“My mamma,” reported Morris Mowgelewsky, choosing a quiet moment during a writing period to engage his teacher’s attention, “my mamma likes you shall come on mine house for see her.”
“Very well, dear,” answered Miss Bailey with a patience born of many such messages from the parents of her small charges. “I think I shall have time to go this afternoon.”
“My mamma,” Morris began again, “she says I shall tell you ‘scuse how she don’t send you no letter. She couldn’t to send no letter the while her eyes ain’t healthy.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” said Teacher, with a little stab of regret for her prompt acceptance of Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s invitation; for of all the ailments which the children shared so generously with their teacher, Miss Bailey had learned to dread most the many and painful disorders of the eye. She knew, however, that Mrs. Mowgelewsky was not one of those who utter unnecessary cries for help, being in this regard, as in many others, a striking contrast to the majority of parents with whom Miss Bailey came in contact.
To begin with, Mrs. Mowgelewsky had but one child—her precious, only Morris. In addition to this singularity she was thrifty and neat, intensely self-respecting and independent of spirit, and astonishingly outspoken of mind. She neither shared nor understood the gregarious spirit which bound her neighbors together and is the lubricant which makes East Side crowding possible without bloodshed. No groups of chattering, gesticulating matrons ever congregated in her Monroe Street apartment. No love of gossip ever held her on street corners or on steps. She nourished few friendships and fewer acquaintanceships, and she welcomed no haphazard visitor. Her hospitalities were as serious as her manner; her invitations as deliberate as her slow English speech.
And Miss Bailey, as she and the First Readers followed the order of studies laid down for them, found herself again and again, trying to imagine what the days would be to Mrs. Mowgelewsky if her keen, shrewd eyes were to be darkened and useless.
At three o’clock she set out with Morris, leaving the Board of Monitors to set Room 18 to rights with no more direct supervision than an occasional look and word from the stout Miss Blake, whose kingdom lay just across the hall. And as she hurried through the early cold of a November afternoon, her forebodings grew so lugubrious that she was almost relieved at last to learn that Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s complaint was a slow-forming cataract, and her supplication, that Miss Bailey would keep a watchful eye upon Morris while his mother was at the hospital undergoing treatment and operation.
“But of course,” Miss Bailey agreed, “I shall be delighted to do what I can, Mrs. Mowgelewsky, though it seems to me that one of the neighbors——”
“Neighbors!” snorted the matron; “What you think the neighbors make mit mine little boy? They got four, five dozens childrens theirselves. They ain’t got no time for look on Morris. They come maybe in mine house und break mine dishes, und rubber on what is here, und set by mine furniture und talks. What do they know over takin’ care on mine house? They ain’t ladies. They is educated only on the front. Me, I was raised private und expensive in Russia; I was ladies. Und you ist ladies. You ist Krisht – that is too bad-but that makes me nothings. I wants you shall look on Morris.”
“But I can’t come here and take care of him,” Miss Bailey pointed out. “You see that for yourself, don’t you, Mrs. Mowgelewsky? I am sorry as I can be about your eyes, and I hope with all my heart that the operation will be successful. But I shouldn’t have time to come here and take care of things.”
“That ain’t how mine mamma means,” Morris explained. He was leaning against Teacher and stroking her muff as he spoke. “Mine mamma means the money.”
“That ist what I means,” said Mrs. Mowgelewsky, nodding her ponderous head until her quite incredible wig slipped back and forth upon it. “Morris needs he shall have money. He could to fix the house so good like I can. He don’t needs no neighbors rubberin’. He could to buy what he needs on the store. But ten cents a day he needs. His papa works by Harlem. He is got fine jobs, und he gets fine moneys, but he couldn’t to come down here for take care of Morris. Und the doctor he says I shall go now on the hospital. Und any way,” she added sadly, “I ain’t no good; I couldn’t to see things. He says I shall lay in the hospital three weeks, may be—that is twenty-one days—und for Morris it is two dollars und ten cents. I got the money.” And she fumbled for her purse in various hiding-places about her ample person.
“And you want me to be banker,” cried Miss Bailey; “to keep the money and give Morris ten cents a day—is that it?”
“Sure,” answered Mrs. Mowgelewsky.
“It’s a awful lot of money,” grieved Morris. “Ten cents a day is a awful lot of money for one boy.”
“No, no, my golden one,” cried his mother. “It is but right that thou shouldst have plenty of money, und thy teacher, a Christian lady, though honest—und what neighbor is honest?—will give thee ten cents every morning. Behold, I pay the rent before I go, und with the rent paid und with ten cents a day thou wilt live like a landlord.”
“Yes, yes,” Morris broke in, evidently repeating some familiar warning, “und every day I will say mine prayers und wash me the face, und keep the neighbors out, und on Thursdays und on Sundays I shall go on the hospital for see you.”
“And on Saturdays,” broke in Miss Bailey, “you will come to my house and spend the day with me. He’s too little, Mrs. Mowgelewsky, to go to the synagogue alone.”
“That could be awful nice,” breathed Morris. “I likes I shall go on your house. I am lovin’ much mit your dog.”
“How?” snorted his mother. “Dogs! Dogs ain’t nothing but foolishness. They eats something fierce, und they don’t works.”
“That iss how mine mamma thinks,” Morris hastened to explain, lest the sensitive feelings of his Lady Paramount should suffer. “But mine mamma she never seen your dog. He iss a awful nice dog; I am lovin’ much mit him.”
“I don’t needs I shall see him,” said Mrs. Mowgelewsky, somewhat tartly. “I seen, already, lots from dogs. Don’t you go make no foolishness mit him. Don’t you go und get chawed off of him.”
“Of course, of course not,” Miss Bailey hastened to assure her; “he will only play with Rover if I should be busy or unable to take him out with me. He’ll be safer at my house than he would be on the streets, and you wouldn’t expect him to stay in the house all day.”
After more parley and many warnings the arrangement was completed. Miss Bailey was intrusted with two dollars and ten cents, and the censorship of Morris. A day or so later Mrs. Mowgelewsky retired, indomitable, to her darkened room in the hospital, and the neighbors were inexorably shut out of her apartment. All their offers of help, all their proffers of advice were politely refused by Morris, all their questions and visits politely dodged. And every morning Miss Bailey handed her Monitor of the Goldfish Bowl his princely stipend, adding to it from time to time some fruit or other uncontaminated food, for Morris was religiously the strictest of the strict, and could have given cards and spades to many a minor rabbi on the intricacies of Kosher law.
The Saturday after his mother’s departure Morris spent in the enlivening companionship of the antiquated Rover, a collie who no longer roved farther than his own back yard, and who accepted Morris’s frank admiration with a noble condescension and a few rheumatic gambols. Miss Bailey’s mother was also hospitable, and her sister did what she could to amuse the quaint little child with the big eyes, the soft voice, and the pretty foreign manners. But Morris preferred Rover to any of them, except perhaps the cook, who allowed him to prepare a luncheon for himself after his own little rites.
Everything had seemed so pleasant and so successful that Miss Bailey looked upon a repetition of this visit as a matter of course, and was greatly surprised on the succeeding Friday afternoon when the Monitor of the Goldfish Bowl said that he intended to spend the next day at home.
“Oh, no!” she remonstrated, “you mustn’t stay at home. I’m going to take you out to the Park and we are going to have all kinds of fun. Wouldn’t you rather go and see the lions and the elephants with me than stay at home all by yourself?”
For some space Morris was a prey to silence, then he managed by a consuming effort:
“I ain’t by mineself.”
“Has your father come home?” said Teacher.
“And surely it’s not a neighbor. You remember what your mother said about the neighbors, how you were not to let them in.”
“It ain’t neighbors,” said Morris.
“Then who——?” began Miss Bailey.
Morris raised his eyes to hers, his beautiful, black, pleading eyes, praying for the understanding and the sympathy which had never failed him yet. “It’s a friend,” he answered.
“Nathan Spiderwitz?” she asked.
Morris shook his head, and gave Teacher to understand that the Monitor of the Window Boxes came under the ban of neighbor.
“Well, who is it, dearest?” she asked again. “Is it any one that I know?”
“None of the boys in the school?”
“Have you known him long?”
“Does your mother know him?”
“Oh, Teacher, no, ma’am! Mine mamma don’t know him.”
“Well, where did you meet him?”
“Teacher, on the curb. Over yesterday on the night,” Morris began, seeing that explanation was inevitable, “I lays on mine bed, und I thinks how mine mamma has got a sickness, und how mine papa is by Harlem, und how I ain’t got nobody beside of me. Und, Teacher, it makes me cold in mine heart. So I couldn’t to lay no more, so I puts me on mit mine clothes some more, und I goes by the street, the while peoples is there, und I needs I shall see peoples. So I sets by the curb, und mine heart it go und it go so I couldn’t to feel how it go in mine inside. Und I thinks on my mamma, how I seen her mit bandages on the face, und mine heart it goes some more. Und, Teacher, Missis Bailey, I cries over it.”
“Of course you did, honey,” said Teacher, putting her arm about him. “Poor, little, lonely chap! Of course you cried.”
“Teacher, yiss, ma’am; it ain’t fer boys they shall cry, but I cries over it. Und soon something touches me by mine side, und I turns und mine friend he was sittin’ by side of me. Und he don’t say nothings, Teacher; no, ma’am; he don’t say nothings, only he looks on me, und in his eyes stands tears. So that makes me better in mine heart, und I don’t cries no more. I sets und looks on mine friend, und mine friend he sets und looks on me mit smilin’ looks. So I goes by mine house, und mine friend he comes by mine house, too, und I lays by mine bed, und mine friend he lays by mine side. Und all times in that night sooner I open mine eyes und thinks on how mine mamma is got a sickness, und mine papa is by Harlem, mine friend he is by mine side, und I don’t cries. I don’t cries never no more the whiles mine friend is by me. Und I couldn’t to go on your house to-morrow the whiles I don’t know if mine friend likes Rover.”
“Of course he’d like him,” cried Miss Bailey. “Rover would play with him just as he plays with you.”
“No, ma’am,” Morris maintained; “mine friend is too little for play mit Rover.”
“Is he such a little fellow?”
“Yiss, ma’am; awful little.”
“And has he been with you ever since the day before yesterday?”
“Teacher, yiss, ma’am.”
“Does he seem to be happy and all right?”
“Teacher, yiss, ma’am.”
“But,” asked Miss Bailey, suddenly practical, “what does the poor little fellow eat? Of course ten cents would buy a lot of food for one boy, but not so very much for two.”
“Teacher, no, ma’am,” says Morris; “it ain’t so very much.”
“Well, then,” said Miss Bailey, “suppose I give you twenty cents a day as long as a little strange friend is with you.”
“That could to be awful nice,” Morris agreed; “und, Missis Bailey,” he went on, “sooner you don’t needs all yours lunch mine friend could eat it, maybe.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she cried; “It’s ham to-day.”
“That don’t make nothins mit mine friend,” said Morris, “he likes ham.”
“Now, Morris,” said Miss Bailey very gravely, as all the meanings of this announcement spread themselves before her, “this is a very serious thing. You know how your mother feels about strangers, and you know how she feels about Christians, and what will she say to you—and what will she say to me—when she hears that a strange little Christian is living with you? Of course, dearie, I know it’s nice for you to have company, and I know that you must be dreadfully lonely in the long evenings, but I’m afraid your mother will not be pleased to think of your having somebody to stay with you. Wouldn’t you rather come to my house and live there all the time until your mother is better. You know,” she added as a crowning inducement, “Rover is there.”
But Morris betrayed no enthusiasm. “I guess,” said he, “I ain’t lovin’ so awful much mit Rover. He iss too big. I am likin’ little dogs mit brown eyes, what walks by their legs und carries things by their mouths. Did you ever see dogs like that?”
“In the circus,” answered Teacher. “Where did you see them?”
“A boy by our block,” answered Morris, “is got one. He is lovin’ much mit that dog und that dog is lovin’ much mit him.”
“Well, now, perhaps you could teach Rover to walk on his hind legs, and carry things in his mouth,” suggested Teacher; “and as for this new little Christian friend of yours——”
“I don’t know be he a Krisht,” Morris admitted with reluctant candor; “he ain’t said nothin’ over it to me. On’y a Irisher lady what lives by our house, she says mine friend is a Irisher.”
“Very well, dear; then of course he’s a Christian,” Miss Bailey assured him, “and I shan’t interfere with you to-morrow—you may stay at home and play with him. But we can’t let it go on, you know. This kind of thing never would do when your mother comes back from the hospital. She might not want your friend in the house. Have you thought of that at all, Morris? You must make your friend understand it.”
“I tells him,” Morris promised; “I don’t know can he understand. He’s pretty little, only that’s how I tells him all times.”
“Then tell him once again, honey,” Miss Bailey advised, “and make him understand that he must go back to his own people as soon as your mother is well. Where are his own people? I can’t understand how any one so little could be wandering about with no one to take care of him.”
“Teacher, I’m takin’ care of him,” Morris pointed out.
All that night and all the succeeding day Miss Bailey’s imagination reverted again and again to the two little ones keeping house in Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s immaculate apartment. Even increasing blindness had not been allowed to interfere with sweeping and scrubbing and dusting, and when Teacher thought of that patient matron, as she lay in her hospital cot trusting so securely to her Christian friend’s guardianship of her son and home, she fretted herself into feeling that it was her duty to go down to Monroe Street and investigate.
There was at first no sound when, after climbing endless stairs, she came to Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s door. But as the thumping of the heart and the singing in her ears abated somewhat, she detected Morris’s familiar treble.
“Bread,” it said, “iss awful healthy for you, only you dasn’t eat it ‘out chewin’. I never in my world seen how you eats.”
Although the words were admonitory, they lost all didactic effect by the wealth of love and tenderness which sang in the voice. There was a note of happiness in it, too, a throb of pure enjoyment quite foreign to Teacher’s knowledge of this sad-eyed little charge of hers. She rested against the door frame, and Morris went on:
“I guess you don’t know what iss polite. You shall better come on the school, und Miss Bailey could to learn you what iss polite and healthy fer you. No, you couldn’t to have no meat. No, sir! No, ma’am! You couldn’t to have no meat ’till I cuts it fer you. You could to, maybe, make yourself a sickness und a bashfulness.”
Miss Bailey put her hand on the door and it yielded noiselessly to her touch, and revealed to her guardian eyes her ward and his little friend. They were seated vis-a-vis at the table; everything was very neat and clean and most properly set out. A little lamp was burning clearly. Morris’s hair was parted for about an inch back from his forehead and sleeked wetly down upon his brow. The guest had evidently undergone similar preparation for the meal. Each had a napkin tied around his neck, and as Teacher watched them, Morris carefully prepared his guest’s dinner, while the guest, an Irish terrier, with quick eyes and one down-flopped ear, accepted his admonishings with a good-natured grace, and watched him with an adoring and confiding eye.
The guest was first to detect the stranger’s presence. He seized a piece of bread in his teeth, jumped to the ground, and walking up to Teacher on his hind legs, hospitably dropped the refreshment at her feet.
“Oh! Teacher! Teacher!” cried Morris, half in dismay at discovery, and half in joy that this so sure confidant should share his secret and appreciate his friend. “Oh! Teacher! Missis Bailey! this is the friend what I was telling you over. See how he walks on his feet! See how he has got smilin’ looks! See how he carries somethings by his teeth! All times he makes like that. Rover, he don’t carries nothin’s, und gold fishes, they ain’t got no feet even. On’y Izzie could to make them things.”
“Oh, is his name Izzie?” asked Miss Bailey, grasping at this conversational straw and shaking the paw which the stranger was presenting to her. “And this is the friend you told me about? You let me think,” she chided, with as much severity as Morris had shown to his Izzie, “that he was a boy.”
“I had a ‘fraid,” said the Monitor of the Gold Fish Bowl frankly.
So had Teacher as she reviewed the situation from Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s chair of state, and watched the friends at supper. It was a revelation of solicitude on one side, and patient gratitude on the other. Morris ate hardly anything, and was soon at Teacher’s knee—Izzie was in her lap—discussing ways and means.
He refused to entertain any plan which would separate him immediately from Izzie, but he was at last brought to see the sweet reasonableness of preparing his mother’s mind by degrees to accept another member to the family.
“Und he eats,” his protector was forced to admit—”he eats somethin’ fierce, Missis Bailey; as much like a man he eats. Und my mamma, I don’t know what she will say. She won’t leave me I shall keep him; from long I had a little bit of a dog, und she wouldn’t to leave me I should keep him, und he didn’t eat so much like Izzie eats, neither.”
“And I can’t very well keep him,” said Miss Bailey sadly, “because, you see, there is Rover. Rover mightn’t like it. But there is one thing I can do: I’ll keep him for a few days when your mother comes back, and then we’ll see, you and I, if we can persuade her to let you have him always.”
“She wouldn’t never to do it,” said Morris sadly. “That other dog, didn’t I told you how he didn’t eat so much like Izzie, and she wouldn’t to let me have him? That’s a cinch.”
“Oh! don’t say that word, dear,” cried Teacher. “And we can only try. We’ll do our very, very best.”
This guilty secret had a very dampening effect upon the joy with which Morris watched for his mother’s recovery. Upon the day set for her return, he was a miserable battle-field of love and duty. Early in the morning Izzie had been transferred to Miss Bailey’s yard. Rover was chained to his house, Izzie was tied to the wall at a safe distance from him, and they proceeded to make the day hideous for the whole neighborhood.
Morris remained at home to greet his mother, received her encomiums, cooked the dinner, and set out for afternoon school with a heavy heart and a heavier conscience. Nothing had occurred in those first hours to show any change in Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s opinion of home pets; rather she seemed, in contrast to the mild and sympathetic Miss Bailey, more than ever dictatorial and dogmatic.
At a quarter after three, the gold fish having received perfunctory attention, and the Board of Monitors being left again to do their worst, unguarded, Morris and Teacher set out to prepare Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s mind for the adoption of Izzie. They found it very difficult. Mrs. Mowgelewsky, restored of vision, was so hospitable, so festive in her elephantine manner, so loquacious and so self-congratulatory, that it was difficult to insert even the tiniest conversational wedge into the structure of her monologue.
Finally Miss Bailey managed to catch her attention upon financial matters. “You gave me,” she said, “two dollars and ten cents, and Morris has managed so beautifully that he has not used it all, and has five cents to return to you. He’s a very wonderful little boy, Mrs. Mowgelewsky,” she added, smiling at her favorite to give him courage.
“He iss a good boy,” Mrs. Mowgelewsky admitted. “Don’t you get lonesome sometimes by yourself here, huh?”
“Well,” said Miss Bailey, “he wasn’t always alone.”
“No?” queried the matron with a divided attention. She was looking for her purse, in which she wished to stow Morris’s surplus.
“No,” said Teacher; “I was here once or twice. And then a little friend of his——”
“Friend,” the mother repeated with a glare; “was friends here in mine house?”
Miss Bailey began a purposely vague reply, but Mrs. Mowgelewsky was not listening to her. She had searched the pockets of the gown she wore, then various other hiding-places in the region of its waist line, then a large bag of mattress covering which she wore under her skirt. Ever hurriedly and more hurriedly she repeated this performance two or three times, and then proceeded to shake and wring the out-door clothing which she had worn that morning.
“Gott!” she broke out at last, “mine Gott! mine Gott! it don’t stands.” And she began to peer about the floor with eyes not yet quite adjusted. Morris easily recognized the symptoms.
“She’s lost her pocket-book,” he told Miss Bailey.
“Yes, I lost it,” wailed Mrs. Mowgelewsky, and then the whole party participated in the search. Over and under the furniture, the carpets, the bed, the stove, over and under everything in the apartment went Mrs. Mowgelewsky and Morris. All the joy of home-coming and of well-being was darkened and blotted out by this new calamity. And Mrs. Mowgelewsky beat her breast and tore her hair, and Constance Bailey almost wept in sympathy. But the pocket-book was gone, absolutely gone, though Mrs. Mowgelewsky called Heaven and earth to witness that she had had it in her hand when she came in.
Another month’s rent was due; the money to pay it was in the pocket-book. Mr. Mowgelewsky had visited his wife on Sunday, and had given her all his earnings as some salve to the pain of her eyes. Eviction, starvation, every kind of terror and disaster were thrown into Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s wailing, and Morris proved an able second to his mother.
Miss Bailey was doing frantic bookkeeping in her charitable mind, and was wondering how much of the loss she might replace. She was about to suggest as a last resort that a search should be made of the dark and crannied stairs, where a purse, if the Fates were very, very kind, might lie undiscovered for hours, when a dull scratching made itself heard through the general lamentation. It came from a point far down on the panel of the door, and the same horrible conviction seized upon Morris and upon Miss Bailey at the same moment.
Mrs. Mowgelewsky in her frantic round had approached the door for the one-hundredth time, and with eyes and mind far removed from what she was doing, she turned the handle. And entered Izzie, beautifully erect upon his hind legs, with a yard or two of rope trailing behind him, and a pocket-book fast in his teeth.
Blank, pure surprise took Mrs. Mowgelewsky for its own. She staggered back into a chair, fortunately of heavy architecture, and stared at the apparition before her. Izzie came daintily in, sniffed at Morris, sniffed at Miss Bailey, sniffed at Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s ample skirts, identified her as the owner of the pocket-book, laid it at her feet, and extended a paw to be shaken.
“Mine Gott!” said Mrs. Mowgelewsky, “what for a dog iss that?” She counted her wealth, shook Izzie’s paw, and then stooped forward, gathered him into her large embrace, and cried like a baby. “Mine Gott! Mine Gott!” she wailed again, and although she spent five minutes in apparent effort to evolve another and more suitable remark, her research met with no greater success than the addition:
“He ain’t a dog at all; he iss friends.”
Miss Bailey had been sent to an eminently good college, and had been instructed long and hard in psychology, so that she knew the psychologic moment when she met it. She now arose with congratulations and farewells. Mrs. Mowgelewsky arose also with Izzie still in her arms. She lavished endearments upon him and caresses upon his short black nose, and Izzie received them all with enthusiastic gratitude.
“And I think,” said Miss Bailey in parting, “that you had better let that dog come with me. He seems a nice enough little thing, quiet, gentle, and very intelligent. He can live in the yard with Rover.”
Morris turned his large eyes from one to another of his rulers, and Izzie, also good at psychologic moments, stretched out a pointed pink tongue and licked Mrs. Mowgelewsky’s cheek. “This dog,” said that lady majestically, “iss mine. Nobody couldn’t never to have him. When I was in mine trouble, was it mans or was it ladies what takes und gives me mine money back? No! Was it neighbors? No! Was it you, Miss Teacher, mine friend? No! It was that dog. Here he stays mit me. Morris, my golden one, you wouldn’t to have no feelin’s ’bout mamma havin’ dogs? You wouldn’t to have mads?”
“No, ma’am,” responded her obedient son; “Missis Bailey she says it’s fer boys they should make all things what is lovin’ mit cats und dogs und horses.”
“Goot,” said his mother; “I guess, maybe, that ain’t such a foolishness.”
It was not until nearly bedtime that Mrs. Mowgelewsky reverted to that part of Miss Bailey’s conversation immediately preceding the discovery of the loss of the purse.
“So-o-oh, my golden one,” she began, lying back in her chair with Izzie on her lap—”so-o-oh, you had friends by the house when mamma was by hospital.”
“On’y one,” Morris answered faintly.
“Well, I ain’t scoldin’,” said his mother. “Where iss your friend? I likes I shall look on him. Ain’t he comin’ round to-night?”
“No ma’am,” answered Morris, settling himself at her side, and laying his head close to his friend. “He couldn’t to go out by nights the while he gets adopted off of a lady.”