Plooie of Our Square, by Samuel Hopkins Adams
From A Bench in Our
Whenever Plooie went shuffling by my bench, I used to think of an old
and melancholy song that my grandfather sang:
"And his skin was so thin
You could almost see his bones
As he ran, hobble—hobble—hobble
Over the stones."
Before I could wholly recapture the quaint melody, my efforts would
invariably be nullified by the raucous shriek of his trade which had
forever fixed the nickname whereby Our Square knew Plooie:
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees à raccommoder!" He would then recapitulate
in English, or rather that unreproducible dialect which was his
substitute for it. "Oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella for mend?"
So he would pass on his way, shattering the peaceful air at half-minute
intervals with his bilingual disharmonies. He was pallid, meagerly
built, stoop-shouldered, bristly-haired, pock-marked, and stiff-gaited,
with a face which would have been totally insignificant but for an
obstinate chin and a pair of velvet-black, pathetically questioning
eyes; and he was incurably an outlander. For five years he had lived
among us, occupying a cubbyhole in Schepstein's basement full of ribs,
handles, crooks, patches, and springs, without appreciably improving his
speech or his position. It was said that his name was Garin—nobody
really knew or cared—and it was assumed from his speech that he
Few umbrellas came his way. Those of us affluent enough to maintain such
non-essentials patch them ourselves until they are beyond reclamation.
Why Plooie did not starve is one of the mysteries of Our Square, though
by no means the only one of its kind. I have a notion that the Bonnie
Lassie, to whom any variety of want or helplessness is its own
sufficient recommendation, drummed up trade for him among her uptown
friends. Something certainly enlisted his gratitude, for he invariably
took off his frowsy cap when he passed her house, whether or not she was
there to see, and he once unbosomed himself to me to the extent of
declaring that she was a kind lady. This is the only commentary I ever
heard him make upon any one in Our Square, which in turn completely
ignored him until the development of his love affair stimulated our
condescending and contemptuous interest.
The object of Plooie's addresses was a little Swiss of unknown
derivation and obscure history. She appeared to be as detached from the
surrounding world as the umbrella-mender himself. An insignificant bit
of a thing she was, anaemic and subdued, with a sad little face, soft
hazel eyes slightly crossed, and the deprecating manner of those who
scrub other people's doorsteps at fifteen cents an hour.
For a year their courtship, if such it might be termed, ran an
uneventful course. I had almost said unromantic. But who shall tell
where is fancy bred or wherein romance consists? Whenever Plooie saw the
drabbled little worker busy on a doorstep, he would cross over and open
the conversation according to an invariable formula.
"Annie oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella?" Thereby the little Swiss
became known as, and ever will be called locally, "Annie Oombrella."
Like most close-knit, centripetal communities, we have a fatal penchant
for nicknames in Our Square.
She would look up and smile wanly, and shake her head. Where, indeed,
should the like of her get an umbrella to be mended!
Then would he say—I shall not attempt to torture the good English
alphabet into a reproduction of his singular phonetics: "It makes fine
to-day, it do!"
And she would reply "Yes, a fine day"; and look as if the sun were a
little warmer upon her pale skin because of Plooie's greeting, as,
perhaps, indeed, it was.
After that he would nod solemnly, or, if feeling especially loquacious,
venture some prophecy concerning the morrow, before resuming his
unproductive rounds and his lugubrious yawp. One day he discovered that
she spoke French. From that time the relationship advanced rapidly. On
Christmas he gave her a pair of red woolen gloves. On New Year's he took
her walking among the tombstones in God's Acre, which is a serious and
sentimental, not to say determinative, social step. Twice in the
following week he carried her bucket from house to house. And in the
glowing dusk of a crisp winter afternoon they sat together hand in hand,
on a bench back of my habitual seat, and looked in each other's eyes,
and spoke, infrequently, in their own language, forgetful of the rest of
the world, including myself, who was, perhaps, supposed not to
understand. But even without hearing their words, I could have guessed.
It was very simple and direct, and rather touching. Plooie said:
"If one marries themselves?"
And she replied: "I believe it well."
They kissed solemnly, and their faces, in the gleam of the electric
light which at that moment spluttered into ill-timed and tactless
activity, were transfigured so that I marveled at the dim splendor
But the Bonnie Lassie was scandalized. On general principles she
mistrusts that any marriage is really made in heaven unless she acts as
earthly agent of it. What had those two poverty-stricken little
creatures to marry on? She put the question rhetorically to Our Square
in general and to the two people most concerned in particular. Courts of
law might have rejected their replies as irrelevant. Humanly, however,
they were convincing enough.
Said Plooie: "Who will have a care of that little one if I have not?"
Said Annie Oombrella: "He is so lonely!"
So those two unfortunates united their misfortunes, and lo! happiness
came of it. Luckily that is all that did come of it. What disposition
the pair would have made of children, had any arrived, it is difficult
to conjecture. Only by miraculous compression of ribs, handles, and
fabrics was space contrived in the basement cubbyhole for Annie
Oombrella to squeeze in. However, she set up housekeeping cheerily as a
bird, with an odd lot of pots and pans which Schepstein had picked up at
an auction and resold to them at not more than two hundred per cent
profit, plus a kerosene stove, the magnificent wedding gift of the
Bonnie Lassie and her husband, Cyrus the Gaunt. Twice a week they had
meat. They were rising in the social scale.
Habitude is the real secret of tolerance. As we became accustomed to
Plooie, Our Square ceased to resent his invincible outlandishness; we
endured him with equanimity, although it would be exaggeration to say
that we accepted him, and we certainly did not patronize him
professionally. Nevertheless, in a minor degree, he nourished. Annie
Oombrella must have lavished care upon him. His pinched-in shoulders
broadened perceptibly. His gait, still a halting shuffle, grew
noticeably brisker. There was even a heartier note in his lamentable
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees à raccommoder!"
As for Annie Oombrella, having some one to look after quite transformed
her. She grew plump and chirpy, and bustling as a blithe little sparrow,
though perhaps duck would be a happier comparison, for she was dabbling
and splashing in water all the day long, making the stairs and porches
of her curatorship fairly glisten with cleanliness. Her rates went up to
twenty cents an hour. There were rumors that she had started a savings
account. Life stretched out before the little couple, smooth and
peaceful and sunny with companionship.
Then came the war.
The calamitous quality of a great world tragedy is that it brings to so
many helpless little folk bitter and ignoble tragedies of shame and
humiliation and misunderstanding. With a few racial exceptions, Our
Square was vehemently pro-Ally. In spirit we fought with valiant France
and prayed for heroic Belgium. What a Godspeed we gave to the few sons
of Gaul who, in those early days, left us to fight the good fight! How
sourly we looked upon Plooie continuing his peaceful rounds. Whence
arose the rumor, I cannot say, but it was noised about just at that time
of wrath and tension that Plooie was born in Liège. Liège, that city of
fire and slaughter and heroism, upon which the eyes and hopes of the
world were turned in wonder and admiration. Somebody had seen the entry
on the marriage register! The Bonnie Lassie told me of it, pausing at my
bench with a little furrow between her bright eyes.
"Dominie, you know Emile Garin pretty well?"
"Not at all," I replied, failing to identify the rickety Plooie by his
"Of course you do! Never a morning but he stops at your bench and asks
if you have an umbrella to mend."
"I never have. What of him?"
"Have you any influence with him?"
"Not compared with yours."
The Bonnie Lassie made a little gesture of despair. "I can't find him.
And Annie Oombrella won't tell me where he is. She only cries."
"That's bad. You think he—he is—"
"Why don't you say it outright, Dominie? You think he's hiding."
"Really!" I expostulated. "You come to me with accusations against the
poor fellow and then undertake to make me responsible for them."
"I don't believe it's true at all," averred the Bonnie Lassie loyally.
"I don't believe Plooie is a coward. There's some reason why he doesn't
go over and help! I want to know what it is."
Perceiving that I was expected to provide excuses for the erring one, I
did my best. "Over age," I suggested.
"He's only thirty-two."
"Bless me! He looks sixty. Well—physical infirmity."
"He can carry a load all day."
"He won't leave Annie Oombrella, then. Or perhaps she won't let him."
"When I asked her, she cried harder than ever and said that her mother
was French and she would go and fight herself, if they'd have her."
"Then I give it up. What does your Olympian wisdom make of it?"
"I don't know. But I'm afraid the Garins are going to have trouble."
Within a few days Plooie reappeared and his strident falsetto appeal for
trade rang shrill in the space of Our Square. Trouble developed at once.
Small boys booed at him, called him "yellow," and advised him to go
carefully, there was a German behind the next tree. Henri Dumain, our
little old French David who fought the tragic duel of tooth and claw
with his German Jonathan in Thornsen's Élite Restaurant, stung him with
that most insulting word in any known tongue—"Lâche!"—and threatened
him with uplifted cane; and poor Plooie slunk away. But I think it was
the fact that he who stayed at home when others went forward had set a
picture of Albert of Belgium in the window of his cubbyhole that most
exasperated us against him. Tactless, to say the least! His call grew
quavery and furtive. Annie Oombrella ceased to sing at work. Matters
looked ill for the Garins.
The evil came to a head the week after David and Jonathan broke off all
relations. Perhaps that tragedy of shattered friendship (afterward
rejoined through the agency of the great peacemaker, Death) had got on
our nerves. Ordinarily, had Plooie chased a small boy who had tipped a
barrel down his basement steps, nothing would have come of it. But the
chase took him into the midst of a group of the younger and more
boisterous element, returning from a business meeting of the Gentlemen's
Sons of Avenue B, and before he could turn, they had surrounded him.
"Here's our little 'ee-ro!" "Looka the Frenchy that won't fight!"
"Safety first, hey, Plooie?" "Charge umbrellas—backward, march!"
Plooie did his best to break for a run through, which was the worst
thing he could have tried. They collared him. By that contact he became
their captive, their prey. What to do with him? To loose a prisoner,
once in the hand, is an unthinkable anti-climax. Somebody developed an
inspirational thought: "Ride him on a rail!"
Near by, a house front under repair supplied a scantling. Plooie was
hustled upon it. He fell off. They jammed him back again. He clung,
wide-eyed, white-faced, and silent. The mob, for it was that now, bore
him with jeers and jokes and ribaldry along the edge of the park.
When they came within my ken he was riding high, and the mob was being
augmented momentarily from every quarter. I looked about for Terry the
Cop. But Terry was elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of reasonable
probability that he had absented himself on purpose. "God hates a
coward" is a tenet of Terry's creed. I confess to a certain sympathy
with it myself. After all, a harsh lesson might not be amiss for Plooie,
the recusant. Composing my soul to a non-intervention policy, I leaned
back on my bench, when a pitiful sight ruined my neutrality.
Along the outer edge of the compact mob trotted little Annie Oombrella.
From time to time she dashed herself blindly against that human wall,
which repulsed her not too roughly and with indulgent laughter. Their
concern was not with her. It was with the coward; their prisoner,
delivered by fate to the stern decrees of mob justice. I could hear his
voice now, calling out to her in their own language across the
"Do not have fear, my little one. They do me no harm. Go you home,
little cat. Soon I come also. Do not fear."
From his forehead ran a little stream of blood. But there was that in
his face which told me that if he was fearful it was only for her. His
voice, steady and piercing, overrode the clamor of the crowd. I began to
entertain doubts as to his essential cowardice.
Annie Oombrella, dumb with misery and terror, only dashed herself the
more hopelessly against the barrier of bodies.
Even the delight of rail-riding a victim becomes monotonous in time. The
many-headed sought further measures of correction and reprobation.
"Le's tar-and-feather him."
"Where'll we gettum?"
"Satkins's kosher shop on the Av'noo."
"Where's yer tar?"
This was a poser; Satkins was saved from a raid. A more practical
expedient now evolved from the collective brain.
"Duck'm in the fountain!"
"Drown him in the fountain!" amended an enthusiast.
Whooping with delight, the mob turned toward the gate. This was becoming
dangerous. That there was no real intent to drown the unfortunate
umbrella-mender I was well satisfied. But mob intent is subject to mob
impulse. If they once got him into the water, the temptation of the
playful to push his head under just once more might be too strong.
Plainly the time was ripe for intervention.
Owing to some enthusiastically concerted but ill-directed engineering,
the scantling with its human burden had jammed crosswise of the posts.
Now, if ever, was the opportunity for eloquence of dissuasion.
For the heroic rôle of Horatius at the Bridge I am ill-fitted both by
temperament and the fullness of years. Nevertheless, I advanced into the
imminent deadly breach and raised the appeal to reason.
The result was unsatisfactory. Some hooted. Others laughed.
"Never mind the Dominie," yelled Inky Mike, laying hold of the rail by
an end and hauling it around. "He don't mean nothin'."
Old bones are no match for young barbarism. The rush through the gate
brushed me aside like a feather. I saw the tragi-comic parade go by, as
I leaned against a supporting tree: the advance guard of clamorous
urchins, the rail-bearers, the white-faced figure of Plooie, jolted
aloft, bleeding but calm, self-forgetful, and still calling out
reassurances to his wife; the jostling rabble, and upon the edge of it a
frantic woman, clawing, sobbing, imploring. On they swept. I listened
for the splash.
It did not come.
A lion had risen in the path. To be more accurate, a lioness. To my
unsuccessful rôle of Horatius, a Horatia better fitted for the fray had
succeeded, in the austere and superb person of Madame Rachel Pinckney
Pemberton Tallafferr, aforetime of the sovereign State of Virginia.
Where all my eloquence had failed, she checked that joyously
anticipative rabble by the simple query, set in the chillest and most
peremptory of aristocratic tones, as to what they were doing.
I like to think—the Bonnie Lassie says that I am flattering myself
thereby—that it was the momentary halt caused by my abortive effort to
hold the gate, which gave time for a greater than my humble self to
Madame Tallafferr, in the glory of black silk, the Pinckney lace, the
Pemberton diamond, and accompanied by that fat relic of slavery, Black
Sally, had been taking the air genteelly on a bench when the disturbance
grated upon her sensitive ear.
"What is that rabble about, Sally?" she inquired.
The aged negress reconnoitered. "Reckon dey's ridin' a gentmun on a
rail," she reported.
"A gentleman, Sally? Impossible. No gentleman would endure such an
affront. Look again."
"Yessum. It's dat po' white trash dey call Plooie. Mainded yo' umbrella
"My umbrella-mender!" (The mere fact that the victim had once tinkered
for her a decrepit parasol entitled him in her feudal mind to the high
protection of the Tallafferr tradition.) "Tell them to desist at once."
Apologetically but shrewdly Sally opined that the neighborhood of the
advancing mob was "no place foh a niggah."
With perfect faith in the powers of her superior she added: "You desist
Sally's confidence in her mistress was equaled or perhaps even excelled
by her mistress's confidence in herself.
Leaning upon her cane and attended by the faithful though terrified
servitor, Madame Tallafferr rustled forward. She took her stand upon the
brink of the fountain in almost the exact spot where she had disarmed
MacLachan, the tailor, drunk, songful, and suicidal, two years before.
Since that feat an almost mythologic awe had attached itself to
She waited, small and thin, hawk-eyed, imperious, and tempered like
steel. The ring of tempered steel, too, was in her voice when, at the
proper moment, she raised it.
"What are you doing?"
The clamor of the mob died down. The sight of Horatia (I beg her pardon
humbly, Madame Tallafferr) in the path smote them with misgivings. As in
Macaulay's immortal, if somewhat jingly epic, "those behind cried
'Forward' and those before cried 'Back'!" That single hale and fiery old
lady held them. No more could those two hundred ruffians have defied the
challenge of her contemptuous eyes than they could have advanced into
the flaming doors of a furnace.
A cautious voice from the rear inquired: "Who's the dame?"
"She's a witch," conjectured some one.
"It's the Duchess," said another, giving her the local title of
"It's the lady that shot the tailor," proclaimed an awe-stricken
bystander. (Legend takes strange twists in Our Square as elsewhere.)
Some outlander, ignorant of our traditions, prescribed in a
"T'row 'er in the drink."
"Who spoke?" said Madame Tallafferr, crisp and clear.
Silence. Then the sound of objurgations as the advocate frantically
resisted well-meant efforts to thrust him into undesirable prominence.
Finally a miniature eruption outward from the mob's edge, followed by a
glimpse of a shadowy figure departing at full speed. The Duchess leveled
a bony finger at Inky Mike, the nearest figure personally known to her,
who began a series of contortions suggestive of a desire to crawl into
his own pocket.
"Michael," said the Duchess.
"Yessum," said Inky Mike, whose name happens to be Moe Sapperstein.
"What are you doing to that unfortunate person?"
"J-j-just a little j-j-joke," replied the other in what was doubtless
intended for a light-hearted and care-free tone.
"Let him down." Inky Mike hesitated. "At once!" snapped the Duchess and
stamped her foot.
"Yessum," said Inky Mike meekly.
Loosing his hold on the scantling, he retreated upon the feet of those
behind. They let go also. Plooie slid forward to the ground. Madame
Tallafferr's bony finger (backed by the sparkle of an authoritative
diamond) swept slowly around a half-circle, with very much the easy and
significant motion of a machine gun and something of the effect. A
subtle suggestion of limpness manifested itself in the mass before her.
Addressing them, she raised her voice not a whit. She had no need to.
"Go about your business," she said. "Rabble!" she added in precisely the
tone which one might expect of a well-bred but particularly
The mob wilted to a purposeless and abashed crowd. The crowd
disintegrated into individuals. The individuals asked themselves what
they were doing there, and, finding no sufficient answer, slunk away.
Plooie was triumphantly escorted by Madame Tallafferr and Black Sally,
and (less triumphantly) by my limping self, to the nearest haven, which
chanced to be the Bonnie Lassie's house. Annie Oombrella pattered along
beside him, fumbling his hand and trying not to cry.
But when the Bonnie Lassie saw the melancholy wreck, she cried, as
much from fury as from pity, and said that men were brutes and bullies
and cowards and imbeciles—and why hadn't her Cyrus been at home to stop
it? Whereto Madame Tallafferr complacently responded that Mr. Cyrus
Staten had not been needed: the canaille would always respect a proper
show of authority from its superiors; and so went home, rustling and
After all, Plooie was not much hurt. Perhaps more frightened than
anything else. Panic was, in fact, the reason generally ascribed in Our
Square for his quiet departure, with his Annie, of course, on the
following Sunday. Only the Bonnie Lassie dissented. But as the Bonnie
Lassie reasons with her heart instead of her head, we accept her
theories with habitual and smiling indulgence rather than respect—until
the facts bear them out. She had, it appeared, called on the Plooies to
inquire as to their proposed course, and had rather more than hinted
that if the head of the house wished to respond to his country's call,
Our Square would look after Annie Oombrella. To this he returned only a
stubborn and somber silence. The Bonnie Lassie said afterward that he
seemed ashamed. She added that he had left good-bye for me and hoped the
Dominie would not think too hard of him. Recalling that I had rather
markedly failed to acknowledge his salute on the morning before his
departure, I felt a qualm of misgiving. After all, judging your
neighbor's soul is a kittle business. There is such an insufficiency
So Schepstein lost a renter. The basement cubbyhole remained vacant,
with only the picture of Albert of the Kingdom of Sorrows in the window
as a memento. Nothing further was seen or heard of Plooie. But
Schepstein, wandering far afield in search of tenement sales a full year
after, encountered Annie Oombrella washing down the steps of an office
far over in Lewis Street, nearly to the river. All the plumpness which
she had taken on in the happy days was gone. She looked wistful
Schepstein, doing the polite (which, as he accurately states, costs
nothing and might get you something some time), asked after Plooie.
Where was he? Annie Oombrella shook her head.
"Left you, has he?" asked Schepstein, astonished at this evidence of
"Yes," said Annie Oombrella. But there was a ring in her voice that
Schepstein failed to understand. It sounded almost like defiance. Her
eyes were deep-hollowed and sorrowful, but they met his as squarely as
they could, considering their cast. Schepstein was quite shocked to
observe that there was no shame in them. I suppose the shock temporarily
unbalanced his principles, for, having caught sight of one of her shoes,
he offered to lend her three dollars, indefinitely and without interest,
on her bare note-of-hand. (When he saw the other shoe, he made it five.)
She looked at the money anxiously, but shook her head.
"Well, if you ever need a home, the basement's vacant and there ain't a
better basement in Our Square."
Annie Oombrella began to cry quietly, and Schepstein went on about his
Through the ensuing years many women cried quietly or vehemently,
according to their natures, and many men went away from places that had
known them, to be no more known of those places; and the little Kingdom
of Sorrows, shattered, blood-soaked, and unconquerable, stood fast, a
bulwark between the ravager of the world and his victory until there
sped across the death-haunted seas the army that was to turn the scales.
Our Square gave to that sacrifice what it can never recover: witness the
simple memorials in Our Square.
Many people see ghosts; Our Square is well haunted, as befits its
ancient and diminished glories. Few hear ghosts. This is as it ought to
be. In their very nature, ghosts should be seen, not heard. Yet, in the
year of grace, 1919, under a blazing September sun, with a cicada,
vagrant from heaven knows whence, frying his sizzling sausages in our
lilac bush, and other equally insistent sounds of reality filling the
air, my ears were smitten with a voice from the realm of wraiths.
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees," it cried on a faint and cluttering note.
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees à raccommoder."
Over in the far corner of the park an apparition moved into my visual
range. It looked like Plooie. It moved like Plooie. It was loaded like
Plooie. It opened a mouth like Plooie's and emitted again the familiar
though diminished falsetto shriek. No doubt of it now; it was Plooie.
He had come back to us who never thought to see him again, who never
wished to see him again, still unpurged of his stigma.
As he passed me, I acknowledged his greeting, somewhat stiffly, I fear,
and walked over to Schepstein's. There in the basement, amid the
familiar wreckage as of a thousand umbrellas, sat little Annie.
"Bonjour, Dominie," said she wistfully.
"Good-morning, Annie. So you are back."
"Yes, Dominie. Is there need that one wash the step at your house?"
"There is need that one explain one's self. What have you been doing
these three years?"
"I work. I work hard."
"And your husband? What has he been doing?" I asked sternly.
Annie Oombrella's soft face drooped. "Soyez gentil, Dominie," she
implored. "Be a kind, good man and ask him not. That make him so
"He doesn't look well, Annie."
"He have been ver' seeck. Now we come home he is already weller."
"But do you think it is wise for you to come back here?" I demanded,
feeling brutal as I put the question. Annie Oombrella's reply did not
make me feel any less so. She sent a quivering look around that
unspeakably messy, choked-up little hole in the wall that was home to
Plooie and her.
"We have loved each other so much here," said she.
Our Square is too poor to be enduringly uncharitable, either in deed or
thought. War's resentments died out quickly in us. No longer was Plooie
in danger of mob violence. By common consent we let him alone; he made
his rounds unmolested, but also unpatronized. But for Annie Oombrella's
prodigies of industry with pail and brush, the little couple in
Schepstein's basement would have fared ill.
Annie earned for both. In the process, happiness came back to her face.
To the fat Rosser twin accrues the credit of a pleasurable discovery
about Plooie. This was that, if you sneaked softly up behind him and
shouted: "Hey, Plooie! What was you doing in the war?" his jaw would
drop and his whole rackety body begin to quiver, and he would heave his
burden to his shoulder and break into a spavined gallop, muttering and
sobbing like one demented. As the juvenile sense of humor is highly
developed in Our Square, Plooie got a good deal of exercise, first
Eventually he foiled them by coming out only in school hours. This
didn't help his trade. But then his trade had dwindled to the vanishing
point anyway. Even Madame Tallafferr had dropped him. She preferred not
to deal with a poltroon, as she put it.
On the day of the great exodus, Plooie put in some extra hours. He was
in no danger from his youthful persecutors, because they had all gone up
to line Fifth Avenue and help cheer the visiting King of the Belgians.
So had such of the rest of Our Square as were not at work. The place was
practically deserted. Nevertheless, Plooie prowled about, uttering his
cracked and lugubrious cry in the forlorn hope of picking up a parapluie
to raccommode. I was one of the few left to hear him, because Mendel,
the jeweler, had most inconsiderately gone to view royalty, leaving my
unrepaired glasses locked in his shop; otherwise I, too, would have been
on the Fifth Avenue curb shouting with the best of them. Do not
misinterpret me. For the divinity that doth hedge a king I care as
little as one should whose forbears fought in the Revolution. But for
the divinity of high courage and devotion that certifies to the image of
God within man, I should have been proud to take off my old but still
glossy silk hat to Albert of the Belgians. So I was rather cross, and it
was well for my equanimity that the Bonnie Lassie, who had remained at
home for reasons which are peculiarly her own affair and that of Cyrus
the Gaunt, should have come over to my favorite bench to cheer me up.
Said the Bonnie Lassie:
"I wonder why Plooie didn't go to see his king."
"Sense of shame," I suggested acidly.
"Yes?" said the Bonnie Lassie in a tone which I mistrusted.
"It is no use," I assured her, "for you to favor me with that pitying
and contemptuous smile of yours, for I can't see it. Mendel has my
nearer range of vision locked in his shop."
"I was just thinking," said the Bonnie Lassie in ruminant accents, "how
nice it must be to look back on a long life of unspotted correctness
with not an item in it to be ashamed of. It gives one such a comfortable
basis for sitting in judgment."
"Her lips drip honey," I observed, "and the poison of asps is under her
"Your quotations are fatally mixed," retorted my companion.
From across the park sounded Plooie's patient falsetto:
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees! Annie Oombrella for mend? Parapluie-ee-ee-" The
call broke off in a kind of choke.
"What's happened to Plooie?" I asked. "The youngsters can't have got
back from the parade already, have they?"
"A very tall man has stopped him," said the Bonnie Lassie. "Plooie has
dropped his kit…. He's trying to salute…. It must be one of the
Belgian officers…. Oh, Dominie!"
"Well, what?" I demanded impatiently and cursed the recreant Mendel in
"It can't be … you don't think they can be arresting poor Plooie at
this late day for evading service?"
"Serve him right if they did," said I.
"I believe they are. The big man has taken him by the arm and is leading
him along. Poor Plooie! He's all wilted down. It's a shame!" cried the
Bonnie Lassie, beginning to flame. "It ought not to be allowed."
"Probably they're taking him away. Do you see an official-looking
automobile anywhere about?"
"There's a strange car over on the Avenue. Oh, dear! Poor Annie
Oombrella! But—but they're not going there. They're going into
I could feel the Bonnie Lassie fidgeting on the bench. For a moment I
endured it. Then I said:
"Well, Lassie, why don't you?"
"Why don't I what?"
"Take your usual constitutional, over by the railings. Opposite
"That isn't my usual constitutional, and you know it, Dominie," said the
Bonnie Lassie with dignity.
"Isn't it? Well, curiosity killed a cat, you know."
"How shamelessly you garble! It was—"
"Never mind; the quotation is erroneous, anyway. It should be:
suppressed curiosity killed a cat."
The Bonnie Lassie sniffed.
"Rather than be dislodged from my precarious perch on this bench," I
pursued, "through the trembling imparted to it by your clinging to the
back to restrain yourself from going to see what is up, I should almost
prefer that you would go—and peek."
"Dominie," said the Bonnie Lassie, "you are a despicable old man….
I'll be back in a minute."
"Don't stay long," I pleaded. "Pity the blind."
Her golden laughter floated back to me. But there was no mirth in her
voice when she returned.
"It's so dark in there I can hardly see. But the big man is sitting on a
pile of ribs talking to Plooie, and Annie Oombrella's face is all
swollen with crying. I saw it in the window for a minute."
Pro and con we argued what the probable event might be and how we could
best meet it. So intent upon our discussion did we become that we did
not note the approach of a stranger until he was within a few paces of
the bench. With my crippled vision I apprehended him only as very tall
and straight and wearing a loose cape. The effect upon the Bonnie Lassie
of his approach was surprising. I heard her give a little gasp. She got
up from the bench. Her hand fell upon my shoulder. It was trembling.
Where, I wondered, had those two met and in what circumstances, that the
mere sight of the stranger caused such emotion in the unusually
self-controlled wife of Cyrus Staten. The man spoke quickly in a deep
and curiously melancholy voice:
"Madame perhaps does me the honor to remember me?"
"I—I—I—" began the Bonnie Lassie.
"The Comte de Tournon. At Trouville we met, was it not? Several years
"Y-yes. Certainly. At Trouville."
(Now I happen to know that the Bonnie Lassie has never been at
Trouville, which did not assuage my suspicions.)
"You are friends of my—countryman, Emile Garin, are you not?" he
pursued in his phraseology of extreme precision, with only the faint
echo of an accent.
"Who?" I said. "Oh, Plooie, you mean. Friends? Well, acquaintances would
be more accurate."
"He tells me that you, Monsieur, befriended him when he had great need
of friends. And you, Madame, always. So I have come to thank you."
"You are interested in Plooie?" I asked.
"Plooie?" he repeated doubtfully. I explained to him and he laughed
gently. "Profoundly interested," he said. "I have here one of his finest
umbrellas which his good wife presented to me. There was also a lady of
whom he speaks, a grande dame, of very great authority." For all the
sadness of the deep voice, I felt that his eyes were twinkling.
"Madame Tallafferr," supplied the Bonnie Lassie. "She is away on a
"I should like to have met that queller of mobs. She ought to be
"Knighthood would add nothing to her status," said I, dryly. "She is a
Pinckney and a Pemberton besides being a Tallafferr, with two _f_s, two
_l_s, and two _r_s."
"Doubtless. I do not comprehend the details of your American orders of
merit," said the big sad-voiced man courteously. "But I should have been
proud to meet her."
"May I tell her that?" asked the Bonnie Lassie eagerly.
"By all means—when I am gone." Again I felt the smile that must be in
the eyes. "But there were others here, not so friendly to the little
Garin. That is true, is it not?"
"Yes," said the Bonnie Lassie.
"There is at least a strong suspicion that he is not a deserving case,"
I pointed out defensively.
"Then it is only because he does not explain himself well," returned the
"He does not explain himself at all," I corrected. "Nor does Annie
"Ah? That will clarify itself, perhaps, in time. If you will bear with
me, I should like to tell you a little story to be passed on to those
who are not his friends. Will you not be seated, Madame?"
The Bonnie Lassie resumed her place on the bench. Standing before us,
the big man began to speak. Many times since have I wished that I might
have taken down what he said verbatim; so gracious it was, so simple, so
straightly the expression of a great and generous personality.
"Emile Garin," he said, "was a son of Belgium. He was poor and his
people were little folk of nothing-at-all. Moreover, they were dead. So
he came to your great country to make his living. When our enemies
invaded my country and the call went out to all sons of Belgium, the
little Garin was ashamed because he knew that he was physically unfit
for military service. But he tried. He tried everywhere. In the mornings
they must sweep him away from our Consul-General's doorsteps here
because otherwise he would not—You spoke, Monsieur?"
"Nothing. I only said, 'God forgive us!'"
"Amen," said the narrator gravely. "Everywhere they rejected him as
unfit. So he became morbid. He hid himself away. Is it not so?"
"That is why they left Our Square so mysteriously," confirmed the Bonnie
"After that he hung about the docks. He saw his chance and crawled into
the hold of a vessel as a stowaway. He starved. It did not matter. He
was kicked. It did not matter. He was arrested. It did not matter.
Nothing mattered except that he should reach Belgium. And he did reach
my country at the darkest hour, the time when Belgium needed every man,
no matter who he was. But he could not be a soldier, the little Garin,
because he was unable to march. He had weak legs."
At this point the eternal feminine asserted itself in the Bonnie Lassie.
"I told you there was something," she murmured triumphantly.
"Hush!" said I.
"I am glad to find that he had one true defender here," pursued the
biographer of Plooie. "Though he could not fight in the ranks there was
use for him. There was use for all true sons of Belgium in those black
days. He was made driver of a—a charette; I do not know if you have
them in your great city?" He paused, and I guessed that the rumble of
heavy wheels on the asphalt, heard near by, had come opportunely. "Ah,
yes; there is one."
"A dump-cart," supplied the Bonnie Lassie.
"Merci, Madame. A dump-cart. It is perhaps not an evidently glorious
thing to drive a dump-cart for one's country—unless one makes it so.
But it was the best the little Garin could do. His legs were what you
call quaint—I have already told you. He was faithful and hard-working.
They helped build roads near the front, the little Garin and his
"Not precisely safety-first," whispered the Bonnie Lassie to me,
"You are interrupting the story," said I with dignity.
"One day he was driving a load of mud through a village street. Here on
this side is a hospital. There on that side is another hospital. Down
the middle of the road walks an idiot of a sergeant carrying a new type
of grenade with which we were experimenting. One moves a little
lever—so. One counts; one, two, three, four, five. One throws the
grenade, and at the count of ten, all about it is destroyed, for it is
of terrible power. The idiot sergeant sets down the grenade in the
middle of the road between the two hospitals full of the helplessly
wounded. For what? Perhaps to sneeze. Perhaps to light a cigarette.
Heaven only knows, for the sergeant has the luck to be killed next day
by a German shell, before he can be court-martialed. As he sets down the
grenade, the little lever is moved. The sergeant loses his head. He
runs, shouting to everybody to run also.
"But the hospitals, they cannot run. And the wounded, they cannot run.
They can only be still and wait. In the nearest hospital there is a
visitor. A great lady. A great and greatly loved lady." The sad voice
deepened and softened.
"I know," whispered the Bonnie Lassie; "I can guess."
"Yes. But the little Garin, approaching on his big dump-cart, does not
know. He knows the danger, for he hears the shouts and sees the people
escaping. He sees the grenade, too. A man running past him shouts, 'Turn
your cart, you fool, and save yourself.' Oh, yes; he can save himself.
That is easy. But what of the people in the hospitals? Who can save
them? The little Garin thinks hard and swiftly. He drives his big
dump-cart over the grenade. He pulls the lever which dumps the mud. The
mud buries the grenade; much mud, very soft and heavy. The grenade
"One mule blows through one hospital, one through another. Everything
near is covered with mud. The great lady is thrown to the floor, but she
is not hurt. She rises and attends the injured and calms the terrified.
The hospitals are saved. It is a glorious thing to have driven a
dump-cart for one's country—so."
"But what became of our Plooie?" besought the Bonnie Lassie.
The big man spread his arms in a wide, Gallic gesture. "They looked for
him everywhere. No sign. But by and by some one saw a quite large piece
of mud on the hospital roof begin to wriggle. The little Garin was that
large piece of mud. They brought him down and put him in the hospital
which he had saved. For a long time he had shell-shock. Even now he
cannot speak of the war without his nerves being affected. When he got
out of hospital, he did not seem to know who he was. Or perhaps he did
not care. Shell-shock is a strange thing. He went away, and his records
were lost in the general confusion. Afterward we sought for him. The
great lady wished very much to see him. But we could find nothing except
that he had come back to this country. Official inquiry was made here
and he was traced to Our Square. So I came to see him. Because he cannot
speak for himself and will not allow his wife to tell his story—it is
part of the shell-shock which will wear off in time—I came to speak
"Does your—do you do this sort of thing often?" asked the Bonnie Lassie
with a queer sort of resonance in her voice.
The big man answered, in a tone which suggested that he was smiling:
"One cannot visit all the brave men who suffered for Belgium. But there
is a special reason here, the matter of the great and greatly loved lady
whom the little Garin saved."
"I see," said the Bonnie Lassie softly.
After the big man had made his adieux, we sat silent for some minutes.
Presently she spoke; there was wonder and something else in her voice.
"Plooie!" she said, and that was all.
"You are crying," I said.
"I'm not," she retorted indignantly. "But you ought to be. For your
"If we all bewept our injustices," said I oracularly, "Noah would have
to come back and build a new ark for a bigger flood than his."
"What do you think of him?" said the Bonnie Lassie.
"As a weather-prophet, he was unequaled. As an expert animal-breeder,
his selections were at times ill-advised."
"Don't be tiresome, Dominie. You know that I'm not interested in Noah."
"As to our romantic visitant," I said, "I think that Cyrus the Gaunt
would better be watchful. I've never known anyone else except Cyrus to
produce such an emotional effect upon you."
"Don't be school-girlish!" admonished the Bonnie Lassie severely. "Poor
old Dominie! He doesn't know what's going on under his very nose. Where
are your eyes?"
"In Mendel's top drawer, I suppose…. The question is how are we going
to make it up to Plooie?"
"I don't think you need worry about that," returned the Bonnie Lassie
Nor was there any occasion for worry. Two days later there occurred an
irruption of dismaying young men with casual squares of paper in their
pockets, upon which they scratched brief notes. They were, I was
subsequently given to understand, the pick and flower of the city's
reportorial genius. (I could imagine the ghost of Inky Mike with his
important notebook and high-poised pencil, regarding with wonder and
disdain their quiet and unimpressive methods.) A freshly painted sign
across the front of Plooie's basement, was the magnet that drew them:
Emile Garin & Wife
Umbrella Mender & Porch Cleanser
The King of the Belgians
(By Royal Warranty)
No; Plooie and Annie Oombrella need no help from the humble now. Their
well-deserved fortune is made.