When Dick, the little deformed invalid, hobbled from his
bed into his chair-lounge at the window, where he reclined all day long,
he saw a rosy-cheeked young woman polishing the windows across the street.
His pale face tinged with a sudden glow and his painfully brilliant eyes shone with an increased lustre.
"Well, I declare if my house isn't occupied!" he cried, and he lifted the window and peered across the way with such an excited countenance, that the young woman opposite paused in her work to regard him. But after a moment's observation the startled look in her face gave place to pity, for she saw that the great shining eyes were those of an invalid--an invalid child, she thought.
"Poor child; poor little fellow," she said to herself, "and such a pretty face, too!"
But Dick was twenty-two years old, with a man's heart and a man's longings shut up in his deformed body. But since he was compelled to pass his days between a bed and a chair, with an occasional hour down on the curbing in the sunlight of a warm day, he found his whole enjoyment in his imagination. And wonderful flights it took, flights and freaks suspected by no one save good old Dr. Griffin, his one confidant.
He had known Dick ever since his advent into his life of misery. Dick's mother had been the beauty of the street more than a score of years ago. Old Benjamin Levy, her father, was a hard man, and to escape the barren home and dreary life, pretty Josie eloped with a handsome Christian whom she had met while promenading on the street. Her father had uttered a terrible curse when the knowledge of her flight came to him; and scarce two years later the curse had fallen, for pretty Josie came home to die, and to leave her invalid baby as the constant reminder of the fulfilment of his curse, to her father.
Dr. Griffin had been retained during all these years as Dick's physician; for the one thing in which old Benjamin showed no parsimony was in the care of this little deformed grandchild. A little shop where he sold second-hand clothing, and a couple of small rooms above it, for living purposes constituted his menage.
Directly opposite was a three-story and basement brick house, which had in its day been a semi-fashionable private residence. But as trade encroached upon the street, this building had degenerated to an apartment house.
While the house stood tenantless, Dick amused himself by imagining that it was his own residence.
"It is my house," he would say, " and I am traveling abroad, and it is closed. By and by I shall come home, and there will be a great house-warmin', and lights in every window and flower-pots on the sills, and pretty curtains and life and fun; for I am a very rich young man with lots of money, and I always have everything very gay around me."
Dr. Griffin used to encourage the boy in his fancies, thinking they relieved the monotony of his dreary life. "Well, I see you are still traveling abroad, Dick," he used to say. "That house of yours is still closed. No idea when you will return, have you?"
"No, I'm havin' too good a time to come back yet awhile," Dick would answer. "Haven't half seen the world yet."
But one day there were people moving about on the ground floor of the house, and Dick heard his grandfather say it was to be made into flats, and let to separate families.
The next time Dr. Griffin called, he greeted the boy with--
"Hello! Dick, welcome home! I see you have returned from abroad."
Dick shook his head soberly. "Oh, no!" he replied, "I am not back yet. But I got tired of havin' my house stay empty--thought I might as well let it help pay my expenses (it's awful expensive travelin', you know), so I've got some tenants in the house. Goin' to let each floor separate, 'cause it is too expensive a house for anybody to take whole, 'cept some rich feller like me."
During the last six months the floor exactly opposite Dick's window had been vacant. After three months had passed without a tenant, he told Dr. Griffin that he had decided to reserve that floor for his own use.
"I'm goin' to come home pretty soon and settle down, you see," he said, "and so I thought I'd keep that floor for myself. I don't need the whole house, and I can just as well let the other tenants stay."
And now, after three months more had passed, here were people moving into his apartments!
Dr. Griffin called that very afternoon, and found Dick looking unusually animated.
"Well, well, Dick!" he exclaimed. "So, after all you've decided to rent your apartments? You have neighbors, I see. I fear you will never return now and settle down as you intended."
"Why, that's no neighbors, Doctor," replied Dick, contemptuously; "that's my family. I've come home to stay, and brought my family, you see."
"You don't tell me so! Why, what a stupid old fellow I am, to be sure!" cried the Doctor, with feigned self-scorn. "How large a family have you, Dick?"
"Well only--only one, as I care 'specially about. Look--look at her, Doctor!" catching the Doctor's hand and learning forward in his chair. "See her a-fixin' the nice little curtain at the window? She's a regular neat one, she is, my little woman over there. She was a-cleanin' the windows and things this mornin' with her hair so slick and a span clean apron on. That's the kind of girl I like. I allers like that kind. Isn't she the right kind, eh, Doctor?"
Dr. Griffin saw a trim young woman with rosy cheeks, looping back scrim curtains with pink ribbons. He nodded gravely.
"From my brief acquaintance, I should say she was," he answered. "I congratulate you on your good luck. With such a family as that you ought to be a happy fellow!"
"Queer little fellow; queer little fellow," he said to himself, as he went down the stairs. "Strange notion that about his home and family."
When Dick awoke the following day he felt a new sense of happiness in the thought of his neighbor opposite. He hurried through his tedious ceremony of dressing, at his frugal breakfast, hobbled into his invalid-chair, and gave an eager glance across the street. Yes, there were the dainty curtains still at the window, so it was no dream. He watched for a glimpse of the occupant, but she did not appear. Then he laughed a little softly to himself.
"Of course, she wouldn't be hangin' around the window at all hours; she isn't that sort; and, of course, I'm over there now, and she's a-pourin' coffee for me; we take breakfast sort of late today, 'cause we're just home from Europe, and I haven't gone down to the office yet. After I get off she'll brush around and set things to right, and -- hello! I must have gone now you know, for there she is a-whiskin' the dust off the window-sill as pretty as ever and as neat as a pin. All the time I'm down at the office with them pesky clerks of mine a-botherin' me I'll be thinkin' of that sweet little woman up here waitin' for me."
"We do have very sociable times," Dick told the Doctor a month later. "That little woman and I seem made for each other. She's just the right sort. We never have no fusses, and things go so comfortable-like all the time."
"And how do you like the other party? There's a man there also, I see. How do you like him?"
"Dick flushed painfully, and a deep frown settled on his face. There was a man whom he saw from time to time sitting at the window after the dinner hour reading his paper. But the moment he made his appearance, Dick closed his eyes or left the window seat. He regarded the man as an intruder--a shadow upon his home life, a serpent in his Eden.
Sunday was a day of restlessness and discontent, because the man was there all day long, and on Sundays he avoided the invalid-chair, which was his seat on all other days. Now, when he heard Dr. Griffin speak of the man as a real being, he suffered all the bitter and mortifying pangs of jealousy which might come to a man who hears a stranger give words to a suspicion of his wife's disloyalty to which he has striven to blind himself.
"A man--a--yes--there's a man there sometimes," Dick stammered; "he's a--a sort of poor relative, don't you know. One of my relations, you see, and I can't very well turn him off."
"Oh, I see," answered the doctor, noticing Dick's confusion, and hastening to help him out. "Well, everybody has some one of that sort. I've half a dozen poor relatives who live on me. Some one of them is with us most of the time. A little uncomfortable occasionally may be, because every man's house is his castle where he wants to be alone at times. But we who have homes have no right to be selfish; we must share them with less fortunate people. Happiness must not make us selfish.
Dick's face brightened. His heart had grown light and happy while the Doctor spoke.
"That's just what I tell myself and the little woman," he said. "Often she doesn't like to have the fellow droppin' in and spoilin' our chats" (Dick felt an immense satisfaction in saying this), "but I tell her with just our two selves we'd get selfish with happiness unless we had somethin' to do for another. But he does break up our Sundays awfully--scarcely can get a word alone, that fellow's pokin' around so."
"Oh, well, you can afford him one day in the week, and I wouldn't let him bother me; just be as happy as if he wasn't around."
Somehow Dick felt much better after this talk. He had tried to ignore the presence of the man opposite, but now he could acknowledge it, and definitely locate the man in his thought as a poor dependent, who was benefitted by his bounty. He enjoyed thinking that the little woman objected more or less to the fellow, and that she allowed him so much liberty only to please Dick. As the weeks rolled on he confessed to the Doctor that the fellow was really useful at times.
"Rainy days he goes to market for the little woman," he said, "and often runs out on errands for us."
"Dick's house" had been occupied six months when a whole week passed without his seeing his "little woman" at the window. During that six months there had scarcely been an afternoon during which she had not sat for an hour or two at the window with her sewing. Dick had grown to think of that hour as the bright spoke in the wheel of the day. She looked at him so kindly and gently, and he used to imagine he was lying on a lounge in the room, reading aloud to her as she sewed, and that her kind, warm smile was one of love, not of pity. And when a whole week passed without his once seeing her, Dick found himself in a nervous fever, with a blinding headache from having gazed so eagerly and anxiously across the street, and Grandfather Levy sent for Dr. Griffin.
"There's somethin' the matter over the way," whispered Dick, as soon as the Doctor was alone with him. "I haven't seen her for a whole week; there's a strange woman there, and I'm sure she's sick. I couldn't sleep all last night for worryin' about her."
Dr. Griffin went to the window and looked out. Then he took a magnifying glass from his pocket, and deliberately stared into the window opposite.
Then he went back to Dic. "My dear fellow," he said, "you are to be congratulated. You are a father. I saw the nurse walking up and down the room with the child in her arms. It is a bad habit, by the way, and you must tell her not to teach it to the child. You can't begin too young with them."
After the Doctor went away, Dick buried his face in his pillow and wept softly.
"A little baby--yes, my little baby," he whispered. "God bless the little woman. Some day she will sit at the window, and I shall have them both for company."
And then one day, a soft, warm day, late in May, there she sat at the window again, with lilies instead of roses in her cheeks, and the bundle of flannel in her arms. She smiled at Dick, and tears of joy and love welled up in his eyes as he gazed upon the two.
"I've got two of 'em for company now, the little woman and the baby," he whispered.
After that the days seemed very happy and bright, and Dick thought himself the richest man on earth. Only he wondered why the roses did not come back to the little woman's cheeks.
"She doesn't look as well as she ought to," he told the Doctor one day in June, and the Doctor, peering over his spectacles, shook his head as he looked at her, but Dick did not see it.
Passing down the block one day, Dr. Griffin came face to face with a little girl who wheeled a baby carriage, and, as he glanced under the awning, he was started to see two weirdly brilliant eyes, the very counterpart of Dick's, gazing up at him.
"Whose child is this? Does it live over in the brick flats there?" queried the Doctor.
The little girl nodded.
"Second flight up?"
"Queer enough, queer enough," he mused, as he walked on.
"Your baby has eyes exactly like you, Dick," said the Doctor, a few days later. "Honestly, no joking; I saw the little fellow on the street and knew him by his eyes."
After that Dick's heart went out to the baby more and more, and he was eager to see it. One day he saw the little nurse-girl wheeling the carriage, and as fast as his lame body would permit he hurried and hobbled down to the street, hoping it would pass near him. Sure enough it did, and Dick's heart jumped into his throat as he leaned on his cane and peered into the carriage to catch his first glimpse of the baby he had grown to think of as his own. Yes, those were his own eyes--his very own gazing up at him, and he touched the little hand with reverence and awe. The baby laughed and twisted its small soft fingers about his thumb, and clung to his hand as if unwilling to let him go. For weeks after that he would wake at night, thinking he felt that clinging touch upon his hand; and those great dark, startled eyes, the very counterpart of his own, seemed illuminating the night for him.
It was early November when he failed to see the baby at the window or on the street; nor did the mother appear at the window for four days. The morning of the fifth day, Dick saw from his window a little white hearse drawn by white ponies pause at the house opposite, and then some one came out with a small casket followed by the "male relative" and a few sad-faced friends.
That day Dick entered Gethsemane, and the mourners who followed the little baby to its last resting-place shed no bitterer tears than he. Mixed with his keen anguish for the loss of the child was fear for the life of the mother who was too ill to attend the burial.
That night Dr. Griffin was sent for, and he found Dick so ill and feverish that he was alarmed. His tears mingled with Dick's when the poor boy told him of the baby's death, and begged him to go over and inquire after the "little woman."
"You can ask the janitor, Doctor; just say friends opposite want to inquire after her; you needn't say no more."
The Doctor did as Dick desired, and came back shortly, making an effort to speak cheerfully.
"The janitor says Mrs.--"
"The little woman," interrupted Dick. "Yes, yes; how is she?" Not for worlds would he have heard her name spoken.
"She is ill, suffering from a prostration caused by grief," the Doctor replied. "But she is young, and she will rally in a few weeks no doubt. You must brace up, old man, and be ready to comfort her. If you don't look after yourself a little better I won't promise for the consequences to your health. You've overtaxed yourself lately, and you must keep very quiet now for a few days."
But each day Dick dragged himself to the window to see if the little woman was visible. And on the tenth day after the baby's funeral, a black hearse with nodding black plumes, and black horses with jet harness and dangling black tassels stood at the house opposite; and Dick, with panting breath and wild eyes, crawled down the stairs, and out upon the street, for he seemed choking in the house, and he thought he must hinder those cruel people from taking away the little woman. He could not, could not let her go from him forever, and when he saw them lifting the casket into the hearse, he reached out his arms, tried to cry out and stop them, and then he fell over weak and helpless, with strange sounds ringing in his ears and warm blood spurting from his mouth. When he awoke to consciousness he was lying on his couch, and Dr. Griffin and Grandfather Levy were bending over him with tears in their eyes.
He tried to speak, and with each syllable the blood gushed again from his lips.
"You mustn't talk," said the Doctor. "You are very weak and it may be fatal to you if you do not keep quiet."
He drew the Doctor's head down close to his lips.
"It's no use tryin' to save me," he whispered. "I'd rather go--I couldn't stand it livin' on with both of 'em gone. I've nothin' to live for now--no ambition or pleasure left. I've had all the pleasure I'll ever get out of life, Doctor, this year back. It's kinder to let me go--follow my family."
The hemorrhage set in anew, and with the red gushing tide, Dick's soul passed out to seek those of the little woman and the baby.
Kingdom of love and How Salvator won by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
Chicago, W.B. Conkey company .
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