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Produced by David Widger


By Samuel Hopkins Adams

Illustrated by Scott Williams

Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company


_WALLED in by slums stands Our Square, a valiant green space, far on the
flank of the Great City. Ours is an inglorious little world Sociologists
have-not yet remarked and classified us. The Washington Square romancers
who bold sentimental revel at the foot of Fifth Avenue reck nothing of
their sister park, many blocks to the east. But we are patient of our
obscurity. Close-knit, keeping our own counsel, jealous of our own
concerns, and not without our own pride of place, we live our quiet
lives, a community sufficient unto itself. So far as may be for mortals
under the sway of death and love and fate, we maintain ourselves with
little change amid the kaleidoscopic shiftings of the surrounding
metropolis. Few come into Our Square except of necessity. Few go out but
under the same stem impulsion. Some of us are held by tradition, some
by poverty, some by affection, and some through loyalty to what once was
and is no more. Here we live, and here hope to die, “the kind hearts,
the true hearts that loved the place of old.” And of all, there is no
truer heart or kinder than that of the gentle, shrewd, and neighborly
old dominie through whose lips I tell these tales, the real historian of
the folk whom I, too, have known and loved in Our Square._



OUR Square lies broad and green and busy, in the forgotten depths of the
great city. By day it is bright with the laughter of children and shrill
with the bickering of neighbors. By night the voice of the spellbinder
is strident on its corners, but from the remoter benches float murmurs
where the young couples sit, and sighs where the old folk relax their
weariness. New York knows little of Our Square, submerged as we are in
a circle of slums. Yet for us, as for more Elysian fields, the crocus
springs in the happy grass, the flash and song of the birds stir our
trees, and Romance fans us with the wind of its imperishable wing.

The first robin was singing in our one lone lilac when the Bonnie Lassie
came out of the Somewhere Else into Our Square and possessed herself of
the ground floor of our smallest house, the nestly little dwelling with
the quaint old door and the broad, friendly vestibule, next but one to
the Greek church. Before she had been there a month she had established
eminent domain over all of us. Even MacLachan, the dour tailor on the
corner, used to burst into song when she passed. It was he who dubbed
her the Bonnie Lassie, and as it was the first decent word he’d spoken
of living being within the memory of Our Square, the name stuck. Apart
from that, it was eminently appropriate. She was a small girl who
might have been perhaps twenty-three or twenty-four if she hadn’t (more
probably) been twenty, and looked a good deal like a thoughtful kitten
when she wasn’t twinkling at or with somebody. When she twinkled - and
she did it with eyes, voice, heart, and soul all at once - the
cart-peddlers stopped business to look and listen. You can’t go further
than that, not in Our Square at least.

How long Cyrus the Gaunt had been there before she discovered him is
a matter of conjecture. He slipped in from the Outer Darkness quite
unobtrusively and sat about looking thoughtful and lonely. He was
exaggeratedly long and loose and mussed-up and melancholy-looking, and
first attracted local attention on a bench which several other people
wanted more than he did. So he got up and gave it to them. Later, when
the huskiest of them met him and explained, by way of putting him in
his proper place, what would have happened to him if he hadn’t been so
obliging, Cyrus absent-mindedly said, “Oh, yes,” threw the belligerent
one into our fountain, held him under water quite as long as was safe,
dragged him out, hauled him over to Schwartz’s, and bought him a drink.
Thereafter Cyrus was still considered an outlander, but nobody actively
objected to his sitting around Our Square, looking as melancholy and
queer as he chose. Nobody, that is, until the Bonnie Lassie took him in

Nothing could have been more correct than their first meeting,
sanctioned as it was by the majesty of the law. Terry the Cop, who
presides over the destinies of Our Square, led the Bonnie Lassie to
Cyrus’s bench and said; “Miss, this is the young feller you asked me
about. Make you two acquainted.”

Thereupon the young man got up and said, “How-d’ye-do?” wonderingly, and
the young woman nodded and said, “How-d’ye-do?” non-committally, and the
young policeman strolled away, serene in the consciousness of a social
duty well performed.

The Bonnie Lassie regarded her new acquaintance with soft, studious
eyes. There was something discomfortingly dehumanizing in that intent
appraisal. He wriggled.

“Yes, I think you’ll do,” she ruminated slowly.

“Thanks,” murmured Cyrus, wondering for what.

“Suppose we sit down and talk it over,” said she.

Studying her unobtrusively from his characteristically drooping
position, Cyrus wondered what this half-fairy, half-flower, with the
decisive manner of a mistress of destiny, was doing in so grubby an

On her part, she reflected that she had seldom encountered so homely a
face, and speculated as to whether that was its sole claim to interest.
Then he lifted his head; his eyes met hers, and she modified her
estimate, substituting for “homely,” first “queer,” then “quaint,” and
finally “unusual.” Also there was something impersonally but hauntingly
reminiscent about him; something baffling and disconcerting, too. The
face wasn’t _right_.

“Do you mind answering some questions?” she asked.

“Depends,” he replied guardedly. “Well, I’ll try. Do you live here?”

“Just around the corner.”

“What do you do?”

“Nothing much.”

“How long have you been doing it?”

“Too long.”

“Why don’t you stop?”

For the second time Cyrus the Gaunt lifted his long, thin face and
looked her in the eye. “Beautiful Incognita,” he drawled with mild
impertinence, “did you _write_ the Shorter Catechism or are you merely

“Oh!” she said. Surprise and the slightest touch of dismay were in the
monosyllable. “I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake. I thought - the policeman
said you were a down-and-outer.”

“I’m the First Honorary Vice-President of the Life Branch of the

He slumped back into his former attitude. Again she studied him. “No, I
don’t understand,” she said slowly.

But the dehumanizing tone had gone from the soft voice. Cyrus began to
rescue his personality from her impersonal ignoring of it. He also felt
suddenly a livelier interest in life. Then, unexpectedly, she turned his

“You lurk and stare at my house in the dark,” she accused.

“Which house?” he asked, startled.

“You know quite well. You shouldn’t stare at strange houses. It
embarrasses them.”

“Is that the miniature mansion with the little bronzes of dancing
street-children in the windows?”

She nodded.

“Why shouldn’t I stare? There’s a secret in that house!”

“A secret? What secret?”

“The secret of happiness. Those dancing kiddies have got it. I want it.
I want to know what makes’em so happy.”

“I do,” said the girl promptly.

“Yes. I shouldn’t be surprised,” he assented, lifting his head to
contemplate her with his direct and grave regard. “Do you live there
with them?”

“They’re mine. I model them. I’m a sculptor.”

“Good Lord! You! But you’re a very good one, aren’t you? - if you did

“I’ve been a very bad one. Now I’m trying to be a very good one.”

A gleam of comprehension lit his eye. “Oh, then it’s as a subject that
you thought I’d do. You wanted to sculp me.”

“Yes, I do. For my collection. You see, I’ve adopted this Square.”

“And now you’re sculping it. I see.” He raised himself to peer across at
the windows where the blithe figures danced, tiny mænads of the gutter,
Bacchæ of the asphalt. “But I don’t see why on earth you want me. Do you
think you could make _me_ happy?”

“I shouldn’t try.”

“Hopeless job, you think? As a sculptor you ought to be a better judge of
character. You ought to pierce through the externals and perceive with
your artistic eye that beneath this austere mask I’m as merry a little
cricket as ever had his chirp smothered by the slings and arrows of
outrageous Fortune.”

It was then that she twinkled at him, and the twinkle grew into a laugh,
such golden laughter as brightened life to the limits of its farthest
echo. Cyrus had the feeling that the gray April sky had momentarily
opened up and sent down a sun-ray to illumine the proceedings.

“How wonderfully you mix them!” she cried. “Shall I sculp you in cap and

“Why should I let you sculp meat all?” She stopped laughing abruptly and
looked up at him with wondering eyes and parted lips, drooping just the
tiniest bit at the corners. “Everybody does,” she said.

At once he understood why everybody did that or anything else she
wished. “All right,” he yielded. “What am I to sit for?”

“Fifty cents an hour.”

Then the Bonnie Lassie got her second surprise from him. His face
changed abruptly. An almost animal eagerness shone in his eyes.
“Fif-fif-fif - ” he began, then recovered himself. “Pardon my performing
like a deranged steam-whistle, but do I understand that you offer to
pay me for sitting about doing nothing while you work? Did all those
cheerful dancers in the window collect pay at that rate?”

“Some of them did. Others are my friends.”

“Ah, you draw social distinctions, I perceive.”

“I think we needn’t fence,” said the girl spiritedly. “When I came to
you I thought you were of Our Square. If you will tell me just what
variety of masquerader you are, we shall get on faster.”

“Do you think I don’t belong quite as much to Our Square as you do?”

“Oh, I! This is my workshop. This is my life. But you - I should have
suspected you from the first word you spoke. What are you? Don’t tell
me that you are here Settlementing or Sociologizing or Improving the
Condition of Somebody Else! Because I really do need your face,” she
concluded with convincing earnestness. “It’s yours at fifty cents an

“And you’re not an Improver?”

“Absolutely not. Do I look as if I’d improved myself?”

“You wouldn’t do at all for my present purpose, improved,” she observed.
“Please don’t forget that. When can you come to me?”

“Any time.”

“Haven’t you anything else to do?”

“Nothing but look out for odd jobs. That’s why I’m so grateful for
regular employment.”

“But this isn’t regular employment.” His face fell. “It’s most
irregular, and there’s very little of it.”

“Oh, well, it’s fifty cents an hour. And that’s more than I’ve ever
earned in my life, Miss Sculptor.”

“I am Miss Willard.”.

“Then, Miss Willard, you’re employing Cyrus Murphy. Do you think I’ll
sculp up like a Murphy?”

“I don’t think you’ll sculp up like a Murphy at all, and I’ve too many
friends who are Murphys to believe that you are one. In fact, I could do
you much better if I knew what you are.”

“That’s quite simple. I’m a suicide. I walked right spang over the edge
of life and disappeared. Splash! Bubble-bubble! There goes nothing. The
only difference between me and a real suicide is that I have to eat. At
times it’s difficult.”

“Haven’t you any trade? Can’t you do _anything?_” With a sweep of her
little hand she indicated the bustling activities with which the outer
streets whirred. “Isn’t there any place for you in all this?”

He contemplated the world’s work as exemplified around Our Square.
His gaze came to rest upon a steam-roller, ponderously clanking over a
railed-off portion of the street. “I suppose I could run that.”

“Could you? That’s a man’s job at least. Have you ever run one?”

“No, but I know I could. Any kind of machinery just eats out of my

“Well, that’s something. It’s better than being a model. Be at my house
tomorrow at nine please.”

For an hour thereafter Cyrus the Gaunt sat on the bench musing upon
a small, flower-like, almost absurdly efficient young person who had
contracted, as he viewed it, to inject light and color into life at
fifty cents an hour, and who had plainly intimated that, in her view,
he was not a man. It was that precise opinion expressed by another and a
very unlike person which was responsible for his being where he was. At
that time it had made him furious. Now it made him thoughtful.

Presently he went through his pockets, reckoned his assets, rose up from
the bench, and made a trip to MacLachan’s “Home of Fashion,” where he
left his clothes to be pressed overnight. In the morning he reappeared
again, shaved to the closest limit of human endurance, and thus
addressed the Scot: -

“Have you got my clothes pressed?”

“Aye,” said the tailor.

“Well, unpress ‘em again.”

“Eh?” said the tailor.

“Unpress’em. Sit on’em. Roll’em on the floor. Muss’em up. Put all the
wrinkles back, just as they were.”

“Mon, ye shud leave the whiskey be,” advised the tailor.

Thereupon Cyrus caught up his neatly creased suit and proceeded to
play football with it, after which he put it on and viewed himself with

“And I almost forgot that she wouldn’t have any use for me, improved,”
he muttered as he wended his way to the little, old friendly house.
“Lord, I might have lost my job!”

Any expectation of social diversion at fifty cents an hour which Cyrus
the Gaunt may have cherished was promptly quashed on his arrival. It was
a very businesslike little sculptor who took him in hand.

“Sit here, please - the right knee farther forward - let the chin drop a
little - ” and all that sort of thing.

He might not even watch the soft, strong little hands as they patted and
kneaded, nor the vivid face as plastic as the material from which the
hands worked their wonders, for when he attempted it: -

“I don’t wish you to look at me. I wish you to look at nothing, as you
do when you sit on the bench. Make your eyes tired again.”

The difficulty was that his eyes, tired so long with that weariness
which lies at the very roots of being, didn’t feel tired at all in the
little studio. For one thing, there was an absurd, fluffed-up whirlwind
of a kitten who performed miracles of obstacle-racing all over the
place. Then, in the most unexpected crannies and corners lurked tiny
bronzes, instinct with life: a wistful dog submitting an injured paw to
a boy hardly as large as himself; “Androcles” this one was labeled.
Then there was “Mystery,” a young, ill-clad girl, looking down at a dead
butterfly; “Remnants,” a withered and bent old woman, staggering under
her load of builders’ refuse; “The Knight,” a small boy astride across
the body of his drunken father, brandishing a cudgel against a circle of
unseen tormentors; and many others, all vivid with that feeling for the
human struggle which alone can make metal live.

“Recess!” cried the worker presently. “You’re doing quite well!”

Thus encouraged, Cyrus ventured a question: -

“Where are the dancers?”

“They’re all in the window.”

“But this in here is quite as big work, isn’t it? Why isn’t some of it
on display?”

“It’s for outsiders. It isn’t for my people.” She put a world of
protectiveness in the two final words.

“I can’t see why not.”

“Because the people of Our Square don’t need to be told of the tragedy
of life. Joy and play and laughter is what they need. So I give it to

A light came into his tired, old-young eyes. “Do you know, I begin to
think you’re a very wonderful person.”

“Time to work again,” said she. Whereby, being an understanding young
man, he perceived that there would be no safe divergence from the strict
relations of employer and employed, for the present at least. Half a
dozen times he sat for her, sometimes collecting a dollar, sometimes
only fifty cents, the money being invariably handed over with a demure
and determined air of business procedure, and duly entered in a tiny
book, which was a never-failing source of suppressed amusement to him.
Then one day the basis abruptly changed, for a reason he did not learn
about until long after.

It had to do with a process which I must regretfully term eavesdropping,
on the part of the little sculptor. The subjects were two-on-a-bench,
in Our Square. One was Cyrus the Gaunt; the other an inconsiderable and
hopeless lounger, grim and wan.

Silver passed between them, and something else, less tangible, something
which lighted a sudden flame of hope in the hopeless face.

“A real job?” the lurking sculptor overheard him say, hoarsely.

Cyrus nodded. “Nine o’clock to-morrow morning, here,” said he.

Slipping quietly away, the girl almost ran into the grim and wan
lounger, no longer so grim and several degrees less wan, as he rounded
the opposite curve of the circle and passed out on the street in front
of her. The next instant Cyrus shot by her at a long-legged gallop and
caught the man by the shoulder.

“Here! Wait! Not nine o’clock,” he cried breathlessly. “I forgot. I’ve
got an engagement, a - very important business engagement.”

The other’s jaw dropped. “What the - ” he began, when there appeared
before them both a trim and twinkling vision of femininity.

“I’m glad I saw you,” said the vision to Cyrus, “because I shan’t want
you until ten-thirty to-morrow.” Then she passed on, so deep in thought
that she hardly responded to the greetings which accosted her on all
sides. “I don’t understand it at _all_” she murmured.

Promptly upon the morrow’s hour Cyrus appeared at the studio, rumpled
and mussed as usual. “How do you do?” the artist greeted him. “Before
we go to work I want you to meet Fluff.”

Cyrus glanced at the kitten, who was chasing a phantom mouse up the
swaying curtain. “I already know Fluff,” said he.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” she corrected gently. “That is, Fluff doesn’t know
you. She doesn’t know that you are alive. Fluff is a person of fine
distinctions. Come here, Mischief.” The kitten gave over the chase,
after one last lightning swipe, and trotted across the room. “Fluff,”
said her mistress, “this is our friend, Cyrus.” The kitten purred and
nosed Cyrus’s foot.

“Thank you,” said the young man gratefully. “I also am not wholly
insensible to fine distinctions. Fluff, do you know how those ancient
barbarian parties looked and acted when they were called ‘friend of the
state of Rome’? Well, regard me.”

His employer twinkled at him with her eyes. “I’ve sold you,” she

“At a good price?”

“Yes. You were really very good.”

“It would have been kind to let me see myself before you bartered me
away into eternal captivity.”

“Kinder not.”

“You mean I shouldn’t have liked your idea of me?”

“Didn’t I say that it was _good?_” she returned with composed pride. “My
idea of you wouldn’t be good, as modeling. This is the real _you_, the
man underneath.”

“That’s worse. You think I oughtn’t to like myself as I am.”

She looked up at him with intimate and sympathetic friendliness. “Well,
_do_ you?” was all she said.

“Whether I do or not, it’s pretty evident what you think of me.”

“It ought to be. I’ve introduced you to Fluff. One can’t be too careful
as to whom one introduces to one’s young and guileless daughter.”

“Thank you.” For the first time in their acquaintance he smiled. The
smile changed his face luminously.

She tossed the tiny iron with which she was working into the far corner
of the studio. “That settles it,” she said. “I’m through.”

“For the day?”

“Wrong! All wrong!” she cried vehemently, disregarding his question.
“Why did you have to go and smile that way? I haven’t done you at all.
Do you know what I’ve been sculping you as?”

“You wouldn’t tell me, you know. Nothing very flattering, I judged.”

“As a disenchanted and uncontrolled drifter.”

“And now you think perhaps I’m not?”

“I don’t know what you are, but I think I might as well be clicking the
shutter of a camera, for all I’ve done with you. The point is, that I’ve
come to the end of you for the present.”

“You don’t want me any more?” he cried, aghast.

“If I did, you wouldn’t have time. I’ve got you a real man’s job.”

“What kind of slavery have you sold me into this time?”

“The steam-roller. I’ve used my influence - you don’t know what a pull
I’ve got around here - and I can name my man for the late night-shift.
Will you take it?” His face was elate. “Will I take it! Will a duck eat

“I’m sure I don’t know. Will it?”

“It will if it can’t get anything else to eat. How long is this job good

“All summer and more. How long are you?”

“Till released.”

“You have made a promise. I’ll enter it in my ledger.” Which she did,
writing it down in her absurd little booklet with a delicious solemnity
of importance.

“But can’t I come and sit for you afternoons?” he pleaded.

“How many wages do you want to earn? No; not at present. But Miss Fluff
and I are at home to honest working friends on Friday evenings. Come
here, Miss Fluff, and tell the new engineer that we’ll be glad to have
him come and tell us about the job when he’s learned it.” But the
kitten paid no heed, being at that moment engaged in treacherously and
scientifically stalking an imaginary butterfly along the window-sill.

“Before I’m banished,” said Cyrus, “may I ask a question?”

“You might try it.”

“Do you mind telling me your given name? Not for use,” he added, as
she looked up at him with her grave, speculative gaze, “but just as
a guaranty of good faith. I set great store by other people’s names,
having been cursed since birth with my own Persian abomination.”

“I don’t think Cyrus is bad at all,” she said. “Mine is Carol.”

“Oh,” said he blankly.

“Don’t you like it?”

“It’s a very nice name, for some people,” he said guardedly.

“You don’t like it. Why?”

There was no evading the directness of that demand. “I never knew but
one girl named Carol,” he said. “She squinted.”

“What of it? I don’t squint. Do I? Do I? DO I?”

With each repetition of her defiance she took one step nearer him, until
at the last she was fairly standing on tiptoe under his nose. Cyrus the
Gaunt looked down into those radiant eyes that grew wider and deeper and
deeper and wider, until his heart, which had been slipping perilously of
late, fell into them and was hopelessly lost. “Do I?” she demanded once

Cyrus responded with a loud yell. Inappropriate as the outcry was, it
saved a situation becoming potentially dangerous, for not far below
those luminous eyes was a dimple that flickered at the corner of a
challenging mouth; unconsciously challenging, doubtless, yet - And then
Fluff, opportunely descrying her imaginary butterfly on the side of
Cyrus’s trouser-leg, made a flying leap and drove ten keen claws through
the fabric into the skin beneath. Her mistress dislodged the too ardent
entomologist, and apologized demurely.

“You see,” said she, “you’ve become an intimate of the household. When
you’re too busy to come and see us, Fluff and I will peek out and admire
you as you go plunging past on your irresistible course.”

“It’s going to be a lonely job,” said Cyrus the Gaunt wistfully,
“compared to this one.”

“Nonsense!” she retorted briskly as she handed him a dollar bill.
“Here’s your pay. You’ll be too busy to be lonely. Good luck, Mr.


Thus Cyrus the Gaunt became a toiler in, and by slow degrees a citizen
of, Our Square. We are a doubtful people where strangers are concerned.

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Online LibrarySamuel Hopkins AdamsOur square and the people in it → online text (page 1 of 15)