Mrs. McGregor waited a moment.
"But you aren't coming," protested she fretfully. "You never seem to come when you're wanted. Drat the child! Where is he? Carl!"
"Yes, Ma! Yes, Ma!" the woman mimicked impatiently. "It's easy enough to shout Yes, Ma; but where are you—that's what I want to know. You're the slowest creature on God's earth, I believe. A tortoise would be a race horse compared with you. What under the sun are you doing?"
The boy entered, a good-humored grin on his face.
He was thin, lanky, and blue-eyed, and a rebellious lock of tawny hair that curled despite all he could do waved back from his forehead. He might have been fourteen years old or he might have been seventeen; it was hard to tell whether he was an overgrown younger boy or an under-sized older one. Whatever his age, however, he could certainly boast a serene disposition, for his mother's caustic comments failed to ruffle his temper. Having heard them ever since babyhood he was quite accustomed to their acid tang; moreover, he had learned to gage them for what they were worth and class them along with the froth on a soda or the sputter of a freshly lighted match. The thing underneath was what mattered and he knew well that beneath the torrent of words his mother was the best mother on earth, so what more could a boy ask?
Therefore he stood before her, whistling softly and waiting to see what would happen next. For something surely would happen; it always did when Mrs. McGregor rolled up her sleeves, and they were rolled up now, displaying beneath the margin of blue gingham a powerful arm terminating in a strong hand and slender, capable fingers.
Years ago she had come to Mulberry Court with a large brood of children and it had been a long time before she could number one friend among her neighbors. The chief complaint entered against her was that she was not sociable, and if you were not sociable at Mulberry Court it meant you were lofty, uppish, considered yourself better than other folks. What it really meant, however, was that you did not hang out of your window and chatter to the inhabitant of the opposite tenement; or loiter in the doorway or on the sidewalk to gossip with the women who lived on the floors below.
At the outset Mrs. McGregor had let it be understood that she had no time for gossip and it was this decree that had earned for her the stigma of not being sociable, the acme of all crimes at Mulberry Court. Of course she had not proclaimed her policy in so many words. No, indeed! Yet she might as well have done so for the business-like manner in which she hastened home from market and shot up the stairs published her philosophy more forcefully than any words could have done.
"She's just too good for the rest of us," announced Mrs. O'Dowd sarcastically to the little circle who were wont to await her verdict on every newcomer to the district. "Proud and snappy and stuck-up, I call her. Not much of an addition to the house, if you ask my opinion."
This snapshot judgment, hasty as it was, was promptly accepted by the other women, for was not Julie O'Dowd the social dictator of the community?...