Beasley's Christmas Party by Booth Tarkington
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
The maple-bordered street was as still as a country Sunday; so
quiet that there seemed an echo to my footsteps. It was four o'clock
in the morning; clear October moonlight misted through the thinning
foliage to the shadowy sidewalk and lay like a transparent silver fog
upon the house of my admiration, as I strode along, returning from my
first night's work on the "Wainwright Morning Despatch."
I had already marked that house as the finest (to my taste) in
Wainwright, though hitherto, on my excursions to this metropolis, the
state capital, I was not without a certain native jealousy that
Spencerville, the county-seat where I lived, had nothing so good. Now,
however, I approached its purlieus with a pleasure in it quite
unalloyed, for I was at last myself a resident (albeit of only one
day's standing) of Wainwright, and the house—though I had not even an
idea who lived there—part of my possessions as a citizen. Moreover, I
might enjoy the warmer pride of a next-door-neighbor, for Mrs.
Apperthwaite's, where I had taken a room, was just beyond.
This was the quietest part of Wainwright; business stopped short of
it, and the "fashionable residence section" had overleaped this
"forgotten backwater," leaving it undisturbed and unchanging, with
that look about it which is the quality of few urban quarters, and
eventually of none, as a town grows to be a city—the look of still
being a neighborhood. This friendliness of appearance was largely the
emanation of the homely and beautiful house which so greatly pleased
It might be difficult to say why I thought it the "finest" house in
Wainwright, for a simpler structure would be hard to imagine; it was
merely a big, old-fashioned brick house, painted brown and very plain,
set well away from the street among some splendid forest trees, with a
fair spread of flat lawn. But it gave back a great deal for your
glance, just as some people do. It was a large house, as I say, yet it
looked not like a mansion but like a home; and made you wish that you
lived in it. Or, driving by, of an evening, you would have liked to
hitch your horse and go in; it spoke so surely of hearty,
old-fashioned people living there, who would welcome you merrily.
It looked like a house where there were a grandfather and a
grandmother; where holidays were warmly kept; where there were
boisterous family reunions to which uncles and aunts, who had been
born there, would return from no matter what distances; a house where
big turkeys would be on the table often; where one called "the hired
man" (and named either Abner or Ole) would crack walnuts upon a
flat-iron clutched between his knees on the back porch; it looked like
a house where they played charades; where there would be long
streamers of evergreen and dozens of wreaths of holly at
Christmas-time; where there were tearful, happy weddings and great
throwings of rice after little brides, from the broad front steps: in
a word, it was the sort of a house to make the hearts of spinsters and
bachelors very lonely and wistful—and that is about as near as I can
come to my reason for thinking it the finest house in Wainwright.
The moon hung kindly above its level roof in the silence of that
October morning, as I checked my gait to loiter along the picket
fence; but suddenly the house showed a light of its own. The spurt of
a match took my eye to one of the upper windows, then a steadier glow
of orange told me that a lamp was lighted. The window was opened, and
a man looked out and whistled loudly.
I stopped, thinking that he meant to attract my attention; that
something might be wrong; that perhaps some one was needed to go for a
doctor. My mistake was immediately evident, however; I stood in the
shadow of the trees bordering the sidewalk, and the man at the window
had not seen me.
"Boy! Boy!" he called, softly. "Where are you, Simpledoria?"
He leaned from the window, looking downward. "Why, THERE you are!"
he exclaimed, and turned to address some invisible person within the
room. "He's right there, underneath the window. I'll bring him up." He
leaned out again. "Wait there, Simpledoria!" he called. "I'll be down
in a jiffy and let you in."
Puzzled, I stared at the vacant lawn before me. The clear moonlight
revealed it brightly, and it was empty of any living presence; there
were no bushes nor shrubberies—nor even shadows—that could have been
mistaken for a boy, if "Simpledoria" WAS a boy. There was no dog in
sight; there was no cat; there was nothing beneath the window except
thick, close-cropped grass.
A light shone in the hallway behind the broad front doors; one of
these was opened, and revealed in silhouette the tall, thin figure of
a man in a long, old-fashioned dressing-gown.
"Simpledoria," he said, addressing the night air with considerable
severity, "I don't know what to make of you. You might have caught
your death of cold, roving out at such an hour. But there," he
continued, more indulgently; "wipe your feet on the mat and come in.
You're safe NOW!"
He closed the door, and I heard him call to some one up-stairs, as
he rearranged the fastenings:
"Simpledoria is all right—only a little chilled. I'll bring him up
to your fire."
I went on my way in a condition of astonishment that engendered,
almost, a doubt of my eyes; for if my sight was unimpaired and myself
not subject to optical or mental delusion, neither boy nor dog nor
bird nor cat, nor any other object of this visible world, had entered
that opened door. Was my "finest" house, then, a place of call for
wandering ghosts, who came home to roost at four in the morning?
It was only a step to Mrs. Apperthwaite's; I let myself in with the
key that good lady had given me, stole up to my room, went to my
window, and stared across the yard at the house next door. The front
window in the second story, I decided, necessarily belonged to that
room in which the lamp had been lighted; but all was dark there now. I
went to bed, and dreamed that I was out at sea in a fog, having
embarked on a transparent vessel whose preposterous name, inscribed
upon glass life-belts, depending here and there from an invisible
rail, was SIMPLEDORIA.
Mrs. Apperthwaite's was a commodious old house, the greater part of
it of about the same age, I judged, as its neighbor; but the late Mr.
Apperthwaite had caught the Mansard fever of the late 'Seventies, and
the building-disease, once fastened upon him, had never known a
convalescence, but, rather, a series of relapses, the tokens of which,
in the nature of a cupola and a couple of frame turrets, were
terrifyingly apparent. These romantic misplacements seemed to me not
inharmonious with the library, a cheerful and pleasantly shabby
apartment down-stairs, where I found (over a substratum of history,
encyclopaedia, and family Bible) some worn old volumes of Godey's
Lady's Book, an early edition of Cooper's works; Scott, Bulwer,
Macaulay, Byron, and Tennyson, complete; some odd volumes of Victor
Hugo, of the elder Dumas, of Flaubert, of Gautier, and of Balzac;
Clarissa, Lalla Rookh, The Alhambra, Beulah, Uarda, Lucile, Uncle
Tom's Cabin, Ben-Hur, Trilby, She, Little Lord Fauntleroy; and of a
later decade, there were novels about those delicately tangled
emotions experienced by the supreme few; and stories of adventurous
royalty; tales of "clean-limbed young American manhood;" and some thin
volumes of rather precious verse.
'Twas amid these romantic scenes that I awaited the sound of the
lunch-bell (which for me was the announcement of breakfast), when I
arose from my first night's slumbers under Mrs. Apperthwaite's roof;
and I wondered if the books were a fair mirror of Miss Apperthwaite's
mind (I had been told that Mrs. Apperthwaite had a daughter). Mrs.
Apperthwaite herself, in her youth, might have sat to an illustrator
of Scott or Bulwer. Even now you could see she had come as near being
romantically beautiful as was consistently proper for such a timid,
gentle little gentlewoman as she was. Reduced, by her husband's
insolvency (coincident with his demise) to "keeping boarders," she did
it gracefully, as if the urgency thereto were only a spirit of quiet
hospitality. It should be added in haste that she set an excellent
Moreover, the guests who gathered at her board were of a very
attractive description, as I decided the instant my eye fell upon the
lady who sat opposite me at lunch. I knew at once that she was Miss
Apperthwaite, she "went so," as they say, with her mother; nothing
could have been more suitable. Mrs. Apperthwaite was the kind of woman
whom you would expect to have a beautiful daughter, and Miss
Apperthwaite more than fulfilled her mother's promise.
I guessed her to be more than Juliet Capulet's age, indeed, yet
still between that and the perfect age of woman. She was of a larger,
fuller, more striking type than Mrs. Apperthwaite, a bolder type, one
might put it—though she might have been a great deal bolder than Mrs.
Apperthwaite without being bold. Certainly she was handsome enough to
make it difficult for a young fellow to keep from staring at her. She
had an abundance of very soft, dark hair, worn almost severely, as if
its profusion necessitated repression; and I am compelled to admit
that her fine eyes expressed a distant contemplation—obviously of
habit not of mood—so pronounced that one of her enemies (if she had
any) might have described them as "dreamy."
Only one other of my own sex was present at the lunch-table, a Mr.
Dowden, an elderly lawyer and politician of whom I had heard, and to
whom Mrs. Apperthwaite, coming in after the rest of us were seated,
introduced me. She made the presentation general; and I had the
experience of receiving a nod and a slow glance, in which there was a
sort of dusky, estimating brilliance, from the beautiful lady opposite
It might have been better mannered for me to address myself to Mr.
Dowden, or one of the very nice elderly women, who were my
fellow-guests, than to open a conversation with Miss Apperthwaite; but
I did not stop to think of that.
"You have a splendid old house next door to you here, Miss
Apperthwaite," I said. "It's a privilege to find it in view from my
There was a faint stir as of some consternation in the little
company. The elderly ladies stopped talking abruptly and exchanged
glances, though this was not of my observation at the moment, I think,
but recurred to my consciousness later, when I had perceived my
"May I ask who lives there?" I pursued.
Miss Apperthwaite allowed her noticeable lashes to cover her eyes
for an instant, then looked up again.
"A Mr. Beasley," she said.
"Not the Honorable David Beasley!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," she returned, with a certain gravity which I afterward
wished had checked me. "Do you know him?"
"Not in person," I explained. "You see, I've written a good deal
about him. I was with the "Spencerville Journal" until a few days ago,
and even in the country we know who's who in politics over the state.
Beasley's the man that went to Congress and never made a speech—never
made even a motion to adjourn—but got everything his district wanted.
There's talk of him now for Governor."
"And so it's the Honorable David Beasley who lives in that splendid
place. How curious that is!"
"Why?" asked Miss Apperthwaite.
"It seems too big for one man," I answered; "and I've always had
the impression Mr. Beasley was a bachelor."
"Yes," she said, rather slowly, "he is."
"But of course he doesn't live there all alone," I supposed, aloud,
"probably he has—"
"No. There's no one else—except a couple of colored servants."
"What a crime!" I exclaimed. "If there ever was a house meant for a
large family, that one is. Can't you almost hear it crying out for
heaps and heaps of romping children? I should think—"
I was interrupted by a loud cough from Mr. Dowden, so abrupt and
artificial that his intention to check the flow of my innocent prattle
was embarrassingly obvious—even to me!
"Can you tell me," he said, leaning forward and following up the
interruption as hastily as possible, "what the farmers were getting
for their wheat when you left Spencerville?"
"Ninety-four cents," I answered, and felt my ears growing red with
mortification. Too late, I remembered that the new-comer in a
community should guard his tongue among the natives until he has
unravelled the skein of their relationships, alliances, feuds, and
private wars—a precept not unlike the classic injunction:
"Yes, my darling daughter.
Hang your clothes on a hickory limb,
But don't go near the water."
However, in my confusion I warmly regretted my failure to follow
it, and resolved not to blunder again.
Mr. Dowden thanked me for the information for which he had no real
desire, and, the elderly ladies again taking up (with all too evident
relief) their various mild debates, he inquired if I played bridge.
"But I forget," he added. "Of course you'll be at the 'Despatch'
office in the evenings, and can't be here." After which he immediately
began to question me about my work, making his determination to give
me no opportunity again to mention the Honorable David Beasley
unnecessarily conspicuous, as I thought.
I could only conclude that some unpleasantness had arisen between
himself and Beasley, probably of political origin, since they were
both in politics, and of personal (and consequently bitter)
development; and that Mr. Dowden found the mention of Beasley not only
unpleasant to himself but a possible embarrassment to the ladies (who,
I supposed, were aware of the quarrel) on his account.
After lunch, not having to report at the office immediately, I took
unto myself the solace of a cigar, which kept me company during a
stroll about Mrs. Apperthwaite's capacious yard. In the rear I found
an old-fashioned rose-garden—the bushes long since bloomless and now
brown with autumn—and I paced its gravelled paths up and down, at the
same time favoring Mr. Beasley's house with a covert study that would
have done credit to a porch-climber, for the sting of my blunder at
the table was quiescent, or at least neutralized, under the itch of a
curiosity far from satisfied concerning the interesting premises next
door. The gentleman in the dressing-gown, I was sure, could have been
no other than the Honorable David Beasley himself. He came not in
eyeshot now, neither he nor any other; there was no sign of life about
the place. That portion of his yard which lay behind the house was not
within my vision, it is true, his property being here separated from
Mrs. Apperthwaite's by a board fence higher than a tall man could
reach; but there was no sound from the other side of this partition,
save that caused by the quiet movement of rusty leaves in the breeze.
My cigar was at half-length when the green lattice door of Mrs.
Apperthwaite's back porch was opened and Miss Apperthwaite, bearing a
saucer of milk, issued therefrom, followed, hastily, by a very white,
fat cat, with a pink ribbon round its neck, a vibrant nose, and fixed,
voracious eyes uplifted to the saucer. The lady and her cat offered to
view a group as pretty as a popular painting; it was even improved
when, stooping, Miss Apperthwaite set the saucer upon the ground, and,
continuing in that posture, stroked the cat. To bend so far is a test
of a woman's grace, I have observed.
She turned her face toward me and smiled. "I'm almost at the age,
"What age?" I asked, stupidly enough.
"When we take to cats," she said, rising. "Spinsterhood" we like to
call it. 'Single-blessedness!'"
"That is your kind heart. You decline to make one of us happy to
the despair of all the rest."
She laughed at this, though with no very genuine mirth, I marked,
and let my 1830 attempt at gallantry pass without other retort.
"You seemed interested in the old place yonder." She indicated Mr.
Beasley's house with a nod.
"Oh, I understood my blunder," I said, quickly. "I wish I had known
the subject was embarrassing or unpleasant to Mr. Dowden."
"What made you think that?"
"Surely," I said, "you saw how pointedly he cut me off."
"Yes," she returned, thoughtfully. "He rather did; it's true. At
least, I see how you got that impression." She seemed to muse upon
this, letting her eyes fall; then, raising them, allowed her far-away
gaze to rest upon the house beyond the fence, and said, "It IS an
interesting old place."
"And Mr. Beasley himself—" I began.
"Oh," she said, "HE isn't interesting. That's his trouble!"
"You mean his trouble not to—"
She interrupted me, speaking with sudden, surprising energy, "I
mean he's a man of no imagination."
"No imagination!" I exclaimed.
"None in the world! Not one ounce of imagination! Not one grain!"
"Then who," I cried—"or what—is Simpledoria?"
"Simple—what?" she said, plainly mystified.
"Simpledoria?" she repeated, and laughed. "What in the world is
"You never heard of it before?"
"Never in my life."
"You've lived next door to Mr. Beasley a long time, haven't you?"
"All my life."
"And I suppose you must know him pretty well."
"What next?" she said, smiling.
"You said he lived there all alone," I went on, tentatively.
"Except for an old colored couple, his servants."
"Can you tell me—" I hesitated. "Has he ever been thought—well,
"Never!" she answered, emphatically. "Never anything so exciting!
Merely deadly and hopelessly commonplace." She picked up the saucer,
now exceedingly empty, and set it upon a shelf by the lattice door.
"What was it about—what was that name?—'Simpledoria'?"
"I will tell you," I said. And I related in detail the singular
performance of which I had been a witness in the late moonlight before
that morning's dawn. As I talked, we half unconsciously moved across
the lawn together, finally seating ourselves upon a bench beyond the
rose-beds and near the high fence. The interest my companion exhibited
in the narration might have surprised me had my nocturnal experience
itself been less surprising. She interrupted me now and then with
little, half-checked ejaculations of acute wonder, but sat for the
most part with her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, her
face turned eagerly to mine and her lips parted in half-breathless
attention. There was nothing "far away" about her eyes now; they were
widely and intently alert.
When I finished, she shook her head slowly, as if quite dumfounded,
and altered her position, leaning against the back of the bench and
gazing straight before her without speaking. It was plain that her
neighbor's extraordinary behavior had revealed a phase of his
character novel enough to be startling.
"One explanation might be just barely possible," I said. "If it is,
it is the most remarkable case of somnambulism on record. Did you ever
hear of Mr. Beasley's walking in his—"
She touched me lightly but peremptorily on the arm in warning, and
I stopped. On the other side of the board fence a door opened
creakily, and there sounded a loud and cheerful voice—that of the
gentleman in the dressing-gown.
"HERE we come!" it said; "me and big Bill Hammersley. I want to
show Bill I can jump ANYWAYS three times as far as he can! Come on,
"Is that Mr. Beasley's voice?" I asked, under my breath.
Miss Apperthwaite nodded in affirmation.
"Could he have heard me?"
"No," she whispered. "He's just come out of the house." And then to
herself, "Who under heaven is Bill Hammersley? I never heard of HIM!"
"Of course, Bill," said the voice beyond the fence, "if you're
afraid I'll beat you TOO badly, you've still got time to back out. I
did understand you to kind of hint that you were considerable of a
jumper, but if—What? What'd you say, Bill?" There ensued a moment's
complete silence. "Oh, all right," the voice then continued. "You say
you're in this to win, do you? Well, so'm I, Bill Hammersley; so'm I.
Who'll go first? Me? All right—from the edge of the walk here. Now
then! One—two—three! HA!"
A sound came to our ears of some one landing heavily—and at full
length, it seemed—on the turf, followed by a slight, rusty groan in
the same voice. "Ugh! Don't you laugh, Bill Hammersley! I haven't
jumped as much as I OUGHT to, these last twenty years; I reckon I've
kind of lost the hang of it. Aha!" There were indications that Mr.
Beasley was picking himself up, and brushing his trousers with his
hands. "Now, it's your turn, Bill. What say?" Silence again, followed
by, "Yes, I'll make Simpledoria get out of the way. Come here,
Simpledoria. Now, Bill, put your heels together on the edge of the
walk. That's right. All ready? Now then! One for the money—two for
the show—three to make ready—and four for to GO!" Another silence.
"By jingo, Bill Hammersley, you've beat me! Ha, ha! That WAS a jump!
What say?" Silence once more. "You say you can do even better than
that? Now, Bill, don't brag. Oh! you say you've often jumped farther?
Oh! you say that was up in Scotland, where you had a spring-board?
Oho! All right; let's see how far you can jump when you really try.
There! Heels on the walk again. That's right; swing your arms.
One—two—three! THERE you go!" Another silence. "ZING! Well, sir,
I'll be e-tarnally snitched to flinders if you didn't do it THAT time,
Bill Hammersley! I see I never really saw any jumping before in all my
born days. It's eleven feet if it's an inch. What? You say you—"
I heard no more, for Miss Apperthwaite, her face flushed and her
eyes shining, beckoned me imperiously to follow her, and departed so
hurriedly that it might be said she ran.
"I don't know," said I, keeping at her elbow, "whether it's more
like Alice or the interlocutor's conversation at a minstrel show."
"Hush!" she warned me, though we were already at a safe distance,
and did not speak again until we had reached the front walk. There she
paused, and I noted that she was trembling—and, no doubt correctly,
judged her emotion to be that of consternation.
"There was no one THERE!" she exclaimed. "He was all by himself! It
was just the same as what you saw last night!"
"Did it sound to you"—there was a little awed tremor in her voice
that I found very appealing—"did it sound to you like a person who'd
lost his MIND?"
"I don't know," I said. "I don't know at all what to make of it."
"He couldn't have been"—her eyes grew very wide—"intoxicated!"
"No. I'm sure it wasn't that."
"Then I don't know what to make of it, either. All that wild
talk about 'Bill Hammersley' and 'Simpledoria' and spring-boards in
"And an eleven-foot jump," I suggested.
"Why, there's no more a 'Bill Hammersley,'" she cried, with a
gesture of excited emphasis, "than there is a 'Simpledoria'!"
"So it appears," I agreed.
"He's lived there all alone," she said, solemnly, "in that big
house, so long, just sitting there evening after evening all by
himself, never going out, never reading anything, not even thinking;
but just sitting and sitting and sitting and SITTING—Well," she broke
off, suddenly, shook the frown from her forehead, and made me the
offer of a dazzling smile, "there's no use bothering one's own head
"I'm glad to have a fellow-witness," I said. "It's so eerie I might
have concluded there was something the matter with ME."
"You're going to your work?" she asked, as I turned toward the
gate. "I'm very glad I don't have to go to mine."
"Yours?" I inquired, rather blankly.
"I teach algebra and plain geometry at the High School," said this
surprising young woman. "Thank Heaven, it's Saturday! I'm reading Les
Miserables for the seventh time, and I'm going to have a real ORGY
over Gervaise and the barricade this afternoon!"
I do not know why it should have astonished me to find that Miss
Apperthwaite was a teacher of mathematics except that (to my
inexperienced eye) she didn't look it. She looked more like Charlotte
I had the pleasure of seeing her opposite me at lunch the next day
(when Mr. Dowden kept me occupied with Spencerville politics,
obviously from fear that I would break out again), but no stroll in
the yard with her rewarded me afterward, as I dimly hoped, for she
disappeared before I left the table, and I did not see her again for a
fortnight. On week-days she did not return to the house for lunch, my
only meal at Mrs. Apperthwaite's (I dined at a restaurant near the
"Despatch" office), and she was out of town for a little visit, her
mother informed us, over the following Saturday and Sunday. She was
not altogether out of my thoughts, however—indeed, she almost divided
them with the Honorable David Beasley.
A better view which I was afforded of this gentleman did not lessen
my interest in him; increased it rather; it also served to make the
extraordinary didoes of which he had been the virtuoso and I the
audience more than ever profoundly inexplicable. My glimpse of him in
the lighted doorway had given me the vaguest impression of his
appearance, but one afternoon—a few days after my interview with Miss
Apperthwaite—I was starting for the office and met him full-face-on
as he was turning in at his gate. I took as careful invoice of him as
I could without conspicuously glaring.
There was something remarkably "taking," as we say, about this
man—something easy and genial and quizzical and careless. He was the
kind of person you LIKE to meet on the street; whose cheerful passing
sends you on feeling indefinably a little gayer than you did. He was
tall, thin—even gaunt, perhaps—and his face was long, rather pale,
and shrewd and gentle; something in its oddity not unremindful of the
late Sol Smith Russell. His hat was tilted back a little, the
slightest bit to one side, and the sparse, brownish hair above his
high forehead was going to be gray before long. He looked about forty.
The truth is, I had expected to see a cousin german to Don Quixote;
I had thought to detect signs and gleams of wildness, however
slight—something a little "off." One glance of that kindly and
humorous eye told me such expectation had been nonsense. Odd he might
have been—Gadzooks! he looked it—but "queer"? Never. The fact that
Miss Apperthwaite could picture such a man as this "sitting and
sitting and sitting" himself into any form of mania or madness
whatever spoke loudly of her own imagination, indeed! The key to
"Simpledoria" was to be sought under some other mat.
... As I began to know some of my co-laborers on the "Despatch,"
and to pick up acquaintances, here and there, about town, I sometimes
made Mr. Beasley the subject of inquiry. Everybody knew him. "Oh yes,
I know Dave BEASLEY!" would come the reply, nearly always with a
chuckling sort of laugh. I gathered that he had a name for
"easy-going" which amounted to eccentricity. It was said that what the
ward-heelers and camp-followers got out of him in campaign times made
the political managers cry. He was the first and readiest prey for
every fraud and swindler that came to Wainwright, I heard, and yet, in
spite of this and of his hatred of "speech-making" ("He's as silent as
Grant!" said one informant), he had a large practice, and was one of
the most successful lawyers in the state.
One story they told of him (or, as they were more apt to put it,
"on" him) was repeated so often that I saw it had become one of the
town's traditions. One bitter evening in February, they related, he
was approached upon the street by a ragged, whining, and shivering old
reprobate, notorious for the various ingenuities by which he had worn
out the patience of the charity organizations. He asked Beasley for a
dime. Beasley had no money in his pockets, but gave the man his
overcoat, went home without any himself, and spent six weeks in bed
with a bad case of pneumonia as the direct result. His beneficiary
sold the overcoat, and invested the proceeds in a five-day's spree, in
the closing scenes of which a couple of brickbats were featured to
high, spectacular effect. One he sent through a jeweller's show-window
in an attempt to intimidate some wholly imaginary pursuers, the other
he projected at a perfectly actual policeman who was endeavoring to
soothe him. The victim of Beasley's charity and the officer were then
borne to the hospital in company.
It was due in part to recollections of this legend and others of a
similar character that people laughed when they said, "Oh yes, I know
Altogether, I should say, Beasley was about the most popular man in
Wainwright. I could discover nowhere anything, however, to shed the
faintest light upon the mystery of Bill Hammersley and Simpledoria. It
was not until the Sunday of Miss Apperthwaite's absence that the
That afternoon I went to call upon the widow of a second-cousin of
mine; she lived in a cottage not far from Mrs. Apperthwaite's, upon
the same street. I found her sitting on a pleasant veranda, with boxes
of flowering plants along the railing, though Indian summer was now
close upon departure. She was rocking meditatively, and held a finger
in a morocco volume, apparently of verse, though I suspected she had
been better entertained in the observation of the people and vehicles
decorously passing along the sunlit thoroughfare within her view.
We exchanged inevitable questions and news of mutual relatives; I
had told her how I liked my work and what I thought of Wainwright, and
she was congratulating me upon having found so pleasant a place to
live as Mrs. Apperthwaite's, when she interrupted herself to smile and
nod a cordial greeting to two gentlemen driving by in a phaeton. They
waved their hats to her gayly, then leaned back comfortably against
the cushions—and if ever two men were obviously and incontestably on
the best of terms with each other, THESE two were. They were David
Beasley and Mr. Dowden. "I do wish," said my cousin, resuming her
rocking—"I do wish dear David Beasley would get a new trap of some
kind; that old phaeton of his is a disgrace! I suppose you haven't met
him? Of course, living at Mrs. Apperthwaite's, you wouldn't be apt
"But what is he doing with Mr. Dowden?" I asked.
She lifted her eyebrows. "Why—taking him for a drive, I suppose."
"No. I mean—how do they happen to be together?"
"Why shouldn't they be? They're old friends—"
"They ARE!" And, in answer to her look of surprise, I explained
that I had begun to speak of Beasley at Mrs. Apperthwaite's, and
described the abruptness with which Dowden had changed the subject.
"I see," my cousin nodded, comprehendingly. "That's simple enough.
George Dowden didn't want you to talk of Beasley THERE. I suppose it
may have been a little embarrassing for everybody—especially if Ann
Apperthwaite heard you."
"Ann? That's Miss Apperthwaite? Yes; I was speaking directly to
her. Why SHOULDN'T she have heard me? She talked of him herself a
little later—and at some length, too."
"She DID!" My cousin stopped rocking, and fixed me with her
glittering eye. "Well, of all!"
"Is it so surprising?"
The lady gave her boat to the waves again. "Ann Apperthwaite thinks
about him still!" she said, with something like vindictiveness. "I've
always suspected it. She thought you were new to the place and didn't
know anything about it all, or anybody to mention it to. That's it!"
"I'm still new to the place," I urged, "and still don't know
anything about it all."
"They used to be engaged," was her succinct and emphatic answer.
I found it but too illuminating. "Oh, oh!" I cried. "I WAS an
innocent, wasn't I?"
"I'm glad she DOES think of him," said my cousin. "It serves her
right. I only hope HE won't find it out, because he's a poor, faithful
creature; he'd jump at the chance to take her back—and she doesn't
"How long has it been," I asked, "since they used to be engaged?"
"Oh, a good while—five or six years ago, I think—maybe more; time
skips along. Ann Apperthwaite's no chicken, you know." (Such was the
lady's expression.) "They got engaged just after she came home from
college, and of all the idiotically romantic girls—"
"But she's a teacher," I interrupted, "of mathematics."
"Yes." She nodded wisely. "I always thought that explained it: the
romance is a reaction from the algebra. I never knew a person
connected with mathematics or astronomy or statistics, or any of those
exact things, who didn't have a crazy streak in 'em SOMEwhere. They've
got to blow off steam and be foolish to make up for putting in so much
of their time at hard sense. But don't you think that I dislike Ann
Apperthwaite. She's always been one of my best friends; that's why I
feel at liberty to abuse her—and I always will abuse her when I think
how she treated poor David Beasley."
"How did she treat him?"
"Threw him over out of a clear sky one night, that's all. Just sent
him home and broke his heart; that is, it would have been broken if
he'd had any kind of disposition except the one the Lord blessed him
with—just all optimism and cheerfulness and make-the-best-of-it-ness!
He's never cared for anybody else, and I guess he never will."
"What did she do it for?"
"NOTHING!" My cousin shot the indignant word from her lips.
"Nothing in the wide WORLD!"
"But there must have been—"
"Listen to me," she interrupted, "and tell me if you ever heard
anything queerer in your life. They'd been engaged—Heaven knows how
long—over two years; probably nearer three—and always she kept
putting it off; wouldn't begin to get ready, wouldn't set a day for
the wedding. Then Mr. Apperthwaite died, and left her and her mother
stranded high and dry with nothing to live on. David had everything in
the world to give her—and STILL she wouldn't! And then, one day, she
came up here and told me she'd broken it off. Said she couldn't stand
it to be engaged to David Beasley another minute!"
"Because"—my cousin's tone was shrill with her despair of
expressing the satire she would have put into it—"because, she said
he was a man of no imagination!"
"She still says so," I remarked, thoughtfully.
"Then it's time she got a little imagination herself!" snapped my
companion. "David Beasley's the quietest man God has made, but
everybody knows what he IS! There are some rare people in this world
that aren't all TALK; there are some still rarer ones that scarcely
ever talk at all—and David Beasley's one of them. I don't know
whether it's because he can't talk, or if he can and hates to; I only
know he doesn't. And I'm glad of it, and thank the Lord he's put a few
like that into this talky world! David Beasley's smile is better than
acres of other people's talk. My Providence! Wouldn't anybody, just to
look at him, know that he does better than talk? He THINKS! The
trouble with Ann Apperthwaite was that she was too young to see it.
She was so full of novels and poetry and dreaminess and highfalutin
nonsense she couldn't see ANYTHING as it really was. She'd study her
mirror, and see such a heroine of romance there that she just couldn't
bear to have a fiance who hadn't any chance of turning out to be the
crown-prince of Kenosha in disguise! At the very least, to suit HER
he'd have had to wear a 'well-trimmed Vandyke' and coo sonnets in the
gloaming, or read On a Balcony to her by a red lamp.
"Poor David! Outside of his law-books, I don't believe he's ever
read anything but Robinson Crusoe and the Bible and Mark Twain. Oh,
you should have heard her talk about it!—'I couldn't bear it another
day,' she said, 'I couldn't STAND it! In all the time I've known him I
don't believe he's ever asked me a single question—except when he
asked if I'd marry him. He never says ANYTHING—never speaks at ALL!'
she said. 'You don't know a blessing when you see it,' I told her.
'Blessing!' she said. 'There's nothing IN the man! He has no DEPTHS!
He hasn't any more imagination than the chair he sits and sits and
sits in! Half the time he answers what I say to him by nodding and
saying 'um-hum,' with that same old foolish, contented smile of his.
I'd have gone MAD if it had lasted any longer!' I asked her if she
thought married life consisted very largely of conversations between
husband and wife; and she answered that even married life ought to
have some POETRY in it. 'Some romance,' she said, 'some soul! And he
just comes and sits,' she said, 'and sits and sits and sits and sits!
And I can't bear it any longer, and I've told him so.'"
"Poor Mr. Beasley," I said.
"I think, 'Poor Ann Apperthwaite!'" retorted my cousin. "I'd
like to know if there's anything NICER than just to sit and sit and
sit and sit with as lovely a man as that—a man who understands
things, and thinks and listens and smiles—instead of everlastingly
"As it happens," I remarked, "I've heard Mr. Beasley talk."
"Why, of course he talks," she returned, "when there's any real use
in it. And he talks to children; he's THAT kind of man."
"I meant a particular instance," I began; meaning to see if she
could give me any clew to Bill Hammersley and Simpledoria, but at that
moment the gate clicked under the hand of another caller. My cousin
rose to greet him; and presently I took my leave without having been
able to get back upon the subject of Beasley.
Thus, once more baffled, I returned to Mrs. Apperthwaite's—and
within the hour came into full possession of the very heart of that
dark and subtle mystery which overhung the house next door and so
perplexed my soul.
Finding that I had still some leisure before me, I got a book from
my room and repaired to the bench in the garden. But I did not read; I
had but opened the book when my attention was arrested by sounds from
the other side of the high fence—low and tremulous croonings of
distinctly African derivation:
"Ah met mah sistuh in a-mawnin',
She 'uz a-waggin' up de hill SO slow!
'Sistuh, you mus' git a rastle in doo time,
B'fo de hevumly do's cloze—iz!'"
It was the voice of an aged negro; and the simultaneous slight
creaking of a small hub and axle seemed to indicate that he was
pushing or pulling a child's wagon or perambulator up and down the
walk from the kitchen door to the stable. Whiles, he proffered
soothing music: over and over he repeated the chant, though with
variations; encountering in turn his brother, his daughter, each of
his parents, his uncle, his cousin, and his second-cousin, one after
the other ascending the same slope with the same perilous leisure.
"Lay still, honey." He interrupted his injunctions to the
second-cousin. "Des keep on a-nappin' an' a-breavin' de f'esh air.
Dass wha's go' mek you good an' well agin."
Then there spoke the strangest voice that ever fell upon my ear; it
was not like a child's, neither was it like a very old person's voice;
it might have been a grasshopper's, it was so thin and little, and
made of such tiny wavers and quavers and creakings.
"I—want—" said this elfin voice, "I—want—Bill—Hammersley!"
The shabby phaeton which had passed my cousin's house was drawing
up to the curb near Beasley's gate. Evidently the old negro saw it.
"Hi dar!" he exclaimed. "Look at dat! Hain' Bill a comin' yonnah
des edzacly on de dot an' to de vey spot an' instink when you 'quiah
fo' 'im, honey? Dar come Mist' Dave, right on de minute, an' you kin
bet yo' las hunnud dollahs he got dat Bill Hammersley wif 'im! Come
along, honey-chile! Ah's go' to pull you 'roun in de side yod fo' to
The small wagon creaked away, the chant resuming as it went.
Mr. Dowden jumped out of the phaeton with a wave of his hand to the
driver, Beasley himself, who clucked to the horse and drove through
his open carriage-gates and down the drive on the other side of the
house, where he was lost to my view.
Dowden, entering our own gate, nodded in a friendly fashion to me,
and I advanced to meet him.
"Some day I want to take you over next door," he said, cordially,
as I came up. "You ought to know Beasley, especially as I hear you're
doing some political reporting. Dave Beasley's going to be the next
governor of this state, you know." He laughed, offered me a cigar, and
we sat down together on the front steps.
"From all I hear," I rejoined, "YOU ought to know who'll get it."
(It was said in town that Dowden would "come pretty near having the
nomination in his pocket.")
"I expect you thought I shifted the subject pretty briskly the
other day?" He glanced at me quizzically from under the brim of his
black felt hat. "I meant to tell you about that, but the opportunity
didn't occur. You see—"
"I understand," I interrupted. "I've heard the story. You thought
it might be embarrassing to Miss Apperthwaite."
"I expect I was pretty clumsy about it," said Dowden, cheerfully.
"Well, well—" he flicked his cigar with a smothered ejaculation that
was half a sigh and half a laugh; "it's a mighty strange case. Here
they keep on living next door to each other, year after year, each
going on alone when they might just as well—" He left the sentence
unfinished, save for a vocal click of compassion. "They bow when they
happen to meet, but they haven't exchanged a word since the night she
sent him away, long ago." He shook his head, then his countenance
cleared and he chuckled. "Well, sir, Dave's got something at home to
keep him busy enough, these days, I expect!"
"Do you mind telling me?" I inquired. "Is its name 'Simpledoria'?"
Mr. Dowden threw back his head and laughed loudly. "Lord, no! What
on earth made you think that?"
I told him. It was my second success with this narrative; however,
there was a difference: my former auditor listened with flushed and
breathless excitement, whereas the present one laughed consumedly
throughout. Especially he laughed with a great laughter at the picture
of Beasley's coming down at four in the morning to open the door for
nothing on sea or land or in the waters under the earth. I gave
account, also, of the miraculous jumping contest (though I did not
mention Miss Apperthwaite's having been with me), and of the elfin
voice I had just now overheard demanding "Bill Hammersley."
"So I expect you must have decided," he chuckled, when I concluded,
"that David Beasley has gone just plain, plum insane."
"Not a bit of it. Nobody could look at him and not know better than
"You're right THERE!" said Dowden, heartily. "And now I'll tell you
all there is TO it. You see, Dave grew up with a cousin of his named
Hamilton Swift; they were boys together; went to the same school, and
then to college. I don't believe there was ever a high word spoken
between them. Nobody in this life ever got a quarrel out of Dave
Beasley, and Hamilton Swift was a mighty good sort of a fellow, too.
He went East to live, after they got out of college, yet they always
managed to get together once a year, generally about Christmas-time;
you couldn't pass them on the street without hearing their laughter
ringing out louder than the sleigh-bells, maybe over some old joke
between them, or some fool thing they did, perhaps, when they were
boys. But finally Hamilton Swift's business took him over to the other
side of the water to live; and he married an English girl, an orphan
without any kin. That was about seven years ago. Well, sir, this last
summer he and his wife were taking a trip down in Switzerland, and
they were both drowned—tipped over out of a rowboat in Lake
Lucerne—and word came that Hamilton Swift's will appointed Dave
guardian of the one child they had, a little boy—Hamilton Swift,
Junior's his name. He was sent across the ocean in charge of a doctor,
and Dave went on to New York to meet him. He brought him home here the
very day before you passed the house and saw poor Dave getting up at
four in the morning to let that ghost in. And a mighty funny ghost
"I begin to understand," I said, "and to feel pretty silly, too."
"Not at all," he rejoined, heartily. "That little chap's freaks
would mystify anybody, especially with Dave humoring 'em the
ridiculous way he does. Hamilton Swift, Junior, is the curiousest
child I ever saw—and the good Lord knows He made all children
powerful mysterious! This poor little cuss has a complication of
infirmities that have kept him on his back most of his life, never
knowing other children, never playing, or anything; and he's got ideas
and ways that I never saw the beat of! He was born sick, as I
understand it—his bones and nerves and insides are all wrong,
somehow—but it's supposed he gets a little better from year to year.
He wears a pretty elaborate set of braces, and he's subject to
attacks, too—I don't know the name for 'em—and loses what little
voice he has sometimes, all but a whisper. He had one, I know, the day
after Beasley brought him home, and that was probably the reason you
thought Dave was carrying on all to himself about that jumping-match
out in the back-yard. The boy must have been lying there in the little
wagon they have for him, while Dave cut up shines with 'Bill
Hammersley.' Of course, most children have make-believe friends and
companions, especially if they haven't any brothers or sisters, but
this lonely little feller's got HIS people worked out in his mind and
materialized beyond any I ever heard of. Dave got well acquainted with
'em on the train on the way home, and they certainly are giving him a
lively time. Ho, ho! Getting him up at four in the morning—"
Mr. Dowden's mirth overcame him for a moment; when he had mastered
it, he continued: "Simpledoria—now where do you suppose he got that
name?—well, anyway, Simpledoria is supposed to be Hamilton Swift,
Junior's St. Bernard dog. Beasley had to BATHE him the other day, he
told me! And Bill Hammersley is supposed to be a boy of Hamilton
Swift, Junior's own age, but very big and strong; he has rosy cheeks,
and he can do more in athletics than a whole college track-team.
That's the reason he outjumped Dave so far, you see."
Miss Apperthwaite was at home the following Saturday. I found her
in the library with Les Miserables on her knee when I came down from
my room a little before lunch-time; and she looked up and gave me a
smile that made me feel sorry for any one she had ceased to smile
"I wanted to tell you," I said, with a little awkwardness but
plenty of truth, "I've found out that I'm an awful fool."
"But that's something," she returned, encouragingly—"at least the
beginning of wisdom."
"I mean about Mr. Beasley—the mystery I was absurd enough to find
in 'Simpledoria.' I want to tell you—"
"Oh, I know," she said; and although she laughed with an
effect of carelessness, that look which I had thought "far away"
returned to her eyes as she spoke. There was a certain inscrutability
about Miss Apperthwaite sometimes, it should be added, as if she did
not like to be too easily read. "I've heard all about it. Mr.
Beasley's been appointed trustee or something for poor Hamilton
Swift's son, a pitiful little invalid boy who invents all sorts of
characters. The old darky from over there told our cook about Bill
Hammersley and Simpledoria. So, you see, I understand."
"I'm glad you do," I said.
A little hardness—one might even have thought it
bitterness—became apparent in her expression. "And I'm glad there's
SOMEbody in that house, at last, with a little imagination!"
"From everything I have heard," I returned, summoning sufficient
boldness, "it would be difficult to say which has more—Mr. Beasley or
Her glance fell from mine at this, but not quickly enough to
conceal a sudden, half-startled look of trouble (I can think of no
other way to express it) that leaped into it; and she rose, for the
lunch-bell was ringing.
"I'm just finishing the death of Jean Valjean, you know, in Les
Miserables," she said, as we moved to the door. "I'm always afraid
I'll cry over that. I try not to, because it makes my eyes red."
And, in truth, there was a vague rumor of tears about her eyes—not
as if she had shed them, but more as if she were going to—though I
had not noticed it when I came in.
... That afternoon, when I reached the "Despatch" office, I was
commissioned to obtain certain political information from the
Honorable David Beasley, an assignment I accepted with eagerness,
notwithstanding the commiseration it brought me from one or two of my
fellows in the reporter's room. "You won't get anything out of HIM!"
they said. And they were true prophets.
I found him looking over some documents in his office; a
reflective, unlighted cigar in the corner of his mouth; his chair
tilted back and his feet on a window-sill. He nodded, upon my
statement of the affair that brought me, and, without shifting his
position, gave me a look of slow but wholly friendly scrutiny over his
shoulder, and bade me sit down. I began at once to put the questions I
was told to ask him—interrogations (he seemed to believe)
satisfactorily answered by slowly and ruminatively stroking the left
side of his chin with two long fingers of his right hand, the while he
smiled in genial contemplation of a tarred roof beyond the window. Now
and then he would give me a mild and drawling word or two, not
brilliantly illuminative, it may be remarked. "Well—about that—" he
began once, and came immediately to a full stop.
"Yes?" I said, hopefully, my pencil poised.
"About that—I guess—"
"Yes, Mr. Beasley?" I encouraged him, for he seemed to have dried
"Well, sir—I guess—Hadn't you better see some one else about
This with the air of a man who would be but too fluent and copious
upon any subject in the world except the one particular point.
I never met anybody else who looked so pleasantly communicative and
managed to say so little. In fact, he didn't say anything at all; and
I guessed that this faculty was not without its value in his political
career, disastrous as it had proved to his private happiness. His
habit of silence, moreover, was not cultivated: you could see that
"the secret of it" was just that he was BORN quiet.
My note-book remained noteless, and finally, at some odd evasion of
his, accomplished by a monosyllable, I laughed outright—and he did,
too! He joined cachinnations with me heartily, and with a twinkling
quizzicalness that somehow gave me the idea that he might be thinking
(rather apologetically) to himself: "Yes, sir, that old Beasley man is
certainly a mighty funny critter!"
When I went away, a few moments later, and left him still
intermittently chuckling, the impression remained with me that he had
had some such deprecatory and surreptitious thought.
Two or three days after that, as I started down-town from Mrs.
Apperthwaite's, Beasley came out of his gate, bound in the same
direction. He gave me a look of gay recognition and offered his hand,
saying, "WELL! Up in THIS neighborhood!" as if that were a matter of
I mentioned that I was a neighbor, and we walked on together. I
don't think he spoke again, except for a "Well, sir!" or two of genial
surprise at something I said, and, now and then, "You don't tell me!"
which he had a most eloquent way of exclaiming; but he listened
visibly to my own talk, and laughed at everything that I meant for
I never knew anybody who gave one a greater responsiveness; he
seemed to be WITH you every instant; and HOW he made you feel it was
the true mystery of Beasley, this silent man who never talked, except
(as my cousin said) to children.
It happened that I thus met him, as we were both starting
down-town, and walked on with him, several days in succession; in a
word, it became a habit. Then, one afternoon, as I turned to leave him
at the "Despatch" office, he asked me if I wouldn't drop in at his
house the next day for a cigar before we started. I did; and he asked
me if I wouldn't come again the day after that. So this became a
A fortnight elapsed before I met Hamilton Swift, Junior; for he,
poor little father of dream-children, could be no spectator of track
events upon the lawn, but lay in his bed up-stairs. However, he grew
better at last, and my presentation took place.
We had just finished our cigars in Beasley's airy, old-fashioned
"sitting-room," and were rising to go, when there came the faint
creaking of small wheels from the hall. Beasley turned to me with the
apologetic and monosyllabic chuckle that was distinctly his alone.
"I've got a little chap here—" he said; then went to the door.
The old darky appeared in the doorway pushing a little wagon like a
reclining-chair on wheels, and in it sat Hamilton Swift, Junior.
My first impression of him was that he was all eyes: I couldn't
look at anything else for a time, and was hardly conscious of the rest
of that weazened, peaked little face and the under-sized wisp of a
body with its pathetic adjuncts of metal and leather. I think they
were the brightest eyes I ever saw—as keen and intelligent as a
wicked old woman's, withal as trustful and cheery as the eyes of a
Thus the Honorable Mr. Beasley, waving a handkerchief thrice around
his head and thrice cheering.
And the child, in that cricket's voice of his, replied:
This was the form of salutation familiarly in use between them.
Beasley followed it by inquiring, "Who's with us to-day?"
"I'm MISTER Swift," chirped the little fellow. "MIS-TER Swift, if
you please, Cousin David Beasley."
Beasley executed a formal bow. "There is a gentleman here who'd
like to meet you." And he presented me with some grave phrases
commendatory of my general character, addressing the child as "Mister
Swift"; whereupon Mister Swift gave me a ghostly little hand and
professed himself glad to meet me.
"And besides me," he added, to Beasley, "there's Bill Hammersley
and Mr. Corley Linbridge."
A faint perplexity manifested itself upon Beasley's face at this, a
shadow which cleared at once when I asked if I might not be permitted
to meet these personages, remarking that I had heard from Dowden of
Bill Hammersley, though until now a stranger to the fame of Mr. Corley
Beasley performed the ceremony with intentional elegance, while the
boy's great eyes swept glowingly from his cousin's face to mine and
back again. I bowed and shook hands with the air, once to my left and
once to my right. "And Simpledoria!" cried Mister Swift. "You'll enjoy
"Above all things," I said. "Can he shake hands? Some dogs can."
Mister Swift lifted a commanding finger. "Simpledoria, shake
I knelt beside the wagon and shook an imaginary big paw. At this
Mister Swift again shook hands with me and allowed me to perceive, in
his luminous regard, a solemn commendation and approval.
In this wise was my initiation into the beautiful old house and the
cordiality of its inmates completed; and I became a familiar of David
Beasley and his ward, with the privilege to go and come as I pleased;
there was always gay and friendly welcome. I always came for the cigar
after lunch, sometimes for lunch itself; sometimes I dined there
instead of down-town; and now and then when it happened that an errand
or assignment took me that way in the afternoon, I would run in and
"visit" awhile with Hamilton Swift, Junior, and his circle of friends.
There were days, of course, when his attacks were upon him, and
only Beasley and the doctor and old Bob saw him; I do not know what
the boy's mental condition was at such times; but when he was better,
and could be wheeled about the house and again receive callers, he
displayed an almost dismaying activity of mind—it was active enough,
certainly, to keep far ahead of my own. And he was masterful: still,
Beasley and Dowden and I were never directly chidden for
insubordination, though made to wince painfully by the look of
troubled surprise that met us when we were not quick enough to catch
The order of the day with him always began with the "HOO-ray" and
"BR-R-RA-vo" of greeting; after which we were to inquire, "Who's with
us to-day?" Whereupon he would make known the character in which he
elected to be received for the occasion. If he announced himself as
"Mister Swift," everything was to be very grown-up and decorous
indeed. Formalities and distances were observed; and Mr. Corley
Linbridge (an elderly personage of great dignity and distinction as a
mountain-climber) was much oftener included in the conversation than
Bill Hammersley. If, however, he declared himself to be "Hamilton
Swift, Junior," which was his happiest mood, Bill Hammersley and
Simpledoria were in the ascendant, and there were games and contests.
(Dowden, Beasley, and I all slid down the banisters on one of the
Hamilton Swift, Junior, days, at which really picturesque spectacle
the boy almost cried with laughter—and old Bob and his wife, who came
running from the kitchen, DID cry.) He had a third appellation for
himself—"Just little Hamilton"; but this was only when the creaky
voice could hardly chirp at all and the weazened face was drawn to one
side with suffering. When he told us he was "Just little Hamilton" we
were very quiet.
Once, for ten days, his Invisibles all went away on a visit:
Hamilton Swift, Junior, had become interested in bears. While this
lasted, all of Beasley's trousers were, as Dowden said, "a sight." For
that matter, Dowden himself was quite hoarse in court from growling so
much. The bears were dismissed abruptly: Bill Hammersley and Mr.
Corley Linbridge and Simpledoria came trooping back, and with them
they brought that wonderful family, the Hunchbergs.
Beasley had just opened the front door, returning at noon from his
office, when Hamilton Swift, Junior's voice came piping from the
library, where he was reclining in his wagon by the window.
"Cousin David Beasley! Cousin David, come a-running!" he cried.
"Come a-running! The Hunchbergs are here!"
Of course Cousin David Beasley came a-running, and was immediately
introduced to the whole Hunchberg family, a ceremony which old Bob,
who was with the boy, had previously undergone with courtly grace.
"They like Bob," explained Hamilton. "Don't you, Mr. Hunchberg?
Yes, he says they do extremely!" (He used such words as "extremely"
often; indeed, as Dowden said, he talked "like a child in a book,"
which was due, I dare say, to his English mother.) "And I'm sure," the
boy went on, "that all the family will admire Cousin David. Yes, Mr.
Hunchberg says, he thinks they will."
And then (as Bob told me) he went almost out of his head with joy
when Beasley offered Mr. Hunchberg a cigar and struck a match for him
to light it.
"But WHAR," exclaimed the old darky, "whar in de name o' de good
Gawd do de chile git dem NAMES? Hit lak to SKEER me!"
That was a subject often debated between Dowden and me: there was
nothing in Wainwright that could have suggested them, and it did not
seem probable he could have remembered them from over the water. In my
opinion they were the inventions of that busy and lonely little brain.
I met the Hunchberg family, myself, the day after their arrival,
and Beasley, by that time, had become so well acquainted with them
that he could remember all their names, and helped in the
introductions. There was Mr. Hunchberg—evidently the child's
favorite, for he was described as the possessor of every engaging
virtue—and there was that lively matron, Mrs. Hunchberg; there were
the Hunchberg young gentlemen, Tom, Noble, and Grandee; and the young
ladies, Miss Queen, Miss Marble, and Miss Molanna—all exceedingly gay
and pretty. There was also Colonel Hunchberg, an uncle; finally there
was Aunt Cooley Hunchberg, a somewhat decrepit but very amiable old
lady. Mr. Corley Linbridge happened to be calling at the same time;
and, as it appeared to be Beasley's duty to keep the conversation
going and constantly to include all of the party in its general flow,
it struck me that he had truly (as Dowden said) "enough to keep him
The Hunchbergs had lately moved to Wainwright from Constantinople,
I learned; they had decided not to live in town, however, having
purchased a fine farm out in the country, and, on account of the
distance, were able to call at Beasley's only about eight times a day,
and seldom more than twice in the evening. Whenever a mystic telephone
announced that they were on the way, the child would have himself
wheeled to a window; and when they came in sight he would cry out in
wild delight, while Beasley hastened to open the front door and admit
They were so real to the child, and Beasley treated them with such
consistent seriousness, that between the two of them I sometimes began
to feel that there actually were such people, and to have moments of
half-surprise that I couldn't see them; particularly as each of the
Hunchberg's developed a character entirely his own to the last
peculiarity, such as the aged Aunt Cooley Hunchberg's deafness, on
which account Beasley never once forgot to raise his voice when he
addressed her. Indeed, the details of actuality in all this appeared
to bring as great a delight to the man as to the child. Certainly he
built them up with infinite care. On one occasion when Mr. Hunchberg
and I happened to be calling, Hamilton remarked with surprise that
Simpledoria had come into the room without licking his hand as he
usually did, and had crept under the table. Mr. Hunchberg volunteered
the information (through Beasley) that upon his approach to the house
he had seen Simpledoria chasing a cat. It was then debated whether
chastisement was in order, but finally decided that Simpledoria's
surreptitious manner of entrance and his hiding under the table were
sufficient indication that he well understood his baseness, and would
never let it happen again. And so, Beasley having coaxed him out from
under the table, the offender "sat up," begged, and was forgiven. I
could almost feel the splendid shaggy head under my hand when, in
turn, I patted Simpledoria to show that the reconciliation unanimous.
Autumn trailed the last leaves behind her flying brown robes one
night; we woke to a skurry of snow next morning; and it was winter.
Down-town, along the sidewalks, the merchants set lines of poles,
covered them with evergreen, and ran streamers of green overhead to
encourage the festal shopping. Salvation Army Santa Clauses stamped
their feet and rang bells on the corners, and pink-faced children
fixed their noses immovably to display-windows. For them, the season
of seasons, the time of times, was at hand.
To a certain new reporter on the "Despatch" the stir and gayety of
the streets meant little more than that the days had come when it was
night in the afternoon, and that he was given fewer political
assignments. This was annoying, because Beasley's candidacy for the
governorship had given me a personal interest in the political
situation. The nominating convention of his party would meet in the
spring; the nomination was certain to carry the election also, and
thus far Beasley showed more strength than any other man in the field.
"Things are looking his way," said Dowden. "He's always worked hard
for the party; not on the stump, of course," he laughed; "but the boys
understand there are more important things than speech-making. His
record in Congress gave him the confidence of everybody in the state,
and, besides that, people always trust a quiet man. I tell you if
nothing happens he'll get it."
"I'm FER Beasley," another politician explained, in an interview,
"because he's Dave Beasley! Yes, sir, I'm FER him. You know the boys
say if a man is only FOR you, in this state, there isn't much in it
and he may go back on it; but if he's FER you, he means it. Well, I'm
There were other candidates, of course; none of them formidable;
but I was surprised to learn of the existence of a small but energetic
faction opposing our friend in Wainwright, his own town. ("What are
you surprised about?" inquired Dowden. "Don't you know what our folks
are like, YET? If St. Paul lived in Wainwright, do you suppose he
could run for constable without some of his near neighbors getting out
to try and down him?")
The head and front (and backbone, too) of the opposition to Beasley
was a close-fisted, hard-knuckled, risen-from-the-soil sort of man,
one named Simeon Peck. He possessed no inconsiderable influence, I
heard; was a hard worker, and vigorously seconded by an energetic
lieutenant, a young man named Grist. These, and others they had been
able to draw to their faction, were bitterly and eagerly opposed to
Beasley's nomination, and worked without ceasing to prevent it.
I quote the invaluable Mr. Dowden again: "Grist's against us
because he had a quarrel with a clerk in Beasley's office, and wanted
Beasley to discharge him, and Beasley wouldn't; Sim Peck's against us
out of just plain wrong-headedness, and because he never was for
ANYTHING nor FER anybody in his life. I had a talk with the old
mutton-head the other day; he said our candidate ought to be a farmer,
a 'man of the common people,' and when I asked him where he'd find
anybody more a 'man of the common people' than Beasley, he said
Beasley was 'too much of a society man' to suit him! The idea of Dave
as a 'society man' was too much for me, and I laughed in Sim Peck's
face, but that didn't stop Sim Peck! 'Jest look at the style he lives
in,' he yelped. 'Ain't he fairly LAPPED in luxury? Look at that big
house he lives in! Look at the way he goes around in that phaeton of
his—and a nigger to drive him half the time!' I had to holler again,
and, of course, that made Sim twice as mad as he started out to be;
and he went off swearing he'd show ME, before the campaign was over.
The only trouble he and Grist and that crowd could give us would be by
finding out something against Dave, and they can't do that because
there isn't anything to find out."
I shared his confidence on this latter score, but was somewhat less
sanguine on some others. There were only two newspapers of any
political influence in Wainwright, the "Despatch" and the "Journal,"
both operated in the interest of Beasley's party, and neither had
"come out" for him. The gossip I heard about our office led me to
think that each was waiting to see what headway Sim Peck and his
faction would make; the "Journal" especially, I knew, had some
inclination to coquette with Peck, Grist, and Company. Altogether,
their faction was not entirely to be despised.
Thus, my thoughts were a great deal more occupied with Beasley's
chances than with the holiday spirit that now, with furs and bells and
wreathing mists of snow, breathed good cheer over the town. So little,
indeed, had this spirit touched me that, one evening when one of my
colleagues, standing before the grate-fire in the reporters' room,
yawned and said he'd be glad when to-morrow was over, I asked him what
was the particular trouble with to-morrow.
"Christmas," he explained, languidly. "Always so tedious. Like
"It makes me homesick," said another, a melancholy little man who
was forever bragging of his native Duluth.
"Christmas," I repeated—"to-morrow!"
It was Christmas Eve, and I had not known it! I leaned back in my
chair in sudden loneliness, what pictures coming before me of long-ago
Christmas Eves at home!—old Christmas Eves when there was a Tree....
My name was called; the night City Editor had an assignment for me.
"Go up to Sim Peck's, on Madison Street," he said. "He thinks he's got
something on David Beasley, but won't say any more over the telephone.
See what there is in it."
I picked up my hat and coat, and left the office at a speed which
must have given my superior the highest conception of my journalistic
zeal. At a telephone station on the next corner I called up Mrs.
Apperthwaite's house and asked for Dowden.
"What are you doing?" I demanded, when his voice had responded.
"Playing bridge," he answered.
"Are you going out anywhere?"
"No. What's the trouble?"
"I'll tell you later. I may want to see you before I go back to the
"All right. I'll be here all evening."
I hung up the receiver and made off on my errand.
Down-town the streets were crowded with the package-laden people,
bending heads and shoulders to the bitter wind, which swept a
blinding, sleet-like snow horizontally against them. At corners it
struck so tumultuous a blow upon the chest of the pedestrians that for
a moment it would halt them, and you could hear them gasping
half-smothered "AHS" like bathers in a heavy surf. Yet there was a
gayety in this eager gale; the crowds pressed anxiously, yet happily,
up and down the street in their generous search for things to give
away. It was not the rich who struggled through the storm to-night;
these were people who carried their own bundles home. You saw them:
toilers and savers, tired mothers and fathers, worn with the grinding
thrift of all the year, but now for this one night careless of how
hard-saved the money, reckless of everything but the joy of giving it
to bring the children joy on the one great to-morrow. So they bent
their heads to the freezing wind, their arms laden with daring bundles
and their hearts uplifted with the tremulous happiness of giving more
than they could afford. Meanwhile, Mr. Simeon Peck, honest man, had
chosen this season to work harm if he might to the gentlest of his
I found Mr. Peck waiting for me at his house. There were four other
men with him, one of whom I recognized as Grist, a squat young man
with slippery-looking black hair and a lambrequin mustache. They were
donning their coats and hats in the hall when I arrived.
"From the 'Despatch,' hay?" Mr. Peck gave me greeting, as he wound
a knit comforter about his neck. "That's good. We'd most give you up.
This here's Mr. Grist, and Mr. Henry P. Cullop, and Mr. Gus
Schulmeyer—three men that feel the same way about Dave Beasley that I
do. That other young feller," he waved a mittened hand to the fourth
man—"he's from the 'Journal.' Likely you're acquainted."
The young man from the 'Journal' was unknown to me; moreover, I was
far from overjoyed at his presence.
"I've got you newspaper men here," continued Mr. Peck, "because I'm
goin' to show you somep'n' about Dave Beasley that'll open a good many
folk's eyes when it's in print."
"Well, what is it?" I asked, rather sharply.
"Jest hold your horses a little bit," he retorted. "Grist and me
knows, and so do Mr. Cullop and Mr. Schulmeyer. And I'm goin' to take
them and you two reporters to LOOK at it. All ready? Then come on."
He threw open the door, stooped to the gust that took him by the
throat, and led the way out into the storm.
"What IS he up to?" I gasped to the "Journal" man as we followed in
a straggling line.
"I don't know any more than you do," he returned. "He thinks he's
got something that'll queer Beasley. Peck's an old fool, but it's just
possible he's got hold of something. Nearly everybody has ONE thing,
at least, that they don't want found out. It may be a good story.
Lord, what a night!"
I pushed ahead to the leader's side. "See here, Mr. Peck—" I
began, but he cut me off.
"You listen to ME, young man! I'm givin' you some news for your
paper, and I'm gittin' at it my own way, but I'll git AT it, don't you
worry! I'm goin' to let some folks around here know what kind of a
feller Dave Beasley really is; yes, and I'm goin' to show George
Dowden he can't laugh at ME!"
"You're going to show Mr. Dowden?" I said. "You mean you're going
to take him on this expedition, too?"
"TAKE him!" Mr. Peck emitted an acrid bark of laughter. "I guess
HE'S at Beasley's, all right."
"No, he isn't; he's at home—at Mrs. Apperthwaite's—playing
"I happen to know that he'll be there all evening."
Mr. Peck smote his palms together. "Grist!" he called, over his
shoulder, and his colleague struggled forward. "Listen to this: even
Dowden ain't at Beasley's. Ain't the Lord workin' fer us to-night!"
"Why don't you take Dowden with you," I urged, "if there's anything
you want to show him?"
"By George, I WILL!" shouted Peck. "I've got him where the hair's
"That's right," said Grist.
"Gentlemen"—Peck turned to the others—"when we git to Mrs.
Apperthwaite's, jest stop outside along the fence a minute. I recken
we'll pick up a recruit."
Shivering, we took up our way again in single file, stumbling
through drifts that had deepened incredibly within the hour. The wind
was straight against us, and so stingingly sharp and so laden with the
driving snow that when we reached Mrs. Apperthwaite's gate (which we
approached from the north, not passing Beasley's) my eyes were so full
of smarting tears I could see only blurred planes of light dancing
vaguely in the darkness, instead of brightly lit windows.
"Now," said Peck, panting and turning his back to the wind; "the
rest of you gentlemen wait out here. You two newspaper men, you come
He opened the gate and went in, the "Journal" reporter and I
following—all three of us wiping our half-blinded eyes. When we
reached the shelter of the front porch, I took the key from my pocket
and opened the door.
"I live here," I explained to Mr. Peck.
"All right," he said. "Jest step in and tell George Dowden that Sim
Peck's out here and wants to see him at the door a minute. Be quick."
I went into the library, and there sat Dowden contemplatively
playing bridge with two of the elderly ladies and Miss Apperthwaite.
The last-mentioned person quite took my breath away.
In honor of the Christmas Eve (I supposed) she wore an evening
dress of black lace, and the only word for what she looked has
suffered such misuse that one hesitates over it: yet that is what she
was—regal—and no less! There was a sort of splendor about her. It
detracted nothing from this that her expression was a little sad:
something not uncommon with her lately; a certain melancholy, faint
but detectable, like breath on a mirror. I had attributed it to Jean
Valjean, though perhaps to-night it might have been due merely to
"What is it?" asked Dowden, when, after an apology for disturbing
the game, I had drawn him out in the hall.
I motioned toward the front door. "Simeon Peck. He thinks he's got
something on Mr. Beasley. He's waiting to see you."
Dowden uttered a sharp, half-coherent exclamation and stepped
quickly to the door. "Peck!" he said, as he jerked it open.
"Oh, I'm here!" declared that gentleman, stepping into view. "I've
come around to let you know that you couldn't laugh like a horse at ME
no more, George Dowden! So YOU weren't invited, either."
"Invited?" said Dowden, "Where?"
"Over to the BALL your friend is givin'."
"Dave Beasley. So you ain't quite good enough to dance with his
"What are you talking about?" Dowden demanded, impatiently.
"I reckon you won't be quite so strong fer Beasley," responded
Peck, with a vindictive little giggle, "when you find he can use you
in his BUSINESS, but when it comes to ENTERTAININ'—oh no, you ain't
quite the boy!"
"I'd appreciate your explaining," said Dowden. "It's kind of cold
Peck laughed shrilly. "Then I reckon you better git your hat and
coat and come along. Can't do US no harm, and might be an eye-opener
fer YOU. Grist and Gus Schulmeyer and Hank Cullop's waitin' out yonder
at the gate. We be'n havin' kind of a consultation at my house over
somep'n' Grist seen at Beasley's a little earlier in the evening."
"What did Grist see?"
"HACKS! Hacks drivin' up to Beasley's house—a whole lot of 'em.
Grist was down the street a piece, and it was pretty dark, but he
could see the lamps and hear the doors slam as the people got out.
Besides, the whole place is lit up from cellar to attic. Grist come on
to my house and told me about it, and I begun usin' the telephone;
called up all the men that COUNT in the party—found most of 'em at
home, too. I ast 'em if they was invited to this ball to-night; and
not a one of 'em was. THEY'RE only in politics; they ain't high
SOCIETY enough to be ast to Mr. Beasley's dancin'-parties! But I WOULD
'a' thougnt he'd let YOU in—ANYWAYS fer the second table!" Mr. Peck
shrilled out his acrid and exultant laugh again. "I got these fellers
from the newspapers, and all I want is to git this here ball in print
to-morrow, and see what the boys that do the work at the primaries
have to say about it—and what their WIVES'll say about the man that's
too high-toned to have 'em in his house. I'll bet Beasley thought he
was goin' to keep these doin's quiet; afraid the farmers might not
believe he's jest the plain man he sets up to be—afraid that folks
like you that ain't invited might turn against him. I'LL fool him!
We're goin' to see what there is to see, and I'm goin' to have these
boys from the newspapers write a full account of it. If you want to
come along, I expect it'll do you a power o' good."
"I'll go," said Dowden, quickly. He got his coat and hat from a
table in the hall, and we rejoined the huddled and shivering group at
"Got my recruit, gents!" shrilled Peck, slapping Dowden
boisterously on the shoulders. "I reckon he'll git a change of heart
And now, sheltering my eyes from the stinging wind, I saw what I
had been too blind to see as we approached Mrs. Apperthwaite's.
Beasley's house WAS illuminated; every window, up stairs and down, was
aglow with rosy light. That was luminously evident, although the
shades were lowered.
"Look at that!" Peck turned to Dowden, giggling triumphantly.
"Wha'd I tell you! How do you feel about it NOW?"
"But where are the hacks?" asked Dowden, gravely.
"Folks all come," answered Mr. Peck, with complete assurance.
"Won't be no more hacks till they begin to go home."
We plunged ahead as far as the corner of Beasley's fence, where
Peck stopped us again, and we drew together, slapping our hands and
stamping our feet. Peck was delighted—a thoroughly happy man; his
sour giggle of exultation had become continuous, and the same jovial
break was audible in Grist's voice as he said to the "Journal"
reporter and me:
"Go ahead, boys. Git your story. We'll wait here fer you."
The "Journal" reporter started toward the gate; he had gone,
perhaps, twenty feet when Simeon Peck whistled in sharp warning. The
reporter stopped short in his tracks.
Beasley's front door was thrown open, and there stood Beasley
himself in evening dress, bowing and smiling, but not at us, for he
did not see us. The bright hall behind him was beautiful with
evergreen streamers and wreaths, and great flowering plants in jars. A
strain of dance-music wandered out to us as the door opened, but there
was nobody except David Beasley in sight, which certainly seemed
peculiar—for a ball!
"Rest of 'em inside, dancin'," explained Mr. Peck, crouching behind
the picket-fence. "I'll bet the house is more'n half full o'
"Sh!" said Grist. "Listen."
Beasley had begun to speak, and his voice, loud and clear, sounded
over the wind. "Come right in, Colonel!" he said. "I'd have sent a
carriage for you if you hadn't telephoned me this afternoon that your
rheumatism was so bad you didn't expect to be able to come. I'm glad
you're well again. Yes, they're all here, and the ladies are getting
up a quadrille in the sitting-room."
(It was at this moment that I received upon the calf of the right
leg a kick, the ecstatic violence of which led me to attribute it to
"Gentlemen's dressing-room up-stairs to the right, Colonel," called
Beasley, as he closed the door.
There was a pause of awed silence among us.
(I improved it by returning the kick to Mr. Dowden. He made no
acknowledgment of its reception other than to sink his chin a little
deeper into the collar of his ulster.)
"By the Almighty!" said Simeon Peck, hoarsely. "Who—WHAT was Dave
Beasley talkin' to? There wasn't nobody THERE!"
"Git out," Grist bade him; but his tone was perturbed. "He seen
that reporter. He was givin' us the laugh."
"He's crazy!" exclaimed Peck, vehemently.
Immediately all four members of his party began to talk at the same
time: Mr. Schulmeyer agreeing with Grist, and Mr. Cullop holding with
Peck that Beasley had surely become insane; while the "Journal" man,
returning, was certain that he had not been seen. Argument became a
wrangle; excitement over the remarkable scene we had witnessed, and,
perhaps, a certain sharpness partially engendered by the risk of
freezing, led to some bitterness. High words were flung upon the wind.
Eventually, Simeon Peck got the floor to himself for a moment.
"See here, boys, there's no use gittin' mad amongs' ourselves," he
vociferated. "One thing we're all agreed on: nobody here never seen no
such a dam peculiar performance as WE jest seen in their whole lives
before. THURfore, ball or NO ball, there's somep'n' mighty wrong about
this business. Ain't that so?"
They said it was.
"Well, then, there's only one thing to do—let's find out what it
"You bet we will."
"I wouldn't send no one in there alone," Peck went on, excitedly,
"with a crazy man. Besides, I want to see what's goin' on,
myself."—"So do we!" This was unanimous.
"Then let's see if there ain't some way to do it. Perhaps he ain't
pulled all the shades down on the other side the house. Lots o' people
fergit to do that."
There was but one mind in the party regarding this proposal. The
next minute saw us all cautiously sneaking into the side yard, a
ragged line of bent and flapping figures, black against the snow.
Simeon Peck's expectations were fulfilled—more than fulfilled. Not
only were all the shades of the big, three-faced bay-window of the
"sitting-room" lifted, but (evidently on account of the too great
generosity of a huge log-fire that blazed in the old—fashioned
chimney-place) one of the windows was half-raised as well. Here, in
the shadow just beyond the rosy oblongs of light that fell upon the
snow, we gathered and looked freely within.
Part of the room was clear to our view, though about half of it was
shut off from us by the very king of all Christmas-trees, glittering
with dozens and dozens of candles, sumptuous in silver, sparkling in
gold, and laden with Heaven alone knows how many and what delectable
enticements. Opposite the Tree, his back against the wall, sat old
Bob, clad in a dress of state, part of which consisted of a
swallow-tail coat (with an overgrown chrysanthemum in the buttonhole),
a red necktie, and a pink-and-silver liberty cap of tissue-paper. He
was scraping a fiddle "like old times come again," and the tune he
played was, "Oh, my Liza, po' gal!" My feet shuffled to it in the
No one except old Bob was to be seen in the room, but we watched
him and listened breathlessly. When he finished "Liza," he laid the
fiddle across his knee, wiped his face with a new and brilliant blue
silk handkerchief, and said:
"Now come de big speech."
The Honorable David Beasley, carrying a small mahogany table,
stepped out from beyond the Christmas-tree, advanced to the centre of
the room; set the table down; disappeared for a moment and returned
with a white water-pitcher and a glass. He placed these upon the
table, bowed gracefully several times, then spoke:
"Ladies and gentleman—" There he paused.
"Well," said Mr. Simeon Peck, slowly, "don't this beat hell!"
"Look out!" The "Journal" reporter twitched his sleeve. "Ladies
"Where?" said I.
He leaned nearer me and spoke in a low tone. "Just behind us. She
followed us over from your boarding-house. She's been standing around
near us all along. I supposed she was Dowden's daughter, probably."
"He hasn't any daughter," I said, and stepped back to the hooded
figure I had been too absorbed in our quest to notice.
It was Miss Apperthwaite.
She had thrown a loose cloak over her head and shoulders; but
enveloped in it as she was, and crested and epauletted with white, I
knew her at once. There was no mistaking her, even in a blizzard.
She caught my hand with a strong, quick pressure, and, bending her
head to mine, said, close to my ear:
"I heard everything that man said in our hallway. You left the
library door open when you called Mr. Dowden out."
"So," I returned, maliciously, "you—you couldn't HELP following!"
She released my hand—gently, to my surprise.
"Hush," she whispered. "He's saying something."
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Beasley again—and stopped again.
Dowden's voice sounded hysterically in my right ear. (Miss
Apperthwaite had whispered in my left.) "The only speech he's ever
made in his life—and he's stuck!"
But Beasley wasn't: he was only deliberating.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began—"Mr. and Mrs. Hunchberg, Colonel
Hunchberg and Aunt Cooley Hunchberg, Miss Molanna, Miss Queen, and
Miss Marble Hunchberg, Mr. Noble, Mr. Tom, and Mr. Grandee Hunchberg,
Mr. Corley Linbridge, and Master Hammersley:—You see before you
to-night, my person, merely the representative of your real host.
MISTER Swift. Mister Swift has expressed a wish that there should be a
speech, and has deputed me to make it. He requests that the subject he
has assigned me should be treated in as dignified a manner as is
possible—considering the orator. Ladies and gentlemen"—he took a sip
of water—"I will now address you upon the following subject: 'Why we
Call Christmas-time the Best Time.'
"Christmas-time is the best time because it is the kindest time.
Nobody ever felt very happy without feeling very kind, and nobody ever
felt very kind without feeling at least a LITTLE happy. So, of course,
either way about, the happiest time is the kindest time—that's THIS
time. The most beautiful things our eyes can see are the stars; and
for that reason, and in remembrance of One star, we set candles on the
Tree to be stars in the house. So we make Christmas-time a time of
stars indoors; and they shine warmly against the cold outdoors that is
like the cold of other seasons not so kind. We set our hundred candles
on the Tree and keep them bright throughout the Christmas-time, for
while they shine upon us we have light to see this life, not as a
battle, but as the march of a mighty Fellowship! Ladies and gentlemen,
I thank you!"
He bowed to right and left, as to an audience politely applauding,
and, lifting the table and its burden, withdrew; while old Bob again
set his fiddle to his chin and scraped the preliminary measures of a
Beasley was back in an instant, shouting as he came: "TAKE your
pardners! Balance ALL!"
And then and there, and all by himself, he danced a quadrille,
performing at one and the same time for four lively couples. Never in
my life have I seen such gyrations and capers as were cut by that
long-legged, loose-jointed, miraculously flying figure. He was in the
wildest motion without cessation, never the fraction of an instant
still; calling the figures at the top of his voice and dancing them
simultaneously; his expression anxious but polite (as is the habit of
other dancers); his hands extended as if to swing his partner or
corner, or "opposite lady"; and his feet lifting high and flapping
down in an old-fashioned step. "FIRST four, forward and back!" he
shouted. "Forward and SALUTE! BALANCE to corners! SWING pardners!
I think the combination of abandon and decorum with which he
performed that "Grand Right-and-Left" was the funniest thing I have
ever seen. But I didn't laugh at it.
Neither did Miss Apperthwaite.
"NOW do you believe me?" Peck was arguing, fiercely, with Mr.
Schulmeyer. "Is he crazy, or ain't he?"
"He is," Grist agreed, hoarsely. "He is a stark, starin', ravin',
roarin' lunatic! And the nigger's humorin' him!"
They were all staring, open-mouthed and aghast, into the lighted
"Do you see where it puts US?" Simeon Peck's rasping voice rose
"I guess I do!" said Grist. "We come out to buy a barn, and got a
house and lot fer the same money. It's the greatest night's work you
ever done, Sim Peck!"
"I guess it is!"
"Shake on it, Sim."
They shook hands, exalted with triumph.
"This'll do the work," giggled Peck. "It's about two-thousand per
cent, better than the story we started to git. Why, Dave Beasley'll be
in a padded cell in a month! It'll be all over town to-morrow, and
he'll have as much chance fer governor as that nigger in there!" In
his ecstasy he smote Dowden deliriously in the ribs. "What do you
think of your candidate NOW?"
"Wait," said Dowden. "Who came in the hacks that Grist saw?"
This staggered Mr. Peck. He rubbed his mitten over his woollen cap
as if scratching his head. "Why," he said, slowly—"who in Halifax DID
come in them hacks?"
"The Hunchbergs," said I.
"Who's the Hunchbergs? Where—"
"Listen," said Dowden.
"FIRST couple, FACE out!" shouted Beasley, facing out with an
invisible lady on his akimboed arm, while old Bob sawed madly at A New
Coon in Town.
"SECOND couple, FALL in!" Beasley wheeled about and enacted the
"THIRD couple!" He fell in behind himself again.
"FOURTH couple, IF you please! BALANCE—ALL!—I beg your pardon,
Miss Molanna, I'm afraid I stepped on your train.—SASHAY ALL!"
After the "sashay"—the noblest and most dashing bit of gymnastics
displayed in the whole quadrille—he bowed profoundly to his invisible
partner and came to a pause, wiping his streaming face. Old Bob
dexterously swung A New Coon into the stately measures of a triumphal
"And now," Beasley announced, in stentorian tones, "if the ladies
will be so kind as to take the gentlemen's arms, we will proceed to
the dining-room and partake of a slight collation."
Thereupon came a slender piping of joy from that part of the room
screened from us by the Tree.
"Oh, Cousin David Beasley, that was the BEAUTIFULLEST quadrille
ever danced in the world! And, please, won't YOU take Mrs. Hunchberg
out to supper?"
Then into the vision of our paralyzed and dumfounded watchers came
the little wagon, pulled by the old colored woman, Bob's wife, in her
best, and there, propped upon pillows, lay Hamilton Swift, Junior, his
soul shining rapture out of his great eyes, a bright spot of color on
each of his thin cheeks. He lifted himself on one elbow, and for an
instant something seemed to be wrong with the brace under his chin.
Beasley sprang to him and adjusted it tenderly. Then he bowed
elaborately toward the mantel-piece.
"Mrs. Hunchberg," he said, "may I have the honor?" And offered his
"And I must have MISTER Hunchberg," chirped Hamilton. "He must walk
"He tells ME," said Beasley, "he'll be mighty glad to. And there's
a plate of bones for Simpledoria."
"You lead the way," cried the child; "you and Mrs. Hunchberg."
"Are we all in line?" Beasley glanced back over his shoulder.
"HOO-ray! Now, let us on. Ho! there!"
"BR-R-RA-vo!" applauded Mister Swift.
And Beasley, his head thrown back and his chest out, proudly led
the way, stepping nobly and in time to the exhilarating measures.
Hamilton Swift, Junior, towed by the beaming old mammy, followed in
his wagon, his thin little arm uplifted and his fingers curled as if
they held a trusted hand.
When they reached the door, old Bob rose, turned in after them,
and, still fiddling, played the procession and himself down the hall.
And so they marched away, and we were left staring into the empty
"My soul!" said the "Journal" reporter, gasping. "And he did all
THAT—just to please a little sick kid!"
"I can't figure it out," murmured Sim Peck, piteously.
"I can," said the "Journal" reporter. "This story WILL be
all over town to-morrow." He glanced at me, and I nodded. "It'll be
all over town," he continued, "though not in any of the papers—and I
don't believe it's going to hurt Dave Beasley's chances any."
Mr. Peck and his companions turned toward the street; they went
The young man from the "Journal" overtook them. "Thank you for
sending for me," he said, cordially. "You've given me a treat. I'm FER
Dowden put his hand on my shoulder. He had not observed the third
figure still remaining.
"Well, sir," he remarked, shaking the snow from his coat, "they
were right about one thing: it certainly was mighty low down of Dave
not to invite ME—and you, too—to his Christmas party. Let him go to
thunder with his old invitations, I'm going in, anyway! Come on. I'm
There was a side door just beyond the bay-window, and Dowden went
to it and rang, loud and long. It was Beasley himself who opened it.
"What in the name—" he began, as the ruddy light fell upon
Dowden's face and upon me, standing a little way behind. "What ARE you
two—snow-banks? What on earth are you fellows doing out here?"
"We've come to your Christmas party, you old horse-thief!" Thus Mr.
"HOO-ray!" said Beasley.
Dowden turned to me. "Aren't you coming?"
"What are you waiting for, old fellow?" said Beasley.
I waited a moment longer, and then it happened.
She came out of the shadow and went to the foot of the steps, her
cloak falling from her shoulders as she passed me. I picked it up.
She lifted her arms pleadingly, though her head was bent with what
seemed to me a beautiful sort of shame. She stood there with the snow
driving against her and did not speak. Beasley drew his hand slowly
across his eyes—to see if they were really there, I think.
"David," she said, at last. "You've got so many lovely people in
your house to-night: isn't there room for—for just one fool? It's