The Promise of
the Dawn, A
A winter's evening. Do you know how that comes here among the edges of
the mountains that fence in the great Mississippi valley? The sea-breath
in the New-England States thins the air and bleaches the sky, sucks
the vitality out of Nature, I fancy, to put it into the brains of the
people: but here, the earth every day in the year pulses out through
hill or prairie or creek a full, untamed animal life,—shakes off the
snow too early in spring, in order to put forth untimed and useless
blossoms, wasteful of her infinite strength. So when this winter's
evening came to a lazy town bedded in the hills that skirt Western
Virginia close by the Ohio, it found that the December air, fiercely
as it blew the snow-clouds about the hill-tops, was instinct with a
vigorous, frosty life, and that the sky above the clouds was not wan and
washed-out, as farther North, but massive, holding yet a sensuous yellow
languor, the glow of unforgotten autumn days.
The very sun, quite certain of where he would soonest meet with
gratitude, gave his kindliest good-night smile to the great valley of
the West, asleep under the snow: very kind to-night, just as calm and
loving, though he knew the most plentiful harvest which the States had
yielded that year was one of murdered dead, as he gave to the young,
untainted world, that morning, long ago, when God blessed it, and saw
that it was good. Because, you see, this was the eve of a more helpful,
God-sent day than that, in spite of all the dead: Christmas eve.
To-morrow Christ was coming,—whatever he may be to you,—Christ. The
sun knew that, and glowed as cheerily, steadily, on blood as water. Why,
God had the world! Let them fret, and cut each other's throats, if they
would. God had them: and Christ was coming. But one fancied that the
earth, not quite so secure in the infinite Love that held her, had
learned to doubt, in her six thousand years of hunger, and heard the
tidings with a thrill of relief. Was the Helper coming? Was it the true
Helper? The very hope, even, gave meaning to the tender rose-blush on
the peaks of snow, to the childish sparkle on the grim rivers. They
heard and understood. The whole world answered.
One man, at least, fancied so: Adam Craig, hobbling down the frozen
streets of this old-fashioned town. He thought, rubbing his bony hands
together, that even the wind knew that Christmas was coming, the day
that Christ was born: it went shouting boisterously through the great
mountain-gorges, its very uncouth soul shaken with gladness. The city
itself, he fancied, had caught a new and curious beauty: this winter
its mills were stopped, and it had time to clothe the steep streets in
spotless snow and icicles; its windows glittered red and cheery out into
the early night: it looked just as if the old burgh had done its work,
and sat down, like one of its own mill-men, to enjoy the evening, with
not the cleanest face in the world, to be sure, but with an honest,
jolly old heart under all, beating rough and glad and full. That was
Adam Craig's fancy: but his head was full of queer fancies under the
rusty old brown wig: queer, maybe, yet as pure and childlike as the
prophet John's: coming, you know, from the same kinship. Adam had kept
his fancies to himself these forty years. A lame old chap, cobbling
shoes day by day, fighting the wolf desperately from the door for the
sake of orphan brothers and sisters, has not much time to put the
meanings God and Nature have for his ignorant soul into words, has he?
But the fancies had found utterance for themselves, somehow: in his
hatchet-shaped face, even, with its scraggy gray whiskers; in the quick,
shrewd smile; in the eyes, keen eyes, but childlike, too. In the very
shop out there on the creek-bank you could trace them. Adam had cobbled
there these twenty years, chewing tobacco and taking snuff, (his
mother's habit, that,) but the little shop was pure: people with brains
behind their eyes would know that a clean and delicate soul lived there;
they might have known it in other ways too, if they chose: in his gruff,
sharp talk, even, full of slang and oaths; for Adam, invoke the Devil
often as he might, never took the name of Christ or a woman in vain. So
his foolish fancies, as he called them, cropped out. It must be so, you
know: put on what creed you may, call yourself chevalier or Sambo, the
speech your soul has held with God and the Devil will tell itself in
every turn of your head, and jangle of your laugh: you cannot help that.
But it was Christmas eve. Adam took that in with keener enjoyment, in
every frosty breath he drew. Different from any Christmas eve before:
pulling off his scuffed cap to feel the full strength of the "nor'rer."
Whew! how it blew! straight from the ice-fields of the Pole, he thought.
So few people there were up there to be glad Christ was coming! But
those filthy little dwarfs up there needed Him all the same: every man
of them had a fiend tugging at his soul, like us, was lonely, wanted
a God to help him, and—a wife to love him. Adam stopped short here a
minute, something choking in his throat. "Jinny!" he said, under
his breath, turning to some new hope in his heart, with as tender,
awe-struck a touch as one lays upon a new-born infant. "Jinny!" praying
silently with blurred eyes. I think Christ that moment came very near
to the woman who was so greatly loved, and took her in His arms, and
blessed her. Adam jogged on, trying to begin a whistle, but it ended in
a miserable grunt: his heart was throbbing under his smoke-dried skin,
silly as a woman's, so light it was, and full.
"Get along, Old Dot, and carry one!" shouted the boys, sledding down the
"Yip! you young devils, you!" stopping to give them a helping shove and
a cheer; loving little children always, but never as to-day.
Surely there never was such a Christmas eve before! The frozen air
glistened grayly up into heaven itself, he thought; the snow-covered
streets were alive, noisy,—glad into their very cellars and shanties;
the sun was sorry to go away. No wonder. His heartiest ruby-gleam
lingered about the white Virginia heights behind the town, and across
the river quite glorified the pale stretch of the Ohio hills. Free and
slave. (Adam was an Abolitionist.) Well, let that be. God's hand of
power, like His sunlight, held the master and the slave in loving
company. To-morrow was the sign.
The cobbler stopped on the little swinging foot-bridge that crosses the
creek in the centre of the city. The faint saffron sunset swept from the
west over the distant wooded hills, the river, the stone bridge below
him, whose broad gray piers painted perpetual arches on the sluggish,
sea-colored water. The smoke from one or two far-off foundries hung just
above it, motionless in the gray, in tattered drifts, dyed by the sun,
clear drab and violet. A still picture. A bit of Venice, poor Adam
thought, who never had been fifty miles out of Wheeling. The quaint
American town was his world: he brought the world into it. There were
relics of old Indian forts and mounds, the old times and the new. The
people, too, though the cobbler only dimly saw that, were as much the
deposit and accretion of all dead ages as was the coal that lay bedded
in the fencing hills. Irish, Dutch, whites, blacks, Moors, old John
Bull himself: you can find the dregs of every day of the world in any
mill-town of the States. Adam had a dull perception of this. Christmas
eve came to all the world, coming here.
Leaning on the iron wires, while the unsteady little bridge shook under
him, he watched the stunned beams of the sun urging themselves through
the smoke-clouds. He thought they were like "the voice of one crying
in the wilderness, 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths
straight.'" It wakened something in the man's hackneyed heart deeper
even than the thought of the woman he had prayed for. A sudden vision
that a great Peace held the world as did that glow of upper light: he
rested in its calm. Up the street a few steps rose the walls of the old
theatre, used as a prison now for captured Confederates: it was full
now; he could see them looking out from behind the bars, grimy and
tattered. Far to the north, on Mount Woods, the white grave-stones stood
out clear in the darkening evening. His enemies, the busy streets, the
very war itself, the bones and souls of the dead yonder,—the great
Peace held them all. We might call them evil, but they were sent from
God, and went back to God. All things were in Him.
I tell you, that when this one complete Truth got into this poor
cobbler's brain,—in among its vulgar facts of North and South, and
patched shoes, and to-morrow's turkey,—a great poet-insight looked out
of his eyes for the minute. Saint John looked thus as he wrote that
primitive natal word, "God is love." Cobblers, as well as Saint John,
or the dying Herder, need great thoughts, and water from God to refresh
them, believe me.
Trotting on, hardly needing his hickory stick, Adam could see the little
brown shop yonder on the creek-bank. All dark: but did you ever see
anything brighter than the way the light shone in the sitting-room,
behind the Turkey-red curtains? Such a taste that little woman had! Two
years ago the cobbler finished his life-work, he thought: he had been
mother and father both to the orphans left with him, faithful to them,
choking down the hungry gnawing within for something nearer than brother
or sister. Two years ago they had left him, struck out into the world
"Then, you see," Adam used to say, "I was settlin' down into an old man;
dryin' up, d' ye see? thinkin' the Lord had forgotten me, when He said
to other men, 'Come, it's your turn now for home and lovin'.' Them
young ones was dear enough, but a man has a cravin' for somethin' that's
his own. But it was too late, I thought. Bitter; despisin' the Lord's
eyesight; thinkin' He didn't see or care what would keep me from hell. I
believed in God, like most poor men do, thinkin' Him cold-blooded, not
hearin' when we cry out for work, or a wife, or child. I didn't cry.
I never prayed. But look there. Do you see—her? Jinny?" It was
to the young Baptist preacher Adam said this, when he came to make a
pastoral visit to Adam's wife. "That's what He did. I'm not ashamed to
pray now. I ask Him every hour to give me a tight grip on her so that
I kin follow her up, and to larn me some more of His ways. That's my
religious 'xperience, Sir."
The young man coughed weakly, and began questioning old Craig as to
his faith in immersion. The cobbler stumped about the kitchen a minute
before answering, holding himself down. His face was blood-red when he
did speak, quite savage, the young speaker said afterward.
"I don't go to church, Sir. My wife does. I don't say now, 'Damn the
churches!' or that you, an' the likes of you, an' yer Master, are all
shams an' humbugs. I know Him now. He's 'live to me. So now, when I
see you belie Him, an' keep men from Him with yer hundreds o' wranglin'
creeds, an' that there's as much honest love of truth outside the Church
as in it, I don't put yer bigotry an' foulness on Him. I on'y think
there's an awful mistake: just this: that the Church thinks it is
Christ's body an' us uns is outsiders, an' we think so too, an' despise
Him through you with yer stingy souls an' fights an' squabblins; not
seein' that the Church is jes' an hospital, where some of the sickest of
God's patients is tryin' to get cured."
The preacher never went back; spoke in a church-meeting soon after of
the prevalence of Tom Paine's opinions among the lower classes. Half
of our sham preachers take the vague name of "Paine" to cover all of
Christ's opponents,—not ranking themselves there, of course.
Adam thought he had won a victory. "Ef you'd heard me flabbergast the
parson!" he used to say, with a jealous anxiety to keep Christ out of
the visible Church, to shut his eyes to the true purity in it, to the
fact that the Physician was in His hospital. To-night some more infinite
gospel had touched him. "Good evenin', Mr. Pitts," he said, meeting
the Baptist preacher. "Happy Christmas, Sir!" catching a glance of
his broken boots. "Danged ef I don't send that feller a pair of shoes
unbeknownst, to-morrow! He's workin' hard, an' it's not for money."
The great Peace held even its erring Church, as Adam dully saw. The
streets were darkening, but full even yet of children crowding in and
out of the shops. Not a child among them was more busy or important, or
keener for a laugh than Adam, with his basket on his arm and his hand in
his pocket clutching the money he had to lay out. The way he had worked
for that! Over-jobs, you know, done at night when Jinny and the baby
were asleep. It was carrying him through splendidly, though: the basket
was quite piled up with bundles: as for the turkey, hadn't he been
keeping that in the back-yard for weeks, stuffing it until it hardly
could walk? That turkey, do you know, was the first thing Baby ever took
any notice of, except the candle? Jinny was quite opposed to killing it,
for that reason, and proposed they should have ducks instead; but as old
Jim Farley and Granny Simpson were invited for dinner, and had been told
about the turkey, matters must stay as they were.
"Poor souls, they'll not taste turkey agin this many a day, I'm
thinkin', Janet. When we give an entertainment, it's allus them-like
we'll ask. That's the Master's biddin', ye know."
But the pudding was yet to buy. He had a dirty scrap of paper on which
Jinny had written down the amount. "The hand that woman writes!" He
inspected it anxiously at every street-lamp. Did you ever see anything
finer than that tongue, full of its rich brown juices and golden fat? or
the white, crumbly suet? Jinny said veal: such a saving little body she
was! but we know what a pudding ought to be. Now for the pippins for it,
yellow they are, holding summer yet; and a few drops of that brandy in
the window, every drop shining and warm: that'll put a soul into it,
and—He stopped before the confectioner's: just a moment, to collect
himself; for this was the crowning point, this. There they were, in the
great, gleaming window below: the rich Malaga raisins, bedded in their
cases, cold to the lips, but within all glowing sweetness and passion;
and the cool, tart little currants. If Jinny could see that window! and
Baby. To be sure, Baby mightn't appreciate it, but—White frosted cakes,
built up like fairy palaces, and mountains of golden oranges, and the
light trembling through delicate candies, purple and rose-color. "Let's
have a look, boys!"—and Adam crowded into the swarm outside.
Over the shops there was a high brick building, a concert-hall. You
could hear the soft, dreamy air floating down from it, made vocal into
a wordless love and pathos. Adam forgot the splendors of the window,
listening; his heart throbbed full under his thin coat; it ached with an
infinite tenderness. The poor old cobbler's eyes filled with tears: he
could have taken Jesus and the great world all into his arms then. How
loving and pure it was, the world! Christ's footsteps were heard. The
eternal stars waited above; there was not a face in the crowd about him
that was not clear and joyous. These delicate, pure women flitting past
him up into the lighted hall,—it made his nerves thrill into pleasure
to look at them. Jesus' world! His creatures.
He put his hand into the basket, and shyly took out a bunch of flowers
he had bought,—real flowers, tender, sweet-smelling little things.
Wouldn't Jinny wonder to find them on her bureau in the morning? Their
fragrance, so loving and innocent, filled the frosty air, like a breath
of the purity of this Day coming. Just as he was going to put them back
carefully, a hand out of the crowd caught hold of them, a dirty hand,
with sores on it, and a woman thrust her face from under her blowzy
bonnet into his: a young face, deadly pale, on which some awful passion
had cut the lines; lips dyed scarlet with rank blood, lips, you would
think, that in hell itself would utter a coarse jest.
"Give 'em to me, old cub!" she said, pulling at them. "I want 'em for a
better nor you."
"Go it, Lot!" shouted the boys.
He struck her. A woman? Yes; if it had been a slimy eel standing
upright, it would have been less foul a thing than this.
"Damn you!" she muttered, chafing the hurt arm. Whatever words this girl
spoke came from her teeth out,—seemed to have no meaning to her.
"Let's see, Lot."
She held out her arm, and the boy, a black one, plastered it with grime
from the gutter. The others yelled with delight. Adam hurried off. A
pure air? God help us! He threw the flowers into the gutter with a
bitter loathing. Her fingers would be polluted, if they touched them
now. He would not tell her of this: he would cut off his hand rather
than talk to her of this,—let her know such things were in the world.
So pure and saintly she was, his little wife! a homely little body, but
with the cleanest, most loving heart, doing her Master's will humbly.
The cobbler's own veins were full of Scotch blood, as pure indignant as
any knight's of the Holy Greal. He wiped his hand, as though a leper had
Passing down Church Street, the old bell rang out the hour. All day he
had fancied its tone had gathered a lighter, more delicate sweetness
with every chime. The Christ-child was coming; the world held up its
hands adoring; all that was needed of men was to love Him, and rejoice.
Its tone was different now: there was a brutal cry of pain in the
ponderous voice that shook the air,—a voice saying something to God,
unintelligible to him. He thrust out the thought of that woman with a
curse: he had so wanted to have a good day, to feel how great and glad
the world was, and to come up close to Christ with Jinny and the baby!
He did soon forget the vileness there behind, going down the streets;
they were so cozy and friendly-hearted, the parlor-windows opening out
red and cheerfully, as is the custom in Southern and Western towns; they
said "Happy Christmas" to every passer-by. The owners, going into the
houses, had a hearty word for Adam. "Well, Craig, how goes it?" or,
"Fine, frosty weather, Sir." It quite heartened the cobbler. He made
shoes for most of these people, and whether men are free and equal or
not, any cobbler will have a reverence for the man he has shod.
So Adam trotted on, his face a little redder, and his stooped chest,
especially next the basket, in quite a glow. There she was, clear out in
the snow, waiting for him by the curb-stone. How she took hold of the
basket, and Adam made believe she was carrying the whole weight of it!
How the fire-light struck out furiously through the Turkey-red curtains,
so as to show her to him quicker!—to show him the snug coffee-colored
dress, and the bits of cherry ribbon at her throat,—to show him how the
fair curly hair was tucked back to leave the rosy ears bare he thought
so dainty,—to show him how young she was, how faded and worn and
tired-out she was, how hard the years had been,—to show him how his
great love for her was thickening the thin blood with life, making a
child out of the thwarted woman,—to show him—this more than all, this
that his soul watched for, breathless, day and night—that she loved
him, that she knew nothing better than the ignorant, loving heart, the
horny hands that had taken her hungry fate to hold, and made of it a
color and a fragrance. "Christmas is coming, little woman!" Of course it
was. If it had not taken the whole world into its embrace yet, there it
was compacted into a very glow of love and warmth and coziness in
that snuggest of rooms, and in that very Jinny and Baby,—Christmas
itself,—especially when he kissed her, and she blushed and laughed,
the tears in her eyes, and went fussing for that queer roll of white
Adam took off his coat: he always went at the job of nursing the baby
in his shirt-sleeves. The anxious sweat used to break on his forehead
before he was through. He got its feet to the fire. "I'm dead sure that
much is right," he used to say. Jinny put away the bundles, wishing to
herself Mrs. Perkins would happen in to see them: one didn't like to be
telling what they had for dinner, but if it was known accidentally—You
poets, whose brains have quite snubbed and sent to Coventry your
stomachs, never could perceive how the pudding was a poem to the cobbler
and his wife,—how a very actual sense of the live goodness of Jesus was
in it,—how its spicy steam contained all the cordial cheer and jollity
they had missed in meaningless days of the year. Then she brought her
sewing-chair, and sat down, quite idle.
"No work for to-night! I'll teach you how to keep Christmas, Janet,
It was her first, one might say. Orphan girls that go about from house
to house sewing, as Jinny had done, don't learn Christmas by heart year
by year. It was a new experience: she was taking it in, one would think,
to look at her, with all her might, with the earnest blue eyes, the
shut-up brain behind the narrow forehead, the loving heart: a contracted
tenement, that heart, by-the-by, adapted for single lodgers. She wasn't
quite sure that Christmas was not, after all, a relic of Papistry,—for
Jinny was a thorough Protestant: a Christian, as far as she understood
Him, with a keen interest in the Indian missions. "Let us begin in our
own country," she said, and always prayed for the Sioux just after Adam
and Baby. In fact, if we are all parts of God's temple, Jinny was a
very essential, cohesive bit of mortar. Adam had a wider door for his
charity: it took all the world in, he thought,—though the preachers did
enter with a shove, as we know. However, this was Christmas: the word
took up all common things, the fierce wind without, the clean hearth,
the modest color on her cheek, the very baby, and made of them one
grand, sweet poem, that sang to the man the same story the angels told
eighteen centuries ago: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, good-will toward men."
Sitting there in the evenings, Adam was the talker: such a fund of
anecdote he had! Jinny never could hear the same story too often.
To-night there was a bit of a sigh in them: his heart was tender: about
the Christmases at home, when he and Nelly were little chubs together,
and hung up their stockings regularly every Christmas eve.
"Twins, Nelly an' me was, oldest of all. When I was bound to old Lowe,
it went hard, ef I couldn't scratch together enough for a bit of
ribbon-bow or a ring for Nell, come Christmas. She used to sell the old
flour-barrels an' rags, an' have her gift all ready by my plate that
mornin': never missed. I never hed a sweetheart then."
Jinny laid her hand on his knee.
"Ye 'r' glad o' that, little woman? Well, well! I didn't care for women,
only Ellen. She was the only livin' thing as come near me. I gripped on
to her like death, havin' only her. But she—hed more nor me."
Jinny knew the story well.
"She went away with him?" softly.
"Yes, she did. I don't blame her. She was young, unlarned. No man cared
for our souls. So, when she loved him well, she thort God spoke to her.
So she was tuk from me. She went away."
He patted the baby, his skinny hand all shaking. Jinny took it in hers,
and, leaning over, stroked his hair.
"You've hed hard trouble, to turn it gray like this."
"No trouble like that, woman, when he left her."
"Left her! An' then she was tired of God, an' of livin', or dyin'. So
as she loved him! You know, my husband. As I love you. An' he left her!
What wonder what she did? All alone! So as she loved him still! God
shut His eyes to what she did."
The yellow, shaggy face was suddenly turned from her. The voice choked.
"Did He, little woman? You know."
"So, when she was a-tryin' to forget, the only way she knew, God sent an
angel to bring her up, an' have her soul washed clean."
Adam laughed bitterly.
"That's not the way men told the story, child. I got there six months
after: to New York, you know. I found in an old paper jes' these words:
'The woman, Ellen Myers, found dead yesterday on one of the docks, was
identified. Died of starvation and whiskey.' That was Nelly, as used to
hang up her stockin' with me. Christian people read that. But nobody
cried but me."
"They're tryin' to help them now at the Five Points there."
"God help them as helps others this Christmas night! But it's not for
such as you to talk of the Five Points, Janet," rousing himself. "What
frabbit me to talk of Nelly the night? Someways she's been beside me all
day, as if she was grippin' me by the sleeve, beggin', dumb-like."
The moody frown deepened.
"The baby! See, Adam, it'll waken! Quick, man!"
And Adam, with a start, began hushing it after the fashion of a
chimpanzee. The old bell rang out another hour: how genial and loving it
"Nine o'clock! Let me up, boys!"—and Lot Tyndal hustled them aside from
the steps of the concert-hall. They made way for her: her thin, white
arms could deal furious blows, they knew from experience. Besides, they
had seen her, when provoked, fall in some cellar-door in a livid dead
spasm. They were afraid of her. Her filthy, wet skirt flapped against
her feet, as she went up; she pulled her flaunting bonnet closer over
her head. There was a small room at the top of the stairs, a sort of
greenroom for the performers. Lot shoved the door open and went in.
Madame —— was there, the prima-donna, if you chose to call her so:
the rankest bloom of fifty summers, in white satin and pearls: a faded
dahlia. Women hinted that the fragrance of the dahlia had not been
healthful in the world; but they crowded to hear her: such a wonderful
contralto! The manager, a thin old man, with a hook-nose, and kindly,
uncertain smile, stood by the stove, with a group of gentlemen about
him. The wretch from the street went up to him, unsteadily.
"Lot's drunk," one door-keeper whispered to another.
"No; the Devil's in her, though, like a tiger, to-night."
Yet there was a certain grace and beauty in her face, as she looked at
the manager, and spoke low and sudden.
"I'm not a beggar. I want money,—honest money. It's Christmas eve. They
say you want a voice for the chorus, in the carols. Put me where I'll be
hid, and I'll sing for you."
The manager's hand fell from his watch-chain. Storrs, a young lawyer of
the place, touched his shoulder.
"Don't look so aghast, Pumphrey. Let her sing a ballad to show you. Her
voice is a real curiosity."
Madame —— looked dubiously across the room: her black maid had
whispered to her. Lot belonged to an order she had never met face to
face before: one that lives in the suburbs of hell.
"Let her sing, Pumphrey."
"If"——looking anxiously to the lady.
"Certainly," drawled that type of purity. "If it is so curious, her
"Sing, then," nodding to the girl.
There was a strange fierceness under her dead, gray eye.
"Do you mean to employ me to-night?"
Her tones were low, soft, from her teeth out, as I told you. Her soul
was chained, below: a young girl's soul, hardly older than your little
daughter's there, who sings Sunday-school hymns for you in the evenings.
Yet one fancied, if this girl's soul were let loose, it would utter a
madder cry than any fiend in hell.
"Do you mean to employ me?" biting her finger-ends until they bled.
"Don't be foolish, Charlotte," whispered Storrs. "You may be thankful
you're not sent to jail instead. But sing for him. He'll give you
She did not damn him, as he expected, stood quiet a moment, her eyelids
fallen, relaxed with an inexpressible weariness. A black porter came to
throw coals into the stove: he knew "dat debbil, Lot," well: had helped
drag her drunk to the lock-up a day or two before. Now, before the white
folks, he drew his coat aside, loathing to touch her. She followed him
with a glazed look.
"Do you see what I am?" she said to the manager.
Nothing pitiful in her voice. It was too late for that.
"He wouldn't touch me: I'm not fit. I want help. Give me some honest
She stopped and put her hand on his coat-sleeve. The child she might
have been, and never was, looked from her face that moment.
"God made me, I think," she said, humbly.
The manager's thin face reddened.
"God bless my soul! what shall I do, Mr. Storrs?"
The young man's thick lip and thicker eyelid drooped. He laughed, and
whispered a word or two.
"Yes," gruffly, being reassured. "There's a policeman outside. Joe, take
her out, give her in charge to him."
The negro motioned her before him with a billet of wood he held. She
laughed. Her laugh had gained her the name of "Devil Lot."
"Why,"—fires that God never lighted blazing in her eyes,—"I thought
you wanted me to sing! I'll sing. We'll have a hymn. It's Christmas, you
She staggered. Liquor, or some subtler poison, was in her veins. Then,
catching by the lintel, she broke into that most deep of all adoring
"I know that my Redeemer liveth."
A strange voice. The men about her were musical critics: they listened
intently. Low, uncultured, yet full, with childish grace and sparkle;
but now and then a wailing breath of an unutterable pathos.
"Git out wid you," muttered the negro, who had his own religious
notions, "pollutin' de name ob de Lord in yer lips!"
"Just for a joke, Joe. My Redeemer!"
He drove her down the stairs.
"Do you want to go to jail, Lot?" he said, more kindly. "It's orful cold
"No. Let me go."
She went through the crowd out into the vacant street, down to the
wharf, humming some street-song,—from habit, it seemed; sat down on a
pile of lumber, picking the clay out of the holes in her shoes. It
was dark: she did not see that a man had followed her, until his
white-gloved hand touched her. The manager, his uncertain face growing
Lot got up, pushed off her bonnet. He looked at her.
"My God! No older than Susy," he said.
By a gas-lamp she saw his face, the trouble in it.
"Well?" biting her finger-ends again.
"I'm sorry for you, I"—
"Why?" sharply. "There's more like me. Fifteen thousand in the city of
New York. I came from there."
"Not like you, child."
"Yes, like me," with a gulping noise in her throat. "I'm no better than
She sat down and began digging in the snow, holding the sullen look
desperately on her face. The kind word had reached the tortured soul
beneath, and it struggled madly to be free.
"Can I help you?"
"There's something in your face makes me heart-sick. I've a little girl
of your age."
She looked up quickly.
"Who are you, girl?"
She stood up again, her child's face white, the dark river rolling close
by her feet.
"I'm Lot. I always was what you see. My mother drank herself to death in
the Bowery dens. I learned my trade there, slow and sure."
She stretched out her hands into the night, with a wild cry,—
"My God! I had to live!"
What was to be done? Whose place was it to help her? he thought. He
loathed to touch her. But her soul might be as pure and groping as
"I wish I could help you, girl," he said. "But I'm a moral man. I have
to be careful of my reputation. Besides, I couldn't bring you under the
same roof with my child."
She was quiet now.
"I know. There's not one of those Christian women up in the town yonder
'ud take Lot into their kitchens to give her a chance to save herself
from hell. Do you think I care? It's not for myself I'm sorry. It's too
Yet as this child, hardly a woman, gave her soul over forever, she could
not keep her lips from turning white.
"There's thousands more of us. Who cares? Do preachers and them as sits
in the grand churches come into our dens to teach us better?"
Pumphrey grew uneasy.
"Who taught you to sing?" he said.
The girl started. She did not answer for a minute.
"What did you say?" she said.
"Who taught you?"
Her face flushed warm and dewy; her eyes wandered away, moistened and
dreamy; she curled her hair-softly on her finger.
"I'd—I'd rather not speak of that," she said, low. "He's dead now. He
called me—Lottie," looking up with a sudden, childish smile. "I was
only fifteen then."
"How old are you now?"
"Four years more. But I tell you I've seen the world in that time."
It was Devil Lot looked over at the dark river now.
He turned away to go up the wharf. No help for so foul a thing as this.
He dared not give it, if there were. She had sunk down with her old,
sullen glare, but she rose and crept after him. Why, this was her only
chance of help from all the creatures God had made!
"Let me tell you," she said, holding by a fire-plug. "It's not for
myself I care. It's for Benny. That's my little brother. I've raised
him. He loves me; he don't know. I've kept him alone allays. I don't
pray, you know; but when Ben puts his white little arms about me 't
nights and kisses me, somethin' says to me, 'God loves you, Lot.' So
help me God, that boy shall never know what his sister was! He's gettin'
older now. I want work, before he can know. Now, will you help me?"
"How can I?"
The whole world of society spoke in the poor manager.
"I'll give you money."
Her face hardened.
"Lot, I'll be honest. There's no place for such as you. Those that have
made you what you are hold good stations among us; but when a woman's
once down, there's no raising her up."
She stood, her fair hair pushed back from her face, her eye deadening
every moment, quite quiet.
"Good bye, Lot."
The figure touched him somehow, standing alone in the night there.
"It wasn't my fault at the first," she wandered. "Nobody teached me
"I'm not a church-member, thank God!" said Pumphrey to himself, and so
washed his hands in innocency.
"Well, good bye, girl," kindly. "Try and lead a better life. I wish I
could have given you work."
"It was only for Benny that I cared, Sir."
"You're sick? Or"—
"It'll not last long, now. I only keep myself alive eating opium now and
then. D' ye know? I fell by your hall to-day; had a fit, they said. It
wasn't a fit; it was death, Sir."
"Why didn't you die, then?"
"I wouldn't. Benny would have known then, I said,—'I will not. I must
take care o' him first.' Good bye. You'd best not be seen here."
And so she left him.
One moment she stood uncertain, being alone, looking down into the
seething black water covered with ice.
"There's one chance yet," she muttered. "It's hard; but I'll try,"—with
a shivering sigh; and went dragging herself along the wharf, muttering
still something about Benny.
As she went through the lighted streets, her step grew lighter. She
lifted her head. Why, she was only a child yet, in some ways, you know;
and this was Christmas-time; and it wasn't easy to believe, that, with
the whole world strong and glad, and the True Love coming into it, there
was no chance for her. Was it? She hurried on, keeping in the shadow
of the houses to escape notice, until she came to the more open
streets,—the old "commons." She stopped at the entrance of an alley,
going to a pump, washing her face and hands, then combing her fair,
"I'll try it," she said again.
Some sudden hope had brought a pink flush to her cheek and a moist
brilliance to her eye. You could not help thinking, had society not made
her what she was, how fresh and fair and debonair a little maiden she
would have been.
"He's my mother's brother. He'd a kind face, though he struck me. I'll
kill him, if he strikes me agin," the dark trade-mark coming into her
eyes. "But mebbe," patting her hair, "he'll not. Just call me Charley,
as Ben does: help me to be like his wife: I'll hev a chance for heaven
She turned to a big brick building and ran lightly up the stairs on the
outside. It had been a cotton-factory, but was rented in tenement-rooms
now. On the highest porch was one of Lot's rooms: she had two. The
muslin curtain was undrawn, a red fire-light shone out. She looked in
through the window, smiling. A clean, pure room: the walls she had
whitewashed herself; a white cot-bed in one corner; a glowing fire,
before which a little child sat on a low cricket, building a house out
of blocks. A brave, honest-faced little fellow, with clear, reserved
eyes, and curling golden hair. The girl, Lot, might have looked like
that at his age.
"Benny!" she called, tapping on the pane.
"Yes, Charley!" instantly, coming quickly to the door.
She caught him up in her arms.
"Is my baby tired waiting for sister? I'm finding Christmas for him, you
He put his arms about her neck, kissing her again and again, and laying
his head down on her shoulder.
"I'm so glad you've come, Charley! so glad! so glad!"
"Has my boy his stocking up? Such a big boy to have his stocking up!"
He put his chubby hands over her eyes quickly, laughing.
"Don't look, Charley! don't! Benny's played you a trick now, I tell
you!" pulling her towards the fire. "Now look! Not Benny's stocking:
Charley's, I guess."
The girl sat down on the cricket, holding him on her lap, playing with
the blocks, as much of a child as he.
"Why, Bud! Such an awful lot of candies that stocking'll hold!" laughing
with him. "It'll take all Kriss Kringle's sack."
"Kriss Kringle! Oh, Charley! I'm too big; I'm five years now. You
can't cheat me."
The girl's very lips went white. She got up at his childish words, and
put him down.
"No, I'll not cheat you, Benny,—never, any more."
"Where are you going, Charley?"
"Just out a bit," wrapping a plain shawl about her. "To find Christmas,
you know. For you—and me."
He pattered after her to the door.
"You'll come put me to bed, Charley dear? I'm so lonesome!"
"Yes, Bud. Kiss me. One,—two,—three times,—for God's good-luck."
He kissed her. And Lot went out into the wide, dark world,—into
Christmas night, to find a friend.
She came a few minutes later to a low frame-building, painted brown:
Adam Craig's house and shop. The little sitting-room had a light in it:
his wife would be there with the baby. Lot knew them well, though they
never had seen her. She had watched them through the window for hours in
winter nights. Some damned soul might have thus looked wistfully into
heaven: pitying herself, feeling more like God than the blessed within,
because she knew the pain in her heart, the struggle to do right, and
pitied it. She had a reason for the hungry pain in her blood when the
kind-faced old cobbler passed her. She was Nelly's child. She had come
West to find him.
"Never, that he should know me! never that! but for Benny's sake."
If Benny could have brought her to him, saying, "See, this is Charley,
my Charley!" But Adam knew her by another name,—Devil Lot.
While she stood there, looking in at the window, the snow drifting on
her head in the night, two passers-by halted an instant.
"Oh, father, look!" It was a young girl spoke. "Let me speak to that
"What does thee mean, Maria?"
She tried to draw her hand from his arm.
"Let me go,—she's dying, I think. Such a young, fair face! She thinks
God has forgotten her. Look!"
The old Quaker hesitated.
"Not thee, Maria. Thy mother shall find her to-morrow. Thee must never
speak to her. Accursed! 'Her house is the way to hell, going down to the
chambers of death.'"
They passed on. Lot heard it all. God had offered the pure young girl a
chance to save a soul from death; but she threw it aside. Lot did not
laugh: looked after them with tearless eyes, until they were out of
sight. She went to the door then. "It's for Benny," she whispered,
swallowing down the choking that made her dumb. She knocked and went in.
Jinny was alone: sitting by the fire, rocking the baby to sleep, singing
some child's hymn: a simple little thing, beginning,—
"Come, let us sing of Jesus,
Who wept our path along:
Come, let us sing of Jesus,
The tempted, and the strong."
Such a warm, happy flush lightened in Charley's heart at that! She did
not know why; but her fear was gone. The baby, too, a white, pure
little thing, was lying in the cradle, cooing softly to itself. The
mother—instinct is nearest the surface in a loving woman; the girl went
up quickly to it, and touched its cheek, with a smile: she could not
"It's so pretty!" she said.
Jinny's eyes glowed.
"I think so," she said, simply. "It's my baby. Did you want me?"
Lot remembered then. She drew back, her face livid and grave.
"Yes. Do you know me? I'm Lot Tyndal. Don't jerk your baby back! Don't!
I'll not touch it. I want to get some honest work. I've a little
There was a dead silence. Jinny's brain, I told you, was narrow, her
natural heart not generous or large in its impulse; the kind of religion
she learned did not provide for anomalies of work like this. (So near at
hand, you know. Lot was neither a Sioux nor a Rebel.)
"I'm Lot,"—desperately. "You know what I am. I want you to take us in,
stop the boys from hooting at me on the streets, make a decent Christian
woman out of me. There's plain words. Will you do it? I'll work for you.
I'll nurse the baby, the dear little baby."
Jinny held her child tighter to her breast, looking at the vile clothes
of the wretch, the black marks which years of crime had left on her
face. Don't blame Jinny. Her baby was God's gift to her: she thought of
that, you know. She did not know those plain, coarse words were the last
cry for help from a drowning soul, going down into depths whereof no
voice has come back to tell the tale. Only Jesus. Do you know what
message He carried to those "spirits in prison"?
"I daren't do it. What would they say of me?" she faltered.
Lot did not speak. After a while she motioned to the shop. Adam was
there. His wife went for him, taking the baby with her. Charley saw
that, though everything looked dim to her; when Adam came in, she knew,
too, that his face was angry and dark.
"It's Christmas eve," she said.
She tried to say more, but could not.
"You must go from here!" speaking sharp, hissing. "I've no faith in the
whinin' cant of such as you. Go out, Janet. This is no place for you or
He opened the street-door for Lot to go out. He had no faith in her. No
shrewd, common-sense man would have had. Besides, this was his Christmas
night: the beginning of his new life, when he was coming near to Christ
in his happy home and great love. Was this foul worm of the gutter to
crawl in and tarnish it all?
She stopped one instant on the threshold. Within was a home, a chance
for heaven; out yonder in the night—what?
"You will put me out?" she said.
"I know your like. There's no help for such as you"; and he closed the
She sat down on the curb-stone. It was snowing hard. For about an hour
she was there, perfectly quiet. The snow lay in warm, fleecy drifts
about her: when it fell on her arm, she shook it off: it was so pure and
clean, and she——She could have torn her flesh from the bones, it
seemed so foul to her that night. Poor Charley! If she had only known
how God loved something within her, purer than the snow, which no
foulness of flesh or circumstance could defile! Would you have told her,
if you had been there? She only muttered, "Never," to herself now and
A little boy came along presently, carrying a loaf of bread under
his arm,—a manly, gentle little fellow. She let Benny play with him
"Why, Lot!" he said. "I'll walk part of the way home with you. I'm
She got up and took him by the hand. She could hardly speak. Tired,
worn-out in body and soul; her feet had been passing for years through
water colder than the river of death: but it was nearly over now.
"It's better for Benny it should end this way," she said.
She knew how it would end.
"Rob," she said, when the boy turned to go to his own home, "you
know Adam Craig? I want you to bring him to my room early to-morrow
morning,—by dawn. Tell him he'll find his sister Nelly's child there:
and never to tell that child that his 'Charley' was Lot Tyndal. You'll
"I will. Happy Christmas, Charley!"
She waited a minute, her foot on the steps leading to her room.
"Rob!" she called, weakly, "when you play with Ben, I wish you'd call me
Charley to him, and never—that other name."
"I'll mind," the child said, looking wistfully at her.
She was alone now. How long and steep the stairs were! She crawled up
slowly. At the top she took a lump of something brown from her pocket,
looked at it long and steadily. Then she glanced upward.
"It's the only way to keep Benny from knowing," she said. She ate it,
nearly all, then looked around, below her, with a strange intentness, as
one who says good-bye. The bell tolled the hour. Unutterable pain was in
its voice,—may-be dumb spirits like Lot's crying aloud to God.
"One hour nearer Christmas," said Adam Craig, uneasily. "Christ's coming
would have more meaning, Janet, if this were a better world. If it
wasn't for these social necessities that"——
He stopped. Jinny did not answer.
Lot went into her room, roused Ben with a kiss. "His last remembrance
of me shall be good and pleasant," she said. She took him on her lap,
untying his shoes.
"My baby has been hunting eggs to-day in Rob's stable," shaking the hay
from his stockings.
"Why, Charley! how could you know?" with wide eyes.
"So many things I know! Oh, Charley's wise! To-morrow, Bud will go see
new friends,—such kind friends! Charley knows. A baby, Ben. My boy will
like that: he's a big giant beside that baby. Ben can hold it, and
touch it, and kiss it."
She looked at his pure hands with hungry eyes.
"Go on. What else but the baby?"
"Kind friends for Ben, better and kinder than Charley."
"That's not true. Where are you going, Charley? I hate the kind friends.
I'll stay with you,"—beginning to cry.
Her eyes sparkled, and she laughed childishly.
"Only a little way, Bud, I'm going. You watch for me,—all the time you
watch for me. Some day you and I'll go out to the country, and be good
What dawning of a new hope was this? She did not feel as if she lied.
Some day,—it might be true. Yet the vague gleam died out of her heart,
and when Ben, in his white night-gown, knelt down to say the prayer his
mother had taught him, it was "Devil Lot's" dead, crime-marked face that
bent over him.
"God bless Charley!" he said.
She heard that. She put him into the bed, then quietly bathed herself,
filled his stocking with the candies she had bought, and lay down beside
him,—her limbs growing weaker, but her brain more lifeful, vivid,
"Not long now," she thought. "Love me, Benny. Kiss me good-night."
The child put his arms about her neck, and kissed her forehead.
"Charley's cold," he said. "When we are good children together, let's
live in a tent. Will you, Sis? Let's make a tent now."
She struggled up, and pinned the sheet over him to the head-board; it
was a favorite fancy of Ben's.
"That's a good Charley," sleepily. "Good night. I'll watch for you all
the time, all the time."
He was asleep,—did not waken even when she strained him to her heart,
passionately, with a wild cry.
"Good bye, Benny." Then she lay quiet. "We might have been good children
together, if only——I don't know whose fault it is," throwing her
thin arms out desperately. "I wish—oh, I do wish somebody had been kind
Then the arms fell powerless, and Charley never moved again. But her
soul was clear. In the slow tides of that night, it lived back, hour by
hour, the life gone before. There was a skylight above her; she looked
up into the great silent darkness between earth and heaven,—Devil Lot,
whose soul must go out into that darkness alone. She said that. The
world that had held her under its foul heel did not loathe her as she
loathed herself that night. Lot.
The dark hours passed, one by one. Christmas was nearer, nearer,—the
bell tolled. It had no meaning for her: only woke a weak fear that she
should not be dead before morning, that any living eye should be vexed
by her again. Past midnight. The great darkness slowly grayed and
softened. What did she wait for? The vile worm Lot,—who cared in
earth or heaven when she died? Then the Lord turned, and looked upon
Charley. Never yet was the soul so loathsome, the wrong so deep, that
the loving Christ has not touched it once with His hands, and said,
"Will you come to me?" Do you know how He came to her? how, while the
unquiet earth needed Him, and the inner deeps of heaven were freshening
their fairest morning light to usher in the birthday of our God, He came
to find poor Charley, and, having died to save her, laid His healing
hands upon her? It was in her weak, ignorant way she saw Him. While she,
Lot, lay there corrupt, rotten in soul and body, it came to her how,
long ago, Magdalene, more vile than Lot, had stood closest to Jesus.
Magdalene loved much, and was forgiven.
So, after a while, Charley, the child that might have been, came to His
feet humbly, with bitter sobs. "Lord, I'm so tired!" she said. "I'd like
to try again, and be a different girl." That was all. She clung close to
His hand as she went through the deep waters.
Benny, stirring in his sleep, leaned over, and kissed her lips. "So
cold!" he whispered, drowsily. "God—bless—Charley!" She smiled, but
her eyes were closed.
The darkness was gone: the gray vault trembled with a coming radiance;
from the East, where the Son of Man was born, a faint flush touched the
earth: it was the promise of the Dawn. Lot's foul body lay dead there
with the Night: but Jesus took the child Charley in His arms, and
Christmas evening. How still and quiet it was! The Helper had come. Not
to the snow-covered old earth, falling asleep in the crimson sunset
mist: it did not need Him. Not an atom of its living body, from the
granite mountain to the dust on the red sea-fern, had failed to perform
its work: taking time, too, to break forth in a wild luxuriance of
beauty as a psalm of thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit you talk of in the
churches had been in the old world since the beginning, since the day it
brooded over the waters, showing itself as the spirit of Life in granite
rock or red sea-fern,—as the spirit of Truth in every heroic deed, in
every true word of poet or prophet,—as the spirit of Love as——Let
your own hungry heart tell how. To-day it came to man as the Helper. We
all saw that dimly, and showed that we were glad, in some weak way. God,
looking down, saw a smile upon the faces of His people.
The fire glowed redder and cheerier in Adam's little cottage; the lamp
was lighted; Jinny had set out a wonderful table, too. Benny had walked
around and around it, rubbing his hands slowly in dumb ecstasy. Such
oranges! and frosted cakes covered with crushed candy! Such a tree in
the middle, hung with soft-burning tapers, and hidden in the branches
the white figure of the loving Christ-child. That was Adam's fancy.
Benny sat in Jinny's lap now, his head upon her breast. She was rocking
him to sleep, singing some cheery song for him, although that baby of
hers lay broad awake in the cradle, aghast and open-mouthed at his
neglect. It had been just "Benny" all day,—Benny that she had followed
about, uneasy lest the wind should blow through the open door on him, or
the fire be too hot, or that every moment should not be full to the brim
with fun and pleasure, touching his head or hand now and then with a
woful tenderness, her throat choked, and her blue eyes wet, crying in
her heart incessantly, "Lord, forgive me!"
"Tell me more of Charley," she said, as they sat there in the evening.
He was awake a long time after that, telling her, ending with,—
"She said, 'You watch for me, Bud, all the time.' That's what she said.
So she'll come. She always does, when she says. Then we're going to the
country to be good children together. I'll watch for her."
So he fell asleep, and Jinny kissed him,—looking at him an instant, her
cheek growing paler.
"That is for you, Benny," she whispered to herself,—"and this,"
stooping to touch his lips again, "this is for Charley. Last night," she
muttered, bitterly, "it would have saved her."
Old Adam sat on the side of the bed where the dead girl lay.
"Nelly's child!" he said, stroking the hand, smoothing the fair hair.
All day he had said only that,—"Nelly's child!"
Very like her she was,—the little Nell who used to save her cents to
buy a Christmas-gift for him, and bring it with flushed cheeks, shyly,
and slip it on his plate. This child's cheeks would have flushed like
hers—at a kind word; the dimpled, innocent smile lay in them,—only a
kind word would have brought it to life. She was dead now, and he—he
had struck her yesterday. She lay dead there with her great loving
heart, her tender, childish beauty,—a harlot,—Devil Lot. No more.
The old man pushed his hair back, with shaking hands, looking up to
the sky. "Lord, lay not this sin to my charge!" he said. His lips were
bloodless. There was not a street in any city where a woman like this
did not stand with foul hand and gnawing heart. They came from God, and
would go back to Him. To-day the Helper came; but who showed Him to
them, to Nelly's child?
Old Adam took the little cold hand in his: he said something under his
breath: I think it was, "Here am I, Lord, and the wife that Thou hast
given," as one who had found his life's work, and took it humbly. A
sworn knight in Christ's order.
Christmas-day had come,—the promise of the Dawn, sometime to broaden
into the full and perfect day. At its close now, a still golden glow,
like a great Peace, filled the earth and heaven, touching the dead Lot
there, and the old man kneeling beside her. He fancied that it broke
from behind the dark bars of cloud in the West, thinking of the old
appeal, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and the King of Glory shall
come in." Was He going in, yonder? A weary man, pale, thorn-crowned,
bearing the pain and hunger of men and women vile as Lot, to lay them at
His Father's feet? Was he to go with loving heart, and do likewise? Was
that the meaning of Christmas-day? The quiet glow grew deeper, more
restful; the bell tolled: its sound faded, solemn and low, into the
quiet, as one that says in his heart, Amen.
That night, Benny, sleeping in the still twilight, stirred and smiled
suddenly, as though some one had given him a happy kiss, and, half
waking, cried, "Oh, Charley! Charley!"