Kate Langley Bosher.

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"I'll try anything while I'm waiting to go to work." Carmencita sat
back dejectedly. "Is a book a novel because it has love in it?"

"It is generally supposed to be. When you are older you may write
your love scenes with greater knowledge and - "

"No, I won't. I don't expect to have any love scenes when I get
married. I've read a lot of that, and it don't last. All I want my
husband to say is, 'Will you marry me, Carmencita?' and I will say,
'Yes,' and I hope we'll keep on liking each other. Some don't." Her
face changed, and she sat upright, her hands pressed to her breast.
"_This_ is a novel - to - night is! We're living one, and you're the
Prince and Miss Frances is the Princess, and I found you! Oh, my
goodness! what is that?"

With a swift movement she was on her feet and at the door. Van
Landing, too, rose quickly. Below could be heard loud voices, the
moving of furniture, and the cries of frightened children, and
cautiously Carmencita turned the knob and went into the hall.

"Old Beer-Barrel is drunk again." Tiptoeing to the banister, she
leaned over it. "When he gets like this he's crazy as a loon, and some
day he'll kill somebody. Goodness gracious! he's coming up here!"

Before Van Landing could reach her she was inside and at the
wash-stand. Taking up the pitcher filled with water, she again ran
into the hall, and as the cursing, stumbling man began to mount the
stairs she leaned over the banister and poured the contents of the
pitcher on his head. As if shot, the man stood still, face upturned,
hair drenched, hands trembling, then he sat down on the steps.

Giving the pitcher to Van Landing, she told him to fill it and pointed
to a faucet in the hall. "I don't think he'll need another; one is
generally enough. I've seen him like this before. His wife won't throw
water in his face, but I throw." She leaned farther over the railing.
"If you'll be quiet and go back quick I won't put any more water on
you; it's awful cold, but if you don't - "

Slowly, and as if dazed, the man on the steps got up, and as he
disappeared Carmencita nodded to her visitor to go back to her Father,
now standing by the table. Closing the door, she came toward him and
pushed him again in his chair, smoothing lightly the snow-white hair
and kissing the trembling fingers, then at his feet she took her seat.

"I'm so sorry he waked you. It was just old Beer-Barrel. He oughtn't
to drink" - she raised her eyes to Van Landing's - "but a man who's got
a wife like his is bound to do something, and sometimes I wish I could
put the water on her instead of him."


For a moment Van Landing walked up and down the room, hands in his
pockets and heart pounding in a way of which he was ashamed.
Ordinarily the sight of a drunken man would have awakened little
emotion save disgust, but the realization of the helplessness of the
two people before him filled him with inward rage, and for some time
he could not trust himself to speak. A sickening horror of this
hideous side of life filled him with strange protest. Yesterday he had
not known and had not cared that such things could be, and now -

On Carmencita's face was none of the alarm that had come into his. Her
father, too, was getting over his fright. For this helpless old man
and fair, frail child, whose wit and courage were equal to situations
of which she had the right of childhood to be ignorant, the scene just
witnessed had the familiarity of frequent repetition, but for him it
was horribly new, and if the Damanarkist of whom Carmencita so often
spoke should come in he would be glad to shake his hand.

A noise at the door made him start. They were coming. The boy and
Frances. He dug his hands deeper in his pockets to hide their
trembling, and his face went white.

But it was not Noodles. It was Mr. Robinsky, who had brought the harp,
and, though he evidently intended to sit down and talk, with
consummate skill and grace he was led into the hall by Carmencita and
told good night with sweetness and decision. It was wonderfully
managed. No man could have done it, and in his heart Van Landing
thanked her; but before he could speak there was a loud pounding on
the door, and both he and Carmencita started nervously toward it.

"It's Noodles. I know his knock." Carmencita's hands clasped tightly,
and in her voice was eager trembling. "I'm so excited I can't breathe
good! It's like being in a book. Go in the room over there quick, Mr.
Van. Come in!"

With inward as well as outward rigidity Van Landing waited. To the
movements of Carmencita's hand waving him away he paid no attention.
In thick, heavy throbs his heart sent the blood to his face, then it
receded, and for a moment the room was dark and he saw nothing. To the
"come in" of Carmencita the door opened, and he looked in its
direction. Noodles was alone.

"Where is she?" Carmencita's voice was high and shrill in excitement
and dismay. "I told you to wait for her! You know I told you to wait
for her!"

Cap in hand, Noodles looked first at Van Landing and then at the
child. "Warn't no her to wait for," he said, presently. "She ain't
there, and she didn't go to the class to-night. Miss James went for
her. Some of her kin-folks is in town staying with some their
kin-folks, and she is spending the night with 'em." The now soiled and
crumpled note was held toward Carmencita. "She won't be back till day
after to-morrow, what's Christmas eve, though she might come back
to-morrow night, Fetch-It said. Warn't nobody there but
Fetch-It - leastways warn't nobody else I seen."

Van Landing looked at Carmencita, then turned sharply and went over
toward the window. A choking, stifling sensation made breathing
difficult, and, the tension of the past few hours relaxed, he felt as
one on the edge of a precipice from which at any moment he might
topple over. It was too cold to open the window, but he must have air.
Going to the couch, he took up his hat and coat, then came back and
held out his hand.

"Give him this" - he nodded at Noodles, "and tell your father good
night. And thank you, Carmencita, thank you for letting me come.
To-morrow - " The room was getting black. "I will see you to-morrow."

A moment later he was out of the room and down the steps and on the
street, and in the darkness he walked as one who feels something in
his way he cannot see; and then he laughed, and the laugh was hard and
bitter, and in it was a sound that was not good to hear.

The cold air stung his face, made breathing better, and after a while
he looked up. For many blocks he had walked unheedingly, but, hearing
a church-bell strike the hour, he took out his watch and glanced at
it. To go home was impossible. Turning into a side-street, he walked
rapidly in a direction that led he knew not whither, and for a while
let the stinging sensation of disappointment and rebellion possess him
without restraint. It was pretty cruel, this sudden shutting of the
door of hope in his face. The discovery of Frances's presence in the
city had brought again in full tumultuous surge the old love and
longing, and the hours of waiting had been well-nigh unendurable. And
now he would have to wait until day after to-morrow. He would go
to-morrow night to this Mother Somebody. What was her name? He could
remember nothing, was, indeed, as stupid as if he had been knocked in
the head. Well, he had been. Where did this woman live? The child had
refused to tell him. With a sudden stop he looked around. Where was
he? He had walked miles in and out of streets as unknown to him as if
part of a city he had never been in, and he had no idea where he was.
A sudden fear gripped him. Where did Carmencita live? He had paid no
attention to the streets they were on when she took him to the house
she called home. He was full of other thought, but her address, of
course, he would get before he left, and he had left without asking.
What a fool he was! What a stupid fool! For half a moment he looked
uncertainly up and down the street whose name he did not know. No
policeman was in sight; no one was in sight except a woman on the
opposite pavement, who was scurrying along with something under her
shawl hugged close to her breast, and a young girl who was coming his
way. Turning, he retraced his steps. He did not know in which
direction to go. He only knew he must keep on. Perhaps he could find
his way back to the place where Carmencita lived.

He did not find it. Through the night he walked street after street,
trying to recall some building he had passed, but he had walked as
blind men walk, and nothing had been noticed. To ask of people what
they could not tell was useless. He did not know the name of the
street he wanted to find, and, moreover, a curious shrinking kept him
from inquiring. In the morning he would find it, but he did not want
to make demands upon the usual sources for help until he had exhausted
all other means of redeeming his folly in not learning Carmencita's
full name and address before he left her. Was a man's whole life to be
changed, to be made or unmade, by whimsical chance or by stupid
blunder? In the gray dawn of a new day he reached his home and went to
bed for a few hours' sleep.

When, later, he left his house to renew his search for Carmencita the
weather had changed. It had begun to snow, and tiny particles of ice
stung his face as he walked, and the people who passed shivered as
they hurried by. On every street that offered chance of being the one
he sought he went up and down its length, and not until he felt he was
being noticed did he take into partial confidence a good-natured
policeman who had nodded to him on his third passing. The man was
kindly, but for hay-stack needles there was no time and he was
directed to headquarters. To find a house, number unknown, on a
street, name unknown, of a party, full name again unknown, was too
much of a puzzle for busy times like these. Any other time than
Christmas - He was turned from that an inquiry from a woman with a
child in her arms might be answered.

"Any other time than Christmas!"

With a sense of demoralization it was dawning on him that he might not
find her, or Carmencita, in time for Christmas, and he _must_ find
them. A great hunger for the day to be to him what it seemed to be to
others possessed him feverishly, and with eyes that saw what they had
never seen before he watched, as he walked, the faces of the people
who passed, and in his heart crept childish longing to buy something
for somebody, something that was wanted very much, as these people
seemed to be doing. He had made out the checks he usually sent to
certain institutions and certain parties at this season of the year
for his head clerk to mail. By this time they had been received, but
with them had gone no word of greeting or good will; his card alone
had been inclosed. A few orders had been left at various stores, but
with them went no Christmas spirit. He wondered how it would feel to
buy a thing that could make one's face look as Carmencita's had looked
when she made her purchase of the night before. It was a locket she
had bought - a gold locket.

In a whispered confidence while in the car she had told him it was for
her mother's picture. The picture used to be in her father's watch,
but the watch had to be sold when he was sick, after her mother's
death, and he had missed the touch of the picture so. She knew, for
often she had seen him holding his watch in his hand, open at the
back, where the picture lay, with his fingers on it, and sometimes he
would kiss it when he thought she was out of the room. After the watch
was sold the picture had been folded up in one of her mother's
handkerchiefs, and her father kept it in the pocket of his coat; but
once it had slipped out of the handkerchief, and once through a hole
in the pocket, and they thought it was lost. Her father hadn't slept
any that night. And now he could sleep with the locket around his
neck. She would put it on a ribbon. Wasn't it grand? And Carmencita's
hands had clasped ecstatically.

Up and down the streets he went, looking, looking, looking. The
district in which he found himself was one of the poorest in the city,
but the shops were crowded with buyers, and, though the goods for sale
were cheap and common and of a quality that at other times would have
repelled, to-day they interested. Carmencita might be among the
shoppers. She had said she had a few things to get for some
children - penny things - and she was possibly out, notwithstanding the
snow which now was falling thick and fast.

Some time after his usual lunch-hour he remembered he must have
something to eat; and, going into a dingy-looking restaurant, he sat
down at a table, the only one which had a vacant seat at it, and
ordered coffee and oysters. His table companion was a half-grown boy
with chapped hands and a thin white face; but his eyes were clear and
happy, and the piece of pie he was eating was being swallowed in huge
hunks. It was his sole order, a piece of awful-looking pie. As the
coffee and oysters were brought him Van Landing saw the boy look at
them hungrily and then turn his eyes away.

"I beg your pardon." Van Landing, whose well-regulated life permitted
of few impulses, turned to the boy. "I ordered these things" - he
pointed to the steaming food - "and I don't want them. I want something
else. Would you mind having them? It's a pity to throw them away."

The boy hesitated, uncertain what was meant, then he laughed. "It sure
is," he said. "If you don't want them I'll help you out. I'm hollow as
a hound what's been on a hunt. Good thing Christmas don't come but
once a year. You can cut out lunch better'n anything else for a
save-up, though. That girl over there" - he pointed his finger behind
him - "ain't had nothing but a glass of milk for a month. She's got
some kiddie brothers and sisters, and they're bound to have Christmas,
she says. Rough day, ain't it?"

Van Landing gave another order. Had it not been for the gnawing
restlessness, the growing fear, which filled him, the scene would have
interested. A few days ago he would have seen only the sordid side of
it, the crudeness and coarseness; but the search he was on had
humanized what hitherto had only seemed a disagreeable and
objectionable side of life, and the people before him were of an odd
kinship. In their faces was hunger. There were so many kinds of hunger
in the world. He got up, and with a nod to the boy paid his bill and
went out.

Through the afternoon hours he walked steadily. Dogged determination
made him keep on, just as sensitive shrinking prevented his making
inquiries of others. It was silly to ask what couldn't be answered. He
must have been mad the night before not to have noticed where he was
going, not to have asked Carmencita her name.

By four o'clock the street-lights had been turned on, making of the
dark, dingy tenements a long lane with high, unbroken walls, and on a
corner he stood for a moment wondering which was the best way to go.
To his left were shops; he went toward them, and each face of the
children coming in or going out was scanned intently. Seeing a group
pressed close to a window in which was displayed an assortment of
dolls of all sorts and sizes, with peculiar clothing of peculiar
colors, he went toward them, stood for a moment by their side. One of
the children was the size of Carmencita.

"That's mine - that one in the pink-silk dress" - a dirty little finger
was pointed to a huge and highly decorated doll in the center of the
window - "that and the blue beads, and that box of paints with the
picture on it, and - "

"You're a pig, all right. Want the earth, don't you? Well, you can't
have it." And valiantly a child with a shawl on her head pushed closer
to the window, now clouded by the steam from many little mouths. "I
want that one - the one in long clothes with a cap on. What you want,
Lizzie Lue? Look out there and keep your elbows where they
belong" - this to the jostling, pushing crowd behind. "Come on, kid;
kick if you have to; only way you can manage some folks. Which one you
want, Lizzie Lue?" And a tiny scrap of a child was held up in arms but
little bigger than her own.

As Van Landing listened a sudden impulse to take the children in and
get for them the things they wanted came over him; then he walked
away. If only he could find Carmencita and let her do the buying. Was
Christmas like this every year? These children with no chance - was
there no one to give them their share of childhood's rights?
Settlement workers, churches, schools, charity associations - things of
that sort doubtless saw to them. It was not his business. But wasn't
it his business? Could it possibly be his business to know - and care?

"I beg your pardon, sir."

Van Landing looked up. A tall, slender man in working-clothes, a
basket on one arm, his wife holding to the other, tried to touch his
hat. "The crowd makes walking hard without pushing. I hope I didn't
step on your foot."

"Didn't touch it." The man had on no overcoat, and his hands were red
and chapped. He was much too thin for his height, and as he coughed
Van Landing understood. "Shopping, I suppose?"

Why he asked he did not know, and it was the wife he asked, the young
wife whose timid clutch of her husband's arm was very unlike the
manner of most of the women he had passed. She looked up.

"We were afraid to wait until to-morrow, it's snowing so hard. We
might not be able to get out, and the children - "

"We've got three kiddies home." The man's thin face brightened, and he
rubbed his coat sleeve across his mouth to check his cough. "Santa
Claus is sure enough to them, and we don't want 'em to know different
till we have to. A merry Christmas, sir!"

As they went on Van Landing turned and looked. They were poor people.
But were they quite so poor as he? He had seen many for whom he might
have made Christmas had he known in time - might have saved the
sacrifices that had to be made; but would it then have been Christmas?
Slowly, very slowly, in the shabby street and snow-filled air, an
understanding of things but dimly glimpsed before was coming to him,
and he was seeing what for long had been unseen.


"Think hard, Father - oh, _please_ think hard! It was Van - Van - "
Carmencita, hands clutched tightly behind her back, leaned forward on
her tiptoes and anxiously peered into her father's face for sign of
dawning memory. "If I hadn't been so Christmas-crazy I'd have listened
better, but I wasn't thinking about his name. Can't you - _can't_ you
remember the last part? It was Van - Van - "

Slowly her father shook his head. "I wish I could, Carmencita. I don't
hear well of late and I didn't catch his name. You called him Mr.

"I called him that for short. I'm a cutting-down person even in
names." The palms of Carmencita's hands came together and her fingers
interlocked. "If I'd had more sense and manners I'd have called his
name right from the first, and we wouldn't have lost him. I could
have found him to-day if I'd known what to look for in the
telephone-book, or if Miss Frances had been at Mother McNeil's. She
might as well be lost, too, but she'll be back at seven, and that's
why I am going now, so as to be there the minute she gets in, to ask
her what his - "

"She might not like your asking, Carmencita. You must be careful,
child. Miss Barbour is not a lady one can - "

"Not a lady one can what?" Carmencita stopped her nervous swaying, and
the big blue eyes looked questioningly at her father. "Was there ever
a lady who didn't want to find her lost lover if he was looking for
her? That's what he is. And she wants to find him, if she don't know
it exactly. She's working it off down here with us children, but she's
got something on her mind. He's it. We've got to find him, Father - got

With a dexterous movement of her fingers Carmencita fastened the
buttons of her coat and pulled her hat down on her head. "I'm going
back to Mother McNeil's," she said, presently, and the large and
half-worn rubbers which she had tied on over her shoes were looked at
speculatively. "The Damanarkist is going to take me. As soon as Miss
Frances tells me Mr. Van's name I'll telephone him to come quick, but
I won't tell her that. She might go away again. In that slushy book I
read the girl ought to have been shook. She was dying dead in love
with her sweetheart and treated him like he was a poodle-dog. Miss
Frances wouldn't do that, but I don't know what she might do, and I'm
not going to tell her any more than I can help. I want her to think it
just happened. Good-by, and go to sleep if you want to, but don't
smoke, please. You might drop the sparks on your coat. Good-by."

With a swift kiss she was gone and, meeting the Damanarkist, who was
waiting outside the door, they went down the three flights of steps
and out into the street. The wind was biting, and, turning up the
collar of her coat, Carmencita put her hands in her pockets and made
effort to walk rapidly through the thick snow into which her feet sank
with each step. For some minutes conversation was impossible. Heads
ducked to keep out of their faces the fast-falling flakes, they
trudged along in silence until within a few doors of Mother McNeil's
house, and then Carmencita looked up.

"Do - do you ever pray, Mr. Leimberg - pray hard, I mean?"

"Pray!" The Damanarkist drew in his breath and laughed with smothered
scorn. "Pray! Why should I pray? I cut out prayer when I was a kid.
No, I don't pray."

"It's a great comfort, praying is." Carmencita's hand was taken out of
her pocket and slipped through the arm of her disillusioned friend.
"Sometimes you're just bound to pray. It's like breathing - you can't
help it. It - it just rises up. I prayed yesterday for - for something,
and it pretty near happened, but - "

"And you think your praying helped to make it happen!" Mr. Leimberg
drew Carmencita's hand farther through his arm, and his lips twisted
in contemptuous pity. "You think there is a magician up - oh,
somewhere, who makes things happen, do you? Think - "

"Yes." Carmencita's feet skipped in spite of the clogging snow. "I
think that somewhere there is Somebody who knows about everything, but
I don't think He means us to ask for anything we want just because we
want it and don't do a lick to get it. I've been praying for months
and months about my temper and stamping my foot when I get mad, and
if I remember in time and hold down the up-comings my prayers are
always answered; but when I let go and forget - " Carmencita whistled a
long, low, significant note. "I guess then I don't want to be
answered. I want to smash something. But I didn't pray yesterday about
tempers and stamping. It was pretty near a miracle that I asked for,
though I said I wasn't asking for miracles or - "

"All people who pray ask for miracles. Since the days when men feared
floods and famines and pestilence and evil spirits they have cried out
for protection and propitiated what to them were gods." The
Damanarkist spit upon the ground as if to spew contempt of pretense
and cupidity. "I've no patience with it. If there is a God, He knows
the cursed struggle life is with most of us; and if there isn't,
prayer is but a waste of time."

Carmencita lifted her eyes and for a moment looked in the dark, thin
face, embittered by the losing battle of life, as if she had not heard
aright, then she laughed softly.

"If I didn't know you, dear Mr. Damanarkist, I'd think you really
meant it - what you said. And you don't. I don't guess there's anybody
in all the world who doesn't pray sometimes. Something in you does it
by itself, and you can't keep it back. You just wait until you feel
all lost and lonely and afraid, or so glad you are ready to sing out
loud, then you'll do it - inside, if you don't speak out. If I prayed
harder to have more sense and not talk so much, and not say what I
think about people, and not hate my ugly clothes so, and despise the
smell of onions and cabbage and soap-suds, I might get more answers,
but you can't get answers just by praying. You've got to work like the
mischief, and be a regular policeman over yourself and nab the bad
things the minute they poke their heads out. If I'd prayed differently
yesterday I wouldn't have been looking for - for somebody all to-day,
and be a jumping-jack to-night for fear I won't find him. Did - did you
ever have a sweetheart, Mr. Damanarkist?" Before answer could be made
Mother McNeil's house was reached, and with steps that were leaps
Carmencita was at the door, and a moment later inside. Finding that

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Online LibraryKate Langley BosherHow It Happened → online text (page 4 of 8)