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UNDER THE EAVES


The assistant editor of the San Francisco "Daily Informer" was
going home. So much of his time was spent in the office of the
"Informer" that no one ever cared to know where he passed those six
hours of sleep which presumably suggested a domicile. His business
appointments outside the office were generally kept at the
restaurant where he breakfasted and dined, or of evenings in the
lobbies of theatres or the anterooms of public meetings. Yet he
had a home and an interval of seclusion of which he was jealously
mindful, and it was to this he was going to-night at his usual
hour.

His room was in a new building on one of the larger and busier
thoroughfares. The lower floor was occupied by a bank, but as it
was closed before he came home, and not yet opened when he left, it
did not disturb his domestic sensibilities. The same may be said
of the next floor, which was devoted to stockbrokers' and companies
offices, and was equally tomb-like and silent when he passed; the
floor above that was a desert of empty rooms, which echoed to his
footsteps night and morning, with here and there an oasis in the
green sign of a mining secretary's office, with, however, the
desolating announcement that it would only be "open for transfers
from two to four on Saturdays." The top floor had been frankly
abandoned in an unfinished state by the builder, whose ambition had
"o'erleaped itself" in that sanguine era of the city's growth.
There was a smell of plaster and the first coat of paint about it
still, but the whole front of the building was occupied by a long
room with odd "bull's-eye" windows looking out through the heavy
ornamentations of the cornice over the adjacent roofs.

It had been originally intended for a club-room, but after the ill
fortune which attended the letting of the floor below, and possibly
because the earthquake-fearing San Franciscans had their doubts of
successful hilarity at the top of so tall a building, it remained
unfinished, with the two smaller rooms at its side. Its incomplete
and lonely grandeur had once struck the editor during a visit of
inspection, and the landlord, whom he knew, had offered to make it
habitable for him at a nominal rent. It had a lavatory with a
marble basin and a tap of cold water. The offer was a novel one,
but he accepted it, and fitted up the apartment with some cheap
second-hand furniture, quite inconsistent with the carved mantels
and decorations, and made a fair sitting-room and bedroom of it.
Here, on a Sunday, when its stillness was intensified, and even a
passing footstep on the pavement fifty feet below was quite
startling, he would sit and work by one of the quaint open windows.
In the rainy season, through the filmed panes he sometimes caught a
glimpse of the distant, white-capped bay, but never of the street
below him.

The lights were out, but, groping his way up to the first landing,
he took from a cup-boarded niche in the wall his candlestick and
matches and continued the ascent to his room. The humble
candlelight flickered on the ostentatious gold letters displayed on
the ground-glass doors of opulent companies which he knew were
famous, and rooms where millionaires met in secret conclave, but
the contrast awakened only his sense of humor. Yet he was always
relieved after he had reached his own floor. Possibly its
incompleteness and inchoate condition made it seem less lonely than
the desolation of the finished and furnished rooms below, and it
was only this recollection of past human occupancy that was
depressing.

He opened his door, lit the solitary gas jet that only half
illuminated the long room, and, it being already past midnight,
began to undress himself. This process presently brought him to
that corner of his room where his bed stood, when he suddenly
stopped, and his sleepy yawn changed to a gape of surprise. For,
lying in the bed, its head upon the pillow, and its rigid arms
accurately stretched down over the turned-back sheet, was a child's
doll! It was a small doll--a banged and battered doll, that had
seen service, but it had evidently been "tucked in" with maternal
tenderness, and lay there with its staring eyes turned to the
ceiling, the very genius of insomnia!

His first start of surprise was followed by a natural resentment of
what might have been an impertinent intrusion on his privacy by
some practical-joking adult, for he knew there was no child in the
house.

His room was kept in order by the wife of the night watchman
employed by the bank, and no one else had a right of access to it.
But the woman might have brought a child there and not noticed its
disposal of its plaything. He smiled. It might have been worse!
It might have been a real baby!

The idea tickled him with a promise of future "copy"--of a story
with farcical complications, or even a dramatic ending, in which
the baby, adopted by him, should turn out to be somebody's stolen
offspring. He lifted the little image that had suggested these
fancies, carefully laid it on his table, went to bed, and presently
forgot it all in slumber.

In the morning his good-humor and interest in it revived to the
extent of writing on a slip of paper, "Good-morning! Thank you--
I've slept very well," putting the slip in the doll's jointed arms,
and leaving it in a sitting posture outside his door when he left
his room. When he returned late at night it was gone.

But it so chanced that, a few days later, owing to press of work on
the "Informer," he was obliged to forego his usual Sunday holiday
out of town, and that morning found him, while the bells were
ringing for church, in his room with a pile of manuscript and proof
before him. For these were troublous days in San Francisco; the
great Vigilance Committee of '56 was in session, and the offices of
the daily papers were thronged with eager seekers of news. Such
affairs, indeed, were not in the functions of the assistant editor,
nor exactly to his taste; he was neither a partisan of the so-
called Law and Order Party, nor yet an enthusiastic admirer of the
citizen Revolutionists known as the Vigilance Committee, both
extremes being incompatible with his habits of thought.
Consequently he was not displeased at this opportunity of doing his
work away from the office and the "heady talk" of controversy.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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