MY LIFE TO ITS CRISIS
New-Yorkers of to-day see so many processions, and live through so many sensations, and hurrah for so many heroes in every year, that it is only the oldest of fogies who tells you of the triumphant procession of steamboats which, in the year 1824, welcomed General Lafayette on his arrival from his tour through the country he had so nobly served. But, if the reader wishes to lengthen out this story, he may button the next silver-gray friend he meets, and ask him to tell of the broken English and broken French of the Marquis, of Levasseur, and the rest of them; of the enthusiasm of the people and the readiness of the visitors, and he will please bear in mind that of all that am I.
For it so happened that on the morning when, for want of better lions to show, the mayor and governor and the rest of them took the Marquis and his secretary, and the rest of them, to see the orphan asylum in Deering Street,—as they passed into the first ward, after having had “a little refreshment” in the managers’ room, Sally Eaton, the head nurse, dropped the first courtesy to them, and Sally Eaton, as it happened, held me screaming in her arms. I had been sent to the asylum that morning with a paper pinned to my bib, which said my name was Felix Carter.
“Eet ees verra fine,” said the Marquis, smiling blandly.
“Ràvissant!” said Levasseur, and he dropped a five-franc piece into Sally Eaton’s hand. And so the procession of exhibiting managers talking bad French, and of exhibited Frenchmen talking bad English, passed on; all but good old Elkanah Ogden,—God bless him!—who happened to have come there with the governor’s party, and who loitered a minute to talk with Sally Eaton about me.
Years afterwards she told me how the old man kissed me, how his eyes watered when he asked my story, how she told again of the moment when I was heard screaming on the doorstep, and how she offered to go and bring the paper which had been pinned to my bib. But the old man said it was no matter,—”only we would have called him Marquis,” said he, “if his name was not provided for him. We must not leave him here,” he said; “he shall grow up a farmer’s lad, and not a little cockney.” And so, instead of going the grand round of infirmaries, kitchens, bakeries, and dormitories with the rest, the good old soul went back into the managers’ room, and wrote at the moment a letter to John Myers, who took care of his wild land in St. Lawrence County for him, to ask him if Mrs. Myers would not bring up an orphan baby by hand for him; and if, both together, they would not train this baby till he said “Stop”; if, on the other hand, he allowed them, in the yearly account, a hundred dollars each year for the charge.
Anybody who knows how far a hundred dollars goes in the backwoods, in St. Lawrence County, will know that any settler would be glad to take a ward so recommended. Anybody who knew Betsy Myers as well as old Elkanah Ogden did, would know she would have taken any orphan brought to her door, even if he were not recommended at all.
So it happened, thanks to Lafayette and the city council! that I had not been a “Child of the Public” a day, before, in its great, clumsy, liberal way, it had provided for me. I owed my healthy, happy home of the next fourteen years in the wilderness to those marvellous habits, which I should else call absurd, with which we lionize strangers. Because our hospitals and poorhouses are the largest buildings we have, we entertain the Prince of Wales and Jenny Lind alike, by showing them crazy people and paupers. Easy enough to laugh at is the display; but if, dear Public, it happen that by such a habit you ventilate your Bridewell or your Bedlam, is not the ventilation, perhaps, a compensation for the absurdity? I do not know if Lafayette was any the better for his seeing the Deering Street Asylum; but I do know I was.
This is no history of my life. It is only an illustration of one of its principles. I have no anecdotes of wilderness life to tell, and no sketch of the lovely rugged traits of John and Betsy Myers,—my real father and mother. I have no quest for the pretended parents, who threw me away in my babyhood, to record. They closed accounts with me when they left me on the asylum steps, and I with them. I grew up with such schooling as the public gave,—ten weeks in winter always, and ten in summer, till I was big enough to work on the farm,—better periods of schools, I hold, than on the modern systems. Mr. Ogden I never saw. Regularly he allowed for me the hundred a year till I was nine years old, and then suddenly he died, as the reader perhaps knows. But John Myers kept me as his son, none the less. I knew no change until, when I was fourteen, he thought it time for me to see the world, and sent me to what, in those days, was called a “Manual-Labor School.”
There was a theory coming up in those days, wholly unfounded in physiology, that if a man worked five hours with his hands, he could study better in the next five. It is all nonsense. Exhaustion is exhaustion; and if you exhaust a vessel by one stopcock, nothing is gained or saved by closing that and opening another. The old up-country theory is the true one. Study ten weeks and chop wood fifteen; study ten more and harvest fifteen. But the “Manual-Labor School” offered itself for really no pay, only John Myers and I carried over, I remember, a dozen barrels of potatoes when I went there with my books. The school was kept at Roscius, and if I would work in the carpenter’s shop and on the school farm five hours, why they would feed me and teach me all they knew in what I had of the day beside.
“Felix,” said John, as he left me, “I do not suppose this is the best school in the world, unless you make it so. But I do suppose you can make it so. If you and I went whining about, looking for the best school in the world, and for somebody to pay your way through it, I should die, and you would lose your voice with whining, and we should not find one after all. This is what the public happens to provide for you and me. We won’t look a gift-horse in the mouth. Get on his back, Felix; groom him well as you can when you stop, feed him when you can, and at all events water him well and take care of him well. My last advice to you, Felix, is to take what is offered you, and never complain because nobody offers more.”
Those words are to be cut on my seal-ring, if I ever have one, and if Dr. Anthon or Professor Webster will put them into short enough Latin for me. That is the motto of the “Children of the Public.”
John Myers died before that term was out. And my more than mother, Betsy, went back to her friends in Maine. After the funeral I never saw them more. How I lived from that moment to what Fausta and I call the Crisis is nobody’s concern. I worked in the shop at the school, or on the farm. Afterwards I taught school in neighboring districts. I never bought a ticket in a lottery or a raffle. But whenever there was a chance to do an honest stroke of work, I did it. I have walked fifteen miles at night to carry an election return to the “Tribune’s” agent at Gouverneur. I have turned out in the snow to break open the road when the supervisor could not find another man in the township.
When Sartain started his magazine, I wrote an essay in competition for his premiums, and the essay earned its hundred dollars. When the managers of the “Orphan Home,” in Baltimore, offered their prizes for papers on bad boys, I wrote for one of them, and that helped me on four hard months. There was no luck in those things. I needed the money, and I put my hook into the pork-barrel,—that is, I trusted the Public. I never had but one stroke of luck in my life. I wanted a new pair of boots badly. I was going to walk to Albany, to work in the State library on the history of the Six Nations, which had an interest for me. I did not have a dollar. Just then there passed Congress the bill dividing the surplus revenue. The State of New York received two or three millions, and divided it among the counties. The county of St. Lawrence divided it among the townships, and the township of Roscius divided it among the voters. Two dollars and sixty cents of Uncle Sam’s money came to me, and with that money on my feet I walked to Albany. That I call luck! How many fools had to assent in an absurdity before I could study the history of the Six Nations!
But one instance told in detail is better than a thousand told in general, for the illustration of a principle. So I will detain you no longer from the history of what Fausta and I call The Crisis.
I was at work as a veneerer in a piano-forte factory at Attica, when some tariff or other was passed or repealed; there came a great financial explosion, and our boss, among the rest, failed. He owed us all six months’ wages, and we were all very poor and very blue. Jonathan Whittemore—a real good fellow, who used to cover the hammers with leather—came to me the day the shop was closed, and told me he was going to take the chance to go to Europe. He was going to the Musical Conservatory at Leipsic, if he could. He would work his passage out as a stoker. He would wash himself for three or four days at Bremen, and then get work, if he could, with Voightlander or Von Hammer till he could enter the Conservatory. By way of preparation for this he wanted me to sell him my Adler’s German Dictionary.
“I’ve nothing to give you for it, Felix, but this foolish thing,—it is one of Burrham’s tickets,—which I bought in a frolic the night of our sleigh-ride. I’ll transfer it to you.”
I told Jonathan he might have the dictionary and welcome. He was doing a sensible thing, and he would use it twenty times as much as I should. As for the ticket, he had better keep it. I did not want it. But I saw he would feel better if I took it,—so he indorsed it to me.
Now the reader must know that this Burrham was a man who had got hold of one corner of the idea of what the Public could do for its children. He had found out that there were a thousand people who would be glad to make the tour of the mountains and the lakes every summer if they could do it for half price. He found out that the railroad companies were glad enough to put the price down if they could be sure of the thousand people. He mediated between the two, and so “cheap excursions” came into being. They are one of the gifts the Public gives its children. Rising from step to step, Burrham had, just before the great financial crisis, conceived the idea of a great cheap combination, in which everybody was to receive a magazine for a year and a cyclopædia, both at half price; and not only so, but the money that was gained in the combination was to be given by lot to two ticket-holders, one a man and one a woman, for their dowry in marriage. I dare say the reader remembers the prospectus. It savors too much of the modern “Gift Enterprise” to be reprinted in full; but it had this honest element, that everybody got more than he could get for his money in retail. I have my magazine, the old “Boston Miscellany,” to this day, and I just now looked out Levasseur’s name in my cyclopædia; and, as you will see, I have reason to know that all the other subscribers got theirs.
One of the tickets for these books, for which Whittemore had given five good dollars, was what he gave to me for my dictionary. And so we parted. I loitered at Attica, hoping for a place where I could put in my oar. But my hand was out at teaching, and in a time when all the world’s veneers of different kinds were ripping off, nobody wanted me to put on more of my kind,—so that my cash ran low. I would not go in debt,—that is a thing I never did. More honest, I say, to go to the poorhouse, and make the Public care for its child there, than to borrow what you cannot pay. But I did not come quite to that, as you shall see.
I was counting up my money one night,—and it was easily done,—when I observed that the date on this Burrham order was the 15th of October, and it occurred to me that it was not quite a fortnight before those books were to be delivered. They were to be delivered at Castle Garden, at New York; and the thought struck me that I might go to New York, try my chance there for work, and at least see the city, which I had never seen, and get my cyclopædia and magazine. It was the least offer the Public ever made to me; but just then the Public was in a collapse, and the least was better than nothing. The plan of so long a journey was Quixotic enough, and I hesitated about it a good deal. Finally I came to this resolve: I would start in the morning to walk to the lock-station at Brockport on the canal. If a boat passed that night where they would give me my fare for any work I could do for them, I would go to Albany. If not, I would walk back to Lockport the next day, and try my fortune there. This gave me, for my first day’s enterprise, a foot journey of about twenty-five miles. It was out of the question, with my finances, for me to think of compassing the train.
Every point of life is a pivot on which turns the whole action of our after-lives; and so, indeed, of the after-lives of the whole world. But we are so purblind that we only see this of certain special enterprises and endeavors, which we therefore call critical. I am sure I see it of that twenty-five miles of fresh autumnal walking. I was in tip-top spirits. I found the air all oxygen, and everything “all right.” I did not loiter, and I did not hurry. I swung along with the feeling that every nerve and muscle drew, as in the trades a sailor feels of every rope and sail. And so I was not tired, not thirsty, till the brook appeared where I was to drink; nor hungry till twelve o’clock came, when I was to dine. I called myself, as I walked, “The Child of Good Fortune,” because the sun was on my right quarter, as the sun should be when you walk, because the rain of yesterday had laid the dust for me, and the frost of yesterday had painted the hills for me, and the northwest wind cooled the air for me. I came to Wilkie’s Cross-Roads just in time to meet the Claremont baker and buy my dinner loaf of him. And when my walk was nearly done, I came out on the low bridge at Sewell’s, which is a drawbridge, just before they raised it for a passing boat, instead of the moment after. Because I was all right I felt myself and called myself “The Child of Good Fortune.” Dear reader, in a world made by a loving Father, we are all of us children of good fortune, if we only have wit enough to find it out, as we stroll along.
The last stroke of good fortune which that day had for me was the solution of my question whether or no I would go to Babylon. I was to go if any good-natured boatman would take me. This is a question, Mr. Millionnaire, more doubtful to those who have not drawn their dividends than to those who have. As I came down the village street at Brockport, I could see the horses of a boat bound eastward, led along from level to level at the last lock; and, in spite of my determination not to hurry, I put myself on the long, loping trot which the St. Regis Indians taught me, that I might overhaul this boat before she got under way at her new speed. I came out on the upper gate of the last lock just as she passed out from the lower gate. The horses were just put on, and a reckless boy gave them their first blow after two hours of rest and corn. As the heavy boat started off under the new motion, I saw, and her skipper saw at the same instant, that a long new tow-rope of his, which had lain coiled on deck, was suddenly flying out to its full length. The outer end of it had been carried upon the lock-side by some chance or blunder, and there some idle loafer had thrown the looped bight of it over a hawser-post. The loafers on the lock saw, as I did, that the rope was running out, and at the call of the skipper one of them condescended to throw the loop overboard, but he did it so carelessly that the lazy rope rolled over into the lock, and the loop caught on one of the valve-irons of the upper gate. The whole was the business of an instant, of course. But the poor skipper saw, what we did not, that the coil of the rope on deck was foul, and so entangled round his long tiller, that ten seconds would do one of three things,—they would snap his new rope in two, which was a trifle, or they would wrench his tiller-head off the rudder, which would cost him an hour to mend, or they would upset those two horses, at this instant on a trot, and put into the canal the rowdy youngster who had started them. It was this complex certainty which gave fire to the double cries which he addressed aft to us on the lock, and forward to the magnet boy, whose indifferent intelligence at that moment drew him along.
I was stepping upon the gate-head to walk across it. It took but an instant, not nearly all the ten seconds, to swing down by my arms into the lock, keeping myself hanging by my hands, to catch with my right foot the bight of the rope and lift it off the treacherous iron, to kick the whole into the water, and then to scramble up the wet lock-side again. I got a little wet, but that was nothing. I ran down the tow-path, beckoned to the skipper, who sheered his boat up to the shore, and I jumped on board.
At that moment, reader, Fausta was sitting in a yellow chair on the deck of that musty old boat, crocheting from a pattern in “Godey’s Lady’s Book. I remember it as I remember my breakfast of this morning. Not that I fell in love with her, nor did I fall in love with my breakfast; but I knew she was there. And that was the first time I ever saw her. It is many years since, and I have seen her every day from that evening to this evening. But I had then no business with her. My affair was with him whom I have called the skipper, by way of adapting this fresh-water narrative to ears accustomed to Marryat and Tom Cringle. I told him that I had to go to New York; that I had not time to walk, and had not money to pay; that I should like to work my passage to Troy, if there were any way in which I could; and to ask him this I had come on board.
“Waal,” said the skipper, “’tain’t much that is to be done, and Zekiel and I calc’late to do most of that; and there’s that blamed boy beside—”
This adjective “blamed” is the virtuous oath by which simple people, who are improving their habits, cure themselves of a stronger epithet, as men take to flag-root who are abandoning tobacco.
“He ain’t good for nothin’, as you see,” continued the skipper meditatively, “and you air, anybody can see that,” he added. “Ef you’ve mind to come to Albany, you can have your vittles, poor enough they are too; and ef you are willing to ride sometimes, you can ride. I guess where there’s room for three in the bunks there’s room for four. ‘Tain’t everybody would have cast off that blamed hawser-rope as neat as you did.”
From which last remark I inferred, what I learned as a certainty as we travelled farther, that but for the timely assistance I had rendered him I should have plead for my passage in vain.
This was my introduction to Fausta. That is to say, she heard the whole of the conversation. The formal introduction, which is omitted in no circle of American life to which I have ever been admitted, took place at tea half an hour after, when Mrs. Grills, who always voyaged with her husband, brought in the flapjacks from the kitchen. “Miss Jones,” said Grills, as I came into the meal, leaving Zekiel at the tiller,—”Miss Jones, this is a young man who is going to Albany. I don’t rightly know how to call your name, sir.” I said my name was Carter. Then he said, “Mr. Carter, this is Miss Jones. Mrs. Grills, Mr. Carter. Mr. Carter, Mrs. Grills. She is my wife.” And so our partie carrée was established for the voyage.
In these days there are few people who know that a journey on a canal is the pleasantest journey in the world. A canal has to go through fine scenery. It cannot exist unless it follow through the valley of a stream. The movement is so easy that, with your eyes shut, you do not know you move. The route is so direct, that when you are once shielded from the sun, you are safe for hours. You draw, you read, you write, or you sew, crochet, or knit. You play on your flute or your guitar, without one hint of inconvenience. At a “low bridge” you duck your head lest you lose your hat,—and that reminder teaches you that you are human. You are glad to know this, and you laugh at the memento. For the rest of the time you journey, if you are “all right” within, in Elysium.
I rode one of those horses perhaps two or three hours a day. At locks I made myself generally useful. At night I walked the deck till one o’clock, with my pipe or without it, to keep guard against the lock-thieves. The skipper asked me sometimes, after he found I could “cipher,” to disentangle some of the knots in his bills of lading for him. But all this made but a little inroad in those lovely autumn days, and for the eight days that we glided along,—there is one blessed level which is seventy miles long,—I spent most of my time with Fausta. We walked together on the tow-path to get our appetites for dinner and for supper. At sunrise I always made a cruise inland, and collected the gentians and black alder-berries and colored leaves, with which she dressed Mrs. Grill’s table. She took an interest in my wretched sketch-book; and though she did not and does not draw well, she did show me how to spread an even tint, which I never knew before. I was working up my French. She knew about as much and as little as I did, and we read Mad Reybaud’s Clementine together, guessing at the hard words, because we had no dictionary.
Dear old Grill offered to talk French at table, and we tried it for a few days. But it proved he picked up his pronunciation at St. Catherine’s, among the boatmen there, and he would say shwo for “horses,” where the book said chevaux. Our talk, on the other hand, was not Parisian,—but it was not Catherinian,—and we subsided into English again.
So sped along these blessed eight days. I told Fausta thus much of my story, that I was going to seek my fortune in New York. She, of course, knew nothing of me but what she saw, and she told me nothing of her story.
But I was very sorry when we came into the basin at Troy, for I knew then that in all reason I must take the steamboat down. And I was very glad—I have seldom in my life been so glad—when I found that she also was going to New York immediately. She accepted, very pleasantly, my offer to carry her trunk to the Isaac Newton for her, and to act as her escort to the city. For me, my trunk,
“in danger tried,”
Swung in my hand,—”nor left my side.”
My earthly possessions were few anywhere. I had left at Attica most of what they were. Through the voyage I had been man enough to keep on a working-gear fit for a workman’s duty. And old Grills had not yet grace enough to keep his boat still on Sunday. How one remembers little things! I can remember each touch of the toilet, as, in that corner of a dark cuddy where I had shared “Zekiel’s” bunk with him, I dressed myself with one of my two white shirts, and with the change of raiment which had been tight squeezed in my portmanteau. The old overcoat was the best part of it, as in a finite world it often is. I sold my felt hat to Zekiel, and appeared with a light travelling-cap. I do not know how Fausta liked my metamorphosis. I only know that, like butterflies, for a day or two after they go through theirs, I felt decidedly cold.
As Carter, the canal man, I had carried Fausta’s trunk on board. As Mr. Carter, I gave her my arm, led her to the gangway of the Newton, took her passage and mine, and afterwards walked and sat through the splendid moonlight of the first four hours down the river.
Miss Jones determined that evening to breakfast on the boat. Be it observed that I did not then know her by any other name. She was to go to an aunt’s house, and she knew that if she left the boat on its early arrival in New York, she would disturb that lady by a premature ringing at her bell. I had no reason for haste, as the reader knows. The distribution of the cyclopædias was not to take place till the next day, and that absurd trifle was the only distinct excuse I had to myself for being in New York at all. I asked Miss Jones, therefore, if I might not be her escort still to her aunt’s house. I had said it would be hard to break off our pleasant journey before I had seen where she lived, and I thought she seemed relieved to know that she should not be wholly a stranger on her arrival. It was clear enough that her aunt would send no one to meet her.
These preliminaries adjusted, we parted to our respective cabins. And when, the next morning, at that unearthly hour demanded by Philadelphia trains and other exigencies, the Newton made her dock, I rejoiced that breakfast was not till seven o’clock, that I had two hours more of the berth, which was luxury compared to Zekiel’s bunk,—I turned upon my other side and slept on.
Sorry enough for that morning nap was I for the next thirty-six hours. For when I went on deck, and sent in the stewardess to tell Miss Jones that I was waiting for her, and then took from her the check for her trunk, I woke to the misery of finding that, in that treacherous two hours, some pirate from the pier had stepped on board, had seized the waiting trunk, left almost alone, while the baggage-master’s back was turned, and that, to a certainty, it was lost. I did not return to Fausta with this story till the breakfast-bell had long passed and the breakfast was very cold. I did not then tell it to her till I had seen her eat her breakfast with an appetite much better than mine. I had already offered up stairs the largest reward to anybody who would bring it back which my scanty purse would pay. I had spoken to the clerk, who had sent for a policeman. I could do nothing more, and I did not choose to ruin her chop and coffee by ill-timed news. The officer came before breakfast was over, and called me from table.
On the whole, his business-like way encouraged me. He had some clews which I had not thought possible. It was not unlikely that they should pounce on the trunk before it was broken open. I gave him a written description of its marks; and when he civilly asked if “my lady” would give some description of any books or other articles within, I readily promised that I would call with such a description at the police station. Somewhat encouraged, I returned to Miss Jones, and, when I led her from the breakfast-table, told her of her misfortune. I took all shame to myself for my own carelessness, to which I attributed the loss. But I told her all that the officer had said to me, and that I hoped to bring her the trunk at her aunt’s before the day was over.
Fausta took my news, however, with a start which frightened me. All her money, but a shilling or two, was in the trunk. To place money in trunks is a weakness of the female mind which I have nowhere seen accounted for. Worse than this, though,—as appeared after a moment’s examination of her travelling-sac,—her portfolio in the trunk contained the letter of the aunt whom she came to visit, giving her her address in the city. To this address she had no other clew but that her aunt was Mrs. Mary Mason, had married a few years before a merchant named Mason, whom Miss Jones had never seen, and of whose name and business this was all she knew. They lived in a numbered street, but whether it was Fourth Street, or Fifty-fourth, or One Hundred and Twenty-fourth, or whether it was something between, the poor child had no idea. She had put up the letter carefully, but had never thought of the importance of the address. Besides this aunt, she knew no human being in New York.
“Child of the Public,” I said to myself, “what do you do now?” I had appealed to my great patron in sending for the officer, and on the whole I felt that my sovereign had been gracious to me, if not yet hopeful. But now I must rub my lamp again, and ask the genie where the unknown Mason lived. The genie of course suggested the Directory, and I ran for it to the clerk’s office. But as we were toiling down the pages of “Masons,” and had written off thirteen or fourteen who lived in numbered streets, Fausta started, looked back at the preface and its date, flung down her pencil in the only abandonment of dismay in which I ever saw her, and cried “First of May! They were abroad until May. They have been abroad since the day they were married!” So that genie had to put his glories into his pocket, and carry his Directory back to the office again.
The natural thing to propose was, that I should find for Miss Jones a respectable boarding-house, and that she should remain there until her trunk was found, or till she could write to friends who had this fatal address, and receive an answer. But here she hesitated. She hardly liked to explain why,—did not explain wholly. But she did not say that she had no friends who knew this address. She had but few relations in the world, and her aunt had communicated with her alone since she came from Europe. As for the boarding-house, “I had rather look for work,” she said bravely. “I have never promised to pay money when I did not know how to obtain it; and that”—and here she took out fifty or sixty cents from her purse—”and that is all now. In respectable boarding-houses, when people come without luggage, they are apt to ask for an advance. Or, at least,” she added, with some pride, “I am apt to offer it.”
I hastened to ask her to take all my little store; but I had to own that I had not two dollars. I was sure, however, that my overcoat and the dress-suit I wore would avail me something, if I thrust them boldly up some spout. I was sure that I should be at work within a day or two. At all events, I was certain of the cyclopædia the next day. That should go to old Gowan’s,—in Fulton Street it was then,—”the moral centre of the intellectual world,” in the hour I got it. And at this moment, for the first time, the thought crossed me, “If mine could only be the name drawn, so that that foolish $5,000 should fall to me.” In that case I felt that Fausta might live in “a respectable boarding-house” till she died. Of this, of course, I said nothing, only that she was welcome to my poor dollar and a half, and that I should receive the next day some more money that was due me.
“You forget, Mr. Carter,” replied Fausta, as proudly as before,—”you forget that I cannot borrow of you any more than of a boarding-house-keeper. I never borrow. Please God, I never will. It must be,” she added, “that in a Christian city like this there is some respectable and fit arrangement made for travellers who find themselves where I am. What that provision is I do not know: but I will find out what it is before this sun goes down.”
I paused a moment before I replied. If I had been fascinated by this lovely girl before, I now bowed in respect before her dignity and resolution; and, with my sympathy, there was a delicious throb of self-respect united, when I heard her lay down so simply, as principles of her life, two principles on which I had always myself tried to live. The half-expressed habits of my boyhood and youth were now uttered for me as axioms by lips which I knew could speak nothing but right and truth.
I paused a moment. I stumbled a little as I expressed my regret that she would not let me help her,—joined with my certainty that she was in the right in refusing,—and then, in the only stiff speech I ever made to her, I said:—
“I am the ‘Child of the Public.’ If you ever hear my story, you will say so too. At the least, I can claim this, that I have a right to help you in your quest as to the way in which the public will help you. Thus far I am clearly the officer in his suite to whom he has intrusted you. Are you ready, then, to go on shore?”
Fausta looked around on that forlorn ladies’ saloon, as if it were the last link holding her to her old safe world.
“Looked upon skylight, lamp, and chain,
As what she ne’er might see again.”
Then she looked right through me; and if there had been one mean thought in me at that minute, she would have seen the viper. Then she said sadly,—
“I have perfect confidence in you, though people would say we were strangers. Let us go.”
And we left the boat together. We declined the invitations of the noisy hackmen, and walked slowly to Broadway.
We stopped at the station-house for that district, and to the attentive chief Fausta herself described those contents of her trunk which she thought would be most easily detected, if offered for sale. Her mother’s Bible, at which the chief shook his head; Bibles, alas! brought nothing at the shops; a soldier’s medal, such as were given as target prizes by the Montgomery regiment, and a little silver canteen, marked with the device of the same regiment, seemed to him better worthy of note. Her portfolio was wrought with a cipher, and she explained to him that she was most eager that this should be recovered. The pocket-book contained more than one hundred dollars, which she described, but he shook his head here, and gave her but little hope of that, if the trunk were once opened. His chief hope was for this morning.
“And where shall we send to you then, madam?” said he.
I had been proud, as if it were my merit, of the impression Fausta had made upon the officer, in her quiet, simple, lady-like dress and manner. For myself, I thought that one slip of pretence in my dress or bearing, a scrap of gold or of pinchbeck, would have ruined both of us in our appeal. But, fortunately, I did not disgrace her, and the man looked at her as if he expected her to say, “Fourteenth Street.” What would she say?
“That depends upon what the time will be. Mr. Carter will call at noon, and will let you know.”
We bowed, and were gone. In an instant more she begged my pardon, almost with tears; but I told her that if she also had been a “Child of the Public,” she could not more fitly have spoken to one of her father’s officers. I begged her to use me as her protector, and not to apologize again. Then we laid out the plans which we followed out that day.
The officer’s manner had reassured her, and I succeeded in persuading her that it was certain we should have the trunk at noon. How much better to wait, at least so far, before she entered on any of the enterprises of which she talked so coolly, as of offering herself as a nursery-girl, or as a milliner, to whoever would employ her, if only she could thus secure an honest home till money or till aunt were found. Once persuaded that we were safe from this Quixotism, I told her that we must go on, as we did on the canal, and first we must take our constitutional walk for two hours.
“At least,” she said, “our good papa, the Public, gives us wonderful sights to see, and good walking to our feet, as a better Father has given us this heavenly sky and this bracing air.”
And with those words the last heaviness of despondency left her face for that day. And we plunged into the delicious adventure of exploring a new city, staring into windows as only strangers can, revelling in print-shops as only they do, really seeing the fine buildings as residents always forget to do, and laying up, in short, with those streets, nearly all the associations which to this day we have with them.
Two hours of this tired us with walking, of course. I do not know what she meant to do next; but at ten I said, “Time for French, Miss Jones.” “Ah oui,” said she, “mais où?” and I had calculated my distances, and led her at once into Lafayette Place; and, in a moment, pushed open the door of the Astor Library, led her up the main stairway, and said, “This is what the Public provides for his children when they have to study.”
“This is the Astor,” said she, delighted. “And we are all right, as you say, here?” Then she saw that our entrance excited no surprise among the few readers, men and women, who were beginning to assemble.
We took our seats at an unoccupied table, and began to revel in the luxuries for which we had only to ask that we might enjoy. I had a little memorandum of books which I had been waiting to see. She needed none; but looked for one and another, and yet another, and between us we kept the attendant well in motion. A pleasant thing to me to be finding out her thoroughbred tastes and lines of work, and I was happy enough to interest her in some of my pet readings; and, of course, for she was a woman, to get quick hints which had never dawned on me before. A very short hour and a half we spent there before I went to the station-house again. I went very quickly, I returned to her very slowly.
The trunk was not found. But they were now quite sure they were on its track. They felt certain it had been carried from pier to pier and taken back up the river. Nor was it hopeless to follow it. The particular rascal who was supposed to have it would certainly stop either at Piermont or at Newburg. They had telegraphed to both places, and were in time for both. “The day boat, sir, will bring your lady’s trunk, and will bring me Rowdy Rob, too, I hope,” said the officer. But at the same moment, as he rang his bell, he learned that no despatch had yet been received from either of the places named. I did not feel so certain as he did.
But Fausta showed no discomfort as I told my news. “Thus far,” said she, “the Public serves me well. I will borrow no trouble by want of faith.” And I,—as Dante would say,—and I, to her, “Will you let me remind you, then, that at one we dine; that Mrs. Grills is now placing the salt-pork upon the cabin table, and Mr. Grills asking the blessing; and, as this is the only day when I can have the honor of your company, will you let me show you how a Child of the Public dines, when his finances are low?”
Fausta laughed, and said again, less tragically than before, “I have perfect confidence in you,”—little thinking how she started my blood with the words; but this time, as if in token, she let me take her hand upon my arm, as we walked down the street together.
If we had been snobs, or even if I had been one, I should have taken her to Taylor’s, and have spent all the money I had on such a luncheon as neither of us had ever eaten before. Whatever else I am, I am not a snob of that sort. I show my colors. I led her into a little cross-street which I had noticed in our erratic morning pilgrimage. We stopped at a German baker’s. I bade her sit down at the neat marble table, and I bought two rolls. She declined lager, which I offered her in fun. We took water instead, and we had dined, and had paid two cents for our meal, and had had a very merry dinner, too, when the clock struck two.
“And now, Mr. Carter,” said she, “I will steal no more of your day. You did not come to New York to escort lone damsels to the Astor Library or to dinner. Nor did I come only to see the lions or to read French. I insist on your going to your affairs, and leaving me to mine. If you will meet me at the Library half an hour before it closes, I will thank you; till then,” with a tragedy shake of the hand, and a merry laugh, “adieu!”
I knew very well that no harm could happen to her in two hours of an autumn afternoon. I was not sorry for her congé, for it gave me an opportunity to follow my own plans. I stopped at one or two cabinet-makers, and talked with the “jours” about work, that I might tell her with truth that I had been in search of it; then I sedulously began on calling upon every man I could reach named Mason. O, how often I went through one phase or another of this colloquy:—
“Is Mr. Mason in?”
“That’s my name, sir.”
“Can you give me the address of Mr. Mason who returned from Europe last May?”
“Know no such person, sir.”
The reader can imagine how many forms this dialogue could be repeated in, before, as I wrought my way through a long line of dry-goods cases to a distant counting-room, I heard some one in it say, “No, madam, I know no such person as you describe”; and from the recess Fausta emerged and met me. Her plan for the afternoon had been the same with mine. We laughed as we detected each other; then I told her she had had quite enough of this, that it was time she should rest, and took her, nolens volens, into the ladies’ parlor of the St. Nicholas, and bade her wait there through the twilight, with my copy of Clementine, till I should return from the police-station. If the reader has ever waited in such a place for some one to come and attend to him, he will understand that nobody will be apt to molest him when he has not asked for attention.
Two hours I left Fausta in the rocking-chair, which there the Public had provided for her. Then I returned, sadly enough. No tidings of Rowdy Rob, none of trunk, Bible, money, letter, medal, or anything. Still was my district sergeant hopeful, and, as always, respectful. But I was hopeless this time, and I knew that the next day Fausta would be plunging into the war with intelligence-houses and advertisements. For the night, I was determined that she should spend it in my ideal “respectable boarding-house.” On my way down town, I stopped in at one or two shops to make inquiries, and satisfied myself where I would take her. Still I thought it wisest that we should go after tea; and another cross-street baker, and another pair of rolls, and another tap at the Croton, provided that repast for us. Then I told Fausta of the respectable boarding-house, and that she must go there. She did not say no. But she did say she would rather not spend the evening there. “There must be some place open for us,” said she. “There! there is a church-bell! The church is always home. Let us come there.”
So to “evening meeting” we went, startling the sexton by arriving an hour early. If there were any who wondered what was the use of that Wednesday-evening service, we did not. In a dark gallery pew we sat, she at one end, I at the other; and, if the whole truth be told, each of us fell asleep at once, and slept till the heavy organ tones taught us that the service had begun. A hundred or more people had straggled in then, and the preacher, good soul, he took for his text, “Doth not God care for the ravens?” I cannot describe the ineffable feeling of home that came over me in that dark pew of that old church. I had never been in so large a church before. I had never heard so heavy an organ before. Perhaps I had heard better preaching, but never any that came to my occasions more. But it was none of these things which moved me. It was the fact that we were just where we had a right to be. No impudent waiter could ask us why we were sitting there, nor any petulant policeman propose that we should push on. It was God’s house, and, because his, it was his children’s.
All this feeling of repose grew upon me, and, as it proved, upon Fausta also. For when the service was ended, and I ventured to ask her whether she also had this sense of home and rest, she assented so eagerly, that I proposed, though with hesitation, a notion which had crossed me, that I should leave her there.
“I cannot think,” I said, “of any possible harm that could come to you before morning.”
“Do you know, I had thought of that very same thing, but I did not dare tell you,” she said.
Was not I glad that she had considered me her keeper! But I only said, “At the ‘respectable boarding-house’ you might be annoyed by questions.”
“And no one will speak to me here. I know that from Goody Two-Shoes.”
“I will be here,” said I, “at sunrise in the morning.” And so I bade her good by, insisting on leaving in the pew my own great-coat. I knew she might need it before morning. I walked out as the sexton closed the door below on the last of the down-stairs worshippers. He passed along the aisles below, with his long poker which screwed down the gas. I saw at once that he had no intent of exploring the galleries. But I loitered outside till I saw him lock the doors and depart; and then, happy in the thought that Miss Jones was in the safest place in New York,—as comfortable as she was the night before, and much more comfortable than she had been any night upon the canal,—I went in search of my own lodging.
“To the respectable boarding-house?”
Not a bit, reader. I had no shillings for respectable or disrespectable boarding-houses. I asked the first policeman where his district station was. I went into its office, and told the captain that I was green in the city; had got no work and no money. In truth, I had left my purse in Miss Jones’s charge, and a five-cent piece, which I showed the chief, was all I had. He said no word but to bid me go up two flights and turn into the first bunk I found. I did so; and in five minutes was asleep in a better bed than I had slept in for nine days.
That was what the Public did for me that night. I, too, was safe!
I am making this story too long. But with that night and its anxieties the end has come. At sunrise I rose and made my easy toilet. I bought and ate my roll,—varying the brand from yesterday’s. I bought another, with a lump of butter, and an orange, for Fausta. I left my portmanteau at the station, while I rushed to the sexton’s house, told his wife I had left my gloves in church the night before,—as was the truth,—and easily obtained from her the keys. In a moment I was in the vestibule,—locked in,—was in the gallery, and there found Fausta, just awake, as she declared, from a comfortable night, reading her morning lesson in the Bible, and sure, she said, that I should soon appear. Nor ghost, nor wraith, had visited her. I spread for her a brown paper table-cloth on the table in the vestibule. I laid out her breakfast for her, called her, and wondered at her toilet. How is it that women always make themselves appear as neat and finished as if there were no conflict, dust, or wrinkle in the world?
[Here Fausta adds, in this manuscript, a parenthesis, to say that she folded her undersleeves neatly, and her collar, before she slept, and put them between the cushions, upon which she slept. In the morning they had been pressed—without a sad-iron.]
She finished her repast. I opened the church-door for five minutes. She passed out when she had enough examined the monuments, and at a respectable distance I followed her. We joined each other, and took our accustomed morning walk; but then she resolutely said, “Good by,” for the day. She would find work before night,—work and a home. And I must do the same. Only when I pressed her to let me know of her success, she said she would meet me at the Astor Library just before it closed. No, she would not take my money. Enough, that for twenty-four hours she had been my guest. When she had found her aunt and told her the story, they should insist on repaying this hospitality. Hospitality, dear reader, which I had dispensed at the charge of six cents. Have you ever treated Miranda for a day and found the charge so low? When I urged other assistance she said resolutely, “No.” In fact, she had already made an appointment at two, she said, and she must not waste the day.
I also had an appointment at two; for it was at that hour that Burrham was to distribute the cyclopædias at Castle Garden. The Emigrant Commission had not yet seized it for their own. I spent the morning in asking vainly for Masons fresh from Europe, and for work in cabinet-shops. I found neither, and so wrought my way to the appointed place, where, instead of such wretched birds in the bush, I was to get one so contemptible in my hand.
Those who remember Jenny Lind’s first triumph night at Castle Garden have some idea of the crowd as it filled gallery and floor of that immense hall when I entered. I had given no thought to the machinery of this folly. I only know that my ticket bade me be there at two P.M. this day. But as I drew near, the throng, the bands of policemen, the long queues of persons entering, reminded me that here was an affair of ten thousand persons, and also that Mr. Burrham was not unwilling to make it as showy, perhaps as noisy, an affair as was respectable, by way of advertising future excursions and distributions. I was led to seat No. 3,671 with a good deal of parade, and when I came there I found I was very much of a prisoner. I was late, or rather on the stroke of two. Immediately, almost, Mr. Burrham arose in the front and made a long speech about his liberality, and the public’s liberality, and everybody’s liberality in general, and the method of the distribution in particular. The mayor and four or five other well-known and respectable gentlemen were kind enough to be present to guarantee the fairness of the arrangements. At the suggestion of the mayor and the police, the doors would now be closed, that no persons might interrupt the ceremony till it was ended. And the distribution of the cyclopædias would at once go forward, in the order in which the lots were drawn,—earliest numbers securing the earliest impressions; which, as Mr. Burrham almost regretted to say, were a little better than the latest. After these had been distributed two figures would be drawn,—one green and one red, to indicate the fortunate lady and gentleman who would receive respectively the profits which had arisen from this method of selling the cyclopædias, after the expenses of printing and distribution had been covered, and after the magazines had been ordered.
Great cheering followed this announcement from all but me. Here I had shut myself up in this humbug hall, for Heaven knew how long, on the most important day of my life. I would have given up willingly my cyclopædia and my chance at the “profits,” for the certainty of seeing Fausta at five o’clock. If I did not see her then, what might befall her, and when might I see her again? An hour before this certainty was my own; now it was only mine by my liberating myself from this prison. Still I was encouraged by seeing that everything was conducted like clock-work. From literally a hundred stations they were distributing the books. We formed ourselves into queues as we pleased, drew our numbers, and then presented ourselves at the bureaux, ordered our magazines, and took our cyclopædias. It would be done, at that rate, by half past four. An omnibus might bring me to the Park, and a Bowery car do the rest in time. After a vain discussion for the right of exit with one or two of the attendants, I abandoned myself to this hope, and began studying my cyclopædia.
It was sufficiently amusing to see ten thousand people resign themselves to the same task, and affect to be unconcerned about the green and red figures which were to divide the “profits.” I tried to make out who were as anxious to get out of that tawdry den as I was. Four o’clock struck, and the distribution was not done. I began to be very impatient. What if Fausta fell into trouble? I knew, or hoped I knew, that she would struggle to the Astor Library, as to her only place of rescue and refuge,—her asylum. What if I failed her there? I who had pretended to be her protector! “Protector, indeed!” she would say, if she knew I was at a theatre witnessing the greatest folly of the age. And if I did not meet her to-day, when should I meet her? If she found her aunt, how should I find her? If she did not find her,—good God! that was worse,—where might she not be before twelve hours were over? Then the fatal trunk! I had told the police agent he might send it to the St. Nicholas, because I had to give him some address. But Fausta did not know this, and the St. Nicholas people knew nothing of us. I grew more and more excited, and when at last my next neighbor told me that it was half past four, I rose and insisted on leaving my seat. Two ushers with blue sashes almost held me down; they showed me the whole assembly sinking into quiet. In fact, at that moment Mr. Burrham was begging every one to be seated. I would not be seated. I would go to the door. I would go out. “Go, if you please!” said the usher next it, contemptuously. And I looked, and there was no handle! Yet this was not a dream. It is the way they arrange the doors in halls where they choose to keep people in their places. I could have collared that grinning blue sash. I did tell him I would wring his precious neck for him, if he did not let me out. I said I would sue him for false imprisonment; I would have a writ of habeas corpus.
“Habeas corpus be d——d!” said the officer, with an irreverent disrespect to the palladium. “If you are not more civil, sir, I will call the police, of whom we have plenty. You say you want to go out; you are keeping everybody in.”
And, in fact, at that moment the clear voice of the mayor was announcing that they would not go on until there was perfect quiet; and I felt that I was imprisoning all these people, not they me.
“Child of the Public,” said my mourning genius, “are you better than other men?” So I sneaked back to seat No. 3,671, amid the contemptuous and reproachful looks and sneers of my more respectable neighbors, who had sat where they were told to do. We must be through in a moment, and perhaps Fausta would be late also. If only the Astor would keep open after sunset! How often have I wished that since, and for less reasons!
Silence thus restored, Mr. A——, the mayor, led forward his little daughter, blindfolded her, and bade her put her hand into a green box, from which she drew out a green ticket. He took it from her, and read, in his clear voice again, “No. 2,973!” By this time we all knew where the “two thousands” sat. Then “nine hundreds” were not far from the front, so that it was not far that that frightened girl, dressed all in black, and heavily veiled, had to walk, who answered to this call. Mr. A—— met her, helped her up the stair upon the stage, took from her her ticket, and read, “Jerusha Stillingfleet, of Yellow Springs, who, at her death, as it seems, transferred this right to the bearer.”
The disappointed nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine joined in a rapturous cheer, each man and woman, to show that he or she was not disappointed. The bearer spoke with Mr. Burrham, in answer to his questions, and, with a good deal of ostentation, he opened a check-book, filled a check and passed it to her, she signing a receipt as she took it, and transferring to him her ticket. So far, in dumb show, all was well. What was more to my purpose, it was rapid, for we should have been done in five minutes more, but that some devil tempted some loafer in a gallery to cry, “Face! face!” Miss Stillingfleet’s legatee was still heavily veiled.
In one horrid minute that whole amphitheatre, which seemed to me then more cruel than the Coliseum ever was, rang out with a cry of “Face, face!” I tried the counter-cry of “Shame! shame!” but I was in disgrace among my neighbors, and a counter-cry never takes as its prototype does, either. At first, on the stage, they affected not to hear or understand; then there was a courtly whisper between Mr. Burrham and the lady; but Mr. A——, the mayor, and the respectable gentlemen, instantly interfered. It was evident that she would not unveil, and that they were prepared to indorse her refusal. In a moment more she courtesied to the assembly; the mayor gave her his arm, and led her out through a side door.
O, the yell that rose up then! The whole assembly stood up, and, as if they had lost some vested right, hooted and shrieked, “Back! back! Face! face!” Mr. A—— returned, made as if he would speak, came forward to the very front, and got a moment’s silence.
“It is not in the bond, gentlemen,” said he. “The young lady is unwilling to unveil, and we must not compel her.”
“Face! face!” was the only answer, and oranges from up stairs flew about his head and struck upon the table,—an omen only fearful from what it prophesied. Then there was such a row for five minutes as I hope I may never see or hear again. People kept their places, fortunately, under a vague impression that they should forfeit some magic rights if they left those numbered seats. But when, for a moment, a file of policemen appeared in the orchestra, a whole volley of cyclopædias fell like rain upon their chief, with a renewed cry of “Face! face!”
At this juncture, with a good deal of knowledge of popular feeling, Mr. A—— led forward his child again. Frightened to death the poor thing was, and crying; he tied his handkerchief round her eyes hastily, and took her to the red box. For a minute the house was hushed. A cry of “Down! down!” and every one took his place as the child gave the red ticket to her father. He read it as before, “No. 3,671!” I heard the words as if he did not speak them. All excited by the delay and the row, by the injustice to the stranger and the personal injustice of everybody to me, I did not know, for a dozen seconds, that every one was looking towards our side of the house, nor was it till my next neighbor with the watch said, “Go, you fool,” that I was aware that 3,671 was I! Even then, as I stepped down the passage and up the steps, my only feeling was, that I should get out of this horrid trap, and possibly find Miss Jones lingering near the Astor,—not by any means that I was invited to take a check for $5,000.
There was not much cheering. Women never mean to cheer, of course. The men had cheered the green ticket, but they were mad with the red one. I gave up my ticket, signed my receipt, and took my check, shook hands with Mr. A—— and Mr. Burrham, and turned to bow to the mob,—for mob I must call it now. But the cheers died away. A few people tried to go out, perhaps, but there was nothing now to retain any in their seats as before, and the generality rose, pressed down the passages, and howled, “Face! face!” I thought for a moment that I ought to say something, but they would not hear me, and, after a moment’s pause, my passion to depart overwhelmed me. I muttered some apology to the gentlemen, and left the stage by the stage-door.
I had forgotten that to Castle Garden there can be no back entrance. I came to door after door, which were all locked. It was growing dark. Evidently the sun was set, and I knew the library-door would be shut at sunset. The passages were very obscure. All around me rang this horrid yell of the mob, in which all that I could discern was the cry, “Face, face!” At last, as I groped round, I came to a practicable door. I entered a room where the western sunset glare dazzled me. I was not alone. The veiled lady in black was there. But the instant she saw me she sprang towards me, flung herself into my arms, and cried:—
“Felix, is it you?—you are indeed my protector!”
It was Miss Jones! It was Fausta! She was the legatee of Miss Stillingfleet. My first thought was, “O, if that beggarly usher had let me go! Will I ever, ever think I have better rights than the Public again?”
I took her in my arms. I carried her to the sofa. I could hardly speak for excitement. Then I did say that I had been wild with terror; that I had feared I had lost her, and lost her forever; that to have lost that interview would have been worse to me than death; for unless she knew that I loved her better than man ever loved woman, I could not face a lonely night, and another lonely day.
“My dear, dear child,” I said, “you may think me wild; but I must say this,—it has been pent up too long.”
“Say what you will,” she said after a moment, in which still I held her in my arms; she was trembling so that she could not have sat upright alone,—”say what you will, if only you do not tell me to spend another day alone.”
And I kissed her, and I kissed her, and I kissed her, and I said, “Never, darling, God helping me, till I die!”
How long we sat there I do not know. Neither of us spoke again. For one, I looked out on the sunset and the bay. We had but just time to rearrange ourselves in positions more independent, when Mr. A—— came in, this time in alarm, to say:—
“Miss Jones, we must get you out of this place, or we must hide you somewhere. I believe, before God, they will storm this passage, and pull the house about our ears.”
He said this, not conscious, as he began, that I was there. At that moment, however, I felt as if I could have met a million men. I started forward and passed him, saying, “Let me speak to them.” I rushed upon the stage, fairly pushing back two or three bullies who were already upon it. I sprang upon the table, kicking down the red box as I did so, so that the red tickets fell on the floor and on the people below. One stuck in an old man’s spectacles in a way which made the people in the galleries laugh. A laugh is a great blessing at such a moment. Curiosity is another. Three loud words spoken like thunder do a good deal more. And after three words the house was hushed to hear me. I said:—
“Be fair to the girl. She has no father nor mother. She has no brother nor sister. She is alone in the world, with nobody to help her but the public—and me!”
The audacity of the speech brought out a cheer, and we should have come off in triumph, when some rowdy—the original “face” man, I suppose—said,—
“And who are you?”
If the laugh went against me now I was lost, of course. Fortunately I had no time to think. I said without thinking,—
“I am the Child of the Public, and her betrothed husband!”
O heavens! what a yell of laughter, of hurrahings, of satisfaction with a dénouement, rang through the house, and showed that all was well. Burrham caught the moment, and started his band, this time successfully,—I believe with “See the Conquering Hero.” The doors, of course, had been open long before. Well-disposed people saw they need stay no longer; ill-disposed people dared not stay; the blue-coated men with buttons sauntered on the stage in groups, and I suppose the worst rowdies disappeared as they saw them. I had made my single speech, and for the moment I was a hero.
I believe the mayor would have liked to kiss me. Burrham almost did. They overwhelmed me with thanks and congratulations. All these I received as well as I could,—somehow I did not feel at all surprised,—everything was as it should be. I scarcely thought of leaving the stage myself, till, to my surprise, the mayor asked me to go home with him to dinner.
Then I remembered that we were not to spend the rest of our lives in Castle Garden. I blundered out something about Miss Jones, that she had no escort except me, and pressed into her room to find her. A group of gentlemen was around her. Her veil was back now. She was very pale, but very lovely. Have I said that she was beautiful as heaven? She was the queen of the room, modestly and pleasantly receiving their felicitations that the danger was over, and owning that she had been very much frightened. “Until,” she said, “my friend, Mr. Carter, was fortunate enough to guess that I was here. How he did it,” she said, turning to me, “is yet an utter mystery to me.”
She did not know till then that it was I who had shared with her the profits of the cyclopædias.
As soon as we could excuse ourselves, I asked some one to order a carriage. I sent to the ticket-office for my valise, and we rode to the St. Nicholas. I fairly laughed as I gave the hackman at the hotel-door what would have been my last dollar and a half only two hours before. I entered Miss Jones’s name and my own. The clerk looked, and said inquiringly,—
“Is it Miss Jones’s trunk which came this afternoon?”
I followed his finger to see the trunk on the marble floor. Rowdy Rob had deserted it, having seen, perhaps, a detective when he reached Piermont. The trunk had gone to Albany, had found no owner, and had returned by the day boat of that day.
Fausta went to her room, and I sent her supper after her. One kiss and “Good night” was all that I got from her then.
“In the morning,” said she, “you shall explain.”
It was not yet seven. I went to my own room and dressed, and tendered myself at the mayor’s just before his gay party sat down to dine. I met, for the first time in my life, men whose books I had read, and whose speeches I had by heart, and women whom I have since known to honor; and, in the midst of this brilliant group, so excited had Mr. A—— been in telling the strange story of the day, I was, for the hour, the lion.
I led Mrs. A—— to the table; I made her laugh very heartily by telling her of the usher’s threats to me, and mine to him, and of the disgrace into which I fell among the three thousand six hundreds. I had never been at any such party before. But I found it was only rather simpler and more quiet than most parties I had seen, that its good breeding was exactly that of dear Betsy Myers.
As the party broke up, Mrs. A—— said to me,—
“Mr. Carter, I am sure you are tired, with all this excitement. You say you are a stranger here. Let me send round for your trunk to the St. Nicholas, and you shall spend the night here. I know I can make you a better bed than they.”
I thought as much myself, and assented. In half an hour more I was in bed in Mrs. A——’s “best room.”
“I shall not sleep better,” said I to myself, “than I did last night.”
That was what the Public did for me that night. I was safe again!
Fausta slept late, poor child. I called for her before breakfast. I waited for her after. About ten she appeared, so radiant, so beautiful, and so kind! The trunk had revealed a dress I never saw before, and the sense of rest, and eternal security, and unbroken love had revealed a charm which was never there to see before. She was dressed for walking, and, as she met me, said,—
“Time for constitutional, Mr. Millionnaire.”
So we walked again, quite up town, almost to the region of pig-pens and cabbage-gardens which is now the Central Park. And after just the first gush of my enthusiasm, Fausta said, very seriously:—
“I must teach you to be grave. You do not know whom you are asking to be your wife. Excepting Mrs. Mason, No. 27 Thirty-fourth Street, sir, there is no one in the world who is of kin to me, and she does not care for me one straw, Felix,” she said, almost sadly now. “You call yourself ‘Child of the Public.’ I started when you first said so, for that is just what I am.
“I am twenty-two years old. My father died before I was born. My mother, a poor woman, disliked by his relatives and avoided by them, went to live in Hoboken over there, with me. How she lived, God knows! but it happened that of a strange death she died, I in her arms.”
After a pause, the poor girl went on:—
“There was a great military review, an encampment. She was tempted out to see it. Of a sudden, by some mistake, a ramrod was fired from a careless soldier’s gun, and it pierced her through the heart. I tell you, Felix, it pinned my baby frock into the wound, so that they could not part me from her till it was cut away.
“Of course every one was filled with horror. Nobody claimed poor me, the baby. But the battalion—the Montgomery Battalion, it was, which had, by mischance, killed my mother—adopted me as their child. I was voted ‘Fille du Regiment.’ They paid an assessment annually, which the colonel expended for me. A kind old woman nursed me.”
“She was your Betsy Myers,” interrupted I.
“And when I was old enough I was sent into Connecticut, to the best of schools. This lasted till I was sixteen. Fortunately for me, perhaps, the Montgomery Battalion then dissolved. I was finding it hard to answer the colonel’s annual letters. I had my living to earn,—it was best I should earn it. I declined a proposal to go out as a missionary. I had no call. I answered one of Miss Beecher’s appeals for Western teachers. Most of my life since has been a school-ma’am’s. It has had ups and downs. But I have always been proud that the Public was my godfather; and, as you know,” she said, “I have trusted the Public well. I have never been lonely, wherever I went. I tried to make myself of use. Where I was of use I found society. The ministers have been kind to me. I always offered my services in the Sunday schools and sewing-rooms. The school committees have been kind to me. They are the Public’s high chamberlains for poor girls. I have written for the journals. I won one of Sartain’s hundred-dollar prizes—”
“And I another,” interrupted I.
“When I was very poor, I won the first prize for an essay on bad boys.”
“And I the second,” answered I.
“I think I know one bad boy better than he knows himself,” said she. But she went on. “I watched with this poor Miss Stillingfleet the night she died. This absurd ‘distribution’ had got hold of her, and she would not be satisfied till she had transferred that strange ticket, No. 2,973, to me, writing the indorsement which you have heard. I had had a longing to visit New York and Hoboken again. This ticket seemed to me to beckon me. I had money enough to come, if I would come cheaply. I wrote to my father’s business partner, and enclosed a note to his only sister. She is Mrs. Mason. She asked me, coldly enough, to her house. Old Mr. Grills always liked me,—he offered me escort and passage as far as Troy or Albany. I accepted his proposal, and you know the rest.”
When I told Fausta my story, she declared I made it up as I went along. When she believed it,—as she does believe it now,—she agreed with me in declaring that it was not fit that two people thus joined should ever be parted. Nor have we been, ever!
She made a hurried visit at Mrs. Mason’s. She prepared there for her wedding. On the 1st of November we went into that same church which was our first home in New York; and that dear old raven-man made us one.