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A short story by Booth Tarkington

The Aliens

Title:     The Aliens
Author: Booth Tarkington [More Titles by Tarkington]

Pietro Tobigili, that gay young chestnut vender--he of the radiant smiles--gave forth, in his warm tenor, his own interpretation of "Ach du lieber Augustine," whenever Bertha, rosy waitress in the little German restaurant, showed her face at the door. For a month it had been a courtship; and the merchant sang often:

"Ahaha, du libra Ogostine,
Ogostine, Ogostine!
Ahaha, du libra Ogostine,
Nees coma ross."

The acquaintance, begun by the song and Pietro's wonderful laugh, had grown tender. The chestnut vender had a way with him; he looked like the "Neapolitan Fisher Lad" of the chromos, and you could have fancied him of two centuries ago, putting a rose in his hair; even as it was, he had the ear-rings. But the smile of him it was that won Bertha, when she came to work in the little restaurant. It was a smile that put the world at its ease; it proclaimed the coming of morning over the meadows, and, taking every bystander into an April friendship, ran on suddenly into a laugh that was like silver, and like a strange puppy's claiming you for the lost master.

So it befell that Bertha was fascinated; that, blushing, she laughed back to him, and was nothing offended when, at his first sight of her, he rippled out at once into "Ahaha, du libra Ogostine."

Within two weeks he was closing his business (no intricate matter) every evening, to walk home with her, through the September moonlight. Then extraordinary things happened to the English language.

"I ain'd nefer can like no foreigner!" she often joked back to a question of his. "Nefer, nefer! you t'ink I'm takin' up mit a hant-orkan maan, Mister Toby?"

Whereupon he would carol out the tender taunt, "Ahaha, du libra Ogostine!"

"Yoost a hant-orkan maan!"

"No! _No_! No oragan! I am a greata--greata merchant. Vote a Republican! Polititshian! To-bigli, Chititzen Republican. Naturalasize! March in a parade!"

Never lived native American prouder of his citizenship than this adopted one. Had he not voted at the election? Was he not a member of the great Republican party? He had eagerly joined it, for the reason that he had been a Republican in Italy, and he had drawn with him to the polls his second cousin, Leo Vesschi, and the five other Italians with whom he lived. For this, he had been rewarded by Pixley, his precinct committee-man, who allowed him to carry pink torches in three night processions.

"You keeb oud politigs," said Bertha, earnestly, one evening. "My uncle, Louie Gratz, he iss got a neighbour-lady; her man gone in politigs. After_vorts_ he git it! He iss in der bennidenshierry two years. You know why?"

"Democrat!" shouted the chestnut vender triumphantly.

"No, sir! Yoost politigs," replied the unpartisan Bertha. "You keeb oud politigs."

"Ahaha, du libra Ogostine,
Ogostine, Ogostine!
Ahaha, du libra Ogostine,
Nees coma ross."

The song was always a teasing of her and carried all his friendly laughter at her, because of her German ways; but it became softly exultant whenever she betrayed her interest in him.

"Libra Ogostine, she afraid I go penitensh?" he inquired.

"Me!" she jeered with uneasy laughter. "_I_ ain'd care! but you--you don' look oud, you git in dod voikhouse!"

He turned upon her, suddenly, a face like a mother's, and touched her hand with a light caress.

"I stay in a workhouse sevena-hunder' year," he said gently, "you come seeta by window some-a-time."

At this Bertha turned away, was silent for a space, leaning on the gate-post in front of her uncle's house, whither they were now come. Finally she answered brokenly: "I ain'd sit by no vinder for yoost a jessnut maan." This was her way of stimulating his ambition.

"Ahaha!" he cried. "You don' know? I'm goin' buy beeg stan'! Candy! Peanut! Banan'! Make some-a-time four dollar a day! 'Tis a greata countra! Bimaby git a store! Ride a buggy! Smoke a cigar! You play piano! Vote a Republican!"


"Tis true!"

"Toby," she said tearfully; "Toby, you voik hart, und safe your money?"

"You help?" he whispered.

"I help--_you_!" she cried loudly. Then, with a sudden fit of sobbing, she flung open the gate and ran at the top of her speed into the house.

Halcyon the days for Pietro Tobigli, extravagant the jocularity of this betrothed one. And, as his happiness, so did his prosperity increase; the little chestnut furnace became the smallest adjunct of his affairs; for he leaped (almost at one bound) to the proprietorship of a wooden stand, shaped like the crate of an upright piano and backed up against the brick wall of the restaurant--a mercantile house which was closed at night by putting the lid on. All day long Toby's smile arrested pedestrians, and compelled them to buy of him, making his wares sweeter in the mouth. Bertha dwelt in a perpetual serenade: on warm days, when the restaurant doors were open, she could hear him singing, not always "Ogostine," but festal lilts of Italy, liquid and strangely sweet to her; and at such times, when the actual voice was not in her ears, still she blushed with delight to hear in her heart the thrilling echoes of his barcaroles, and found them humming cheerily upon her own lips.

Toby was to save five hundred dollars before they married, a great sum, but they were patient and both worked very hard. The winter would have fallen bitterly upon an outdoor merchant lacking Toby's confident heart, but on the coldest days, when Bertha looked out, she always found him slapping his hands, and trudging up and down in the snow in front of the little box; and, as soon as he caught sight of her--"Aha-ha, du libra Ogostine, Ogostine, Ogostine!"

She saved her own money with German persistence, and on Christmas day her present to her betrothed, in return for a coral pin, was a pair of rubber boots filled with little cakes.

Elysium was the dwelling-place of Pietro Tobigli, though, apparently, he abode in a horrible slum cellar with Leo Vesschi and the five Latti brothers. In this place our purveyor of sweetmeats was the only light. Thither he had carried his songs and his laugh and his furnace when he came from Italy to join Vesschi; and there he remained, partly out of loyalty to his un-prosperous comrades, and partly because his share of the expense was only twenty-five cents a week, and every saving was a saving for Bertha. Every evening, on the homeward walk, the affianced pair passed the hideous stairway that led down to the cellar, and Bertha, neat soul, never failed to shudder at it. She did not know that Pietro lived there, for he feared it might distress her; nor could she ever persuade him to tell her where he lived.

Because of this mystery, upon which he merrily insisted, she affected a fear that he would some day desert her. "You don' tell me where you lif, I t'ink you goin' ran away of me, Toby. I vake opp some day; git a ledder dod you gone back home by 'Talian lady dod's grazy 'bout you!"

"Ahaha! Libra Ogostine, you believe I can make a write weet a pen-a-paper? I don' know that-a _how_. Some-a-time you _see_ that gran' palazzo where I leef. Eesa greata-great sooraprise!"

In the gran' palazzo, it was as much as he could do to keep clean his own grim little bunk in the corner. His comrades, sullen, hopeless, came at evening from ten hours' desperate shovelling, and exhibited no ambition for water or brooms, but sat hunched and silent, or morosely muttering and coughing, in the dark room with its sodden earthen floor, stained walls, and one smoky lamp.

To this uncomfortable chamber repaired, one March evening, Mr. Frank Pixley, Republican precinct committee-man, nor was its dinginess an unharmonious setting for that political brilliant. He was a pock-pitted, damp-looking, soiled little fungus of a man, who had attained to his office because, in the dirtiest precinct of the wickedest ward in the city, he had, through the operation of a befitting ingenuity, forced a recognition of his leadership. From such an office, manned by a Pixley, there leads an upward ramification of wires, invisible to all except manipulators, which extends to higher surfaces. Usually the Pixley is a deep-sea puppet, wholly controlled by the dingily gilded wires that run down to him; but there are times when the Pixley gives forth initial impulses of his own, such as may alter the upper surface; for, in a system of this character, every twitch is felt throughout the whole ramification.

"Hello, boys," the committee-man called out with automatic geniality, as he descended the broken steps. "How are ye? All here? That's good; that's the stuff! Good work!"

Only Toby replied with more than an indifferent grunt; but he ran forward, carrying an empty beer keg which he placed as a seat for the guest.

"Aha_ha_, Meesa Peeslay! Make a parade? Torchlight? Bandaplay--ta ra, la la la? Firework? Fzzz! Boum! Eh?"

The politician responded to Toby's extravagantly friendly laughter with some mechanical cachinnations which, like an obliging salesman, he turned on and off with no effort. "Not by a dern sight!" he answered. "The campaign ain't begun yet."

"Champagne?" inquired Tobigli politely.

"Campaign, campaign," explained Pixley. "Not much champagne in yours!" he chuckled beneath his breath. "Blame lucky to git Chicago bowl!"

"What is that, that campaign?"

"Why--why, it's the campaign. Workin' up public sentiment; gittin' you boys in line, 'lect-ioneerin'--fixin' it _right_."

Tobigli shook his head. "Campaign?" he repeated.

"Why--Gee, _you_ know! Free beer, cigars, speakin', handshaking, paradin'--"

"Ahaha!" The merchant sprang to his feet with a shout. "Yes! Hoor-r-ra! Vote a Republican! Dam-a Democrat!"

"That's it," replied the committee-man somewhat languidly. "You see, this is a Republican precinct, and it turns the ward--"

"Allaways a Republican!" vociferated Pietro. "That eesa right?"

"Well," said the other, "of course, whichever way you go, you want to follow your precinct committee-man--that's me."

"Yess! Vote a Republican."

Pixley looked about the room, his little red eyes peering out cannily from under his crooked brows at each of the sulky figures in the damp shadows.

"You boys all vote the way Pete says?" he asked.

"Vote same Pietro," answered Vesschi. "Allaways."

"Allaways a Republican," added Pietro sparkingly, with abundant gesture. "'Tis a greata-great countra. Republican here same a Republican at home--eena Etallee. Republican eternall! All good Republican eena thees house! Hoor-r-ra!"

"Well," said Pixley, with a furtiveness half habit, as he rose to go, "of course, you want to keep your eye on your committee-man, and kind of foller along with him, whatever he does. That's me." He placed a dingy bottle on the keg. "I jest dropped in to see how you boys were gittin' along--mighty tidy little place you got here." He changed the stub of his burnt-out cigar to the other side of his mouth, shifting his eyes in the opposite direction, as he continued benevolently: "I thought I'd look in and leave this bottle o' gin fer ye, with my compliments. I'll be around ag'in some evenin', and I reckon before 'lection day comes there may be somep'n doin'--I might have better fer ye than a bottle. Keep your eye on me, boys, an' foller the leader. That's the idea. So long!"

"Vote a Republican!" Pietro shouted after him gaily.

Pixley turned.

"Jest foller yer leader," he rejoined. "That's the way to learn politics, boys."

Now as the rough spring wore on into the happier season, with the days like spiced warm wine, when people on the street are no longer driven by the weather but are won by it to loiter; now, indeed, did commerce at Toby's new stand so mightily thrive that, when summer came, Bertha was troubled as to the safety of Toby's profits.

"You yoost put your money by der builtun-loan 'sociation, Toby," she advised gently. "Dey safe ut fer you."

"T'ree hunder' fifta dolla--_no_!" answered her betrothed. "I keep in de pock'!" He showed her where the bills were pinned into his corduroy waistcoat pocket. "See! Eesa _yau!_ Onna my heart, libra Ogostine!"

"Toby, uf you ain'd dake ut by der builtun-loan, _blease_ put ut in der bink?"

"I keep!" he repeated, shaking his head seriously. "In t'ree-four mont' eesa five-hunder-dolla. Nobody but me eesa tross weet that money."

Nor could Bertha persuade him. It was their happiness he watched over. Who to guard it as he, the dingy, precious parcel of bills? He pictured for himself a swampy forest through which he was laying a pathway to Bertha, and each of the soiled green notes that he pinned in his waistcoat was a strip of firm ground he had made, over which he advanced a few steps nearer her. And Bertha was very happy, even forgetting, for a while, to be afraid of the smallpox, which had thrown out little flags, like auction signs, here and there about the city.

When the full heat of summer came, Pietro laughed at the dog-days; and it was Bertha's to suffer in the hot little restaurant; but she smiled and waved to Pietro, so that he should not know. Also she made him sell iced lemonade and birch beer, which was well for the corduroy waistcoat pocket. Never have you seen a more alluring merchant. One glance toward the stand; you caught that flashing smile, the owner of it a-tip-toe to serve you; and Pietro managed, too, by a light jog to the table on which stood his big, bedewed, earthen jars, that you became aware of the tinkle of ice and a cold, liquid murmur--what mortal could deny the inward call and pass without stopping to buy?

There fell a night in September when Bertha beheld her lover glorious. She had been warned that he was to officiate in the great opening function of the campaign; and she stood on the corner for an hour before the head of the procession appeared. On they came--Pietro's party, three thousand strong; brass bands, fireworks, red fire, tumultuous citizens, political clubs, local potentates in open carriages, policemen, boys, dogs, bicycles--the procession doing all the cheering for itself, the crowds of spectators only feebly responding to this enthusiasm, as is our national custom. At the end of it all marched a plentiful crew of tatterdemalions, a few bleared white men, and the rest negroes. They bore aloft a crazy transparency, exhibiting the legend:







Bertha's eyes had not rested upon Toby where they innocently sought him, in the front ranks, even scanning the carriages, seeking him in all positions which she conceived as highest in honour, and she would have missed him altogether, had not there reached her, out of chaotic clamours, a clear, high, rollicking tenor:

_"Ahaha! du libra Ogostine,
Ogostine, Ogostine!
Ahaha! du libra Ogostine,
Nees coma ross!"_

Then the eager eyes found their pleasure, for there, in the last line of Pixley's pirates, the very tail of the procession, danced Pietro Tobigli, waving his pink torch at her, proud, happy, triumphant, a true Republican, believing all company equal in the republic, and the rear rank as good as the first.

"Vote a Republican!" he shouted. "Republican--Republican eternall!"

Strangely enough, a like fervid protestation (vociferated in greeting) evoked no reciprocal enthusiasm in the breast of Mr. Pixley, when the committee-man called upon Toby and his friends at their apartment one evening, a fortnight later.

"That's right," he responded languidly. "That's right in gineral, I _should_ say. Cert'nly, in _gineral_, I ain't got no quarrel with no man's Republicanism. But this here's kind of a put-tickler case, boys. The election's liable to be mighty close."

"Republican win!" laughed Toby. "Meelyun man eena parade!"

Mr. Pixley's small eyes lowered furtively. He glanced once toward the door, stroked his stubby chin, and answered softly: "Don't you be too sure of that, young feller. Them banks is fightin' each other ag'in!"

"Bank? Fight? W'at eesa that?" inquired the merchant, with an entirely blank mind.

"There's one thing it _ain't_," replied the other, in the same confidential tone. "It ain't no two-by-four campaign. All I got to say to you boys is: 'Foller yer leader'--and you'll wear pearl collar-buttons!"

"Vote a Republican," interjected Leo Vesschi gutturally.

The furtiveness of Mr. Pixley increased.

"Well--mebbe," he responded, very deliberately. "I reckon I better put you boys next, right now's well's any other time. Ain't nothin' ever gained by not bein' open 'n' above-board; that's my motto, and I ack up to it. You kin ast 'em, jest ast the boys, and you'll hear it from each-an-dall: 'Frank Pixley's _square_!' That's what they'll tell ye. Now see here, this is the way it is. I ain't worryin' much about who goes to the legislature, or who's county-commissioners, nor none o' _that. Why_ ain't I worryin'? Because it's picayune. It's peanut politics. It ain't where the money is. No, sir, this campaign is on the treasurership. Taylor P. Singleton is runnin' fer treasurer on the Republican ticket, and Gil. Maxim on the Democratic. But that ain't where the fight is." Mr. Pixley spat contemptuously. "Pah! whichever of 'em gits it won't no more'n draw his salary. It's the banks. If Singleton wins out, the Washington National gits the use of the county's money fer the term; if Maxim's elected, Florenheim's bank gits it. Florenheim laid down the cash fer Maxim's nomination, and the Washington National fixed it fer Singleton. And it's big money, don't you git no wrong idea about _that_!"

"Vote a Republican," said Toby politely.

A look of pain appeared upon the brow of the committee-man.

"I reckon I ain't hardly made myself clear," he observed, somewhat plaintively. "Now here, you listen: I reckon it would be kind of resky to trust you boys to scratch the ticket--it's a mixed up business, anyway--"

"Vote a straight!" cried Pietro, nodding his head, cheerfully. "_Yess!_ I teach Leo; yess, teach all these"--he waved his hands to indicate the melancholy listeners--"teach them all. Stamp in a circle by that eagle. Vote a Republican!"

"What I was goin' to say," went on the official, exhibiting tokens of impatience and perturbation, "was that if we _should_ make any switch this year, I guess you boys would have to switch straight."

"'Tis true!" was the hearty response. "Vote a straight Republican. Republican eternall!"

Pixley wiped his forehead with a dirty handkerchief, and scratched his head. "See here," he said, after a pause, to Toby. "I've got to go down to Collins's saloon, and I'd like to have you come along. Feel like going?"

"Certumalee," answered Toby with alacrity, reaching for his hat.

But no one could have been more surprised than the chestnut vender when, on reaching the vacant street, his companion glancing cautiously about, beckoned him into the darkness of an alley-way, and, noiselessly upsetting a barrel, indicated it as a seat for both.

"Here," said Pixley, "I reckon this is better. Jest two men by theirselves kin fix up a thing like this a lot quicker, and I seen you didn't want to talk too much before _them_. You make your own deal with 'em afterwards, or none at all, jest as you like! They'll do whatever you say, anyway. I sized you up to run _that_ bunch, first time I ever laid eyes on the outfit. Now see here, Pete, you listen to me. I reckon I kin turn a little trick here that'll do you some good. You kin bet I see that the men I pick fer my leaders--like you, Pete--git their rights! Now here: there's you and the other six, that's seven; it'll be three dollars in your pocket if you deliver the goods."

"No! no!" said Pietro in earnest protestation. "We seven a good Republican. We vote a Republican--same las' time, all a time. Eesa not a need to pay us to vote a Republican. You save that a money, Meesa Peaslay."

"You don't understand," groaned Pixley, with an inclination to weep over the foreigner's thick-headedness. "There's a chance fer a big deal here for all the boys in the precinck. Gil. Maxim's backers'll pay _big_ fer votes enough to swing it. The best of 'em don't know where they're at, I tell you. Now here, you see here"--he took an affectionate grip of Pietro's collar--"I'm goin' to have a talk with Maxim's manager to-morrow, I've had one or two a'ready, and I'll put up the price all round on them people. It's no more'n right, when you count up what we're doin' fer them. Look here, you swing them six in line and march 'em up, and all of ye stamp the rooster instead of the eagle this time, and help me to show Maxim that Frank Pixley's there with the goods, and I'll hand you a five-dollar bill and a full box o' _ci_gars, see?"

Pietro nodded and smiled through the darkness. "Stamp that eagle!" he answered, "Eesa all _right_, Meesa Peasley. Don't you have afraid. We all seven a good Republican! Stamp that eagle! Hoor-r-ra! Republican _eternall_!"

Pixley was left sitting on the barrel, looking after the light figure of the young man joyously tripping back to the cellar, and turning to wave a hand in farewell from the street.

"Well, I _am_ damned!" the politician remarked, with unwitting veracity. "Did the dern Dago bluff me, does he want more, er did he reely didn't un'erstand fer honest?" Then, as he took up his way, crossing the street at the warning of some red and green smallpox lanterns, "I'll git those seven votes, though, _someway_. I'm out fer a record this time, and I'll _git_ 'em!"

Bertha went with her fiance to select the home that was to be theirs. They found a clean, tidy, furnished room, with a canary bird thrown in, and Toby, in the wild joy of his heart, seized his sweetheart round the waist and tried to force her to dance under the amazed eyes of the landlady.

"You yoost behafed awful!" exclaimed the blushing waitress that evening, with tears of laughter at the remembrance.

She was as happy as her lover, except for two small worries that she had: she feared that her uncle, Louie Gratz, with whom she lived, or one of her few friends, might, when they found she was to marry Toby, allude to him as a "Dago," in which case she had an intuition that he would slap the offender; and she was afraid of the smallpox, which had caused the quarantine of two shanties not far from her uncle's house. The former of her fears she did not mention, but the latter she spoke of frequently, telling Pietro how Gratz was panic-stricken, and talked of moving, and how glad she was that Toby's "gran' palazzo" was in another quarter of the city, as he had led her to believe. Laughing her humours almost away, he told her that the red and green lanterns, threatening murkily down the street, were for only wicked ones, like that Meesa Peaslay, for whom she discovered, Pietro's admiration had diminished. And when she thought of the new home--far across the city from the ugly flags and lanterns--the tiny room with its engraving of the "Rock of Ages" and its canary, she forgot both her troubles entirely; for now, at last, the marvellous fact was assured: the five hundred dollars was pinned into the waistcoat pocket, lying upon Pietro's heart day and night, the precious lump that meant to him Bertha and a home. The good Republican set election-day for the happiest holiday of his life, for that would be his wedding-day.

He left her at her own gate, the evening before that glorious day, and sang his way down the street, feeling that he floated on the airy uplift of his own barcarole beneath sapphire skies, for Bertha had put her arms about him at last.

"Toby," she said, "lieber Toby, I am so all-lofing by you--you are sitch a good maan--I am so--so--I am yoost all-_lofing_ by you!" And she cried heartily upon his shoulder. "Toby, uf you ain'd here for me to-morrow by eckseckly dwelf o'glock, uf you are von minutes late, I'm goin' yoost fall down deat! Don' you led nothings happen mit you, Toby."

And she had whispered to him, in love with his old tender mockery of her, to sing "Libra Ogostine" for her before he said good-night.

Mr. Pixley, again seated upon the barrel which he had used for his interview with Toby, beheld the transfigured face of the young man as the chestnut vender passed the mouth of the alley, and the committee-man released from his soul a burdening profanity in the ear of his companion and confidant, a policeman who would be on duty in Pixley's precinct on the morrow, and who had now reported for instructions not necessarily received in a too public rendezvous.

"After I talked to him out here on this very barrel," said Pixley, his anathema concluded, "I raised the bid on him; yessir, you kin skin me fer a dead skunk if I didn't offer him ten dollars and a box of _cigars_ fer the bunch; and him jest settin' there laughin' like a plumb fool and tellin' me I didn't need to worry, they'd all vote Republican fer nothin'! Talked like a parrot: 'Vote a Republican! Republican eternal!' _Republican_! Faugh, he don't know no more why he's a Republican than a yeller dog'd know! I went around to-night, when he was out, thought mebbe I could fix it up with the others. No, _sir_! Couldn't git nothing out of 'em except some more parrot-cackle: 'Vote same Petro. All a good Republican!' It's enough to sicken a man!"

"Do we need his gang bad?" inquired the policeman deferentially.

"I need everybody bad! This is a good-sized job fer me, and I want to do it right. Throwin' the precinck to Maxim is goin' to do me _some_ wrong with the Republican crowd, even if they don't git on that it was throwed; and I want to throw it _good_! I couldn't feel like I'd done right if I didn't. I've give my word that they'll git a majority of sixty-eight votes, and that'll be jest twicet as much in my pocket as a plain majority. And I want them seven Dagoes! I've give up on _votin_' 'em; it can't be done. It'd make a saint cuss to try to reason with 'em, and it's no good. They can't be fooled, neither. They know where the polls is, and they know how to vote--blast the Australian ballot system! The most that can be done is to keep 'em away from the polls."

"Can't you git 'em out of town in the morning?"

"D'you reckon I ain't tried that? _No_, sir! That Dago wouldn't take a pass to _heaven_! Everything else is all right. Doc Morgan's niggers stays right here and _votes_. I _know_ them boys, and they'll walk up and stamp the rooster all right, all right. Them other niggers, that Hell-Valley gang, ain't that kind; and them and Tooms's crowd's goin' to be took out to Smelter's ice-houses in three express wagons at four o'clock in the morning. It ain't goin' to cost over two dollars a head, whiskey and all. Then, Dan Kelly is fixed, and the Loo boys. Mike, I don't like to brag, and I ain't around throwin' no bokays at myself as a reg'lar thing, but I want to say right, here, there ain't another man in this city--no, nor the State neither--that could of worked his precinck better'n I have this. I tell you, I'm within five or six votes of the majority they set for their big money."

"Have you give the Dagoes up altogether?"

"No, by----!" cried the committee-man harshly, bringing his dirty fist down on the other's knee. "Did you ever hear of Frank Pixley weakenin'? Did you ever see the man that said Frank Pixley wasn't game?" He rose to his feet, a ragged and sinister silhouette against the sputtering electric light at the alley mouth. "Didn't you ever hear that Frank Pixley had a barrel of schemes to any other man's bucket o' wind? What's Frank Pixley's repitation, lemme ast you that? I git what I go after, don't I? Now look here, you listen to me," he said, lowering his voice and shaking a bent forefinger earnestly in the policeman's face; "I'm goin' to turn the trick. And I _ought_ to do it, too. That there Pete, he ain't worth the powder to blow him up--you couldn't learn him no politics if you set up with him night after night fer a year. Didn't I _try? Try_? I dern near bust my head open jest thinkin' up ways to make the flathead _see_. And he wouldn't make no effort, jest set there and parrot out 'Vote a Republican!' He's ongrateful, that's what he is. Well, him and them other Dagoes are goin' to stay at home fer two weeks, beginnin' to-night."

"I'll be dogged if I see how," said the policeman, lifting his helmet to scratch his head.

"I'll show you how. I don't claim no credit fer the idea, I ain't around blowin' my own horn too often, but I'd like fer somebody to jest show me any other man in this city could have thought it out! I'd like to be showed jest one, that's all, jest one! Now, you look here; you see that nigger shanty over there, with the smallpox lanterns outside?"

The policeman shivered slightly. "Yes."

"Look here; they're rebuildin' the pest-house, ain't they?"


"Leavin' smallpox patients in their own holes under quarantine guard till they git a place to put 'em, ain't they?"


"You know how many niggers in that shack?"

"Four, ain't they?"

"Yessir, four of 'em. One died to-night, another's goin' to, another ain't tellin' which way he's goin' yit; and the last one, Joe Cribbins, was the first to take it; and he's almost plumb as good as ever ag'in. He's up and around the house, helpin' nurse the sick ones, and fit fer hard labour. Now look here; that nigger does what I _tell_ him and he does it quick--see? Well, he knows what I want him to do to-night. So does Charley Gruder, the guard over there. Charley's fixed; I seen to that; and he knows he ain't goin' to lose no job fer the nigger's gittin' out of the back winder to go make a little sociable call this evening."

"What!" exclaimed the policeman, startled; "Charley ain't goin' to let that nigger out!"

"Ain't he? Oh, you needn't worry, he ain't goin' _fur_! All he's waiting fer is fer you to give the signal."

"Me!" The man in the helmet drew back.

"Yessir, you! You walk out there and lounge up towards the drug-store and jest look over to Charley and nod twice. Then you stand on the corner and watch and see what you see. When you _see_ it, you yell fer Charley and git into the drug store telephone, and call up the health office and git their men up here and into that Dago cellar like hell! The nigger'll be there. They don't know him, and he'll just drop in to try and sell the Dagoes some policy tickets. You understand _me_?"

"Mother Mary in heaven!" The policeman sprang up. "What are you going to do?"

"What am I going to do?" shrilled the other, the light of a monstrous pride in his little eyes. "I'm goin' to quarantine them Dagoes fer fourteen days. They'll learn some politics before I git through with 'em. Maybe they'll know enough United States language to foller their leader next time!"

"By all that's mighty, Pixley," said the policeman, with an admiration that was almost reverence, "you _are_ a schemer!"

"Mein Gott!" screeched Bertha's uncle, snapping his teeth fiercely on his pipe-stem, as he flung open the door of the girl's room. "You want to disgraze me mit der whole neighbourhoot, 'lection night? Quid ut! Stob ut! Beoples in der streed stant owidside und litzen to dod grying. You _voult_ goin' to marry mit a Dago mens, voult you! Ha, ha! Soife you right! He run away!" The old man laughed unamiably. "Ha, ha! Dago mens foolt dod smard Bertha. Dod's pooty tough. But, bei Gott, you stop dod noise und ect lige a detzent voomans, or you goin' haf droubles mit your uncle Louie Gratz!"

But Bertha, an undistinguishable heap on the floor of the unlit room, only gasped brokenly for breath and wept on.

"Ach, ach, ach, lieber Gott in Himmel!" sobbed Bertha. "Why didn't Toby come for me? Ach, ach! What iss happened mit Toby? Somedings iss happened--I _know_ ut!"

"Ya, ya!" jibed Gratz; "somedings iss heppened, I bet you! Brop'ly he's got anoder vife, dod's vot heppened! Brop'ly _leffing_ ad you mit anoder voomans! Vot for dit he nefer tolt you vere he lif? So you voultn't ketch him; dod's der reason! You're a pooty vun, _you_ are! Runnin' efter a doity Dago mens! Bei Gott! you bedder git oop und back your glo'es, und stob dod gryin'. I'm goin' to mofe owid to-morrow; und you kin go verefer you blease. I ain'd goin' to sday anoder day in sitch a neighbourhoot. Fife more smallpox lanterns yoost oop der streed. I'm goin' mofe glean to der oder ent of der city. Und you can come by me or you can run efter your Dago mens und his voomans! Dod's why he dittn't come to marry you, you grazy--ut's a voomans!"

"No, _no_," screamed Bertha, stopping her ears with her forefingers. "Lies, lies, lies!"

A slatternly negro woman dawdled down the street the following afternoon, and, encountering a friend of like description near the cottage which had been tenanted by Louie Gratz and his niece, paused for conversation.

"Howdy, honey," she began, leaning restfully against the gate-post. "How's you ma?"

"She right spry," returned the friend. "How you'self an' you good husban', Miz Mo'ton?"

Mrs. Morton laughed cheerily. "Oh, he enjoyin' de 'leckshum. He 'uz on de picnic yas'day, to Smeltuh's ice-houses; an' 'count er Mist' Maxim's gittin' 'lected, dey gi'n him bottle er whiskey an' two dollahs. He up at de house now, entuhtainin' some ge'lemenfrien's wi'de bones, honey."

"Um hum." The other lady sighed reflectively. "I on'y wisht my po' husban' could er live to enjoy de fruits er politics."

"Yas'm," returned Mrs. Morton. "You right. It are a great intrus' in a man's life. Dat what de ornator say in de speech f'm de back er de groce'y wagon, yas'm, a great intrus' in a man's life. Decla'h, I b'lieve Goe'ge think mo' er politics dan he do er me! Well ma'am," she concluded, glancing idly up and down the street and leaning back more comfortably against the gatepost, "I mus' be goin' on my urrant."

"What urrant's dat?" inquired the widow.

"Mighty quare urrant," replied Mrs. Morton. "Mighty quare urrant, honey. You see back yon'eh dat new smallpox flag?"


"Well ma'am, night fo' las', dat Joe Cribbins, dat one-eye nigger what sell de policy tickets, an's done be'n havin' de smallpox, he crope out de back way, when's de gyahd weren't lookin', an', my Lawd, ef dey ain't ketch him down in dat Dago cellar, tryin' sell dem Dagoes policy tickets! Yahah, honey!" Mrs. Morton threw back her head to laugh. "Ain't dat de beatenest nigger, dat one-eyed Joe?"

"What den, Miz Mo'ton?" pursued the listener.

"Den dey quahumteem dem Dagoes; sot a gyahd dah: you kin see him settin' out dah now. Well ma'am, 'cordin' to dat gyahd, one er dem Dagoes like ter go inter fits all day yas'day. Dat man hatter go in an' quiet him down ev'y few minute'. Seem 't he boun' sen' a message an' cain't git no one to ca'y it fer him. De gyahd, he cain't go; he willin' sen' de message, but cain't git nobody come nigh enough de place fer to tell 'em what it is. 'Sides, it 'leckshum-day, an' mos' folks hangin' 'roun' de polls. Well ma'am, dis aft'noon, I so'nter'n by, an' de gyahd holler out an' ask me do I want make a dollah, an' I say I do. I ain't 'fraid no smallpox, done had it two year' ago. So I say I take de message."

"What is it?"

"Law, honey, it ain't wrote. Dem Dago folks hain't got no writin' ner readin'. Dey mo' er less like de beasts er de fiel'. Dat message by word er mouf. I goin' tell nuffin 'bout de quahumteem. I'm gotter say: 'Toby sen' word to liebuh Augustine dat she needn' worry. He li'l sick, not much, but de doctah ain' 'low him out fer two weeks; an' 'mejutly at de en' er dat time he come an' git her an' den kin go on home wheres de canary bu'd is.' Honey, you evah hyuh o' sich a foolishness? But de gyahd, he say de message gotter be ca'yied dass dataways."

"Lan' name!" ejaculated the widow. "Who dat message to?"

"Hit to a Dutch gal."

"My Lawd!" The widow lifted amazed hands to heaven. "De impidence er dem Dagoes! _Little_ mo' an' dey'll be sen'in' messages to you er me!--What her name?"

"Name Bertha Grass," responded Mrs. Morton, "an', nigh as I kin make out, she live in one er dese little w'ite-paint cottages, right 'long yere."

"Yas'm! I knows dat Dutch gal, ole man Grass, de tailor, dass his niece. W'y, dey done move out dis mawn, right f'um dis ve'y house you stan'in in front de gate of. De ole man skeered er de smallpox, an' he mad, too, an' de neighbuhs ask him whuh he gwine, he won't tell; so mad he won't speak to nobody. None on 'em 'round hyuh knows an' dey's considabul cyu'us 'bout it, too. Dey gone off in bofe d'rections--him one way, her 'nother. 'Peah lak dey be'n quollun!"

"Now look at dat!" cried Mrs. Morton dolefully. "Look at dat! Ain't dat de doggonest luck in de wide worl'! De gyahd he say dat Dago willin' pay fifty cents a day fo' me to teck an' bring a message eve'y mawn' tell de quahumteem took off de cellar. Now dat Dutch gal gone an' loss dat money fo' me--movin' 'way whuh nobody cain't fine 'er!"

"Sho!" laughed the widow. "Ef I'se in you place, Miz Mo'ton, an' you's in mine, dat money sho'lly, sho'lly nevah would be los', indeed hit wouldn't. I dass go in t' de do' an' tu'n right 'roun' back ag'in an' go down to dat gyahd an' say de Dutch gal 'ceive de message wid de bes' er 'bligin' politeness an' sent her kine regyahds to de Dago man an' all inquirin' frien's, an' hope de Dago man soon come an' git 'er. To-morrer de same, nex' day de same--"

"Lawd, ef dat ain't de beatenest!" cried Mrs. Morton delightedly. "Well, honey, I thank you long as I live, 'cause I nevah'd a wuk dat out by myself an de livin' worl', an' I sho does needs de money. I'm goin' do exackly dass de way you say. Dat man he ain' goin' know no diffunce till he git out--an' den, honey," she let loose upon the quiet air a sudden, great salvo of laughter, "dass let him fine Lize Mo'ton!"

Bertha went to live in the tiny room with the canary bird and the engraving of the "Rock of Ages." This was putting lime to the canker, but, somehow, she felt that she could go to no other place. She told the landlady that her young man had not done so well in business as they had expected, and had sought work in another city. He would come back, she said.

She woke from troubled dreams each morning to stifle her sobbing in the pillow. "Ach, Toby, coultn't you sented me yoost one word, you _might_ sented me yoost one word, yoost one, to tell me what has happened mit you! Ach, Toby, Toby!"

The canary sang happily; she loved it and tended it, and the gay little prisoner tried to reward her by the most marvellous trilling in his power, but her heart was the sorer for every song.

After a time she went back drearily to the kraut-smelling restaurant, to the work she had thought to leave forever, that day when Toby had not come for her. She went out twenty times every morning, and oftener as it wore on towards evening, to look at his closed stand, always with a choking hope in her heart, always to drag leaden feet back into the restaurant. Several times, her breath failing for shame, she approached Italians in the street, or where there was one to be found at a stand of any sort she stopped and made a purchase, and asked for some word of Toby--without result, always. She knew no other way to seek for him.

One day, as she trudged homeward, two coloured women met on the pavement in front of her, exchanged greetings, and continued for a little way together.

"How you enjoyin' you' money, dese fine days, Miz Mo'ton?" inquired one, with a laugh that attested to the richness of the joke between the two.

"Law, honey," answered the other, "dat good luck di'n' las' ve'y long. Dey done shut off my supplies."


"Yas'm, dey sho did. Dat man done tuck de smallpox; all on 'em ketched it, ev'y las' one, off'n dat no 'count Joe Cribbins, an' now dat dey got de new pes'-house finish', dey haul 'em off yon'eh, yas'day. Reckon dat ain' make no diffunce in my urrant runnin'. Dat Dago man, he outer he hade two day fo' dey haul 'em away, an' ain' sen' no mo' messages. So dat spile _my_ job! Hit dass my luck. Dey's sho' a voodoo on Lize Mo'ton!"

Bertha, catching but fragments of this conversation, had no realization that it bore in any way upon the mystery of Toby; and she stumbled homeward through the twilight with her tired eyes on the ground.

When she opened the door of the tiny room, the landlady's lean black cat ran out surreptitiously. The bird-cage lay on the floor, upside down, and of its jovial little inhabitant the tokens were a few yellow feathers.

Bertha did not know until a month after, when Leo Vesschi found her at the restaurant and told her, that out in the new pest-house, that other songster and prisoner, the gay little chestnut vender, Pietro Tobigli, had called lamentably upon the name of his God and upon "Libra Ogostine," and now lay still forever, with the corduroy waistcoat and its precious burden tightly clenched to his breast. Even in his delirium they had been unable to coax or force him to part from it for a second.

[The end]
Booth Tarkington's short story: The Aliens