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Alice Caldwell (Hegan) 1870- Rice.

Miss Mink's soldier, and other stories online

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MISS MINKS
SOLDIER

AND OTHER STORIES



ALICE HEGAN RICE



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

AND OTHER STORIES




Then Miss Mink received a shock



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

AND OTHER STORIES



BY

ALICE HEGAN RICE

Author of "Mas. WIGOS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH,"
"MR. OPP," "CALVARY ALLEY," ETC.




NEW YORK
THE CENTURY CO.

1918



Copyright, 1905, 1906, 1910, 1918, by
THE CENTURY Co.

Copyright, 1914, by
THB Csowcu. PUBLISHINO COMPANI

Published, October, 1918



*



TO

THE LADY OF THE DECORATION

A MEMENTO OF MANY HAPPY DAYS
SPENT TOGETHER "EAST OF SUEZ"



CONTENTS



PAGE

Miss MINK'S SOLDIER 3

A DARLING OP MISFORTUNE 33

"Pop" . . i x 59

HOODOOED 91

A MATTER OP FRIENDSHIP 121

THE WILD OATS OF A SPINSTER 147

CUPID GOES SLUMMING 177

THE SOUL OP O SANA SAN . 209



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

MISS MINK sat in church with lips com-
pressed and hands tightly clasped in her
black alpaca lap, and stubbornly refused to com-
ply with the request that was being made from
the pulpit. She was a small desiccated person,
with a sharp chin and a sharper nose, and nar-
row faded eyes that through the making of in-
numerable buttonholes had come to resemble
them.

For over forty years she had sat in that same
pew facing that same minister, regarding him
second only to his Maker, and striving in
thought and deed to follow his precepts. But
the time had come when Miss Mink's blind
allegiance wavered.

Ever since the establishment of the big Can-
tonment near the city, Dr. Morris, in order to
encourage church attendance, had been insistent
in his request that every member of his congre-

3



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

gation should take a soldier home to Sunday
dinner.

Now it was no lack of patriotism that made
Miss Mink refuse to do her part. Every ripple
in the small flag that fluttered over her humble
dwelling sent a corresponding ripple along her
spinal column. When she essayed to sing "My
Country, 'T is of Thee," in her high, quavering
soprano, she invariably broke down from sheer
excess of emotion. But the American army
fighting for right and freedom in France, and
the Army individually tracking mud into her
spotless cottage, were two very different things.
Miss Mink had always regarded a man in her
house much as she regarded a gnat in her eye.
There was but one course to pursue in either
case elimination !

But her firm stand in the matter had not been
maintained without much misgiving. Every
Sunday when Dr. Morris made his earnest ap-
peal, something within urged her to comply.
She was like an automobile that gets cranked
up and then refuses to go. Church-going in-
stead of being her greatest joy came to be a

4



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

nightmare. She no longer lingered in the vesti-
bule, for those highly cherished exchanges of
inoffensive gossip that constituted her social
life. Nobody seemed to have time for her.
Every one was busy with a soldier. Within
the sanctuary it was no better. Each khaki-clad
figure that dotted the congregation claimed her
attention as a possible candidate for hospitality.
And each one that presented himself to her
vision was indignantly repudiated. One was
too old, another too young, one too stylish, an-
other had forgotten to wash his ears. She
found a dozen excuses for withholding her invi-
tation.

But this morning as she sat upright and un-
compromising in her short pew, she was sud-
denly thrown into a state of agitation by the
appearance in the aisle of an un-ushered sol-
dier who, after hesitating beside one or two
pews, slipped into the seat beside her. It
seemed almost as if Providence had taken a
hand and since she had refused to select a sol-
dier, had prompted a soldier to select her.

During the service she sat gazing straight at
5



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

the minister without comprehending a word
that he said. Never once did her glance stray
to that khaki-clad figure beside her, but her
thoughts played around him like lightning.
What if she should get up her courage and ask
him to dinner, how would she ever be able to
walk out the street with him? And once she
had got him to her cottage, what on earth would
she talk to him about? Her hands grew cold as
she thought about it. Yet something warned
her it was now or never, and that it was only by
taking the hated step and getting it over with,
that she could regain the peace of mind that had
of late deserted her.

The Doxology found her weakening, but the
Benediction stiffened her resolve, and when the
final Amen sounded, she turned blindly to the
man beside her, and said, hardly above her
breath :

"If you ain't got any place to go to dinner,
you can come home with me."

The tall figure turned toward her, and a pair
of melancholy brown eyes looked down into
hers:

6



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

' * You will excuse if I do not quite compre-
hend your meaning/' he said politely, witk a
strong foreign accent.

Miss Mink was plunged into instant panic;
suppose he was a German? Suppose she
should be convicted for entertaining a spy!
Then she remembered his uniform and was
slightly reassured.

"I said would you come home to dinner with
me?" she repeated weakly, with a fervent
prayer that he would decline.

But the soldier had no such intention. He
bowed gravely, and picked up his hat and over-
coat.

Miss Mink, looking like a small tug towing a
big steamer, shamefacedly made her way to the
nearest exit, and got him out through the Sun-
day-school room. She would take him home
through a side street, feed him and send him
away as soon as possible. It was a horrible
ordeal, but Miss Mink was not one to turn back
once she had faced a difficult situation. As they
passed down the broad steps into the brilliant
October sunshine, she noticed with relief that

7



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

his shoes were not muddy. Then, before she
could make other observations, her mind was
entirely preoccupied with a large, firm hand
that grasped her elbow, and seemed to half lift
her slight weight from step to step. Miss
Mink's elbow was not used to such treatment
and it indignantly freed itself before the pave-
ment was reached. The first square was trav-
eled in embarrassed silence, then Miss Mink
made a heroic effort to break the ice :

"My name is Mink," she said, "Miss Libby
Mink. I do dress-making over on Sixth Street. ' '

"I am Bowinski," volunteered her tall com-
panion, "first name Alexis. I am a machinist
before I enlist in the army."

"I knew you were some sort of a Dago," said
Miss Mink.

"But no, Madame, I am Russian. My home
is in Kiev in Ukrania."

"Why on earth didn't you stay there?" Miss
Mink asked from the depths of her heart.

The soldier looked at her earnestly. "Be-
cause of the persecution, ' ' he said. ' ' My father
he was in exile. His family was suspect. I

8



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

come alone to America when I am but fifteen."

""Well I guess you're sorry enough now that
you came," Miss Mink said, "Now that you've
got drafted."

They had reached her gate by this time, but
Bowinski paused before entering: "Madame
mistakes!" he said with dignity. "I was not
drafted. The day America enter the war,
that day I give up my job I have held for five
years, and enlist. America is my country, she
take me in when I have nowhere to go. It is
my proud moment when I fight for her!"

Then it was that Miss Mink took her first real
look at him, and if it was a longer look than she
had ever before bestowed upon man, we must
put it down to the fact that he was well worth
looking at, with his tall square figure, and his
serious dark face lit up at the present with a
somewhat indignant enthusiasm.

Miss Mink pushed open the gate and led the
way into her narrow yard. She usually en-
tered the house by way of the side door which
opened into the dining room, which was also her
bedroom by night, and her sewing room by day.

9



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

But this morning, after a moment's hesitation,
she turned a key in the rusty lock of the front
door, and let a flood of sunshine dispel the
gloom of the room. The parlor had been fur-
nished by Miss Mink's parents some sixty years
ago, and nothing had been changed. A cus-
tomer had once suggested that if the sofa was
taken away from the window, and the table
put in its place, the room would be lighter.
Miss Mink had regarded the proposition as
preposterous. One might as well have asked
her to move her nose around to the back of her
head, or to exchange the positions of her eyes
and ears !

You have seen a drop of water caught in a
crystal? Well, that was what Miss Mink was
like. She moved in the tiniest possible groove
with her home at one end and her church at the
other. Is it any wonder that when she beheld a
strange young foreigner sitting stiffly on her
parlor sofa, and realized that she must entertain
him for at least an hour, that panic seized her?

"I better be seeing to dinner," she said
10



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

hastily. * "You can look at the album till I get
things dished up."

Private Bowinski, surnamed Alexis, sat with
knees awkwardly hunched and obediently
turned the leaves of the large album, politely
scanning the placid countenances of departed
Minks for several generations.

Miss Mink, moving about in the inner room,
glanced in at him from time to time. After
the first glance she went to the small store room
and got out a jar of sweet pickle, and after the
second she produced a glass of crab apple jelly.
Serving a soldier guest who had voluntarily
adopted her country, was after all not so dis-
tasteful, if only she did not have to talk to him.
But already the coming ordeal was casting its
baleful shadow.

When they were seated opposite one another
at the small table, her worst fears were realized.
They could neither of them think of anything to
say. If she made a move to pass the bread to
him he insisted upon passing it to her. When
she rose to serve him, he rose to serve her. She

11



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

had never realized before how oppressive ex-
cessive politeness could be.

The one point of consolation for her lay in the
fact that he was enjoying his dinner. He ate
with a relish that would have flattered any
hostess. Sometimes when he put his knife in
his mouth she winced with apprehension, but
aside from a few such lapses in etiquette he
conducted himself with solemn and punctilious
propriety.

When he had finished his second slice of pie,
and pushed back his chair, Miss Mink waited
hopefully for him to say good-bye. He was evi-
dently getting out his car fare now, search-
ing with thumb and forefinger in his vest
pocket.

"If it is not to trouble you more, may I ask
a match?" he said.

"A match? What on earth do you want with
a match? " demanded Miss Mink. Then a look
of apprehension swept over her face. Was this
young man actually proposing to profane the
virgin air of her domicile with the fumes of to-
bacco?

12



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

"Perhaps you do not like that I should
smoke? " Bowinski said instantly. "I beg you
excuse, I "

"Oh! that's all right, " said Miss Mink in a
tone that she did not recognize as her own, "the
matches are in that little bisque figure on the
parlor mantel. I'll get you to leave the front
door open, if you don 't mind. It 's kinder hot in
here."

Five o'clock that afternoon found Miss Mink
and Alexis Bowinski still sitting facing each
other in the front parlor. They were mutually
exhausted, and conversation after having suf-
fered innumerable relapses, seemed about to
succumb.

"If there's any place else you want to go, you
mustn't feel that you've got to stay here," Miss
Mink had urged some time after dinner. But
Alexis had answered:

"I know only two place. The Camp and the
railway depot. I go on last Sunday to the rail-
way depot. The Chaplain at the Camp advise
me I go to church this morning. Perhaps I
make a friend."

13



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

"But what do the other soldiers do on Sun-
day I" Miss Mink asked desperately.

"They promenade. Always promenade. Ex-
cept they go to photo-plays, and dance hall. It
is the hard part of war, the waiting part. ' '

Miss Mink agreed with him perfectly as she
helped him wait. She had never spent such a
long day in her life. At a quarter past five
he rose to go. A skillful word on her part
would have expedited matters, but Miss
Mink was not versed in the social trick of
speeding a departing guest. Fifteen minutes
dragged their weary length even after he was
on his feet. Then Miss Mink received a shock
from which it took her an even longer time to
recover. Alexis Bowinski, having at last ar-
rived at the moment of departure, took her hand
in his and, bowing awkwardly, raised it to his
lips and kissed it! Then he backed out of the
cottage, stalked into the twilight and was soon
lost to sight beyond the hedge.

Miss Mink sank limply on the sofa by the win-
dow, and regarded her small wrinkled hand
with stern surprise. It was a hand that had

14



MISS MINK'S SOLDIEB

mever been kissed before and it was tingling
in the strangest and most unaccountable man-
ner.

The following week was lived in the after-
glow of that eventful Sunday. She described
the soldier's visit in detail to the few customers
who came in. She went early to prayer-meet-
ing in order to tell about it. And in the telling
she subordinated everything to the dramatic cli-
max:

"I never was so took back in my life!" she
said. " After setting there for four mortal
hours with nothing to say, just boring each
other to death, for him to get up like that and
make a regular play-actor bow, and kiss my
hand ! Well, I never was so took back ! ' '

And judging from the number of times Miss
Mink told the story, and the conscious smile with
which she concluded it, it was evident that she
was not averse to being "took back."

By the time Sunday arrived she had worked
herself up to quite a state of excitement.
Would Bowinski be at church? Would he sit
on her side of the congregation? Would he

15



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

wait after the service to speak to her! She put
on her best bonnet, which was usually reserved
for funerals, and pinned a bit of thread lace
over the shabby collar of her coat.

The moment she entered church all doubts
were dispelled. There in her pew, quite as if
he belonged there, sat the tall young Russian.
He even stepped into the aisle for her to pass
in, helped her off with her coat, and found the
place for her in the hymn-book. Miss Mink real-
ized with a glow of satisfaction, that many curi-
ous heads were craning in her direction. For
the first time since she had gone forward forty
years ago to confess her faith, she was an ob-
ject of interest to the congregation!

When the benediction was pronounced sev-
eral women came forward ostensibly to speak
to her, but in reality to ask Bowinski to go home
to dinner with them. She waived them all
aside.

"No, he's going with me!" she announced
firmly, and Bowinski obediently picked up his
Jiat and accompanied her.

For the following month this scene was en-
16



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

acted each Sunday, with little change to out-
ward appearances but with great change to
Miss Mink herself. In the mothering of Bow-
inski she had found the great adventure of her
life. She mended his clothes, and made fancy
dishes for him, she knit him everything that
could be knitted, including an aviator's helmet
for which he had no possible use. She talked
about "my soldier" to any one who would
listen.

Bowinski accepted her attention with grave
politeness. He wore the things she made for
him, he ate the things she cooked for him, he
answered all her questions and kissed her hand
at parting. Miss Mink considered his behavior
perfect.

One snowy Sunday in late November Miss
Mink was thrown into a panic by his failure
to appear on Sunday morning. She confided
to Sister Bacon in the adjoining pew that she
was afraid he had been sent to France. Sister
Bacon promptly whispered to her husband that
he had been sent to France, and the rumor
spread until after church quite a little group

17



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

gathered around Miss Mink to hear about it.

"What was his company ?" some one asked.

"Company C, 47th Infantry, " Miss Mink
repeated importantly.

"Why, that's my boy's company," said Mrs.
Bacon. "They haven't gone to France."

The thought of her soldier being in the
trenches even, was more tolerable to Miss Mink
than the thought of his being in town and
failing to come to her for Sunday dinner.

"I bet he's sick," she announced. "I wish
I could find out."

Mrs. Bacon volunteered to ask her Jim about
him, and three days later stopped by Miss
Mink's cottage to tell her that Bowinski had
broken his leg over a week before and was in
the Base Hospital.

"Can anybody go out there that wants to?"
demanded Miss Mink.

"Yes, on Sundays and Wednesdays. But
you can 't count on the cars running today. Jim
says everything's snowed under two feet deep."

Miss Mink held her own counsel but she knew
what she was going to do. Her soldier was

18



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

in trouble, he had no family or friends. She
was going to him.

With trembling fingers she packed a small
basket with some apples, a jar of jelly and a
slice of cake. There was no time for her own
lunch, so she hurriedly put on her coat and
twisting a faded scarf about her neck trudged
out into the blustery afternoon.

The blizzard of the day before had almost
suspended traffic, and when she finally suc-
ceeded in getting a car, it was only to find that
it ran no farther than the city limits.

"How much farther is it to the Camp?" Miss
Mink asked desperately.

"About a mile," said the conductor. "I
wouldn't try it if I was you, the walking's
fierce. ' '

But Miss Mink was not to be turned back.
Gathering her skirts as high as her sense of
propriety would permit, and grasping her bas-
ket she set bravely forth. The trip alone to the
Camp, under the most auspicious circumstances,
would have been a trying ordeal for her, but un-
der the existing conditions it required nothing

19



MISS MINK'S SOLDIEE

less than heroism. The snow had drifted in
places as high as her knees, and again and again
she stumbled and almost lost her footing as she
staggered forward against the force of the icy
wind.

Before she had gone half a mile she was ready
to collapse with nervousness and exhaustion.

" Looks like I just can't make it," she whim-
pered, "and yet I'm going to!"

The honk of an automobile sent her shying
into a snowdrift, and when she caught her
breath and turned around she saw that the ma-
chine had stopped and a hand was beckoning to
her from the window.

"May I give you a lift?" asked a girl's high
sweet voice and, looking up, she saw a sparkling
face smiling down at her over an upturned fur
collar.

Without waiting to be urged she climbed into
the machine, stumbled over the rug, and sank
exhausted on the cushions.

"Give me your basket," commanded the
young lady. * ' Now put your feet on the heater.
Sure you have room?"

20



MISS MINK'S SOLDIEE

Miss Mink, still breathless, nodded emphat-
ically.

"It's a shame to ask anyone to ride when I'm
so cluttered up," continued the girl gaily.
"I'm taking these things out to my sick soldier
boys."

Miss Mink, looking down, saw that the floor of
the machine was covered with boxes and bas-
kets.

"I'm going to the Hospital, too," she said.

"That's good!" exclaimed the girl. "I can
take you all the way. Perhaps you have a son
or a grandson out there?"

Miss Mink winced. "No, he ain't any kin to
me," she said, "but I been sort of looking after
him."

"How sweet of you!" said the pouting red
lips with embarrassing ardor. "Just think of
your walking out here this awful day at your
age. Quite sure you are getting warm?"

Yes, Miss Mink was warm, but she felt sud-
denly old, old and shrivelled beside this radiant
young thing.

"I perfectly adore going to the hospital," said
21



MISS MINK'S SOLDIEE

the girl, her blue eyes dancing. "Father's one
of the medical directors, Major Chalmers, I ex-
pect you 've heard of him. I 'm Lois Chalmers. ' '

But Miss Mink was scarcely listening. She
was comparing the big luscious looking oranges
in the crate, with the hard little apples in her
own basket.

"Here we are!" cried Lois, as the car plowed
through the snow and mud and stopped in front
of a long shed-like building. Two orderlies
sprang forward with smiling alacrity and began
unloading the boxes.

"Aren't you the nicest ever?" cried Lois with
a skillful smile that embraced them both.
"Those to the medical, those to the surgical,
and these to my little fat-faced Mumpsies. ' '

Miss Mink got herself and her basket out un-
assisted, then stood in doubt as to what she
should do next. She wanted to thank Miss
Chalmers for her courtesy, but two dapper
young officers had joined the group around her
making a circle of masculine admirers.

Miss Mink slipped away unnoticed and pre-
22



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

seated herself at the door marked "Adminis-
tration Building. "

"Can you tell me where the broken-legged
soldiers are?" she asked timidly of a man at a
desk.

"Who do you want to see!"

"Alexis Bowinski. He come from Russia.
He's got curly hair and big sort of sad eyes,
and"

"Bowinski," the man repeated, running his
finger down a ledger, "A. Bowinski, Surgical
Ward 5-C. Through that door, two corridors
to the right midway down the second corridor. ' '

Miss Mink started boldly forth to follow di-
rections, but it was not until she had been ejected
from the X-ray Room, the Mess Hall, and the
Officers' Quarters, that she succeeded in reach-
ing her destination. By that time her courage
was at its lowest ebb. On either side of the
long wards were cots, on which lay men in vari-
ous stages of undress. Now Miss Mink had
seen pajamas in shop windows, she had even
made a pair once of silk for an ambitious groom,

23



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

but this was the first time she had ever seen
them, as it were, occupied.

So acute was her embarrassment that she
might have turned back at the last moment, had
her eyes not fallen on the cot nearest the door.
There, lying asleep, with his injured leg sus-
pended from a pulley from which depended two
heavy weights, lay Bowinski.

Miss Mink slipped into the chair between his
cot and the wall After the first glance at his
pale unshaven face and the pain-lined brow, she
forgot all about herself. She felt only over-
whelming pity for him, and indignation at the
treatment to which he was being subjected.

By and by he stirred and opened his eyes.

"Oh you came!" he said, "I mean you not to
know I be in hospital You must have the kind-
ness not to trouble about me."

"Trouble nothing," said Miss Mink, husky
with emotion, "I never knew a thing about it un-
til today. What have they got you harnessed
up like this for?"

Then Alexis with difficulty found the English
words to tell her how his leg had not set straight,

24



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

had been re-broken and was now being forced
into proper position.

"It is like hell, Madame," he concluded with
a trembling lip, then he drew a sharp breath,
"But no, I forget, I am in the army. I beg you
excuse my complain."

Miss Mink laid herself out to entertain him.
She unpacked her basket, and spread her meagre
offerings before him. She described in detail
all the surgical operations she had ever had any
experience with, following some to their direst
consequences. Alexis listened apathetically.
Now and then a spasm of pain contracted his
face, but he uttered no word of complaint.

Only once during the afternoon did his eyes
brighten. Miss Mink caught the sudden change
in his expression and, following his glance, saw
Lois Chalmers coming through the ward. She
had thrown aside her heavy fur coat, and her
slim graceful little figure as alert as a bird's
darted from cart to cot as she tossed packages
of cigarettes to right and left.

"Here you are, Mr. Whiskers!" she was call-
ing out gaily to one. "This is for you, Colonel

25



MISS MINK'S SOLDIER

Collar Bone. Where's Cadet Limpy? Dis-
charged? Good for him! Hello, Mr. Strong
Man ! " For a moment she poised at the foot of
Bowinski's cot, then recognizing Miss Mink she
nodded :

' * So you found your soldier ? I 'm going back
to town in ten minutes, I'll take you along if
you like."

She flitted out of the ward as quickly as she
had come, leaving two long rows of smiling faces
in her wake. She had brought no pity, nor


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Online LibraryAlice Caldwell (Hegan) 1870- RiceMiss Mink's soldier, and other stories → online text (page 1 of 9)