Part 7 out of 9
what she keeps strained, and these buckets washed?" asked Mickey. "I want
to have her job all done when she gets back, 'cause I promised her, and
that's quite a hike she's taking."
"Well I was 'riled' for a minute, but I might as well hold myself," said
Peter. "Looks like you were right."
"Strangers coming in can always see things that folks on the job can't,"
"Well go on and tell me what you've seen here Mickey!"
Mickey hoisted the fourth bucket.
"Well, I've seen the very nicest lady I ever saw, excepting my mother,"
said Mickey. "I've seen a man 'bout your size, that I like better than any
man I know, barring Mr. Douglas Bruce, and the bar is such a little one it
would take a microscope to find it." Peter laughed, which was what Mickey
hoped he would do, for he drew a deep breath and went on with greater
assurance: "I've seen a place that I thought was a new edition of Heaven,
and it is, only it needs a few modern improvements----"
"Yes Mickey! The window, and what else?"
"You haven't looked at what I told you to about the window yet," said
"Well since you insist on it, I will," said Peter.
"And while you are in there," suggested Mickey, "after you finish with
that strip of brown oilcloth and the pans and skillets adorning it, cotton
up to that cook stove, and imagine standing over it while it is roaring,
to get three meals a day, and all the baking, fruit canning, boiling
clothes, and such, and tell me if Lily's bed was in so much hotter a place
than your wife is, all but about three hours each day."
Mickey listened as intently as he could for the separator he dared not
stop, heard not a sound for what seemed a long time, and then came amazing
ones. He grinned sympathetically as Peter emerged red faced and raging.
"And you're about the finest man I ever met, too," commented Mickey, still
busy with the cream. "You can see what a comfort this separator must be,
but it's the _only_ thing your nice lady has got, against so many for your
work it takes quite a large building to keep them in. Junior was showing
me last night and telling me what all those machines were made for. You
know Peter, if there was money for a hay rake, and a manure spreader, and
a wheel plow, and a disk, and a reaper, and a mower, and a corn planter,
and a corn cutter, and a cider press, and a windmill, and a silo, and an
automobile--you know Peter, there _should_ have been enough for that
window, and the pump inside, and a kitchen sink, and a bread-mixer, and a
dish-washer; and if there wasn't any other single thing, there ought to be
some way you sell the wood, and use the money for the kind of a summer
stove that's only hot under what you are cooking, and turns off the flame
the minute you finish. Honest there had Peter! I got a little gasoline one
in my room that's better than what your nice lady has. The things she
should have would cost something, cost a lot for all I know, but I bet
what she needs wouldn't take half the things in the building Junior showed
me did; and it couldn't be the start of what a sick wife, and doctor
bills, and strange women coming and going, and abusing you and the
children would cost----"
"Shut up!" cried Peter. "That will do! Now you listen to me young man.
Since you are so expert at seeing things, and since you've traded work
with my wife, to _rest her_ by _changing her job_, suppose you just keep
your eyes open, and make out a list of what she should have to do her work
convenient and easy as can be, and of course, comfortably. That stove's
hot yet! And breakfast been over an hour too! Nothing like it must be
going full blast, and things steaming and frying!"
"Sure!" said Mickey.
"Watch a few days, and then we'll talk it over. If it is your train time,
ride down with Junior, and I'll stay in the house till she comes. I guess
Little White Butterfly won't wake up; and if she does, she'll be all right
with me. Mary dresses herself and Bobbie. Is Mary helping her Ma right?"
"Well some," said Mickey. "Not all she could! But her taking care of
Bobbie is a big thing. Junior could do a lot of things, but he doesn't
seem to see them, and----"
"And so could I?" asked Peter. "Is that the ticket?"
"Yes," said Mickey.
"All right young man," said Peter. "Fix us over! We are ready for anything
that will benefit Ma. She's the pinwheel of this place. Now you scoot! I
can see her coming."
"It's our secret then?" asked Mickey.
"Yes, it's our secret!" answered Peter gravely.
Mickey took one long look at Peaches and went running to the milk wagon.
Junior offered to let him drive, so for the first time he took the lines
and guided a horse. He was a happy boy as he spun on his heel waiting a
few minutes for the trolley. He sat in the car with no paper in which to
search for headlines, no anxiety as to whether he could dispose of enough
to keep Peaches from hunger that night, sure of her safety and comfort.
The future, coloured by what Mrs. Harding had said to him, took on such a
rosy glow it almost hurt his mental eyes. He revelled in greater freedom
from care than he ever had known. He sat straighter, and curiously watched
the people in the car. When they entered the city and the car swung down
his street near the business centre, Mickey stepped off and hiding himself
watched for the passing of the boy, on his old route. Before long it came,
"I _like_ to sell papers," in such good imitation of his tone and call
that Mickey's face grew grave and a half-jealous little ache began in his
"Course we're better off," he commented. "Course I can't go back now, and
I wouldn't if I could; but it makes me want to swat any fellow using my
call, and taking my men. Gee, the kid is doing better than I thought he
could! B'lieve he's got the idea all right. I'll just join the
Mickey stepped into line and followed, pausing whenever a paper was sold,
until he was sure that his men were patronizing his substitute, then he
"Good work, kid!" he applauded. "Been following you and you're doing well.
Lemme take a paper a second. Yes, I thought so! You're leaving out the
biggest scoop on the sheet! Here, give them a laugh on this 'Chasing
Wrinkles.' How did you come to slide over it and not bump enough to wake
you up? Get on this sub-line, 'Males seeking beauty doctors to renew
"How would you cry it?" asked the boy.
"Aw looky! Looky! Looky!" Mickey shouted, holding his side with one hand
and waving a paper with the other. "All the old boys hiking to the beauty
parlours. Pinking up the glow of youth to beat Billie Burke. Corner on
icicles; Billie gets left, 'cause the boys are using all of them! Oh my!
Wheel o' time oiled with cold cream and reversed with an icicle! Morning
paper! Tells you how to put the cream on your face 'stead of in the
coffee! Stick your head in the ice box at sixty, and come out sixteen!
Awah get in line, gentlemen! Don't block traffic!"
When the policemen scattered the crowd Mickey's substitute had not a paper
remaining. With his pocket full of change he was running to the nearest
stand for a fresh supply. Mickey went with him and watched with critical
eye while the boy tried a reproduction of what he called "a daily scream!"
The first time it was rather flat.
"You ain't going at it right!" explained Mickey. "'Fore you can make
anybody laugh on this job, you must see the fun of life yourself. Beauty
parlours have always been for the Swell Dames and the theatre ladies, who
pink up, while their gents hump to pay the bill. You ought always take one
paper home, and _read_ it, so you know what's going on in the world. Now
from what I've read, I know that the get-a-way of the beauty parlours is
cold cream. And one of the show ladies the boys are always wild over told
the papers long ago 'bout how she used icicles on her face to pink it up.
Now if you'd a-knowed this like you should, the minute you clapped your
peepers on that, 'Chasing Wrinkles,' you'd a-knowed where your laugh came
in today, like I've told you over and over you _must_ get it. Bet Chaffner
put that there on purpose for me. Which same gives me an idea. You been
calling the Hoc de Geezer war, and the light-weight champeen of Mexico,
and 'the psychological panic' something fine; but did you sell out on
them? Not on your topknot! You lost your load on the scream. _Get the joke
of life soaked in your system good_. On this, you make yourself see the
plutes, and the magnates, and the city officials leaving their jobs, and
hiking to the beauty parlours, to beat the dames at their daily stunt of
being creamed and icicled and--it's funny! When it's so funny to you that
you just howl about it, why it's catching! Didn't you see me catch them
with it? Now go on and do it again, and get the _scream_ in."
The boy began the cry with tears of laughter in his eyes. He kept it up as
he handed out papers and took in change. Satisfied, Mickey called to him:
"Tell your sire it's all over but polishing the silver."
He started down the street glancing at clocks he was passing, with nimble
feet threading the crowds until he reached the _Herald_ office; there he
dodged in and making his way to the editorial desk he waited his chance.
When he saw an instant of pause in the work of the busy man, he started
his cry: "Morning papers! I _like_ to sell them!" and so on to the
"Chasing Wrinkles." There because he was excited, for he knew that his
reception would depend on how good a laugh he gave them, Mickey outdid
himself. Reporters waiting assignments crowded around him; Mr. Chaffner
beckoned, and Mickey stepped to him.
"Found it all right, did you, young man?"
"The scream lifted the load!" cried Mickey. "War, and waste, and
wickedness, didn't get a look in."
"I thought you'd like that!" laughed the editor.
"Biggest scoop yet!" said Mickey. "Why it took the police to scatter the
crowd. They struggled to get papers, 'til they looked like the bird on the
coin they were passing in, trying to escape the awful things it goes
through on the money, and get back to nature where perfectly good birds
belong. Honest, they did!"
"Have you any poetry for me yet?"
"No, but I'm headed that way," answered Mickey.
"How so?" inquired the editor.
"Why I've got another kid so he can do my stunt 'til nobody knows the
difference, and I've gone into Mr. Bruce's office, and we're after the
"Douglas Bruce?" queried Mr. Chaffner.
"Yes," said Mickey. "He's my boss, and say, he's the finest man you ever
met; and his Joy Lady is nice as he is, and prettier than moonshine on the
park lake. I never saw a lady who could hold a candle to Miss Leslie
Winton, and they just love to tell folks they're engaged."
Suddenly the editor arose from his chair, gripped his desk, leaned across
it toward Mickey, and almost knocked him from his feet with one word.
Mickey staggered. At last he recovered his breath.
"Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie don't care if I tell," he defended. "They all
the time tell it!"
"Why that they are going to be married, soon as Mr. Bruce gets the grafter
who's robbing the taxpayers of Multiopolis, and collects his big fee.
As suddenly as he had arisen Mr. Chaffner dropped back, and in a stupefied
way still looked at Mickey. Then: "You come with me," Mr. Chaffner said
rising, and he entered a small room and closed the door.
"Now you tell me all about this engagement."
"Maybe they don't want it in the papers yet," said Mickey. "I guess I'll
let Mr. Bruce do his own talking."
"But you said they told everybody."
"So they do," said Mickey. "And of course they'd tell you. You can call
him. His number is 500-X."
The editor made a note of it, studying Mickey.
"Yes, that would be the better way, of course," he agreed. "You have a
long head, young man. And so you think Miss Leslie Winton is a fine young
"Surest thing you know," said Mickey. "Why let me tell you----"
And then in a few swift words, Mickey sketched in the young woman so
intelligent she had selected him from all the other "newsies" by a
description, and sent him to Mr. Bruce; how she had dolls ready to give
away, and poor children might ride in her car; how she lived with "darling
old Daddy," and there Mickey grew enthusiastic, and told of the rest
house, and then the renting of the cabin on Atwater by the most
considerate of daughters for her father and her lover, and when he could
not think of another commendatory word to say, Mickey paused, while a
dazed man muttered a word so low the boy scarcely heard it.
"I don't know why you say _that!_" cried Mickey.
"Ommh!" said Mr. Chaffner, slowly. "I don't either, only I didn't
understand they were _engaged_. It's my business to find and distribute
news, and get it fresh, 'scoop it,' as our term is, and so, Mickey, when
investigations are going on, and everybody knows a denou--a big surprise
is coming, in order to make sure that my paper gets in on the ground
floor, I make some investigation for myself, and sometimes by accident,
sometimes by intuition, sometimes by sharp deduction we _happen_ to land
before the investigators. Of course we have personal, financial, and
political reasons for not spoiling the game. Now we haven't gone into the
City Hall investigation as Bruce has and we can't show figures, but we
know enough to understand where he's coming out; so when the gig upsets,
we have our side ready and we'll embroider his figures with what the
public is entitled to, in the way of news."
"Sure! But I don't see why you act so funny!"
"Oh it's barely possible that I've got ahead of your boss on a few
features of his investigation."
"Aw-w-wh!" said Mickey. "Well I hope you ain't going to rush in and spoil
_his_ scoop. You see he doesn't know who he's after, himself. We talk
about it a lot of times. I tell him how I've sold papers, and seen men
like he's chasing get their dose, and go sick and white, and can't ever
face men straight again; but he says stealing is stealing, and cut where
it will, those who rob the taxpayers must be exposed. I told him maybe
he'd be surprised, and maybe he'd be sorry; but he says it's got to be
stopped, no matter who gets hurt."
"Well he's got his nerve!" cried the editor.
"Yes!" agreed Mickey. "He's so fine himself, he thinks no other men worth
saving could go wrong. I told him I wished the men he was after would
break their necks 'fore he gets them, but he goes right on."
"Mickey, you figure closer than your boss does."
"In one way I _do_," conceded Mickey. "It's like this: he knows books, and
men, and how things _should_ be; but I know how they _are_. See?"
"I certainly see," said the intent listener. "Mickey, when it comes to the
place where you think you know better than your boss, while it's bad
business for me to tell you, keep your eye open, and maybe you can save
him. Books and theories are all right, but there are times when a man
comes a cropper on them. You watch, and if you think he's riding for a
fall, you come skinning and tell me, not over the 'phone, _come and tell
me_. Here, take this, it will get you to me any time, no matter where I am
or what I'm doing. Understand?"
"You think Mr. Bruce is going to get into trouble?"
"His job is to get other people into trouble----"
"But he says he ain't got a thing to do with it," said Mickey. "He says
they get themselves into trouble."
"That's so too," commented Mr. Chaffner. "Anyway, keep your mouth tight
shut, and your eyes wide open, and if you think your boss is getting into
deep water, you come and tell me. I want things to go right with _you_,
because I'm depending on that poem for my front page, soon."
Mickey held out his hand.
"Sure!" he agreed. "I'm in an awful good place now to work up the poetry
piece, being right out among the cows and clover. And about Mr. Bruce,
gee! I wish he was plowing corn. I just hate his job he's doing now. Sure
if I see rocks I'll make a run for you. Thanks Boss!"
Mickey had lost time, and he hurried, but things seemed to be happening,
for as he left the elevator and sped down the hall, he ran into Mr. James
Minturn. With a hasty glance he drew back, and darted for the office door.
Mr. Minturn's face turned a dull red.
"One minute, young man!" he called.
"I'm late," said Mickey shortly. "I must hurry."
"Bruce is late too. I just came from his office and he isn't there,"
answered Mr. Minturn.
"Well I want to get it in order before he comes."
"In fact you want anything but to have a word to say to me!" hazarded Mr.
"Well then, since you are such a good guesser, I ain't just crazy about
you," said Mickey shortly.
"And I'm tired of having you run from me as if I were afflicted with
smallpox," said Mr. Minturn.
"If your blood is right, smallpox ain't much," said Mickey. "I haven't a
picture of myself running from _that_, if it really wanted a word with
"But you have a picture of yourself running from me?"
"Maybe I do," conceded Mickey.
"I've noticed it on occasions so frequent and conspicuous that others, no
doubt, will do the same," said Mr. Minturn. "If you are all Bruce thinks
you, then you should give a man credit for what he tries to do. You
surprised me too deeply for words with the story you brought me one day. I
knew most of your facts from experience, better than you did, except the
one horrible thing that shocked me speechless; but Mickey, when I had time
to adjust myself, I made the investigations you suggested, and proved what
you said. I deserve your scorn for not acting faster, but what I had to do
couldn't be done in a day, and for the boys' sake it had to be done as
privately as possible. There's no longer any reason why you should regard
me as a monster----"
"I'm awful glad you told me," Mickey said. "I surely did have you sized up
something scandalous. And yet I couldn't quite make out how, if my view
was right, Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie would think so much of you."
"They are friends I'm proud to have," said Mr. Minturn. "And I hope you'll
consider being a friend to me, and to my boys also. If ever a times comes
when I can do anything for you, let me know."
"Now right on that point, pause a moment," said Mickey. "You _are_ a
friend to my boss?"
"I certainly am, and I'm under deep obligations to Miss Winton. If ever my
home becomes once more what it was to start with, it will be her work.
Could a man bear heavier obligation than that?"
"Well hardly," said Mickey. "Course there wouldn't likely ever be anything
you could do for Miss Leslie that would square _that_ deal; but I'm
worried about my boss something awful."
"Why Mickey?" asked Mr. Minturn.
"That investigation you started him on."
"I did start him on that. What's the matter?"
"Well the returns are about all in," said Mickey, "and the man who draws
the candy suit is about ready to put it on. See?"
"Good! Exactly what he should do."
"Yes exactly," agreed Mickey dryly, "but _who_ do you figure it is? We got
some good friends in the City Hall."
"Always is somebody you don't expect," said Mr. Minturn. "Don't waste any
sympathy on them, Mickey."
"Not unless in some way my boss got himself into trouble," said Mickey.
"There's no possible way he could."
"About the smartest man in Multiopolis thinks yes," said Mickey. "I just
been talking with him."
"Who, Mickey?" asked Mr. Minturn, instantly.
"Chaffner of the _Herald_," said Mickey.
Mr. Minturn seized the boy's arm, shoved him inside his door and closed
it. Mickey pulled away and turned a belligerent face upward.
"Now nix on knocking me down with _your_ 'whats!'" he cried. "I just been
hammered meller with his, and dragged into his room, and shut up, and
scared stiff, about twenty minutes ago."
"_The devil you say!_" exploded Mr. Minturn.
"No, I said Chaffner!" insisted Mickey. "Chaffner of the _Herald_. I'm
going to write a poetry piece for his front page, some day soon now. I
been selling his paper all my life."
"And so you're a friend of Chaffner's?"
"Oh not bosom and inseparable," explained Mickey. "I haven't seen so awful
much of him, but when I do, we get along fine."
"And he said----?" questioned Mr. Minturn.
"Just what I been afraid of all the time," said Mickey. "That these
investigations at times got into places you didn't _look_ for, and made
awful trouble; and that my boss _might_ get it with his."
"Mickey, you will promise me something?" asked Mr. Minturn. "You see I
started Mr. Bruce on this trying to help him to a case that would bring
him into prominence, so if it should go wrong, it's in a way through me.
If you think Douglas is unlike himself, or worried, will you tell me? Will
"Why surest thing you know!" cried Mickey. "Why I should say I would! Gee,
you're great too! I think I'll like you awful well when we get
Mickey was busy when Bruce entered, and with him was Leslie Winton. They
brought the breath of spring mellowing into summer, freighted with
emanations of real love, touched and tinctured with joy so habitual it had
become spontaneous on the part of Leslie Winton, and this morning
contagious with Douglas Bruce. Mickey stood silent, watched them closely,
and listened. So in three minutes, from ragged scraps and ejaculations
effervescing from what was running over in their brains, he knew that they
had taken an early morning plunge into Atwater, landed a black bass, had a
breakfast of their own making, at least in so far as gathering wild red
raspberries from the sand pit near the bridge; and then they had raced to
the Multiopolis station to start Mr. Winton on a trip west to try to sell
his interest in some large land holdings there, the care of which he was
"Heavens, how I hope Daddy makes that sale!" cried Leslie. "I've been so
worried about him this summer."
"I wondered at you not going with him," said Douglas.
"He didn't seem to want me," said Leslie. "He said it was a flying trip
and he was forced to be back before some reports from his office were
filed; so he thought I wouldn't enjoy it; and for the first time in my
life he told me distinctly that he didn't have _time_ for me. Fancy Daddy!
I can't understand it."
"I've noticed that he has been brooding and preoccupied of late, not at
all like himself," said Douglas. "Have you any idea what troubles him?"
"Of course! He told me!" said Leslie. "It's Mr. Swain. When Daddy was a
boy, Mr. Swain was his father's best friend, and when grandfather died, he
asked him to guide Daddy, and he not only did that, but he opened his
purse and started him in business. Now Mr. Swain is growing old, and some
of his investments have gone wrong; just when political changes made
business close as could be, he lost heavily; and then came the war. There
was no way but for Daddy to stay here and fight to save what he could for
him. He told me early last fall; we talked of it again in the winter, and
this spring most of all--I've told you!"
"Yes I know! I wish I could help!" said Douglas.
"I do too! I wish it intensely," said Leslie. "When father comes, we'll
ask him. We're young and strong, and we should stand by. I never saw Daddy
in such a state. He _must_ sell that land. He _said_ so. He said last
night he'd be forced to sell if he only got half its value, and that
wouldn't be enough."
"Enough for what?" asked Douglas.
"To help Mr. Swain," said Leslie.
"He's going to use his fortune?" queried Douglas.
"I don't know that Daddy has holdings large enough to deserve the word,"
said Leslie. "He's going to use what he has. I urged him to; it's all he
"Did you take into consideration that it may end in his failure?" asked
"I did," said Leslie, "and I forgot to tell him, but I will as soon as he
comes back: he can have all mother left me, too, if he needs it."
"Leslie, you're a darling, but have you ever had even a small taste of
poverty?" asked Douglas.
"No! But I've always been curious, if I did have, to see if I couldn't so
manage whatever might be my share, that it would appear to the world
without that peculiar state of grime which always seems to distinguish
it," said the girl. "I'm not afraid of poverty, and I'm not afraid of
work; it's dishonour that would kill me. Daddy accepted obligations; if
they involve him, which includes me also, then to the last cent we
possess, we pay back."
Mickey drew the duster he handled between vacuum days across a table and
steadily watched first Douglas, then Leslie, both of whom had forgotten
"That should be good enough for Daddy; what about me?" asked Douglas. "If
ever I get in a close place, does the same hold good?"
"If I know what you are doing, surely!"
"I knew you were a 'Bearer of Morning' first time I saw you," said
Douglas. "But we are forgetting Mickey."
Mickey promptly stepped forward, putting away the duster to be ready for
"How are you this morning?" asked Douglas.
"Fine!" answered Mickey. "I've taken my family to the country, too!"
"Why Mickey! without saying a word!" cried Douglas.
"Well it happened so fast," said Mickey, "and I didn't want to bother you
when your head was so full of your old investigation and your own moving."
"Did you hear that Leslie?" he asked. "Mickey dislikes my investigation as
much as the man who comes out short is going to, any day now. So you've
moved Peaches to the country? You should have told me, first."
"I'm sorry if you don't like it," said Mickey. "You see my room was
getting awful hot. I never was there days this time of year, and nights I
slept on the fire-escape; all right for me, but it wouldn't do for Lily.
Why should I have told you?"
"Because Miss Winton had plans for her," explained Douglas. "She intended
to take her to Atwater, and she even contemplated having her back examined
Mickey's eyes danced and over his face spread a slow grin of
"Well?" ejaculated Douglas.
"Nothing!" said Mickey.
"Well?" demanded Douglas.
Mickey laughed outright. Then he sobered suddenly and spoke gravely,
directly to Miss Winton.
"Thank you for thinking of it, and planning for her," he said. "I was
afraid you would."
"Thank me for something you feared I would do! Mickey, aren't you getting
"Thank you for thinking of Lily and wanting to help her," explained
Mickey, "but she doesn't need you. She's mine and I'm going to keep her;
so what I can do for her will have to be enough, until I can do better."
"I see," said Leslie. "But suppose that she should have attention at once,
that you can't give her, and I can?"
"Then I'd be forced to let you, even if it took her from me," agreed
Mickey. "But thank the Lord, things ain't that way. I didn't take my say-
so for it; I went to the head nurse of the Star of Hope; she's gone to the
new Elizabeth Home now; she loves to nurse children best. All the time
from the first day she's told me how, and showed me, so Lily has been
taken care of right, you needn't worry about that. And where she is now,
if she was a queen-lady she couldn't have grander; honest she couldn't!"
"But Mickey, how are you going to pay for all that?" queried Douglas.
"Easy as falling off a car in a narrow skirt," said Mickey. "'Member that
big house where things are Heaven-white, and a yard full of trees, and the
fence corners are cut with the shears, and the street--I mean the road--
swept with a broom, this side the golf grounds about two miles?"
"Yes," said Douglas. "The woman there halted my car one evening and spoke
to me about you."
"Oh she did?" exclaimed Mickey. "Well I hope you gave me a good send-off,
'cause she's a lady I'm most particular about. You see I stopped there for
a drink, the day you figured instead of playing, and she told me about a
boy who was to be sent out by the _Herald_ and hadn't come, and as she was
ready, and interested, she was disappointed. So I just said to her if the
boy didn't come, how'd she like to have a nice, good little girl that
wouldn't ever be the least bother. Next day she came to see us, and away
Lily went sailing to the country in a big automobile, and she isn't coming
back 'til my rooms are cool, if she can be spared then."
"But how are you going to pay, Mickey? Most people only take children for
"Yes I know," said Mickey. "But these folks haven't ever tried it before,
and they don't know the ropes, so we're doing it our own way, and it works
"If they are suited----" said Douglas. "That place is far better than
where we feel so comfortable."
"We started this morning," said Mickey. "The lady and I traded jobs; she
sat on a hill under an apple tree and watched sunrise. I washed the
dishes, sep'rated the cream, and scrubbed the porch for her. When Lily
wakes up, the lady is going to bathe, rub, feed her, and see to her like
she owned her, to pay me back. It's a bargain! You couldn't beat it, could
"Of course if you want to turn yourself into a housemaid!" said Douglas
Mickey laughed, and Leslie sent a slightly frowning glance toward Douglas.
"You can search me!" cried the boy, throwing out his hands in his familiar
gesture. "Why I just love to! I always helped mother! Pay? I'll pay all
right; the nice lady will say I do, and so will Peter. It's my most
important job to make her glad of me as I am of her. And if you put it up
to me, I'd a lot rather have my job than yours; and I bet I get more joy
from it for my family!"
"Croaker!" laughed Bruce.
"'Tain't going to be a scream for the fellow who comes short," warned
"So you're planning not to allow me to do anything for Lily?" inquired
"Well there's something you can do this minute if you'd like," said
Mickey. "I was going to hurry up and see my Sunshine Nurse, but it's a
long way to the new hospital, and you could do as well, if you would."
"Mickey, I'd love to. What is it? And may I see your family? You know I
haven't had a peep yet."
"Well soon now, you may," said Mickey. "You see I ain't quite ready."
"Mickey, what do you know about the new Elizabeth Home?" asked Douglas.
"Only that a rich lady gave her house and money, and that my Sunshine
Nurse is going to be there after this. I was going for my first trip to-
"I wondered," said Douglas. "Mickey, when you get there, you'll find that
you've been there _before_."
"My eye!" cried Mickey.
"Fact! Mr. Minturn did put his foot down, and took his boys----" began
"Yes he was telling me this morning. That's what I get for stopping at the
first page. If I'd a-looked inside, bet I'd have known that long ago." "He
was telling you?" queried Douglas.
"Yes. I guess I must kind of shied at him 'til he noticed it; I didn't
_know_ I did, but he caught me and told me his troubles by force. We shook
hands to quit on. Say, he's just fine when you know him, and there doesn't
seem to be a thing on earth he wouldn't do for you, Miss Leslie. Why he
said if ever he found happiness again, and his home become what it should,
it would be because you were sorry for him, and fixed things."
"Mickey, did he really?" rejoiced the girl. "Douglas, when may Mickey show
me what he wants me to do?"
"Right now," he answered. "I got a load of books while he was away
yesterday and I haven't started them yet. Now is the best time."
When Mickey made a leap from the trolley platform that night, at what he
already had named Cold Cream Junction, he was almost buried under boxes.
He stepped high and prideful, for he had collected the money from his
paper route and immediately spent some of it under Leslie Winton's
Pillow bolstered, on the front porch, on his comfort lay the tiny girl he
loved. Mickey stopped and made a detailed inspection. Peaches leaned
forward and reached toward him; her greeting was indescribably sweet.
Mickey dropped the bundles and went into her arms; even in his joy he
noted a new strength in her grip on him, an unusual clinging. He drew back
"You been a good girl?" he queried suspiciously.
"Jus' as good!" asserted Peaches.
"You didn't go and say any----?"
"Not ever Mickey-lovest! Not one!" she cried. "I ain't even _thinked_ one!
That will help, Peter says so!"
"You have been washed and fed and everything all right?" he proceeded.
"Jus' as right!" she insisted.
"You like the nice lady?" he went on.
"Jus' love the nice lady, an' Mary, an' Bobbie, an' Peter, an' Junior,
jus' love all of them!" she affirmed.
"Well I hope I don't bust!" he said. "I never was so glad as I am that
everything is good for you."
"They's two things that ain't good."
"Well if things ain't right here, with what everybody's doing for you,
they ought to be!" cried Mickey. "You cut complaining right out, Miss
"You forgot to set my lesson, an' I ain't had my po'try piece for two
days. That ain't complainin'."
"No 'tain't honey," conceded Mickey regretfully. "No 'tain't! That's just
all right. I thought you were going to start kicking, and I wasn't going
to stand for it. Course I'll set your lesson; course I'll make up your
piece, but you must give me a little time. I was talking with Mr. Chaffner
of the _Herald, our_ paper you know, and he's beginning to get in a hurry
about his piece, too."
"I want mine first!" demanded Peaches.
"Sure! You'll get it first! Always! But I'm going to do something for you
before I make it, 'cause I won't know how it goes 'til afterward. See?"
"What you going to do?" she questioned. "What's all the bundles? My they
"And so they are!" triumphed Mickey. "Where are all the folks? Do they
leave you alone like this?"
"No, they don't leave me alone only when I'm asleep in the room," said
Peaches. "They saw you coming an' went away 'cause they know families
likes to be alone, sometimes. Ain't they smart to know that?"
"They are!" said Mickey. "First, you come to your bed a little while. I
got something for you."
"Ooh Mickey! Those bundles jus' look----!"
"Now you hold on. You wait and see, Miss!"
Mickey carried her in then he returned for the boxes. He opened one and
from it selected a pair of pink stockings and slipped them on Peaches;
then tiny, soft buckskin moccasins embroidered and tied with ribbons to
match the hose. Peaches squealed and clapped her hand over her mouth to
muffle the sound; but Mrs. Harding heard and came to the door. Mickey
asked for help.
"Young ladies who are going automobiling and taking walks are well enough
to have dresses, and things that all _good_ girls have," he announced.
"But I'm a little dubious about how these things go. Will you dress her?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Harding. "You fill the water bucket and the wood box, and
start the fire for supper."
Mrs. Harding looked over the contents of the box and from plain soft
pieces of underwear chose a gauze shirt, a dainty combination suit and a
tucked and trimmed petticoat, while Peaches laughed and sobbed for pure
joy. Then Mickey came, and Mrs. Harding went away. After various trials he
decided on a white dress with pink ribbons run in the neck, sleeves, and
belt, slipping it on her and carefully fastening it.
"Mickey, I want the glass!" she begged. "Please, oh please hurry, Mickey."
"Now you just wait, Miss Chicken!" said Mickey.
Then he brushed her hair and put on a new pink ribbon, not so large as
those she had, but much more becoming. He laid a soft warm little gray
sweater with white collar and cuffs in reach, and in turning it she
discovered a handkerchief and a pair of gloves in one pocket. Immediately
she searched the other and produced a purse with five pennies in it. Then
for no reason at all, Peaches began to cry.
"Well Miss Chicken!" exclaimed Mickey in surprise, "I thought you'd be
"Pleased!" sobbed Peaches. "Pleased! Mickey, I'm dam--I'm busted!"
"Oh well then, go on and cry, if you want to," agreed Mickey. "But you'd
look much nicer to show Mrs. Harding and Peter if you wouldn't!"
Peaches immediately wiped her eyes. Mickey lifted and carried her back to
the porch, placing her in a pillow-piled big chair. Then he put the gloves
on her hands, set a hat on her head and tied the pink ribbons. Peaches
both laughed and cried at that, while the Harding family came in because
they could not wait. Mickey raised and put in Peaches' shaking fingers the
crowning glory of any small girl: a wonderful little pink parasol. Peaches
appeared for a minute as if a faint were imminent.
"Now do you see why I couldn't come with a poetry piece when my head was
so full of these things?"
"Yes Mickey, but you will before night?" she begged.
"You want it even now?" he marvelled.
"More 'an the passol, even!" she declared.
"Well you fool little sweet kid!" cried Mickey and choked. He fled around
the house as Peter came out. In his ears as he went sounded Peter's big
voice and the delighted cries of the family.
"I want Mickey!" wailed Peaches.
He heard her call and ran back fast for fear he might be so slow reaching
her that Peter would serve. But to his joy he found that he alone would
"I want to see me!" demanded Peaches.
"Sure you do!" cried Peter. "I'll just hand down the big hall mirror so
you can see all of you at once."
He brought it and set it before her. Peaches stared and drew back. She
cried, "Aw-w--ah!" in a harsh, half-scared voice. She gripped Mickey with
one hand and the parasol with the other; she leaned and peeped, and
marvelled, and smiled at a fully clothed little girl in the glass, while
the image smiled back. Peaches thought of letting go of Mickey to touch
her hat and straighten her skirt, but felt so lost without him, that she
handed Peter the parasol, and used that hand, while the other clung to her
refuge. When Mickey saw the treasure go in his favour, he swallowed lumps
of emotion so big that the Hardings could see them running down his
throat. Peaches intent on the glass smiled, grimaced, tilted her head, and
finally began flirting outrageously with herself, until all of them
laughed and recalled her. She looked at Peter, smiled her most winsome
smile and exclaimed: "Well ain't I the----"
"Now you go easy, Miss Chicken," warned Mickey.
"Mickey, if you hadn't stopped me I'd done it sure!" sobbed Peaches,
collapsing against him. "'F I had, would you a-took these bu'ful things
'way from me?" "No I wouldn't!" said Mickey. "I couldn't to save me. But I
"Mickey, I'm so tired," she said. "Take my hat an' put it where I can see
it, an' my passol, an' my coat; gee, I don't have to be wrapped in sheets
no more, an' lay me down. Quick Mickey, I'm sick-like."
"Well I ought to had the sense not to spring so much all at once," said
Mickey, "but it all seemed to belong. Sure I will, you poor kid!"
"And Mickey, you won't forget the lesson and the po'try piece?" she
"No, I won't forget," promised Mickey, as he stretched her among her
treasures and watched her fall asleep even while he slipped the gloves
from her fingers.
Next morning she found the lesson and the poetry on her slate. Mrs.
Harding bathed and clothed her in the little garments, and showed her
enough more for the changes she would need, even two finer dresses for
Sunday. She left the coat, hat, and parasol in reach. Then Peaches
resolutely took up her pencil and set herself to copy the lines without
knowing enough of the words to really understand; but she was extremely
well acquainted with one word that Mickey had said "just flew out of his
mouth when he looked at her," and in her supreme satisfaction over her new
possessions she was sure the lines must be concerning them. Most of all
she was delighted with her slippers. A hundred times that morning she
looked down, wiggled her toes and moved her feet so that she could see
them better. Between whiles she copied over and over:
Miss L. P. O'Halloran daily went walking,
In slippers so nifty the neighbours were talking.
The minute she raised her gay pink parasol
The old red cow began to friskily bawl.
When they observed the neat coat on her back,
All the guineas in the orchard cried: "Rack! Pot rack!"
She was so lovely a bird flying her way,
Sang "Sweet, sweet, sweet!" all the rest of the day._
Peter came in to visit a few minutes, so she gave him the slate to see if
he could read her copy, and by this ruse she found what the lines were.
She was so overjoyed she opened her lips and then clapped both hands over
them, to smother the ejaculation at her tongue's end. To distract Peter
she stuck out her foot and moved it for him to see.
"Ain't that pretty, an' jus' as soft and fine?" she asked.
"Yes," said Peter. "They remind me of a flower called 'Lady Slipper,' that
grows along the edge of the woods. It's that shape and the prettiest gold
yellow, but little, they'd about fit your doll."
"Oh Peter, could you get me one? I want to see."
"Why I would, but they are all gone now, honey," answered Peter. "Next
year I'll remember and bring you some when they bloom. But it's likely by
that time you can go yourself, and see them."
"Do you honest think it Peter?" asked Peaches, leaning forward eagerly.
"Yes I honest think it," repeated Peter emphatically.
"But I won't be here then," Peaches reminded him.
"Well it won't be my fault, if you're not," said Peter.
_Initiations in an Ancient and Honourable Brotherhood_
"Now father, you said if I'd help till after harvest, I could go to
Multiopolis and hunt a job," Junior reminded Peter. "When may I?"
"I remember," said Peter. "You may start Monday morning if you want to. Ma
and I have talked it over, and if you're bound to leave us, I guess
there'd never be a better time. I can get Jud Jason to drive the cream
wagon for me, and I'll do the best I can at the barn. I had hoped that
we'd be partners and work together all our days; but if you have decided
upon leaving us, of course you won't be satisfied till you've done it."
"Well I can try," said Junior, "and if I don't like it I can come back."
"I don't know about that," objected Peter. "Of course I'd have other help
hired; your room would be occupied and your work contracted for----"
"Well I hadn't figured on that," he said. "I supposed I could go and try
it, and if I didn't like it I could come home. Couldn't I come home Ma?"
Nancy slowly became a greenish white colour; but the situation had been
discussed so often, it worried her dreadfully; now that it had to be met,
evasion would do no good. Peter grimly watched her. He knew she was
struggling with a woman's inborn impulse to be the haven of her children,
her son, her first-born, especially. He was surprised to hear her saying:
"Why I hardly think so Junior, it wouldn't be a right start in life. You
must figure that whatever kind of work you find, or whoever you work for,
there will be things you won't like or think fair, but if you are going to
be your own man, you must begin like a man; and of course a man doesn't go
into business with his mind made up to run for his mother's petticoats,
the first thing that displeases him. No, I guess if you go, you must start
with your mind made up to stay till the October term of school opens,
"Then we'll call that settled," said Peter. "You may go with Mickey on the
Monday morning car and we probably won't see you again till you are one of
the leading business men of Multiopolis, and drive out in your automobile.
Have you decided which make you'll get?"
"Well from what I've learned driving yours, if I were buying one myself,
I'd get a Glide-by," said Junior. "They strike me as the best car on the
Peter glanced sharply at his son. When he saw that the answer was
perfectly sincere, his heart almost played him the trick he had expected
from his wife.
"All right Ma, gather up his clothes and get them washed, and have him
ready," said Peter.
"I thought maybe you'd take me in the car and sort of look around with
me," said Junior.
"I don't see how I am going to do it, with both our work piled on me,"
said Peter. "And besides, I'm a farmer born and bred; I wouldn't have the
first idea about how to get a boy a job in the city or what he ought to do
or have. Mickey is on to all that; he'll go with you, won't you Mickey?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "And you can save a lot by using my room. It is high,
but it's clean"--Junior scowled but Mickey proceeded calmly--"and while it
gets hot in the daytime, if you open the door at night, and push the bed
before the window, it soon cools off, while very hottest times I always
take to the fire-escape. It's nice and cool there."
"Of course! That will be the ticket," said Peter heartily. "A boy starting
with everything to learn couldn't expect to earn much, and when you
haven't Ma and me to depend on for your board you'll be glad to have the
bed free. Thank you Mickey, that's fine!"
Junior did not look as if he thought it were. Presently he asked: "How
much money ought I to take to start on, Mickey?"
"Hully gee!" said Mickey. "Why your fare in! You're going to make money,
kid, not to spend it. If I was turned loose there with just one cent I'd
be flying by night, and if I hadn't the cent, I'd soon earn it."
"How could you Mickey?" asked Junior eagerly.
"With or without?" queried Mickey.
"Both!" exclaimed Junior.
"Well, 'without,'" said Mickey, "I'd keep my lamps trimmed and burning,
and I'd catch a lady falling off a car, or pick up a purse, or a kid, or
run an errand. 'With,' there'd be only one thing I'd think of, because
papers are my game. I'd buy one for a penny and sell it for two; buy two,
sell for four; you know the multiplication table, don't you? But of course
you don't want a street job, you want in a factory or a store. If you
could do what you like best, what would it be Junior?"
Junior opened his mouth several times and at last admitted he hadn't
thought that far: "Why I don't know."
"Well," said Mickey calmly, "there's making things, that's factories.
There's selling them, that's stores. There's doctors, and lawyers, that's
professional, like my boss. And there's office-holders, like the men he is
after, but of course you'd have to be old enough to vote and educated
enough to do business, and have enough money earned at something else to
buy your office; that's too far away. Now if you don't like the street,
there's the other three. The quickest money would be in the first two. If
you were making things, what would you make?"
"Automobiles!" said Junior.
"All right!" said Mickey, "we can try them first. If we can't find a
factory that you'd like, what would you rather sell?"
"Automobiles," said Junior promptly.
"Gee!" said Mickey. "I see where we hit that business at both ends. If we
miss, what next?"
"I don't know," said Junior. "I'll make up my mind when I have looked
"You can come closer deciding out here, than you can in the rush of the
streets," said Mickey. "There, you'll be rustling for your supper, and
you'll find boys hunting jobs thick as men at a ball game, and lots of
them with dads to furnish their room and board."
Junior hesitated, but Mickey excused himself and without having been told
what to do, he accomplished half a day's work for Mrs. Harding, then began
some of Peter's jobs and afterward turned his attention to hearing
Peaches' lesson and setting her new copy. When Junior paid his fare Monday
morning, Mickey, judging by the change he exhibited, realized that both
his mother and father had given him, to start on, a dollar to spend.
Mickey would have preferred that he be penniless. He decided as they ran
cityward that the first thing was to part Junior from his money, so he
told him he would be compelled to work in the forenoon, and for a while in
the afternoon, and left him to his own devices on the street, with a
meeting-place agreed on at noon.
When Mickey reached the spot he found Junior with a pocket full of candy,
eating early peaches, and instead of hunting work, he had attended three
picture shows. Mickey could have figured to within ten cents of what was
left of one of Junior's dollars; but as the cure did not really begin
until the money disappeared, the quicker it went the better. As he ate his
sandwich and drank his milk, he watched Junior making a dinner of meat,
potatoes, pie and ice-cream, and made a mental estimate of the remains of
the other dollar. As a basis for a later "I told you so," he remonstrated,
and pointed out the fact that there were hundreds of unemployed men of
strength, skilled artisans with families to support, looking for work that
"I know your dad signed up that contract with Jud Jason," he said, "'cause
I saw him, and that means that he's got no use for you for three months;
so you must take care of yourself for that long at least, if you got any
ginger in you. Of course," explained Mickey, "I know that most city men
think country boys won't stick, and are big cowards, but I'm expecting you
to show them just where they are mistaken. I know you're not lazy, and I
know you got as much sand and grit as any city boy, but you must _prove
it_ to the rest of them. You must show up!"
"Sure!" said Junior. "I'll convince them!"
By night the last penny of the second dollar was gone, so Junior borrowed
his fare to his room from Mickey, who was to remain with him to show him
the way back and forth, and to spend an early hour in search of
employment. It was Mickey's first night away from Peaches, and while he
knew she was safe, he felt that when night came she would miss him. The
thought that she might cry for him tormented him to speech. He pointed out
to Junior very clearly that he would have to mark corners and keep his
eyes open because he need not expect that he could leave her longer than
that. Junior agreed with him, for he had promised Peaches in saying good-
bye to keep Mickey only one night.
He had treated himself to candy and unusual fruits until his money was
gone, while by night these and a walk of miles on hot pavement had bred
such an appetite that he felt he had not eaten a full meal in years, so
when Mickey brought out the remains of the food Mrs. Harding had given
him, her son felt insulted. But Mickey figured a day on the basis of what
he had earned, what he had expended, what he must save to be ready when
the great surgeon came, and prepared exactly as he would have done for
himself and Peaches. On reaching the tenement and climbing until his legs
ached, Junior faced stifling heat, but Mickey opened the window and
started a draft by setting the door wide. While they ate supper, Mickey
talked unceasingly, but Junior was sulkily silent. He tried the fire-
escape, but one glance from the rickety affair, hung a mile above the
ground it seemed to him, was enough, so he climbed back in the window and
tossed on the bed.
Junior did his first real thinking that night. He was ravenous before
morning and aghast at what he was offered for breakfast. He was eager to
find work and he knew for what his first day's wage would go. In justice
to his own sense of honour and in justice to Junior, mere common fairness,
such as he would have wanted in like case, for the first few days Mickey
honestly and unceasingly hunted employment. With Junior at his elbow he
suffered one rebuff after another, until it was clear to him that it was
impossible for a country boy unused to the ways of the city to find or to
hold a job at which he could survive, even with his room provided, while
the city swarmed with unemployed men. Everywhere they found the work they
would have liked done by an Italian, Greek, Swede, German, or Polander who
seemed strong as oxen, oblivious, as no doubt they were, to treatment
Junior never had seen accorded a balky mule, and able to live on a chunk
of black bread, a bit of cheese, and a few cents' worth of stale beer.
When Mickey had truly convinced himself of what he had believed, with a
free conscience he then began allowing Junior to find out for himself
exactly what he was facing. By that time Junior had lost himself on the
way to Mickey's rooms, spent a night wandering the streets, and
breakfastless was waiting before the Iriquois.
Mickey listened sympathetically, supplied a dime, which seemed to be all
he had, for breakfast, and said as he entered the building: "Well kid,
'til we can find a job you'll just have to go up against the street. If I
can live and save money at it, you ought to be smart enough to _live_. Go
to it 'til I get my day's work done. You just can't go home, because
they'll think you don't amount to anything; the fellows will make game of
you, and besides Jud is doing wonderfully well, your father said so. He
seemed so tickled over him, I guess the fact is he is getting more help
from him that he ever did from Junior boy, so your job there isn't open.
Go at whatever you can see that needs to be done, 'til I get my work over
and we'll try again. I'll be out about three, and you can meet me here."
Empty and disheartened Junior squeezed the dime and hurried toward the
nearest restaurant. But the transaction had been witnessed by a boy as
hungry as he, and hardened to the street. How Junior came to be sprawling
on the sidewalk he never knew; only that his hand involuntarily opened in
falling and he threw it out to catch himself, so he couldn't find the
dime. Before noon he was sick and reeling with sleeplessness and hunger.
He was waiting when it was Mickey's time to lunch, but he did not come,
and in desperation Junior really tried the street. At last he achieved a
nickel by snatching a dropped bundle from under a car. He sat a long time
in a stairway looking at it, and then having reached a stage where he was
more sick, and less hungry, he hunted a telephone booth and tried to get
his home, only to learn that the family was away. Gladdened by the thought
that they might be in the city, he walked miles, watching the curb before
stores where they shopped, searching for their car, and he told himself
that if he found it, nothing could separate him from the steering gear
until he sped past all regulation straight to his mother's cupboard.
He had wanted ham and chicken in the beginning; later helping himself to
cold food in the cellar seemed a luxury; then crackers and cookies in the
dining-room cupboard would have satisfied his wildest desire; and before
three o'clock, Junior, in mad rebellion, remembered his mother's slop
bucket. How did she dare put big pieces of bread and things good enough
for any one to eat in feed for pigs and poultry! If he ever reached home
he resolved he would put a stop to that.
At three to Mickey's cheerful, "Now we'll find a job or make it," he
answered: "No we will find a square meal or steal it," and then he told.
Mickey watched him reflectively, but as he figured the case, it was not
for him to suggest retreat. He condoled, paid for the meal, and started
hunting work again, with Junior silent and dogged beside him. To the
surprise of both, almost at once they found a place for a week with a
Junior went to work. After a few tasks bunglingly performed, he was tried
on messenger service and started with his carfare to deliver a box
containing a funeral piece. He had no idea where he was to go, or what car
line to take. In his extremity a bootblack came to his aid. He safely
delivered the box at a residence where the owner was leaving his door for
his car. He gave Junior half a dollar. Junior met the first friendly
greeting he had encountered in Multiopolis, as he reached the street.
Two boys larger than he walked beside him and talked so frankly, that
before he reached his car line, he felt he had made friends. They offered
to show him a shorter cut to the car line just by going up an alley and
out on a side street. At the proper place for seclusion, the one behind
knocked him senseless, and the one before wheeled and relieved him of
money, and both fled. Junior lay for a time, then slowly came back, but he
was weak and ill. He knew without investigating what had happened, and
preferring the mercy that might be inside to that of the alley, he crawled
into a back door. It proved to be a morgue. A workman came to his
assistance, felt the lump on his head, noticed the sickness on his face,
and gave him a place to rest. Junior was dubious from the start about
feeling better, as he watched the surroundings. The proprietor came past
and inquired who he was and why he was there. Junior told him, and showed
the lumps behind his ear and on his forehead, to prove his words.
The man was human. He gave Junior another nickel and told him which car to
take from his front door. He had to stand aside and see five pieces of
charred humanity from a cleaning-establishment explosion, carried through
the door before he had a chance to leave it. He reached the florist's two
hours late and in spite of his story and his perfectly discernible bumps
to prove it, he was discharged as a fool for following strangers into an
On the streets once more and penniless, he started to walk the miles to
his room. When he found the building he thought it would be cooler to
climb the fire-escape and sit on it until he decided what to do, then he
could open the door from the inside. At the top he thrust a foot, head,
and shoulders into the room and realized he had selected the wrong escape.
He tried to draw back, but two men leaped for him, and as he was doubled
in the window he could not make a swift movement.
He was landed in the middle of the room, cursed for a prowling thief, his
protestations silenced, his pockets searched, and when they yielded
nothing, his body stripped of its clean, wholesome clothing and he was
pitched down the stairs. He appealed to several people, and found that the
less he said the safer he was. He snatched a towel from a basket of
clothes before a door, twisted it around him, and ran down the street to
Mickey's front entrance. With all his remaining breath he sped up flight
after flight of stairs and at last reached the locked door, only to find
that the key was in the pocket of his stolen trousers, and he could not
force his way with his bare hands. He could only get to his clothing by
trying the fire-escapes again. He was almost too sick to see or cling to
the narrow iron steps, but that time he counted carefully, and looked
until he was sure before he entered. He found his clothes, and in the
intense heat dressed himself, but he could not open the door. He sat on
the fire-escape to think.
Presently he espied one of the men who had robbed him watching him from
another escape, and being afraid and beaten sore, he crept into the heat,
and lay on the bed beside the window. After a while a breath of air came
in, and Junior slept the sleep of exhaustion. When he awoke it was
morning, his head aching, his mouth dry, and the room cooler. Glancing
toward the door he saw it standing open and then noticed the disorder of
the room, and of himself, and sat up to find he was on the floor, once
more disrobed, and the place stripped of every portable thing in it, even
the bed, little stove, and the trunk filled with clothes and a few
personal possessions sacred to Mickey because they had been his mother's.
The men had used the key in Junior's pocket to enter while he slept,
drugged him, and carried away everything. He crept to the door and closed
it, then sank on the floor and cried until he again became unconscious. It
was four o'clock that afternoon when Mickey looked in and understood the
situation. He bent over Junior's bruised and battered body, stared at his
swollen, tear-stained face, and darting from the room, brought water, and
then food and clothing.
Redressed and fed, Junior lay on the floor and said to Mickey: "Go to the
nearest 'phone and call father. Tell him I'm sick, to come in a hurry with
"Sure!" said Mickey. "But hadn't we better wait 'til morning now, and get
you rested and fed up a little?"
"No," said Junior. "The sooner he sees the fix I'm in the better he will
realize that I'm not a quitter; but that this ain't just the place for me.
Mickey, did you ever go through this? Why do I get it so awful hard?"
"It's because the regulars can tell a mile off you are country, Junior,"
said Mickey. "All my life I've been on the streets so they knew me for
city born, and supposed I'd friends to trace them and back me if they
abused me; and then, I always look ahead sharp, and don't trust a living
soul about alleys. You say the next escape but one? I've got to find them,
and get back my things. I want mother's, and Lily and I can't live this
winter with no bed, and no stove, and nothing at all."
"I'm sorry about your mother's things Mickey, but don't worry over the
rest," said Junior. "Pa and Ma won't ever be willing to give up Peaches
again, I can see that right now, and if they keep her, they will have to
take you too, because of course you can't be separated from her; your
goods, I'll pay back. I owe you a lot as it is, but I got some money in
the bank, and I'll have to sell my sheep."
Junior laid his head on his arm and sobbed weakly.
"Don't Junior," said Mickey. "I feel just awful about this. I thought you
had a place that would earn your supper, and you had the room, and would
be all right."
"Why of course!" said Junior.
Mickey looked intently at him. "Now look here Junior," he said, "I got to
square myself on this. I didn't think all the time you'd like Multiopolis,
when you saw it with the bark off. Course viewing it on a full stomach,
from an automobile, with spending money in your pocket, and a smooth run
to a good home before you, is one thing; facing up to it, and asking it to
hand out those things to you in return for work you can do here, without
knowing the ropes, is another. You've stuck it out longer than I would,
honest you have, but it isn't your game, and you don't know how, and you'd
be a fool to learn. I thought you'd get enough to satisfy you when you
came, but seeing for yourself seemed to be the only way to cure you."
"Oh don't start the 'I told you so,'" said Junior. "Father and mother will
hand it out for the rest of my life. I'd as lief die as go back, but I'm
going; not because I can't get in the game, and make a living if you can,
even if I have to go out and start as you did, with a penny. I'm going
back, but not for the reason you think. It's because seen at close range,
Multiopolis ain't what it looks like from an automobile. I know something
that I really know, and that comes natural to me, that beats it a mile;
and now I've had my chance, and made my choice. I'm so sore I can't walk,
but if you'll just call father and tell him to come in on high, I'll
settle with you later."
"Course if that's the way you feel, I'll call him," said Mickey, "but
Junior, let me finish this much I was trying to say. I knew Multiopolis
would do to you all it had done to me, and I knew you wouldn't like it;
but I _didn't_ figure on your big frame and fresh face spelling country
'til it would show a mile down the street. I _didn't_ figure on you
getting the show I would, and I _didn't_ intend anything worse should
happen to you than has to me. Honest I didn't! I'm just about sick over
this Junior. Don't you want to go to Mr. Bruce's office--I got a key and
he won't care--don't you want to go there and rest a little, and feed up
better, before I call your father?"
"No I don't! I got enough and I know it! They must know it some time; it
might as well come at once."
"Then let's go out on the car," said Mickey.
"I guess you don't realize just how bad this is," said Junior. "You call
father, and call him quick and emphatic enough to bring him."
"All right then," said Mickey. "Here goes!"
"And put the call in nearest place you can find and hustle back," said
Junior. "I'm done with alleys, and sluggers, and robbers. Goliath couldn't
have held his own against two big men, when he was fifteen, and I guess
father won't think I'm a coward because they got away with me. But you
"Sure! I'll fly, and I'll get him if I can."
"There's no doubt about getting him. This is baked potato, bacon,
blackberry roll, honey and bread time at our house. They wouldn't be away
just now, and it's strange they have been so much this week."
Mickey gave Junior a swift glance; then raced to the nearest telephone.
"You Mickey?" queried Peter.
"Yes. It's you for S.O.S., and I'm to tell you to come on high, and lose
no time in starting."
"Am I to come Mickey, or am I too busy?"
"You are to come, Peter, to my room, and in a hurry. Things didn't work
according to program."
"Why what's the matter, Mickey?"
"Just what I told you would be when it came to getting a job here; but I
didn't figure on street sharks picking on Junior and robbing him, and
following him to my room, and slugging him 'til he can't walk. You come
Peter, and come in a hurry, and Peter----"
"You better let me start----" said Peter.
"Yes, but Peter, one minute," insisted Mickey. "I got something to say to
you. This didn't work out as I planned, and I'm awful sorry, and you'll be
too. But Junior is cured done enough to suit you; he won't ever want to
leave you again, you can bank on that--and he ain't hurt permanent; but if
you have got anything in your system that sounds even a little bit like 'I
told you so,' forget it on the way in, and leave instructions with the
family to do the same. See? Junior is awful sore! He don't need anything
rubbed in in the way of reminiscences. He's ready to do the talking. See?"
"Yes. You're sure he ain't really hurt?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "Three days will fix him, but Peter, it's been mighty
rough! Go easy, will you?"
"Mickey have you got money----"
"All we need, just you get here with the car, and put in a comfort and
pillow. All my stuff is gone!"
Peter Senior arrived in a surprisingly short time, knelt on the floor and
looked closely at his sleeping boy.
"Naked and beaten to insensibility, you say?"
"Nothing to eat for nearly two days?"
Another affirmation. Peter arose, pushed back his hat and wiped the sweat
from his brow.
"I haven't been thinking about anything but him ever since he left," he
said, "and what makes me the sorest is that the longer I think of it, the
surer I get that this is my fault. I didn't raise him right!"
"Aw-w-ah Peter!" protested Mickey.
"I've got it all studied out," said Peter, "and I didn't! There have been
two mistakes, Junior's and mine, and of the two, mine is twice as big as
Peter stooped and picked up his son, who stirred and awakened. When he
found himself in his father's arms Junior clung to him and whispered over
and over: "Father, dear father!" Peter gripped him with all his might and
whispered back: "Forgive me son! Forgive me!"
"Well I don't know what for?" sobbed Junior.
"You will before long," said Peter. He drove to a cool place, and let the
car stand while he called his wife, and explained all of the situation he
saw fit. She was waiting at the gate when they came. She never said a word
except to urge Junior to eat his supper. But Junior had no appetite.
"I want to run things here for a few minutes," he said. "When the children
finish, put them to bed, and then let me tell you, and you can decide what
you'll do to me."
"Well, don't you worry about that," said Peter.
"No I won't," said Junior, "because there's nothing you can do that will
be half I deserve."
When the little folks were asleep, and Mickey had helped Mrs. Harding
finish the work, and Jud Jason had been paid five dollars for his contract
and had gone home, Junior lay in the hammock on the front porch, while his
father, mother and Mickey sat close. When he started to speak Peter said:
"Now Junior, wait a minute! You've been gone a week, and during that time
I've used my brains more than I ever did in a like period, even when I was
courting your Ma, and the subject I laboured on was what took you away
from us. I've found out why you were not satisfied, and who made you
dissatisfied. The guilty party is Peter Harding, aided and abetted by one
Nancy Harding, otherwise known as Ma----"
"Why father!" interrupted Junior.
"Silence!" said Peter. "I've just found out that it's a man's job to be
the _head of his family_, and I'm going to be the head of mine after this,
and like Mickey here, 'I'm going to keep it.' Let me finish. I've spent
this week thinking, and all the things I have thought would make a bigger
book than the dictionary if they were set down. Why should you ask to be
forgiven for a desire to go to Multiopolis when I carried you there as a
baby, led you as a toddler, and went with you every chance I could trump
up as a man? Who bought and fed you painted, adulterated candy as a child,
when your Ma should have made you pure clean taffy at home from our maple
syrup or as good sugar as we could buy? Often I've spent money that now
should be on interest, for fruit that looked fine to you there, and proved
to be grainy, too mellow, sour or not half so good as what you had at
"I never took you hunting, or fishing, or camping, or swimming, in your
life; but I haven't had a mite of trouble to find time and money to take
you to circuses, which I don't regret, I'll do again; and picture shows,
which I'll do also; and other shows. I'm not condemning any form of
amusement we ever patronized so much, we'll probably do all of it again;
but what gets me now, is how I ever came to think that the only
_interesting things_ and those worth taking time and spending money on,
were running to Multiopolis, to eat, to laugh, to look, and getting little
to show for it but disappointment and suffering for all of us. You haven't
had the only punishment that's struck the Harding family this week,
Junior. Your Ma and I have had our share, and I haven't asked her if she
has got enough, but speaking strictly for myself, I have."
"I wouldn't live through it again for the farm," sobbed Mrs. Harding. "I
see what you are getting at Pa, and it's we who are the guilty parties,
just as you say."
Junior sat up and stared at them.
"I don't so much regret the things I did," said Peter, "as I condemn
myself for the things I haven't done. I haven't taught you to ride so you
don't look a spectacle on a horse, and yet horses should come as natural
as breathing to you. You should be a skilled marksman; you couldn't hit a
wash-tub at ten paces. You should swim like a fish, with a hundred lakes
in your country; you'd drown if you were thrown in the middle of one and
left to yourself. You ought to be able to row a boat as well as it can be
done, and cast a line with all the skill any lad of your age possesses.
That you can't make even a fair showing at any sport, results from the
fact that every time your father had a minute to spare he took you and
headed straight for Multiopolis. Here's the golf links at our door, and if
ever any game was a farmer's game, and if any man has a right to hold up
his head, and tramp his own hills, and swing a strong arm and a free one,
and make a masterly stroke, it's a _land owner_. There's no reason why
plowing and tilling should dull the brains, bend the back, or make a pack-
horse of a man. Modern methods show you how to do the same thing a better
way, how to work one machine instead of ten men, how to have time for a
vacation, just as city men do, and how to have money for books, and music,
and school, instead of loading with so much land it's a burden to pay the
taxes. I have quite a bunch of land for sale, and I see a way open to make
three times the money I ever did, with half the hard work. We've turned
over a new leaf at this place from start to finish, including the house,
barn, land, and family. A year from now you won't know any of us; but that
later. Just now, it's this: I'm pointing out to you Junior, exactly how
you came to have your hankering for Multiopolis. I can see you followed
the way we set you thinking, that all the amusing things were there, the
smart people, the fine clothes, the wealth, and the freedom----"
"Yes you ought to see the 'amusing things' and the 'happy people' when
your stomach's cramping and your head splitting!" cried Junior. "I tell
you down among them it looks different from riding past in an automobile."
"Exactly!" conceded Peter. "Exactly what I'm coming at. All your life I've
given you the wrong viewpoint. Now you can busy yourselves planning how to
make our share of the world over, so it will bring all the joy of life
right to the front door. I guess the first big thing is to currycomb the
whole place, and fix it as it should be to be most convenient for us. Then
we better take a course of training in making up our minds to be
_satisfied_ with what we can afford. Junior, does home look better to you
than it did this time last week?"
"Father," began Junior, and sobbed aloud.
"The answer is sufficient," said Peter dryly. "Never mind son! When, with
our heads put together, we get our buildings and land fixed right, I
suggest that we also fix our clothes and our belongings right. I can't see
any reason why a woman as lovely as Ma, should be told from any other
pretty woman, by her walk or dress. I don't know why a man as well set up
as I am, shouldn't wear his clothes as easy as the men at the club house.
I can't see why we shouldn't be at that same club house for a meal once in
a while, just to keep us satisfied with home cooking, and that game looks
interesting. Next trip to Multiopolis I make, I'm going to get saddles for
Junior and Mickey and teach them what I know about how to sit and handle a
horse properly; and it needn't be a plow horse either. Next day off I
have, I'm going to spend hauling lumber to one of these lakes we decide
on, to build a house for a launch and fishing-boat for us. Then when we
have a vacation, we'll drive there, shelter our car, and enjoy ourselves
like the city folks by the thousand, since we think what they do so right
and fine. They've showed us what they like, flocking five thousand at a
clip, to Red Wing Lake a few miles from us. Since we live among what they
are spending their thousands every summer to enjoy, let's help ourselves
to a little pleasure. I am going to buy each of us a fishing rod, and get
a box of tackle, soon as I reach it, and I'm going fast. I've wasted
sixteen years, now I'm on the homestretch, and it's going to be a stretch
of all there is in me to make our home the sweetest, grandest place on
earth to us. Will you help me, Nancy?"
"I think maybe I'll be saved nervous prostration if I can help just a few
of these things to take place."
"Yes, I've sensed that," said Peter. "Mickey pointed that out to me the
morning you jumped your job and headed for sunup. For years, just _half
your time and strength has been thrown away using old methods and
implements in your work, and having the kitchen unhandy and inconvenient;
and I'm the man who should have seen it, and got you right tools for your
job at the same time I bought a houseful for myself and my work_. We must
stir up this whole neighbourhood, and build a big entertainment house,
where we can have a library suitable for country folks, and satisfying to
their ways of life. It's got to have music boxes in it, and a floor fit
for dancing and skating, and a stage for our own entertainments, and the
folks we decide to bring here to amuse us. We can put in a picture machine
and a screen, that we can pay for by charging a few cents admission the
nights we run it, and rent films once or twice a week from a good city
show. We could fix up a place like that, and get no end of fun and
education out of it, without going thirty miles and spending enough money
in one night to get better entertainment for a month at home, and in a
cool, comfortable hall, and where we can go from it to bed in a few
minutes. Once I am started, with Mickey and Junior to help me, I'm going
to call a meeting and talk these things over with my neighbours, and get
them to join in if I can. If I can't, I'll go on and put up the building
and start things as I think they should be, and charge enough admittance
to get back what I invest; and after that, just enough to pay running
expenses and for the talent we use. I'm so sure it can be done, I'm going
to do it. Will you help me, son?"
"Yes father, I'd think it was fine to help do that," said Junior. "_Now_
may I say what I want to?"
"Why yes, you might son," said Peter, "but to tell the truth I can't see
that you have anything to say. If you have got the idea, Junior, that you
have wronged us any, and that it's your job to ask us to forgive you for
wanting to try the things we started and kept you hankering after all your
life so far, why you're mistaken. If I'd trained you from your cradle to
love your home, as I've trained you to love Multiopolis, you never would
have left us. So if there is forgiving in the air, you please forgive me.
And this includes your Ma as well. I should ask her forgiveness too, for a
whole lot of things that I bungled about, when I thought I was loving her
all I possibly could. I've got a new idea of love so big and all-
encompassing it includes a fireless cooker and a dish-washing machine. I'm
going to put it in practice for a year; then if my family wants to change
back, we'll talk about it."
"But father----" began Junior.
"Go to bed son," said Peter. "You can tell us what happened when you ain't
as sleepy as you are right now."
Junior arose and followed his mother to the kitchen.
"Ain't he going to let me tell what a fool I've been at all?" he demanded.
"I guess your Pa felt that when he got through telling what fools we've
been, there wasn't anything left for you to say. I know I feel that way.
This neighbourhood does all in its power, from the day their children are
born, to teach them that _home_ is only a _stopping-place,_ to eat, and
sleep, and work, and be sick in; and that every desirable thing in life is
to be found _somewhere else_, the else being, in most cases, Multiopolis.
Just look at it year after year gobbling up our boys and girls, and think
over the ones you know who have gone, and see what they've come to. Among
the men as far as I remember, Joel Harris went into a law office and made
a rich, respectable man; and two girls married and have good homes; the
others, many of them, I couldn't name to you the places they are in. This
neighbourhood needs reforming, and if Pa has set out to attempt it, I'll
lend a hand, and I guess from what you got this week, you'll be in a
position to help better than you could have helped before."
"Yes I guess so too," said Junior emphatically.
He gladly went back to the cream wagon. Peter didn't want him to, but
there was a change in Junior. He was no longer a wilful discontented boy.
He was a partner, who was greatly interested in a business and felt
dissatisfied if he were not working at furthering it. He had little to
say, but his eyes were looking far ahead in deep thought. The first
morning he started out, while Junior unhitched his horse, Peter filled the
wagon and went back to the barn where Mickey was helping him.
Junior, passing, remembered he had promised Jud Jason to bring a bundle he
had left there, and stopped for it. He stepped into the small front door
and bent for the package lying in sight, when clearly and distinctly arose
Mickey's voice lifted to reach Peter, at another task.
"Course I meant him to get enough to make him good and sick of it, like we
agreed on; but I never intended him to get any such a dose as he had."
Junior straightened swiftly, and his lower jaw dropped. His father's reply
was equally audible.
"Of course I understand _that_, Mickey."
"Surest thing you know!" said Mickey. "I like Junior. I like him better
than any other boy I ever knew, and I've known hundreds. I tell you Peter,
he was gamer than you'll ever believe to hang on as long as he did."
"Yes I think that too," said Peter.
"You know he didn't come because he was all in," explained Mickey. "You
can take a lot of pride in that. He'd about been the limit when he quit.
And he quit, not because he was robbed and knocked out, but because what
he had seen showed him that Multiopolis wasn't the job he wanted for a
life sentence. See?"
"I hope you are right about that," said Peter. "I'm glad to my soul to get
him home, cured in any way; but it sort of gags me to think of him as
having been scared out. It salves my vanity considerable to feel, as you
say, that he had the brains to sense the situation, and quit because he
felt it wasn't the work for which he was born."
Then Mickey's voice came eagerly, earnestly, warming the cockles of
"Now lemme tell you Peter; I was there, and I _know_. It _was_ that way.
_It was just that way exact!_ He wasn't scared out, he'd have gone at it
again, all right, if he'd seen anything in it he _wanted_. It was just as
his mother felt when she first talked it over with me, and the same with
you later: that if he got to the city, and got right up against earning a
living there, he would find it wasn't what he wanted; and he did, like all
of us thought. Course I meant to put it to him stiff; I meant to 'niciate
him in the ancient and honourable third degree of Multiopolis all right,
so he'd have enough to last a lifetime; but I only meant to put him up
against what I'd. had myself on the streets; I was just going to test his
ginger; I wasn't counting on the robbing, and the alleys, and the
knockout, and the morgue. Gee, Peter!"
Then they laughed. A dull red surged up Junior's neck, and flooded his
face. He picked up the bundle, went silently from the barn, and climbed on
the wagon. The jerk of the horse stopping at its accustomed place told him
when to load the first can. He had been thinking so deeply he was utterly
oblivious to everything save the thought that it had been prearranged
among them to "cure" him; even his mother knew about, if he heard aright,
had been the instigator of the scheme to let him go, to be what Mickey
called "initiated in the ancient and honourable third degree of
Once he felt so outraged he thought of starting the horse home, taking the
trolley, going back to Multiopolis and fighting his way to what his father
would be compelled to acknowledge success. He knew that he could do it; he
was on the point of vowing that he _would_ do it; but in his heart he knew
better than any one else how repulsed he was, how he hated it, and against
a vision of weary years of fighting, came that other vision of himself
planning and working beside his father to change and improve their home
"Say Junior are you asleep?" called Jud Jason. "You sit there like you
couldn't move. D'ye bring my bundle?"
"Yes, it's back there," answered Junior. "Get it!"
"How'd you like Multiopolis?" asked Jud.
Junior knew he had that to face.
"It's a cold-blooded sell, Jud," he said promptly. "I'm glad I went when I
did, and found out for myself. You see it's like this, Jud: I _could_ have
stayed and made my way; but I found out in a few days that I wouldn't give
a snap for the way when it was made. We fellows are better off right where
we are, and a lot of us are ready to _throw away_ exactly what _many of
the men in Multiopolis are wild to get_. Now let me tell you----"
Junior told him, and through putting his experience into words, he eased
his heart and cleared his brain. He came to hints of great and wonder-
working things that were going to happen soon. There was just a
possibility that Jud gleaned an idea that the experience in Multiopolis
had brought his friend home to astound and benefit the neighbourhood. At
any rate Junior picked up the lines with all the sourness gone from his
temperament, which was usually sweet, except that one phrase of Mickey's,
and the laughter. Suddenly he leaned forward.
"Jud, come here," he said. Junior began to speak, and Jud began to
understand and sympathize with the boy he had known from childhood.
"Could we?" asked Junior.
"'Could we?' Well, I just guess we _could!_"
"When?" queried Junior.
"This afternoon, if he's going to be off," said Jud.
"Well I don't know what his plans are, but I could telephone from here and
by rustling I could get back by two. I've done it on a bet. Where will we
go, and what for?"
"To Atwater. Fishing is good enough excuse."
"All right! Father will let me take the car."
"Hayseed! Isn't walking good enough to suit you? What's the matter with
the Elkhart swale, Atwater marsh, and the woods around the head of the
"Hold the horse till I run in and 'phone him."
When he came down the walk he reported: "He wants to go fishing awful bad,
and he'll be ready by two. That's all settled then. We'll have a fine
"Bully!" said Jud laconically, and started to the house of another friend,
where a few words secured a boy of his age a holiday. Junior drove fast as
he dared and hurried with his work; so he reached home a little before
two, where he found Mickey with poles and a big can of worms ready.
Despite the pressing offer of the car, they walked, in order to show
Mickey the country which he was eager to explore on foot. Junior said the
sunfish were big as lunch plates at Atwater, the perch fine, and often if
you caught a grasshopper or a cricket for bait, you got a big bass around
the shore, and if they had the luck to reach the lake, when there was no
one ahead of them, and secured a boat they were sure of taking some.
"Wouldn't I like to see Lily eating a fish I caught," said Mickey,
searching the grass and kicking rotting wood as he saw Junior doing to
find bass bait.
"Minnies are the real thing," explained Junior. "When we get the scheme
father laid out going, before we start fishing, you and I will take a net
and come to this creek and catch a bucketful of right bait, and then we'll
have man's sport, for sure. Won't it be great?"
"Exactly what the plutes are doing," said Mickey. "Gee, Junior, if your Pa
does all the things he said he was going to, you'll be a plute yourself!"
"Never heard him say anything in my life he didn't do," said Junior, "and
didn't you notice that he put _you_ in too? You'll be just as much of a
plute as I will."
"Not on your bromide," said Mickey. "He is _your_ father, and you'll be in
business with him; I'll just be along sometimes, as a friend, maybe."
"I usually take father at just what he says. I guess he means you to stay
in our family, if you like."
"I wonder now!" said Mickey.
"Looks like it to me. Father and mother both like you, and they're daffy
"It's because she's so little, and so white, and so helpless," Mickey
hastened to explain, "and so awful sweet!"
"Well for what ever it is, it _is_," said Junior, "and I'm just as crazy
about her as the rest. Look out kid! That fellow's coming right at us!"
Junior dashed for the fence, while Mickey lost time in turning to see what
"that fellow" might be; so he faced the ram that had practised on Malcolm
Minturn. With lowered head, the ram sprang at Mickey. He flew in air, and
it butted space and whirled again, so that before the boy's breath was
fully recovered he lifted once more, with all the agility learned on the
streets of Multiopolis; but that time the broad straw hat he wore to
protect his eyes on the water, sailed from his head; he dropped the poles,
and as the ram came back at him he hit it squarely in the face with the
bait can, which angered rather than daunted it. Then for a few minutes
Mickey was too busy to know exactly what happened, and movements were too
quick for Junior. When he saw that Mickey was tiring, and the ram was not,
he caught a rail from the fence and helped subdue the ram. Panting they
climbed the fence and sat resting.
"Why I didn't know Higgins had that ram," said Junior. "We fellows always
crossed that field before. Say, there ain't much in that
'_Gentle sheep pray tell me why,
In the pleasant fields you lie?_'
business, is there?"
"Not much but the lie," said Mickey earnestly.
Junior dropped from the fence and led the way toward a wood thick with
underbrush, laughing until his heart pained. As they proceeded they heard
"Why that sounds like my bunch," said Junior.
He whistled shrilly, which brought an immediate response, and soon two
"Hello!" said Junior.
"Hello!" answered they.
"Where're you going?" asked Junior.
"To Atwater Lake, fishing. Where you?"
"There too!" said Junior. "Why great! We'll go together! Sam, this is
Mickey offered his hand and formalities were over.
"But I threw our worms at the ram," said Mickey.
"Well that was a smart trick!" cried Junior.
"Wasn't it?" agreed Mickey. "But you see the ram was coming and I had the
worms in my strong right, so I didn't stop to think I'd spent an hour
digging them; I just whaled away--"
"Never mind worms," said Jud. "I guess we got enough to divide; if you
fellows want to furnish something for your share, you can find some grubs
in these woods, and we'll get more chance at the bass."
"Sure!" said Mickey. "What are grubs and where do you look for them?"
"Oh anywhere under rotting wood and round old logs," said Jud. "B'lieve
it's a good place right here, Mickey; dig in till I cut a stick to help
Mickey pushed aside the bushes, dropped on his knees and "dug in." A
second later, with a wild shriek, he rolled over and over striking and
"Yellow jackets!" shouted Jud. "Quick fellers, help Mickey! He's got too
close to a nest!"
Armed with branches they came beating the air and him; until Mickey had a
fleeting thought that if the red-hot needles piercing him did not kill,
the boys would. Presently he found himself beside a mudhole and as the
others "ouched" and "o-ohed" and bewailed their fate, and grabbed mud and
plastered it on, he did the same. Jud generously offered, as he had not so
many stings, to help Mickey. Soon even the adoring eyes of Peaches could
not have told her idol from the mudhole. He twisted away from an
approaching handful crying: "Gee Jud! Leave a feller room to breathe! If
you are going to smother me, I might as well die from bites!"
"Bites!" cried the boys while all of them laughed wildly, so wildly that
Mickey flushed with shame to think he had so little appreciation of the
fun calling a sting a bite, when it was explained to him.
"Well they sure do get down to business," he chattered, chilling from the
exquisite pain of a dozen yellow-jacket stings, one of which on his left
eyelid was rapidly closing that important organ. He bowed a willing head
for Jud's application of cold mud.
Finally they gathered up their poles and bait and again started toward the
lake. The day was warm, and there was little air in the marsh, and on the
swampy shore they followed. Suddenly Jud cried: "I tell you fellows,
what's the use of walking all the way round the lake? Bet the boats will
be taken when we get there! Let's cut fishing and go swimming right here
where there's a cool, shady place. It will be good for you Mickey, it will
cool off your stings a lot."
Mickey promptly began to unbutton, and the others did the same. Then they
made their way through the swamp tangle lining the shore at the head of
the lake, and tried to reach the water beside the tamaracks. Sam and
Junior found solid footing, and waded toward deep water. Jud piloted
Mickey to a spot he thought sufficiently treacherous, and said: "Looks
good here; you go ahead Mickey, and I'll come after you."
Mickey was unaccustomed to the water. He waded in with the assurance he
had seen the others use, but suddenly he cried: "Gee boys, I'm sucking
Then on his ears fell a deafening clamour. "Help! Help! Quicksands!
Mickey's sinking! Help him!"
Mickey threw out his arms. He grabbed wildly; while a force, seemingly
gentle but irresistible, sucked him lower and lower, and with each inch it
bore him down, gripped tighter, and pulled faster. When he glanced at the
boys he saw panic in their faces, and he realized that he was probably
lost, and they were terror stricken. The first gulp of tepid shore water
that strangled him in running across his gasping lips made him think of
Peaches. Struggling he threw back his head and so saw a widespreading
branch of a big maple not far above him. All that was left of Mickey went
into the cry: "Junior! Bend me that branch!" Junior swiftly climbed the
tree, crept on the limb, and swayed it till it swept the water, then
Mickey laid hold; just a few twigs, and then as Junior backed, and the
branch lifted higher and higher, Mickey worked, hand over hand, and
finally grasped twigs that promised to stand a gentle pull.
Then Jud began to shout instructions: "Little lower, Junior! Get a better
grip before you pull hard, Mickey! Maple is brittle! Easy! It will snap
with you! Kind of roll yourself and turn to let the water in and loosen
the sand. Now roll again! Now pull a little! You're making it! You are out
to your shoulders! Back farther, Junior! Don't you fall in, or you'll both
Mickey was very quiet now. His small face was pallid with the terror of
leaving Peaches forever with no provision for her safety. The grip of the
sucking sand was yet pulling at his legs and body; while if the branch
broke he knew what it meant; that sucking, insistent pulling, and caving
away beneath his feet told him. Suddenly Mickey gave up struggling, set
his teeth, and began fighting by instinct. He moved his shoulders gently,
until he let the water flow in, then instead of trying to work his feet he
held them rigid and flattened as he could, and with the upper part of his
body still rolling, he reached higher, and kept inching up the branch as
Junior backed away, until with sickening slowness he at last reached wood
thick as his wrist. Then he dragged his helpless body after him to safety,
where he sank in a heap to rest.
"Jud, it's a good thing I went in there first," he said. "Heavy as you
are, you'd a-been at the bottom by now, if there _is_ any bottom."
Mickey's gaze travelled slowly over his lumpy, purple frame, and then he
looked closely at the others. "Why them stingers must a-give about all of
it to me," he commented. "I don't see any lumps on the rest of you."
"Oh we are used to it," scoffed Jud. "They don't show on you after you get
used to them. 'Sides most all mine are on my head, I kept 'em off with the
"So did I," chimed in Sam and Junior with one voice.
"I guess I did get a lot the worst of it," conceded Mickey. "But if they
only stung your heads, it's funny you didn't know where to put your mud!"
"Well I'll tell you," said Jud earnestly. "On your head they hurt worst of
all. They hurt so blame bad, you get so wild like you don't know where you
_are_ stung, and you think till you cool off a little, you got them all
"Yes I guess you do," agreed Mickey.
The boys were slowly putting on their clothing and Junior was scowling
darkly. Jud edged close.
"Gosh!" he whispered. "I thought it was only a little spring! I didn't
think it was a quicksand!"
"You cut out anything more!" said Junior tersely.
Jud nodded. After a while they started home, walking slowly and each one
being particularly careful of and good to Mickey. When he had rested, he
could see that it was only an accident; such an astounding one he forgot
his bites and could talk of little else.
They made another long pause under a big tree, and Mickey felt so much
better as they again started home, that Junior lagged behind, and Jud
seeing, joined him. Junior asked softly: "Have any more?"
"What?" whispered Junior.
Jud told him.
"Oh that! Nothing in that! Go on!"
So they struck into the path they had followed from the swamp to the
woods, when suddenly a warm, yielding, coiling thing slipped under
Mickey's feet. With a wild cry he leaped across the body of a big
rattlesnake that had been coiled in the path. As he arose, clear cut
against the light launched the ugly head and wide jaws of the rattler,
then came the sickening buzz of its rattles in mad recoil for a second
"Run Mickey! Jump!" screamed Junior.
"What is it?" asked Mickey bewildered.
"Rattlesnakes! Sure death!" yelled Jud. "Run fool!"
But Mickey stood perfectly still, and looked, not where the increasing
buzz came from, but at them. They had no choice. Jud carried a heavy club;
he threw himself in front of Mickey and as the second stroke came, he
swung at the snake's head. The other boys collected their senses and beat
it to pulp, then the dead mate it watched beside. Junior glared at Jud,
but when he saw how frightened he was, he knew what had happened.
Mickey gazed at the snakes in horror.
"Ain't that a pretty small parcel to deal out sudden death in?" he asked.
"And if they're laying round like that, ain't we taking an awful risk to
be wading through here, this way? Gee, they're the worst sight I ever
Mickey became violently ill. He lay down for a time, while the boys waited
on him, and at last when he could slowly walk toward home, they went on.
Jud and Sam left them at the creek, and Junior and Mickey started up the
Harding lane. Suddenly Mickey sat down in a fence corner, leaned against
the rails, and closed his eyes.