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A Sarah Walker
by [?]

It was very hot. Not a breath of air was stirring throughout the western wing of the Greyport Hotel, and the usual feverish life of its four hundred inmates had succumbed to the weather. The great veranda was deserted; the corridors were desolated; no footfall echoed in the passages; the lazy rustle of a wandering skirt, or a passing sigh that was half a pant, seemed to intensify the heated silence. An intoxicated bee, disgracefully unsteady in wing and leg, who had been holding an inebriated conversation with himself in the corner of my window pane, had gone to sleep at last and was snoring. The errant prince might have entered the slumberous halls unchallenged, and walked into any of the darkened rooms whose open doors gaped for more air, without awakening the veriest Greyport flirt with his salutation. At times a drowsy voice, a lazily interjected sentence, an incoherent protest, a long-drawn phrase of saccharine tenuity suddenly broke off with a gasp, came vaguely to the ear, as if indicating a half-suspended, half-articulated existence somewhere, but not definite enough to indicate conversation. In the midst of this, there was the sudden crying of a child.

I looked up from my work. Through the camera of my jealously guarded window I could catch a glimpse of the vivid, quivering blue of the sky, the glittering intensity of the ocean, the long motionless leaves of the horse-chestnut in the road,–all utterly inconsistent with anything as active as this lamentation. I stepped to the open door and into the silent hall.

Apparently the noise had attracted the equal attention of my neighbors. A vague chorus of “Sarah Walker,” in querulous recognition, of “O Lord! that child again!” in hopeless protest, rose faintly from the different rooms. As the lamentations seemed to approach nearer, the visitors’ doors were successively shut, swift footsteps hurried along the hall; past my open door came a momentary vision of a heated nursemaid carrying a tumultuous chaos of frilled skirts, flying sash, rebellious slippers, and tossing curls; there was a moment’s rallying struggle before the room nearly opposite mine, and then a door opened and shut upon the vision. It was Sarah Walker!

Everybody knew her; few had ever seen more of her than this passing vision. In the great hall, in the dining-room, in the vast parlors, in the garden, in the avenue, on the beach, a sound of lamentation had always been followed by this same brief apparition. Was there a sudden pause among the dancers and a subjugation of the loudest bassoons in the early evening “hop,” the explanation was given in the words “Sarah Walker.” Was there a wild confusion among the morning bathers on the sands, people whispered “Sarah Walker.” A panic among the waiters at dinner, an interruption in the Sunday sacred concert, a disorganization of the after-dinner promenade on the veranda, was instantly referred to Sarah Walker. Nor were her efforts confined entirely to public life. In cozy corners and darkened recesses, bearded lips withheld the amorous declaration to mutter “Sarah Walker” between their clenched teeth; coy and bashful tongues found speech at last in the rapid formulation of “Sarah Walker.” Nobody ever thought of abbreviating her full name. The two people in the hotel, otherwise individualized, but known only as “Sarah Walker’s father” and “Sarah Walker’s mother,” and never as Mr. and Mrs. Walker, addressed her only as “Sarah Walker”; two animals that were occasionally a part of this passing pageant were known as “Sarah Walker’s dog” and “Sarah Walker’s cat,” and later it was my proud privilege to sink my own individuality under the title of “that friend of Sarah Walker’s.”

It must not be supposed that she had attained this baleful eminence without some active criticism. Every parent in the Greyport Hotel had held his or her theory of the particular defects of Sarah Walker’s education; every virgin and bachelor had openly expressed views of the peculiar discipline that was necessary to her subjugation. It may be roughly estimated that she would have spent the entire nine years of her active life in a dark cupboard on an exclusive diet of bread and water, had this discipline obtained; while, on the other hand, had the educational theories of the parental assembly prevailed, she would have ere this shone an etherealized essence in the angelic host. In either event she would have “ceased from troubling,” which was the general Greyport idea of higher education. A paper read before our Literary Society on “Sarah Walker and other infantile diseases,” was referred to in the catalogue as “Walker, Sarah, Prevention and Cure,” while the usual burlesque legislation of our summer season culminated in the Act entitled “An Act to amend an Act entitled an Act for the abatement of Sarah Walker.” As she was hereafter exclusively to be fed “on the PROVISIONS of this Act,” some idea of its general tone may be gathered. It was a singular fact in this point of her history that her natural progenitors not only offered no resistance to the doubtful celebrity of their offspring, but, by hopelessly accepting the situation, to some extent POSED as Sarah Walker’s victims. Mr. and Mrs. Walker were known to be rich, respectable, and indulgent to their only child. They themselves had been evolved from a previous generation of promiscuously acquired wealth into the repose of inherited property, but it was currently accepted that Sarah had “cast back” and reincarnated some waif on the deck of an emigrant ship at the beginning of the century.