A belligerent look slowly spread over Peaches' face.
"That's no po'try piece," she scoffed, "an' I don't like it at all, an' I won't write it on my slate; not if I never learn to write anything. Mickey-lovest, please make a nice one to save for my book. It's going to have three on ev'ry page, an' a nice piece o' sky like right up there for backs, and mebby—mebby a cow on it!"
"Sure a cow on it," agreed Mickey. "I saw a lot to-day! I'll tell you after supper. Gimme a little time to think. I can't do nice ones right off."
"You did that one right off," said Peaches.
"Sure!" answered Mickey. "I was a little—a little—pervoked! And you said that wasn't a nice one."
"And so it wasn't!" asserted Peaches positively.
"If I have a nice one ready when I bring supper, will that do?" questioned Mickey.
"Yes," said Peaches. "But I won't eat my supper 'til I have it."
"Now don't you get too bossy, Miss Chicken," warned Mickey. "There's a surprise in this supper like you never had in all your life. I guess you'd eat it, if you'd see it."
"I wouldn't 'til I had my po'try piece."
In consideration of the poetry piece Mickey desisted. The inference was too flattering. Between narrowed lids he looked at Lily. "You fool sweet little kid," he muttered. Then he prepared supper. When he set it on the table he bent over and taking both hands he said gently:
"Flowersy-girl of moonbeam white, Golden head of sunshine bright, Dancing eyes of sky's own blue, No other flower in the world like you."
"Get the slate!" cried Peaches. "Get the slate! Now that's a po'try piece. That's the best one yet. I'm going to put that right under the cow!"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I think that's the best yet myself. You see, you make them come better every time, 'cause you get so much sweeter every day."
"Then why did you make the bad one?" she pouted.
"Well every time you just yell 'I won't,' without ever giving me a chance to tell you what I'm going to do, or why," explained Mickey. "If only you'd learn to wait a little, you'd do better. If I was to tell you that Carrel man was at the door with a new back for you, if you turn over and let him put it in, I s'pose you'd yell: 'I won't!'"
The first tinge of colour Mickey had seen, almost invisibly faint, crept to the surface of Peaches' white cheek.
"Just you try it, Mickey-lovest!" she exclaimed.
"Finish your supper, and see what I try."
Peaches obeyed. She had stopped grabbing and cramming. She ate slowly, masticating each morsel as the nurse told Mickey she should. To-night he found her so dainty and charming, as she instinctively tried to be as nice as her dress and supper demanded, that he forgot himself, until she reminded him. Then he rallied and ate his share. He presented the cakes, and while they enjoyed them he described every detail of the day he thought would interest her, until she had finished. He told her of the nurse and the dresses and when she wanted to see the others he said: "No sir! You got to wait till you are bathed and dressed each evening, and then you can see yourself, and that will be more fun than taking things all at once. You needn't think I'm coming in here every night with a great big lift-the-roof surprise for you. Most nights there won't be anything for you only me, and your supper."
"But Mickey, them's the nicest nights of all!" said Peaches. "I like thinking about you better than nurse-ladies, or joy-ladies, or my back, even; if it wasn't for having supper ready to help you."
"There you go again!" exclaimed Mickey. "Cut that stuff out, kid! You'll get me so broke up, I won't be fit for nothing but poetry, and that's tough eating; there's a lot must come, 'fore I just make a business of it. Now Miss, you brace up, and get this: the Carrel man has been in this very burg. See! Our Nurse Lady at the 'Star of Hope' has watched him making some one over. Every time anybody is brought there with a thing the matter with them, that he knows best how to cure, the big head knifers slip it over to him, so he comes and does it to get practice on the job. He may not come for a long time; he might come to-morrow. See?"
"Oh Mickey! Would he?" gasped Peaches.
"Why sure he would!" cried Mickey with his most elaborate flourish. "Sure he would! That's what he lives for. He'd be tickled to pieces to make over the back of a little girl that can't walk. Sure he would! What I ain't sure of is that you wouldn't gig back and say, 'I won't!' if you had a chance to be fixed."
Peaches spoke with deliberate conviction: "Mickey, I'm most sure I've about quit that!"
"Well, it's time!" said Mickey. "What you got to do is to eat, and sleep, and be bathed, and rubbed, and get so big and strong that when I come chasing up the steps and say, 'He's here, Lily, clap your arms around my neck and come to the china room and the glass table and be fixed,' you just take a grip and never open your head. See! You can be a game little kid, the gamest I ever saw, you will then, Lily, won't you?"
"Sure!" she promised. "I'll just grab you and I'll say, 'Go Mickey, go h——!"
"Wope! Wope there lady!" interposed Mickey. "Look out! There's a subm'rine coming. Sink it! Sink it!"
"Mickey what's a subm'rine?" asked Peaches.
"Why it's like this," explained Mickey. "There's places where there's water, like I bring to wash you, only miles and miles of it, such a lot, it's called an ocean——"
"Sure! 'Crost it where the kings is makin' people kill theirselves," cried Peaches.
"Yes," agreed Mickey. "And on the water, sailing along like a lady, is a big, beautiful ship. Then there's a nasty little boat that can creep under the water. It slips up when she doesn't know it's coming, and blows a hole in the fine ship and sinks her all spoiled. But if the nice ship sees the subm'rine coming and sinks it, why then she stays all nice, and isn't spoiled at all. See?"
"Subm'rines spoil things?" ventured Peaches.
"They were just invented for that, and nothing else."
"Mickey, I'll just say, 'Hurry! Run fast!' Mickey, can you carry me that far?" she asked anxiously.
"No, I can't carry you that far," admitted Mickey. "But Mr. Douglas Bruce, that we work for after this, will let me take his driver and his nice, easy car, and it will beat streetcars a mile, and we'll just go sailing for the 'Star of Hope' and get your back made over, and then comes school and everything girls like. See?"
"Mickey, what if he never comes?" wavered Peaches.
"Yes, but he will!" said Mickey positively.
"Mickey, what if he should come, an' wouldn't even look at my back?" she pursued.
"Why, he'd be glad to!" cried Mickey. "Don't be silly. Give the man some chance!"
James Jr. and Malcolm
Nellie Minturn returned to her room too dazed to realize her suffering. She had intended doing something; the fringed orchids reminded her. She rang for water to put them in, while her maid with shaking fingers dressed her, then ordered the car. The girl understood that some terrible thing had happened and offered to go with the woman who moved so mechanically she proved she scarcely knew what she was doing.
"No," said Mrs. Minturn. "No, the little soul has been out there a long time alone, her mother had better go alone and see how it is."
She entered the car, gave her order and sank back against the seat. When the car stopped, she descended and found the gates guarding the doors of the onyx vault locked. She pushed her flowers between the bars, dropping them before the doors, then wearily sank on the first step, leaning her head against the gate, trying to think, but she could not. Near dawn her driver spoke to her.
"It's almost morning," he said. "You've barely time to reach home before the city will be stirring."
She paid no attention, so at last he touched her.
"You, Weston?" she asked.
"Yes, Madam," he said. "I'm afraid for you. I ventured to come closer than you said. Excuse me."
"Thank you Weston," she answered.
"Let me drive you home now, Madam," he begged.
"Just where would you take me if you were taking me home, Weston?"
"Where we came from," he replied.
"Do you think that has ever been a home, Weston?"
"I have thought it the finest home in Multiopolis, Madam," said the driver in surprise.
She laughed bitterly. "So have I, Weston. And to-day I have learned what it really is. Help me, Weston! Take me back to the home of my making."
When he rang for her, she gave him an order: "Find Mr. John Haynes and bring him here immediately."
"Bring him now, Madam?" he questioned.
"Immediately, I said," she repeated.
"I will try, Madam," said Weston.
"You will bring him at once if he is in Multiopolis," she said with finality.
Weston knew that John Haynes was her lawyer; he had brought him from his residence or office at her order many times; he brought him again. At once John Haynes dismissed all the servants in the Minturn household, arranged everything necessary, and saw Mrs. Minturn aboard a train in company with a new maid of his selection; then he mailed a deed of gift of the Minturn residence to the city of Multiopolis for an endowed Children's Hospital. The morning papers briefly announced the departure and the gift. At his breakfast table James Minturn read both items, then sat in deep thought.
"Not like her!" was his mental comment. "I can understand how that place would become intolerable to her; but I never knew her to give a dollar to the suffering. Now she makes a princely gift, not because she is generous, but because the house has become unbearable; and as usual, with no thought of any one save herself. If the city dares accept, how her millionaire neighbours will rage at disease and sickness being brought into the finest residence district! Probably the city will be compelled to sell it and build somewhere else. But there is something fitting in the reparation of turning a building that has been a place of torture to children, into one of healing. It proves that she has a realizing sense."
He glanced around the bright, cheerful breakfast room, with its carefully set, flower-decorated table, at his sister at its head, at a son on either hand, at a pleasant-faced young tutor on one side, and his Little Brother on the other; for so had James Minturn ordered his household.
Mrs. Winslow had left a home she loved to come at her brother's urgent call for help to save his boys. The tutor had only a few hours of his position, and thus far his salary seemed the attractive feature. James Jr. and Malcolm were too dazed to be natural for a short time. They had been picked up bodily, and carried kicking and screaming to this place, where they had been dressed in plain durable clothing. Malcolm's bed stood beside Little Brother's in a big sunny room; James' was near the tutor's in a chamber the counterpart of the other, save for its bookcases lining one wall.
There was a schoolroom not yet furnished with more than tables and chairs, its floors and walls bare, its windows having shades only. When worn out with the struggle the amazed boys had succumbed to sleep on little, hard, white beds with plain covers; had awakened to a cold bath at the hands of a man, and when they rebelled and called for Lucette and their accustomed clothing, were forcibly dressed in linen and khaki.
In a few minutes together before they were called to breakfast, James had confided to Malcolm that he thought if they rushed into William's back with all their strength, on the top step, they could roll him downstairs and bang him up good. Malcolm had doubts, but he was willing to try. William was alert, because as many another "newsy" he had known these boys in the park; so when the rush came, a movement too quick for untrained eyes to follow swung him around a newel post, while both boys bumping, screaming, rolled to the first landing and rebounded from a wall harder than they. When no one hastened at their screams to pick them up, they arose fighting each other. The tutor passed and James tried to kick him, merely because he could. He was not there either, but he stopped for this advice to the astonished boy: "If I were you I wouldn't do that. This is a free country, and if you have a right to kick me, I have the same right to kick you. I wouldn't like to do it. I'd rather allow mules and vicious horses to do the kicking; still if you're bound to kick, I can; but my foot is so much bigger than yours, and if I forgot and took you for a football, you'd probably have to go to the hospital and lie in a plaster cast a week or so. If I were you, I wouldn't! Let's go watch the birds till breakfast is called, instead."
The invitation was not accepted. The tutor descended alone. As he stepped to the veranda he met Mr. Minturn.
"Well?" that gentleman asked tersely.
Mr. Tower shook his head. He was studying law. He needed money to complete his course. He needed many things he could acquire from James Minturn.
"It's a problem," he said guardedly.
"You draw your salary for its solution," Mr. Minturn said tartly. "Work on the theory I outlined; if it fails after a fair test, we'll try another. Those boys have got to be saved. They are handsome little chaps with fine bodies and good ancestry. What happened just now?"
"They tried to rush William on the top step. William evaporated, so they took the fall themselves."
"Exactly right," commented Mr. Minturn. "Get the idea and work on it. Every rough, heartless thing they attempt, if at all possible, make it a boomerang to strike them their own blow; but you reserve blows as a last resort. There is the bell." Mr. Minturn called: "Boys! The breakfast bell is ringing. Come!"
There was not a sound. Mr. Minturn nodded to the tutor. Together they ascended the stairs. They found the boys hidden in a wardrobe. Mr. Minturn opened the door, gravely looking at them.
"Boys," he said, "you're going to live with me after this, so you're to come when I call you. You're going to eat the food that makes men of boys, where I can see what you get. You are going to do what I believe best for you, until you are so educated that you are capable of thinking for yourselves. Now what you must do, is to come downstairs and take your places at the table. If you don't feel hungry, you needn't eat; but I would advise you to make a good meal. I intend to send you to the country in the car. You'll soon want food. With me you will not be allowed to lunch at any hour, in cafes and restaurants. If you don't eat your breakfast you will get nothing until noon. It is up to you. Come on!"
Neither boy moved. Mr. Minturn smiled at them.
"The sooner you quit this, the sooner all of us will be comfortable," he said casually. "Observe my size. See Mr. Tower, a college athlete, who will teach you ball, football, tennis, swimming in lakes and riding, all the things that make boys manly men; better stop sulking in a closet and show your manhood. With one finger either of us can lift you out and carry you down by force; and we will, but why not be gentlemen and walk down as we do?"
Both boys looked at him; then at each other, but remained where they were.
"Time is up!" said Mr. Minturn. "They've had their chance, Mr. Tower. If they won't take it, they must suffer the consequences. Take Malcolm, I'll bring James."
Instantly both boys began to fight. No one bribed them to stop, struck them, or did anything at all according to precedent. They raged until they exposed a vulnerable point, then each man laid hold, lifted and carefully carried down a boy, placing him on a chair. James instantly slid to the floor.
"Take James' chair away!" ordered Mr. Minturn. "He prefers to be served on the floor."
"I don't either. I slipped," cried James.
"Then excuse yourself, resume your chair, and be mighty careful you don't slip again."
James looked at his father sullenly, but at last muttered, "Excuse me," and took the chair. With bright inflamed eyes they stared at their almost unknown father, who now had them in his power; at a woman they scarcely knew, whom they were told to call Aunt Margaret; at a strange man who was to take Lucette's place, and who had a grip that made hers seem feeble, and who was to teach them the things of which they knew nothing, and therefore hated; and at a boy nearer their own size and years, whom their father called William. Both boys refused fruit and cereal, rudely demanding cake and ice cream. Margaret Winslow looked at her brother in despair. He placidly ate his breakfast, remarking that the cook was a treasure. As he left the table Mr. Minturn laid the papers before his sister, indicating the paragraphs he had read, then calling for his car he took the tutor and the boys and left for his office. He ordered them to return for him at half-past eleven, and with minute instructions as to how they were to proceed, Mr. Tower and William drove to the country to begin the breaking in of the Minturn boys.
They disdained ball, did not care for football, improvised golf clubs and a baseball were not interesting, further than the use of the clubs on each other, which was not allowed. They did not care what the flowers were, they jerked them up by the roots when they saw it annoyed Mr. Tower, while every bird in range flew from a badly aimed stone. They tried chasing a flock of sheep, which chased beautifully for a short distance, then a ram declined to run farther and butted the breath from Malcolm's small body until it had to be shaken in again. They ran amuck and on finding they were not pursued, gave up, stopping on the bank of a creek. There they espied tiny shining fish swimming through the water and plunged in to try to capture them. When Mr. Tower and William came up, both boys were busy chasing fish. From a bank where they sat watching came a proposal from William.
"I'll tell you fellows, I believe if we could build a dam we could catch them. Gather stones and pile them up till I get my shoes off."
Instantly both boys obeyed. Mr. Tower and William stripped their feet, and rolled their trousers. Into the creek they went setting stones, packing with sod and muck, using sticks and leaves until in a short time they had a dam before which the water began rising, then overflowing.
"Now we must wait until it clears," said William.
So they sat under a tree to watch until in the clean pool formed they could see little fish gathering. Then the boys lay on the banks and tried to catch them with their hands, and succeeded in getting a few. Mr. Tower suggested they should make pools, one on each side of the creek, for their fish, so they eagerly went to work. They pushed and slapped each other, they fought over the same stone, but each constructed with his own hands a stone and mud enclosed pool in which to pen his fish. They were really interested in what they were doing, they really worked, also soon they were really tired, they were really hungry. With imperative voice they demanded food.
"You forget what your father told you at breakfast," said Mr. Tower. "He knew you were coming to the country where you couldn't get food. William and I are not hungry. We want to catch these little fish, and see who can get the most. We think it's fun. We can't take the car back until your father said to come."
"You take us back right now, and order meat, and cake, and salad and ice cream, lots of it!" stormed James.
"I have to obey your father!" said Mr. Tower.
"I just hate fathers!" cried James.
"I'll wager you do!" conceded Mr. Tower.
James stared open mouthed.
"I can see how you feel," said Mr. Tower companionably. "When a fellow has been coddled by nurses all his life, has no muscle, no appetite except for the things he shouldn't have, and never has done anything but silly park- playing, it must be a great change to be out with men, and doing as they do."
Both boys were listening, so he went on: "But don't feel badly, and don't waste breath hating. Save it for the grand fun we are going to have, and next time good food is before you, eat like men. We don't start back for an hour yet; see which can catch the most fish in that time."
"Where is Lucette?" demanded James.
"Gone back to her home across the ocean; you'll never see her again," said Mr. Tower.
"Wish I could a-busted her head before she went!" said James regretfully.
"No doubt," laughed Mr. Tower. "But break your own and see how it feels before you try it on any one else."
"I wish I could break yours!" cried James angrily.
"No doubt again," agreed the tutor, "but if you do, the man who takes my place may not know how to make bows and arrows, or build dams, or anything that's fun, while he may not be so patient as I am."
"Being hungry ain't fun," growled Malcolm.
"That's your own fault," Mr. Tower reminded him. "You wouldn't eat. That was a good breakfast."
"Wasn't a thing Lucette gave us!" scoffed James.
"But you don't like Lucette very well," said Mr. Tower. "After you've been a man six months, you won't eat cake for breakfast; or much of it at any time."
"Lucette is never coming back?" marvelled Malcolm.
"Never!" said Mr. Tower conclusively.
"How soon are we going home?" demanded James.
"Never!" replied Mr. Tower. "You are going to live where you were last night, after this."
"Where is Mamma?" cried Malcolm.
"Gone for the summer," explained Mr. Tower.
"I know. She always goes," said James. "But she took us before. I just hate it. I like this better. We make no difference to her anyway. Let her go!"
"Ain't we rich boys any more?" inquired Malcolm.
"I don't know," said Mr. Tower. "That is your father's business. I think you have as much money as ever, but from now on, you are going to live like men."
"We won't live like men!" cried both boys.
"Now look here," said Mr. Tower kindly, "you may take my word for it that a big boy almost ten years old, and another nearly his age, who can barely read, who can't throw straight, who can't swim, or row, or walk a mile without puffing like an engine, who begins to sweat over lifting a few stones, is a mighty poor specimen. You think you are wonders because you've heard yourself called big, fine boys; you are soft fatties. I can take you to the park and pick out any number of boys half your size and age who can make either of you yell for mercy in three seconds. You aren't boys at all; if you had to get on your feet and hike back to town, before a mile you'd be lying beside the road bellowing worse than I've heard you yet. You aren't as tough and game as half the girls of your age I know."
"You shut your mouth!" cried James in rage. "Mother'll fire you!"
"It is you who are fired, young man," said the tutor. "Your mother is far away by this time. She left you boys with your father, who pays me to make men of you, so I'm going to do it. You are big enough to know that you'll never be men, motoring around with nurses, like small babies; eating cake and ice cream when your bones and muscles are in need of stiffening and toughening. William, peel off your shirt, and show these chaps how a man's muscle should be."
William obeyed, swelling his muscles.
"Now you try that," suggested Mr. Tower to James, "and see how much muscle you can raise."
"I'm no gutter snipe," he sneered. "I'm a gentleman! I don't need muscle. I'm never going to work."
"But you've just been working!" cried the tutor. "Carrying those stones was work, and you'll remember it took both of you to lift one that William, who is only a little older than you, James, moved with one hand. You can't play without working. You've got to pull to row a boat, or hold a horse. You must step out lively to play tennis, or golf, or to skate, while if you try to swim without work, you'll drown."
"I ain't going to do those things!" retorted James.
"No, you are going to spend your life riding in an automobile with a nurse, feeding you cake!" scoffed the tutor.
William shouted and turned a cart wheel so flashingly quick that both boys jumped, James' face coloured a slow red, so the tutor took hope.
"I see that makes you blush," he said. "No wonder! You should be as tough as leather, and spinning along this creek bank like William. Instead you are a big, bloated softy. You carry too much fat for your size, while you are mushy as pudding! If I were you, I'd show my father how much of a man I could be, instead of how much of a baby."
"Father isn't a gentleman!" announced Malcolm. "Lucette said so!"
"Hush!" cried Mr. Tower. "Don't you ever say that again! Your father is one of the big men of this great city: one of the men who think, plan, and make things happen, that result in health, safety and comfort for all of us. One of the men who is going to rule, not only his own home, but this city, and this whole state, one of these days. You don't know your father. You don't know what men say and think of him. You do know that Lucette was fit for nothing but to wash and dress you like babies, big boys who should have been ashamed to let a woman wait on them. You do know that she is on her way back where she came from, because she could not do her work right. And you have the nerve to tell me what she said about a fine man like your father. I'm amazed at you!"
"Gentlemen don't work!" persisted Malcolm. "Mother said so!"
"I'm sorry to contradict your mother, but she forgot something," said Mr. Tower. "If the world has any gentlemen it surely should be those born for generations of royal and titled blood, and reared from their cradles in every tradition of their rank. Europe is full of them, and many are superb men. I know a few. Now will you tell me where they are to-day? They are down in trenches six feet under ground, shivering in mud and water, half dead for sleep, food, and rest, trying to save the land of their birth, the homes they own, to protect the women and children they love. They are marching miles, being shot down in cavalry rushes, and blown up in boats they are manning, in their fight to save their countries. Gentlemen don't work! You are too much of an idiot to talk with, if you don't know how gentlemen of birth, rank and by nature are working this very day."
The descent on him was precipitate and tumultuous.
"The war!" shouted both boys in chorus. "Tell us about the war! Oh I just love the war!" cried Malcolm. "When I'm a man I'm going to have a big shiny sword, and ride, and fight, and make the enemy fly! You ought to seen Gretchen and Lucette fight! They ain't either one got much hair left."
The tutor could not help laughing; but he made room for a boy on either side of him, and began on the war. It was a big subject, there were phases of it that shocked and repulsed him; but it was his task to undo the wrong work of ten years, he was forced to use the instrument that would accomplish that end. With so much material he could tell of things unavoidable, that men of strength and courage were doing, not forgetting the boys and the women. William stretched at his feet and occasionally made a suggestion, or asked a question, while James and Malcolm were interested in something at last. When it was time to return, neither wanted to go.
"Your father's orders were to come for him at half-past eleven," reminded Mr. Tower. "I work for him, so I must obey!"
"Nobody pays any attention to father," cried James. "I order you to stay here and tell of the fighting. Tell about the French boy who wouldn't show where the troops were."
"Oh, I am to take orders from you, am I?" queried Mr. Tower. "All right! Pay my salary and give me the money to buy our lunch!"
James stood thinking a second. "I have all the money I want," he said. "I go to Mrs. Ranger for my money. Mother always makes her give me what I ask for."
"You have forgotten that you have moved, and brought only yourselves," said Mr. Tower. "Your mother and the money are gone. Your father pays the bills now, and if you'll watch sharp, you'll see that things have changed since this time yesterday. Every one pays all the attention there is to father now. What we have, and do, and want, must come from him, and as it's a big contract, and he's needed to help manage this city, we'd better begin thinking about father, and taking care of him as much as we can. Now we are to obey him. Come on William. It's lunch time, and I'm hungry."
The boys climbed into the car without a word, and before it had gone a mile Malcolm slipped against the tutor and shortly thereafter James slid to the floor, tired to insensibility and sound asleep. So Mr. Minturn found them when he came from his office. He looked them over carefully, wet, mud-stained, grimy, bruised and sleeping in exhaustion.
"Poor little soldiers," he said. "Your battle has been a hard one I see. I hope to God you gained a victory."
He entered the car, picked up James and taking him in his arms laid the tired head on his breast, leaning his face against the boy's hair. When the car stopped at the new house, the tutor waited for instructions.
"Wake them up, make them wash themselves, and come to lunch," said Mr. Minturn. "Afterward, if they are sleepy, let them nap. They must establish regular habits at the beginning. It's the only way."
Dashes of cold water helped, so William and the tutor telling each other how hungry they were, brought two boys ready to eat anything, to the table. Cake and cream were not mentioned. Bread and milk, cold meat, salad, and a plain pudding were delicious. Between bites James studied his father, then suddenly burst forth: "Are you a gentleman?"
"I try to be," answered Mr. Minturn.
"Are you running this city?" put in Malcolm.
"I am doing what I can to help," said his father.
"Make Johnston take me home to get my money."
"You have no home but this," said Mr. Minturn. "Your old home now belongs to the city of Multiopolis. It is to be torn up and made over into a place where sick children can be cured. If you are ever too ill for us to manage, we'll take you there to be doctored."
"Will mother and Lucette be there?" asked James.
Malcolm nudged his brother.
"Can't you remember?" he said. "Lucette has gone across the ocean, and she is never coming back, goody! goody! And you know about how much mother cares when we are sick. She's coming the other way, when anybody is sick. She just hates sick people. Let them go, and get your money!"
Thus reminded, James began again, "I want to get my money."
"Your money came from your mother, so it went with your home, your clothes, and your playthings," explained Mr. Minturn. "You have none until you earn some. I can give you a home, education, and a fine position when you are old enough to hold it; but I can't give you money. No one ever gave me any. I always had to work for mine. From now on you are going to live with me, so if you have money you'll have to go to work and earn it."
Both boys looked aghast at him. "Ain't we rich any more?"
"No," said Mr. Minturn. "Merely comfortable!"
James leaned back in his chair, twisting his body in its smooth linen covering. He looked intently at the room, table and people surrounding it. He glanced from the window at the wide green lawn, the big trees, and for an instant seemed to be listening to the birds singing there. He laid down his fork, turning to his brother. Then he exploded the bomb that shattered the family.
"Oh damn being rich!" he cried. "I like being comfortable a lot better! Malcolm, being rich has put us about ten miles behind where we ought to be. We're baby-girl softies! We wouldn't a-faced the guns and not told where the soldiers were, we'd a-bellered for cake. Brace up! Let's get in the game! Father, have we got to go on the street and hunt work, or can you give us a job?"
James Minturn tried to speak, then pushing back his chair left the table precipitately. James Jr. looked after him doubtfully. He turned to Aunt Margaret.
"Please excuse me," he said. "I guess he's choked. I'd better go pound him on the back like Lucette does us."
Malcolm looked at Aunt Margaret. "Mother won't let us work," he announced.
"It's like this Malcolm," said Aunt Margaret gently. "Mother had charge of you for ten years. The women she employed didn't train you as boys should be, so mother has turned you over to father. For the next ten years you will try another plan; after that, you will be big enough to decide how you want to live; but now I think you will just love father's way, if you will behave yourself long enough to find out what fun it is."
"Mother won't like it," said Malcolm positively.
"I think she does dear, or she wouldn't have gone and left you to try it," said Aunt Margaret. "She knew what your father would think you should do; if she hadn't thought he was right she would have taken you with her, as before."
"I just hate being taken on trains and boats with her. So does James! We like the dam, the fish, and we're going to have bows and arrows, to shoot at mark.
"And we are going to swim and row," added William.
"And we are going to be soldiers, and hurl back the enemy," boasted Malcolm, "ain't we Mr. Tower?"
"Indian scouts are more fun," suggested the tutor.
"And there is the money we must earn, if we've got to," said Malcolm. "I guess father is telling James how. I'll go ask him too. Excuse me, Aunt Margaret!"
"Of all the surprises I ever did have, this is the biggest one!" said Aunt Margaret. "I was afraid I never could like them. I thought this morning it would take years."
"There is nothing like the receptivity and plasticity of children," said the tutor.
Later James Minturn appeared on his veranda with a small boy clinging to each hand. The trio came forth with red eyes, but firmly allied.
"Call the car, if you please, William," said Senior. "I am going to help build that dam higher, and see how many fish I can catch for my pool."
Malcolm walked beside him, rubbing his head caressingly across an arm. "We don't have to go on the streets and hunt," he announced. "Father is going to find us work. While the war is so bad, we'll drink milk, and send what we earn to boys who have no father. The war won't take our father, will it?"
"To-night we will pray God not to let that happen," said Aunt Margaret. "Is there room in the car for me too, James? I haven't seen one of those little brook fish in years!"
James Jr. went to her and leaned against her chair. "I got three in my pool. You may see mine! I'll give you one."
"I'd love to see them," said Aunt Margaret. "I'll go bring my hat. But I think you shouldn't give the fish away, James. They belong to God. He made their home in the water. If you take them out, you will kill them, and He won't like that. Let's just look at them, and leave them in the water."
"Malcolm, the fish 'belong to God,'" said James, turning to his brother. "We may play with them, but we mustn't take them out of the water and hurt them."
"Well, who's going to take them out of the water?" cried Malcolm. "I'm just going to scoot one over into father's pool to start him. Will you give him one too?" "Yes," said James Jr.
"The next money I earn, I shall send to the war; but the first time I rake the lawn, and clean the rugs, I'll give what I earn to father, so he will have more time to play with us. Father is the biggest man in this city!"
"It may take a few days to get a new regime started," said father, "I've lived only for work so long; but as soon as it's possible, my day will be so arranged that some part of it shall be yours, boys, to show me what you are doing. I think one day can be given wholly to going to the country."
With an ecstatic whoop they rushed James Minturn, whose wide aching arms opened to them.
The Wheel of Life
"What are your plans for this summer, Leslie?" asked Mr. Winton over his paper at breakfast.
"The real question is, what are yours?"
"I have none," said Mr. Winton. "I can't see my way to making any for myself. Between us, strictly, Swain has been hard hit. He gave me my chance in life. It isn't in my skin to pack up and leave for the sea-shore or the mountains on the results of what he helped me to, and allow him to put up his fight alone. If you understood, you'd be ashamed of me if I did, Leslie."
"But I do understand, Daddy!" cried the girl. "What makes you think I don't? All my life you've been telling me how you love Mr. Swain and what a splendid big thing he did for you when you were young. Is the war making business awfully hard for you men?"
"Close my girl," said Mr. Winton. "Bed rock close!"
"That is what cramps Mr. Swain?" she continued.
"It is what cramps all of us," said Mr. Winton. "It hit him with peculiar force because he had made bad investments. He was running light anyway in an effort to recoup. All of us are on a tension brought about by the result of political changes, to which we were struggling to adjust ourselves, when the war began working greater hardships and entailing millions of loss and expenses."
"I see, and that's why I said the real question was, 'what are your plans?'" explained Leslie, "because when I find out, if perchance they should involve staying on the job this summer, why I wanted to tell you that I'm on the job too. I've thought out the grandest scheme."
"Yes, Leslie? Tell me!" said Mr. Winton.
"It's like this," said Leslie. "Everybody is economizing, shamelessly—and that's a bully word, Daddy, for in most instances it is shameless. Open faced 'Lord save me and my wife, and my son John and his wife.' In our women's clubs and lectures, magazines and sermons, we've had a steady dose all winter of hard times, and economy, and I've tried to make my friends see that their efforts at economy are responsible for the very hardest crux of the hard times."
"You mean, Leslie—?" suggested Mr. Winton eagerly.
"I mean all of us quit using eggs, dealers become frightened, eggs soar higher. Economize on meat, packers buy less, meat goes up. All of us discharge our help, army of unemployed swells by millions. It works two ways and every friend I've got is economizing for herself, and with every stroke for herself she is weakening her nation's financial position and putting a bigger burden on the man she is trying to help."
"Well Leslie—" cried her father.
"The time has come for women to find out what it is all about, then put their shoulders to the wheel of life and push. But before we gain enough force to start with any momentum, women must get together and decide what they want, what they are pushing for."
"Have you decided what you are pushing for?"
"Unalterably!" cried the girl.
"And what is it?" asked her father.
"My happiness! My joy in life!" she exclaimed.
"And exactly in what do you feel your happiness consists, Leslie?" he asked.
"You and Douglas! My home and my men and what they imply!" she answered instantly. "As I figure it, it's homes that count, Daddy. If the nation prospers, the birth rate of Americans has got to keep up, or soon the immigrants will be in control everywhere, as they are in places, right now. Births imply homes. Homes suggest men to support them, women to control them. If the present unrest resolves itself into a personal question, so far as the women are concerned at least, if you are going to get to primal things, whether she realizes it or no, what each woman really wants she learns, as Nellie Minturn learned when she took her naked soul into the swamp and showed it to her God—what each woman wants is her man, her cave, and her baby. If the world is to prosper, that is woman's work, why don't you men who are doing big things realize it, and do yourselves what women are going to be forced from home to do, mighty soon now, if you don't!"
"Well Leslie!" cried Mr. Winton.
"You said that before Daddy!" exclaimed the girl. "Yet what you truly want of a woman is a home and children. Children imply to all men what I am to you. If some men have not reared their children so that they receive from them what you get from me, it is time for the men to realize this, and change their methods of rearing their daughters and sons. A home should mean to every man what your home does to you. If all men do not get from their homes what you do, in most cases it is their own fault. Of course I know there are women so abominably obsessed with self, they refuse to become mothers, and prefer a cafe, with tangoing between courses, to a home; such women should have first the ducking stool, and if that isn't efficacious, extermination; they are a disgrace to our civilization and the weakest spot we have. They are at the bottom of the present boiling discontent of women who really want to be home loving, home keeping. They are directly responsible for the fathers, sons, brothers, and lovers with two standards of morals. A man reared in the right kind of a home, by a real mother, who goes into other homes of the same kind, ruled by similar mothers, when he leaves his, and marries the right girl and establishes for himself a real home, is not going to go wrong. It is the sons, lovers, and husbands of the women who refuse home and children, and carry their men into a perpetual round of what they deem pleasure in their youth, who find life desolate when age begins to come, and who instantly rebel strongest against the very conditions they have made. I've been listening to you all my life, Daddy, and remembering mother, reading, thinking, and watching for what really pays, and believe me, I've found out. I gave Nellie Minturn the best in my heart the other day, but you should see what I got back. Horrors, Daddy! Just plain horrors! I said to Douglas that night when I read him the letter I afterward showed you, that if, as she suggested, I was 'ever faintly tempted to neglect home life for society,' in her I would have all the 'horrible example' I'd ever need, and rest assured I shall."
"Poor woman!" exclaimed Mr. Winton.
"Exactly!" cried Leslie. "And the poorest thing about it is that she is not to blame in the least. You and my mother could have made the same kind of a woman of me. If you had fed me cake instead of bread; if you had given me candy instead of fruit; if you had taken me to the show instead of entertaining me at home; if you had sent me to summer resorts instead of summering with me in the country, you'd have had another Nellie on your hands. The world is full of Nellies, but where one woman flees too strict and monotonous a home, to make a Nellie out of herself, ten are taken out and deliberately moulded, drilled and fashioned into Nellies by their own parents. I have lain awake at nights figuring this, Daddy; some woman is urging me every day to join different movements, and I've been forced to study this out. I know the cause of the present unrest among women."
"And it is—?" suggested Mr. Winton.
"It is the rebound from the pioneer lives of our grandmothers! They and their mothers were at one extreme; we are at the widest sweep of the other. They were forced to enter the forest and in most cases defend themselves from savages and animals; to work without tools, to live with few comforts. In their determination to save their children from hardships, they lost sense, ballast and reason. They have saved them to such an extent they have lost them. By the very method of their rearing, they have robbed their children of love for, and interest in, home life, and with their own hands sent them to cafes and dance halls, when they should be at their homes training their children for the fashioning of future homes. I tell you, Daddy——"
"Leslie, tell me this," interposed Mr. Winton. "Did you get any small part of what you have been saying to me, from me? Do you feel what I have tried to teach you, and the manner in which I have tried to rear you, have put your love for me into your heart and such ideas as you are propounding into your head?"
"Of course, Daddy!" cried the girl. "Who else? Mother was dear and wonderful, but I scarcely remember her. What you put into the growth of me, that is what is bound to come out, when I begin to live independently."
"This is the best moment of my life!" said Mr. Winton. "From your birth you have been the better part of me, to me; and with all my heart I have tried to fashion you into such a woman for a future home, as your mother began, and you have completed for me. Other things have failed me; I count you my success, Leslie!"
"Oh Daddy!" cried the happy girl.
"Now go back to our start," said Mr. Winton. "You have plans for the summer, of course! I realized that at the beginning. Are you ready to tell me?"
"I am ready to ask you," she said.
"Thank you," said Mr. Winton. "I appreciate the difference. Surely a man does enjoy counting for something with his women."
"Spoiled shamelessly, dearest, that's what you are," said Leslie. "A spoiled, pampered father! But to conclude. Mr. Swain helped you. Pay back, Daddy, no matter what the cost; pay back. You help him, I'll help you! My idea was this: for weeks I've foreseen that you wouldn't like to leave business this summer. Douglas is delving into that investigation Mr. Minturn started him on and he couldn't be dragged away. He's perfectly possessed. Of course where my men are, like Ruth, 'there will be I also,' so for days I've been working on a plan, and now it's all finished and waiting your veto or approval."
"Thrilling, Leslie! Tell quickly. I'm all agog!"
"It's this: let's not go away and spend big sums on travel, dress, and close the house, and throw our people out of work. Do you realize, Daddy, how long you've had the same housekeeper, cook, maid and driver? Do you know how badly I'd feel to let them go, and risk getting them back in the fall? My scheme is to rent, for practically nothing, a log cabin I know, a little over an hour's run from here—a log cabin with four rooms and a lean-to and a log stable, beside a lake where there is grand fishing and swimming."
"But Leslie——" protested Mr. Winton.
"Now listen!" cried the girl. "The rent is nominal. We get the house, stable, orchard, garden, a few acres and a rented cow. The cabin has two tiny rooms above, one for you, the other for Douglas. Below, it has a room for me, a dining-room and a kitchen. The big log barn close beside has space in the hay-mow for the women, and in one side below for our driver, the other for the cars. Over the cabin is a grapevine. Around it there are fruit trees. There is a large, rich garden. If I had your permission I could begin putting in vegetables tomorrow that would make our summer supply. Rogers——"
"You are not going to tell me Rogers would touch a garden?" queried Mr. Winton.
"I am going to tell you that Rogers has been with me in every step of my investigations," replied Leslie. "Yesterday I called in my household and gave them a lecture on the present crisis; I found them a remarkably well- informed audience. They had a very distinct idea that if I economized by dismissing them for the summer, and leaving the house with a caretaker, what it would mean to them. Then I took my helpers into the car and drove out the Atwater road—you know it well Daddy, the road that runs smooth over miles of country and then instead of jumping into a lake as it seems to be going to, it swings into corduroy through a marsh, runs up on a little bridge spanning the channel between two lakes, lifts to Atwater lake shore, than which none is more lovely—you remember the white sand floor and the clean water for swimming—climbs another hill, and opposite beautiful wood, there stands the log cabin I told you of, there I took them and explained. They could clean up in a day; Rogers could plant the garden and take enough on one truck load, for a beginning. We may have wood for the fireplace by gathering it from the forest floor. Rogers again!"
"Are you quite sure about Rogers?"
"Suppose you ride with him going down and ask him yourself," suggested Leslie. "Rogers is anxious to hold his place. You see it's like this: all of them get regular wages, have a chance at the swimming, rowing, gardening and the country. The saving comes in on living expenses. Out there we have the cow, flour, fish, and poultry from the neighbours, fresh eggs, butter and the garden—I can cut expenses to one-fourth; lights altogether. Moonshine and candles will serve; cooking fuel, gasoline. Daddy will you go to-night and see?"
"No, I won't go to-night and see, I'll go swim and fish," said Mr. Winton. "Great Heavens, Leslie, do you really mean to live all summer beside a lake, where a man can expand, absorb and exercise? I must get out my fishing tackle. I wonder what Douglas has! I've tried that lake when bass were slashing around wild thorn and crab trees shedding petals and bugs. It is man's sport there! I like black bass fishing. I remember that water. Fine for swimming! Not the exhilaration of salt, perhaps, but grand, clean, old northern Indiana water, cooled by springs. I love it! Lord, Leslie! Why don't we own that place? Why haven't we homed there, and been comfortable for years?"
"I shall go ahead then?" queried Leslie.
"You shall go a-hurry, Miss, hurry!" cried Mr. Winton. "I'll give you just two days. One to clean, the other to move; to-morrow night send for me. I want a swim; and cornbread, milk, and three rashers of bacon for my dinner and nothing else; and can't the maids have my room and let me have a blanket on the hay?"
"But father, the garden!" cautioned Leslie.
"Oh drat the garden!" cried Mr. Winton.
"But if you go dratting things, I can't economize," the girl reminded him. "Rogers and I have that garden down on paper, and it's late now."
"Leslie, don't the golf links lie half a mile from there?"
"Closer Daddy," said the girl, "right around the corner."
"I don't see why you didn't think of it before," he said. "Have you told Douglas?"
"Not a word!" exclaimed Leslie. "I'm going to invite him out when everything is in fine order."
"Don't make things fine," said Mr. Winton. "Let's have them rough!"
"They will be rough enough to suit you, Daddy," laughed Leslie, "but a few things have got to be done."
"Then hurry, but don't forget the snake question."
"People are and have been living there for generations; common care is all that is required," said Leslie. "I'll be careful, but if you tell Bruce until I am ready, I'll never forgive you."
Mr. Winton arose. "'Come to me arms,'" he laughed, spreading them wide. "I wonder if Douglas Bruce knows what a treasure he is going to possess!"
"Certainly not!" said Leslie emphatically. "I wouldn't have him know for the world! I am going to be his progressive housekeeping party, to which he is invited every day, after we are married, and each day he has got a new surprise coming, that I hope he will like. The woman who endures and wears well in matrimony is the one who 'keeps something to herself.' It's my opinion that modern marriage would be more satisfactory if the engaged parties would not come so nearly being married, for so long before they are. There is so little left for afterward, in most cases, that it soon grows monotonous."
"Leslie, where did you get all of this?" he asked.
"I told you. From you, mostly," explained the girl, "and from watching my friends. Go on Daddy! And send Rogers back soon! I want to begin buying radish seed and onion sets."
So Leslie telephoned Douglas Bruce that she would be very busy with housekeeping affairs the coming two days. She made a list of what would be required for that day, left the maids to collect it, and went to buy seeds and a few tools; then returning she divided her forces and leaving part to pack the bedding, old dishes and things absolutely required for living, she took the loaded car and drove to Atwater Lake.
The owner of the land, a cultured, refined gentleman, who spoke the same brand of English used by the Wintons, and evinced a knowledge of the same books, was genuinely interested in Leslie and her plans. It was a land owner's busiest season, but he spared a man an hour with a plow to turn up the garden, and came down himself and with practiced hand swung the scythe, and made sure about the snakes. Soon the maids had the cabin walls swept, the floors scrubbed, the windows washed, and that was all that could be done. The seeds were earth enfolded in warm black beds, with flower seeds tucked in for borders. The cut grass was raked back, and spread to dry for the rented cow.
When nothing further was to be accomplished there, they returned to Multiopolis to hasten preparations for the coming day. It was all so good Leslie stopped at her father's office and poured a flood of cloverbloom, bird notes and water shimmer into his willing ears.
She seldom went to Douglas Bruce's offices, but she ran up a few moments to try in person to ease what she felt would be disappointment in not spending the evening with her. The day would be full far into the night with affairs at home, he would notice the closing of the house, and she could not risk him spoiling her plans by finding out what they were, before she was ready. She found him surrounded with huge ledgers, delving and already fretting for Mickey. She stood laughing in his doorway, half piqued to find him so absorbed in his work, and so full of the boy he was missing, that he seemed to take her news that she was too busy to see him that night with quite too bearable calmness; but his earnestness about coming the following night worked his pardon, so Leslie left laughing to herself over the surprise in store for him.
Bruce bent over his work, praying for Mickey. Everything went wrong without him. He was enough irritated by the boy who was not Mickey, that when the boy who was Mickey came to his door, he was delighted to see him. He wanted to say: "Hello, little friend. Come get in the game, quickly!" but two considerations withheld him: Mickey's manners were a trifle too casual; at times they irritated Douglas, and if he took the boy into his life as he hoped to, he would come into constant contact with Leslie and her friends, who were cultured people of homing instincts. Mickey's manners must be polished, and the way to do it was not to drop to his level, but to improve Mickey. And again, the day before, he had told Mickey to sit down and wait until an order was given him. To invite him to "get in the game" now, was good alliteration; it pleased the formal Scotch ear as did many another United States phrase of the street, so musical, concise and packed with meaning as to become almost classic; but in his heart he meant as Mickey had suspected, "to do him good"; so he must lay his foundations with care. What he said was a cordial and cheerful, "Good morning!"
"Noon," corrected Mickey. "Right ye are! Good it is! What's my job? 'Scuse me! I won't ask that again!"
"Plenty," Douglas admitted, "but first, any luck with the paper route?"
"All over but killing the boy I sold it to, if he doesn't do right. I ain't perfectly crazy about him. He's a papa's boy and pretty soft; but maybe he'll learn. It was a fine chance for me, so I soaked it."
"To whom did you sell, Mickey?" asked Douglas.
"To your driver, for his boy," answered Mickey. "We talked it over last night. Say, was your driver 'the same continued,' or did you detect glimmerings of beefsteak and blood in him this morning?"
"Why?" asked Douglas curiously.
"Oh he's such a stiff," explained Mickey. "He looks about as lively as a salted herring."
"And did you make an effort to enliven him, Mickey?"
"Sure!" cried Mickey. "The operation was highly successful! The patient made a fine recovery. Right on the job, right on the street, right at the thickest traffic corner, right at 'dead man's crossing,' he let out a whoop that split the features of a copper who hadn't smiled in years. It was a double play and it worked fine. What I want to know is whether it was fleeting or holds over."
"It must be 'over,' Mickey," said Douglas. "Since you mention it, he opened the door with the information that it was a fine morning, while I recall that there was colour on his face, and light in his usually dull eyes."
"Good!" cried Mickey. "Then there's some hope that his kid may go and do likewise."
"The boy who takes your route has to smile, Mickey?"
"Well you see most of my morning customers are regulars, so they are used to it," said Mickey. "The minute one goes into his paper, he's lost 'til knocking off time; but if he starts on a real-wide-a-wake-soulful smile, he's a chance of reproducing it, before the day is over, leastwise he has more chance than if he never smiles."
"So it is a part of the contract that the boy smiles at his work?" questioned Douglas.
"It is so!" exclaimed Mickey. "I asked Mr. Chaffner at the Herald office what was a fair price for my route. You see I've sold the Herald from the word go, and we're pretty thick. So he told me what he thought. It lifted my lid, but when I communicated it to Henry, casual like, he never batted an eye, so I am going to try his boy 'til I'm satisfied. If he can swing the job it's a go."
"Your customers should give you a vote of thanks!"
"And so they will!" cried Mickey. "You see the men who buy of me are the top crust of Multiopolis, the big fine men who can smile, and open their heads and say a pleasant word, and they like to. It does them good! I live on it! I always get my papers close home as I can so I have time coming down on the cars to take a peep myself, and nearly always there are at least three things on the first page that hit you in the eye. Once long ago I was in the Herald office with a note to Chaffner the big chief, and I gave him a little word jostle as I passed it over. He looked at me and laughed good natured like, so I handed him this: 'Are you the big stiff that bosses the make-up?' He says, 'Mostly! I can control it if I want to.' 'All right for you,' I said. 'I live by selling your papers, but I could sell a heap more if I had a better chance.' 'Chance in what way?' said he. 'Building your first page,' said I. He said, 'Sure. What is it that you want?' 'I'll show you,' said I. 'I'll give you the call I used this morning.' Then I cut loose and just like on the street I cried it, and he yelled some himself. 'What more do you want?' he asked me. 'A lot,' I said. 'You see I only got a little time on the cars before my men begin to get on, and my time is precious. I can't read second, third, and forty- eleventh pages hunting up eye-openers. I must get them first page, 'cause I'm short time, and got my pack to hang on to. Now makin'-up, if you'd a-put that "Germans driven from the last foot of Belgian soil," first, it would a-been better, 'cause that's what every living soul wants. Then the biggest thing about ourselves. Place it prominent in big black letters, where I get it quick and easy, and then put me in a scream. Get me a laugh in my call, and I'll sell you out all by myself. Folks are spending millions per annum for the glad scream at night, they'll pay just the same morning, give them a chance. I live on a laugh,' said I, to Chaffner. He looked me over and he said: 'When you get too big for the papers, you come to me and I'll make a top-notch reporter out of you.' 'Thanks Boss,' said I, 'you couldn't graft that job on to me, with asphaltum and a buzz saw. I'm going to be on your front page 'fore you know it, but it's going to be a poetry piece that will raise your hair; I ain't going to frost my cake, poking into folks' private business, telling shameful things on them that half kills them. Lots of times I see them getting their dose on the cars, and they just shiver, and go white, and shake. Nix on the printing about shame, and sin, and trouble in the papers for me!' I said, and he just laughed and looked at me closer and he said, 'All right! Bring your poetry yourself, and if they don't let you in, give them this,' and he wrote a line I got at home yet."
"Is that all about Chaffner?" asked Douglas.
"Oh no!" said Mickey. "He said, 'Well here is a batch of items being written up for first page to-morrow. According to you, I should give "Belgian citizens flocking back to search for devastated homes," the first place?' 'That's got the first place in the heart of every man in God's world. Giving it first place is putting it where it belongs.' 'Here's the rest of it,' said he, 'what do you want next?' 'At the same glance I always take, this,' said I, pointing to where it said, 'Movement on foot to eliminate graft from city offices.' 'You think that comes next?' said he. 'Sure!' said I. 'Hits the pocketbook! Sure! Heart first! Money next!' 'Are you so sure it isn't exactly the reverse?' asked he. 'Know it!' said I. 'Watch the crowds any day, and every clip you'll see that loving a man's country, and his home, and his kids, and getting fair play, comes before money.' 'Yes, I guess it does!' he said thoughtful like, 'least it should. We'll make it the policy of this paper to put it that way anyhow. What next?' 'Now your laugh,' said I. 'And while you are at it, make it a scream!' 'All right,' he said, 'I haven't anything funny in yet, but I'll get it. Now show me where you want these spaced.' So I showed him, and every single time you look, you'll see Mr. Herald is made up that way, and you ought to hear me trolling out that Belgian line, soft and easy, snapping in the graft quicklike, and then yelling out the scream. You bet it catches them! If I can't get that kid on to his job, 'spect I'll have to take it back myself; least if he can't get on, he's doomed to get off. I gave him a three days' try, and if he doesn't catch by that time, he never will."
"But how are you going to know?" asked Douglas.
"I'm going down early and follow him and drill him like a Dutch recruit, and he'll wake up my men, and interest them and fetch the laugh or he'll stop!"
"You think you got a fair price?" asked Douglas.
"Know it! All it's worth, and it looks like a margin to me," said Mickey.
"That's all right then, and thank you for telling me about the papers," said Douglas. "I enjoyed it immensely. I see you are a keen student of human nature."
"'Bout all the studying I get a chance at," said Mickey.
"You'll have opportunity at other things now," said Douglas. "Since you mention it, I see your point about the papers, and if that works on business men going to business, it should work on a jury. I think I've had it in mind, that I was to be a compendium of information and impress on a judge or jury what I know, and why what I say is right. You give me the idea that a better way would be to impress on them what they know. Put it like this: first soften their hearts, next touch their pockets, then make them laugh; is that the idea?"
"Duck again! You're doing fine! I ain't made my living selling men papers for this long not to know the big boys some, and more. Each man is different, but you can cod him, or bluff him, or scare him, or let down the floodgates; some way you can put it over if you take each one separate, and hit him where he lives. See? Finding his dwelling place is the trouble."
"Mickey, I do see," cried Douglas. "What you tell me will be invaluable to me. You know I am from another land so I have personal ways of thinking and the men I'm accustomed to are different. What I have been centring on is myself, and what I can do."
"Won't work here! What you got to get a bead on here is the other fellow, and how to do him. See?"
"Take these books and fly," said Douglas. "I've spent one of the most profitable hours of my life, but concretely it is an hour, and we're going to the Country Club to-night and may stay as long as we choose and we're going to have a grand time. You like going to the country, don't you?"
"Ain't words for telling," said Mickey, gathering his armload of books and racing down the hall.
When the day's work was finished, with a load of books to deliver before an office closed, they started on the run to the club house. Bruce waited in the car while Mickey sped in with the books, and returning, to save opening the door and crossing before the man he was fast beginning to idolize, Mickey took one of his swift cuts across the back end of the car. While his hand was outstretched and his foot uplifted to enter, from a high-piled passing truck toppled a box, not a big box, but large enough to knock Mickey senseless and breathless when it struck him between the shoulders. Douglas had Mickey in the car with orders for the nearest hospital, toward which they were hurrying, when the boy opened his eyes and sat up. He looked inquiringly at Douglas, across whose knees he had found himself.
"Wha—what happened?" he questioned with his first good indrawing of recovered breath.
"A box fell from a truck loaded past reason and almost knocked the life out of you!" cried Douglas.
"'Knocked the life out of me?'" repeated Mickey.
"You've been senseless for three blocks, Mickey."
A slow horror spread over Mickey's face.
"Wha—what was you going to do?" he wavered.
"Running for a hospital," said Douglas.
"S'pose my head had been busted, and I'd been stretched on the glass table and maybe laid up for days or knocked out altogether?" demanded Mickey.
"You'd have had the best surgeon in Multiopolis, and every care, Mickey," assured Douglas.
"Ugh!" Mickey collapsed utterly.
"Must be hurt worse than I thought," was Douglas' mental comment. "He couldn't be a coward!"
But Mickey almost proved that very thing by regaining his senses again, and immediately falling into spasms of long-drawn, shuddering sobbing. Douglas held him carefully, every moment becoming firmer in his conviction of one of two things: either he was hurt worse or he was——He would not let himself think it; but never did boy appear to less advantage. Douglas urged the driver to speed. Mickey heard and understood.
"Never mind," he sobbed. "I'm all right Mr. Bruce; I ain't hurt. Not much! I'll be all right in a minute!"
"If you're not hurt, what is the matter with you?"
"A minute!" gasped Mickey, as another spasm of sobbing caught him.
"I am amazed!" cried Douglas. "A little jolt like that! You are acting like a coward, Mickey!"
The word straightened Mickey.
"Coward! Who? Me!" he cried. "Me that's made my way since I can remember? Coward, did you say?"
"Of course not, Mickey!" cried Douglas. "Excuse me. I shouldn't have said that. But it is unlike you. What the devil is the matter with you?"
"I helped carry in a busted head and saw the glass table once," he cried. "Inch more and it would a-been my head—and I might have been knocked out for days. O Lord! What will I do?"
"Mickey you're not afraid?" asked Douglas.
"'Fraid? Me? 'Bout as good as coward!"
"What is the matter with you?" demanded Douglas.
Mickey stared at him amazedly.
"O Lord!" he panted. "You don't s'pose I was thinking about myself, do you?"
"I don't know what to think!" exclaimed Douglas.
"Sure! How could you?" conceded Mickey.
He choked back another big dry sob.
"Gimme a minute to think!" he said. "O God! What have I been doing? I see now what I'm up against!"
"Mickey," said Douglas Bruce, suddenly filled with compassion, "I am beginning to understand. Won't you tell me?"
"I guess I got to," panted Mickey. "But I'm afraid! O Lord, I'm so afraid!"
"Afraid of me, Mickey?" asked Douglas gently now.
"Yes, afraid of you," said Mickey, "and afraid of her. Afraid of her, more than you."
"You mean Miss Winton?" pursued Douglas.
"Yes, I mean Miss Winton," replied Mickey. "I guess I don't risk her, or you either. I guess I go to the Nurse Lady. She's used to folks in trouble. She's trained to know what to do. Why sure! That's the thing!"
"Your back hurts, Mickey?" questioned Douglas.
"My back hurts? Aw forget my back!" cried Mickey roughly. "I ain't hurt, honest I ain't."
Douglas took a long penetrating look at the small shaking figure, then he said softly: "I wish you wanted to confide in me, Mickey! I can't tell you how glad I'd be if you'd trust me; but if you have some one else you like better, where is it you want to be driven?"
"Course there ain't any one I like better than you, 'cept——" he caught a name on the tip of his tongue and paused. "You see it's like this: I've been to this Nurse Lady before, and I know exactly what she'll say and think. If you don't think like I do, and if you go and take——"
"Gracious Heaven Mickey, you don't think I'd try to take anything you wanted, do you?" demanded Douglas.
"I don't know what you'd do," said Mickey. "I only know what one Swell Dame I struck wanted to do."
"Mickey," said Douglas, "when I don't know what you are thinking about, I can't be of much help; but I'd give considerable if you felt that you had come to trust me."
"Trust you? Sure I trust you, about myself. But this is——" cried Mickey.
"This is about some one else?" asked Douglas casually.
Mickey leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his head bent with intense thinking.
"Much as you are doing for me," he muttered, "if you really care, if it makes a difference to you—of course I can trust you, if you don't think as I do!"
"You surely can!" cried Douglas Bruce. "Now Mickey, both of us are too shaken to care for the country; take me home with you and let's have supper together and become acquainted. We can't know each other on my ground alone. I must meet you on yours, and prove that I'm really your friend. Let's go where you live and have supper."
"Go where I live? You?" cried Mickey.
"Yes! You come from where you live fresh and clean each day, so can I. Take me home with you. I want to go dreadfully, Mickey. Please?"
"Well, I ain't such a cad I'm afraid for you to see how I live," he said. "Though you wouldn't want to come more than once; that ain't what I was thinking about."
"Think all you like, Mickey," said Douglas. "Henry, drive to the end of the car line where you've gone before."
On the way he stopped at a grocery, then a cafe, and at each place piles of tempting packages were placed in the car. Mickey's brain was working fast. One big fact was beginning to lift above all the others. His treasure was slipping from him, and for her safety it had to be so. If he had been struck on the head, forced to undergo an operation, and had lain insensible for hours—Mickey could go no further with that thought. He had to stop and proceed with the other part of his problem. Of course she was better off with him than where she had been; no sane person could dispute that; she was happy and looking improved each day but—could she be made happier and cared for still better by some one else, and cured without the long wait for him to earn the money? If she could, what would be the right name for him, if he kept her on what he could do? So they came at last as near as the car could go to Mickey's home in Sunrise Alley. At the foot of the last flight Mickey paused, package laden.
"Now I'll have to ask you to wait a minute," he said.
He ascended, unlocked the door and stepped inside. Peaches' eyes gleamed with interest at the packages, but she waved him back. As Mickey closed the door she cried: "My po'try piece! Say it, Mickey!"
"You'll have to wait again," said Mickey. "I got hit in the back with a box and it knocked the poetry out of me. You'll have to wait 'til after supper to-night, and then I'll fix the grandest one yet. Will that do?"
"Yes, if the box hit hard, Mickey," conceded Peaches.
"It hit so blame hard, Miss Chicken, that it knocked me down and knocked me out, and Mr. Bruce picked me up and carried me three blocks in his car before I got my wind or knew what ailed me."
Peaches' face was tragic; her hands stretched toward him. Mickey was young, and his brain was whirling so it whirled off the thought that came first.
"And if it had hit me hard enough to bust my head, and I'd been carried to a hospital to be mended and wouldn't a-knowed what hurt me for days, like sometimes, who'd a-fed and bathed you, Miss?"
Peaches gazed at him wordless.
"You close your mouth and tell me, Miss," demanded Mickey, brutal with emotion. "If I hadn't come, what would you have done?"
Peaches shut her mouth and stared while it was closed. At last she ventured a solution.
"You'd a-told our Nurse Lady," she said.
Mickey made an impatient gesture.
"Hospitals by the dozen, kid," he said, "and not a chance in a hundred I'd been took to the 'Star of Hope,' and times when your head is busted, you don't know a thing for 'most a week. What would you do if I didn't come for a week?"
"I'd have to slide off the bed if it killed me, and roll to the cupboard, and make the things do," said Peaches.
"You couldn't get up to it to save your life," said Mickey, "and there's never enough for a week, and you couldn't get to the water—what would you do?"
"Mickey, what would I do?" wavered Peaches.
"Well, I know, if you don't," said Mickey, "and I ain't going to tell you; but I'll tell you this much: you'd be scared and hurt worse than you ever was yet; and it's soon going to be too hot for you here, so I got to move you to a cooler place, and I don't risk being the only one knowing where you are another day; or my think-tank will split. It's about split now. I don't want to do it, Miss, but I got to, so you take your drink and lemme straighten you, and wash your face, and put your pretties on; then Mr. Douglas Bruce, that we work for now, is coming to see you and he's going to stay for supper—Now cut it out! Shut right up! Here, lemme fix you, and you see, Miss, that you act a lady girl, and don't make me lose my job with my boss, or we can't pay our rent. Hold still 'til I get your ribbon right, and slip a fresh nightie on you. There!"
"Mickey——" began Peaches.
"Shut up!" said Mickey in desperation. "Now mind this, Miss! You belong to me! I'm taking care of you. You answer what he says to you pretty or you'll not get any supper this night, and look at them bundles he got. Sit up and be nice! This is a party!"
Mickey darted around arranging the room, then he flung the door wide and called: "Ready!"
Douglas Bruce climbed the stairs and entered the door. As Mickey expected, his gaze centred and stopped. Mickey began taking packages from his hands; still gazing Douglas yielded them. Then he stepped forward when Mickey placed the chair, and said: "Mr. Douglas Bruce, this is Lily. This is Lily Peaches O'Halloran. Will you have a chair?" He turned to Peaches, putting his arm around her as he bent to kiss her.
"He's all right, Flowersy-girl," he said. "We like to have him come. He's our friend. Our big, nice friend who won't let a soul on earth get us. He doesn't even want us himself, 'cause he's got one girl. His girl is the Moonshine Lady that sent you the doll. Maybe she will come some day too, and maybe she'll make the Precious Child a new dress."
Peaches clung to Mickey and past him peered at her visitor, and the visitor smiled his most winning smile. He recognized Leslie's ribbon, and noted the wondrous beauty of the small white face, now slowly flushing the faintest pink with excitement. Still clinging she smiled back. Wordless, Douglas reached over to pick up the doll. Then the right thought came at last.
"Has the Precious Child been good to-day?" he asked.
Peaches released Mickey, dropping back against her pillows, her smile now dazzling. "Jus' as good!" she said.
"Fine!" said Douglas, straightening the long dress.
"An' that's my slate and lesson," said Peaches.
"Fine!" he said again as if it were the only adjective he knew. Mickey glanced at him, grinning sympathetically, "She does sort of knock you out!" he said.
"'Sort' is rather poor. Completely, would be better," said Douglas. "She's the loveliest little sister in all the world, but she doesn't resemble you. Is she like your mother?"
"Lily isn't my sister, only as you wanted me for a brother," said Mickey. "She was left and nobody was taking care of her. She's my find and you bet your life I'm going to keep her!"
"Oh! And how long have you had her, Mickey?"
"Now that's just what the Orphings' Home dame asked me," said Mickey with finality, "and we are nix on those dames and their askings. Lily is mine, I tell you. My family. Now you visit with her, while I get supper."
Mickey pushed up the table, then began opening packages and setting forth their contents. Watching him as he moved swiftly and with assurance, his head high, his lips even, a slow deep respect for the big soul in the little body began to dawn in the heart of Douglas Bruce. Understanding of Mickey came in rivers swift and strong, so while he wondered and while he watched entranced, over and over in his head went the line: "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." With every gentle act of Mickey for the child Douglas' liking for him grew. When he went over the supper and with the judgment of a nurse selected the most delicate and suitable food for her, in the heart of the Scotsman swelled the marvel and the miracle that silenced criticism.
The Advent of Nancy and Peter
When Leslie began the actual work of closing her home, and loading what would be wanted for the country, she found the task too big for the time allotted, so wisely telephoned Douglas that she would be compelled to postpone seeing him until the following day.
"Leslie," laughed Douglas over the telephone, "did you ever hear of the man who cut off his dog's tail an inch at a time, so it wouldn't hurt so badly?"
"I have heard of that particular dog."
"Well this process of cutting me out of seeing you a day at a time reminds me of 'that particular dog,' and evokes my sympathy for the canine as never before."
"It's a surprise I am getting ready for you Douglas!"
"It is a surprise all right," answered Douglas, "and 'Bearer of Morning,' I have got a surprise for you too."
"Oh goody!" cried Leslie. "I adore surprises."
"You'll adore this one!"
"You might give me a hint!" she suggested.
"Very well!" he laughed. "Since last I saw you I have seen the loveliest girl of my experience."
"Delightful! Am I to see her also?"
"Undoubtedly!" explained Douglas. "And you'll succumb to her charms just as I did."
"When may I meet her?" asked Leslie eagerly.
"I can't say; but soon now."
"All right!" agreed the girl. "Be ready at four tomorrow."
Leslie sat in frowning thought a moment, before the telephone; then her ever-ready laugh bubbled. "Why didn't I think of it while I was talking?" she wondered. "Of course Mickey has taken him to visit his Lily. I must see about that wrong back before bone and muscle harden."
Then she began her task. By evening she had a gasoline stove set up, the kitchen provisioned, her father's room ready and arrangements sufficiently completed that she sent the car to bring him to his dinner of cornbread and bacon under an apple tree scattering pink petals beside the kitchen door, with every lake breeze. Then they went fishing and landed three black bass.
Douglas Bruce did not mind one day so much, but he resented two. When he greeted Mickey that morning it was not with the usual salutation of his friends, so the boy knew there was something not exactly right. He was not feeling precisely jovial himself. He was under suspended judgment. He knew that when Mr. Bruce had time to think, and talk over the situation with Miss Winton, both of them might very probably agree with the woman who said the law would take Lily from him and send her to a charity home for children.
Mickey, with his careful drilling on the subject, was in rebellion. How could the law take Lily from him? Did the law know anything about her? Was she in the care of the law when he found her? Wouldn't the law have allowed her to die grovelling in filth and rags, inside a few more hours? He had not infringed on the law in any way; he had merely saved a life the law had forgotten to save. Now when he had it in his possession and in far better condition than he found it, how had the law power to step in and rob him?
Mickey did not understand, while there was nothing in his heart that could teach him. He had found her: he would keep her. The Orphans' Home should not have her. The law should not have her. Only one possibility had any weight with Mickey: if some one like Mr. Bruce or Miss Winton wanted to give her a home of luxury, could provide care at once, for which he would be forced to wait years to earn the money; if they wanted her and the Carrel man of many miracles would come for them; did he dare leave her lying an hour, when there was even hope she might be on her feet? There was only one answer to that with Mickey, but it pained his heart. So his greeting lacked its customary spontaneity.
By noon Bruce was irritable, while Mickey was as nearly sullen as it was in his nature to be. At two o'clock Bruce surrendered, summoned the car, and started to the golf grounds. He had played three holes when he overtook a man who said a word that arrested his attention, so both of them stopped, and with notebooks and pencils, under the shade of a big tree began discussing the question that meant more to Douglas than anything save Leslie. He dismissed Mickey for the afternoon, promising him that if he would be ready by six, he should be driven back to the city.
Mickey wanted to be alone to concentrate on his problem, but people were everywhere and more coming by the carload. He could see no place that was then, or would be, undisturbed. The long road with grassy sides gave big promises of leading somewhere to the quiet retreat he sought. Telling the driver that if he were not back by six, he would be waiting down the road, Mickey started on foot, in thought so deep he scarcely appreciated the grasses he trod, the perfume in his nostrils, the concert in his ears. What did at last arouse him was the fact that he was very thirsty. That made him realize that this was the warmest day of the season. Instantly his mind flew to the mite of a girl, lying so patiently, watching the clock for his coming, living for the sound of his feet.
Mickey stopped, studying the landscape. A cool gentle breeze crossed the clover field beside the way, refreshing him in its passing. He sucked his lungs full, then lifted his cap, shaking the hair from his forehead. He stuffed the cap into his pocket, walking slowly along, intending to stop at the nearest farmhouse to ask for water. But the first home was not to Mickey's liking. He went on, passing another and another.
Then he came to land that attracted him. The fences were so straight. The corners so clean where they were empty, so delightful where they were filled with alder, wild plum, hawthorn; attractive locations for the birds of the bushes that were field and orchard feeders. Then the barn and outbuildings looked so neat and prosperous; grazing cattle in rank meadows were so sleek; then a big white house began to peep from the screen of vines, bushes and trees.
"Well if the water here gives you fever, it will anywhere," said Mickey, and turning in at the open gate started up a walk having flower beds on each side. There was a wide grassy lawn where the big trees scattered around afforded almost complete shade. Mickey never had seen a home like it closely. He scarcely could realize that there were places in the world where families lived alone like this. He tried to think how he would feel if he belonged there. When he reached the place where he saw Lily on a comfort under a big bloom-laden pear tree, his throat grew hard, his eyes dry and his feet heavy. Then the screen to the front door swung back as a smiling woman in a tidy gingham dress came through and stood awaiting Mickey.
"I just told Peter when he came back alone, I bet a penny you'd got off at the wrong stop!" she cried. "I'm so glad you found your way by yourself. But you must be tired and hot walking. Come right in and have a glass of milk, then strip your feet and I'll ring for Junior."
For one second Mickey was dazed. The next, he knew what it must mean. These people were the kind whom God had made so big and generous they divided home and summer with tenement children from the big city thirty miles away. Some boy was coming for a week, maybe, into what exactly filled Mickey's idea of Heaven, but he was not the boy.