by Kate Douglas Wiggin
CHAPTER I—EDEN PLACE
Eden Place was a short street running at right angles with Eden
Square, a most unattractive and infertile triangle of ground in a
most unattractive but respectable quarter of a large city. It was
called a square, not so much, probably, because it was triangular in
shape, as because it was hardly large enough to be designated as a
park. As to its being called 'Eden,' the origin of that qualifying
word is enveloped in mystery; but it is likely that the enthusiastic
persons who projected it saw visions and dreamed dreams of green
benches under umbrageous trees, of a green wire fence, ever green,
and of plots of blossoming flowers filling the grateful air with
As a matter of fact, the trees had always been stunted and stubby,
the plants had never been tended, and all the paint had been worn off
the benches by successive groups of working-men out of work. As for
the wire fence, it had been much used as a means of ingress and
egress by the children of the neighbourhood, who preferred it to any
of the gateways, which they considered hopelessly unimaginative and
commonplace, offering no resistance to the budding man of valour or
woman of ambition.
Eden Place was frequented mostly by the children, who found it an
admirable spot to squabble, to fight, and to dig up the hapless
earth; and after them, by persons out of suits with fortune. These
(generally men) adorned the shabby benches at all times, sleeping,
smoking, reading newspapers, or tracing uncertain patterns in the
gravel with a stick,—patterns as uncertain and aimless as
themselves. There were fewer women, because the unemployed woman of
this class has an old-fashioned habit, or instinct, of seeking work
by direct assault; the method of the male being rather to sit on a
bench and discuss the obstacles, the injustices, and the unendurable
insults heaped by a plutocratic government in the path of the honest
son of toil.
The corner house of Eden Place was a little larger than its
neighbours in the same row. Its side was flanked by a sand-lot, and
a bay window, with four central panes of blue glass, was the most
conspicuous feature of its architecture. In the small front yard was
a microscopic flower-bed; there were no flowers in it, but the stake
that held up a stout plant in the middle was surmounted by a neat
wooden sign bearing the inscription, 'No Smoking on these Premises.'
The warning seemed superfluous, as no man standing in the garden
could have put his pipe in his mouth without grazing either the fence
or the house, but the owner of the 'premises' possibly wished to warn
the visitor at the very threshold.
All the occupied houses in Eden Place were cheerful and hospitable in
their appearance, and were marked by an air of liveliness and good-
fellowship. Bed linen hung freely from all the windows, for there
was no hard and fast law about making up beds at any special hour,
though a remnant of superstition still existed that it was a good
thing to make up a bed before you slept in it. There were more women
on their respective front steps, and fewer in their respective
kitchens, in Eden Place than in almost any other locality in the
city. That they lived for the most part in close and friendly
relations could be seen from the condition of the fences between the
front yards, whose upper rails fairly sagged with the weight of
One woman, living in the middle of the row, evidently possessed
somewhat different views, for she had planted vines on each of her
division fences, rented her parlour to a lodger who only slept there,
kept all her front curtains drawn, and stayed in the hack of her
house. Such retribution as could legally be wreaked upon this
offensive and exclusive person was daily administered by her two
neighbours, who stood in their doors on either side and conversed
across her house and garden with much freedom and exuberance. They
had begged the landlord to induce her to take up her abode elsewhere;
but as she was the only tenant who paid her rent regularly, he
refused to part with her.
Any one passing the 'No Smoking' sign and entering the front door of
Mrs. Grubb's house, on the corner, would have turned off the narrow
uncarpeted hall into the principal room, and, if he were an observing
person, would have been somewhat puzzled by its appearance. There
were seven or eight long benches on one side, yet it had not the
slightest resemblance to a schoolroom. The walls were adorned with a
variety of interesting objects. There was a chart showing a mammoth
human hand, the palm marked with myriads of purple lines. There were
two others displaying respectively the interior of the human being in
the pink-and-white purity of total abstinence, and the same interior
after years of intemperance had done their fatal work; a most
valuable chart this last, and one that had quenched the thirst of
many a man.
The words 'Poverty Must Go' were wrought in evergreen letters over
the bay window, and various texts were printed in red and black and
tacked to the wall in prominent places. These were such as -
To be a Flesh-Eater is to be a Shedder of Blood and a Destroyer of
God's Innocent Creatures.'
'Now that Man has Begun to Ascend in the Scale of Being, let Woman
Reach Down a Strong, Tender Hand and Aid him in his Struggle for
Moral and Spiritual Elevation.'
'Let the Pleasure Field be as Large as Possible. Pains and Fears
'I Believe that to Burden, to Bond, to Tax, to Tribute, to
Impoverish, to Grind, to Pillage, to Oppress, to Afflict, to Plunder,
to Vampire the Life Labouring to Create Wealth is the Unpardonable
Over the mantel-shelf was a seaweed picture in a frame of shells,
bearing the inscription, 'Unity Hall, Meeting-Place of the Order of
Present Perfection.' On a table, waiting to be hung in place, was an
impressive sort of map about four feet square. This, like many of
the other ornaments in the room, was a trifle puzzling, and seemed at
first, from its plenitude of coloured spots, to be some species of
moral propaganda in a state of violent eruption. It proved, however,
on closer study, to be an ingenious pictorial representation of the
fifty largest cities of the world, with the successful establishment
of various regenerating ideas indicated by coloured discs of paper
neatly pasted on the surface. The key in the right-hand corner read
Single Tax Green.
Abolition of War Red.
Dress Reform Black.
Social Purity Blush Rose.
Religious Liberty Magenta.
Emancipation of } Crushed Strawberry.
A small gold star, added to the coloured spot, hovering over the name
of a city, was explained, in the lower left-hand corner, as denoting
the fact that the Eldorado face-powder was exclusively used there,
and that S. Cora Grubb was the sole agent for the Pacific coast.
Joseph's coat faded into insignificance in comparison with the city
of Mrs. Grubb's present residence, which appeared to be a perfect
hot-bed of world-saving ideas, and was surrounded by such a halo of
spots that it would have struck the unregenerate observer as an
undesirable place in which to live, unless one wished to be broken
daily on the rack of social progress.
This front room was Mrs. Grubb's only parlour. The seven benches
were rather in the way and seemingly unnecessary, as the lady
attended meetings morning, noon, and night in halls hired for that
purpose; but they gave her a feeling of security, as, in case one of
her less flourishing societies should be ejected from its hall, or in
case she should wake up in the middle of the night and want to hold a
meeting of any club when all the halls were closed, the benches in
the parlour would make it possible without a moment's loss of time.
The room connecting with this was the family banquet-hall and kitchen
in one, and as Mrs. Grubb's opinions on diet were extremely advanced,
it amply served the purpose.
There were three bedrooms upstairs, and the whole establishment was
rather untidy in its aspect; but, though it might have been much
cleaner, it is only fair to say that it might also have been much
The house was deserted. The only sound came from the back yard, and
it was the echo of children's voices. It was not at all a merry
prattle; it was a steady uproar interrupted by occasional shrieks and
yells, a clatter of falling blocks, beatings of a tin pan, a scramble
of feet, a tussle, with confusion of blows and thumps, and then
generally a temporary lull in the proceedings, evidently brought
about by some sort of outside interference. If you had pushed open
the wire door, you would have seen two children of four or five years
disporting themselves in a sand-heap. One was a boy and one a girl;
and though they were not at all alike in feature or complexion, there
was an astonishing resemblance between them in size, in figure, in
voice, in expression, and, apparently, in disposition.
Sitting on a bench, watching them as a dog watches its master's coat,
was a girl of some undeterminable age,—perhaps of ten or twelve
years. She wore a shapeless stout gingham garment, her shoes were
many sizes too large for her, and the laces were dangling. Her
nerveless hands and long arms sprawled in her lap as if they had no
volition in them. She sat with her head slightly drooping, her knees
apart, and her feet aimlessly turned in. Her lower lip hung a
little, but only a little, loosely. She looked neither at earth nor
at sky, but straight at the two belligerents, with whose bloodthirsty
play she was obliged to interfere at intervals. She held in her lap
a doll made of a roll of brown paper, with a waist and a neck
indicated by gingham strings. Pieces of ravelled rope were pinned on
the head part, but there was no other attempt to assist the
imagination. She raised her dull eyes; they seemed to hold in their
depths a knowledge of aloofness from the happier world, and their
dumb sorrow pierced your very heart, while it gave you an
irresistible sense of aversion. She smiled, but the smile only gave
you a new thrill; it was vacant and had no joy in it, rather an
uncommunicable grief. As she sat there with her battered doll, she
was to the superficial eye repulsive, but to the eye that pierces
externals she was almost majestic in her mysterious loneliness and
The steam-whistle of a factory near by blew a long note for twelve
o'clock, and she rose from her bench, took the children by the hand,
and dragged them, kindly but firmly, up the steps into the kitchen.
She laid her doll under a towel, but, with a furtive look at the boy,
rolled it in a cloth and tucked it under her skirt at the waist-line.
She then washed the children's faces, tied on their calico bibs, and
pushed them up to the pine table. While they battered the board and
each other with spoons and tin mugs, she went automatically to a
closet, took a dish of cold porridge and turned it into three bowls,
poured milk over it, spread three thick slices of wheat bread with
molasses from a cup, and sat down at the table. After the simple
repast was over, she led the still reluctant (constitutionally
reluctant) twins up the staircase and put them, shrieking, on a bed;
left the room, locking the door behind her in a perfunctory sort of
way as if it were an everyday occurrence, crouched down on the rug
outside, and, leaning her head back against the wall, took her doll
from under her skirt, for this was her playtime, her hour of ease.
Poor little 'Marm Lisa,' as the neighbours called her! She had all
the sorrows and cares of maternity with none of its compensating
CHAPTER II—MISTRESS MARY'S GARDEN
'"Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?"
"With silver bells and cockle shells,
And little maids all in a row."'
Mistress Mary's Garden did grow remarkably well, and it was
wonderfully attractive considering the fact that few persons besides
herself saw anything but weeds in it.
She did not look in the least a 'contrary' Miss Mary, as she stood on
a certain flight of broad wooden steps on a sunshiny morning; yet she
was undoubtedly having her own way and living her own life in spite
of remonstrances from bevies of friends, who saw no shadow of reason
or common-sense in her sort of gardening. It would have been foolish
enough for a young woman with a small living income to cultivate
roses or violets or lavender, but this would at least have been
poetic, while the arduous tilling of a soil where the only plants
were little people 'all in a row' was something beyond credence.
The truth about Mistress Mary lay somewhere in the via media between
the criticisms of her sceptical friends and the encomiums of her
enthusiastic admirers. In forsaking society temporarily she had no
rooted determination to forsake it eternally, and if the incense of
love which her neophytes for ever burned at her shrine savoured
somewhat of adoration, she disarmed jealousy by frankly avowing her
unworthiness and lack of desire to wear the martyr's crown. Her
happiness in her chosen vocation made it impossible, she argued, to
regard her as a person worthy of canonisation; though the neophytes
were always sighing to
'have that little head of hers
Painted upon a background of pale gold.'
She had been born with a capacity for helping lame dogs over stiles;
accordingly, her pathway, from a very early age, had been bestrewn
with stiles, and processions of lame dogs ever limping towards them.
Her vocation had called her so imperiously that disobedience was
impossible. It is all very well if a certain work asks one in a
quiet and courteous manner to come and do it, when one has time and
inclination; but it is quite another matter if it coaxes one so
insistently that one can do nothing else properly, and so succumbs
finally to the persuasive voice. Still, the world must be mothered
somehow, and there are plenty of women who lack the time or the
strength, the gift or the desire, the love or the patience, to do
their share. This gap seems to be filled now and then by some
inspired little creature like Mistress Mary, with enough potential
maternity to mother an orphan asylum; too busy, too absorbed, too
radiantly absent-minded to see a husband in any man, but claiming
every child in the universe as her very own. There was never
anywhere an urchin so dirty, so ragged, so naughty, that it could not
climb into Mistress Mary's lap, and from thence into her heart. The
neophytes partook of her zeal in greater or less degree, and,
forsaking all probability of lovers (though every one of them was
young and pretty), they tied on their white aprons and clave only
unto her. Daily intercourse with a couple of hundred little street
Arabs furnished a field for the practice of considerable feminine
virtue, and in reality the woman's kingdom at the top of the broad
wooden steps was a great 'culture engine' of spiritual motherhood.
It certainly was a very merry place, and if its presiding geniuses
were engaged in conscious philanthropy, the blighting hallmark was
conspicuous by its absence. Peals of laughter rang through the
rooms; smiling faces leaned from the upstairs windows, bowing
greeting to the ashman, the scissors-grinder, the Italian and Chinese
vegetable-vendors, the rag-sack-and-bottle man, and the other
familiar figures of the neighbourhood.
It was at the end of a happy, helpful day that Mistress Mary stood in
the front door and looked out over her kingdom.
There was a rosy Swedish girl sitting on the floor of a shop window
opposite and washing the glass. She had moved the fresh vegetables
aside and planted herself in the midst of them. There she sat among
the cabbages and turnips and other sweet things just out of the
earth; piles of delicate green lettuce buds, golden carrots bursting
into feathery tops, ruddy beets, and pink-checked. It was pretty to
see the honest joy of her work and the interest of her parted lips,
when, after polishing the glass, it shone as crystal clear as her own
eyes. A milkman stopping to look at her (and small wonder that he
did) poured nearly a quart of cream on the ground, and two children
ran squabbling under the cart to see if they could catch the
drippings in their mouths. They were Atlantic and Pacific Simonson
with Marm Lisa, as usual, at their heels. She had found her way to
this corner twice of late, because things happened there marvellous
enough to stir even her heavy mind. There was a certain flight of
narrow, rickety steps leading to a rickety shanty, and an adjacent
piece of fence with a broad board on top. Flower-pots had once stood
there, but they were now lying on the ground below, broken into
fragments. Marm Lisa could push the twins up to this vantage-ground,
and crawl up after them. Once ensconced, if they had chosen the
right time of day, interesting events were sure to be forthcoming.
In a large playground within range of vision, there were small
children, as many in number as the sands of the seashore. At a given
moment, a lovely angel with black hair and a scarlet apron would ring
a large bell. Simultaneously, a lovely angel with brown hair and a
white apron would fly to the spot, and the children would go through
a mysterious process like the swarming of bees around a queen.
Slowly, reluctantly, painfully, the swarm settled itself into lines
in conformance with some hidden law or principle unknown to Marm
Lisa. Then, when comparative order had been evolved from total
chaos, the most beautiful angel of all would appear in a window; and
the reason she always struck the onlookers as a being of beauty and
majesty was partly, perhaps, because her head seemed to rise from a
cloud of white (which was in reality only a fichu of white mull), and
partly because she always wore a slender fillet of steel to keep back
the waves of her fair hair. It had a little point in front, and when
the sun shone on its delicate, fine-cut prisms it glittered like a
halo. After the appearance of this heavenly apparition the endless
lines of little people wended their was into the building, and
enchanting strains of music were wafted through the open windows,
supplemented sometimes by the inspiring rattle of drums and the blare
of instruments hitherto indissolubly associated with street parades.
Who? Why? Whence? Whither? What for? These were some of the
questions that assailed Marm Lisa's mind, but in so incoherent a form
that she left them, with all other questions, unanswered. Atlantic
and Pacific were curious, too, but other passions held greater sway
with them; for when the children disappeared and the music ceased,
they called loudly for more, and usually scratched and pinched Marm
Lisa as they were lifted down from the fence; not seeing daily how
anybody else could be held answerable for the cessation of the
entertainment, and scratches and pinches being the only remedial
agencies that suggested themselves.
On this particular occasion there were no bells, no music, and no
mysterious swarming; but the heavenly apparition sat on the broad
steps. Yes, it was she! Blue-grey eyes with darker lashes sweeping
the warm ivory of her cheeks, sweet true lips for ever parting in
kind words, the white surplice and apron, and the rememberable steel
fillet. She had a little child in her lap (she generally had, by the
way), and there were other tots clinging fondly to her motherly
skirts. Marm Lisa stood at the foot of the steps, a twin glued to
each side. She stared at Mistress Mary with open-mouthed wonder not
unmixed with admiration.
'That same odd child,' thought Mary. 'I have seen her before, and
always with those two little vampires hanging to her skirts. She
looks a trifle young to have such constant family cares; perhaps we
had better "lend a hand."'
'Won't you come in?' she asked, with a smile that would have drawn a
sane person up the side of a precipice.
Atlantic turned and ran, but the other two stood their ground.
'Won't you come up and see us?' she repeated. 'There are some fishes
swimming in a glass house; come and look at them.'
Marm Lisa felt herself dragged up the steps as by invisible chains,
and even Pacific did not attempt to resist the irresistible.
Atlantic, finding himself deserted by his comrades, gave a yell of
baffled rage, and scrambled up the steps after them. But his tears
dried instantly at the sight of the room into which they were
ushered; as large as any of the halls in which Aunt Cora spent her
days, and how much more beautiful! They roved about, staring at the
aquarium, and gazing at the rocking-horse, the piano, the drum, the
hanging gardens, with speechless astonishment. Lisa shambled at
their heels, looking at nothing very long; and when Rhoda (one of the
neophytes), full of sympathy at the appearance of the wild, forlorn,
unkempt trio, sat herself down on a sofa and gathered them about a
wonderful picture-book, Mistress Mary's keen eyes saw that Lisa's
gaze wandered in a few minutes. Presently she crept over the floor
towards a table, and, taking a string from it, began to blow it to
and fro as it hung from her fingers. Rhoda's glance followed Mary's;
but it was only a fleeting one, for the four eyes of the twins were
riveted on hers with devouring eagerness, while they waited for her
explanation of the pictures. At the end of half an hour, in which
the children had said little or nothing, they had contrived to reveal
so many sorrowful and startling details of their mental, moral, and
physical endowment, that Mistress Mary put on her hat.
'I will go home with them,' she said. 'There is plenty of work here
for somebody; I could almost hope that it won't prove ours.'
'It will,' replied Rhoda, with a stifled sigh. 'There is an old
Eastern legend about the black camel that comes and lies down before
the door of him upon whom Heaven is going to lay her chastening hand.
Every time I have seen that awful trio on the fence-top, they were
fairly surrounded by black camels in my imagination. Mistress Mary,
I am not sure but that, in self-defence, we ought to become a highly
specialised SOMETHING. We are now a home, a mother, a nursery, a
labour bureau, a divorce court, a registry of appeals, a soup
kitchen, an advisory hoard, and a police force. If we take HER, what
shall we be?'
'We will see first where she belongs,' smiled Mary. (Nobody could
help smiling at Rhoda.) 'Somebody has been neglecting his or her
duty. If we can make that somebody realise his delinquencies, all
the better, for the responsibility will not be ours. If we cannot,
why, the case is clear enough and simple enough in my mind. We
certainly do not want "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" written over
this, of all doors.'
Rhoda's hand went up to an imaginary cap in a gesture of military
obedience. 'Very well, my general. I fly to prepare weapons with
which to fight Satan. You, of course, will take HER; oh, my dear,
I'm almost afraid you oughtn't! I choose the bullet-headed blonde
twin who says his name is "Lanty," and reserve for Edith the
bursting-with-fat brunette twin who calls herself "Ciffy." Edith's
disciplinary powers have been too much vaunted of late; we shall see
if Ciffy ruffles her splendid serenity.'
CHAPTER III—A FAMILY POLYGON
Mrs. Grubb's family circle was really not a circle at all; it was
rather a polygon—a curious assemblage of distinct personages.
There was no unity in it, no membership one of another. It was four
ones, not one four. If some gatherer of statistics had visited the
household, he might have described it thus:-
Mrs. S. Cora Grubb, widow, aged forty years.
'Alisa Bennett, feeble-minded, aged ten or twelve years.
'Atlantic and Pacific Simonson, twins, aged four years.'
The man of statistics might seek in vain for some principle of
attraction or cohesion between these independent elements; but no one
who knew Mrs. Grubb would have been astonished at the sort of family
that had gathered itself about her. Queer as it undoubtedly was at
this period, it had, at various times, been infinitely queerer.
There was a certain memorable month, shortly after her husband's
decease, when Mrs. Grubb allowed herself to be considered as a
compensated hostess, though the terms 'landlady' and 'boarder' were
never uttered in her hearing. She hired a Chinese cook, who slept at
home; cleared out, for the use of Lisa and the twins, a small
storeroom in which she commonly kept Eldorado face-powder; and
herself occupied a sofa in the apartment of a friend of humanity in
the next street. These arrangements enabled her to admit an
experimenter on hypnotism, a mental healer who had been much abused
by the orthodox members of her cult, and was evolving a method of her
own, an ostensible delegate to an Occidental Conference of Religions,
and a lady agent for a flexible celluloid undershirt. For a few days
Mrs. Grubb found the society of these persons very stimulating and
agreeable; but before long the hypnotist proved to be an unscrupulous
gentleman, who hypnotised the mental healer so that she could not
heal, and the Chinese cook so that he could not cook. When,
therefore, the delegate departed suddenly in company with the
celluloid-underwear lady, explaining by a hurried postal card that
they would 'remit' from Chicago, she evicted the other two boarders,
and retired again to private life.
This episode was only one of Mrs. Grubb's many divagations, for she
had been a person of advanced ideas from a comparatively early age.
It would seem that she must have inherited a certain number of
'views,' because no human being could have amassed, in a quarter of a
century, as many as she held at the age of twenty-five. She had then
stood up with Mr. Charles Grubb, before a large assembly, in the
presence of which they promised to assume and continue the relation
of husband and wife so long as it was mutually agreeable. As a
matter of fact it had not been mutually agreeable to Mr. Grubb more
than six months, but such was the nobility of his character that he
never disclosed his disappointment nor claimed any immunity from the
responsibilities of the marriage state. Mr. Grubb was a timid,
conventional soul, who would have given all the testimony of all the
witnesses of his wedding ceremony for the mere presence of a single
parson; but he imagined himself in love with Cora Wilkins, and she
could neither be wooed nor won by any of the beaten paths that led to
other women. He foolishly thought that the number of her convictions
would grow less after she became a wife, little suspecting the
fertility of her mind, which put forth a new explanation of the
universe every day, like a strawberry plant that devotes itself so
exclusively to 'runners' that it has little vigour left for producing
The town in New York where they lived proving to be too small,
narrow, and bigoted to hold a developing soul like Mrs. Grubb's, she
persuaded her husband to take passage for California, where the
climate might be supposed more favourable to the growth of saving
ideas. Mr. Grubb would, of course, be obliged to relinquish his
business, but people could buy and sell anywhere, she thought, and as
for her, she wanted nothing but unlimited space in which to expand.
There was money enough for an economical journey and a month or two
of idleness afterwards; and as Mrs. Grubb believed everything in the
universe was hers, if she only chose to claim it, the question of
finances never greatly troubled her. They sailed for the golden
West, then, this ill-assorted couple, accompanied by Mrs. Grubb's
only sister, who had been a wife, was now a widow, and would shortly
become a mother. The interesting event occurred much sooner than had
been anticipated. The ship became the birthplace of the twins, who
had been most unwelcome when they were thought about as one, and
entirely offensive when found to be two. The mother did not long
survive the shock of her surprise and displeasure, and after naming
the babies Atlantic and Pacific, and confiding them distinctly to the
care of Mr., not Mrs., Grubb, she died, and was buried at sea, not
far from Cape Horn. Mrs. Cora enjoyed at first the dramatic
possibilities of her position on the ship, where the baby orphans
found more than one kindly, sentimental woman ready to care for them;
but there was no permanent place in her philosophy for a pair of
twins who entered existence with a concerted shriek, and continued it
for ever afterwards, as if their only purpose in life was to keep the
lungs well inflated. Her supreme wish was to be freed from the
carking cares of the flesh, and thus for ever ready to wing her free
spirit in the pure ether of speculation.
You would hardly suppose that the obscure spouse of Mrs. Grubb could
wash and dress the twins, prepare their breakfast, go to his work,
come home and put them to bed, four or five days out of every seven
in the week; but that is what he did, accepting it as one phase of
the mysterious human comedy (or was it tragedy?) in which he played
his humble part.
Mrs. Grubb was no home spirit, no goddess of the hearth. She graced
her family board when no invitation to refresh herself elsewhere had
been proffered, and that she generally slept in her own bed is as
strong a phrase as can be written on the subject. If she had been
born in Paris, at the proper time, she would have been the leader of
a salon; separated from that brilliant destiny by years, by race, and
by imperious circumstance, she wielded the same sort of sceptre in
her own circumscribed but appreciative sphere. No social occasion in
Eden Place was complete without Mrs. Grubb. With her (and some light
refreshment), a party lacked nothing; without her, even if other
conditions were favourable, it seemed a flat, stale, and unprofitable
affair. Like Robin Adair,
'She made the ball so fine;
She made th' occasion shine.'
Mrs. Grubb hanging on her front gate, duster in hand (she never
conversed quite as well without it, and never did anything else with
it), might have been a humble American descendant of Madame de Stael
talking on the terrace at Coppet, with the famous sprig of olive in
her fingers. She moved among her subjects like a barouche among
express wagons, was heard after them as a song after sermons. That
she did not fulfil the whole duty of woman did not occur to her
fascinated constituents. There was always some duller spirit who
could slip in and 'do the dishes,' that Mrs. Grubb might grace a
conversazione on the steps or at the gate. She was not one of those
napkin people who hide their talents, or who immure their lights
under superincumbent bushels. Whatever was hers was everybody's, for
she dispensed her favours with a liberal hand. She would never have
permitted a child to suffer for lack of food or bed, for she was not
at heart an unkind woman. You could see that by looking at her
vague, soft brown eyes,—eyes that never saw practical duties
straight in front of them,—liquid, star-gazing, vision-seeing eyes,
that could never be focussed on any near object, such as a twin or a
cooking-stove. Individuals never interested her; she cared for
nothing but humanity, and humanity writ very large at that, so that
once the twins nearly died of scarlatina while Mrs. Grubb was
collecting money for the children of the yellow-fever sufferers in
But Providence had an eye for Mr. Grubb's perplexities. It does not
and cannot always happen, in a world like this, that vice is assisted
to shirk, and virtue aideth to do, its duty; but any man as
marvellously afflicted as Mr. Grubb is likely to receive not only
spiritual consolation, but miraculous aid of some sort. The
spectacle of the worthy creature as he gave the reluctant twins their
occasional bath, and fed them on food regularly prescribed by Mrs.
Grubb, and almost as regularly rejected by them, would have melted
the stoniest heart. And who was the angel of deliverance? A little
vacant-eyed, half-foolish, almost inarticulate child, whose feeble
and sickly mother was dragging out a death-in-life existence in a
street near by. The child saw Mr. Grubb wheeling the twins in a
double perambulator: followed them home; came again, and then again,
and then again; hung about the door, fell upon a dog that threatened
to bite them, and drove it away howling; often stood over the
perambulator with a sunshade for three hours at a time, without
moving a muscle; and adored Mr. Grubb with a consuming passion.
There was no special reason for this sentiment, but then Alisa
Bennett was not quite a reasonable being. Mr. Grubb had never been
adored before in his life; and to say the truth, his personality was
not winning. He had a pink, bald head, pale blue eyes, with blond
tufts for eyebrows, and a pointed beard dripping from his chin, which
tended to make him look rather like an invalid goat. But as animals
are said to have an eye for spirits, children have an eye for souls,
which is far rarer than an eye for beautiful surfaces.
Mr. Grubb began by loathing Alisa, then patiently suffered her, then
pitied, then respected, then loved her. Mrs. Grubb seldom saw her,
and objected to nothing by which she herself was relieved of care.
So Lisa grew to be first a familiar figure in the household, and
later an indispensable one.
Poor Mrs. Bennett finally came to the end of things temporal. 'Dying
is the first piece of good luck I ever had,' she said to Mr. Grubb.
'If it turns out that I've brought a curse upon an innocent creature,
I'd rather go and meet my punishment half-way than stay here and see
it worked out to the end.'
'"In my Father's house are many mansions,"' stammered Mr. Grubb, who
had never before administered spiritual consolation.
She shook her head. 'If I can only get rid of this world, it's all I
ask,' she said; 'if the other one isn't any better, why, it can't be
any worse! Feel under the mattress and you'll find money enough to
last three or four years. It's all she'll ever get, for she hasn't a
soul now to look to for help. That's the way we human beings arrange
things,—we, or the Lord, or the Evil One, or whoever it is; we bring
a puzzle into the world, and then leave it for other people to work
out—if they can! Who'll work out this one? Who'll work out this
one? Perhaps she'll die before the money's gone; let's hope for the
'Don't take on like that!' said Mr. Grubb despairingly,—'don't!
Pray for resignation, can't you?'
'Pray!' she exclaimed scornfully. 'Thank goodness, I've got enough
self-respect left not to pray!—Yes, I must pray, I MUST . . . Oh,
God! I do not ask forgiveness for him or for myself; I only beg
that, in some way I cannot see, we may be punished, and she spared!'
And when the stricken soul had fled from her frail body, they who
came to prepare her for the grave looked at her face and found it
shining with hope.
It was thus that poor little Alisa Bennett assumed maternal
responsibilities at the age of ten, and gained her sobriquet of 'Marm
Lisa.' She grew more human, more tractable, under Mr. Grubb's
fostering care; but that blessed martyr had now been dead two years,
and she began to wear her former vacuous look, and to slip back into
the past that was still more dreadful than the present.
It seemed to Mrs. Grubb more than strange that she, with her desire
for freedom, should be held to earth by three children not flesh of
her flesh—and such children. The father of the twins had been a
professional pugilist, but even that fact could never sufficiently
account for Pacific Simonson. She had apparently inherited instincts
from tribes of warlike ancestors who skulked behind trees with
battle-axes, and no one except her superior in size and courage was
safe from her violent hand. She had little, wicked, dark eyes and
crimson, swollen cheeks, while Atlantic had flaxen hair, a low
forehead, and a square jaw. He had not Pacific's ingenuity in
conceiving evil; but when it was once conceived, he had a dogged
persistency in carrying it out that made him worthy of his twin.
Yet with all these crosses Mrs. Grubb was moderately cheerful, for
her troubles were as nebulous as everything else to her mind. She
intended to invent some feasible plan for her deliverance sooner or
later, but she was much more intent upon development than
deliverance, and she never seemed to have the leisure to break her
shackles. Nothing really mattered much. Her body might be
occasionally in Eden Place, but her soul was always in a hired hall.
She delighted in joining the New Order of Something,—anything, so
long as it was an Order and a new one,—and then going with a
selected committee to secure a lodge-room or a hall for meetings.
She liked to walk up the dim aisle with the janitor following after
her, and imagine brilliant lights (paid for by collection), a neat
table and lamp and pitcher of iced water, and herself in the chair as
president or vice-president, secretary or humble trustee. There was
that about her that precluded the possibility of simple membership.
She always rose into office the week after she had joined any
society. If there was no office vacant, then some bold spirit
(generally male) would create one, that Mrs. Grubb might not wither
in the privacy of the ranks. Before the charter members had fully
learned the alphabet of their order and had gained a thorough
understanding of the social revolution it was destined to work, Mrs.
Grubb had mastered the whole scheme and was unfolding it before large
classes for the study of the higher theory. The instant she had a
tale to tell she presumed the 'listening earth' to be ready to hear
it. The new Order became an old one in course of time, and, like the
nautilus. Mrs. Grubb outgrew her shell and built herself a more
stately chamber. Another clue to the universe was soon forthcoming,
for all this happened in a city where it is necessary only for a man
to open his lips and say, 'I am a prophet', and followers flock unto
him as many in number as the stars. She was never disturbed that the
last clue had brought her nowhere; she followed the new one as
passionately as the old, and told her breathless pupils that their
feet must not be weary, for they were treading the path of progress;
that these apparently fruitless excursions into the domain of
knowledge all served as so many milestones in their glorious ascent
of the mountain of truth.
CHAPTER IV—MARM LISA IS TRANSPLANTED
It was precisely as Rhoda thought and feared. The three strange
beings who had drifted within Mistress Mary's reach had proved to
belong to her simply because they did not belong to anybody else.
They did not know their names, the streets in which they lived, or
anything else about which they were questioned, but she had followed
them home to the corner house of Eden Place, although she failed, on
the occasion of that first visit, to find Mrs. Grubb within. There
was, however, a very voluble person next door, who supplied a little
information and asked considerable more. Mrs. Sylvester told Mary
that Mrs. Grubb was at that moment presiding over a meeting of the
Kipling Brothers in Unity Hall, just round the corner.
'They meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at four o'clock,' she said, 'and
you'd find it a real treat if you like to step over there.'
'Thank you, I am rather busy this afternoon,' replied Mary.
'Do you wish to leave any name or message? Did you want a setting?'
'A sitting?' asked Mary vaguely. 'Oh no, thank you; I merely wished
to see Mrs. Grubb—is that the name?'
'That's it, and an awful grievance it is to her—Mrs. S. Cora Grubb.
You have seen it in the newspapers, I suppose; she has a half column
"ad." in the Sunday Observer once a month. Wouldn't you like your
nails attended to? I have a perfectly splendid manicure stopping
'No, thank you. I hoped to see Mrs. Grubb, to ask if her children
can come and spend the morning with me to-morrow.'
'Oh, that'll be all right; they're not her children; she doesn't care
where they go; they stay in the back yard or on the sand-lot most of
the time: she's got something more important to occupy her
attention. Say, I hope you'll excuse me, but you look a little pale.
If you were intending to get some mental healing from Mrs. Grubb,
why, I can do it; she found I had the power, and she's handed all her
healing over to me. It's a new method, and is going to supersede all
the others, we think. My hours are from ten to twelve, and two to
four, but I could take you evenings, if you're occupied during the
day. My cures are almost as satisfactory as Mrs. Grubb's now, though
I haven't been healing but six months last Wednesday.'
'Fortunately I am very well and strong,' smiled Mistress Mary.
'Yes, that's all right, but you don't know how soon sickness may
overtake you, if you haven't learned to cast off fear and practise
the denials. Those who are living in error are certain to be
affected by it sooner or later, unless they accept the new belief.
Why don't you have your nails done, now you're here? My manicure has
the highest kind of a polish,—she uses pumice powder and the rose of
Peru lustre; you ought to try her; by taking twenty tickets you get
your single treatments for thirty-five cents apiece. Not this
afternoon? Well, some other time, then. It will be all right about
the children and very good of you to want them. Of course you can't
teach them anything, if that's your idea. Belief in original sin is
all against my theories, but I confess I can't explain the twins
without it. I sometimes wonder I can do any healing with them in the
next house throwing off evil influences. I am treating Lisa by
suggestion, but she hasn't responded any yet. Call again, won't you?
Mrs. Grubb is in from seven to eight in the morning, and ten-thirty
to eleven-thirty in the evening. You ought to know her; we think
there's nobody like Mrs. Grubb; she has a wonderful following, and
it's growing all the time; I took this house to be near her. Good
afternoon. By the way, if you or any of your friends should require
any vocal culture, you couldn't do better than take of Madame
Goldmarker in No. 17. She can make anybody sing, they say. I'm
taking of her right along, and my voice has about doubled in size. I
ought to be leading the Kipling Brothers now, but my patients stayed
so late to-day I didn't get a good start. Good afternoon.'
The weeks wore on, and the children were old friends when Mary
finally made Mrs. Grubb's acquaintance; but in the somewhat hurried
interviews she had with that lady at first, she never seemed able to
establish the kind of relation she desired. The very atmosphere of
her house was chaotic, and its equally chaotic mistress showed no
sign of seeking advice on any point.
'Marm Lisa could hardly be received in the schools,' Mary told the
listening neophytes one afternoon when they were all together.
'There ought of course to be a special place for her and such as she,
somewhere, and people are beginning to see and feel the importance of
it here; but until the thought and hope become a reality the State
will simply put the child in with the idiots and lunatics, to grow
more and more wretched, more hopeless, more stupid, until the poor
little light is quenched in utter darkness. There is hope for her
now, I am sure of it. If Mrs. Grubb's neighbours have told me the
truth, any physical malady that may be pursuing her is in its very
first stages; for, so far as they know in Eden Place, where one
doesn't look for exact knowledge, to be sure, she has had but two or
three attacks ("dizziness" or "faintness" they called them) in as
many years. She was very strange and intractable just before the
last one, and much clearer in her mind afterwards. They think her
worse of late, and have advised Mrs. Grubb to send her to an insane
asylum if she doesn't improve. She would probably have gone there
long ago if she had not been such a valuable watch-dog for the twins;
but she does not belong there,—we have learned that from the
doctors. They say decisively that she is curable, but that she needs
very delicate treatment. My opinion is that we have a lovely bit of
rescue-work sent directly into our hands in the very nick of time.
All those in favour of opening the garden gates a little wider for
Marm Lisa respond by saying "Ay!"'
There was a shout from the neophytes that shook the very rafters—
such a shout that Lisa shuttled across the room, and, sitting down on
a stool at Mistress Mary's feet, looked up at her with a dull,
uncomprehending smile. Why were those beloved eyes full of tears?
She could not be displeased, for she had been laughing a moment
before. She hardly knew why, but Mistress Mary's wet eyes tortured
her; she made an ejaculation of discomfort and resentment, and taking
the corner of her apron wiped her new friend's face softly, gazing at
her with a dumb sorrow until the smile came back; then she took out
her string and her doll and played by herself as contentedly as
It was thus that heaven began to dawn on poor Marm Lisa. At first
only a physical heaven: temporary separation from Atlantic and
Pacific; a chair to herself in a warm, sunshiny room; beautiful,
bright, incomprehensible things hanging on the walls; a soft gingham
apron that her clumsy fingers loved to touch; brilliant bits of
colour and entrancing waves of sound that roused her sleeping senses
to something like pleasure; a smile meeting her eyes when she looked
up—oh! she knew a smile—God lets love dwell in these imprisoned
spirits! By-and-by all these new sensations were followed by
thoughts, or something akin to them. Her face wore a brooding,
puzzled look, 'Poor little soul, she is feeling her growing-pains!'
said Mistress Mary. It was a mind sitting in a dim twilight where
everything seems confused. The physical eye appears to see, but the
light never quite pierces the dimness nor reflects its beauty there.
If the ears hear the song of birds, the cooing of babes, the heart-
beat in the organ tone, then the swift little messengers that fly
hither and thither in my mind and yours, carrying echoes of sweetness
unspeakable, tread more slowly here, and never quite reach the spirit
in prison. A spirit in prison, indeed, but with one ray of sunlight
shining through the bars,—a vision of duty. Lisa's weak memory had
lost almost all trace of Mr. Grubb as a person but the old instinct
of fidelity was still there in solution, and unconsciously influenced
her actions. The devotion that first possessed her when she beheld
the twins as babies in the perambulator still held sway against all
their evil actions. If they plunged into danger she plunged after
them without a thought of consequences. There was, perhaps, no real
heroism in this, for she saw no risks and counted no cost: this is
what other people said, but Mistress Mary always thought Marm Lisa
had in her the stuff out of which heroes and martyrs are made. She
had never walked in life's sunny places; it had always been the
valley of the shadow for her. She was surrounded by puzzles with
never any answer to one of them, but if only she had comprehended the
truth, it was these very puzzles that were her salvation. While her
feeble mind stirred, while it wondered, brooded, suffered,—enough it
did all these too seldom,—it kept itself alive, even if the life
were only like the flickering of a candle. And now the candle might
flicker, but it should never go out altogether, if half a dozen pairs
of women's hands could keep it from extinction; and how patiently
they were outstretched to shield the poor apology for a flame, and
coax it into burning more brightly!
'Let the child choose her own special teacher,' said Mistress Mary;
'she is sure to have a strong preference.'
'Then it will be you,' laughed Helen.
'Don't be foolish; it may be any one of us and it will prove nothing
in any case, save a fancy that we can direct to good use. She seldom
looks at anybody but you,' said Edith.
'That is true,' replied Mary thoughtfully. 'I think she is attracted
by this glittering steel thing in my hair. I am going to weave it
into Helen's curly crop some day, and see whether she misses it or
transfers her affection. I have made up my mind who is the best
teacher for her, and whom she will chose.'
Rhoda gave a comical groan. 'Don't say it's I,' she pleaded. 'I
dread it. Please I am not good enough, I don't know how; and
besides, she gives me the creeps!'
Mistress Mary turned on Rhoda with a reproachful smile, saying, 'You
naughty Rhoda, with the brightest eyes, the swiftest feet, the
nimblest fingers, the lightest heart among us all, why do you want to
Mistress Mary had noted the fact that Lisa had refused to sit in an
unpainted chair, but had dragged a red one from another room and
ensconced herself in it, though it was uncomfortably small.
Now Rhoda was well named, for she was a rose of a girl, with damask
cheeks that glowed like two Jacqueminot beauties. She was much given
to aprons of scarlet linen, to collars and belts of red velvet, and
she had a general air of being fresh, thoroughly alive, and in a
state of dewy and perennial bloom. Mary was right in her surmise,
and whenever she herself was out of Lisa's sight or reach the child
turned to Rhoda instinctively and obeyed her implicitly.
CHAPTER V—THE NEW PLANT GREW
'Now, Rhoda dear,' said Mistress Mary one day, when Lisa had become
somewhat wonted to her new surroundings, 'you are to fold your hands
respectfully in your lap and I will teach you things,—things which
you in your youth and inexperience have not thought about as yet.
The other girls may listen, too, and catch the drippings of my
wisdom. I really know little about the education of defective
children, but, thank heaven, I can put two and two together, as Susan
Nipper said. The general plan will be to train Lisa's hands and
speak to her senses in every possible way, since her organs of sense
are within your reach, and those of thought are out of it. The
hardest lesson for such a child to learn is the subordination of its
erratic will to our normal ones. Lisa's attention is the most
hopeful thing about her and encourages me more than anything else.
It is not as if there were no mental processes existing; they are
there, but in a very enfeebled state. Of course she should have been
under skilled teaching the six years, but, late as it is, we couldn't
think of giving up a child who can talk, use her right hand, dress
herself, go upon errands, recognise colours, wash dishes; who is
apparently neither vicious nor cunning, but who, on the contrary, has
lived four years under the same roof with Mrs. S. Cora Grubb without
rebellion or violence or treachery! Why, dear girls, such a task, if
it did not appeal to one on the moral, certainly would on the
intellectual, side. Marm Lisa will teach us more in a year, you may
be sure, than we shall teach her. Let us keep a record of our
experiments; drop all materials that seem neither to give her
sensations nor wake her discriminative power, and choose others that
speak to her more clearly. Let us watch her closely, both to
penetrate the secret of her condition and to protect the other
children. What a joy, what a triumph to say to her some dear day, a
few years hence, "You poor, motherless bairn, we have swept away the
cobwebs of your dreams, given you back your will, put a clue to
things in your hand: now go on and learn to live and be mistress of
your own life under God!"'
It was at such a moment, when Mary's voice trembled, and her eyes
shone through a mist of tears like two victorious stars, that a hush
fell upon the little group, and the spirit of the eternal child
descended like a dove, its pure wings stirring the silence of each
woman's heart. At such a moment, their daily work, with its round of
harsh, unlovely, beautiful, discouraging, hopeful, helpful, heavenly
duties, was transfigured, and so were they. The servant was
transformed by the service, and the service by the servant. They
were alone together, each heart knit to all the others by the close
bond of a common vocation; and though a heretofore unknown
experience, it seemed a natural one when Mistress Mary suddenly bent
her head, and said softly:
'Father in heaven, it is by the vision of Thy relation to us that we
can apprehend our relation to these little ones. As we have accepted
that high trust, so make us loyal to it. When our feet grow weary
and our faith grows dim, help us to follow close after the ever
perfect One who taught even as we are trying to teach. He it was
whom the common people heard gladly. He it was who disdained not the
use of objects and symbols, remembering it was the childhood of the
race. He it was who spake in parables and stories, laying bare soul
of man and heart of nature, and revealing each by divine analogy. He
it was who took the little ones in His arms and blessed them; who set
the child in the midst, saying, "Except ye become as one of these."
May the afterglow of that inspired teaching ever shine upon the path
we are treading. May we bathe our tired spirits in its warmth and
glory, and kindle our torches at the splendour of its light. We
remember that He told us to feed His lambs. Dear Lord, help all the
faithful shepherds who care for the ninety-and-nine that lie in the
safe cover of the fold; help us, too, for we are the wandering
shepherds whose part it is to go out over the bleak hills, up the
mountain sides and rocky places, and gather in out of the storm and
stress of things all the poor, unshepherded, wee bit lammies that
have either wandered forlornly away from shelter, or have been born
in the wilderness, and know no other home. Such an one has just
strayed into the fold from the dreary hill-country. It needs a wiser
shepherd than any one of us. Grant that by gentleness, patience, and
insight we may atone somewhat for our lack of wisdom and skill. We
read among Thy mysteries that the divine Child was born of a virgin.
May He be born again and born daily in our hearts, already touched by
that remembrance and consecrated by its meaning. And this we ask for
love's sake. Amen.'
Then there was a space of silence—one of those silences in which we
seem to be caught up into the heart of things, when hidden meanings
are revealed, when the soul stretches itself and grows a little.
It was a few minutes later when Rhoda said, 'I am fired with zeal, I
confess it. Henceforth my single aim shall be to bring Marm Lisa
into her lost kingdom and inheritance. But meanwhile, how, oh how
shall I master the hateful preliminaries? How shall I teach her to
lace her shoes and keep them laced, unless I invent a game for it?
How shall I keep her hair from dangling in her eyes, how keep her
aprons neat?—though in those respects she is no worse than Pacific
Simonson. I promised her a doll yesterday, and she was remarkably
good. Do you object, Mistress Mary?'
'I don't know how much rewards are used in these cases,' answered
Mary, 'but why do you begin with them when the problem presents no
insuperable difficulties as yet? Whenever she herself, her awkward
hands, her weak will, her inattention, her restlessness, give her
some task she likes, some pleasure or occupation for which she has
shown decided preference, and thus make happiness follow close upon
the heels of effort. We who see more clearly the meaning of life
know that this will not always happen, and we can be content to do
right for right's sake. I don't object to your putting hosts of
slumbering incentives in Lisa's mind, but a slumbering incentive is
not vulgar and debasing, like a bribe.'
A plant might be a feeble and common thing, yet it might grow in
beauty and strength in a garden like Mistress Mary's. Such soil in
the way of surroundings, such patient cultivation of roots and stems,
such strengthening of tendrils on all sorts of lovely props, such
sunshine of love, such dew of sympathy, such showers of kindness,
such favouring breezes of opportunity, such pleasure for a new leaf,
joy for a bud, gratitude for a bloom! What an atmosphere in which to
grow towards knowledge and goodness! Was it any wonder that the
little people 'all in a row' responded to the genius of Mistress
Mary's influence? They used to sing a song calleth The Light Bird,'
in which some one, all unknown to the children, would slip into the
playground with a bit of broken looking-glass, and suddenly a radiant
fluttering disk of light would appear on the wall, and dance up and
down, above and below, hither and yon, like a winged sunbeam. The
children held out longing arms, and sang to it coaxingly. Sometimes
it quivered over Mistress Mary's head, and fired every delicate point
of her steel tiara with such splendour that the Irish babies almost
felt like crossing themselves. At such times, those deux petits
coeurs secs, Atlantic and Pacific, and all the other full-fledged and
half-fledged scape-graces, forgot to be naughty, and the millennium
was foreshadowed. The neophytes declared Mistress Mary a bit of a
magician. Somehow or other, the evil imps in the children shrank
away, abashed by the soft surprise of a glance that seemed to hope
something better, and the good angels came out of their banishment,
unfolded their wings, and sunned themselves in the warmth of her
approving smile. Her spiritual antennae were so fine, so fine, that
they discerned the good in everything; they were feeling now after
the soft spot in the rocky heart of Atlantic Simonson; they had not
found it yet, but they would—oh, they would in time; for if hope is
the lover's staff, it is no less that of the idealist.
Marm Lisa looked upon the miracles that happened under Mistress
Mary's roof with a sort of dazed wonder, but her intelligence grew a
little day by day; and though she sadly taxed everybody's patience,
she infused a new spirit into all the neophytes.
Had not improvement been rapid, their untrained zeal might perhaps
have flagged. Had the mental symptoms, by their obscurity, baffled
them or defied them on every side, their lack of systematic,
scientific training for such a task might have made them discouraged:
but delicate and exacting as the work was, their love and enthusiasm,
their insight and patience, their cleverness and ingenuity, triumphed
over all obstacles; and luckily for their youth and comparative
inexperience, they were rewarded in marvellous measure.
Not that every day was bright and hopeful. The carefully kept record
was black enough on occasions, beginning with the morning when Helen,
sitting in the circle, felt a rough hand on her head, and Marm Lisa,
without the slightest warning of her intention, snatched Mary's steel
band forcibly from her hair, and, taking it across the room, put it
in its accustomed place on its owner's head. Everybody was startled,
but Mary rose from her chair quietly, and, taking the ornament in one
hand and Marm Lisa in the other, she came to Helen's side.
'I like to have my shining crown in Miss Helen's hair,' she said; 'it
is such pretty, curly hair—stroke it softly, Lisa; she must wear it
this morning to please me, and then I will take it again for my own.
Dear Miss Helen, who is so sweet and good to the children, I love
her,' and she kissed her fondly on each cheek.
Marm Lisa did not attempt to rebel but she was sullen, and refused
her work when it was offered her later.
Such occurrences were rare, however, for her obliquity always seemed
mental rather than moral.
Straws and bright papers, beads and pretty forms to thread on stout
laces, were given her to wean her from her favourite but aimless
string-play. There were days of restlessness which she wandered up
and down stairs, and could not be kept in her chair nor persuaded to
stand in her place in the circle. There were days, too, when she
tore the bright cardboards and glossy weaving-mats that ordinarily
gave her such keen pleasure; but this carelessness grew more and more
infrequent, until it ceased altogether, so that it had probably come
more from her inability to hold and move the materials and needles
properly than from a wanton instinct of destruction; for they would
often see the tears drop from her eyes upon her clumsy fingers as she
strove to make them obey her feeble behests. At such a moment there
was always some one to fling herself with passionate ardour and
sympathy into this latest difficulty. A stouter weaving-needle was
invented, and a mat of pretty coloured morocco substituted for the
fragile paper; while the poor inert hands were held and coaxed and
strengthened every day by finger gymnastics.
As Lisa grew in power Rhoda grew in ingenuity, and failure in any one
particular only stimulated her genius of invention the more. Did she
spill paste, mucilage, water on her gingham aprons, and wipe anything
and everything on them that came in her way, Rhoda dressed her in
daintier ones of white cambric, with a ruffle at the neck and
sleeves; the child's pleasure knew no bounds, and she kept the aprons
clean. With Mrs. Grubb's permission her hair was cut shorter, and
brushed back under a round comb. No regiment of soldiers could have
kept the comb in place. It was taken away and a blue ribbon
substituted. She untied the ribbon every five minutes for two days,
when Mary circumvented her by sewing a blue ribbon on each sleeve.
This seemed to divert her attention from the head-band, and after a
week or two she allowed it to remain without interference. Mary gave
her low shoes, hoping that the lessened trouble of lacing them would
make the task a possibility. There was no improvement. If she laced
them, it was only under supervision, and they were always untied
within the hour, the dangling laces tripping her awkward feet.
Slippers or old-fashioned shoes with elastic at the side would have
been an easy way out of the difficulty, but to Rhoda's mind that
would have been a humiliating confession of failure. As a last
resort she bought brown shoes and brown laces.
'If these do not succeed,' she said, 'I will have red ones made,
paint the tips blue, and give her yellow laces; but I will fix her
mind on her feet and arouse her pride in them, or die in the
This extreme, fortunately, proved unnecessary, since for some unknown
reason the brown foot-gear appealed to Marm Lisa, and she kept the
laces tied. The salient peculiarity and encouraging feature of the
child's development was that, save in rare cases, she did not slip
back into her old habits when the novelty of the remedy wore off;
with her, almost every point gained was a point kept. It was indeed
a high Hill Difficulty that she was climbing—so high that had she
realised it she would never have taken the first step of her own
unaided will; but now this impelling force behind her was so great,
and the visions for ever leading her on were so beautiful, that she
ran nor grew weary, she walked yet did not faint.
The other children, even the youngest of them, were more or less
interested in the novel enterprise, too, though they scarcely knew
the nature of it or how much was at stake. That a human mind was
tottering to its fall, and that Mistress Mary was engaged in
preventing it, was beyond their ken. They could see certain details,
however, for they were all one great family of little people, and it
was no unaccustomed thing for them to watch a moral conquest, though
they had no conception of an intellectual one.
Accordingly, there was a shout of triumph from a corner of the room
one morning,—such a shout that seventy or eighty youngsters held
their breath to see what was happening.
After weeks upon weeks of torn cards, broken threads, soiled
patterns, wrong stitches, weak hand held in place by strong hand,
Marm Lisa had sewed without help, and in one lesson, the outline of a
huge red apple; and there she stood, offering her finished work to
Mistress Mary. The angels in heaven never rejoiced more greatly over
the one repentant sinner than the tired shepherdesses over their one
poor ewe lamb, as she stood there with quivering hands and wet eyes,
the first sense of conscious victory written on her inscrutable brow,
and within the turbid, clouded brain the memory of a long struggle,
and a hint, at least, of the glory she had achieved.
Rhoda took the square of neat cardboard with the precious red circle
that meant so much, and ran into the playground with it, hugging it
to her heart, and crying and laughing over it like a child.
When she came back Mistress Mary put her arm round Lisa's waist and
said to the whole great family: 'Children, after trying hard, for
ever so long, Lisa has sewed this lovely picture all by herself.
There is not a wrong stitch, and one side is as neat as the other.
What shall we say?'
'Three cheers! The Chinese must go!' shouted Pat Higgins, a
patriotic person of five years, whose father was an organiser of
All the grown-ups laughed at this unexpected suggestion, but the
cheers were given with a good will, and Marm Lisa, her mind stirred
to its depths by the unwonted emotion, puzzled out the meaning of
them and hid it in her heart.
CHAPTER VI—FROM GRUBB TO BUTTERFLY
The children were all nearly a year older when Mrs. Grubb one day
climbed the flight of wooden steps heading to Marm Lisa's Paradise,
and met, as she did so, a procession of Mistress Mary's neophytes who
were wending their way homeward.
The spectacle of a number of persons of either sex, or of both sexes,
proceeding in hue or grouped as an audience, acted on Mrs. Grubb
precisely as the taste of fresh blood is supposed to act on a tiger
in captivity. At such a moment she had but one impulse, and that was
to address the meeting. The particular subject was not vital, since
it was never the subject, but her own desire to talk, that furnished
the necessary inspiration. While she was beginning, 'Ladies and
gentlemen,' in her clear, pheasant voice, her convictions, opinions,
views, prejudices, feelings, experiences, all flew from the different
corners of what she was pleased to call her brain, and focussed
themselves on the point in question.
If the discussion were in a field in which she had made no excursions
whatever, that trifling detail did not impose silence upon her. She
simply rose, and said:
'Ladies and gentlemen, though a stranger in your midst, I feel I must
say a word of sympathy to you, and a word of encouragement for your
cause. It is a good and worthy movement, and I honour you for
upholding it. Often and often have I said to my classes, it matters
not what face of truth is revealed to you so long as you get a vision
that will help you to bless your fellow-men. To bless your fellow-
men is the great task before each and every one of us, and I feel to
urge this specially upon occasions like this, when I see a large and
influential audience before me. Says Rudyard Kipling, "I saw a
hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they were all my brothers."
Yes, all our brothers! The brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of
woman, those are the subjects that include all others. I am glad to
have met with you, and to have heard the eloquent words of your
speakers. If any of you would like to know more of my work, I will
gladly meet you in Room A at the close of this meeting.'
She then sat down amid applause. Never did Mrs. S. Cora Grubb cease
speaking without at least a ripple of approval that sometimes grew
into a positive ovation. What wonder, then, that she mistook herself
for an inspired person? It was easy to understand her popularity
with her fellow-men. Her eyes were as soft and clear as those of a
child, her hair waved prettily off her low, serene brow, her figure
was plump and womanly, and when her voice trembled with emotion
(which in her was a shallow well very near the surface) the
charmingest pink colour came and went in her cheeks. On such
occasions more than one member of the various brotherhoods thought
what a cosy wife she would make, if removed from the public arena to
the 'sweet, safe corner of the household fire.' To be sure, she had
not much logic, but plenty of sentiment; rather too great a fondness
for humanity, perhaps, but that was because she had no husband and
family of her own to absorb her superfluous sympathy and energy.
Mrs. Grubb was not so easily classified as these 'brothers' imagined,
however, and fortunately for them she had no leanings towards any
man's fireside. Mr. Grubb had died in the endeavour to understand
her, and it is doubtful whether, had he been offered a second life
and another opportunity, he would have thought the end justified the
This criticism, however, applies only to the family circle, for Mrs.
Grubb in a hall was ever winning, delightful, and persuasive. If she
was illogical, none of her sister-women realised it, for they were
pretty much of the same chaotic order of mind, though with this
difference: that a certain proportion of them were everywhere
seeking reasons for their weariness, their unhappiness, their
poverty, their lack of faith and courage, their unsatisfactory
husbands and their disappointing children. These ladies were apt to
be a trifle bitter, and much more interested in Equal Suffrage,
Temperance, Cremation, and Edenic Diet than in subjects like
Palmistry, Telepathy, and Hypnotism, which generally attracted the
vague, speculative, feather-headed ones. These discontented persons
were always the most frenzied workers and the most eloquent speakers,
and those who were determined to get more rights were mild compared
with those who were determined to avenge their wrongs. There was, of
course, no unanimity of belief running through all these Clubs,
Classes, Circles, Societies, Orders, Leagues, Chapters, and Unions;
but there was one bond of aversion, and that was domestic service of
any kind. That no woman could develop or soar properly, and cook,
scrub, sweep, dust, wash dishes, mend, or take care of babies at the
same time—to defend this proposition they would cheerfully have gone
to the stake. They were willing to concede all these sordid tasks as
an honourable department of woman's work, but each wanted them to be
done by some other woman.
Mrs. Grubb really belonged to neither of these classes. She was not
very keen about more rights, nor very bloodthirsty about her wrongs.
She inhabited a kind of serene twilight, the sort that follows an
especially pink sunset. She was not wholly clear in her mind about
anything, but she was entirely hopeful about the world and its
disposition to grow and move in ever ascending spirals. She hated
housework as much as any of her followers, although she was seldom
allowed to do anything for herself. 'I'll step in and make your
beds, Mrs. Grubb; I know you're tired.' 'I'll sweep the front room,
Mrs. Grubb; you give yourself out so, I know you need rest.' 'Let me
cook your supper while you get up strength for your lecture; there
are plenty of people to cook, but there's only one Mrs. Grubb!'
These were the tender solicitations she was ever receiving.
As for theories, she had small choice. She had looked into almost
every device for increasing the sum of human knowledge and hastening
the millennium, and she thought them all more or less valuable. Her
memory, mercifully, was not a retentive one, therefore she remembered
little of the beliefs she had outgrown; they never left even a
deposit in the stretch of wet sand in which they had written
She had investigated, or at any rate taught, Delsarte, Physical
Culture, Dress-Reform, the Blue-glass Cure, Scientific Physiognomy,
Phrenology, Cheiromancy, Astrology, Vegetarianism, Edenic Diet,
Single Tax, Evolution, Mental Healing, Christian Science,
Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Hypnotism. All these metamorphoses of
thought had Mrs. S. Cora Grubb passed through, and was not yet a
finished butterfly. Some of the ideas she had left far behind, but
she still believed in them as fragments of truth suitable for feeble
growing souls that could not bear the full light of revelation in one
burst. She held honorary memberships in most of the outgrown
societies, attended annual meetings of others, and kept in touch with
all the rest by being present at their social reunions.
One of her present enthusiasms was her 'Kipling Brothers,' the boys'
band enlisted under the motto, 'I saw a hundred men on the road to
Delhi, and they were all my brothers.' She believed that there was
no salvation for a boy outside of a band. Banded somehow he must be,
then badged, beribboned, bannered, and bye-lawed. From the moment a
boy's mother had left off her bye-lows, Mrs. Grubb wanted him put
under bye-laws. She often visited Mistress Mary with the idea that
some time she could interest her in one of her thousand schemes; but
this special call was to see if the older children, whose neat
handiwork she had seen and admired, could embroider mottoes on
cardboard to adorn the Kipling room at an approaching festival. She
particularly wanted 'Look not upon the Wine' done in blood-red upon
black, and 'Shun the Filthy Weed' in smoke-colour on bright green.
She had in her hand a card with the points for her annual address
noted upon it, for this sort of work she ordinarily did in the horse-
cars. These ran:
1st. Value of individuality. 'I saw.'
2nd. Value of observation. 'I SAW.'
3rd. Value of numbers. 'I saw a HUNDRED men.'
4th. Importance of belonging to the male sex. It was MEN who were
seen on the road.
5th. What and where is Delhi?
6th. Description of the road thither.
7th. Every boy has his Delhi.
8th. Are you 'on the road'?
9th. The brotherhood of man.
10th. The Kipling Brothers' Call to Arms.
She intended to run through the heads of this impassioned oration to
Mistress Mary, whom she rather liked; and, in truth, Mary had
difficulty in disliking her, though she thoroughly disapproved of
her. She was so amiable, and apparently so susceptible to teaching,
that Mary always fancied her on the verge of something better. Her
vagaries, her neglects, and what to Mary's mind were positive
inhumanities, seemed in a way unconscious. 'If I can only get into
sufficiently friendly relations,' thought Mary, 'so that I can
convince her that her first and highest duty lies in the direction of
the three children, I believe she will have the heroism to do it!'
But in this Mistress Mary's instinct was at fault. Mrs. Grubb took
indeed no real cognisance of her immediate surroundings, but she
would not have wished to see near duties any more clearly. Neither
had she any sane and healthy interest in good works of any kind; she
simply had a sort of philanthropic hysteria, and her most successful
speeches were so many spasms.
CHAPTER VII—THE COMET AND THE FIXED STAR
'I don't feel that I can part with Lisa now, just as she's beginning
to be a help to me,' argued Mrs. Grubb, shortly after she had been
welcomed and ensconced in a rocking-chair. 'As Madame Goldmarker
says, nobody else in the world would have given her a home these four
years, and a good many wouldn't have had her round the house.'
'That is true,' replied Mary, 'and your husband must have been a very
good man from all you tell me, Mrs. Grubb.'
'Good enough, but totally uninteresting,' said that lady laconically.
'Well, putting aside the question as to whether goodness ought to be
totally uninteresting, you say that Lisa's mother left Mr. Grubb
three hundred dollars for her food and clothing, and that she has
been ever since a willing servant, absolutely devoted to your
'We never put a cent of the three hundred dollars into our own
pockets,' explained Mrs. Grubb. 'Mr. Grubb was dreadfully opposed to
my doing it, but every penny of it went to freeing our religious
society from debt. It was a case of the greatest good of the
greatest number, and I didn't flinch. I thought it was a good deal
more important that the Army of Present Perfection should have a roof
over its head than that Lisa Bennett should be fed and clothed; that
is, if both could not be done.'
'I don't know the creed of the Army, but it seems to me your
Presently Perfect soldiers would have been rather uncomfortable under
their roof if Lisa Bennett had been naked and starving outside.'
'Oh, it would never have come to that,' responded Mrs. Grubb easily.
'There is plenty of money in the world, and it belongs equally to the
whole human race. I don't recognise anybody's right to have a dollar
more than I have; but Mr. Grubb could never accept any belief that
had been held less than a thousand years, and before he died he gave
some money to a friend of his, and told him to pay me ten dollars
every month towards Lisa's board. Untold gold could never pay for
what my pride has suffered in having her, and if she hadn't been so
useful I couldn't have done it,—I don't pretend that I could. She's
an offence to the eye.'
'Not any longer,' said Mary proudly.
'Well, she was up to a few months ago; but she would always do
anything for the twins, and though they are continually getting into
mischief she never lets any harm come to them, not so much as a
scratch. If I had taken a brighter child, she would have been for
ever playing on her own account and thinking of her own pleasure; but
if you once get an idea into Lisa's head of what you expect her to
do, she will go on doing it to the end of the world, and wild horses
couldn't keep her from it.'
'It's a pity more of us hadn't that virtue of obedience to a higher
'Well, perhaps it is, and perhaps it isn't; it's a sign of a very
'Or a very strong one,' retorted Mary.
'There are natural leaders and natural followers,' remarked Mrs.
Grubb smilingly, as she swayed to and fro in Mary's rocking-chair.
Her smile, like a ballet-dancer's, had no connection with, nor
relation to, the matter of her speech or her state of feeling; it was
what a watchmaker would call a detached movement. 'I can't see,'
said she, 'that it is my duty to send Lisa away to be taught, just
when I need her most. My development is a good deal more important
'Why? Because I have a vocation and a mission; because, if I should
falter or faint by the wayside, hundreds of women who depend on me
for inspiration would fall back into error and suffer permanent loss
'Do you suppose they really would?' asked Mary rather maliciously,
anxious if possible to ruffle the surface of Mrs. Grubb's
exasperating placidity. 'Or would they, of course after a long
period of grief-stricken apathy, attach themselves to somebody else's
'They might,' allowed Mrs. Grubb, in a tone of hurt self-respect;
'though you must know, little as you've seen of the world, that no
woman has just the same revelation as any other, and that there are
some who are born to interpret truth to the multitude. I can say in
all humility that it has been so with me from a child. I've always
had a burning desire to explore the secret chambers of Thought,
always yearned to understand and explain the universe.'
'I have never tried to explain it,' sighed Mary a little wearily;
'one is so busy trying to keep one's little corner clean and sweet
and pleasant, a helpful place where sad and tired souls can sit down
'Who wants to sit down and rest? Not I!' exclaimed Mrs. Grubb. 'But
then, I'm no criterion, I have such an active mind.'
'There are just a few passive virtues,' said Mary teasingly. 'We
must remember that activity doesn't always make for good; sometimes
it is unrest, disintegration; not growth, Mrs. Grubb, but
Mrs. Grubb took out a small blank-book and made a note, for she had
an ear for any sentence that might be used in a speech.
'That is true. "DISTRUST THE ACTIVITY WHICH IS NOT GROWTH, BUT
FERMENTATION" that will just hit some ladies in my classes, and it
comes right in with something I am going to say this evening. We
have a Diet Congress here this week, and there's a good deal of
feeling and dispute between the various branches. I have two
delegates stopping with me, and they haven't spoken to each other
since yesterday morning, nor sat down to eat at the same table. I
shall do all I can, as the presiding officer, to keep things pleasant
at the meetings, but it will be difficult. You've never been in
public life and can't understand it, but you see there are women
among the delegates who've suffered the tyranny of man so long that
they will cook anything their husbands demand; women who believe in
eating any kind of food, and hold that the principal trouble lies in
bad cooking; women who will give up meat, but still indulge in all
sorts of cakes, pastries, and kickshaws; and women who are strong on
temperance in drink, but who see no need of temperance in food. The
whole question of diet reform is in an awful state, and a Congress is
the only way to settle it.'
'How do men stand on the diet question?' asked Mary, with a twinkle
in her eye.
'They don't stand at all,' answered Mrs. Grubb promptly. 'They sit
right still, and some of them lie down flat, you might say, whenever
it's mentioned. They'll do even more for temperance than they will
for reformed diet, though goodness knows they're fond enough of
drinking. The Edenites number about sixty-seven in this city, and
nine is the largest number of gentlemen that we've been able to
interest. Those nine are the husbands and sons of the lady members,
and at the next meeting two of them are going to be expelled for
backsliding. I declare, if I was a man, I'd be ashamed to confess
that I was all stomach; but that's what most of them are. Not that
it's easy work to be an Edenite: it's impossible to any but a highly
spiritual nature. I have been on the diet for six months, and
nothing but my position as vice-president of the society, and my
desire to crush the body and release the spirit, could have kept me
faithful. I don't pretend to like it, but that doesn't make me
disloyal. There's nothing I enjoy better than a good cut of
underdone beef, with plenty of dish gravy; I love nice tender porter-
house steaks with mushrooms; I love thick mutton-chops broiled over a
hot fire: but I can't believe in them, and my conscience won't allow
me to eat them. Do you believe in meat?'
'I don't see why you say "certainly." You would be a good deal
better off without it. You are filling yourself full of carnal,
brutal, murderous passions every time you eat it. The people who eat
meat are not half so elevated nor half so teachable as the Edenites.'
'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
'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
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
'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.
'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
'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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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?'
'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
'He is extremely clever.'
'I have no doubt of it from what you tell me, both clever and
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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
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
'Lost! my twinnies, all lost and gone!' she whispered brokenly, with
long, shuddering sobs between the words. 'I look—look—look; never,
'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
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-
I do not advertise in papers nor at residence.
Ladies $1.50. Gents $2.
MRS. PANSY SYLVESTER,
3 Eden Place near 4th,
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
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
'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-
'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
'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?'
CHAPTER XIV—MORE LEAVES
'It has been one of the discouraging days. Lisa was wilful; the
twins had a moral relapse; the young minister came again, and, oh,
the interminable length of time he held Rhoda's hand at parting! Is
it not strange that, with the whole universe to choose from, his
predatory eye must fall upon my blooming Rhoda? I wonder whether the
fragrance she will shed upon that one small parsonage will be as
widely disseminated as the sweetness she exhales here, day by day,
among our "little people all in a row"? I am not sure; I hope so; at
any rate, selfishness must not be suffered to eclipse my common-
sense, and the young minister seems a promising, manly fellow.
'When we have had a difficult day, I go home and sit down in my cosy
corner in the twilight, the time and place where I always repeat my
credo, which is this:-
'It is the children of this year, of every new year, who are to bring
the full dawn, that dawn that has been growing since first the world
began. It is not only that children re-create the world year by
year, decade by decade, by making over human nature; by transforming
trivial, thoughtless men and women into serious, earnest ones; by
waking in arid natures slumbering seeds of generosity, self-
sacrifice, and helpfulness. It is not alone in this way that
children are bringing the dawn of the perfect day. It is the
children (bless them! how naughty they were to-day!) who are going to
do all we have left undone, all we have failed to do, all we might
have done had we been wise enough, all we have been too weak and
stupid to do.
'Among the thousands of tiny things growing up all over the land,
some of them under my very wing—watched and tended, unwatched and
untended, loved, unloved, protected from danger, thrust into
temptation, among them somewhere is the child who will write a great
poem that will live for ever and ever, kindling every generation to a
loftier ideal. There is the child who will write the novel that is
to stir men's hearts to nobler issues and incite them to better
deeds. There is the child (perhaps it is Nino) who will paint the
greatest picture or carve the greatest statue of the age; another who
will deliver his country in an hour of peril; another who will give
his life for a great principle; and another, born more of the spirit
than the flesh, who will live continually on the heights of moral
being, and, dying, draw men after him. It may be I shall preserve
one of these children to the race—who knows? It is a peg big enough
on which to hang a hope, for every child born into the world is a new
incarnate thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility.'
Another day.—'Would I had the gift to capture Mrs. Grubb and put her
between the covers of a book!'
'It tickles Rhoda's fancy mightily that the Vague Lady (as we call
her) should take Lisa before the Commissioners of Lunacy! Rhoda says
that if she has an opportunity to talk freely with them, they will
inevitably jump at the conclusion that Lisa has brought HER for
examination, as she is so much the more irrational of the two! Rhoda
facetiously imagines a scene in which a reverend member of the body
takes Lisa aside and says solemnly, "My dear child, you have been
wise beyond your years in bringing us your guardian, and we cannot
allow her to be at large another day, lest she becomes suddenly
'Of late I have noticed that she has gradually dropped one club and
society after another, concentrating her attention more and more upon
Theosophy. Every strange weed and sucker that can grow anywhere
flourishes in the soil of her mind, and if a germ of truth or common-
sense does chance to exist in any absurd theory, it is choked by the
time it has lain there among the underbrush for a little space; so
that when she begins her harvesting (which is always a long while
before anything is ripe), one can never tell precisely what sort of
crop was planted.
'It seems that the Theosophists are considering the establishment of
a colony of Mahatmas at Mojave, on the summit of the Tehachapi
Mountains. Their present habitat is the Himalayas, but there is no
reason why we should not encourage them to settle in this country.
The Tehachapis would give as complete retirement as the Himalayas,
while the spiritual advantages to be derived from an infusion of
Mahatmas into our population are self-evident. "Think, my sisters,"
Mrs. Grubb would say, "think, that our mountain ranges may some time
be peopled by omniscient beings thousands of years old and still
growing!" Up to this last aberration I have had some hope of Grubb
o' Dreams. I thought it a good sign, her giving up so many societies
and meetings. The house is not any tidier, but at least she stays in
it occasionally. In the privacy of my own mind I have been ascribing
this slight reformation to the most ordinary cause,—namely, a
Particular Man. It would never have occurred to me in her case had
not Edith received confidential advices from Mrs. Sylvester.
'"We're going to lose her, I feel it!" said Mrs. Sylvester. "I feel
it, and she alludes to it herself. There ain't but two ways of her
classes losing her, death and marriage; and as she looks too healthy
to die, it must be the other one. She's never accepted any special
attentions till about a month ago, when the Improved Order of Red Men
held their Great Council here. You see she used to be Worthy Wenonah
of Pocahontas Lodge years ago, when my husband was Great Keeper of
the Wampum, but she hasn't attended regularly; a woman is so
handicapped, when it comes to any kind of public work, by her home
and her children.—I do hope I shall live long enough to see all
those kind of harassing duties performed in public, co-operative
institutions.—She went to the Council to keep me company, mostly,
but the very first evening I could see that William Burkhardt, of
Bald Eagle No. 62, was struck with her; she lights up splendidly,
Mrs. Grubb does. He stayed with her every chance he got during the
week: but I didn't see her give him any encouragement, and I should
never have thought of it again if she hadn't come home late from one
of the Council Fires at the Wigwam. I was just shutting my bedroom
blinds. I tried not to listen, for I despise eavesdropping, of all
things, but I couldn't help hearing her say, "No, Mr. Burkhardt, you
are only a Junior Sagamore, and I am ambitious. When you are a Great
Sachem, it will be time enough to consider the matter."'
'Mrs. Sylvester, Edith, and I agreed that this was most significant,
but we may have been mistaken, according to her latest development.
The "passing away" so feelingly alluded to by Mrs. Sylvester is to be
of a different sort. She has spoken mysteriously to me before of her
reasons for denying herself luxuries; of the goal she expected to
reach through rigid denial of the body and training of the spirit; of
her longing to come less in contact with the foul magnetism of the
common herd, so detrimental to her growth; but she formally announced
to me in strict confidence to-day her ambition to be a Mahatma. Of
course she has been so many things that there are comparatively few
left; still, say whatever we like, she has the spirit of all the
Argonauts, that woman! She has been an Initiate for some time, and
considers herself quite ready for the next step, which is to be a
Chela. It is unnecessary to state that she climbs the ladder of
evolution much faster than the ordinary Theosophist, who is somewhat
slow in his movements, and often deals in centuries, or even aeons.
'I did not know that there were female Mahatmas, reasoning
unconsciously from the fact that an Adept is supposed to hold his
peace for many years before he can even contemplate the possibility
of being a Mahatma. (The idea of Grubb o' Dreams holding her peace
is too absurd for argument.) There are many grades of Adepts, it
seems, ranging from the "topmost" Mahatmas down. The highest of all,
the Nirmanakayas, are self-conscious without the body, travelling
hither and thither with but one object, that of helping humanity. As
we descend the scale, we find Adepts (and a few second-class
Mahatmas) living in the body, for the wheel of Karma has not entirely
revolved for them; but they have a key to their "prison" (that is
what Mrs. Grubb calls her nice, pretty body!), and can emerge from it
at pleasure. That is, any really capable and energetic Adept can
project his soul from its prison to any place that he pleases, with
the rapidity of thought. I may have my personal doubts as to the
possibilities of this gymnastic feat, but Mrs. Grubb's intellectual
somersaults have been of such thoroughness and frequency that I am
sure, if anybody can perform the gyration, she can! Meantime, there
are decades of retirement, meditation, and preparation necessary, and
she can endure nothing of that sort in this present incarnation, so
the parting does not seem imminent!
'She came to consult me about Soul Haven for the twins. I don't
think it a wholly bad plan. The country is better for them than the
city; we can manage occasional news of their welfare; it will tide to
get over the brief interval of time needed by Mrs. Grubb for growing
into a Chela; and in any event, they are sure to run away from the
Haven as soon as they become at all conscious of their souls, a
moment which I think will be considerably delayed.
'Mrs. Grubb will not yield Lisa until she is certain that the Soul
Haven colonists will accept the twins without a caretaker; but unless
the matter is quietly settled by the new year I shall find some
heroic means of changing her mind. I have considered the matter
earnestly for many months without knowing precisely how to find
sufficient money for the undertaking. My own income can be stretched
to cover her maintenance, but it is not sufficient to give her the
proper sort of education. She is beyond my powers now, and perhaps—
nay, of a certainty, if her health continue to improve—five years of
skilful teaching will make her—what it will make her no one can
prophesy, but it is sure to be something worth working for. No doubt
I can get the money by a public appeal, and if it were for a dozen
children instead of one I would willingly do it, as indeed I have
done it many times in the past.
'That was a beautiful thought of Pastor Von Bodelschwingh, of the
Colony of Mercy in Germany. "Mr. Man" told me about him in one of
the very few long talks we had together. He had a home for adults
and children of ailing mind and body, and when he wanted a new house
for the little ones, and there was no money to build or equip it, he
asked every parent in Germany for a thank-offering to the Lord of one
penny for each well child. Within a short fortnight four hundred
thousand pennies flowed in—four hundred thousand thank-offerings for
children strong and well. The good pastor's wish was realised, and
his Baby Castle an accomplished fact. Not only did the four hundred
thousand pennies come, but the appeal for them stimulated a new sense
of gratitude among all the parents who responded, so that there came
pretty, touching messages from all sides, such as: "Four pennies for
four living children; for a child in heaven, two." "Six pennies for
a happy home." "One penny for the child we never had." "Five
pennies for a good wife."
'Ah! never, surely, was a Baby Castle framed of such lovely timber as
this! It seems as if heaven's sweet air must play about the towers,
and heaven's sunshine stream in at every window, of a house built
from turret to foundation-stone of such royal material. The Castle
might look like other castles, but every enchanted brick and stone
and block of wood, every grain of mortar, every bit of glass and
marble, unlike all others of its kind, would be transformed by the
thought it represented and thrilled with the message it bore.
'Such an appeal I could make for my whole great family, but somehow
this seems almost a private matter, and I am sensitive about giving
it publicity. My love and hope for Lisa are so great, I cannot bear
to describe her "case," nor paint her unhappy childhood in the hues
it deserves, for the sake of gaining sympathy and aid. I may have to
do it, but would I were the little Croesus of a day! Still,
Christmas is coming, and who knows?
"Everywhere the Feast o' the Babe,
Joy upon earth, peace and good-will to men!
We are baptized."
Merry Christmas is coming. Everybody's hand-grasp is warmer because
of it, though of course it is the children whose merriment rings
'There are just one or two things, grown up as I am, that I should
like to find in the toe of my stocking on Christmas morning; only
they are impalpable things that could neither be put in nor taken out
of real stockings.
'Old as we are, we are most of us mere children in this, that we go
on hoping that next Christmas all the delicious happenings we have
missed in other Christmases may descend upon us by the old and
reliable chimney-route! A Santa Claus that had any bowels of
compassion would rush down the narrowest and sootiest chimney in the
world to give me my simple wishes. It isn't as if I were petitioning
nightly for a grand house, a yacht, a four-in-hand, a diamond
necklace, and a particular man for a husband; but I don't see that
modesty finds any special favour with St. Nick. Now and then I
harbour a rascally suspicion that he is an indolent, time-serving
person, who slips down the widest, cleanest chimneys to the people
who clamour the loudest; but this abominable cynicism melts into thin
air the moment that I look at his jolly visage on the cover of a
picture-book. Dear, fat, rosy, radiant Being! Surely he is
incapable of any but the highest motives! I am twenty-eight years
old, but age shall never make any difference in the number or extent
of my absurdities. I am going to write a letter and send it up the
chimney! It never used to fail in the long-ago; but ah! then there
were two dear, faithful go-betweens to interpret my childish messages
of longing to Santa Claus, and jog his memory at the critical time!'
CHAPTER XV—'THE FEAST O' THE BABE'
It was sure to be a green Christmas in that sunny land, but not the
sort of 'green Yule' that makes the 'fat kirkyard.' If the New
Englanders who had been transplanted to that shore of the Pacific
ever longed for a bracing snowstorm, for frost pictures on the
window-panes, for the breath of a crystal air blown over ice-fields—
an air that nipped the ears, but sent the blood coursing through the
veins, and made the turkey and cranberry sauce worth eating,—the
happy children felt no lack, and basked contentedly in the soft
December sunshine. Still further south there were mothers who sighed
even more for the sound of merry sleigh-bells, the snapping of logs
on the hearth, the cosy snugness of a fire-lit room made all the
snugger by the fierce wind without: that, if you like, was a place
to hang a row of little red and brown woollen stockings! And when
the fortunate children on the eastern side of the Rockies, tired of
resisting the Sand Man, had snuggled under the great down comforters
and dropped off to sleep, they dreamed, of course, of the proper
Christmas things—of the tiny feet of reindeer pattering over the
frozen crust, the tinkle of silver bells on their collars, the real
Santa Claus with icicles in his beard, with red cheeks, and a cold
nose, and a powder of snow on his bearskin coat, and with big fur
mittens never too clumsy to take the toys from his pack.
Here the air blew across orange groves and came laden with the
sweetness of opening buds; here, if it were a sunny Christmas Day, as
well it might be, the children came in to dinner tired with playing
in the garden: but the same sort of joyous cries that rent the air
three thousand miles away at sight of hot plum-pudding woke the
echoes here because of fresh strawberries and loquats; and although,
in the minds of the elders, who had been born in snowdrifts and bred
upon icicles, this union of balmy air, singing birds, and fragrant
bloom might strike a false note at Christmastide, it brought nothing
but joy to the children. After all, if it were not for old
associations' sake, it would seem that one might fitly celebrate the
birthday of the Christ-child under sunshine as warm and skies of the
same blue as those that sheltered the heavenly Babe in old Judea.
During the late days of October and the early days of November the
long drought of summer had been broken, and it had rained steadily,
copiously, refreshingly. Since then there had been day after day of
brilliant, cloudless sunshine, and the moist earth, warmed gratefully
through to the marrow, stirred and trembled and pushed forth myriads
of tender shoots from the seeds that were hidden in its bosom; and
the tender shoots themselves looked up to the sun, and, with their
roots nestled in sweet, fragrant beds of richness, thought only of
growing tall and green, dreamed only of the time when pink pimpernels
would bloom between their waving blades, and when tribes of laughing
children would come to ramble over the hillsides. The streets of the
city were full of the fragrance of violets, for the flower-vendors
had great baskets of them over their arms, and every corner tempted
the passers-by with the big odorous purple bunches that offered a
royal gift of sweetness for every penny invested.
Atlantic and Pacific Simonson had previously known little, and Marm
Lisa less, of Christmas-time, but the whole month of December in
Mistress Mary's garden was a continual feast of the new-born Babe.
There was an almost oppressive atmosphere of secrecy abroad. Each
family of children, working in the retirement of its particular
corner, would shriek, 'Oh, don't come!' and hide small objects under
pinafores and tables when Mary, Rhoda, Edith, or Helen appeared. The
neophyte in charge was always in the attitude of a surprised hen,
extending her great apron to its utmost area as a screen to hide
these wonderful preparations. Edith's group was slaving over Helen's
gift, Rhoda's over Edith's, and so on, while all the groups had some
marvellous bit of co-operative work in hand for Mistress Mary. At
the afternoon council, the neophytes were obliged to labour
conscientiously on presents destined for themselves, rubbing off
stains, disentangling knots, joining threads, filling up wrong holes
and punching right ones, surreptitiously getting the offerings of
love into a condition where the energetic infants could work on them
again. It was somewhat difficult to glow and pale with surprise when
they received these well-known and well-worn trophies of skill from
the tree at the proper time, but they managed to achieve it.
Never at any other season was there such a scrubbing of paws, and in
spite of the most devoted sacrifices to the Moloch of cleanliness the
excited little hands grew first moist, and then grimy, nobody knew
how. 'It must leak out of the inside of me,' wailed Bobby Baxter
when sent to the pump for the third time one morning; but he went
more or less cheerfully, for his was the splendid honour of weaving a
frame for Lisa's picture, and he was not the man to grudge an inch or
two of skin if thereby he might gain a glorious immortality.
The principal conversation during this festival time consisted of
phrases like: 'I know what you're goin' to have, Miss Edith, but I
won't tell!' 'Miss Mary, Sally 'most told Miss Rhoda what she was
makin' for her.' 'Miss Helen, Pat Higgins went right up to Miss
Edith and asked her to help him mend the leg of his clay frog, and
it's his own Christmas present to her!'
The children could not for the life of them play birds, or
butterflies, or carpenter, or scissors-grinder, for they wanted to
shout the live-long day -
'Christmas bells are ringing sweet,
We too the happy day must greet';
'Under the holly, now,
Sing and be jolly, now,
Christmas has come and the children are glad';
'Hurrah for Santa Claus!
Long may he live at his castle in Somewhere-land!'
There was much whispering and discussion about evergreens and
garlands and wreaths that were soon to come, and much serious
planning with regard to something to be made for mother, father,
sister, brother, and the baby; something, too, now and then, for a
grandpapa in Sweden, a grandmamma in Scotland, a Norwegian uncle, an
Irish aunt, and an Italian cousin; but there was never by chance any
cogitation as to what the little workers themselves might get. In
the happier homes among them, there was doubtless the usual
legitimate speculation as to doll or drum, but here in this enchanted
spot, this materialised Altruria, the talk was all of giving, when
the Wonderful Tree bloomed in their midst—the Wonderful Tree they
sang about every morning, with the sweet voice
'telling its branches among
Of shepherd's watch and of angel's song,
Of lovely Babe in manger low, -
The beautiful story of long ago,
When a radiant star threw its beams so wide
To herald the earliest Christmastide.'
The Tree was coming—Mistress Mary said so; and bless my heart, you
might possibly meddle with the revolution of the earth around the
sun, or induce some weak-minded planet to go the wrong way, but you
would be helpless to reverse one of Mistress Mary's promises! They
were as fixed and as unchangeable as the laws of the Medes and
Persians, and there was a record of their fulfilment indelibly
written in the memories of two hundred small personages—personages
in whom adult caprice and flexibility of conduct had bred a tendency
The Tree, therefore, had been coming for a fortnight, and on the 22nd
it came! Neither did it come alone, for it was accompanied by a
forest of holly and mistletoe, and ropes of evergreen, and wreaths
and garlands of laurel, and green stars by the dozen. And in a great
box, at present hidden from the children, were heaps of candles,
silver and crystal baubles, powdered snowflakes, glass icicles,
gilded nuts, parti-coloured spheres, cornucopias full of goodies,
and, above all, two wonderful Christmas angels, and a snow-white
Neither tree, nor garlands, nor box contained any hint of the donor,
to the great disappointment of the neophytes. Rhoda had an idea, for
Cupid had 'clapped her i' the shoulder,' and her intuitions were
preternaturally keen just now. Mary almost knew, though she had
never been in love in her life, and her faculties were working only
in their every-day fashion; but she was not in the least surprised
when she drew a letter from under the white dove's wing. Seeing that
it was addressed to her, she waited until everybody had gone, and sat
under the pepper-tree in the deserted playground, where she might
read it in solitude.
'DEAR MISTRESS MARY,' it said, 'do you care to hear of my life?
Zieht uns hinan,"
and I am growing olives. Do you remember what the Spanish monk said
to the tree that he pruned, and that cried out under his hook? "It is
not beauty that is wanted of you, nor shade, but olives." The sun is
hot, and it has not rained for many a long week, it seems to me, but
the dew of your influence falls ever sweet and fresh on the dust of
my daily task.
'Enclosed please find the wherewithal for Lisa's next step higher.
As she needs more it will come. I give it for sheer gratitude, as
the good folk gave their pennies to Pastor Von Bodelschwingh. Why am
I grateful? For your existence, to be sure! I had lived my life
haunted by the feeling that there was such a woman, and finally the
mysterious wind of destiny blew me to her, "as the tempest brings the
rose-tree to the pollard willow."
'Do not be troubled about me, little mother-of-many! There was once
upon a time a common mallow by the roadside, and being touched by
Mohammed's garment as he passed, it was changed at once into a
geranium; and best of all, it remained a geranium for ever after.
CHAPTER XVI—CLEANSING FIRES
It was the afternoon of the day before Christmas, and all the little
people had gone home, leaving the room vacant for the decking of the
Wonderful Tree. Edith, Helen, and others were perched on step-
ladders, festooning garlands and wreaths from window to window and
post to post. Mary and Rhoda were hanging burdens of joy among the
green branches of the tree.
The room began to look more and more lovely as the evergreen stars
were hung by scarlet ribbons in each of the twelve windows, and the
picture-frames were crowned with holly branches. Then Mistress Mary
was elevated to a great height on a pyramid of tables and chairs, and
suspended the two Christmas angels by invisible wires from the
ceiling. When the chorus of admiration had subsided, she took the
white dove from Rhoda's upstretched hands (and what a charming
Christmas picture they made—the eager, upturned rosy face of the
one, the gracious fairness of the other!), and laying its soft breast
against her cheek for a moment, perched it on the topmost branch of
waving green with a thought of 'Mr. Man,' and a hope that the blessed
day might bring him a tithe of the cheer he had given them. The
effect of the dove and the angels was so electrical that all the
fresh young voices burst into the chorus of the children's hymn:
'He was born upon this day
In David's town so far away,
He the good and loving One,
Mary's ever-blessed Son.
Let us all our voices lend,
For he was the children's Friend,
He so lovely, He so mild,
Jesus, blessed Christmas Child!'
As the last line of the chorus floated through the open windows, an
alarm of fire sounded, followed by a jangle of bells and a rumble of
patrol wagons. On going to the west window, Edith saw a blaze of red
light against the sky, far in the distance, in the direction of Lone
Mountain. Soon after, almost on the heels of the first, came another
alarm with its attendant clangings, its cries of 'Fire!' its
chatterings and conjectures, its rushing of small boys in all
directions, its tread of hurrying policemen, its hasty flinging up of
windows and grouping of heads therein.
The girls were too busy labelling the children's gifts to listen
attentively to the confused clamour in the streets,—fires were
common enough in a city built of wood; but when, half an hour after
the first and second alarms, a third sounded, they concluded it must
be a conflagration, and Rhoda, dropping her nuts and cornucopias, ran
to the corner for news. She was back again almost immediately,
excited and breathless.
'Oh, Mary!' she exclaimed, her hand on her panting side, 'unless they
are mistaken, it is three separate fires: one, a livery-stable and
carriage-house out towards Lone Mountain; another fearful one on
Telegraph Hill—a whole block of houses, and they haven't had enough
help there because of the Lone Mountain fire; now there's a third
alarm, and they say it's at the corner of Sixth and Dutch streets.
If it is, we have a tenement house next door; isn't that clothing-
place on the corner? Yes, I know it is; make haste! Edith and Helen
will watch the Christmas things.'
Mary did not need to be told to hasten. She had her hat in her hand
and was on the sidewalk before Rhoda had fairly finished her
They hurried through the streets, guided by the cloud of smoke that
gushed from the top of a building in the near distance. Almost
everybody was running in the opposite direction, attracted by the
Telegraph Hill fire that flamed vermilion and gold against the grey
sky, looking from its elevation like a mammoth bonfire, or like a
hundred sunsets massed in one lurid pile of colour.
'Is it the Golden Gate tenement house?' they asked of the
neighbourhood locksmith, who was walking rapidly towards them.
'No, it's the coat factory next door,' he answered hurredly.
''Twouldn't be so much of a blaze if they could get the fire company
here to put it out before it gets headway; but it's one o' those
blind fires that's been sizzling away inside the walls for an hour.
The folks didn't know they was afire till a girl ran in and told 'em-
-your Lisa it was,—and they didn't believe her at first; but it
warn't a minute before the flames burst right through the plastering
in half a dozen places to once. I tell you they just dropped
everything where it was and run for their lives. There warn't but
one man on the premises, and he was such a blamed fool he wasted five
minutes trying to turn the alarm into the letter-box on the lamp-
post, 'stead of the right one alongside. I'm going home for some
tools—Hullo! there's the flames coming through one corner o' the
roof; that's the last o' the factory, I guess; but it ain't much
loss, any way; it's a regular sweatin'-shop. They'll let it go now,
and try to save the buildings each side of it—that's what they'll
That is what they were doing when Mary and Rhoda broke away from the
voluble locksmith in the middle of his discourse and neared the scene
of excitement. The firemen had not yet come, though it was rumoured
that a detachment was on the way. All the occupants of the tenement
house were taking their goods and chattels out—running down the
narrow stairways with feather-beds, dropping clocks and china
ornaments from the windows, and endangering their lives by crawling
down the fire-escapes with small articles of no value. Men were
scarce at that hour in that locality, but there was a good contingent
of small shopkeepers and gentlemen-of-steady-leisure, who were on the
roof pouring-water over wet blankets and comforters and carpets. A
crazy-looking woman in the fourth story kept dipping a child's
handkerchief in and out of a bowl of water and wrapping it about a
tomato-can with a rosebush planted in it. Another, very much
intoxicated, leaned from her window, and, regarding the whole matter
as an agreeable entertainment, called down humorous remarks and
ribald jokes to the oblivious audience. There was an improvised
hook-and-ladder company pouring water where it was least needed, and
a zealous self-appointed commanding officer who did nothing but shout
contradictory orders; but as nobody obeyed them, and every man did
just as he was inclined, it did not make any substantial difference
in the result.
Mary and Rhoda made their way through the mass of interested
spectators, not so many here as on the cooler side of the street.
Where was Lisa? That was the first, indeed the only question. How
had she come there? Where had she gone? There was a Babel of
confusion, but nothing like the uproar that would have been heard had
not part of the district's population fled to the more interesting
fire, and had not the whole thing been so quiet and so lightning-
quick in its progress. The whole scene now burst upon their view. A
few harassed policemen had stretched ropes across the street, and
were trying to keep back the rebellious ones in the crowd who ever
and anon would struggle under the line and have to be beaten back by
As Mary and Rhoda approached, a group on the outskirts cried out,
'Here she is! 'Tain't more 'n a minute sence they went to tell her!
Here she is now!'
The expected fire-brigade could hardly be called 'she,' Mary thought,
as she glanced over her shoulder. She could see no special reason
for any interest in her own movements. She took advantage of the
parting of the crowd, however, and as she made her way she heard, as
in a waking dream, disjointed sentences that had no meaning at first,
but being pieced together grew finally into an awful whole.
'Why didn't the factory girls bring 'em out? Didn't know they was
'Say, one of 'em was saved, warn't it?'
'Which one of 'em did she get down before the roof caught?'
'No, 'tain't no such thing; the manager's across the bay; she gave
the alarm herself.'
'She didn't know they was in there; I bet yer they'd run and hid, and
she was hunting 'em when she seen the smoke.'
'Yes, she did; she dropped the girl twin out of the second-story
window into Abe Isaac's arms, but she didn't know the boy was in the
building till just now, and they can't hardly hold her.'
'She's foolish, anyhow, ain't she?'
Mary staggered beyond Rhoda to the front of the crowd.
'Let me under the rope!' she cried, with a mother's very wail in her
tone—'let me under the rope, for God's sake! They're my children!'
At this moment she heard a stentorian voice call to some one, 'Wait a
minute till the firemen get here, and they'll go for him! Come back,
girl, d-n you! you shan't go!'
'Wait? No! NOT wait!' cried Lisa, tearing herself dexterously from
the policeman's clutches, and dashing like a whirlwind up the
tottering stairway before any one else could gather presence of mind
to seize and detain her.
Pacific was safe on the pavement, but she had only a moment before
been flung from those flaming windows, and her terrified shrieks rent
the air. The crowd gave a long-drawn groan, and mothers turned their
eyes away and shivered. Nobody followed Marm Lisa up that flaming
path of death and duty: it was no use flinging a good life after a
'Fool! crazy fool!' people ejaculated, with tears of reverence in
'Darling, splendid fool!' cried Mary. 'Fool worth all the wise ones
'He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it!' said a pious
Methodist cobbler with a patched boot under his arm.
In the eternity of waiting that was numbered really but in seconds, a
burly policeman beckoned four men and gave them a big old-fashioned
counterpane that some one had offered, telling them to stand ready
for whatever might happen.
'Come closer, boys,' said one of them, wetting his hat in a tub of
water; 'if we take a little scorchin' doin' this now, we may git it
cooler in the next world!'
'Amen! Trust the Lord!' said the cobbler; and just then Marm Lisa
appeared at one of the top windows with a child in her arms. No one
else could have recognised Atlantic in the smoke, but Rhoda and Mary
knew the round cropped head and the familiar blue gingham apron.
Lisa stood in the empty window-frame, a trembling figure on a
background of flame. Her post was not at the moment in absolute
danger. There was hope yet, though to the onlookers there seemed
'Throw him!' 'Drop him!' 'Le' go of him!' shouted the crowd.
'Hold your jaws, and let me do the talking!' roared the policeman.
'Stop your noise, if you don't want two dead children on your
consciences! Keep back, you brutes, keep back o' the rope, or I'll
It was not so much the officer's threats as simple, honest awe that
caused a sudden hush to fall. There were whisperings, sighs, tears,
murmurings, but all so subdued that it seemed like silence in the
midst of the fierce crackling of the flames.
'Drop him! We'll ketch him in the quilt!' called the policeman,
standing as near as he dared.
Lisa looked shudderingly at the desperate means of salvation so far
below, and, turning her face away as much as she could, unclasped her
arms despairingly, and Atlantic came swooping down from their
shelter, down, down into the counterpane; stunned, stifled, choked by
smoke, but uninjured, as Lisa knew by the cheers that greeted his
A tongue of fire curled round the corner of the building and ran up
to the roof towards another that was licking its way along the top of
'Jump now yourself!' called the policeman, while two more men
silently joined the four holding the corners of the quilt. Every eye
was fixed on the motionless figure of Marm Lisa, who had drawn her
shawl over her head, as if just conscious of nearer heat.
The wind changed, and blew the smoke away from her figure. The men
on the roof stopped work, not caring for the moment whether they
saved the tenement house or not, since a human life was hanging in
the balance. The intoxicated woman threw a beer-bottle into the
street, and her son ran up from the crowd and locked her safely in
her kitchen at the back of the house.
'Jump this minute, or you're a dead girl!' shouted the officer,
hoarse with emotion. 'God A'mighty, she ain't goin' to jump—she's
terror-struck! She'll burn right there before our eyes, when we
could climb up and drag her down if we had a long enough ladder!'
'They've found another ladder and are tying two together,' somebody
'The fire company's comin'! I hear 'em!' cried somebody else.
'They'll be too late,' moaned Rhoda, 'too late! Oh, Mary, make her
Lisa had felt no fear while she darted through smoke and over charred
floors in pursuit of Atlantic—no fear, nothing but joy when she
dragged him out from under bench and climbed to the window-sill with
him,—but now that he was saved she seemed paralysed. So still she
was, she might have been a carven statue save for the fluttering of
the garments about her thin childish legs. The distance to the
ground looked impassable, and she could not collect her thoughts for
the hissing of the flame as it ate up the floor in the room behind
her. Horrible as it was, she thought it would be easier to let it
steal behind her and wrap her in its burning embrace than to drop
from these dizzy heights down through that terrible distance, to hear
her own bones snap as she touched the quilt, and to see her own blood
staining the ground.
'She'll burn, sure,' said a man. 'Well, she's half-witted—that's
Mary started as if she were stung, and forced her way still nearer to
the window; hoping to gain a position where she could be more plainly
Everybody thought something was going to happen. Mary had dozens of
friends and more acquaintances in that motley assemblage, and they
somehow felt that there were dramatic possibilities in the situation.
Unless she could think of something, Marm Lisa's last chance was
gone: that was the sentiment of the crowd, and Mary agreed in it.
Her cape had long since dropped from her shoulders, her hat was
trampled under foot, the fair coil of hair had loosened and was
falling on her neck, and the steel fillet blazed in the firelight.
She stepped to the quilt and made a despairing movement to attract
'Li-sa!' she called, in that sweet, carrying woman's voice that goes
so much further than a man's.
The child started, and, pushing back the shawl, looked out from under
its cover, her head raised, her eyes brightening.
Mary chanced all on that one electrical moment of recognition, and,
with a mien half commanding and half appealing, she stretched out
both her arms and called again, while the crowd held its breath:
'Come to me, darling! Jump, little sister! NOW!'
Not one second did Marm Lisa hesitate. She would have sprung into
the fire at that dear mandate, and, closing her eyes, she leaped into
the air as the roof above her head fell in with a crash.
Just then the beating of hoofs and jangling of bells in the distance
announced the coming of the belated firemen; not so long belated
actually, for all the emotions, heart-beats, terrors, and despairs
that go to make up tragedy can be lived through m a few brief
In that sudden plunge from window to earth Marm Lisa seemed to die
consciously. The grey world, the sad world, vanished, 'and the
immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-
coloured,' beamed on her darkness. She kept on falling, falling,
falling, till she reached the abysmal depths of space—then she knew
no more: and Mary, though prone on the earth, kept falling, falling,
falling with her into so deep a swoon that she woke only to find
herself on a friendly bed, with Rhoda and Lisa herself, weeping over
At five o'clock, Mrs. Grubb, forcibly torn from a meeting and
acquainted with the afternoon's proceedings, hurried into a lower
room in the tenement house, where Mary, Rhoda, and the three children
were gathered for a time. There were still a hundred people in the
street, but they showed their respect by keeping four or five feet
away from the windows.
The twins sat on a sofa, more quiet than anything save death itself.
They had been rocked to the very centre of their being, and looked
like nothing so much as a couple of faded photographs of themselves.
Lisa lay on a cot, sleeping restlessly; Mary looked pale and wan, and
there were dark circles under her eyes.
As Mrs. Grubb opened the door softly, Mary rose to meet her.
'Have you heard all?' she asked.
'Yes, everything!' faltered Mrs. Grubb with quivering lips and
Mary turned towards Lisa's bed. 'Mrs. Grubb,' she said, looking
straight into that lady's clear, shallow eyes, 'I think Lisa has
earned her freedom, and the right to ask a Christmas gift of you.
Stand on the other side of the cot and put your hand in mine. I ask
you for the last time, will you give this unfinished, imperfect life
into my keeping, if I promise to be faithful to it unto the end,
whatever it may be?'
I suppose that every human creature, be he ever so paltry, has his
hour of effulgence, an hour when the mortal veil grows thin and the
divine image stands revealed, endowing him, for a brief space at
least with a kind of awful beauty and majesty.
It was Mistress Mary's hour. Her pure, unswerving spirit shone with
a white and steady radiance that illuminated Mrs. Grubb's soul to its
very depths, showing her in a flash the feeble flickerings and
waverings of her own trivial purposes. At that moment her eye was
fitted with a new lens, through which the road to the summit of the
Tehachapi Mountains and Mahatmadom suddenly looked long, weary, and
profitless, and by means of which the twins were transferred from the
comfortable middle distance they had previously occupied to the
immediate foreground of duty. The lens might slip, but while it was
in place she saw as clearly as another woman.
'Will you?' repeated Mistress Mary, wondering at her silence.
Mrs. Grubb gave one last glance at the still reproach of Lisa's face,
and one more at the twins, who seemed to loom more formidably each
time she regarded them; then drawing a deep breath she said, 'Yes, I
will; I WILL, no matter what happens; but it isn't enough to give up,
and you needn't suppose I think it is.' And taking a passive twin by
either hand, she passed out of the door into the crowded
thoroughfare, and disappeared in the narrow streets that led to Eden