Page images

how trim the tiny boot thus revealed; and while I was glowing all over with the silliest admiration and affection this artless and innocent young creature came to a sudden stop."

"Ah, Philip, you are too scornful, too bitter! I can not stand this tone. What could she have done that you should mock her so?"

Philip smiled, and his smile was worse than his former look.

"The little sweeper held out her hand for the pittance she had justly earned. It was a pretty little hand, Lou, brown and soiled as it was, and the face was like that exquisite French picture, VIndigence—you remember. Just those wistfill pleadingeyesand tremulous sweetmouth."

"Yes, I remember," said Mrs. Ellis, breathlessly; "and what then?"

""What then? Why, the little dirt-stained hand chanced to touch my lady's dainty glove. She struck the little fingers sharply away with her ivory parasol, and the voice in which she uttered, 'Begone, you little beggar 1' absolutely shook with rage.

"'I do think the greatest nuisance in all New York is these horrid little street torments!' she went on to her companion, as the child sprang away dismayed; and this amiable lady remarked that to her all children were a nuisance!

"'Are they not?' responded my charmer; 'but you would have thought I adored them if you had heard mo talking to Philip Warner last night. I happened to know that he has a weakness for the little plagues—absurd, isn't it, in a great, splendid fellow like him ?—some transcendental notion about their being artless and truthful, and all that. I contributed my last half eagle to an orphan's fund—more for his benefit than theirs, by-the-way—and now I shall have to wear these gloves another Sunday, with the spot that little wretch has left on them. Never mind, he praised their color and fit last night, and I'll try the efficacy of bread crumbs.'

"I haven't forgotten a word of this precious conversation, you see, Lou, but I couldn't stand any more of it. I availed myself of the next crossing to pass the ladies with a bow and a j smile. No words were needed; I saw that by j the sudden withering up of my fair one's roses as she mot my look, and by the malicious glitter in her sweet friend's eyes. I have never had the pleasure of meeting either of them again."

"Poor Philip 1 My dear brother!" Little Mrs. Ellis's voice was full of indignation and pity and sorrow; all a true woman's tenderness and sympathy quivered on her lip and shone in her tearful eyes. She drew down the stately head, that ached so with its weight of loneliness and bitter feelings and disappointed hopes, upon her gentle bosom, and softly thridded her fingers in and out the thick masses of hair.

"Poor girl, too!" she said again, gently. '' You must not condemn her wholly, Philip. Sho was brought up probably by an ambitious mother, and taught from childhood that the chief end of woman was to make the best match possible."

Philip raised his head quickly, and the old sareastic look returned.

"It is the lesson they all learn with their A B C's nowadays."

"I tell you it is not, Philip," rejoined his sister, steadfastly. "God meant woman to be true and devoted and self-forgetful; and there ore full as many who have wrought out this lovely nature to its perfection as have been warped and stunted by lack of proper culture."

"Well, only find me one such pearl of great price, and I promise you I will sell all that I have to buy it, sister mine," said the young man, lightly. "And now I must really go. Good-night, Lou—what a pity you are my sister! Hallo, Len! He is sound asleep! Well, I consider myself insulted, but expect me at the same hour to-morrow, nevertheless."

He was gone, with only these jesting words; but the kiss he had left upon his sister's lips had said all she wanted, And she fell asleep that night more hopeful about her brother than she had felt since their meeting.

The next afternoon, as Mr. Philip Warner was walking leisurely up Broadway, on the right hand side—which he always chose, to avoid collision with the crinolines, "fair and false," that throng the fashionable side of that magnificent trottoir daily after office-hours—he suddenly felt himself thrill with that quick, delicious sensation which the exquisite, memoryhaunted odor of violets ever awakes in a heart not all dried up. Yes! certainly violets; and the more pungent perfume of hyacinths; and a fresh, earthy smell, as though they verily grew out of doors. Where could they be?

He looked on the right hand and on the left, but there were no flower-stalls to be seen, and the fairy-like odor seemed to float on before him as he walked. There were, as usual, but few passers-by on this side of the street, and immediately in front of him, just then, only a decrepit old man; a toll, bony woman, with a masculine, striding step, that soon carried her far beyond; and a young girl, habited in a gray traveling suit, with a morocco satchel upon her arm.

"Of course it was she who carried the bouquet. She lived in the country, and had come in for the opera, or a party, bringing her own bunch of real spring flowers, to make envious the hearts of the belles with the card-boarded bouquets of pieced-up camellias. Even the flowers were make-believe nowadays! Never mind; these violets were real, and smelled just as sweet as though they were destined to a worthier fate; he should enjoy them as long as he could."

With this laudable determination our amiable friend kept close behind the unconscious owner of the magie-scented flowers, measuring his long paces by her little steps, and Walking on in a kind of maze of dreams and memories conjured up by their glamour.

He started to a more personal consciousness as presently, reaching the corner of Bleecker Street, the young lady crossed over, and walked on in his own homeward direction. He crossed too, still keeping close behind; and now he began to notice not only the violets but their unsuspecting owner. A light little figure: a long gray cosaque, that fell in soft, uurustling folds; a simple straw-bonuet, with only a white ribbon for trimming. He rather liked the costume, it seemed to match the flowers; and the gait was agile and springing, though very lady-like. He wondered how it was with the face.

But she never glanced backward, and her step grew more rapid, as though she were in haste. Presently, however, she came to a sudden stop; and Philip drew back a little, and stopped too: he wasn't going to give up the violets yet. They had come to a large dingy house, which looked like a boarding-house of the cheaper sort, and on the dirty marble steps a number of untidy children were sitting, chattering and squabbling like so many mud-sparrows.

One of them was quiet enough, however; she lay back, leaning against the iron railing, her face showing ghastly in its pallor and thinuess from its frame-work of dead black hair, and her wan lips parted as though trying to draw in some life and strength from the warm sunset air. She started up with a wild, excited look as the dim, sweet violet odor stole upon her languid sense, and fixed her hollow eyes with a burning eagerness upon the flowers in the lady's hand. She did not speak—there was no need; for the young girl had already stopped, and was parting the clustering stems.

Philip watched and listened with an intense interest, for which it would have puzzled him to account.

"Do you like flowers so mnch, my child?" he heard her say, in a sweet, womanly voice; and saw her put a cluster of the delicious purple blossoms in the thin, eager hand. "I am taking these to a sick lady," she went on; "but I will spare you some, for you look ill too. It is growing late for you to be out with that cough. If you will go in now, and put these in water, they will keep sweet a long time—never mind, you are very weleome."

She did not wait for the child's feverish thanks, but walked rapidly away, only looking back once to see if she had obeyed her behest. Looking back thus, she encountered a curious, strangelyearnest gaze from a pair of dark eyes belonging to a tall gentleman who was walking just behind her. The pink cheeks grew pinker behind the little gray tissue veil, and the young lady slackened her pace slightly, to let the observant stranger pass; but he did not seem to choose to do so, and sho hastened on again till she reached the last house on the block, and ascended its high marble steps. The color deepened then to a positive blush as, the next moment, the tall gentleman stood beside her; and Philip—how surprised he was! It was his own boardinghouse! He had lived here with his sister years ago, when Bleecker Street was an aristocratic quarter; it had acquired a certain homo-like

feeling for him, and he would not desert it now that it was only "genteel."

'' Permit me!" he said, as she put her hand— a small hand, delicately gloved, he noticed—on the bell-handle; opening the door, meanwhile, with his night-key, and standing back to let her pass.

"A pleasant little smile, and a fresher face than one often sees," was his mental comment, as she thanked him hastily and went in. "And she actually did a kind and graceful act all unobserved, as she supposed. I wonder if Lou can be right after all! Why, it's Lou's old room she is going into!" he went on to himself, as he sprang up the stairs behind her, and saw her enter the "second story back," next to his own bachelor apartments.

'' Let me see—that Mrs. Chester has it now, the widow of the sea-captain, and the mother of that pretty little baby. I remember now Mrs. Bonuer said at breakfast she was ill. Poor thing!—hope it is nothing serious. I wonder if this is her sister? I wonder if she'll be at diuner?"

No, she was not at dinuer; and Mr. Philip Warner neither saw nor heard any thing of the young lady—unless, indeed, it were she whom he heard singing the Cradle Song in the "Princess," as ho passed her door on his return from his evening visit to his sister. On the whole he thought it was she: the mamma was sick; besides, he had never before heard her invoke the aid of the Poet Laureate to soothe her baby to sleep; and her sweet, feeble voice had no such low, rich tones as these. So he sat listening in cap and gown and slippers, with clouds of fragrant smoke curling around his head, until the lulling strain died away, and all was quiet, and he himself had lapsed into an idle dream—half-sleeping, half-waking—in which a wife and a child, violets and Teunyson, were strangely mixed up together.

From this foolish vagary he was suddenly startled by a quick agitated knock at his door. Opening it hastily, he pereeived his landlady, looking very much excited and distressed.

"I didn't mind disturbing you, Mr. Warner," she said, hurriedly; "I know your kind heart of old; besides, I don't believe there's another gentleman up in the house. I want you to be so good as to go for a doctor immediately; that poor lady in the next room has been seized with convulsions, and there's no one with her but her sister, a young thing who came only this afternoon. She's helpful as can be, but she's half dead herself with the shock. Here is his address, bring him back quick with you, for Heaven's sake!"

Philip seized the card; he was too shocked for words, but almost before the kind landlady had finished speaking he had thrown on his walking garments, and was springing down the stairs. Mrs. Bonuer went back to the sickroom, confirmed in her estimate of his goodheartedness—sho did not know whither his thoughts had been wandering all the evening; the paroxysm had passed off now; the sufferer was lying quiet in her sister's arm, and the good woman sat down to wait with her the coming of advice and help.

A half hour passed by drearily enough; the dim silence of the sick chamber, broken only by the convulsive breathing of the patient, and now and then a stifled sob from her on whose breast she leaned. At length, just as the gathering constriction of the features and rigid stiffening of the limbs showed that another attack was coming on, the weleome sound of hurrying manly feet was heard upon the stairs, and Mrs. Bonner sprung to open the door.

"You are in great need, doctor," said she; "and you too, come in, please, Mr. Warner. It's more than we women can do to hold her, and the babe is waking, poor little thing!"

So Philip went in, all reserve or thought of intrusion prevented by the urgency of the case. The room lay half in shadow, for the gas was turned low that its glare might not aunoy the sick lady; and the night-air was heavy with the odor of violets. She whose gentle hands had gathered and brought them hither was bending over the couch of her suffering sister, stroking with soothing touch the poor throbbing temples, and looking down into the wild, unconscious eyes with her own all thickly sown with tears, like her sweet flowers with drops of dew. She glanced up an instant as Philip approached, but shook her head when he offered to relieve her of the convulsive weight that strained and shook her strength to the utmost; and only yielded when, as the physician strove to foree a sedative through the tight-shut teeth, the paroxysm grew so violent that her slight power availed as nothing to resist it.

She stood aside then and watched him as he drew down the wildly-flinging arms with his strong gentle hand, and held with tender foree the poor throbbing head upon his firm breast; her face so white and fixed in its mute horror and despair, that it almost broke his heart to meet that piteous appealing glance. Standing thus, gazing on her sister's convulsed and quivering countenance, she saw, first of them all, the ominous death-change slowly stealing over the quieting features.

A wild cry burst from the lips before so pale and dumb.

"She is dying! Let me come to her; let me come!" and Philip let the strengthless head droop into her clasping arms.

"Oh, sister, sister darling!" went on the piteous pleading voice. "Don't you know me, your little sister that you love; Baby's Auntie Helen! Won't you speak to me only once more, sister!"

A sudden gleam of consciousness dawned in the eyes of the dying; the strong mother-love kept back for a moment the closing clasp of the icy fingers; she raised her head, and her glance searehed eagerly around the room, and rested on the spot where sat the good landlady with the baby sleeping on her knee. The tremulous lips strove feebly to find utterance, but in vain; there

was no need, for Helen, whose anguished eyes had followed her sister's glance, read its meaning well.

"She shall be mine, and dear to me ns my own soul! Nothing shall part us save death itself! I will make her happy, and bring her to you in heaven, if you must leave us, sister darling! But oh, stay, stay with us—spare her, dear Lord—we shall be all alone when she is gone!"

The wild cry went up in fruitless anguish; the rigid limbs were already relaxed; the quivering features still, with a taint smile of content shedding a soft light on them; the mother was dead, and the little baby slept sweetly as only a baby may.

It was Philip's strong arms that raised the unconscious form of the stricken girl from beside the lifeless body.

"Take her into your sitting-room, please," said the landlady, wiping her eyes; "she'll come to presently. It's no place for her here now. And, if you've no objections, I'll lay the baby on your bed a while; my room's away down stairs, you know, and we shouldn't hear it if it cried its heart out. It's lucky there's nobody but you on this floor, Mr. Warner; I don't seem to mind disturbing you, because you're a single man, I suppose. The doctor's going to send a woman here right away, and I shall stay and see that all is done as it ought to be for the poor dear lady."

So she bustled away, and brought the sleeping little one, and laid it carefully down on the narrow white bed in the little bachelor sleeping apartment off the hall, closing the doors softly, that no unwonted noise might break its happy slumber. Then she brought a pillow to place under the head of the still unconscious girl, whom Philip had laid reverently on his own sofa, and took from his hand the water which he was trying to pass between her lips.

"Never mind worrying her with that now," she said; "it's different from a fainting-fit; she's not sick, only stuuned like. Let her stay so a while; it won't hurt her, and she'll wake up to her misery soon enough, poor thing! ni be back as soon as I can to sec to her. I am going to wake up some of the servants."

So Philip left her lying there in her white, motionless silence, her long brown tresses escaped from the net that confined them, making her faco even paler by contrast, and her little hands locked tight together over her eyes, as though to shut out a sight too agonizing for them to bear. Opening the long French window he stepped out upon the baleony, and stood there watching now the sky, violet-blue and sparkling with a thousand stars, and now the pale mute face within, whose veiled eyes were blue and bright as they. There was no falsehood in the glance of pity and sympathy they had cast on the little stranger child; no artifice in their dumb, anguished gaze ul>on the face of the dead. There was a strange pain at his heart as he thought what a heavy cloud of grief had darkened suddenly over their childlike clearness. He wished that somehow it might be in his power to bring the suushine back to them again.

A long shuddering sigh from within made him aware that the spell was broken at length, and the bereaved one was awaking to a consciousness of her sorrow. He re-entered the room quietly, so as not to startle her, and approached her with a grave, gentle look, that repressed the exclamation which had sprung to her lips, and made her sit up quietly and listen to what he had to say, though still with a wild, only half-comprehending look on her face.

"I am glad you are better," he said, in a voice full of sympathy. "Mrs. Bonner thought it best you should stay here a while, and I shall esteem it a great honor if you wrn cousent to use my apartments freely. She will return soon. I will leave you now, but if it be at all in my power to serve you in any way, I beg you will trust me sufficiently to nllow ma to know."

He lingered a moment, but there was no answer—only a burst of passionate grief, which he felt he had no right to attempt to soothe—and he turned sorrowfully away, and went down the dark halls and staireases into the great empty drawing-room, where he threw himself on a sofa and tried to think over calmly the strange scenes of this eventful night.

His rooms were deserted when he resonght them next morning, and Mrs. Bonner detained him after his late breakfast to apologize for having so unceremoniously appropriated them. Philip stopped her to ask eagerly after the young lady, and the good landlady poured out a stream of information and sympathy and comment into his willing car.

"Poor thing! she is asleep now, and I'm going to have a cup of hot tea ready for her the moment she wakes up. I never should have got her to go to bed, only the baby seemed fretful, as if it know something was the matter, poor little orphan! and would have her lie down beside it when it was going to take its nap. So she dropped off herself, and I was glad of it— she'll need all the strength she can get. She's determined to sit up alone with the body tonight—the funeral won't be till to-morrow, you know. She wouldn't hear to it when I talked of sending for watchers, or offered to sit with her myself. She'd rather bo all alone with her sister the last night, she said. They thought the world of each other."

"Have they no other relatives ?" asked Philip, more touched than he cared to show.

"I guess not, in these parts, any how. The Chestcrs have boarded with me ever since they were married, you know—poor things! I little thought they'd both bo buried from my house— and I've never seen any relatious except Miss Helen; she'd often come in to spend Saturday with her sister. She was a governess somewhere in the country. She'll have to give up her situation now though, for she'll never part with that child. She'll just stay on here in Mrs. Chester's room. Her board was paid some way

ahead, and I guess the captain left some money. So they'll be comfortable enough; but it's a kind of a hard life for a young thing, isn't it? I wish some nice body would take a fancy to her for a wife. No young man, of course, would be burdened with a baby; but some one like Mr. Wiglowf for iustance, the gentleman that sits at the foot of your table, you know. He's a steady, pious man, and I don't doubt he's looking out for some one to take care of that little boy of his."

Good Mrs. Bonner had rambled on, full of homely sympathy, and reading Mr. Warner's interest in his face; and she was amazed now to see the sudden gathering of his brows, and the flash of his eyes beneath them. Perhaps she had intruded too far in supposing he could care about a strange young woman's marrying.

As for Philip, he could almost have struck the worthy landlady for her stupidity! To mention that soul-full creature in the same breath with that odious Wiglow, with his yellow sanctimonious face, and white choker, and plastered locks! Step-mother to that little precocious prig of a boy of his, too—bah! But he restrained himself, and only said as ho walked away,

"If there is any thing in the world I can do, pray let me be of use."

And Mrs. Bonner thought good-naturedly, as she went about her household tasks,

"He was always odd, but he's got a generous heart for all that."

The vision of a pale young face, all wet with tears and quivering with repressed grief, made its way, an unwonted visitor, more than once that day within the dusty precincts of a downtown lawyer's office. Do what he might Philip could not put out of his thoughts the last night's tragedy, and it irked him to think he had no right, even if ho had the power, to do aught for the solace of the lonely survivor. If his sister were only in town, he would take her to her at once! Lou's tender womanly sympathy would be every thing to the solitary girl. But she had left this very morning in an early train for a hasty trip to Niagara, and would not return for a week; and he did not know another woman in all New York whom he would be willing to bring to a stranger in affliction I

So he was obliged to content himself with reiterating offers of service upon Mrs. Bonner, and with remaining persistently in his room, so as to be at hand if needed.

Sitting there in the April twilight with a cigar between his lips, and an uuread book lying idly on his knee, he listened to the sounds that now and then reached him from the adjoining room. An infant's sleepy wail, and then those low, lulling notes of the night before, only now with such an unutterable sorrow in their plaintive minor tones I Then after a while a silence, broken only by the coming and going again of good Mrs. Bonner; and long hours after, sounding pitifully sad in the dead hush of the niyht, a burst of low, stifled sobs, and the heart-broken moan, "My sister! my sister!"

Philip started to his feet at the sound. "He could not stand it; it was horrible to think of, that young thing weeping her very heart away, all alone in the chamber of the dead! He would go to her," and he had actually placed his hand upon the handle of his door, when the thought "what would she think? what would people say?" came in time to stop him, and, venting an anathema upon that crooked idol, Public Opinion, he sought his bedroom and his bed iustead.

It was the same thirfgthe next day; he must go away in the morning without being able to do any thing for her, and return at night with" no probability of having it in his power to offer to her the sympathy that fairly made his heart ache with its repressed inteusity. But it was a connfort at least to think that she shared her chamber now with no more awful companion than the little child of her adoption, and that her tears were not shed upon the cold, unauswering face of the dead.

His patience was not to be put much longer to the test. The very next morning, as he was going down to breakfast, he encountered his fair neighbor in the hall near the door of her own room. She had a bowl of bread and milk, which she had just brought up for her little charge, in one hand, and a glass of water in the other, and was preparing to set one burden down that she might open the door.

Philip's eager attention spared her the trouble, and a faint light broke over her pale, heavy countenance as she recognized the stranger who had ministered to her sister in the hour of death, and to herself afterward.

"I have to thank you for many more kindnesses than this, Sir," she said, in a faltering voice, the quick tears springing afresh in the childlike blue eyes. "I remember—that night —and Mrs. Bonner has told me since—" But here Philip broke in, impetuously,

"If you would only permit me to bo really of some service, however slight, I should be so grateful! If I might be used as a friend I would prove worthy of the trust, though an utter stranger. Let us see you sometimes below. You will make yourself ill if you remain confined so closely in one room."

She colored a little at his warmth, but shook her head sadly.

"No; I am not easily made ill, and I can not stay away from baby. But I thank you for your great kindness. I shall not mind calling upon you for service, if I should need it"—and she was gone, leaving Philip obliged to be content with this.

But now that the ice was broken, he found many ways of serving her of which she knew nothing. Why should she connect Mr. Warner with the excessive civility and attention she received from the servants, or associate his idea with the delicious oranges, and pines, and bananas which formed such unwonted addition to the meagre attractious of a boarding-house lunch? How imagine that he was the " one of the boarders" who presented to Mrs. Bonner the huge bunch of "real out-of-door" spring city flowers,

lilaes, and westerias, and snow-balls, which that good lady iusisted upon placing on her hearth?

Her heart was too full of its sorrow and its anxious cares for her little charge to spare much thought even for the kind, strange gentleman; yet she could not but feel, in the few chance interviews which they had in the dining-room, or on the stairease, or at the door as before, how different he was from the rest of the people in the house, kind as they all were; of how much higher type he was, indeed, than any of the few men she knew; and sometimes she almost wished that there were some tie of relatiouship or of old acquaintance which would permit him to offer, and her to receive, the sympathy and friendship which looked out so earnestly to her from his grave dark eyes, and of which her lonely heart stood in such sore need.

One evening—it was the last before Mrs. Ellis was to return—Philip sat in his accustomed place by the open window, smoking, looking out, and listening to the low murmured lullaby from the next room. It ceased at length, and then there was a soft rustling as of feminine garments; and presently the door opened gently, nnd a light step descended the stairs. A moment after the street door opened, and Philip saw the little figure of his neighbor pass beneath his window.

"Good! she is actually going to spend one of these lovely twilights elsewhere than cooped up in that close room by a baby's cradle!"

The grave, saturnine, lawyer-like man was a child in his delight. "I only wish I had the right to join her—I really believe I could make the walk pleasanter!" and then he checked himself with a smile, and almost a blush, at his own folly, and puffed away for a while in grim silence, as befitted a woman-hater.

But hark! what was that? A baby crying! and her baby, positively! the little ungrateful thing, when she had sung it to sleep! He wouldn't be guilty of snch atrocity for the world if she would perform the like kind office for him! Heaveus! what a scream! Nay, what a succession of infantine yells! Frightened ont of its wits, poor little thing, at waking up and finding itself alone in the dark; he would go straight and bring Mrs. Bonner.

Philip jumped up and marehed down stairs to the landlady's apartment. No auswer to his repeated knocks upon the door; nobody in the hall, nobody in the dining-room; cook steaming wrathily over the range, warming dinner for a party who had arrived late; pronounced the mistress out—every body out but herself, and faith she never got the chance to go! What should he do? Ho had never cultivated any of the last set of boarders at the old place, and didn't care to set the rather snobbish cirele speculating as to the unaccountable interest of a handsome young man in a poor governess's adopted baby. Ho reascended the stairs, baffled, and only hoping that the newly-made mamma might speedily return, or that the infant might have ceased its cries. The piereing

« PreviousContinue »