A Child Of The Rain





IT was the night that Mona Meeks,

the dressmaker, told him she

didn't love him. He couldn't

believe it at first, because he had

so long been accustomed to the idea that she

did, and no matter how rough the weather or

how irascible the passengers, he felt a song

in his heart as he punched transfers, and rang

his bell punch, and signalled the driver when

to let people off and on.



Now, suddenly, with no reason except a

woman's, she had changed her mind. He

dropped in to see her at five o'clock, just

before time for the night shift, and to give

her two red apples he had been saving for her.

She looked at the apples as if they were in-

visible and she could not see them, and stand-

ing in her disorderly little dressmaking parlor,

with its cuttings and scraps and litter of fab-

rics, she said:



"It is no use, John. I shall have to work

here like this all my life -- work here alone.

For I don't love you, John. No, I don't. I

thought I did, but it is a mistake."



"You mean it?" asked John, bringing up

the words in a great gasp.



"Yes," she said, white and trembling and

putting out her hands as if to beg for his

mercy. And then -- big, lumbering fool --

he turned around and strode down the stairs

and stood at the corner in the beating rain

waiting for his car. It came along at length,

spluttering on the wet rails and spitting out

blue fire, and he took his shift after a

gruff "Good night" to Johnson, the man he

relieved.



He was glad the rain was bitter cold and

drove in his face fiercely. He rejoiced at

the cruelty of the wind, and when it hustled

pedestrians before it, lashing them, twisting

their clothes, and threatening their equilib-

rium, he felt amused. He was pleased at

the chill in his bones and at the hunger that

tortured him. At least, at first he thought it

was hunger till he remembered that he had

just eaten. The hours passed confusedly.

He had no consciousness of time. But it

must have been late, -- near midnight, --

judging by the fact that there were few per-

sons visible anywhere in the black storm,

when he noticed a little figure sitting at the

far end of the car. He had not seen the

child when she got on, but all was so curious

and wild to him that evening -- he himself

seemed to himself the most curious and the

wildest of all things -- that it was not surpris-

ing that he should not have observed the little

creature.



She was wrapped in a coat so much too

large that it had become frayed at the bottom

from dragging on the pavement. Her hair

hung in unkempt stringiness about her bent

shoulders, and her feet were covered with

old arctics, many sizes too big, from which

the soles hung loose.



Beside the little figure was a chest of dark

wood, with curiously wrought hasps. From

this depended a stout strap by which it could

be carried over the shoulders. John Billings

stared in, fascinated by the poor little thing

with its head sadly drooping upon its breast,

its thin blue hands relaxed upon its lap, and

its whole attitude so suggestive of hunger,

loneliness, and fatigue, that he made up his

mind he would collect no fare from it.



"It will need its nickel for breakfast," he

said to himself. "The company can stand

this for once. Or, come to think of it, I

might celebrate my hard luck. Here's to the

brotherhood of failures!" And he took a

nickel from one pocket of his great-coat and

dropped it in another, ringing his bell punch

to record the transfer.



The car plunged along in the darkness, and

the rain beat more viciously than ever in his

face. The night was full of the rushing sound

of the storm. Owing to some change of tem-

perature the glass of the car became obscured

so that the young conductor could no longer

see the little figure distinctly, and he grew

anxious about the child.



"I wonder if it's all right," he said to him-

self. "I never saw living creature sit so still."



He opened the car door, intending to speak

with the child, but just then something went

wrong with the lights. There was a blue and

green flickering, then darkness, a sudden halt-

ing of the car, and a great sweep of wind and

rain in at the door. When, after a moment,

light and motion reasserted themselves, and

Billings had got the door together, he turned

to look at the little passenger. But the car

was empty.



It was a fact. There was no child there --

not even moisture on the seat where she had

been sitting.



"Bill," said he, going to the front door and

addressing the driver, "what became of that

little kid in the old cloak?"



"I didn't see no kid," said Bill, crossly.

"For Gawd's sake, close the door, John, and

git that draught off my back."



"Draught!" said John, indignantly, "where's

the draught?"



"You've left the hind door open," growled

Bill, and John saw him shivering as a blast

struck him and ruffled the fur on his bear-skin

coat. But the door was not open, and yet

John had to admit to himself that the car

seemed filled with wind and a strange

coldness.



However, it didn't matter. Nothing mat-

tered! Still, it was as well no doubt to look

under the seats just to make sure no little

crouching figure was there, and so he did.

But there was nothing. In fact, John said to

himself, he seemed to be getting expert in

finding nothing where there ought to be some-

thing.



He might have stayed in the car, for there

was no likelihood of more passengers that

evening, but somehow he preferred going out

where the rain could drench him and the

wind pommel him. How horribly tired he

was! If there were only some still place away

from the blare of the city where a man could

lie down and listen to the sound of the sea

or the storm -- or if one could grow suddenly

old and get through with the bother of living

-- or if --



The car gave a sudden lurch as it rounded

a curve, and for a moment it seemed to be

a mere chance whether Conductor Billings

would stay on his platform or go off under

those fire-spitting wheels. He caught in-

stinctively at his brake, saved himself, and

stood still for a moment, panting.



"I must have dozed," he said to himself.



Just then, dimly, through the blurred win-

dow, he saw again the little figure of the

child, its head on its breast as before, its

blue hands lying in its lap and the curious

box beside it. John Billings felt a coldness

beyond the coldness of the night run through

his blood. Then, with a half-stifled cry, he

threw back the door, and made a desperate

spring at the corner where the eerie thing

sat.



And he touched the green carpeting on the

seat, which was quite dry and warm, as if no

dripping, miserable little wretch had ever

crouched there.



He rushed to the front door.



"Bill," he roared, "I want to know about

that kid."



"What kid?"



"The same kid! The wet one with the old

coat and the box with iron hasps! The one

that's been sitting here in the car!"



Bill turned his surly face to confront the

young conductor.



"You've been drinking, you fool," said he.

"Fust thing you know you'll be reported."



The conductor said not a word. He went

slowly and weakly back to his post and stood

there the rest of the way leaning against the

end of the car for support. Once or twice

he muttered:



"The poor little brat!" And again he

said, "So you didn't love me after all!"



He never knew how he reached home, but

he sank to sleep as dying men sink to death.

All the same, being a hearty young man, he

was on duty again next day but one, and

again the night was rainy and cold.



It was the last run, and the car was spin-

ning along at its limit, when there came a

sudden soft shock. John Billings knew what

that meant. He had felt something of the

kind once before. He turned sick for a

moment, and held on to the brake. Then

he summoned his courage and went around

to the side of the car, which had stopped.

Bill, the driver, was before him, and had a

limp little figure in his arms, and was carry-

ing it to the gaslight. John gave one look

and cried:



"It's the same kid, Bill! The one I told

you of!"



True as truth were the ragged coat dangling

from the pitiful body, the little blue hands,

the thin shoulders, the stringy hair, the big

arctics on the feet. And in the road not far

off was the curious chest of dark wood with

iron hasps.



"She ran under the car deliberate!" cried

Bill. "I yelled to her, but she looked at me

and ran straight on!"



He was white in spite of his weather-beaten

skin.



"I guess you wasn't drunk last night after

all, John," said he.



"You -- you are sure the kid is -- is there?"

gasped John.



"Not so damned sure!" said Bill.



But a few minutes later it was taken away

in a patrol wagon, and with it the little box

with iron hasps.





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