Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
The Willipers at the Pier
Ever since Little Jack Williper's Sunday excursion to Newport with his parents, on which occasion the five dollar bill — given him by the fine young gentleman with the finer Great Dane, who had strayed into Bull Dog Square — had been ruthlessly consumed to the last penny, it had been the ambition of Williper Pere, Williper Mere and Little Jack to visit Narragansett Pier and gaze upon the magnificent hotels there situated, and behold that celebrated crescent beach where ladies bathed in white kid slippers and ballroom finery, and money flowed like water.
Mamie Kelley, the beautiful weaver, whom, it will be remembered, Little Jack mistook at Newport for a princess, because she had red hair and her arms and face were so plump and white, was inclined to doubt that ladies ever bathed in white kid slippers.
"Ah, forgit it," she had said to Williper Mere, one warm night, when she sat with the Williper family on the doorstep of their tenement and sweltered in the hot air which slid up the alley from the Square. "They wear kid slippers — I don't think! Little Jack has been fillin' you up with stories out of his books."
"Oh, I swear to goodness, Mamie," Little Jack had cried, "I read it true and honest in the paper. Yes, and some of 'em wear corsets, too — sure's you're born, Mamie. I saw a picture of it, too."
Little Jack's positiveness had aroused the curiosity of even the phlegmatic princess, and it was decided then and there that a trip to the Pier should be enjoyed as soon as circumstances would permit.
Now, Newport is common to the alley population of Providence, and Easton's Beach has done its fair share in the civilization of the "Great Unwashed." The eyes of Jean Baptiste Grandmaison, mule spinner from Manville; of John 'Enry 'Oldsworth, weaver of Olneyville; of Michael Angelo Papiti, banana incubator of Federal Hill; of Jerry Finnerty, truckman of Fox Point, had looked unabashed into the eyes of Vanderbilts, Astors and foreign diplomats and princes many times on Bellevue avenue, and the possessors of said first mentioned eves had returned home more satisfied with themselves, having discovered that a millionaire and even a prince is only a man, generally not so well set up a man, either, as he who exercises daily in the gymnasium of toil.
But Narragansett Pier is a far-away land, a wonderful spot not to be gazed upon by common mortals. No boat then ran from Providence to the Pier. Jean, John, Michael and Jerry are not desired at the Pier, and it had been made very difficult for these friends and fellow citizens to indulge in such a trip, even though Narragansett was only a trifle further away than Newport. A railroad runs from Providence to the Pier, but it costs $1.50 so to make the round trip thereon, and $1.50 is 15 per cent. on the weekly wage of the average steady and clever laborer in Rhode Island. It is a lot of money to those who dwell in the stifling precincts of Bull Dog Square, and the Willipers skinched and saved religiously for six weeks before they got together enough money to defray the necessary expenses of the trip. But when this was accomplished they immediately became happy. One day of pleasure was before them. What cared they for months of privation!
They chose a Thursday in August. It was a lovely day. Williper Pere had got a day off by hiring a loafing dresser tender to take his place at an advance of 25 cents on his own pay. He was dressed in his blacks, with the same old high-roosting collar, and he looked just as bleached out, as awkward and as stolid as when we saw him on the "Day Star." Williper Mere, however, wore a new gown. It had cost $4.87, ready made, and fitted like a glove. At least the saleslady had so informed her. To the casual observer it was one of those high-up-infront and low-down-behind kind of dresses which are apt to make one doubt whether it is possible to fit the human female figure by machinery. Little Jack looked as usual. He was so crooked and twisted by his deformity that none ever saw his clothes. He sagged down in his crutches and stood waiting for the train, perfectly content with all things. Mamie Kelley, who joined them at the depot, having "flung her clothes on," as she described it, caused Little Jack's eyes to brighten immensely, for Mamie certainly had "flung on" a white muslin gown most artistically, and the morning sun in her hair made it ripple like a golden sea. Mamie made all her own clothes at odd times after work hours, and the Lord knows where she got her idea of style, but she evidently got it from somewhere, for she certainly knew how to look well. It was owing in part, no doubt, to her splendid figure and the graceful way she handled herself.
Mamie sat with Little Jack in the train and held his hand while he dilated on the wonderful doings of a certain Mary, Queen of Scots, of whom Mamie had never heard, but concerning whom Little Jack had read with much pleasure.
"I tell you she had a hard time of it," Little Jack said, with a sigh. "They killed every man she looked at, shet her up on a lonesome island, and wound up by cutting her head off. I swanny some of them old time kings and queens had no such soft snap as we think. Her name was Mary, just like your's," he added, after a brief pause. " I wonder did they call her Mamie."
Mamie Kelley laughed and patted the cripple's hand. "You're always making me out a princess or something, you dreamy kid. What do I care for Mary Scots? She's dead a long time, and here I am and here we go 'way down to the Pier to see all the rich people."
"Don't you ever wish to be rich, Mamie?" Little Jack inquired, looking up into her eyes.
"You bet your life I do," was the prompt reply.
"What would you do?"
"What would I do?" The girl gazed wistfully at the roof of the car. "I would first have a beautiful home with a green lawn around it, where I wouldn't have a thing to do; then I'd have two new dresses for every day in the month, then I'd go to New York and see the sights." The girl dropped her eyes and looked down at her companion and laughed. "Ah, fergit it," she said; "aint it silly to be a wishin'?"
Arriving at the Pier, the party made a bee line for the bathing beach, and, seating themselves upon the sand, watched the bathers. There were probably two hundred enjoying the surf that morning, and sure enough Little Jack quickly discovered a young lady in white kid slippers and dainty attire, promenading up and down the white sand, holding above her head a red silk parasol. The gentleman who accompanied her was a stalwart young man in a regulation bathing suit. The Willipers watched this couple closely, but to their disappointment the daintily arrayed lady did not go near the climbing surf creepers.
"She's just out to show her shape," Mamie said with disgust after a bit, and then she quoted, cocking her head airily:
"Mother, may I go out to swim?"
"Yes, my darling daughter."
"Hang your clothes on a hickory limb,
"But don't go near the water."
They soon forgot the lady in kid slippers and corsets, while watching the lively scene in the water before them. There were old bald-headed fat men, and scrawney bald-headed lean men; stout old women in big poke sun-bonnets, thin old women who shivered constantly; jolly young men and girls who romped in the surf, and timid people who crept to the water's edge and nibbled at a bath.
Williper Pere was enjoying himself hugely. The old people in particular interested him. They looked so funny, puffing and blowing, and they were so outlandish as to figure.
"Aint it just horrid what shapes people have?" Williper Mere whispered to Mamie. "See that fat woman there, swashin' about. 'J'ever see the like? If I was her, I'd take a bath in my bedroom.
"Long as she don't mind, what need we care?" Mamie returned, philosophically. "She's natural, anyhow, and not like that cat promenading up and down."
Mamie evidently had taken a strong aversion to Miss Corsets and Kid Slippers, for her eyes stabbed her whenever she came in range. No one hates sham like the wage earner. The "Well, I'll be gol darned!" of the farmer, as a butterfly of the genus summer girl or a golf dude passes in his sight, is expressive of the most withering contempt. The plain people know honesty when they meet it on the street.
After the bathers had come from the water Williper Pere manifested symptoms of hunger, so the party adjourned to "The Rocks" and ate their lunch, while the Atlantic slapped the shore with its long swell and out to sea tall ships moved up and down in the lane of commerce. How invigorating was the salt air! Little Jack expanded his lungs and looked up into his mother's face and laughed. The bleached face of Williper Pere took on almost a rosy hue, and Mamie Kelley let down her glorious red hair and gave sea and sun their will of it.
How hungry they were! But they had plenty to eat and plenty to toss to the sand pipers. While eating, Little Jack must tell a story.
Somewhere, sometime he had read about an old fisherman who used to fish from these same rocks year after year for black fish, and how one day he fell asleep with his pole in his hands. It was then that the king of the black fish seized the line and dragged the old fisherman into the water — down, down to the palace of the water babies, where he was well tended to, but from which he was never allowed to escape, "and perhaps," Little Jack said, gravely, "he's down there now, for all we know."
"Who ever heard tell of water babies?" cried Williper Mere.
"Oh, yes they be — they be — oh yes!" insisted Little Jack. "Little water babies; they live in the water and float about and have a fairy godmother. Oh, I know it's true all right, for a preacher wrote about them. There was a little boot black — no, a chimney sweep it was as fell into the water and was turned into a water baby. My, what a time he had!"
"How could a baby live in the water?" his mother asked, incredulously.
"Why, a frog as lived there told him how. Don't frogs live in the water? Well, this frog was a big bull frog, and he told this chimney sweep water baby just how to do it. Anyway, he lived and got married and swam far out to sea."
"I'll bet there is water babies," Mamie Kelley said, with a wink at Little Jack's parents. "I remember once when I was in bathing down to Crescent, something caught hold of my toe and I put for shore. I sat down on the sand and held up my foot, and what do you think I saw but a water baby — a little naked water baby sittin' a-straddle of my toe and hangin' on to beat the band."
"Now, didn't I tell you!" cried Little Jack, clapping his hands. "But what did you do with the water baby?" he inquired, eagerly.
"Well, of course I was surprised at first. Then I reached down to pick the kid up, but he just twisted up one corner of his mouth, and sayin' 'not on your life!' takes a header into the water."
"If that don't beat all!" Little Jack exclaimed, and he looked wistfully down at the water, hoping that he, too, might see a real water baby, while Mamie and his parents grinned at each other knowingly.
There is a rest in the slap, slap, slap of the sea — rest and peace. Mother of us all, the sea soothes her children when they come down to her and lie by her side. Care is forgotten. Realities fade away and dreams come. Dreams certainly came to Williper Pere when he drew off to the shade of a large boulder, if the sounds which came from his direction were authentic. Little Jack placed his head in his mother's lap and went to sleep, and the two women stood guard and looked out to sea.
After the nap they all marched up the Ocean Drive and saw what they could see of the hotels and cottages. It was great amusement for them to watch four children — two little girls and two boys, all daintily dressed in blue and white, playing tennis on the lawn of one of the great hotels. Mamie held Little Jack upon the curbing so that he might see. The four children were very graceful and very active. They drove the ball back and forth with amazing speed.
As they were thus standing a lady came down from the hotel — a tall, angular woman, with a set, severe face. She noticed Little Jack and started at his peculiar knotted appearance.
"Dear me," she said to Williper Mere, "are you his mother?"
"Yes 'urn," replied that lady, slowly. The tall woman came nearer and whispered:
Another look at Little Jack and then another deep whisper:
"Which hotel are you stopping at?"
"We aint stopping anywhere, bein' just down from the city for the day," Williper Mere replied, stupidly.
The tall woman opened her hand and placed what it held in that of Mrs. Williper. "Buy him what he would like best of all in the world," she said, and almost smiled. Then she went on.
All eyes were on Williper Mere when she in turn opened her hand. It held a $10 note.
"And I took her for a regular Tartar," Mamie gasped.
Williper Pere grinned. "There's kind hearts in the world," he said.
They then resumed their walk along the sea wall, paid another visit to the beach, ate a bag of peanuts, one ditto of sweet corn, drank each a glass of root beer, and slowly made their way to the depot.
It was at the depot that they saw the Russian Ambassador. Little Jack, whose ears were wide open, heard a man behind him whisper, "There's the Russian Ambassador," and turning saw him point to a foreign looking gentleman standing between two young ladies, and looking very much like a common, every day kind of a being.
The news was quickly communicated to his friends, and the celebrated diplomat received a careful scrutiny.
"He's seen the Czar," hoarsely whispered Little Jack. Then, to the surprise of his parents he shot off sideways and was standing on his crutches before the Ambassador.
"Have you seen the Czar?" the cripple asked, eagerly.
The great man looked down upon the eager face upturned to his and replied: " Many times, little brother."
"Then let me take your hand, for I worship the Czar. He's the biggest of 'em all," Little Jack cried, unabashed.
Mamie Kelley had now seized the cripple and spirited him away.
The eyes of the diplomat rested upon her inquiringly. He perhaps was wondering whether the serfs of the American Republic bore such daughters as she. Mamie had not failed to observe this half startled look, and in her heart she treasured it for many a long day. She knew what the look meant. She had been admired by one of the greatest men in the world. Had she well spent her day! The fact that she sang at her loom for a week afterwards, and that she strode homeward over Smith's Hill alone at night, showed she was well satisfied with herself.
Little Jack, moreover, was in raptures, and his parents greatly admired his boldness.
It had been for all a splendid day. They had beheld and admired. They had listened to the crooning of the sea. They had received a i o note from the skies, and had varying impressions of a famous Ambassador.
But what to do with this $10. It was to be spent for Little Jack, to purchase what he liked best in the world.
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Little Jack himself, as they sat about the supper table and discussed the proposition; "we'll put it by and on Thanksgiving day have Mamie to a real swell dinner, for we've had a bang-up time."
This suited everybody, and it was decided as outlined by Little Jack.
Then Mamie went home wondering what it would seem like to be able to stand by the side of a great man, his social equal.
"Anyhow," she said to herself, "if I am only Mamie Kelley, I know what's what, and I'm just as good as the best of 'em."