Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Toy Shop
THE Man was leaving his own front door. On the steps he paused and looked sombrely back. The white pillars of the facade rose before him in stately fashion. They reminded him of the care he was evading for the moment, and he sighed. Though he shut his eyes determinedly, he knew that another grim building just beyond, the usual end of his journeying, demanded him, and he sighed again. This time there was something more than weariness in the sound.
From around the corner of the house, which almost hid from view the white tents of the Home Guard, ran a child. He was bright-faced, and magnificent in a miniature officer's uniform.
"Oh, papa-day!" he cried. "Never mind the curtains for my stage. You are always too busy now to see my plays, anyway—!" He interrupted himself to fling this in petulantly: "But get lots of soldiers — and one company of cavalry. I can't get him surrounded without two more companies — and six cannon!"
The child lisped so in his eagerness that no one but his father could have understood him, and his father was so lost in his gloomy thought that he did not know the child had spoken. When the expected reply did not come, the boy looked his wonder.
"Papa-day — papa-day!" he cried, giving the man a little push. "I want some soldiers!"
Startled out of his sadness, the father looked at the child.
"Soldiers? All right, son; I'm off for a walk now. I saw a shop the other day."
He walked off. It was not a beautiful street down which he turned. Even the fine width of it suggested an inflated sense of its own importance. There were some good lines in the structure at the first corner, but the building was unfinished, and drooped sadly, like an eagle without its wings. Beyond that corner the paving of the street ended. Looking at the mud, the Man wished vaguely that he had worn his boots.
He swung down the row of dingy business houses, his eye on the ragged sky-line. His ungainly strides covered the ground rapidly, even though in abstraction he stumbled over the uneven brick sidewalk. The Man's face fell again into lines of melancholy thought.
"There is no hope for it," he told himself. "I will have to sign the warrant. I can't find the shadow of an excuse. It is a clear case of desertion." His thoughts drifted to the armies facing each other in the cheerless, raw December weather — his army sodden with fogs, sullen with inaction. "The poor young fellow must be punished." The Man's heart ached with comprehension. He understood so well the wave of homesickness, for which he had the more tender sympathy because of the absence of it in his own cheerless boyhood. "After all, he is a soldier, and he must be punished for the good of the others. And that boy — like so many other boys — would have been a hero, not a deserter, at another turn of the wheel. It is idleness that makes traitors of them. Where can I find a man who will end all this?"
He passed the comfortable portico of a church which carried with it a breath of thrifty village life. He had been there the Sunday before, and the minister had prayed for peace. "Peace!" The word smote him, for he had ordained war. "Peace! How can I compass it? Somewhere in the Eternal Consciousness must rest the knowledge. But how can I discover it? 'Such knowledge is too high; I cannot attain to it,' " groaned the Man.
With the thought he raised his eyes. He was opposite a young ladies' boarding-school. It was a decorous place, sedately retired on a terrace. A group of young women in billowing crinolines were returning from the daily walk. There was a lively ripple of subdued comment as he looked up.
"Did you ever see such awkwardness?" asked of her companion a girl from Virginia. "And the creases in his coat!" There was much mirth, in the midst of which a young lady from Maryland laughed out:
"Did you ever see him try to bow to a lady?"
Quite ignorant of these girlish strictures, the Man caught the eye of the youngest boarder, who, kept in the house with a sore throat, was flattening her nose hopelessly against the window-pane. Something in the face of the sad-looking man made her throw him a shy little appeal for sympathy from two red and swollen eyes. He answered it. Then:
"That child, too, I may have made fatherless even now," he thought, and shuddered.
"How to end it?" His mind kept him remorselessly at work. "I have failed. Another man might know — so many claim to know. If a better man were in my place, perhaps he could stop the killing and the sorrow."
He was approaching a poorer part of the city, where modest homes and small industries bound about the lives of simple folk, quite apart from the square, dignified old houses where the aristocrats lived. The houses seemed to press in upon him like the sorrows of the world. He thought of those who had gone out from them.
"My hand sent them out — the bright youth, North and South — to kill and to be killed. And my hand cannot bring them back. Had I the right to do it? How could I have thought that any good could come from such as I? I thought I saw clearly — I, sprung out of such darkness — having seen such sin. What right had I to think that I could lead? It was a crime!"
He came to a group of tiny two-story shops — cobblers' rooms, dingy groceries.
"Would it not be less a sin to end it all — to make way for some man who was not
cursed before he was born? Surely it would not be a sin to lay it all down — no matter the way — to end it all — to make way —"
A little child, turning to go into one of the shops, brushed lightly against him, and he started. When he looked up his face was tragic. Through the daze came a recollection. Surely it was here, the fifth door from the corner, that he was going. It was a toy-shop he was looking for. Yes, that was the name — Schotz. For the son had said he wanted toys. The father entered the shop, though he saw but dimly. His mind was turned in on its own sorrows, and he went in, muttering to his own ears: "To end it all — to make way."
He had to wait for a moment while the mite who had ushered him in made a purchase. It was a girl child. She was too awe-struck by the glories laid before her to talk; but she managed to point with a fat forefinger to the penny doll she desired. The gesture with which she seized it brought — strangely enough — a smile to the deep-set eyes of the stranger who stood watching her. His face was quite different when he smiled. Lines which had seemed nothing but deep-graven channels for sorrow became paths for tenderness. Outside he heard her break into excited, high-voiced triumph, which was mingled with the chatter of her mates.
The little shop was a modest place. On one side was a counter where, safe under glass, were home-made candies and cakes, with a rosy-cheeked apple or two. But, lining the walls, tumbling over shelves, crowded into old-fashioned presses, were the toys. There were dolls, of course, patrician wax dolls with delicate eyebrows of real hair, hearty, wooden-jointed dolls that were a real comfort to little mothers. There were wheels of fortune where one could see a steeple-chase if he spun hard enough to make the horses vault the hurdles. There was a fascinating confusion of supple-jacks, house furniture, houses of Oriental magnificence, little imported German toys — horses, trees, dogs. As the Man's melancholy eyes comprehended all that the place contained to minister to childish delight, something of the bitterness left them. In its place was a curious inertness. One would have said that the man's being was paralyzed with doubt.
The next instant he had seen something that brought grief back again something that reminded him of his burden. For, marching valiantly over the shelves, storming wooden boxes flanked with cannon, were toy soldiers. There were, too, all the necessary trappings of combat — swords, guns, soldier suits, arrayed in which youthful generals could marshal their forces and sweep the enemy's army before them while their fathers elsewhere learned the tragedy of war.
Behind the counter was a pretty, young-faced woman, who looked her fifty years only from the softness sometimes brought by the records of many days. She smiled at him in friendly fashion and, unhurried, waited his request. While she reached for the toys the son had asked for, the Man, bent over the counter, fingered the dolls left lying there from the last small purchaser with clumsy, gentle fingers.
"Who makes that 'dolly' furniture?" he asked, idly. "I wish I could get any one to work for me one-half so well. Carved, too. I didn't know there were tools fine enough to make those tiny wreaths."
Mrs. Schotz shook her head at him good-humoredly.
"My man, he speak English. I — not — can." Following her gesture, the stranger saw, in the back part of the shop, a patient figure at work.
Joseph Schotz was sitting in an invalid-chair, a table littered with tools and bits of wood by his side. One leg, bandaged and swathed, rested on a cushion. His strong peasant face was seamed and drawn with pain.
The Man was beside him in an instant.
"Yes, I make the dolls' houses and carve the furniture — great work, that, for a man, sir? I used to be a cabinet-maker at Annapolis — before my leg got so bad. No, sir, I did not learn my trade there. I was apprenticed to Cadieux, who was cabinetmaker to Napoleon. Yes, the Emperor. Who else could it have been? But that was after those pigs of Russians shot me in the leg. It was their ball that brought me here," with a contemptuous glance at his bandaged leg. "I was color-bearer-you see, I was too young to go in any other way. I was sixteen when I was wounded."
The Man found himself a chair.
"Why, no, sir, it isn't much of a story. It is only that I could never stay still. I don't believe men were ever meant to. That's why it's —" He checked himself with a glance at his wife. "I was born in the Tyrol, but the name of Buonaparte pulled me to France. Why, sir, I don't know what it was, but he is the only great man I have ever known. He made you drop everything and go with him, that is all. We never stopped to ask what it was, but — he knew his soldiers, he didn't know what it was to be afraid — and where he wanted to go he went."
The Man, who had been listening thus far with sympathy, started — at these last words — into tenseness.
"Did your Napoleon never — doubt?" he asked, with rather a breathless voice.
"If he did, no one ever saw him," chuckled the cabinet-maker, indulgently. "That was why we followed him. It sounds like very little, but — if he could call me to-day, rd jump up and hop on one leg after him."
Had Joseph Schotz not been lost in the one story that never failed to thrill him — of his shattered dreams and his hero — he would have noticed that the face of the tall man who sat before him had lapsed into hopelessness. This time there was even something desperate in the eyes. But Napoleon's color-bearer went on:
"But you see — instead of that I'm here." He glanced at his leg again with a repressed passion of bitterness, which made him in some dark way kin to the man who listened. "It was when I couldn't fight for him that I learned to carve the wreaths on the chairs at the Tuileries — after all, that was near the end.... It is never as the Emperor on his throne that I think of him — I have seen him so — or as the general on horseback; but as the soldier in his gray overcoat going about among us. He had a way of standing, sir, as if you couldn't dislodge him — that was Buonaparte."
Mrs. Schotz had gone back to the counter with the toys the stranger sought. With an irresolute effort he moved listlessly toward them. There was a whole regiment of little men in blue, and with them a gorgeous officer in gold-decked uniform waving his sword above a prancing steed. The Man laid his hand upon the toy and moved it absently into position at the head of the men. The brave general toppled spinelessly over when the great gnarled hand was removed. The woman shook her head.
"He not — can — stand," she said, in her hesitating English. "Too heavy — of the — head. This" — substituting a plain little captain with modest sword held at attention — "this stand so you — not — can — dis — lodge him."
The Man raised his head alertly as the woman echoed so unconsciously her husband's words. The movement was a quicker one than could have been expected from the languor of the whole figure. He gave a quick glance from the man to the woman and then at the toy soldiers. Then he squared his shoulders. His hand closed again upon the top-heavy little general and, half-absently, swept him aside. The plain little officer was moved into position. The officer stood. A light that was half humor and half inspiration broke upon the rugged face of the Man who bent over them both.
"No more generals on horseback," he muttered. "My man may ride when it is necessary, but he must know how to walk, too. I want one — I wonder if I know him — who 'stands so you can't dislodge him' and who 'knows his men.' Perhaps they have given me the answer to it all. Perhaps, after all, I can find him. Perhaps. And 'where he wants to go' — was that the word?" He pored over the toys. The woman went back to her knitting. The click of needles or the noise of a tool raised or laid down was the only sound heard in the shop.
"Are you buying the soldiers for your boys? It's wonderful how they take to them these days." The voice of the cabinet-maker broke the stillness. He repeated the question before the Man heard. And even then the answer was slow in coming.
"I have but one boy to buy toys for — now," said the man, at length. "The other one — that is left — is too old. And, in spite of all, the child must be made happy."
He turned again to the soldiers as if they contained the answer to some question. His eyes fell again upon the captain. He nodded as though he recognized some one. "I believe I — know," he thought, half-fearfully. "He 'stands so you can't dislodge him ' — he 'doesn't know what it is to be afraid' — 'he walks about among his men' — he 'knows them.' " The man seized the officer almost fiercely and held it in his big hand.
"I will put him there. He will stand. And" — his face lit up with sudden fire" and 'where he wants to go' he shall go, please God!"
He swept the soldiers into a heap and pushed them from him, waiting impatiently while Mrs. Schotz deftly made them up into a parcel. But when that was done he still lingered. Suddenly he turned to Joseph Schotz with a sort of desperation.
"Did he never — waver — your Napoleon — even when he watched thousands of you — even men with children — die, and die because he placed you there — bound in the shambles?"
The cabinet-maker raised his head from his work in surprise. The inexplicable agony in the face of the other man brought an unusual thoughtfulness into the peasant's face.
"I do not know" — he hesitated — "I am not sure. He must have felt — but no one ever saw him. He could not stop. There was not a moment when, if he had halted — even to pity-all the great Thing he was building would not have fallen about his ears — and carried all France down with it. No, he could not stop. If he had been of those who falter" — here Schotz shrugged his shoulders with the gesture of the Frenchmen he had fought among — "Buonaparte should not have played the game of war."
The tall man winced. He looked for a moment as if the cabinet-maker had taunted him — knowing. Then he straightened his shoulders. His face hardened into lines of steadfastness and determination. Taking up his parcel —
"Thank you," he said, with a deeper intonation than one would have expected in return for so slight a deed — "thank you," he said to Joseph Schotz, and wrung his hand with a grasp that hurt. Then he hurried out.
When they had watched the great figure out of sight —
"Who is he — that tall man? Do you know, my wife?" asked Joseph Schotz, in their own tongue.
"Some American," replied his wife, with democratic unconcern. Then when her husband continued to gaze earnestly at the door from which their guest had departed, "A sad-looking man, I think."
"Yes, he is one that carries with him the sorrows of the world. When he came into the world he had already known what it was to sorrow. Men like that must learn to laugh or they cannot live."
"What does it matter?" she said, rallying him. "He is not thy Napoleon."
"No, he is not Napoleon," replied the man, quickly, looking down at his hand, still red from the pressure of the bony fingers. "No — Napoleon never played — with toys."