Tag/Chapter VII

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Chapter VII

The street piano, as if obedient to the desires of Josephine, moved away as they neared it, and Bateese, now imbued with the spirit of adventure, trotted in pursuit as briskly as his companion. When the instrument at length stopped to favour passers-by with “The Good Old Summer Time,” it was quite out of sight of the police station, so the children followed dulcet strains from street to street until, having heard the entire repertoire many times, and finding pavements hard for small feet, their interest in music flagged and Josephine again remembered they were a persecuted pair fleeing from cruel tyrants and dungeon cells. She decided they must go on turning more corners, more and more, until they reached a place she had heard of where the grass grew all by itself and you could walk on it if you liked. There could be no policemen there, as they only go to grassy places to catch people who don’t stay on the paths. This she explained to Bateese, who failed to enthuse. He liked the grass of course, but when you have always lived “on de contree” freedom is not appreciated at its true worth and he did not understand the excessive advantages of places where people could wander from the beaten way. He answered stolidly,

“I go ’ome, Jos’phine. It maks de tam for dejeuner. Bateese ’ongry an’ Cairlo ’ongry too—pouvre Cairlo!—’Ome, Jos’phine.”

“You’re always thinkin’ of your dinner, Bateese. Greedy little thing, you are. Very well then, (giving him a push), go home, an’ you'll see they'll beat you an’ won’t give you any dinner at all.”

Bateese stood dismayed. His round eyes slowly filled with tears and the heart of Josephine melted within her.

“See, Bateese,” she said coaxingly, “Josephine got a copper here” (exhibiting the nobbly corner of a pale gray pocket handkerchief). “You know them buns with the sugar on top an’ currants on the bottom? —Um!” Josephine smacked her lips with imaginary gusto.

“Um!” smacked Bateese in response, his face alight with the joy of anticipation.

“Well, I guess there is a place round here we can get ’em. Come on.” So again did Eve tempt and Adam fall by the sin of greed.

And it was while in search of the delectable bun that they saw the glittering lady. The street they were in was dirty and narrow, but a sunbeam had found its way there and lighted up the glittering one as a beacon warning them of the end of their quest.
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She stood at the door of a shop and her hair was very gold. The sunshine twinkled on the diamond “drops” in her ample ears, on a diamond brooch at her throat, and fairly danced a mad jig over the dark bejewelled fingers resting on her broad hips. As they stopped to gaze upon her with awe, she smiled largely at them and the sun made new lights on the gold in her teeth.

The children thought her dazzlingly beautiful. Josephine even placed her above the carriage lady of Riverside Drive. There was more of her and she looked gayer somehow.

Bateese was the first to speak.

“Dis is Jos’phine,” he said. politely with his beaming smile, “she go to buy the bun on me.”

The lady did not appear as much struck with the matter as the manner of the speech.

“Say, wot kind of a lingo do you call dat anyhow?’ she said, almost to herself.

The children smiled ingratiatingly.

“Abe,” she called back over her shoulder. “Cut out yer cash-book an’ come an’ git a free look at de circus.”

A moment later a shuffling figure appeared from the dim background of the shop and stood, hook-nosed and loose-lipped, beside the fair one.

“Dat’s Jos’phine,”’ said the lady, pointing a shining finger, “an’ de heaven knows w’at dat is wit her—talks kinda dago, but ’tain’t dago an’—Good Lord! Look at de purp! Say, ain’t he de French poodle fer your life! How’d you like to see yer wife goin’ up Fi’t Avenoo wit dat on de end of a chain—eh?”

With the quick instinct of childhood to resent ridicule, Josephine and Bateese had drawn closer together and were about to move timidly on. A hurried whispering ensued between Abe and his wife, in which she was told to “quit her kiddin’ an’ look at de clothes on de fat one.” “Lost, strayed or stolen, liberal reward. Git wise, Ella, git wise.” And Ella, being no fool, took the cue and changed her tactics.

“Jos’phine,” she called in honeyed accents, “Come here, Jos’phine, till I tell youse ‘someting.”

The children hesitated but were won by the next overture.

“What was dat you was sayin’ about buns? Why, if it’s buns youse is lookin’ fer, we got "em by de dozen. (Abe! Skate round to Grostein’s and git some copper buns quick.) An’ milk too, fresh from de cow.”

So with smiles and seductive promises, she lured them to her, and they were only too glad to rest in the cool back room while she set a small table for them. It all seemed very grand to Josephine, and when many buns and much milk had been consumed and Bateese and Cairlo were slumbering peacefully on the floor together, she related a weird tale of midnight drives in hansom cabs, pursuit by the police, capture and hairbreadth escapes. Her hostess, after listening politely to the end, merely asked if she ever tried “lying on her side so she wouldn’t dream.”

About eleven a.m. the wife of Abraham’s bosom suddenly swooped down upon him in his little money cage. She had a dandy idea. He was not surprised. She was always having them. People had said he was a fool to marry Ella when she was as crooked as a tenement stair, but no one ever denied she was smart. Oh, Ella was smart all right, and, after all, that is what really counts when you want some one to help build up the business. As she unfolded this plan, which proved to be a new advertising scheme, the expression of Abraham’s face changed from indifference to dawning interest and finally to enthusiasm.

“But ’spose the cops come nosin’ round,” he objected.

“Bah!” said Ella, “Our man’s fixed all right, all right, an’ if a strange one butts in, why, how do we know de kids wasn’t sent reg’lar? We're rentin’ ’em by de day from a man named Brown livin’ somewheres on de Bowery. —Dat’ll keep ’em busy. If that don’t go, ther dad pawned ’em w’en he was on a booze an’ didn’t call in, so we’ve got ther keep to make up. Oh, buck up, Abe! It'll go all right, an’ I'll bet youse have a hunderd people lookin’ inside of a minute. I'll go an’ get de fixins now.”

Abraham’s slower mind was swept along by the impetuosity of his bride, and a few moments later he was busy clearing a shop window of its heterogeneous mass of pledges. Guns, mandolins, watches, a wee pair of shoes once very blue and gladsome, a string of wedding rings—all were consigned to back regions, and a pair of turkey red curtains were suspended across the window and tastefully draped back on either side. A trip to a neighbour procured a small red table and two small red chairs to match, and when these were in place between the curtains the worker stood back to invite admiring comments from the instigator of the scene.

“Heavenly day!” exclaimed that lady. “What an ass you are, Abraham! Where is the tea? And the sign? Hustle now. I’ve got the goyle half dressed an’ she'll look great. I wish her legs wasn’t so skinny though. Don’t say anythin’ about the stuff bein’ nourishin’. She don’t look it.”

As she flew to the back room Abraham brought forth two large and dusty chests of tea from under a counter and wiped them off carefully. They had been left as pledges years before, and stood as a monument of the one occasion on which he had been “done.” Originally there had been a third canister, the contents of which he had sold to neighbours, thereby gaining enmity for several blocks. Even the Bowery, not too delicate in its tastes, could not stand that stuff. You could put a pound in a small pot, and when it had drawn well you would think you were drinking contaminated hot water. It was taking chances trying to foist it on the public again, but Ella had decided they were to move uptown in a month, so it was worth while to make a last attempt. One chest was placed by the window with a curtain end draped carelessly about it, and above it was hung a sign upon which Abraham had _ laboriously printed, “Try our celebrated Bull Dog Tea. So strong a pinch is as good as a pound, yet so wholesome a child can drink it. It gets a grip on you.

Then Ella came forth triumphant, leading by the hand a strange and radiant creature. It appeared to have many legs and arms and much hair, all set off by a scanty supply of crushed pink tarleton. On closer inspection it proved to be Josephine, her eyes ablaze with the excitement of the adventure and the delicious feel of real wavy hair flowing free.

Abraham was dubious about her. “Say, she looks kinda like a blushin’ spider,” he commented.

Ella frowned warningly. “She looks like a real princess,” she declared. Adding aside, “Dat was de only t’ing in de shop dat would fit ’ceptin’ a nun’s rig, an’ de Bowery would a t’rowed a fit if it'd seen a blessed sister sittin’ in dis window. De boy’ll have to do like he is. Looks kinda cute anyhow.”

Josephine was jumping with eagerness to begin the play-acting, and as Bateese was cheerfully acquiescent as usual, there was no difficulty in seating them in the window, one on each side of the table whereon Ella had placed a small tea-pot, sugar bowl, cream jug, cups, saucers, plates and (a special inducement to Bateese) a plentiful supply of currant cake. When Cairlo had been coaxed to the foreground and made to lie still, all was complete. From the sidewalk the scene presented was that of a flighty ballet dancer of tender years affectedly sipping afternoon tea opposite a round-eyed small boy in conventional tweed jacket and knickers while a forbidding bull dog crouched at their feet, his heavy jowl resting on his paws. It was a novel spectacle even for the East Side, accustomed as it is to the bizarre and unusual. That it was appreciated was obvious from the group which soon gathered about the window and exchanged gibes and comments. “Another of dem millyunaires gone wrong,” exclaimed one man,
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whereupon his companion stuck his head in at the door and bawled “Call off yer chorus lady, Abe! She’s too many fer his yout’ an’ innercence.”

“Aw, go on,” cried Ella, in quick retort, “He'll sic de bull dog on her if she gits too gay.

These pleasantries put the increasing crowd in high good humour, and from entering to “josh wit’ Abe’s Ella” they ended by buying the tea, “jest to test de grip.” So it went on all afternoon, and by five o’clock the second tea chest was almost empty. Josephine was keeping up bravely, though feeling a little damp inside from the amount of hot water she had imbibed; Bateese had ceased to ask her if she was going to bed because most of her clothes were off, or to worry her, wanting to know if she were not “col’ on de laig.” He had sunk into a state of apathy, unmindful of the crowd which had at first frightened him, and remembering only that, once before, he had eaten too largely of rich confections and not felt “ver’ ’appy en bas.” Cairlo had enjoyed a good dinner, his beloved master was near and he was content. All was thus quiet in the window and Ella was regaling a select group over the counter with an imitation of Bateese’ dialect, quite unconscious that it did not differ so very widely from her own language of the Bowery. Her spirited account of the “chain bool dog” was interrupted by the entrance of a tall man who, looking over the heads of her admirers, said casually,

“Hello, Ella. Doin’ a music hall turn?”

The woman paled a little and hesitated for an answer, her eyes held by those of the newcomer. The tall man laughed.

“Where’s Abe?” he asked.

“Out,” was the laconic reply, scarcely uttered when a thick voice was heard remonstrating, “No, no, I’ll not advance one d—— cent. It’s not worth it, I tell youse.”

The stranger winked slowly and made his way in the direction of the sound.

Ella became absent minded, and having failed to rouse her to reply to several sallies, the circle about the counter slowly edged off into the street. As the last one left she locked the shop door after him and hastened to a compartment in the rear. Here, as she expected, she found Abraham in conference with the tall visitor. As she entered her husband was saying in a whining singsong,

“So de kid’s dad got on a jag an’ come here an’ he says he had no food fer ’em ner room ner nothin’, an’ I says, jokin’, ‘Better pawn ’em,’ I says. ‘I'll advance youse five dollars on ’em, seein’ they’re healthy,’ I says, an’ he took me up right off, an’ so as I ain’t never gone back on me business word yet, I—”

His listener was grinning delightedly when Ella broke in.

“Cut it out, Abe, cut it out! It’s Ted Burns. He’s on to de racket good an’ plenty. Well, (turning defiantly to the detective), wat are you goin’ to do about it? We ain’t hurt de kids none. Dey come up to me so tame dey eat out of me hand inside of fifteen minutes. De boy’s so full of cake he can’t hardly move, an’ de goyle tinks she’s de star of de Metropolitan drawin’ a tousand dollars a night—Wat’s wrong?”

“Why don’t you teach yer dinky husband to quit lying?” asked Mr. Burns. “He don’t do it artistic an’ he ain’t like you. He can’t see when the truth is goin’ to be best fer his health.” He rose lazily and laughed. “Oh, well, Ella, old girl, considering you’ve put me on to one or two little things in your time, I ain’t goin’ to git malicious. The kids is well an’ happy, so I’ll jest ask you to ring down the curtain on the melodrama an’ put a few more clothes on the heroine, then I’ll restore "em to anxious relatives and git a blessin’.”

Much relieved, Ella flashed a golden smile. “Say, Ted, —didn’t she look a_bloomin’ show! A guy on de street yells in to Abe, ‘Call off yer chorus lady!’ he says. It’s been bigger an’ better’n Coney Island, an’ me old man’s got a lame wrist shovellin’ out de celebrated Bull Dog Tea.” She went off in great good humour to lower the window blind in the face of a disappointed group of loungers and whisk the children off to prepare them for speedy departure. A few moments later a cab left the door, containing Mr. Burns in charge of a sleepy small boy, phlegmatic dog and wiry little girl, whose floating frizzled hair was all that was left to remind her of the glory of an hour gone by.