By Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson
NARRATOR. It was cold that day. The great sharp north-wind
swept out Elysian Fields Street in blasts that made men
shiver, and bent everything in their track. The skies hung
lowering and gloomy; the usually quiet street was more than
deserted; it was dismal. Titee leaned against one of the
brown freight cars for protection against the shrill
norther, and warmed his little chapped hands at a blaze of
chips and dry grass.
TITEE. Maybe it'll snow,
NARRATOR. ...he muttered, casting a glance at the sky that
would have done credit to a practiced seaman.
TITEE. Ugh, but the wind blows!
NARRATOR. It was Saturday, or Titee would have been in
school—the big yellow school on Marigny Street, where he
went every day when its bell boomed nine o'clock. Went with
a run and a joyous whoop --presumably to imbibe knowledge,
ostensibly to make his teacher's life a burden. Idle, lazy,
dirty, troublesome boy, she called him to herself, as day by
day wore on, and Titee improved not, but let his whole class
pass him on its way to a higher grade. A practical joke he
relished infinitely more than a practical problem, and a
good game at pin-sticking was far more entertaining than a
language lesson. Moreover, he was always hungry, and would
eat in school before the half-past ten recess, thereby
losing much good playtime for his voracious appetite. But
there was nothing in natural history that Titee did not
know. He could dissect a butterfly or a mosquito hawk, and
describe their parts as accurately as a spectacled student
with a scalpel and microscope could talk about a cadaver.
The entire Third District, with its swamps and canals
and commons and its wondrous, crooked, tortuous streets, was
an open book to Titee. There was not a nook or corner that
he did not know or could not tell of. There was not a bit of
gossip among the gamins, little Creole and Spanish fellows,
with dark skins and lovely eyes, like spaniels, that Titee
could not tell of. He knew just exactly when it was time for
crawfish to be plentiful down in the Claiborne and Marigny
canals; just when a poor, breadless fellow might get a job
in the big bone-yard and fertilizing factory, out on the
railroad track; and as for the levee, with its ships and
schooners and sailors, how he could revel in them! The
wondrous ships, the pretty little schooners, where the
foreign-looking sailors lay on long moonlight nights,
singing to their guitars and telling great stories, --all
these things and more could Titee tell of.
He had been down to the Gulf, and out on its treacherous
waters through the Eads jetties on a fishing-smack with some
jolly brown sailors, and could interest the whole school-
room in the talk-lessons, if he chose.
Titee shivered as the wind swept round the freight-cars.
There isn't much warmth in a bit of a jersey coat.
TITEE. Wish 'twas summer. Don't believe I like the snow;
it's too wet and cold.
NARRATOR. And with a last parting caress at the little fire
he had builded for a minute's warmth, he plunged his hands
in his pockets, shut his teeth, and started manfully on his
mission out the railroad track toward the swamps. It was
late when Titee came home, to such a home as it was, and he
had but illy performed his errand; so his mother beat him
and sent him to bed supperless. A sharp strap stings in cold
weather, and a long walk in the teeth of a biting wind
creates a keen appetite. But if Titee cried himself to sleep
that night, he was up bright and early next morning, had
been to mass, devoutly kneeling on the cold floor, blowing
his fingers to keep them warm, and was home almost before
the rest of the family were awake. There was evidently some
great matter of business on the young man's mind, for he
scarcely ate his breakfast, and left the table soon, eagerly
cramming the remainder of his meal in his pockets.
MOTHER. Ma foi, but what now?
NARRATOR. ...mused his mother, as she watched his little
form sturdily trudging the track in the face of the wind;
his head, with the rimless cap thrust close on the shock of
black hair, bent low; his hands thrust deep in the bulging
MOTHER. A new live play-toy h'it may be, he is one funny
NARRATOR. The next day Titee was late for school. It was
something unusual, for he was always the first on hand to
fix some plan of mechanism to make the teacher miserable.
She looked reprovingly at him this morning, when he came in
during arithmetic class, his hair all wind-blown, his cheeks
rosy from a hard fight with the sharp blasts. But he made up
for his tardiness by his extreme goodness all day; just
think, Titee did not even eat once before noon, a something
unparalleled in the entire previous history of his school
life. When the lunch-hour came, and all the yard was a scene
of feast and fun, one of the boys found him standing by a
post, disconsolately watching a ham sandwich as it rapidly
disappeared down the throat of a sturdy, square-headed
TITEE. Hello, Edgar.
EDGAR. Hello Titee. What you got fer lunch?
EDGAR. Ah, why don't you stop eatin' in school, fer a
change? You don't ever have nothin' to eat.
TITEE. I didn't eat to-day.
EDGAR. You did!
TITEE. I tell you I didn't!
NARRATOR. ...and Titee's hard little fist planted a
punctuation mark on his comrade's eye. A fight in the
schoolyard! Poor Titee was in disgrace again. Still, in
spite of his battered appearance, a severe scolding from the
principal, lines to write, and further punishment from his
mother, Titee scarcely remained for his dinner, but was off
down the railroad track with his pockets partly stuffed with
the remnants of the scanty meal.
And the next day Titee was tardy again, and lunchless
too, and the next, until the teacher, in despair, sent a
nicely printed note to his mother about him, which might
have done some good, had not Titee taken great pains to tear
it up on the way home.
One day it rained, whole buckets full of water, that
poured in torrents from a miserable, angry sky.
MOTHER. Too wet a day for bits of boys to be trudging to
NARRATOR. ...Titee's mother thought. So she kept him at home
to watch the weather through the window, fretting and fuming
like a regular storm in miniature. As the day wore on, and
the rain did not abate, his mother kept a strong watch upon
him, for he tried many times to slip away. Dinner came and
went, and the gray soddenness of the skies deepened into the
blackness of coming night. Someone called Titee to go to
bed, and Titee was nowhere to be found. Under the beds, in
closets and corners, in such impossible places as the soap-
dish and water-pitcher even, they searched, but he had gone
as completely as if he had been spirited away.
It was of no use to call up the neighbors, he had never
been near their houses, so there was nothing to do but to go
to the railroad track where Titee had been seen so often
trudging in the shrill north-wind. With lanterns and sticks,
and his little yellow dog, the rescuing party started down
the track. The rain had ceased falling, but the wind blew a
gale, scurrying great gray clouds over a fierce sky. It was
not exactly dark, though in this part of the city there is
neither gas nor electricity, and on such a night as this
neither moon nor stars dared show their faces in so gray a
sky; but a sort of all-diffused luminosity was in the air,
as though the sea of atmosphere was charged with an ethereal
phosphorescence. Search as they did, there were no signs of
Titee. The soft earth between the railroad ties crumbled
between Titee’s big brother’s feet without showing any small
tracks or footprints.
BIG BROTHER. Mais, we may as well return. He is not here.
MOTHER. Oh, mon Dieu. He is, he is; I know it.
NARRATOR. So, on they went, slipping on the wet earth, and
stumbling over loose rocks, until a sudden wild yelp from
big brother brought them to a standstill. He had rushed
ahead of them, and his voice could be heard in the distance,
howling piteously. With a fresh impetus the little muddy
party hurried forward. Big brother’s yelps could be heard
plainer and plainer, mingled now with a muffled, plaintive
little wail. After a while they found a pitiful little heap
of sodden rags, lying at the foot of a mound of earth and
stones thrown upon the side of the track. It was Titee with
a broken leg, all wet and miserable and moaning. They picked
him up tenderly, and started to carry him home. But he cried
and clung to his mother, and begged not to go.
MOTHER. Ah, mon pauvre enfant, he has the fever!
TITEE. No, no, it's my old man. He's hungry.
NARRATOR. ...sobbed Titee, holding out a little package. It
was the remnants of his dinner, all wet and rain-washed.
BIG BROTHER. What old man?
NARRATOR. ...asked big brother.
TITEE. My old man. Oh, please, please don't go home till I
see him. I'm not hurting much, I can go.
NARRATOR. So, yielding to his whim, they carried Titee
farther away, down the sides of the track up to an
embankment or levee by the sides of the Marigny Canal. Then
big brother, suddenly stopping, exclaimed:
BIG BROTHER. Why, here's a cave! Is it Robinson Crusoe?
TITEE. It's my old man's cave. Oh, please go in; maybe he's
NARRATOR. There cannot be much ceremony in entering a cave.
There is but one thing to do: walk in. This they did, and
holding up the lantern, beheld a weird sight. On a bed of
straw and paper in one corner lay a withered, wizened,
white-bearded old man with wide eyes staring at the
unaccustomed light. In the other corner was an equally
TITEE. It's my old man! Oh, please, grandpa, I couldn't get
here today, it rained all mornin' an' when I ran away, I
fell down an' broke something, an', oh, grandpa, I'm all
tired an' hurty, an' I'm so afraid you're hungry.
NARRATOR. So, the secret of Titee's jaunts down the railroad
was out. In one of his trips around the swamp-land, he had
discovered the old man exhausted from cold and hunger in the
fields. Together they had found this cave, and Titee had
gathered the straw and paper that made the bed. Then a tramp
cow, old and turned adrift, too, had crept in and shared the
damp dwelling. And thither Titee had trudged twice a day,
carrying his luncheon in the morning and his dinner in the
MOTHER. There's a crown in heaven for that child,
NARRATOR. ...Said his mother. But as for Titee, when the leg
was well, he went his way as before.