FOR a business street Every Lane certainly is very lazy. It sets out just to make a short passage between two thoroughfares, but, though forced at first to walk straight by the warehouses that wall in its entrance, it soon begins to loiter, staring down back alleys, yawning into courts, plunging into stable-yards, and at length standing irresolute at three ways of getting to the end of its journey. It passes by artisans’ shops, and keeps two or three masons’ cellars and carpenters’ lofts, as if its slovenly buildings needed perpetual repairs. It has not at all the air of once knowing better days. It began life hopelessly ; and though the mayor and common council and board of aldermen, with ten righteous men, should daily march through it, the broom of official and private virtue could not sweep it clean of its slovenliness. But one of its idle turnings does suddenly end in a virtuous court: here Every Lane may come, when it indulges in vain aspirations for a more respectable character, and take refuge in the quiet demeanor of Every Court. The court is shaped like the letter T with an L to it. The upright beam connects it with Every Lane, and maintains a non-committal character, since its sides are blank walls ; upon one side of the crossbeam are four houses, while a fifth occupies the diminutive L of the court, ensconcing itself in a snug corner, as if ready to rush out at the cry of “All in ! all in" Gardens fill the unoccupied sides, toy-gardens, but large enough to raise all the flowers needed for this toycourt. The five houses, built exactly alike, are two and a half stories high, and have each a dormer-window, curtained with white dimity, so that they look like five elderly dames in caps ; and the court has gotten the name of Five-Sisters Court, to the despair of Every Lane, which felt its sole chance for respectability slip away when the court came to disown its patronymic. It was at dusk, the afternoon before Christmas, that a young man, Nicholas Judge by name, walking inquiringly down Every Lane, turned into Five-Sisters Court, and stood facing the five old ladies, apparently in some doubt as to which he should accost. There was a number on each door, but no name ; and it was impossible to tell from the outside who or what sort of people lived in each. If one could only get round to the rear of the court, one might get some light, for the backs of houses are generally off their guard, and the Five Sisters who look alike in their dimity caps might possibly have more distinct characters when not dressed for company. Perhaps, after the caps are off, and the spectacles removed-But what outrageous sentiments are we drifting toward !
There was acausefor Nicholas Judge’s hesitation. In one of those houses he had good reason to believe lived an aunt of his, the only relation left to him in the world, so far as he knew, and by so slender a thread was he held to her that he knew only her maiden name. Through the labyrinth of possible widowhoods, one of which at least was actual, and the changes in condition which many years would effect, he was to feel his way to the Fair Rosamond by this thread. Nicholas was a wise young man, as will no doubt appear when we come to know him better, and, though a fresh country youth, visiting the city for the first time, was not so indiscreet as to ask bluntly at each door, until he got satisfaction, “ Does my Aunt Eunice live here ?” As the doors in the court were all shut and equally dumb, be resolved to take the houses in order, and proposing to himself the strategy of asking for a drink of water, and so opening the way for further parley, he stood before the door of Number One.
He raised the knocker, (for there was no bell,) and tapped in a hesitating manner, as if he would take it all back in case of an egregious mistake. There was a shuffle in the entry ; the door opened slowly, disclosing an old and tidy negro woman, who invited Nicholas in by a gesture, and saying, “ You wish to see master ?” led him on through a dark passage without waiting for an answer. “ Certainly,” he thought, “ I want to see the master more than I want a drink of water: I will keep that device for the next house”; and, obeying the lead of the servant, he went up stairs, and was ushered into a room, where there was just enough dusky light to disclose tiers of books, a table covered with papers, and other indications of a student’s abode.
Nicholas’s eye had hardly become accustomed to the dim light, when there entered the scholar himself, the master whom he was to see : a small old man, erect, with white hair and smooth forehead, beneath which projected two beads of eyes, that seemed, from their advanced position, endeavoring to take in what lay round the corner of the head as well as objects directly in front. His loftg palm-leaved study-gown and tasselled velvet cap lent him a reverend appearance ; and be bore in his hand what seemed a curiously shaped dipper, as if he were some wise man coming to slake a disciple’s thirst with water from the fountain-head of knowledge.
“Has he guessed my pretended errand ? ” wondered Nicholas to himself, feeling a little ashamed of his innocent ruse, for he was not in the least thirsty; but the old man began at once to address him, after motioning him to a seat. He spoke abruptly, and with a restrained impatience of manner : —
“ So you received my letter appointing this hour for an interview. Well, what do you expect me to do for you ? You compliment me, in a loose sort of way, on my contributions to philological science, and tell me that you are engaged in the same inquiries with myself” —
“ Sir,” said Nicholas, in alarm, — “I ought to explain myself, — I ”-
But the old gentleman gave no heed to the interruption, and continued : — — “ And that you have published an article on the Value of Words. You sent me the paper, but I did n't find anything in it. I have no great opinion of the efforts of young men in this direction. It contained commonplace generalities which I never heard questioned. You can't show the value of words by wasting them. I told you I should be plain. Now you want me to give you some hints, you say, as to the best method of pursuing philological researches. In a hasty moment 1 said you might come, though I don’t usually allow visitors. You praise me for what I have accomplished in philology. Young man, that is because I have not given myself up to idle gadding and gossiping. Ho you think, if I had been making calls, and receiving anybody who chose to force himself upon me, during the last forty years, that 1 should have been able to master the digamma, which you think my worthiest labor ? ”
“ Sir,” interrupted Nicholas again, thinking that the question, though it admitted no answer, might give him a chance to stand on his own legs once more, “ I really must ask your pardon.”
“ The best method of pursuing philological researches ! ” continued the old scholar, deaf to Nicholas’s remonstrance.
That is one of your foolish general questions, that show how little you know what you are about. But do as I have done. Work by yourself, and dig, dig. Give up your senseless gabbling in the magazines, get over your astonishment at finding that avium and heaven contain the same idea etymologically, and that there was a large breadbakery at SkoloSj and make up your mind to believe nothing till you can't help it. You have n’t begun to'work yet. Wait till you have lived as I have, forty years in one house, with your library likely to turn you out of doors, and only an old black woman to speak to, before you begin to think of calling yourself a scholar. Eh ? ”
And at this point the old gentleman adjusted the dipper, which was merely an ear-trumpet, — though for a moment more mysterious to Nicholas, in its new capacity, than when he had regarded it as a unique specimen of a familiar household-implement, — and thrust the bowl toward the embarrassed youth. In fact, having said all that he intended to say to his unwelcome supposed disciple, he showed enough churlish grace to permit him to make such reply or defence as seemed best.
The old gentleman had pulled up so suddenly in his harangue, and called for an answer so authoritatively, and with such a singular flourish of his trumpet, that Nicholas, losing command of the studied explanation of his conduct, which a moment before had been at his tongue’s end, caught at the last sentence spoken, and gained a perilous advantage by asking, —
“ Have you, indeed, lived in this house forty years, Sir ? ”
“ Eh ! what ? ” said the old gentleman, impatiently, perceiving that he had spoken. “ Here, speak into my trumpet. What is the use of a trumpet, if you don’t speak into it ? ”
“Oh,” thought Nicholas to himself, “I see, he is excessively deaf”; and bending over the trumpet, where he saw a sieve-like frame, as if all speech were to be strained as it entered, he collected his force, and repeated the question, with measured and sonorous utterance, “ Sir, have you lived in this house forty years ? ”
“ I just told you so,” said the old man, not unnaturally starting back. “And if you were going to ask me such an unnecessary question at all,” he added, testily, “you need n’t have roared it out at me. I could have heard that without my trumpet. Yes, I’ve lived here forty years, and so has black Maria, who opened the door for you ; and I say again that I have accomplished what I have by uninterrupted study. I have n't gone about, bowing to every he, she, and it. I never knew who lived in any of the other houses in the court till to-day, when a woman came and asked me to go out for the evening to her house ; and just because it was Christmas-eve, I was foolish enough to be wheedled by her into saying I would go. Miss-Miss-, I can’t remem-
ber her name now. I shall have to ask Maria. There, you have n’t got much satisfaction out of me ; but do you mind what I said to you, and it will be worth more than if I had told you what books to read. Eh?” And he invited Nicholas once more to drop his words into the trumpet.
“ Good afternoon,” said Nicholas, hesitatingly, — “ thank you,” — at a loss what pertinent reply to make, and in despair of clearing himself from the tangle in which he had become involved. It was plain, too, that he should get no satisfaction here, at least upon the search in which he was engaged. But the reply seemed quite satisfactory to the old gentleman, who cheerfully relinquished him to black Maria, who, in turn, passed him out of the house.
Left to himself, and rid of his personal embarrassment, he began to feel uncomfortably guilty, as he considered the confusion which he had entailed upon the real philological disciple, and would fain comfort himself with the hope that he had acted as a sort of lightning-rod to conduct the old scholar’s bolts, and so had secured some immunity for the one at whom the bolts were really shot. But his own situation demanded his attention; and leaving the to-be unhappy young man and the to-be perplexed old gentleman to settle the difficulty over the mediating eartrumpet, he addressed himself again to his task, and proposed to take another survey of the court, with the vague hope that his aunt might show herselt with such unmistakable signs of relationship as to bring his researches to an immediate and triumphant close.
Just as he was turning away from the front of Number One, buttoning his overcoat with an air of self-abstraction, he was suddenly and unaccountably attacked in the chest with such violence as almost to throw him off his feet. At the next moment his ears were assailed by a profusion of apologetic explanations from a young man, who made out to tell him, that, coming out of his house with the intention of calling next door, he had leaped over the snow that lay between, and, not seeing the gentleman, had, most unintentionally, plunged headlong into him. He hoped he had not hurt him; he begged a thousand pardons ; it was very careless in him ; and then, perfect peace having succeeded this violent attack, the new-comer politely asked,—
“Can you tell me whether Doctor Chocker is at home, and disengaged ?
I perceive that you have just left his house.”
“ Do you mean the deaf old gentleman in Number One ?” asked Nicholas.
“ I was not aware that he was deaf,” said his companion.
“ And I did not know that his name was Doctor Chocker,” said Nicholas, smiling. “ But may I ask,” said he, with a sudden thought, and blushing so hard that even the wintry red of his cheeks was outshone, “ if you were just going to see him ? ”
“ I had an appointment to see him at this hour; and that is the reason why I asked you if he was disengaged.”
“He—he is not engaged, I believe,” said Nicholas, stammering and blushing harder than ever ; “ but a word with you, Sir. I must — really — it was wholly unintentional — but unless I am mistaken, the old gentleman thought I was you.”
“ Thought you were I ? ” said the other, screwing his eyebrows into a question, and letting his nose stand for an exclamation-point. “ But come, it is cold here, — will you do me the honor to come up to my room ? At any rate, I should like to hear something about the okl fellow.” And he turned towards the next house.
“ What! ” said Nicholas, “ do you live in Number Two?”
“Yes, I have rooms here,” said his companion, jumping back over the snow. “ You seem surprised.”
“It is extraordinary,” muttered Nicholas to himself, as he entered the house and followed his new acquaintance up stairs.
Their entrance seemed to create some confusion ; for there was an indistinct sound as of a tumultuous retreat in every direction, a scuttling up and down stairs, and a whisking of dresses round corners, with still more indistinct and distant sound of suppressed chattering and a voice berating.
“ It is extremely provoking,” said the young man, when they had entered his room and the door was shut; “ but the people in this house seem to do nothing but watch my movements. You heard that banging about? Well, I seldom come in or go out, especially with a friend, but that just such a stampede takes place in the passage-ways and staircase. I have no idea who lives in the house, except a Mrs. Crimp, a very worthy woman, no doubt, but with too many children, I should guess. I only lodge here ; and as I send my money down every month with the bill which I find on my table, I never see Mrs. Crimp. “Now I don’t see why they should be so curious about me, I !m sure I am very contented in my ignorance of the whole household. It’s a little annoying, though, when I bring any one into the house. Will you excuse me a moment, while I ring for more coal ? ”
While he disappeared for this purpose, seeming to keep the bell in some other part of the house, Nicholas took a hasty glance round the room, and, opening a book on the table, read on the fly-leaf, Paul Le Clear, a name which he tagged for convenience to the occupant of the room until he should find one more authentic. The room corresponded to that in which he had met Doctor Chocker, but the cheerful gleam of an open fire gave a brighter aspect to the interior. Here also were books ; but while at the Doctor’s the walls, tables. and even floor seemed bursting with the crowd that had found lodging there, so that he had made his way to a chair by a sort of foot-path through a field of folios, here there was the nicest order and an evident attempt at artistic arrangement. Nor were books alone the possessors of the walls ; for a few pictures and busts had places, and two or three ingenious cupboards excited curiosity. The room, in short, showed plainly the presence of a cultivated mind; and Nicholas, who, though unfamiliar with city-life, had received a capital intellectual training at the hands of a scholarly, but anchoret father, was delighted at the signs of culture in his new acquaintance.
Mr. Le Clear reëntered the room, followed presently by the coal-scuttle in the hands of a small servant, and, remembering the occasion which had brought them together, invited Nicholas to finish the explanation which he had begun below. He, set at ease by the agreeable surroundings, opened his heart wide, and, for the sake of explicitness in his narration, proposed to begin back at the very beginning.
“ By all means begin at the beginning,” said Mr. Le Clear, rubbing his hands in expectant pleasure ; “ but before you begin, my good Sir, let me suggest that we take a cup of tea together. 1 must take mine early to-night, as I am to spend the evening out, and there’s something to tell you, Sir, when you are through,” — as if meeting his burst of confidence with a corresponding one,— “though it’s a small matter, probably, compared with yours, but it has amused me. I can't make a great show on the table,” he added, with an elegant humility, when Nicholas accepted his invitation ; “ but I like to take my tea in my room, though I go out for dinner.”
So saying, he brought from the cupboard a little table-cloth, and, bustling about, deposited on a tea-trav, one by one, various members of a tea-set, which had evidently been plucked from a teaplant in China, since the forms and figures were all suggested by the flowery kingdom. The lids of the vessels were shaped like tea-leaves ; and miniature China men and women picked their way about among the letters of the Chinese alphabet, as if they were playing at word-puzzles. Nicholas admired the service to its owner’s content, establishing thus a new bond of sympathy between them ; ami both were soon seated near the table, sipping the tea with demure little spoons, that approached the meagreness of Chinese chop-sticks, and decorating white bread with brown marmalade.
“Now,” said the host, “since you share my salt, I ought to be introduced to you, an office which I will perform without ceremony. My name is Paul Le Clear,” which Nicholas and we had already guessed correctly.
“ And mine,” said Nicholas, “is Nicholas, — Nicholas Judge.”
“Very well, Mr. Judge; now let us have the story,” said Paul, extending himself in an easy attitude ; “ and begin at the beginning.”
“ The story begins with my birth,” said Nicholas, with a reckless ingenuousness which was a large part of his host’s entertainment.
But it is unnecessary to recount in detail what Paul heard, beginning at that epoch, twenty-two years back. Enough to say in brief what Nicholas elaborated : that his mother had died at his birth, in a country home at the foot of a mountain ; that in that home he had lived, with his father for almost solitary friend and teacher, until, his father dying, he had come to the city to live ; that he had but just reached the place, and had made it his first object to find his mother’s only sister, with whom, indeed, bis father had kept up no acquaintance, and for finding whom he had but a slight clue, even it she were then living. Nicholas brought his narrative in regular order down to the point where Paul had so unexpectedly accosted him, stopping there, since subsequent facts were fully known to both.
“And now,” he concluded, warming with his subject, “ I am in search of my aunt. What sort of woman she will prove to be I cannot tell ; but if there is any virtue in sisterly blood, surely my Aunt Eunice cannot be without some of that noble nature which belonged to my mother, as I have heard her described, and as her miniature bids me believe in. How many times of late, in my solitariness, have I pictured to myself this one kinswoman receiving me for her sisters sake, and willing to befriend me for my own ! True, 1 am strong, and able, I think, to make my way in the world unaided. It is not such help as would ease my necessary struggle that I ask. but the sympathy which only blood-relationship can bring. So I build great hopes on my success in the search ; and I have chosen this evening as a fit time for the happy recognition. I cannot doubt that we shall keep our Christmas together. Do you know of any one, Mr. Le Clear, living in this court, who might prove to be my aunt ? ”
“Upon my soul,” said that gentleman, who had been sucking the juice of Nicholas’s narrative, and had now reached the skin, “you have come to the last person likely to be able to tell you. It was only to-day that I learned by a correspondence with Doctor Chocker, whom all the world knows, that he was living just next door to me. Who lives on the other side I can't tell. Mrs. Crimp lives here ; but she receipts her bills, Temperance A. Crimp ; so there’s no chance for a Eunice there. As for the other three houses, I know nothing, except just this : and here I come to my story, which is very short, and nothing like so entertaining as yours. Yesterday I was called upon by a jiggoty little woman, — I say jiggoty, because that expresses exactly my meaning, —a jiggoty little woman, who announced herself as Miss Pix, living in Number Five, and who brought an invitation in person to me to come to a small party at her house this Christmas-eve ; and as she was jiggoty, I thought I would amuse myself by going. But she is Miss Pix ; and your aunt, according to your showing, should be Mrs.”
“ That must be where the old gentleman. Doctor Chocker, is going,” said Nicholas, who had forgotten to mention that part of the Doctor’s remarks, and now did so.
“ Really, that is entertaining ! ” cried Paul. “ I certainly shall go, if it’s for nothing else .than to see Miss Pix and Doctor Chocker together.”
“ Pardon my ignorance, Mr. Le Clear,” said Nicholas, with a smile; “but what do you mean by jiggoty ? ”
“ I mean,” said Paul, “ to express a certain effervescence of manner, as if one were corked against one’s will, ending in a sudden pop of the cork and a general overflowing. I invented the word after seeing Miss Pix. She is an odd person ; but 1 should n’t wish to be so concerned about my neighbors as she appears to be. My philosophy of life,’ he continued, standing now before the fire, and receiving its entire radiation upon the superficies of his back, “ is to extract sunshine from cucumbers. Think of living forty years, like Doctor Chocker, on the husks of the digamma!
I am obliged to him for his advice, but I sha’n't follow it. Here are my books and prints ; out of doors are people and Nature ; I propose to extract sunshine from all these cucumbers. The world was made for us, and not we for the world. When I go to Miss Pix’s this evening, — and, by the way, it’s ’most time to go, — I presume I shall find one or two ripe cucumbers. Christmas, too, is a capital season for this chemical experiment. I find people are more off their guard, and offer special advantages for a curious observer and experimenter. Here is my room ; you see how I live ; and when I have no visitor at tea, I wind up my little musical box. You have no idea what a pretty picture I make, sitting in my chair, the tea-table by me, the fire in the grate, and the musical box for a cricket on the hearth ” ; and Mr. Le Clear laughed good-humoredly.
Nicholas laughed, too. He had been smiling throughout the young philosopher’s discourse ; but he was conscious of a little feeling of uneasiness, as if he were being subjected to the cucumberextract process. He had intended at first to deliver the scheme of life which he had adopted, but, on the whole, determined to postpone it. He rose to go. and shook hands with Paul, who wished him all success in finding his aunt; as for himself, he thought he got along better without aunts. The two went down stairs to the door, causing very much the same dispersion of the tribes as before ; and Nicholas once more stood in Five-Sisters Court, while Paul Le Clear returned to his charming bower, to be tickled with the recollection of the adventure, and to prepare for Miss Fix’s party.
“ On the whole, I think I won’t disturb Doctor Chocker’s mind by clearing it up,” said he to himself. “ It might, too, bring on a repetition of the fulmination against my paper which the young Judge seemed so to enjoy relating. An innocent youth, certainly ! I wonder if he expected me to give him my autobiography.”
Nicholas Judge confessed to himself a slight degree of despondency, as he looked at the remaining two houses in the court, since Miss Fix’s would have to be counted out, and reflected that his chances of success were dwindling His recent conversation had left upon his mind, for some reason which he hardly stopped now to explain, a disagreeable impression ; and he felt a trifle wearied of this very dubious enterprise. What likelihood was there, if his aunt had lived here a long time past, as he assumed in his calculations, that she would have failed to make herself known in some way to Doctor Chocker ? since the vision which he had of this worthy lady was that of a kind-hearted and most neighborly soul. But he reflected that city life must differ greatly from that in the country, even more than he had conceded with all his a priori reasonings ; and he decided to draw no hasty inferences, but to proceed in the Baconian method by calling at Number Three. He was rather out of conceit with his strategy of thirst, which had so fallen below the actual modes of effecting an entrance, and now resolved to march boldly up with the irresistible engine of straight-forward inquiry, — as straight-forward, at least, as the circumstances would permit. He knocked at the door. After a little delay, enlivened for him by the interchange of voices within the house, apparently at opposite extremities, a light approached, and the door was opened, disclosing a large and florid-faced man, in his shirtsleeves, holding a small and sleepy lamp in his hand. Nicholas moved at once upon the enemy’s works.
“ Will you have the goodness to tell me, Sir, if a lady named Miss Eunice Brown lives here ? ” — that being his aunt’s maiden name, and possibly good on demand thirty years after date. The reply came, after a moment’s deliberation, as if the man wished to gain time for an excursion into some unexplored region of the house, —
“ Well, Sir, I won't say positively that she does n’t ; and yet I can say, that, in one sense of the word, Miss Eunice Brown does not live here. Will you walk in, and we will talk further about it.”
Nicholas entered, though somewhat wondering how they were to settle Miss Brown’s residence there by the mos protracted conversation. The man in shirt-sleeves showed him into a sittingroom, and setting the lamp upon the top of a corner what-not, where it twinkled like a distant star, he gave Nicholas a seat, and took one opposite to him, first shutting the door behind them.
“ Will you give me your name, Sir ?” said he.
Nicholas hesitated, not quite liking to part with it to one who might misuse it.
“ I have no objection,” said his companion, in a sonorous voice, “ to giving my name to any one that asks it. My name is Soprian Manlius.”
“ And mine,” said Nicholas, not to be outdone in generosity, “is Nicholas Judge.”
“ Very well, Mr. Judge. Now we understand each other, I think. I asked your name as a guaranty of good faith. Anonymous contributions cannot be received, et cetera, — as they say at the head of newspapers. And that ’s my rule of business, Sir. Feople come to me to ask the character of a girl, and I ask their names. If they don’t want to give them, I say, 'Very well ; I can’t intrust the girl’s character to people without name.’ And it brings them out, Sir, it brings them out,” said Mr. Manlius, leaning back, and taking a distant view of his masterly diplomacy.
“ Do people come to you to inquire after persons’ characters ? ” asked Nicholas, somewhat surprised at happening upon such an oracle.
u Well, in a genera! way, no,” said Mr. Manlius, smiling ; “though I won’t sav but that they would succeed as well here as in most places. In a particular wav, ves. I keep an intelligence-office. Here is my card, Sir,”—pulling one out of his waistcoat-pocket, and presenting it to Nicholas; “and you will see by the phraseology employed, that I have unrivalled means for securing the most valuable help from all parts of the world. Mr. Judge,” he whispered, leaning forward, and holding up his forefinger to enforce strict secrecy, “ I keep a paid agent in Nova Scotia.” And once more Mr. Manlius retreated in his chair, to get the whole effect of the announcement upon his visitor.
The internal economy of an office for obtaining and furnishing intelligence might have been further revealed to Nicholas ; but at this moment a voice was heard on the outside of the door, calling, “S’prian ! S’prian ! we ’re ’most ready.”
“ Coming, Caroline,” replied Mr. Manlius, and, recalled to the object for which his visitor was there, he turned to Nicholas, and resumed, —
“Well, Mr. Judge, about Miss Eunice Brown, whether she lives here or not. Are you personally acquainted with Miss Brown ?”
“ No, Sir,” said Nicholas, frankly. “ I will tell you plainly my predicament. Miss Eunice Brown was my mother’s sister ; but after my mother’s death, which took place at my birth, there was no intercourse with her on the part ot our family, which consisted of my father and myself. My father, I ought to say, had no unfriendliness toward her, but his habits of life were those of a solitary student; and therefore he took no pains to keep up the acquaintance. He heard of her marriage, and the subsequent death of her husband ; rumor reached him of a second marriage, but he never heard the name of the man she married in either case. My father lately died; but before his death he advised me to seek this aunt, if possible, since she was my only living near relation ; and he told me that he had heard of her living in this court many years ago. So I have come here with faint hope of tracing her.”
Mr. Manlius listened attentively to this explanation; and then solemnly walking to the door, he called in a deep voice, as if he would have the summons start from the very bottom of the house for thoroughness, —“ Caroline ! ”
The call was answered immediately by the appearance of Mrs. Manlius, in a red dress, that put everything else in the room in the background.
“ Caroline,” said he, more impressively than would seem necessary, and pointing to Nicholas, “ this is Mr. Nicholas Judge. Mr. Judge, you see my wife.”
“ But, my dear,” said Mrs. Manlius, nervously, as soon as she had bo’yed, discovering the feeble lamp, which was saving its light by burning very dimly, “that lamp will be off the what-not in a moment. How could you put it right on the edge ?” And she took it down from its pinnacle, and placed it firmly on the middle , of a table, at a distance from anything inflammable. “ Mr. Manlius is so absent-minded, Sir,” said she, turning to Nicholas.
“Caroline,” said her husband, “this will be a memorable day in the history of our family. Eunice has found a dear sister’s son.”
“ Where ?” she asked, turning for explanation to Nicholas, who at Mr. Manlius’s words felt his heart beat quicker.
Then Mr. Manlius, in as few words as his dignity and the occasion would deem suitable, stated the case to his wife, who looked admiringly upon Mr. Manlius’s oratory, and interestingly upon Nicholas.
“Shall I call Eunice down, S’prian?” said she, when her husband concluded, and conveying some mysterious information to him by means of private signals. “We have here,” said Mr. Manlius, now turning the hose of his eloquence toward Nicholas, and playing upon him, “we have here a dear friend, who has abode in our house for many years. She came to us when she was in trouble, and here has sire found a restingplace for the soles of her feet. Sir,” with a darksome glance, “her relations had forgotten her.”
“I must say”-interrupted Nich-
olas ; but Mr. Manlius waved him back, and continued : —
“ But she found true kinsfolk in the friends of her early days. We have cared for her tenderly, and now at last we have our reward in consigning her to the willing hands of a young scion of her house. She was Eunice Brown ; she had a sister who married a Judge, as I have often heard her say; and she herself married Mr. Archibald Starkey, who is now no more. Caroline, I will call Eunice ”; and Mr. Manlius went heavily out of the room.
Nicholas was very much agitated, and Mrs. Manlius very much excited, over this sudden turn of affairs.
“Eunice has lived with us fifteen years, come February ; and she has been one of the family, coming in and going out like the rest of us. I found her on the door-step one night, and was n’t going to bring her in at first, because, you see, I did n’t know what she might be ; when, lo and behold ! she looked up, and said I, ‘ Eunice Brown ! ’Yes,’ said she, and said she was cold and hungry ; and I brought her in, and told Mr. Manlius, and he came and talked with her, and said he, ‘ Caroline, there is character in that woman’; for, Mr. Judge, Mr. Manlius can read character in a person wonderfully ; he has a real gift that way ; and, indeed, he needs it in his profession ; and, as I tell him, he was born an intelligence-officer.”
Thus, and with more in the same strain, did Mrs. Manlius give vent to her feelings, though hardly in the ear of Nicholas, who paced the room in restless expectation of his aunt’s approach. He heard enough to give a turn to his thoughts ; and it was with unaffected sorrow that ne reflected how the lonely woman had been dependent upon the charity, as it seemed, of others. He saw in her now no longer merely the motherly aunt who was to welcome him, but one whom he should care for, and take under his protection. He heard steps in the entry, and easily detected the ponderous tread of Mr. Manlius, who now opened the door, and reappeared in more careful toilet, since lie was furbished and smoothed by the addition of proper touches, until he had quite the air of a man ol society. He entered the room with great pomp and ceremony all by himself, and met Nicholas’s disappointed look by saying, slowly,—
“ Mrs. Starkey, your beloved aunt, will appear presently”; and throwing a look about the room, as if he would call the attention of all the people in the dress-circle, boxes, and amphitheatre, he continued — “I have intimated to your aunt the nature of your relationship, and I need not say that she is quite agitated at the prospective meeting. She is a woman”-
But Air. Manlius’s flow was suddenly turned off by the appearance of Mrs. Sturkey herself. The introduction, too, which, as manager of this little scene, he had rehearsed to himself, was rendered unnecessary by the prompt action of Nicholas, who hastened forward, with tumultuous feelings, to greet his aunt. His honest nature had no sceptical reserve ; and he saluted her affectionately, before the light of the feeble lamp, which seemed to have husbanded all its strength for this critical moment, could disclose to him anything of the personal appearance of his relative. At this moment the twinkling light, like a star at dawn, went out ; and Airs. Manlius, rushing off, reappeared with an astral, which turned the somewhat gloomy aspect of affairs into cheerful light. Perhaps it was symbolic of a sunrise upon the world which enclosed Nicholas and his aunt. Nicholas looked at Mrs. Starkey, who was indeed flurried, and saw a pinched and meagre woman, the flower of whose youth had long ago been pressed in the book of ill-fortune until it was colorless and scentless. She found words presently, even before Nicholas did ; and sitting down with him in the encouraging presence of the Manlii, she uttered her thoughts in an incoherent way : —
d Dear, dear ! who would have said it? When Miss Fix came to invite us all to her party, and said, ‘ Mrs. Starkey, I'm sure I hope you will come,’ I thought it might be too much for such a quiet body as I be. But that was nothing to this. Why, if here 1 have n't got a real nephew ; and, to be sure, it’s a great while since I saw your mother, but, I declare, you do look just like her, and a Judge’s son you are, too. Did they say you looked like your father, Nickey? I was asking Caroline if she thought my bombazine would do, after all; and now 1 do think I ought to wear my India silk, and put on my pearl necklace, for I don’t want my Nicky to be ashamed of me. You ’ll go with us, won’t you, nephew, to Miss Fix’s ? I expect it’s going to be a grand party ; and I ’ll go round and introduce you to all the great people ; and how did you leave your father, Nicholas ?”
“Why, aunt, did not Mr. Manlius tell you that he was dead ? ' said Nicholas.
“ Her memory’s a little short, whispered Mrs. Manlius ; but, hardly interrupted by this little answer and whisper, Mrs. Starkey was again plunging headlong into a current of words, and struggling among the eddies of various subjects. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Manlius, having, as managers, set the little piece on the stage in good condition, were carrying on a private undertoned conversation, which resulted in Mrs. Manlius asking, in an engaging manner, —
“ Eunice, dear, would you prefer to stay at home this evening with your nephew ? Because we will excuse you to Miss Fix, who would hardly expect you.”
Mrs. Starkey was in the midst of a voluble description of some private jewelry which she intended to show the astonished Nicholas ; but she caught the last words, and veered round to Mrs. Manlius, saying,—
“Indeed, she expects me; and she expects Nicholas, too. She will be very much gratified to see him, and I have no doubt she will give another party for him ; and if she does, I mean to invite my friend the alderman to go. 1 should n't wonder if he was to be there to-night; and now I think of it, it must be time to be going. Caroline, have you got your things on ? ”
Mrs. Starkey spoke with a determination that suffered no opposition, so that Nicholas and Mr. Manlius were left alone for a moment, while the two women should wrap themselves up.
“Your aunt is unduly excited, Mr. Judge,” said the intelligence-officer ; “ and it was for that reason that I advised she should not go. She lias hardly been herself the last day or two. Our neighbor, Miss Pix, — a woman whose character is somewhat unsettled; no fixed principles, Sir, I fear,’ shaking his head regretfully ; “ too erratic, controlled by impulse, possessing an inquisitive temperament,” telling off upon a separate finger each count in the charges against Miss Fix’s character, and reserving for the thumb the final overwhelming accusation, — “ Sir, she has not learned the great french economical principle of Lassy Fair.’’ Miss Fix being thus stricken down, he helped her up again with an apology. “ But her advantages have no doubt been few. She has not studied political economy ; and how can she hope to walk unerringly?” — and Mr. Manlius gazed at an imaginary Miss Fix wandering without compass or guide over the desert of life. “ She makes a pai tv to-night. And why ? Because it is Christmas-eve. That is a small foundation, Mr. Judge, on which to erect the structure of social intercourse. Society, Sir, should be founded on principles. not accidents. Because my house is accidentally contiguous to two others, shall I consider myself, and shall Mrs. Manlius consider herself, as necessarily bound by the ligaments of Nature — by the ligaments of Nature, Mr. Judge — to the dwellers in those houses ? No, Sir. I don’t know who lives in this court beside Miss Pix. Nature brought rour aunt and Mrs. Manlius together, and Nature brought you and your aunt together. We will go, however, to Miss Pix’s. It will gratify her. But your aunt is excited a'bout the, for her, unusual occasion. And now she has seen you. I feared this interview might overcome her. She is frail; but she is fair, Sir, if 1 may say so. She has character ; very few have as much, — and 1 have seen many women. Did you ever happen to see Martha Jewmer, Mr. Judge ?”
Nicholas could not remember that he had.
“Well, Sir, that woman has been in my office twelve times. I got a place for her each time. And why ? Because she had character”; and Mr. Manlius leaned back to get a full view of character. Before he had satisfied himself enough to continue his reminiscences, his wife and Mrs. Starkey returned, bundled up as if they were going on a long sleigh-ride.
“We’re ready, S’prian,” said Mrs. Manlius. “ Eunice thinks she will go still,” — which was evident from the manner in which Mrs. Starkey had gathered about her a quantity of ill-assorted wrappers, out of the folds of which she delivered herself to each and all in a rapid and disjointed manner ; and the party proceeded out of the house, Mrs. Manlius first shutting and opening various doors, according to some intricate system of ventilation and heating.
Nicholas gave his arm to his aunt, and, though anxious to speak of many things, could hardly slip a word into the crevices of her conversation ; nor then did his questions or answers bring much satisfactory response. He was confused with various thoughts, unable to explain the random talk of his companion, and yet getting such glimpses of the dreary life she had led as made him resolve to give her a home that should admit more sunshine into her daily experience.
They were not kept waiting long at Miss Pix’s door, for a ruddy. German girl opened it at their summons ; and, once inside, Miss Pix herself came forward with beaming face to give them a Christmas-eve greeting. Mr. Manlius had intended making the official announcement of the arrival of the new nephew, but was no match for the ready Mrs. Starkey, who at once seized upon their hostess, and shook her warmly by the hand, pouring out a confused and not over-accurate account of her goodfortune, mixing in various details of her personal affairs. Miss Pix, however, made out the main fact, and turned to Nicholas, welcoming him with both hands, and in the same breath congratulating Mrs. Starkey, showing such honest, whole-souled delight that Nicholas for a moment let loose in his mind a half-wish that Miss Pix had proved to be his aunt, so much more nearly did she approach his ideal. The whole party stood basking for a moment in Miss Pix’s Christmas greeting, then extricated themselves from their wrappers with the help of their bustling hostess, and were ushered into her little parlor, where they proved to be the first arrivals. It was almost like sitting down in an arbor : for walls and ceiling were quite put out of sight by the evergreen dressing ; the candlesticks and picture-frames seemed to have budded ; and even the poker had laid aside its constitutional stiffness, and unbent itself in a miraculous spiral of creeping vine. Mr. Manlius looked about him with the air of a connoisseur, and complimented Miss Pix.
“A very pretty room, Miss Pix, — a very pretty room ! Quite emblematical ! ” And he cocked his head at some new point.
“ Oh, I can’t have my Christmas without greens ! ” said Miss Pix. “ Christmas and greens, you know, is the best dish in the world. Is n't it, Mrs. Starkey ? ”
But Mrs. Starkey had no need of a question ; for she had already started on her career as a member ot the party, and was galloping over a boundless field of observation.
There was just then another ring ; and Miss Pix started for the door, in her eagerness to greet her visitors, but recollected in season the tribute which she must pay to the by-laws of society, and hovered about the parlor-door till Gretchen could negotiate between the two parties. Gretchens pleased exclamation in her native tongue at once indicated the nature of the arrival; and Miss Pix, whispering loudly to Mrs. Manlius, “ My musical friends,” again rushed forward, and received her friends almost noisily; lor when they went stamping about the entry to shake off the snow from their feet against the inhospitable world outside, she also, in the excess of her sympathetic delight, caught herself stamping her little foot. There was a hurlyburly, and then they all entered the parlor in a procession, preceded by Miss Pix, who announced them severally to her guests as Mr. Pfeiffer, Mr. Pfeffendorf, Mr. Schmauker, and Mr. \Y indgraff. Everybody bowed at once, and rose to the surface, hopelessly ignorant of the name and condition of all the rest, except his or her immediate friends. The four musical gentlemen especially entirely lost their names in the confusion ; and as they looked very much alike, it was hazardous to address them, except upon general and public grounds.
Mrs. Starkey was the most bewildered, and also the most bent upon setting herself right, — a task which promised to occupy the entire evening. “Which is the lifer ?” she asked Nicholas ; but he could not tell her, and she appealed in vain to the others. Perhaps it was as well, since it served as an unfailing resource with her through the evening. When nothing else occupied her attention, she would fix her eyes upon one of the four, and walk round till she found some one disengaged enough to label him, if possible ; and as the gentlemen had much in common, while Mrs. Starkey’s memory was confused, there was always room for more light.
Miss Pix meanwhile had disentangled Nicholas from Mrs. Starkey, and, as one newly arrived in the court, was recounting to him the origin of her party. .“You see, Mr. Judge, I have only lived here a few weeks. I had to leave my old house ; and 1 took a great liking to this little court, and especially to this little house in it. ‘ What a delightful little snuggery !’ thought I. ‘ Here one can be right by the main streets, and yet be quiet all day and evening.’ And that’s what I want; because, you see,
I have scholars to come and take musiclessons of me. ‘ And then,’ 1 thought to myself, ‘ I can have four neighbors right in the same yard, you may say.” Well, here I came ; but — do you believe it ? — hardly anybody even looked out of the window when the furniture-carts came up, and I could n't tell who lived in any house. Why, I was here three weeks, and nobody came to see me. I might have been sick, and nobody would have known it.” Here little Miss Pix shook her head ruefully at the vision oi herself sick and alone. “ I 've seen what that is,” she added, with a mysterious look. “ ‘ Well, now,’ I said to myself, ' I can’t live like this. It is n't Christian. I don’t believe but the people In the court could get along with me, if they knew me.’ Well, they did n't come, and they did n't come ; so I got tired, and one day 1 went round and saw them all, — no, I did n't see the old gentleman in Number One that time. Will you believe it ? not a soul knew anybody else in any house but their own ! I was amazed, and I said to myself, ‘ Betsey Pix, you’ve got a mission ’; and, Mr. Judge, I went on that mission. I made up my mind to ask all the people in the court, who could possibly come, to have a Christmas-eve gathering in my house. I got them all. except the Crimps, in Number Two, who would not, do what 1 could. Then I asked four of my friends to come and bring their instruments ; for there’s nothing like music to melt people together. But, oh, Mr. Judge, not one house knows that another house in the court is to be here ; and, oh, Mr. Judce, I’ve got such a secret!" And here Miss Pix’s cork flew to the ceiling, in the manner hinted at by Mr. Paul Le Clear; while Nicholas felt himself to have known Miss Pix from birth, and to be, in a special manner, her primeminister on this evening.
It was not long before there was another ring, and Mr. Le Clear appeared, who received the jiggoty Miss Fix’s welcome in a smiling and well-bred manner, and suffered himself to be introduced to the various persons present, when all seized the new opportunity to discover the names of the musical gentlemen, and fasten them to the right owners. Paul laughed when he saw Nicholas, and spoke to him as an old acquaintance. Miss Fix was suddenly in great alarm, and, beckoning away Nicholas, whispered, “ Don’t for the world tell him where the others live.” Like the prime-minister with a statesecret, Nicholas went back to Paul, and spent the next few minutes in the trying task of answering leading questions with misleading answers.
“ I see,” said the acute Mr. Le Clear to himself; “the aunt is that marplotty dame who has turned our young Judge into a prisoner at the bar”; and lie entered into conversation with Mrs, Starkey with great alacrity, finding her a very ripe cucumber. Mr. Manlius, who was talking, in easy words of two syllables, to the musical gentlemen, overheard some of Mrs. Starkey’s revelations to Mr. Le Clear, and, watching his opportunity, got Paul into a corner, where be favored him with some confidences respecting the lady.
“You may have thought, Sir,” said he, in a whisper, “that Mrs. Starkey is — is,”-and he filled out the sen-
tence with an expressive gesture toward his own well-balanced head.
“ Not at all,” said Paul, politely.
“ She is periodically affected,” continued Mr. Manlius, “with what I may perhaps call excessive and ill-balanced volubility. Mrs. Starkey, Sir, is a quiet person, rarely speaking; but once in five or six weeks, — the periods do not return with exact regularity, — she is subject to some bidden influence, which looses her tongue, as it were. I think she is under the influence now, and her words are not likely to — to correspond exactly with existing facts. You will not be surprised, then, at her words. They are only words, words. At other times she is a woman of action. She has a wonderful character, Sir.”
“ Quite a phenomenon, indeed, I should say,” said Paul, ready to return to so interesting a person, but politely suffering Mr. Manlius to flow on, which he did uninterruptedly.
Doctor Checker was the last to come. Miss Fix knew his infirmity, and contented herself with mute, but expressive signs, until the old gentleman could adjust his trumpet and receive her hearty congratulations. He jerked out a response, which Miss Fix received with as much delight as if he had flowed freely, like Mr, Manlius, who was now playing upon Mr. Le Clear an analysis of Nicholas’s character, which he had read with unerring accuracy, as Mrs. Manlius testified by her continued, unreserved agreement. Indeed, the finding of bis aunt by Nicholas in so unexpected a manner was the grand topic of the evening; and the four musical gentlemen, hearing the story in turn from each of the others, were now engaged in a sort of diatessaron, in which the four accounts were made to harmonize with considerable difficulty: Mr. Schmauker insisting upon his view, that Nicholas had arrived wet and hungry, was found on the doorstep, and dragged in by Mrs. Starkey; while Mr. Pfeffendorf and Mr. Pfeiffer substituted Mrs. Manlius for Mrs. Starkey; and Mr, Windgraff proposed an entirely new reading.
Dr. Checkers entrance created a lull; and the introduction, performed in a general way by the hostess, brought little information to the rest, who were hoping to revise their list of names,— and very little to the Doctor, who looked about inquisitively, as Miss Fix dropped the company in a heap into his eartrumpet. His eye lighted on Nicholas, and he went forward to meet him, to the astonishment of the company, who looked upon Nicholas as belonging exclusively to them. A new theory was at once broached by Mr. Windgraff to his companions, that Dr. Chocker had brought about the recognition ; but it lost credit as the Doctor began to question Nicholas, in an abrupt way, upon his presence there.
“ Did n’t know I should meet you again, young man,” said he. “ But you don't take my advice, eh ? or you would n’t have been here. But I'm setting you a pretty example ! This is n’t the way to study the value of words, eh, Mr.—Mr. — Le Clear?”
The real Mr. Le Clear and his fiction looked at each other, and by a rapid interchange of glances signified their inability to extricate themselves from the snarl, except by a dangerous cut, which Nicholas had not the courage at the moment to give. The rest of the company were mystified ; and Mr. Manlius, pocketing the character which he had just been giving, free of charge, to his new acquaintance, turned to his wife, and whispered awfully, “ An impostor, Caroline ! ” Mrs. Manlius looked anxiously and frightened back to him ; but he again whispered, “Wait for further developments, Caroline ! ” and she sank into a state of terrified curiosity. Fortunately, Mrs. Starkey was at the moment confiding much that was irrelevant to Mr. Le Clear the actual, who did not call her attention to the words. The four musical gentlemen were divided upon the accuracy of their hearing.
Miss Fix, who had been bustling about, unconscious of the mystery, now created a diversion by saying, somewhat flurried by the silence that followed her first words, —
“ Our musical friends have brought a pleasant little surprise for us ; but, Mr. Pfeiffer, won’t you explain the Children’s Symphony to the performers?”
Everybody at once made a note of Mr. Pfeiffer, and put a private mark on him for future reference ; while he goodhumoredly, and with embarrassing English, explained that Miss Fix had proposed that the company should produce Haydn’s Children’s Symphony, in which the principal parts were sustained by four stringed instruments, which he and his friends would play ; while children’s toy-instruments, which the other three were now busily taking out of a box, would be distributed among the rest of the company; and Miss Fix would act as leader, designating to each his or her part, and time of playing.
The proposal created considerable contusion in the company, especially when the penny-trumpet, drum, cuckoo, night-owl, quail, rattle, and whistle were exhibited, and gleefully tried by the four musical friends. Mr, Manlius eyed the penny-trumpet which was offered him with a doubtful air, but concluded to sacrifice his dignity for the good of the company. Mrs. Manlius received her cuckoo nervously, as if it would break forth in spite of her, and looked askance at Nicholas to see if he would dare to take the night-owl into his perjured hands. He did take it with great goodhumor, and, at Miss Fix’s request, undertook to persuade Doctor Chocker to blow the whistle. He had first to give a digest of Mr. Pfeiffer’s speech into the ear-trumpet, and, it is feared, would have failed to bring the Doctor round without Miss Pix, who came up at the critical moment, and told him that she knew he must have known how when he was a boy, accompanied with such persuasive frolicking that the Doctor at once signified his consent and his proficiency by blowing a blast into Nicholas’s ear, whom he regarded as a special enemy on good terms with him, to the great merriment of all.
The signal was given, and the company looked at Miss Fix, awaiting their turn with anxious solicitude. The symphony passed off quite well, though Mr. Le Clear, who managed the drum, was the only one who kept perfect time. Mrs. Starkey, who held the rattle aloft, sprung it at the first sound of the music, and continued to spring it in spite of the expostulations and laughter of the others. Mrs. Manlius, unable to follow Miss Fix’s excited gestures, turned to her husband, and uttered the cuckoo’s doleful note whenever he blew his trumpet, which he did deliberately at regular intervals. The effect, however, was admirable ; and as the entire company was in the orchestra, the mutual satisfaction was perfect, and the piece was encored vociferously, to the delight of little Miss Pix, who enjoyed without limit the melting of her company, which was now going on rapidly. It continued even when the music had stopped, and Gretchen. very red, but intensely interested, brought in some coffee and cakes, which she distributed under Miss Fix’s direction. Nicholas shared the good lady’s pleasure, and addressed himself to his aunt with increased attention, taking good care to avoid Doctor Chocker, who submitted more graciously than would be supposed to a steady play from Mr. Manlius’s hose. Mr. Pfeiffer and his three musical friends made themselves merry with Mrs. Manlius and Miss Pix, while Mr. Le Clear walked about performing chemical experiments upon the whole company.
And now Miss Pix, who had been all the while glowing more and more with sunshine in her face, again addressed the company, and said : —
“ I think the best thing should be kept till toward the end ; and I Ve got a scheme that I want you all to help me in. We’re all neighbors here,” — and she looked round upon the company with a smile that grew broader, while they all looked surprised, and began to smile back in ignorant sympathy, except Doctor Chocker, who did not hear a word, and refused to smile till he knew what it was for. “ Yes, we are all neighbors. Doctor Chocker lives in Number One ; Mr. Le Clear lives in Number Two ; Mr. and Mrs. Manlius, Mrs. Starkey, and Mr. Judge are from Number Three ; my musical friends live within easy call; and I live in Number Five.”
Here she looked round again triumphantly, and found them all properly astonished, and apparently very contented, except Doctor Chocker, who was immovable. Nicholas expressed the most marked surprise, as became so hypocritical a prime-minister, causing Mr. Manlius to make a private note of some unrevealed perjury.
“ Now,” said Miss Pix, pausing, and arresting the profound attention of all, “now, who lives at Number Four?” If she expected an answer, it was plainly not locked up in the breast of any one before her. But she did not expect an answer; she was determined to give that herself, and she continued : —
“There is a most excellent woman there, Mrs. Blake, whom I should have liked very much to introduce to you tonight, especially as it is her birthday. Is n’t she fortunate to have been born on Christmas-eve ? Well, I didn’t ask her, because she is not able to leave her room. There she has sat, or lain, for fifteen years ! She’s a confirmed invalid ; but she can see her friends. And now for my little scheme. I want to give her a surprise-party from all her neighbors, and I want to give it now. It’s all right. Gretchen has seen her maid, and Mrs. Blake knows just enough to be willing to have me bring a few friends.”
Miss Pix looked about, with a little anxiety peeping out of her good-souled, eager face. But the company was so melted down that she could now mould it at pleasure, and no opposition was made. Mr. Manlius volunteered to enlighten Doctor Chocker ; but he made so long a preamble that the old scholar turned, with considerable impatience, to Miss Pix, who soon put him in goodhumor, and secured his coöperation, though not without his indulging in some sinful and unneighborly remarks to Nicholas.
It proved unnecessary to go into the court, for these two houses happened to have a connection, which Miss Pix made use of, the door having been left open all the evening, that Mrs. Blake might catch some whiffs ot the enteitainment. Gretchen appeared in the doorway, bearing on a salver a great cake, made with her own hands, having Mrs. Blake’s initials, in colored letters, on the frosting, and the whole surrounded by fifty little wax tapers, indicating her age, which all counted, and all counted differently, giving opportunity to the four musical friends to enter upon a fresh and lively discussion. The party was marshalled by Miss Pix in the order of houses, while she herselt squeezed past them all on the staircase, to usher them into Mrs. Blake’s presence.
Mrs. Blake was sitting in her reclinin-r-chair as Miss Fix entered with her retinue. The room was in perfect order, and had about it such an air of neatness and purity that one felt one’s self in a haven of rest upon crossing the threshold. The invalid sat quiet and at ease, looking forth upon the scene before her as if so safely moored that no troubling of the elements could ever reach her. Here had she lived, vear after year, almost alone with herself, though now the big-souled little music-teacher was her constant visitor ; but the entrance of all her neighbors seemed in no wise to agitate her placid demeanor. She greeted Miss Fix with a pleased smile ; and all being now in the room, the bustling little woman, at the very zenith of her sunny course, took her stand and said,—
“ This is my company, dear Mrs. Blake. These are all neighbors of ours, living in the court, or close by. We have been having a right merry time, and now we can’t break up without bringing you our good wishes,— our Christmas good wishes, and our birthday good wishes,” said Miss Pix,with a little oratorical flourish, which brought Gretchen to the front with her illuminated cake, which she positively could not have held another moment, so heavy had it grown, even for her stout arms.
Mrs. Blake laughed gently, and with a delighted look examined the great cake, with her initials, and did not need to count the wax tapers. It was placed on a stand, and she said,—
“Now I should like to entertain my guests, and, if you will let me, I will give you each a piece of my cake, — for it all belongs to me, after Miss Fix’s graceful presentation ; and if Miss Fix will be so good, I will ask her to make me personally acquainted with each of you.”
So a knife was brought, and Mrs. Blake cut a generous piece, when Doctor Chocker was introduced, with great gesticulation on the part of Miss Fix. “ I am glad to see you. Doctor Chocker,” said Mrs. Blake, distinctly, but quietly, into his trumpet. “ Do you let your patients eat cake ? Try this, and see if it is n't good for me.”
“If 1 were a doctor of medicine,” said he. jerkily, “ I should bring my patients to see you”; at which Miss Fix nodded to him most vehemently, and the Doctor wagged his ear-trumpet in delight at the retort which he thought he had made.
Mr. Le Clear was introduced, and took his cake gracefully, saying, “ I hope another year will see you at a Christmas-party of Miss Fix’s”; but Mrs. Blake smiled, and said, “This is my little lot of earth, and I am sure there is a patch of stars above.”
Mr. Manlius and wife came up together, he somewhat lumbering, as if Mrs. Blake’s character were too much for his discernment, and Mrs. Manlius not quite sure of herself when her husband seemed embarrassed.
“This is really too funny,” said Mrs. Blake, merrily; “as if I were a very benevolent person, doling out my charity of cake on Cbristmas-eve. Do, Mr. Manlius, take a large piece ; and 1 am sure your wife will take some home to the children.”
“What wonderful insight!” said Mr. Manlius, turning about to Nicholas, and drawing in his breath. “ We have children,— two. That woman has a deep character, Mr. Judge.”
“ Mrs. Starkey, also of Number Three,” said the mistress of ceremonies ; “and Mr. Nicholas Judge, arrived only this evening.”
“Nicholas Judge !” said Mrs. Blake, losing the color which the excitement had brought, and dropping the knile.
“ My nephew,” explained Mrs. Starkey. “Just came this evening, and found me at home. Never saw him be‘ fore. Must tell you all about it.” And she was plunging with alacrity into the delightful subject, with all its variations.
Mrs. Blake looked at Nicholas, while the color came and went in her cheeks.
“ Stop ! ” said she, decisively, to Mrs. Starkey, and half rising, she leaned forward to Nicholas, and said rapidly, with an energy which seemed to be summoned from every part of her system,—
“ Are you the son of Alice Brown ? ”
“Yes, yes,'1 said Nicholas, tumultuously ; “ and you, — ^>u are her sister. Here, take this miniature ”; and he snatched one from his breast. “ Is not this she ? It is my mother. You are my Aunt Eunice,” he exclaimed, as she sank back in her chair exhausted, but reaching out her arms to him.
“That young man is a base impostor!” said Mr. Manlius aloud, with his hand in his waistcoat; while Mrs. Manlius looked on deprecatingly, but as if too, too aware of the sad fact. “ I said so to my wife in private, — I read it in his face, —and now i declare it publicly. That man is a base impostor ! ”
“ Dear, dear, 1 don’t understand it at all! ” said the unfortunate Mrs. Starkey. “ I thought, to be sure, that Nicholas was my nephew. Never saw him before, but he said he was ; and now, now, I don’t know what I shall do ! ” and the poor lady, suddenly bereft of her fortune, began to wipe her moist eyes ; “but perhaps,” she added, with a bright, though transient gleam of hope, “ we are both aunts to him.”
“That cannot be,” said Nicholas, kindly, who left his aunt to set the company right, if possible. “ My dear friend,” he said, taking Mrs. Starkey’s hand, “ it has been a mistake, brought on by my heedlessness. I knew only that my aunt’s name had been Eunice Brown. It chanced that yours was the same name. I happened to come upon you first in my search, and did not dream it possible that there could be two in the same court. Everything seemed to tally ; and I was too pleased at finding the only relation I had in the wide world to ask many questions. But when I saw that my aunt knew who I was, and I saw my mother’s features in hers, I perceived my mistake at once. We will remain friends, though, — shall we not ?”
Mrs. Starkey was too much bewildered to refuse any compromise ; but Mr. Manlius stepped forward, having his claim as a private officer of justice.
“ I must still demand an explanation, Sir, how it is that in this mixed assembly the learned Doctor Chocker addresses you as Mr. Le Clear, and you do not decline the title ” ; and Mr. Manlius looked, as if for a witness, to Doctor Chocker, who was eating his cake with great solemnity, holding his eartrumpet in hopes of catching an occasional word.
“ That would require too long an explanation,” said Nicholas, smiling; “but you shall have it some time in private. Mr. Le Clear himself will no doubt tell you”; which Mr. Le Clear, an amused spectator of the scene, cheerfully promised to do.
The company had been so stirred up by this revelation, that they came near retreating at once to Miss Fix’s to talk it over, to the dismay of the four musical gentlemen, who had not yet been presented, and especially who had not yet got any cake. Miss Fix, though in a transport of joy, had an eye for everything, and, discovering this, insisted on presenting them in a body to Mrs. Blake, in consideration of her fatigue. They bowed simultaneously,’and stood before her like bashful schoolboys ; while Nicholas assumed the knife in behalf of his aunt, distributing with equal liberality, when they retired in high glee over the new version of his history, which Mr. \Vindgraff, for the sake of displaying his acumen, stoutly declared to be spurious. Gretchen also was served with a monstrous slice ; and then the company bade good-bye to the aunt and nephew, who began anew their glad recognition.
It was a noisy set of people who left Miss Fix’s house. That little lady stood in the doorway, and sent off each with such a merry blessing that it lasted long after the doors of the other houses were closed. Even the forlorn Mrs. Starkey seemed to go back almost as happy as when she had issued forth in the evening with her newly found nephew. The sudden gleam of hope which his unlooked-for coming had let in upon a toilsome and thankless life — for we know more about her position in Mr. Manlius’s household than we have been at liberty to disclose — had, indeed, gone out in darkness ; but the Christmas merriment, and the kindness which for one evening had flowed around her, had so fertilized one little spot in her life, that, however dreary her pilgrimage, nothing could destroy the bright oasis. It gave hope of others, too, no less verdant ; and with this hope uppermost in her confused brain the lonely widow entered the land of Christmas dreams. Let us hope, too, that the pachydermatous Mr. Manlius felt the puncture of her disappointment, and that Miss Pix’s genial warmth had made him cast oft a little the cloak of selfishness in which he had wrapped himself ; lor what else could have made him say to his echoing wife that night, “Caroline, suppose we let Eunice take the children to the panorama to-morrow. It’s a quarter more ; but she was rather disappointed about that young fellow” ? The learned Doctor Chocker, who had, in all his days, never found a place to compare with his crowded study for satisfaction to his soul, for the first time now, as he entered it, admitted to himself that Miss Pix’s arbor-like parlor and Mrs. Blake’s simple room had something that his lacked ; and in the frozen little bedroom where he nightly shivered, in rigid obedience to some fancied laws of health, the old man was aware of some kindly influence thawing away the chill frost-work which he had suffered to sheathe his heart. Nor did Mr. Le Clear toast his slippered feet belore his cheery fire without an uncomfortable misgiving that his philosophy hardly compassed the sphere of life.
Christmas-eve in the court was over. Strange things had happened ; and, for one night at least, the Five Sisters had acted as one family. Little Miss Pix, reviewing the evening, as she dropped off to sleep, could not help rubbing her hands together, and emitting little chuckles. Such a delightful evening as she had had ! and meaning to surprise others, she had herself been taken into a better surprise still; and here, recollecting the happy union of the lone, but not lonely, Mrs. Blake with a child of her old age, as it were, Miss Pix must laugh aloud just as the midnight clock was sounding. Bless her neighborly soul, she has ushered in Christmasday with her laugh of good-will toward men. The whole hymn of the angels is in her heart ; and with it let her sleep till the glorious sunshine awakes her.