by Charles Hoy Fort
A New York street! Looking like a progressive battlefield. On a windy day, trust to the ash-man to make any street look like a battlefield or the route of a Russian grand duke's afternoon drive. Up on his knee with a barrel; up on the wheel with it; into the cart with the ashes, any way at all, and up and out with a cloud of dust as if from a bomb explosion. Smaller explosions along both sides of the street; women seeing the cart coming and running out of tenements to empty pans in barrels, knocking pans against barrels to shake loose clinging particles; puffs of dust gushing forth; unfortunate passers-by rubbing their eyes frantically.
Children everywhere! Making swings of clothes-lines tied to cross-arms of lamp-posts; winding their ropes around posts, revolving in sinking spirals, with ropes unwinding. And skipping ropes, trying to count to a hundred without feet catching; ropes swiftly beating the sidewalk so that skippers should fail to count up to one hundred.
An old horse, looking as if about ready to be set for dinner; large table cloth, in place of a blanket, on him. Old horse standing in front of a cellar with a sign: "I Don't Buy From No Children." Junk-shop cellar.
The cellar of the house was not very respectable looking; piles of rusty bed-springs, old boilers, gas-pipes and bags of bottles at the doorway; but the house itself was a most appetizing lettuce color. At some time, later, another coat of paint would be applied, but painters had struck--trouble of some kind--at any rate, it was a delicately tinted house of lettuce color.
And Mrs. Bonticue, very much out of place with rusty bed-springs, gas-pipes and old bottles, stood on the front stoop, a few feet from the cellar entrance. She was about seventy years old. Hat jauntily decorated with baby-blue ribbons. Bulky, imposing, important-looking person. Lace cape with orange-silk lining. What a determined-looking chin! Purple silk shirt. And the compressed lips of a very firm mouth! Oh, but was not Mrs. Bonticue dressed in her best! She was waiting for the wind to turn and swirl ashes away from her blue, orange, and purple finery, with its attractive, lettuce-green background.
The very moment Mrs. Bonticue reached the front stoop, the hall door of the third-floor rooms opened. Second-floor door opening. First-floor door opening. Three women out at the sinks in the halls.
And sinks in houses like this lettuce-green house are very much like wells in Oriental countries--meeting places, gossiping places for women.
Mrs. Lunn at the third-floor sink; Mrs. Delaney at the next sink; Mrs. Weasel at the first-floor sink.
And pretty young Mrs. Delaney, the motorman's wife!--starting to run up to the sink above, but feeling that something more interesting might be said at the sink below. Starting, then, to run down to the first sink, but feeling that Mrs. Lunn would be less guarded in her utterances, as she was not likely to stay in the house very much longer. Face like a mouse's, most of it nose! But a mouse has a nice, bright, little face, you know. Mouse-like nose sniffing for news up the stairs and sniffing for news down the stairs.
All three women suffering intensely! One must gossip, but one must have some excuse, if only the borrowing of a match, to approach the relief of gossiping. All three women crying:
"Oh, Mrs. Delaney, excuse me if I'm taking the water away from you! Mrs. Lunn, I only want a drop for the kettle. Never mind, Mrs. Weasel, the pressure is so bad today, I'll have to come down to your sink, anyway." They get together. Trust them for that when it was necessary to their happiness to discuss Mrs. Bonticue! All three of them up and at it! "Outrageous! Oh, scandalous! Never heard of such carryings-on before!" Turning on the water, at least pretending to fill a kettle. "We ought of complained on her long ago! She'll feel flat enough when she gets her dispossess! But the assurance of her! Well, she'll have a different look when she gets her notice to go!" A pause long enough to empty a kettle so as to fill it again. And then:
"But suppose she wins him over! What if he don't put her out! She'll own us! The top floor will own us! And there'll be no living in the house. Suppose!"
Out in the street. Wind turning. The wheeled Vesuvius sifting the fate of Herculaneum upon the houses across the street. So down the street went Mrs. Bonticue, only four or five doors, to the office with the real estate sign in the window. Here was the landlord.
Very fine-looking old gentleman. Courtly air about him, very much like Mrs. Bonticue's own courtly and distinguished air. He sat at his desk, in a revolving chair, without which, if not helpless, he would be at a great disadvantage. For the very fine-looking gentleman had not a joint in his neck, no articulation of vertebrae. Knees and elbows he had, as many as anyone's, but his spinal column seemed ossified throughout. So the furniture man supplied what nature denied him. When having to look at anything not directly in front of him he could turn in his chair--a triumph of the installment plan over nature!
Mrs. Bonticue entering the office. Very stiff old gentleman with his left side to her. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Fizzard, but you desire to see me?" Stiff old gentleman trying to turn slightly, not liking to honor a disgraced tenant by turning all the way round to her. Chin refusing to budge; nerve center in the brain telegraphing to the axis of the chair, and chair turning involuntarily.
Grave courtly bow, from the hips. And, "Won't you be seated, Mrs. Bonticue?" Old lady curtsying, taking a chair under a map of New York City, red with green parks in it.
"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Bonticue, very sorry indeed, but I have had complaints about you."
"Honi soit qui mal y pense," said Mrs. Bonticue.
"I--I beg your pardon!"
"Honi soit qui mal y pense!" An air of: "Take that now and see whom you're talking to!"
Old gentleman deeply impressed. Taking a large silk handkerchief and patting the pink top of his head with it.
"Why, Mrs. Bonticue, I can't understand how there can be such complaints about you. Surely not about you, yourself! And your son is a quiet young man and very industrious. Why are there such complaints about you?"
"They're jealous about me!" explained Mrs. Bonticue. "If I so much as wash me face, they're noticing and making derogatory remarks, because of my superior appearance. They're jealous of me. But perhaps this might interest you, sir, and show you who I am, sir." Handing him a bit of parchment, the size of a playing card. Old gentleman putting on his glasses, very slowly and deliberately, seeing, in faint letters: "King Edward the Fourth," and nothing else decipherable.
"Me pedigree!" explained Mrs. Bonticue.
"Bless me!" Old gentleman staring at "King Edward the Fourth," and then fluttering the handkerchief on his pink head-top. "Yes, I know you are an Irish lady, Mrs. Bonticue, so it astonishes me---"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Fizzard! Not Irish. I was born and brought up in Dublin."
"But, Mrs. Bonticue, isn't Dublin---"
"Oh, they are very uncultivated people in the country parts of Ireland, Mr. Fizzard. They are only the peasants, and I have never considered myself one of them class of people. Not making you no disparaging answer, sir, I am from Dublin." Oh, she pretty well let him understand just who she was, you see!
"Letters from the Lord Mayor!" said Mrs. Bonticue. "Oh, yes, he was me father's friend." Taking ancient letters from a leather bag. "Perhaps you would like to read what the Lord Mayor says of me, sir."
"Bless me!" Old gentleman trying to read faint lettering impossible to read. Handing back evidences of unusual social importance.
"They're jealous of me!" Mrs. Bonticue rising, having shed complaints that could not even spot her superiority. "If I so much as add a ribbon to me hat, there's heads out of windows watching me and making calumnious observations." Low curtsy, parting smile that would captivate any old gentleman with a pink top to him. Stiff and jointless, but captivated old gentleman exclaiming, "I never!" Fluttering white silk on his pink top. Rising to open the office door for her.
There was scurrying from the first-floor sink when Mrs. Bonticue returned to the lettuce-green house. The other tenants fled, so Mrs. Bonticue's smile of triumph was for herself only.
Sure, Mrs. Bonticue liked a bit of the drop now and then. Which was nobody's business but her own. And if she had a pint of beer in the evening, or a dozen pints, that, too, was in the pursuit of her own happiness and only her own business. And a bit of song and a little general bedevilment! Why not, when one is only seventy and has plenty of time, in the future, to settle down and take life sedately?
Altogether, it was a case of too many cousins. And cousin's cousins. Anybody who was related to her, to any relative of hers, was welcome in Mrs. Bonticue's. When cousins were out of work, they came to board with Mrs. Bonticue; cousins, who were working, came to spend a sociable evening. Every evening was a sociable evening. And in the rest of the house tenants went to bed with towels tied around their ears; it is hard to sleep when the top floor is having a sociable evening.
So Mrs. Bonticue was at her top-floor sink, exclaiming, "There's people in this house that's jealous of me!" Other tenants, at different times, during the afternoon, going to her to find out what the landlord had said. Each tenant saying something like this:
"Oh, you mustn't blame me, Mrs. Bonticue! I don't say I couldn't tell you who made the complaints, but you mustn't think I did it."
And from Mrs. Bonticue, benign, smiling, treasuring no resentment:
"What did he say? And the very fine, distinguished gentleman he is, too! Mr. Fizzard says to me, `Mrs. Bonticue, I have received some communications about you which affects me only with astonishment at the audacity of anybody daring to defame you. Mrs. Bonticue, I wanted to see you to tell you, the very superior woman I have always known you to be, and assure you that, though they may talk the enamel off their teeth, not one word would I believe against you.'"
There seemed no way of ridding the house of the worthy and superior Mrs. Bonticue. The Delaneys could think of no way; and though Mrs. Weasel said, "I have de means and would pay anybody!" she could think of no way toward top-floor tranquility.
One of the many cousins, Cousin Willie, was coming up the stairs. Coat under his arm, shirt open at his throat, strap for a belt, shoes and trousers muddy. Willie met Mrs. Lunn on the stairs.
"Good evening, mum," he said civilly. Looked at her, in sudden insolence. "Ye have a nose like a mushroom!" said Willie, who had an eye for attractive women.
"Oh, Mr. Willie!" Mrs. Lunn trying to laugh, trying to ingratiate herself, as she tried to ingratiate herself with everybody.
"Out of me sight! Ye skinny half-fed creature! Ye're as ignorant as Paddy's pig! I'm a college-bred man! Out of me sight, you half-fed ignoranimouse!"
"Oh, Mr. Willie!" Almost a simper, no look of anger, Mrs. Lunn would take offense at nothing. Ever been out of work yourself, and not know where the rent was coming from? You would not altogether lose spirit and self-respect, but, after half a lifetime of it, Mrs. Lunn had.
Willie went up the stairs and kicked the top-floor door open. The kitchen, also the sitting-room, also one of the bedrooms, was crowded with useless articles of furniture. Mrs. Bonticue went on sewing. Whenever she saw something that was to be thrown away she asked for it and brought it home. So there was a wire dictionary-holder, which was a great mystery, for no one could find out what it was for; an old stamp album with all the stamps of value cut out; a music stand; a hall hat-rack; an electric battery, also a great mystery; remnants of cloth and bits saved from dressmaking had been made into lambrequins, pads for backs of chairs, stuffed seats of chairs, and rugs that gave the room a crazy-quilt appearance. A smoky cabin of a room, because, in the stove such a big piece of wood was burning that the covers could not go over it. Two sofas, which were opened out and made beds for lodgers who did not sleep on the floor. Beds in an inner room for male lodgers. Female lodgers slept on sofas or on the floor. Man was a creature to be petted and pampered and protected, in Mrs. Bonticue's philosophy; women--oh, women could shift for themselves. "I pity a man that's out of work!" Mrs. Bonticue would say. "Women can always find something to do." And that indicates her whole social attitude.
Cousin Mary Ellen sat on the sofa. Sour-visaged. Left side of her mouth drawn down to express bitterness and world-weariness; right side remaining good-humored and capable of an anchored, harnessed smiling. And Cousin Mary Thornton was there. Supposed to be a little daffy, just slightly off, you know. But Mrs. Bonticue would tell you:
"Off? Not a bit of it! Brimful of knavery is all that ails her!"
"Oh, Willie, are you there?" Mrs. Bonticue running to him and leading him to a table. "Sit right down and see what the old mother has for you!" And, oh, dear, what a different-looking Mrs. Bonticue! Ragged old waist stuck full of pins and needles so she looked like a porcupine; dirty hands, from polishing the stove, and no more washing for them until there should be occasion again to impress very fine and susceptible old gentlemen. Leg of a chicken in the dirty hands, put on a plate cleaned with a corner of apron, for Willie. And there had been only beef stew for the female cousins.
"Ah!" drawled Mary Ellen, through the sour, drooping corner of mouth, but smiling with the other corner, "Mrs. Bonticue is so good to the men!" And whether Mary Ellen meant to express approbations or jeering, no one could ever tell.
"Oh, me poor cousin works too hard for everybody!" Mary Ann Thornton dabbing up the end of her nose with a forefinger, derisively, behind the old lady's back, capering about the room, like an old little elf. Then bobbing around Willie, trying to amuse him with a doll that she made with her fingers and a handkerchief over them; two fingers for head and body, and two fingers out for arms. Closing the arms on Willie's beak-like nose, pinching viciously.
"Blast you!" said Willie, drawing back his arm to strike her.
"You go sit down, Mary Thornton! Don't bother Willie when he's tired." Mary Ann Thornton capering to the music-stand and peeling potatoes, hanging peeling on her ears in imitation of Mrs. Bonticue's very best curls. "Is there anything else you want, Willie?"
"So good to the men!' sighed Cousin Mary Ellen.
"Be the Laird, if you mean to torment me, Mary Ellen Cassidy!"
Oh, don't fear that Mrs. Bonticue would stand any nonsense from any one of the sex that she regarded as so inferior!
So Mary Ellen was in disgrace until she stood up and slipped off her skirt. Willie was there and Aleck Bonticue was coming up the stairs, but so long as there are other skirts, it is not considered improper for one to slip off a skirt in public. Not only other skirts, but a very fine blanket was wound around and around Cousin Mary Ellen.
"Here's a blanket for you, Mrs. Bonticue!" she whined. "When I learned I was going to get my time, at the hotel, I thought I might as well take something with me. Here it is for you."
Then all smiles, even for an inferior female. "Oh, thank you, Mary Ellen! Ah, everybody remembers the old mother! So you didn't forget the old mother? I'll give you a bit of chicken that will go good with you--oh, Aleck!" And Aleck Bonticue got the bit of chicken.
Aleck was a man of thirty. Tired, always tired, whether working or not, but almost always working. Grimaced hideously with every word, as if to give force to utterances that he knew indicated his lassitude. He looked around fretfully as if for something to complain about. Saw dust on a mirror, and with his finger wrote his name in the dust to call attention to it. His mother hovering over him, edging him along to a table. Dirty table, with soiled, worn oilcloth on it; bones, bowls of beef stew on it, and somebody's dress, upon which Mrs. Bonticue was working, a dress of delicate material, crowded against the wall, not more than an inch from the nearest beef-stew bowl. "Oh, Aleck, the old mother! Now sit down and have a nice bit of chicken! Do as the old mother tells you." Discontented Aleck faintly grumbling, but working into amiability, and then a wail from him. Pins in the hovering waist catching in the back of his head.
Then Mrs. Bonticue off on another tack! "Be the Laird, no one will oppose me! I'm as firm as the rock of Cassian, and got the spirit of a Roman Conqueror. Was it Julius Caesar himself no one could subjugate me! There's people in this house is jealous of me, but the landlord himself says I am to do whatever I please, and bad luck to all malignant machinations against me. Here's five cents. Can anyone cover it? Go get a pint." A sociable evening begun.
Mrs. Delaney was ironing. Silly little head with pretty, light hair, and not a thought of importance in it. At anything said, Mrs. Delaney laughed immoderately, and thus, unable to say anything lively, could contribute as much to general liveliness as anybody. Jimmie Delaney was pacing the floor uneasily, sighing for excitement of any kind and protesting his pleasure in a quiet, home life. And Mrs. Lunn was there. Trying to ingratiate herself, trying hard to make friends somewhere, so that, somewhere, there should be at least a floor to lie on, when, after rent day, and she, without money for rent, would be homeless.
"Ain't Mr. Delaney the lively young gentleman, though! Can't never sit still, can he? He ought to be out entertaining a roomful." Flatter him! Make friends with him! He had a floor to lie on.
"What do you put such ideas in his head for?" Mrs. Delaney was angry. Taking an iron from the stove; viciously dabbing fingers at lower lip and sizzling the fingers on underside of iron. Then laughing, because even angry utterances were followed by laughter. "He's better off at home, where he belongs. It would be fine for a married man to go around the country, entertaining roomfuls!"
Singing, rejoicing, bedevilment up on the top floor!
"I like the peace and quiet of my own home!" said young Jimmie Delaney, mournfully. "Hey, who's that singing, now? They sing pretty good songs sometimes."
But, Mrs. Lunn, you must flatter Mrs. Delaney! Think of something to make her friendly. Crawl, cringe before her! Anything for a floor to lie on.
"Oh, Mrs. Delaney, you done right to send in complaints on those disgraceful people! No one else had your courage--"
"She did?" demanded Delaney. "Sadie, how often must I tell you not to go interfering? And you told me it was the Weasels!"
Mrs. Delaney unable to clear herself, laughing immoderately, head bobbing down to the hot iron. Iron then rubbed viciously on the square of folded newspaper placed, for rubbing, on the ironing board. "Mrs. Lunn, you can't make no trouble between me and my husband!" Laughing, to be sure, but feeling resentment. And, oh, the hard luck of it! Trying to crawl and cringe and making a floor to lie on only remoter. But fawn and flatter on! Mrs. Bonticue may pity men and tell you that women can always shift for themselves, but no man ever trembled with the horror that made Mrs. Lunn feel sick as she thought of homelessness, wandering at night, sleeping in doorways.
"Oh, Mr. Delaney, I brought you down these. I do find them in the schoolhouse. If I can only wait three weeks for the new schoolhouse to open, the janitor is going to take me on the cleaning." Handing him almost fifty little stubs of lead pencils she had found in waste-paper baskets. Have him indebted in some way to her. Perhaps worthless little pencil-stubs would incline him charitably.
Singing, roaring, the divil himself to pay, up on the top floor!
"Oh, put them down there!" said Delaney, irritably. "I use a pencil occasionally. That's a pretty good song they're singing--"
"You sit down and read your paper, Jimmie!" cried Mrs. Delaney, pounding an iron upon an inverted cup, which was a stand for it. "Do you want a cup of tea? Why don't your sons take care of you, Mrs. Lunn? You have sons, haven't you? I'm sure if I had, I wouldn't be out working!"
"They're such nice boys!" said Mrs. Lunn, softly. Softly smoothing down her shiny, neat skirt. Everything about her having the shine of struggled-with shabbiness. "Tony sold all the furniture one day when I was out--but he's such a nice boy! Eddie put me out because I couldn't pay a bit on what I ate, though I only ate Sundays, but that was his wife's fault!--he's such a nice boy! You'd like him, Mr. Delaney. He said, `Mother, I'll give you five minutes to be out in the street, bag and baggage.' Oh, Eddie always was such a nice boy! You ought to see him, Mrs. Delaney. He's--he's almost as handsome as your husband."
"Those people make me mad!" cried young Jimmie Delaney. "We're soft and easy to put up with them!"
"Ain't we?" Mrs. Delaney pleased that he should take this view.
"What I like is peace and comfort in my own rooms. I'm through with all this carrying on at night and hate to hear others at it."
"Ain't he the old married man, though!" Mrs. Delaney delighted with his sedateness.
"Sadie, I'm going up and stop them. Home is home, and I must have peace and quietness." Top floor vibrating with singing and roaring. "I ain't going looking for no trouble, but I'll put a stop to this disgracefulness."
"Oh, Jimmie, stay right where you are! Don't go near them! They're a bad lot when they got the drink in."
"I'll see about this and stop it in short order!" Young Jimmie Delaney, very determined and devoted to peace and quietness, running from the room. Running up the stairs. Mrs. Delaney running to the stairs and listening. Listening for a few moments, then hearing, in Jimmie's voice:
"Good-bye, little girl, good-bye!"
Jimmie Delaney welcomed, invited to join in the revelry. Mrs. Bonticue crying to him, "So you had to come up and see the old mother? Mary Ellen, you don't want that chair; you can have the soap-box. Can't you sing us a song, Mr. Delaney?" To be sure he could. Peace and quietness of home life are entrancing, but--"Good-bye, little girl, good-bye!" from Jimmie Delaney.
And the "little girl" returned to her room, no more interest in ironing, lamenting.
"He's gone for the night! And maybe he won't go to his work tomorrow! It's your fault, Mrs. Lunn. I wish some people would stay in their own rooms!"
But not a hint would Mrs. Lunn take. Sitting and smoothing her shiny dress, trying to make possible a floor to lie on.
"If some people would only mind their own business!"
"Don't you iron nice and pretty, though?" Whine from Mrs. Lunn. "Do you always iron on the wrong side of black dress goods?"
No answer. And she sat and sat, trying and trying to ingratiate herself, but winning increasing dislike. Sitting and sitting, inane and tiresome, trying to make a friend, coming out with more inanities, wondering what progress she was making, hoping for the best and then hearing:
"Mrs. Lunn, you'll have to excuse me!"
She left the room and in the hall met Willie, swaggering down the stairs, noisily drumming on the bottom of a beer can.
"Out of me sight!" said not altogether chivalrous Willie. "Ye half-fed ignoranimouse; I'm a college-bred man, and out of me sight, you with your eyes like boiled oysters, and is that the only old rag of a dress you got?"
"Oh, Mr. Willie!"--a cringe and a simper.
So the Bonticues were a nuisance doubly; disorderly themselves and attracting others from peaceful, orderly evenings.
Then again, Mrs. Delaney complained to the landlord. And the Weasels complained. But on the purple, baby-blue, and orange lining! Down the stoop and down to the office, with "pedigree" and letters from the Lord Mayor. Stiff old gentleman beginning with severity, soon reduced to a helpless fluttering of white silk on his pink bald spot, ending with bows and escorting to the door, and conviction that Mrs. Bonticue was a very superior woman. "Honi soit qui mal y pense!" wherever in the world she picked that up--and don't go to old Mr. Fizzard with one harsh word for old Mrs. Bonticue! Shouts and songs, Weasel attracted to the top floor, losing his job consequently; roars and a good old Irish reel, and Jimmie Delaney suspended and given one more chance to appear for work in time in the morning. Willie stamping down the stairs, calling insults and insolently leering at everybody, and then suddenly a Willie that would astonish you. The mildest and meekest of timid Willies! Meeting you on the stairs and greeting you respectfully in subdued murmurs. Apologizing, begging your pardon for passing you on the stairs; hat off and in his hand from the moment of entering the house; scarcely a word from him, but that word the most civil. He had had another very good beating. Just so often Willie's rather unconventional ways brought upon him a first-class beating. Then for the mildest and quietest and meekest of Willies--until black eyes faded away and admiration for himself returned--then--"Out of me way, and pay respects to a college-bred man when you meet one, you, with a face like a trout out of water!"
Lamentations from Weasels and Delaneys. If something could only be done to save them from these awful Bonticues!
One evening Mrs. Bonticue opening the Delaney's door without rapping. Why shouldn't she open any door and walk into any room in her own house?
"It's only the old mother! But I'm going to have a little party. You're invited! The both of you are invited."
"Oh, I'm sorry," from Mrs. Delaney, "but you see---"
"Ah, you can't refuse the old mother!"
"You see," said Jimmie Delaney, "I don't go around very much, I'm such a stay-at-home body. I married for a quiet home life, and--"; and half a dozen homes could not have kept home this stay-at-home body.
"Well," said Mrs. Delaney forlornly, "I suppose we'll have to go with the old mother--"
Oh, but the signs of war immediately! "Excuse yourself, Mrs. Delaney: I'm not laid away on the shelf yet, by any means! Oh, old, am I? It seems anybody's old in this country!"
Abashed Mrs. Delaney laughing, "But I'm only repeating your own words, Mrs. Bonticue. You called yourself the old mother."
"Did I?" thinking it over. "Ah, well, 'tis the fashion I have. Ah, well, then, come to the old mother's little party."
And the Weasels, too, had to go, unable to resist, Mrs. Weasel very much against her will, and Weasel without enthusiasm, for he would have to be up early in the morning.
Top-floor room full! All the ladies and gentlemen greeting the guests from downstairs. "Happy to meet you!" and "To our better acquaintance!" Guests with a beer glass in each hand, for guests bring their own glasses at such important functions. Trying to shake hands with beer glasses in them; cordiality all around, but one gloomy figure lurking in the corner behind the hat-rack. Oh, a beautiful black eye this time! Black? No, but blue, green, violet, orange, purple! Optically prismatic Willie, spirit tamed again, not a word to say, humbly sought to efface himself. Most civilizing is a jolly good beating!
Mrs. Weasel, Swedish lady, cook lady, though no restaurant trash, but "private families and sleep at home," sat on the very edge of the hair-cloth sofa, between Mary Ellen and Mary Ann Thornton. Hands folded primly, self-reproaching for her weakness in coming, interest in nothing until some one spoke to her of her prosperity. Then, "Yes, I have de means!" and a deep dimple gouging each thin cheek.
And Danny Weasel glad to meet everybody, whispering reproachfully, "What did you go and bring that Swede along for?" How can a Cockney coachman work summers in the country and odd jobs the rest of the year really enjoy a sociable evening with his Swede wife along?
But drink hearty, and there'll be another pint! Fill the can, rather, for how far would a pint go in that gathering? Meek Willie going for the beer, running all the errands, not a word from him, now and then taking the glasses to the sink to freshen them, as there was not yet drinking from anybody's and everybody's glass so long as you got it.
And William was there--not Willie, but William, the Bavarian gentleman, who made beds and did general housework in a brownstone-front boarding-house over Broadway direction. Small gentleman with a pointed beard and the kind of voice heard on foggy nights on the river; supposed to be madly infatuated with Mrs. Bonticue.
And Aleck was there, trying to restrain his prodigal mother, with tired adjurations accompanied by terrific grimaces.
"Why are we having this party?" cry from Mrs. Bonticue. "Because never before in my life was I insulted so!" Which seemed a rather unusual reason for a social function. "Look!" Mrs. Bonticue reaching under the stove, drawing out a pan of ashes, taking from the ashes many bits of minutely torn blue paper.
"When I came home this evening I found this nailed on my door!"
"Dispossess!" exclaimed everybody.
"Oh, my! Too bad!" Mrs. Weasel overjoyed.
"What a shame!" Mrs. Delaney trying hard to control her rapture.
"And it was only yesterday the landlord said to me, `Mrs. Bonticue, you are a most superior woman, and no one need come to me with complaints about you!' Anybody didn't like me in the house could leave the house, he told me. Let me have no worriment on that account, he told me, and, now--the treachery of him!" Mrs. Bonticue pouncing upon tiny bits of paper and tearing them finer. Mary Ann Thornton brushing bits to the floor and dancing on them. Bavarian gentleman taking a handful of ashes and, to insult bits of paper, rubbing them with ashes, wiping one hand on side of trousers, other hand on his pointed beard.
"Oh, me poor cousin!" from Mary Ann Thornton. Sticking out her tongue at the back of her poor cousin. "Oh, me unfortunate relation!" Derisively wriggling her nose behind her unfortunate relation.
"If we were disorderly people!" shouted Mrs. Bonticue. "Don't try to restrain me, Aleck! Nobody could ever subjugate me! If we ever raised the breath of disturbance, what mind! If there was ever the shadow of a sound heard from us, what harm! If we weren't all like mice on a velvet carpet! Or even a murmur from us! But us always like a dormitory in a deaf and dumb asylum! Then, now, we'll show him! We'll--"
"Put his old house on the bum!" from the madly infatuated Bavarian gentleman.
"Exactly, William! Ah, when I haven't a friend in the world I can always depend upon poor William! Poor William will advise me and tell me what to do. Honest and good--poor William!"
"Break up his top floor and throw it out of his third-floor windows!" from poor William, so honest and good.
"To insult me like that! I can't understand it when, to me own face, he tells me pay no attention to them's jealous of me. What's come over him so?" Pedigree passed around and admired. Letters from the Lord Mayor! "Then everybody do as they please, for we're leaving!"
But the Weasels and the Delaneys were looking uneasy, as from the moment of learning the cause of the old mother's little party, they had looked uneasy. You see, they were not leaving.
"You're not afraid of the landlord?" Oh, what scorn for the landlord was felt by those who were leaving.
Why, no, those who were not leaving were not afraid of a landlord. Certainly not! It was only--why, the matter of having to get up early, you know.
"Ah, be the Laird, sit where you are! You'll not leave this house! Poor William will sing us a song--honest and good as the day is long. Be the Powers, you'll not leave where you're invited and welcome!"
Then decided uneasiness in those who were not leaving.
Poor William singing a Bavarian song expressive of extreme melancholy and sluggishness, but Mary Ann Thornton capering about the room, beating a dish-pan by way of accompaniment. Poor William expressing his conviviality with another dirge; sprightly Mary Ann beating two dish-pans together.
"Then everybody join in! Let the lot of us show the scorn and contempt that animates us for landlords! Yes, I am very quiet, Aleck. I always had notable restraint over me emotions!" Mrs. Bonticue handing tomato cans to Willie, but humble Willie creeping farther behind the hat-rack. Passing around kettles and bread-boxes and kerosene-cans, and then distributing sticks of firewood for drumsticks. "We'll bring off the roof of this old house and rise the whole neighborhood! You're not afraid, are you?"
Prim, respectable Mrs. Weasel, no restaurant trash, but "private families!" In her lap she held a lard-pail upside down to beat upon. And she looked at it. A poker passed to her. She looked at it!
Unfortunate Mrs. Delaney! Looking extremely worried and then laughing hysterically at her predicament. Beating sticks of firewood together, with about the enthusiasm of a Puritan drafted into the Salvation Army and set at bass-drumming.
Everybody taking part, or pretending to take part, except retiring, shrinking Willie, quiet, decent fellow that he was, after every jolly good licking.
Up and down the room with Bandmaster Bonticue! Roars from her, and then pausing to shout, "What harm if we were ever noisy people!" Aleck looking shocked and seeming to yearn for his evening newspaper, but then recognizing that he was old-fashioned and would have to make home agreeable to keep his mother home nights. Aleck making homes agreeable with a piano-stool pounding on the coal-barrel.
"I think I hear fire engines!" from unhappy Mrs. Weasel.
"No, it's a parade!" from distressed Mrs. Delaney.
"Oh, we must go down and see!" from Weasel and Delaney, most feebly tapping on the soap-box bass-drum given them.
"Be the Laird, sit where you are! We'll tear his roof off!"
"Why, yes!" Weasel trying to look most wicked and destructive. "Oh, by all means tear his roof off, but--wouldn't a song do, Mrs. Bonticue? You have a very fine voice for--singing, Mrs. Bonticue."
"We ought to have games at a party," suggested apprehensive young Delaney.
"Break his stairs down?" asked good, honest, poor William. "I played games like that once before, and we kicked his window-frames out. Tear out all the gas-pipes and plumbing? Smash the doors off of the hinges? I like those little games."
"Poor, good, honest William!" Mrs. Bonticue, beaming upon him. "Ah, poor William! He always advises me for the best. Honest and good as the day is long. What games, Mr. Delaney? We're through with the old stove and might drop it down to the basement. Be the Powers, what harm if we were ever disorderly people! And what could have come over Mr. Fizzard so sudden, and him so fair to me face yesterday! What games, Mr. Delaney?"
"Why, puss-in-the-corner," suggested Mr. Delaney, grown most mild and harmless in his apprehensions. "There's another nice game for parties---"
"Go up and tear the tin from his roof?" asked good, honest, poor William.
"Why, no, hide a thimble--it's a real nice game, if you'll try it, Mrs. Bonticue. It passes a very pleasant evening. One hides a thimble in a vase or something, and the others---"
"Oh, be the Powers!" Sudden roars from the dark corner behind the hat-rack. For Willie had been helping himself pretty freely. Out into the open room with him. If he had a black eye it came from some accident and no living man could spot him with one. Willie had helped himself, and Willie was himself again.
"Hide a thimble? You say hide a thimble to a true-born Irishman with eviction coming upon him? I'll have the life of ye if ye say hide thimbles to me when there's murder to be did this night! Kill the landlord! Set fire to the old house! Blow it up with dynamite, and there's some to be had down in the shanty where they're building! Have the life of him!"
"Willie," said Mrs. Bonticue, with austerity, "you're not in the bogs, now. Civilized people don't murder landlords. They drop stoves down through houses, to be sure, and there's precedent for tearing out the windows, but civilized people only express their scorn and contempt by smashing off the doors or some token, and no murdering, I'm surprised at your uncultivated belligerency, Willie."
"I'm a college-bred man, and you can't tell me what to do, Mrs. Bonticue." But catching sight of his black eye in the mirror and calming, so that he said:
"But, sure, Mrs. Bonticue, you're only half dead and half alive with your party--" having to shout so as to be heard above the terrific din. "Ye're having a most inferior demonstration. Oh, but I can go down to Callahan's and bring up a couple of rousing, rollicking boys who can show you how to demonstrate against a landlord."
"Oh, my! I think I hear someone rapping at our door!" alarmed Mrs. Weasel. And from Mrs. Delaney, "Oh, Mrs. Bonticue, I must go down--we came up without locking our door."
"Be the Laird, sit where you are! Would you mean to offend me? Ah," wheedling, "the old mother?! You'd not run away from the old mother's little party? Go, Willie, and bring the boys, and everybody's welcome when the old mother gives a little party!" Mrs. Bonticue singing, in as fine contralto as you'd like to hear, "Starboard Watch, Ahoy!" Others singing, "Oh, the Great Big Stick That Grew out of the Ship!" and then, "Bryan O'Lynn, his wife and wife's mother, all went over the bridge together." Mary Ann Thornton capering on a table, screeching, "Bryan fell out and his wife fell in! `She's gone to the divil!' said Bryan O'Lynn!"
Cousin Mary Ellen, lively as anybody, sour jeering side of her mouth tucked away and smiling side dominating, taking up the next stanza:
Oh, Bryan O'Lynn had no breeches to wear!
Bought a sheep's skin and made him a pair;
Fleshy side out and woolly side in--
"They itch like the divil!" said Bryan O'Lynn.
"Sure, more power to us! Landlords is our natural born enemies, and we'll show them a thing or two when they dare nail dispossesses on our doors! So whoop her up and not a wink of sleep for the whole neighborhood this blessed night! Somebody else kindly oblige! Who can sing `Bold Jack Donohue?' Or we'll have a good old Irish reel! Yes, and stamp as hard as you can stamp, with every step of it! Don't mind old Mrs. Lunn downstairs. Don't mind anybody. Stamp like the very divil--and sure, here's Willie with his two, rousing, rollicking boys, and the hearty-looking lumps they are, too! And the big feet of them made for stamping!"
One sight of the feet, and Mrs. Weasel and Mrs. Delaney in one mad rush for the door. "Be the Laird, do you mean to offend me? Are you scared of a landlord? Sure, could anybody have the heart to break up the old mother's little party? And is this your friends, Willie? Good evening, sir! Sure, any friends of Willie's is welcome. Sit down, sir. Mary Ellen, fill a glass for the gentleman. Mary Ann, give your chair to the gentleman."
They were awkward-looking gentlemen, but you should have seen their feet! Mrs. Weasel looking at their feet and turning faint. Mrs. Bonticue looking at the feet as if they were Bluchers come to save the day. Mary Ann Thornton gasping her admiration--oh, beautiful, wide, expansive feet that flapped as they stepped and could stamp like bath-tub elephant slippers. But was there divilment in the gentlemen? There's the question! It was divilment that was wanted, as well as captivating feet. Awkward and very polite, hats stiffly held in boxing-glove-sized hands; awkward, self-conscious laughs at Mary Ann Thornton dancing a jig on the table. Sure, it's a poor lookout, and Willie has not contributed much--except undeniable feet--to the old mother's little party.
"If it was me," said one of the gentlemen, "I'd go down to the new building and steal a load of bricks and roll them down his stairs." Ah, more like it! Might be some pretty good material here, after all.
"But," was pointed out, "who'd be bothering to cart up a load of bricks just to roll them down again?"
"Then I'd up with me on his roof," from the other unpromising-looking gentleman, "and take the bricks from his chimney and roll them down his stairs." Ah, now there's talking! Now that's more like it. Willie, more power to you, you done noble!
"And," said both valuable and highly gifted gentlemen, "do you mind the time the Dugans got their dispossess? They filled every sink in the house with ashes."
"More power to you, boys, and your hearts as big as the fine big feet of you! Sure, now, indeed, you are welcome! And, now, between the lot of us, we'll teach this landlord a thing or two! Up to the roof with us, and down with his old chimney! How poor-spirited we've been to be so mild! But we'll make up for it, now!"
General scramble for the stairs! But Mrs. Weasel, having Weasel firmly by the cuff, darted down. "Here! Where are you going? We haven't begun yet!"
"Oh, Mrs. Bonticue, we know where there's a barrel of broken bottles!"
"Ah, you have good hearts in you! Sure, me own heart is light and free when I see I have such good friends around." But the Weasels ran to their room and piled trunks against the door.
The Delaneys taking the stairs five steps at a time.
"Here! You're not leaving us!"
"Oh, Mrs. Bonticue, we know where there are nine dead cats!"
"Ah, then let me die in peace, here in the bosom of me friends and nine dead cats." But the Delaneys snapped extra padlocks on their door.
Oh, then for expressions of scorn and outraged hospitality! Were all the finer instincts of proud and independent bosoms to be set at naught? Could one be so base as to fear a landlord and not come back with nine dead cats? Could it be possible--
But ladies and gentlemen bearing fragments of the tottering old chimney came tumbling down from the roof.
"What mind if we was disorderly people!" Clatter and bang all the way down the stairs!
"Us always so decorous and the pink of propriety we was!" Ashes leaped high in every sink. Ashes strewn up and down the stairs.
Back to the room, and from Mrs. Bonticue:
"Whisper, once I lost a dime down the crack of this floor. And you'd think I'd leave a dime behind for any landlord to enjoy? I'll have what belongs to me, as is no more than right."
And, with the crowbar of Willie's, Aleck Bonticue had to rip up the floor, to make everything agreeable at home. Up with the flooring and beams pitched down into the back yard.
Yes, we hear a good deal of the sadness of dispossession cases--they are sad.
Next morning! Landlord coming down the street, stopping in front of house with a junk-shop cellar, hearing Mrs. Bonticue calling directions to furniture-moving men in the doorway.
The landlord went into the house. Half way up the stairs he met Mrs. Bonticue coming down.
"Why, Mrs. Bonticue!"
"Be the Laird, if you say one word to me!"
"But you seem to be moving--"
"And why wouldn't I, with the notice nailed on my door?"
And, with the doors half open, so as not to miss anything, Mrs. Delaney laughed, and there were two deep dimples in Mrs. Weasel's thin cheeks. Their troubles were over at last.
"On your door, Mrs. Bonticue? Oh, surely not on your door. Indeed, Mrs. Bonticue, I have always regarded you as a very superior woman, and the last thing in the world I'd do would be to treat you so--" Old gentleman discovering ashes on the stairs and in a sink, looking down at bricks at his feet. Staring and frowning and exclaiming, "What has happened to the house? But, Mrs. Bonticue, I'd never ask you to leave my house."
No more laughter from Mrs. Delaney, not a dimple to be seen in the doorway below.
"Then it was not a dispossess for me?" Sturdy Mrs. Bonticue suddenly becoming very limp.
"I done it, and I confess I done it!" Tremulous wail from the third floor. "I don't want nobody blamed for what I done." Mrs. Lunn picking her way through bricks and ashes down the stairs. "I don't know what you'll say to me, Mr. Fizzard, but your man nailed the dispossess on my door all right and proper, and I took it and nailed it on the door above!"
"You'll be so kind as to tell me why?" Very, very stiff old gentleman surveying the disgraceful stairs.
"Oh, sir, only so you'd think a mistake had been made and the wrong parties notified. Then you might have to notify me over, and that would give me a day or two longer. I know you got to be hard--I mean have your just dues, but I was trying to make it appear a mistake. I only want a day or so."
"Who's responsible for all this?" Landlord thinking only of bricks and ashes. "Who's dared to do this thing? Who is it perpetrated this outrage?"
"I don't know, sir!" from Mrs. Weasel and Mrs. Delaney, on the stairs.
"It was meself, sir!" Mrs. Bonticue valiant to the last.
"You! You, Mrs. Bonticue?" The landlord hastened up the stairs. Looked in top-floor rooms--oh, disgraceful! He fluttered his large silk handkerchief on a head-top that had become crimson.
Stiff form coming down the stairs.
"Be the Laird, not one word from you, sir! It was all a mistake, but my mistake--"
"Then it will cost you dear, Mrs. Bonticue. To say that I am astonished at you is saying little! I can see now that there must have been good cause for all these complaints. Whether the notice was for you or not, you have done well to move this morning. I'd never have you in a room of mine."
Dimples again! And Mrs. Delaney sitting on the stairs, trying not to laugh and rejoice aloud.
"And it wasn't meant for me at all!" from distressed Mrs. Bonticue. "And I might still be quiet and peaceable in me own home!"
"It will cost you more than that!" from the crimson-topped landlord.
"Be the Powers, not a word from you, sir! I've already engaged a woman to come in and clean down the stairs. There's a man coming to repair the chimney, and he'll be paid for restoring the floor. I'm the direct descendant of the Knight of Kerry!" said Mrs. Bonticue, magnificently. "We have always been the first and last to hold out against oppression, but injustice has never stained our name. I may have my bit of a ruction, but I always pay the costs." Curtsy to the old gentleman; curtsies to the women on the stairs. "I always adjudicate for my own reprehensibilities, for that is my way." Magnificent sweeping down to the street and magnificent sailing away, in orange lining, purple, and baby-blue!
"I never! A remarkable woman!" from the stiff old gentleman, his bald top back to pink again. "Remarkable, but not desirable as a tenant. To think of her showering bricks and ashes!
"Mrs. Lunn, I must have the rooms by Friday, and, understand, it won't be necessary to notify you again."
But Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Weasel had been whispering.
"Mr. Fizzard," they cried, "Mrs. Lunn will get work in a very few weeks, when a new schoolhouse opens. We can sleep nights now, thanks to her, and won't you let her stay, if we'll be responsible? We can't but feel we owe her a good deal."
"Why, if you say you'll be responsible--"
"I have de means!" said the Swedish woman haughtily.
"Then that is satisfactory to me."
"Oh, thank you ever and ever so much!" cried Mrs. Lunn. "I'll be all right in maybe only a week!" She wept a little. Ran to her rooms and came back with several hundred pencil-stubs, which might not be very useful to everybody, but, at least, were her only way of expressing gratitude.
The old gentleman absently accepted a blue-pencil stub. He went down the stairs and went to his office. "A very remarkable woman!" he murmured regretfully.
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