What Happened To Alanna by Kathleen Thompson Norris

Story type: Literature

A capped and aproned maid, with a martyred expression, had twice sounded the dinner-bell in the stately halls of Costello, before any member of the family saw fit to respond to it.

Then they all came at once, with a sudden pounding of young feet on the stairs, an uproar of young voices, and much banging of doors. Jim and Danny, twins of fourteen, to whom their mother was wont proudly to allude as “the top o’ the line,” violently left their own sanctum on the fourth floor, and coasted down such banisters as lay between that and the dining-room. Teresa, an angel-faced twelve-year-old in a blue frock, shut ‘The Wide, Wide World’ with a sigh, and climbed down from the window-seat in the hall.

Teresa’s pious mother, in moments of exultation, loved to compare and commend her offspring to such of the saints and martyrs as their youthful virtues suggested. And Teresa at twelve had, as it were, graduated from the little saints, Agnes and Rose and Cecilia, and was now compared, in her mother’s secret heart, to the gracious Queen of all the Saints. “As she was when a little girl,” Mrs. Costello would add, to herself, to excuse any undue boldness in the thought.

And indeed, Teresa, as she was to-night, her blue eyes still clouded with Ellen Montgomery’s sorrows, her curls tumbled about her hot cheeks, would have made a pretty foil in a picture of old Saint Anne.

But this story is about Alanna of the black eyes, the eight years, the large irregular mouth, the large irregular freckles.

Alanna was outrunning lazy little Leo–her senior, but not her match at anything–on their way to the dining-room. She was rendering desperate the two smaller boys, Frank X., Jr., and John Henry Newman Costello, who staggered hopelessly in her wake. They were all hungry, clean, and good-natured, and Alanna’s voice led the other voices, even as her feet, in twinkling patent leather, led their feet.

Following the children came their mother, fastening the rich silk and lace at her wrists as she came. Her handsome kindly face and her big shapely hands were still moist and glowing from soap and warm water, and the shining rings of black hair at her temples were moist, too.

“This is all my doin’, Dad,” said she, comfortably, as she and her flock entered the dining-room. “Put the soup on, Alma. I’m the one that was goin’ to be prompt at dinner, too!” she added, with a superintending glance for all the children, as she tied on little John’s napkin.

F.X. Costello, Senior, undertaker by profession, and mayor by an immense majority, was already at the head of the table.

“Late, eh, Mommie?” said he, good-naturedly. He threw his newspaper on the floor, cast a householder’s critical glance at the lights and the fire, and pushed his neatly placed knives and forks to right and left carelessly with both his fat hands.

The room was brilliantly lighted and warm. A great fire roared in the old-fashioned black marble grate, and electric lights blazed everywhere. Everything in the room, and in the house, was costly, comfortable, incongruous, and hideous. The Costellos were very rich, and had been very poor; and certain people were fond of telling of the queer, ridiculous things they did, in trying to spend their money. But they were very happy, and thought their immense, ugly house was the finest in the city, or in the world.

“Well, an’ what’s the news on the Rialter?” said the head of the house now, busy with his soup.

“You’ll have the laugh on me, Dad,” his wife assured him, placidly. “After all my sayin’ that nothing’d take me to Father Crowley’s meetin’!”

“Oh, that was it?” said the mayor. “What’s he goin’ to have,–a concert?”

“–AND a fair too!” supplemented Mrs. Costello. There was an interval devoted on her part to various bibs and trays, and a low aside to the waitress. Then she went on: “As you know, I went, meanin’ to beg off. On account of baby bein’ so little, and Leo’s cough, and the paperers bein’ upstairs,–and all! I thought I’d just make a donation, and let it go at that. But the ladies all kind of hung back–there was very few there–and I got talkin’–“

“Well,’tis but our dooty, after all,” said the mayor, nodding approval.

“That’s all, Frank. Well! So finally Mrs. Kiljohn took the coffee, and the Lemmon girls took the grab-bag. The Guild will look out for the concert, and I took one fancy-work booth, and of course the Children of Mary’ll have the other, just like they always do.”

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“Oh, was Grace there?” Teresa was eager to know.

“Grace was, darlin’.”

“And we’re to have the fancy-work! You’ll help us, won’t you, mother? Goody–I’m in that!” exulted Teresa.

“I’m in that, too!” echoed Alanna, quickly.

“A lot you are, you baby!” said Leo, unkindly.

“You’re not a Child of Mary, Alanna,” Teresa said promptly and uneasily.

“Well–WELL–I can help!” protested Alanna, putting up her lip. Can’t I, mother? “CAN’T I, mother?”

“You can help ME, dovey,” said her mother, absently. “I’m not goin’ to work as I did for Saint Patrick’s Bazaar, Dad, and I said so! Mrs. O’Connell and Mrs. King said they’d do all the work, if I’d just be the nominal head. Mary Murray will do us some pillers–leather–with Gibsons and Indians on them. And I’ll have Lizzie Bayne up here for a month, makin’ me aprons and little Jappy wrappers, and so on.”

She paused over the cutlets and the chicken pie, which she had been helping with an amazing attention to personal preference. The young Costellos chafed at the delay, but their mother’s fine eyes saw them not.

“Kelley & Moffat ought to let me have materials at half price,” she reflected aloud. “My bill’s two or three hundred a month!”

“You always say that you’re not going to do a thing, and then get in and make more than any other booth!” said Dan, proudly.

“Oh, not this year, I won’t,” his mother assured him. But in her heart she knew she would.

“Aren’t you glad it’s fancy-work?” said Teresa. “It doesn’t get all sloppy and mussy like ice-cream, does it, mother?”

“Gee, don’t you love fairs!” burst out Leo, rapturously.

“Sliding up and down the floor before the dance begins, Dan, to work in the wax?” suggested Jimmy, in pleasant anticipation. “We go every day and every night, don’t we, mother?”

“Ask your father,” said Mrs. Costello, discreetly.

But the Mayor’s attention just then was taken by Alanna, who had left her chair to go and whisper in his ear.

“Why, here’s Alanna’s heart broken!” said he, cheerfully, encircling her little figure with a big arm.

Alanna shrank back suddenly against him, and put her wet cheek on his shoulder.

“Now, whatever is it, darlin’?” wondered her mother, sympathetically, but without concern. “You’ve not got a pain, have you, dear?”

“She wants to help the Children of Mary!” said her father, tenderly. “She wants to do as much as Tessie does!”

“Oh, but, Dad, she CAN’T!” fretted Teresa. “She’s not a Child of Mary! She oughtn’t to want to tag that way. Now all the other girls’ sisters will tag!”

“They haven’t got sisters!” said Alanna, red-cheeked of a sudden.

“Why, Mary Alanna Costello, they have too! Jean has, and Stella has, and Grace has her little cousins!” protested Teresa, triumphantly.

“Never mind, baby,” said Mrs. Costello, hurriedly. “Mother’ll find you something to do. There now! How’d you like to have a raffle book on something,–a chair or a piller? And you could get all the names yourself, and keep the money in a little bag–“

“Oh, my! I wish I could!” said Jim, artfully. “Think of the last night, when the drawing comes! You’ll have the fun of looking up the winning number in your book, and calling it out, in the hall.”

“Would I, Dad?” said Alanna, softly, but with dawning interest.

“And then, from the pulpit, when the returns are all in,” contributed Dan, warmly, “Father Crowley will read out your name,–With Mrs. Frank Costello’s booth–raffle of sofa cushion, by Miss Alanna Costello, twenty-six dollars and thirty-five cents!”

“Oo–would he, Dad?” said Alanna, won to smiles and dimples by this charming prospect.

“Of course he would!” said her father. “Now go back to your seat, Machree, and eat your dinner. When Mommer takes you and Tess to the matinee to-morrow, ask her to bring you in to me first, and you and I’ll step over to Paul’s, and pick out a table or a couch, or something. Eh, Mommie?”

“And what do you say?” said that lady to Alanna, as the radiant little girl went back to her chair.

Whereupon Alanna breathed a bashful “Thank you, Dad,” into the ruffled yoke of her frock, and the matter was settled.

The next day she trotted beside her father to Paul’s big furniture store, and after long hesitation selected a little desk of shining brass and dull oak.

“Now,” said her father, when they were back in his office, and Teresa and Mrs. Costello were eager for the matinee, “here’s your book of numbers, Alanna. And here, I’ll tie a pencil and a string to it. Don’t lose it. I’ve given you two hundred numbers at a quarter each, and mind the minute any one pays for one, you put their name down on the same line!”

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“Oo,–oo!” said Alanna in pride. “Two hundred! That’s lots of money, isn’t it, Dad? That’s eleven or fourteen dollars, isn’t it, Dad?”

“That’s fifty dollars, goose!” said her father making a dot with the pencil on the tip of her upturned little nose.

“Oo!” said Teresa, awed. Hatted, furred, and muffed, she leaned on her father’s shoulder.

“Oo–Dad!” whispered Alanna, with scarlet cheeks.

“So NOW!” said her mother, with a little nod of encouragement and warning. “Put it right in your muff, lovey. Don’t lose it. Dan or Jim will help you count your money, and keep things straight.”

“And to begin with, we’ll all take a chance!” said the mayor, bringing his fat palm, full of silver, up from his pocket. “How old are you, Mommie?”

“I’m thirty-seven,–all but, as well you know, Frank!” said his wife, promptly.

“Thirty-six AND thirty-seven for you, then!” He wrote her name opposite both numbers. “And here’s the mayor on the same page,–forty-four! And twelve for Tessie, and eight for this highbinder on my knee, here! And now we’ll have one for little Gertie!”

Gertrude Costello was not yet three months old, her mother said.

“Well, she can have number one, anyway!” said the mayor. “You make a rejooced rate for one family, I understand, Miss Costello?”

“I DON’T!” chuckled Alanna, locking her thin little arms about his neck, and digging her chin into his eye. So he gave her full price, and she went off with her mother in a state of great content, between rows and rows of coffins, and cases of plumes, and handles and rosettes, and designs for monuments.

“Mrs. Church will want some chances, won’t she, mother?” she said suddenly.

“Let Mrs. Church alone, darlin’,” advised Mrs. Costello. “She’s not a Catholic, and there’s plenty to take chances without her!”

Alanna reluctantly assented; but she need not have worried. Mrs. Church voluntarily took many chances, and became very enthusiastic about the desk.

She was a pretty, clever young woman, of whom all the Costellos were very fond. She lived with a very young husband, and a very new baby, in a tiny cottage near the big Irish family, and pleased Mrs. Costello by asking her advice on all domestic matters and taking it. She made the Costello children welcome at all hours in her tiny, shining kitchen, or sunny little dining-room. She made them candy and told them stories. She was a minister’s daughter, and wise in many delightful, girlish, friendly ways.

And in return Mrs. Costello did her many a kindly act, and sent her almost daily presents in the most natural manner imaginable.

But Mrs. Church made Alanna very unhappy about the raffled desk. It so chanced that it matched exactly the other furniture in Mrs. Church’s rather bare little drawing-room, and this made her eager to win it. Alanna, at eight, long familiar with raffles and their ways, realized what a very small chance Mrs. Church stood of getting the desk. It distressed her very much to notice that lady’s growing certainty of success.

She took chance after chance. And with every chance she warned Alanna of the dreadful results of her not winning, and Alanna, with a worried line between her eyes, protested her helplessness afresh.

“She WILL do it, Dad!” the little girl confided to him one evening, when she and her book and her pencil were on his knee. “And it WORRIES me so.”

“Oh, I hope she wins it,” said Teresa, ardently. “She’s not a Catholic, but we’re praying for her. And you know people who aren’t Catholics, Dad, are apt to think that our fairs are pretty–pretty MONEY-MAKING, you know!”

“And if only she could point to that desk,” said Alanna, “and say that she won it at a Catholic fair.”

“But she won’t,” said Teresa, suddenly cold.

“I’m PRAYING she will,” said Alanna, suddenly.

“Oh, I don’t think you ought, do you, Dad?” said Teresa, gravely. “Do you think she ought, Mommie? That’s just like her pouring her holy water over the kitten. You oughtn’t to do those things.”

“I ought to,” said Alanna, in a whisper that reached only her father’s ear.

“You suit me, whatever you do,” said Mayor Costello; “and Mrs. Church can take her chances with the rest of us.”

Mrs. Church seemed to be quite willing to do so. When at last the great day of the fair came, she was one of the first to reach the hall, in the morning, to ask Mrs. Costello how she might be of use.

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“Now wait a minute, then!” said Mrs. Costello, cordially. She straightened up, as she spoke, from an inspection of a box of fancy-work. “We could only get into the hall this hour gone, my dear, and ’twas a sight, after the Native Sons’ Banquet last night. It’ll be a miracle if we get things in order for to-night. Father Crowley said he’d have three carpenters here this morning at nine, without fail; but not one’s come yet. That’s the way!”

“Oh, we’ll fix things,” said Mrs. Church, shaking out a dainty little apron.

Alanna came briskly up, and beamed at her. The little girl was driving about on all sorts of errands for her mother, and had come in to report.

“Mother, I went home,” she said, in a breathless rush, “and told Alma four extra were coming to lunch, and here are your big scissors, and I told the boys you wanted them to go out to Uncle Dan’s for greens, they took the buckboard, and I went to Keyser’s for the cheese-cloth, and he had only eighteen yards of pink, but he thinks Kelley’s have more, and there are the tacks, and they don’t keep spool-wire, and the electrician will be here in ten minutes.”

“Alanna, you’re the pride of me life,” said her mother, kissing her. “That’s all now, dearie. Sit down and rest.”

“Oh, but I’d rather go round and see things,” said Alanna, and off she went.

The immense hall was filled with the noise of voices, hammers, and laughter. Groups of distracted women were forming and dissolving everywhere around chaotic masses of boards and bunting. Whenever a carpenter started for the door, or entered it, he was waylaid, bribed, and bullied by the frantic superintendents of the various booths. Messengers came and went, staggering under masses of evergreen, carrying screens, rope, suit-cases, baskets, boxes, Japanese lanterns, freezers, rugs, ladders, and tables.

Alanna found the stage fascinating. Lunch and dinner were to be served there, for the five days of the fair, and it had been set with many chairs and tables, fenced with ferns and bamboo. Alanna was charmed to arrange knives and forks, to unpack oily hams and sticky cakes, and great bowls of salad, and to store them neatly away in a green room.

The grand piano had been moved down to the floor. Now and then an audacious boy or two banged on it for the few moments that it took his mother’s voice or hands to reach him. Little girls gently played The Carnival of Venice or Echoes of the Ball, with their scared eyes alert for reproof. And once two of the “big” Sodality girls came up, assured and laughing and dusty, and boldly performed one of their convent duets. Some of the tired women in the booths straightened up and clapped, and called “encore!”

Teresa was not one of these girls. Her instrument was the violin; moreover, she was busy and absorbed at the Children of Mary’s booth, which by four o’clock began to blossom all over its white-draped pillars and tables with ribbons and embroidery and tissue paper, and cushions and aprons and collars, and all sorts of perfumed prettiness.

The two priests were constantly in evidence, their cassocks and hands showing unaccustomed dust.

And over all the confusion, Mrs. Costello shone supreme. Her brisk, big figure, with skirts turned back, and a blue apron still further protecting them, was everywhere at once; laughter and encouragement marked her path. She wore a paper of pins on the breast of her silk dress, she had a tack hammer thrust in her belt. In her apron pockets were string, and wire, and tacks. A big pair of scissors hung at her side, and a pencil was thrust through her smooth black hair. She advised and consulted and directed; even with the priests it was to be observed that her mild, “Well, Father, it seems to me,” always won the day. She led the electricians a life of it; she became the terror of the carpenters’ lives.

Where was the young lady that played the violin going to stay? Send her up to Mrs. Costello’s.–Heavens! We were short a tablecloth! Oh, but Mrs. Costello had just sent Dan home for one.–How on earth could the Male Quartette from Tower Town find its way to the hall? Mrs. Costello had promised to tell Mr. C. to send a carriage for them.

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She came up to the Children of Mary’s booth about five o’clock.

“Well, if you girls ain’t the wonders!” she said to the tired little Sodalists, in a tone of unbounded admiration and surprise. “You make me ashamed of me own booth. This is beautiful.”

“Oh, do you think so, mother?” said Teresa, wistfully, clinging to her mother’s arm.

“I think it’s grand!” said Mrs. Costello, with conviction. There was a delighted laugh. “I’m going to bring all the ladies up to see it.”

“Oh, I’m so glad!” said all the girls together, reviving visibly.

“An’ the pretty things you got!” went on the cheering matron. “You’ll clear eight hundred if you’ll clear a cent. And now put me down for a chance or two; don’t be scared, Mary Riordan; four or five! I’m goin’ to bring Mr. Costeller over here to-night, and don’t you let him off too easy.”

Every one laughed joyously.

“Did you hear of Alanna’s luck?” said Mrs. Costello. “When the Bishop got here he took her all around the hall with him, and between this one and that, every last one of her chances is gone. She couldn’t keep her feet on the floor for joy. The lucky girl! They’re waitin’ for you, Tess, darlin’, with the buckboard. Go home and lay down awhile before dinner.”

“Aren’t you lucky!” said Teresa, as she climbed a few minutes later into the back seat with Jim, and Dan pulled out the whip.

Alanna, swinging her legs, gave a joyful assent. She was too happy to talk, but the other three had much to say.

“Mother thinks we’ll make eight hundred dollars,” said Teresa.

“GEE!” said the twins together, and Dan added, “If only Mrs. Church wins that desk now.”

“Who’s going to do the drawing of numbers?” Jimmy wondered.

“Bishop,” said Dan, “and he’ll call down from the platform, ‘Number twenty-six wins the desk.’ And then Alanna’ll look in her book, and pipe up and say, ‘Daniel Ignatius Costello, the handsomest fellow in the parish, wins the desk.’”

“Twenty-six is Harry Plummer,” said Alanna, seriously, looking up from her chance book, at which they all laughed.

“But take care of that book,” warned Teresa, as she climbed down. “Oh, I will!” responded Alanna, fervently.

And through the next four happy days she did, and took the precaution of tying it by a stout cord to her arm.

Then on Saturday, the last afternoon, quite late, when her mother had suggested that she go home with Leo and Jack and Frank and Gertrude and the nurses, Alanna felt the cord hanging loose against her hand, and looking down, saw that the book was gone.

She was holding out her arms for her coat when this took place, and she went cold all over. But she did not move, and Minnie buttoned her in snugly, and tied the ribbons of her hat with cold, hard knuckles, without suspecting anything.

Then Alanna disappeared and Mrs. Costello sent the maids and babies on without her. It was getting dark and cold for the small Costellos.

But the hour was darker and colder for Alanna. She searched and she hoped and she prayed in vain. She stood up, after a long hands-and-knees expedition under the tables where she had been earlier, and pressed her right hand over her eyes, and said aloud in her misery, “Oh, I CAN’T have lost it! I CAN’T have. Oh, don’t let me have lost it!”

She went here and there as if propelled by some mechanical force, a wretched, restless little figure. And when the dreadful moment came when she must give up searching, she crept in beside her mother in the carriage, and longed only for some honorable death.

When they all went back at eight o’clock, she recommenced her search feverishly, with that cruel alternation of hope and despair and weariness that every one knows. The crowds, the lights, the music, the laughter, and the noise, and the pervading odor of pop-corn were not real, when a shabby, brown little book was her whole world, and she could not find it.

“The drawing will begin,” said Alanna, “and the Bishop will call out the number! And what’ll I say? Every one will look at me; and HOW can I say I’ve lost it! Oh, what a baby they’ll call me!”

“Father’ll pay the money back,” she said, in sudden relief. But the impossibility of that swiftly occurred to her, and she began hunting again with fresh terror.

“But he can’t! How can he? Two hundred names; and I don’t know them, or half of them.”

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Then she felt the tears coming, and she crept in under some benches, and cried.

She lay there a long time, listening to the curious hum and buzz above her. And at last it occurred to her to go to the Bishop, and tell this old, kind friend the truth.

But she was too late. As she got to her feet, she heard her own name called from the platform, in the Bishop’s voice.

“Where’s Alanna Costello? Ask her who has number eighty-three on the desk. Eighty-three wins the desk! Find little Alanna Costello!”

Alanna had no time for thought. Only one course of action occurred to her. She cleared her throat.

“Mrs. Will Church has that number, Bishop,” she said.

The crowd about her gave way, and the Bishop saw her, rosy, embarrassed, and breathless.

“Ah, there you are!” said the Bishop. “Who has it?”

“Mrs. Church, your Grace,” said Alanna, calmly this time.

“Well, did you EVER,” said Mrs. Costello to the Bishop. She had gone up to claim a mirror she had won, a mirror with a gold frame, and lilacs and roses painted lavishly on its surface.

“Gee, I bet Alanna was pleased about the desk!” said Dan in the carriage.

“Mrs. Church nearly cried,” Teresa said. “But where’d Alanna go to? I couldn’t find her until just a few minutes ago, and then she was so queer!”

“It’s my opinion she was dead tired,” said her mother. “Look how sound she’s asleep! Carry her up, Frank. I’ll keep her in bed in the morning.”

They kept Alanna in bed for many mornings, for her secret weighed on her soul, and she failed suddenly in color, strength, and appetite. She grew weak and nervous, and one afternoon, when the Bishop came to see her, worked herself into such a frenzy that Mrs. Costello wonderingly consented to her entreaty that he should not come up.

She would not see Mrs. Church, nor go to see the desk in its new house, nor speak of the fair in any way. But she did ask her mother who swept out the hall after the fair.

“I did a good deal meself,” said Mrs. Costello, dashing one hope to the ground. Alanna leaned back in her chair, sick with disappointment.

One afternoon, about a week after the fair, she was brooding over the fire. The other children were at the matinee, Mrs. Costello was out, and a violent storm was whirling about the nursery windows.

Presently, Annie, the laundress, put her frowsy head in at the door. She was a queer, warm-hearted Irish girl; her big arms were still streaming from the tub, and her apron was wet.

“Ahl alone?” said Annie, with a broad smile.

“Yes; come in, won’t you, Annie?” said little Alanna.

“I cahn’t. I’m at the toobs,” said Annie, coming in, nevertheless. “I was doin’ all the tableclot’s and napkins, an’ out drops your little buke!”

“My–what did you say?” said Alanna, very white.

“Your little buke,” said Annie. She laid the chance book on the table, and proceeded to mend the fire.

Alanna sank back in her chair. She twisted her fingers together, and tried to think of an appropriate prayer.

“Thank you, Annie,” she said weakly, when the laundress went out. Then she sprang for the book. It slipped twice from her cold little fingers before she could open it.

“Eighty-three!” she said hoarsely. “Sixty–seventy–eighty-three!”

She looked and looked and looked. She shut the book and opened it again, and looked. She laid it on the table, and walked away from it, and then came back suddenly, and looked. She laughed over it, and cried over it, and thought how natural it was, and how wonderful it was, all in the space of ten blissful minutes.

And then, with returning appetite and color and peace of mind, her eyes filled with pity for the wretched little girl who had watched this same sparkling, delightful fire so drearily a few minutes ago.

Her small soul was steeped in gratitude. She crooked her arm and put her face down on it, and sank to her knees.

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