A WEALTHY merchant of Fenchurch Street, lamenting to a confidential friend that his daughter had eloped with one of his footmen, concluded, by saying, Yet I wish to forgive the girl, and receive her husband, as it is now too late to part them. ... Read more of Changing His Coat at Free Jokes.caInformational Site Network Informational
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A Child Of The Rain
A Difficult Problem
A Grammatical Ghost
A Memorable Night
A Mysterious Case
A Mystery With A Moral
A Spectral Collie
A Terribly Strange Bed
American Horses
An Astral Onion
An Intangible Clue
As Told By Mr Gryce
Bourgonef
From The Loom Of The Dead
His Last Bow
Hunted Down
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Melmoth The Wanderer
Missing: Page Thirteen
My Fascinating Friend
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
On The Northern Ice
Problem Ix Violet's Own
Satire Of The Sea
Shall He Wed Her?
Story Of An Obstinate Corpse
Story Of The Vanishing Patient
The Adventure Of Black Peter
The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange
The Adventure Of The Bruce-partington Plans
The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box
The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot
The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
The Adventure Of The Empty House
The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-nez
The Adventure Of The Missing Three-quarter
The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder
The Adventure Of The Priory School
The Adventure Of The Red Circle
The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure Of The Three Students
The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge
The Affair Of The Tortoise
The Avenger
The Birth-mark
The Black Cross
The Box With The Iron Clamps
The Bronze Hand
The Cambered Foot
The Case Of He Golden Bullet
The Case Of Mr Foggatt
The Case Of The Dixon Torpedo
The Case Of The Pocket Diary Found In The Snow
The Case Of The Pool Of Blood In The Pastor's Study
The Case Of The Registered Letter
The Closed Cabinet
The Coin Of Dionysius
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax
The Doctor His Wife And The Clock
The Dreaming Lady
The End Of The Road
The Fortune Teller
The Golden Slipper
The Gray Madam
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Grotto Spectre
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hermit Of Street
The Hole In The Mahogany Panel
The House By The Loch
The House Of Clocks
The House That Was Not
The Incantation
The Jew's Breastplate
The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
The Last Adventure
The Last Exploit Of Harry The Actor
The Lenton Croft Robberies
The Loss Of Sammy Crockett
The Lost Lady
The Lost Room
The Man In The Green Hat
The Mortals In The House
The Mysterious Card
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Old Stone House
The Piano Next Door
The Pumpkin Coach
The Quinton Jewel Affair
The Reward
The Room Of The Evil Thought
The Second Bullet
The Shape Of Fear
The Spread Rails
The Stanway Cameo Mystery
The Thing On The Hearth
The Torture By Hope
The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage
The Wrong Sign
The Yellow Flower
Their Dear Little Ghost

The Shape Of Fear

A Child Of The Rain
A Grammatical Ghost
A Spectral Collie
An Astral Onion
From The Loom Of The Dead
On The Northern Ice
Story Of An Obstinate Corpse
Story Of The Vanishing Patient
The House That Was Not
The Piano Next Door
The Room Of The Evil Thought
The Shape Of Fear
Their Dear Little Ghost



An Astral Onion








WHEN Tig Braddock came to Nora
Finnegan he was red-headed and
freckled, and, truth to tell, he re-
mained with these features to the
end of his life -- a life prolonged by a lucky,
if somewhat improbable, incident, as you shall
hear.

Tig had shuffled off his parents as saurians,
of some sorts, do their skins. During the
temporary absence from home of his mother,
who was at the bridewell, and the more ex-
tended vacation of his father, who, like Vil-
lon, loved the open road and the life of it,
Tig, who was not a well-domesticated animal,
wandered away. The humane society never
heard of him, the neighbors did not miss
him, and the law took no cognizance of this
detached citizen -- this lost pleiad. Tig
would have sunk into that melancholy which
is attendant upon hunger, -- the only form of
despair which babyhood knows, -- if he had
not wandered across the path of Nora Finne-
gan. Now Nora shone with steady brightness
in her orbit, and no sooner had Tig entered
her atmosphere, than he was warmed and com-
forted. Hunger could not live where Nora
was. The basement room where she kept
house was redolent with savory smells; and
in the stove in her front room -- which was
also her bedroom -- there was a bright fire
glowing when fire was needed.

Nora went out washing for a living. But
she was not a poor washerwoman. Not at all.
She was a washerwoman triumphant. She
had perfect health, an enormous frame, an
abounding enthusiasm for life, and a rich
abundance of professional pride. She be-
lieved herself to be the best washer of white
clothes she had ever had the pleasure of
knowing, and the value placed upon her ser-
vices, and her long connection with certain
families with large weekly washings, bore out
this estimate of herself -- an estimate which
she never endeavored to conceal.

Nora had buried two husbands without being
unduly depressed by the fact. The first hus-
band had been a disappointment, and Nora
winked at Providence when an accident in a
tunnel carried him off -- that is to say, carried
the husband off. The second husband was
not so much of a disappointment as a sur-
prise. He developed ability of a literary
order, and wrote songs which sold and made
him a small fortune. Then he ran away with
another woman. The woman spent his fort-
une, drove him to dissipation, and when he
was dying he came back to Nora, who re-
ceived him cordially, attended him to the
end, and cheered his last hours by singing
his own songs to him. Then she raised a
headstone recounting his virtues, which were
quite numerous, and refraining from any
reference to those peculiarities which had
caused him to be such a surprise.

Only one actual chagrin had ever nibbled
at the sound heart of Nora Finnegan -- a
cruel chagrin, with long, white teeth, such
as rodents have! She had never held a child
to her breast, nor laughed in its eyes; never
bathed the pink form of a little son or
daughter; never felt a tugging of tiny hands
at her voluminous calico skirts! Nora had
burnt many candles before the statue of the
blessed Virgin without remedying this deplor-
able condition. She had sent up unavailing
prayers -- she had, at times, wept hot tears of
longing and loneliness. Sometimes in her
sleep she dreamed that a wee form, warm and
exquisitely soft, was pressed against her firm
body, and that a hand with tiniest pink nails
crept within her bosom. But as she reached
out to snatch this delicious little creature
closer, she woke to realize a barren woman's
grief, and turned herself in anguish on her
lonely pillow.

So when Tig came along, accompanied by
two curs, who had faithfully followed him
from his home, and when she learned the
details of his story, she took him in, curs
and all, and, having bathed the three of
them, made them part and parcel of her
home. This was after the demise of the
second husband, and at a time when Nora
felt that she had done all a woman could be
expected to do for Hymen.

Tig was a preposterous baby. The curs
were preposterous curs. Nora had always
been afflicted with a surplus amount of
laughter -- laughter which had difficulty in
attaching itself to anything, owing to the
lack of the really comic in the surroundings
of the poor. But with a red-headed and
freckled baby boy and two trick dogs in the
house, she found a good and sufficient excuse
for her hilarity, and would have torn the
cave where echo lies with her mirth, had that
cave not been at such an immeasurable dis-
tance from the crowded neighborhood where
she lived.

At the age of four Tig went to free kinder-
garten; at the age of six he was in school,
and made three grades the first year and two
the next. At fifteen he was graduated from
the high school and went to work as errand
boy in a newspaper office, with the fixed de-
termination to make a journalist of himself.

Nora was a trifle worried about his morals
when she discovered his intellect, but as time
went on, and Tig showed no devotion for any
woman save herself, and no consciousness
that there were such things as bad boys or
saloons in the world, she began to have con-
fidence. All of his earnings were brought to
her. Every holiday was spent with her. He
told her his secrets and his aspirations. He
admitted that he expected to become a great
man, and, though he had not quite decided
upon the nature of his career, -- saving, of
course, the makeshift of journalism, -- it
was not unlikely that he would elect to be a
novelist like -- well, probably like Thackeray.

Hope, always a charming creature, put on
her most alluring smiles for Tig, and he
made her his mistress, and feasted on the
light of her eyes. Moreover, he was chap-
eroned, so to speak, by Nora Finnegan, who
listened to every line Tig wrote, and made a
mighty applause, and filled him up with good
Irish stew, many colored as the coat of Joseph,
and pungent with the inimitable perfume of
"the rose of the cellar." Nora Finnegan
understood the onion, and used it lovingly.
She perceived the difference between the use
and abuse of this pleasant and obvious friend
of hungry man, and employed it with enthu-
siasm, but discretion. Thus it came about
that whoever ate of her dinners, found the
meals of other cooks strangely lacking in
savor, and remembered with regret the soups
and stews, the broiled steaks, and stuffed
chickens of the woman who appreciated the
onion.

When Nora Finnegan came home with a
cold one day, she took it in such a jocular
fashion that Tig felt not the least concern
about her, and when, two days later, she died
of pneumonia, he almost thought, at first,
that it must be one of her jokes. She had
departed with decision, such as had charac-
terized every act of her life, and had made as
little trouble for others as possible. When
she was dead the community had the oppor-
tunity of discovering the number of her
friends. Miserable children with faces
which revealed two generations of hunger,
homeless boys with vicious countenances,
miserable wrecks of humanity, women with
bloated faces, came to weep over Nora's bier,
and to lay a flower there, and to scuttle away,
more abjectly lonely than even sin could make
them. If the cats and the dogs, the sparrows
and horses to which she had shown kindness,
could also have attended her funeral, the
procession would have been, from a point of
numbers, one of the most imposing the city
had ever known. Tig used up all their sav-
ings to bury her, and the next week, by some
peculiar fatality, he had a falling out with the
night editor of his paper, and was discharged.
This sank deep into his sensitive soul, and
he swore he would be an underling no longer
-- which foolish resolution was directly trace-
able to his hair, the color of which, it will be
recollected, was red.

Not being an underling, he was obliged to
make himself into something else, and he
recurred passionately to his old idea of be-
coming a novelist. He settled down in
Nora's basement rooms, went to work on a
battered type-writer, did his own cooking,
and occasionally pawned something to keep
him in food. The environment was calcu-
lated to further impress him with the idea of
his genius.

A certain magazine offered an alluring prize
for a short story, and Tig wrote one, and
rewrote it, making alterations, revisions, an-
notations, and interlineations which would
have reflected credit upon Honoré Balzac
himself. Then he wrought all together, with
splendid brevity and dramatic force, -- Tig's
own words, -- and mailed the same. He was
convinced he would get the prize. He was
just as much convinced of it as Nora Finne-
gan would have been if she had been with
him.

So he went about doing more fiction, tak-
ing no especial care of himself, and wrapt in
rosy dreams, which, not being warm enough
for the weather, permitted him to come down
with rheumatic fever.

He lay alone in his room and suffered such
torments as the condemned and rheumatic
know, depending on one of Nora's former
friends to come in twice a day and keep up
the fire for him. This friend was aged ten,
and looked like a sparrow who had been in
a cyclone, but somewhere inside his bones
was a wit which had spelled out devotion.
He found fuel for the cracked stove, some-
how or other. He brought it in a dirty sack
which he carried on his back, and he kept
warmth in Tig's miserable body. Moreover,
he found food of a sort -- cold, horrible bits
often, and Tig wept when he saw them,
remembering the meals Nora had served
him.

Tig was getting better, though he was con-
scious of a weak heart and a lamenting
stomach, when, to his amazement, the Spar-
row ceased to visit him. Not for a moment
did Tig suspect desertion. He knew that
only something in the nature of an act of
Providence, as the insurance companies would
designate it, could keep the little bundle of
bones away from him. As the days went by,
he became convinced of it, for no Sparrow
came, and no coal lay upon the hearth. The
basement window fortunately looked toward
the south, and the pale April sunshine was
beginning to make itself felt, so that the tem-
perature of the room was not unbearable. But
Tig languished; sank, sank, day by day, and
was kept alive only by the conviction that the
letter announcing the award of the thousand-
dollar prize would presently come to him.
One night he reached a place, where, for
hunger and dejection, his mind wandered,
and he seemed to be complaining all night
to Nora of his woes. When the chill dawn
came, with chittering of little birds on the
dirty pavement, and an agitation of the
scrawny willow "pussies," he was not able
to lift his hand to his head. The window
before his sight was but "a glimmering
square." He said to himself that the end
must be at hand. Yet it was cruel, cruel,
with fame and fortune so near! If only he
had some food, he might summon strength to
rally -- just for a little while! Impossible that
he should die! And yet without food there
was no choice.

Dreaming so of Nora's dinners, thinking
how one spoonful of a stew such as she often
compounded would now be his salvation, he
became conscious of the presence of a strong
perfume in the room. It was so familiar that
it seemed like a sub-consciousness, yet he
found no name for this friendly odor for a
bewildered minute or two. Little by little,
however, it grew upon him, that it was the
onion -- that fragrant and kindly bulb which
had attained its apotheosis in the cuisine of
Nora Finnegan of sacred memory. He opened
his languid eyes, to see if, mayhap, the plant
had not attained some more palpable mate-
rialization.

Behold, it was so! Before him, in a brown
earthen dish, -- a most familiar dish, -- was an
onion, pearly white, in placid seas of gravy,
smoking and delectable. With unexpected
strength he raised himself, and reached for
the dish, which floated before him in a halo
made by its own steam. It moved toward
him, offered a spoon to his hand, and as he
ate he heard about the room the rustle of
Nora Finnegan's starched skirts, and now and
then a faint, faint echo of her old-time laugh
-- such an echo as one may find of the sea in
the heart of a shell.

The noble bulb disappeared little by little
before his voracity, and in contentment
greater than virtue can give, he sank back
upon his pillow and slept.

Two hours later the postman knocked at the
door, and receiving no answer, forced his
way in. Tig, half awake, saw him enter with
no surprise. He felt no surprise when he put
a letter in his hand bearing the name of the
magazine to which he had sent his short story.
He was not even surprised, when, tearing it
open with suddenly alert hands, he found
within the check for the first prize -- the
check he had expected.

All that day, as the April sunlight spread
itself upon his floor, he felt his strength grow.
Late in the afternoon the Sparrow came back,
paler, and more bony than ever, and sank,
breathing hard, upon the floor, with his sack
of coal.

"I've been sick," he said, trying to smile.
"Terrible sick, but I come as soon as I could."

"Build up the fire," cried Tig, in a voice
so strong it made the Sparrow start as if a
stone had struck him. "Build up the fire,
and forget you are sick. For, by the shade of
Nora Finnegan, you shall be hungry no more!"





Next: From The Loom Of The Dead

Previous: The Piano Next Door



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