Wanted-A Match Maker
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Evidently Miss Durant was bored by people, and this to those experienced in the world should be proof that Miss Durant was, in fact, badly bored by herself. One consequence of her escape, however, was that the girl remained with an hour which must be got through with in some manner, and so, in a voice totally without desire or eagerness, she said, "The Park, Wallace;" and in the Park some fifty minutes were spent, her greatest variation from the monotony of the wonted and familiar roads being an occasional nod of the head to people driving or riding, with a glance at those with each, or at the costumes they wore.
It was with a distinct note of anticipation in her voice, therefore, that Miss Durant finally ordered, "Home, now, Murdock;" and, if the truth were to be told, the chill in her hands and feet, due to the keen November cold, with a mental picture of the blazing wood fire of her own room, and of the cup of tea that would be drank in front of it, was producing almost the first pleasurable prospect of the day to her.
Seemingly the coachman was as eager to be in-doors as his mistress, for he whipped up the horses, and the carriage was quickly crossing the plaza and speeding down the avenue. Though the street was crowded with vehicles and pedestrians, the growing darkness put an end to Miss Durant's nods of recognition, and she leaned back, once more buried in her own thoughts. At Forty-second Street she was sharply recalled from whatever her mind was dwelling upon by a sudden jar, due to the checking of the carriage, and simultaneously with it came the sound of crashing of glass and splintering of wood.
So abrupt was the halt that Miss Durant was pitched forward, and as she put out her hand to save herself from being thrown into the bottom of the brougham, she caught a moment's glimpse of a ragged boy close beside her window, and heard, even above the hurly-burly of the pack of carriages and street-crossers, his shrill cry,—.
There the words ended, for the distraught horses shied backwards and sideways, and the fore wheel, swung outwards by the sharp turn, struck the little fellow and threw him down. Miss Durant attempted a warning cry, but it was too late; and even as it rang out, the carriage gave a jolt and then a jar as it passed over the body. Instantly came a dozen warning shouts and shrieks and curses, and the horses reared and plunged wildly, with the new fright of something under their feet. White with terror, the girl caught at the handle, but she did no more than throw open the door, for, as if they sprang from the ground, a crowd of men were pressing about the brougham.
All was confusion for a moment; then the tangle of vehicles seemed to open out and the mob of people, struggling and gesticulating, fell back before a policeman while another, aided by some one, caught the heads of the two horses, just as the footman drew out from under their feet into the cleared space something which looked like a bundle of rags and newspapers.
Thinking of nothing save that limp little body, Miss Durant sprang out, and kneeling beside it, lifted the head gently into her lap, and smoothed back from the pallid face the unkempt hair. An', indeed, Miss Constance, it wasn't Murdock's fault. Dipping her fingers into it, she rubbed them across the mouth and forehead; then, raising the head with one of her arms, she parted the lips and poured a few drops between them.
Wallace, give them one of my cards from the case in the carriage. The officer took the bit of pasteboard and looked at it. The two big men in uniform lifted the urchin as if he were without weight, and laid him as gently as might be on the seat of the brougham. This done, the roundsman dropped the small front seat, helped Miss Durant in, and once she was seated upon it, took his place beside her. The sergeant closed the door, gave an order to the coachman, and, wheeling about, the carriage turned up the avenue, followed by the eyes of the crowd and by a trail of the more curious.
She did not resume her seat, but kept her arm about the boy, in an attempt to render his position easier. It was a wizened, pinched little face she gazed down at, and now the mouth was drawn as if there was physical suffering, even in the unconsciousness. Neither head nor hands had apparently ever known soap, but the dirt only gave picturesqueness, and, indeed, to Miss Durant an added pathos; and the tears came into her eyes as she noted that under the ragged coat was only a flimsy cotton shirt, so bereft of buttons that the whole chest was exposed to the cold which but a little while before the girl, clad in furs and sheltered by the carriage, had yet found so nipping.
She raised her free hand and laid it gently on the exposed breast, and slightly shivered as she felt how little warmth there was. The weight, or the second dose of the stimulant, had an effect, for Miss Durant felt the body quiver, and then the eyes unclosed.
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At first they apparently saw nothing, but slowly the dulness left them, and they, and seemingly the whole face, sharpened into comprehension, and then, as they fastened on the blue coat of the policeman, into the keenest apprehension. The eyes of the boy turned to hers, and the face lost some of its fright and suspicion. The look of hope and pride faded out of the boy's face. Suddenly the expression of alarm reappeared in his face. She reached back of her and took her purse from the rack, and as well as she could with her one hand opened it. The sight of the bills and coin brought doubt to the sceptic.
Dere oin't no crawl in dis? The boy hesitated, and scanned her face, as if he were measuring the girl more than he was his loss. He ain't the kind as sells Posts , an' if he was, he wouldn't have more'n five. I seed de goime youse wuz settin' up right from de start. Out of the purse Constance, with some difficulty, drew a crisp ten-dollar bill, the boy watching the one-handed operation half doubtingly and half eagerly; and when it was finally achieved, at the first movement of her hand toward him, his arm shot out, and the money was snatched, more than taken.
With the quick motion, however, the look of eagerness and joy changed to one of agony; he gave a sharp cry, and, despite the grime, the cheeks whitened perceptibly. He lay quiet for a few breaths; then, as if he feared the sight of the bill might in time tempt a change of mind in the giver, he stole the hand to his trousers pocket and endeavoured to smuggle the money into it, his teeth set, but his lips trembling, with the pain the movement cost him.
Not understanding the fear in the boy's mind, Constance put her free hand down and tried to assist him; but the instant he felt her fingers, his tightened violently. Suttin' easy?
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Well, I guess not! Youse don't get youse pickers in me pocket on dat racket. Her heart wrung with sympathy for him, Miss Durant followed after them into the reception-ward. At the door she hesitated, in doubt as to whether it was right or proper for her to follow, till the sight of a nurse reassured her, and she entered; but her boldness carried her no farther than to stand quietly while the orderlies set down the litter.
Without a moment's delay the nurse knelt beside the boy, and with her scissors began slitting up the sleeves of the tattered coat. Constance came forward and laid her hand on the little fellow's cheek. Reassured, the boy lay quietly while the nurse completed the dismemberment of the ragged coat, the apology for a shirt, and the bit of twine which served in lieu of suspenders.
But the moment she began on the trousers, the wail was renewed. Ah, won't youse—" The words became inarticulate howls which the prayers and assurances of the two women could not lessen. Hopeful that the diversion might mean assistance, the waif's howls once more became lingual. Without the slightest attempt to reassure the boy, the doctor forced loose the boy's hold on the pocket, and inserting his hand, drew out the ten-dollar bill and a medley of small coins.
Just think how we would feel if we didn't understand. The doctor fumbled for his eye-glasses, but not finding them quickly enough, squinted his eyelids in an endeavour to see the speaker. Not giving her time to finish her speech, Dr. Armstrong asked, "Why are you here? Abandoning the search for his glasses, and apparently unheeding of her explanation, the doctor began a hasty examination of the now naked boy, passing his hand over trunk and limbs with a firm touch that paid no heed to the child's outcries, though each turned the onlooker faint and cold.
Her anxiety presently overcoming the sense of rebuke, the overwrought girl asked, "He will live, won't he? The man straightened up from his examination.
Once again Dr. Armstrong began feeling for his glasses, as he asked, "Are you connected with this hospital, Miss Durant? Finally discovering and adjusting his glasses, Dr. Armstrong eyed Miss Durant with a quality of imperturbability at once irritating and embarrassing. If you choose to go with the patient, I trust you will satisfy yourself that no one in this hospital is lacking in duty or kindness.
With a feeling much akin to that she had formerly suffered at the conclusion of her youthful spankings, Constance followed hurriedly after the orderlies, only too thankful that a reason had been given her permitting an escape from those steady eyes and amused accents, which she was still feeling when the litter was set down beside an empty bed. Scarcely was the purse concealed when a nurse appeared with a pail of water and rolls of some cloth, and after her came the doctor.
The boy gave a cry of pain, and clutched Constance's arm, squeezing it so as to almost make her scream; but she set her teeth determinedly and took his other hand in hers.
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At a word the nurse grasped the limb and held it as it was placed, while the doctor took one of the rolls, and, dipping it in the water, unrolled it round and round the leg, with a rapidity and deftness which had, to Constance, a quality of fascination in it. A second wet bandage was wound over the first, then a dry one, and the leg was gently laid back on the litter. His task completed, Dr. Armstrong withdrew the tube and glanced at it. The doctor looked up at Constance with a pleasant smile.
With an acknowledgment of the head, Constance turned and took the boy's hand and said a good-bye. Even a criminal has his pals, but, like the forest animal, everyone—even his own kind—is an enemy to the street waif. The doctor tapped on the window of the lodge. He ordered it to go to the police-station, and got in it. Armstrong looked into her eyes, with an amusement which yet did not entirely obliterate the look of admiration, of which the girl was becoming more and more conscious. Can you tell me the nearest car line which will take me to Washington Square?
I haven't the slightest fear," protested the girl, eager to escape both the observation and the obligation. For a moment Miss Durant vacillated, then, with a very slight inclination of her head, conveying the smallest quantity of consent and acknowledgment she could express, she walked out of the porte-cochere. The doctor put himself beside her, and; they turned down the street, but not one word did she say. Obviously Dr. Armstrong was not disturbed by Miss Durant's programme, for the whole distance was walked in silence; and even when they halted on the corner, he said nothing, though the girl was conscious that his eyes still studied her face.
Her attendant pointed up the street.
I don't know why the intervals are so long this evening. He was interrupted by the girl suddenly clutching at her dress, and then giving an exclamation of real consternation. Constance stopped. Armstrong," she said, "I trust you will not insist on accompanying me farther, when I tell you I haven't the slightest fear of anything. This is no part of the city for you to walk alone in after dark. Your wisest course is to take a car, but if you prefer not, you had best let me go with you.
Armstrong raised his hat. I did not realize that my presence was not desired," he said. Angry at both herself and him, Constance merely bowed, and walked on. Then, as if to salve her conscience of her own hypocrisy, she added, "It really is an advantage to a girl, if she doesn't want to be bothered by men, to be born plain.
The truth of her thought was brought home to her with unexpected suddenness, for as she passed a strip of sidewalk made light by the glare from a saloon brilliant with gas, a man just coming out of its door stared boldly, and then joined her. Constance shrank away from the familiarity with a loathing and fear which, as her persecutor followed, drove her to the curb.
There the sentence ended, for the man was jerked backwards by the collar, and then shot forward, with a shove, full length into the gutter. Armstrong, as the cur picked himself up and slunk away. Armstrong," gasped the girl, her voice trembling. Now, if you'll lend me five cents, I shall be most grateful.