Palace of Sweets
The mayor put on his claw-hammer and high dicer, the band struck up "Annie Rooney” and the party for Mrs. Sarkas began
GORDON M. HILLMAN
THINKING of Aunt Zia made Mr. Sarkas SO nervous that he went out and crossed to the other side of Saratoga Street to survey his establishment.
It was bright and neat and clean, which the rest, of Saratoga Street was not. Its front was blue and white, its marble-topped tables were set just so, like brightly burnished chessmen, its soda fountain shone, its soft blue walls were decorated with very delicate silver trees of a species unknown to anyone but the artist.
Ordinarily, Mr. Sarkas viewed all this with pride; today, he sadly shook his head. You could call a small candy store a Palace of Sweets if you wanted to, but that wouldn’t make it one. He could already hear that tremendous sniff with which Aunt Zia signified displeasure or contempt.
He went back into the shop, thinking now of Mamma flying over from Athens. It wasn’t the flying that worried him: it was the whole tone of Mamma’s last, letter. It was so painfully plain that Mamma thought her son was a great man in America and that South Bay was a wonderful place.
How that had ever got into her head he couldn’t imagine, but Mamma was going to be dreadfully disappointed. It was too bad that was so because Mamma was an old lady of seventy-two now and had seen quite enough trouble, what with wars and famine and revolutions.
Somehow, in his letters, he must have given Mamma the wrong idea: she’d expect a better house than he had, for instance. It was quite an odd house for Soufh Bay, a low, rambling sort of cottage with a yard of ils own and two trees and must have, at some time, belonged to a seafaring man, since it still had a broken dory filled with flowers in front. The seafaring man had left it, painted a grim, dirty grey, but Mr. Sarkas had changed that lo a rather nice yellow with green blinds.
What he couldn’t change was that, on one side, the house commanded a view of a dilapidated three-decker tenement, while its rear windows afforded an opportunity to watch the sea gulls getting a good living from the mud flats and an extra added vista of a red round gas tank.
Mr. Sarkas tried (o think what Mamma would l>e accustomed to from Athens and he couldn’t seem to remember Athens at all. He had left there at 17 and all he had was an impression of brightness and a blazing blue sky. He was quite sun», however, that there had been no gas tanks, mud flatH or gulls.
On the other hand he could remember Aunt Zia all too well, and she was coming with Mamma, coming to live out her life in the United States since Greece was so upset. Aunt Zia was a very violent woman. Aunt Zia had decided she was descended from the great Michael Paleologus, Emperor of Byzantium. Aunt Zia had sharp eyes and an even sharjjer tongue; she would not be fooled by flowers in a dory in anybody’s front yard.
Mr. Sarkas looked up to see that his daughter Betty had come in and was setting the soda fountain in shape.
Even Aunt Zia was unlikely to sniff at Betty with her soft black hair, her cheeks that were olive under rose, her straight Greek nose, her shining eyes.
She smiled at him. “You’d better stop getting so excited about Grandma coming. You’ll blowup long before next Tuesday if you don’t.”
“I am not excited,” Mr. Sarkas told her in his precise, clipjjed English. “It is just this. Mamma has got it in her head that 1 am somehow a big
shot. Mamma does not know that South Bay is the slums or, anyway, almost and that I spend all my time selling penny candy to kids. Mamma is now an old lady and it is going to be hard on her.”
Betty’s eyes grew big. Nobody, even in the wildest dream, would ever say Poppa was a big shot: Poppa w'as just Joe to everyone for miles around.
“Now don’t you worry,” she said quickly. “Of course it’ll all seem strange to Grandma at first and to Aunt Zia, too. But they’ll settle down and like it. You see if they don’t.”
Mr. Sarkas shook his head and went out to see about the ice cream.
Betty kept on shining nickel. Poppa was usually the happiest, little man. She hadn’t seen him so miserable since Momma’d died.
Someone clinked a coin on the counter and Kenny Burns’ red hair was an unruly blaze as always. “Hi, Betts! Why, what’s wrong?”
Kenny was tall and lean and all angles and he and Betty had been going together for a long time and were already as good as engaged. They would be when he got through law school.
“I guess you’ll laugh at it but—” She began telling him.
When Kenny listened to people, he did so with absolute intentness. And then carefully considered what they said. That was going to make him a good lawyer some day.
He now pronounced judgment. “If you ask me, your Grandma and Aunt are darned lucky to be getting out of Greece. And your father’s done plenty in paying their expenses. If they aren’t grateful, they ought to have their necks wrung.”
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Palace of Sweets
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indignant over the wrong thing, as he often did. “But that isn’t it, Kenny. It’s that Grandma’s got it into her head that Poppa’s someone—someone important.”
Kenny had a County Kerry temper and he now pounded the counter. “And who says he isn’t? Who gave me good advice to go to law school? Who would I go to if I were in trouble? Who’s the best-known man in South Bay and the best liked one, too?”
Betty’s eyes went wider still. It certainly was nice of Kenny to feel that way about Poppa, but no one else did.
“Yes, Kenny, but how’s Grandma going to know all that?”
THREE minutes later, he charged down Saratoga Street, muttering to himself. Betts was unhappy and so he was unhappy and all because Joe Sarkas’ Mamma expected Joe to be a millionaire or president of the Chamber of Commerce or something. Maybe Joe would be rich if he’d stop lending money to everyone in South Bay who was hard up or in some sort of a jam. Maybe . . .
“Look where you’re goin’, can’t you!” said Mrs. Moriarty.
Mrs. Moriarty was a large lady with a large and vigorous nose. Her hair was rusty and abundant and her hard blue eyes came as near to flashing fire as anyone’s ever will.
“Kenny Burns, if you’ve been quarreling with that sweet girl of yours, you better be ashamed of yourself!” Kenny was actively afraid of Mrs. Moriarty, a sentiment shared by every other inhabitant of South Bay. “I’ve not.” He might as well tell her about it because she’d drag it all out of him in the end. anyway.
“And if you ask me,” he finished bitterly, “he'd better have left the old lady where she was.”
Mrs. Moriarty dissented. “Sure she’d want ner own son to be a big man. And why not?” She put up her
hand and pushed her hat to one side: a sure signal of danger. “You’ve been a fool since you were five years old, Kenny Burns. Maybe before that you had some sense.”
Across Saratoga Street, behind a lumbering beer truck, Mrs. Moriarty could see her own shop quite clearly. Its gold sign said with almost classic restraint, “MADAME MORIARTY, MODES.”
Mrs. Moriarty’s hat tilted still farther. 1 f Joe Sarkas hadn’t lent her the money to get started, she wouldn’t be Madame Moriarty or possess a prosperous business. She’d probably be behind a counter in the dime store. Nobody but she and Joe knew that and nobody was going to. She began to walk down the street.
MR. BRANNIGAN sat in his office, which was a small room in back of the Emerald Bar and Billiard Parlor. Mr. Brannigan, small and bright-eyed and bald, was consuming salted peanuts and a cake of chocolate in order to stimulate thought.
Being the ward boss, Mr. Brannigan was thinking about the .election, but not too hard, because it was in the bag, anyway.
He looked up to see Mrs. Moriarty sweep through the door.
As he rose, no one would have known he hadn’t the least desire to see her. “Why, Ellen Moriarty! And how’s the Ladies’ Improvement Association getting on?”
Mrs. Moriarty plumped herself down in a chair and displayed one of her own modes in a vivid purple tone. “We’re thinking of getting the Governor to come over and speak to us.”
This was treachery of the worst sort and Mr. Brannigan’s gaze slid to her hat. Sure enough, it was on crooked.
“I hear the Republicans are honest.” Mrs. Moriarty realized this was unlikely. “At any rate, some honest.” Mr. Brannigan was aware that she wanted something: if he kept quiet,
he’d find out what.
“Joe Sarkas’ mother and his aunt are coming in here on an airplane from some heathen place next Tuesday.”
Mr. Brannigan knew that perfectly well.
“That’s a long way for two old ladies to travel: It would be a nice thing
if there was some sort of a welcome for them.”
Mr. Brannigan saw he was going to get off easy. “What you got in mind, Ellen?”
“Well, maybe a block party in front of Joe’s place. Only if anybody thinks I’m going to do all the work about it, I’m not.”
Both the peanuts and the chocolate beside Mr. Brannigan had come from the Palace of Sweets: that Mr. Brannigan had a high opinion of Mr. Sarkas was attested by the fact he had actually paid for them.
He decided he might as well make a significant gesture. “I’d be glad to attend to a few details myself. Ellen.”
Mrs. Moriarty gave her hat another knock. “That kind of a party’s no good unless people come to it. If you was to pass word to the boys to be there, they would.”
That was perfectly true: any party in which Mr. Brannigan had an interest would take on the nature of a command performance.
“I hear,” said Mrs. Moriarty, getting down to it at last, “that Joe’s mother’s got the silly idea in her head that Joe’s a big gun in South Bay, bigger even than a city councilor or a congressman. Joe’s worried sick over what she’ll think when she finds he only sells candy to dirty-nosed kids.”
Mr. Brannigan considered that. He considered that Mrs. Sarkas, after being bounced around in Athens by bombs, Communists and ration cards, would probably think herself lucky to be in South Bay at all. She might even realize that selling penny candy to kids was an honorable profession.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody in South Bay that isn’t a friend of Joe’s,” he said slowly.
“So what’s that get him?” snapped Mrs. Moriarty.
Mr. Brannigan shifted to safer ground. “Where’s the old lady coming in?”
Mrs. Moriarty rose to go. “Over at the airport.”
Mr. Brannigan displayed that fine attention to details which made him an able ward boss. “If Joe meets her in that beat-up jalopy of his, it won’t look so good.”
Mrs. Moriarty said pointedly that it would be a disgrace not only to the community but to the party as well. Whereupon, she departed.
A METHODICAL man, Mr. Brannigan first made sure that M rs. Moriarty had actually gone: then he put
on his derby hat, then summoned an aide from the poolroom and issued instructions that the boys were to appear at a block party at six o’clock sharp. They were to bring their wives, children, sisters, sweethearts and all other relatives not actually bedridden.
These were merely warming-up exercises for Mr. Brannigan, who now issued into the brisk air of Saratoga Street. There was a sea wind, much strengthened in fishiness and saltiness by the glue factory four blocks away, and there was also an overlay of the healthful odor of stale beer.
Mr. Brannigan drew a deep breath of this invigorating mixture and entered the undertaking establishment of Vincent Colleoni. Mr. Colleoni, tall, dark and most unfunereal-looking, was reading the morning paper with particular attention to the obituary columns.
“I’d like the loan of your big black limousine. Not the one with the broken springs. The good one,” said Mr. Brannigan.
Mr. Colleoni’s response was immediate and regrettable. “No limousines for no political drunks.”
The purpose was not political, Mr. Brannigan explained. It was to convey Mr. Sarkas’ mamma and aunt from the airport to a gigantic welcome now being arranged in their behalf.
Mr. Colleoni rubbed his hair the wrong way so it stood up straight. “Why’n’t you say so? For Joe, sure. Joe, he’s always nice to my boys. All my boys ask after Joe when they write their poor old Poppa a letter.”
Mr. Colleoni’s boys had long since grown up and there were ten of them. Mr. Brannigan couldn’t remember which one was a jazz-band leader, which a barber, and which was spending a quiet sabbatical in San Quentin. So he merely gave a sympathetic cluck.
“For the party I could maybe find a couple of wreaths left over from someone,” Mr. Colleoni mused.
“You better be careful,” Mr. Brannigan warned. “This isn’t a wake: it’s a welcome.”
Mr. Colleoni ignored the aspersion. “I put some soft cushions in the back of that limousine. I shine him up nice till it looks as good as the car the city gives His Honor the Mayor—the bum.” Mr. Brannigan bade him good-by and his brain began to revolve with great rapidity. He was about to arrange a block party that would knock Ellen Moriarty’s eye out.
HAVING now gotten up a full head of steam, Mrs. Moriarty burst into Schultz’ bakery. Behind the counter the blond Mrs. Schultz bulged in a pair of massive plaid slacks.
Mrs. Moriarty briefly explained her mission and, knowing Mrs. Schultz’ reputation for penury, braced herself with great enjoyment for a fight which would not only be exhilarating but downright ferocious.
To her surprise, she didn’t get it. “Joe Sarkas?” Mrs. Schultz waved her white plump hand. “Anything in the shop for Joe. Anytime. The Mister will make up special even some of the little cakes with strawberry cream inside.” She leaned across the counter. “If it hadn’t been for Joe helping, 1 don’t know how we’d got along when the Mister was away.”
This was a polite way of putting it, Mr. Schultz having become involved in some highly illegal proceedings, had been lodged and boarded by the state in a small apartment with a barred window. He now lived in fearful subjection to Mrs. S. and commonly lurked in the cellar.
Being well-bred ladies, Mrs. Moriarty and Mrs. Schultz ignored all this and straightway pounced on Mr. Anderson, the young district man for the Daily Express, who had unluckily just come in for half a dozen rolls.
“Robbie,” said Mrs. Schultz, “we want you should get us a nice piece in the paper.”
Like most district men, Mr. Anderson spent much of his time escaping from people who want pieces in the paper. He pointed out that only last week there had been a paragraph on the Ladies’ Improvement Association, complete with half-column cut of Mrs. Moriarty.
The ladies brushed that aside. “You’d think,” said Mrs. Moriarty severely, “that a newspaper would pay some attention when a prominent citizen like Joe Sarkas has his old Mamma and Auntie flying in all the way from Greece and everyone in the ward’s getting up a wonderful block party to welcome them.”
Mr. Anderson hastily hunted for a pencil. Joe Sarkas was always good for a five-dollar loan to tide a hardworking newspaperman over until pay-
day. Besides, aged mothers and aunts flying half across the world to be greeted by block parties are neither plentiful nor commonplace. It would be good for a column at least and might even run to a special Sunday feature.
He began asking a great many questions.
MR. BRANNIGAN entered the mayor’s office at City Hall and had a fine view of His Honor Alfred Ferguson Jones seated in majesty behind a big desk.
His Honor had been put in by the organization solely because he looked respectable and would do what he was told. He had already achieved a considerable stomach and a ponderous manner, which was liable to crack under strain.
Mr. Brannigan, now so bland he looked like an elderly pink-and-white baby, enjoyed baiting the Honorable Alf very much.
“Well, well. Mike,” boomed the mayor, “and how’s the Lucky Seventh Ward?”
Mr. Brannigan shook his head. “Not so good, Alf. The Ladies’ Improvement Association are getting out of line.” The mayor expressed his opinion of feminine voters: it was unfavorable.
“They’re saying,” remarked Mr. Brannigan mildly, “that you don’t do enough for the ward.”
The mayor swelled with indignation. “Didn’t I repave Bennington Street for them? Didn’t I put a fence around the playground? Didn’t I give them a statue of Garibaldi, on a real marble pedestal?”
There was strong dissatisfaction with the statue, Mr. Brannigan said: the
bronze had already begun to chip.
“But the thing is, Alf,” he added, “you don’t show yourself around enough.”
The mayor nodded.
“Now. Alf, I’ve got a nice spot for you. The whole ward’s giving a big block party Tuesday night for Joe Sarkas’ Mamma and Auntie who are flying all the way from Athens. Joe’s a good regular party man.”
His Honor had a pressing engagement for Tuesday night and so his manner collapsed entirely. “Why should I go way over to South Bay to a block party for some fellow I don’t even know?”
Mr. Brannigan fixed his eyes on the ceiling. “It would be a terrible thing if we had to get the Governor instead.” His Honor said that under those circumstances he might look in for a minute.
Mr. Brannigan rose. “Climb into the claw-hammer first, Alf.”
“Now look,” His Honor said in a hot howl. “I got to go over to that lousy hole, I got to shake hands with him and his old lady. Ain’t that enough?”
Mr. Brannigan looked sorely shocked. “In Greece, Alf, every public official puts on his monkey suit the minute he gets out of bed. It’s an ancient custom.”
He assumed his derby hat and wandered toward the door. He turned. “With the claw-hammer, Alf, wear the high dicer!”
FATHER RYAN was recovering from Mrs. Moriarty.
Father Ryan was a small man, thin and very old. Age had been kind to him for it had intensified the fineness and delicacy of his features. He sat now in his study, his hands folded before him, the sharp afternoon light making his faintly lined skin almost translucent.
Mrs. Moriarty was a good woman. An excellent woman. But extremely wearing.
It was she who had put forth the idea that the children should form St. Joseph’s Band, which now practiced once a week and made horrible noises in the church basement. It was she who had insisted on a uniform of scarlet jacket and tight red trousers with gold braid down the side.
Father Ryan had been most uncertain of the propriety of putting little girls into tight red trousers: he had
finally reached the comforting conclusion that they kept the children’s legs warm.
His housekeeper now came breathlessly into the room. “His Excellency, the Archbishop!”
Father Ryan had known the Archbishop for more years than either of them could remember. He rose. “Well, well, Tom!”
“Hello, Dan. You look tired.”
“I’ve just been having a visit from Ellen Moriarty.”
The Archbishop was a much younger man than Father Ryan and a much bigger man, too, with the figure of a football player and a broad, goodhumored face that never betrayed what he was thinking. He was thinking now that something would simply have to be done about Father Ryan. He was growing so old.
“Is it the same Mrs. Moriarty who got up the idea of the children having a band?”
Father Ryan nodded.
“It’s a dreadful band,” said the Archbishop.
A little flush came on Father Ryan’s parchment-pale face. “They can play ‘Annie Rooney’ now so it’s very recognizable.”
The Archbishop said rapidly, “Does she want four prancing female drum majors out in front with high white boots and nearly no skirts? If she does, she can’t.”
Father Ryan said it was something quite different. He began telling the Archbishop all about the block party and Mrs. Sarkas.
“. . . He’s such a small man, it’s quite difficult to realize he does a great deal of good . . . When the church burned down, he offered his candy store for our services. Of course, it wasn’t exactly suitable . . . And, when we rebuilt, I’m sure he contributed much more than he could afford . . . He’s always doing things for people very quietly so no one’s pride gets hurt and, until now, not a single person has ever thought of doing anything for him . . .”
The opaque look of age faded from his eyes, they held instead the bright and radiant light of one who works in a barren vineyard and is grateful for what unexpected fruit he may find there.
Yes, Dan Ryan, the Archbishop thought, you’re speaking of this Mr. Sarkas but you’re also actually describing yourself in every word you say.
He saw suddenly that he couldn’t retire Father Ryan or even move him to an easier parish. For Father Ryan was like some finely wrought piece of machinery: if you stopped its working it was already dead.
Father Ryan should stay right here in South Bay for, though it was a barren vineyard, it had become familiar, and well-loved through the long years of his labor. Only his parishioners should be made to appreciate him more: they should be shown in what
high regard his Church held him.
The Archbishop flung one knee over the other. “Do you suppose, Dan, that this Mr. Sarkas still sells those penny sticks of candy that were a violent pink on the outside with red stripes running around them?
“I remember them,” Father Ryan
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said. “When you took a few licks, all the pink came off and they were only a dirty white inside. J think that must have been my first disillusionment in life . . .”
MRS. SARKAS was terribly frightened. It had been very confusing at the airport and now it was worse. She was sitting timidly in a most expensive automobile that was not only going at a dreadful rate of speed but had a motorcycle policeman racing in front of it with his siren screaming.
She shrank back into the corner, a small, plump woman all in black with cheeks like dumplings. She didn’t look smart and dashing in black as Aunt Zia did and she clung hard to her son Joseph’s hand.
She found Joseph a little frightening, too, because he looked so prosperous in his neat blue suit. It had been a nightmare of Mrs. Sarkas’ for months that her son would have grown too wealthy, too important, and that he’d live in some magnificent neighborhood. If he did, she knew she’d never fit in.
She took comfort in the fact that her granddaughter seemed a nice, quiet sort of girl and she probably was engaged to the angular redheaded man, who was not ^alarming either. And Mr. Brannigan had a reassuring smile in spite of his derby hat.
Anut Zia had her doubts about everything. She sat bolt upright, her straight nose quivering, her eyes heavylidded like a hawk’s. She had already ascertained that the motor car did not belong to her nephew and was merely hired and, while it was gratifying to see the motorcycle policeman waving all the traffic out of their way, she did not think too much of that either. It was undoubtedly some odd American custom.
As for her nephew, he was much as he’d always been as a small boy and she didn’t in the least believe he’d gotten on very well or ever would. The daughter was all right and the young man would do. As for Mr. Brannigan, he was just a politician and she reserved judgment as to whether he was a good one or not.
Mr. Brannigan now cleared his throat. “You folks’ll find a little surprise party waiting for you,” he said. “His Honor the Mayor’ll be there.” Aunt Zia made a remark in staccato Greek.
“Huh,” said Mr. Brannigan.
Betty translated. “She says mayors are mostly thieves.”
Mr. Brannigan began to have a high opinion of Aunt Zia.
SOUTH BAY began sliding by and Mrs. Sarkas sat up with sudden interest.
“Is this it?”
Her son sadly nodded.
The sea wind was in, still greatly reinforced by the glue factory and a slight odor of something scorching that might or might not have come from the incinerator. It made Mrs. Sarkas feel much at home. It was a nice street, too, full of stir and life and civic confusion with all the homely little noises that testified a good many people lived there. Mrs. Sarkas breathed an immense sigh of relief.
This was going to be just right, for lier idea of an ideal location was where one could lean out one’s windows and chat companionably with the neighbors.
"It smells nice,” she said.
They turned into Saratoga Street and colored electric light bulbs (borrowed from the Bijou Theatre) were winking overhead. A floodlight (lent by the fire department) flung full on a high-strung streamer:
“WELCOME MAMA & AUNT . . . WELCOME.”
The car stopped and Canavan, the rookie cop, swung open the door.
“Stand back there!” he said to no one in particular and grasped Mrs. Sarkas’ arm. “Take your time, ma’am.”
Aunt Zia gave a prodigious sniff. In her shrewd opinion, welcomes do not simply spring out of the ground. Someone had arranged all this and she meant to find out who. It certainly was not her nephew, who appeared to be in a state of speechless amazement.
On the sidewalk, Miss Eileen McCann raised her baton. “Numbah twenty-two!”
St. Joseph’s Band began to play “Annie Rooney.”
Aunt Zia sniffed again. She was not acquainted with “Annie Rooney” but she was quite sure they weren’t playing it right.
Ahead, the Palace of Sweets was a great glare of light and Aunt Zia thought it was just about the sort of place her nephew could be expected to have and began a mental computation of its probable profit per week.
The neighborhood was what she had imagined it would be, too, and on the whole that was fortunate. Her sister, Helen, would fit in nicely here and so would she.
For Aunt Zia, about to begin a new life in a strange land, proposed to enjoy herself as much as possible. She had seen a good many masterful old ladies engaged in making their families miserable and she was certainly not going to do that. She would not interfere in her nephew’s business and Helen could run his household quite nicely and happily. But it would amuse her to meddle with the affairs of the community, both social and civic, and she had no doubt it would do both her and the community a great deal of good.
She allowed herself to enter the Palace of Sweets on Mr. Brannigan’s arm.
There were long tables laden with food, there were many straight and uncomfortable chairs (courtesy of Mr. Colleoni). There were also several wreaths and some enormous floral pieces bearing ribbons with lettering in gilt, “TO OUR DEAR FRIEND,” which was at least a safe sentiment.
Mr. Colleoni, himself, had a dull gleam of black about him and Aunt Zia immediately set him down as the local undertaker, who had undoubtedly furnished the wreaths (from somebody’s funeral), the floral offerings and probably the chairs.
She caught sight of Mrs. Moriarty in shimmering green satin and instantly knew that lady was the moving spirit behind all this.
Mrs. Moriarty caught sight of her, too, and at once appraised Aunt Zia’s quality. They stood there, almost snorting, like two female war horses who very well know each other’s worth.
Mrs. Sarkas flinched in terror as a flash bulb went off in her face and a large gentleman in a silk hat and cutaway coat shook her hand heartily.
His Honor the Mayor said in a resounding boom, “Upon behalf of South Bay and the city, allow me to welcome you!”
Mrs. Sarkas wished she could creep away to some quiet corner and hide.
She felt a gentle pressure on her arm.
“You must be very tired,” said Father Ryan.
Being a simple woman, Mrs. Sarkas instantly knew Father Ryan for what he was: a good man, patient, unworldly and wise. He looked a little like St. Francis in the stained glass window of her own church, only St. Francis had a crack clear across his face from one
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of the bombings and Father Ryan, of course, did not.
She was not afraid of anything any more: not of the flash bulbs or the
mayor or of so many people all speaking in a strange tongue.
Father Ryan sat down beside Mrs. Sarkas in one of Mr. Colleoni’s uncomfortable chairs. 11 was a great handicap that she could not speak English and Father Ryan’s Greek was the classical variety of Aristotle, Xenophon and Thucydides. Still, she might be able to understand some of it.
He began to talk to her about Mr. Sarkas and what a friend he was to all the children.
Mrs. Sarkas was eating one of the strawberry cream cakes made by Mr. Schultz. She could make out only a little of what Father Ryan was saying, but she was sure it was about Joseph.
“He is a good man,” she said and Father Ryan understood her perfectly.
Aunt Zia was also having a cream cake and it was her opinion that Mr. Schultz had been a trifle stingy with the eggs. It was her opinion, also, that the mayor was a fool because he was now shaking hands with everybody. She did not realize that His Honor, having assumed the claw-hammer and the high dicer, was not going to waste them and that he had made up his mind not to come back again to South Bay for months—if ever.
Mrs. Moriarty had been very rude to him about the statue of Garibaldi and had also spoken about the state of the city dump.
He thought it would be quite a comfort if he could talk to someone who didn’t want anything. So he stooped down beside Mrs. Sarkas and said he hoped that she was enjoying herself.
By now Mrs. Sarkas actually was. A great many people kept insisting on bringing her interesting things to eat and she sensed they were all quite kind. They would be good neighbors, she was sure, and she was going to be very happy here in South Bay. A little color crept into her cheeks and she smiled.
Aunt Zia’s eyes roved about the room and her ears were active too. She
had the immense advantage of understanding everything that was said without being supposed to. She could speak English perfectly well, but wasn’t going to admit that until she thought it advisable.
She saw that Helen had settled down with the priest and that was pleasant. Anyone could see he was a good priest and anyone could see, too, that he was one whom the bishop would never bother about and that no high prelate of the church would deign to come to visit him. There are always plenty of insignificant though worthy priests like that and Aunt Zia gave a muted sniff.
Mr. Colleoni, who had been looking out the window, began to wave his hands wildly. “Saints preserve us!” he said. “It’s the Archbishop!”
Miss Eileen McCann had been training her aides for days in a very special number to be produced at some high spot in the evening’s entertainment.
It was unlikely there would be a higher spot than this and she raised her baton. “Numbah seventeen and anybody plays a sour note hears from me about it afterward!”
St. Joseph’s Band broke with great savagery into the strains of “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”
It was fortunate, Father Ryan thought, that the Archbishop had a fine sense of humor.
Aunt Zia was, for the first time in her life, entirely confounded. You can hire large limousines, you can bribe the police, you can put pressure upon politicians, you can persuade undertakers to provide you with chairs—but you simply cannot go about pulling Archbishops out of hats.
She almost began to believe that her nephew might possibly amount to something after all.
In the whole room, Mrs. Sarkas was the only person not in a state of astonishment. Her son, Joseph, had so many friends, such fine friends, it was not impossible an Archbishop might be among them.
You have to expect such things, Mrs. Sarkas thought, when your son is a most remarkable man.