Twenty Years After
In the middle of one of the busiest crossings in Chicago, there stands a big man in a blue uniform. His eyes are blue, and there are wrinkles in the corners of them, the marks of many smiles.
On his head is a blue cap, and under the edge of the cap you catch a glimpse of dark hair. There are bands of gold braid on his sleeve, and on his breast is a large silver star.
He is King of the Crossing. When he blows his whistle, all the street-cars and automobiles and carriages—even if it were the carriage of the Mayor himself—stop stock-still. Then he waves his white-gloved hands and the stream of people pours across the street.
If there is a very small boy among them, the King of the Crossing sometimes lays a big hand on his shoulder and goes with him to the curb. And he has been known to carry a small girl across on his shoulder and set her safely down on the other side.
When the people are all across, he goes back to the middle of the street once more, and blows twice on his little whistle.
Then all the wheels that have been standing as still as if they had gone to sleep suddenly wake up, and go rolling down the street, while those that have just been turning stop and wait while the big man helps more people over the crossing the other way.
All day long the King of the Crossing stands there, blowing his whistle, waving his white-gloved hands, and turning the stream of people up first one street, then the other.
Everybody minds him. If everybody did n't, they might get run over and wake up in a hospital. Oh, he must be minded, the King of the Crossing, or nobody would be safe!
When the long day is over, he looks up the street and sees another big man coming. This man wears a blue uniform, too, and a silver star, and when the hands on the big clock at the corner point to five, he steps into the place of the King of the Crossing and reigns in his stead.
Then the King jumps on to the platform of a passing street-car, and by and by, when it has gone several miles, he jumps off again, and walks up the street to a little hoase that 's as neat as neat can be.
It stands back from the street in a little green yard. The house is painted white, and the front door is green. But he doesn't go to the front door. He goes round by the sidewalk to the kitchen door, and there he does n't even knock.
He opens the door and walks right in. Through the open door comes the smell of something good cooking, and he sees a plump woman with blue eyes that have smile wrinkles in the corners, just like his own, and crinkly dark hair, just like his own, too, bending over the stove. She is just tasting the something that smells so good, with a spoon.
When she sees the big man in the door she tastes so quickly that she burns her tongue! But she can use it just the same even if it is burned.
She runs to the big man and says, "And is that yourself, now, Larry darling? Sure, I 'm that glad to see you, I 've scalded myself with the soup!"
The big man has just time to say, "Sure, Eileen, you were always a great one for burning yourself. Do you remember that day at Grannie Malone's"—when out into the kitchen tumble a little Larry and a little E ileen, and a Baby. They have heard his voice, and they fall upon the King of the Crossing as if he were n't a King at all—but just a plain ordinary Uncle.
They take off his cap and rumple his hair. They get into his pockets and find some peppermints there. And the Baby even tries to get the silver star off his breast to put into her mouth.
"Look at that now," cries Uncle Larry. "Get along with you! Is it trying to take me off the Force, you are? Sure, that star was never intended by the City for you to cut your teeth on."
"She 'll poison herself with the things she 's always after putting in her mouth," cries the Mother. She seizes the Baby and sets her in a safe corner by herself, gives her a spoon and says, "There now—you can be cutting your teeth on that."
And when the children have quite worn Uncle Larry out, he sits upon the floor, where they have him by this time, and runs his fingers through his hair, which is standing straight up, and says to the Mother, "Sure, Eileen, when you and I were children on the old sod, we were never such spalpeens as the likes of these! They have me destroyed entirely, and me the biggest policeman on the Force! Is it American they are, or Irish, I want to know?"
"It 's Irish-American we are," shouts little Larry.
"And with the heft of both countries in your fists," groans big Larry.
And then the Mother, who has been laying the table, meanwhile, interferes. "Come off of your poor Uncle," she says, "and be eating your soup, like gentlemen and ladies. It 's getting cold on you waiting for you to finish your antics. Your poor Uncle Larry won't come near you at all, and you all the time punishing him like that."
And then the Baby, still sucking her spoon, is lifted into her high chair. A chair is placed for Uncle Larry, and they all eat their soup around the kitchen table, just as the very last rays of the summer sun make long streaks of light across the kitchen floor.
"Where 's Dennis?" says Uncle Larry, while the children are quiet for a moment.
"Oh, it 's Himself is so late that I feed the children and put them to bed before he gets home at all," says the Mother. "It 's little he sees of them except of a Sunday."
"It 's likely he 'll live the longer for that," says Uncle Larry. He looks reproachfully at the children and rubs his head.
And then—"Mother, tell us, what kind of a boy was Uncle Larry when you and he were Twins and lived in Ireland," says little Eileen.
"The best in the width of the world," says her Mother promptly. "Were n't you, Larry? Speak up and tell them now."
And Uncle Larry laughs and says, "Sure, I was too good entirely! It would n't be modest to tell you the truth about myself."
"Tell us about Mother, then," says little Eileen. "Was she the best in the width of the world, too?
"Sure, I 'll never be telling tales on my only twin sister," says Uncle Larry, "beyond telling you that there was many another in green old Ireland just like her, whatever kind she was. But I can't stay here wearing out my tongue! Look out the window! The chickens have gone to roost, and the sun is down. So get along with you to your beds."
When he had gone, and the children were in bed, and the house quiet, the Mother sat down by the light in the kitchen with a basket of mending beside her.
And while she darned and mended and waited for Himself to come home, she remembered and remembered about when she was little Eileen, herself, and the King of the Crossing was just her twin brother Larry.
And this book is what she remembered.