The May moon shone bright upon the private boarding-house of Mrs.
Murphy. By reference to the almanac a large amount of territory will
be discovered upon which its rays also fell. Spring was in its
heydey, with hay fever soon to follow. The parks were green with new
leaves and buyers for the Western and Southern trade. Flowers and
summer-resort agents were blowing; the air and answers to Lawson were
growing milder; handorgans, fountains and pinochle were playing
The windows of Mrs. Murphy's boarding-house were open. A group of
boarders were seated on the high stoop upon round, flat mats like
In one of the second-floor front windows Mrs. McCaskey awaited her
husband. Supper was cooling on the table. Its heat went into Mrs.
At nine Mr. McCaskey came. He carried his coat on his arm and his
pipe in his teeth; and he apologised for disturbing the boarders on
the steps as he selected spots of stone between them on which to set
his size 9, width Ds.
As he opened the door of his room he received a surprise. Instead of
the usual stove-lid or potato-masher for him to dodge, came only
Mr. McCaskey reckoned that the benign May moon had softened the
breast of his spouse.
"I heard ye," came the oral substitutes for kitchenware. "Ye can
apollygise to riff-raff of the streets for settin' yer unhandy feet
on the tails of their frocks, but ye'd walk on the neck of yer wife
the length of a clothes-line without so much as a 'Kiss me fut,' and
I'm sure it's that long from rubberin' out the windy for ye and the
victuals cold such as there's money to buy after drinkin' up yer
wages at Gallegher's every Saturday evenin', and the gas man here
twice to-day for his."
"Woman!" said Mr. McCaskey, dashing his coat and hat upon a chair,
"the noise of ye is an insult to me appetite. When ye run down
politeness ye take the mortar from between the bricks of the
foundations of society. 'Tis no more than exercisin' the acrimony
of a gentleman when ye ask the dissent of ladies blockin' the way
for steppin' between them. Will ye bring the pig's face of ye out
of the windy and see to the food?"
Mrs. McCaskey arose heavily and went to the stove. There was
something in her manner that warned Mr. McCaskey. When the corners
of her mouth went down suddenly like a barometer it usually foretold
a fall of crockery and tinware.
"Pig's face, is it?" said Mrs. MeCaskey, and hurled a stewpan full of
bacon and turnips at her lord.
Mr. McCaskey was no novice at repartee. He knew what should follow
the entree. On the table was a roast sirloin of pork, garnished with
shamrocks. He retorted with this, and drew the appropriate return of
a bread pudding in an earthen dish. A hunk of Swiss cheese
accurately thrown by her husband struck Mrs. McCaskey below one eye.
When she replied with a well-aimed coffee-pot full of a hot, black,
semi-fragrant liquid the battle, according to courses, should have
But Mr. McCaskey was no 50-cent ~table d'hoter~. Let cheap Bohemians
consider coffee the end, if they would. Let them make that ~faux
pas~. He was foxier still. Finger-bowls were not beyond the compass
of his experience. They were not to be had in the Pension Murphy;
but their equivalent was at hand. Triumphantly he sent the granite-
ware wash basin at the head of his matrimonial adversary. Mrs.
McCaskey dodged in time. She reached for a flatiron, with which, as
a sort of cordial, she hoped to bring the gastronomical duel to a
close. But a loud, wailing scream downstairs caused both her and Mr.
McCaskey to pause in a sort of involuntary armistice.
On the sidewalk at the corner of the house Policeman Cleary was
standing with one ear upturned, listening to the crash of household
"'Tis Jawn McCaskey and his missis at it again," meditated the
policeman. "I wonder shall I go up and stop the row. I will not.
Married folks they are; and few pleasures they have. 'Twill not last
long. Sure, they'll have to borrow more dishes to keep it up with."
And just then came the loud scream below-stairs, betokening fear or
dire extremity. "'Tis probably the cat," said Policeman Cleary, and
walked hastily in the other direction.
The boarders on the steps were fluttered. Mr. Toomey, an insurance
solicitor by birth and an investigator by profession, went inside to
analyse the scream. He returned with the news that Mrs. Murphy's
little boy, Mike, was lost. Following the messenger, out bounced
Mrs. Murphy--two hundred pounds in tears and hysterics, clutching the
air and howling to the sky for the loss of thirty pounds of freckles
and mischief. Bathos, truly; but Mr. Toomey sat down at the side of
Miss Purdy, millinery, and their hands came together in sympathy.
The two old maids, Misses Walsh, who complained every day about the
noise in the halls, inquired immediately if anybody had looked behind
Major Grigg, who sat by his fat wife on the top step, arose and
buttoned his coat. "The little one lost?" he exclaimed. "I will
scour the city." His wife never allowed him out after dark. But now
she said: "Go, Ludovic!" in a baritone voice. "Whoever can look
upon that mother's grief without springing to her relief has a heart
of stone." "Give me some thirty or--sixty cents, my love," said the
Major. "Lost children sometimes stray far. I may need carfares."
Old man Denny, hall room, fourth floor back, who sat on the lowest
step, trying to read a paper by the street lamp, turned over a page
to follow up the article about the carpenters' strike. Mrs. Murphy
shrieked to the moon: "Oh, ar-r-Mike, f'r Gawd's sake, where is me
little bit av a boy?"
"When'd ye see him last?" asked old man Denny, with one eye on the
report of the Building Trades League.
"Oh," wailed Mrs. Murphy, "'twas yisterday, or maybe four hours ago!
I dunno. But it's lost he is, me little boy Mike. He was playin' on
the sidewalk only this mornin'--or was it Wednesday? I'm that busy
with work, 'tis hard to keep up with dates. But I've looked the
house over from top to cellar, and it's gone he is. Oh, for the love
Silent, grim, colossal, the big city has ever stood against its
revilers. They call it hard as iron; they say that no pulse of pity
beats in its bosom; they compare its streets with lonely forests and
deserts of lava. But beneath the hard crust of the lobster is found
a delectable and luscious food. Perhaps a different simile would
have been wiser. Still, nobody should take offence. We would call
no one a lobster without good and sufficient claws.
No calamity so touches the common heart of humanity as does the
straying of a little child. Their feet are so uncertain and feeble;
the ways are so steep and strange.
Major Griggs hurried down to the corner, and up the avenue into
Billy's place. "Gimme a rye-high," he said to the servitor.
"Haven't seen a bow-legged, dirty-faced little devil of a six-year-
old loot kid around here anywhere, have you?"
Mr. Toomey retained Miss Purdy's hand on the steps. "Think of that
dear little babe," said Miss Purdy, "lost from his mother's side--
perhaps already fallen beneath the iron hoofs of galloping steeds--
oh, isn't it dreadful?"
"Ain't that right?" agreed Mr. Toomey, squeezing her hand. "Say I
start out and help look for um!"
"Perhaps," said Miss Purdy, "you should. But, oh, Mr. Toomey, you
are so dashing--so reckless--suppose in your enthusiasm some accident
should befall you, then what--"
Old man Denny read on about the arbitration agreement, with one
finger on the lines.
In the second floor front Mr. and Mrs. McCaskey came to the window to
recover their second wind. Mr. McCaskey was scooping turnips out of
his vest with a crooked forefinger, and his lady was wiping an eye
that the salt of the roast pork had not benefited. They heard the
outcry below, and thrust their heads out of the window.
"'Tis little Mike is lost," said Mrs. McCaskey, in a hushed voice,
"the beautiful, little, trouble-making angel of a gossoon!"
"The bit of a boy mislaid?" said Mr. McCaskey, leaning out of the
window. "Why, now, that's bad enough, entirely. The childer, they
be different. If 'twas a woman I'd be willin', for they leave peace
behind 'em when they go."
Disregarding the thrust, Mrs. McCaskey caught her husband's arm.
"Jawn," she said, sentimentally, "Missis Murphy's little bye is lost.
'Tis a great city for losing little boys. Six years old he was.
Jawn, 'tis the same age our little bye would have been if we had had
one six years ago."
"We never did," said Mr. McCaskey, lingering with the fact.
"But if we had, Jawn, think what sorrow would be in our hearts this
night, with our little Phelan run away and stolen in the city
nowheres at all."
"Ye talk foolishness," said Mr. McCaskey. "'Tis Pat he would be
named, after me old father in Cantrim."
"Ye lie!" said Mrs. McCaskey, without anger. "Me brother was worth
tin dozen bog-trotting McCaskeys. After him would the bye be named."
She leaned over the window-sill and looked down at the hurrying and
"Jawn," said Mrs. McCaskey, softly, "I'm sorry I was hasty wid ye."
"'Twas hasty puddin', as ye say," said her husband, "and hurry-up
turnips and get-a-move-on-ye coffee. 'Twas what ye could call a
quick lunch, all right, and tell no lie."
Mrs. McCaskey slipped her arm inside her husband's and took his rough
hand in hers.
"Listen at the cryin' of poor Mrs. Murphy," she said. "'Tis an awful
thing for a bit of a bye to be lost in this great big city. If 'twas
our little Phelan, Jawn, I'd be breakin' me heart."
Awkwardly Mr. McCaskey withdrew his hand. But he laid it around the
nearing shoulders of his wife.
"'Tis foolishness, of course," said he, roughly, "but I'd be cut up
some meself if our little Pat was kidnapped or anything. But there
never was any childer for us. Sometimes I've been ugly and hard with
ye, Judy. Forget it."
They leaned together, and looked down at the heart-drama being acted
Long they sat thus. People surged along the sidewalk, crowding,
questioning, filling the air with rumours, and inconsequent surmises.
Mrs. Murphy ploughed back and forth in their midst, like a soft
mountain down which plunged an audible cataract of tears. Couriers
came and went.
Loud voices and a renewed uproar were raised in front of the
"What's up now, Judy?" asked Mr. McCaskey.
"'Tis Missis Murphy's voice," said Mrs. McCaskey, harking. "She
says she's after finding little Mike asleep behind the roll of old
linoleum under the bed in her room."
Mr. McCaskey laughed loudly.
"That's yer Phelan," he shouted, sardonically. "Divil a bit would a
Pat have done that trick. If the bye we never had is strayed and
stole, by the powers, call him Phelan, and see him hide out under the
bed like a mangy pup."
Mrs. McCaskey arose heavily, and went toward the dish closet, with
the corners of her mouth drawn down.
Policeman Cleary came back around the corner as the crowd dispersed.
Surprised, he upturned an ear toward the McCaskey apartment, where
the crash of irons and chinaware and the ring of hurled kitchen
utensils seemed as loud as before. Policeman Cleary took out his
"By the deported snakes!" he exclaimed, "Jawn McCaskey and his lady
have been fightin' for an hour and a quarter by the watch. The
missis could give him forty pounds weight. Strength to his arm."
Policeman Cleary strolled back around the corner.
Old man Denny folded his paper and hurried up the steps just as Mrs.
Murphy was about to lock the door for the night.