"That's the ticket, pard! We'll do it! We'll do it! Wish to goodness I'd been the one to hatch it out, but does ye proud, parson. An' how 'bout it? S'pose we two could sleep in his hammick?" asked Billy, his eagerness already outstripping Nick's, as his liberality had always been greater.
Nick shook his head. Launched upon a course of reckless extravagance, he now hesitated at nothing.
"Nope. Nothin'. What's the matter buyin' 'nother? An', say, we can sling 'em one top th' other, like them berths in a sleepin' car, an' take turns which 'd be upper, which lower. 'Fore winter we'd get in a blanket an' piller, though wouldn't care much for 'em, in such a snug place, an'——"
"An'," interrupted Billy, "we'd go snooks on the grub. Glory'd do her part chuckin' in, 'sides the housekeep. My! 'Twould be a home, a reg'lar home, 'at I hain't never had! Cracky! I—I 'most hope he never does come now, though fer Take-a-Stitch—maybe——"
"He won't never. Don't ye scare on it, never. Say! Let's hurry through our sellin' an' get it fixed. An' we're late, a'ready."
"All right!" and with visions of a delightful importance, that made them feel as if they were grown men, the little fellows scampered away through the morning twilight to obtain their day's supply of newspapers, still damp from the press, for they had long ago learned that 'tis the early newsboy who catches the nickels and of these they must now have many. Neither realized that a property owner, even of a "littlest house," would not be apt to trust it to a pair of youngsters like themselves, though to their credit it was that had their dream become reality, they would have done their utmost to follow the example of the former tenant to "pay as you go."
They had long been shrilling themselves hoarse with their cries of "Sun' 'Eral'Jour'Wor—rul'! Pape's!" before Glory woke and found herself alone. By the light in the room and the hunger she felt, she knew that it must again be very late; and a feeling that her grandfather would be displeased with her indolence sent her to her feet with such speed that she awoke Bo'sn, till then slumbering soundly.
Bo'sn was no longer young and, stiff from an all day's tramp—for he had faithfully followed the little girl's tireless search of yesterday—he rose slowly and stretched himself painfully, with a growl at his own aching joints. Then he sniffed suspiciously at the floor where the newsboys had slept and, nosing his master's hammock, howled dismally.
Having slept without undressing, Glory's toilet was soon made and though a dash of cold water banished drowsiness from her eyes it made them see more clearly how empty and desolate the "littlest house" had now become, so desolate that she could not stay in it and running to Meg-Laundress's crowded apartment, she burst in, demanding, "Has he come? Has anybody in the Lane seen my grandpa?"
Meg desisted from spanking the "baddest o' them twins" and set the small miscreant upon the sudsy floor before she answered, cheerfully, "Not yet, honey. 'Tain't scurce time to be lookin' fer him, I reckon. When them old sailors gets swappin' yarns needn't——"
"But, Meg dear, he ain't at any one of their houses. I've been to the hull lot—two er three times to each one, a-yest'day—an' he wasn't. An' they think—I dastn't think what they think! An' I thought maybe—he always liked you, Meg-Laundress, an' said you done his shirts to beat. Oh, Meg, Meg, what shall I do? Whatever shall I do?"
The warm-hearted washerwoman thrilled with pity for the forsaken child yet she put on her most brilliant surface-smile and answered promptly:
"Do? Why, do jest what Jane an' me laid out to have ye do. An' that is, eat a grand breakfast. We ain't such old friends o' the cap'n's an' yet go let his folks starve. Me an' Jane, we done it together, an' the grocer-man threw in the rolls. There's a cunnin' little piece o' porterhouse's ever ye see, an' 'taties—biled to the queen's taste with their brown jackets on. Two of 'em, an' no scantin', nuther. No, you small rapscallions, ye clear out! 'Tain't none your breakfasts, ye hear? It's Goober Glory's an'—you all, the half-dozen on ye, best clear out way beyant th' Elbow an' watch out fer the banan' man! If he comes to the Lane, ma's got a good wash on hand, an'—who knows?"
Away scampered Meg's brood of children, assorted sizes, yet one and all with a longing for "banan' cheap!" and sure that no amount of coaxing would give them a share in the savory breakfast which the two toiling women had provided for Glory.
Left comfortably free from crowding, Meg bustled about, removing from the small oven the belated "steak an' 'taties" which had long been drying there. In this removal, she clumsily tilted the boiler in which her "wash" was bubbling and flavored the meal with a dash of soapsuds, but Glory was more hungry than critical, and far more grateful than either. Smiles and tears both came as she caught Meg's wet hand and kissed it ecstatically, which action brought a suspicious moisture to Meg's own eyes and caused her to exclaim, with playful reproof:
"If you ain't the beatin'est one fer huggin' an' kissin'! Well, then, set to; an' hear me tell: this is what me an' Jane has settled, how the very minute the cap'n heaves in sight down the Lane, on I claps the very pattron o' that same stuff ye're eatin' for him, an' calls it breakfast, dinner, er supper, as the case is. When folks have been off visitin', like he has, they can't 'spect to find things ready to hand to their own houses, same's if they'd been round all the time. Now, eat, an' 'let your victuals stop yer mouth'!"
This was luxurious food for one accustomed to an oatmeal diet and Glory heartily enjoyed it, although she wished she could have given it to her grandfather instead, but she wasn't one to borrow trouble and relied upon Meg's word that a similar repast should be forthcoming when the seaman required it. She did not know that the very odor of the food set the washerwoman's own mouth to watering and that she had to swallow fast and often, to convince herself that her own breakfast of warmed-over coffee and second-hand rolls was wholly sufficient. In any case, both she and Posy Jane had delighted in their self-sacrifice for the little "Queen of the Lane," in their hearts believing that the child was now orphaned, indeed.
It is amazing how, when one is extremely hungry, even two whole potatoes will disappear, and very speedily Glory found that the cracked plate from which she had eaten was entirely empty, but, also, that the uncomfortable hunger had disappeared with its vanished contents. She sprang up, ran to the spigot, washed and wiped the plate, and restored it to its place on Meg's scanty cupboard, then announced:
"I shall tell my grandpa how good all you dear, dear folks has been to me while he—he was off a-visitin'. An' he'll do somethin' nice for you, too, he will. My grandfather says 'giff-gaff makes good friends,' an' 'one kind turn 'serves another.' He knows a lot, grandpa does; an' me an' him both thanks you, Meg-Laundress—you darlin'!"
Away around the big neck of the woman at the tub went Glory's slender arms, and when the patient toiler released herself from this inconvenient embrace, there was something besides soapsuds glistening on her hot cheek.
"Bless ye an' save ye, honey sweetness, an' may yer guardian angel keep ye in close sight, the hull endurin' time!" cried the laundress, wiping her eyes with a wet towel to disguise that other moisture which had gathered in them. "An' now, be off with ye to the little Eyetalian with the high-soundin' name. Sure, 'twas Nick, the parson, hisself, what seen them fifty-five centses was in the right hands, an' not scattered by that power o' young ones as was hangin' round when the lady give 'em."
"Did he take them? Oh, I'm so glad an' it's queer he should ha' forgot to tell me last night. Never mind, though. I ain't goin' to peddle to-day. I shan't peddle no more till I find grandpa. I couldn't. I couldn't holler even, worth listenin'. An' who'd buy off a girl what can't holler?"
"Hmm. I don' know. Hollerin's the life o' your trade, same's rub-a-dub-dubbin' 's the life o' mine, er puttin' the freshest flower to the front the bunch is o' Jane's. But, land, 'Queenie,' you best not wait fer the cap'n. Best keep a doin', an' onct you're at it again, the holler'll come all right. Like myself—jest let me stan' up afore this here tub an' the wash begins to do itself, unbeknownst like. Don't you idle. Keep peddlin' er patchin', though peddlin's the least lonesome, an' the time'll fly like lightnin'. It's them 'at don't do nothin' 'at don't know what to do. Ain't many them sort in the Lane, though, thank the dear Lord. Hey? What?"
For Glory still lingered in the doorway and her face showed that she had no intention of following the laundress's most sensible advice. So when that loquacious woman paused so long that the little girl "could get a word in edgewise," she firmly stated:
"No Meg, dear Meg, I shan't peddle a single goober till I've found my grandpa. Every minute of every hour I'm awake I shall keep a-lookin'. He hain't got nobody but me left an' I hain't got nobody but him. What belongs, I mean. 'Course, they's all you dear Lane folks an' I love you, every one. But me an' him—I—I must, must find him. I'm goin' to start right away now, an'—thank you, thank you an' dear Posy Jane—an'—good-bye!"
This time it was Meg who caught the other in her arms and under pretense of smoothing tumbled curls, hugged the child in motherly yearning over her; then she gave her a very clean-smelling, sudsy kiss and pushed her toward the door, crying rather huskily:
"Well, run away now, any gate. If to peddlin' 'twould be best; if to s'archin' fer one old blind man in this big Ne' York what's full of 'em as haymows o' needles, so be it, an' good luck to ye. But what am I to be preachin' work an' practicin' play? Off with ye an' hender me no more!"
So to the tune of a vigorous rub-a-dub-dub, Glory vanished from her good friend's sight, though the hearts of both would have ached could they have foreseen how long delayed would be their next meeting.
Comforted and now wholly hopeful that her determined search would have a speedy, happy ending, Take-a-Stitch hurried back to the littlest house whose narrow door stood open to its widest, yet she paused on the threshold, amazed, incredulous, not daring to enter and scarcely daring to breathe, lest she disturb the wonderful vision which confronted her.
For the desolate home was no longer desolate. There was one within who seemed to fill its dim interior with a radiance and beauty beyond anything the child of the Lane had ever dreamed. Meg's words and wish returned to her and, clasping her hands, she cried in rapture, "Oh! it's come! My Guardian Angel!"
With Bonny as Guide
Glory was truthful and loving, and her grandfather had taught her to be clean, honest, and industrious, but, beyond this, she had had little training. She knew that Meg-Laundress and Posy Jane both firmly believed in "Guardian Angels" who hovered about human beings to protect and prosper them. She had inferred that these "Angels" were very beautiful but had never asked if they were ever visible or, if so, what form they took.
Glory felt now that she would never need to ask about the "Angels" for the small creature before her answered all these unspoken inquiries; a mite of a thing, in silken white, with glistening golden curls and the roundest, loveliest of big blue eyes, who sat on the floor smiling and gurgling in an unknown language, yet gravely regarding Bo'sn who, firm upon his haunches, as gravely regarded this astonishing intruder. The tiny visitor was so unlike any crony captain or ragged newsboy that the dog was perplexed, yet as evidently pleased, for his eyes were shining, his mouth "laughing" and his stump of a tail doing its utmost to wag. As Glory appeared in the doorway, he cast one welcoming glance over his shoulder, then with the same intensity, returned to his contemplation of the child.
After all, it was not an "Angel" from a spiritual world, but a wonderfully fair and winning little human being. From whence she had come and why, she was too young to explain and Glory was too delighted to care. Here she was, gay, shining, and wholly undisturbed, and, as the little goober girl appeared, the baby lifted her face, laughing, and lisping: "Bonny come!"
"Angels" could use human speech then; and now her awe of the visitant vanished and down went Take-a-Stitch beside Bo'sn and clasped the little one close and kissed and caressed it to her heart's content, which meant much to Glory, because even grandpa had objected to overmuch caressing, though this newcomer appeared to take kissing as a matter of course and to like it.
"Oh! you darlin', darlin', sweetest 'Angel'! Have you truly come to live with me?"
"Bonny come!" answered the other, thrusting her tiny hands into Glory's own curls and pressing her dewy lips to Glory's cheek.
"Oh, you precious, precious, sweetest, darlin'est one. Oh, won't grandpa be pleased! An' you'll help—that's what you come for, ain't it?—you'll help to find him. Why, if you're a truly 'Angel,' you know this minute 't ever is just where to search, an' so 'twon't be more'n a bit of a while 'fore me an' you an' him is all back here together in this splendid littlest house, a 'livin' in peace an' dyin' in grease an' bein' buried under a pot o' taller,' like Nick's stories end; only I guess we'll do without the grease an' taller, 'cause I hate dirt an' 'Angels' do, 'course. Oh, let's start right away! Why—why—we might be home again, lickety-cut, if we did. Shall we go to find grandpa, 'Angel'?"
The stranger toddled to her feet, Bo'sn watching the operation with keenest interest, but once upon them, there ensued delay, for, whoever this unknown might be, Glory herself was a very human little girl. She could not keep her fingers from feeling and examining the exquisite garments which clothed her visitor's form, and at each fresh discovery of daintiness, from the silken coat to the snowy shoes, her exclamations of wonder and admiration grew more intense. Before she had finished, she felt a reflex grandeur from her richly attired guest and unconsciously gave her own scanty skirt an airy flirt, as if it had suddenly become of proper length and color.
Giving the "Angel" a fresh embrace, she clasped its pink fingers and started to follow wherever it might lead, with Bo'sn close behind.
So intent was she upon her small "Guardian," that she did not observe a man entering the lane from the further end, else she would have recognized him for the owner of the littlest house, come in person to inspect his property and to learn if his rent would be forthcoming when due; also, to prepare the captain for possible removal, in case a certain deal, then in progress, should transfer the three-cornered building to other hands and purposes.
But the gentleman saw Glory and wondered how she had come to have in charge, in such a neighborhood, a little child so unsuited to it. By just the one minute's time which would have brought him to the littlest house ere Glory left it, she missed some further enlightenment on the subject of "Guardian Angels," and the sad news that she had not only lost grandparent but home as well; for, seeing the place open, at the mercy of any Elbow tramp who might enter and despoil it, the landlord at once decided that, sale or no sale, he would get rid of so careless a tenant. Crossing to the basement of Meg-Laundress, he made some inquiries concerning the Becks and was told all which that talkative woman knew or suspected.
"An' none of us in the Lane ever looks to see him back, sir, an' that's the fact. But whatever's to become o' his little girl, when she finds out, land knows," she concluded.
"Oh, plenty of institutions to take in just such as she and she'd be a deal better off than living from hand to mouth as she has always done. The captain must have been a fine man once and so far—so far—has had his rent money ready when it was due; but I made it too small, a great deal too small. I was a fool for sympathy and let my heart run away with my head.
"Know anybody would take in the old man's few traps and take care of them till something develops?" continued the landlord. "He is dead, of course. Must have been him was run over that time; but they might sell for a trifle for the child's benefit. I wouldn't mind having that time-keeping arrangement of bells myself. Was really quite ingenious. I might as well take it, I reckon, on account of loss of occupancy. Yes, I will take it. And if he should return—but he won't—you tell him, my good woman, how it was and he can look to me to settle. Know anybody has room for his things?"
"No, I don't. An' if I did, I wouldn't tell ye," answered Meg, testily, and as a relief to her indignation cuffed her youngest born in lieu of him upon whom she wished she dared bestow the correction.
But the corner grocery-man was more obliging and better supplied with accommodations for Captain Beck's belongings. In truth, seeing that the landlord was determined, whether or no, to remove them from the littlest house, he felt that he must take them in and preserve them from harm against their owner's claiming them. He thought, with Meg, that harm had certainly befallen the blind seaman and that they would see him no more, but he also felt that Glory's rights should be protected to the utmost. With this idea in mind, he stoutly objected to parting with the bell-timepiece, and even offered to make up any arrears of rent which the other could rightly claim.
"Oh! that's all right," said the landlord, huffishly. "That can rest, but I wish you'd call a cart and get the traps out now, while I'm here to superintend."
"I'm with you!" cried the grocer, with equal spirit; and so fully fell in with the other's wishes that, before Glory had been an hour absent from the only home she could remember, it had been emptied of its few, but well loved, furnishings and the key had been turned upon its solitude. Thus ended, too, Nick's brief brilliant dream of household proprietorship.
However, all this fresh trouble was unknown. Whither her "Angel" led, she was to follow; and this proved to be in wholly a different direction from that dark end of the Lane toward the bridge.
For a time the small, unconscious guide toddled along, making slow progress toward the sound of a hand-organ which her ear had caught yet which was still out of sight. Arrived, they joined the group of children gathered about the grinder and his monkey, and created a profound sensation among the gutter audience.
"Where'd you get her? Whose she belongs?" demanded one big girl who knew Glory and found this white-clad stranger more interesting than even a monkey.
"Belongs to me. She's mine; she was sent," returned Take-a-Stitch, with an inimitable gesture of pride.
"Huh! Talk's cheap. Nobody sent silk-dressed young ones to the Lane to be took care of, Glory Beck. I don't care, though. Keep her, if ye want to," returned the offended questioner.
"Sure I shall," laughed Glory, gaily. "But needn't get mad, Nancy Smith. Maybe you can get one, too. She's my 'Guardian Angel' an' her name's 'Bonny'; she said so. She don't talk much, only that 'Bonny come.' Did you know 'Angels' was so perfeckly lovely, Nancy?"
Clasping her hands, this proud proprietor of an "Angel" smiled beatifically on all around. Even the organ-grinder came in for a portion of that smile, though hitherto, Glory had rather disliked him because she fancied him unkind to Jocko.
This organ-grinder was Luigi Salvatore, brother to Tonio, and as well known in that locality. His amazement at seeing the child in the goober seller's care caused him to stop grinding; whereupon the music also stopped and the monkey left off holding his cap to the children, begging their pennies, to hop upon his master's shoulder. From thence he grinned so maliciously that the "Angel" was frightened and hid her face in Glory's skirt, whereupon that proud girl realized that "Angels," if young, were exactly like human young things and needed comforting. Many an Elbow baby had learned to flee for help to Glory's arms, and now this stranger was lifted in them and clasped closer than any other had ever been.
"Oh, you sweetest, dearest Bonny Angel! Don't you be afraid. Glory'll take care of ye. Don't they have monkeys where you lived, honey? S'pose not, less you'd ha' knowed they wouldn't hurt. Well, now, on we go. Which way is to grandpa, Bonny Angel?"
The tiny face burrowing under Glory's chin was partially turned and the babyish hand pointed outward in a very imperative way. Glory construed that she must travel in the direction indicated and, also, that even "Angels" liked their commands to be immediately obeyed. For when she lingered a moment to exchange compliments with Nancy, on the subject of "stuck-up-ness" and general "top-loftiness," Miss Bonny brought these amenities to a sudden close by a smart slap on Glory's lips and a lusty kick in the direction she wished to be carried.
Fortunately, Take-a-Stitch had never thought how "Angels" should behave, else she might have been disappointed. As it was, the child at once became dearer and more her girlish proprietor's "very own" because in just this manner might Meg's youngest have kicked and slapped.
"Huh! Call that a 'Angel' do ye, Glory Beck? 'Tis no such thing. It's only somebody's baby what's got lost. Angels are folks what live in heaven, an' they never kick ner scratch ner ask to be carried. They don't need. All they have to do is to set still an' sing an' flap their wings. Huh! I know."
Nancy spoke with the conviction of an eyewitness, and for a time her playmate was silenced. Then, as Bonny had now grown quiet and gave her an opportunity, Glory demanded:
"How can you know? You hain't never been there. Nobody hasn't. An' you go ask Meg-Laundress. Good-bye. Don't be mad. I'll be home bime-by, an' Bonny Angel with me. She's come to stay. She belongs, same's all of us. She's a reg'lar Elbower, 'now an' forevermore,' like we say in the ring-game; an' some time, maybe, if she wants, I'll let her 'Guardian' you somewhere. Now we're off to grandpa, but we'll be back after a while. Good-bye. Maybe Toni'll let you peddle goobers in my place the rest the day. Good-bye."
Bonny Angel, as she was from that time to be called by her new friend, was again gurgling and smiling and gaily radiant; and for some distance Glory sped along, equally radiant and wholly engrossed in watching the little face so near her own. It was, indeed, perfect in its infantile beauty and more than one passer-by paused to take a second glance at this odd pair, so unlike, and yet so well content.
After a short while, the aching of her arms made Glory realize that even infant "Angels" may become intolerably heavy, when clothed in healthy human form and carried indefinitely, so she set the little one down on its own small feet, though they seemed too dainty to rest upon the smirched stones of the pavement which just there was even more begrimed than that of the Lane itself.
Then she saw that they had halted beside a coal-yard in an unfamiliar part of the city, but there were throngs of people hurrying past them toward some point beyond, and though many observed, none paused to address the children. Bonny was now rested and active and merrily started in the same direction, across the gangplank to the floor of a crowded ferry-boat. The ferry-men supposed them to belong to some older passengers and let them pass unchallenged; nor did Bonny Angel cease her resolute urging forward till they had come to the very edge of the further deck and stood looking down into the river.
Almost at once, the boat began to move and Glory was as delighted as Bonny by the rush of the wind on her face and by the novel sights of the water. After all, this search for grandpa was proving the pleasantest of outings, for, though the goober-seller had often peddled her nuts at the landings of other ferries, she had never before crossed any. She gave the baby a fresh deluge of kisses, exclaiming, "Oh, you dear knowin' darlin'! He has gone this way an' you're leadin' me!"
"Bonny come!" cried the "Angel," with a seraphic smile.
Glory smiled back, all anxiety at rest. She was going to grandpa, with this tiny "Guardian" an unerring guide. Why should one fear aught while the sun shone so brightly, and over on the further shore she could see trees waving and green terraces rising one above the other? Surely, grandpa had done well to leave the dingy Lane for such a beautiful place, and she was glad, yes, certainly she was glad that she had come.
But the boat trip came to an end all too soon, and, because they were so near the landing side, they were crowded off the broad deck before Glory was quite ready and, in the onrush of hurrying passengers, Bonny Angel's hand was wrested from her grasp.
"Oh, take care there, my Angel! I mustn't lose her!" cried Take-a-Stitch, distraught at seeing her treasure swept off her tiny feet in the crush.
"In course you mustn't, sissy!" cried a hearty, kindly voice, as a timely deck-hand caught up the child and restored her to Glory's arms. "'Course not; though there's many a one would snap at such a beauty, if you give 'em a chance. Tight-hold her, sissy, for such posies as her don't grow on every bush!"
With that, the man in blue shirt and overalls not only gave Bonny a besmirching pat on her snowy shoulder, but safely handed Glory herself across the swaying plank to the quay beyond.
There Bonny Angel composedly seated herself upon a pile of dirty ropes and, rather than cross her desires, Glory also sat down. Both were much interested in the scene about them, though "Angel" soon forgot all else save Bo'sn who had followed, and who lay at her feet to rest his nose on his tired paws while he steadfastly gazed at this new charge. Already he seemed to have decided in his canine mind that she was to be guided and guarded as he had guided and guarded his lost master, and with an equal faithfulness.
Soon the rush and bustle of the boat's return trip gave way to a corresponding quiet, and Goober Glory dreamily watched the wide deck, where she had stood, slip back and back between the water-worn piles out upon the murky river. The space between them widened and widened, continually, till the boat lessened in size to a mere point and, finally, became lost in the crowding craft of the Hudson's mouth. As she saw it disappear, a sudden homesickness seized her and, springing to her feet, she stretched her arms longingly toward that further side which held all that she had ever known and loved, and cried aloud:
"Oh, I want to go back! It's there I belong, and he isn't here—I know he isn't here!"
Then she felt a small hand clutch her skirt and turned about to see Bonny Angel's face clouding with grief and her dainty under lip beginning to quiver piteously. A world of reproach seemed to dwell in her pleading, "Bonny come!" and Glory's own cheerfulness instantly returned. Lifting the child again, she poised her on her own shoulder and started valiantly forward across the ferry-slip and past the various stands of the small merchants which lined the waiting-room walls. Thus elevated, Bonny Angel was just upon a level with one tempting display of cakes and candies, and the sight of them reminded her that it was time to eat. She took her arm from Glory's neck, to which she had clung, made an unexpected dash for a heap of red confections, lost her balance, and fell head long in the midst.
In the Ferry-House
Then up rose the old woman behind the stand, ready with tongue and fist to punish this destroyer of her stock; for the truth was that Miss Bonny was not an "Angel" at all, but what Nancy Smith had so common-sensibly judged her to be—a lost child. Such a plump and substantial child, as well, that her downfall crushed to a crimson flood the red "drops" she would have seized and utterly demolished another pile of perishable cakes.
"Save us and help us! You clumsy girl! What you mean, hurlin' that young one onto my stand, that way? Well, you've spoiled a power of stuff an' I only hope you can pay for it on the spot!"
With that, the irate vendor snatched Bonny from the stand and dropped her upon the floor beyond it; where, terrified both by her fall and this rough treatment, she set up such a wail that further scolding was prevented. More than that, instead of being properly abashed by her own carelessness, Glory was far more concerned that Bonny's beautiful coat was stained and ruined and its owner's heart so grieved. Down she dropped beside her "Guardian," showering kisses upon her, and comforting her so tenderly that the baby forgot her fear and began to lick the sticky fluid, which had filled the "drops," from her sleeve that it had smeared.
This restored quiet so that the vender could demand payment for the damage she had swiftly estimated, and she thrust her hand toward the pair on the floor, saying, "Hand me over a dollar, and be quick about it! Ought to be more, seein's it'll take me half a day to straighten up and——"
"A dollar! Why—why, I never had so much in my hull life! an' not a single cent now. Yes—they's a quarter to home, 't I forgot an' left in the bag, that Nick Dodd give me—but—a dollar!" gasped poor Glory, as frightened as surprised. Just then, too, a wharf policeman drew near and stopped to learn what was amiss. He did not look like the jolly officer of Elbow Lane and the stand-woman seemed sure of his sympathy as she rapidly related her side of the story.
He listened in silence, and visions of patrol wagons, and the police stations where arrested persons were confined, rose before poor Glory's fancy, while with frantic tenderness she hugged Bonny Angel so close that the little one protested and wriggled herself free. But no sooner was she upon her feet than the child became her own best plea for pardon. Reaching her arms upward to be lifted, she began a delighted examination of the brass buttons on the man's blue coat; and, because he had babies of his own, it seemed the natural thing for him to do to take her up as she desired.
"Oh, but you mustn't, you dastn't carry her away! She hain't done a thing, only tumbled off my shoulder! 'Twas me done it, not holdin' her tight enough! An' she can't be 'rested, she can't! How can she, when she's a 'Guardian Angel'? Give her back—give her back!"
In her distress, Take-a-Stitch herself laid violent hands upon the blue sleeves which so strongly enfolded her darling and would have wrested them apart had strength sufficed. As it was, the helmeted officer looked calmly down upon her anguished face and quietly whistled.
"Keep cool, sissy, keep cool. Wait till I hear your side the business before you talk of arrests. Besides, this baby! Why, she's the prettiest little innocent I've seen in a week's beat," said the rough voice, and now regarding the lips through which it issued, the young "Elbower" perceived that they were no longer stern but actually smiling.
Then she did talk; not only of this last adventure but, encouraged by his close attention, of all the events of her past life. Out it came, the whole story; Glory's love of the Lane and its people, her grandfather's disappearance, the coming of Bonny Angel, "sent to take his place an' help to find him," her present search and her honest regret for the injury to this old woman's wares.
"'Cause I know how 'tis myself. Onct a lady fell into my goober basket an' smashed 'em so 't I was heart-broke. An' if ever—ever in this world I can earn a hull dollar I'll come right straight back here an' pay it. Sure, sure, sure."
Now, during all this relation, though the policeman's face seemed to soften and grow more like that of his brother-officer of Elbow Lane, it did not grow less grave. Indeed, a great perplexity came into his eyes and he appeared to be far more interested in the fate of Bonny Angel than in the voluble interruptions of Apple Kate. When Glory paused, out of breath and with no more to tell, he set the little one down and took out his note-book. Having made some entries there, he exchanged a few low-spoken words with the vender and these appeared to quiet her wrath and silence her demands. Indeed, their influence was so powerful that she selected a pile of the broken cakes, put them into a paper bag, and offered them to Take-a-Stitch, saying:
"There, girl, it's all right, or will be, soon's officer finds that young one's folks. It's past noon, nigh on toward night, an' likely she was hungry, too little to know any better, and you can have part yourself. You just do what he tells ye, an' you'll soon see that baby back in its mother's arms. Laws, how heart-broke she must be a-losin' it so."
Goober Glory heard and felt that her own heart was surely breaking. Bonny Angel's "folks"! She had some, then, since this policeman said so—policemen knew everything—and she wasn't a heaven-sent "Guardian," at all. And, furthermore, if this was a "lost child," she knew exactly what would be done.
It would be the station house, after all, though not by way of arrest. Meg-Laundress's assorted children had been "lost" on the city streets more than once and Meg hadn't fretted a bit. She knew well, that when her day's toil was over, she had but to visit the nearest station to reclaim her missing offspring; or if not at the nearest, why then at some other similar place in the great town, whence a telephone message would promptly summon the child. But Bonny Angel? Station house matrons were kind enough, and their temporary care of her brood had been a relief to overworked Meg-Laundress; but for this beautiful "Guardian," they were all unfit. Only tenderest love should ever come near so angelic a little creature and of such love Glory's own heart was full.
She reasoned swiftly. The baby was hers, by right, till that sad day of which she had not dreamed when she must restore it to its "folks," whoever and wherever they were. She would so restore it, though it break her heart; yet better her own heart breaking than that mother-heart of which the vender spoke. To her search for grandpa, in which Bonny Angel was guide, was now added a search for these unknown "folks" to whom she must give the little one up. That was all. It was very simple and very hard to do, till one thought came to cheer her courage. By the time she found these unknown people she would, also, have found Captain Simon Beck! She had been supremely happy with him, always, and she would be happy again; yet how dear, how dear this little comrade of a day had become!
Glory's decisions never wavered. Once made, she acted upon them without hesitation. She now turned to the policeman, who had written some further items in his book and was now putting it into his pocket, and said, "You needn't bother, Mister P'liceman, to find 'em. I'll take Bonny Angel home my own self."
"Hey? What? Do know where she belongs, after all? You been fooling me with your talk?" he asked quickly, and now with face becoming very stern indeed. He was sadly used to dealing with deceit but hated to find it in one so young as Goober Glory.
"No, sir. I never. But I will. I'd rather an' I must—I must! Oh, I can't let her go to that terr'ble station house where thievers an' bad folks go, an' she so white an' pure an' little an' sweet! I can't. She mustn't. She shan't! So there."
At her own enumeration of Bonny Angel's charms, the girl's heart thrilled afresh with love and admiration, and, catching her again into her close embrace, she fell to rapturously kissing the small face that was now "sweet" in truth, from the sticky drops the child had licked.
"Nonsense! If you don't know where she belongs, nor have any money to spend in finding out, the station's the only place. It's the first place, too, she'll be looked for, and she'll be well cared for till claimed. You can go along with her, maybe, since you appear to be lost, too," remarked the officer. "But I'm wasting time. You stop right here by Apple Kate's stand, while I step yonder and telephone headquarters. A man'll come over next boat and take you both back."
The chance of going "back" to the city whose very paving stones now seemed dear to her did, for an instant, stagger Glory's decision. But only for an instant. Bonny Angel was still the guide. It was Bonny Angel who had brought them to this further shore where, beyond this great, noisy ferry-house were those green terraces and waving trees. It was here, separated by the wide river from all familiar scenes, that her search must go on.
A customer came to the stand and occupied Apple Kate's attention, at the same time the wharf policeman walked away to send his message concerning little Bonny. That moment was Glory's opportunity, and she improved it, thinking with good reason:
"If onct he gets a-hold on us he won't leave us go. He'd think it wouldn't be right, for a p'liceman. Well, then, he shan't get a-hold!"
A few minutes later, when her patron had passed on, Apple Kate looked around and missed the children, but supposed they had followed the officer. Yet when he came back to the stand, he denied that they had done so and angrily inquired "why she couldn't keep an eye on them and oblige a man, while he just rung up headquarters?"
To which she as crisply replied, "Huh! My eyes has had all sight o' them they want, and they'll trouble you nor me no more. They've skipped, so you might 's well trot back and ring down whatever you've rung up. They've skipped."
Another Stage of the Journey
The ferry-house where the policeman had found Glory and her "Angel" was also the terminus of a great railway. Beyond the waiting-room were iron gates, always swinging to and fro, for the passage of countless travelers; and from the gates stretched rows of shining tracks. Puffing engines moved in and out upon these, drawing mighty carriages that rumbled after with a deafening noise. Gatemen shouted the names of the outgoing trains, whistles blew, trunk-vans rattled, and on every side excited people called to one another some confusing direction.
Glory, with Bonny Angel in her arms, had hurried up to one of these iron gates, feeling that if she could but dash through and place that barrier between herself and the too-faithful policeman, she would be free at last. But the chance of so doing was long delayed. That particular gateman appeared to prevent anybody passing him who did not show a bit of printed cardboard, as he called, "Tickets! have your tickets ready!"
And, oh, in what a glorious voice he so directed them!
"My heart! If I could holler goobers like he does them car-trains, folks'd jest have to buy, whether er no!" thought the little peddler, so rapt in listening that she forgot everything else; till, at one louder yell than all, the child in her arms shrieked in terror. At which the gateman whirled round, leaving a space behind him, and Glory darted through.
Neither the official nor she knew that she was doing a prohibited thing; for he supposed she was hurrying to overtake some older party of travelers and she knew nothing of station rules. Once past this gate, she found herself in dangerous nearness to the many trains and could walk neither this way nor that without some guard shouting after her, "Take care, there!"
She dared not put Bonny Angel down even if the child would have consented, and, continually, the rumblings and whistlings grew more confusing. In comparison with this great shed, Elbow Lane, that Miss Bonnicastle had found so noisy, seemed a haven of quietude and Glory heartily wished herself back in it.
There must be a way out of this dreadful place, and the bewildered little girl tried to find it. Yet there behind her rose a high brick wall in which there was no doorway, on the left were the waiting or moving trains and their shouting guards, and on the right that iron fence with its rolling gates and opposing gatemen, and, also, that policeman who would have taken Bonny Angel from her. Before her rose the north-side wall of the building, that, at first glance, seemed as unbroken a barrier as its counterpart on the south; but closer inspection discovered a low, open archway through which men occasionally passed.
"Whatever's beyond here can't be no worse," thought Take-a-Stitch, and hurried through the opening. But once beyond it, she could only exclaim, "Why, Bonny Angel, it's just the same, all tracks an' cars, though 'tain't got no roof over! My, I don't know how to go—an' I wish they would keep still a minute an' let a body think!"
Even older people would have been confused in such a place, with detached engines here and there, snorting and puffing back and forth in a seemingly senseless way, its many tracks, and its wider outdoor resemblance to the great shed she had left.
"Guess this is what Posy Jane 'd call 'hoppin' out the fryin'-pan inter the fire,' Bonny Angel. It's worse an' more of it, an' I want to get quit of it soon's I can. 'Tain't no ways likely grandpa's hereabouts, an'——My, but you're a hefty little darlin'! If I wasn't afraid to let you, I'd have ye walk a spell. But you might get runned over by some them ingines what won't stay still no place an' I dastn't, you dear, precious sweetness, you! I shan't put you down till I drop, 'less we get out o' this sudden."
But even as she clasped her beloved burden the closer, Bonny Angel set this decision at naught by kicking herself free from the girl too small and weary to prevent; and once upon the ground, off she set along a particularly shining track, cooing and shrieking her delight at her own mischievousness.
"Oh! oh! oh!" screamed Glory, and started in pursuit. Of course, she could run much faster than her "Guardian," but that tiny person had a way of darting sidewise, here and there, and thus eluding capture just as it seemed certain.
Fortunately, the direction she had chosen led outward and away from the maze of steel lines, and, finding no harm come of it and the child so happy, Glory gave up trying to catch and simply followed her. Just then, too, there came into view the sight of green tree-tops and a glimpse of the river, and these encouraged her to proceed. Indeed, she was now more afraid to go back than to go forward, and Bonny Angel's strange contentment in the care of a stranger, like herself, renewed a belief that she was other than mere mortal, and so above the common needs of babies.
Reasoned this "Little Mother" of Elbow Lane, "If she was just plain baby an' not no 'Angel,' she'd a-cried fer her ma, an' she hain't never, not onct. She hain't cried fer crusts, neither, like Meg-Laundress's twins is always doin'. 'Course, them cakes what th' Apple Kate give her was sweet an' a lot of 'em. The crumbs I et when Bonny Angel fired the bag away was jest like sugar. My, prime! Some day, when I get rich, an' they ain't nobody else a-wantin' 'em, I'll buy myself some cakes ezackly like them was. I will so—if they ain't nobody else. But, there, Glory Beck, you quit thinkin' 'bout eatin' 'less first you know, you'll be hungry an' your stummick'll get that horrid feel again. Hi, I b'lieve it's comin' a'ready an' yet I had that splendid breakfast!"
Somehow, the idea of food occurred to this trio of travelers at one and the same time. Bo'sn crept up to his mistress and rubbed his sides against her legs, dumbly pleading for rest and refreshment. He was very tired, for a dog, and as confused as Take-a-Stitch by these strange surroundings, and acted as if unwilling to go further afield. At every possible chance now, he would lie down on the ground and remain there until his companions were so far in advance that he feared to be lost himself. Surely he felt that this long road was the wrong road, where he would listen in vain for the tap-tap of his master's cane and the scent of his master's footsteps.
As for Bonny Angel, she suddenly paused in the midst of her mischievous gaiety, put up her lip and began to howl as loudly and dismally as any common Lane baby could have done. Then when her new nurse hurried to her, distressed and self-reproachful for not having carried her all the way, down the little one flung herself prone in the dirt and rolled and kicked most lustily.
Glory did her utmost, but she could neither quiet nor lift the struggling "Angel," and finally she ceased her efforts and, with arms akimbo and the wisdom of experience coolly addressed her charge:
"See here, Bonny Angel! You're the sweetest thing in the world, but that's jest spunk, that is. You're homesick, I s'pose, an' tired an' hungry, an' want your ma, an' all them bad things together makes you feel ye don't know how! I feel that-a-way myself, a-times, but I don't go rollin' in mud puddles an' sp'ilin' my nice silk coats, I don't. I wouldn't besmutch myself so not fer nothin'. My, but you be a sight! An' only this mornin' 't ever was you was that lovely!"
When Take-a-Stitch treated Bonny Angel as she would have treated any other infant, the result proved her wisdom. As soon as comforting ceased, the child's rebellion to it also ceased; and when, shocked by its condition, the girl stooped to examine the once dainty coat, its small wearer scrambled to her feet, lifted her tear-stained face to be kissed, smiled dazzlingly, and cried merrily, "Bonny come!"
"Oh, you surely are an 'Angel,' you beautifullest thing!" said Glory, again raising the child in her arms and starting onward once more. She had no idea whither they were going and Bonny Angel had ceased to point the way with her tiny forefinger, but she cuddled her curly head on her nurse's shoulder and presently fell asleep.
The tracks diminished in number as they proceeded till they came to a point where but few remained. Some ran straight on along the river bank, though this was hidden by outlying small buildings; and some branched westward around the bluff whereon grew those green trees and sloped the terraces seen from the boat. Here, after a halt of admiration, Glory found it growing exceedingly dark, and wondered if it had already become nightfall.
"It seems forever an' ever since we started, but I didn't think 'twas nigh bedtime. An', oh, my! Where will we sleep, an' shall I ever, ever find my grandpa!"
It was, indeed, nearing the end of the day but it was a mass of heavy clouds which had so suddenly darkened the world, clouds so black and threatening that the workmen scattered along the tracks, busy with pick and shovel, began to throw down their tools and make for the nearest shelter. One man, with a coat over his head to protect him from the already falling drops hurried past Glory, where she stood holding Bonny Angel, and advised:
"Best not tarry, children, but scud for home. There's a terrible storm coming." But he did not stop to see that they followed his advice nor inquire if any home they had.
Poor Glory's heart sank. She was not afraid of any storm for herself though she had never heard wind roar and wail as this did now, but how could she bear to have her "Guardian" suffer. Even Meg's healthy youngsters sometimes had croup and frightened their mother "outen her seventy senses," and the croup usually followed a prolonged playing in flooded gutters during a rain storm.
"I must find a place! Oh, there must be a place somewhere! She mustn't get the croup an' die on me—she mustn't. Ain't I got to take her to her ma, an' how could I tell her I let the baby die? Oh, where?"
With an agonized glance in every direction and a closer enfolding of the sleeping child—over whose head she promptly threw her own abbreviated skirt—she discovered, at last, a haven of refuge.
"My heart! That's littler 'an the littlest house, but it's big enough fer us, you sweetest honey darlin', an' it must ha' growed a-purpose, all in a minute, just fer us, like them fairy-lamp-an'-Aladdin yarns what grandpa used to tell me! An' now I know fer true she is a surely 'Guardian Angel,' an' is tooken care of every time, 'cause a minute ago that littler than the littlest wasn't there at all, for I never saw it an' I should. An' now 'tis, an' we're in it an'——Oh, how glad I am!"
While these thoughts were passing through her mind Glory had been staggering forward as swiftly as the wind and the burden she carried would allow and she reached the shelter none too soon. The very instant she passed within, the rain came down in torrents and the tiny structure swayed dizzily in the gale.
"Littler than the littlest" it was, indeed; only a railway switchman's "box," erected to shelter him in just such emergencies and from the cold of winter nights. It had tiny windows and a narrow door; and, placing Bonny Angel on the corner bench—its only furnishing—Take-a-Stitch hastened to make all secure. The lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, but still and happily the worn-out "Guardian" slept; so that, herself overcome by fatigue and the closeness of the atmosphere the now vagrant "Queen of Elbow Lane" dropped in a heap on the floor and also slept.
This switch-box was one but seldom used and nobody came near it till morning. Then a passing road-hand, on his way to work, fancied it a good place wherein to eat his breakfast and opened the door. His cry of surprise at sight of its strange occupants roused them both, and sent Glory to her feet with an answering cry; while Bonny Angel merely opened her eyes, stared sleepily around, and smilingly announced: "Bonny come!"
"Bless us, me honey, so you did! But it's meself'd like to be knowin' where from an' how long sence the pair of ye got your job on the railroad?"
There was nothing to fear about this man, as Goober Glory saw at once. His homely face was gay with good health and good nature and the sunshiny morning after the storm seemed not more sunshiny than he. But his curiosity was great and he did not rest till it was satisfied by a full recital of all that had happened to the straying children and their plans for the future were explained.
The man's face grew grave and he shook his head with misgiving: "Lookin' for a lot of lost people, is it, then? Hmm. An', that may be more'n of a job than straightenin' crooked rails what the storm washed away, as I must be doin' to onct. Too big a job to be tacklin' on empty stummicks, betoken; so here, the two of yez, fall in an' taste this bread an' meat an' couple o' cold spuds, an' let me get on to me own affairs."
Opening his tin pail, he made a cup of its inverted top, into which he poured a lot of cold tea and offered it to Glory, who in turn, promptly presented it to the now clamorous Bonny, and had the pleasure of seeing the little one drink deeply before she discovered for herself that it was not her accustomed milk, and rejected the remainder. Both the workman and Take-a-Stitch laughed at the little one's wry face, while having divided the bread and meat into three fair portions, all fell to with a will, so that soon not a crumb was left.
"Ah, that was prime!" cried Glory, smacking her lips; "and you're the primest sort of man to give it to us. I hope I'll have something to give you some time," she finished a little wistfully, and keenly regarding various rents in his clothes. "If I had my needle an' thread I might work it out, maybe. You need mendin' dreadful."
"Betoken! So I do. An' be ye a colleen 'at's handy with them sort o' tools?"
"Indeed, I can sew!" cried Glory, triumphantly. "It's 'cause of that the Elbowers call me 'Mend-a-Hole,' or 'Take-a-Stitch,' whichever happens. Why—why—I earn money—real money—sewin' the Lane folks up!"
"An' yet bein' that mite of a thing ye are!" returned this new friend, admiringly. "Well then, 'tis out to me sister's husband's cousin's house I'm wishin' ye was this instant. For of all the folks needs the mendin' an' patchin', 'tis she, with her seven own childer, an' her ten boardin' 'hands,' an' her own man, that was gardener to some great folks beyant, laid up with the chills an' not able to do a hand's turn for himself, barrin' eatin' an' drinkin' fair, when the victuals is ready. He can play a good knife an' fork, still, thanks be, an' it's hopin' he'll soon be playin' his shovel an' spade just as lively, but that's no more here nor yet there. There's miles betwixt this an' yon, an'——Hello! Aye, hello-a-oa!"
The sudden break in Timothy Dowd's chatter was caused by the hailing of some fellow workmen who had rumbled up to them a hand-car over a near-by track and had signaled him to join them.
"For it's not down track but up you're to go, Tim, the washouts bein' worst beyond. Step aboard, we've to hustle."
Timothy picked up his tools and started to comply, when his glance fell once more upon the eager face of Goober Glory and pity for her made him hesitate. Then a bright idea flashed through his brain and he demanded of the man who had accosted him, "How fur be ye goin'?"
"To the trestle beyond Simpson's. Hurry up. Step on."
For only answer, Timothy immediately swung Glory up to the little platform car, depositing Bonny Angel beside her with equal speed, then made room for himself among the surprised trackmen already grouped there. Yet beyond another astonished "Hello!" no comment was made and the hand-car bumped forward again toward its destination.
However, it wasn't Timothy Dowd's habit to be silent when he could find anything to say, so he was presently explaining in his loud-voiced, jolly way that here was a "pair o' angels that he'd found floating round in the mud and was goin' to bestow 'em where they'd do the most good. An' that's to Mary Fogarty's, indeed. Her of the sharp tongue an' warm heart an' houseful of creatures, every blessed one of that same rippin' off buttons that constant, an' her livin' the very pattern of handiness to Simpson's trestle an' couldn't have been planned no better not if——Hi, baby, how goes it?"
This to Bonny Angel, whose eyes had shone with delight when first the car had rolled forward, but who now grew frightened and began to whimper dismally, which set Glory's own heart beating sorrowfully and spoiled her pleasure in this novel ride. Springing up she would have taken Bonny Angel from Timothy's arms into her own had he not rudely pushed her down again, commanding sternly:
"Try that no more, colleen, lest ye'd be after murderin' the pair of us! Sit flat, sit flat, girl, an' cut no monkey-shines with nobody, a-ridin' on a hand-car."
Glory had not thought of danger, though her new friend had not over-rated it. In obedience to this unexpected sternness, she crouched motionless beside him, though she firmly clutched at Bonny's skirts and began to think this her hardest experience yet, till after a time, at sight of a gamboling squirrel, the little one forgot her fear and laughed out gleefully. Then Glory laughed, too, for already her tiny "Guardian" could influence every mood, so dearly had she grown to love the child thus thrown upon her care.
How the fences and the fields raced by! How the birds sang and the flowers bloomed! And how very, very soon the queer little car stopped short at a skeleton bridge over a noisy creek! There all the workmen leaped to the ground and hastily prepared for labor. Even Timothy had no further time to talk but coolly setting the children upon a bank pointed to a house across the fields and ordered Glory, "Go there an' tell your story, an' tell Mary Fogarty I sent ye."
Then he fell to his own tasks and Take-a-Stitch had no choice save obedience.
For a little distance, there was fascination in the meadow for both small wanderers; but soon Bonny Angel's feet lagged and she put up her arms with that mute pleading to be carried which Glory could not resist, yet the little creature soon grew intolerably heavy, and her face buried beneath her nurse's chin seemed to burn into the flesh, the blue eyes closed, the whole plump little body settled limp and inert, and a swift alarm shot through the other's heart.
"Oh, oh, I believe she's sick! Do 'Angels' ever get sick? But she isn't a truly 'Angel,' I know now. She's just somebody's lost baby. Queer! Grandpa so old an' she so young should both of 'em get lost to onct, an' only me to look out for 'em! Yet, maybe, that Mary Fogarty woman'll help us out. I hope she'll be like Meg-Laundress, or darlin' Posy Jane. Strange, how long these fields are. Longer'n the longest avenue there is an' not one single house the hull length. Why ain't there houses, I wonder. Wake up, Bonny precious! We're almost there."
But when they reached the door of the Queen Anne cottage, which was intended to be picturesque and had succeeded in being merely extremely dirty, and out of which swarmed a horde of youngsters each more soiled than the other, Glory's heart sank. For the big woman who followed the horde was not in the least like either old friend of Elbow Lane. Her voice was harsh and forbidding as she demanded, "Well, an' who are you; an' what are you wantin' here?"
"Timothy sent us," answered Glory, meekly.
"Huh! He did, did he? Well, he never had sense. Now, into the house with ye, every born child of ye!" she rejoined, indifferently, and "shooed" her own brood, like a flock of chickens, back into the cottage, then slammed its door in the visitor's face.
A Haven of Refuge
Glory's walk and heavy burden had exhausted her and, almost unconsciously, she let Bonny Angel slip from her arms to the door-step where she stood. There the child lay, flushed and motionless, in a sleep which nothing disturbed, though hitherto she had wakened at any call. Now, though in remorse at her own carelessness, Take-a-Stitch bent over the little one and begged her pardon most earnestly, the baby gave no sign of hearing and slumbered on with her face growing a deeper red and her breath beginning to come in a way that recalled the old captain's snores.
"What shall I do now?" cried poor Glory, aloud, looking around over the wide country, so unlike the crowded Lane, and seeing no shelter anywhere at which she dared again apply. Some buildings there were, behind and removed from the cottage; but they were so like that inhospitable structure in color and design that she felt their indwellers would also be the same.
"Oh, I wish I hadn't come all that way over the grass," said poor Glory. "If we'd stayed by them car-rails, likely we'd have come somewhere that there was houses—different. And, Bonny Angel, sweetest, preciousest, darlingest one, do please, please, wake up and walk yourself just a little, teeny, tiny bit. Then, when I get rested a mite, I'll carry you again, 'cause we've got to go, you see. That Timothy was mistook an' his sister's husband's cousin won't let us in."
Yet even while her back was toward it, as she contemplated the landscape pondering which way lay her road, the door again suddenly opened and Mary Fogarty announced, shrilly, but not unkindly:
"There's the wagon-house. You can rest there a spell, seein' you was simple enough to lug that hefty young one clear across the meadder. It's that third one, where the big door stands open an' the stone-boat is."
Glory faced about, her face at once radiant with gratitude, and its effect upon the cottage mistress was to further soften her asperity, so that though she again ejaculated that contemptuous "Huh!" it was in a milder tone; and, with something like interest she demanded, "How long 's that baby been that feverish she is now? She looks 's if she was comin' down with somethin' catchin'. Best get her home, soon 's you can, sissy. She ain't fit to be runnin' round loose."
Poor little Bonny Angel didn't look much like "running loose" at present, and as for "home," the word brought an intolerable feeling to Glory's heart, making the sunny fields before her to seem like prison walls that yet had a curious sort of wobble to them, as if they were dancing up and down in a wild way. But that was because she regarded them now through a mist of tears she could not repress, while visions of a shadowy Lane, whose very gloom would have been precious to her on that hot day, obtruded themselves upon the scene.
With a desperate desire for guidance, Glory burst out her whole story and Mary Fogarty was forced to listen, whether or no. To that good woman's credit it was that as she listened her really warm heart, upon which Timothy Dowd had counted, got the better of her impatience and, once more closing the door upon her peeping children, she said,
"Why, you poor, brave little creatur'! Come this way. I'll show you where, though you must carry the baby yourself, if so be she won't carry herself. I've got seven o' my own an' I wouldn't have nothin' catchin' get amongst them, not for a fortune. I wouldn't dare. I've had 'em down, four er five to a time, with whooping-cough an' measles an' scarletina an' what not; an' now sence the twinses come, I don't want no more of it I can tell you. Don't lag."
Mary strode along, "like a horse," as her husband frequently complimented her, walking as fast as she was talking and, with Bonny Angel in her arms, Goober Glory did her best to keep a similar pace. But this was impossible. Not only were her feet heavy beneath the burden she bore, but her heart ached with foreboding. With Bonny Angel ill, how was the search for grandpa to go on? How to look for the little one's own people? Yet how terrible that they must be left in their grief while she could do nothing to comfort them.
"Oh, if they only knew! She's so safe with me, I love her so. If I could only tell them! I wonder—I wonder who they are and where they are and shall I ever, ever find them!" she exclaimed in her anxiety as, coming to the wagon-house door, she found Mistress Fogarty awaiting her.
That lady answered with her own cheerful exclamation, "'Course you will. Everything comes right, everywhere, give it time enough. Now step right up into this loft. There's a bed here that the extry man sleeps on when there is an extry. None now. Real gardenin' comes to a standstill when Dennis has the chills. You can put the baby down there an' let her sleep her sleep out. You might 's well lie down yourself and take a snooze, bein' you're that petered out a luggin'.
"I must get back an' start up dinner," continued Mary. "It's a big job, even with Dennis round to peel and watch the fryin'. Seven youngsters of my own, with him an' me, and ten boarders——My, it takes a pile of bread to keep all them mouths full, let alone pies an' fixin's. It's vegetable soup to-day, and as the gang's working right nigh, they'll all be in prompt. I won't forget ye, an' I'll send something out to ye by somebody—but don't you pay me back by giving one of my children anything catchin'!"
Before Glory could assure the anxious mother that she would do her utmost for their safety, Mary had run down the rude stairs, shaking the shed-like building as she ran, and was within the red cottage ere the visitor realized it.
Glory exclaimed, as she gazed about, "Here we are, at last, in a regular house! And my, isn't it big? Why, ever an' ever so much bigger than the 'littlest house in Ne' York!' That bed's wide enough for all Meg's children to onct, and—my, how Bonny Angel does sleep. I'm sleepy, too, now I see such a prime place. The woman told me to sleep and I guess I'd better mind."
So, presently, having removed Bonny's draggled coat from the still drowsy child, Glory placed her charge at the extreme back of the bed and lay down herself.
"Wake up, sissy! Come down an' get your basin of soup. Enough in it for the pair of ye, with strawberry shortcake to match!"
It was this summons which aroused Glory from a delightful slumber and she sprang to her feet, not comprehending, at first, what she heard or where she was. Then she returned, laughing as she spoke, "'Course I'll come, you splendid Mary Fogarty! And I'm more obliged 'an I can say, but I'll work it out, I truly will try to work it out, if you'll hunt up your jobs. That dear Timothy said you needed mendin', dreadful!"
But she was unaware that this same Timothy was also close at hand.
"Oh! he did, did he? Well, he said the true word for once, but bad manners in him all the same," answered Mrs. Fogarty; and, as Glory joined them at the foot of the stairs, there were the two engaged in a sort of scuffle which had more mirth than malice in it.
When Take-a-Stitch appeared, they regarded her with a look of compassion which she did not understand; because at the dinner, now comfortably over, the child and her hopeless search had been discussed and the ten boarders, the seven children, with their parents, had all reached one and the same conclusion, namely, that the only safe place for such innocent and ignorant vagrants was in some "Asylum." Who was to announce this decision and convey the little ones to their place of refuge had not, as yet, been settled. Nobody was inclined to take up that piece of work and the ten boarders sauntered back to their more congenial labor on the railroad, leaving the matter in Mary Fogarty's hands.
However, it was a matter destined for nobody to settle, because when Glory had carefully conveyed the basin of soup, the pitcher of milk and the generous slices of shortcake back to the loft, she was frightened out of all hunger by the appearance of Bonny Angel. It was almost the first time in her life that the little "Queen of Elbow Lane" had had a dinner set before her of such proper quantity and quality, yet she was not to taste it.
Bonny was tossing to and fro, sometimes moaning with pain, sometimes shrieking in terror, but always in such a state as to banish every thought save of herself from Glory's mind. And then began a week of the greatest anxiety and distress which even the little caretaker of Elbow Lane, with her self-imposed charge of its many children, had ever known.
"If she should die before I find her folks! If it's 'cause I haven't done the best I could for her——Oh, what shall I do!" wailed Take-a-Stitch, herself grown haggard with watching and grief, so that she looked like any other than the winsome child who had flashed upon Miss Bonnicastle's vision at that memorable visit of hers to that crooked little alley where they had met.
And Timothy Dowd, the only one of the big household near, whom Mary Fogarty permitted to enter the wagon-house-hospital, sighed as he answered with an affected cheerfulness: "Sure, it's nobody dies around these parts; not a body since I was put to work on this section the road. So, why more her nor another an' she the youngest o' the lot? Younger, betoken, nor the twinses theirselves.
"An' it's naught but that crotchetty woman, yon," continued Tim, "that's cousin to me own sister's husband, 'd have took such fool notions into her head. Forbiddin' me, even me, her own relation by marriage, to set foot inside her door till she says the word, an' somebody tellin' her we should be smoked out with sulphur an' brimstone, like rats in a hole, ere ever we can mix with decent folks again. An' some of the boys, even, takin' that nonsense from herself, an' not likin' to dig in the same ditch along with the contagious Tim. Sure, it's contagious an' cantankerous and all them other big things we'll be, when we get out o' this an' find the old captain, your grandpa, an' the biggest kind of a celebration 'twill be, or never saw I the blue skies of old Ireland! Bless the sod!"
But in his heart, faithful Timothy did not look for Bonny Angel's recovery. Nobody knew what ailed her, since physician had not been called. Against such professional advice, Mary Fogarty had set her big foot with an unmovable firmness. Doctors had never interfered in her household save once, when Dennis, misguided man, had consulted one. And witness, everybody, hadn't he been sick and useless ever since?
So, from a safe distance, she assumed charge of the case; sending Glory a pair of shears with which to shave Bonny's sunny head, directing that all windows should be closed, lest the little patient "take cold," and preparing food suitable for the hardest working "boarder," rather than the delicate stomach of a sick child.
However, had they known it, there was nothing whatever infectious about little Bonny's illness, which was simply the result of unaccustomed exposure and unwholesome food; nor did good Mary's unwise directions cause any great harm, because, though a delicate child, the baby was a healthy one. She had no desire for the coarse food that was offered her but drank frequently of the milk that accompanied it; and as for the matter of fresh air, although Glory had to keep the windows closed, there was plenty of ventilation from the wide apertures under the eaves of the shed.
At the end of the week, the devoted young nurse had the delight of hearing her "Angel" laugh outright, for the first time in so many days, and to feel her darling's arms about her own neck while the pale little lips cried out once more the familiar, "Bonny come! Bonny come!"
To catch her tiny "Guardian" up and run with her to the cottage-door took but a minute, but there Glory's enthusiasm was promptly dashed by Mary's appearance. Shaking her arms vigorously, she "shooed" the pair away, as she "shooed" everything objectionable out of her path.
"Stand back! Stand back, the two of ye! Don't dast to come anigh, sence the time of gettin' over things is the very worst time to give 'em. Hurry back to the wagon-house, quick, quick! And once you're safe inside, I'll fetch you some other clothes that you must both put on. Every stitch you've wore, ary one, and the bedclothes, has got to be burnt. Tim's to burn 'em this noonin'. I've got no girl your size, but that don't matter. I've cut off an old skirt o' my own, for your outside, an' little Joe's your very pattern for shape, so his shirt an' blouse 'll do amazin' well. As for the baby, she can put on a suit of the twinses' till so be we can do better. Now hurry up!"
Glory could not help lingering for a moment to ask, "Must it be burned? Do you really, truly, mean to burn Bonny Angel's lovely white silk coat, an' her pretty dress all lace an' trimmin'? An' my blue frock—why, I haven't wore it but two years, that an' the other one to home. It's as good as good, only lettin' out tucks now and then an'——"
"Huh! S'pose you, a little girl, know more about what's right than I do, a big growed up woman? I've took you in an' done for ye all this time an' the least you can do is to do as you're told," replied Mrs. Fogarty, in her sharpest manner.
Thus reprimanded, Glory retreated to the wagon-house, whence, after a time, she reappeared so altered by her new attire that she scarcely knew herself. Much less, did she think, that any old friend of Elbow Lane would recognize her. She was next directed to carry all the discarded clothing and bedding to a certain spot in the barnyard, where Timothy would make a bonfire of it as soon as he appeared; and her heart ached to part with the silken coat which had enwrapped her precious "Guardian," even though it were now soiled and most disreputable.
However, these were minor troubles. The joyful fact remained that Bonny Angel had not died but was already recovered and seemed more like her own gay little self with every passing moment. Clothes didn't matter, even if they were those of a boy. They needed considerable hitching up and pinning, for they were as minus of buttons as all the garments seemed to be which had to pass through Mary Fogarty's hands and washtub; but a few strings would help and maybe Timothy Dowd could supply those; and if once Take-a-Stitch could get her fingers upon a needle and thread—my, how she would alter everything!
Summoned back to the cottage, after she had fulfilled her hostess's last demand, Glory's spirits rose to the highest. It was the first time she had entered the ranks of the seven other children which filled it to overflowing, and who were "shooed" into or out of it, according to their mother's whim.
It happened to be out, just then, and with the throng Glory, fast holding Bonny in her arms, chanced to pass close beside the shivering Dennis in his seat by the stove. He looked at her curiously but kindly, and his gaze moved from her now happy face to that of the child in her clasp, where it rested with such a fixed yet startled expression that Glory exclaimed, "Oh, sir, what is it? Do you see anything wrong with my precious?"
Now it was the fact that Dennis Fogarty spoke as seldom as his wife did often; and that when he was most profoundly moved he spoke not at all. So then, though his eyes kept their astonished, perplexed expression, his lips closed firmly and to Glory's anxious inquiry, he made no reply.
Therefore, waiting but a moment longer, she hurried after the other children and in five minutes was leading them at their games just as she had always led the Elbow children in theirs. But Bonny was still too weak and too small to keep up very long with the boisterous play of these new mates, and seeing this, Take-a-Stitch presently made the seven group themselves around her on the grass while she told them tales.
Glory thought of all the fairy stories with which the old blind captain had beguiled their darkened evenings in that "littlest house" where gas or lamplight could not be afforded; then she went on to real stories of the Elbow children themselves; of Meg-Laundress and Posy Jane; and most of all of Nick and Billy, her chosen comrades and almost brothers. One and all the young Fogartys listened open-mouthed and delighted; but, when pressed to talk more about that "grandpa you're lookin' for," poor Glory grew silent.
It was one of the loveliest spots in the world where Glory sat that morning, with its view of field and mountain and the wonderful river winding placidly between; but the outcast child would have exchanged it all for just one glimpse of a squalid alley, and a tiny familiar doorway, wherein an old seaman should be sitting carving a bit of wood.
Thinking of him, though not talking, she became less interesting company to the Fogartys, who withdrew one by one, attracted by the odor of dinner preparing, and hungry for the scraps which would be tossed among them by their indulgent mother.
Bonny Angel went to sleep; and, holding her snugly, Glory herself leaned back against the tree trunk where she was sitting and closed her own eyes. She did this the better to mature her plans for the search she meant to resume that very day, if possible, and certainly by the morrow at the latest. Now that Bonny was so nearly well, she must go on; and as her head whirled with the thoughts which swarmed it, it seemed to her that she had "grown as old as old since grandpa went away."
Glory at last decided that she had best stop thinking and planning altogether, just for a moment, and go to sleep as Bonny Angel had done. She remembered that grandpa had often said that a nap of "forty winks" would clear his own head and set him up lively for the rest of the day. Whatever Captain Simon Beck, in his great wisdom said was right, must be so; and though it seemed very lazy for a big girl such as she to take "forty winks" on her own account and in the daytime, she did take them and with so many repetitions of the "forty" that the boarders had all come home across the fields before she roused again to know what was going on about her.
There was a hum of voices on the other side of the tree; and though they were low, as if not intended for her ear, they were also very earnest and in evident dispute over some subject which she gradually learned was none other than herself.
She had been going to call out to them, cheerily, but what she heard made her sit up and listen closely. Not very honorable, it may be, yet wholly natural, since Mistress Mary was insisting:
"There's no use talkin', Timothy Dowd, them two must pack to the first 'Asylum' will take 'em in. The sooner the better and this very day the best of all. 'Twas yourself brought 'em or sent 'em, and 'tis yourself must do the job. You can knock off work this half-day and get it settled."
"Oh, but Mary, me cousin, by marriage that is. I hate it. I hate it worse nor ever was. Sure, it was bad enough touchin' a match to them neat little clothes o' theirs but forcin' themselves away——Ah! Mary, mother o' seven, think! What if 'twas one o' your own, now?" wheedled Tim.
But Mary was not to be moved. Indeed, she dared not be. As Glory had already learned, Dennis Fogarty was the now useless gardener of the rich family which lived in the great house on the hill beyond, and to whom the abused Queen Anne cottage and all the other red outbuildings visible belonged.
The rich people were very particular to have all things on their estate kept in perfect order; and though they had no fault to find with Dennis himself, whenever he was well enough to work, they did find much fault with his shiftless or careless wife, while the brood of noisy children was a constant annoyance to them, whenever they occupied Broadacres.
It was for this reason that during the family's stay at the great house, Mary so seldom allowed her children out of the house; nor had Dennis ever permitted her to visit the place in person when there was any chance of her being seen by his employers. He felt that he held his own position merely by their generosity; nor did he approve of her boarding the workmen of the near-by railway. Still, he knew that his children must be fed, and, without the money she earned, how could they be?
Mary's argument, then, against taking into her home two more children, to make bad matters worse, was a good one, and Timothy could find no real word to say against it. Yet he was all in sympathy with Glory's search for the missing seaman, and how could he be the instrument of shutting her up in any institution, no matter how good, where she could not continue that search?
Having heard thus much, and recalling even then Posy Jane's saying about "listeners hearin' no good o' theirselves," Take-a-Stitch quietly rose and went around the tree till she stood before her troubled friends.
"Why, I thought you was asleep!" cried poor Timothy, rather awkwardly and very red in the face.
"So I was, part of the time. Part I wasn't and I listened. I shouldn't ought, I know, an' grandpa would say so, but I'm glad I did, 'cause you needn't worry no more 'bout Bonny Angel an' me. I will start right off. I was going to, to-morrow, anyway, if she didn't get sick again; an' Mis' Fogarty will have to leave us these clothes till—till—I can some time—some day—maybe earn some for myself. Then I'll get 'em sent back, somehow, an'——"
By this time, Mary was also upon her feet, tearful and compassionate and fain to turn her eyes away from the sad, brave little face that confronted her. Yet not even her pity could fathom the longing of this vagrant "Queen" for her dirty Lane and her loyal subjects; nor how she shrank in terror from the lonely search she knew she must yet continue, thinking, "'Cause grandpa would never have give me up if I was lost and I never will him, never, never, never! But if only Billy, er Nick, er——"
Mrs. Fogarty interrupted the little girl's thoughts with the remark, "Now them 'Asylums' is just beautiful, honey darlin'—an' you'll be as happy as the day is long. You'll——"
It was Glory's turn to interrupt the cooing voice, which, indeed, she had scarcely heard, because of another sound which had come to her ear; and it was now a countenance glorified in truth by unlooked-for happiness that they saw, as with uplifted hand and parted lips, she strove to catch the distant strains of music which seemed sent to check her grief.
"Hark! Hark! Listen! Sh-h-h!" cried the girl.
"Bless us, colleen! Have ye lost your seventy senses, laughin' an' cryin' to onct, like a daft creatur'?" demanded Timothy, amazed.
She did not stop to answer him but gently placing Bonny Angel in his arms, sped away down the road, crying ecstatically, "Luigi! Luigi!"
News From The Lane
"Hmm, hmm, indeed! An' what is 'Loo-ee-gy' anyhow? An' what is the noise I hear save one them wore-out hurdy-gurdies, that do be roamin' the country over, soon's ever the town gets too hot to hold 'em? Wouldn't 'pear that a nice spoken little girl as yon would be takin' up with no Eyetalian organ-grinder," grumbled Timothy, a trifle jealously. Already he felt a sort of proprietorship in Glory and the "Angel" and had revolved in his mind for several nights—that is when he could keep awake—what he could do to help her. He was as reluctant to place her in any institution against her will as she was to have him, but he had not known what else to propose to Mary's common sense suggestion.
Both Timothy and Mrs. Fogarty watched the open gateway, through which Take-a-Stitch had vanished, for her to reappear, since the brick wall at the foot of the slope fully hid the road beyond.
The music had soon ceased, but not until all the seven had swarmed out of the house, excited over even so trifling a "show" to break the monotony of their lives. All seven now began to exercise themselves in the wildest antics, leaping over one another's shoulders, turning somersaults, each fisticuffing his neighbor, and finally emitting a series of deafening whoops as Glory actually turned back into the grounds, her hands clinging to the arm of a swarthy little man, who carried a hand-organ on his back and a monkey on his shoulder. The hand-organ was of the poorest type and the monkey looked as though he had been "upon the road" for many, many years—so ancient and wrinkled was his visage. His jaunty red coat had faded from its original tint to a dirty brown; and the funny little cap which he pulled from his head was full of holes, so that it was a wonder he did not lose from it the few cents he was able to collect in it for his master.
But the vagrant pair might have been some wonderful grandees, so proudly did Goober Glory convey them up the slope to the very tree where Mary and her brood awaited them, crying joyfully:
"'Tis Luigi! Luigi Salvatore, Antonio's brother! He knows me, he knows us all and he's come straight from Elbow Lane. I mean, quite straight, 'cause he was there after I was. Wasn't you, Luigi?"
Luigi stood bareheaded now, resting his organ-pole upon the ground and glancing from Glory's eager face to the curious faces of these others. He understood but little of "United States language," having come to that country but a short time before, and having hitherto relied upon his brother Toni to interpret for him when necessary. He was waiting permission to grind out his next tune, and not as surprised as Timothy was that the little girl should have recognized his organ from a multitude of others, which to the railroader sounded exactly the same.
Take-a-Stitch nodded her head, also freshly cropped like Bonny's, and he began. For a time all went well. The seven young Fogartys were in ecstasies, and even their elders beamed with delight, forgetting that the one would be "docked" for his wasted time and the other that the cat and her kittens were at that moment helping to "clear the table" she had left standing. Even Bonny Angel gravely nodded approval from her perch in Timothy's arms, save when the too solicitous monkey held his cap to her. Then she frowned and buried her pretty face on Timothy's shoulder and raised it only when Jocko had hopped another way.
But suddenly out of his selections, Luigi began that ancient tune, "A Life on the Ocean Wave, A Home on the Rolling Deep"—and then disaster!
Almost as distinctly as if he stood there before her in the flesh, forsaken Glory saw her grandfather's beloved form; clad in his well-kept old uniform, buttons shining, head thrown back, gilt-trimmed cap held easily in his wrinkled hand, with Bos'n sitting gravely upright beside him. There he stood, in her fancy; and the vision well-nigh broke her heart. Then down upon the grass she flung herself and all her brave self-repression gave way before the flood of homesick longing which besieged her.
Nobody quite understood what ailed her, though from having heard the captain sing that melody he had just ground out, Luigi dimly guessed. But the effect upon all was that there had been quite music enough for the time being, and Mary showed her wisdom by drawing the company away, counseling:
"Let her have her cry out. She's kep' in brave an' 'twill do her good. More good'n a lickin'!" she finished, with a lunge at her eldest son, who was fast changing his playful cuffs of a twin into blows which were not playful; and all because between Jocko and that twin was already developing considerable interest, which the bigger boy wished to fix upon himself.
"Well now, ma! What for? 'Tain't every day a monkey comes a visitin' here an' he's had him long enough. My turn next, an' that's fair," protested Dennis, junior, namesake of the gardener.