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- The Americanization of Edward Bok - 10/64 -
No light of welcome came from those sad yet tender eyes. The boy closed upon the hand in his with a loving pressure, and for a single moment the eyelids rose, a different look came into those eyes, and Edward felt a slight, perceptible response of the hand. But that was all!
Quietly he motioned the boy to a chair beside the desk. Edward sat down and was about to say something, when, instead of seating himself, Emerson walked away to the window and stood there softly whistling and looking out as if there were no one in the room. Edward's eyes had followed Emerson's every footstep, when the boy was aroused by hearing a suppressed sob, and as he looked around he saw that it came from Miss Emerson. Slowly she walked out of the room. The boy looked at Miss Alcott, and she put her finger to her mouth, indicating silence. He was nonplussed.
Edward looked toward Emerson standing in that window, and wondered what it all meant. Presently Emerson left the window and, crossing the room, came to his desk, bowing to the boy as he passed, and seated himself, not speaking a word and ignoring the presence of the two persons in the room.
Suddenly the boy heard Miss Alcott say: "Have you read this new book by Ruskin yet?"
Slowly the great master of thought lifted his eyes from his desk, turned toward the speaker, rose with stately courtesy from his chair, and, bowing to Miss Alcott, said with great deliberation: "Did you speak to me, madam?"
The boy was dumfounded! Louisa Alcott, his Louisa! And he did not know her! Suddenly the whole sad truth flashed upon the boy. Tears sprang into Miss Alcott's eyes, and she walked to the other side of the room. The boy did not know what to say or do, so he sat silent. With a deliberate movement Emerson resumed his seat, and slowly his eyes roamed over the boy sitting at the side of the desk. He felt he should say something.
"I thought, perhaps, Mr. Emerson," he said, "that you might be able to favor me with a letter from Carlyle."
At the mention of the name Carlyle his eyes lifted, and he asked: "Carlyle, did you say, sir, Carlyle?"
"Yes," said the boy, "Thomas Carlyle."
"Ye-es," Emerson answered slowly. "To be sure, Carlyle. Yes, he was here this morning. He will be here again to-morrow morning," he added gleefully, almost like a child.
Then suddenly: "You were saying--"
Edward repeated his request.
"Oh, I think so, I think so," said Emerson, to the boy's astonishment. "Let me see. Yes, here in this drawer I have many letters from Carlyle."
At these words Miss Alcott came from the other part of the room, her wet eyes dancing with pleasure and her face wreathed in smiles.
"I think we can help this young man; do you not think so, Louisa?" said Emerson, smiling toward Miss Alcott. The whole atmosphere of the room had changed. How different the expression of his eyes as now Emerson looked at the boy! "And you have come all the way from New York to ask me that!" he said smilingly as the boy told him of his trip. "Now, let us see," he said, as he delved in a drawer full of letters.
For a moment he groped among letters and papers, and then, softly closing the drawer, he began that ominous low whistle once more, looked inquiringly at each, and dropped his eyes straightway to the papers before him on his desk. It was to be only for a few moments, then! Miss Alcott turned away.
The boy felt the interview could not last much longer. So, anxious to have some personal souvenir of the meeting, he said: "Mr. Emerson, will you be so good as to write your name in this book for me?" and he brought out an album he had in his pocket.
"Name?" he asked vaguely.
"Yes, please," said the boy, "your name: Ralph Waldo Emerson."
But the sound of the name brought no response from the eyes.
"Please write out the name you want," he said finally, "and I will copy it for you if I can."
It was hard for the boy to believe his own senses. But picking up a pen he wrote: "Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord; November 22, 1881."
Emerson looked at it, and said mournfully: "Thank you." Then he picked up the pen, and writing the single letter "R" stopped, followed his finger until it reached the "W" of Waldo, and studiously copied letter by letter! At the word "Concord" he seemed to hesitate, as if the task were too great, but finally copied again, letter by letter, until the second "c" was reached. "Another 'o,'" he said, and interpolated an extra letter in the name of the town which he had done so much to make famous the world over. When he had finished he handed back the book, in which there was written:
R. Waldo Emerson Concord November 22, 1881
The boy put the book into his pocket; and as he did so Emerson's eye caught the slip on his desk, in the boy's handwriting, and, with a smile of absolute enlightenment, he turned and said:
"You wish me to write my name? With pleasure. Have you a book with you?"
Overcome with astonishment, Edward mechanically handed him the album once more from his pocket. Quickly turning over the leaves, Emerson picked up the pen, and pushing aside the slip, wrote without a moment's hesitation:
Ralph Waldo Emerson Concord
The boy was almost dazed at the instantaneous transformation in the man!
Miss Alcott now grasped this moment to say: "Well, we must be going!"
"So soon?" said Emerson, rising and smiling. Then turning to Miss Alcott he said: "It was very kind of you, Louisa, to run over this morning and bring your young friend."
Then turning to the boy he said: "Thank you so much for coming to see me. You must come over again while you are with the Alcotts. Good morning! Isn't it a beautiful day out?" he said, and as he shook the boy's hand there was a warm grasp in it, the fingers closed around those of the boy, and as Edward looked into those deep eyes they twinkled and smiled back.
The going was all so different from the coming. The boy was grateful that his last impression was of a moment when the eye kindled and the hand pulsated.
The two walked back to the Alcott home in an almost unbroken silence. Once Edward ventured to remark:
"You can have no idea, Miss Alcott, how grateful I am to you."
"Well, my boy," she answered, "Phillips Brooks may be right: that it is something to have seen him even so, than not to have seen him at all. But to us it is so sad, so very sad. The twilight is gently closing in."
And so it proved--just five months afterward.
Eventful day after eventful day followed in Edward's Boston visit. The following morning he spent with Wendell Phillips, who presented him with letters from William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and other famous persons; and then, writing a letter of introduction to Charles Francis Adams, whom he enjoined to give the boy autograph letters from his two presidential forbears, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, sent Edward on his way rejoicing. Mr. Adams received the boy with equal graciousness and liberality. Wonderful letters from the two Adamses were his when he left.
And then, taking the train for New York, Edward Bok went home, sitting up all night in a day-coach for the double purpose of saving the cost of a sleeping-berth and of having a chance to classify and clarify the events of the most wonderful week in his life!
VII. A Plunge into Wall Street
The father of Edward Bok passed away when Edward was eighteen years of age, and it was found that the amount of the small insurance left behind would barely cover the funeral expenses. Hence the two boys faced the problem of supporting the mother on their meagre income. They determined to have but one goal: to put their mother back to that life of comfort to which she had been brought up and was formerly accustomed. But that was not possible on their income. It was evident that other employment must be taken on during the evenings.
The city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle had given Edward the assignment of covering the news of the theatres; he was to ascertain "coming attractions" and any other dramatic items of news interest. One Monday evening, when a multiplicity of events crowded the reportorial corps, Edward was delegated to "cover" the Grand Opera House, where Rose Coghlan was to appear in a play that had already been seen in Brooklyn, and called, therefore, for no special dramatic criticism. Yet The Eagle wanted to cover it. It so happened that Edward had made another appointment for that evening which he considered more important, and yet not wishing to disappoint his editor he accepted the assignment. He had seen Miss Coghlan in the play; so he kept his other engagement, and without approaching the theatre he wrote a notice to the effect that Miss Coghlan acted her part, if anything, with greater power than on her previous Brooklyn visit, and so forth, and handed it in to his city editor the next morning on his way to business.
Unfortunately, however, Miss Coghlan had been taken ill just before the raising of the curtain, and, there being no understudy, no performance had been given and the audience dismissed. All this was duly commented upon by the New York morning newspapers. Edward read this bit of news on the ferry-boat, but his notice was in the hands of the city editor.
On reaching home that evening he found a summons from The Eagle, and the next morning he received a rebuke, and was informed that his chances
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