According to Destiny
According to Destiny
BY GEORGE WESTON
LITTLE Miss Mercer was spending the evening with her canary, her cat, and her cards. Suddenly she held her breath, wished and cut the pack. The of diamonds made his blond appearance. She cut again and turned over the nine of hearts.
"He's coming!" she thought, nodding her head until her puffs nearly jumped off. "Whoever he is, he's coming with a good heart. That's the third time I've cut him to-night. M—m—m—!"
She ran the cards over, one by one, and when she reached the end of the pack she went over to the mirror and saw that she was smiling. The cat watched her from its cushioned chair, and the canary, rocking himself on his swinging perch, kept his eye upon her, too. Not that either the cat or the canary can be blamed, for in the whole sprawling city there were few that night who were better worth watching than little Miss Mercer, the milliner, who worked by day in one of the large department stores and lived by night just under the roof of an old-fashioned house near the Elevated. Disregarding all her other charms, for instance, she was gifted with a delectable pug nose and an even more delightful habit of shyness. To this latter quality was probably due the fact that she was a spinster in her thirty-fifth. year, living alone with Snootzy and Dotty, reading every book of poetry that she could find in the libraries and playing solitaire as a favorite means of dissipation.
"And here he is again," she continued, returning to her chair. "See, Snootzy? If he didn't drop on the floor! 'Drops on the floor, comes to the door!' Oh, I wonder who he is!"
A jealous wind was young gale of wind was rattling the shutters outside the window, and shaking them as though they were teeth in a chill.
"A good night for the millinery business," nodded little Miss Mercer. "These are the nights that blow the hats to smithereens, Dotty! Ten past eight—they are going into the theaters now. Well, I'd rather be home. Y-e-s, I suppose I would. My, what a wind! Those shutters will be sailing off down the street in just about another minute. I wonder if they are fastened right."
She had risen from her chair and was walking toward the window when a terrific bombardment sounded on the roof overhead. Miss Mercer held her hands over her ears and half crouched where she stood, her eyes tightly shut.
"I know!" she gasped at last, opening her eyes and looking up at the ceiling like a terrified bird. "The chimney's blown down, and now we'll all be burned alive, and, oh, what shall I do!"
In the basement of the house where our frightened little prophetess of evil had her room, the curious might have seen this sign over the door:
Stone-mason and Contractor.
And any one passing through that basement door in the evening might have been edified by the sight of a blue-eyed youth making clumsy entries in a very small ledger and inking himself to the roots of his hair. Whether or not little Miss Mercer was so edified, however, is another matter altogether, for when she appeared before Mr. Willets that evening, with Snootzy under her arm and Dotty's cage in her hand, she was hardly in the frame of mind to make any detailed observations.
"Is Mr. Willets in?" she gasped.
"Right here," acknowledged the inky one, dropping his pen with relief.
"Oh, Mr. Willets, our chimney's blown down and we'll all be burned up, and it was right over my head, and there doesn't seem to be anybody home but me!"
He quickly lit a lantern, and she followed him up-stairs, where they opened the door at the top and walked out on the flat roof. Instead of the scene of wrack and ruin which little Miss Mercer had expected, the prospect was most irritatingly peaceful. The wind had gone away as unexpectedly as it had come, and the moon was grandly rising in the east.
"I feel like a fool!" she thought, following Mr. Willets to the chimney, and aloud she added, "I was sure the chimney had blown down."
"It was the top bricks," he reported. "They're scattered all over the roof. No wonder they nearly scared you to death."
The moonlight was on her face, and it suddenly occurred to Mr. Willets that he was a bashful young stone-mason and contractor when it came to making conversation with Beauty in Distress, but that when it came right down to a question of his trade there was nothing on earth that could rattle him.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said, "I'll mix some mortar and put these bricks back in no time." He headed for the roof door. "I'll be back in a minute," he told her over his shoulder, and when he heard the tone of his voice he knew he was making a plea. "I guess it's better not to look," he thought, "when the moon shines on her face."
He brought up a pyramid of mortar on a board, and Miss Mercer held the lantern for him and handed him the bricks. In the street below the Elevated roared and nothing could be seen but tin and slates and chimney-tops, but after the two on the roof had talked and had smiled to each other for a few minutes the scene gradually dissolved and changed. The roof became a bosky dell, the bricks were buttercups and daisies, and these she gathered and handed to him and he fashioned them into a garland. But disillusionment came with the end of the task, and he arose with a painful look of regret.
"There," he said, "I guess they'll stick. But, if they come blowing down again, all you've got to do is to let me know."
Little Miss Mercer blushed and thanked him, and when she returned to her room she looked at herself long and earnestly in the mirror and held down the tip of her nose for a minute and studied the comparative effects. Then, shuffling the cards once more, she wished and cut and looked at them again.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" she said in a tremulous voice, "and now I see trouble and tears!"
Bashful was little Miss Mercer—bashful and backward and shy. And bashful was the blue-eyed youth in the basement—and even more backward and shy. A week passed and though each of them thought continually of the other, they hid their feelings like accomplished actors and made no outward signs. Mr. Willets sighed over his little ledger with force enough to blow it nearly off the counter, and Miss Mercer even went so far as to leave Dotty without any water in his cup for two whole days. But one night when the wind was blowing gently against the shutter, the little milliner had a famous idea. "If the bricks blow down again," he had said to her, "all you have to do is to let me know." She stared at the stars steadily for five minutes. Then, picking up a tack-hammer and a pair of scissors, she went up on the roof and began picking and scratching at the mortar between the chimney bricks.
"I'll knock off one or two," she thought, "and then I'll tell him— Oh, oh! What's that?"
The roof door creaked, and, like a shadow, she vanished behind a table-cloth that was drying on a line. Watching between two clothes-pins, she saw Mr. Willets emerging stealthily from the doorway. He carried a crowbar, and, tiptoeing straight to the chimney, he, too, began loosening the mortar. She waited until he was absorbed in his work, and then, quietly laying down her tack-hammer and scissors, she stole to his side.
"Why, Mr. Willets!" she exclaimed, trying to speak like one who would scorn deception, "what are you doing that for?"
They looked half fearfully into each other's eyes, and again the prosaic scene dissolved and changed. The roof was a lover's lane, then, and the roar of a passing Elevated train was the entrancing song of a nightingale.
"Do you know," he said, "when the moon is on your face—like it is now—I feel like—like—like as though I loved you."
She slipped her palm into his pleading hand.
"Well," she whispered back, "that's a nice feeling to have; isn't it—Mr. Willets?"