Read CHAPTER XVIII. of A Tame Surrender‚ A Story of The Chicago Strike , free online book, by Charles King, on

Meantime the little blind god was working a combination of his own.  One stinging wintry evening, when the wind was whistling from the northwest and a cold wave of most approved and vicious pattern had swooped down on Chicago, when the pavements were coated with ice and the populace with extra garments, and the visible features of pedestrians were unbecomingly red, a tall, soldierly-looking man, garbed in furs, was patrolling an up-town street and keeping anxious watch across the way.  He had not promised not to look at her, at all events, and the thought of the fragile form he loved, shivering, possibly, in that bitter blast, had lured him from the Lambert to within sight of the Wellses’ door-way.  The yellow green of the wintry west was fading, the lamps were flickering in the gale, and the electric globes, swinging at the corner, threw black, shifting shadows across the pavement.  The captain gazed wistfully up at a certain window across the way.  She was not yet home, for all there was darkness.  Then he peered along the sidewalk towards the avenue.  A social function of some kind was going on, and a number of carriages were drawn up at the curb near a great stone house that faced the broader and more fashionable thoroughfare to the east, or else were moving slowly up and down, their coachmen thrashing vigorously with their arms to restore circulation in their numbed fingers.  Forrest recognized the once familiar brougham of the Allisons’, and conjectured that Florence, with her now desperately devoted Hubbard, was among the guests.  At the eastward end of the street all was light and bustle, clattering hoofs and slamming carriage-doors.  All to the west was gloom and silence; yet out of that darkness was he looking for the light, the one light, that could bring even momentary gladness to his eyes.  He knew that on certain evenings it was her habit to stop and see how Mart’s little brood was faring, and their new home was on a back street not four blocks distant.  She was later than usual this evening; wondering why, he tramped westward towards the corner.  He heard the swift hoofs of horses coming behind him, and the smooth roll of carriage-wheels.  He saw sudden commotion and excitement among some children issuing from a baker’s shop at the corner, and heard their shrill, eager voices, then the clang of gongs, the louder thunder of galloping hoofs, and the ponderous bounding bulk of a fire-engine as it came tearing down the cross street.  Like a rushing volcano it dashed southward, leaving a trail of sparks and smoke, and then there was sudden warning cry.  Some of the children, unmindful of anything except the engine, had sprung upon the crossing to see it go by, just as the carriage came spinning out from behind them.  The coachman shouted, hauled at his reins, and did his best, but the little ones heard only the thunder in front, and in an instant, though almost sliding on their powerful haunches, John Allison’s beautiful bays dashed through the frightened group, yet not before the alert soldier, with one spring, landed in their midst, brushing them aside, and then, with one shrieking little maid in his arms, went down on the icy pavement in the midst of a tangle of lashing hoofs and struggling, affrighted horses.  How he got out he could not say.  A giant policeman was tugging at his shoulder; ready-handed men were at the horses’ heads, and, breathless, he stood erect, conscious of something wrong in one side, but mainly anxious about the child.  She was picked up, stunned and senseless, and in the white glare of the electric lamp he recognized the features of Mart Wallen’s four-year old Kitty.  A sympathetic crowd had gathered.  A young man poked a silk-hatted head from the carriage-window, and, with a face nearly the color of the Queen chrysanthemum in the lapel of his coat, besought Parks to hang on to his horses.  A surly voice in the crowd said, “Damn your horses, and you too!  If it hadn’t been for this gentleman you’d have killed a dozen of these kids.”  Forrest’s head was beginning to swim, but he took the limp little burden on his left shoulder.  “Let me have her,” he said.  “I know where to take her.  Bring a doctor to Mr. Wells’s at once, please.”  And as he turned away he caught one glimpse of a fair, anxious face peering out across Mr. Hubbard’s elegantly draped shoulder, and found that he could not raise his hand to his fur cap.  “All right, Miss Allison,” he smiled to her reassuringly.  “Drive on.”  And then some one helped him in to Wells’s parlor, and Mrs. Wells came fluttering down, all sympathy and welcome.  Her deft, womanly hands stripped off the cheap hood and coat of the little sufferer; other friendly, sympathetic souls came in to help; and then, feeling oddly faint and queer, Forrest quietly stole away.  Closing the glazed hall door behind him, he paused a moment in the vestibule, finding himself face to face with a slender form at sight of which even then his heart gave one great bound.  Instinctively one arm was outstretched in longing, in greeting, and then at sight of him the form recoiled, and, cold as the biting wind that swept his cheek, he heard the brief sentence, “You have broken your word.”

Bowing his head, conscious of rapidly increasing dizziness, raging at the thought of breaking down before her, yet smarting under the lash of her undeserved rebuke, he pushed blindly by and went forth into the night.  The street was rocking like the steamer of the summer twice gone by as it pitched through the “roaring forties.”  He remembered trying to make his way back towards that corner ­where the horses went down ­there were friends there ­and that big policeman ­he’d help.  The lamp-post leaned over and tapped him hard on top of the head.  He tried to grapple it, but the right arm would not answer.  Then his feet shot out from under him on the icy pavement, and the curb flew up and struck him a violent blow at the base of the skull.

Ten minutes later, as Jeannette Wallen was rejoicing over the returning consciousness of a sorely bumped but otherwise unharmed little maid, and hugging that precious niece to her heart, while the doctor administered a soothing draught, and Mrs. Wells was pulling off the pygmy shoes and stocking, the servant admitted an abashed citizen who faltered at the parlor door and mumbled, “Say, doctor, that gen’l’m’n that saved that little girl must ‘a’ got badly hurt.  He’s lyin’ out here down the street ­senseless ­”

That was all Jeannette heard.  Who caught little Kate was a question the distracted aunt never asked until many a long day after.  Nobody caught her until, a dozen doors away, under the gas-light, in the midst of a little knot of neighbors, a battered, bleeding head was lifted from a rough coat-sleeve, and, folded in the slender, clasping arms of a kneeling girl, was pillowed on the pure heart where the baby curls were nestling but a moment before.

Fractured ribs and collar-bones yield not unreadily to treatment; even fractured skulls have been known to mend; and in a week, though dazed and bewildered, Captain Forrest was convalescing.  Cranston and other fellows from the fort were in frequent attendance.  The army surgeon from head-quarters had been unflagging, and Colonel Kenyon himself was at the railway station when the “Limited” arrived from New York, bringing a much-alarmed mother and sister, who relieved, if they did not entirely replace, certain other nurses at the patient’s bedside.  Upon their arrival, after three days and nights of vigil, Miss Wallen disappeared.  She betook herself to Miss Bonner’s refuge far down town, and just what Mrs. Forrest could have heard from the Cranstons, from her son’s commanding officer, and from the fluent lips of Mrs. Wells, the reader may best conjecture, for it is a recorded fact that no sooner was her son out of all danger and well on the road to recovery than two ladies drove to the south side to seek this modest abode of working-girls and to call in person on Jeannette.

That afternoon came Cary Allison to visit his old friend the captain.  Day after day had the boy been there to inquire, and it was good to see his rejoicing in the mending of the stalwart patient and refreshing to hear his comments on affairs domestic.  Flo and her spoons just made him sick, he said, and the idea of having a Stoughton bottle like that for a brother-in-law was disgusting.  “Why couldn’t he have jumped out and lent a helping hand, instead of sneaking inside the coach and crying at Parks?  Hubbard’s a muff!  I tell Flo he belongs to the family the squash was named for, and I call him Squash, too, and so does pa, though he’s glad enough to rope him in to buying more stocks, I notice.”  It was plain that in Cary’s eyes sister Titania had found her Bottom and was enamoured of an ass.  Brother-like, he had made her wince many and many a time, and now it was Forrest’s turn.

“Say, cap, I do wish you’d come around and cheer the governor up a bit.  He’s been warped all out of shape since the strike, and seems to feel all broke up over home matters, too.  He won’t stay there at all.  The last thing he did was to drive around to Wallen’s and offer him a first-class clerkship, and now he’s rowing with Wells because he won’t let on what’s become of your typewriter.”

His typewriter?  The girl he loved with all the strength of his being, honored and revered and longed to make his wife, ­and the world could speak of her in that loose, pragmatical, possessive, chattel-like way.  His typewriter!  No more his than any man’s who gave her employment.  No longer his, in fact, since he was virtually forbidden her presence.  He who had offered her his hand and name and love was actually of less account in the arrangement of her daily life than any one of the thousands who trod the pavement under her office windows, for they could offer work.  Forrest threw himself back upon his pillow, buried his face in his arms, groaned aloud as the innocent youth went gayly forth into the wintry sunshine, and the doctor and the household of anxious women wondered what had happened to set back their impatient patient.  Could it be, suggested that social prophet, his sister, that he was, after all, really interested in Florence Allison and chagrined at the news of her engagement, now formally announced?  Might it not be, after all, that, as she had originally suggested, his apparent infatuation for Jeannette Wallen was mere sentiment, quixotism, proximity, and that he would speedily recover could they only get him away awhile?  Surely it was worth the trial.  His mother’s health was suffering in the rigors of a Chicago winter.  They had spent three months in St. Augustine each winter for years past, and but for Floyd should be there now.

It was arranged somehow.  He was passive, submissive, indifferent.  He knew nothing of the one wild moment of Jenny’s break-down.  He had never been allowed one hint of where his blessed head had been pillowed that bitter November night.  The girl had pledged her friend to absolute secrecy.  Removed on his convalescence from Wells’s roof to his mother’s rooms at The Virginia, Forrest saw no more of his hostess for several days.  Then, with a three months’ leave on surgeon’s certificate, he was driven, under his mother’s wing, to bid her adieu, and that night they were off for Florida.

“I’ll never forgive him as long as I live,” said Mrs. Wells.  “He never gave me a chance to tell what ­I can’t tell you, Mrs. Cranston, but you know; and those two proud women have just got him between them now, and they’ll never let him out of their leading-strings again.”

“You don’t know him,” said Mrs. Cranston.  “He’ll break the strings and be back, or he isn’t worth another thought of a girl like her.”

But Jenny was not so certain.  Never yet had she had opportunity to unsay the cutting words with which she had met him that bitter night.  Time and again in her heart of hearts had she planned how those unsaying words should be said, and said just as soon as ever he came, but he came rather soon and suddenly.

They were great Christmas farers at Wellses’.  With no children of their own, the sweet holiday season would have lost its sweetest charm but that Jenny was again with them.  They rigged up a lovely Christmas-tree for Mart’s babies, and summoned in sundry little waifs from the neighborhood, and had games and romps and laughter and merry voices.  Later in the week there was a dinner at which the Cranstons and some fort friends appeared; there was a mistletoe bough that night and not a little coquetry and merriment, for Wells had invited the library girls and numerous young men to be present, and the customs of Old England were reproduced with characteristic American exaggeration.  That mistletoe bough remained suspended from its chandelier, a reminder of the joys of the old year, even after ’95 came knocking at the door, and in some odd way a little sprig thereof was found one evening to be clinging to the top of a cabinet photograph of Mr. Forrest which stood on the mantel shelf.

It was a sharp, cold January evening, and Jenny Wallen’s soft cheek was glowing, and her eyes sparkling, as she tripped lightly up the stone steps, let herself into the warm hall-way, and peered into the parlor.  No one was there.  A bright coal fire blazed in the open grate.  The pretty room looked cosy and inviting.  The library beyond ­“Wells’s particular” ­was dark.  Mrs. Wells, said the maid, from the head of the kitchen stairs, had been home, but was gone over to the Lambert to meet Mr. Wells.  So Jenny was alone.  Some women lose courage at such times.  She seemed to gain it.  Drawing off her gloves and throwing aside the heavy cloak, she stood there in front of the blaze, her eyes fixed upon that unconscious portrait, her hands extended over the flames.  What speaking eyes the girl had!  What would be the words the soft, rosy lips were framing?  With all her soul she was gazing straight into that unresponsive, soldierly, handsome face.  With all her heart she was murmuring some inarticulate appeal, lavishing some womanly caresses upon the dumb and senseless picture.  Then the little hands were upraised, and the next instant, frame and all, the shadow was nestled just where the substance had lain, clasped in those encircling arms, long weeks before.  A moment or two it was held there, the sweet face bending over, the soft lips murmuring, crooning to it as a mother might to a precious child, and then it was raised still more, until those lips were pressed upon it long, long, long and fervently.

Then down went everything with a crash.

In striving to explain matters and set himself right in the eyes of his lady-love some hours later, Captain Forrest protested that he had had no intention whatever of spying upon, much less of startling her.  They had speedily discovered at St. Augustine that it was useless trying to bring back this wayward son and brother, a man of thirty-five, to live without the heart so unmistakably in the keeping of the girl he’d left behind.  “I have written to her ­all you could ask, Floyd, my son,” were at last the mother’s words.  “Go, and God bless you.”  And three days later he surprised Mrs. Wells.  “I’ve just got to go out,” said she, after a while, “and you’ve simply got to stay here.  I’ll leave directions that I’m out to everybody, and ­” Then did that designing matron pick up his furs and deposit them ­and him ­in the library.  “You’re to stay here, mind, till I get back.”

“But you didn’t,” interposed his hearer, reproachfully, at this juncture.  “You burst in there like a ­like a tiger, and scared me out of my seven senses.”

“That was entirely your fault.  I was merely trying to escape from the house.  You see when I left Florida you were living, as I supposed, at Miss Bonner’s, and as soon as you came in it was my cue to leave, in view of the ferocity of your remarks the last time we met here.”

“Knowing how I must regret that, you need not have been so precipitate.  It was what I think you gentlemen call a ‘stand-off,’” said she, with a pretty grimace at the slang, “but ­do you always take the roundabout way to reach the door?” Miss Wallen’s lips were twitching with suppressed delight, and Captain Forrest was watching them with ill-suppressed emotion.  He rallied promptly, however.

“Rarely, but in this case I flew ­to pick up the picture you had dropped.”

“Oh, the maid would have done that.  She was promptly on hand.”

“Yes, too promptly.  So promptly as to inspire the belief that she suspected something was on foot when you ­when I ­ By the way, what became of that sprig of potato-vine, or chickweed, or something, that was on top of the frame?  Mrs. Wells missed it as soon as she came in.”

“It fell into the grate, I presume; but it wasn’t chickweed.  There’s more of it if Mrs. Wells needs it,” she added, nodding to the pendent spray beneath the chandelier.  “It doesn’t signify.”

“Oh, I thought it did ­at least I hoped so.  Mistletoe generally does.”

“Not when mistaken for potato-vine,” she answered, yet her eyes were smiling at him.

“Jeannette,” he said, impulsively, his deep voice trembling, as he stood close before her and strove to seize the little hand that was toying at her white, round throat, “mother’s letter must surely be with you by morning.  It is very hard to keep my faith and plead no more until she has pleaded for me.  Must I wait?  Will Miss Bonner bring it to you at once?”

“I ­hardly think so.”

“Then may I not go to-night, if need be, and get it?  It was addressed, you know, to her care.”

“Yes, so I observed.”

“Jenny!  Then you have it?  You have read what she says?  Oh, my darling!  Then ­”

And what imploring love was in those soft, brown eyes of his!  What tenderness and longing and passion in the outstretched arms!  She looked shyly up at him, trembling in spite of herself, but not yet yielding.

“You know I’ve had no time to more than glance at it,” she said.  “I had hoped to read it this evening, but, you see, visitors came in.  I must read it all carefully to-morrow.”

“Ah,” he said, “you have me at your mercy.  You wrung those promises from me, and now ­” She backed away from him a bit, he looked so fiercely reproachful, but he followed.  She upheld her hands in warning, and he strove to seize them, but they evaded him.

“You are proud, stern, unyielding,” he said at last, and turned half helplessly away, then caught sight of the feathery spray now almost over her bonny, curly head.  “If it were only Christmas time again!  I’d claim the privilege of the mistletoe.”

The room was very still a moment.  She stood there with bounding, throbbing heart, her swimming eyes fixed on his strong, soldierly face, so powerful in its pleading, so helpless through his pledge.  She saw that he would not break his promise, yet that her lightest word, her faintest signal, would unchain him.  She saw even in the sterner lines about his forehead something of the look of utter weariness and defeat that hovered there the night they bore the senseless burden within those very doors, and in one great wave of tenderness, of answering love and joy and longing, the woman in her triumphed at last.

Only like a whisper, so soft, so tremulous was her voice, the needed words were spoken: 

“Is it potent ­only at Christmas?”

But he heard, and sprang to her and caught her in his arms.  Little heroine though she was, what a tame surrender after all!