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Children of the Whirlwind

Leroy Scott

  Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team


  By Leroy Scott


  It was an uninspiring bit of street: narrow, paved with cobble; hot andnoisy in summer, reeking with unwholesome mud during the drizzling andsnow-slimed months of winter. It looked anything this May after noonexcept a starting-place for drama. But, then, the great dramas of lifeoften avoid the splendid estates and trappings with which conventionalromance would equip them, and have their beginnings in unlikeliestenvironment; and thence sweep on to a noble, consuming tragedy, or toa glorious unfolding of souls. Life is a composite of contradictions--apuzzle to the wisest of us: the lily lifting its graceful purity aloftmay have its roots in a dunghill. Samson's dead lion putrefying by aroadside is ever and again being found to be a storehouse of wild honey.We are too accustomed to the ordinary and the obvious to consider thatbeauty or worth may, after bitter travail, grow out of that which isugly and unpromising.

  Thus no one who looked on Maggie Carlisle and Larry Brainard at theirbeginnings, had even a guess what manner of persons were to develop fromthem or what their stories were to be.

  The houses on the bit of street were all three-storied and all of auniform, dingy, scaling redness. The house of the Duchess, on the leftside as you came down the street toward the little Square which squattedbeside the East River, differed from the others only in that three ballsof tarnished gilt swung before it and unredeemed pledges emanated aweakly lure from behind its dirt-streaked windows, and also in that thepersonality of the Duchess gave the house something of a character ofits own.

  The street did business with her when pressed for funds, but it knewlittle definite about the Duchess except that she was shriveled and bentand almost wordless and was seemingly without emotions. But of coursethere were rumors. She was so old, and had been so long in the drablittle street, that she was as much a legend as a real person. No oneknew exactly how she had come by the name of "Duchess." There weremisty, unsupported stories that long, long ago she had been a shapelyand royal figure in colored fleshings, and that her title had been givenher in those her ruling days. Also there was a vague story that she hadcome by the name through an old liking for the romances of that writerwho put forth her, or his, or their, prolific extravagances under theexalted pseudonym of "The Duchess." Also there was a rumor that thetitle came from a former alleged habit of the Duchess of carryingbeneath her shapeless dress a hoard of jewels worthy to be a duchy'sheirlooms. But all these were just stories--no more. Down in thisquarter of New York nicknames come easily, and once applied they adhereto the end.

  Some believed that she was now the mere ashes of a woman, in whom livedonly the last flickering spark. And some believed that beneath that draband spent appearance there smouldered a great fire, which might blazeforth upon some occasion. But no one knew. As she was now, so shehad always been even in the memory of people considered old in theneighborhood.

  Beside the fact that she ran a pawnshop, which was reputed to be also afence, there were only two or three other facts that were known to herneighbors. One was that in the far past there had been a daughter, andthat while still a very young girl this daughter had disappeared. It wasrumored that the Duchess had placed the daughter in a convent and thatlater tire girl had married; but the daughter had never appeared againin the quarter. Another fact was that there was a grandson, a handsomeyoung devil, who had come down occasionally to visit his grandmother,until he began his involuntary sojourn at Sing Sing. Another fact--thisone the best known of all--was that two or three years before animpudent, willful young girl named Maggie Carlisle had come to live withher.

  It was rather a meager history. People wondered and talked of mystery.But perhaps the only mystery arose from the fact that the Duchess wasthe kind of woman who never volunteered information about her affairs,and the kind even the boldly curious hesitate to question...

  And down here it was, in this unlovely street, in the Duchess's unlovelyhouse, that the drama of Maggie Carlisle and Larry Brainard beganits unpromising and stormy career: for, though they had thought of itlittle, their forebears had been sowers of the wind, they themselves hadsown some of that careless seed and were to sow yet more--and there wasto be the reaping of that seed's wild crop.