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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 2/103 -
you worry and fret, for I will see your ma has what she needs. I was mothered by the best woman God ever made, and since she died, every sick mother I see has a sort of claim on my heart."
Pausing an instant to adjust the tucker of her machine, Mrs. Emmet looked up, and involuntarily the women shook hands, as if sealing a compact.
It was a long walk to the building whither Beryl directed her steps, and as she passed through the rear entrance of a large and fashionable photograph establishment, she was surprised to find that it was half-past two o'clock.
The Superintendent of the department, from whom she received her work, was a man of middle-age, of rather stern and forbidding aspect; and as she approached his desk, he pointed to the clock on the mantel-piece.
"Barely time to submit those types for inspection, and have them packed for the express going East. They are birthday gifts, and birthdays have an awkward habit of arriving rigidly on time."
He unrolled the tissue paper, and with a magnifying glass, carefully examined the pictures; then took from an envelope in the box, two short pieces of hair, which he compared with the painted heads before him.
"Beautifully done. The lace on that child's dress would bear even a stronger lens than my glass. Here Patterson, take this box, and letter to Mr. Endicott, and if satisfactory, carry them to the packing counter. Shipping address is in the letter. Hurry up, my lad. Sit down, Miss Brentano."
"Thank you, I am not tired. Mr. Mansfield, have you any good news for me?"
"You mean those etchings; or the designs for the Christmas cards? Have not heard a word, pro or con. Guess no news is good news; for I notice 'rejected' work generally travels fast, to roost at home."
"I thought the awards were made last week, and that to-day you could tell me the result."
"The awards have been made, I presume, but who owns the lucky cards is the secret that has not yet transpired. You young people have no respect for red tape, and methodical business routine. You want to clap spurs on fate, and make her lower her own last record? 'Bide awee. Bide awee'."
"Winning this prize means so much to me, that I confess I find it very hard to be patient. Success would save me from a painful and expensive journey, upon which I must start to-night; and therefore I hoped so earnestly that I might receive good tidings to-day. I am obliged to go South on an errand, which will necessitate an absence of several days, and if you should have any news for me, keep it until I call again. If unfavorable it would depress my mother, and therefore I prefer you should not write, as of course she will open any letters addressed to me. Please save all the work you can for me, and I will come here as soon as I get back home."
"Very well. Any message, Patterson?"
"Mr. Endicott said, 'All right; first-rate;' and ordered them shipped."
"Here is your money, Miss Brentano. Better call as early as you can, as I guess there will be a lot of photographs ready in a few days. Good afternoon."
"Thank you. Good-bye, sir."
From the handful of small change, she selected some pennies which she slipped inside of her glove, and dropping the remainder into her pocket, left the building, and walked on toward Union Square. Absorbed in grave reflections, and oppressed by some vague foreboding of impending ill, dim, intangible and unlocalized--she moved slowly along the crowded sidewalk--unconscious of the curious glances directed toward her superb form, and stately graceful carriage, which more than one person turned and looked back to admire, wondering when she had stepped down from some sacred Panathenaic Frieze.
Near Madison Square, she paused before the window of a florist's, and raising her veil, gazed longingly at the glowing mass of blossoms, which Nineteenth Century skill and wealth in defiance of isothermal lines, and climatic limitations force into perfection, in, and out of season. The violet eyes and crocus fingers of Spring smiled and quivered, at sight of the crimson rose heart, and flaming paeony cheeks of royal Summer; and creamy and purple chrysanthemums that quill their laces over the russet robes of Autumn, here stared in indignant amazement, at the premature presumption of snowy regal camellias, audaciously advancing to crown the icy brows of Winter. All latitudes, all seasons have become bound vassals to the great God Gold; and his necromancy furnishes with equal facility the dewy wreaths of orange flowers that perfume the filmy veils of December brides--and the blue bells of spicy hyacinths which ring "Rest" over the lily pillows, set as tribute on the graves of babies, who wilt under August suns.
From early childhood, an ardent love of beauty had characterized this girl, whose covetous gaze wandered from a gorgeous scarlet and gold orchid nodding in dreams of its habitat, in some vanilla scented Brazilian jungle, to a bed of vivid green moss, where skilful hands had grouped great drooping sprays of waxen begonias, coral, faint pink, and ivory, all powdered with gold dust like that which gilds the heart of water-lilies.
Such treasures were reserved for the family of Dives; and counting her pennies, Beryl entered the store, where instantaneously the blended breath of heliotrope, tube-rose and mignonette wafted her across the ocean, to a white-walled fishing village on the Cornice, whose gray rocks were kissed by the blue lips of the Mediterranean.
"What is the price of that cluster of Niphetos buds?"
"And that Auratum--with a few rose geranium leaves added?"
"Seventy-five cents. You see it is wonderfully large, and the gold bands are so very deep."
She put one hand in her pocket and fingered a silver coin, but poverty is a grim, tyrannous stepmother to tender aestheticism, and prudential considerations prevailed.
"Give me twenty-five cents worth of those pale blue double violets, with a sprig of lemon verbena, and a fringe of geranium leaves."
She laid the money on the counter, and while the florist selected and bound the blossoms into a bunch, she arrested his finishing touch.
"Wait a moment. How much more for one Grand Duke jasmine in the centre?"
"Ten cents, Miss."
She added the dime to the pennies she could ill afford to spare from her small hoard, and said: "Will you be so kind as to sprinkle it? I wish it kept fresh, for a sick lady."
Dusky shadows were gathering in the gloomy hall of the old tenement house, when Beryl opened the door of the comfortless attic room, where for many months she had struggled bravely to shield her mother from the wolf, that more than once snarled across the threshold.
Mrs. Brentano was sitting in a low chair, with her elbows on her knees, her face hidden in her palms; and in her lap lay paper and pencil, while a sealed letter had fallen on the ground beside her. At the sound of the opening door, she lifted her head, and tears dripped upon the paper. In her faded flannel dressing-gown, with tresses of black hair straggling across her shoulders, she presented a picture of helpless mental and physical woe, which painted itself indelibly on the panels of her daughter's heart.
"Why did you not wait until I came home? The exertion of getting up always fatigues you."
"You staid so long--and I am so uncomfortable in that wretchedly hard bed. What detained you?"
"I went to see the Doctor, because I am unwilling to start away, without having asked his advice; and he has prescribed some new medicine which you will find in this bottle. The directions are marked on the label. Now I will put things in order, and try my hands on that refractory bed."
"What did the Doctor say about me?"
"Nothing new; but he is confident that you can be cured in time, if we will only be patient and obedient. He promised to see you in the morning."
She stripped the bed of its covering, shook bolster and pillows; turned over the mattress, and beat it vigorously; then put on fresh sheets, and adjusted the whole comfortably.
"Now mother, turn your head, and let me comb and brush and braid all this glossy black satin, to keep it from tangling while I am away. What a pity you did not dower your daughter with part of it, instead of this tawny mane of mine, which is a constant affront to my fastidious artistic instincts. Please keep still a moment."
She unwrapped the tissue paper that covered her flowers, and holding her hands behind her, stepped in front of the invalid.
"Dear mother, shut your eyes. There--! of what does that remind you? The pergola--with great amber grape clusters--and white stars of jasmine shining through the leaves? All the fragrance of Italy sleeps in the thurible of this Grand-Duke."
"How delicious! Ah, my extravagant child! we cannot afford such luxuries now. The perfume recalls so vividly the time when Bertie--"
A sob cut short the sentence. Beryl pinned the flowers at her mother's throat, kissed her cheek, and kneeling before her, crossed her arms on the invalid's lap, resting there the noble head, with its burnished crown of reddish bronze braids.
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