HER PEARL EARRINGS

Some stones simply tug at your heart strings, and you are hard put to keep back the tears from your eyes. But, when you finish, you feel the world isn't such a bad place after all.

LLEWELLYN HUGHES July 1 1924

HER PEARL EARRINGS

Some stones simply tug at your heart strings, and you are hard put to keep back the tears from your eyes. But, when you finish, you feel the world isn't such a bad place after all.

LLEWELLYN HUGHES July 1 1924

HER PEARL EARRINGS

LLEWELLYN HUGHES

SHE always called them her pearl earrings, but as a matter of fact there was only one of them and the pearl was not real, it was imitation. She did not know that, however, and now, thank God, she never will. If the other earring was stolen, as seems most likely, the scoundrel who took it got a shock.

I was half-way through the square in front of the Plaza Hotel when I first noticed her and then she seemed suddenly to emerge out of the fog, sitting on a bench in front of the fountain, feet just off the ground, her face like a cameo. It was an evening when a fellow is mighty glad of his heavy coat. Cold, gray clouds brushed the tops of the houses and impregnated the night air so that the street lamps were diffused.

She was a frail little figure, ungloved hands folded in her lap, nondescript jacket with funny, pokey sleeves and a wisp of a black silk bonnet fitting over her grey hair. It struck me I had seen the little lady there before; she was staring at the brilliantly lit hotel in front of her, though any one could tell that her thoughts were far away. Funny thing, as I turned back and stood beside her I was conscious that my offer of help sounded rather patronizing—a thing I hate. She shook her head and there was nothing to do but continue my way. I never offered her money again.

ALL through the performance of the play I saw that ■ night, the picture of her sitting there in the fog before the statue of a young woman supreme with vitality and physical perfection continued to haunt me. There was something tragic in that contrast—withered age and rounded marble—and I never pass that way even now without dwelling upon it. For some days I did not see her—I found out, later, she had taken a chill—but one evening she was there as usual and acknowledged my greeting with a little nod. So we became friends.

“I remember the time, and it doesn’t seem so very long, either,” she told me in her squeaky voice,

“when there were only a few houses round here. Over by that corner was McCarty’s, where we used to gather and dance till morning. But they pulled it down soon after Ned . . .” She stopped, her lower lip and jaw quivering a little. “That big hotel wasn’t here in those days, or the General’s statue.”

“You mean the statue of the young lady,” I corrected. “The Fountain of Youth.”

She appeared slightly confused.

“There’s a statue of a soldier on horse-back.”

“Across the street,” I agreed,

“near the entrance to the park.”

She looked that way, pensively.

“Yes, it’s all changed now, and I’m afraid he won’t recognize the place any more. But I come and sit here every day, sort of hoping. . . . Listen at me saying every day. Some days, of course, I’ve not been able to come out, and it’s then I seem to grow older, all of a sudden like. I keep thinking maybe he did come here one day when I wasn’t able to meet him, and . . .” She looked away.

“I expect you’ve noticed me?”

“Indeed I have. Very often.”

“You’d be surprised if I told you how long I’ve been coming here.”

She laughed and swung her crossed feet like a young girl. “I’m a little surprised myself when I reckon it up.”

“Two or three years, perhaps,” I suggested.

A smile hovered about her eyes like a shadow. “Over twenty,” she said.

“Twenty years!” I was amazed.

“That’s a long, long time.”

She nodded, not trusting herself to say any more, for her eyes had

Some stones simply tug at your heart strings, and you are hard put to keep back the tears from your eyes. But, when you finish, you feel the world isn't such a bad place after all.

suddenly filled with tears. To relieve the situation I told her I had known McCarty’s in my younger days and recalled a visit there when a lad. This won her confidence and I was deluged with questions, none of which, unfortunately, I could successfully answer. McCarty’s, a sort of road-house, was, as I recall my father saying, a fairly lively establishment, often the scene of drunken revelry and violence. It was difficult to associate this little woman with such a place.

“And you never heard of Ned Weir? Why, they all knew him at McCarty’s.”

I regretted my deficient memory, exceedingly.

“Course it’s many years ago, now. I lived down in Macgregor street then with my father. He was afraid of Ned—a lot of ’em were—I was afraid of him myself at first.” She laughed, swinging her feet again. “He was a big, powerful man, gentle as a lamb with me, you understand, but quick-tempered and jealous. He’d never let me out of his sight. Then, when father died ...”

Her eyes, peering back through many yesterdays, became wholly colorless.

“Maybe Ned did some things he shouldn’t, but he wasn’t as bad as some of ’em up at McCarty’s. I never did like the place, and the women were as wicked as the men. I’ve heard since that it was Jim Mullen, the proprietor, who made up the story against my Ned. Little good the reward did him, for with all bis money he lost his license after the shooting and shortly after was drowned in the river. I’ve told you Ned was jealous. If any feller looked at me it was bad blood right away and once he gave Jim Mullen a thrashing. Jim was a big man, too, but Ned had the strength of six when he was drunk.

“You’d hardly believe it, but he could pick me up with one finger, I’d catch hold of his thumb—like this —and he’d swing me clear on top of McCarty's mantelpiece in the dining room. I’d be perched up there frightened as could be, and everyone roaring with laughter. They called me ‘Dolly Daydream’ after the song Ned used to sing to me up there under George Washington’s portrait.

“Little Dolly Daydream Pride of Idahoe . . .”

Her thin voice, clinging shakily to the edge of a melody that had once been a favorite, trailed away plaintively.

“I remember it,” I said, telling a deliberate untruth.

HER small, cretaceous hands came together in a feeble clap. “And when he sang that song they could hear him a mile away,” she said. “Poor Ned. The kindest-hearted man in the world, only he didn’t like anyone to know it—not even me.” She was silent a moment. “He gave me these pearl earrings I’m wearing,” she told me proudly, as though the fact of them was universally known. “They’re valuable; worth a fortune. That’s why I never feel poor, like some.” Attached to her ear was an earring_of a somewhat gaudy and old-fashioned design in which a large pearl centred an elaborate filagree ornamentation. It had not impressed me as having much value, but I glanced at it anew and saw its lustre seemed genuine encugb and that what I had taken for gilt might well be gold. I concluded she had left the other at home, for there was only one to be seen.

“Maggie says I talk too much about them,” she went on. “You never know, she says, who might take advantage of a little body like me.” She smiled in defense of her frailty. “But I always tell her there isn’t half nor quarter the sin in this world as some make out. It’s a beautiful world and people are generally good and kind. Leastways, I’ve always found them so. But Maggie—”

“Who’s Maggie?” I ventured, feeling this was safe ground for inquiry.

“She’s the young girl who looks after me a little. I keep telling her she oughtn’t to bother with an old worry like me. She has her own troubles, poor thing. Lives in the room next mine, and works in a store somewhere when she ain’t sick.

“But it’s nothing a doctor can cure. What she needs is to go up to the mountains and get fresh air in her lungs; she is only pining away here. Father and mother both dead and gone, so she’s got nobody to look after her. The trouble is she wants to be a great artist. Sings all the time, when she’s feeling good. Costs money to learn how to sing, she tells me; though why she needs lessons I can’t say. It’s like a flute —her voice.”

“Is she studying?”

“Mercy, no! She’s been sickly for weeks now—coughing all day and night—and she don’t even sing any more. Mrs. Lumpkins, our landlady. Continued on page 44

Her Pearl Earrings

Continued from page 21

is very good to her in a way, and me and Maggie share whatever’s going. What I eat wouldn’t keep a sparrow alive, they tell me”—she laughed amusedly—“but then I’m nothing but a sparrow, anyway. Maggie don’t eat much, neither. Poor dear. Always helping me one way or another, and sometimes when I’m unable to stir she comes out here and watches for me. She’s young, you see; only eighteen; just the age when she ought to have a little sunshine and pleasure.” “And what about you,” I asked. “Me? Oh! I’m all right. Ned may be here any day. Then I’ll be the happiest woman in the whole country. But with Maggie, it’s different.” She suddenly turned toward me, her grey eyes analytical. “I wonder if you could advise me about something?”

IT WAS getting late and I was afraid that my arrangements for the evening might be hindered. “I’d be glad to try.” “I’ve been holding off selling my earrings,” she confided, very earnestly, “because I felt Ned would be disappointed like not seeing me wearing them. But Maggie ought to go away at once; I’ve forgotten the name of the place; it’s out in British Columbia, I think. I know Ned would forgive me and . . . How much d’you think I ought to get for them?” she asked credulously, her chin quivering.

“It depends,” I evaded, “entirely upon their value.”

“Oh! they’re terribly valuable. Ned said so when he gave them to me for my birthday.”

“Aren’t you a little afraid of losing them,” I suggested. “I can see you are wearing only one, and I hope—”

“I’ve only one,” she replied, simply. “But I call them my pearl earrings just the same. I lost the other just before I came up here to live, when I was down in Macgregor street. There was a lodger

there—a very nice man, and he helped me look everywhere.”

It was the middle of the week before I saw the little creature again. A proportion of her tranquility had flown, and her eyes were troubled. "

“Well,” I began, lifting my hat, “no sign of him to-day?”

She shook her head. “He’ll come tomorrow,” she said, trying to smile. “I only hope I’m well enough to come out, for something’s been telling and telling me I’m going to see him very soon,” I accepted this, of course, as an expression of her amazing hopefulness.

“I’m afraid,” I informed her as gently as I could, “that you stay out here too long. It gets chilly after Mr. Sun says, good-night, and that little jacket, you know—”

But she was not listening. “I’m thinking about Maggie,” she confessed. Laying her hand on my sleeve, she looked up at me. “I don’t want to part with them . . . but I must. Ned won’t mind. I’m sure.”

“You mean,” I said, being careful to speak of them in the plural, “your pearl earrings.”

She looked at me in a helpless sort of way, and there was a little swallowing movement in her throat. “Is there anything I can do?” I asked, tenderly.

“If you’d only take them to a jeweller for me. They’d give you the worth of them; but with me, they might . . . They’re so valuable, you see.”

I wondered whether I ought to remind her that so far as a monetary transaction was concerned the value attached to her imaginary pearl was purely sentimental and wouldn’t be cashed by hard-hearted jewellers. “If you are willing to trust them with me,” I said, “I’ll see an expert to-morrow,”

“I must have the money right away. Continued on page 46

Continued from page 44 I won’t tell Maggie anything about it, or else, you see, she wouldn’t take it. Would she? I’ll just put it in an envelope when she isn’t looking and leave it in her room.”

Her consummate unselfishness, shining like a jewel in the midst of her poverty and loneliness, took my breath away. I tried to compliment her but my words were woefully inadequate. Returning to the matter in hand, I presumed she had some notion of what might be considered an acceptable offer.

“Four or five hundred dollars, at least,” she suggested, awed by the mere sound of such a sum. “Maggie’d need all that, I’m sure.” With trembling fingers she unfastened the earring from the tiny hole in the lobe of her ear, pressed it delicately to her lips, then gave it to me.

It was fairly heavy, lying in the palm of my hand, but I did not care to examine it too closely. “It’s worth all that, I’m sure,” I said consolingly. “Might be worth more, but we’ll see about that tomorrow.” Wrapping it in my handkerchief, I placed it carefully in my pocket.

ALREADY I had sensed what had Ti. happened to Ned Weir, though I didn’t like to question her for fear of hurting her feelings. By this time, doubting my ability to accomplish it, I had arranged with a private rest-sanitorium in the country to take her in. I hoped she would see matters my way, but mentioning it off-handedly it became evident she would not take kindly to the idea.

“You see, there’s nobody but me could recognize him,” she said. “He’ll be greatly changed, of course, like me; but all the same I’d know him right off once I saw him.”

It was then she told me that he had been sentenced to prison for life. Her recital of the wrongs that perpetrated this disaster and her account of the shooting were somewhat incoherent and disjointed. Apparently it occurred the night before her twenty-first birthday, for which anniversary Weir had promised her a pair of pearl earrings. The police had been on his track for several days— she did not tell me why, even if she knew, which was unlikely—and they expected to find him up at McCarty’s about midnight. I gathered that Jim Mullen had been saying something not quite favorable to Dolly Daydream, and Weir, who worshipped the ground she walked upon, went up there to get him.

They were waiting for him, about six or seven of them. The moment he stepped in the door they pounced on him and a merry little hell was started. He wiped the floor with a few of them and actually got away. There was a policeman out by the road-gate, and Weir shot and killed him. He declared his innocence up to the last, saying that the shot came from the house and was fired by some one at him. Medical opinion did not substantiate this contention, however, and he was sent up for the rest of his life.

“I’ll never forget that night,” she told me, in her queer little voice. “Not expecting to see Ned till morning, I had gone to bed. He threw pebbles at my window, so I let him in. I knew at once something was wrong. ‘Here’s your birthday gift,’ he said. ‘Take care of them; they’re worth a fortune.’ Then he kissed me and rushed out into the night. The next day I read about it in the newspapers. They’d caught him, you see . .

Now and then, she told me, she had heard from him, and at length he told her that he was shortly to be reprieved. She was to meet him there, outside McCarty’s, he wrote. Of course this was twenty-five years or so after, and he did not know the place had been pulled down. Every day she was there, expecting to meet him; but he did not come. Eventually she wrote to the warden, who replied that Ned Weir had been released after serving his commuted sentence, and they had lost trace of him.

“So I’ve just kept on waiting,” she repeated, “and I’ll keep on waiting to the end. I’ve often thought I’d like to go and sit in the park a little, but I’d sure to miss him if I did.”

I rose. “Come now,” I persuaded,

“permit me to see you across the street. It’s getting late.”

Even at short distances, human faces were now vague and indistinguishable. She gave a last look round, and sidled off the bench until one foot touched the ground. Probably because she had sat there so long her limbs had numbed; at any rate she stumbled and would have fallen had I not supported her.

“You must take my arm,” I commanded, “and I insist on accompanying you as far as your home.”

She lived at the far end of Collier Street, and I jotted down the number of the house. It was a wretched neighborhood. The street, littered with every conceivable kind of rubbish, swarmed with dirty little children and mangy cats. The houses, too, like their inhabitants, were alike dismal, gray, and sadly in need of a scrubbing.

We stood on the top of the steps, outside the open door of her house. She was shivering and crying a little and with cold fingers caressed the lobe of her ear. “Well, they’re gone now,” she sobbed. “I’ve nothing left of him now.” She turned to me. “You’ve been very kind.”

Returning to my apartment, a closer inspection of the earring proved it was far from genuine. This, I realized, landed me in a fine predicament the solution of which feazed me. To get a check onrny hasty appraisal I had the thing examined by an expert the next morning._ His opinion unfortunately coincided with my own. “A clever imitation,” he said, “both of the gold and of the pearl. Worth a couple of dollars.”

I LEFT it there, with instructions to make another exactly like it, then I went to see the chief of police. He promised to make inquiries for me, and in a few days I received a communication from him enclosing a letter from the warden of a mid-western prison. It said that Ned Weir had died out in Vancouver several years ago and was buried in the local cemetery. Just a typewritten line or so, giving the bare fact; too heartless, too cruel, to ever pass on.

I was sailing for Europe at the end of the week, and I found it necessary to run up to Ottawa to put my affairs in order before leaving. I got back to town on Friday. The first thing I did was to go to the jeweller and inquire about my little surprise. In making a facsimile he had done an excellent piece of work and I was delighted. He put_ them in a small box for me and I hurried on to the square in front of the Plaza. She was not there. It being a beautiful day, I concluded that a letter, which I had arranged to have posted at the place it purported to come from, had been safely received. I told my chauffeur to drive me to the address on Collier Street.

Mounting the wooden steps, I entered the bare, smelly hall and rapped with my cane on the first door I came to. A pallid, young girl opened it and stood staring at me.

“I’ve come,” I said, “to see Miss Wilson; the little, old lady who sometimes sits out in the square by the park.” She invited me in, and my friend, sitting in a chair near the window, greeted me with old-fashioned courtesy. “Maggie’s been very fortunate,” she informed me. “She found an envelope in her room and in it was five hundred dollars. Who ever put it there we don’t know—but it must have been someone who was very fond of her. The world’s full of kindly people like that.” She smiled. “And now she will soon get well and be able to sing like a bird again; won’t you, Maggie?”

The girl, rather reluctantly, I fancied, nodded.

“And she’s persuaded me to go out to British Columbia with her,” the old lady continued. “She needs somebody to look after her, and—and—”

I was relieved, and inquired, diplomatically, what had caused her to relinquish her vigil outside the Plaza. Instead of answering me she turned to Maggie and requested something of her that took her out of the room. When the softly closed door notified her we were alone, she said:

“I don’t want her to know anything about it, you see,” she explained. “You don’t have to sell my earrings after all, because I’ve had a letter from the warden enclosing five hundred dollars.” “Which you gave to—?”

“Ssh! Yes. Ned died some years ago and the warden said he’d left_ me five hundred dollars—only they’d mislaid my address.” A shadow of doubt flitted across her brow. “I expect they found it at last. So you needn’t sell my earrings.”

I agreed with her.

“Yes,” she said, looking up at the blue sky through the window, “Ned died, and he’s buried in a cemetery out near Vancouver. I’m going to find it and put some flowers on his grave. ...”

I explained that I was leaving for Europe in the morning and was pressed for time. Leaving my card, I expressed a wish that if ever she was in difficulties she would not fail to drop me a line. Then I said good-bye.

Maggie was waiting for me in the passage. “I’m terribly worried,” she said in a hushed tone, “about that five hundred dollars.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I think I know where it came from. She—she sold her earring for me.”

“That can’t be,” I answered, putting my hand into my pocket, “because her earrings are here.”

And I gave her the little box.