Part 8 out of 9
"Gee!" he said. "Never felt so rotten in all my life."
"Maybe that snake grazed you."
"If it did, would it kill me?" asked Mickey dully.
"Well after the yellow-jacket poison in your blood, and being so tired and
hot, you wouldn't stand the chance you'd had when we first started," said
Junior. "Do you know where it came closest to you?"
"Back of my legs, I s'pose," said Mickey.
"If it had hit you, it would leave two places like needles stuck in, just
the width of its head apart. I can't find any-thing that looks like it,
thank the Lord!"
"Here too!" said Mickey. "You see if it or the quicksands had finished me,
I haven't things fixed for Lily. They might '_get'_ her yet. If anything
should happen to me, she would be left with no one to take care of her."
"Father would," offered Junior. "Mother never would let anybody take her.
I know she wouldn't."
"Well I don't," said Mickey, "and here is where guessing doesn't cut any
ice. I must be _sure_. To-night I'll ask him. I'd like to know how it
happens that sudden death has just been rampaging after me all this trip,
anyway. I seemed to get it coming or going."
Junior did not hide his grin quickly enough.
"Aw-w-w-ah!" grated Mickey, suddenly tense and alert.
He sprang to his feet. So did Junior.
"Say, look here----" cried Mickey.
"All right, 'look here,'" retorted Junior. His face flamed Ted, then
paled, and his hands gripped, while his jaw protruded in an ugly scowl.
Then slowly and distinctly he quoted: "Course I meant to put it to you
stiff; I meant to 'niciate you in the ancient and honourable third degree
of the Country all right, so's you'd have enough to last a lifetime; but I
only meant to put you up against what I'd had myself in the fields and
woods; I was just going to test your ginger; I wasn't counting on the
_quicksand_, and the _live_ snake, finding its dead mate Jud fixed for
"So you were sneaking in the barn this morning, when we thought you were
gone?" demanded Mickey.
"Easy you!" cautioned Junior. "Going after the bundle I promised Jud was
"So 'twasn't," conceded Mickey, instantly. "So 'twasn't!"
He looked at Junior a second.
"You heard us, then?" he demanded. "All of it?"
"I don't know," answered Junior. "I heard what I just repeated, and what
you said about my being game, and exactly why I came back; thank you for
_that_, even if I lick you half to death in a minute--and I heard that my
own mother first fixed it up with you, and then father agreed. Oh I heard
"And so you got a grouch?" commented Mickey.
"Yes I did," admitted Junior. "But I got over all of it, after I'd had
time to think, but that third degree business; that made me so sore I told
Jud about it, and he said he'd help me pay you up; but we struck the same
rock you did, in giving you a bigger dose than we meant to. Honest Mickey,
Jud didn't know there was a _real_ quicksand there, and of course we
didn't dream a live snake would follow and find the one the boys hunted,
killed, and set for you this morning----"
"Awful innocent!" scoffed Mickey. "'Member you didn't know about the ram
"Honest I _didn't_, Mickey," persisted Junior. "I thought steering you
into the yellow jackets was to be the first degree! Cross my heart, I
Suddenly Mickey whooped. He tumbled on the grass in the fence corner and
twisted in wild laughter until he was worn out. Then he struggled up, and
held out his hand to Junior.
"If you're willing," he said, "I'll give you the grip, and the password
will be, 'Brothers!'"
_Malcolm and the Hermit Thrush_
"Mr. Dovesky, I want a minute with you," said James Minturn.
"All right, Mr. Minturn, what is it?"
"You are well acquainted with Mrs. Minturn?"
"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Dovesky. "I have had the honour of working
with her in many concerts."
"And of her musical ability you are convinced?"
"Brilliant is the only word," exclaimed the Professor.
"My reason for asking is this," said Mr. Minturn: "one of our boys, the
second, Malcolm, is like his mother, and lately we discovered that he has
her gift in music. We ran on it through Miss Leslie Winton, who interested
Mrs. Minturn in certain wild birds."
"Yes I know," cried the Professor eagerly.
"When she became certain that she had heard a--I think she said Song
Sparrow, sing Di Provenza from Traviata--correct me if I am wrong--until
she felt that Verdi copied the bird or the bird copied the master, she
told my wife, and Nellie was greatly interested."
"Yes I know," repeated the musician. "She stopped here one day in passing
and told me what she had heard from Miss Winton. She asked me if I thought
there were enough in the subject to pay for spending a day investigating
it. I knew very little, but on the chance that she would have a more
profitable time in the woods than in society, I strongly urged her to go.
She heard enough to convince her, for shortly after leaving for her usual
summer trip she wrote me twice concerning it."
"You mean she wrote you about studying bird music?"
"Yes," said the Professor, "the first letter, if I remember, came from
Boston, where she found much progress had been made; there she heard of a
man who had gone into the subject more deeply than any one ever before had
investigated, and written a book. Her second letter was from the country
near Boston, where she had gone to study under his direction. I have
thought about taking it up myself at odd times this spring."
"That is why I am here," said Mr. Minturn. "I want you to begin at once,
and go as far as you are able, taking Malcolm with you. The boys have been
spending much of their time in the country lately, hiding in blinds,
selecting a bird and practising its notes until they copy them so
perfectly they induce it to answer. They are proud as Pompey when they
succeed; and it teaches them to recognize the birds. I believe this is
setting their feet in the right way. But Malcolm has gone so fast and so
far, that he may be reproducing some of the most wonderful of the songs,
for all I know, for the birds come peering, calling, searching, even to
the very branch which conceals him. Isn't it enough for a beginning?"
"Certainly," said the musician.
"He's been badly spoiled by women servants," said Mr. Minturn, "but the
men are taking that out of him as fast as it can be eliminated. I believe
he is interested enough to work. I think his mother will be delighted on
her return to find him working at what she so enjoys. Does the proposition
"Deeply!" cried the Professor. "Matters musical are extremely dull here
now, and I can't make my usual trip abroad on account of the war; I should
be delighted to take up this new subject, which I could make serve me in
many ways with my advanced Conservatory pupils."
"May I make a suggestion?" asked Mr. Minturn.
"Most assuredly," exclaimed the Professor.
"You noticed I began by admitting I didn't know a thing about it, so I'll
not be at all offended if you indorse the statement. My boys are large,
and old for the beginning they must make. I have to go carefully to find
what they care for and will work at; so that I get them started without
making them feel confined and forced, and so conceive a dislike for the
study to which I think them best adapted. Would you find the idea of going
to the country, putting a tuned violin in the hands of the lad, and
letting him search for the notes he hears, and then playing the composers'
selections to him, and giving his ear a chance, at all feasible?"
"It's a reversal, but he could try it."
"Very well, then," said Mr. Minturn rising. "All I stipulate is that you
allow the other boys and the tutor to go along and assimilate what they
can, and that when you're not occupied with Malcolm, their tutor shall
have a chance to work in what he can in the way of spelling, numbers, and
nature study. Is it a bargain?"
"A most delightful one on my part, Mr. Minturn," said Mr. Dovesky. "When
shall I begin?"
"Whenever you have selected the instrument you want the boy to have, call
Mr. Tower at my residence and arrange with him to come for you," said Mr.
Minturn. "You can't start too soon to suit the boy or me."
"Very well then, I'll make my plans and call the first thing in the
morning," said the Professor.
James Minturn went home and told what he had done.
"Won't that be great, Malcolm?" cried James Jr. "Maybe you can do the
music so well you can be a birdman and stand upon a stage before a
thousand people and make all of them think you're a bird."
"I believe I'd like to do it," said Malcolm. "If I find out the people who
make music have gone and copied in what the birds sing, and haven't told
they did it, I'll tell on them. It's no fair way, 'cause of course the
birds sang their songs before men, didn't they father?"
"I think so, but I can't prove it," said Mr. Minturn.
"Can you prove it, Mr. Tower?" asked Malcolm.
"Yes," said Mr. Tower, "science proves that the water forms developed
first. Crickets were singing before the birds, and both before man
"Then that's what I think," said Malcolm.
"When are they to begin, James?" asked Mrs. Winslow.
"Mr. Dovesky is to call Mr. Tower in the morning and tell him what
arrangements he has been able to make," answered Mr. Minturn. "Malcolm,
you are old enough to recognize that he is a great man, and it is a big
thing for him to leave his Conservatory and his work, and go to the woods
to help teach one small boy what the birds say. You'll be very polite and
obey him instantly, will you not?"
"Do I have to mind him just like he was Mr. Tower?"
"I don't think you are obeying Mr. Tower because you must," said Aunt
Margaret. "Seems to me I saw you with your arms around his neck last
night, and I think I heard you tell him that you'd give him all your
money, except for your violin, if he wouldn't go away this winter.
Honestly, Malcolm, do you obey Mr. Tower because you feel forced to?"
"No!" cried Malcolm. "We have dandy times! And we are learning a lot too!
I wonder if Mr. Dovesky will join our campfire?"
"Very probably he'll be eager to," said Mrs. Winslow, "and more than
likely you'll obey him, just as you do father and Mr. Tower, because you
"Father, are William and I going to study the birds?" asked James.
"If you like," said Mr. Minturn. "It would please me greatly if each of
you would try hard to understand what Mr. Dovesky teaches Malcolm, and to
learn all of it you can, and to produce creditable bird calls if possible;
and of course these days you're not really educated unless you know the
birds, flowers, and animals around you. It is now a component and
delightful part of life."
"Gee, it's a pity mother isn't here," said Malcolm. "I bet she knows more
about it than Mr. Dovesky."
"I bet she does, too," agreed James. "But she wouldn't go where we do.
There isn't a party there, and if a mosquito bit her she'd have a fit."
"Aw! She would if she wanted to!" insisted Malcolm.
"Well she wouldn't _want_ to!" said James.
"Well she might, smarty," said Malcolm. "She did once! I saw the boots and
skirt she was going to wear. Don't you wish she liked the things we do
better than parties, father?"
"Yes, I wish she did," said Mr. Minturn. "Maybe she will."
"If she'd hear me call the quail and the whip-poor-will, she'd like it,"
"She wouldn't like it well enough to stay away from a party to go with you
to hear it," said James.
"She might!" persisted Malcolm. "She didn't know about this when she went
to the parties. When she comes back I'm going to tell her; and I'm going
to take her to hear me, and I'll show her the flowers and my fish-pond,
and yours and father's. Wouldn't it be fun if she'd wear the boots again,
and make a fish-pond too?"
"Yes, she'd wear boots!" scoffed James.
"Well she would if she wanted to," reiterated Malcolm. "She wore them when
she wanted to hear the birds; if she did once, she would again, if she
"Well she wouldn't please," laughed James.
"Well she _might_," said Malcolm stubbornly. "Mightn't she, father?"
"If she went once, I see no reason why she shouldn't again," said Mr.
"Course she'll go again!" triumphed Malcolm. "I'll make her, when she
"Yes 'when' she comes!" jeered James. "She won't ever live here! She
wouldn't think this was good enough for Lucette and Gretchen! And she gave
away our house for the sick children, and she hates it at grandmother's!
Bet she doesn't ever come again!"
"Bet she does!" said Malcolm instantly.
"Would you like to have mother come here, Malcolm?" interrupted Mr.
"Why----" he said and shifted his questioning gaze toward Aunt Margaret,
"why--why--well, I'll tell you, father: if she would wear boots and go see
the birds and the flowers--if she would do as we do----Sometimes in the
night I wake up and think how pretty she is, and I just get hungry to see
her--but of course it would only kick up a row for her to come here--of
course she better stay away--but father, if she _would_ come, and if she
_would_ wear the boots--and if she'd let old slapping Lucette go, and live
as we do, father, _wouldn't that be great?_"
"Yes I think it would," said James Minturn conclusively, as he excused
himself and arose from the table.
"James," said Malcolm, when they went to their schoolroom, "if Mr. Dovesky
goes to shutting us up in the study and won't let us play while we learn,
what will we do to him to make him sick of his job?"
"Oh things would turn up!" replied James. "But Malcolm, wouldn't you kind
o' hate to have him see you be mean?"
"Well father saw us be mean," said Malcolm.
"Yes, but what would you give if he _hadn't?_"
"I'm not proud of it," replied Malcolm.
"Yes and that's just it!" cried James. "That's just what comes of living
here. All of them are so polite, and if you are halfway decent they are so
good to you, and they help you to do things that will make you into a man
who needn't be ashamed of himself--that's just it! How would you like to
go back and be so rough and so mean nobody at all would care for us?"
"Father wouldn't let us, would he?" asked Malcolm.
"He wouldn't if he could help it," said James. "He didn't used to seem as
if he could help it. Don't you remember he would tell us it was not the
right way, and try to have us be decent, and Lucette would tell mother,
and mother would fire him? I wonder how she could! And if she could then,
why doesn't she now? I guess he doesn't want to stop her party to bother
with us; but if she ever conies and wants to take us back like we were,
Malcolm, I'm not going. I _like_ what we got now. Mother always said we
were to be gentlemen; but we never could be that way. Father and Mr. Tower
and Mr. Dovesky are gentlemen, just as kind, and easy, and fine. When we
were mean as could be, and acted like fight-cats, you remember father and
Mr. Tower only _held_ us; they didn't get mad and beat us. If mother comes
you may go with her if you want to."
"I wish she'd come with us!" said Malcolm.
"Not mother! We ain't her kind of a party."
"I know it," admitted Malcolm slowly. "Sometimes I want her just awful. I
"I guess it's 'cause a boy is born wanting his mother. I want her myself a
lot of times, but I wouldn't go with her if she'd come today, so I don't
know _why_ I want her, but I _do_ sometimes."
"I didn't know you did," said Malcolm.
"Well I do," said James, "but I ain't ever going. Often I think the
"What queer things do you think, James?"
"Why like this," said James. "That it ain't _safe_ to let children be
jerked, and their heads knocked. You know what Lucette did to Elizabeth? I
think she hit her head too hard. She gave me more cake, and said I was a
good boy for saying the ice made her sick, but all the time I thought it
was hitting her head. I wouldn't be the boy who said that again, if I had
to be shot for _not_ saying it, like the French boy was about the
soldiers. 'Member that day?"
"Yes I do," said Malcolm shortly.
"You know you coaxed her off the bench, and I pushed her in!" said James,
"Yes," said Malcolm. "And I kicked her. And I wasn't mad at her a bit. I
wonder _why_ I did it!"
"I guess you did it because you were more of an animal than a decent boy,
same as I pushed her," said James. "I guess I won't ever forget that I
"Pushing her wasn't as bad as what I did," said Malcolm. "I guess ain't
either one of us going to feel right about Elizabeth again, long as we
"Malcolm, we can't get her back," said James, "but if any way happens that
we ever get another little sister, we'll take care of her like father
"You bet we will!" said Malcolm.
Next morning the boys had the car ready. They packed in all their bird
books, their flower records, and botanies, and were eagerly waiting when
the call from Mr. Dovesky came. At once they drove to his home for him,
and from there to a music store where a violin was selected for Malcolm.
Mr. Dovesky was so big, the boys stood in awe of his size. He was so
clean, no boy would want him to see him dirty. He was so handsome, it was
good to watch his face, because you had to like him when he smiled. He was
so polite, that you never for a minute forgot that soon you were going to
be a man, and if you could be the man you wished, you would be exactly
like him. Both boys were very shy of him and very much afraid his entrance
into their party would spoil their fun.
When they left the music store, Malcolm carefully carrying his new violin,
Mr. Dovesky his, and a roll of music, the boys with anxious hearts awaited
"Now Mr. Tower," said Mr. Dovesky, "suppose we drive wherever you are
likely to find the birds you have been practising on, and for a start let
me hear just what you have done and can do, and then I can plan better to
work in with you."
When they reached the brook they stopped to show the fish pools and then
entered an old orchard, long abandoned for fruit growing and so worm
infested as to make it a bird Paradise. Cuckoos, jays, robins, bluebirds,
thrashers, orioles, sparrows, and vireos, nested there, singing on wing,
among the trees, on the fences, and from bushes in the corners.
Malcolm and Mr. Dovesky secreted themselves on a board laid across the
rails of an alder-filled fence corner, then the boy began pointing out the
birds he knew and giving his repetition of their calls, cries, bits of
song, sometimes whistled, sometimes half spoken, half whistled, any vocal
rendition that would produce the bird tones. He had practised carefully,
he was slightly excited, and sooner than usual he received replies. Little
feathered folk came peeping, peering, calling, and beyond question
answering Malcolm's notes. In an hour Mr. Dovesky was holding his breath
with interest, suggesting corrections, trying notes himself, and when he
felt he had whistled accurately and heard a bird reply, he was as proud as
Then a thing happened that none of them had mentioned, because they were
not sure enough that it would. A brown thrush, catching the unusual
atmosphere of the orchard that morning, selected the tallest twig of an
apple tree and showed that orchard what real music was.
The thrush preened, flirted his feathers, opened his beak widely and sang
his first liquid notes. "Starts on C," commented Mr. Dovesky softly.
"Three times, and does it over, to show us we needn't think it was an
accident and he can't do it as often as he pleases," whispered Malcolm.
Mr. Dovesky glanced at the boy and nodded.
"There he goes from C to E," he commented an instant later, "repeats that
--C again, falls to B, up to G, repeats that--I wish he would wait till I
get my pencil."
"I can give it to you," said Malcolm. "He does each strain over as soon as
he sings it. I know his song!"
On the back of an envelope, Mr. Dovesky was sketching a staff of music in
natural key, setting off measures and filling in notes. As the bird
confused him with repetitions or trills on E or C so high he had to watch
sharply to catch just what it was, his fingers trembled when he added
lines to the staff for the highest notes. For fifteen minutes the blessed
bird sang, and at each rendition of its full strain, it seemed to grow
more intoxicated with its own performance. Finishing the last notes
perfectly, the bird gave a hop, glanced around as if he were saying: "Now
any one who thinks he can surpass that, has my permission to try." From a
bush a small gray bird meouwed in derision and accepted the challenge. The
watchers could not see him, but he came so close singing the same song
that he deceived Mr. Dovesky, for he said: "He's going to do it over from
the bushes now!"
"Listen!" cautioned Malcolm. "Don't you hear the difference? He starts the
same, but he runs higher, he drops lower, and does it quicker, and I think
the notes clearer and sweeter when the little gray fellow sings them, and
you should see his nest! Do you like him better?"
"Humph!" said Mr. Dovesky. "Why I was so entranced with the first
performance I didn't suppose anything could be better. I must have time to
learn both songs, and analyze and compare."
"I can't do gray's yet," said Malcolm. "It's so fine, and cut up, with
going up and down on the jump, but I got the start of it, and the part
that goes this way----"
"This is my work!" cried Mr. Dovesky. "Is there any chance the apple-tree
bird will repeat his performance?"
"Mostly he doesn't till evening," answered Malcolm. "He's pretty sure to
again to-morrow morning, but old cat of the bushes, he sings any time it
suits him all day. His nest isn't where he sings, and he doesn't ever
perch up so high and make such a fuss about it, but I think mother would
like his notes best."
"First," said Mr. Dovesky, "I'll take down what Mr. Brown Bird sang, and
learn it. I'd call that a good start, and when I get his song so I can
whistle, and play it on the instruments, then we'll go at Mr. Cat's song,
and see if I can learn why, and in what way you think it finer."
"Oh, it goes from high to low quicker, more notes in a bunch, and sweeter
tones trilling," explained Malcolm. Mr. Dovesky laughed, saying in a
question of music that would constitute quite a difference. They went to
the brook and lunched and made easy records of syllabic calls that could
be rendered in words and by whistling. Then all of them gathered around
Mr. Dovesky while he drew lines, crossed them with bands and explained the
staff, and different time, and signatures, and together they had their
first music lesson.
Malcolm whistled the thrush song while Mr. Dovesky copied the notes, tuned
the violin, and showed the boy how the strings corresponded to the lines
he had made, where the notes lay on them, and how to draw them out with
the bow. He could not explain fast enough to satisfy the eager lad. After
Mr. Dovesky had gone as far as he thought wise, and left off with music,
he wandered with Mr. Tower hunting flowers in which he seemed almost as
much interested as the music. Malcolm clung to the violin, and over and
over ran the natural scale he had been taught; then slowly, softly, with
wavering awkward bow, he began whistling plain easy calls, and hunting up
and down the strings for them.
That day was the beginning. Others did not dawn fast enough to suit
Malcolm, while the ease with which he mastered the songs of the orchard
and reproduced them, in a few days set him begging to be taken to the
swamp to hear the bird that sang "from the book." Leslie Winton was added
to the party that day. Malcolm came from the land of the tamarack
obsessed. James, William, and the tutor did not care for that location,
but Malcolm and Mr. Dovesky wanted to erect a tent and take provisions and
their instruments and live among the dim coolness, where miracles of song
burst on the air at any moment. They heard and identified the veery. They
went on their knees at their first experience with the clear, bell-toned
notes of the wood thrush. With a little practice Malcolm could reproduce
the "song from the book." He talked of it incessantly, sang and whistled
it, making patent to every member of the family that what was in his heart
was fully as much a desire to do the notes so literally that he would win
the commendation of his mother, as to obtain an answer from an
unsuspecting bird; for that was the sport. The big thing for which to
strive! They worked to obtain a record so accurately, to reproduce it so
perfectly that the bird making it would answer and come at their call. The
day Malcolm, hidden in the tamarack swamp, coaxed the sparrow, now
flitting widely in feeding its young, he knew not how far, to the bush
sheltering him, and with its own notes set it singing against him as a
rival, the boy was no happier than Mr. Dovesky.
Mr. Minturn could not quite agree to the camp at the swamp, but he
provided a car and a driver and allowed them to go each morning and often
to remain late at night to practise owl and nighthawk calls, veery notes,
chat cries, and the unsurpassed melody of the evening vespers of the
Hermit bird. This song once heard, comprehended, copied, and reproduced,
the musician and the boy with music in his heart, brain, and finger tips,
clung to each other and suffered the exquisite pain of the artist
experiencing joy so poignant it hurt. After a mastery of those notes as to
time, tone, and grouping, came the task of perfecting them so that the
bird would reply.
Hours they practised until far in the night, and when Malcolm felt he
really had located a bird, gained its attention, and set it singing
against him, he was wild, and nothing would satisfy him but that his
father should go to the swamp with him, and well hidden, hear and see that
he called the bird. Gladly Mr. Minturn assented. Whether the boy succeeded
in this was a matter of great importance to his father, but it was not
paramount. The thing that concerned him most was that Malcolm's interest
in what he was doing, his joy in the study he was making, had bred a deep
regard in his heart for his instructor. The boy loved the man intensely in
a few days, and immediately began studying with him, watching him, copying
him. He moved with swift alertness, spoke with care to select the best
word, and was fast becoming punctiliously polite.
On their return Mr. Dovesky had fallen into the habit of lunching with the
Minturns. The things of which he and the boy reminded each other, the
notes they reproduced by whistling, calling, or a combination, the
execution of these on the violin, the references Mr. Dovesky made to
certain bird songs which recalled to his mind passages in operas, in
secular and sacred productions, his rendition of the wild music, and then
the human notes, his comparison of the two, and his remarks on different
composers, his mastery of the violin, and his ability to play long
passages preceding and following the parts taken from the birds, were
intensely absorbing and educative to all of them. Then Mr. Tower would add
the description and history of each bird in question. Mr. Minturn started
the boys' library with interesting works on ornithology, everything that
had been written concerning strains in bird and human music; the lives and
characters of the musicians in whose work the bird passages appeared, or
who used melodies so like the birds it made the fact apparent the
feathered folk had inspired them. This led to minute examination of the
lives of the composers, in an effort to discover which of them were
country born and had worked in haunts where birds might be heard. The
differing branches of information opened up seemed endless. The change
this work made in the boys appeared to James Minturn and his sister as
something marvellous. That the work was also making a change in the heart
of the man himself, was an equal miracle he did not realize.
As each day new avenues opened, he began to understand dimly how much it
would have meant to him in his relations with his wife, if he had begun
long ago under her tuition and learned, at least enough to appreciate the
one thing outside society, which she found absorbing. He began to see that
if he had listened, and tried, and had induced her to repeat to him parts
of the great composers she so loved, on her instruments, when they reached
home, he soon could have come to recognize them, and so an evening at the
opera with her would have meant pleasure to himself instead of stolid
endurance. Ultimately it might have meant an effective wedge with which to
pry against the waste of time, strength and money on the sheer amusement
of herself in society. Once he started searching for them, he found many
ways in which he might have made his life with his wife different, if
indeed he had not had it in his power to effect a complete change by
having been firm in the beginning.
Of this one thing he was sure to certainty: that if he had been able to
introduce any such element of interest into his wife's residence as he
had, through merely saying the word, in his own, it surely would have made
some of the big difference then it was making now. He found himself
brooding, yearning over his sons, and his feeling for them broadening and
deepening. As he daily saw James seeking more and more to be with him, to
understand what he was doing, his pride in being able to feel that he had
helped if it were no more than to sit in court and hand a marked book at
the right moment, he began to make a comrade of, and to develop a feeling
of dependence on, the boy.
He watched Malcolm with his quicker intellect, his daily evidence of
temperament, his rapidly developing musical ability, and felt the tingle
of pride in his lithe ruddy beauty, so like his mother, and his talent, so
like hers. The boy, under the interest of the music, and with the progress
he was making in doing a new, unusual thing, soon began to develop her
mannerisms; when he was most polite, her charm was apparent; when he was
offended, her hauteur enveloped him. When he was pleased and happy, her
delicate tinge of rose flushed his transparent cheek, while the lights on
his red-brown hair glinted with her colour. He shut himself in his room
and worked with his violin until time to start to the tamarack swamp. When
Mr. Minturn promptly appeared with the car, he found Malcolm had borrowed
Mr. Dovesky's khaki suit and waders for him, and on the advice of the boy
he wore the stiff coarse clothing, which the tamaracks would not tear, the
mosquitoes could not bite through, and muck and water would not easily
penetrate--there were many reasons.
When they reached the swamp both of them put on boots and then, following
his son and doing exactly what he was told, James Minturn forgot law,
politics, and business. With anxious heart he prayed that the bird the lad
wished to sing would evolve its sweetest notes, and that his high hope of
reproducing the music perfectly enough to induce the singer to answer
would be fulfilled. Malcolm advanced softly, slipping under branches,
around bushes, over deep moss beds that sank in an ooze of water at the
pressure of a step and sprung back on release. Imitating every caution,
stepping in the boy's tracks, and keeping a few rods behind, followed his
father. He had rolled his sleeves to the elbow, left his shirt open at the
throat, while for weeks the joy of wind and weather on his bared head had
been his, so that as he silently followed his son he made an impressive
figure. At a certain point Malcolm stopped, motioning his father to come
"Now this is as far as I've gone yet," he whispered. "You stay here, and
we'll wait till the music begins. If I can do it as well as I have for
three nights, and get an answer, I'm going to try to call the Hermit bird
I sing with. If a hen answers, I'll do the male notes, and try to coax her
where you can see. If a male sings, I'll do his song once or twice to show
you how close I can come, and then I'll do the hen's call note, and see if
I can coax him out for you. If I creep ahead, you keep covered as much as
you can and follow; but stay as far as that big tree behind me, and don't
for your life move or make a noise when I'm still. I'll go far ahead as I
want to be, to start on. Now don't forget to be quiet, and listen hard!"
"I won't forget!" said James Minturn.
"Oh but it will be awful if one doesn't sing to-night!"
"Not at all!" answered Mr. Minturn. "This is a new experience for me; I'll
get the benefit of a sight of the swamp that will pay for the trip, if I
don't even see a bird."
By the boy's sigh of relief the father knew he had quieted his anxiety.
Malcolm went softly ahead a few yards, and stopped, sheltering himself in
a clump of willow and button bushes. His father made himself as
inconspicuous as he could and waited. He studied the trunks of the big
scaly trees, the intermingled branches covered with tufts of tiny spines,
and here and there the green cones nestling upright. The cool water rising
around his feet called his attention to the deep moss bed, silvery green
in the evening light. Here and there on moss mounds at the tree bases he
could see the broad leaves and ripening pods that he thought must be
moccasins seeding. Then his eye sought the crouching boy, and he again
prayed that he would not be disappointed; with his prayer came the answer.
A sweep of wings overhead, a brown flash through the tamaracks, and then a
burst of slow, sweet notes, then silence.
James Minturn leaned forward, his eyes on his son, his precious little
lad. How the big strong man hoped, until it became the very essence of
prayer, that he would be granted the pride and pleasure, the triumph, of
success; for his ears told him that to reproduce the notes he had just
heard would undoubtedly be the crowning performance of bird music; surely
there could be no other songster gifted like that! The bird made a short
flight and sang again. Across the swamp came a repetition of his notes
from another of his kind, so the brown streak moved in that direction. At
its next pause its voice arose again, sweeter for the mellowing distance,
and then another bird, not so far away, answered. The bird replied and
came winging in sight, this time peering, uttering a short note, unlike
its song; and not until it came searching where he could see it
distinctly, did James Minturn awake to the realization that the last notes
had been Malcolm's. His heart swelled big with prideful possession. What a
wonderful accomplishment! What a fine boy! How careful he must be to help
and to guide him.
Again the bird across the swamp sang and the one in sight turned in that
direction. Then began a duet that was a marvellous experience. The far
bird called. Malcolm answered. Soon they heard a reply. Mr. Minturn saw
the boy beckoning him, and crept to his side.
"It's a female," whispered Malcolm. "I'm going to sing the male notes and
calls, and try to toll her. You follow, but don't get too close and scare
The father could see the tense poise of Malcolm, stepping lightly,
avoiding the open, stooping beneath branches, hiding in bushes, making his
way onward, at every complete ambush sending forth those wonderful notes.
At each repetition it seemed to the father that the song grew softer, more
pleading, of fuller intonation; and then his heart almost stopped, for he
began to realize that each answer to the boy's call was closer than the
one before. Malcolm would sleep that night with a joyful heart. He was
tolling the bird he imitated; it was coming at his call, of that there
could be no question. His last notes came from a screen of spreading
button bushes and northern holly. At the usual interval they heard the
reply, but recognizably closer. Malcolm raised his hand without moving or
looking back, but his father saw, and interpreted the gesture to mean that
the time had come for him to stop. He took a few steps to conceal himself,
for he was between trees when the signal came, and paused, already so
elated he wanted to shout; he scarcely could restrain the impulse. What
was the use in going farther? His desire was to race back to Multiopolis
at speed limit to tell Mr. Dovesky, Margaret, and Mr. Tower what a triumph
he had witnessed. He wanted to talk about it to his men friends and
Distinctly, through the slowly darkening green, he could see the boy
putting all his heart into the song. James Minturn watched so closely he
was not mistaken in thinking he could see the lad's figure grow tense as
he delivered the notes, and relax when the answer relieved his anxiety as
to whether it would come again, and then gather for another trial. At the
last call the reply came from such a short distance that Mr. Minturn began
intently watching from his shelter to witness the final triumph of seeing
the bird Malcolm had called across the swamp, come into view. He could see
that the boy was growing reckless, for as he delivered the strain, he
stepped almost into the open, watching before him and slowly going ahead.
With the answer, there was a discernible movement a few yards away. Mr.
Minturn saw the boy start, and gazed at him. With bent body Malcolm stared
before him, and then his father heard his amazed, awed cry: "_Why mother!_
Is that _you_, mother?"
"_Malcolm! Are you Malcolm?_" came the incredulous answer.
James Minturn was stupefied. Distinctly he could see now. He did not
recognize the knee boots, the outing suit of coarse green material, but
the beautiful pink face slowly paling, the bright waving hair framing it,
he knew very well. Astonishment bound him. Malcolm advanced another step,
still half dazed, and cried: "Why, have I been calling _you?_ I thought it
was the bird I saw, still answering!"
"And I believed you were the Hermit singing!" she said.
"But you fooled the bird," said the boy. "Close here it answered you."
"And near me it called you," said Mrs. Minturn. "Your notes were quite as
Malcolm straightened and seemed reassured.
"Why mother!" he exclaimed. "When did you study _bird_ music? Have you
just come back?"
"I've been away only two weeks, Malcolm," she answered, "and if it hadn't
been for learning the bird notes, I'd have returned sooner."
"But where have you _been?_" cried the boy.
"At home. I reserved my suite!" she answered.
"But home's all torn up, and pounding and sick people, and you hate
pounding and sick people," he reminded her.
"There wasn't so very much noise, Malcolm," she said, "and I've changed
about sickness. You have to suffer yourself to do that. Once you learn how
dreadful pain is, you feel only pity for those who endure it. Every night
when the nurses are resting, I change so no one knows me, and slip into
the rooms of the suffering little children who can't sleep, and try to
"Mother, who takes care of _you?_" he questioned.
"A very sensible girl named Susan," she answered.
The boy went a step closer.
"Mother, have you changed about anything besides sickness?" he asked
"Yes Malcolm," said his mother. "I've changed about every single thing in
all this world that I ever said, or did, or loved, when you knew me."
"You have?" he cried in amazement. "Would you wear that dress and come to
the woods with us now, and do some of the things we like?"
"I'd rather come here with you, and sing these bird notes than anything
else I ever did," she answered.
Malcolm advanced another long stride.
"Mother, is Susan a pounding, beating person like Lucette?" he asked
"No," she said softly. "Susan likes children. When she's not busy for me,
she goes into the music room and plays games, and sings songs to little
"Because you know," said Malcolm, "James and I talk it over when we are
alone, we never let father hear because he loved Elizabeth so, and he's so
fine--mother you were _mistaken_ about father not being a gentleman, not
even Mr. Dovesky is a finer gentleman than father--and father loved her
so; but mother, James and I _saw_. We believe if it had been the cream, it
would have made us sick too, and we're so _ashamed_ of what we did; if we
had another _chance_, we'd be as good to a little sister as father is to
us. Mother, we wish we had her back so we could try _again_----"
Nellie Minturn shut her eyes and swayed on her feet, but presently she
spoke in a harsh, breathless whisper, yet it carried, even to the ears of
the listening man.
"Yes Malcolm, I'd give my life, oh so gladly if I could bring her back and
"You wouldn't have any person like Lucette around, would you mother?" he
"Not ever again Malcolm," she answered. "I'd have Little Sister back if it
were possible, but that can't ever be, because when we lose people as
Elizabeth went, they never can come back; but I'll offer my life to come
as near replacing her as possible, and everywhere I've neglected you, and
James, and father. I'll do the best there is in me, if any of you love me,
or _want_ me in the least, or will give me an opportunity to try."
"Mother, would you come where we are? Would you live as we do?" marvelled
"Gladly," she answered. "It's about the only way I could live now, I've
given away so much of the money."
"Then I'll ask father!" cried the boy. "Why I forgot! Father is right back
here! Father! Father! Father come quick! Father it wasn't the Hermit bird
at all, it was mother! And oh joy, father, joy! She's just changed and
changed, till she's _most as changed as we are!_ She'll come back, father,
and she'll go to the woods with us, oh she will! Father, you're _glad_,
When Nellie Minturn saw her husband coming across the mosses, his arms
outstretched, his face pain-tortured, she came swiftly forward, and as she
reached Malcolm, Mr. Minturn caught both of them in his arms crying: "My
sweetheart! My beautiful sweetheart, give me another chance, and this time
I'll be the head of my family in deed and in truth, and I'll make life go
right for all of us."
"I'm sorry no end!" said Mickey. "First time I ever been late. I was
helping Peter; we were so busy that the first thing I knew I heard the hum
of her gliding past the clover field, so I was left. I know how hard
you're working. It won't happen again."
Mickey studied his friend closely. He decided the time had come to watch.
Douglas Bruce was pale and restless, he spent long periods in frowning
thought. He aroused from one of these and asked: "What were you and Peter
doing that was so very absorbing?"
"Well about the most interesting thing that ever happened," said Mickey.
"You see Peter is one of the grandest men who ever lived; he's so fine and
doing so many _big_ things, in a way he kind of fell behind in the
"I've heard of men doing that before," commented Douglas. "Can't you tell
me a new one?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You know the place and how good it seems on the
outside--well it didn't look so good inside, in the part that counted
most. You've noticed the big barns, sheds and outbuildings, all the modern
conveniences for a man, from an electric lantern to a stump puller;
everything I'm telling you--and for the nice lady, nix! Her work table
faced a wall covered with brown oilcloth, and frying pans heavy enough to
sprain Willard, a wood fire to boil clothes and bake bread, in this hot
weather, the room so low and dark, no ice box, with acres of ice close
every winter, no water inside, no furnace, and carrying washtubs to the
kitchen for bathing as well as washing, aw gee--you get the picture?"
"I certainly do," agreed Douglas, "and yet she was a neat, nice-looking
"Sure!" said Mickey. "If she had to set up housekeeping in Sunrise Alley
in one day you could tell her place from anybody else's. Sure, she's a
nice lady! But she has troubles of her own. I guess everybody has."
"Yes, I think they have," assented Douglas. "I could muster a few right
"Yes?" cried Mickey. "That's bad! Let's drop this and cut them out."
"Presently," said Douglas. "My head is so tired it will do me good to
think about something else a few minutes. You were saying Mrs. Harding had
trouble; what is it?"
Mickey returned to his subject with a chuckle.
"She was 'bout ready to tackle them nervous prostrations so popular with
the Swell Dames," he explained, "because every morning for fifteen years
she'd faced the brown oilcloth and pots and pans, while she'd been wild to
watch sunup from under a particular old apple tree; when she might have
seen it every morning if Peter had been on his job enough to saw a window
in the right place. Get that?"
"Yes, I get it," conceded Douglas. "Go on!"
"Well I began her work so she started right away, and before she got back
in comes Peter. When he asks where she was and why she went, I was afraid,
but for her sake I told him. I told him everything I had noticed. At first
he didn't like it."
"It's a wonder he didn't break your neck."
"Well," said Mickey judicially, "as I size Peter up he'd fight an awful
fight if he was fighting, but he ain't much on _starting_ a fight. I
worked the separator steady, and by and by when I 'summed up the
argument,' as a friend of mine says, I guess that cream separator didn't
look any bigger to Peter, set beside a full house and two or three sheds
for the stuff he'd brought to make _his_ work easier, than it did to me."
"I'll wager it didn't," laughed Douglas.
"No it didn't!" cried Mickey earnestly. "And when he stood over it awhile,
that big iron stove made his kitchen, where his wife lived most of her
day, seem 'bout as hot as my room where he was raving over Lily having
been; and when he faced the brown oilcloth and the old iron skillets for a
few minutes of silent thought, he bolted at about two. Peter ain't so
"What did he do?" asked Douglas.
"Why we planned to send her on a visit," said Mickey, "and cut that
window, and move in the pump, and invest in one of those country gas
plants, run on a big tank of gasoline away outside where it's all safe,
and a bread-mixer, and a dishwasher, and some lighter cooking things; but
we got interned."
"How Mickey?" interestedly inquired Douglas.
"Remember I told you about Junior coming in to hunt work because he was
tired of the country, and how it turned out?" said Mickey.
"Yes I recall perfectly," answered Douglas.
"There's a good one on me about that I haven't told you yet, but I will,"
said Mickey. "Well when son came home, wrapped in a comfort, there was a
ripping up on the part of Peter. He just 'hurled back the enemy,' and who
do you think he hit the hardest?"
"I haven't an idea," said Douglas.
"In your shoes, I wouldn't a-had one either," said Mickey. "Well, he
didn't go for Junior, or his Ma, or me. Peter stood Mister Peter Harding
out before us, and then didn't leave him a leg to stand on. He proved
conclusive he'd used every spare moment he'd had since Junior was in short
clothes, carrying him to Multiopolis to amuse him, and feed him treats,
and show him shows; so he was to blame if Junior developed a big consuming
appetite for such things. How does the argument strike you?"
"Sound!" cried Douglas. "Perfectly sound! It's precisely what the land
owners are doing every day of their lives, and then wailing because the
cities take their children. I've had that studied out for a year past."
"Well Peter figured it right there for us in detail," said Mickey. "Then
he tackled Ma Harding and her sunup, and then he thought out a way to
furnish entertainment and all the modern comforts right there at home."
"What entertainment?" said Douglas.
"Well he specified saddles and horses to ride," grinned Mickey, "and
swimming, and a fishing-boat and tackle for all of us, a launch on
whatever lake we like best, a big entertainment house with a floor for
skating and dancing, and a stage for plays we will get up ourselves, and a
movie machine. I'm to find out how to run one and teach them, and then
he'll rent reels and open it twice a week. The big hole that will cave in
on the north side of Multiopolis soon now will be caused by the slump when
our neighbourhood withdraws its patronage and begins being entertained by
Peter. And you'll see that it will work, too!"
"Of course it will," agreed Douglas. "Once the country folk get the idea
it will go like a landslide. So that's what made you late?"
"Well connected with that," explained Mickey. "Peter didn't do a thing but
figure up the price he'd paid for every labour-saver he ever bought for
himself, and he came out a little over six thousand. He said he wouldn't
have wanted Ma in a hardware store selecting his implements, so he guessed
he wouldn't choose hers. He just drew a check for what he said was her
due, with interest, and put it in her name in the bank, and told her to
cut loose and spend it exactly as she pleased."
"What did she do?" marvelled Douglas.
"Well she was tickled silly, but she didn't lose her head; she began
investigating what had been put on the market to meet her requirements. At
present we are living on the threshing floor mostly, and the whole house
is packed up; when it is unpacked, there'll be a bathroom on the second
floor, and a lavatory on the first. There'll be a furnace in one room of
the basement, and a coal bin big enough for a winter's supply. We can
hitch on to the trolley line for electric lights all over the house, and
barn, and outbuildings, and fireless cooker, iron, and vacuum cleaner, and
a whole bunch of conveniences for Ma, including a washing machine, and
stationary tubs in the basement. Gee! Get the picture?"
"I surely do! What else Mickey?" asked Douglas. "You know I've a house to
furnish soon myself."
"Well a new kitchen on the other end of the building where there's a
breeze, and a big clover field, and a wood, and her work table right where
it is in line with her private and particular sunup. There's a big sink
with hot and cold water, and a dishwasher. There's a bread-mixer and a
little glass churn, both of which can be hitched to the electricity to
run. There's a big register from the furnace close the work table for
winter, and a gas cook stove that has more works than a watch."
"What does the lady say about it?"
"_Mighty little!_" said Mickey. "She just stands and wipes the shiny
places with her apron or handkerchief, and laughs and cries, 'cause _she's
so glad_. It ain't set up yet, but you can see just standing before it
what it's going to mean for her. And there's a chute from the upstairs to
the basement, to scoot the wash down to the electric machine to rub them,
and a little gas stove with two burners to boil them, and the iron I told
you of. Hanging it up is the hardest part of the wash these days, and
since they have three big rooms in the basement, Peter thought this
morning that he could put all the food in one, and stretch her lines in
the winter for the clothes to dry in the washroom. The furnace will heat
it, and it's light and clean; we are going to paint it when everything is
"Is that all?" queried Douglas.
"It's a running start," said Mickey; "I don't know as Peter will ever get
to 'all'. The kitchen is going to have white woodwork, and blue walls and
blue linoleum, and new blue-and-white enamelled cooking things from start
to finish, with no iron in the bunch except two skillets saved for frying.
Even the dishpan is going to be blue, and she's crying and laughing same
time while she hems blue-and-white wash curtains for the windows. All the
house is going to have hardwood floors, the rooms cut more convenient; out
goes the old hall into just a small place to take off your wraps, and the
remainder added to the parlour. All the carpets and the old heavy curtains
are being ground up and woven into rugs. Gee, it's an insurrection! Ma
Harding and I surely started things when we planned to dose Junior on
Multiopolis, and let her 'view the landscape o'er.' You can tell by her
face she's seeing it! If she sails into the port o' glory looking more
glorified, it'll be a wonder! And Peter! You ought to see Peter! And
Junior! You should see Junior planning his room. And Mickey! You must see
Mickey planning his! And Mary and Bobbie! And above all, you should see
Lily! Last I saw of her, Peter was holding her under her arms, and she was
shoving her feet before her trying to lift them up a little. We've most
rubbed them off her with fine sand, and then stuck them in cold water, and
then sanded them again, and they're not the same feet--that's a cinch!"
"Is that the sum of the Harding improvements?" asked Douglas, drawing fine
lines on a sheet of figures before him.
"Well it's a fair showing," said Mickey. "We ain't got the new rugs, and
the music box, and the books; or the old furniture rubbed and oiled yet.
When the house is finished, Peter expressly specified that his lady was to
get her clothes so she could go to the club house, and not be picked for a
country woman by what she _wore_."
"Mickey, this is so interesting it has given my head quite a rest. Maybe
now I can see my way clearly. But one thing more: how long are you
planning to stay there? You talk as if----"
"'Stay there?'" said Mickey. "Didn't you hear me say there was a horse and
saddle and a room for me, and a room for Lily? 'Stay there!' Why for ever
and ever more! That's _home!_ When I got into trouble and called on Peter
to throw a lifeline, he did it up browner than his job for Ma. A _line_
was all I asked; _but Peter established a regular Pertectorate_--_nobody
can 'get' us now_----"
"You mean Peter adopted both of you?" cried Douglas.
"Sure!" indorsed Mickey with a flourish. "You see it was like this: when
we dosed Junior with Multiopolis, the old threshing machine took a hand
and did some things to him that wasn't on the program; he found out about
it, and it made him mad. When he got his dander up he hit back by turning
old Miss Country loose on me. First I tried a ram and yellow jackets; then
only a little bunch of maple twigs was all the pull I had to keep me from
going to the bottomless pit by the way of the nastiest quicksand on
Atwater Lake. Us fellows went back one day and fed it logs bigger than I
am, and it sucked them down like Peter does a plate of noodles. Then
Junior thought curling a big dead rattler in the path, and shunting me so
I'd step right on it, would be a prime joke; but he didn't figure on the
snake he had fixed for me having a mate as big and ugly as it was, that
would follow and coil zipping mad over the warm twisting body----"
"Mickey!" gasped Douglas.
"Just so! Exactly what I thought--and then some. When I dragged what was
left of me home that night, and figured out where I'd been if the big
maple hadn't spread its branch just as wide as it did, or if the snake had
hit my leg 'stead of my britches--when I took my bearings and saw where I
was at, the thing that really hurt me worst was that if I'd gone, either
down or up, I hadn't done anything for Lily but give her a worse horror
than she had, of being 'got' by them Orphings' Home people, when I should
have made her _safe forever_. I took Peter to the barn and told him just
how it was, 'cause I felt mighty queer. I wasn't so sure that one scratch
on my leg that looked ugly mightn't a-been the snake striking through the
cloth and dosing me some, I was so sick and swelled up; it turned out to
be yellow jackets, but it might a-been snakes, and I was a little upset.
As man to man I asked him what I ought to do for my _family_ 'fore I took
any more _risks_. A-body would have thought the jolt the box gave me would
have been enough, but it wasn't! It took the snake and the quicksand to
just right real wake me up. First I was some sore on Junior; but pretty
quick I saw how funny it was, so I got over it----"
"He should have had his neck broken!"
"Wope! Wope! Back up!" cautioned Mickey. "Nothing of the kind! You ain't
figuring on the starving, the beating, being knocked senseless, robbed of
all his clothes _twice_, and landing in the morgue with the cleaning-house
victims. Gee, Junior had reasons for his grouch!"
Douglas Bruce suddenly began to laugh wildly.
"Umhum! That's what I told you," said Mickey. "Well, that night I laid the
case before Peter, out on the hay wagon in the barnyard, so moon white you
could have read the _Herald_, the cattle grunting satisfied all around us,
katydids insisting on it emphatic, crickets chirping, and the old rooster
calling off the night watches same as he did for that first Peter, who
denied his Lord. I thought about that, as I sat and watched the big fellow
slowly whittling the rack, and once in a while putting in a question, and
when I'd told him all there was to tell, he said this: he said _sure_ Lily
was _mine_, and I had a perfect _right_ to _keep_ her; but the law _might_
butt in, 'cause there _was_ a law we couldn't evade that _could_ step in
and take her any day. He said too, that if she had to go to the hospital,
sudden, first question a surgeon would ask was who were her parents, and
if she had none, who in their place could give him a right to operate. He
said while she was _mine_, and it was my _right_, and _my job_, the law
and the surgeon would say _no_, 'cause we were not related, and I was not
of age. He said there were times when the law got its paddle in, and went
to fooling with red tape, it let a sick person lay and die while it
decided what to do. He said he'd known a few just exactly such cases; so
to keep the law from making a fool of itself, as it often did, we'd better
step in and fix things to suit us before it ever got a showdown."
"What did he do?" asked Douglas Bruce eagerly.
"Well, after we'd talked it over we moved up to the back porch and Peter
explained to Ma, who is the boss of that family, only she doesn't _know_
it, and she said for him to do exactly what his conscience and his God
dictated. That's where his namesake put it over that first Peter. Our
Peter said: 'Well if God is to dictate my course, you remember what He
said about "suffering the little children to come to Him," and we are
commanded to be like Him, so there's no way to _twist_ it, but that it
means _suffer them to come to us_,' he said.
"Ma she spoke quick and said: 'Well we've got them!'
"Peter said, 'Yes, we've got them; now the question is whether we _keep_
them, or send them to an Orphings' Home.'
"The nice lady she said faster than I can tell you: 'Peter Harding, I'm
ashamed of you! There's no question of that kind! There's never going to
"'Well don't get het up about it,' said Peter. 'I knew all the time there
_wasn't_, I just _wanted to hear you say so plain and emphatic_. So far as
I'm concerned, my way is clear as noonday sun,' said Peter. 'Then you go
first thing in the morning and adopt them, and adopt them _both_,' said
Ma. 'Lily will make Mary just as good a sister as she could ever have,'
said she, and then she reached over and put her arms right around me and
she said, 'And if you think I'm going to keep on trying to run this house
without Mickey, you're mistaken.' I began to cry, 'cause I had had a big
day, and I was shaking on my feet anyway. Then Peter said, 'Have you
figured it out to the end? Is it to be 'til they are of age, or forever?'
She just gripped tighter and said fast as words can come, 'I say make it
forever, and share and share alike. I'm willing if you are.' Peter, he
said, 'I'm willing. They'll pay their way any place. Forever, and share
and share alike, is my idea. Do you agree, Mickey?' 'Exactly what do you
mean?' I asked, and Peter told me it was making me and Lily both his, just
as far as the law could do it; we could go all the farther we wanted to
ourselves. He said it meant him getting the same for me and Lily as he did
for his own, and leaving us the same when he died. I told him he _needn't
do that_, if he'd just keep off the old Orphings' Home devil, that's had
me scared stiff all my days, I'd tend to _that_, so now me and Lily belong
to Peter; he's our _Pertectorate_."
"Mickey, why didn't you tell me?" asked Douglas. "Why didn't you want me
to adopt you?"
"Well so far as 'adopting' is concerned," said Mickey, "I ain't _crazy_
about it, with anybody. But that's the _law_ you men have made; a boy must
obey it, even if he'd rather be skinned alive, and when he _knows_ it
ain't _right or fair_. That's the law. I was up against it, and I didn't
know but I _did_ have the snake, and Peter was on hand and made that
offer, and he was grand and big about it. I don't love him any more than I
do you; but I've just this minute discovered that it ain't in my skin to
love any man more than I do Peter; so you'll have to get used to the fact
that I love him just as well, and say, Mr. Bruce, Peter is the finest man
you ever knew. If you'll come out and get acquainted, you'll just be
tickled to have him in the Golf Club, and to come to his house, and to
have him at yours. His nice lady is exactly like Miss Winton, only older.
Say, she and Peter will adopt you too, if you say so, and between us, just
as man to man, Peter is a regular lifesaver! If you got a chance you
better catch on! No telling what you might want of him!"
"Mickey, you do say the most poignant things!" cried Douglas. "I'd give
all I'm worth to catch on to Peter right now, and cling for much _more_
than life; but what I started, I must finish, and Peter isn't here."
"Well what's the matter with me?" asked Mickey. "Have you run into the
yellow jackets too? 'Cause if you have, I'm ahead of you, so I know what
to do. Just catch on to me!"
"Think you are big enough to serve as a straw for a drowning man, Mickey?"
"Sure! I'm big enough to establish a _Pertectorate_ over you, this minute.
The weight of my body hasn't anything to do with the size of my heart, or
how fast I can work my brains and feet, if I must."
"Mickey," said Douglas despairingly, "it's my candid opinion that no one
can save me, right now."
Mickey opened his lips, and showed that his brain _was_ working by
shutting them abruptly on something that seemed very much as if it had
started to be: "Sure!"
"Is that so?" he substituted.
"Yes, I'm in the sweat box," admitted Douglas.
"And it's uncomfortable and weakening. What's the first thing we must do
to get you out?"
"What I'm facing now is the prospect that there's no way for me to get
out, or for my friends to get me out," admitted Douglas. "I wish I _had_
been plowing corn."
The boy's eyes were gleaming. He was stepping from one foot to the other
as if the floor burned him.
"Gosh, we must saw wood!" he cried. "You go on and tell me. I been up
against a lot of things. Maybe I can think up something. Honest, maybe I
"No Mickey, there's nothing you or any one can do. A miracle is required
now, and miracles have ceased."
"Oh I don't know!" exclaimed Mickey. "Look how they been happening to me
and Lily right along. I can't see why one mightn't be performed for you
just as well. I wish you wouldn't waste so much time! I wish you hadn't
spent an hour fooling with what I was telling you; _that_ would keep. I
wish you'd give me a job, and let me get busy."
Douglas Bruce smiled forlornly.
"I'd gladly give you the job of saving me, my dear friend," he said, "but
the fact is I haven't a notion of how to go to work to achieve salvation."
"Is somebody else getting ahead of you?"
"Not that I know of! No I don't think so. That isn't the trouble," said
"I do wish you'd just plain tell me," said Mickey. "Now that I got the
_Pertectorate_ all safe over Lily, I'd do anything for you. Maybe I could
think up some scheme. I'm an awful schemer! I wish you'd _trust_ me! You
needn't think I'd _blab!_ Come on now!"
Suddenly Douglas Bruce's long arms stretched across the table before him,
his head fell on them, and shuddering sobs shook him. Mickey's dance steps
became six inches high, while in desperation he began polishing the table
with his cap. Then he reached a wiry hand and commenced rubbing Douglas up
and down the spine. The tears were rolling down his cheeks, but his voice
was even and clear.
"Aw come on now!" he begged. "Cut that out! That won't help none! What
shall I _do?_ Shall I call Mr. Minturn? Shall I get Miss Leslie on the
Bruce arose and began walking the floor.
"Yes," he said. "Yes! 'Bearer of Morning,' call her!"
Mickey ran to the telephone. In a minute, "Here she is," he announced.
"Shall I go?"
"No! Stay right where you are."
"Hello Leslie! Are you all right? I'm sorry to say I am not. I'm up
against a proposition I don't know how to handle. Why just this: remember
your father told me in your presence that if in the course of my
investigations I reached his office, I was to wait until he got back? Yes.
I thought you'd remember. You know the order of the court gave me access
to the records, but the officials whose books I have gone over haven't
been pleased about it, although reflection would have told them if it
hadn't been I, it would have been some other man. But the point is this:
I'm almost at the finish and I haven't found what obviously exists
somewhere. I'm now up to the last office, which is your father's. The
shortage either has to be there, or in other departments outside those I
was delegated to search; so that further pursuit will be necessary. Two or
three times officials have suggested to me that I go over your father's
records first, as an evidence that there was no favouritism; now I have
reached them, and this proposition: if I go ahead in his, as I have in
other offices, I disobey his express order. If I do not, the gang will set
up a howl in to-morrow morning's paper, and they will start an
investigation of their own. Did you get anything from him this morning
Leslie? Not for four days? And he's a week past the time he thought he
would be back? I see! Leslie, what shall I do? In my morning's mail there
is a letter from the men whose records I have been over, giving me this
ultimatum: 'begin on Winton's office immediately, or we will.'
"Tell them to go ahead? But Leslie! Yes I know, but Leslie----Yes! You are
ordering me to tell them that I propose to conduct the search in his
department as I did theirs, and if they will not await his return from
this business trip, they are perfectly free to go ahead----You are _sure_
that is the thing you want said? But Leslie----Yes, I know, but Leslie it
is _disobeying_ him, and it's barely possible there might be a traitor
there; better men than he have been betrayed by their employees. I admit
I'm all in. I wish you would come and bring your last letter from him.
We'll see if we can't locate him by wire. It's an ugly situation. Of
course I didn't think it would come to this. Yes I wish you would! If you
say so, I will, but----All right then. Come at once! Good-bye!"
Douglas turned to his desk, wrote a few hasty lines and said to Mickey:
"Deliver that to Muller at the City Hall."
Mickey took the envelope and went racing. In half the time he would have
used in going to the City Hall he was in the _Herald_ Building, making
straight for the office of the editor. Mr. Chaffner was standing with a
group of men earnestly discussing some matter, when his eye was attracted
by Mickey, directly in range, and with the tip of his index finger he was
cutting in air letters plainly to be followed: "S.O.S." Chaffner nodded
slightly, and continued his talk. A second later he excused himself, and
Mickey followed to the private room.
"Well?" he shot at the boy.
"Our subm'rine has sunk our own cotton."
"Humph!" said Chaffner. "I've known for two weeks it was heading your way.
Just what happened?"
Mickey explained and produced the letter. Chaffner reached for it. Mickey
"Why I wouldn't dare do just that," he said. "But I know that's what's in
it, because I heard what he said, and by it you could tell what she said.
I've told you every word, and you said the other day you knew; please tell
me if I should deliver this letter?"
"If you want to give me a special with the biggest scoop of ten years,"
said Chaffner, "and ruin Douglas Bruce and disgrace the Wintons, take it
"Aw gee!" wailed Mickey, growing ghastly. "Aw gee, Mr. Chaffner! Why you
_can't_ do that! Not to _them!_ Why they're the _nicest folks;_ and
'tain't two weeks ago I heard Miss Leslie say to Mr. Bruce right in our
office, 'losing money I could stand, disgrace would _kill_ me.' You can't
kill her, Mr. Chaffner! Why she's the nicest, and the prettiest----She
found me, and sent me to the boss, like I told you. Honest she did! Why
you can't! You just _can't!_ Why Mr. Chaffner, I can see by your nice eyes
you can't! Aw gee, come on now!"
Mickey's chin hooked over the editor's elbow, his small head was against
his arm, his eyes were dripping tears, but his voice controlled and steady
"You know there's a screw loose somewhere," explained Mickey. "You know
'darling old Daddy' couldn't ever have done it; and if somebody under him
has gone wrong, maybe he could make it up, if he was here and had an hour
or so. That day, Miss Leslie said he should give all he had for his
friend, and he could have all of hers. If she'd be willing for the money
to go for her 'dear old Daddy's' _friend_, course she'd be glad to use it
for her Daddy, and she's got a lot from her mother, and maybe Daddy has
sold the land he went to sell, and all of that ought to be enough; and if
it isn't, I know who will help them. Honest I do!"
"Who, Mickey?" demanded Mr. Chaffner, instantly.
"Mr. Minturn! Mr. James Minturn!" said Mickey. "He's Mr. Bruce's best
friend, and he _told_ me he would do _anything_ for Miss Leslie, that day
right after I saw you, for if his home ever came right again, it would be
'cause she made it; and she _did_ make it, and it is _right_, and he's so
crazy happy he can't hardly keep on the floor. _Course_ he'd pay Miss
Leslie back. He _said_ he would. He's the nicest man!"
"Isn't your world rather full of nice men, Mickey?"
Mickey renewed his grip. His eyes were pleading, the white light on his
brow was shining, his voice was irresistibly sweet: "You just bet my world
is full of nice men, packed like sardines; but they'll all scrooge up a
little and make room for you on the top layer among the selects! Come on
now! Rustle for your place before we revolve and leave you. All your life
you'll be sorry if you make that scoop, and kill Miss Leslie, and shame
'darling old Daddy,' and ruin my boss. Oh I say Mr. Chaffner, you _can't!_
You can't ever sleep nights again, if you do! They haven't ever done
anything to you. You'll be the _nicest_ man of all, if you'll _tell me
what to do_. 'Twon't take you but a second, 'cause you _know_. Oh tell me,
for the love of God tell me, Mr. Chaffner! _You'll be the nicest man I
know, if you'll tell me_."
The editor looked down in Mickey's compelling eyes. He laid his hand on
the lad's brow and said: "That would be worth the price of any scoop I
ever pulled off, Mickey. Are you going to be a lawyer or write that poetry
"If I'd ever even thought of law, _this_ would cook me," said Mickey.
"Poetry it is, as soon as I earn enough to pay for finding out how to do
"And when you find out, will you come on my staff, and work directly under
me?" asked Mr. Chaffner.
"Sure!" promised Mickey. "I'd rather do it than anything else in the
world. It would suit me fine. That is, if you're coming in among my nice
Mr. Chaffner held out his hand. "This is going to cost me something in
prestige and in cash," he said, "but Mickey, you make it _worthwhile_.
Here are your instructions: _don't_ deliver that letter! Cut for Minturn
and give it to him. Tell him if he wants me, to call any time inside an
hour, and that he hasn't longer than noon to make good. He'll understand.
If you can't beat a taxi on foot, take one. Have you money?"
"Yes," said Mickey, "but just suppose he isn't there and I can't find
"Then find his wife, and tell her to call me."
"All right! Thanks, boss! You're simply great!"
Mickey took the taxi and convinced the driver he was in a hurry. He danced
in the elevator, ran down the hall, and into Mr. Minturn's door. There he
stopped abruptly, for he faced Miss Winton and Mrs. Minturn, whose paling
face told Mickey that he was stamped on her memory as she was on his. He
pulled off his cap, and spoke to Mr. Minturn.
"Could I see you a minute?" he asked.
"Certainly! Step this way. Excuse us ladies."
Mickey showed the letter, told what had caused it to be written, and that
he had gone to Mr. Chaffner instead of delivering it, and what
instructions had been given him there. Mr. Minturn picked up the telephone
and called Mr. Chaffner. When he got him he merely said: "This is Minturn.
What's the amount, and where does he bank his funds? Thank you very much
Then he looked at Mickey. "Till noon did you say?"
"Yes," cried Mickey breathlessly, "and 'tisn't so long!"
"No," said Mr. Minturn, "it isn't. Ask Mrs. Minturn if I may speak with
her a moment."
"Shall I come back or stay there?" inquired Mickey.
"Come back," said Mr. Minturn. "I may need you."
Mickey stood before Mrs. Minturn.
"Please will you speak with Mr. Minturn a minute?"
"Excuse me Leslie," said the lady, rising, and entering the private room.
There she turned to Mickey. "I remember you very well," she said, with a
steady voice. "You needn't shrink from me. I've done all in my power to
atone. It will never be possible for me to think of forgiving myself; but
you'll forgive me, won't you?"
"Sure! Why lady, I'm awful sorry for you."
"I'm sorry for myself," said she. "What was it you wanted, Mr. Minturn?"
"Suppose you tell Mrs. Minturn about both your visits here," suggested Mr.
Minturn to Mickey.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You see it was like this lady. This morning Mr.
Bruce's head is down, and if he doesn't get help before noon, he and Miss
Leslie and all those nice people are in trouble. I thought Mr. Minturn
ought to know, so I slipped in and told him."
"What is the trouble, lad?" asked Mrs. Minturn.
"Why you see Miss Leslie's 'darling old Daddy' is one of the city
officials, and of course Mr. Bruce left him 'til last, because he would a-
staked his life he'd find the man he was hunting before he got to his
office, and he _didn't!_"
"What, James?" said the lady, turning hurriedly.
"Tell her about it, Mickey," said Mr. Minturn calmly.
"Well there ain't much to tell," said Mickey. "My boss he just kept
stacking up figures; two or three times he thought he had his man and then
he'd strike a balance; and the men whose records he searched kept getting
madder, and Mr. Winton went west to sell some land. Someway he's been gone
a week longer than he expected; and my boss is all through except him, and
now the other men say if he doesn't begin on Mr. Winton's books right
away, _they_ will, and he told my boss _not to 'til he got back_. A while
ago I was in the _Herald_ office talking to Mr. Chaffner, whose papers
I've sold since I started and I was telling him what nice friends I had,
and how Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie were engaged, and he like to ate me up.
When I couldn't see why, he told me about investigations he had his men,
like I'm going to be, make, and sometimes they get a 'scoop' on the men
appointed to do the job, and he told me he had a 'scoop' on this, and if I
saw trouble coming toward my boss, I was to tell him and maybe--he didn't
say sure, but _maybe_ he'd do something."
"Oh James!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"Wait dear! Go on Mickey," said Mr. Minturn.
"Well," said Mickey, "the elevated jumped the track this morning when my
boss got a letter saying if he didn't go on at once with Mr. Winton's
office, somebody else would; and the people who have been in the air ever
since are due to land at noon, and it's pretty quick now, and they are too
nice for any use. Did you ever know finer people?"
"No I never did," said Mrs. Minturn; "but James, I don't understand. Tell
me quickly and plainly."
"Chaffner just gave me the figures," he said, holding over a slip of
paper. "If that amount is to Mr. Winton's credit on his account with the
city, at the Universal Bank before noon--nothing at all. If it's _not_,
disgrace for them, and I started it by putting Bruce on the case. I'll
raise as much as I can, but I can't secure enough by that time without men
knowing it. Mr. Winton has undoubtedly gone to try to secure what he
needs; but he's going to be too late. There never has been a worse time to
raise money in the history of this country."
"But if _money_ is the trouble," said Mrs. Minturn, "you said you never
would touch what I put in your name for yourself, why not use it for him?
If that isn't enough, I will gladly furnish the remainder. That I'm not a
stranded, forsaken woman is due to Leslie Winton; all I have wouldn't be
big enough price to pay for you, and my boys, and my precious home. Be
Mr. Minturn was calling the Universal Bank.
Mickey and Mrs. Minturn waited anxiously. They involuntarily drew
together, and the woman held the boy in a close grip, while her face
alternately paled and flushed, and both of them were breathing short.
"I want the cashier!" Mr. Minturn was saying.
"Don't his voice just make you feel like you were on the rock of ages?"
Mrs. Minturn smiling nodded.
"Hello, Mr. Freeland. This is Minturn talking--James Minturn. You will
remember some securities I deposited with you not long ago? I wish to use
a part of them to pay a debt I owe Mr. Winton. Kindly credit his account
with--oh, he's there in the bank? Well never mind then. I didn't know he
was back yet. Let it go! I'll see him in person. And you might tell him
that his daughter is at my office. Yes, thank you. No you needn't say
anything about that to him; we'll arrange it ourselves. Good-bye!"
"Now where am I at?" demanded Mickey.
"I don't think you know, Mickey," said Mr. Minturn, "and I am sure I
don't, but I have a strong suspicion that Mr. Winton will be here in a few
minutes, and if his mission has been successful, his face will tell it;
and if he's in trouble, that will show; and then we will know what to do.
Mr. Bruce would like to know he is here, and at the bank I think."
"I'll go tell him right away," said Mickey.
Douglas was walking the floor as Mickey entered.
"You delivered the letter?" he cried.
Mickey shook his head, producing the envelope.
"You didn't!" shouted Bruce. "You didn't! Thank God! Oh, thank God you
"Aw-w-ah!" protested Mickey.
"Why didn't you?" demanded Douglas.
"Well you see," said Mickey, "me and Mr. Chaffner of the _Herald_ were
talking a while ago about some poetry I'm going to write for his first
page, soon now--I've always sold his papers you know, so I sort of belong
--and I happened to tell him I was working for you, and how fine you were,
and about your being engaged to Miss Leslie, and he seemed to kind of
think you was heading for trouble; he just plain _said so_. I was so
scared I begged him not to let _that_ happen. I told him how everything
was, and finally I got him to promise that if you _did_ get into trouble
he'd help you, at least he _almost_ promised. You see he's been a
newspaper man so long, he eats it, and sleeps it, and he had a 'scoop'--"
"'He had a scoop?'" repeated Douglas.
"Yes! A great one! Biggest one in ten years!" said the boy. "He loved it
so, that me trying to pry him loose from it was about like working to move
the Iriquois Building with a handspike. All he'd promise that first trip
was that if I'd come and tell him when I saw you'd got into trouble, he'd
_see_ what he could do."
"Wanted to pump you for material for his scoop, I suppose?" commented
"Wope! Wope! Back up!" warned Mickey. "He didn't pump me a little bit, and
he didn't _try_ to. He told me nearly three weeks ago just what _would_
happen about now, as he had things doped out, and they have. I didn't
_think_ that letter should be delivered this morning, 'cause you had no
business in 'darling old Daddy's' office if he said 'stay out.'" In came
Mickey's best flourish. "_Why he mightn't a-been ready!_" he exclaimed.
"He had his friend to help you remember, I heard Miss Leslie tell you he
did. And she told him to. She told you he could have what she had, you
remember of course. He might a-had to use some of his office money real
quick, to save a friend that he _had_ to save if it took all he had and
all Miss Leslie had; and _that_ was right. I asked you the other day if a
man might use the money he handled, and you said yes, he was _expected_
to, if he had his books straight and the money in the bank when his time
for accounting came. 'Tain't time to account yet; but you was doing this
investigating among his bunch, and so I guess if he did use the money for
his friend, he had to go on that trip he was too busy to take Miss Leslie,
and sell something, or do something to get ready for you. _That's_ all
right, ain't it?"
"Yes, if he could _do_ it," conceded Douglas.
"Well he can!" triumphed Mickey. "He can just as easy, 'cause he's down at
the Universal Bank doing it right now!"
"What?" cried Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "Back on time! At the bank fixing things so you can
investigate all you want to. What's the matter with 'darling old Daddy?'
_He's all right!_ Go on and write your letter over, and tell them anxious,
irritated gents, that you'll investigate 'til the basement and cupola are
finished, just as soon as you make out the reports you are figuring up
_now_. That will give you time to act independent, and it will give Daddy
time to be ready for you----"
"Mickey, what if he didn't get the land sold?" wavered Douglas. "What if
his trip was a failure?"
"Well that's fixed," said Mickey, stepping from one toe to the other.
"Don't ruffle your down about that. If 'darling old Daddy' has bad luck,
and for staking his money and his honour on his friend, he's going to get
picked clean and dished up himself, why it's fixed so he _isn't!_ See?"
"_It's fixed?_" marvelled Douglas.
"Surest thing you know!" cried Mickey. "You've had your _Pertectorate_ all
safe a long time, and didn't know it."
"Mickey, talk fast! Tell me! What do you mean?"
"Why that was fixed three weeks ago, I tell you," explained Mickey. "When
Mr. Chaffner said you would strike trouble, I wasn't surprised any, 'cause
I've thought all the time you _would;_ and when you did, I went skinning
to him, and he told me _not_ to deliver that letter; and he was grand,
just something grand! He told me what had to happen to save you, so I kept
the letter, and scuttled for Mr. James Minturn, who started all this, and
I just said to him, 'Chickens, home to roost,' or words like that; and he
got on the wire with Chaffner, and 'stead of giving that 'scoop' to all
Multiopolis and the whole world, he give Mr. Minturn a few figures on a
scrap of paper that he showed to his nice lady--gosh you wouldn't ever
believe she _was_ a nice lady or could be, but honest, Mr. Bruce, me and
her has been holding hands for half an hour while we planned to help you
out, and say, she's so nice, she's just peachy--and she's the _same_
woman. I don't know how that happens, but she's the same woman who fired
me and the nice lady from Plymouth, and now she _ain't_ the same, and
these are the words she said: 'All I have on earth would not be enough to
pay Leslie Winton for giving you back to me, and my boys, and my precious
home.' 'Precious home!' Do you get that? After her marble palace, where
she is now must look like a cottage on the green to her, but 'precious
home' is what she said, and she ought to know----"
"Mickey go on! You were saying that Mr. Chaffner gave Mr. Minturn some
figures--" prompted Douglas.
"Yes," said Mickey. "His precious 'scoop,' so Mr. Minturn showed her, and
she said just as quick to put that amount to Mr. Winton's credit at the
Universal Bank, so he called the bank to tell them; when he got the
cashier he found that 'darling old Daddy' was there that minute----"
"'Was there?'" cried Douglas.
"'_Was there_,'" repeated Mickey; "so Mr. Minturn backed water, and _then_
he told the cashier he needn't mention to Mr. Winton that he was going to
turn over some securities he had there to pay a debt he owed him, 'cause
now that he was home, they could fix it up between themselves. But he told
the cashier to tell Mr. Winton that Miss Leslie was in his office. He said
'Daddy' would come to her the minute he could, and then if he was happy
and all right, it meant that he had sold his land and made good; and if he
was broke up, we would know what to do about putting the money to his
credit. The nice lady said to put a lot more than he needed, so if they
did investigate they could see he had plenty. See? Mr. Minturn said we
could tell the minute we saw him----"
"Well young man, can you?" inquired a voice behind them.
With the same impulse Douglas and Mickey turned to Mr. Winton and Leslie
standing far enough inside the door to have heard all that had been said.
A slow red crept over Mickey's fair face. Douglas sprang to his feet, his
hand outstretched, words of welcome on his lips. Mr. Winton put him aside
with a gesture.
"I asked this youngster a question," he said, "and I'm deeply interested
in the answer. _Can you?_"
Mickey stepped forward, taking one long, straight look into the face of
the man before him; then his exultant laugh trilled as the notes of
Peter's old bobolink bird on the meadow fence.
"Surest thing you know!" he cried in ringing joy. "You're tired, you need
washing, sleep, and a long rest, but there isn't any glisteny, green look
on your face. It's been with you, like I told Mr. Chaffner it's in the
Bible; only with you, it's been even more than a man 'laying down his life
for his friend,' it was a near squeak, but you made it! Gee, you made it!
I should say I _could_ tell!"
Mr. Winton caught Mickey, lifting him from his feet. "God made a jewel
after my heart when he made you lad," he said. "If you haven't got a
father, I'm a candidate for the place."
"Gee, you're the nicest man!" said Mickey. "If I was out with a telescope
searching for a father, I'd make a home run for you; but you see I'm
fairly well fixed. Here's my boss, too fine to talk about, that I work for
to earn money to keep me and my family; there's Peter, better than gold,
who's annexed both me and my child; there's Mr. Chaffner punching me up
every time I see him about my job for him, soon as I finish school; I'd
_like_ you for a father, only I'm crazy about Peter. Just you come and see
_Peter_, and you'll understand----"
"I'll be there soon," said Mr. Winton. "I have reasons for wanting to know
him thoroughly. And by the way, how do you do, Douglas? How is the great
investigation coming on? 'Fine!' I'm glad to hear it. Push it with all
your might, and finish up so we can have a month on Atwater without coming
back and forth. I feel as if I'd need about that much swimming to make me
clean, as the young man here suggests; travelling over the west in
midsummer is neither cool nor cleanly; but it's great, when things sell as
ours did. Land seems to be moving, and there's money under the surface;
nobody has lost so much, they are only economizing; we must do that
ourselves, but Swain and I are both safe, so we shall enjoy a few years of
work to recoup some pretty heavy losses; we're not worth what we were, but
we are even, with a home base, the love of God big in our hearts, and
doubly all right, since if we couldn't have righted ourselves, our friends
would have saved us, thanks to this little live wire on my left!"
"Oh Daddy, if you'd searched forever, you couldn't have found a better
name for Mickey!" cried Leslie. "Come on Douglas let's go home and rest."
"Just as soon as I write and start Mickey with a note," said Douglas. "Go
ahead, I'll be down soon."
He turned to his desk, wrote a few lines, and sealing them, handed the
envelope to the waiting boy.
"City Hall," he said. "And Mickey, I see the whole thing. It will take
some time to figure just what I do owe you----"
"Aw-a-ah g'wan!" broke in Mickey, backing away.
"Mickey, we'll drive you to take the note, and then you come with us,"
"Thanks, but it would try my nerve," said Mickey, "and I must help Peter
move in the pump!"
That night Mickey's voice, shrill in exuberant rejoicing, preceded him
down the highway, so the Hardings, all busy working out their new plans
for comfort, understood that something unusually joyous had happened.
Peaches sat straighter in her big pillow-piled chair, leaned forward, and
"Ain't he happy soundin'?" she said to Mrs. Harding, who sat near her
sewing. "I guess he has thought out the best po'try piece yet. Mebby this
time it will be good enough for the first page of the _Herald_."
"Young as he is, that's not likely," said the literal woman. "There's no
manner of doubt in my mind but that he _can_ do great newspaper work when
he finishes his education and makes his start; but I think Mr. Bruce will
use all his influence to turn him toward law."
"Mr. Douglas Bruce is a swell gentl'man," said Peaches, "and me and Mickey
just loves him for his niceness to us; but we got _that_ all settled.
Mickey is going to write the po'try piece for the first page of the
_Herald_--that's our paper--and then we are going to make all my pieces
into a bu'ful book, like I got it started here."
Peaches picked up a small notebook, scrupulously kept, and lovingly
glanced over the pages, on each of which she had induced Mickey to write
in his plainest script one section of her nightly doggerel; and if he
failed from the intense affairs of the day, she left a blank page for him
to fill later. Taken together, the remainder of her possessions were as
nothing to Peaches compared with that book. Not an hour of the day passed
that it was not in her fingers, every line of it she knew by heart, and
she learned more from it than all Mickey's other educational efforts.
Peter scraped a piece of fine black walnut furniture free from the
accumulated varnish of years, and ran an approving hand over the smooth
dark surface, seasoned with long use. He smiled at her. She smiled back,
falling into a little chant that had been on her lips much of the time of
late: "You know, Peter! You know, Peter! We know somepin' we won't tell!"
Peter nodded, beaming on her.
"Just listen to that boy, Peter, he must be perfectly possessed!" said
"He didn't ever sound so glad before!" cried the child eagerly.
Mickey came up the walk radiant. He divided a smile between Mrs. Harding
and Peter, and bowed low before Peaches as he laid a package at her feet.
Then he struck an attitude of exaggerated obeisance and recited:
"_Days like this I'm tickled silly,
When I see my August Lily.
No other fellow, dude or gawk,
Owns a flower that can laugh and talk._"
Peaches immediately laughed; so did all of them.
"Peter," asked Mickey, "were you ever so glad that you thought you would
bust wide open?"
"I was," said Peter; "I am this minute."
"Would you mind specifying circumstances?"
"Not a bit," said Peter. "First time was when Ma said she'd marry me, and
I got my betrothal kiss; second, was the day she said she'd forgive my
years of selfish dunderheadedness, and start over. Now you, Mickey, what's
"The great investigation is over, so far as our commission goes," answered
Mickey. "Multiopolis isn't robbed where she was sure she was. Her accounts
balance in the departments we've gone over. Nobody gets the slick face,
the glass eye, the lawn mower on his cocoanut, or dons the candy suit from
our work; but some folks I love had a near squeak, and I got a month
vacation! Think of that, Miss Lily Peaches O'Halloran! Gee, let's get
things fixed up here and have a party, to show the neighbouring gentlemen
what's coming to them, before the weather gets so cold they won't have
time to finish their jobs this fall. Some of them will squirm, but we
don't care. Some of them will think they won't do it, but they _will_.
Kiss me, Lily! Hug me tight, and let me go dig on the furnace foundation
'til I sweat this out of me."
When the children were sleeping that night he sat on the veranda and told
Mrs. Harding and Peter exactly what he thought wise to repeat of the day's
experience and no more; so that when he finished, all they knew was that
the investigation was over, so far as Mr. Bruce was concerned, Mickey had
a vacation, and was a happy boy.
As she came to dinner the next day, Mary laid a bundle of mail beside her
father's plate. When he saw it, Peter, as was his custom, reached for the
_Herald_ to read the war headlines. He opened the paper, gave it a shake,
stared at it in amazement, scanned a few lines and muttered: "Well for the
Then he glanced over the sheets at Mickey and back again. The family arose
and hurried to a point of vantage at Peter's shoulder, while he spread the
paper wide and held it high so that all of them could see. Enclosed in a
small ruled space they read:
_Sacred to the memory of the biggest scoop,
That ever fell in Mister Chaffner's soup,
And was pitched by this nicest editor-man,
Where it belonged, in the garbage can,
To please his friend, Michael O'Halloran.
Whoop fellers, whoop, for the drownded scoop,
That departed this life in our Editor's soup!
All together boys, Scoop! Soup! Whoop!_
They rushed at Mickey, shook hands, thumped, patted and praised him, when
a wail arose to the point of reaching his consciousness.
"Mickey, what?" cried Peaches.
"Let me take it just a minute, Peter," said Mickey.
"Wait a second," suggested Mrs. Harding, picking up a big roll that they
had knocked to the floor. "This doesn't look like catalogues, and it's
addressed to you. Likely they've sent you some of your own."
"Now maybe Mr. Chaffner did," said Mickey, almost at the bursting point.
"Course he is awful busy, the busiest man in the world, I expect, but he
_might_ have sent me a copy of my poetry, since he used it."
With shaking fingers he opened the roll, and there were several copies of
the _Herald_ similar to the one Peter held, and on the top of one was
scrawled in pencil: "Your place, your desk, and your salary are ready
whenever you want to begin work. You can't come too soon to suit me.--
Mickey read it aloud.
"Gee!" he said. "I 'most wish I had education enough to begin right now.
I'd _like_ it! I could just go _crazy_ about that job! Yes honey! Yes, I'm
He caught up another paper, and hurried across the room, quietly but
decidedly closing the door behind him, so when Mary started to follow,
"Better not, Molly," he said. "Mickey wants to be alone with his family
for a few minutes. Say father, ain't there a good many newspaper men
worked all their lives, and got no such show as that?"
"I haven't a doubt of it," said Peter.
"Mickey must have written that, and sent it in before he came home
yesterday," said Mrs. Harding. "I call it pretty bright! I bet if the
truth was told, something went wrong, and he was at the bottom of shutting
it up. Don't you call that pretty bright, Pa?"
"I guess I'm no fair judge," said Peter. "I'm that prejudiced in his
favour that when he said, 'See the cat negotiate the rat' out in the barn,
I thought it was smart."
"Yes, and it was," commented Junior. "It's been funny for everybody to
'negotiate' all sorts of things ever since that north pole business, so it
was funny for the cat too. Father, do you think that note really means
that Mr. Chaffner would give Mickey a place on his paper, and pay him
"I don't know why Chaffner would write it out and sign his name to it if
he _didn't_ mean it," said Peter.
"You know he is full of stuff like that," said Junior. "He could do some
every day about people other than Peaches if he wanted to. Father, ain't
you glad he's in our family? Are you going to tell him to take that job if
he asks you?"
"No I ain't," said Peter. "He's too young, and not the book learning to do
himself justice, while that place is too grown up and exciting for a boy
of his nerve force. Don't you think, Nancy?"
"Yes, I do, but you needn't worry," said Mrs. Harding. "Mickey knows that
himself. Didn't you hear him say soon as he read it, that he hadn't the
education yet? He's taken care of himself too long to spoil his life now,
and he will see it; but I marvel at Chaffner. He ought to have known
better. And among us, I wonder at Mickey. Where did he get it from?"
"Easy!" said Peter. "From a God-fearing, intelligent mother, and an
irresponsible Irish father, from inborn, ingrained sense of right, and a
hand-to-hand scuffle with life in Multiopolis gutters. Mickey is all
right, and thank God, he's _ours_ If he does show signs of wanting to go
to the _Herald_ office, discourage him all you can, Ma; it wouldn't be
good for him--yet."
"No it wouldn't; but it would be because he needs solid study and school
routine to settle him, and make him _great_ instead of a clown, as that
would at his age. But if you think there is anything in the _Herald_
office that could _hurt_ Mickey, you got another think coming. It wouldn't
hurt Mickey; but it would be mighty good for the rest of them. The
_Herald_ has more honour and conscience than most; some of the papers are
just disgraceful in what they publish, and then take back next day; while
folks are forced to endure it. Sit up and eat your dinners now. I want to
get on with my work."
"Mickey, what happened?" begged Peaches as Mickey came in sight, carrying
He was trembling and tensely excited as her sharp eyes could see. They
rested probingly a second on him, then on the paper. Her lips tightened
while her eyes darkened. She stretched out her hand.
"Mickey, let me see!" she commanded.
Mickey knelt beside her, spreading out the sheet. Then he took her hand,
setting a finger on the first letter of his name and slowly moved along as
she repeated the letters she knew best of all, then softly pronounced the
name. She knew the _Herald_ too. She sat so straight Mickey was afraid she
would strain her back, lifting her head "like a queen," if a queen lifts
her head just as high as her neck can possibly stretch, and smiled a cold
little smile of supreme self-satisfaction.
"Now Mickey, go on and read what you wrote about _me_," her Highness
The collapse of Mickey was sudden and complete. He stared at Peaches, at
the paper, opened his lips, thought a lie and discarded it, shut his lips
to pen the lie in for sure, and humbly and contritely waited, a silent
candidate for mercy. Peaches had none. To her this was the logical outcome
of what she had been led to expect. There was the paper. The paper was the
_Herald_. There was the front page. There was Mickey's name. She had no
conception of Mickey writing a line which did _not_ concern her; also he
had expressly stated that all of them and the whole book were to be about
her. She indicated the paper and his name, while the condescension of her
waiting began to be touched with impatience.
"Mickey, why don't you go on and read what it says about me?" she