I can see the artist bite the end of his pencil and frown when it comes
to drawing his Easter picture; for his legitimate pictorial conceptions
of figures pertinent to the festival are but four in number.
First comes Easter, pagan goddess of spring. Here his fancy may have
free play. A beautiful maiden with decorative hair and the proper number
of toes will fill the bill. Miss Clarice St. Vavasour, the well-known
model, will pose for it in the "Lethergogallagher," or whatever it was
that Trilby called it.
Second--the melancholy lady with upturned eyes in a framework of lilies.
This is magazine-covery, but reliable.
Third--Miss Manhattan in the Fifth Avenue Easter Sunday parade.
Fourth--Maggie Murphy with a new red feather in her old straw hat, happy
and self-conscious, in the Grand Street turnout.
Of course, the rabbits do not count. Nor the Easter eggs, since the
higher criticism has hard-boiled them.
The limited field of its pictorial possibilities proves that Easter, of
all our festival days, is the most vague and shifting in our conception.
It belongs to all religions, although the pagans invented it. Going back
still further to the first spring, we can see Eve choosing with pride a
new green leaf from the tree _ficus carica_.
Now, the object of this critical and learned preamble is to set forth
the theorem that Easter is neither a date, a season, a festival, a
holiday nor an occasion. What it is you shall find out if you follow in
the footsteps of Danny McCree.
Easter Sunday dawned as it should, bright and early, in its place on the
calendar between Saturday and Monday. At 5.24 the sun rose, and at 10.30
Danny followed its example. He went into the kitchen and washed his
face at the sink. His mother was frying bacon. She looked at his hard,
smooth, knowing countenance as he juggled with the round cake of soap,
and thought of his father when she first saw him stopping a hot grounder
between second and third twenty-two years before on a vacant lot in
Harlem, where the La Paloma apartment house now stands. In the front
room of the flat Danny's father sat by an open window smoking his pipe,
with his dishevelled gray hair tossed about by the breeze. He still
clung to his pipe, although his sight had been taken from him two years
before by a precocious blast of giant powder that went off without
permission. Very few blind men care for smoking, for the reason that
they cannot see the smoke. Now, could you enjoy having the news read to
you from an evening newspaper unless you could see the colors of the
"'Tis Easter Day," said Mrs. McCree.
"Scramble mine," said Danny.
After breakfast he dressed himself in the Sabbath morning costume of
the Canal Street importing house dray chauffeur--frock coat, striped
trousers, patent leathers, gilded trace chain across front of vest,
and wing collar, rolled-brim derby and butterfly bow from Schonstein's
(between Fourteenth Street and Tony's fruit stand) Saturday night sale.
"You'll be goin' out this day, of course, Danny," said old man McCree,
a little wistfully. "'Tis a kind of holiday, they say. Well, it's fine
spring weather. I can feel it in the air."
"Why should I not be going out?" demanded Danny in his grumpiest chest
tones. "Should I stay in? Am I as good as a horse? One day of rest my
team has a week. Who earns the money for the rent and the breakfast
you've just eat, I'd like to know? Answer me that!"
"All right, lad," said the old man. "I'm not complainin'. While me two
eyes was good there was nothin' better to my mind than a Sunday out.
There's a smell of turf and burnin' brush comin' in the windy. I have me
tobaccy. A good fine day and rist to ye, lad. Times I wish your mother
had larned to read, so I might hear the rest about the hippopotamus--but
let that be."
"Now, what is this foolishness he talks of hippopotamuses?" asked Danny
of his mother, as he passed through the kitchen. "Have you been taking
him to the Zoo? And for what?"
"I have not," said Mrs. McCree. "He sets by the windy all day. 'Tis
little recreation a blind man among the poor gets at all. I'm thinkin'
they wander in their minds at times. One day he talks of grease without
stoppin' for the most of an hour. I looks to see if there's lard burnin'
in the fryin' pan. There is not. He says I do not understand. 'Tis weary
days, Sundays, and holidays and all, for a blind man, Danny. There was
no better nor stronger than him when he had his two eyes. 'Tis a fine
day, son. Injoy yeself ag'inst the morning. There will be cold supper at
"Have you heard any talk of a hippopotamus?" asked Danny of Mike, the
janitor, as he went out the door downstairs.
"I have not," said Mike, pulling his shirtsleeves higher. "But 'tis the
only subject in the animal, natural and illegal lists of outrages that
I've not been complained to about these two days. See the landlord. Or
else move out if ye like. Have ye hippopotamuses in the lease? No,
"It was the old man who spoke of it," said Danny. "Likely there's
nothing in it."
Danny walked up the street to the Avenue and then struck northward into
the heart of the district where Easter--modern Easter, in new, bright
raiment--leads the pascal march. Out of towering brown churches came the
blithe music of anthems from the choirs. The broad sidewalks were moving
parterres of living flowers--so it seemed when your eye looked upon the
Gentlemen, frock-coated, silk-hatted, gardeniaed, sustained the
background of the tradition. Children carried lilies in their hands. The
windows of the brownstone mansions were packed with the most opulent
creations of Flora, the sister of the Lady of the Lilies.
Around a corner, white-gloved, pink-gilled and tightly buttoned, walked
Corrigan, the cop, shield to the curb. Danny knew him.
"Why, Corrigan," he asked, "is Easter? I know it comes the first time
you're full after the moon rises on the seventeenth of March--but why?
Is it a proper and religious ceremony, or does the Governor appoint it
out of politics?"
"'Tis an annual celebration," said Corrigan, with the judicial air of
the Third Deputy Police Commissioner, "peculiar to New York. It extends
up to Harlem. Sometimes they has the reserves out at One Hundred and
Twenty-fifth Street. In my opinion 'tis not political."
"Thanks," said Danny. "And say--did you ever hear a man complain of
hippopotamuses? When not specially in drink, I mean."
"Nothing larger than sea turtles," said Corrigan, reflecting, "and there
was wood alcohol in that."
Danny wandered. The double, heavy incumbency of enjoying simultaneously
a Sunday and a festival day was his.
The sorrows of the hand-toiler fit him easily. They are worn so often
that they hang with the picturesque lines of the best tailor-made
garments. That is why well-fed artists of pencil and pen find in the
griefs of the common people their most striking models. But when the
Philistine would disport himself, the grimness of Melpomene, herself,
attends upon his capers. Therefore, Danny set his jaw hard at Easter,
and took his pleasure sadly.
The family entrance of Dugan's café was feasible; so Danny yielded to
the vernal season as far as a glass of bock. Seated in a dark,
linoleumed, humid back room, his heart and mind still groped after the
mysterious meaning of the springtime jubilee.
"Say, Tim," he said to the waiter, "why do they have Easter?"
"Skiddoo!" said Tim, closing a sophisticated eye. "Is that a new one?
All right. Tony Pastor's for you last night, I guess. I give it up.
What's the answer--two apples or a yard and a half?"
From Dugan's Danny turned back eastward. The April sun seemed to stir in
him a vague feeling that he could not construe. He made a wrong
diagnosis and decided that it was Katy Conlon.
A block from her house on Avenue A he met her going to church. They
pumped hands on the corner.
"Gee! but you look dumpish and dressed up," said Katy. "What's wrong?
Come away with me to church and be cheerful."
"What's doing at church?" asked Danny.
"Why, it's Easter Sunday. Silly! I waited till after eleven expectin'
you might come around to go."
"What does this Easter stand for, Katy," asked Danny gloomily. "Nobody
seems to know."
"Nobody as blind as you," said Katy with spirit. "You haven't even
looked at my new hat. And skirt. Why, it's when all the girls put on new
spring clothes. Silly! Are you coming to church with me?"
"I will," said Danny. "If this Easter is pulled off there, they ought to
be able to give some excuse for it. Not that the hat ain't a beauty. The
green roses are great."
At church the preacher did some expounding with no pounding. He spoke
rapidly, for he was in a hurry to get home to his early Sabbath dinner;
but he knew his business. There was one word that controlled his
theme--resurrection. Not a new creation; but a new life arising out of
the old. The congregation had heard it often before. But there was a
wonderful hat, a combination of sweet peas and lavender, in the sixth
pew from the pulpit. It attracted much attention.
After church Danny lingered on a corner while Katy waited, with pique in
her sky-blue eyes.
"Are you coming along to the house?" she asked. "But don't mind me. I'll
get there all right. You seem to be studyin' a lot about something. All
right. Will I see you at any time specially, Mr. McCree?"
"I'll be around Wednesday night as usual," said Danny, turning and
crossing the street.
Katy walked away with the green roses dangling indignantly. Danny
stopped two blocks away. He stood still with his hands in his pockets,
at the curb on the corner. His face was that of a graven image. Deep
in his soul something stirred so small, so fine, so keen and leavening
that his hard fibres did not recognize it. It was something more tender
than the April day, more subtle than the call of the senses, purer and
deeper-rooted than the love of woman--for had he not turned away from
green roses and eyes that had kept him chained for a year? And Danny
did not know what it was. The preacher, who was in a hurry to go to his
dinner, had told him, but Danny had had no libretto with which to follow
the drowsy intonation. But the preacher spoke the truth.
Suddenly Danny slapped his leg and gave forth a hoarse yell of delight.
"Hippopotamus!" he shouted to an elevated road pillar. "Well, how is
that for a bum guess? Why, blast my skylights! I know what he was
driving at now.
"Hippopotamus! Wouldn't that send you to the Bronx! It's been a year
since he heard it; and he didn't miss it so very far. We quit at 469
B. C., and this comes next. Well, a wooden man wouldn't have guessed
what he was trying to get out of him."
Danny caught a crosstown car and went up to the rear flat that his labor
Old man McCree was still sitting by the window. His extinct pipe lay on
"Will that be you, lad?" he asked.
Danny flared into the rage of a strong man who is surprised at the
outset of committing a good deed.
"Who pays the rent and buys the food that is eaten in this house?" he
snapped, viciously. "Have I no right to come in?"
"Ye're a faithful lad," said old man McCree, with a sigh. "Is it evening
Danny reached up on a shelf and took down a thick book labeled in gilt
letters, "The History of Greece." Dust was on it half an inch thick. He
laid it on the table and found a place in it marked by a strip of paper.
And then he gave a short roar at the top of his voice, and said:
"Was it the hippopotamus you wanted to be read to about then?"
"Did I hear ye open the book?" said old man McCree. "Many and weary be
the months since my lad has read it to me. I dinno; but I took a great
likings to them Greeks. Ye left off at a place. 'Tis a fine day outside,
lad. Be out and take rest from your work. I have gotten used to me chair
by the windy and me pipe."
"Pel-Peloponnesus was the place where we left off, and not
hippopotamus," said Danny. "The war began there. It kept something doing
for thirty years. The headlines says that a guy named Philip of Macedon,
in 338 B. C., got to be boss of Greece by getting the decision at the
battle of Cher-Cheronoea. I'll read it."
With his hand to his ear, rapt in the Peloponnesian War, old man McCree
sat for an hour, listening.
Then he got up and felt his way to the door of the kitchen. Mrs. McCree
was slicing cold meat. She looked up. Tears were running from old man
"Do you hear our lad readin' to me?" he said. "There is none finer in
the land. My two eyes have come back to me again."
After supper he said to Danny: "'Tis a happy day, this Easter. And now
ye will be off to see Katy in the evening. Well enough."
"Who pays the rent and buys the food that is eaten in this house?" said
Danny, angrily. "Have I no right to stay in it? After supper there is
yet to come the reading of the battle of Corinth, 146 B. C., when the
kingdom, as they say, became an in-integral portion of the Roman Empire.
Am I nothing in this house?"