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    9 Linwood Street

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    Chapter 6
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    A CHRISTMAS STORY

    A gray morning, the deck wet, the iron all beaded with frost, all the longshoremen in heavy pea-jackets or cardigans, the whole ship in a bustle, and the favored first-class passengers just leaving.

    One sad-looking Irish girl stands with her knit hood already spotted with the rime, and you cannot tell whether those are tears which hang from her black eyelashes or whether the fog is beginning to freeze there. What you see is that the poor thing looks right and left and up the pier and down the pier, and that in the whole crowd--they all seem so selfish--she sees nobody. Hundreds of people going and coming, pushing and hauling, and Nora's big brother is not there, as he promised to be and should be.

    Mrs. Ohstrom, the motherly Swedish woman, who has four children and ten tin cups and a great bed and five trunks and a fatuous, feckless husband makes time, between cousins and uncles and custom-house men and sharpers, to run up every now and then to say that Nora must not cry, that she must be easy, that she has spoken to the master and the master has said they are three hours earlier than they were expected. And all this was so kindly meant and so kindly said that poor Nora brushed the tears away, if they were tears, and thanked her, though she did not understand one word that dear Mrs. Ohstrom said to her. What is language, or what are words, after all?

    And the bright-buttoned, daintily dressed little ship's doctor, whom poor Nora hardly knew in his shore finery,--he made time to stop and tell her that the ship was too early, and that she must not worry. Father, was it, she was waiting for? "Oh, brother! Oh, he will be sure to be here! Better sit down. Here is a chair. Don't cry. I am afraid you had no breakfast. Take this orange. It will cheer you up. I shall see you again."

    Alas! the little doctor was swept away and forgot Nora for a week, and she "was left lamenting."

    For one hour went by, and two, and three. The Swedish woman went, and the doctor went, and the girl could see the captain go, and the mate that gave them their orders every morning. The custom-house people began to go. The cabs and other carriages for the gentry had gone long before.

    And poor Nora was left lamenting.

    Then was it that that queer Salvation Army girl, with a coal-scuttle for a bonnet, came up again. She had smiled pleasantly two or three times before, and had asked Nora to eat a bun. Poor Nora broke down and cried heartily this time. But the other was patient and kind, and said just what the others had said. Only she did not go away. And she had the sense to ask if Nora knew where the brother lived.

    "Why, of course I do, miss. See, here is the paper."

    And the little soldier lass read it: "99 Linwood Street, Boston."

    "My poor child, what a pity you did not let us see it before!"

    Alas and alas! Nora's box was of the biggest. But the army lass flinched at nothing.

    An immense wagon, with two giant horses, loaded with the most extraordinary chests which have been seen since the days of the Vikings. Piled on the top were many feather-beds, and on the top of the feather-beds a Scandinavian matron. With Mike, the good-natured teamster, who was at once captain and pilot of this craft, the army lass had easily made her treaty, when he was told the story. He was to carry Nora and her outfit to the Linwood Street house after he had taken these Swedes to theirs. "And indade it will not be farr, miss. There 's a shorrt cut behind Egan's, if indade he did not put up a tinimint house since I was that way." And with new explanations to Nora that all was right, that indeed it was better this way than it would have been had her brother been called from his work, she was lifted, without much consent of her own, to the driver's seat, and her precious "box" was so placed that she could rest her little feet upon it.

    Nora had proudly confided to the friendly lass the assurance that she had money, had even shown a crisp $2 bill which had been sent to her for exigencies.

    But when the lass made the contract with Mike Dermott, the good fellow said he should take Nora and her box for the love of County Cork. "Indade, indade, I don't take money from the like of her."

    And so they started, with the Swedish men walking on one side of the cart with their rifles, keeping a good lookout for buffaloes and red Indians and grizzly bears, as men landing in a new country which they were to civilize. More sailing for there was the ferry to cross to old Boston. Much waiting, for there was a broken-down coal-wagon in Salutation Alley. Long conference between Nora and Mike, in which he did all the talking and she all the listening, as to home rule and Mr. McCarthy, and what O'Brien thought of this, and what Cunniff thought of that. Then an occasional question came in Swedish from the matron above their heads, and was followed by a reply in Celtic English from Mike, each wholly ignorant of the views or wishes of the others. And occasionally the escort of riflemen, after some particular attack of chaff, in words which they fortunately did not understand, looked up to their matron, controller, and director, exchanged words with her, and then studied the pavement again for tracks of buffalo. A long hour of all this, the stone and brick of the city giving way to green trees between the houses as they come to Dorchester.

    Poor Nora looks right and looks left, hoping to meet her big brother. She begins to think she shall remember him. Everybody else looks so different from Fermoy that he must look like home.

    But there is no brother.

    There is at last a joyful cry as the Swedish matron and the riflemen recognize familiar faces. And Mike smiles gladly, and brings round the stout bays with a twitch, so that the end of the cart comes square to the sidewalk. Somebody produces a step-ladder, and the Swedish matron, with her bird-cage in her hand, descends in triumph. Much kissing, much shaking of hands, much thanking of God, more or less reverent. Then the cords are cut, beds flung down, the giant boxes lifted, the sons of Anak only know how. The money covenanted for is produced and paid, and Mike mounts lightly to Nora's side.

    "And now, Nora, my child, wherr is the paper? For in two minutes we 'll soon be therr, now that this rubbish is landed."

    And he read on the precious paper, "John McLaughlin, 99 Linwood Street."

    Strange to say, the paper said just what it had said two hours before.

    "And now, my dear child, we will be therr in ten minutes, if only we can cross back of Egan's."

    And although they could not cross back of Egan's, for Egan had put up a "tinimint" house since Mike had passed that way, yet in ten minutes Linwood Street had been found. No. 99 at last revealed itself, between Nos. 7 and 2,--a great six-story wooden tinder-box, with clothes-lines mysterious behind, open doors in front, long passages running through, three doors on each side of a passage, and the wondering heads of eleven women who belonged to five different races and spoke in six different languages appearing from their eleven windows, as Mike and Nora and the two bays all stopped at one and the same moment at the door.

    Mike was already anxious about his time, for he was to be at the custom-house an hour away or more at eleven sharp. But he selected a certain Widow Flynn from the eleven white-capped women; he explained to her briefly that John McLaughlin was to be found; he told Nora for the thirty-seventh time that all was right and that she must not cry; he looked at his watch again, rather anxiously, mounted his box, and drove swiftly away.

    He was the one thread which bound Nora to this world. And this thread broke before her eyes.

    Mrs. Flynn affected to be cheerful. But she was not cheerful. Mrs. Flynn was a prominent person in her sodality. And well she knew that if any John McLaughlin in those parts were expecting any sister from home, she should know him and where he lived. Well she knew, also, that John McLaughlin, the mason, was born in Glasgow; that John McLaughlin, who is on the city work, had all his family around him, and, most distinct of all, she knew that no McLaughlin, sisterless or many-sistered, lived in this beehive which she lived in, though it were 99 Linwood Street. Into her own cell of that beehive, however, she took poor, sad, desolate Nora. Into the hallway she bade the loafing neighbor boys bring Nora's trunk; in a language Nora could hardly understand she explained to her that all would be well as soon as the policeman passed by. She sent Mary Murphy, who happened to be at home from school, for a pint of milk, and so compelled Nora to drink a cup of tea and to eat a biscuit and a dropped egg, while they waited for the policeman.

    Of course he knew of seven John McLaughlins. He even went to the drug-store and looked in the Boston Directory to find that there were there the names of sixty-one more. But not one of them lived in Linwood Street, as they all knew already. All the same Nora was charged not to cry, to drink more tea and eat more bread and butter. The "cop" said he would look in on three of the Johns whom he knew, and intelligent boys now returning from school were sent to the homes of the other four to interrogate them as to any expected sister. Within an hour, now nearly one o'clock, answers were received from all the seven. No one of them expected chick or child from Fermoy.

    But the "cop" had a suggestion to make. His pocket list of names of streets revealed another Linwood Street--in Roxbury; not this one in Dorchester. Be it known to unlearned readers, who in snug shelter in Montana follow along this little tale, that Roxbury and Dorchester are both parts of that large municipality called Boston. Though no John McLaughlin was in the directory for 99 Linwood Street, Roxbury, was not that the objective? Poor Nora was questioned as to Roxbury. She was sure she never heard of it.

    But the clue was too good to be lost, and the authority of the friendly "cop" was too great to be resisted. He telephoned to the central office that Nora McLaughlin, just from Ireland, had been found, in a fashion, but that no one knew where to put her. Then he stopped a milkman from Braintree, who delivered afternoon milk for invalids.

    Was he not going through Roxbury?

    Of course he was.

    Would he not take this lost child to 99 Linwood Street?

    Of course he would. Milkmen, from their profession, have hearts warm toward children.

    Well, if he were to take her, he had better take her trunk too.

    To which illogical proposal the milkman acceded--on the afternoon route there is so much less milk to take than there is in the morning.

    So Nora was lifted into the milk-wagon. In tears she kissed good Mrs. Flynn. The boys and girls assembled to bid her good-by, and even she had a hope for a few moments that her troubles were at an end.

    At 99 Linwood Street, Roxbury, they were preparing for the Review Club.

    The Review Club met once a fortnight at half-past two o'clock at the house of one or another of the members. They first arranged the little details of the business. Then the hostess read, or made some one read, the scraps which seemed most worthy in the reviews and magazines of the last issues, and at four the husbands and brothers and neighbors generally dropped in, and there was afternoon tea.

    "You are sure you have cream enough, Ellen?"

    "Oh, yes, mum."

    "All kinds of tea, you know, that which the Chinese gentlemen sent, and be sure of the chocolate for Mrs. Bunce."

    "Indeed yes, mum."

    "And let me know just before you bring up the hot water." Doorbell rings. "There is Mrs. Walter now!"

    No, it wasn't Mrs. Walter. She came three minutes after. But before she came, Howells, the milkman, had lifted Nora from her seat. As the snow fell fast on the doorsteps, he carried her carefully up to the door, and even by the time Ellen answered the bell he had the heavy chest, dragging it over the snow by the stout rope at one end.

    Ellen was amazed to find this group instead of Mrs. Walter. She called her mistress, who heard Howells's realistic story with amazement, not to say amusement.

    "You poor dear child!" she cried at once. "Come in where it is dry! John McLaughlin? No, indeed! Who can John McLaughlin be? Ellen, what is Mike's last name?"

    Mike was the choreman, who made the furnace fire and kept the sidewalk.

    "Mike's name, mum? I don't know, mum. Mary will know, mum."

    And for the moment Ellen disappeared to find Mary.

    "Never mind, never mind. Come in, you poor child. You are very good to bring her, Mr. Howells, very good indeed. We will take care of her. Is it going to storm?"

    Mr. Howells thought it was going to storm, and turned to go away. At that moment Mrs. Walter arrived, the first comer of the Review Club. And Nora's new hostess had to turn to her guests, while Ellen in the last cares for the afternoon table had to comfort Nora by spasms. It was left for Margaret the chambermaid to pump out--or to screw out, as you choose--the details of the story from the poor frightened waif, who seemed more astray than ever.

    John McLaughlin? No. Nobody knew anything about him. The last choreman was named McManus, but he went to Ottawa three years ago!

    And while the different facts and doubts were canvassed in the kitchen, upstairs they settled the Bulgarian question, the origin of the natives of Tasmania, and the last questions about realism.

    Only the mind of the lady of the house returned again and again to questions as to the present residence of John McLaughlin.

    For in spite of the gathering snow and the prospect of more, the members of the Review Club had followed fast on Mrs. Walters and gathered in full force.

    The hostess, though somewhat preoccupied, was courteous and ready.

    Only the functions of the club, as they went forward, would be occasionally interrupted. Thus she would read aloud "as in her private duty bound"--

    "'The peasantry were excited, but were held in check by promises from Stambuloff. The emissaries of the Czar--'

    "Mrs. Goodspeed, would you mind reading on? Here is the place. I see my postman pass the window."

    And so, moving quickly to the front door, she interviewed the faithful Harrington, dressed, heaven knows why, in Confederate uniform of gray. For Harrington had served his four years on the loyal side. Four times a day did Harrington with his letter-bag renew the connection of this household with the world and other worlds.

    "Dear Mr. Harrington, I thought you could tell us. Here is a girl named Nora McLaughlin, and here is her trunk, both left at the door by the milkman, and we do not know anything about where she belongs."

    "Insufficient address?" asked Harrington, professionally.

    "Exactly. All she knows is that her brother is named John."

    "A great many of them are," said Harrington, already writing on his memorandum book, and in his memory fixing the fact that a large, two-legged living parcel, insufficiently addressed, had been left at the wrong door for John McLaughlin; also a trunk, too large for delivery by the penny post.

    "I will tell the other men, and if I was you I would send to the police."

    "Would you mind telling the first officer you meet? I hate to send my girls out." And so she returned to Bulgaria.

    But Bulgaria was ended, and Mrs. Conover handed her an article on "Antarctic Discovery." She was again reading:--

    "Under these circumstances Captain Wilkes, who had collected a boatload of stones from the front of the glacier," when she gave back the "Forum" to Mrs. Conover. "Would you mind going on just a minute? " she said, and ran out to meet the icecream man. So soon as he had left his tins she said,--

    "Mr. Fridge, would you mind stopping at the Dudley School as you go home and telling Miss Lougee that there is a lost girl here?" etc.

    Good Mr. Fridge was most eager to help, and the hostess returned, took the book again and read on with "the temperature, as they observed it, was 99 degrees C.; but, as the alcohol in their tins was frozen at the moment, there seemed reason to suspect the correctness of this observation."

    And a shiver passed over the Review Club.

    Thus far the powers of confusion and error seemed to have been triumphant over poor Nora, or such was the success of that power who uses these agencies, if the reader prefer to personify him.

    But the time had come to turn his left flank and to attack his forces in the rear, for the postman now took the field,--that is to say, Harrington, good fellow, finished his third delivery, four good miles and nine- tenths of a furlong, snow two inches deep, three, four, six, before he was done, and then returned to his branch office to report.

    "Two-legged parcel; insufficient address; 99 Linwood Street! Jim, what ever come to that letter that went to 99 Linwood Street with insufficient address six weeks ago?"

    "Linwood Street? Insufficient address? Foreign letter? Why, of course, you know, went back to the central office."

    "I guess it did," said Harrington, grimly; "so I must go there too."

    This meant that after Harrington had gone his rounds again on delivery route No. 6, four more miles and nine- tenths more of a furlong, 313 doorbells and only 73 slit boxes, snow now ranging from 6 inches to 12 on the sidewalks, and breast-deep where there was a chance for drifting, when all this was well done, so that Harrington had no more duties to Uncle Sam, he could take Nora McLaughlin's work in hand, and thus defeat the prince of evil.

    To the central office by a horse-car. Blocked once or twice, but well at the office at 7.30 in the evening.

    Christmas work heavy, so the whole home staff is on duty. That is well. Enemy of souls loses one point there.

    Blind-letter clerks all here. Insufficient-delivery men both here. Chief of returned bureau here. All summoned to the foreign office as Harrington tells his story. Indexes produced, ledgers, journals, day-books, and private passbooks. John McLaughlin's biography followed out on 67 of the different avatars in which his personality has been manifested under that name. False trail here--clue breaks there--scent fails here, but at last--a joyful cry from Will Search:--

    "Here you are! Insufficient address. November 1. Queenstown letter--'Linwood, to John McLaughlin. Try Dorchester. Try Roxbury. Try East Boston. Try Somerville'-- and there it stops, and was not returned."

    "Try Somerville!"

    In these words great light fell over the eager circle. Not because Somerville is the seat of an insane hospital. No! But because it is not in the Boston Directory.

    If you please, Somerville is an independent city, and so, unless John McLaughlin worked in Boston, if he lived in Somerville, he would not be in the Boston Directory.

    Not much! Somerville has its own seven John McLaughlins besides those Boston ones.

    "I say, Harry, Tom, Dick--somebody fetch Somerville Directory!"

    Dick flew and returned with the book.

    "Here you be! 'John McLaughlin, laborer, 99 Linwood Street!

    "Victory!"

    Satan's forces tremble, and as the different officers return to their desks "even the ranks of Tuscany" in that well-bred office "can scarce forbear to cheer."

    As for Harrington, he bids good-by, wraps his tartan around him, and is out in the snow again. Where Linwood Street is he "knows no more than the dead." But somebody will know.

    Somerville car. Draw of bridge open. Man falls into the river and has to be rescued. Draw closes. Snow- drift at Margin Street. Shovels. Drift open. Centre of Somerville. Apothecary's shop open. "Please, where is Linwood Street?"

    "Take your second left, cross three or four streets, turn to the right by the water-pipe, take the third right, go down hill by the schoolhouse and take second left, and you come out at 11 Linwood Street."

    All which Harrington does. He experiences one continual burst of joy that his route does not take him through these detours daily. But his professional experience is good for him. We have no need to describe his false turns. Even aniseed would have been useless in that snow. At last, just as the Somerville bells ring for nine o'clock, Harrington also rings triumphant at the door of the little five-roomed cottage, where his lantern has already revealed the magic number 99.

    Ring! as for a gilt-edged special delivery! Door thrown open by a solid man with curly red hair, unshaven since Sunday, in his shirtsleeves and with kerosene lamp in his hand.

    "Are you John McLaughlin?"

    "Indade I am; the same."

    "And where's your sister Nora?"

    The good fellow, who had been stern before, broke down. "And indade I was saying to Ellen it's an awful night for 'em all in the gale off the coast in the ship. The holy Virgin and the good God take care of 'em!"

    "They have taken care of them," said Harrington, reverently. "The ship is safe in dock, and your sister Nora is in Roxbury, at 99 Linwood Street!"

    And a broad grin lighted his face as he spoke the words.

    There was joy in every bed and at every door of the five rooms. Then John hastily donned coat, cardigan, and ulster. He persuaded Harrington to drink a cup of red- hot tea which was brewing on the stove. While the good fellow did so, and ate a St. Anne's bun, which Mrs. McLaughlin produced in triumph, John was persuading Hermann Gross, the expressman next door, to put the gray into a light pung he had for special delivery. By the time Harrington went to the door two lanterns were flitting about in the snow-piled yard behind the two houses.

    Harrington assisted in yoking the gray. In five minutes he and John were defying the gale as they sped across the silent bridge, bound south to Roxbury. Poor little Nora was asleep in the parlor on the sofa. She had begged and begged that she need not be put to bed, and by her side her protector sat reading about the antarctic. But of a sudden Harrington reappeared.

    Is it Santa Claus?

    Indeed it is! Beard, hat, coat, all white with snow!

    And Santa Claus has come for the best present he will deliver that evening!

    Dear little Nora is wrapped in sealskins and other skins, mauds and astrakhan rugs. She has a hot brick at her feet, and Pompey, the dog, is made to lie over them, so John McLaughlin No. 68 takes her in triumph to 99 Linwood Street.

    That was a Christmas to be remembered! And Christmas morning, after church, the Brothers of St. Patrick, which was the men's society, and the Sodality of St. Anne's, which was the women's, determined on a great Twelfth- night feast to celebrate Nora's return.

    It was to show "how these brethren love one another."

    They proposed to take the rink. People didn't use it for skating in winter as much as in summer.

    Nora was to receive, with John McLaughlin and his wife to assist. The other 74 John McLaughlins were to act as ushers.

    The Salvation Army came first, led by the lass who found Michael.

    Procession No. 2 was Mike and the teamsters who "don't take nothing for such as she."

    Third, in special horse-cars, which went through from Dorchester to Somerville by a vermilion edict from the West End Company, the eleven families of that No. 99. They stopped in Roxbury to pick up Ellen and the hostess of the Review Club.

    Fourth, all the patrolmen who had helped and all who tried to help, led by "cop" No. 47.

    Fifth, all the school children who had told the story and had made inquiries.

    Sixth, the man who made the Somerville Directory.

    Seventh and last, in two barouches, Harrington and the chiefs of staff at the general post-office. And the boys asked Father McElroy to make a speech to all just before the dancing began.

    And he said: "The lost sheep was never lost. She thought she was lost in the wilderness, but she was at home, for she was met by the Christmas greeting of the world into which the dear Lord was born!"

    NOTE.--It may interest the reader to know that the important part of this story is true.
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