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Jim Finds Sara And Pen








From: Still Jim

"Since time began Indians have climbed my back and have
cried their joys and sorrows to the sky. I wonder who has
heard!"

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


Mr. Dennis laughed. He still was holding Jim's hand "May I ask her?" he
said to Jim.

Jim nodded, though his eyes were startled. Suddenly Mr. Dennis dropped
Jim's hand and threw his arm across the boy's shoulders. The two stood
facing Mrs. Manning.

"Mrs. Manning," began the Irishman, "I think you feel that I admire and
respect you. I am a lonely man. I asked Jim if I could ask you to marry
me, earlier in the evening. He said, No! No one should take his father's
place. I told him you and I had lived through too much to dream of
falling in love again, but that old age was a lonely thing. I need you
and when Jim finishes school and goes, you'll need me, Mrs. Manning. I
can send Jim through college and give him a right start. Will you marry
me, say in a day or two, without any fuss, Mrs. Manning?"

The little widow's face was flushed. "What made you change, Jim?" she
exclaimed. "I couldn't love anyone but your father."

Jim nodded. "I didn't realize then that my work would take me away from
you. You know a man's job is very important, Mama. I want to get someone
to take care of you while I build bridges, for I've got to build them.
I can send you money but I want a man to be looking out for you."

Mr. Dennis' eyes twinkled but he waited.

"It's only a year since your father died. I never could care for anyone
else," said Mrs. Manning.

"It's ten years since Mrs. Dennis and the babies died," said Dennis. "I
never could love anyone as I did the three of them. But you and I suit
each other comfortably, Mrs. Manning. We'd be a great comfort to each
other and we can do some good things for Still Jim. You must try to give
him his chance. It's a sad boyhood he's having, Mrs. Manning. Let's give
him the chance he can't have unless you marry me."

Mrs. Manning looked at Jim. His face still was eager but there were dark
rings around his eyes that came from nerve strain. He was too thin and
she saw for the first time that his shoulders were rounding. Mr. Dennis
followed up his advantage.

"Look at his hands, Mrs. Manning. Hard work has knocked them up too much
for his age. He should have his chance to play if he's to do good body
and brain work later. Let's give his father's son a chance! Don't you
think his father would approve?"

"Oh, but I'm going to keep on working and supporting myself!" cried Jim.
"I just wanted you to look out for Mama."

"Well, I guess not!" cried Mrs. Manning, vehemently. "You'll come
straight out of that foundation tomorrow. You are going to have your
chance. Oh, Jim dear! I hadn't realized how little happiness you've been
having!"

Jim shook his head. "I can support myself."

Mrs. Manning sniffed. "How can you be a good engineer out in that awful
rough country unless you have the best kind of a physical foundation?
Use sense, Jimmy."

This was a master stroke. Jim wavered, then caught his left ankle in his
hand and hopped about like a happy frog.

"Gee whiz!" he cried. "I'll enter the try-out squad the first thing. I
bet I can make school quarter back."

Mr. Dennis cut in neatly. "It might just as well take place tomorrow and
the three of us can take a month at the seashore. I'll bet Jim has
sighed for the old swimming hole lately."

The little widow looked at Mr. Dennis long and keenly, then she rose and
held out her hand while she said very deliberately:

"You are a good man, Michael Dennis. I thank you for me and mine and
I'll be a comfort to you as you are being to me. I'm not going to
pretend I'd do this if it wasn't for Jim. I can't love you, but you love
Jim and that's enough for me."

And so Jim was given his chance.

He spent the rest of the summer at the shore and entered school in the
fall with a new interest. With the unexpected lift of the money burden
from his shoulders, Jim began to make up for his lost play. Football and
track work, debating societies and glee-clubs straightened his round
shoulders and found him friends. Most important of all, he ceased to
brood for a time over his Exham problems.

Jim's stepfather, whom the boy called Uncle Denny, took a pride and
interest in the boy that sometimes brought the tears to his mother's
eyes. It seemed to her that the warm-hearted Irishman gave to Jim all
the love that the death of his family had left unsatisfied. And Jim, in
his undemonstrative way, returned Mr. Dennis' affection. He shared with
his Uncle Denny his growing ideals on engineering. He rehearsed his
debating society speeches on his Uncle Denny, who endured them with
enthusiasm. He and his Uncle Denny worked out some marvelous football
tactics when Jim as a senior in the high school became captain of the
school team. Often of an evening Jim's mother would come upon the two in
the library, flat on their backs before the grate in a companionship
that needed and found no words.

At such times she would say, "Michael, you didn't marry me. You married
Jim."

And Dennis would look up at her with a smile of understanding that she
returned.

When Jim was a freshman in Columbia, he acquired a chum. It was not a
chum who took the place of Phil Chadwick. Nothing in after life ever
fills the hollow left by the first friendship of childhood and Phil was
hallowed in Jim's memory along with all the beauties of the swimming
hole and the quiet elms around the old Exham mansions.

But Jim's new chum gave him his first opportunity at hero-worship, which
is an essential step in a boy's growth. The young man's name was George
Saradokis. His mates called him Sara. His mother was a Franco-American,
his father was a Greek, a real estate man in the Greek section of New
York. Sara confided to Jim, early in their acquaintance, that his father
was the disinherited son of a nobleman and that he, the grandson, would
be his grandfather's heir. The glamour of this possible inheritance did
not detract at all from the romance of the new friendship in Jim's
credulous young eyes.

Sara was halfback on the freshman football team, while Jim played
quarterback. The two were of a height, six feet, but Jim still was
slender. Sara was broad and heavy. He was very Greek--that is, modern
Greek, which has little racially or temperamentally in common with the
ancient Greek. He was a brilliant student, yet of a commerciality of
mind that equalled that of any Jewish student in the class.

Both the boys were good trackmen. Both were good students. Both were
planning to be engineers. But, temperamentally, they were as far apart
as the two countries whence came their father's stock.

Uncle Denny did not approve fully of Saradokis, but finally he decided
that it was good for Jim to overcome some of his New England prejudice
against the immigrant class and he encouraged the young Greek to come to
the house.

It was when Jim was a freshman, too, that Penelope came from Colorado to
live with her Uncle Denny. Her father, Uncle Denny's brother, had
married a little Scotch girl and they had made a bare living from a
small mine, up in the mountains, until a fatal attack of pneumonia
claimed them both in a single month. Penelope stayed on at a girl's
school in Denver for a year. Then, Jim's mother urging it, Mr. Dennis
sent for her. Jim, absorbed in the intricate business of being a
freshman, did not give much heed to the preparations for her coming.

One spring evening he sauntered into the library to wait for the dinner
bell. As he strolled over to the fireplace, he saw a slender young girl
sitting in the Morris chair.

"Oh, hello!" said Jim.

"Hello!" said the young girl, rising.

The two calmly eyed each other. Jim saw a graceful girl, three or four
years younger than himself, with a great braid of chestnut hair hanging
over one shoulder. She had a round face that ended in a pointed chin, a
generous mouth, a straight little nose and a rich glow of color in her
cheeks. These details Jim noted only casually, for his attention was
focused almost immediately on her eyes. For years after, whenever Jim
thought of Penelope, he thought of a halo of chestnut hair about eyes of
a deep hazel; eyes that were large, almost too large, for the little
round face; eyes that were steady and clear and black sometimes with
feeling or with a fleeting shadow of melancholy that did not belong to
her happy youth.

Penelope saw a tall lad in a carefully dressed Norfolk suit. He had a
long, thin, tanned face, with a thick mop of soft hair falling across
his forehead, a clear gaze and a flashing, wistful, fascinatingly sweet
smile as he repeated:

"Hello, Penelope!"

"Hello, Still Jim!" replied the girl, while her round cheeks showed
dimples that for a moment made Jim forget her eyes.

"Uncle Denny's been busy, I see," said Jim.

Then he was speechless. He had not reached the "girl stage" as yet.
Penelope was not disturbed. She continued to look Jim over, almost
unblinkingly. Then Jim, to his own astonishment, suddenly found his
tongue.

"I'm glad you've come," he said abruptly. "I'm going to think a lot of
you, I can see that."

He held out his hand and Penelope slipped her slender fingers into his
hard young fists. Jim did not let the little hand go for a minute. The
two looked at each other clearly.

"I'm glad I'm here," said Penelope. Then she dimpled. "And I'm glad
you're nice, because Uncle Denny told me that if I didn't like you I'd
show myself no judge of boys. When I giggled, I know he wanted to slap
me."

Jim's smile flashed and Penelope wondered what she liked best about it,
his white teeth, his merriness or his wistfulness.

"There's the dinner bell!" exclaimed Jim. "As Uncle Denny says, I'm so
hungry me soul is hanging by a string. Come on, Penelope."

Penelope entered Jim's life as simply and as easily as Saradokis did.

Sara charmed both Jim and Penelope. His physical beauty alone was a
thing to fascinate far harsher critics than these two who grew to be his
special friends. His hair was tawny and thick and wavy. His eyes were
black and bright. His mouth was small and perfectly cut. His cleft chin
was square and so was his powerful jaw. He carried himself like an
Indian and his strength was like that of the lover in Solomon's song.

Added to this was the romance of his grandfather. This story enthralled
little Pen, who at fourteen was almost bowled over by the thought that
some day Sara might be a duke.

Sara's keen mind, his commercial cleverness had a strong hold on Jim,
who lacked the money-making instinct. Jim quoted Sara a good deal at
first to Uncle Denny, whose usual comment was a grunt.

"Sara says it's a commercial age. If you don't get out and rustle money
you might as well get off the earth."

A grunt from Uncle Denny.

"Well, but Uncle Denny, you can't deny he's right."

The Irishman's reply was indirect. "Remember, me boy, that the chief
value of a college education is to set your standards, to make your
ideals. These four years are the high-water mark of your life's
idealism. You never'll get higher. Anything else you are taught in
college you'll have to learn over another way after you get out to buck
real life."

Jim thought this over for a time, then he said: "Do you ever talk to Pen
like you do to me? It would do her good."

Uncle Denny sniffed. "Don't you worry about Pen's ideas. She's got the
best mind I ever found in a girl. When she gets past the giggling age,
you'll learn a few things from her, me boy."

Penelope chummed with the two boys impartially as far as Dennis or Jim's
mother could perceive. The girl with her common sense and her
foolishness and her youthfulness was an inexpressible joy to Jim's
mother, who always had longed for a daughter. She had dreams about Jim
and Pen that she confided to no one and she looked on Penelope's
impartiality with a jealous eye.

Until Pen was sixteen the boys were content to share her equally. They
were finishing their junior year when Pen's sixteenth birthday arrived.
It fell on a Saturday, and Jim and Sara cut Saturday morning classes and
invited Penelope to a day at Coney Island. Uncle Denny and Jim's mother
were to meet the trio for supper and return with them.

It was a June morning fit to commemorate, Sara said, even Pen's
birthday. The three, carrying their bathing suits, caught the 8 o'clock
boat at 129th street, prepared to do the weather and the occasion full
justice. The crowd was not great on this early boat until the Battery
was reached. Then all the world rushed up the gang plank; Jew and
Gentile crowded for the best places. Italian women, with babies, dragged
after husbands with lunch baskets. Stout Irish matrons looked with scorn
on the "foreigners" and did great devastation in claiming camp stools.
Very young Jewish girls and boys were the most conspicuous element in
the crowd, but there were groups of gentle Armenians, of Syrians, of
Chinese and parties of tourists with field glasses and cameras.

"And every one of them claims to be an American," said Jim.

Penelope nudged Sara. "Look at Jim's New England nose," she chuckled. "I
don't see how he can see anything but the sky."

Jim did not heed Pen's remarks. Pen and Sara laughed. They were thrilled
by the very cosmopolitan aspect of the crowd. They responded to a sense
of world citizenship to which Jim was an utter alien.

"Make 'em a speech, Jim!" cried Sara, as the boat got under way again.
"Make the eagle scream. It's a bully place for a speech. The poor devils
can't get away from you."

Jim grinned. Pen, her eyes twinkling, joined in with Sara. "He's too
lazy. He's a typical American. He'll roast the immigrants but he won't
do anything. It's a dare, Jim."

Sara shouted, "It's a dare, Still! Go to it! Pen and I dare you to make
the boat a speech."

Jim was still smiling but his eyes narrowed. The old boyhood code still
held in college. The "taker" of a dare was no sportsman. And there was
something deeper than this that suddenly spoke; the desire of his race
to force his ideas on others, the same desire that had made his father
talk to the men in the quarry at Exham. With a sudden swing of his long
legs he mounted a pile of camp chairs and balanced himself with a hand
on Sara's shoulder.

"Shut up!" he shouted. "Everybody shut up and listen to me!"

It was the old dominating note. Those of the crowd that heard his voice
turned to look. It was a vivid group they saw; the tall boy, with thin,
eager face, fine gray eyes and a flashing wistful smile that caught the
heart, and with a steadying arm thrown round Jim's thighs, the Greek
lad, with his uncovered hair liquid gold in the June sun, his beautiful
brown face flushed and laughing, while crowded close to Sara was the
pink-cheeked girl, her face upturned to look at Jim.

"Hey! Everybody! Keep still and listen to me!" repeated Jim.

In the hush that came, the chatter in the cabin below and the rear deck
sounded remote.

"I've been appointed a committee of one to welcome you to America!"
cried Jim. "Welcome to our land. And when you get tired of New York,
remember that it's not in America. America lies beyond the Hudson. Enjoy
yourselves. Take everything that isn't nailed down."

"Who gave the country to you, kid?" asked a voice in the crowd.

"My ancestors who, three hundred years ago, stole it from the Indians,"
answered Jim with a smile.

A roar of laughter greeted this. "How'd you manage to keep it so long?"
asked someone else.

"Because you folks hadn't heard of it," replied the boy.

Another roar of laughter and someone else called, "Good speech. Take up
a collection for the young fellow to get his hair cut with."

Jim tossed the hair out of his eyes and gravely pointed back to the
marvelous outline of the statue of Liberty, black against the sky. "Take
a collection and drink hope to that, my friends. It is the most
magnificent experiment in the world's history, and you have taken it out
of our hands."

There was a sudden hush, followed by hand clapping, during which Jim
slipped down. Sara gave him a bear hug. "Oh, Still Jim, you're the light
of my weary eyes! Did he call our bluff, Pen, huh?"

There was something more than laughter in Pen's eyes as she replied:

"I'm never sure whether Still was cut out to be an auctioneer or a
politician."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Jim, "let's get some ginger ale."

The day rushed on as if in a wild endeavor to keep up with the June wind
which beat up and down the ocean and across Coney Island, urging the
trio on to its maddest. They shot the chutes until, maudlin with
laughter, they took to a merry-go-round. When they were ill from
whirling, Sara led the way to the bucking staircase. This was a style of
several steps arranged to buck at unexpected intervals. The movement so
befuddled the climber that he consistently took a step backward for
every step forward until at last, goaded by the huge laughter of the
watching crowd, he fairly fell to the opposite side of the staircase.

It was before this seductive phenomenon that the three paused. The crowd
was breathlessly watching the struggles of a very fat, very red-headed
woman who chewed gum in exact rhythm with the bucking of the staircase,
while she firmly marked time on the top of the stairs.

Sara gave a chuckle and, closely followed by Jim and Pen, he mounted the
stile. He was balked by the red-headed woman who towered high above him.
Sara reached up and touched her broad back.

"Walk right ahead, madam," he urged. "You're holding us back."

The fat woman obediently took a wild step forward, the stair bucked and
she stepped firmly backward and sat down violently on Sara's head. Pen
and Jim roared with the crowd. The red-headed woman scrambled to the
topmost stair again, then turned and shook her fist in Sara's face.

"Don't you touch me again, you brute!" she screamed. Then she summoned
all her energies and took another dignified step upward. Again the
stairs bucked. Again the fat woman sat down on Sara's hat. Again the
onlookers were overwhelmed with laughter. Pen and Jim feebly supported
each other as they rode up and down on the lower step. Sara pushed the
woman off his head and again she turned on him.

"There! You made me swallow my gum! And I'll bet you call yourself a
gentleman!"

Sara, red-faced but grinning, took a mighty step upward, gripped the
woman firmly around the waist and lifted her down the opposite side of
the stile. Pen and Jim followed with a mad scramble. For a moment it
looked as if the red-headed woman would murder Sara. But as she looked
at his young beauty her middle-aged face was etched by a gold-toothed
smile.

"Gee, that's more fun than I've had for a year!" she exclaimed and she
melted into helpless laughter.

Coney Island is of no value to the fastidious or the lazy. Coney Island
belongs to those who have the invaluable gift of knowing how to be
foolish, who have felt the soul-purging quality of huge laughter, the
revivifying power of play. Lawyers and pickpockets, speculators and
laborers, poets and butchers, chorus girls and housewives at Coney
Island find one common level in laughter. Every wholesome human being
loves the clown.

Spent with laughing, Pen finally suggested lunch, and Jim led the way to
an open-air restaurant.

"Let's," he said with an air of inspiration, "eat lunch backward. Begin
with coffee and cheese and ice cream and pie and end with clam chowder
and pickles."

"Nothing could be more perfect!" exclaimed Pen enthusiastically, and as
nothing surprises a Coney Islander waiter, they reversed the menu.

When they could hold no more, they strolled down to the beach and sat in
the sand. The crowd was very thick here. Nearly everyone was in a
bathing suit. Women lolled, half-naked in the sand, while their escorts,
still more scantily clad, sifted sand over them. Unabashed couples
embraced each other, rubbing elbows with other embracing pairs. The wind
blew the smell of hot, wet humans across Jim's face. He looked at Pen's
sweet face, now a little round-eyed and abashed in watching the
unashamed crowd. It was the first time that Mrs. Manning had allowed Pen
to go to Coney Island without her careful eye.

Jim said, with a slow red coming into his cheeks, "Let's get out of
here, Sara."

"Why, we just got here," replied Sara. "Let's get into our suits and
have some fun."

"Pen'll not get into a bathing suit with these muckers," answered Jim,
slowly.

Pen, who had been thinking the same thing, immediately resented Jim's
tone. "Of course I shall," she replied airily. "You can't boss me, Jim."

"That's right, Pen," agreed Sara. "Let old Prunes sit here and swelter.
You and I will have a dip."

Pen rose and she and Sara started toward the bath house. Jim took a long
stride round in front of the two.

"Sara, do as you please," he drawled. "Penelope will stay here with
me."





Next: The Sign And Seal

Previous: The Brownstone Front



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