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!"





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