Titee by Alice Dunbar
It was cold that day. The great sharp north-wind swept out Elysian
Fields Street in blasts that made men shiver, and bent everything in
their track. The skies hung lowering and gloomy; the usually quiet
street was more than deserted, it was dismal.
Titee leaned against one of the brown freight cars for protection
against the shrill norther, and warmed his little chapped hands at a
blaze of chips and dry grass. "Maybe it'll snow," he muttered, casting
a glance at the sky that would have done credit to a practised seaman.
"Then won't I have fun! Ugh, but the wind blows!"
It was Saturday, or Titee would have been in school, the big yellow
school on Marigny Street, where he went every day when its bell boomed
nine o'clock, went with a run and a joyous whoop, ostensibly to imbibe
knowledge, really to make his teacher's life a burden.
Idle, lazy, dirty, troublesome boy, she called him to herself, as day
by day wore on, and Titee improved not, but let his whole class pass
him on its way to a higher grade. A practical joke he relished
infinitely more than a practical problem, and a good game at
pin-sticking was far more entertaining than a language lesson.
Moreover, he was always hungry, and would eat in school before the
half-past ten recess, thereby losing much good playtime for his
But there was nothing in natural history that Titee did not know.
He could dissect a butterfly or a mosquito hawk, and describe their
parts as accurately as a spectacled student with a scalpel and
microscope could talk about a cadaver. The entire Third District, with
its swamps and canals and commons and railroad sections, and its
wondrous, crooked, tortuous streets, was an open book to Titee. There
was not a nook or corner that he did not know or could not tell of.
There was not a bit of gossip among the gamins, little Creole and
Spanish fellows, with dark skins and lovely eyes, like spaniels, that
Titee could not tell of. He knew just exactly when it was time for
crawfish to be plentiful down in the Claiborne and Marigny canals; just
when a poor, breadless fellow might get a job in the big bone-yard and
fertilising factory, out on the railroad track; and as for the levee,
with its ships and schooners and sailors, how he could revel in them!
The wondrous ships, the pretty little schooners, where the
foreign-looking sailors lay on long moonlight nights, singing to their
guitars and telling great stories,—all these things and more could
Titee tell of. He had been down to the Gulf, and out on its
treacherous waters through the Eads jetties on a fishing-smack with
some jolly brown sailors, and could interest the whole school-room in
the talk-lessons, if he chose.
Titee shivered as the wind swept round the freight-cars. There isn't
much warmth in a bit of a jersey coat.
"Wish 'twas summer," he murmured, casting another sailor's glance at
the sky. "Don't believe I like snow; it's too wet and cold." And with
a last parting caress at the little fire he had builded for a minute's
warmth, he plunged his hands in his pockets, shut his teeth, and
started manfully on his mission out the railroad track toward the
It was late when Titee came home, to such a home as it was, and he had
but illy performed his errand; so his mother beat him and sent him to
bed supperless. A sharp strap stings in cold weather, and a long walk
in the teeth of a biting wind creates a keen appetite. But if Titee
cried himself to sleep that night, he was up bright and early next
morning, had been to mass, devoutly kneeling on the cold floor, blowing
his fingers to keep them warm, and was home almost before the rest of
the family were awake.
There was evidently some great matter of business on the young man's
mind, for he scarcely ate his breakfast, and left the table soon,
eagerly cramming the remainder of his meal in his pockets.
"Ma foi, but what now?" mused his mother, as she watched his little
form sturdily trudging the track in the face of the wind; his head,
with the rimless cap thrust close on the shock of black hair, bent low;
his hands thrust deep in the bulging pockets.
"A new live play-toy h'it may be," ventured the father; "he is one
The next day Titee was late for school. It was something unusual, for
he was always the first on hand to fix some plan of mechanism to make
the teacher miserable. She looked reprovingly at him this morning,
when he came in during arithmetic class, his hair all wind-blown, his
cheeks rosy from a hard fight with the sharp blasts. But he made up
for his tardiness by his extreme goodness all day; just think, Titee
did not even eat once before noon, a something unparalleled in the
entire previous history of his school life.
When the lunch-hour came, and all the yard was a scene of feast and
fun, one of the boys found him standing by a post, disconsolately
watching a ham sandwich as it rapidly disappeared down the throat of a
sturdy, square-headed little fellow.
"Hello, Edgar," he said, "what you got fer lunch?"
"Nothin'," was the mournful reply.
"Ah, why don't you stop eatin' in school, fer a change? You don't ever
have nothin' to eat."
"I didn't eat to-day," said Titee, blazing up.
"I tell you I didn't!" and Titee's hard little fist planted a
punctuation mark on his comrade's eye.
A fight in the schoolyard! Poor Titee was in disgrace again. Still,
in spite of his battered appearance, a severe scolding from the
principal, lines to write, and a further punishment from his mother,
Titee scarcely remained for his dinner, but was off down the railroad
track with his pockets partly stuffed with the remnants of the scanty
And the next day Titee was tardy again, and lunchless too, and the
next, until the teacher, in despair, sent a nicely printed note to his
mother about him, which might have done some good, had not Titee taken
great pains to tear it up on the way home.
One day it rained, whole bucketsful of water, that poured in torrents
from a miserable, angry sky. Too wet a day for bits of boys to be
trudging to school, so Titee's mother thought; so she kept him at home
to watch the weather through the window, fretting and fuming like a
regular storm in miniature. As the day wore on, and the rain did not
abate, his mother kept a strong watch upon him, for he tried many times
to slip away.
Dinner came and went, and the gray soddenness of the skies deepened
into the blackness of coming night. Someone called Titee to go to bed,
and Titee was nowhere to be found.
Under the beds, in closets and corners, in such impossible places as
the soap-dish and water-pitcher even, they searched, but he had gone as
completely as if he had been spirited away. It was of no use to call
up the neighbors, he had never been near their houses, they affirmed,
so there was nothing to do but to go to the railroad track where Titee
had been seen so often trudging in the shrill north-wind.
With lanterns and sticks, and his little yellow dog, the rescuing party
started down the track. The rain had ceased falling, but the wind blew
a gale, scurrying great gray clouds over a fierce sky. It was not
exactly dark, though in this part of the city there is neither gas nor
electricity, and on such a night as this neither moon nor stars dared
show their faces in so gray a sky; but a sort of all-diffused
luminosity was in the air, as though the sea of atmosphere was charged
with an ethereal phosphorescence.
Search as they did, there were no signs of Titee. The soft earth
between the railroad ties crumbled between their feet without showing
any small tracks or footprints.
"Mais, we may as well return," said the big brother; "he is not here."
"Oh, mon Dieu," urged the mother, "he is, he is; I know it."
So on they went, slipping on the wet earth, stumbling over the loose
rocks, until a sudden wild yelp from Tiger brought them to a
standstill. He had rushed ahead of them, and his voice could be heard
in the distance, howling piteously.
With a fresh impetus the little muddy party hurried forward. Tiger's
yelps could be heard plainer and plainer, mingled now with a muffled,
plaintive little wail.
After a while they found a pitiful little heap of sodden rags, lying at
the foot of a mound of earth and stones thrown upon the side of the
track. It was Titee with a broken leg, all wet and miserable and
They picked him up tenderly, and started to carry him home. But he
cried and clung to the mother, and begged not to go.
"Ah, mon pauvre enfant, he has the fever!" wailed the mother.
"No, no, it's my old man. He's hungry," sobbed Titee, holding out a
little package. It was the remnants of his dinner, all wet and
"What old man?" asked the big brother.
"My old man. Oh, please, please don't go home till I see him. I'm not
hurting much, I can go."
So, yielding to his whim, they carried him farther away, down the sides
of the track up to an embankment or levee by the sides of the Marigny
Canal. Then the big brother, suddenly stopping, exclaimed:
"Why, here's a cave. Is it Robinson Crusoe?"
"It's my old man's cave," cried Titee. "Oh, please go in; maybe he's
There cannot be much ceremony in entering a cave. There is but one
thing to do,—walk in. This they did, and holding up the lantern,
beheld a weird sight. On a bed of straw and paper in one corner lay a
withered, wizened, white-bearded old man with wide eyes staring at the
unaccustomed light. In the other corner was an equally dilapidated cow.
"It's my old man!" cried Titee, joyfully. "Oh, please, grandpa, I
couldn't get here to-day, it rained all mornin' an' when I ran away, I
fell down an' broke something, an', oh, grandpa, I'm all tired an'
hurty, an' I'm so 'fraid you're hungry."
So the secret of Titee's jaunts down the railroad was out. In one of
his trips around the swamp-land, he had discovered the old man
exhausted from cold and hunger in the fields. Together they had found
this cave, and Titee had gathered the straw and paper that made the
bed. Then a tramp cow, old and turned adrift, too, had crept in and
shared the damp dwelling. And thither Titee had trudged twice a day,
carrying his luncheon in the morning and his dinner in the afternoon.
"There's a crown in heaven for that child," said the officer of charity
to whom the case was referred.
But as for Titee, when the leg was well, he went his way as before.