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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Calmest of Her Sex

By Robert Henry Newell (1836–1901)

[The Orpheus G. Kerr Papers. 1871.]

THERE was a female millinery establishment on the third floor of a building composed principally of stairs, fed with frequent small rooms, and the expatriated French comtesse, who realized fashionable bonnets there, used one of her windows to display her wares. At this window she always kept a young woman of much bloom and symmetry, with the latest Style on her head, and an expression of unutterable smile on her face. A young chap carrying a trumpet in the Fire Department happened to notice that this angel of fashion was always at the window when he went by; and as the thought that she particularly admired his personal charms crept over him, he at once adopted the plan of passing by every day, attired in the garments best calculated to render fire-going manhood most beautiful to the eye. He donned a vest representing in detail the Sydenham flower-show on a yellow ground, wore inexpressibles representing innumerable black serpents ascending white columns, assumed a neck-tie concentrating all the highest glories of the Aurora Borealis, mounted two breast-pins and three studs torn from some glass-house, and wore a hat that slanted on his head in an engaging and intelligent manner. Day after day he passed before the millinery establishment, still beholding the beloved object at the window, and occasionally placing his hand upon his heart in such a way as to show a large and gorgeous seal-ring containing the hair of a fellow-fireman who had caught such a cold at a great fire that he died some years after. “How cam she is!” says he to himself, “and she’s as pretty as ninety’s new hose-carriage. It seems to me,” says the young chap to himself, stooping down to roll up the other leg of his pants—“it seems to me that I never see anything so cam. She observes my daily agoing, and yet she don’t so much as send somebody down to see if there’s any overcoats in the front entry.”

One day a venerable Irish gentleman, keeping a boarding-house and ice-cream saloon in the basement of the establishment, happened to go to sleep on the stairs with a lighted camphene lamp in his hand, and pretty soon the bells were ringing for a conflagration in that district. Immediately our gallant firemen were on their way to the spot; and having first gone through forty-two streets on the other side of the city to wake the people up there and apprise them of their great danger, reached the dreadful scene, and instantly began to extinguish the flames by bringing all the furniture out of a house not more than three blocks below. In the midst of these self-sacrificing efforts, a form was seen to dart into the burning building like a spectre. It was the enamoured young chap who carried a trumpet in the department. He had seen the beloved object sitting at the window, as usual, and was bent upon saving her, even though he missed the exciting fight around the corner. Reaching the millinery-room door, he could see the object standing there in the midst of a sea of fire. “How cam she is,” says he. “Miss Milliner,” says he, “don’t you see you’re all in a blaze?” But still she stood at the window in all her calmness. The devoted young chap turned to a fellow-fireman who was just then selecting two spring bonnets and some ribbon for his wife, in order to save them from the flames, and says he: “Jakey, what shall I do?” But Jakey was at that time picking out some artificial flowers for his youngest daughter, and made no answer. Unable to reach the devoted maid, and rendered desperate by the thought that she must be asleep in the midst of her danger, the frantic young chap madly hurled his trumpet at her. It struck her, and actually knocked her head off! Horrified at what he had done, the excited chap called himself a miserable wretch, and was led out by the collar. It was Jakey who did this deed of kindness, and says he: “What’s the matter with you, my covey?” The poor young chap wrung his hands, and says he: “I’ve killed her, Jakey, I’ve killed her—and she so cam!” Jakey took some tobacco, and then says he: “Why, that was only a pasteboard gal, you poor devil.” And so it was, my boy—so it was; but the affair had such an effect upon the young chap that he at once took to drinking, and when delirium tremens marked him for its own, his last words were: “I’ve killed her, Jakey, I’ve killed her—and she so cam!”