GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL
“But, lo, Michael, one of the
chief princes, came to help me.”
“Hi, there! Mikky! Look out!”
It was an alert voice that called from a huddled group of urchins in the forefront of the crowd, but the child flashed past without heeding, straight up the stone steps where stood a beautiful baby smiling on the crowd. With his bundle of papers held high, and the late morning sunlight catching his tangle of golden hair, Mikky flung himself toward the little one. The sharp crack of a revolver from the opposite curbstone was simultaneous with their fall. Then all was confusion.
It was a great stone house on Madison Avenue where the crowd had gathered. An automobile stood before the door, having but just come quietly up, and the baby girl three years old, in white velvet, and ermines, with her dark curls framed by an ermine-trimmed hood, and a bunch of silk rosebuds poised coquettishly over the brow vying with the soft roses of her cheeks came out the door with her nurse for her afternoon ride. Just an instant the nurse stepped back to the hall for the wrap she had dropped, leaving the baby alone, her dark eyes shining like stars under the straight dark brows, as she looked gleefully out in the world. It was just at that instant, as if by magic, that the crowd assembled.
Perhaps it would be better to say that it was just at that minute that the crowd focused itself upon the particular house where the baby daughter of the president of a great defaulting bank lived. More or less all the morning, men had been gathering, passing the house, looking up with troubled or threatening faces toward the richly laced windows, shaking menacing heads, muttering imprecations, but there had been no disturbance, and no concerted crowd until the instant the baby appeared.
The police had been more or less vigilant all the morning but had seen nothing to disturb them. The inevitable small boy had also been in evidence, with his natural instinct for excitement. Mikky with his papers often found himself in that quarter of a bright morning, and the starry eyes and dark curls of the little child were a vision for which he often searched the great windows as he passed this particular house: but the man with the evil face on the other side of the street, resting a shaking hand against the lamp post, and sighting the baby with a vindictive eye, had never been seen there before. It was Mikky who noticed him first: Mikky, who circling around him innocently had heard his imprecations against the rich, who caught the low-breathed oath as the baby appeared, and saw the ugly look on the man’s face. With instant alarm he had gone to the other side of the street, his eye upon the offender, and had been the first to see the covert motion, the flash of the hidden weapon and to fear the worst.
But a second behind him his street companions saw his danger and cried out, too late. Mikky had flung himself in front of the beautiful baby, covering her with his great bundle of papers, and his own ragged, neglected little body; and receiving the bullet intended for her, went down with her as she fell.
Instantly all was confusion.
A child’s cry–a woman’s scream–the whistle of the police–the angry roar of the crowd who were like a pack of wild animals that had tasted blood. Stones flew, flung by men whose wrongs had smothered in their breasts and bred a fury of hate and murder. Women were trampled upon. Two of the great plate glass windows crashed as the flying missiles entered the magnificent home, regardless of costly lace and velvet hangings.
The chauffeur attempted to run his car around the corner but was held up at once, and discreetly took himself out of the way, leaving the car in the hands of the mob who swarmed into it and over it, ruthlessly disfiguring it in their wrath. There was the loud report of exploding tires, the ripping of costly leather cushions, the groaning of fine machinery put to torture as the fury of the mob took vengeance on the car to show what they would like to do to its owner.
Gone into bankruptcy! He! With a great electric car like that, and servants to serve him! With his baby attired in the trappings of a queen and his house swathed in lace that had taken the eyesight from many a poor lace-maker! He! Gone into bankruptcy, and slipping away scot free, while the men he had robbed stood helpless on his sidewalk, hungry and shabby and hopeless because the pittances they had put away in his bank, the result of slavery and sacrifice, were gone,–hopelessly gone! and they were too old, or too tired, or too filled with hate, to earn it again.
The crowd surged and seethed madly, now snarling like beasts, now rumbling portentously like a storm, now babbling like an infant; a great emotional frenzy, throbbing with passion, goaded beyond fear, desperate with need; leaderless, and therefore the more dangerous.
The very sight of that luxurious baby with her dancing eyes and happy smiles “rolling in luxury,” called to mind their own little puny darling, grimy with neglect, lean with want, and hollow-eyed with knowledge aforetime. Why should one baby be pampered and another starved? Why did the bank-president’s daughter have any better right to those wonderful furs and that exultant smile than their own babies? A glimpse into the depths of the rooms beyond the sheltering plate glass and drapery showed greater contrast even than they had dreamed between this home and the bare tenements they had left that morning, where the children were crying for bread and the wife shivering with cold. Because they loved their own their anger burned the fiercer; and for love of their pitiful scrawny babies that flower-like child in the doorway was hated with all the vehemence of their untamed natures. Their every breath cried out for vengeance, and with the brute instinct they sought to hurt the man through his child, because they had been hurt by the wrong done to their children.
The policeman’s whistle had done its work, however. The startled inmates of the house had drawn the beautiful baby and her small preserver within the heavy carven doors, and borne them back to safety before the unorganized mob had time to force their way in. Amid the outcry and the disorder no one had noticed that Mikky had disappeared until his small band of companions set up an outcry, but even then no one heard.
The mounted police had arrived, and orders were being given. The man who had fired the shot was arrested, handcuffed and marched away. The people were ordered right and left, and the officer’s horses rode ruthlessly through the masses. Law and order had arrived and there was nothing for the downtrodden but to flee.
In a very short time the square was cleared and guarded by a large force. Only the newspaper men came and went without challenge. The threatening groups of men who still hovered about withdrew further and further. The wrecked automobile was patched up and taken away to the garage. The street became quiet, and by and by some workmen came hurriedly, importantly, and put in temporary protections where the window glass had been broken.
Yet through it all a little knot of ragged newsboys stood their ground in front of the house. Until quiet was restored they had evaded each renewed command of officer or passer-by, and stayed there; whispering now and again in excited groups and pointing up to the house. Finally a tall policeman approached them:
“Clear out of this, kids!” he said not unkindly. “Here’s no place for you. Clear out. Do you hear me? You can’t stay here no longer:”
Then one of them wheeled upon him. He was the tallest of them all, with fierce little freckled face and flashing black eyes in which all the evil passions of four generations back looked out upon a world that had always been harsh. He was commonly known as fighting Buck.
“Mikky’s in dare. He’s hurted. We kids can’t leave Mick alone. He might be dead.”
Just at that moment a physician’s runabout drew up to the door, and the policeman fell back to let him pass into the house. Hard upon him followed the bank president in a closed carriage attended by several men in uniform who escorted him to the door and touched their hats politely as he vanished within. Around the corners scowling faces haunted the shadows, and murmured imprecations were scarcely withheld in spite of the mounted officers. A shot was fired down the street, and several policemen hurried away. But through it all the boys stood their ground.
“Mikky’s in dare. He’s hurted. I seen him fall. Maybe he’s deaded. We kids want to take him away. Mikky didn’t do nothin’, Mikky jes’ tried to save der little kid. Mikky’s a good’un. You get the folks to put Mikky out here. We kids’ll take him away”
The policeman finally attended to the fierce pleading of the ragamuffins. Two or three newspaper men joined the knot around them and the story was presently written up with all the racy touches that the writers of the hour know how to use. Before night Buck, with his fierce black brows drawn in helpless defiance was adorning the evening papers in various attitudes as the different snapshots portrayed him, and the little group of newsboys and boot-blacks and good-for-nothings that stood around him figured for once in the eyes of the whole city.
The small band held their place until forcibly removed. Some of them were barefoot, and stood shivering on the cold stones, their little sickly, grimy faces blue with anxiety and chill.
The doctor came out of the house just as the last one, Buck, was being marched off with loud-voiced protest. He eyed the boy, and quickly understood the situation.
“Look here!” he called to the officer. “Let me speak to the youngster. He’s a friend, I suppose, of the boy that was shot?”
The officer nodded.
“Well, boy, what’s all this fuss about?” He looked kindly, keenly into the defiant black eyes of Buck.
“Mikky’s hurted–mebbe deaded. I wants to take him away from dare,” he burst forth sullenly. “We kids can’t go off’n’ leave Mikky in dare wid de rich guys. Mikky didn’t do no harm. He’s jes tryin’ to save de kid.”
“Mikky. Is that the boy that took the shot in place of the little girl?”
The boy nodded and looked anxiously into the kindly face of the doctor.
“Yep. Hev you ben in dare? Did youse see Mikky? He’s got yaller hair. Is Mikky deaded?”
“No, he isn’t dead,” said the physician kindly, “but he’s pretty badly hurt. The ball went through his shoulder and arm, and came mighty near some vital places. I’ve just been fixing him up comfortably, and he’ll be all right after a bit, but he’s got to lie very still right where he is and be taken care of.”
“We kids’ll take care o’ Mikky!” said Buck proudly. “He tooked care of Jinney when she was sick, an’ we’ll take care o’ Mikky, all right, all right. You jes’ brang him out an’ we’ll fetch a wheelbarry an’ cart him off’n yer han’s. Mikky wouldn’t want to be in dare wid de rich guys.”
“My dear fellow,” said the doctor, quite touched by the earnestness in Buck’s eyes, “that’s very good of you, I’m sure, and Mikky ought to appreciate his friends, but he’s being taken care of perfectly right where he is and he couldn’t be moved. It might kill him to move him, and if he stays where he is he will get well. I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he added as he saw the lowering distress in the dumb eyes before him, “I’ll give you a bulletin every day. You be here to-night at five o’clock when I come out of the house and I’ll tell you just how he is. Then you needn’t worry about him. He’s in a beautiful room lying on a great big white bed and he has everything nice around him, and when I came away he was sleeping. I can take him a message for you when I go in to-night, if you like.”
Half doubtfully the boy looked at him.
“Will you tell Mikky to drop us down word ef he wants annythin’? Will you ast him ef he don’t want us to git him out?”
“Sure!” said the doctor in kindly amusement. “You trust me and I’ll make good. Be here at five o’clock sharp and again to-morrow at quarter to eleven.”
“He’s only a slum kid!” grumbled the officer. “‘Tain’t worth while to take so much trouble. ‘Sides, the folks won’t want um botherin’ ’round.”
“Oh, he’s all right!” said the doctor. “He’s a friend worth having. You might need one yourself some day, you know. What’s your name, boy? Who shall I tell Mikky sent the message?”
“Buck,” said the child gravely, “Fightin’ Buck, they calls me.”
“Very appropriate name, I should think,” said the doctor smiling. “Well, run along Buck and be here at five o’clock.”
Reluctantly the boy moved off. The officer again took up his stand in front of the house and quiet was restored to the street.
Meantime, in the great house consternation reigned for a time.
The nurse maid had reached the door in time to hear the shot and see the children fall. She barely escaped the bullet herself. She was an old servant of the family and therefore more frightened for her charge than for herself. She had the presence of mind to drag both children inside the house and shut and lock the door immediately, before the seething mob could break in.
The mistress of the house fell in a dead faint as they carried her little laughing daughter up the stairs and a man and a maid followed with the boy who was unconscious. The servants rushed hither and thither; the housekeeper had the coolness to telephone the bank president what had happened, and to send for the family physician. No one knew yet just who was hurt or how much. Mikky had been brought inside because he blocked the doorway, and there was need for instantly shutting the door. If it had been easier to shove him out the nurse maid would probably have done that. But once inside common humanity bade them look after the unconscious boy’s needs, and besides, no one knew as yet just exactly what part Mikky had played in the small tragedy of the morning.
“Where shall we take him?” said the man to the maid as they reached the second floor with their unconscious burden.
“Not here, Thomas. Here’s no place for him. He’s as dirty as a pig. I can’t think what come over Morton to pull him inside, anyway. His own could have tended to him. Besides, such is better dead!”
They hurried on past the luxurious rooms belonging to the lady of the mansion; up the next flight of stairs, and Norah paused by the bath-room door where the full light of the hall windows fell upon the grimy little figure of the child they carried.
Norah the maid uttered an exclamation.
“He’s not fit fer any place in this house. Look at his cloes. They’ll have to be cut off’n him, and he needs to go in the bath-tub before he can be laid anywheres. Let’s put him in the bath-room, and do you go an’ call Morton. She got him in here and she’ll have to bathe him. And bring me a pair of scissors. I’ll mebbe have to cut the cloes off’n him, they’re so filthy. Ach! The little beast!”
Thomas, glad to be rid of his burden, dropped the boy on the bath-room floor and made off to call Morton.
Norah, with little knowledge and less care, took no thought for the life of her patient. She was intent on making him fit to put between her clean sheets. She found the tattered garments none too tenacious in their hold to the little, half-naked body. One or two buttons and a string were their only attachments. Norah pulled them off with gingerly fingers, and holding them at arm’s length took them to the bath-room window whence she pitched them down into the paved court below, that led to the kitchen regions. Thomas could burn them, or put them on the ash pile by and by. She was certain they would never go on again, and wondered how they had been made to hold together this last time.
Morton had not come yet, but Norah discovering a pool of blood under the little bare shoulder, lifted him quickly into the great white bath-tub and turned on the warm water. There was no use wasting time, and getting blood on white tiles that she would have to scrub. She was not unkind but she hated dirt, and partly supporting the child with one arm she applied herself to scrubbing him as vigorously as possible with the other hand. The shock of the water, not being very warm at first, brought returning consciousness to the boy for a moment, in one long shuddering sigh. The eyelashes trembled for an instant on the white cheeks, and his eyes opened; gazed dazedly, then wildly, on the strange surroundings, the water, and the vigorous Irish woman who had him in her power. He threw his arms up with a struggling motion, gasped as if with sudden pain and lost consciousness again, relaxing once more into the strong red arm that held him. It was just at this critical moment that Morton entered the bath-room.
Morton was a trim, apple-cheeked Scotch woman of about thirty years, with neat yellow-brown hair coiled on the top of her head, a cheerful tilt to her freckled nose, and eyes so blue that in company with her rosy cheeks one thought at once of a flag. Heather and integrity exhaled from her very being, flamed from her cheeks, spoke from her loyal, stubborn chin, and looked from her trustworthy eyes. She had been with the bank president’s baby ever since the little star-eyed creature came into the world.
“Och! look ye at the poor wee’un!” she exclaimed. “Ye’re hurtin’ him, Norah! Ye shouldn’t have bathed him the noo! Ye should’ve waited the docther’s comin’. Ye’ll mebbe kin kill him.”
“Ach! Get out with yer soft talk!” said Norah, scrubbing the more vigorously. “Did yez suppose I’ll be afther havin’ all this filth in the nice clean sheets? Get ye to work an’ he’p me. Do ye hold ‘im while I schrub!”
She shifted the boy into the gentler arm’s of the nurse, and went to splashing all the harder. Then suddenly, before the nurse could protest, she had dashed a lot of foamy suds on the golden head and was scrubbing that with all her might.
“Och, Norah!” cried the nurse in alarm. “You shouldn’t a done that! Ye’ll surely kill the bairn. Look at his poor wee shoulder a bleedin’, and his little face so white an’ still. Have ye no mercy at all, Norah? Rinse off that suds at once, an’ dry him softly. What’ll the docther be sayin’ to ye fer all this I can’t think. There, my poor bairnie,” she crooned to the child, softly drawing him closer as though he were conscious,–
“There, there my bairnie, it’ll soon be over. It’ll be all right in just a minute, poor wee b’y! Poor wee b’y! There! There–“
But Norah did her perfect work, and made the little lean body glistening white as polished marble, while the heavy hair hung limp like pale golden silk.
The two women carried him to a bed in a large room at the back of the house, not far from the nursery, and laid him on a blanket, with his shoulder stanched with soft linen rags. Morton was softly drying his hair and crooning to the child–although he was still unconscious–begging Norah to put the blanket over him lest he catch cold; and Norah was still vigorously drying his feet unmindful of Morton’s pleading, when the doctor entered with a trained nurse. The boy lay white and still upon the blanket as the two women, startled, drew back from their task. The body, clean now, and beautifully shaped, might have been marble except for the delicate blue veins in wrists and temples. In spite of signs of privation and lack of nutrition there was about the boy a showing of strength in well developed muscles, and it went to the heart to see him lying helpless so, with his drenched gold hair and his closed eyes. The white limbs did not quiver, the lifeless fingers drooped limply, the white chest did not stir with any sign of breath, and yet the tender lips that curved in a cupid’s bow, were not altogether gone white.
“What a beautiful child!” exclaimed the nurse involuntarily as she came near the bed. “He looks like a young god!”
“He’s far more likely to be a young devil,” said the doctor grimly, leaning over him with practised eyes, and laying a listening ear to the quiet breast. Then, he started back.
“He’s cold as ice! What have you been doing to him? It wasn’t a case of drowning, was it? You haven’t been giving him a bath at such a time as this, have you? Did you want to kill the kid outright?”
“Oauch, the poor wee b’y!” sobbed Morton under her breath, her blue eyes drenched with tears that made them like blue lakes. “He’s like to my own wee b’y that I lost when he was a baby,” she explained in apology to the trained nurse who was not, however, regarding her in the least.
Norah had vanished frightened to consult with Thomas. It was Morton who brought the things the doctor called for, and showed the nurse where to put her belongings; and after everything was done and the boy made comfortable and brought back to consciousness, it was she who stood at the foot of the bed and smiled upon him first in this new world to which he opened his eyes.
His eyes were blue, heavenly blue and dark, but they were great with a brave fear as he glanced about on the strange faces. He looked like a wild bird, caught in a kindly hand,–a bird whose instincts held him still because he saw no way of flight, but whose heart was beating frightfully against his captor’s fingers. He looked from side to side of the room, and made a motion to rise from the pillow. It was a wild, furtive motion, as of one who has often been obliged to fly for safety, yet still has unlimited courage. There was also in his glance the gentle harmlessness and appeal of the winged thing that has been caught.
“Well, youngster, you had a pretty close shave,” said the doctor jovially, “but you’ll pull through all right! You feel comfortable now?”
The nurse was professionally quiet.
“Poor wee b’y!” murmured Morton, her eyes drenched again.
The boy looked from one to another doubtfully. Suddenly remembrance dawned upon him and comprehension entered his glance. He looked about the room and toward the door. There was question in his eyes that turned on the doctor but his lips formed no words. He looked at Morton, and knew her for the nurse of his baby. Suddenly he smiled, and that smile seemed to light up the whole room, and filled the heart of Morton with joy unspeakable. It seemed to her it was the smile of her own lost baby come back to shine upon her. The tears welled, up and the blue lakes ran over. The boy’s face was most lovely when he smiled.
“Where is–de little kid?” It was Morton whose face he searched anxiously as he framed the eager question, and the woman’s intuition taught her how to answer.
“She’s safe in her own wee crib takin’ her morning nap. She’s just new over,” answered the woman reassuringly.
Still the eyes were not satisfied.
“Did she”–he began slowly–“get–hurted?”
“No, my bairnie, she’s all safe and sound as ever. It was your own self that saved her life.”
The boy’s face lit up and he turned from one to another contentedly. His smile said: “Then I’m glad.” But not a word spoke his shy lips.
“You’re a hero, kid!” said the doctor huskily. But the boy knew little about heroes and did not comprehend.
The nurse by this time had donned her uniform and rattled up starchily to take her place at the bedside, and Morton and the doctor went away, the doctor to step once more into the lady’s room below to see if she was feeling quite herself again after her faint.
The nurse leaned over the boy with a glass and spoon. He looked at it curiously, unknowingly. It was a situation entirely outside his experience.
“Why don’t you take your medicine?” asked the nurse.
The boy looked at the spoon again as it approached his lips and opened them to speak.
In went the medicine and the boy nearly choked, but he understood and smiled.
“A hospital?” he finished.
The nurse laughed.
“No, it’s only a house. They brought you in, you know, when you were hurt out on the steps. You saved the little girl’s life. Didn’t you know it?” she said kindly, her heart won by his smile.
A beautiful look rewarded her.
“Is de little kid–in this house?” he asked slowly, wonderingly. It was as if he had asked if he were in heaven, there was so much awe in his tone.
“Oh, yes, she’s here,” answered the nurse lightly. “Perhaps they’ll bring her in to see you sometime. Her father’s very grateful. He thinks it showed wonderful courage in you to risk your life for her sake.”
But Mikky comprehended nothing about gratitude. He only took in the fact that the beautiful baby was in the house and might come there to see him. He settled to sleep quite happily with an occasional glad wistful glance toward the door, as the long lashes sank on the white cheeks, for the first sleep the boy had ever taken in a clean, white, soft bed. The prim nurse, softened for once from her precise attention to duties, stood and looked upon the lovely face of the sleeping child, wondered what his life had been, and how the future would be for him. She half pitied him that the ball had not gone nearer to the vital spot and taken him to heaven ere he missed the way, so angel-like his face appeared in the soft light of the sick room, with the shining gold hair fluffed back upon the pillow now, like a halo.
Little Starr Endicott, sleeping in her costly lace-draped crib on her downy embroidered pillow, knew nothing of the sin and hate and murder that rolled in a great wave on the streets outside, and had almost touched her own little life and blotted it out. She knew not that three notable families whose names were interwoven in her own, and whose blood flowed in her tiny veins represented the great hated class of the Rich, and that those upon whom they had climbed to this height looked upon them as an evil to be destroyed; nor did she know that she, being the last of the race, and in her name representing them all, was hated most of all.
Starr Delevan Endicott! It was graven upon her tiny pins and locket, upon the circlet of gold that jewelled her finger, upon her brushes and combs; it was broidered upon her dainty garments, and coverlets and cushions, and crooned to her by the adoring Scotch nurse who came of a line that knew and loved an aristocracy. The pride of the house of Starr, the wealth of the house of Delevan, the glory of the house of Endicott, were they not all hers, this one beautiful baby who lay in her arms to tend and to love. So mused Morton as she hummed:
“O hush thee my babie, thy sire was a knight, Thy mother a ladie, both gentle and bright–“
And what cared Morton that the mother in this case was neither gentle nor bright, but only beautiful and selfish? It did but make the child the dearer that she had her love to herself.
And so the little Starr lay sleeping in her crib, and the boy, her preserver, from nobody knew where, and of nobody knew what name or fame, lay sleeping also. And presently Delevan Endicott himself came to look at them both.
He came from the swirl of the sinful turbulent world outside, and from his fretting, petted wife’s bedside. She had been fretting at him for allowing a bank in which he happened to be president to do anything which should cause such a disturbance outside her home, when he knew she was so nervous. Not one word about the little step that had stood for an instant between her baby and eternity. Her husband reminded her gently how near their baby had come to death, and how she should rejoice that she was safe, but her reply had been a rush of tears, and “Oh, yes, you always think of the baby, never of me, your wife!”
With a sigh the man had turned from his fruitless effort to calm her troubled mind and gone to his little daughter. He had hoped that his wife would go with him, but he saw the hopelessness of that idea.
The little girl lay with one plump white arm thrown over her head, the curling baby fingers just touching the rosy cheek, flushed with sleep. She looked like a rosebud herself, so beautiful among the rose and lacey draperies of her couch. Her dark curls, so fine and soft and wonderful, with their hidden purple shadows, and the long dark curling lashes, to match the finely pencilled brows, brought out each delicate feature of the lovely little face. The father, as he looked down upon her, wondered how it could have been in the heart of any creature, no matter how wicked, to put out this vivid little life. His little Starr, his one treasure!
The man that had tried to do it, could he have intended it really, or was it only a random shot? The testimony of those who saw judged it intention. The father’s quickened heart-beats told him it was, and he felt that the thrust had gone deep. How they had meant to hurt him! How they must have hated him to have wished to hurt him so! How they would have hurt his life irretrievably if the shot had done its work. If that other little atom of human life had not intervened!
Where was the boy who had saved his child? He must go and see him at once. The gratitude of a lifetime should be his.
Morton divined his thought, as he stepped from the sacred crib softly after bending low to sweep his lips over the rosy velvet of little Starr’s cheek. With silent tread she followed her master to the door:
“The poor wee b’y’s in the far room yon,” she said in a soft whisper, and her tone implied that his duty lay next in that direction. The banker had often noticed this gentle suggestion in the nurse’s voice, it minded him of something in his childhood and he invariably obeyed it. He might have resented it if it had been less humble, less trustfully certain that of course that was the thing that he meant to do next. He followed her direction now without a word.
The boy had just fallen asleep when he entered, and lay as sweetly beautiful as the little vivid beauty he had left in the other room. The man of the world paused and instinctively exclaimed in wonder. He had been told that it was a little gamin who had saved his daughter from the assassin’s bullet, but the features of this child were as delicately chiseled, his form as finely modeled, his hair as soft and fine as any scion of a noble house might boast. He, like the nurse, had the feeling that a young god lay before him. It was so that Mikky always had impressed a stranger even when his face was dirty and his feet were bare.
The man stood with bowed head and looked upon the boy to whom he felt he owed a debt which he could never repay.
He recognized the child as a representative of that great unwashed throng of humanity who were his natural enemies, because by their oppression and by stepping upon their rights when it suited his convenience, he had risen to where he now stood, and was able to maintain his position. He had no special feeling for them, any of them, more than if they had been a pack of wolves whose fangs he must keep clear of, and whose hides he must get as soon as convenient; but this boy was different! This spirit-child with the form of Apollo, the beauty of Adonis, and the courage of a hero! Could he have come from the hotbeds of sin and corruption? It could not be! Sure there must be some mistake. He must be of good birth. Enquiry must be made. Had anyone asked the child’s name and where he lived?
Then, as if in answer to his thought, the dark blue eyes suddenly opened. He found them looking at him, and started as he realized it, as if a picture on which he gazed had suddenly turned out to be alive. And yet, for the instant, he could not summon words, but stood meeting that steady searching gaze of the child, penetrating, questioning, as if the eyes would see and understand the very foundation principles on which the man’s life rested. The man felt it, and had the sensation of hastily looking at his own motives in the light of this child’s look. Would his life bear that burning appealing glance?
Then, unexpectedly the child’s face lit up with his wonderful smile. He had decided to trust the man.
Never before in all his proud and varied experience had Delevan Endicott encountered a challenge like that. It beat through him like a mighty army and took his heart by storm, it flashed into his eyes and dazzled him. It was the challenge of childhood to the fatherhood of the man. With a strange new impulse the man accepted it, and struggling to find words, could only answer with a smile.
A good deal passed between them before any words were spoken at all, a good deal that the boy never forgot, and that the man liked to turn back to in his moments of self-reproach, for somehow that boy’s eyes called forth the best that was in him, and made him ashamed of other things.
“Boy, who is your father?” at last asked the man huskily. He almost dreaded to find another father owning a noble boy like this–and such a father as he would be if it were true that he was only a street gamin.
The boy still smiled, but a wistfulness came into his eyes. He slowly shook his head.
“Dead, is he?” asked the man more as if thinking aloud. But the boy shook his head again.
“No, no father,” he answered simply.
“Oh,” said the man, and a lump gathered in his throat. “Your mother?”
“No mother, never!” came the solemn answer. It seemed that he scarcely felt that either of these were deep lacks in his assets. Very likely fathers and mothers were not on the average desirable kindred in the neighborhood from which he came. The man reflected and tried again.
“Who are your folks? They’ll be worried about you. We ought to send them word you’re doing well?”
The boy looked amazed, then a laugh rippled out.
“No folks,” he gurgled, “on’y jest de kids.”
“Your brothers and sisters?” asked Endicott puzzled.
“None o’ dem,” said Mikky. “Buck an’ me’re pards. We fights fer de other kids.”
“Don’t you know it’s wrong to fight?”
Endicott tried to think of something to add to his little moral homily, but somehow could not.
“It’s very wrong to fight,” he reiterated lamely.
The boy’s cherub mouth settled into firm lines.
“It’s wronger not to, when de little kids is gettin’ hurt, an’ de big fellers what ought ter work is stole away they bread, an’ they’s hungry.”
It was an entirely new proposition. It was the challenge of the poor against the rich, of the weak against the strong, and from the lips of a mere babe. The man wondered and answered not.
“I’d fight fer your little kid!” declared the young logician. He seemed to know by instinct that this was the father of his baby.
Ah, now he had touched the responsive chord. The father’s face lit up. He understood. Yes, it was right to fight for his baby girl, his little Starr, his one treasure, and this boy had done it, given his life freely. Was that like fighting for those other unloved, uncared-for, hungry darlings? Were they then dear children, too, of somebody, of God, if nobody else? The boy’s eyes were telling him plainly in one long deep look, that all the world of little children at least was kin, and the grateful heart of the father felt that in mere decency of gratitude he must acknowledge so much. Poor little hungry babies. What if his darling were hungry! A sudden longing seized his soul to give them bread at once to eat. But at least he would shower his gratitude upon this one stray defender of their rights.
He struggled to find words to let the child know of this feeling but only the tears gathering quickly in his eyes spoke for him.
“Yes, yes, my boy! You did fight for my little girl. I know, I’ll never forget it of you as long as I live. You saved her life, and that’s worth everything to me. Everything, do you understand?”
At last the words rushed forth, but his voice was husky, and those who knew him would have declared him more moved than they had ever seen him.
The boy understood. A slender brown hand stole out from the white coverlet and touched his. Its outline, long and supple and graceful, spoke of patrician origin. It was hard for the man of wealth and pride to realize that it was the hand of the child of the common people, the people who were his enemies.
“Is there anything you would like to have done for you, boy?” he asked at last because the depth of emotion was more than he could bear.
The boy looked troubled.
“I was thinkin’, ef Buck an’ them could see me, they’d know ’twas all right. I’d like ’em fine to know how ’tis in here.”
“You want me to bring them up to see you?”
“Where can I find them, do you think?”
“Buck, he won’t go fur, till he knows what’s comed o’ me,” said the boy with shining confidence in his friend. “He’d know I’d do that fur him.”
Then it seemed there was such a thing as honor and loyalty among the lower ranks of men–at least among the boys. The man of the world was learning a great many things. Meekly he descended the two flights of stairs and went out to his own front doorsteps.
There were no crowds any more. The police were still on duty, but curious passersby dared not linger long. The workmen had finished the windows and gone. The man felt little hope of finding the boys, but somehow he had a strange desire to do so. He wanted to see that face light up once more. Also, he had a curious desire to see these youngsters from the street who could provoke such loving anxiety from the hero upstairs.
Mikky was right, Buck would not go far away until he knew how it was with his comrade. He had indeed moved off at the officer’s word when the doctor promised to bring him word later, but in his heart he did not intend to let a soul pass in or out of that house all day that he did not see, and so he set his young pickets here and there about the block, each with his bunch of papers, and arranged a judicious change occasionally, to avoid trouble with the officers.
Buck was standing across the street on the corner by the church steps, making a lively show of business now and then and keeping one eye on the house that had swallowed up his partner. He was not slow to perceive that he was being summoned by a man upon the steps, and ran eagerly up with his papers, expecting to receive his coin, and maybe a glimpse inside the door.
“All about der shootin’ of der bank millionaire’s baby!” he yelled in his most finished voice of trade, and the father, thinking of what might have been, felt a pang of horror at the careless words from the gruff little voice.
“Do you know a boy named Buck?” he questioned as he deliberately paid for the paper that was held up to him, and searched the unpromising little face before him. Then marvelled at the sullen, sly change upon the dirty face.
The black brows drew down forbodingly, the dark eyes reminded Mm of a caged lion ready to spring if an opportunity offered. The child had become a man with a criminal’s face. There was something frightful about the defiant look with which the boy drew himself up.
“What if I does?”
“Only that there’s a boy in here,” motioning toward the door, “would like very much to see him for a few minutes. If you know where he is, I wish you’d tell him.”
Then there came a change more marvelous than before. It was as if the divine in the soul had suddenly been revealed through a rift in the sinful humanity. The whole defiant face became eager, the black eyes danced with question, the brows settled into straight pleasant lines, and the mouth sweetened as with pleasant thoughts.
“Is’t Mikky?” He asked in earnest voice. “Kin we get in? I’ll call de kids. He’ll want ’em. He allus wants der kids.” He placed his fingers in his mouth, stretching it into a curious shape, and there issued forth a shriek that might have come from the mouth of an exulting fiend, so long and shrill and sharp it was. The man on the steps, his nerves already wrought to the snapping point, started angrily. Then suddenly around the corner at a swift trot emerged three ragged youngsters who came at their leader’s command swiftly and eagerly.
“Mikky wants us!” explained Buck. “Now youse foller me, ‘n don’t you say nothin’ less I tell you.”
They fell in line, behind the bank president, and followed awed within the portal that unlocked a palace more wonderful than Aladdin’s to their astonished gaze.
Up the stairs they slunk, single file, the bare feet and the illy-shod alike going silently and sleuth-like over the polished stairs. They skulked past open doors with frightened defiant glances, the defiance of the very poor for the very rich, the defiance that is born and bred in the soul from a face to face existence with hunger and cold and need of every kind. They were defiant but they took it all in, and for many a day gave details highly embellished of the palace where Mikky lay. It seemed to them that heaven itself could show no grander sights.
In a stricken row against the wall, with sudden consciousness of their own delinquencies of attire, ragged caps in hands, grimy hands behind them, they stood and gazed upon their fallen hero-comrade.
Clean, they had never perhaps seen his face before. The white robe that was upon him seemed a robe of unearthly whiteness. It dazzled their gaze. The shining of his newly-washed hair was a glory crown upon his head. They saw him gathered into another world than any they knew. It could have seemed no worse to them if the far heaven above the narrow city streets had opened its grim clouds and received their comrade from their sight. They were appalled. How could he ever be theirs again? How could it all have happened in the few short hours since Mikky flashed past them and fell a martyr to his kindly heart and saved the wicked rich man his child? The brows of Buck drew together in his densest frown. He felt that Mikky, their Mikky was having some terrible change come upon him.
Then Mikky turned and smiled upon them all, and in his dear familiar voice shouted, “Say, kids, ain’t this grand? Say, I jes’ wish you was all in it! Ef you, Buck, an’ the kids was here in this yer grand bed I’d be havin’ the time o’ me life!”
That turned the tide. Buck swallowed hard and smiled his darker smile, and the rest grinned sheepishly Grandeur and riches had not spoiled their prince. He was theirs still and he had wanted them. He had sent for them. They gained courage to look around on the spotlessly clean room, on the nurse in her crackling dignity; on the dish of oranges which she promptly handed to them and of which each in awe partook a golden sphere; on the handful of bright flowers that Morton had brought but a few minutes before and placed on a little stand by the bed; on the pictures that hung upon the walls, the like of which they had never seen, before, and then back to the white white bed that held their companion. They could not get used to the whiteness and the cleanness of his clean, clean face and hands, and bright gold hair. It burned like a flame against the pillow, and Mikky’s blue eyes seemed darker and deeper than ever before. To Buck they had given their obedient following, and looked to him for protection, but after all he was one like themselves, only a little more fearless. To Mikky they all gave a kind of far-seeing adoration. He was fearless and brave like Buck, but he was something more. In their superstitious fear and ignorance he seemed to them almost supernatural.
They skulked, silently down the stairs like frightened rabbits when the interview was over, each clutching his precious orange, and not until the great doors had closed upon them, did they utter a word. They had said very little. Mikky had done all the talking.
When they had filed down the street behind their leader, and rounded the corner out of sight of the house, Buck gathered them into a little knot and said solemnly: “Kids. I bet cher Mik don’t be comin’ out o’ this no more. Didn’t you take notice how he looked jes’ like the angel top o’ the monnemunt down to the cemtary?”
The little group took on a solemnity that was deep and real.
“Annyhow, he wanted us!” spoke up a curly-headed boy with old eyes and a thin face. He was one whom Mikky had been won’t to defend. He bore a hump upon his ragged back.
“Aw! he’s all right fer us, is Mik,” said Buck, “but he’s different nor us. Old Aunt Sal she said one day he were named fer a ‘n’angel, an’ like as not he’ll go back where he b’longs some day, but he won’t never fergit us. He ain’t like rich folks what don’t care. He’s our pard allus. Come on, fellers.”
Down the back alley went the solemn little procession, single file, till they reached the rear of the Endicott house, where they stood silent as before a shrine, till at a signal from their leader, each grimy right hand was raised, and gravely each ragged cap was taken off and held high in the air toward the upper window, where they knew their hero-comrade lay. Then they turned and marched silently away.
They were all in place before the door whenever the doctor came thereafter, and always went around by the way of the alley afterward for their ceremonial good night, sometimes standing solemnly beneath the cold stars while the shrill wind blew through their thin garments, but always as long as the doctor brought them word, or as long as the light burned in the upper window, they felt their comrade had not gone yet.
Heaven opened for Mikky on the day when Morton, with the doctor’s permission, brought Baby Starr to see him.
The baby, in her nurse’s arms, gazed down upon her rescuer with the unprejudiced eyes of childhood. Mikky’s smile flashed upon her and forthwith she answered with a joyous laugh of glee. The beautiful boy pleased her ladyship. She reached out her roseleaf hands to greet him.
The nurse held her down to the bed:
“Kiss the wee b’y, that’s a good baby. Kiss the wee b’y. He took care of baby and saved her life when the bad man tried to hurt her. Kiss the wee b’y and say ‘I thank you,'” commanded Morton.
The saving of her life meant nothing to little Starr, but she obediently murmured ‘I’ee tank oo!’ as the nurse had drilled her to do before she brought her, and then laid her moist pink lips on cheeks, forehead, eyes and mouth in turn, and Mikky, in ecstasy, lay trembling with the pleasure of it. No one had ever kissed him before. Kissing was not in vogue in the street where he existed.
Thereafter, every day until he was convalescent, Starr came to visit him.
By degrees he grew accustomed to her gay presence enough to talk with her freely as child with child. Her words were few and her tongue as yet quite unacquainted with the language of this world; but perhaps that was all the better, for their conversations were more of the spirit than of the tongue, Mikky’s language, of circumstance, being quite unlike that of Madison Avenue.
Starr brought her wonderful electric toys and dolls, and Mikky looked at them with wonder, yet always with a kind of rare indifference, because the child herself was to him the wonder of all wonders, an angel spirit stooped to earth. And every day, when the nurse carried her small charge away after her frolic with the boy, she would always lift her up to the bed and say:
“Now kiss the wee b’y, Baby Starr, and thank him again fer savin’ yer life.”
And Starr would lay her soft sweet mouth on hie as tenderly and gravely as if she understood the full import of her obligation. At such times Mikky would watch her bright face as it came close to his, and when her lips touched his he would close his eyes as if to shut out all things else from this sacred ceremony. After Starr and Morton were gone the nurse was wont to look furtively toward the bed and note the still, lovely face of the boy whose eyes were closed as if to hold the vision and memory the longer. At such times her heart would draw her strangely from her wonted formality and she would touch the boy with a tenderness that was not natural to her.
There were other times when Mr. Endicott would come and talk briefly with the boy, just to see his eyes light and his face glow with that wonderful smile, and to think what it would be if the boy were his own. Always Mikky enjoyed these little talks, and when his visitor was gone he would think with satisfaction that this was just the right kind of a father for his little lovely Starr. He was glad the Baby Starr had a father. He had often wondered what it would be like to have a father, and now he thought he saw what the height of desire in a father might be. Not that he felt a great need for himself in the way of fathers. He had taken care of himself since he could remember and felt quite grown up and fathers usually drank; but a baby like that needed a father, and he liked Starr’s father.
But the dearest thing now in life for him was little Starr’s kisses.
To the father, drawn first by gratitude to the boy who had saved his child’s life, and afterwards by the boy’s own irresistible smile, these frequent visits had become a pleasure. There had been a little boy before Starr came to their home, but he had only lived a few weeks. The memory of that golden, fuzzy head, the little appealing fingers, the great blue eyes of his son still lingered bitterly in the father’s heart. When he first looked upon this waif the fancy seized him that, perhaps his own boy would have been like this had he lived, and a strange and unexpected tenderness entered his heart for Mikky. He kept going to the little invalid’s room night after night, pleasing himself with the thought that the boy was his own.
So strong a hold did this fancy take upon the man’s heart that he actually began to consider the feasibility of adopting the child and bringing him up as his own–this, after he had by the aid of detectives, thoroughly searched out all that was known of him and found that no one owned Mikky nor seemed to care what became of him except Buck and his small following. And all the time the child, well fed, well cared for, happier than he had ever dreamed of being in all his little hard life, rapidly convalesced.
Endicott came home one afternoon to find Mikky down in the reception room dressed in black velvet and rare old lace, with his glorious sheaf of golden hair which had grown during his illness tortured into ringlets, and an adoring group of ladies gathered about him, as he stood with troubled, almost haughty mien, and gravely regarded their maudlin sentimentalities.
Mrs. Endicott had paid no attention to the boy heretofore, and her sudden interest in him came from a chance view of him as he sat up in a big chair for the first time, playing a game with little Starr. His big eyes and beautiful hair attracted her at once, and she lost no time in dressing him up like a doll and making him a show at one of her receptions.
When her husband remonstrated with her, declaring that such treatment would ruin the spirit of any real boy, and spoil him for life, she shrugged her shoulders indifferently, and answered:
“Well, what if it does? He’s nothing but a foundling. He ought to be glad we are willing to dress him up prettily and play with him for a while.”
“And what would you do with him after you were done using him for a toy? Cast him aside?”
“Well, why not?” with another shrug of her handsome shoulders. “Or, perhaps we might teach him to be a butler or footman if you want to be benevolent. He would be charming in a dark blue uniform!”
The woman raised her delicate eyebrows, humming a light tune, and her husband turned from her in despair. Was it nothing at all to her that this child had saved the life of her baby?
That settled the question of adoption. His wife would never be the one to bring up the boy into anything like manhood. It was different with a girl–she must of necessity be frivolous, he supposed.
The next morning an old college friend came into his office, a plain man with a pleasant face, who had not gone from college days to a bank presidency. He was only a plain teacher in a little struggling college in Florida, and he came soliciting aid for the college.
Endicott turned from puzzling over the question of Mikky, to greet his old friend whom he had not seen for twenty years. He was glad to see him. He had always liked him. He looked him over critically, however, with his successful-business-man-of-New-York point of view. He noticed the plain cheap business suit, worn shiny in places, the shoes well polished but beginning to break at the side, the plentiful sprinkling of gray hairs, and then hie eyes travelled to the kind, worn face of his friend. In spite of himself he could not but feel that the man was happier than himself.
He asked many questions, and found a keen pleasure in hearing all about the little family of the other, and their happy united efforts to laugh off poverty and have a good time anyway. Then the visitor told of the college, its struggles, its great needs and small funds, how its orange crop, which was a large part of its regular income, had failed that year on account of the frost, and they were in actual need of funds to carry on the work of the immediate school year. Endicott found his heart touched, though he was not as a rule a large giver to anything.
“I’d be glad to help you Harkness,” he said at last, “but I’ve got a private benevolence on my hands just now that is going to take a good deal of money, I’m afraid. You see we’ve narrowly escaped a tragedy at our house–” and he launched into the story of the shooting, and his own indebtedness to Mikky.
“I see,” said the Professor, “you feel that you owe it to that lad to put him in the way of a better life, seeing that he freely gave his life for your child’s.”
“Exactly!” said Endicott, “and I’d like to adopt him and bring him up as my own, but it doesn’t seem feasible. I don’t think my wife would feel just as I do about it, and I’m not sure I’d be doing the best after all for the boy. To be taken from one extreme to another might ruin him.”
“Well, Endicott, why don’t you combine your debt to the child with benevolence and send him down to us for a few years to educate.”
Endicott sat up interestedly.
“Could I do that; Would they take so young a child? He can’t be over seven.”
“Yes, we would take him, I think. He’d be well cared for; and his tuition in the prep department would help the institution along. Every little helps, you know.”
Endicott suddenly saw before him the solution of his difficulties. He entered eagerly into the matter, talking over rates, plans and so on. An hour later it was all settled. Mikky was to take a full course with his expenses all prepaid, and a goodly sum placed in the bank for his clothing and spending money. He was to have the best room the school afforded, at the highest price, and was to take music and art and everything else that was offered, for Endicott meant to do the handsome thing by the institution. The failure of the bank of which he was president had in no wise affected his own private fortune.
“If the boy doesn’t seem to develop an interest in some of these branches, put some deserving one in his place, and put him at something else,” he said. “I want him to have his try at everything, develop the best that is in him. So we’ll pay for everything you’ve got there, and that will help out some other poor boy perhaps, for, of course one boy can’t do everything. I’ll arrange it with my lawyer that the payments shall be made regularly for the next twelve years, so that if anything happens to me, or if this boy runs away or doesn’t turn out worthy, you will keep on getting the money just the same, and some one else can come in on it.”
Professor Harkness went away from the office with a smile on his face and in his pocket three letters of introduction to wealthy benevolent business men of New York. Mikky was to go South with him the middle of the next week.
Endicott went home that afternoon with relief of mind, but he found in his heart a most surprising reluctance to part with the beautiful boy.
When the banker told Mikky that he was going to send him to “college,” and explained to him that an education would enable him to become a good man and perhaps a great one, the boy’s face was very grave. Mikky had never felt the need of an education, and the thought of going away from New York gave him a sensation as if the earth were tottering under his feet. He shook his head doubtfully.
“Kin I take Buck an’ de kids?” he asked after a thoughtful pause, and with a lifting of the cloud in his eyes.
“No,” said Endicott. “It costs a good deal to go away to school, and there wouldn’t be anyone to send them.”
Mikky’s eyes grew wide with something like indignation, and he shook his head.
“Nen I couldn’t go,” he said decidedly. “I couldn’t take nothin’ great like that and not give de kids any. We’ll stick together. I’ll stay wid de kids. They needs me.”
“But Mikky–” the man looked into the large determined eyes and settled down for combat–“you don’t understand, boy. It would be impossible for them to go. I couldn’t send them all, but I _can_ send you, and I’m going to, because you risked your life to save little Starr.”
“That wasn’t nothin’ t’all!” declared Mikky with fine scorn.
“It was everything to me,” said the man, “and I want to do this for you. And boy, it’s your duty to take this. It’s everybody’s duty to take the opportunities for advancement that come to them.”
Mikky looked at him thoughtfully. He did not understand the large words, and duty meant to him a fine sense of loyalty to those who had been loyal to him.
“I got to stay wid de kids,” he said. “Dey needs me.”
With an exasperated feeling that it was useless to argue against this calmly stated fact, Endicott began again gently:
“But Mikky, you can help them a lot more by going to college than by staying at home.”
The boy’s eyes looked unconvinced but he waited for reasons.
“If you get to be an educated man you will be able to earn money and help them. You can lift them up to better things; build good houses for them to live in; give them work to do that will pay good wages, and help them to be good men.”
“Are you educated?”
Thinking he was making progress Endicott nodded eagerly.
“Is that wot you does fer folks?” The bright eyes searched his face eagerly, keenly, doubtfully.
The color flooded the bank-president’s cheeks and forehead uncomfortably.
“Well,–I might–” he answered. “Yes, I might do a great deal for people, I suppose. I don’t know as I do much, but I could if I had been interested in them.”
He paused. He realized that the argument was weakened. Mikky studied his face.
“But dey needs me now, de kids does,” he said gravely, “Jimmie, he don’t have no supper most nights less’n I share; and Bobs is so little he can’t fight dem alley kids; n’ sometimes I gets a flower off’n the florist’s back door fer little sick Jane. Her’s got a crutch, and can’t walk much anyhow; and cold nights me an’ Buck we sleeps close. We got a box hid away where we sleeps close an’ keeps warm.”
The moisture gathered in the eyes of the banker as he listened to the innocent story. It touched his heart as nothing ever had before. He resolved that after this his education and wealth should at least help these little slum friends of Mikky to an occasional meal, or a flower, or a warm bed.
“Suppose you get Buck to take your place with the kids while you go to school and get an education and learn how to help them better.”
Mikky’s golden head negatived this slowly.
“Buck, he’s got all he kin do to git grub fer hisse’f an” his sister Jane. His father is bad, and kicks Jane, and don’t get her nothin’ to eat. Buck he has to see after Janie.”
“How would it be for you to pay Buck something so that he could take your place? I will give you some money that you may do as you like with, and you can pay Buck as much as you think he needs every week. You can send it to him in a letter.”
“Would it be as much as a quarter?” Mikky held his breath in wonder and suspense.
“Two quarters if you like.”
“Oh! could I do that?” The boy’s face fairly shone, and he came and threw his arms about Endicott’s neck and laid his face against his. The man clasped him close and would fain have kept him there, for his well ordered heart was deeply stirred.
Thus it was arranged.
Buck was invited to an interview, but when the silver half dollar was laid in his grimy palm, and he was made to understand that others were to follow, and that he was to step up into Mikky’s place in the community of the children while that luminary went to “college” to be educated, his face wore a heavy frown. He held out the silver sphere as if it burned him. What! Take money in exchange for Mikky’s bright presence? Never!
It took a great deal of explanation to convince Buck that anything could be better “fer de kids” than Mikky, their own Mikky, now and forever. He was quick, however, to see where the good lay for Mikky, and after a few plain statements from Mr. Endicott there was no further demur on the part of the boy. Buck was willing to give up Mikky for Mikky’s good but not for his own. But it was a terrible sacrifice. The hard little face knotted itself into a fierce expression when he came to say good-bye. The long scrawny throat worked convulsively, the hands gripped each other savagely. It was like handing Mikky over to another world than theirs, and though he confidently promised to return to them so soon as the college should have completed the mysterious process of education, and to live with them as of yore, sleeping in Buck’s box alongside, and taking care of the others when the big alley kids grew troublesome, somehow an instinct taught them that he would never return again. They had had him, and they would never forget him, but he would grow into a being far above them. They looked vindictively at the great rich man who had perpetrated this evil device of a college life for their comrade. It was the old story of the helpless poor against the powerful rich. Even heart-beats counted not against such power. Mikky must go.
They went to the great station on the morning when Mikky was to depart and stood shivering and forlorn until the train was called. They listened sullenly while Professor Harkness told them that if they wished to be fit to associate with their friend when he came out of college they must begin at once to improve all their opportunities. First of all they must go to school, and study hard, and then their friend in college would be proud to call them friends. They did not think it worth while to tell the kindly but ignorant professor that they had no time for school, and no clothes to wear if they had the time or the inclination to go. Schools were everywhere, free, of course, but it did not touch them. They lived in dark places and casual crannies, like weeds or vermin. No one cared whether they went to school. No one suggested it. They would have as soon thought of entering a great mansion and insisting on their right to live there as to present themselves at school. Why, they had to hustle for a mere existence. They were the water rats, the bad boys, the embryo criminals for the next generation. The problem, with any who thought of them was how to get rid of them. But of course this man from another world did not understand. They merely looked at him dully and wished he would walk away and leave Mikky to them while he stayed. His presence made it seem as if their companion were already gone from them.
It was hard, too, to see Mikky dressed like the fine boys on Fifth Avenue, handsome trousers and coat, and a great thick overcoat, a hat on his shining crown of hair that had always been guiltless of cap, thick stockings and shining shoes on his feet that had always been bare and soiled with the grime of the streets–gloves on his hands. This was a new Mikky. “The kids” did not know him. In spite of their best efforts they could not be natural. Great lumps arose in their throats, lumps that never dared arise for hunger or cold or curses at home.
They stood helpless before their own consciousness, and Mikky, divining the trouble with that exquisite keenness of a spirit sent from heaven to make earth brighter, conceived the bright idea of giving each of his comrades some article of his apparel as a remembrance. Mr. Endicott came upon the scene just in time to keep Mikky from taking off his overcoat and enveloping Buck in its elegant folds. He was eagerly telling them that Bobs should have his undercoat, Jimmie his hat; they must take his gloves to Jane, and there was nothing left for Sam but his stockings and shoes, but he gave them all willingly. He seemed to see no reason why he could not travel hatless and coatless, bare of foot and hand, for had he not gone that way through all the years of his existence? It was a small thing to do, for his friends whom he was leaving for a long time.
The bright face clouded when he was told he could not give these things away, that it would not be fair to the kind professor to ask him to carry with him a boy not properly dressed. But he smiled again trustfully when Endicott promised to take the whole group to a clothing house and fit them out.
They bade Mikky good-bye, pressing their grimy noses against the bars of the station gate to watch their friend disappear from their bare little lives.
Endicott himself felt like crying as he came back from seeing the boy aboard the train. Somehow it went hard for him to feel, he should not meet the bright smile that night when he went home.
But it was not the way of “the kids” to cry when tragedy fell among them. They did not cry now–when he came back to them they regarded the banker with lowering brows as the originator of their bereavement. They had no faith in the promised clothing.
“Aw, what’s he givin’ us!” Buck had breathed under his breath. But to do Buck credit he had not wanted to take Mikky’s coat from him. When their comrade went from them into another walk in life he must go proudly apparelled.
Endicott led the huddled group away from the station, to a clothing house, and amused himself by fitting them out. The garments were not of as fine material, nor elegant a cut as those he had pleased himself by purchasing for Mikky’s outfit, but they were warm and strong and wonderful to their eyes, and one by one the grimy urchins went into a little dressing room, presently emerging with awe upon their faces to stand before a tall mirror surveying themselves.
Endicott presently bade the little company farewell and with a conscience at ease with himself and all mankind left them.
They issued from the clothing house with scared expressions and walked solemnly a few blocks. Then Buck called them to a halt before a large plate glass show-window.
“Take a good look at yersel’s, kids,” he ordered, “an’ we’ll go up to the Park an’ shine around, an’ see how ther swells feels, then we’ll go down to Sheeny’s an’ sell ’em.”
“Sell ’em! Can’t we keep ’em?” pitifully demanded Bobs who had never felt warm in winter in all his small life before.
“You wouldn’t hev ’em long,” sneered Buck. “That father o’ yourn would hey ’em pawned ‘afore night; You better enjoy ’em a while, an’ then git the money. It’s safer!”
The children with wisdom born of their unhappy circumstances recognized this truth. They surveyed themselves gravely in their fleeting grandeur and then turned to walk up to the aristocratic part of town, a curious little procession. They finished by rounding the Madison Avenue block, marched up the alley, and gave the salute with new hats toward the window where their Prince and Leader used to be. He was no longer there, but his memory was about them, and the ceremony did their bursting little hearts good. Their love for Mikky was the noblest thing that had so far entered their lives.
Jimmie suggested that they must let Jane see them before they disposed forever of their elegant garments, so Bobs, minus coat, hat, stockings and shoes was sent to bid her to a secluded retreat at the far end of the alley. Bobs hurried back ahead of her little tapping crutch to don his fine attire once more before she arrived.
Little Jane, sallow of face, unkempt of hair, tattered of clothing and shivering in the cold twilight stood and watched the procession of pride as it passed and repassed before her delighted eyes. The festivity might have been prolonged but that the maudlin voice of Bobs’ father reeling into the alley struck terror to their hearts, and with small ceremony they scuttled away to the pawnshop, leaving little Jane to hobble back alone to her cellar and wonder how it would feel to wear a warm coat like one of those.
“Gee!” said Jimmie as they paused with one consent before the shop door, and looked reluctantly down at their brief glory, “Gee! I wisht we could keep jest one coat fer little Jane!”
“Couldn’t we hide it some’ere’s?” asked Sam, and they all looked at Buck.
Buck, deeply touched for his sister’s sake, nodded.
“Keep Jim’s,” he said huskily, “it’ll do her best.”
Then the little procession filed proudly in and gave up their garments to the human parasite who lived on the souls of other men, and came away bearing the one coat they had saved for Janie, each treasuring a pitiful bit of money which seemed a fortune in their eyes.
Little Jane received her gift with true spirit when it was presented, skilfully hid it from her inhuman father, and declared that each boy should have a turn at wearing the coat every Sunday at some safe hour, whereat deep satisfaction, reigned among them. Their grandeur was not all departed after all.
Meantime, Mikky, in his luxurious berth in a sleeper, smiled drowsily to think of the fine new clothes that his friends must be wearing, and then fell asleep to dream of little Starr’s kisses on his closed eyelids.
Into a new world came Mikky, a world of blue skies, song birds, and high, tall pines with waving moss and dreamy atmosphere; a world of plenty to eat and wear, and light and joy and ease.
Yet it was a most bewildering world to the boy, and for the first week he stood off and looked at it questioningly, suspiciously. True, there were no dark cellars or freezing streets, no drunken fathers or frightened children, or blows, or hunger or privation; but this education he had come to seek that he might go back to his own world and better it, was not a garment one put on and exercised in so many times a day; it was not a cup from which one drank, nor an atmosphere that one absorbed. It was a strange, imperceptible thing got at in some mysterious way by a series of vague struggles followed by sudden and almost alarming perceptions. For a time it seemed to the boy, keen though his mind, and quick, that knowledge was a thing only granted to the few, and his was a mind that would never grasp it. How, for instance, did one know how to make just the right figures under a line when one added a long perplexity of numbers? Mikky the newsboy could tell like a flash how much change he needed to return to the fat gentleman who occasionally gave him a five-dollar bill to change on Broadway; but Mikky the scholar, though he knew figures, and was able to study out with labor easy words in his papers, had never heard of adding up figures in the way they did here, long rows of them on the blackboard. It became necessary that this boy should have some private instruction before he would be able to enter classes. Professor Harkness himself undertook the task, and gradually revealed to the child’s neglected understanding some of the simple rudiments that would make his further progress possible. The sum that was paid for his tuition made it quite necessary that the boy advance reasonably, for his benefactor had made it understood that he might some day visit the institution and see how he was getting on. So great pains were taken to enlighten Mikky’s darkness.
There was another thing that the boy could not understand, and that was the discipline that ruled everywhere. He had always been a law unto himself, his only care being to keep out of the way of those who would interfere with this. Now he must rise with a bell, stay in his room until another bell, eat at a bell, go to the hard bench in the schoolroom with another bell, and even play ball when the recreation bell rang. It was hard on an independent spirit to get used to all this, and while he had no mind to be disorderly, he often broke forth into direct disobedience of the law from sheer misunderstanding of the whole régime.
The boys’ dormitory was presided over by a woman who, while thorough in all housekeeping arrangements, had certainly mistaken her calling as a substitute mother for boys. She kept their clothes in order, saw to it that their rooms were aired, their stockings darned and their lights out at exactly half-past nine, but the grimness of her countenance forbade any familiarity, and she never thought of gaining the confidence of her rough, but affectionate charges. There was no tenderness in her, and Mikky never felt like smiling in her presence. He came and went with a sort of high, unconscious superiority that almost irritated the woman, because she was not great enough to see the unusual spirit of the child; and as a consequence she did not win his heart.
But he did not miss the lack of motherliness in her, for he had never known a mother and was not expecting it.
The professors he grew to like, some more, some less, always admiring most those who seemed to him to deal in a fair and righteous manner with their classes–fairness being judged by the code in use among “the kids” in New York. But that was before he grew to know the president. After that his code changed.
His first interview with that dignitary was on an afternoon when he had been overheard by the matron to use vile language among the boys at the noon hour. She hauled him up with her most severe manner, and gave him to understand that he must answer to the president for his conduct.
As Mikky had no conception of his offence he went serenely to his fate walking affably beside her, only wishing she would not look so sour. As they crossed the campus to the president’s house a blue jay flew overhead, and a mocking bird trilled in a live oak near-by. The boy’s face lighted with joy and he laughed out gleefully, but the matron only looked the more severe, for she thought him a hardened little sinner who was defying her authority and laughing her to scorn. After that it was two years before she could really believe anything good of Mikky.
The president was a noble-faced, white-haired scholar, with a firm tender mouth, a brow of wisdom, and eyes of understanding. He was not the kind who win by great athletic prowess, he was an old-fashioned gentleman, well along in years, but young in heart. He looked at the child of the slums and saw the angel in the clay.
He dismissed the matron with a pleasant assurance and took Mikky to an inner office where he let the boy sit quietly waiting a few minutes till he had finished writing a letter. If the pen halted and the kind eyes furtively studied the beautiful face of the child, Mikky never knew it.
The president asked the boy to tell him what he had said, and Mikky, with sweet assurance repeated innocently the terrible phrases he had used, phrases which had been familiar to him since babyhood, conveying statements of facts that were horrible, but nevertheless daily happenings in the corner of the world where he had brought himself up.
With rare tact the president questioned the boy, until he made sure there was no inherent rottenness in him: and then gently and kindly, but firmly laid down the law and explained why it was right and necessary that there should be a law. He spoke of the purity of God. Mikky knew nothing of God and listened with quiet interest. The president talked of education and culture and made matters very plain indeed. Then when the interview was concluded and the man asked the boy for a pledge of good faith and clean language from that time forth, Mikky’s smile of approval blazed forth and he laid his hand in that of the president readily enough, and went forth from the room with a great secret admiration of the man with whom he had just talked. The whole conversation had appealed to him deeply.
Mikky sought his room and laboriously spelled out with lately acquired clumsiness a letter to Buck:
“Dear Buck we mussent yuz endecent langwidg enay moor ner swar. God donte lyk it an’ it ain’t educated. I want you an’ me to be educate. I ain’t gone to, donte yoo ner let de kids.–Mikky.”
In due time, according to previous arrangement about the monthly allowance, this letter reached Buck, and he tracked the doctor for two whole days before he located him and lay in wait till he came out to his carriage, when he made bold to hand over the letter to be read.
The doctor, deeply touched, translated as best he could. Buck’s education had been pitifully neglected. He watched the mystic paper in awe as the doctor read.
“Wot’s indecent langwidge?” he asked with his heavy frown.
The doctor took the opportunity to deliver a brief sermon on purity, and Buck, without so much as an audible thank you, but with a thoughtful air that pleased the doctor, took back his letter, stuffed it into his ragged pocket and went on his way. The man watched him wistfully, wondering whether Mikky’s appeal could reach the hardened little sinner; and, sighing at the wickedness of the world, went on his way grimly trying to make a few things better.
That night “the kids” were gathered in front of little Janie’s window, for she was too weak to go out with them, and Buck delivered a lesson in ethical culture. Whatever Mikky, their Prince, ordered, that must be done, and Buck was doing his level best, although for the life of him he couldn’t see the sense in it. But thereafter none of “the kids” were allowed to use certain words and phrases, and swearing gradually became eliminated from their conversation. It would have been a curious study for a linguist to observe just what words and phrases were cut out, and what were allowed to flourish unrebuked; but nevertheless it was a reform, and Buck was doing his best.
With his schoolmates Mikky had a curiously high position even from the first. His clothes were good and he had always a little money to spend. That had been one of Endicott’s wishes that the boy should be like other boys. It meant something among a group of boys, most of whom were the sons of rich fathers, sent down to Florida on account of weak lungs or throats. Moreover, he was brave beyond anything they had ever seen before, could fight like a demon in defense of a smaller boy, and did not shrink from pitching into a fellow twice his size. He could tell all about the great base-ball and foot-ball games of New York City, knew the pitchers by name and yet did not boast uncomfortably. He could swim like a duck and dive fearlessly. He could outrun them all, by his lightness of foot, and was an expert in gliding away from any hand that sought to hold him back. They admired him from the first.
His peculiar street slang did not trouble them in the least, nor his lack of class standing, though that presently began to be a thing of the past, for Mikky, so soon as he understood the way, marched steadily, rapidly, up the hill of knowledge, taking in everything that was handed out to him and assimilating it. It began to look as if there would not be any left over courses in the curriculum that might be given to some other deserving youth. Mikky would need them all. The president and the professors began presently to be deeply interested in this boy without a past; and everywhere, with every one, Mikky’s smile won his way; except with the matron, who had not forgiven him that her recommendation of his instant dismissal from the college had not been accepted.
The boys had not asked many questions about him, nor been told much. They knew his father and mother were dead. They thought he had a rich guardian, perhaps a fortune some day coming, they did not care. Mikky never spoke about any of these things and there was a strange reticence about him that made them dislike to ask him questions; even, when they came to know him well. He was entered under the name of Endicott, because, on questioning him Professor Harkness found he could lay no greater claim to any other surname, and called him that until he could write to Mr. Endicott for advice. He neglected to write at once and then, the name having become fastened upon the boy, he thought it best to let the matter alone as there was little likelihood of Mr. Endicott’s coming down to the college, and it could do no harm. He never stopped to think out possible future complications and the boy became known as Michael Endicott.
But his companions, as boys will, thought the matter over, and rechristened him “Angel”; and Angel, or Angel Endy he became, down to the end of his college course.
One great delight of his new life was the out-of-door freedom he enjoyed. A beautiful lake spread its silver sheet at the foot of the campus slope and here the boy revelled in swimming and rowing. The whole country round was filled with wonder to his city-bred eyes. He attached himself to the teacher of natural sciences, and took long silent tramps for miles about. They penetrated dense hammocks, gathering specimens of rare orchids and exquisite flowers; they stood motionless and breathless for hours watching and listening to some strange wild bird; they became the familiar of slimy coiling serpents in dark bogs, and of green lizards and great black velvet spiders; they brought home ravishing butterflies and moths of pale green and gold and crimson. Mikky’s room became a museum of curious and wonderful things, and himself an authority on a wide and varied range of topics.
The new life with plenty of wholesome plain food, plenty of fresh air, long nights of good sleep, and happy exercise were developing the young body into strength and beauty, even as the study and contact, with life were developing the mind. Mikky grew up tall and straight and strong. In all the school, even among the older boys, there was none suppler, none so perfectly developed. His face and form were beautiful as Adonis, and yet it was no pink and white feminine beauty. There was strength, simplicity and character in his face. With the acceptance of his new code of morals according to the president, had grown gradually a certain look of high moral purpose. No boy in his presence dared use language not up to the standard. No boy with his knowledge dared do a mean or wrong thing. And yet, in spite of this, not a boy in the school but admired him and was more or less led by him. If he had been one whit less brave, one shade more conscious of self and self’s interests, one tiny bit conceited, this would not have been. But from being a dangerous experiment in their midst Mikky became known as a great influence for good. The teachers saw it and marvelled. The matron saw it and finally, though grudgingly, accepted it. The president saw it and rejoiced. The students saw it not, but acknowledged it in their lives.
Mikky’s flame of gold hair had grown more golden and flaming with the years, so that when their ball team went to a near-by town to play, Mikky was sighted by the crowd and pointed out conspicuously at once.
“Who is that boy with the hair?” some one would ask one of the team.
“That? Oh, that’s the Angel! Wait till you see him play,” would be the reply. And he became known among outsiders as the Angel with the golden hair. At a game a listener would hear:
“Oh, see! see! There’ll be something doing now. The Angel’s at the bat!”
Yet in spite of all this the boy lived a lonely life. Giving of himself continually to those about him, receiving in return their love and devotion, he yet felt in a great sense set apart from them all. Every now and again some boy’s father or mother, or both, would come down for a trip through the South; or a sister or a little brother. Then that boy would be excused from classes and go off with his parents for perhaps a whole week; or they would come to visit him every day, and Michael would look on and see the love light beaming in their eyes. That would never be for him. No one had ever loved him in that way.
Sometimes he would close his eyes and try to get back in memory to the time when he was shot; and the wonder of the soft bed, the sweet room, and little Starr’s kisses. But the years were multiplying now and room and nurse and all were growing very dim. Only little Starr’s kisses remained, a delicate fragrance of baby love, the only kisses that the boy had ever known. One day, when a classmate had been telling of the coming of his father and what it would mean to him, Michael went into his room and locking his door sat down and wrote a stiff school boy letter to his benefactor, thanking him for all that he had done for him. It told briefly, shyly of a faint realization of that from which he had been saved; it showed a proper respect, and desire to make good, and it touched the heart of the busy man who had almost forgotten about the boy, but it gave no hint of the heart hunger which had prompted its writing.
The next winter, when Michael was seventeen, Delevan Endicott and his daughter Starr took a flying trip through the South, and stopped for a night and a day at the college.
The president told Michael of his expected coming. Professor Harkness had gone north on some school business.
The boy received the news quietly enough, with one of his brilliant smiles, but went to his room with a tumult of wonder, joy, and almost fear in his heart. Would Mr. Endicott be like what he remembered, kind and interested and helpful? Would he be pleased with the progress his protégé had made, or would he be disappointed? Would there be any chance to ask after little Starr? She was a baby still in the thoughts of the boy, yet of course she must have grown. And so many things might have happened–she might not be living now. No one would think or care to tell him.
Baby Starr! His beautiful baby! He exulted in the thought that he had flung his little useless life, once, between her lovely presence and death! He would do it again gladly now if that would repay all that her father had done for him. Michael the youth was beginning to understand all that that meant.
Those other friends of his, Buck, Jimmie, Bobs, and the rest, were still enshrined in his faithful heart, though their memory had grown dimmer with the full passing years. Faithfully every month the boy had sent Buck two dollars from his pocket money, his heart swelling with pleasure that he was helping those he loved, but only twice had any word come back from that far city where he had left them. In answer to the letter which the doctor had translated to them, there had come a brief laborious epistle, terse and to the point, written with a stub of pencil on the corner of a piece of wrapping paper, and addressed by a kindly clerk at the post office where Buck bought the stamped envelope. It was the same clerk who usually paid to the urchin his monthly money order, so he knew the address. For the inditing of the letter Buck went to night school two whole weeks before he could master enough letters and words to finish it to his satisfaction, It read:
“Deer Mik WE WunT
The significant words filled the boy’s heart with pride over his friend whenever he thought of it, even after some time had passed. He had faith in Buck. Somehow in his mind it seemed that Buck was growing and keeping pace with him, and he never dreamed that if Buck should see him now he would not recognize him.
When Mikky had been in Florida several years another letter had come from Buck addressed in the same way, and little better written than the other. Night school had proved too strenuous for Buck; besides, he felt he knew enough for all practical purposes and it was not likely he would need to write many letters. This, however, was an occasion that called for one.
“Dear Mikky Jany is DEAD sHe sayd tell yo hur LUV beeryd hur in owr kote we giv hur ther wuz a angle wit pink wins on top uv the wite hurs an a wite hors we got a lot uv flowers by yur money so yo needn sen no mor money kuz we ken got long now til yo cum BUCK.”
After that, though Michael had written as usual every month for some time no reply had come, and the money orders had been returned to him as not called for. Buck in his simplicity evidently took it for granted that Mikky would not send the money and so came no more to the office, at least that was the solution Michael put upon it, and deep down in his heart he registered a vow to go and hunt up Buck the minute he was through at college, and free to go back to New York and help his friends. Meantime, though the years had dimmed those memories of his old life, and the days went rapidly forward in study, he kept always in view his great intention of one day going back to better his native community.
But the coming of Mr. Endicott was a great event to the boy. He could scarcely sleep the night before the expected arrival.
It was just before the evening meal that the through train from New York reached the station. Michael had been given the privilege of going down to meet his benefactor.
Tall and straight and handsome he stood upon the platform as the train rushed into the town, his cheeks glowing from excitement, his eyes bright with anticipation, his cap in his hand, and the last rays of the setting sun glowing in his golden hair, giving a touch like a halo round his head. When Endicott saw him he exclaimed mentally over his strength and manly beauty, and more than one weary tourist leaned from the open car window and gazed, for there was ever something strange and strong and compelling about Michael that reminded one of the beauty of an angel.
Michael met Mr. Endicott unembarrassed. His early life in New York had given him a self-poise that nothing seemed to disturb; but when the father turned to introduce his young daughter, the boy caught his breath and gazed at her with deepening color, and intense delight.
She was here then, his Starr! She had come to see him, and she looked just as he would have her look. He had not realized before that she would be grown up, but of course she would, and the change in her was not so great as to shock his memory. The clear white of her skin with its fresh coloring was the same. New York life had not made it sallow. The roses were in her cheeks as much as when she was a little child. Her eyes were the same, dark and merry and looked at him straightly, unabashed, with the ease of a girl trained by a society mother. The dark curls were there, only longer, hanging to the slender waist and crowned with a fine wide Panama hat. She gave him a little gloved hand and said: “I’m afraid I don’t remember you very well, but daddy has been telling me about you and I’m very glad to see you.”
She was only a little over twelve, but she spoke with ease and simplicity, and for the first time in his life Michael felt conscious of himself. She was so perfect, so lovely, so finished in every expression and movement. She looked at him intelligently, politely curious, and no longer with the baby eyes that wondered at nothing. He himself could not help wondering what she must think of him, and for a few minutes he grew shy before her.
Mr. Endicott was surprised and pleased at the appearance of the boy. The passing of the years had easily erased the tender feelings that Mikky the little street urchin had stirred in his heart. This visit to the school and college was not so much on account of the boy, to whom he had come to feel he had discharged his full duty, but because of the repeated invitations on the part of Professor Harkness and the president. It went not against him to see the institution to which he had from time to time contributed, in addition to his liberal allowance for the education of the boy. It was perfectly convenient for him to stop, being on the regular route he had laid out for his southern trip. His wife he had left at Palm Beach with her fashionable friends; and with Starr as his companion, the father was going through the orange belt on a tour of investigation with a view to investments. It suited him perfectly to stop off and receive the thanks of the college, therefore he stopped. Not that he was a heartless man, but there were so many things in his world to make him forget, and a little pleasant adulation is grateful to the most of us.
But when Michael in all his striking beauty stood before him with the deference of a more than son, his heart suddenly gave a great leap back to the day when he had first looked down upon the little white face on the pillow; when the blue eyes had opened and Mikky had smiled. Michael smiled now, and Endicott became aware at once of the subtle fascination of that smile. And now the thought presented itself. “What if this were my son! how proud I should be of him!”
Michael was indeed good to look upon even to the eyes of the city critic. Endicott had taken care to leave orders with his tailor for a full outfit to be sent to the boy, Spring and Fall, of suitable plain clothing for a school boy, little realizing how unnecessary it would have been to have dressed him so well. The tailor, nothing loth, had taken the measurements which were sent to him from year to year in answer to the letter of the firm, and had kept Michael looking as well as any rich man’s son need desire to look. Not that the boy knew nor realized. The clothes came to him, like his board and tuition, and he took them well pleased and wrote his best letter of thanks each year as Professor Harkness suggested; but he had no idea that a part at least of his power of leadership with all the boys of the school was due to his plain though stylishly cut garments. This fact would not have counted for anything with boys who had been living in Florida for years, for any plain decent clothes were thought fit, no matter how they were cut; but the patronage of the school was at least one-half made up of rich men’s sons who were sent South for a few years to a milder climate for their health. These as a rule, when they came, had exaggerated ideas of the importance of clothes and prevailing modes.
And so it was that Michael did not look like a dowdy country boy to his benefactor, but on the contrary presented a remarkable contrast with many of the boys with whom Endicott was acquainted at home. There was something about Michael even when he was a small lad that commanded marked attention from all who saw him. This attention Endicott and his daughter gave now as they walked beside him in the glow of the sunset, and listened as he pointed out the various spots of interest in the little college town.
The institution boasted of no carriage, and the single horse-car that travelled to the station belonged to the hotel and its guests. However, the walk was not long, and gave the travellers an opportunity to breathe the clear air and feel the stillness of the evening which was only emphasized by each separate sound now and again.
Starr, as she walked on the inside of the board sidewalk, and looked down at the small pink and white and crimson pea blossoms growing broad-cast, and then up at the tallness of the great pines, felt a kind of awe stealing upon her. The one day she had spent at Palm Beach had been so filled with hotels and people and automobiles that she had had no opportunity to realize the tropical nature of the land. But here in this quiet spot, where the tiny station, the post office, the grocery, and a few scattered dwellings with the lights of the great tourists’ hotel gleaming in the distance, seemed all there was of human habitation; and where the sky was wide even to bewilderment; she seemed suddenly to realize the difference from New York.
Michael had recovered his poise as soon as she no longer faced him, though he was profoundly conscious of her presence there on the other side of her father. But he talked easily and well. Yes, there was the hotel. It held five hundred guests and was pretty well filled at this season of the year. There were some distinguished people stopping there. The railroad president’s private car was on the track for a few hours last week. That car over on the siding belonged to a great steel magnate. The other one had brought the wife of a great inventor. Off there at the right toward the sunset were the school and college buildings. No, they could not be seen, until one passed the orange grove. Too bad there was no conveyance, but the one little car turned off toward the hotel at this corner, and the one beast of burden belonging to the college, the college Mule–Minus, by name, because there were so many things that he was not–was lame to-day and therefore could not be called into requisition to bring the guests from the station.
Mr. Endicott felt that he was drawing nearer to nature in this quiet walk than he had been since he was a boy and visited his grandfather’s farm. It rested and pleased him immensely, and he was charmed with the boy, his protégé. His frank, simple conversation was free from all affectation on the one hand, or from any hint of his low origin on the other hand. He felt already that he had done a good thing in sending this boy down here to be educated. It was worth the little money he had put into it.
Starr watched Michael shyly from the shelter of her father’s side and listened to him. He was not like the boys she met in New York. To begin with he was remarkably fine looking, and added to that there was a mingled strength and kindliness in his face, and above all about his smile, that made her feel instinctively that he was nobler than most of them. She could not think of a boy of her acquaintance who had a firm chin like that. This boy had something about him that made the girl know instantly that he had a greater purpose in life than his own pleasure. Not that she thought this all out analytically. Starr had never learned to think. She only felt it as she looked at him, and liked him at once. Moreover there was a sort of glamour over the boy in her eyes, for her father had just been telling her the story of how he had saved her life when she was barely two years old. She felt a prideful proprietorship in him that made her shy in his presence.
At the college president’s gate, just on the edge of the campus, the president came out with apologies. He had been detained on a bit of business at the county seat five miles away, and had driven home with a friend whose horse was very slow. He was sorry not to have done their honored guests the courtesy of being at the station on their arrival. Endicott walked with the president after the greetings, and Michael dropped behind with Starr eagerly pointing out to her the buildings.
“That’s the chapel, and beyond are the study and recitation rooms. The next is the dining hall and servant’s quarters, and over on that side of the campus is our dormitory. My window looks down on the lake. Every morning I go before breakfast for a swim.”
“Oh, aren’t you afraid of alligators?” exclaimed Starr shivering prettily.
Michael looked down at her fragile loveliness with a softened appreciation, as one looks at the tender precious things of life that need protection.
“No,” he answered without laughing, as some of the other boys would have done at her girlish fears, “they never bother us here, and besides, I’m sort of acquainted with them. I’m not afraid of them. Nothing will hurt you if you understand it well enough to look out for its rights.”
“Oh!” said Starr eyeing him in wonder. As if an alligator had rights! What a strange, interesting boy. The idea of understanding an alligator. She was about to ask how understanding the creature would keep one from being eaten up when Michael pointed to the crimsoning West:
“See!” he said eagerly as if he were pointing to a loved scene, “the sun is almost down. Don’t you love to watch it? In a minute more it will be gone and then it will be dark. Hear that evening bird? ‘Tit-wiloo! Tit-wiloo!’ He sings sometimes late at night.”
Starr followed his eager words, and saw the sun slipping, slipping like a great ruby disc behind the fringe of palm and pine and oak that bordered the little lake below the campus; saw the wild bird dart from the thicket into the clear amber of the sky above, utter its sweet weird call, and drop again into the fine brown shadows of the living picture; watched, fascinated as the sun slipped lower, lower, to the half now, and now less than half.
Breathless they both stood and let the two men go on ahead, while they watched the wonder of the day turn into night. The brilliant liquid crimson poured itself away to other lands, till only a rim of wonderful glowing garnet remained; then, like a living thing dying into another life, it too dropped away, and all was night.
“Why! How dark it is!” exclaimed Starr as she turned to her companion again and found she could scarcely see his face. “Why! How queer! Where is the twilight? Is anything the matter? I never saw it get dark all at once like this!” She peered around into the strange velvet darkness with troubled eyes.
Michael was all attention at once.
“No, that’s all right,” he assured her. “That’s the way we do here. Almost everybody from the north speaks about it at first. They can’t understand it. Its the difference in the position of the sun, nearer the equator, you know. I’ll show you all about it on the chart in the astronomical room if you care to see. We haven’t any twilight here. I should think twilight would be queer. You wouldn’t just know when night began and day ended. I don’t remember about it when I lived in New York. Look up there! That’s the evening star! It’s come out for you to-night–to welcome another–Starr!”
Oh, Michael, of unknown origin! Whence came that skill of delicate compliment, that grace of courtesy, that you, plucked from the slime of the gutter, set apart from all sweetening influences of loving contact with, womankind, should be able so gallantly and respectfully to guide the young girl through the darkness, touching her little elbow distantly, tactfully, reverently, exactly as the college president helps his wife across the road on Sabbath to the church? Is it only instinct, come down from some patrician ancestor of gallant ways and kind, or have you watched and caught the knack from the noble scholar who is your ideal of all that is manly?
They walked silently through the warm darkness until they came within the circle of light from the open door, and matron and teachers came out to welcome the young stranger and bring her into the house.
Michael lingered for a moment by the door, watching her as she went with the matron, her sweet face wreathed in smiles, the matron’s thin arm around her and a new and gentle look upon her severe countenance; watched until they mounted the stairs out of sight; then he went out of doors.
Taking off his cap he stood reverently looking up at the star, communing with it perhaps about the human Starr that had come back to him out of the shadows of the past.
And she was a star. No one who saw her but acknowledged it. He marvelled as he recalled the change wrought in the face of the matron and because of her gentleness to the little girl forgave her all that she had not been to his motherless boyhood.
Starr came down to dinner in a few minutes radiant in a little rosy frock of soft Eastern silk, girdled with a fringed scarf of the same and a knot of coral velvet in her hair. From the string of pearls about her white neck to the dainty point of her slipper she was exquisite and Michael watched her with open admiration; whereat the long lashes drooped shyly over the girl’s rosy cheeks and she was mightily pleased.
She sat at her father’s side to the right of the president, with Michael across the table. Well he bore the scrutiny of Endicott’s keen eyes which through all the conversation kept searching the intelligent face of the boy.
The evening passed like a dream, and Michael lay awake again that night thinking of all the pleasure in anticipation for the next day. At last, at last he had some people who in a way he might call his own. They had cared to come and see him after all the years! His heart swelled with joy and gratitude.
The guests attended chapel exercises with the students the next morning, and Michael saw with pride the eyes of his companions turn toward the beautiful young girl, and look at him almost with envy. The color mounted into his strong young face, but he sat quietly in his place and no one would have guessed to look at him, the tumult that was running riot in his veins. He felt it was the very happiest day of his life.
After chapel the guests were shown about the college buildings and campus. The president and Endicott walked ahead, Michael behind with Starr, answering her interested questions.
They had been through all the classrooms, the gymnasium, the dining hall, servants’ quarters and dormitories. They had visited the athletic ground, the tennis courts, and gone down by the little lake, where Michael had taken them out for a short row. Returning they were met by one of the professors who suggested their going to hear some of the classes recite, and as Mr. Endicott seemed interested they turned their steps toward the recitation hall.
“I think,” said Starr as they walked slowly across the campus together, “that you must be a very brave boy. To think of you saving my life that way when you were just a little fellow!”
She looked up, her pretty face full of childish feeling.
Michael looked down silently and smiled. He was wondering if any eyes were ever as beautiful as those before him. He had never had even a little girl look at him like that. The president’s daughter was fat and a romp. She never took time to look at the boys. The few other girls he knew, daughters of the professors, were quiet and studious. They paid little attention to the boys.
“I want to thank you for what you did,” went on Starr, “only I can’t think of any words great enough to tell you how I feel about it. I wish there was something I could do to show you how I thank you?”
She lifted her sweet eyes again to his. They were entering the large Hall of the college now.
“This way,” said Michael guiding her toward the chapel door which had just swung to behind the two men.