AT Mrs. Curring’s, domestics came and went, like wind-driven leaves that eddy, mid-course, into some hollow by the dusty roadside, and then scurry along again, restless, inconstant, here to-day, to-morrow whither? Domestics came; domestics went; only Todie Love stayed on and on through the years, a fixture, an institution, a tutelary presence.
It was Todie who set out theash-cans, beat the carpets, and washed the windows,— always wheezing for breath, moving with slow, stiff, rheumatic joints, speaking rarely, but groaning much.
Within the past six months the kitchen had seen the brief incumbencies of a full half-dozen domestics. First, Irish Lizzie, who was so nervous with her hands that she could seldom wait on table without incontinently dropping a dish of soup or a cup of coffee; and so she had to be sent away. And in her stead appeared colored Jenny, who was capable, good-natured, and an excellent cook, but who daily brought a clandestine whiskey bottle in her pocket, and was thereby far too often incapacitated for duty. Therefore Jenny had to go; and in her stead came poor English Martha, a shrunken, patheticlooking widow, whose weazened baby squalled from morning till night, and finally drove the ground-floor-extension lady to declare that she simply and positively could not stand it, and one or the other of them must go.
It was Martha who went; and after her came colored Lily, who in one week’s time stole two dozen towels, three pairs of trousers, and a silk petticoat; and was heard of no more. And in Lily’s stead was appointed an immense German Adelaide, florid of countenance and stout of arm, who promised excellently; but oh, my dear, if you had once seen the awful cooking she served up! In vain Mrs. Curring labored to teach her not to scorch the oatmeal, not to make tea in the coffeepot, not to steep the potatoes in tepid water on the back of the range. Nothing availed. With all her superabundance of physique, Adelaide was deficient in mentality.
And in her stead came English Annie, who took dope; and Irish Nan, who was too bellicose; and I think that was all, before the coming of Rose; but two or three incumbents, still more ephemeral, may have been omitted. Lizzie, Jenny, Martha, Lily, Adelaide, Annie, and Nan had all had their little day, and ceased to be; and still Todie Love was faithful, after his fashion.
‘Them as treats me on the squire,’ he liked to announce, sententiously, ‘I treats on the squire, contrariwise.’
That was his reason for staying with Mrs. Curring. For five years he had been her devoted ally. When she was without a girl, he would even don a ragged old carpenter’s apron and wash up her dishes for her. With soiled shirtsleeves rolled back over red, freckled arms, the stub of an unlighted clay pipe stuck imperially into the corner of his mouth, wheezing, groaning, splashing, he would perform the womanish task; and when it was finally over, would scrub out the sink carefully, wring the dishcloth, and hang it over the bottom of the dishpan on the wall.
‘As tidy as a wren, if I do say it,’ declared Mrs. Curring vehemently.
Mrs. Curring was always vehement, no matter what she was saying, or to whom addressing herself. She had a sturdy, almost defiant way of hurling out her assertions, with many an affirmative nod or negative toss of her touzled head, as if resolutely holding her ground against a host of adversaries.
‘Say what you like about poor old Todie,’ she challenged; ‘but where this house would be without him, I’m sure I don’t know. Todie’s better than a dozen of your lying, thieving servant girls. It’s my honest belief, and you may laugh at it, if you will, — yes, laugh away! — it won’t make any difference with me, because I think what I think, — and what I think about Todie is that he wasn’t never in this world born a bum. No, sir! Since Todie Love first set foot in this house, five years ago, I’ve never heard him swear but once; and that was last spring at that monster of a Jenny, —you remember black Jenny? She was the one I had before the little English widow — or was it after?’
Once Mrs. Curring fairly got started, it was as bootless to attempt to stop her as to fetter the whirl wind or to choke the geyser. Your one salvation, unless you happened to be in the mood to relish her impetuous, assaulting chatter, was to flee. Stay, and after a scattering fire of reminiscences of the reigns of black Jenny and English Martha, she would finally charge full upon you with the tale of Todie’s one profane explosion.
‘ Many’s the time, as poor Todie has confessed to me since, that black Jenny would be wheedlin’ and bribin’ of him to do some of her own work for her because she was too you-knowwhat to see straight herself.
‘“She plied me with the bottle, ma’m,” says Todie to me, “day in an’ day out, and,” says he, “I did n’t just ’ave the strength, ma’m, to resist the temptation.”
‘Only think of it, will you! — that abominable creature offering him one swig after another; and what could poor Todie do, being as the bottle is one of his great failings, as everybody knows only too well. Indeed, it’s my own opinion, and you can accept it or not as you choose, that it’s nothing less than the bottle as has been the ruin of poor Todie Love. No, sir, he was never born a bum, never! In London he was born, as he’s told me himself more than once, and of parents as honest as any in all England.’
Here would follow an excited little digression on the honesty of the English, as a race, in comparison with the shiftiness of the Irish, and the downright treacherousness of the darky.
But to return once more, with unabated zeal, to the anecdote of Todie and black Jenny. Mrs. Curring had come in one afternoon from getting a dozen new dish-towels at a sale on Sixth Avenue; and as she entered the dining-room, she heard the sounds of a noisy wrangle in the next room; and so, quite naturally, she tiptoed to the kitchen door, and listened.
‘And that monster of a Jenny must have been plaguin’ the life out of poor Todie to run round to the corner, and get her some more you-know-what, for all of a sudden I heard him bang his hand down on the table — like that, — bang! and say, —
‘“Oh, you knows very well you can get me to do anythink you wants about this bloomin’ ’ouse, you old crow, you; but if you thinks as I’m a-goin’ to run of your bloomin’ herrands for you, an’ fetch your dope for you, you’re mistook. I ain’t sunk so low yet as to be runnin’ of herrands for a black nigger. You can go to ’ell for all of me!”
‘And with that,’ concluded Mrs. Curring dramatically, ‘he turns on his heel, and marches out into the furnaceroom, as honest and straight as a tin soldier; and I never could find it in my heart to blame him for that one profanity, which, as you may say, was in self-defense.’
To whatever estate Todie might have been born, it could not be denied that in appearance he now belonged to the large, unwinsome confraternity mentioned by Mrs. Curring. It was true he used to wash out his own clothes every once in a while, in a tub borrowed for the purpose from Mrs. Curring and transported to the dark subbasement where, by a slender jet of gas, the mysterious operation was performed. That did not save him. He could have sat all day in Union Square, and never have been distinguished, by one trait of physiognomy or manner, from the rest of its melancholy denizens.
Every night at half-past five he received from the wisely parsimonious hands of Mrs. Curring two large sandwiches and twenty cents. The first served for his supper; the second for a glass of beer and his night’s accommodation at a South Fifth Avenue lodging-house. What more Mrs. Curring’s roomers might give him, for small extra services, went invariably toward the indulgence of Todie’s greatest failing.
If morning came, and no Todie as harbinger of the new day to take out the ashes, Mrs. Curring knew that some one must have given him money. Late in the afternoon, — sometimes, even, not until the second or third day, — a very red-eyed, dejected prodigal would give a humble tug to the basement bell; and with a reproachful ’Oh, Todie!’ she would hasten to let him in. There was naught to be gained, she had found, by anger, or by argument. She had learned to accept the facts philosophically. Indeed, she had learned to put the blame for Todie’s defections on the lodgers. He was not the beneficiary, but the victim, of their kindness. And furthermore, you see, Mrs. Curring was always in dire distress to have the accumulated ashes taken out; and come he soon, or come he late, Todie was a godsend. The longer he might have stayed away, the more of a godsend he was when he reappeared.
‘And say what you will,’ asseverated Mrs. Curring, valiantly, ‘there’s one thing about poor Todie Love, and that is, he’s never once set foot in this house but he’s as sober as a tin soldier.’
Such was the weak-kneed Atlas who upbore, upon his honest shoulders, the drudgery of the house of Curring. But when Rosie Dale came, it was different.
Rosie was as fresh and sweet as the blossoming spring that comes to the English Cotswolds, where she had been born. It was only a few months since she had come from the old country; and Mrs. Curring’s was the first situation she had applied for. She lived with her mother, it seemed, and an infirm old granny, clear over there on the West Side near Hell’s Kitchen,— not at all a desirable neighborhood; but the mother, you see, was some relative of the landlord’s, and got the tenement at a great reduction of rent; and so there they were; and since the mother had been sick, it was necessary that Rosie earn what she could. That is why she had answered Mrs. Curring’s advertisement in the World.
‘I can’t pretend, ma’m, as I’m anything but a downright greenhorn,’ she had admitted honestly; ‘but my ma says I’m right smart at pickin’ things up.’
‘ I ’m sure you be, my dear/ said Mrs. Curring, who was at her wits’ end for a domestic, and noted with greedy satisfaction the simple, spotlessly neat attire of the new applicant, and her modest demeanor. I’m sure you be, my dear,’ she said, in her most saccharine voice, ‘ and I’m sure your ma’s a very proper, respectable woman; so you can just take off your things, Rosie, right away, and come out in the kitchen.’
Rosie hesitated, shyly. ‘Ma said, if you please,’ she ventured, ‘that. I was to ask were it gentlemen or ladies in the house, because if it’s gentlemen — ’
‘It ain’t,’ broke in Mrs. Curring, vehemently. ‘There ain’t one in the house, except on the top two floors; and they’re away all day and take their meals out. Oh, they’ll never make you the least trouble in the world.’
‘And I cain’t fetch buckets o’ coals,’ pursued Rosie, ‘becaust my back’s a bit finnicky.’
‘There’ll not be a stroke of heavy work for you,’ replied the other, ingratiatingly. ‘The washing goes out; and Todie does all the rest.'
‘Yes,— Oh, I forgot, you don’t know about Todie. Well, what ’ud become of this house without poor Todie, I’m sure I can’t say. He’s washed all my dishes for me now these four days, ever since I got rid of that monster of a Nan. Say what you like about Todie, my dear, he’s the greatest convenience ’round a house I ever hope to see in my day; and as neat and tidy as a wren.’
She led the way into the kitchen, where tidy Todie had just wrung out the dishcloth, and was hanging it on the bottom of the dish pan.
‘This is my new girl, Todie,’ announced Mrs. Curring. ‘Her name is Rosie, and I’m sure she’s a little jewel.’
Without interrupting his occupation, Todie gave a skeptical grunt. ‘I ’opes so,’ he said stolidly.
If any one, on general principles, had a right to be skeptical, it was Todie. But that, was before he had turned around, and studied the newcomer with an eye not predisposed to favor. He looked at her for long seconds, in silence.
‘Ay,’ he averred, at last, with a wag of the head, ‘she be a jew’l.’
Rosie blushed with pleasure and embarrassment. ‘You must n’t be talkin’ so to the likes o’ me,’ she said bashfully. ‘When you see what a downright greenhorn I be about the kitchen, may be you’ll be thinkin’ different.’
Todie indulged in a sagacious smile, which revealed his scanty assortment of stained and broken teeth.
‘ There’s ’ope for them as knows they don’t know nothink,’ he asserted, with a queer, wheezy chuckle. ‘ It’s only know-nothinks as knows everythink !’
With sides that shook mirthfully over his own masterly aphorism, he shuffled out into the furnace-room, announcing, half under his breath, that there was a ‘ ’eap o’ hashes to sift.’
‘You may call it a very good sign, my dear,’ said Mrs. Curring confidentially, ‘that Todie has taken a fancy to you. Say what you will, he’s got wonderful judgment.’
‘I think he’s very nice, ma’m,’ said Rosie Dale simply. ‘I’m glad he likes me.’
Long before that first day was over, an odd friendship had been firmly established between the two. Mrs. Curring observed it, and asked herself what in the world could have happened to Todie. Not one of her long procession of domestics had ever yet elicited a civil word from him. Aside from that monster of a black Jenny, who had kept ever within reach a most potent instrument of persuasion, for not one of them had he ever performed a favor. He had kept sturdily aloof, contemptuous, going his own course, taking orders from his mistress and none beside, fulfilling his duties, accepting his modest stipend, and departing.
And yet here he was — she caught him at it — with a broom in his hand, sweeping out the kitchen, while Rosie, following his gruff directions, took ’er hease for a few minutes. She was tired, and he had seen it. So a coarse-leaved, tatterdemalion weed might offer protection to some shy little English daisy, growing beside it on the confines of the lawn.
When half-past five came, and Mrs. Curring doled out his two sandwiches in a paper bag and his twenty cents, instead of shambling away at once, he still lingered, sitting on a bench in the corner of the kitchen, and watching the little pink-cheeked creature with absorbed, almost reverent interest. At last, just before dinner-time, he got up, with slow, creaking joints and a deep, asthmatic sigh.
‘Well, I be hoff,’ he announced, regretfully.
‘Good-night, Mr. Todie,’said Rosie Dale, with a friendly smile. ‘Thank you very much, and I’m sure I hope you‘11 sleep well.’
He gave her an astounded look.
‘Hey?’ he demanded. ‘Wot’s that?’
‘I says I hope you’ll sleep well, Mr. Todie,’she repeated, in a raised voice.
‘Sleep well!— You ‘opes I’ll sleep well, Miss Rosie?’
She turned frank, questioning eyes on his bleary countenance.
‘Why not?' she laughed. ‘Do you object?’
‘Hobject!— Oh, sye! — Hobject!'
He turned away abruptly, and shuffled out of the room.
A minute or two later Mrs. Curring entered.
‘I just can’t imagine what’s got into poor Todie,’ she remarked. ‘I come downstairs, and there he was in the basement entry snufflin’ and wipin’ of his face with his sleeve. I wonder could something have happened.'
No less surprised was she the next morning, when, considerably before the hour set for Rosie’s arrival, she was summoned to the grill to admit Todie.
‘Why, Todie Love!’ she exclaimed.
‘ You must have forgot I ain’t without a girl any more.’
He did not look directly into her face, but shuffled hastily by toward the kitchen.
‘I was a-thinkin’,’he said, half apologetically, ‘as the hashes might need to be took out.’
StilL at a loss for an explanation of this unprecedented behavior, the lady of the house withdrew to her chamber for a final nap. It naturally did not enter Her head that a miracle had taken place, and that Todie had been born again.
Yet even for miracles, in these days, we are taught to seek causes. It is not easy to believe that the mere spectacle of a lovely, innocent face, the mere utterance of a kind, friendly word could have struck so deep into the fabric of a man’s character that from that day forth he became a different being. I cannot help suspecting that some slumberous memory had been awakened, that another day, another face — a sister, a sweetheart, a young wife, who knows?—had been called forth suddenly out of the dark tomb of forgetfulness; and that at the same moment old ties, old aspirations, had recovered something of their lost empire over his heart.
But however that may be, when little Rosie arrived that morning, she found a noble fire in the newly-blacked range; the floor had been scrubbed, the knives polished, the kettle filled.
‘Good-dye to ye, Miss Rosie,’ says Todie Love, in his most tin-soldierly manner. ‘I ’opes as everythink’s fine.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Todie,’ she said.
Something in her voice disquieted him. He noticed that her face was a little pale, as if she had not passed a good night.
‘I ’opes now ye did n’t find the work too bloomin’ ’ard yisterdye,’ he ventured solicitously.
She shook her head, rather vaguely.
‘Oh, no, Mr. Todie,’ she returned. ‘The work was n’t hard, not with you bein’ so obligin’ to help me, and all.’
There was a pause, while she measured out the oatmeal.
‘Somethink’s wrong,’ he put in, obstinately.
A slight shudder crossed her shoulders.
‘Nothing worth talkin’ about,’ she parried, as she hunted for the puddingspoon. ‘I’m a goose.’
' Come on,’ demanded her companion sturdily. ‘Hout with it, Miss Rosie.’
She began mixing the porridge.
‘ It’s only — I caught a bit of a scare goin’ home last night,’ she explained diffidently. ‘It’s fearful rough over where I live; a nice girl ain’t hardly safe on the street, seems like, the way things are.’
Todie growled, and shook his head like the king of beasts.
‘Only to think now of my lettin’ you go hoff all alone like that!’ he ejaculated. ‘My word, Miss Rosie, I be right ashimed!’
No such incident was permitted to occur again. Todie waited in the kitchen that night until the girl had finished her work, and then he set out with her. This became a nightly programme. He never quitted her for an instant until they reached the door of the tenement. He would shuffle along at her side, wheezing asthmatically, delaying her brisk gait a little because of his rheumatic joints; but keeping a watchful, jealous, protective eye upon her every movement.
Todie was rather a singular-looking cavalier. Little groups of toughs, standing in the bright doorways of saloons, used to look waggishly at each other and make covert jests when Una and her guardian Lion passed; but no further offense was offered, and none was ever taken, beyond an occasional sullen growl on the faithful Lion’s part.
Before many weeks had slipped by, the pair came to be recognized as an institution on the streets through which lay their nightly journey, always passing at about the same hour, always engaged in happy conversation, the girl with her little hand lightly on the other’s sleeve.
One night, as they drew near the tall, cheap apartment house where Rosie lived, she had a shy invitation for him.
‘Please come up, Uncle Todie,’ she urged. ‘My ma wants to tell you herself how nice you been to me.’
Todie drew back, as embarrassed as a schoolboy before his first party.
‘Ho, — Lord!’ he broke out. ‘Ow’s that for an idee now? W’y, I ain’t fit to meet your ma, Rosie.’
‘Well, I don’t know as I like that,’ laughed the girl. ‘Fit to know me, but not fit to know my ma!’
Again she urged him, with simple sincerity, to come in.
‘I tells you wot,’ said her escort, at last. ‘I’ll do it to-morrow night, h’onest to God! ’
He kept his word. He had managed to provide himself, somehow, with an absurd celluloid collar and with a blue tie, considerably the worse for wear; and from a coat pocket conspicuously protruded a stiffly-starched, red-bordered handkerchief. They sat for a couple of hours in the small front room of the tenement, while Rosie sewed at a lace collar, and her mother bent over some piece-work she had got from a silk-petticoat factory. Rosie’s mother had once been in London, and she said it was like home to hear somebody telling of it again.
An old, rather battered accordion was standing on a table in the corner, and when it developed that Todie could play it, Rosie’s joy knew no bounds. Even the old bedridden grandmother in the next room had to clap her hands after his rendering of the Irish Washerwoman. But the artist in Todie was not satisfied.
‘Me fingers is all stiffed-up like,’ he complained.
‘You must come often, Mr. Todie, and limber them,’ said Mrs. Dale. ‘I’m sure it’s very, very grateful we are to hear you.’
As a welcome visitor in the household of the Dales, and as the authorized guardian lion of Rosie, it behooved Todie Love to live, in all respects, according to the high demands of his new calling.
It soon became a habit of his to entrust into the keeping of his little protégée any such small sums of money as came to him from the lodgers upstairs.
‘I ain’t got no place to keep it, Rosie,’ he said, by way of explanation; ‘and if I just leaves it jingle in me pocket, I’m certain sure to be a-spendin’ of it, ’ere or there, before I knows it. Ye just put it awye, somewheres, like a good girl; and one o’ these ’ere dyes, when there’s enough, I ’ll be buyin’ some new togs as will be more decent.-like than the ones I got.’
By this happy device Todie’s greatest failing was deprived of its power to work him mischief; and not once during that winter of the miracle was Mrs. Curring summoned to the basement door to admit a dismal-featured, dejected prodigal.
‘ If Todie were n’t fifty years old, I ’d know right well what was the matter,’ she declared to one of her lodgers, ‘what with him and little Rosie bein’ so chummy. But it ain’t that, no, sir, say what you like!’
It was not until the week before Easter that, at Todie’s request, his savings were brought out and counted. They made proud little piles of the half-dollars, quarters, and dimes on the table of the tenement front-room, — thirteen dollars and eighty cents, — no, ninety cents, for a last dime was discovered under the lining of the handkerchief box which had served for safe deposit vault.
Said Todie, ‘And with that I ’as the idee I can make meself look quite like a real gentleman, hey, Rosie? Would ye fancy that?’
She gave him a look of affectionate admiration. ‘Oh, it would be right fine, Uncle Todie. And in the evening, next Sunday, you’d go to church with me, and we’d listen to the music together like we was the richest people in the city.’
She accompanied him to a secondhand clothing shop on Tenth Avenue, and lent advice and criticism in the selection of the needful garments: a pair of heavy, serviceable-looking trousers of brown cheviot, a black serge coat, a topcoat of light gray, absolutely as good as new save for a scarcely perceptible stain in front. Out of the same magic fund Todie provided himself with handsome new boots that creaked terrifically, and a very smart derby hat. These articles were all carefully stowed away in Mrs. Curring’s subbasement; and it was not until Easter afternoon that he appeared publicly in his brave new attire.
‘O Uncle, you do look like a gentleman!’ cried Rosie, jubilantly dancing round him. ‘You’re just too sweet for anything!’
‘For anythink,eh?’ says Todie, grinning with fatuous delight. ‘Not too sweet to be seen with you, Rosie, I ’opes.’
‘I’m right proud of your company, Uncle,’ she protested. ‘Only everybody’ll be thinkin’ as I’ve got a new beau, you look so different in them lovely clo’es.’
Todie did look different, it could not be denied, in the trousers that were so tight as greatly to discommode him in sitting down, and in the topcoat which, though it would not quite button in front, was yet so long in the sleeves that his poor red hands were quite hidden.
Both of them were very happy as they set out for church that evening. For Todie this transformation in appearance, with all its discomforts, meant, more specifically than anything that had gone before, the putting off of the old man with his deeds. He held up his head with a self-respect not wholly due, by any means, to the pinching collar or the taut coat. The loud-creaking shoes under his feet did not shuffle indecisively. Every step, heavy and assured, announced dignity.
As for little Rosie, not only had she Todie’s company at church to make her happy, but she had a wonderful new secret in her bosom which had turned every item of the day’s drudgery into an act of thanksgiving. She confided it to him that night as they walked homeward together from the mission chapel. Todie’s new shoes had begun to hurt him severely; but he gave no sign of it beyond walking a little more slowly, and with somewhat more dignity than at first.
‘When I got home last night, Uncle Todie, I found some lovely, lovely news waiting for me. Now, what do you think it was?’
‘Somebody croaked and left ye a million,’ suggested her companion with a labored chuckle.
‘No, something a lot better’n that. Somebody I ain’t seen since I left home is comin’ across next month. He’s laid up quite a good bit o’ money, and — and — ’
‘And you be goin’ to marry him,’supplied Todie, in a harsh, accusing voice.
‘Yes, I be. Ain’t it lovely? ’ she went on hurriedly, feigning not to remark her escort’s lack of responsiveness. ‘I thought mebbe it would be years an’ years afore that could happen, and so I ain’t said nothing about it. But now I want, you to know, becaust — becaust you always been so nice to me, and I knew you’d be glad I was happy.’
Todie had quickly recovered a semblance of his usual manner, and he made a scrupulous effort to answer her as she ought to be answered.
‘If ever your man wants to know what a prime little hangel he got for a wife, w’y, you just send ’im to your Uncle Todie. When be ye goin’ to marry ’im?’
' I dare say about as soon as he gets here. I think he’s that kind of a one, as you might say.’
‘And be ye goin’ to live ’ereabouts, some place?’
She felt his arm, upon which her little gloved hand rested, tighten its pressure, and in a flash her eyes were opened to new things.
‘I reckon he’s wantin’ to fetch me back to the old country,’ she answered, in a frightened voice.
For a couple of blocks they walked on in silence — a silence broken only by the creaking of Todie’s boots.
At last she ventured, very softly, ‘I was wonderin’ could I make so bold as to ask a very great favor of you.’
‘There ain’t, nothink as I would n’t do for you, Miss Rosie.’
‘You see, Mr. Todie, as ma’s cousin is away in Cuba, there ain’t no one to give me away. I was wonderin’ would you be willin’ to do that, seein’ what a good friend of ours you been all these months.'
She felt her hand trembling violently, as she peered earnestly into his averted face.
Todie did not answer at once. He coughed two or three times, in rather a forced way, and spat into the gutter. Then he cleared his throat.
‘Hit’s a great h’onor, Miss Rosie, I’m sure.’
The new clothes were not donned again until the wedding day. The groom contributed a pair of gray gloves to the handsome outfit, and Rosie pinned a large white carnation to the lapel of the black serge coat. The ceremony took place in the parish house; and when the curate demanded, ‘Who giveth this woman away?’ Todie took a step forward, and replied, in a loud, defiant, asthmatic voice, ‘I do.'
In the dusky hallway, afterwards, she put her arms lightly upon his shoulders and kissed him.
‘Good-by, Uncle Todie,’ she whispered. ‘Promise now you won’t forget me.’
He only nodded his head in answer, while two great tears trickled down upon his cheeks.
‘And you know how ma and granny will be expectin’ you to drop in often of an evening. Don’t forget, now!’
A taxicab was in waiting at the steps of the parish house. Rosie’s husband, a blond, broad-shouldered game-warden, handed her in, entered, and they were off for the boat. Mrs. Dale went home by a cross-town car; and Todie set out afoot in the direction of Mrs. Curring’s.
He walked as if only half awake, stumbling against the curbing in his great creaking boots. Arrived finally at his destination, he retired to the sub-basement and changed his clothes. When he quitted the house, a full hour before the end of the afternoon, he had a bundle under his arm.
Three days passed, and nothing was seen of him. Mrs. Curring had not yet secured a domestic. She was in despair. The whole house was topsyturvy. The furnace and the kitchen stove were clogged with ashes. The hall-rug sent out a cloud of dust wherever you stepped on it.
‘Was ever an honest woman in such a plight!’ cried Mrs. Curring, ready to drop with fatigue, and thinking with horror of the great pile of unwashed dishes that waited in the kitchen.
And then the basement bell gave a feeble, apologetic, well-remembered ring. She flew to the door; and there in the area-way stood poor Todie, bleary-eyed, dejected, penitent.
‘Oh, Todie!’ was all she said.
She opened the gate; he shuffled into the kitchen, and went silently about his work.
The old order, which had changed for six months and two weeks, had been restored again. Domestics came and went at Mrs. Curring’s — black Susie, English Bess, Irish Maggie — and Todie continued to be faithful, as of yore, after his fashion. His feet clung to beaten tracks, never seeking the West Side. At half-past five every day he received two sandwiches and twenty cents from Mrs. Curring; and she earnestly prayed, and with reason, that none of the lodgers would be generous to Todie.
So a year and something more passed, and one day a letter arrived bearing an English stamp, and addressed to Mr. Todie Love. He tore it open with trembling fingers, gazed at the neat, copybook chirography with vain longing, and handed it, with a sigh, to Mrs. Curring.
‘I reckon it’s too long words for the likes of me,’ he remarked. ‘Be it from little Rosie?’
‘Yes, that it is, and none other,’ declared Mrs. Curring, as she opened the folded sheet. ‘And see, Todie, here’s a little home-made photo. Well, as I ’m alive, if it ain’t little Rosie herself — and a baby!’
He snatched the picture from her, and pored over it with blind eyes, while Mrs. Curring read aloud the prim little missive, the sender of which, it appeared, had taken her pen in hand to say that she was enjoying excellent health; also that her husband was well; and that she hoped her old Uncle Todie was in good health, and would he remember her, please, very respectfully, to Mrs. Curring. There was little else in the letter, saving only the important announcement of the arrival, eight weeks since, of the first baby, ‘which at present writing weighs 12½ lbs.’
But when Mrs. Curring went out into the furnace-room an hour later to see whatever had become of poor Todie, she found him on the bench against the wall, with the letter in one hand, and the photograph in the other, still face to face, blindly, with the riddle of human things.