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Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter

Part 9 out of 9

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Mickey saw plainly what must be done. He gazed at her and suddenly, for
the first time, a wave of something new and undefined rushed through him.
This exquisitely delicate and beautiful little Highness, sitting so
proudly straight, and so uncompromisingly demanding that he redeem his
promises, made a double appeal to Mickey. Her Highness scared him until he
was cold inside. He was afraid, and he knew it. He wanted to run, and he
knew it; yet no band of steel could have held him as this bit of white
femininity, beginning to glow a soft pink from slowly enriching blood, now
held and forever would hold him, and best of all he knew that. It was in
his heart to be a gentleman; there was nothing left save to be one now. He
took both Peaches' hands, and began preparing her gently as was in his
power for what had to come.

"Yes, Flowersy-girl," he said, "I'll read it to you, but you won't
understand 'til I tell you----"

"I always understand," she said sweepingly.

"You know how wild like I came home last night," explained Mickey. "Well,
I had reason. Some folks who have been good to us, and that I love like we
love Peter and Ma, had been in awful danger of something that would make
them sore all their lives, and maybe I had some little part in putting it
over, so it never touched them; anyway, they thought so, and I was tickled
past all sense and reason about it. It was up to the editor of the
_Herald_ to decide; and what he did, was what I begged him to. Course left
to himself, he would a-done it anyway, _after he had time to think_----"

"Mickey, read my po'try piece about me, an' then talk," urged Peaches.

"Honey, you make me so sick I can't tell you."

"Mickey, what's the matter?"

Peaches' penetrating eyes were slowly changing to accusing. She drew a
deep breath, giving him his first cold, unrelenting look.

"Mister Michael O'Halloran," she said in incisive tones, "did you write a
po'try piece for the first page of the _Herald, not_ about me?"

"Well Miss Chicken," he cried, "I wish you wouldn't talk so much! I wish
you'd let me _tell_ you."

"I guess you ain't got anything to tell," said Peaches, folding her arms
and tilting her chin so high Mickey feared she might topple backward.

"I guess I have!" shouted Mickey. "_I_ didn't put that there! I didn't
_mean_ it to _be_ there! If I'd a-put it there, and _meant_ it there, and
knowed it would _be_ there, it would a-been about you, of course! Answer
me this, Miss. Any single time did I ever _not_ do anything that I said I

"Nothing but this," admitted Peaches.

"There you go again!" said Mickey. "I tell you I _didn't_ do _this_, and
when I tell you, I tell true, Miss, get that in your system. If you'd let
me explain how it was, you'd see that I didn't have a single thing to do
with it."

Peaches accomplished a shrug that was wonderful, and gazed at the ceiling,
her lips closed. Mickey watched her a second, then he began softly:
"Flowersy-girl, I don't see what you mean! I don't know why you act like
this! I don't know what's to have a tantrum for, when I didn't _mean_ it
to be there, and didn't _know_ it would be there. Honest, I don't!"

"Go on an' read it!" she commanded.

Mickey obeyed. As he finished she faced him in wonder.

"Why they ain't a damn bit of sense to it!" she cried.

"_Course_ there ain't!" agreed Mickey. "Course there _would be_ no sense
to anything that wasn't about _you!_"

"Then what did you put it there in my place for?"

"I didn't! I'm trying to tell you!" persisted Mickey.

Peaches shed one degree of royal hauteur. "Well why don't you go on an'
tell, then?"

"Aw-w-ah! Well if you don't maneuver to beat a monoplane! I've tried to
tell you, and you won't _let_ me. If you stop me again, I'm going to march
out of this room and stay 'til you bawl your eyes red for me."

"If you go, I'll call Junior!" said Peaches instantly.

"Well go on and call him!"

He turned, his heart throbbing, his eyes burning with repressed tears, the
big gulp in his throat audible to Peaches, as her little wail was to him.
He whirled and dropping on his knees took her in his arms. She threw hers
around his neck, buried her face against his cheek, and they cried it out
together. At last she produced a bit of linen, and mopped Mickey's eyes
and face, then her own. While still clinging to him she whispered:
"Mickey, I'm jus' about _dead_ to have it be the _Herald_, an' the _front
page_, an' _you_, an' _not_ about _me!_"

"Flowersy-girl, I'm just as sorry as you are," said Mickey. "It was this
way: I was just crazy over things our editor-man did, that saved our dear
boss and the lovely Moonshine Lady who gave you your Precious Child and
her 'darling old Daddy' from such awful trouble it would just a-killed
them; honest it would Lily! When our editor-man was so great and nice, and
did what he didn't _want_ to at all, I went sort of wild like, and when I
was off for the day and got on the streets, everything pulled me his way.
I was anxious just to see him again, and if I'd done what I wanted to, I'd
a-gone in the _Herald_ office and knelt down, and said: 'Thank you, oh
thank you!' and kissed his feet, but of course I knew men didn't do like
that, and it would have shamed him, but I had to do something or bust, and
I went running for the office like flying, and my mind got whirling
around, and that stuff began to come.

"I slipped in and back to his desk, like I may if I want to, and there he
sat. He had a big white sheet just like this before it is printed, spread
out, and a pencil in his fingers, and about a dozen of his best men were
crowding 'round with what they had for the paper to-day. I've told you how
they do it, often, and when I edged up some of the men saw me. They knew I
had a pass to him, so they stepped back just as he said: 'Well boys, who's
got some _big stuff_ to fill the space of our departed scoop?' That
'departed' word means lost, gone, and it's what they say about people when
they--they go for good. Then he looked up to see who would speak first,
and noticed me. 'Oh there is the little villain who scooped our scoop,
right now,' he said. 'Let's make him fill the space he's cut us out of.' I
thought it was a joke, but I wasn't going to have all that bunch of the
swellest smarties who work for him put it clear over me; I've kidded back
with my paper men too long for that; so I stepped back and shot it at him,
that what's printed there, and when I got to the end and invited the
fellows to 'Whoop,' Lily, you could a-heard them a mile. I saw they was
starting for me, so I just slung in a 'Thank you something awful, boss,'
and ducked through and between, and cut for life; 'cause if they'd a-got
me, I might a-been there yet. They are the _nicest_ men on earth, but they
get a little keyed up sometimes, and a kid like me couldn't keep even. Now
that's all there is to it, Lily, honest, cross my heart! I _didn't_ know
they would put it there. I didn't know they thought it was _good_ enough.
I wouldn't a-let them for the life of them, if I'd _known_ they was going

"You jus' said it once, Mickey?" inquired Peaches.

"Jus' once, Flowersy-girl, fast as I could rattle."

"It's twice as long as mine ever are," she said. "I don't see how they

"Oh that!" cried Mickey. "Why honey, that's easy! Those fellows jump on to
a thing like chained lightning, and they got a way of writing that is just
a lot of little twists and curls, but one means a whole sentence--they
call it 'shorthand'--and doing that way, they can set down talk as fast as
anybody can speak, and there were a dozen of them there with pencils and
paper in their fingers. That wasn't anything for them!"

"Mickey, are you going to learn to write that way?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Before I go to the _Herald_ to take my desk, and my
'signment,' I've got to know, and you ought to know too; 'cause I always
have to bring what I write to you first, to see if you like it."

"Yes, if the mean old things don't go an' steal my place again, when you
don't know it," protested Peaches.

"Well, don't you fret about that," said Mickey. "They got away with me
this time, but they won't ever again, 'cause I'll be on to their tricks.
See? Now say you forgive me, and eat your dinner, 'cause it will be
spoiled, and you must have a good rest, for there's going to be something
lovely afterward. You ain't mad at me any more, Lily?"

"No, I ain't mad at you, but I'm just so----"

"Wope! wope!" cautioned Mickey.

Peaches pulled away indignantly.

"--so--so--so _estremely mad_ at those paper men! Mickey, I don't think
I'll ever let you be a _Herald_ man at all if they're going to leave me
out like that!"

"What do you care about an old paper sold on the streets, and ground up
for buckets, and used to start fires, anyway?" scoffed Mickey. "Why don't
you sit up on the shelf in a nice pretty silk dress and be a book lady? I
wouldn't be in the papers at all, if I were you."

"No, an' I won't, either!" cried Peaches instantly. "Take the old paper
an' put what you please in it. I shall have all about _me_ in the nice
silky covered book on the shelf; so there, you needn't try to make me do
anything else, 'cause I shan't ever!"

"Course you shan't!" agreed Mickey.

He went back to the dinner table to find the family finished and gone. He
carried what had been left for him to the back porch, and eating hastily
began helping to get things in place. As always he went to Mrs. Harding
for orders. She was a little woman, so very like his mother in size,
colouring, speech, and manner, that Mickey could almost forget she was not
truly his, when every hour she made him feel her motherly kindness; so
from early habit it was natural with him to seek her first, and do what he
could to assist her before he attempted anything else. All the help Peter
had from him came when he found no more to do for Mrs. Harding. As he
washed the dishes while she sat sewing for the renovation of the house, he
said to her: "When you dress Lily for this afternoon I wish you'd make her
just as pretty as you can, and put her very nicest dress on her."

"Why Mickey, is some one coming?" she asked.

"I don't know," said Mickey, "but I have a hunch that my boss, and Miss
Leslie, and her father may be out this afternoon. They have been talking
about it a long time, but I kept making every excuse I could think up to
keep them away."

"Why, Mickey?" asked Mrs. Harding, looking at him intently. She paused in
her sewing, running the needle slowly across the curtain material.

"Well, for a lot of reasons," said Mickey. "A fellow of my size doesn't
often tackle a family, and when he does, if he's going to be square about
it, he has got to do a lot of _thinking_. One thing was that it's hard for
me to get Lily out my head like I first saw her. I guess I couldn't tell
you so you'd get a fair idea of how dark, dirty, alone, and little, and
miserable she was. Just with all my heart I was ashamed of her folks, and
sick sorry for her; but I can't bear for anybody else to be! I didn't want
any of them to see her 'til she was fed, and fatted up a lot, and trained
'til how nice she really is shows plain. It just hurt me to think of it."

"Um-m-uh!" agreed Mrs. Harding, differing emotions showing on her face. "I
see, Mickey."

"Then," continued Mickey, "I'm sticking sore and mean on one point. I
_did_ find her! She _is_ mine! I _am_ going to keep her! Nobody in all
this world takes her, nor God in Heaven!"

"Mickey, be careful what you say," she cautioned.

"I don't mean anything wicked," explained Mickey. "I'm just telling you
that nobody on earth can have her, and I'd fight 'til I'd die with her,
before even Heaven gets her. I don't mean anything ugly about it. I'm just
telling you friendly like, how I _feel_ about her."

"I see Mickey," said Mrs. Harding. "Go on!"

"Well, lots of reasons," said Mickey. "She wasn't used to folks, so they
scared her. She was crazy with fear about the Orphings' Home getting her,
while I wasn't any too sure myself. I flagged one Swell Dame, and like to
got caught in a trap and lost her. Then my Sunshine Nurse helped me all I
needed; so not knowing how much women were alike, I didn't care to go
rushing in a lot on Lily just to find out. She was a little too precious
to experiment with.

"That Home business has been a big, grinning, 'Get-you-any-minute devil,'
peeping 'round the corner at me ever since mother went. I could dodge him
for myself, but I couldn't take any _risks_ for Lily. _These Orphings'
Homes ain't no place for children_. 'Stead of the law building them, and
penning the little souls starving for home and love in them, what it
_should_ do is to make people who pay the money to run them, take the
children in their _own homes_ and love and raise them _personal_. If every
family in the world that has no children would take two, and them that has
would take just one, all the Orphings' Homes would make good hospitals and
schools; while the orphings would be fixed like Lily and I are. Course I
know all folks ain't the same as you and Peter; but in the long run,
children are _safer in homes_ than they are in _squads_. 'Most any kind of
a home beats no home at all. You can stake your liberty-birds on that."

"You surely can," agreed Mrs. Harding.

"You just bet," persisted Mickey. "When I didn't know what they would do,
I didn't want them pestering 'round, maybe to ruin everything; and when I
_did_, I didn't want them any more, 'cause then I saw their idea would be
to take her themselves, and in one day they would a-made all I could do
look like thirty cents. She was mine, and what she had with me was so much
better than what she would a-had without me, or if the law got her, that I
thought she was doing well enough. I see now she could a-had more; but I
thought then it was all right!"

"Now Mickey, don't begin that," said Mrs. Harding. "What you did was to
find her, and without a doubt, save her life; at least if you didn't, you
landed her in a fairly decent home where all of us will help you do _what
you think best for her;_ and there's small question but we can beat any
Orphans' Home yet in existence. And as for the condition in which I found
her, it _was_ growing warm in that room, but I'll face any court in the
universe and swear I never saw a cleaner child, or one in better condition
for what you had to begin on. The Almighty Himself couldn't have covered
those awful bones with flesh and muscle, and smoothed the bed sores and
scars from that little body; and gone much faster training her right,
unless He was going back to miracles again. As far as miracles are
concerned, I think from what you tell me, and what the child's condition
proves, that you have performed the miracle yourself. To the day of my
death I'll honour, respect, and love you, Mickey, for the way in which
you've done it. I've yet to see a woman who could have done better, so I
want you to know it."

"I don't know the right words to say to you and Peter."

"Never mind that," said Mrs. Harding. "We owe you quite as much, and
something we are equally as thankful for. It's an even break with us,
Mickey, and no talk of obligations on either side. We prize Junior as he
is just now, fully as much as you do anything you've gained."

Mickey polished the plates and studied Mrs. Harding. Then he spoke again:
"There's one more obligation I'm just itching to owe you."

"Tell me about it, Mickey," she said.

"Well right in line with what we been talking of," said Mickey. "Just
suppose a big car comes chuffing up here this afternoon, like I have a
hunch it will, and all those nice folks so polite and beautifully dressed
come to see us, I know you are busy, but I'll work afterward to pay back,
if you and Peter will dust up a little--course I know the upset fix we are
in; but just glorify a trifle, and lay off and _keep right on the job
without a second of letting up_, 'til they are gone. See?"

"You mean you don't want to be left _alone_ with them?"

"You get me!" cried Mickey. "You get me clearly. I don't want to be left
alone with them, for them to put ideas in Lily's head about a nicer car
than ours, and a bigger house, and finer dolls and dresses, and going to
the city to stay with them on visits; or me going to live with Mr. Winton,
to be the son he should have found for himself long ago. I guess I have
Lily sized up about as close as the next one; and she has got all that is
_good_ for her, right now. She'd make the worst spoiled kid you ever saw
if she had half a chance. What she needs to make a grand woman of her,
like you and mother, is clean air, quiet, good food like she's got here,
with bone as well as muscle in it; and just enough lessons and child play
with children to keep her brains going as fast as her body, and no silly
pampering to make her foolish and disagreeable. I know how little and sick
she is, but she shan't use it for capital to spoil her whole life. See?"

"'Through a glass darkly,'" quoted Mrs. Harding laughing. "Oh Mickey, I
didn't think it of you. You're deeper than the well."

"That's all right," said Mickey, his face flushing. "Often I hear you say
'let good enough alone.' My sentiments exact. Lily is fine, and so am I.
Let us alone! If you and Peter will do me the 'cap-sheaf favour, as he
would say, you'll dust up and _spunk_ up, and the very first hint that
comes--'cause it's coming--at the very first hint of how Miss Leslie would
love to take care of the dear little darling awhile, smash down with the
nix! _Smash like sixty!_ Keep your eyes and ears open, and if you could,
dearest lady, beat them to it: I'd be tickled silly if you manage _that_.
If you could only tell them how careful she has to be handled, and taken
care of, and how strangers and many around would be bad for her----"

"Mickey, the minute they see the shape things are in here, it will give
them the chance they are after, so they will begin that very thing," she

"I know it," conceded Mickey. "That's why I'd put them off if I could,
'til we were fixed and quiet again. But at _that_, their chance isn't so
grand. This isn't worrying Lily any. She saw all of it happen, she knows
what's going on. What I want, dearest lady, is for you to get on the job,
and spunk up to them, just like you did about Junior going away. I didn't
think you'd get through with that, and I know Peter didn't; but you _did_,
fine! Now if you and Peter would have a little private understanding and
engineer this visit that I scent in the air, so that when you see they are
going to offer pressing invitations to take Lily, and to take me, and put
me at work that I wasn't born to do; if you'd only have a receiver out,
and when your wires warn you what's coming down the line, first and
beforehand, _calm_ and _plain_, fix things so the nix wouldn't even be
needed; do you get me, dearest Mother Harding, do you see?"

"That I do!" said Mrs. Harding rising abruptly. "I'll go and speak to
Peter at once, then we'll shift these workmen back, and quiet them as much
as we can. I'll slip on a fresh dress, and put some buttermilk in the
well, and fix Peaches right away, if she's finished her nap----"

Mrs. Harding's voice trailed back telling what she would do as she
hastened to Peter. Mickey, with anxious heart, helped all he could,
washed, slipped on a fresh shirt, and watched the process of adjusting
Peaches' hair ribbon.

"Now understand, I don't _know_ they're coming," he said. "I just _think_
they will."

Because he thought so, for an hour the Harding premises wore a noticeable
air of expectation. All the family were clean and purposely keeping so;
but the waiting was long, while work was piled high in any direction.
Peaches started the return to normal conditions by calling for her slate,
and beginning to copy her lesson. Mary with many promises not to scatter
her scraps, sat beside the couch, cutting bright pictures from the papers.
Mickey grew restless and began breaking up the remains of packing cases,
while Junior went after the wheelbarrow. Mrs. Harding brought out her
sewing, and Peter went back to scraping black walnut furniture. Mickey
passed him on an errand to the kitchen and asked anxiously: "Did she tell

"Yes," said Peter.

"Will you make it a plain case of 'nobody home! nobody home?'" questioned

"I will!" said Peter emphatically.

Being busy, the big car ran to the gate before they saw it coming. Leslie
Winton and Douglas Bruce came up the walk together, while Mr. Winton and
Mrs. Minturn waited in the car, in accordance with a suggestion from
Douglas that the little sick girl must not see too many strange people at
once. Mickey went to meet them, and Peaches watching, half in fear and
wholly in pride, saw Douglas Bruce shake his hand until she frowned lest
it hurt, clap him on the back, and cry: "Oh but I'm proud of you! Say that
was great!"

Leslie purposely dressed to emphasize her beauty, slipped an arm across
his shoulders and drawing him to her kissed his brow.

"Our poet!" she said. "Oh Mickey, hurry! I'm so eager to hear the ones in
the book Douglas tells me you are making! Won't you please read them to

Mickey smiled as he led the way. "Just nonsense stuff for Lily," he said.
"Nothing but fooling, only the prayer one, and maybe two others."

An abrupt movement from Peaches as they advanced made Mrs. Harding glance
her way in time to see the first wave of deep colour that ever had flooded
the child's white face, come creeping up her neck and begin tinging her
cheeks, even her forehead. With a swift movement she snatched her poetry
book, which always lay with her slate and primer, thrusting it under her
pillow; when she saw Mrs. Harding watching her she tilted her head and
pursed her lips in scorn: "'Our!'" she mimicked. "'Our!' Wonder whose she
thinks he is? Nix on her!"

Mrs. Harding, caught surprisedly, struggled to suppress a laugh as she
turned to meet her guests. Mickey noticed this. He made his introductions,
and swiftly thrust Peaches' Precious Child into her arms, warning in a
whisper: "_You be careful, Miss!_"

Peaches needed the reminder. She loved the doll. She had been drilled so
often on the thanks she was to tender for it, that with it in her fingers
she thought of nothing else, so her smile as Leslie approached was lovely.
She held out her hand and before Mickey could speak announced: "Jus' as
glad to see you! Thank you ever so much for my Precious Child!"

Nothing more was necessary. Leslie was captivated and would scarcely make
way for Douglas to offer his greeting. Mary ran to call her father, while
the visitors seated themselves to say the customary polite things; but
each of them watched a tiny white-clad creature, with pink ribbons to
match the colour in a flawless little face, rounded to the point of
delicate beauty, overshadowed by a shower of gold curls, having red lips
and lighted by a pair of big, blue-gray eyes with long dark lashes. When
Mrs. Harding saw both visitors look so intently at Peaches, and
intercepted their glance of admiration toward each other, she looked again
herself, and then once more.

Peaches spoke imperiously. "Mickey-lovest, come here and bend down your

Mickey slipped behind Douglas' chair, knelt on one knee, and leaned to see
what Peaches desired of him. She drew her hankerchief from her waist
ribbon, rubbed it across his forehead, looked at the spot with frowning
intentness, rubbed again, and then dropping the handkerchief, laid a hand
on each side of his head, bent it to her and kissed the spot fervently;
then she looked him in the eyes and said with solicitous but engaging
sweetness: "_Mickey, I do wish you would be more careful what you get on
your face!_"

Mickey drew back thrilled with delight, but extremely embarrassed. "Aw-a-
ah you fool little kid!" he muttered, and could not look at his friends.

Watching, Douglas almost shouted, while the flush deepened on Miss
Winton's cheeks. Peter began talking to help the situation, so all of them
joined in.

"You are making improvements that look very interesting around here," said
Douglas to Mrs. Harding.

"We are doing our level best to evolve a sanitary, modern home for all of
us, and to set an example for our neighbours," she said quietly. "We
always got along very well as we were, but lately, we have found we could
have things much more convenient, and when God gave us two more dear
children, we needed room for them, and comforts and appliances to take
care of our little new daughter right. When we got started, one thing led
to another until we are pretty well torn up; but we've saved the best
place for her, and the worst is over."

"Yes we are on the finish now," said Peter.

"I did think of taking her and going to my sister's," continued Mrs.
Harding, "but Peaches isn't accustomed to meeting people, while Mickey and
I both thought being among strangers and changing beds and food would be
worse for her than the annoyance of remodelling; then too, I wanted very
much to see the work here done as I desired. At first I was doubtful about
keeping her, but she doesn't mind in the least; she even takes her
afternoon naps with hammers pounding not so far from her----"

"Gee, there is no noise and jar here to compare with Multiopolis," said
Mickey. "She's all right, getting stronger every day."

Peaches spread both hands, looking at them critically, back and palm.

"They are better," she said. "You ought to seen them when they was so
clawy they made Mickey shiver if I touched him; and first time I wanted to
kiss something or go like granny did, he wouldn't let me 'til I cried, an'
then he made me put it on his forehead long time, 'til I got so the bones
didn't scratch him; didn't you Mickey?"

"Well I wish you wouldn't tell everything!"

"Then I won't," said Peaches, "'cause _I'm_ your fam'ly, an' I must do
what _you_ say; an' _you_ are _my_ fam'ly, an' you must do what _I_ say.
Are you a fam'ly?" she questioned Leslie and Douglas.

"We hope to be soon," laughed Leslie.

"Then," said Peaches, "you can look how we're fixing our house so you can
make yours nice as this. Mickey, I want to show that pretty lady in the
auto'bile my Precious Child."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I'll go tell her. And the man with her is Miss
Leslie's father, just like Peter is ours; you want to show him the Child,
don't you?"

"Maybe!" said Peaches with a tantalizing smirk.

"Miss Chicken, you're getting well too fast," commented Mickey in
amazement as he started to the car.

Because of what Mr. Winton had said to him the previous day, he composed
and delivered this greeting when he reached it: "Lily is asking to show
you her Precious Child, Mrs. Minturn, and I want both of you to see our
home, and meet our new father and mother. Letting us have them is one
thing the law does that makes up a little for the Orphings' Homes most
kids get who have had the bad luck to lose their own folks."

"Mickey, are you prejudiced against Orphans' Homes?" asked Mrs. Minturn as
she stepped from the car.

"Ain't no name for it," said Mickey. "I'm dead against bunching children
in squads. If rich folks want to do something worth while with their
money, they can do it by each family taking as many orphings as they can
afford, and raising them personal. See?"

"I should say I do!" exclaimed the lady. "I must speak to James about
that. We have two of our own, and William, but I believe we could manage a
few more."

"I know one I'd like very much to try," said Mr. Winton, but Mickey never
appeared so unconscious.

He managed his introductions very well, while again Peaches justified her
appellation by being temptingly sweet and conspicuously acid. When Mickey
reached Peter in his round of making friends acquainted, he slid his arm
through that of the big man and said smilingly: "Nobody is going to mix me
with Peter's son by blood--see what a fine chap Junior is; but Peter and I
fixed up my sonship with the Almighty, whom my Peter didn't deny, when he
took me in, and with the judge of the Multiopolis courts; so even if it
doesn't show on the outside, I belong, don't I?"

Peter threw his left arm around Mickey even as he shook hands with his
right: "You surely do," he said, "by law and by love, to the bottom of all
our hearts."

The visit was a notable success. The buttermilk was cold, the spice cake
was fresh, the apples and peaches were juicy, the improvements highly
commendable. Peter was asked if he would consider a membership in the Golf
Club, the playhouse was discussed, and three hours later a group of warm
friends parted, with the agreement that Mickey was to spend a day of the
latter part of the week fishing on Atwater. The Hardings smiled broadly.
"Well son, did we manage that to your satisfaction?" asked Peter.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I might have been mistaken in what half of that trip
was for, but I think not."

"So do I," said Mrs. Harding emphatically. "They were just itching to get
their fingers on Peaches; while Bruce and Mr. Winton both were chagrined
over our getting you first."

"We feel bad about that too, don't we, Peter?" laughed Mickey.

"Well, I would," said Peter, "if it were the other way around. I didn't
mind the young fellow. You'll be with him every day, and he'll soon have
boys of his own no doubt; but I feel sorry for Mr. Winton. He looks hungry
when he watches you. He could work you into his business fine."

"He's all right, he's a nice man," said Mickey, "but I've lived off the
_Herald_ all my life 'til this summer, so when school is over I go
straight to Mr. Chaffner."

The Winton car ran to the club house; sitting in a group, the occupants
looked at each other rather foolishly.

"Seems to me you were going to bring Peaches right along, if you liked
her, Leslie," laughed Douglas.

"The little vixen!" she said flushing.

"Sorry you didn't care for her," he commented.

"It is a pity!" said Leslie. "But I didn't 'miss bringing her along' any
farther than Mrs. Minturn missed taking her to the hospital to be examined
and treated!"

"I'll have to go again about that," said Mrs. Minturn. "I just couldn't
seem to get at it, someway."

"No, you 'just couldn't seem to,'" agreed Douglas. "And Mr. Winton 'just
couldn't seem to' lay covetous hands on Mickey, and bear him away to be
his assistant any more than I could force him to be my Little Brother. I
hope all of us have a realizing sense that we are permitted to be good and
loyal friends; but we will kindly leave Mickey to make his own
arrangements, and work out his own salvation, and that of his child. And
Leslie, I didn't hear you offering to buy any of the quaint dishes and old
furniture you hoped you might pick up there, either."

"Heavens!" cried Leslie half tearfully. "How would any one go about
offering to buy an old platter that was wrapped in a silk shawl and kept
in the dresser drawer during repairs, or ask a man to set a price on old
furniture, when he was scraping off the varnish of generations, and
showing you wood grain and colouring with the pride of a veteran
collector? I feel so silly! Let's play off our chagrin, and then we'll be
in condition for friendship which is the part that falls to us, if I
understand Mickey."

"Well considering the taste I've had of the quality of his friendship, I
hope you won't be surprised at the statement that I feel highly honoured,"
said Mr. Winton, leading the way, while the others thoughtfully followed.

With four days' work the Harding home began to show what was being
accomplished. The song of the housewife carried to the highway. Neighbours
passing went home to silent, overworked drudges, and critically examined
for the first time stuffy, dark kitchens, reeking with steam, heat, and
the odour of cooking and decorated with the grime of years. The little
leaven of one home in the neighbourhood, as all homes should be, set them
thinking. A week had not passed until people began calling Mrs. Harding to
the telephone to explain just what she was doing, and why. Men would stop
to ask Peter what was going on, so every time he caught a victim, he never
released him until the man saw sunrise above a kitchen table, a line in
the basement for a winter wash, kitchen implements from a pot scraper and
food pusher to a gas range and electric washing machine, with a furnace
and hardwood floors thrown in. Soon the rip of shovelled shingles, the
sound of sawing, and the ring of hammers filled the air.

The Harding improvements improved so fast, that sand, cement, and the big
pile of lumber began accumulating at Peter's corner of the crossroads
below the home, for the playhouse. Men who started by calling Peter a
fool, ended by borrowing his plans and belabouring themselves for their
foolishness; for the neighbourhood was awakening and beginning to develop
a settled conviction as to what constituted the joy of life, and that the
place to enjoy it was at home, and the time immediately. Peter's reward
was not only in renewed happiness for himself and Nancy; equal to it was
his pleasure over the same renewal for many of his lifelong friends.

Mickey started on his day to Atwater with joyful anticipation, but he
jumped from Douglas' car and ran up the Harding front walk at three
o'clock, his face anxious. He saw the Harding car at the gate, and
wondered at Peter sitting dressed for leisure on the veranda.

"Got anxious about Lily," he explained. "Out on the lake I thought I heard
her call me, then I had the notion she was crying for me. They laughed at
me, but I couldn't stand it. Is she asleep, as they said she'd be?"

Peter opened his lips, but no word came. Mickey slowly turned a ghastly
white. Peter reached in his side pocket, drew out a letter, and handed it
to the boy. Mickey pulled the sheet from the envelope, still staring at
Peter, then glanced at what he held and collapsed on the step. Peter moved
beside him, laid a steadying arm across his shoulders and proved his fear
was as great as Mickey's by being unable to speak. At last the boy
produced articulate words.

"_He came?_" he marvelled.

"About ten this morning," said Peter.

"He took her to the hospital?" panted Mickey.

"Yes," said Peter.

"Why did you let him?" demanded Mickey.

That helped Peter. He indicated the letter.

"There's your call for him!" he said, emphatically. "You asked me to adopt
her so I could give him orders to go ahead when he came."

"Why didn't you telephone me?" asked Mickey.

"I did," said Peter. "The woman who answered didn't know where you were,
but she said their car had gone to town, so I thought maybe they'd find
you there. I was just going to call them again."

"Was she afraid?" wavered Mickey.

"Yes, I think she was," said Peter.

"Did she cry for me?" asked Mickey.

"Yes she did," admitted Peter, who hadn't a social lie in his being, "but
when he offered to put off the examination till he might come again, she
climbed from the cot and made him take her. Ma went with her."

"The Sunshine Nurse came?" questioned Mickey.

"Yes," said Peter, "and Mrs. Minturn. She sent for him to see about an
operation on a child she is trying to save, so when it was over, he showed
her your letter. She brought them out in her car, and Ma went back with

"She may be on that glass table right now," gulped Mickey. "What time is
it? When's the next car? Run me to the station will you, and if you've got
any money, let me have it 'til I get to mine."

"Of course!" said Peter.

"Will Junior and Mary be all right?" asked Mickey, pausing in his
extremity to think of others.

"Yes, they often stay while we go."

"Hurry!" begged Mickey.

Peter took hold of the gear and faced straight ahead.

"She's oiled, the tank full, the engine purring like a kitten," he said.
"Mickey, I always wanted to beat that trolley just once, to show it I
_could_, if I wasn't loaded with women and children. Awful nice road----"

"Go on!" said Mickey.

Peter smiled, sliding across the starter.

"Sit tight!" he said tersely.

The big car slipped up the road no faster than it had gone frequently,
passed the station, then on and on; Mickey twisted to look back at the
rattle of the trolley stopping behind them, watching it with wishful eye.
Peter opened his lips to say: "Just warmed up enough, and an even start!"

The trolley came abreast and whistled. Peter blew his horn, glancing that
way with a little "come on" forward jerk of his head. The motorman
nodded, touched his gear and the car started. Peter laid prideful, loving
hands on his machinery; for the first time with legitimate racing excuse,
as he long had wished to, he tried out his engine. Mickey could see the
faces of the protesting passengers and the conductor grinning in the door,
but Peter could not have heard if he had tried to tell him. Flying it was,
smooth and even, past fields, orchards, and houses; past people who cried
out at them and shook their fists. Mickey looked at Peter and registered
for life each line of his big frame and lineament of his face, as he
gripped the gear and put his car over the highway. When they reached the
pavement, Mickey touched Peter's arm. "Won't make anything by getting
arrested," he cautioned.

"No police for blocks yet," said Peter.

"Well there's risk of life and damage suit at each crossing!" shouted
Mickey, so Peter slowed a degree; but he was miles ahead of all
regulations as he stopped before the gleaming entrance. Mickey sprang from
the car and hurried up the steps. Mrs. Minturn arose from a seat and came
to meet him.

"Take me to her quick!" begged Mickey.

Silently she led the way to her suite in her old home, and opened the
door. Mickey had a glimpse of Mrs. Harding, his Sunshine Nurse, and three
men, one of whom he recognized from reproductions of his features in the
papers. A very white, tired-looking Peaches stretched both hands and
uttered a shrill cry as Mickey appeared in the doorway. His answer was
inarticulate while his arms spread widely. Then Peaches arose, and in a
few shuffling but sustained steps fell on his breast, gripping him with
all her strength.

"Oh darling, you'll kill yourself," wailed Mickey.

He laid her on the davenport and knelt clasping her. Peaches regained
self-control first; she sat up, shamelessly wiping Mickey's eyes and her
own alternately.

"Flowersy-girl, did you hurt yourself awful?"

"I know something I won't tell," chanted Peaches, as she had been doing
for days.

Mickey looked at her, then up at Peter, who had entered and come to them.

"_Did you?_" eagerly asked Peter of the child.

Peaches nodded proudly. "To meet Mickey," she triumphed. "I wouldn't for
anybody else _first! The longest piece yet! And it didn't hurt and I
didn't fall!_"

"Good!" shouted Peter. "That's the ticket!"

"You look here Miss Chicken, what do you mean?" cried Mickey wonderingly.

"Oh the Doctor Carrel man you sent for, came," explained Peaches, "and you
wasn't there, but he had your name on the letter you wrote; he showed me,
so I came and let him examination me; but Peter and I been standing alone,
and taking steps when nobody was looking. You've surprised me joyful so
much, it takes one as big as that to pay you back."

Mickey clung to his treasure, while turning to Peter an awed, questioning

"That's it!" said Peter. "She's been on her feet for ten days or such a

Mickey appealed to Dr. Carrel. "How about this?" he demanded.

"She's going to walk," said the great man assuringly.

"It's all over? You've performed your miracle?" asked Mickey.

"Yes," said Dr. Carrel. "It's all over, Mickey; but you had the miracle
performed before I saw her, lad."

Mickey retreated to Peaches' neck again, while she smiled over and
comforted him.

"Mickey, I knew you'd be crazy," she said. "I knew you'd be glad, but I
didn't know you could be so----"

Mickey took her in his arms a second, then slowly recovered his feet and a
small amount of self-possession. Again he turned to the surgeons.

"_Are you sure?_ Will it hurt her? Will it last?"

"Very sure," said Dr. Carrel. "Calm yourself, lad. Her case is not so
unusual; only more aggravated than usual. I've examined her from crown to
sole, and she's straight and sound. You have started her permanent cure;
all you need is to keep on exactly as you are going, and limit her
activities so that in her joy she doesn't overdo and tire herself. You are
her doctor. I congratulate you!"

Dr. Carrel came forward, holding out his hand, and Mickey took it with the
one of his that was not gripping Peaches and said, "Aw-a-ah!" but he was a
radiant boy.

"Thank you sir," he said. "Thank everybody. But thank you especial, over
and over. I don't know how I'll ever square up with you, but I'll pay you
all I have to start on. I've some money I've saved from my wages, and I'll
be working harder and earning more all the time."

"But Mickey," protested the surgeon, "you don't owe me anything. I didn't
operate! You had the work done before I arrived. I would have come sooner,
but I knew she couldn't be operated, even if her case demanded it, until
she had gained more strength----"

He was watching Mickey's face and he read aright, so he continued: "I like
that suggestion you made in your letter very much. Something 'coming in
steadily' is a good thing for any man to have. For the next three months,
suppose you send me that two dollars a week you offered me if I'd come.
How would that be?"

Mickey gathered Peaches in his arms and looked over his shoulder as he
started on the homeward trip.

"Thank you sir," he said tersely. "That would be square."


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