good deal to say; but she has besides a precious heritage of instincts and insights, hitherto unsuspected and never drawn upon. It is precisely as if there had been a bundle of possibilities folded away somewhere in her brain, but hidden by an intervening veil, or crushed by some alien weight. We seem to have drawn away that curtain or lifted that weight, and the faculties so long obscured are stretching themselves and growing with their new freedom. It reminds me of the weak, stunted grass-blades under a stone. I am always lifting it and rolling it away, sentimentally trying to give the struggling shoots a chance. One can see for many a long day where the stone has been, but the grass forgets it after a while, when it breathes the air and sunshine, tastes the dew and rain, and feels the miracle of growth within its veins.'
Another day.—'The twins are certainly improving a trifle. They are by no means angelic, but they are at least growing human; and if ever their tremendous energy—a very whirlwind—is once turned in the right direction, we shall see things move, I warrant you! Rhoda says truly that the improvement cannot be seen with the naked eye; but the naked eye is never in use with us, in our work, nor indeed with the Father of Lights, who teaches us all to see truly if we will.
'The young minister has spent a morning with us. He came to make my acquaintance, shook me warmly by the hand, and—that was the last I saw of him, for he kept as close to Rhoda's side as circumstances would permit! The naked eye is all one needs to discern his motives! Psychological observations, indeed! Child study, forsooth! It was lovely to see Rhoda's freshness, spontaneity, and unconsciousness, as she flitted about like a pretty cardinal-bird. Poor young minister, whose heart is dangling at the strings of her scarlet apron! Lucky young minister, if his arm ever goes about that slender red-ribboned waist, and his lips ever touch that glowing cheek! But poor me! what will the garden be without our crimson rose?'