The Opening of the Park

The next afternoon had come, and was nearly gone. There had been a crowd of people at the opening of the Milligan Wharf Park. Ragged children, sailors, day-labourers, and poor women of the neighbourhood had stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the first citizens of the town—citizens who in the whole course of their lives had never been on this street before.

The well-dressed spectators had looked about them with interest. This fad of Mrs. Travers’s young granddaughter had excited much attention. She had carried her scheme through, and many curious glances had been sent in the direction of the suddenly shy, smiling girl, trying to hide behind the stately little grandmother, who sat looking as if the opening of parks for poor children were a daily occurrence in her life.

There had been room for some of the audience[163] in the long, low shed erected for a playroom for the children on rainy days; however, many persons had been obliged to sit on benches placed in the hot sunlight, therefore the opening exercises had been arranged to be exceedingly short.

The Mayor, unfortunately, had transgressed, as he had prophesied he would do. However, in his speech he had, to Berty’s delight, carefully abstained from mentioning the part she had taken in procuring the park for the children of River Street. But succeeding speakers had so eulogized the self-sacrificing and public-spirited girl, that finally she had slipped away into one of the summer-houses, where, now that all was over, she was talking with her grandmother.

They had the park to themselves as far as grown persons were concerned. The rich and well-to-do people had filed away. The poor men and women of the neighbourhood had gone to their homes for their early evening meal.

“They say every rose has a thorn,” exclaimed Berty. “Where is the thorn in this?” and she waved her hand about the huge playground where scores of children were disporting themselves.

“It is here,” said Grandma. “Don’t lose heart when you see it.”

[164]

“Do you see it?” asked Berty, pointedly.

“Yes, dear.”

“And what is it?”

“That there must be some one here every minute of the time to see that the big children do not impose on the little ones. There’s a big hulking boy slapping a little one now. I’ll go settle him,” and Grandma nimbly walked away.

“That is no thorn,” said Berty, when she came back. “Mr. Jimson has arranged for it. He has just told me that the city council voted me last evening five hundred dollars as park supervisor.”

“My dear!” said Grandma, in surprise.

“Isn’t it lovely?” murmured Berty, with flushed cheeks. “Now I can pay all the household expenses. With my annuity we shall be quite prosperous.”

“The city appreciates what you are doing,” said Grandma, softly, “and the Mayor has been a good friend to you.”

“Hasn’t he?” said Berty. “I must not scold him for that awful speech.”

“The opening was good,” said Grandma, mildly.

“Yes, but the middle and the ending,” replied Berty, with a groan.

“Oh, how I suffered—not for myself. I could endure to hear him speak for a year. But I do so[165] want him to make a good impression on others. His tongue is just like a spool of silk. It unwinds and unwinds and unwinds, and never breaks off. Talk about women’s tongues!”

“He is new to public speaking. He will get over it.”

“And I made him such a thrilling hobgoblin,” continued Berty, in an aggrieved voice. “Why, I had nightmare last night just in dreaming about it.”

“A hobgoblin?” said Grandma, questioningly.

“Yes—to stop him. It was on the last page of his manuscript. You remember when he came to the end of his paper, he just stopped a minute, smiled a sickly smile, and went on. Why, that hobgoblin didn’t frighten him a bit. It inspired him. What was he talking about? What do people talk about when they ramble on and on? I can never remember.”

“Berty,” said Mrs. Travers, shrewdly, “you are tired and excited. You would better come home. There is Mrs. Provis looking in the gate. She will keep an eye on the children.”

“Oh, Mrs. Provis,” said Berty, hurrying to the gate, “won’t you come in and sit awhile till I go[166] home and get something to eat? I’ll come back presently and lock up.”

“Yes, miss,” said the woman, readily. “That’s a little thing to do for you. I guess this street takes store of what you’ve done for our young ones.”

“They’re my young ones, too,” said Berty, proudly. “I live on the street—we’re all neighbours. Now I’ll go. I won’t be long. Your eldest girl can get the supper ready for your husband, can’t she?”

“That she can, miss.”

Berty walked away with her grandmother, and the woman, gazing after her, said, “Bless your black head. I’d like to hear any one say anything agin you in River Street.”

In an hour Berty was back again, part of her supper in her pocket.

Contentedly eating her bread and butter, she sat on a bench watching the children, most of whom absolutely refused to go home, while others ran merely for a few mouthfuls of something to eat.

This intoxication of play in a roomy place was a new experience to them, and Berty, with an intensely thankful face, watched them until a heavy footstep made her turn her head.

The Mayor stood before her, two red spots on[167] his cheeks, and a strange light in his eye. “I’ve just been to your house,” he said, “and your grandmother sent me here.”

“Did she?” said Berty; then she added, promptly, “What has happened?”

Mr. Jimson heaved a deep, contented sigh, and seated himself beside her. “I’m a happy man, Miss Berty.”

“What are you happy about?” she asked, briskly. “It isn’t—it isn’t Miss Everest?”

“Yes, it is Miss Everest,” said Mr. Jimson. “Something took place this afternoon.”

“Oh, what?—why don’t you tell me? You’re terribly slow.”

“I’m as fast as I can be. I’m not a flash of lightning.”

“No, indeed.”

“Well, I’ve met Miss Everest—she’s talked with me!”

“She has!” cried Berty, joyfully.

“Yes, she has. You know, after the affair this afternoon some of the people went to town. Miss Everest was shopping.”

“She always does her shopping in the morning,” interrupted Berty. “All the smart set do.”

“Well, I guess she found herself down-town,”[168] said Mr. Jimson, good-naturedly, “and couldn’t get by the shops. Anyway, she was coming out of that fol-de-rol place where you women buy dolls and ribbons.”

“Oh, you mean Smilax & Wiley’s.”

“Yes, that’s the place. She came out of the door, and, turning her head to speak to some one passing her, she almost ran into me. I stopped short, you may be sure, and I know you’ll be mad with me when I tell you that I forgot to take my hat off.”

“Perhaps I won’t,” said Berty, guardedly. “It depends on what follows.”

“I just stood rooted to the spot, and staring with all my might. She grew kind of pink and bowed. I said, ‘Miss Everest,’ then I stopped. I guess she was sorry for my dumbness, for she said, in a kind of confused way, ‘What a stupid place this is. I’ve been all over it trying to match some silk, and I can’t find a scrap.’ And still I never said a word. For the life of me I couldn’t think of anything. Then she said, ‘That was a very good speech of yours this afternoon.’”

“Now surely you said something in response to that,” interjected Berty, “such a gracious thing for her to say.”

“Never a word,” replied the Mayor, seriously,[169] “and, seeing that I couldn’t or wouldn’t speak, she went away. After she left, words came to me, and I babbled on to myself, till the people began to look at me as if they thought I’d gone crazy, then I moved on.”

“Well,” said Berty, with badly suppressed scorn, “this is a great tale. Where have you distinguished yourself, pray?”

“Wait a bit,” said Mr. Jimson, soberly. “I haven’t finished. Before I left the spot I cast my eyes to the pavement. What did I see but the bit of silk she had dropped there.”

“Well,” observed Berty, in a mystified way, when he paused.

“I thought of what you said,” continued the Mayor. “I called up your hint about small things. I picked up the bit of silk.”

“And, for goodness’ sake, what did you do with it?” queried Berty, in distress. “Some fantastic thing, I’ll be bound.”

“I took it away to my office,” Mr. Jimson went on, solemnly, and with the air of keeping back some item of information that when communicated would cover him with glory. “I’ve got an office-boy as sharp as a needle. I gave him the piece of silk. I said, ‘You hold on to that as if it were a fifty-dollar[170] greenback. You take the seven-thirty train for Boston. You match that silk, and get back here as quick as you can.’”

“Oh! oh!” cried Berty, “how much did you send for?”

“For a pound,” said the Mayor, tragically. “She said she had a peóny to work, and they’re pretty big flowers.”

“Péony, not pe-ó-ny,” said Berty, peevishly. Then she thought awhile, and the Mayor, losing his deeply satisfied air, sat regarding her in bewilderment.

At last she delivered her opinion sibyl-like. “I don’t know whether you’ve done a good thing or not. Only time can tell. But I think you have.”

“I’ve done just what you told me,” said the astonished man. “You said to look out for little things.”

“Yes, but the question is, have you the right yet to look out for little things,” said Berty, with some dissatisfaction in her tone. “When grandma was married she forgot her wedding-bouquet, and her newly made husband had a special train leave here to take it to Bangor, but he had the right.”

“Look here,” said the Mayor, and the red spots on his cheeks deepened, “you’re criticizing too[171] much. I guess you’d better not interfere between Miss Everest and me.”

“You’ll want me to give her that silk when it comes,” said Berty, defiantly.

“I did—that’s just what I came to speak to you about, but now I’ll give it to her myself.”

“She may not like it.”

“She can like it, or lump it,” said Mr. Jimson, inelegantly; “when that parcel comes, I am going to take it to her.”

“Suppose the boy can’t match the silk?”

“He’s got to,” said Mr. Jimson, obstinately.

“But perhaps he can’t; then how will she ever know you sent for it, if I don’t tell her. You would like me to in that case, wouldn’t you?”

“I’m no violet,” said Mr. Jimson, disagreeably. “I want to get in with Miss Everest, and how can I if I blush unseen?”

“I’ll tell her of your blushes,” said Berty, generously. “Come, now, let us be friends again. From my standpoint, I think you have done nobly and magnificently.”

“But you were just blaming me.”

“That was from Miss Everest’s standpoint.”

“I’m blessed if I know how to take you,” muttered[172] the confused man. “One minute you’re yourself, and the next you’re another woman.”

“That’s feminine reversibility,” said Berty, graciously. “You don’t understand us yet. That is the punishment our Creator inflicts upon you, for not having studied us more. A pity I hadn’t known you five years ago—come, it’s time to lock up here. Oh, Mr. Mayor, can’t we have electric lights for this playground?”

With an effort he called back his wandering thoughts which were on the way to Boston with his office-boy, and looked round the darkening park. “What do you want lights for?”

“Why, these children play till all hours. It’s mean to keep them here till dark, then turn them on the streets. A few lights would make the place as light as day.”

The Mayor stared about him in silence.

“I’ve just been thinking about the electric light people,” continued Berty. “They’re a big, rich company, aren’t they?”

“So, so.”

“Well, would it be wrong for me to go to them and ask to have a few lights put in?”

“Wrong, no—”

“But would they do it?”

[173]

“Well, I guess if you went to them with your mind made up that they ought to, they would do it quick enough.”

“I’ll go,” said Berty, with satisfaction. “Thank you so much. I’ll say you advised me.”

The Mayor sighed, but said nothing.

“Come, children,” called Berty, in her clear voice, “it’s time to go home. Gates open at eight-thirty to-morrow morning.”

She huddled them out into the street like a flock of unwilling sheep, then walked home beside her suddenly silent companion.

“Selina Everest sat beside Grandma to-day,” said Berty, recurring to what she knew was now his favourite topic of conversation.

“I saw her there,” said her companion, eagerly. “Do you suppose your grandmother—”

“Yes, she did,” and Berty finished his sentence for him. “Trust Grandma to slip a good word in Miss Everest’s ear about you. I saw her blush, so perhaps she is beginning to care.”

“Perhaps your grandmother had better take her the silk,” said the Mayor, generously.

“No, I think I’ll attend to that myself,” said Berty, “but come in and see Grandma,” and she paused; “we’ll have a nice talk about the Everests.”

[174]

“By the way,” she said, ushering him out to the veranda, and lingering for a minute before she went to find her grandmother, “I want to thank you again for getting me that salary for looking after the playground. I’m just delighted—but I think I’ll have to get a helper, for Grandma doesn’t want me to stay there all the time.”

“That’s square—just what I recommended,” said Mr. Jimson. “Get any one you like, and give him or her ten or twelve dollars a month to assist you.”

“But suppose he or she does half my work?”

“That don’t count. Skilled labour, you know, takes the cake.”

“But if any one does half my work, they must have half my pay.”

“Nonsense,” said the Mayor, abruptly.

“I sha’n’t grind the face of any poor person,” said Berty, doggedly.

“All right—have it your own way, but if you won’t mind me, consult your grandmother before you pledge yourself.”