Carlisle became conscious of a certain excitement. She hoped very much that they hadn’t read out the names of subscribers yet.
She was late, so there was nobody to show her in. From the sidewalk she stepped under a queer little portico, which seemed to waft one back to a previous century. Here, at the vestibule step, she was obliged to move carefully to avoid treading on two dirty little denizens of the neighborhood, who knew no better than to block the way of the quality. They were little Jew girls,—little Goldnagels, in short,—and while one of them sat and played at jackstones with a flat-looking rubber ball, the other and smaller lay prone upon her stomach, weeping with passionate abandon.
Her agonized wails indicated the end of the world, and worse. Carlisle said kindly:
“What’s the matter, little girl?”
The lamenting one, who was about four years old, rolled around and regarded the lady with a contorted face. Her wails died to a whimper: but then, curiosity satisfied and no solace offering, she burst forth as with an access of mysterious pain.
“Did she hurt herself?” said Carlisle, third-personally, to the elder girl, who had suspended her game to stare wide-eyed. “What on earth is the matter?”
The reply was tragically simple:
“A Lady stepped on her Junebug.”
Sure enough, full on the vestibule floor lay the murdered slumbug, who had too hardily ventured to cross a wealthy benevolent’s path. The string was yet tied to the now futile hind-leg. Carlisle, lingering, repressed her desire to laugh.
“Oh!... Well, don’t you think you could catch her a new one, perhaps?”
“Bopper he mout ketch her a new one mebbe to-morrow, mom.... Hiesh, Rebecca!”
Moved by some impulse in her own buoyant mood, Carlisle touched the littlest girl on the shoulder with a well-gloved finger.
“Here—Rebecca, poor child!... You can buy yourself something better than Junebugs.”
The proprietor of the deceased bug, having raised her damp dark face, ceased crying instantly. Over the astounding windfall the chubby fingers closed with a gesture suggesting generations of acquisitiveness.
“Is it hers to keep?” spoke her aged sister, in a scared voice. “That there’s a dollar, mom.”
“Hers to keep ...” replied the goddess, smiling.
But her speech stopped there, shorn of a donator’s gracious frills, and the smile became somewhat fixed upon the lovely lip....
There had appeared a man’s face at the glass of the old doors, and the lady, straightening benignantly to sweep on to her triumph upstairs, had run suddenly upon his fixed gaze. Nothing, of course, could have been more natural than this man’s appearance there: who upon earth more suitable for door-keeper to the distinguished visitors than he, who had given his office to the Settlement to-day, in lieu of more expensive gifts? Yet by some flashing trick of Carlisle’s imagination, or of his air of immobility, seen darkly through the glass, it was almost as if he might have, been waiting there for her alone....