"Fools! Shallow-pated fools!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They never read anything! Their idea of any art would convulse you! They don't know a note of real music!"
"But they are your best friends," interposed Leslie. "What then is their attraction?"
"I am sure I don't know!" said Mrs. Minturn. "I suppose it's unlimited means to follow any fad or fancy, to live extravagantly as they choose, to dress faultlessly as they have taste, freedom to go as they please! Oh they do have a good time!"
"Are you sure that they didn't go through the same 'good time' you are having right now, before they lost the men they loved and married, and then became mothers who later deliberately orphaned their own children?"
"Leslie, for God's sake where did you learn it?" cried Mrs. Minturn. "How can you hit like that? You make me feel like a—like a——! Oh Lord!"
"Don't let's talk any more, Mrs. Minturn," suggested Leslie. "You know what all refined, home-loving people think. You know society and what it has to offer. You're making yourself unhappy, while I am helping you, but if some one doesn't stop you, you may lose the love of a good man, the respect of the people worth while, and later of your own children! See, here is the swamp and this is as close as we can go with the car."
"Is this where you found the flowers for your basket?"
"Yes," said Leslie.
"No snakes, no quicksands?"
"Snakes don't like this kind of moss," answered Leslie; "this is an old lake bed grown up with tamaracks and the bog of a thousand years."
"Looks as if ten thousand might come closer!"
"Where you ever in such a place?" asked Leslie.
"Never!" said Mrs. Minturn.
"Well to do this to perfection," said Leslie, "we should go far enough for you to see the home life of our rarest wild flowers and to get the music full effect. We must look for a high place to spread this waterproof sheet I have brought along, then nestle down and keep still. The birds will see us going in, but if we make ourselves inconspicuous, they will soon forget us. Have you the score?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Minturn. "Go ahead!"
Leslie had not expected Mrs. Minturn's calm tones and placid acceptance of the swamp. The girl sent one searching look the woman's way, then came enlightenment. This was a stunt. Mrs. Minturn had been doing stunts in the hope of new sensations all her life. What others could do, she could, if she chose; in this instance she chose to penetrate a tamarack swamp at six o'clock in the morning, to listen to the notes of a bird.
"I'll select the highest places and go as nearly where we were as I can," said Leslie. "If you step in my tracks you'll be all right."
"Why, you're not afraid, are you?" asked Mrs. Minturn.
"Not in the least," said Leslie. "Are you?"
"No!" said Mrs. Minturn. "One strikes almost everything motoring through the country, in the mountains or at sea, and travelling. This looks interesting. How deep could one sink anyway?"
"Deeply enough to satisfy you," laughed Leslie. "Come quietly now!"
Grasping the score she carried, Mrs. Minturn unconcernedly plunged after Leslie. Purposely the girl went slowly, stooping beneath branches, skirting too wet places, slipping over the high hummocks, turning to indicate by gesture a moss bed, a flower, or glancing upward to try to catch a glimpse of some entrancing musician.
Once Leslie turned to look back and saw Mrs. Minturn on her knees separating the silvery green moss heads and thrusting her hand deeply to learn the length of the roots. She noticed the lady's absorbed face, and the wet patches spreading around her knees. Leslie fancied she could see Mrs. Minturn entering the next gathering of her friends, smiling faintly and crying: "Dear people, I've had a perfectly new experience!" She could hear every tone of Mrs. Minturn's voice saying: "Ferns as luxuriant as anything in Florida! Moss beds several feet deep. A hundred birds singing, and all before sunrise, my dears!" When Mrs. Minturn arose Leslie went forward slowly until she reached the moccasin flowers, but remembering, she did not stop. The woman did. She stooped and Leslie winced as she snapped one to examine it critically. She held it up in the gray light, turning it.
"Did you ever see—little Elizabeth?" she asked.
"Yes," said Leslie.
"Do you think——?" She stopped abruptly.
"That one is too deep," said Leslie. "The colour he saw was on a freshly opened one like that."
She pointed to a paler moccasin of exquisite pink with red lavender veining. Mrs. Minturn assented.
"He can't forget anything," she said, "or let any one else. He always will keep harping."
"We were peculiarly unfortunate that day," said Leslie. "He really had no intention of saying anything, if he hadn't been forced."
"Oh he doesn't require forcing," said Mrs. Minturn. "He's always at the overflow point about her."
"Perhaps he was very fond of her," suggested Leslie.
"He was perfectly foolish about her," said Mrs. Minturn impatiently. "I lost a nurse or two through his interference. When I got such a treasure as Lucette I just told her to take complete charge, make him attend his own affairs, and not try being a nursery maid. It really isn't done these days!"
Leslie closed her lips, moving forward until she reached the space where the ragged boys and the fringed girls floated their white banners, where lacy yellow and lavender blooms caressed each other, there on the highest place she could select, across a moss-covered log, she spread the waterproof sheet, and seating herself, motioned Mrs. Minturn to do the same. She reached for the music and opening it ran over the score. Her finger paused on the notes she had whistled, while with eager face she sat waiting.
Mrs. Minturn dropped into an attitude of tense listening. The sun began dissipating the gray mists and heightening the exquisite tints on all sides. Every green imaginable was there from palest silver to the deepest, darkest shades; all dew wet, rankly growing, gold tinted and showing clearer each minute. Gradually Mrs. Minturn relaxed, made herself comfortable as possible, then turned to the orchids of the open space. The colour flushed and faded on her tired face, she nervously rolled the moccasin stem in her fingers, or looked long at the delicate flower. She was thinking so intently that Leslie saw she was neither seeing the swamp, nor hearing the birds.
It was then that a little gray singer straying through the tamaracks sent a wireless to his mate in the bushes of borderland, in which he wished to convey to her all there was in his heart about the wonders of spring, the joy of mating, the love of her, and their nest. He waited a second, then tucking his tail, swelled his throat, and made sure he had done his best.
At the first measure, Leslie thrust the sheet before Mrs. Minturn, pointing to the place. Instantly the woman scanned the score, then leaned forward listening. As the bird flew, Leslie faced Mrs. Minturn with questioning eyes. She cried softly: "He did it! Perfectly! If I hadn't heard I never would have believed."
"There is another that can do this from Verdi's Traviata." Leslie whistled the notes. "We may hear him also."
Again they waited. Leslie realized that Mrs. Minturn was not listening, and would have to be recalled if the bird sang. Leslie sat silent. The same bird sang, and others, but to the girl had come the intuition that Mrs. Minturn was having her hour in the garden, so wisely she remained silent. After an interminable time she arose, making her way forward as far as she could penetrate and still see the figure of the woman, then hunting an old stump, climbed upon it and did some thinking herself.
At last she returned to the motionless figure. Mrs. Minturn was leaning against the tamarack's scraggy trunk, her head resting on a branch, lightly sleeping. A rivulet staining her cheeks from each eye showed where slow tears had slipped from under her closed lids. Leslie's heart ached with pity. She thought she never had seen any one seem so sad, so alone, so punished for sins of inheritance and rearing. She sat beside Mrs. Minturn, waiting until she awakened.
"Why I must have fallen asleep!" she cried.
"For a minute," said Leslie.
"But I feel as if I had rested soundly a whole night," said Mrs. Minturn. "I'm so refreshed. And there goes that bird again. Verdi to take his notes! Who ever would have thought of it? Leslie, did you bring any lunch? I'm famished."
"We must go back to the car," said Leslie.
They spread the waterproof sheet on the ground where it would be bordered with daintily traced partridge berry, and white-lined plantain leaves, and sitting on it ate their lunch. Leslie did what she could to interest Mrs. Minturn and cheer her, but at last that lady said: "Thank you dear, you are very good to me; but you can't entertain me to-day. Some other time we'll come back and bring the scores you suggest, and see what we can really hear from these birds. But to-day, I've got the battle of my life to fight. Something is coming; I should be in a measure prepared, and as I don't know what to expect, it takes all the brains I have to figure things out."
"You don't know, Mrs. Minturn?" asked Leslie.
"No," she said wearily. "I know James hates the life I lead; he thinks my time wasted. I know he's a disappointed man, because he thought when he married me he could cut me out of everything worth while in the world, and set me to waiting on him, and nursing his children. Every single thing I have done since, or wanted or had, has been a disappointment to him. I know now he never would have married me, if he hadn't figured he was going to make me over; shape me and my life to suit his whims, and throw away my money to please his fancies. He's been utterly discontented since Elizabeth was born. Why Leslie, we haven't lived together since then. He said if I were going to persist in bringing 'orphans' into the world, babies I wouldn't mother myself, or wouldn't allow him to father, there would be no more children. I laughed at him, because I didn't think he meant it; but he did, so that ended even a semblance of content. Half the time I don't know where he is, or what he is doing; he seldom knows where I am; if we appear together it is accidental; I thought I had my mind made up to leave him, and soon; but what you say, coupled with doubts I had myself, have set me to thinking, till I don't know. I hate a scandal. You know how careful I always have been. All my closest friends have jeered me for a prude; there isn't a flaw he can find, there has been none!"
"Certainly not," said Leslie. "Every one knows that."
"Leslie, you don't know, do you?" asked Mrs. Minturn. "He didn't say anything to Bruce, did he?"
"You want an honest answer?" questioned Leslie.
"Of course I do!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"Douglas did tell me in connection with Mr. Minturn joining the Brotherhood and taking a gamin from the streets into his office, that he said he was scarcely allowed to see his own sons, not to exercise the slightest control, so he was going to try his theories on a Little Brother. But Douglas wouldn't mention it, only to me, and of course I wouldn't repeat it to any one. Mr. Minturn seemed to feel that Douglas thought it peculiar for a man having sons, to take so much pains with a newsboy; they're great friends, so he said that much to Bruce."
"'He said that much——'" scoffed Mrs. Minturn.
"Well, even so, that is very little compared with what you've said about him to me," retorted Leslie. "You shouldn't complain on that score."
"I suppose, in your eyes, I shouldn't complain about anything," said Mrs. Minturn.
"A world of things, Mrs. Minturn, but not the ones you do," said Leslie.
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"I think your grievance is that you were born in, and reared for, society," said Leslie, "and in your extremity it has failed you. I believe I can give you more help to-day than any woman of your age and intimate association."
"That's true Leslie, quite true!" exclaimed Mrs. Minturn eagerly. "And I need help! Oh I do!"
"You poor soul, you!" comforted Leslie. "Turn where you belong! Turn to your own blood!"
"My mother would jeer me for a weakling," said Mrs. Minturn. "She has urged me to divorce James, ever since Elizabeth was born."
"I didn't mean your mother," said Leslie. "I meant closer relatives, I meant your husband and sons."
"My husband would probably tell me he had lost all respect for me, while my sons would very likely pull my hair and kick my shins if I knelt to them for sympathy," said Mrs. Minturn. "They are perfect little animals."
"Oh Mrs. Minturn!" cried Leslie amazed. "Then you simply must take them in charge and save them; they are so fine looking, while you're their mother, you are!"
"It means giving up life as I have known it always, just about everything!" said Mrs. Minturn.
"Look at yourself now!" said Leslie. "I should think you would be glad to give up your present state."
"Leslie, do you think it wrong to gather those orchids?"
"I think it unpardonable sin to exterminate them," answered Leslie. "If you have any reason for wanting a few, and merely gather the flowers, leaving the roots to spread and bloom another year, I should say take them."
"Will you wait in the car until I go back?" she asked.
"But I wish to be alone," said Mrs. Minturn.
"You're not afraid? You won't become lost?"
"I am not afraid, and I will not lose myself," said Mrs. Minturn. "Must I hurry?"
"Take all the time you want," said Leslie.
It was mid-afternoon when she returned, her hands filled with a dripping moss ball in which she had embedded the stems of a mass of feathery pink- fringed orchids. Her face was flushed with tears, but her eyes were bright, her step quick and alert.
"Leslie, what do you think I am going to do?" she cried. Then without awaiting a reply: "I'm going to ask James to go with me to take these to Elizabeth, to beg him to forgive my neglect of her; to pledge the rest of my life to him and the boys."
Leslie caught Mrs. Minturn in her arms. "Oh you darling!" she exulted. "Oh you brave, wonderful girl!"
"After all, it's no more than fair," Mrs. Minturn said. "I have had everything my way since we were married. And I did love James. He's the only man I have ever really wanted. Leslie, he will forgive me and start over, won't he?"
"He'll be at your feet!" cried Leslie.
"Fortunately, I have decided to be at his," said Mrs. Minturn. "I've reached the place where I will even wipe James Jr.'s nose and dress Malcolm, and fix James' studs if it will help me to sleep, and have only a tinge of what you seem to be running over with. Leslie, you are the most joyous soul!"
"You see, I never had to think about myself," said Leslie. "Daddy always thought for me, so there was nothing left for me to spend my time and thought on but him. It was a beautiful arrangement."
"Leslie, this is your car, but won't you dear, drive fast!" begged Mrs. Minturn.
"Of course Nellie!" exclaimed the girl.
"Leslie, will you stand by me, and show me the way, all you can?" asked Mrs. Minturn anxiously. "I'll lose every friend I have got; my house must be torn down and built up from the basement on a new system, as to management; and I haven't an idea how to do it. Oh, I hope James can help me."
"You may be sure James will know and can help you," comforted Leslie. "You'll be leaving for the seashore in a few days; install a complete new retinue, and begin all fresh. Half the servants you keep, really interested in their work, would make you far more comfortable than you are now."
"Yes, I think that too!" agreed Mrs. Minturn eagerly. "Some way I feel as if I were turning against Lucette. I never want to see her again, after I tell her to go; not that I know what I shall do without her. The boys will probably burn down the house, and where I'll find a woman who will tolerate them, I don't know."
"Employ a man until you get control," suggested Leslie. "They are both old enough; hire a man, and explain all you want to him. They'd be afraid of a man."
"Afraid!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They are afraid of Lucette! I can't understand it. I wonder if James——"
"Poor James!" laughed Leslie. "Honestly Nellie, don't impose too much of your—your work on him. Undertake it yourself. Show him what a woman you are."
"Great Heavens, Leslie, you don't know what you are saying!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "My only hope lies in deceiving him. If I showed him the woman I am, as I saw myself back there in that swamp an hour ago, he'd take one look, and strangle me for the public good."
"How ridiculous!" exclaimed Leslie. "Why must a woman always rush from one extreme to the other? Choose a middle course and keep it."
"That's what I am telling you I must do," said Mrs. Minturn. "Leslie, it is wonderful how I feel. I'm almost flying. Do you honestly think it is possible that there is going to be something new, something interesting, something really worth while in the world for me?"
"I know it," said Leslie. "Such interest, such novelty, such joy as you never have experienced!"
With that hope in her heart, her eyes filled with excitement, Nellie Minturn rang her bell, ran past her footman and hurried up the stairs. She laid her flowers on a table, summoned her maid, then began throwing off her hat and outer clothing.
"Do you know if Mr. Minturn is here?"
"Yes. He——" began the maid.
"Never mind what 'he.' Get out the prettiest, simplest dress I own, and the most becoming," she ordered. "Be quick! Can't you see I'm in a hurry?"
"Mrs. Minturn, I think you will thank me for telling you there is an awful row in the library," said the maid.
"'An awful row?'" Mrs. Minturn paused.
"Yes. I think they are killing Lucette," explained the maid. "She's shrieked bloody murder two or three times."
"Who? What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Minturn.
She slipped on the bathrobe she had picked up, and stood holding it together, gazing at the maid.
"Mr. Minturn came with two men. One was a park policeman we know. They went into the library and sent for Lucette. There she goes again!"
"Is there any way I could see, could hear, what is going on, without being seen?"
"There's a door to the den from the back hall, and that leads to the library," suggested the maid.
"Show me! Help me!" begged Mrs. Minturn.
As they passed the table the orchids hanging over the edge caught on the trailing robe and started to fall. Mrs. Minturn paused to push them back, then studied the flowers an instant, and catching up the bunch carried it along. She closed the den door after her without a sound, and creeping beside the wall, hid behind the door curtain and peeped into the library. There were two men who evidently were a detective and a policeman. She saw Lucette backed against the wall, her hands clenched, her eyes wild with fear. She saw her husband's back, and on the table beside him a little box, open, its wrappings near, its contents terrifying to the woman.
"To sum up then," said Mr. Minturn in tones she never before had heard: "I can put on oath this man, who will be forced to tell what he witnessed or be impeached by others who saw it at the same time, and are ready to testify to what he said; I can produce the boy who came to tell me the part he took in it; I have the affidavit and have just come from the woman who interfered and followed you here in an effort to save Elizabeth; I have this piece of work in my hands, done by one of the greatest scientists and two of the best surgeons living. Although you shrink from it, I take pleasure in showing it to you. This ragged seam is an impress of the crack you made in a tiny skull lying in a vault out at Forest Hill."
He paused, holding a plaster cast before the woman.
"It's a little bit of a thing," he said deliberately. "She was a tiny creature to have been done to death at your hands. I hope you will see that small pink face as I see it, and feel the soft hair in your fingers, and—after all, I can't go on with that. But I am telling you, and showing you exactly what you are facing, because you must go from this house with these men; your things will be sent. You must leave this city and this country on the boat they take you to, and where you go you will be watched; if ever you dare take service handling a child again, I shall have you promptly arrested and forced to answer for the cold-blooded murder of my little daughter. Live you must, I suppose, but not longer by the torture of children. Go, before I strangle you as you deserve!"
How Mrs. Minturn came to be standing beside her husband, she never afterward knew; only that she was, pulling down his arm to stare at the white cast. Then she looked up at him and said simply: "But Lucette didn't murder her; it was I. I was her mother. I knew she was beaten. I knew she was abused! I didn't stop my pleasure to interfere, lest I should lose a minute by having to see to her myself! A woman did come to me, and a boy! I knew they were telling the truth! I didn't know it was so bad, but I knew it must have been dreadful, to bring them. I had my chance to save her. I went to her as the woman told me to, and because she was quiet, I didn't even turn her over. I didn't run a finger across her little head. I didn't call a surgeon. I preferred an hour of pleasure to taking the risk of being disturbed. I am quite as guilty as Lucette! Have them take me with her."
James Minturn stepped back, gazing at his wife. Then he motioned the men toward the door, so with the woman they left the room.
"Lucette just had her sentence," he said, "now for yours! Words are useless! I am leaving your house with my sons. They are my sons, and with the proof I hold, you will not claim them. If you do, you will not get them. I am taking them to the kind of a house I deem suitable for them, and to such care as I can provide. I shall keep them in my presence constantly as possible until I see just what harm has been done, and how to remedy what can be changed. I shall provide such teachers as I see fit for them, and devote the remainder of my life to them. All I ask of you is to spare them the disgrace of forcing me to prove my right to them, or ever having them realize just what happened to their sister, and your part in it."
She held the flowers toward him.
"I brought these——" she began, then paused. "You wouldn't believe me, if I should tell you. You are right! Perfectly justified! Of course I shall not bring this before the public. Go!"
At the door he looked back. She had dropped into a chair beside the table, holding the cast in one hand, the fringed orchids in the other.
Peaches' Preference in Blessings
"God ain't made a sweeter girl 'An Lily, at keeps my heart a-whirl. If I was to tell an awful whopper, I'd get took by the cross old copper."
Thus chanted Mickey at his door, his hands behind him. Peaches stretched both hers toward him as usual; but he stood still, swinging in front of him a beautiful doll, for a little sick girl. A baby doll in a long snowy dress and a lace cap; it held outstretched arms, but was not heavy enough to tire small wavering hands. Peaches lunged forward until only Mickey's agility saved her from falling. He tossed the doll on the bed, and caught the child, the lump in his throat so big his voice was strained as he cried: "Why you silly thing!"
With her safe he again proffered it. Peaches shut her eyes and buried her face on his breast.
"Oh don't let me see it! Take it away!"
"Why Lily! I thought you'd be crazy about it," marvelled Mickey. "Honest I did! The prettiest lady sent it to you. Let me tell you!"
"Giving them up is worser 'an never having them. Take it away!" wailed Peaches.
"Well Lily!" said Mickey. "I never was stuck up about my looks, but I didn't s'pose I looked so like a granny that you'd think that of me. Don't I seem man enough to take care of a little flowersy-girl 'thout selling her doll? There's where I got your granny skinned a mile. I don't booze, and I never will. Mother hammered that into me. Now look what a pretty it is! You'll just love it! I wouldn't take it! I'd lay out anybody who would. Come on now! Negotiate it! Get your flippers on it!"
He was holding the child gently and stroking her tumbled hair. When he put her from him to see her face, Mickey was filled with envy because he had been forced to admit the gift was not from him. He shut his lips tight, but his face was grim as he studied Peaches' flushed cheeks and wet eyes, and noted the shaking eagerness for the doll she was afraid to look at. He reached over and put it into her arms, then piled the pillows so she could see better, talking the while to comfort her.
"Course it is yours! Course nobody is going to take it! Course you shall always have it, and maybe a grown-up lady doll by Christmas. Who knows?"
In utter content Peaches sank against the pillows, watching Mickey, while she gripped the baby.
"Thank you, Mickey-lovest," she said. "Oh thank you for this Precious Child!"
"You got to thank a lady about twice my height, with dark hair, pink cheeks, and beautiful dresses. She's got a big rest house, a lover man, and an automobile I wish you could see, Lily," he said.
"If I was on the rags in the corner, I'd have this child—wouldn't I?" scoffed Peaches, still clutching the doll, but her gaze on Mickey. "What happened was, 'at she liked you for something, and give you the baby, so you brought it to me. Thank you Mickey, for this Precious Child!"
Peaches lifted her lips. Mickey met them more obsessed than before. Then she turned away, clasping the doll. Mickey could see that the tears were slipping from under the child's closed lids, but her lips were on the doll face, so he knew she was happy. He stole out to bring in his purchases for supper, and begin his evening work. He gave Peaches a drink, her daily rub, cleaned the room without making dust as the nurse had shown him, and brought water. He shook his fist at the faucet.
"Now hereafter, nix on the butting in!" he said belligerently. "Mebby I couldn't have got that doll, but I could have got one she'd have liked just as well, and earned it extra, in one day. There's one feature of the Big Brother business that I was a little too fast on. He's the finest man that ever wanted me, while his rooms are done shameful. I could put a glitter on them so he could see himself with the things he has to work with, and he said any time I wanted it, the job was mine. It wouldn't be cheating him any if I took it, and did better work than he's getting, and my steady papers are sure in the morning; that would be sure in the afternoon, and if I cut ice with a buzz saw, I might get through in time to pick up something else before coming home, and being sure beats hoping a mile, yes ten miles! Mebby I'll investigate that business a little further, 'cause hereafter I provide for my own family. See? Lily was grand about it. Gee! she's smart to think it out that way all in a minute. But by and by she's going to have a lot of time to think. Then she'll be remembering about the lady I got to tell her of 'stead of me, as she should! Guess I'll run my own family! I'll take another look at cleaning that office. There ain't any lap-dog business in a job, and being paid for it, if you do it well."
Mickey turned the faucet and marched up the stairs with head high and shoulders square. His face was grave while he worked, but Peaches was so happy she did not notice. When he came with her supper she kissed the doll, then insisted on Mickey kissing it also. Such was the state of his subjugation he commenced with "Aw!" and ended by doing as he was told. He even helped lay the doll beside Peaches exactly as her fancy dictated, and covered it with her sheet, putting its hands outside. Peaches was enchanted. She insisted on offering it a drink of her milk first, and was so tremulously careful lest she spill a drop that Mickey had to guide her hand. He promised to wash the doll's dress if she did have an accident, or when it became soiled, and bowed his head meekly to the crowning concession by sitting on the edge of the bed, after he had finished his evening work, and holding the doll where she could see it, exactly as instructed, while he told her about his wonderful adventure.
"Began yesterday," explained Mickey. "You know I told you there was going to be a surprise. Well this is it. When the lady gave me the ribbons for you, she told me to come back to-night, and get it. Course I could a-got it myself. I would a-got it for Christmas——"
"Oh Mickey-lovest, does Christmas come here?"
"Surest thing you know!" said Mickey. "A fat stocking full of every single thing the Nurse Lady tell Santa Claus a little—a little flowersy-girl that ain't so strong yet, may have, and a big lady doll and a picture book."
"But I never had no stockings," said Peaches.
"Well you'll have by that time," promised Mickey.
"Oh Mickey, I'm so glad I want to say a prayin's 'at you found me, 'stead of some other kid!" exulted Peaches.
"Yes Miss, and that's one thing I forgot!" said Mickey. "We'll begin to- night. You ain't a properly raised lady unless you say your prayers. I know the one She taught me. To-night will be a good time, 'cause you'll be so thankful for your pretty ribbons and your baby, that you'll just love to say a real thankful prayer." "Mickey, I ain't goin' to say prayin's! I just said I was," explained Peaches. "I never said none for granny, 'cause she only told me to when she was drunk."
"No and you never had a box of ribbons to make you look so sweet, or a baby to stay with you while I'm gone. If you ain't thankful enough for them to say your prayers, you shouldn't have them, nor any more, nor Christmas, nor anything, but just—just like you was."
Peaches blinked, gasped, digested the statements, then yielded wholly.
"I guess I'll say them. Mickey when shall I?"
"To-night 'fore you go to sleep," said Mickey.
"Now tell me about the baby," urged Peaches.
"Sure! I was! I could a-got it myself, like I was telling you; but the ones in the stores have such funny clothes. They look so silly. I knew I couldn't wash them and of course they'd get dirty like everything does, and we couldn't have them dirty, so I thought it over, and I said to Mickey-boy, 'if the Joy Lady is so anxious to get the baby, and sew its clothes herself, why I'll just let her,' so I did let her, but it took some time to make them, so I had to wait to bring it 'til tonight. I was to go to her house after it, and when I got there she was coming home in her car from a long drive, and gee, Lily, I wish you could have seen her! She's the prettiest lady, and the most joyous lady I ever saw."
"Prettier than the Nurse Lady?" asked Peaches.
"Well different," explained Mickey. "Nurse Lady is all gold like the end of Sunrise Alley at four o'clock in the morning. This lady has dark hair and eyes. Both of them are as pretty as women are made, but they are not the same. Nurse Lady is when the sun comes up, and warms and comforts the world; but the doll-lady is like all the stars twinkling in the moonlight on the park lake, and music playing, and everybody dancing. The doll-lady is joy, just the Joy Lady. Gee, Lily, you should have seen her face when the car stopped, while I was coming down the steps."
"Was she so glad to see you?" asked Peaches.
"'Twasn't me!" said Mickey. "'Twas on her face before she saw me. She was just gleaming, and shining, and spilling over joy! She isn't the kind that would dance on the street, nor where it ain't nice to dance; but she was dancing inside just the same. She pulled me right into that big fine car, so I sat on the seat with her, and we went sailing, and skating, and flying along and all the boys guying me, but I didn't care! I like to ride in her car! I never rode in a car like that before. She went a-whizzing right to the office of the big man, where maybe I'll work; I guess I'll go see him tomorrow, I got a hankering for knowing what I'm going to do, and where I'm going to be paid for it. Well she went spinning there, and she said 'you wait a minute,' then she ran in and pretty soon out she came with him. His name is Mr. Douglas Bruce, and I guess it would be a little closer what She'd think right if I'd use it. And hers he calls her by, is Leslie. Ain't that pretty? When he says 'Leslie' sounds as if he kissed the name as it came through. Honest it does!"
"I bet he says it just like you say 'Lily!'"
"I wonder now!" grinned Mickey. "Well he came out and what she had told him, set him crazy too. They just talked a streak, but he shook hands with me, and she said, 'You tell the driver where to go Mickey,' and I said, 'Go where, Miss?' and she said, 'To take you home,' and I said, 'You don't need!' and she said, 'I'd like to!' and I saw she didn't care what she did, so I just sent him to the end of the car line and saved my nickel, and then I come on here, and both of them——"
"What?" asked Peaches eagerly.
Mickey changed the "wanted to come to see you" that had been on his lips. If he told Peaches that, and she asked for them to come, and they came, and then thought he was not taking care of her right, and took her away from him—then what?
"Said good-bye the nicest," he substituted. "And I'm going to see if she wants any more letters carried as soon as my papers are gone in the morning, and if she does, I'm going to take them, and if one is to him, I'm going to ask him more about the job he offered me, and if we can agree, I'm going to take it. Then I can buy you what you want myself, because I'll know every day exactly what I'll have, and when the rent is counted out, and for the papers, all the rest will be for eating, and what you need, and to save for your new back."
"My, I wisht I had it now!" cried Peaches. "I wisht I could a-rode in that car too! Wasn't it perfeckly grand Mickey?"
"Grand as any king," said Mickey.
"What is a king?" asked Peaches.
"One of the big bosses across the ocean," explained Mickey. "You'll learn them when you get farther with your lessons. They own most all the money, and the finest houses, and all the people. Just own them. Own them so's they can tell good friends to go to it, and kill each other, even relations."
"And do they do it?" marvelled Peaches.
"Sure they do it!" cried Mickey. "Why they are doing it right now! I could bring a paper and read you things that would make you so sick you couldn't sit up!"
"What kind of things, Mickey?"
"About kings making all the fathers kill each other, and burn down each other's houses, and blow up the cities, and eat all the food themselves, and leave the mothers with no home, and no groceries, and no stove, and no beds, and the bullets flying, and the cities burning, and no place to go, and the children starving and dying—Gee, I ain't ever going to tell you any more, Lily! It's too awful! You'd feel better not to know. Honest you would! Wish I hadn't told you anything about it at all. Where's your slate? We got to do lessons 'fore it gets so dark and we are so sleepy we can't see."
Peaches proudly handed him the slate. In wavering lines and tremulous curves ran her first day's work alone, over erasures, and with relinings, in hills and deep depressions, which it is possible Mickey read because he knew what it had to be, he proudly translated, "Mickey-lovest." Then the lines of the night before, then "cow" and "milk." And then Mickey whooped because he faintly recognized an effort to draw a picture of the cow and the milk bottle.
"Grand Lily!" he cried. "Gee, you're the smartest kid I ever knew! You'll know all I do 'fore long, and then you'll need your back, so's you can get ready to go to a Young Ladies' Sem'nary."
"What's that?" interestedly asked Peaches.
"A school. Where other nice girls go, and where you learn all that I don't know to teach you," said Mickey.
"I won't go!" said Peaches.
"Oh yes you will, Miss," said Mickey. "'Cause you're my family, so you'll do as I say."
"Will you go with me?" asked Peaches.
"Sure! I'll take you there in a big au——Oh, I don't know as I will either. We'll have to save our money, if we both go. We'll go on a street car, and walk up a grand av'noo among trees, and I'll take you in, and see if your room is right, and everything, and all the girls will like you 'cause you're so smart, and your hair's so pretty, and then I'll go to a boys' school close by, and learn how to make poetry pieces that beat any in the papers. Every time I make a new one I'll come and ask, 'Is Miss Lily—Miss Lily Peaches——' Gee kid, what's your name?"
Mickey stared at Peaches, while she stared back at him.
"I don't know," she said. "Do you care, Mickey?"
"What was your granny's?" asked Mickey.
"I don't know," answered Peaches.
"Was she your mother's mother?" persisted Mickey.
"Yes," replied Peaches.
"Did you ever see your father?" Mickey went on.
"I don't know nothing about fathers," she said.
Mickey heaved a deep sigh.
"Well! That's over!" he said. "I know something about fathers. I know a lot. I know that you are no worse off, not knowing who your father was than to know he was so mean that you are glad he's dead. Your way leaves you hoping that he was just awful nice, and got killed, or was taken sick or something; my way, there ain't no doubts in your mind. You are plumb sure he wasn't decent. Don't you bother none about fathers!"
"My I'm glad, Mickey!" cried Peaches joyously.
"So am I," said Mickey emphatically. "We don't want any fathers coming here to butt in on us, just as we get your back Carreled and you ready to start to school."
"Can I go without a name Mickey?" asked Peaches.
"Course not!" said Mickey. "You have to put your name on a roll the first thing, then you must be interdooced to the Head Lady and all the girls."
"What'll I do Mickey?" anxiously inquired Peaches.
"Well, for smart as you are in some spots, you're awful dumb in others," commented Mickey. "What'll you do, saphead? Gee! Ain't you mine? Ain't you my family? Ain't my name good enough for you? Your name will be Miss Lily Peaches O'Halloran. That's a name good enough for a Queen Lady!"
"What's a Queen?" inquired Peaches.
"Wife of those kings we were just talking about."
"Sure!" said Peaches. "None of them have a nicer name than that! Mickey, is my bow straight?"
"Naw it ain't!" said Mickey. "Take the baby 'til I fix it! It's about slipped off! There! That's better."
"Mickey, let me see it!" suggested Peaches.
Mickey brought the mirror. She looked so long he grew tired and started to put it back, but she clung to it.
"Just lay it on the bed," she said.
"Naw I don't, Miss Chicken—O'Halloran!" he said. "Mirrors cost money, and if you pull the sheet in the night, and slide ours off, and it breaks, we got seven years of bad luck coming, and we are nix on changing the luck we have right now. It's good enough for us. Think of them Belgium kids where the kings are making the fathers fight. This goes where it belongs, then you take your drink, and let me beat your pillow, and you fix your baby, and then we'll say our prayers, and go to sleep."
Mickey replaced the mirror and carried out the program he had outlined. When he came to the prayer he ordered Peaches to shut her eyes, fold her hands and repeat after him:
"'Now I lay me down to sleep'"——
Peaches' eyes opened.
"Oh, is it a poetry prayer, Mickey?" she asked.
"Yes. Kind of a one. Say it," answered Mickey.
Peaches obeyed, repeating the words lingeringly and in her sweetest tones. Mickey thrilled to his task.
"'I pray the Lord my soul to keep'"——he proceeded.
"What's my soul, Mickey?" she asked.
"The very nicest thing inside of you," explained Mickey. "Go on!"
"Like my heart?" questioned Peaches.
"Yes. Only nicer," said Mickey. "Shut your eyes and go on!"
"'If I should die before I wake'"——continued Mickey.
Peaches' eyes flashed open; she drew back in horror.
"I won't!" she cried. "I won't say that. That's what happened to granny, an' I saw. She was the awfullest, an' then—the men came. I won't!"
Mickey opened his eyes, looking at Peaches, his lips in a set line, his brow wrinkled in thought.
"Well I don't know what they went and put that in for," he said indignantly. "Scaring little kids into fits! It's all right when you don't know what it means, but when kids has been through what we have, it's different. I wouldn't say it either. You wait a minute. I can beat that myself. Let me think. Now I got it! Shut your eyes and go on:
"If I should come to live with Thee——"
"Well I ain't goin'!" said Peaches flatly. "I'm goin' to stay right here with you. I'd a lot rather than anywhere. King's house or anywhere!"
"I never saw such a kid!" wailed Mickey. "I think that's pretty. I like it heaps. Come on Peaches! Be good! Listen! The next line goes: 'Open loving arms to shelter me.' Like the big white Jesus at the Cathedral door. Come on now!"
"I won't! I'm goin' to live right here, and I don't want no big white Jesus' arms; I want yours. 'F I go anywhere, you got to lift me yourself, and let me take my Precious Child along."
"Lily, you're the worst kid I ever saw," said Mickey. "No you ain't either! I know a lot worse than you. You just don't understand. I guess you better pray something you do understand. Let me think again. Now try this: Keep me through the starry night——"
"Sure! I just love that," crooned Peaches.
"Wake me safe with sunrise bright," prompted Mickey, and the child smilingly repeated the words. "Now comes some 'Blesses,'" said Mickey. "I don't know just how to manage them. You haven't a father to bless, and your mother got what was coming to her long ago; blessing her now wouldn't help any if it wasn't pleasant; same with your granny, only more recent. I'll tell you! Now I know! 'Bless the Sunshine Lady for all the things to make me comfortable, and bless the Moonshine Lady for the ribbons and the doll.'"
"Aw!" cried Peaches, staring up at him in rebellion.
"Now you go on, Miss Chicken," ordered Mickey, losing patience, "and then you end with 'Amen,' which means, 'So be it,' or 'Make it happen that way,' or something like that. Go to it now!"
Peaches shut her eyes, refolded her hands and lifted her chin. After a long pause Mickey was on the point of breaking, she said sweetly: "Bless Mickey-lovest, an' bless him, an' bless him million times; an' bless him for the bed, an' the window, an' bless him for finding the Nurse Lady, an' bringing the ribbons, an' the doll, an' bless him for the slate, an' the teachin's, an' bless him for everything I just love, an' love. Amen— hard!"
When Peaches opened her eyes she found Mickey watching her, a commingling of surprise and delight on his face. Then he bent over and laid his cheek against hers.
"You fool little kid," he whispered tenderly. "You precious fool little flowersy-kid! You make a fellow love you 'til he nearly busts inside. Kiss me good-night, Lily."
He slipped the ribbon from her hair, straightened the sheets, arranged as the nurse had taught him, laid the doll as Peaches desired, and then screened by the foot of the bed, undressed and stretched himself on the floor. The same moon that peeped in the window to smile her broadest at Peaches and her Precious Child, and touched Mickey's face to wondrous beauty, at that hour also sent shining bars of light across the veranda where Leslie sat and told Douglas Bruce about the trip to the swamp.
"I never knew I could be so happy over anything in all this world that didn't include you and Daddy. But of course this does in a way; you, at least. Much as you think of, and are with, Mr. Minturn, you can't help being glad that joy has come to him at last. Why don't you say something, Douglas?"
"I have been effervescing ever since you came to the office after me, and I find now that the froth is off, I'm getting to the solid facts in the case, and, well I don't want to say a word to spoil your joyous day, but I'm worried, 'Bringer of Song.'"
"Worried?" cried Leslie. "Why? You don't think he wouldn't be pleased? You don't think he might not be—responsive, do you?"
"Think of the past years of neglect, insult and humiliation!" suggested Douglas.
"Think of the future years of loving care, reparation and joy!" commented Leslie.
"Please God they outweigh!" said Douglas. "Of course they will! It must be a few things I've seen lately that keep puzzling me."
"What have you seen, Douglas?" questioned Leslie.
"Deals in real estate," he answered. "Consultations with detectives and policemen, scientists and surgeons."
"But what could that have to do with Nellie Minturn?"
"Nothing, I hope," said Douglas, "but there has been a grimness about Minturn lately, a going ahead with jaws set that looks ugly for what opposes him, and you tell me they have been in opposition ever since they married. I can't put him from my thoughts as I saw him last."
"And I can't her," said Leslie. "She was a lovely picture as she came across the silver moss carpet, you know that gray green, Douglas, her face flushed, her eyes wet, her arms full of those perfectly beautiful, lavender-pink fringed orchids. She's a handsome woman, dearest, and she never looked quite so well to me as when she came picking her way beneath the dark tamarack boughs. She was going to ask him to go with her to take her flowers to Elizabeth, and over that little white casket she intended— Why Douglas, he couldn't, he simply couldn't!"
"Suppose he had something previously worked out that cut her off!"
"Oh Douglas! What makes you think such a thing?"
"What Minturn said to me this morning with such bitterness on his face and in his voice as I never before encountered in man," Douglas answered.
"He said——?" prompted Leslie.
"This is my last day as a laughing-stock for my fellowmen! To-morrow I shall hold up my head!"
"Why didn't you tell me that before?"
"Didn't realize until just now that you and she hadn't seen him—that you were acting on presumption.
"I'm going to call her!" cried Leslie.
"I wouldn't!" advised Douglas.
"After as far as she went to-day, if she had anything she wanted you to know, wouldn't she feel free to call you?"
"You are right," conceded Leslie. "Even after to-day, for me to call would be an intrusion. Let's not talk of it further! Don't you wish we could take a peep at Mickey carrying the doll to the little sick girl?"
"I surely do!" answered Douglas. "What do you think of him, Leslie?"
"Great! Simply great!" cried the girl. "Douglas you should have heard him educate me on the doll question."
"How?" he asked interestedly.
"From the first glimpse I had of him, the thought came to me, 'That's Douglas' Little Brother'" she explained. "When you telephoned and said you were sending him to me, just one idea possessed me: to get what you wanted. Almost without thought at all I tried the first thing he mentioned, which happened to be a little sick neighbour girl he told me about. All girls like a doll, and I had one dressed for a birthday gift for a namesake of mine, and time plenty to fix her another. I brought it to Mickey and thought he'd be delighted."
"Was he rude?" inquired Douglas anxiously.
"Not in the least!" she answered. "Only casual! Merely made me see how thoughtless and unkind and positively vulgar my idea of pleasing a poor child was."
"Leslie, you shock me!" exclaimed Douglas.
"I mean every word of it," said the girl. "Now listen to me! It is thoughtless to offer a gift headlong, without considering a second, is it not?"
"Merely impulsive," replied Douglas.
"Identically the same thing!" declared Leslie. "Listen I said! Without a thought about suitability, I offered an extremely poor child the gift I had prepared for a very rich one. Mickey made me see in ten words that it would be no kindness to fill his little friend's head with thoughts that would sadden her heart with envy, make her feel all she lacked more keenly than ever; give her a gift that would breed dissatisfaction instead of joy; if that isn't vulgarity, what is? Mickey's Lily has no business with a doll so gorgeous the very sight of it brings longing, instead of comfort. It was unkind to offer a gift so big and heavy it would tire and worry her."
"There are some ideas there on giving!"
"Aren't there though!" said Leslie. "Mickey took about three minutes to show me that Lily was satisfied as she was, so no one would thank me for awakening discontent in her heart. He measured off her size and proved to me that a small doll, that would not tire her to handle, would be suitable, and so dressed that its clothes could be washed and would be plain as her own. Even further! Once my brain began working I saw that a lady doll with shoes and stockings to suggest outdoors and walking, was not a kind gift to make a bedridden child. Douglas, after Mickey started me I arose by myself to the point of seeing that a little cuddly baby doll, helpless as she, one that she could nestle, and play with lying in bed would be the proper gift for Lily. Think of a 'newsy' making me see that! Isn't he wonderful?"
"You should have heard him making me see things!" said Douglas. "Yours are faint and feeble to the ones he taught me. Refused me at every point, and marched away leaving me in utter rout! Outside wanting you for my wife, more than anything else on earth, I wanted Mickey for my Little Brother."
"You have him!" comforted the girl. "The Lord arranged that. You remember He said, 'All men are brothers,' and wasn't it Tolstoy who wrote: 'If people would only understand that they are not the sons of some fatherland or other, nor of governments, but are sons of God?' You and Mickey will get your brotherhood arranged to suit both of you some of these days."
"Exactly!" conceded Douglas. "But I wanted Mickey at hand now! I wanted him to come and go with me. To be educated with what I consider education."
"It will come yet," prophesied Leslie. "Your ideas are splendid! I see how fine they are! The trouble is this: you had a plan mapped out at which Mickey was to jump. Mickey happened to have preconceived ideas on the subject, so he didn't jump. You wanted to be the king on the throne and stretch out a royal hand," laughed Leslie. "You wanted to lift Mickey to your level, and with the inherent fineness in him, have him feel eternal love and gratitude toward you?"
"That sounds different, but it is the real truth."
"And Mickey doesn't care to be brother to kings, he doesn't perceive the throne even; he wants you to understand at the start that you will take, as well as give. Refusing pay for tidying your office was his first inning. That 'Me to you!' was great. I can see the accompanying gesture. It was the same one he used in demolishing my doll. Something vital and inborn. Something loneliness, work, the crowd, and raw life have taught Mickey, that we don't know. Learn all you can from him. I've had one good lesson, I'm receptive and ready for the next. Let's call the car and drive an hour."
"That will be pleasant," agreed Douglas.
"Anywhere in the suburbs to avoid the crowds," was Leslie's order to her driver.
Slowly, under traffic regulations, the car ran through the pleasant spring night; the occupants talking without caring where they were so long as they were together, in motion, and it was May. They were passing residences where city and country met. The dwellings of people city bound, country determined. Homes where men gave so many hours to earning money, then sped away to train vines, prune trees, dig in warm earth and make things grow. Such men now crossed green lawns and talked fertilizers, new annuals, tree surgery, and carried gifts of fragrant, blooming things to their friends. Here the verandas were wide and children ran from them to grassy playgrounds; on them women read or sat with embroidery hoops or visited in small groups.
"Let's move," said Leslie. "Let's coax Daddy to sell our place and come here. One wouldn't ever need go summering, it's cool and pleasant always. I'd love it! There's a new house and a lawn under old trees, to shelter playing children; isn't it charming?"
"Quite! But that small specimen seems refractory."
Leslie leaned forward to see past him. In an open door stood a man clearly silhouetted against the light. Down the steps sped a screaming boy about nine. After him ran another five or six years older. When the child saw he would be overtaken, he headed straight for the street; as the pursuer's hand brushed him, he threw himself kicking and clawing. The elder boy hesitated, looking for an opening to find a hold. The car was half a block away when Leslie turned a white face to Douglas and gasped inarticulately. He understood something was wrong so signalled the driver to stop.
"Turn and pass those children again!" ordered Leslie.
As the car went by slowly the second time, the child still fought, the boy stepped back, while James Minturn with grim face, bent under the light and by force took into his arms the twisting, fighting boy.
"Heaven help him!" cried Douglas. "Not a sign of happy reconciliation there!"
Leslie tried to choke down her sobs.
"Oh Nellie Minturn! Poor woman!" she wailed.
"So that's what he was doing!" marvelled Douglas. "A house he has built to suit himself; training his sons personally, with the assistance of his Little Brother. That boy was William. I see him in Minturn's office every day."
"Oh I think he might have given her a chance!" protested Leslie. "Remember how she was reared! Think what a struggle it was for her even to contemplate trying to be different."
"Evidently she was too late!" said Douglas. "He must have been gone before you returned from the swamp."
"I'm going back there and tell him a few things! I think he might have waited. Douglas, I'm afraid he did wait! She said he told her he wanted to talk with her when she came back—and oh Douglas, she said he had a small box and he threatend to 'freeze her soul with its contents!' Douglas, what could he have had?"
"'Freeze her soul!' Let me think!" said Douglas. "I met Professor Tickner and Dr. Wills coming from his offices a few days ago, while he's just back from a trip that he didn't tell me he was taking——
"You mean Tickner, the scientist; Wills, the surgeon?"
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"But those children! Aren't they perfectly healthy?"
"They look it! Lord, Leslie!" cried Douglas, "I have it! He has made good his threat. He has frozen her soul! What you want to do is to go to her, Leslie!"
"Douglas, tell me!" she demanded.
"I can't!" said Douglas. "I may be mistaken. I think I am not, but there is always a chance! Drive to the Minturn residence," he ordered.
They found a closed dark pile of stone.
"Go past that place where the children were again!" said Leslie.
The upper story was quiet. Outlined by veranda lights the massive form of James Minturn paced back and forth under the big trees, his hands clasped behind him, his head bowed, and he walked alone.
"Douglas, I'm going to speak to him. I'm going to tell him!" declared Leslie.
"But you're now conceding that she saw him!" Douglas pointed out. "Then what have you to tell him that she would not? If she couldn't move him with what she said, and while you don't know his side, what could you say to him?"
"Nothing," she conceded.
"Precisely my opinion," said Douglas. "Remember Leslie I am a little ahead of you in this. You know her side. I know all you have told me of her, also I know what he has told me; while putting what I have seen, and heard at the office, and him here with the boys, in a house she would consider too plebeian for words——"
"No Douglas. No! She is changed!" cried Leslie. "Completely changed, I tell you! She said she would wipe Malcolm's nose and fix James' studs——"
"Mere figures of speech!" remarked Douglas.
"They meant she was ready to work with her own hands for happiness," said Leslie indignantly.
"I think she's too late!" said Douglas. "I am afraid she is one of the unhappiest women in the world to-night!"
"Douglas, it wrings my heart!" cried Leslie.
"Mine also, but what can we do?" he answered. "For ten years, she has persisted in having her way, you tell me; what could she have expected?"
"That he would have some heart," protested Leslie. "That he would forgive when he was asked, as all of us are commanded to."
"Does it occur to you that he might have confronted her with something that prevented her from asking?" suggested Douglas. "She may never have reached her flowers and her proposed concessions."
"What makes you think so?" queried Leslie.
"What I see and surmise, and a thing I know."
"What can I do?" asked Leslie.
"Nothing!" Douglas said with finality. "If either of them wants you, they know where to find you. But you're tired now. Let's give the order for home."
"Shan't sleep a wink to-night!" prophesied Leslie.
"I was afraid of that!" exclaimed Douglas. "There may be a message there for you that will be a comfort."
"So there may be! Let's hurry!" urged the girl.
There was. They found a brief, pencilled note.
After to-day, it was due you to send a word. You tried so hard dear, and you gave me real joy for an hour. Then James carried out his threat. He did all to me he intended, and more than he can ever know. I have agreed to him taking full possession of the boys, and going into a home such as he thinks suitable. They will be far better off, and since they scarcely know me, they can't miss me. Before you receive this, I shall have left the city. I can't state just now where I am going or what I shall do. You can realize a little of my condition. If ever you are tired of home life and faintly tempted to neglect it for society, use me for your horrible example. Good-bye,
Leslie read this aloud.
"It's a relief to know that much," she said with a deep breath. "I can't imagine myself ever being 'faintly tempted," but if I am, surely she is right about the 'horrible example.' Douglas, whatever did James Minturn have in that box?"
"I could tell you what I surmise, but so long as I don't know I'd better not," he answered.
"As our mutual friend Mickey would say, 'Nix on the Swell Dames,' for me!" said Leslie determinedly.
"Thank God with all my heart!" cried Douglas Bruce.
"I've no time to talk," said Douglas Bruce, as Mickey appeared the following day; "my work seems too much for one man. Can you help me?"
"Sure!" said Mickey, wadding his cap into his back pocket. Then he rolled his sleeves a turn higher, lifted his chin a trifle and stepped forward. "Say what!"
It caught Douglas so suddenly there was no time for concealment. He laughed heartily.
"That's good!" he cried. Mickey grinned in comradeship. "First, these letters to the box in the hall."
"Next?" Mickey queried as he came through the door.
"This package to the room of the Clerk in the City Hall, and bring back a receipt bearing his signature."
Mickey saluted, laid the note inside the cover of a book, put it in the middle of the package, and a second later his gay whistle receded down the hall.
"'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,'" Douglas quoted. "Mickey has been trained until he would make a good trainer himself."
In one-half the time the trip had taken the messenger boys Douglas was accustomed to employing, Mickey was back like the Gulf in the Forum, demanding "more."
"See what you can do for these rooms, until the next errand is ready," suggested Douglas.
Mickey began gathering up the morning papers, straightening the rugs, curtains and arranging the furniture.
"Hand this check to the janitor," said Douglas. "And Mickey, kindly ask him if two dollars was what I agreed to pay him for my extras this week."
"Sure!" said Mickey.
Douglas would have preferred "Yes sir," but "Sure!" was a permanent ejaculation decorating the tip of Mickey's tongue. The man watching closely did not fail to catch the flash of interest and the lifting of the boy figure as he paused for instructions. When he returned Douglas said casually: "While I am at it, I'll pay off my messenger service. Take this check to the address and bring a receipt for the amount."
Mickey's comment came swiftly: "Gee! that boy would be sore, if he lost his job!"
"Messenger Service Agency," Douglas said, busy at his desk. "No boy would lose his job."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mickey comprehendingly. His face lighted at the information. Next he carried a requisition for books to another city official and telephoned a cafe to deliver a pitcher of lemonade and some small cakes, and handed the boy a dime.
"Why didn't you send me and save your silver?"
"I did not think," answered Bruce. "Some one gets the tip, you might as well have had it."
"I didn't mean me have it, I meant you save it."
"Mickey," said Douglas, "you know perfectly I can't take your time unless you accept from me what I am accustomed to paying other boys."
"Letting others bleed you, you mean," said Mickey indignantly. "Why I'd a- been glad to brought the juice for five! You never ought to paid more."
"Should have paid more," corrected Douglas.
"'Should have paid more,'" repeated Mickey. "Thanks!"
"Now try this," said Douglas, filling two glasses.
"'Tain't usual!" said Mickey. "You drink that yourself or save it for friends that may drop in."
"Very well!" said Douglas. "Of course you might have it instead of the boy who comes after the pitcher, but if you don't like it——"
"All right if that's the way!" agreed Mickey.
He retired to a window seat, enjoyed the cool drink and nibbled the cake, his eyes deeply thoughtful. When offered a second glass Mickey did not hesitate.
"Nope!" he said conclusively. "A fellow's head and heels work better when his stomach is running light. I can earn more not to load up with a lot of stuff. I eat at home when my work is finished. She showed me that."
"She showed you a good many things, didn't She?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "She was my mother, so we had to look out for ourselves. When you got nothing but yourself between you and the wolf, you learn to fly, and keep your think-tank in running order. She knew just what was coming to me, so She showed me, and every single thing She said has come, and then some!"
"I see!" said Douglas. "A wise mother!"
"Sure!" agreed Mickey. "But I guess it wouldn't have done either of us much good if I hadn't remembered and kept straight on doing what she taught me."
"You are right, it wouldn't," conceded Douglas.
"That's where I'm going to climb above some of the other fellows," announced Mickey confidently. "Either they didn't have mothers to teach them or else they did, and forget, or think the teaching wasn't worth anything. Now me, I know She was right! She always proved it! She had been up against it longer than I had and She knew, so I am going to go right along doing as She said. I'll beat them, and carry double at that!"
"How double, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.
"I didn't mean to say that," he explained. "That was a slip. There's a— there's something——something I'm trying to do that costs more than it does to live. I'm bound to do it, so I got to run light and keep my lamps polished for chances. What next, sir?"
"Call 9-40-X, and order my car here," said Douglas.
He bent over his papers to hide his face when from an adjoining room drifted Mickey's voice in clear enunciation and suave intonation: "Mr. Douglas Bruce desires his car to be sent immediately to the Iroquois Building."
His mental comment was: "The little scamp has drifted to street lingo when he lacked his mother to restrain him. He can speak a fairly clean grade of English now if he chooses."
"Next?" briskly inquired Mickey.
"Now look here," said Douglas. "This isn't a horse race. I earn my living with my brains, not my heels. I must have time to think things out; when your next job arrives I'll tell you. If you are tired, take a nap on that couch in there." "Asleep at the switch!" marvelled Mickey.
He went to the adjoining room but did not sleep. He quietly polished and straightened furniture, lingered before bookcases and was at Douglas' elbow as he turned to call him. Then they closed the offices and went to the car, each carrying a load of ledgers.
"You do an awful business!" commented Mickey. "Your car?"
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"You're doing grand, for young as you are."
"I haven't done it all myself, Mickey," explained Douglas. "I happened to select a father who was of an acquisitive turn of mind. He left me enough that I can have a comfortable living in a small way, from him."
"Gee! It's lucky you got the Joy Lady then!" exclaimed Mickey. "Maybe you wouldn't ever work if you didn't have her to scratch for!"
"I always have worked and tried to make something of myself," said Douglas.
"Yes, I guess you have," conceded Mickey. "I think it shows when a man does. It just shows a lot on you."
"Thank you, Mickey! Same to you!"
"Aw, nix on me!" said Mickey. "I ain't nothing on looks! I ain't ever looked at myself enough that if I was sent to find Michael O'Halloran I mightn't bring in some other fellow."
"But you're enough acquainted with yourself that you wouldn't bring in a dirty boy with a mouth full of swearing and beer," suggested Douglas.
"Well not this evening!" cried Mickey. "On a gamble that ain't my picture!"
"If it were, you wouldn't be here!" said Douglas.
"No, nor much of any place else 'cept the gutters, alleys, and the police court," affirmed Mickey. "That ain't my style! I'd like to be—well—about like you."
"You are perfectly welcome to all I have and am," said Douglas. "If you fail to take advantage of the offer, it will be your own fault."
"Yes, I guess it will," reflected Mickey. "You gave me the chance. I am to blame if I don't cop on to it, and get in the game. I like you fine! Your work is more interesting than odd jobs on the street, and you pay like a plute. You're being worked though. You pay too much. If I work for you it would save you money to let me manage that; I could get you help and things a lot cheaper, then you could spend what you save on the Joy Lady, making her more joyous."
"You are calling Miss Winton the Joy Lady?"
"Yes," said Mickey. "Doesn't she just look it?"
"She surely does," agreed Douglas. "It's a good title. I know only two that are better. She sows happiness everywhere. What about your Lily girl and her doll?"
"Doll doesn't go. That's a Precious Child!"
"I see! Lily is a little girl you like, Mickey?"
"Lily is the littlest girl you ever saw," answered Mickey, "with a bad back so that she hasn't ever walked; and she's so sweet—she's the only thing I've got to love, so I love her 'til it hurts. Her back is one thing I'm saving for. I'm going to have it Carreled as soon as I get money, and she grows strong enough to stand it."
"'Carreled?'" queried Douglas wonderingly.
"You know the man who put different legs on a dog?" said Mickey. "I often read about him in papers I sell. I think he can fix her back. But not yet. A Sunshine Nurse I know says nobody can help her back 'til she grows a lot stronger and fatter. She has to have milk and be rubbed with oil, and not be jerked for a while before it's any use to begin on her back."
"And has she the milk and the oil and the kindness?"
"You just bet she has," said Mickey. "Her family tends to that. And she has got a bed, and a window, and her Precious Child, and a slate, and books."
"That's all right then," said Douglas. "Any time you see she needs anything Mickey, I'd be glad if you would tell me or Miss Winton. She loves to do kind things to little sick children to make them happier."
"So do I," said Mickey. "And Lily is my job. But that isn't robbing Miss Joy Lady. She can love herself to death if she wants to on hundreds of little, sick, cold, miserable children, in every cellar and garret and tenement of the east end of Multiopolis. The only kind thing God did for them out there was to give them the first chance at sunrise. Multiopolis hasn't ever followed His example by giving them anything."
"You mean Miss Winton can find some other child to love and care for?" asked Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey emphatically. "It's hands off Lily. Her family is taking care of her, so she's got all she needs right now."
"That's good!" said Bruce. "Here we unload."
They entered a building and exchanged the books they carried for others which Douglas selected with care, then returning to the office, locked them in a safe.
"Now I am driving to the golf grounds for an hour's play," said Douglas. "Will you go and caddy for me?"
"I never did. I don't know how," answered Mickey.
"You can learn, can't you?" suggested Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I've seen boys carrying golf clubs that hadn't enough sense to break stone right. I can learn, but my learning might spoil your day's sport."
"It would be no big price to pay for an intelligent caddy," replied Douglas.
"Mr. Bruce, what price is an intelligent caddy worth?"
"Our Scotch Club pays fifty cents a game and each man employs his own boy if he chooses. The club used to furnish boys, but since the Big Brother movement began, so many of the men have boys in their offices they are accustomed to, and want to give a run over the hills after the day's work, that the rule has been changed. I can employ you, if you want to serve me."
"I'd go to the country in the car with you, every day you play, and carry your clubs?" asked Mickey wonderingly.
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"Over real hills, where there's trees, grass, cows and water?" questioned Mickey.
"Yes," repeated Douglas.
"What time would we get back?" he asked.
"Depends on how late I play, and whether I have dinner at the club house, say seven as a rule, maybe ten or later at times."
"Nothing doing!" said Mickey promptly. "I got to be home at six by the clock every day, even if we were engaged in 'hurling back the enemy.' See?"
"But Mickey! That spoils everything!" cried Douglas. "Of course you could work for me the remainder of the day if you wanted to, and I could keep my old clubhouse caddy, but I want you. You want the ride in the country, you want the walk, you need the change and recreation. You are not a real boy if you don't want that!"
"I'm so real, I'm two boys if wanting it counts, but it doesn't!" said Mickey. "You see I got a job for evening. I'm promised. I'd rather do what you want than anything I ever saw or heard of, except just this. I've given my word, and I'm depended on. I couldn't give up this work, and I wouldn't, if I could. Even golf ain't in it with this job that I'm on."
"What is your work Mickey?"
"Oh I ain't ever exactly certain," said Mickey. "Sometimes it is one thing, sometimes it is another, but always it's something, and it's work for a party I couldn't disappoint, not noways, not for all the golf in the world."
"You are sure?" persisted Douglas.
"Dead sure with no changing," said Mickey.
"All right then. I'm sorry!" exclaimed Douglas.
"So am I," said Mickey. "But not about the job!"
Douglas laughed. "Well come along this evening and look on. I'll be back before six and I'll run you where we did last night, if that is close your home."
"Thanks," said Mickey. "I'd love to, but you needn't bother about taking me home. I can make it if I start at six. Shall I take the things back to the cafe?" "Let them go until morning," said Douglas.
"What becomes of the little cakes?"
"Their fate is undecided. Have you any suggestions?"
"I should worry!" he exclaimed. "They'd fit my pocket. I could hike past the hospital and ask the Sunshine Lady; if she said so, I could take them to Lily. Bet she never tasted any like them. If it's between her and the cafe selling them over, s'pose she takes the cake?"
Mickey's face was one big insinuating, suggestive smile. Douglas' was another.
"Suppose she does," he agreed.
"I must wrap them," said Mickey. "Have to be careful about Lily. If she's fed dirty, wrong stuff, it will make fever so her back will get worse instead of better."
"Will a clean envelope do?" suggested Douglas.
"That would cost you two cents," said Mickey. "Haven't you something cheaper?"
"What about a sheet of paper?" hazarded Douglas.
"Fine!" said Mickey, "and only half as expensive."
So they wrapped the little cakes and closed the office. Then Douglas said: "Now this ends work for the day. Next comes playtime."
"Then before we begin to play we ought to finish business," said Mickey. "I have been thinking over what you said the other day, and while I was right about some of it, I was mistaken about part. I ain't changing anything I said about Minturn men and his sort, and millyingaire men and their sort; but you ain't that kind of a man——"
"Thank you, Mickey," said Douglas.
"No you ain't that kind of a man," continued Mickey. "And you are just the kind of a man I'd like to be; so if the door ain't shut, guess I'll stick around afternoons."
"Not all day?" inquired Douglas.
"Well you see I am in the paper business and that takes all morning," explained Mickey. "I can always finish my first batch by noon, lots of times by ten; from that on to six I could work for you."
"Don't you think you could earn more with me, and in the winter at least, be more comfortable?" asked Douglas.
"Winter!" cried Mickey, his face whitening.
"Yes," said Douglas. "The newsboys always look frightfully cold in winter."
"Winter!" It was a piteous cry.
"What is it, Mickey?" questioned Bruce kindly.
"You know I forgot it," he said. "I was so took up with what I was doing, and thinking right now, that I forgot a time ever was coming when it gets blue cold, and little kids freeze. Gee! I almost wish I hadn't thought of it. I guess I better sell my paper business, and come with you all day. I know I could earn more. I just sort of hate to give up the papers. I been at them so long. I've had such a good time. 'I like to sell papers!' That's the way I always start my cry, and I do. I just love to. I sell to about the same bunch every morning, and most of my men know me, and they always say a word, and I like the rush and excitement and the things that happen, and the looking for chances on the side——"
"There's messenger work in my business."
"I see! I like that! I like your work all right," said Mickey. "Gimme a few days to sell my route to the best advantage I can, and I'll come all day. I'll come for about a half what you are paying now."
"But you admit you need money urgently."
"Well not so urgently as to skin a friend to get it—not even with the winter I hadn't thought of coming. Gee—I don't know just what I am going to do about that."
"For yourself, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.
"Well in a way, yes," hesitated Mickey. "There are things to think about! Gee I got to hump myself while the sun shines! If you say so, then I'll get out of the paper business as soon as I can; and I'll begin work for you steady at noon to-morrow. I've seen you pay out over seven to-day. I'll come for six. Is it a bargain?"
"No," said Douglas, "it isn't! The janitor bill was for a week of half- done work. The messenger bill was for two days, no caddying at all. If you come you will come for not less than eight and what you earn extra over that. I don't agree to better service for less pay. If you will have things between us on a commercial basis, so will I."
"Oh the Big Brother business would be all right—with you," conceded Mickey, "but I don't just like the way it's managed, mostly. God didn't make us brothers no more than he did all men, so we better not butt in and try to fix things over for Him. Looks to me like we might cut the brother business and just be friends. I could be an awful good friend to you, honest I could!"
"And I to you Mickey," said Douglas Bruce, holding out his hand. "Have it as you will. Friends, then! Look for you at noon to-morrow. Now we play. Hop in and we'll run to my rooms and get my clubs."
"Shall I sit up with your man?" asked Mickey.
"My friends sit beside me," said Douglas. Mickey spoke softly: "Yes, but if I watched him sharp, maybe I could get the hang of driving for you. Think what a lump that would save. When I'm going, I'd love to drive, just for the fun of it."
"And I wouldn't allow you to drive for less than I pay him," said Douglas.
"I don't see why!" exclaimed Mickey.
"When you grow older and know me better, you will."
While the car was running its smoothest, while the country Mickey had not seen save on rare newsboy excursions, flashed past, while the wonder of the club house, the links, and the work he would have loved to do developed, he shivered and cried in his tormented little soul: "Gee, how will I ever keep Lily warm?" Douglas noticed his abstraction and wondered. He had expected more appreciation of what Mickey was seeing and doing; he was coming to the realization that he would find out what was in the boy's heart in his own time and way. On the home run, when Douglas reached his rooms, he told the driver to take Mickey to the end of the car line; the boy shyly interposed to ask if he might go to the "Star of Hope Hospital," so Douglas changed the order.
Mickey's passport held good at the hospital. The Sunshine Nurse inspected the cakes and approved them. She was so particular she even took a tiny nibble of one and said: "Sugar, flour, egg and shortening—all right Mickey, those can't hurt her. And how is she to-day?"
"Fine!" cried Mickey. "She is getting a lot stronger already. She can sit up longer and help herself better, and she's got ribbons, the prettiest you ever laid eyes on, that a lady gave me for her hair, and they make her pink and nicer; and she's got a baby doll in long clean white dresses to snuggle down and stay with her all day; and she's got a slate, and a book, and she knows 'cow' and 'milk' and my name, and to-day she is learning 'bread.' To-morrow I am going to teach her 'baby,' and she can say her prayer too nice for anything, once we got it fixed so she'd say it at all."
"What did you teach her, Mickey?"
"'Now I lay me,' only Lily wouldn't say it the way She taught me. You see Lily was all alone with her granny when she winked out and it scared her most stiff, so when I got to that 'If I should die before I wake,' line, she just went into fits, and remembering what I'd seen myself, I didn't blame her; so I changed it for her 'til she liked it."
"Tell me about it, Mickey?" said the nurse.
"Well you see she has a window, so she can see the stars and the sun. She knows them, so I just shifted the old sad, scary lines to:
"Guard me through the starry night, Wake me safe with sunshine bright!"
"But Mickey, that's lovely!" cried the nurse. "Wait till I write it down! I'll teach it to my little people. Half of them come here knowing that prayer and when they are ill, they begin to think about it. Some of them are old enough to worry over it. Why you're a poet, Mickey!"
"Sure!" conceded Mickey. "That's what I'm going to be when I get through school. I'm going to write a poetry piece about Lily for the first sheet of the Herald that'll be so good they'll pay me to write one every day, but all of them will be about her."
"Mickey, is there enough of such a little girl to furnish one every day?" asked the nurse.
"Surest thing you know!" cried Mickey enthusiastically. "Why there are the hundred gold rings on her head, one for each; and her eyes, tender and teasy, and sad and glad, one for each; and the colour of them different a dozen times a day, and her little white face, and her lips, and her smile, and when she's good, and when she's bad; why Miss, there's enough of Lily for a book big as Mr. Bruce's biggest law book."
"Well Mickey!" cried the girl laughing. "There's no question but you will write the poetry, only I can't reconcile it with the kind of a hustler you are. I thought poets were languid, dreamy, up-in-the-clouds kind of people."
"So they are," explained Mickey. "That comes later. First I got to hustle to get Lily's back Carreled and us through school, and ready to write the poetry; then it will take so much dreaming to think out what is nicest about her, and how to say it best, that it would make any fellow languid—you can see how that would be!"
"Yes, I see!" conceded the nurse. "Mickey, by Carreling her back, do you mean Dr. Carrel?"
"Sure!" cried Mickey. "You see I read a lot about him in the papers I sell. He's the biggest man in the world! He's bigger than emperors and kings! They—why the biggest thing they can do is to kill all their strongest, bravest men. He's so much bigger than kings, that he can take men they shoot to pieces and put them together again. Killing men ain't much! Anybody can do killing! Look at him making folks live! Gee, he's big!"
"And you think he can make Lily's back better?"
"Why I know he can!" said Mickey earnestly. "That wouldn't be a patching to what he has done! Soon as you say she is strong enough, I'm going to write to him and tell him all about her, and when I get the money saved, he'll come and fix her. Sure he will!"
"If you could get to him and tell him yourself, I really believe he would," marvelled the nurse. "But you see it's like this, Mickey: when men are as great as he is, just thousands of people want everything of them, and write letters by the hundreds, and if all of them were read there would be time for nothing else, so a secretary opens the mail and decides what is important, and that way the big people don't always know about the ones they would answer if they were doing it. He's been here in this very hospital; I've seen him operate once. Next time a perfectly wonderful case comes in, that is in his peculiar line, no doubt he will be notified and come again. Then if I could get word to you, and you could get Lily here, possibly—just possibly he would listen to you and look at her—of course I can't say surely he would—but I think he would!"
"Why of course he would!" triumphed Mickey. "Of course he would! He'd be tickled to pieces! He'd just love to! Any man would! Why a white little flowersy-girl who can't walk——!"
"If you could reach him, I really think he would," said the nurse positively.
"Well just you gimme a hint that he's here, and see if I don't get to him," said Mickey.
"Is there any place I'd be certain to find you quickly, if a chance should come?" she asked. "One never can tell. He might not be here in years, but he might be called, and come, to-morrow."
"Why yes!" cried Mickey. "Why of course! Why the telephone! Call me where I work!"
"But I thought you were a 'newsy!'" said the nurse.
"Well I was," explained Mickey lifting his head, "but I've give up the papers. I've graduated. I'm going to sell out tomorrow. I'm going to work permanent for Mr. Douglas Bruce. He's the biggest lawyer in Multiopolis. He's got an office in the Iriquois Building, and his call is 500-X. Write that down too and put it where you can't lose it. He's just a grand man. He asked about Lily to-day. He said any time he'd do things for her. Sure he would! He'd stop saving the taxpayers of Multiopolis, and take his car, and go like greased lightning for a little sick girl. He's the grandest man and he's got a Joy Lady that puts in most of her time making folks happy. Either of them would! Why it's too easy to talk about! You call me, I take a car and bring her scooting! If I'd see Lily standing on her feet, stepping right out like other folks, I'd be so happy I'd almost bust wide open. Honest I would! If he does come, you'd try hard to get me a chance, wouldn't you?"
"I'd try as hard for you as I would for myself Mickey; I couldn't promise more," she said.
"Lily's as good as fixed," exulted Mickey. "Why there is that big easy car standing down in the street waiting to take me home right now."
"Does Douglas Bruce send you home in his car?"
"Oh no, not regular! This is extra! Work is over for to-day so we went to the golf links; then he lets his man take me while he bathes and dresses to go to his Joy Lady. Gee, I got to hurry or I'll make the car late; but I can talk with you all you will. I can send the car back and walk or hop a 'tricity-wagon."
"Which is a street car?" queried the nurse.
"Sure!" said Mickey.
"Well go hop it!" she laughed. "I can't spare more time now, but I won't forget, Mickey; and if he comes I'll keep him till you get here, if I have to chain him."
"You go to it!" cried Mickey. "And I'll begin praying that he comes soon, and I'll just pray and pray so long and so hard, the Lord will send him quick to get rid of being asked so constant. No I won't either! Well wouldn't that rattle your slats?"
"What, Mickey?" asked the nurse.
"Why don't you see?" cried Mickey.
"No, I don't see," admitted the girl.
"Well I do!" said Mickey. "What would be square about that? Why that would be asking the Lord to make maybe some other little girl so sick, the Carrel man would be sent for, so I'd get my chance for Lily. That ain't business! I wouldn't have the cheek! What would the Lord think of me? He wouldn't come in a mile of doing it. I wouldn't come in ten miles of having the nerve to ask him. I do get up against it 'til my head swims. And there is winter coming, too!"
The nurse put her arm around Mickey again, and gently propelled him toward the elevator.
"Mickey," she said softly, her lips nipping his fair hair, "God doesn't give many of us your clear vision and your big heart. I'd have asked him that, with never a thought of who would have to be ill to bring Dr. Carrel here. But I'll tell you. You can pray this with a clean conscience: you can ask God if the doctor does come, to put it into his heart to hear you, and to examine Lily. That wouldn't be asking ill for anyone else so that you might profit by it. And dear laddie, don't worry about winter. This city is still taking care of its taxpayers. You do your best for Lily all summer, and when winter comes, if you're not fixed for it, I will see what your share is and you can have it in a stove that will burn warm a whole day, and lots of coal, plenty of it. I know I can arrange that."
"Gee, you're great!" he cried. "This is the biggest thing that ever happened to me! I see now what I can ask Him on the square; so it's business and all right; and Mr. Bruce or Miss Leslie will loan me a car, and if you see about the stove and the coal the city has for me"—in came Mickey's royal flourish—"why dearest Nurse Lady, Lily is as good as walking right now! Gee! In my place would you tell her?"
"I surely would," said the nurse. "It will do her good. It will give her hope. Dr. Carrel isn't the only one who can perform miracles; if he doesn't come by the time Lily is strong enough to bear the strain of being operated, we can try some other great man; and if she is shy, and timid from having been alone so much, expecting it will make it easier for her. By the way, wait until I bring some little gifts, I and three of my friends have made for her in our spare time. I think your mother's night dresses must be big and uncomfortable for her, even as you cut them off. Try these. Give her a fresh one each day. It is going to be dreadfully hot soon. When she has used two, bring them here and I'll have them washed for you."
"Now nix on that!" said Mickey. "You're a shining angel bright to sew them for her, I'm crazy over them, but I wash them. Mother showed me. That will be my share. I can do it fine. And they will be better! She's so lost in mother's, I have to shake them to find her!"
They laughed together, then Mickey sped to the sidewalk and ordered the car back.
"I've been too long," he said. "Nurse Lady had some things to tell me about a little sick girl and I was glad to miss my ride for them. Mr. Bruce will be ready by now. You go where he told you."
"I got twenty-seven minutes yet," said the driver. "I can take you at least almost there. Hop in."
"Mither o' Mike!" cried Mickey. "Is that all there is to it? Gee, how I'd like to have a try at it."
"Are you going to be in Mr. Bruce's office from now on?" asked the driver.
"If I can sell my paper line," answered Mickey.
"Got a good route?" inquired the man.
"Best of any boy in my district," said Mickey. "I like to sell papers. I got it down fine!"
"I guess you have," said the driver. "I know your voice, and everybody on your street knows that cry. Your route ought to be worth a fair price. I got a kid that wants a paper start. What would you ask to take him over your round and tell the men you are turning your business over to him, and teach him your cries?"
"Hum-m-m-m!" said Mickey. "My cry is whatever has the biggest headlines on the front page, mixed in with a lot of joyous fooling, and I'd have to see your boy 'fore I'd say if I could teach him. Is he a clean kid with a joyous face, and his anatomy decorated with a fine large hump? That's the only kind that gets my job. I won't have my nice men made sore all day 'cause they start it by seeing a kid with a boiled-owl face."
"You think a happy face sells most papers?"
"Know it!" said Mickey, "'cause I wear it on the job, and I get away with the rest of them three times and coming. Same everywhere as with the papers. A happy face would work with your job, if you'd loosen up a link or two, and tackle it. It may crack your complexion, if you start too violent, but taking it by easy runs and greasing the ways 'fore you cut your cable, I believe you'd survive it!"
Mickey flushed and grinned in embarrassment when people half a block away turned to look at his driver, and the boy's mouth opened as a traffic policeman smiled in sympathy when he waved his club, signalling them to cross. Mickey straightened up reassured.
"Did you get that?" he inquired.
"I got it!" said the driver. "But it won't ever happen again. McFinley has been on that crossing for five years and that's his first smile on the job."
"Then make it your business to see that it ain't his last!" advised Mickey. "There's no use growing morgue lines on your mug; with all May running wild just to please you and the man in the moon; loosen up, if you have to tickle your liver with a torpedo to start you!"
"You brass monkey!" said the driver. "You climb down right here, before I'm arrested for a plain drunk."
"Don't you think it," called Mickey. "If you like your job, man, cotton up to it; chuckle it under the chin, and get real familiar. See? Try grin, 'stead of grouch just one day and watch if the whole world doesn't look better before night."
"Thanks kid, I'll think it over!" promised the driver.
Mickey hurried home to Peaches. He hid the cake and the hospital box under the things he bought for supper and went to her with empty hands. He could see she was tired and hungry, so he gave her a drink of milk, and proceeded to the sponge bath and oil rub. These rested and refreshed her so that Mickey demanded closed eyes, while he slipped the dainty night- robe over her head, and tied the pink ribbon on her curls. Then he piled the pillows, leaned her against them and brought the mirror.
"Now open your peepers, Flowersy-girl, and tell me how Miss O'Halloran strikes you!" he exulted.
Peaches took one long look. She opened her mouth. Then she turned to Mickey and shut her mouth; shut it and clapped both hands over it; so that he saw the very act of strangling a phrase he would have condemned.
"That's a nice lady!" he commented in joy. "Now let me tell you! You got four of these gorgeous garments, each one made by a different nurse-lady, while she was resting. Every day you get a clean one, and I wash the one you wore last, careful and easy not to tear the lacy places. Ain't they the gladdest rags you ever saw!"
Peaches gasped: "Mickey, I'll bust!"
"Go on and bust then!" conceded Mickey. "Bust if you must; but don't you dare say no words that ain't for the ladiest of ladies, in that beautiful, softy, white dress."
Peaches set her lips, stretching her arms widely. She sat straighter than Mickey ever had seen her, lifting her head higher. Gradually a smile crept over her face. She was seeing a very pinched, white little girl, with a shower of yellow curls bound with a pink ribbon tied in a big bow; wearing a dainty night dress with a fancy yoke run with pink ribbons tied under her chin and at her elbows. She crooked an arm, primped her mouth, and peered at the puffed sleeves, then hastily gulped down whatever she had been tempted to say.
Again Mickey approved. Despite protests he removed the mirror, then put the doll in her arms. "Now you line up," he said. "Now you look alike! After you get your supper, comes the joy part for sure."
"More joyous than this?" Peaches surveyed herself.
"Yes, Miss! The joyousest thing of all the world that could happen to you," he said.
"But Mickey-lovest!" she cried in protest. "You know—you know—what that would be!"
"Sure I know!" said Mickey.
"I don't believe it! It never could!" she cried.
"There you go!" said Mickey in exasperation. "You make me think of them Texas bronchos kicking at everything on earth, in the Wild West shows every spring. Honest you do!"
"Mickey, you forgot my po'try piece to-night!" she interposed hastily.
"What you want a poetry piece for with such a dress and ribbon as you got?" he demanded.
"I like the po'try piece better than the dress or the ribbon," she asserted positively.
"You'll be saying better than the baby, next!"
"Yes, an' better than the baby!"
"You look out Miss," marvelled Mickey. "You got to tell true or you can't be my family."
"Sure and true!" said Peaches emphatically.
"Well if I ever!" cried Mickey. "I didn't think you was that silly!"
"'Tain't silly!" said Peaches. "The po'try pieces is you! 'Tain't silly to like you better than a dress, and a ribbon, or a Precious Child. I want my piece now!"
"Well I've been so busy to-day, I forgot your piece, said Mickey. "'Nough things have happened to make me forget my head, if 'twasn't fast. I forgot your piece. I thought you'd like the dress and the joyous thing better."
"Then you didn't forget it!" cried Peaches. "You thought something else, and you thought what ain't! So there! I want my po'try piece!"
"Well do you want it worse than your supper?" demanded Mickey.
"Yes I do!" said Peaches.
"Well use me for a mop!" cried Mickey. "Then you'll have to wait 'til I make one."
"Go on and make it!" ordered the child.
"Well how do you like this?"
"Once a stubborn little kicker, Kicked until she made me snicker. If she had wings, she couldn't fly, 'Cause she'd be too stubborn to try."