Lafe smiled, shook his head, and picked up his hammer.
"No," said he. "No, no! He's right around me, an' He's right around you, an' everything a feller does or has comes from Him."
Virginia's thoughts went back to an episode of the country.
"Does He help a kid knock hell out of another kid when that kid is beating a littler kid?"
Her eyes were so earnest, so deep in question, that the cobbler lowered his head. Not for the world would he have smiled at Virginia's original question. He scarcely knew how to answer, but presently said:
"Well, I guess it's all right to help them who ain't as big as yourself, but it ain't the best thing in the world to gad any one."
"Oh, I never licked any of 'em," Jinnie assured him. "I just wanted to find out, that's all."
"What'd you do when other kids beat the littler ones?" demanded the cobbler.
"Just shoved 'em down on the ground and set on 'em, damn 'em!" answered Jinnie.
Lafe raised his eyes slowly.
"I was wonderin' if I dared give you a lesson, lass," he began in a low voice.
"I wish you would," replied Virginia, eagerly. "I'd love anything you'd tell me."
"Well, I was wonderin' if you knew it was wicked to swear?"
Like a shot came a pang through her breast. She had offended her friend.
"Wicked? Wicked?" she gasped. "You say it's wicked to swear, cobbler?"
Lafe nodded. "Sure, awful wicked," he affirmed.
Virginia took a long breath.
"I didn't know it," she murmured. "Father said it wasn't polite, but that's nothing. How is it wicked, cobbler?"
Lafe put two nails into position in the leather sole and drove them deep; then he laid down the hammer again.
"You remember my tellin' you this morning of the man with angels, white angels, hoverin' about the earth helpin' folks?"
"Yes," answered Virginia.
"Well, He said it was wicked."
An awe-stricken glance fell upon the speaker.
"Did He tell you so, Lafe?"
"Yes," said Lafe. "It ain't a question of politeness at all, but just bein' downright wicked. See, kid?"
"Yes, cobbler, I do now," Jinnie answered, hanging her head. "Nobody but Matty ever told me nothing before. I guess she didn't know much about angels, though."
"Well," continued Lafe, going back to his story, "God give his little boy Jesus to a mighty good man an' a fine woman—as fine as Peg—to bring up. An' Joseph trundled the little feller about just as I did my little Lafe, an' bye-an'-bye when the boy grew, He worked as his Father in Heaven wanted him to. The good God helped Joseph an' Mary to bring the Christ down face to face with us—Jews an' Gentiles alike."
"With you and me?" breathed Virginia, solemnly.
"With you an' me, child," repeated the cobbler in subdued tones.
Virginia walked to the window and drummed on the pane. Through mere force of habit the cobbler bent his head and caught the tacks between his teeth. He did it mechanically; he was thinking of the future. In the plan of events which Lafe had worked out for himself and Peg, there was but one helper, and each day some new demonstration came to make his faith the brighter. In the midst of his meditation, Jinnie returned to her seat.
"Cobbler, will you do something I ask you?"
"Sure," assented Lafe.
"Get busy trusting Peg'll get the two dollars to-night."
"I have long ago, child, an' she's goin' to get it, too. That's one blessin' about believin'. No one nor nobody can keep you from gettin' what's your own."
"Mrs. Peggy doesn't think that way," remarked Virginia, with keen memories of Mrs. Grandoken's snapping teeth.
"No, not yet, but I'm trustin' she will. You see how 'tis in this shop. Folks is poor around here. I trust 'em all, Jews and Gentiles alike, but Peg thinks I ought to have the money the minute the work's done. But I know no man can keep my money from me, so I soothe her down till she don't whine any more. That's how I know her bark's worser'n her bite. Didn't I tell you about the biscuit?"
"Yes," replied Virginia, "and I hope it'll only be bark about the money; what if she didn't get it?"
"She'll get it," assured Lafe, positively.
Just before bed time Lafe whispered in Jinnie's ear, "Peggy got the two! I told you she would. God's good, child, and we've all got Him in us alike."
And that night, as the air waxed colder and colder, Virginia Singleton, daughter of the rich, slept her tired sleep amid the fighters of the world.
"EVERY HAND SHALL DO ITS SHARE," QUOTH PEG.
The fifth day of Jinnie's stay in the cobbler's home crept out of the cold night accompanied by the worst blizzard ever known along the lake. Many times, if it had not been for the protecting overhanging hills, the wood gatherers' huts would have been swept quite away. As it was, Jinnie felt the shack tremble and sway, and doubted its ability to withstand the onslaught.
After breakfast found Lafe and Jinnie conversing interestedly in the shop. The cobbler allowed several bright nails to fall into his palm before he answered the question which was worrying the girl.
"There ain't no use troublin' about it, child," commented he. "We can't starve."
"If I could only work," said Jinnie gloomily, "I bet Peg'd soon like me, because she wouldn't have to go out in the cold at all. But you think it'd be bad for me, eh, Lafe?"
"Well, you couldn't go around to the factories or stores very well," replied Lafe. "You see your uncle's tryin' to trace you. I showed you that this mornin' in the paper, didn't I, where he mourned over you as lost after findin' your father dead?"
"Yes, I read it," she said.
"An' he can't get your money for seven years. That makes him madder'n a hatter, of course."
"If he'd let me alone, I'd just as soon give him the money," Jinnie said mournfully.
Lafe shook his head.
"The law wouldn't let you, till you was of age. No, sir, you'd either have to die a natural death or—another kind, an' you're a pretty husky young kid to die natural."
"I don't want to die at all," shivered Jinnie.
Lafe encouraged her with a smile.
"If he finds you," pursued Lafe, "I'd have to give you up. I couldn't do anything else. We might pray 'bout it."
A wistful expression came over Jinnie's face.
"Is praying anything like wishing, cobbler?"
"Somethin' the same," replied Mr. Grandoken, "with this difference—wishin' is askin' somethin' out of somewhere of some one you don't know; prayin' is just talkin' to some one you're acquainted with! See?"
"Yes, I think I do," responded the girl. "Your way is mostly praying, isn't it, Lafe?"
"Prayin's more powerful than wishin', lass," said Lafe. "When I was first paralyzed, I done a lot of wishin'. I hadn't any acquaintance with anybody but Peggy. After that I took up with God, an' He's been awful good to me."
"He's been good to me, too, Lafe, bringing me here."
This seemed to be a discovery to Virginia, and for a few minutes her brain was alive with new hopes. Suddenly she drew her chair in front of Grandoken.
"Will to-morrow ever be to-day, cobbler?"
Lafe looked at the solemn-faced girl with smiling, kindly eyes.
"Sure, kid, sure," he asserted. "When you get done wishin' an' there ain't nothin' left in the world to want, then to-morrow's to-day."
Jinnie smiled dismally. "There'd never be a day, cobbler, that I couldn't think of something I'd like for you—and Peg."
Lafe meditated an instant before replying. Then:
"I've found out that we're always happier, kid, when we've got a to-morrow to look to," said he, "'cause when you're just satisfied, somethin's very apt to go smash. I was that way once."
He paused for some seconds.
"Jinnie," he murmured, "I haven't told you how I lost the use of my legs, have I?"
"Well, as I was sayin', there didn't used to be any to-morrow for me. I always lived just for that one day. I had Peg an' the boy. I could work for 'm, an' that was enough. It's more'n lots of men get in this world."
His voice trailed into a whisper and ceased. He was living for the moment in the glory of his past usefulness. The rapt, wrinkled face shone as if it had been touched by angel fingers. Virginia watched him reverently.
"It's more'n two years ago, now," proceeded the cobbler presently, "an' I was workin' on one of them tall uptown buildin's. Jimmy Malligan worked right alongside of me. We was great chums, Jimmy an' me. One day the ropes broke on one of the scaffoldin's—at least, that's what folks said. When we was picked up, my legs wasn't worth the powder to blow 'em up—an' Jimmy was dead. ... But Peg says I'm just as good as ever."
Here Mr. Grandoken took out his pipe and struck a match. "But I ain't. 'Cause them times Peg didn't have to work. We always had fires enough, an' didn't live like this. But, as I was sayin', me an' Peg just kinder lived in to-day. Now, when I hope that mebbe I'll walk again, I'm always measurin' up to-morrow——Peg's the best woman in the world."
Jinnie shivered as a gust of wind rattled the window pane.
"She makes awful good hot mush," she commented.
"Anyhow," went on Lafe, "I was better off'n Jimmy, because he was stone dead. There wasn't any to-day or to-morrow for him, an' I've still got Peggy."
"And this shop," supplemented the girl, glancing around admiringly.
"Sure, this shop," assented Lafe. "I had clean plumb forgot this shop—I mean, for the minute—but I wouldn't a forgot it long."
He knocked the ashes out of his pipe and set to work.
Neither girl nor man spoke for a while, and it wasn't until Lafe heard Peg's voice growling at one of Milly's kittens that he ceased his tick-tack.
"You wouldn't like to join my club, lass, would you?" he ventured.
Jinnie looked up quickly.
"Of course I would," she said eagerly. "What kind of a club is it?"
The girl's faith in the cobbler was so great that if Lafe had commanded her to go into danger, she wouldn't have hesitated.
"Tell me what the club is, Lafe," she repeated.
"Sure," responded Lafe. "Come here an' shake hands! All you have to do to be a member of my club is to be 'Happy in Spite' an' believe everythin' happenin' is for the best."
A mystified expression filled the girl's earnest blue eyes.
"I'm awful happy," she sighed, "and I'm awful glad to come in your club, but I just don't understand what it means."
The cobbler paid no attention for some moments. He was looking out of the window, in a far-away mood, dreaming of an active past, when Jinnie accidentally knocked a hammer from the bench. Lafe Grandoken glanced in the girl's direction.
"I'm happy in spite—" he murmured. Then he stopped abruptly, and his hesitation made the girl repeat:
"Happy in spite?" with a rising inflection. "What does that mean, Lafe?"
Lafe began to work desperately.
"It means just this, kid. I've got a little club all my own, an' I've named it 'Happy in Spite.'" His eyes gathered a mist as he whispered, "Happy in spite of everything that ain't just what I want it to be. Happy in spite of not walkin'—happy in spite of Peg's workin'."
Virginia raised unsmiling, serious eyes to the speaker.
"I want to come in your club, too, Lafe," she said slowly. "I need to be happy in spite of lots of things, just like you, cobbler."
A long train steamed by. Jinnie went to the window, and looked out upon it. When the noise of the engine and the roar of the cars had ceased, she whirled around.
"Cobbler," she said in a low voice, "I've been thinking a lot since yesterday."
"Come on an' tell me about it, lassie," said Lafe.
She sat down, hitching her chair a bit nearer him, leaned her elbow on her knee, and buried a dimpled chin in the palm of her hand.
"Do you suppose, Lafe, if a girl believed in the angels, anybody could hurt her?"
"I know they couldn't, kid, an' it's as true's Heaven."
"Well, then, why can't I go out and work?"
Lafe paused and looked over his spectacles.
"Peggy says, 'Every hand should do its share'," he quoted.
Jinnie winced miserably. She picked up several nails from the floor. It was a pretext for an activity to cover her embarrassment.
The cobbler allowed her to busy herself a while in this way. Then he said:
"Sit in the chair an' wrap up in the blankets, Jinnie. I want to talk with you."
She did as she was bidden, sitting quietly until the man chose to speak.
"I guess you're beginnin' to believe," said he, at length, "an' if you do, a world full of uncles couldn't hurt you. Peg says as how you got to work if you stay, an' if you have the faith——"
Jinnie rose tremblingly.
"I know I'll be all right," she cried. "I just know you and me believing would keep me safe."
Her eagerness caused Lafe to draw the girl to him.
"Can you holler good an' loud?" he asked.
The girl shot him a curious glance.
"Sure I can."
"Can you walk on icy walks——"
"Oh, I'm as strong as anything," Jinnie cut in, glancing downward at herself.
"I know a lot of kids who earn money," said Lafe meditatively.
"What do they do?"
"Get wood out of the marsh behind the huts there. Some of 'em keeps families on it."
"Sell wood! And there's lots of it, Lafe?"
"Lots," replied Lafe.
Sell wood! The very words, new, wonderful, and full of action, rang through Jinnie's soul like sweet sounding bells. Waves of unknown sensations beat delightfully upon her girlish heart. If she brought in a little money every day, Peggy would be kinder. She could; she was sure she could. She was drawn from her whirling thoughts by the cobbler's voice.
"Could you do it, kid? People could think your name was Jinnie Grandoken."
Jinnie choked out a reply.
"And mebbe I could make ten cents a day."
"I think you could, Jinnie, an' here's Lafe right ready to help you."
Virginia Singleton felt quite faint. She sat down, her heart beating under her knit jacket twice as fast as a girl's heart ought to beat. Lafe had suddenly opened up a path to usefulness and glory which even in her youthful dreams had never appeared to her.
"Call Peggy," said Lafe.
Soon Peg stood before them, with a questioning face.
"The kid's goin' to work," announced Lafe, "We've got a way of keepin' her uncle off'n her trail."
Mrs. Grandoken looked from her husband to Virginia.
"I want to work like other folks," the girl burst forth, looking pleadingly at the shoemaker's wife.
Peggy wiped her arms violently upon her apron, and there flashed across her face an inscrutable expression that Lafe had learned to read, but which frightened the newcomer.
Oh, how Jinnie wanted to do something to help them both! Now, at this moment, when there seemed a likelihood of being industriously useful, Jinnie loved them the more. She was going to work, and into her active little brain came the sound of pennies, and the glint of silver.
"I want to work, Peggy," she beseeched, "and I'll make a lot of money for you."
"Every hand ought to do its share," observed Peg, stolidly, glancing at the girl's slender fingers. They looked so small, so unused to hard work, that she turned away. An annoying, gripping sensation attacked her suddenly, but in another minute she faced the girl again.
"If you do it, miss, don't flounce round's if you owned the hull of Paradise Road, 'cause it'll be nothin' to your credit, whatever you do. You didn't make yourself."
At the door she turned and remarked, "You've got t'have a shoulder strap to hold the wood, an' you musn't carry too much to onct. It might hurt your back."
"I'll be careful," gulped Jinnie, "and mebbe I could help make the strap, eh, Lafe?"
An hour later Jinnie was running a long needle through a tough piece of leather. She was making the strap to peddle shortwood, and a happier girl never breathed.
Peg watched her without comment as Lafe fitted the strap about her shoulders. In fact, there was nothing for the woman to say, when the violet eyes were fixed questioningly upon her. Peggy thought of the hunger which would be bound to come if any hands were idle, so she muttered in excuse, "There's nothin' like gettin' used to a thing."
"It's a fine strap, isn't it, Lafe?" asked the girl, "It's almost as good as a cart."
"You can't use a cart in the underbrush," explained Lafe. "That's why the twig gatherers use straps."
"I see," murmured Jinnie.
When the cobbler and girl were once more alone together, they had a serious confab. They decided that every penny Jinnie brought in should go to enriching the house, and the girl's eyes glistened as she heard the shoemaker list over the things that would make them comfortable.
Most delightful thoughts came to endow the girl's mental world, which now reached from the cobbler's shop to the marsh, over a portion of the city, and back again. It was rosy-hued, bright, sparkling with the pennies and nickels she intended to earn. All her glory would come with the aid of that twig gatherer's leather strap. She looked down upon it with a proud toss of her head. Jinnie was recovering the independent spirit which had dominated her when she had wandered alone on the hills away to the north.
"I wouldn't wonder if I'd make fifteen cents some days," she remarked later at the supper table.
"If you make ten, you'll be doin' well, an' you and Lafe'll probably bust open with joy if you do," snapped Peg. "Oh, Lord, I'm gettin' sick to my stomick hearin' you folks brag. Go to bed now, kid, if you're to work to-morrow."
Jinnie fell asleep to dream that her hand was full of pennies, and her pockets running over with nickels. She was just stooping to pick up some money from the sidewalk when Peg's voice pierced her ear,
"Kid," said she, "it's mornin', an' your first workin' day. Now hurry your lazy bones an' get dressed."
BY THE SWEAT OF HER BROW
Over the bridge into Paradise Road went the lithe, buoyant figure of a girl, a loose strap hanging from one straight shoulder. Jinnie was radiantly happy, for her first day had netted the family twenty cents, and if Paradise Road had been covered with eggs, she would not have broken many in her flight homeward. If she had been more used to Mrs. Grandoken, she would have understood the peculiar tightening at the corners of the woman's thin lips when she delivered the precious pittance. Virginia searched the other's face for the least sign of approbation. She wished Peg would kiss her, but, of course, she dared not suggest it. To have a little show of affection seemed to Jinnie just then the most desirable thing in the world, but the cobbler's wife merely muttered as she went away to the kitchen, and Virginia, sighing, sat down.
"Now suppose you tell me all about it, Jinnie," Lafe suggested smilingly; "just where you went an' how you earned all the money."
Fatigued almost beyond the point of rehearsing her experiences, Jinnie took Milly Ann on her lap and curled up in the chair.
"I guess I've walked fifteen miles," she began. "You know most folks don't want wood."
Lafe took one sidewise glance at the beautiful face. He remembered a picture he had once seen of an angel. Jinnie's face was like that picture.
"Well, first, Lafe," she recounted, "I gathered the wood in the marsh, then I went straight across the back field through the swamp. It's froze over harder'n hell——"
Lafe uttered a little, "Sh!" and Jinnie, with scarlet face, supplemented,
"I mean harder'n anything."
"Sure," replied Lafe, nodding.
"Mr. Bates and his kids were there, but he c'n carry a pile three times bigger'n I can!"
"Well, you're only a child. Sometimes Bates can't sell all he gets, though."
"I sold all mine," asserted Jinnie, brightening.
The cobbler recalled the history of Jinnie's lonely little life—of how during those first fifteen years no kindly soul had given her counsel, and now his heart glowed with thanksgiving as he realized that she was growing in faith and womanliness. He wanted Jinnie to give credit where credit was due, so he said,
"You sold your wood because you had a helpin' hand."
Jinnie was about to protest.
"I mean——" breathed Lafe.
"Oh, angels! Eh?" interrupted the girl. "Yes, I sold my last two cents' worth by saying what you told me—'He gives His angels charge over thee'—and, zip! a woman bought the last bundle and gave me a cent more'n I charged her."
"Good!" Lafe was highly pleased. "It'll work every time, an' to make a long story short, it works on boots an' shoes, too."
"Wood's awful heavy," Jinnie decided, irrelevantly.
"Sure," soothed Lafe again. He hesitated a minute, drew his hand across his eyes, and continued, "An', by the way, Jinnie——"
Jinnie's receptive face caused the cobbler to proceed:
"I wouldn't have nothin' to do with Bates' son Maudlin, if I was you.... He's a bad lot."
Jinnie's head drooped. She flushed to her hair.
"I saw him to-day," she replied. "He's got wicked eyes. I hate boys who wink!"
A look of desperation clouded the fair young face, and the cobbler, looking at the slender girlish figure, and thinking the while of Maudlin Bates, suddenly put out his hand.
"Come here, lassie," he said.
Another flame of color mounted to Jinnie's tousled hair. With hanging head, she pushed Milly Ann from her lap and walked to the cobbler's side.
"What did Maudlin say to you?" he demanded.
"He said he'd—he'd crack my twigs for me if—if I'd kiss him, and he pinched me when I wouldn't."
Anger and deep resentment displayed themselves on Lafe's pale face.
"Jinnie, lass," he breathed. "I c'n trust you, child. Can't I trust you? You wouldn't——"
Jinnie drew away from Lafe's embrace.
"I guess I'd rather be killed'n have Maudlin kiss me," she cried passionately.
Just then Peg came to the door.
"Run to the butcher's for a bit of chopped steak, Jinnie," she ordered, "an' make your head save your heels by bringin' in some bread."
Jinnie jumped up quickly.
"Please use some of my money to buy 'em, Peggy," she begged. "Oh, please do."
Peggy eyed her sternly.
"Kid," she warned. "I want to tell you something before you go any farther in life. You may be smart, but 'tain't no credit to you, 'cause you didn't make yourself. I'm tellin' you this for fear makin' so much money'll turn your head.... Here's your ten cents.... Now go along."
After Jinnie had gone, Mrs. Grandoken sat down opposite her husband.
"The girl looks awful tired," she offered, after a moment's silence.
"She's been earnin' her livin' by the sweat of her brow," replied Lafe, with a wan smile.
"Mebbe she'll get used to it," growled Peg. "Of course I don't like her, but I don't want her hurt. 'Twon't make her sick, will it?"
"No, she's as strong as a little ox. She's got enough strength in her body to work ten times harder, but Peg——" Here Lafe stopped and looked out to the hill beyond the tracks, "but, Peggy, perhaps we c'n find her somethin' else after a while, when there ain't so much fear of her uncle. To make a long story short, Peg, danger of him's the only thing that'll keep the kid luggin' wood."
"I was wonderin'," returned Peg, "if we couldn't get some one interested in 'er—the Kings, mebbe. They're a good sort, with lots of money, an' are more'n smart."
Lafe's eyes brightened visibly, but saddened again. He shook his head.
"We can't get the Kings 'cause I read in the paper last night they're gone away West, to be gone for a year or more.... It's a good idea, though. Some one'll turn up, sure."
"When they do, my man," Peg said quickly, "don't be takin' any credit to yourself, 'cause you hadn't ought to take credit for the plannin' your sharp brains do."
As he shook his head, smiling, she left him quickly and shut the door.
ON THE BROAD BOSOM OF THE "HAPPY IN SPITE"
Thus for one year Jinnie went forth in the morning to gather her shortwood, and to sell it in the afternoon.
Peg always gave her a biscuit to eat during her forenoon's work, and Jinnie, going from house to house later, was often presented with a "hunk of pie," as she afterwards told Lafe. If a housewife gave her an apple, she would take it home to the cobbler and his wife.
Late one afternoon, at the close of a bitter day, Jinnie had finished her work and was resting on the door sill of an empty house on an uptown corner.
She drew forth her money in girlish pride. Twenty-seven cents was what she'd earned,—two cents more than any day since she began working. This money meant much to Jinnie. She hadn't yet received a kiss from Mrs. Grandoken, but was expecting it daily. Perhaps when two cents more were dropped into her hand, Peggy might, just for the moment, forget herself and unwittingly express some little affection for her.
With this joyous anticipation the girl recounted her money, retained sufficient change for the dinner meat, and slipped the rest into her jacket pocket. She rose and had started in the direction of the market when a clamor near the bridge made her pause. A crowd of men and boys were running directly toward her. Above their wild shouts could be heard the orders of a policeman, and now and then the frightened cry of a small child.
At first Jinnie noticed only the people. Then her eyes lowered and she saw, racing toward her, a small, black, woolly dog. The animal, making a wild dash for his life, had in his anguish lost his mental balance, for he took no heed as to where he ran nor what he struck. A louder cry of derision rose up from many throats as the small beast scuttled between the legs of a farmer's horse, which gave him a moment's respite from his tormentors.
An instant later they were clamoring again for his unhappy little life. Suddenly he ran headlong into a tree, striking his shaggy head with terrific force. Then he curled up in a limp little heap, just as Jinnie reached him.
Before Maudlin Bates, the leader of the crowd, arrived, the girl had picked up the insensible dog and thrust him under her jacket.
"He's dead, I guess," she said, looking up into the boy's face, "I'll take him to the cobbler's shop and bury him.... He isn't any good when he's dead."
Maudlin Bates grinned from ear to ear, put his hands behind his back, and allowed his eyes to rove over the girl's straight young figure.
"Billy Maybee was tryin' to tie a tin can to his tail," he explained, stuttering, "and the cur snapped at him. We was goin' to hit his head against the wall."
"He's dead now," assured Jinnie once more. "It isn't any use to smash dead dogs."
This reasoning being unanswerable, Maudlin turned grumblingly away.
Jinnie's heart beat loudly with living hope. Perhaps the little dog wasn't dead. Oh, how she hoped he'd live! She stopped half way home, and pushed aside her jacket and peeped down at him. He was still quite limp, and the girl hurried on. She did not even wait to buy the meat nor the bread Peg had asked her to bring in.
As she hurried across the tracks, she saw Grandoken sitting in the window.
He saluted her with one hand, but as she was using both of hers to hold the dog, she only smiled in return, with a bright nod of her head.
Once in the shop, she looked about cautiously.
"I've got something, Lafe," she whispered, "something you'll like."
When she displayed the hurt dog, Lafe put out his hand.
"Is the little critter dead?" he asked solemnly.
"Oh, I hope not!" replied Jinnie, and excitedly explained the episode.
"Lafe took the foundling in his hands, turning the limp body over and over.
"Jinnie, go ask Peg to bring some hot water in a pan," he said. "We'll give the little feller a chanct to live."
Peg came in with a basin of water, stared at the wide-eyed girl and her smiling husband, then down upon the dog.
"Well, for Lord's sake, where'd you get that little beast?" she demanded. "'Tain't livin', is it? Might as well throw it in the garbage pail."
Nevertheless, she put down the basin as she spoke, and took the puppy from her husband. At variance with her statement that the dog might as well be thrown out, she laid him in the hot water, rubbing the bruised body from the top of its head to the small stubby tail. During this process Lafe had unfastened Jinnie's shortwood strap, and the girl, free, dropped upon the floor beside Peg.
Suddenly the submerged body of the pup began to move.
"He's alive, Peg!" cried Jinnie. "Look at his legs a kicking!... Oh, Lafe, he's trying to get out of the water!"
Peg turned sharply.
"If he ain't dead already," she grunted, "you'll kill him hollerin' like that. Anyway, 'tain't no credit to hisself if he lives. He didn't have nothin' to do with his bein' born, an' he won't have nothin' to do with his goin' on livin'. Shut up, now!... There, massy me, he's coming to."
Jinnie squatted upon her feet, while Lafe wheeled his chair a bit nearer. For some moments the trio watched the small dog, struggling to regain consciousness. Then Peggy took him from the water and wrapped him carefully in her apron.
"Lordy, he's openin' his eyes," she grinned, "an' you, girl, you go in there by the fire an' just hold him in your arms. Mebbe he'll come round all right. You can't put him out in the street till he's better."
For the larger part of an hour, Jinnie held the newcomer close to her thumping heart, and when a spasm of pain attacked the shaggy head resting on her arm, she wept in sympathetic agony. Could Peg be persuaded to allow the dog to stay? She would promise to earn an extra penny to buy food for this new friend. At this opportune moment Mrs. Grandoken arrived from the market.
"How's he comin' on?" she asked, standing over them.
"Fine!" replied Jinnie. "And, Peg, he wants to stay."
"Did he tell y' that?" demanded Peg, grimly.
"Well, he didn't say just those words," said the girl, "but, Peggy, if he could talk, he'd tell you how much he loved you——"
"Look a here, kid," broke in Mrs. Grandoken, "that dog ain't goin' to stay around this house, an' you might as well understand it from the beginnin'. I've enough to do with you an' Lafe an' those cats, without fillin' my house with sick pups. So get that notion right out of your noddle!... See?"
Jinnie bowed her head over the sick dog and made a respectful reply.
"I'll try to get the notion out," said she, "but, Peggy, oh, Peggy dear, I love the poor little thing so awful much that it'll be hard for me to throw him away. Will you send him off when he's better, and not ask me to do it?"
Jinnie cocked her pretty head inquiringly on one side, closed one eye, and looked at Peg from the other.
Peggy sniffed a ruse. She came forward, spread her feet a bit, rolling her hands nervously in her apron. She hated an everlasting show of feelings, but sometimes it was difficult for her to crush the emotions which had so often stirred in her breast since the girl came to live with them.
"I might as well tell you one thing right now, Jinnie Grandoken," she said. "You brought that pup into this house an' you'll take him out, or he won't get took; see?"
There was a certain tone in Peg's voice the girl had heard before.
"Then he won't get kicked out 't all, Peg," she said, with a petulant, youthful smile. "I just won't do it! Lafe can't, and if you don't——"
Mrs. Grandoken made a deep noise in her throat.
"You're a sassy brat," said she, "that's what you are! An' if Lafe don't just about beat the life out of you when I tell him about this, I will, with my own hand, right before his eyes. That's what——"
Jinnie interrupted her eagerly. "Lafe won't beat me," she answered, "but I'll let you make me black and blue, Peg, if I can keep the puppy. Matty used to beat me fine, and she was a good bit stronger'n you."
Peggy's eyes drew down at the corners, and her lip quivered.
"Keep him if you want to, imp of Satan, but some day——here, see if the beast'll eat this bit of meat."
Jinnie placed the shivering dog on the floor, and Peg put a piece of meat under his nose. In her excitement, Jinnie rushed away to Lafe. Peg's mumble followed her even through the closed door.
"Cobbler, oh, dear good Lafe," cried the girl, "the dog's living! Peg says I can keep 'im, and I'm goin' to fiddle for him to-night. Do you think he'll forget all about his hurt if I do that, Lafe?"
At that moment, shamed that she had given in to the importunate Jinnie, Mrs. Grandoken opened the shop door, shoving the half wet dog inside.
"Here's your pup, kid," she growled, "an' y'd best keep him from under my feet if you don't want him stepped on."
The cobbler smiled his slow, sweet smile.
"Peg's heart's bigger'n this house," he murmured. "Bring him here, lassie."
The girl, dog in arms, stood at the cobbler's side.
"What're you goin' to name him?" asked Lafe, tenderly.
"I dunno, but he's awful happy, now he's going to stay with us."
"Call 'im 'Happy Pete'," said the cobbler, smiling, "an' we'll take 'im into our club; shall we, kid?"
So Happy Pete was gathered that day into the bosom of the "Happy in Spite."
WHAT HAPPENED TO JINNIE
With a sigh Jinnie allowed Lafe to buckle the shortwood strap to her shoulder. Oh, how many days she had gone through a similar operation with a similar little sigh!
It was a trying ordeal, that of collecting and selling kindling wood, for the men of Paradise Road took the best of the shortwood to be found in the nearer swamp and marsh lands, and oftentimes it was nearly noon before the girl would begin her sale.
But the one real happiness of her days lay in dropping the pennies she earned into Peg's hand.
Now Peggy didn't believe in spoiling men or children, but one morning, as she tied a scarf about Jinnie's neck, she arranged the black curls with more than usual tenderness.
Pausing at the door and looking back at the woman, Jinnie suddenly threw up her head in determination.
"I love you, Peggy," she said, drawing in a long breath. "Give me a little kiss, will you?"
There! The cat was out of the bag. In another instant Jinnie would know her fate. How she dared to ask such a thing the girl could never afterwards tell.
If Peg kissed her, work would be easy. If she denied her——Peggy glanced at her, then away again, her eyes shifting uneasily.
But after once taking a stand, Jinnie held her ground. Her mouth was pursed up as if she was going to whistle. Would Peg refuse such a little request? Evidently Peggy would, for she scoffingly ordered.
"Go along with you, kid—go long, you flip little brat!"
"I'd like a kiss awful much," repeated Jinnie, still standing. Her voice was low-toned and pleading, her blue eyes questioningly on Peg's face.
Peg shook her head.
"I won't kiss you 'cause I hate you," she sniffed. "I've always hated you."
Jinnie's eyes filled with tears.
"I know it," she replied sadly, "I know it, but I'd like a kiss just the same because—because I do love you, Peg."
A bit of the same sentiment that had worried her for over a year now attacked Mrs. Grandoken. Her common sense told her to dash away to the kitchen, but a tugging in her breast kept her anchored to the spot. Suddenly, without a word, she snatched the girl close to her broad breast and pressed her lips on Jinnie's with resounding smacks.
"There! There! And there!" she cried, between the kisses. "An' if y' ever tell a soul I done it, I'll scrape every inch of skin off'n your flesh, an' mebbe I'll do something worse, I hate y' that bad."
In less seconds than it takes to tell it, Peg let Jinnie go, and the girl went out of the door with a smiling sigh.
"Kisses 're sweeter'n roses," she murmured, walking to the track. "I wish I'd get more of 'em."
She turned back as she heard Peg's voice calling her.
"You might toddle in an' bring home a bit of sausage," said the woman, indifferently, "an' five cents' worth of chopped steak."
Mrs. Grandoken watched Jinnie until she turned the corner. She felt a strangling sensation in her throat.
A little later she flung the kitchen utensils from place to place, and otherwise acted so ugly and out of temper that, had Lafe known the whole incident, he would have smiled knowingly at the far-off hill and held his peace.
Late in the afternoon Jinnie counted seventeen pennies, one dime and a nickel. It was a fortune for any girl to make, and what was better yet, buckled to her young shoulders in the shortwood strap was almost her next day's supply. As she replaced the money in her pocket and walked toward the market, she murmured gravely,
"Mebbe Peg's kisses helped me to get it, but—but I musn't forget Lafe's prayers."
Her smile was radiant and self-possessed. She was one of the world's workers and loved Lafe and Peg and the world with her whole honest young heart.
"Thirty-two cents," she whispered. "That's a pile of money. I wish I could buy Lafe a posy. He does love 'em so, and he can't get out like Peg and me to see beautiful things."
She stopped before a window where brilliant blossoms were exhibited. Ever since she began to work, one of the desires of Jinnie's soul had been to purchase a flower. As she scrutinized the scarlet and white carnations, the deep red roses, and the twining green vines, she murmured.
"Peg loves Lafe even if she does bark at him. She won't mind if I buy him one. I'll make more money to-morrow."
She opened the door of the shop and drew her unwieldy burden carefully inside. A girl stood back of the counter.
"How much're your roses?" asked Jinnie, nodding toward the window and jingling the pennies in her pocket.
"The white ones're five cents a piece," said the clerk, "and the red ones're ten.... Do y' want one?"
"I'll take a white one," replied the purchaser.
"Shall I wrap it in paper?" asked the other.
"No, I'll carry it this way. I'd like to look at it going home."
The girl passed the rose to Jinnie.
"It smells nice, too," she commented.
"Yes," assented Jinnie, delightedly, taking a whiff.
Then she went on to the meat market to buy the small amount of meat required for the three of them.
One of the men grinned at her from the back of the store, calling, "Hello, kid!" and Maudlin Bates, swinging idly on a stool, shouted, "What's wanted now, Jinnie?" and still another man came forward with the question, "Where'd you get the flower, lass?"
"Bought it," replied Jinnie, leaning against the counter. "I got it next door for the cobbler. He's lame and can't get out."
The market man turned to wait upon her.
"Five cents' worth of chopped meat," ordered Jinnie, "and four sausages."
"Ain't you afraid you'll overload your stomachs over there at the cobbler's shop?" laughed one of the men. "I'll tell you what I'll do, Jinnie ... Do you see that ring of sausage hangin' on that hook?"
The girl nodded wonderingly, looking sidewise at Maudlin.
"Well, if you'll give us a dance, a good one, mind you, still keepin' the wood on your back, I'll buy you the hull string. It'll last a week the way you folks eat meat."
Jinnie's face reddened painfully, but the words appealed to her money-earning spirit, and with a curious sensation she glanced around. Could she dance, with the wondering, laughing, admiring gaze of the men upon her? And Maudlin, too! How she detested his lustful, doltish eyes!
She straightened her shoulders, considering. The wood was heavy, and the strap, bound tightly about her chest and arms, made her terribly tired. But a whole string of sausage was a temptation she could not withstand. In her fertile imagination she could see Lafe nod his approbation, and Peggy joyously frying her earnings in the pan. She might even get three more kisses when no one was looking.
"I don't know what to dance," she said presently, studying the rose in her confusion.
"Oh, just anything," encouraged the man on the stool. "I'll whistle a tune."
"Hand her the sausage, butcher;" sniggered Maudlin, "then she'll be sure of it. The feel of it'll make her dance better."
The speaker grinned as the butcher took the string from the hook. Jinnie slipped the stem of the cobbler's rose between her white teeth, grasped the sausage in one hand and gripped the shortwood strap with the other. Then the man started a rollicking whistle, and Jinnie took a step or two.
Every one in the place drew nearer. Here was a sight they never had seen—a lovely, shy-eyed, rosy, embarrassed girl, with a load of kindling wood on the strong young shoulders, turning and turning in the center of the market. In one hand she held a ring of sausage, and between her lips a white rose.
"If you'll give us a grand fine dance, lass," encouraged the butcher, "you c'n have the chopped meat, too."
The man's offer sifted through Jinnie's tired brain and stimulated her to quicker action. She turned again, shifting the weight more squarely on her shoulders, her feet keeping perfect time with the shrill, whistling tune.
"Faster! Faster!" taunted Maudlin. "Earn your meat, girl! Don't be a piker!"
Faster and faster whirled Jinnie, the heft of the shortwood carrying her about in great circles. Her cap had fallen from her head, loosing the glorious curls, and her breath whistled past the stem of Lafe's white flower like night wind past a taut wire.
Jinnie forgot everything but the delight of earning something for her loved ones—something that would bring a caress from Lafe. She was sure of Lafe, very sure!
As voices called "Faster!" and still "Faster!" Jinnie let go the shortwood strap to fling aside her curls. Just at that moment she whirled nearer Maudlin Bates, who thrust forth his great foot and tripped her. As she staggered, not one of those watching had sense enough to catch her as she fell. At that moment the door swung open and Peg Grandoken's face appeared. She looked questioningly at the market man.
"I thought I saw Jinnie come in," she hesitated——
Then realizing something was wrong, her eyes fell upon the stricken girl.
"She was just earnin' a little sausage by dancin'," the butcher excused.
Peggy stared and stared, stunned for the moment. The hangdog expression on Maudlin's face expressed his crime better than words would have done. Jinnie's little form was huddled against the counter, the shortwood scattered around her, and from her forehead blood was oozing. On the slender arm was the ring of sausage and between her set teeth was Lafe's pale rose. With her outraged soul shining in her eyes, Peggy gathered the unconscious girl in her two strong arms.
"I bet you done it, you damn Maudlin!" she gritted, and without another word, left the market.
Within a few minutes she had laid Jinnie on her bed, and was telling Lafe the pathetic story.
There was absolute quiet in the home of the cobbler for over a week. The house hung heavy with gloom. Jinnie Grandoken was fighting a ghastlier monster than even old Matty had created for her amusement.
Of course Jinnie didn't realize this, but two patient watchers knew, and so did a little black dog. To say that Lafe suffered, as Peggy repeated over and over to him the story of Jinnie's loving act, would be words of small import, and through the night hours, when the cobbler relieved his wife at the sick girl's bed, shapes black and forbidding rose before him, menacing the child he'd vowed to protect.
Could it be that Maudlin Bates had anything to do with Jinnie's fall? Even so, he was powerless to shield her from the young wood gatherer. A more perplexing problem had never faced his paternal soul. After his little son had gone away, there had been no child to love until—and now as he looked at Jinnie, agony surged through him with the memory of that other agony—for she might go to little Lafe.
There came again the stabbing pain born with Peg's tale of the dance. The white rose lay withered in the cobbler's bosom where it had been since his girl had been carried to what the doctor said would in all probability be her deathbed. It was on nights like this that dead memories, with solemn mien, raced from their graves, haunting the lame man. Even Lafe's wonderful portion of faith had diminished during the past few days. He found himself praying mighty prayers that Jinnie would be spared, yet in mental bitterness visualizing her death. Oh, to keep yet a while within the confines of his life the child he loved!
"Let 'er stay, Lord dear, let my Rose o' Paradise stay," Lafe cried out into the shadowy night, time and time again.
Peggy came, as she often did, to wheel him away and order him to bed, but this evening Lafe told Peg he'd rather stay with Jinnie.
"She looks like death," he whispered unnerved.
"She is almost dead," replied the woman grimly.
The doctor entered with silent tread. Stealing to the bed, he put his hand on the girl's brow.
"She's better," he whispered, smilingly. "Look! Damp! Nothing could be a surer sign!"
"May the good God be praised!" moaned Lafe.
Jinnie stirred, lifted her heavy lids, and surveyed the room vacantly. Her glance passed over the medical man as if he were not within the range of her vision. She gazed at Lafe only, with but a faint glimmer of recognition, then on to Peg wavered the sunken blue eyes.
"Drink of water, Peggy dear," she whispered.
Mrs. Grandoken dropped the fluid into the open, parched mouth from a spoon; then she bent low to catch the stammering words:
"Did Lafe like the rose, Peggy, and did you get the ring of sausage?"
Peg glanced at the doctor, a question struggling to her lips, but she could not frame the words.
"Tell her 'yes'," said the man under his breath.
"Lafe just doted on the flower, honey," acknowledged Peggy, bending over the bed, "and I cooked all the sausage, an' we two et 'em. They was finer'n silk.... Now go to sleep; will you?"
"Sure," trembled Jinnie. "Put Happy Pete in my arms, dear."
Mrs. Grandoken looked once more at the doctor. He nodded his head slightly.
So with the dog clasped in her arms, Jinnie straightway fell asleep.
Then Peggy wheeled Lafe away to bed, and as she helped him from the chair, she said:
"I lied to her just now with my own mouth, Lafe. I told her we et them sausages. We couldn't eat 'em 'cause they was all mashed up an' covered with blood."
The cobbler's eyes searched the mottled face of the speaker.
"That kind of lies 're blessed by God in his Heaven, Peg," he breathed tenderly. "A lie lendin' a helpin' hand to a sick lass is better'n most truths."
Before going to bed Peg peeped in at Jinnie. The girl still lay with her arm over the sleeping Pete, her eyes roving round the room. She caught sight of the silent woman, and a troubled line formed between her brows.
"How're you going to get money to live, Peggy?" she wailed. "I'm just beginning to remember about the dance and getting hurt."
Peggy stood a moment at the foot of the bed.
"Lafe's got a whole pocket full o' money," she returned glibly.
"That's nice," sighed the girl in relief.
"Shut up now an' go to sleep! Lafe's got enough cash to last a month."
And as the white lids drooped over the violet eyes, Peg Grandoken's guardian angel registered another lie to her credit in the life-book of her Heavenly Father.
WHAT JINNIE FOUND ON THE HILL
The days rolled on and on, and the first warm impulses of spring brought Jinnie, pale and thin, back to Lafe's side.
She was growing so strong that days when the weather permitted, Peg put a wrap on her, telling her to breathe some color into her cheeks.
For a long time Jinnie was willing to remain quietly on the hut steps where she could see the cobbler whacking away on the torn footwear. She knew that if she looked long enough, he would glance up and smile the smile which always warmed the cockles of her loving heart.
As she grew better, and therefore restless, she walked with Happy Pete along the cinder path beside the tracks. Each day she went a little further than the day before, the spirit of adventure beginning to live again within her. The confines of her narrow world were no longer kept taut by the necessity of selling wood, and to-day it seemed to broaden to the far-away hill from whence the numberless fingers of shadow and sunshine beckoned to the sentimental girl.
She wandered through Paradise Road with the little dog as a companion, and finding her way to the board walk, strolled slowly along.
Wandering up above the city, she discovered a lonely spot snuggled in the hills, and gathering Happy Pete into her arms, she lay down. Over her head countless birds sang in the sunshine, and just below, in the hollow, were squirrels, chattering out their happy existence. Dreamily, through the leaves of the trees, Jinnie watched the white clouds float across the sky like flocks of sheep, and soon the peace of the surrounding world lulled her to rest.
When Happy Pete touched her with his slender tongue, Jinnie sat up, staring sleepily around. At a sound, she turned her head and caught sight of a little boy, whose tangled hair lay in yellow curls on his head.
The sight of tears and boyish distress made Jinnie start quickly toward him, but he seemed so timid and afraid she did not speak.
Suddenly, two slight, twig-scratched arms fluttered toward her, and still without a word Jinnie took the trembling hands into hers. Happy Pete crawled cautiously to the girl's side; then, realizing something unusual, he threw up his black-tipped nose and whined. At the faint howl, the boy's hands quivered violently in Jinnie's. He caught his breath painfully.
"Oh, who're you? Are you a boy or a girl?"
His eyes were touched with an indefinable expression. Jinnie flushed as she scanned for a moment her calico skirt and overhanging blouse. Then with a tragic expression she released her hands, and ran her fingers through her hair. With such long curls did she look like a boy?
"I'm a girl," she said. "Can't you see I'm a girl?"
"I'm blind," said the boy, "so—so I had to ask you."
Jinnie leaned forward and scrutinized him intently.
"You mean," she demanded brokenly, "that you can't see me, nor Happy Pete, nor the trees, nor the birds, nor the squirrels, skipping around?"
The boy bowed his head in assent, but brightened almost instantly.
"No, I can't see those things, but I've got lots of stars inside my head. They're as bright as anything, only sometimes my tears put 'em out."
Then, as if he feared he would lose his new friend, he felt for her hand once more.
Jinnie returned the clinging pressure. For the second time in her life her heart beat with that strange emotion—the protective instinct she had felt for her father. She knew at that moment she loved this little lad, with his wide-staring, unseeing eyes.
"I'm lost," said the boy, sighing deeply, "and I cried ever so long, but nobody would come, and my stars all went out."
"Tell me about your stars," she said eagerly. "Are they sky stars?"
"I dunno what sky stars are. My stars shine in my head lovely and I get warm. I'm cold all over and my heart hurts when they go out."
"Oh!" murmured Jinnie. "I wish they'd always shine."
"So do I." Then lifting an eager, sparkling face, he continued, "They're shinin' now, 'cause I found you."
"Where're your folks?" asked Jinnie, swallowing hard.
"I dunno. I lost 'em a long time ago, and went to live with Mag. She licked me every day, so—I just runned away—I've been here a awful long time."
Jinnie considered a moment before explaining an idea that had slipped into her mind as if it belonged there. She would take him home with her.
"You're going to Lafe's house," she announced presently. "Happy Pete and me and Peg live at Lafe Grandoken's home. Peggy makes bully soup."
"And I'm so hungry," sighed the boy. "Where's the dog I heard barking?"
He withdrew his hands, moving them outward, searching for something. The girl tried to push Pete forward, but the dog only snuggled closer to her.
"Petey, dear, I'm ashamed of you!" she chided lovingly. "Can't you see the little fellow's trying to feel you?"
Then Happy Pete, as if he also were ashamed, came within reach of the wavering hands, and crouched low, to be looked over with ten slender finger tips.
"He's awful beautiful!" exclaimed the boy. "His hair's softer'n silk, and his body's as warm as warm can be."
Jinnie contemplated Happy Pete's points of beauty. Never before had she thought him anything more than a homely, lovable dog, with squat little legs, and a pointed nose. In lightninglike comparison she brought to her mind the things she always considered beautiful—the spring violets, the summer roses, that belt of wonderful color skirting the afternoon horizon, and all the wonders of nature of which her romantic world consisted. The contrast between these and the shaking black dog, with his smudge of tangled hair hanging over his eyes, shocked Jinnie's artistic sense.
"If——if you say he's beautiful, then he is," she stammered almost inaudibly.
"Of course he is! What's your name?"
"Jinnie. Jinnie Grandoken... What's yours?"
"Blind Bobbie, or sometimes just Bobbie."
"Well, I'll call you Bobbie, if you want me to.... I like you awful well. I feel it right in here."
She pressed the boy's fingers to her side.
"Oh, that's your heart!" he exclaimed. "I got one too! Feel it jump!"
Jinnie's fingers pressed the spot indicated by the little boy.
"My goodness," she exclaimed, "it'll jump out of your mouth, won't it?"
"Nope! It always beats like that!"
"Where's your mother?" asked Jinnie after a space.
"I suppose she's dead, or Mag wouldn't a had me. I don't know very much, but I 'member how my mother's hands feel. They were soft and warm. She used to come to see me at the woman's house who died—the one who give me to Mag."
"She must have been a lovely mother," commented Jinnie.
"She were! Mag tried to find her 'cause she said she was rich, and when she couldn't, she beat me. I thought mebbe I'd find mother out in the street. That's why I run away."
Jinnie thought of her own dead father, and the child's halting tale brought back that one night of agony when Thomas Singleton died, alone and unloved, save for herself. She wanted to cry, but instead she murmured, "Happy in Spite," as Lafe had bidden her, and the melting mood vanished. The cobbler and his club were always wonderfully helpful to Jinnie.
"My mother told me onct," Bobbie went on, "she didn't have nothin' to live for. I was blind, you see, and wasn't any good—was I?"
The question, pathetically put, prompted Virginia to fling back a ready answer.
"You're good 'nough for me and Happy Pete," she asserted, "and Lafe'll let you be his little boy too."
The blind child gasped, and the girl continued assuringly, "Peg'll love you, too. She couldn't help it."
"Peg?" queried Bobbie.
"Oh, she's Lafe's wife. Happy Pete and me stay in her house."
The blind eyes flashed with sudden hope.
"Mebbe she'll love me a little! Will she?"
"I hope so. Anyway, Lafe will. He loves everybody, even dogs. He'll love you; sure he will!"
The boy shook his head doubtfully.
"Nobody but mothers are nice to blind kids. Well—well—'cept you. I'd like to go to Lafe's house, though, but mebbe the woman wouldn't want me."
Jinnie had her own ideas about this, but because the child's tears fell hot upon her hands, the mother within her grew to greater proportions. Three times she repeated softly, "Happy in Spite."
"Happy in Spite," she whispered again. Then she sat up with a brilliant smile.
"Of course I'm going to take you to Lafe's. Here at Lafe's my heart's awful busy loving everybody. Now I've got you I'm going to take care of you, 'cause I love you just like the rest. Stand up and let me wipe your nose."
"Let me see how you look, first," faltered the boy. "Where's your face?... I want to touch it!"
His little hands reached and found Jinnie's shoulders. Then slowly the fingers moved upwards, pressing here and there upon the girl's skin, as they traveled in rhythmic motion over her cheeks.
"Your hair's awful curly and long," said he. "What color is it?"
"Color? Well, it's black with purple running through it, I guess. People say so anyway!"
"Oh, yes, I know what black is. And your eyes're blue, ain't they?"
"Yes, blue," assented Jinnie. "I see 'em when I slick my hair in the kitchen glass ... I don't think they're much like yours."
Bobbie paid no heed to the allusion to himself.
"Your forehead's smooth, too," he mused. "Your eyes are big, and the lashes round 'em 're long. You're much prettier'n your dog, but then girls 're always pretty."
A flush of pleased vanity reddened Jinnie's skin to the tips of her ears, and she scrambled to her feet. Then she paused, a solemn expression shadowing her eyes.
"Bobbie," she spoke soberly, "now I found you, you belong to me, don't you?"
Bobbie thrust forth his hands.
"Yes, yes," he breathed.
"Then from now on, from this minute, I'm going to work for you."
Jinnie's thoughts were on the shortwood strap, but she didn't mention it. Oh, how she would work for money to give Peg with which to buy food! How happy she would be in the absolute ownership of the boy she had discovered in the hills! Tenderly she drew him to her. He seemed so pitifully helpless.
"How old 're you?" she demanded.
"Nine years old."
"You don't look over five," said Jinnie, surprised.
"That's because I'm always sick," explained the boy.
Jinnie threw up her head.
"Well, a girl sixteen ought to be able to help an awful little boy, oughtn't she?... Here, I'll put my arm round you, right like this."
But the boy made a backward step, so that Jinnie, thinking he was about to fall, caught him sharply by the arm.
"I'll walk if you'll lead me," Bobbie explained proudly.
Thus rebuffed, Jinnie turned the blind face toward the east, and together they made their way slowly to the plank walk.
"HE'S COME TO LIVE WITH US, PEGGY"
They trailed along in silence, the girl watching the birds as flock after flock disappeared in the north woods. Now and then, when Jinnie looked at the boy, she felt the pride which comes only with possession. She was going to work for him, to intercede with Peg, to allow the foundling to join that precious home circle where the cobbler and his wife reigned supreme.
As they reached the plank walk, the boy lagged back.
"I'm tired, girl," he panted. "I've walked till I'm just near dead."
He cried quietly as Jinnie led him into the shadow of a tree.
"Sit here with me," she invited. "Lay your head on my arm."
And this time he snuggled to her till the blind eyes and the pursed delicate mouth were hidden against her arm.
"I told you, Bobbie," Jinnie resumed presently, "I'd let you be Lafe's little boy, didn't I?"
"Yes, girl," replied the boy, sleepily.
"Now wasn't that awful good of me?"
"Awful good," was the dreamy answer. "My stars're glory bright now."
"And most likely Lafe'll help you see with your eyes, just like Happy Pete and me!" Jinnie went on eagerly. "All the trees and hundreds of birds, some of 'em yellow and some of 'em red, an' some of 'em so little and cunning they could jump through the knothole in Peg's kitchen.... Don't you wish to see all that?"
The small face brightened and the unseeing eyes flashed upward.
"I'd find my mother, then," breathed Bobbie.
"And you'd see a big high tree, with a robin making his nest in it!... Have y' ever seen that?"
Jinnie was becoming almost aggressive, for, womanlike, with a point to make, each argument was driven home with more power.
"No," Bobbie admitted, and his voice held a certain tragic little note.
"And you've never seen the red running along the edge of the sky, just when the sun's going down?"
Again his answer was a simple negative.
"And hasn't anybody tried to show you a cow and her calf in the country, nipping the grass all day, in the yellow sunshine?"
Jinnie was waxing eloquent, and her words held high-sounding hope. The interest in the child's face invited her to go on.
"Now I've said I'd let my folks be yours, and didn't I find you, and have you got any one else? If you don't let me help you to Lafe's, how you going to see any of 'em?" She paused before delivering her best point, which was addressed quite indifferently to the sky. "And just think of that hot soup!"
This was enough. Bobbie struggled up, flushed and agitated.
"Put your arm around me, girl," which invitation Jinnie quickly accepted.
Then they two, so unlike, went slowly down the walk toward the tracks to Lafe Grandoken's home.
Jinnie's heart vied with a trip-hammer as they turned into Paradise Road. She did not fear the cobbler, but the thought of Peggy's harsh voice, her ruthless catechizing, worried her not a little. Nevertheless, she kept her arm about the boy, steadily drawing him on. When they came to the side door of the house, the girl turned the handle and walked in, leading her weary companion.
Resolutely she passed on to the kitchen, for she wanted the disagreeable part over first. She fumbled in hesitation with the knob of the door, and Peg, hearing her, opened it. At first, the woman saw only Jinnie, with Happy Pete by her side. Then her gaze fell upon the other child, whose blind, entreating eyes were turned upward in supplication.
"This is Bobbie," announced Jinnie, "and he's come to live with us, Peggy."
Poor Peggy stared, surprised to silence. She could find no words to fit the occasion.
"He hasn't any home!" Jinnie gasped for breath in her excitement. "Mag, a woman somewhere, beat him and he ran away and I found 'im. So he belongs to us now."
She was gaining assurance every moment. She hoped that Peggy was silently acquiescing, for the woman hadn't uttered a word; she was merely looking from one to the other with her characteristically blank expression.
"I'm going to give him half of Lafe, too," confided Jinnie, nodding her head toward the waiting child.
Then Peggy burst forth in righteous indignation. She demanded to know how another mouth was to be fed, and clothes washed and mended; where the brat was to sleep, and what good he was anyway.
"Do you think, kid," she stormed at Jinnie, "you're so good yourself we're wantin' to take another one worser off'n you are? Don't believe it! He can't stay here!"
Jinnie held her ground bravely.
"Oh, I'll start right out and sell wood all day long, if you'll let him stay, Peg."
A tousled lock of yellow hair hung over Bobbie's eyes.
"Oh, Peggy, dear, Mrs. Good Peggy, let me stay!" he moaned, swaying. "I'm so tired, s'awful tired. I can't find my mother, nor no place, and my stars're all out!"
Sobbing plaintively, he sank to the floor, and there the childish heart laid bare its misery. Then Jinnie, too, became quite limp, and forgetting all about "Happy in Spite," she knelt alongside of her newly acquired friend, and the two despairing young voices rose to the woman standing over them. Jinnie thrust her arms around the little boy.
"Don't cry, my Bobbie," she sobbed. "I'll go back to the hills with you, because you need me. We'll live with the birds and squirrels, and I'll sell wood so we c'n eat."
When she raised her reproachful eyes to Peg, and finished with a swipe at her offending nose with her sleeve, she had never looked more beautiful, and Peggy glanced away, fearing she might weaken.
"Tell Lafe I love him, and I love you, too, Peggy. I'll come every day and see you both, and bring you some money."
If she had been ten years older or had spent months framing a speech to fit the need of this occasion, Jinnie could not have been more effective, for Peg's rage entirely ebbed at these words.
"Get up, you brats," she ordered grimly. "An' you listen to me, Jinnie Grandoken. Your Bobbie c'n stay, but if you ever, so long as you live, bring another maimed, lame or blind creature to this house, I'll kick it out in the street. Now both of you climb up to that table an' eat some hot soup."
Jinnie drew a long breath of happiness. She had cried a little, she was sorry for that. She had broken her resolve always to smile—to be "Happy in Spite."
"I'll never bring any one else in, Peg," she averred gratefully.
Then she remembered how sweeping was her promise and changed it a trifle.
"Of course if a kid was awful sick in the street and didn't have a home, I'd have to fetch it in, wouldn't I?"
Peggy flounced over to the table, speechless, followed by the two children.
"WHO SAYS THE KID CAN'T STAY?"
Twenty minutes later Mrs. Grandoken entered the shop and sat down opposite her husband.
"Lafe," she began, clearing her throat.
The cobbler questioned her with a glance.
"That girl'll be the death of this hull shanty," she announced huskily. "I hate 'er more'n anything in the world."
Lafe placed a half-mended shoe beside him on the bench.
"What's ailin' 'er now, Peggy?"
"Oh, she ain't sick," interrupted Peg, with curling lip. "She never looked better'n she does this minute, settin' in there huddlin' that pup, but she's brought home another kid, as bad off as a kid can be."
"A what? What'd you say, Peg? You don't mean a youngster!"
Mrs. Grandoken bobbed her head, her face stoically expressionless. "An' bad off," she repeated querulously. "The young 'un's blind."
Before Lafe's mental vision rose Jinnie's lovely face, her parted lips and self-assured smile.
"But where'd she get it? It must belong to some 'un."
Mrs. Grandoken shook her head.
"I dunno. It's a boy. He was with a woman—a bad 'un, I gather. She beat 'im until the little feller ran away to find his own folks, he says—and—Jinnie brought 'im home here. She says she's goin' to keep 'im."
The speaker drew her brown skin into a network of wrinkles.
"Where'd she find 'im?" Lafe burst forth, "Of course he can't stay——"
Mrs. Grandoken checked the cobbler's words with a rough gesture.
"Hush a minute! She got 'im over near the plank walk on the hill—he was cryin' for 'is ma."
Lafe was plainly agitated. He felt a spasmodic clutch at his heart when he imagined the sorrow of a homeless, blind child, but thinking of Peg's struggle to make a little go a long way, he dashed his sympathy resolutely aside.
"Of course he can't stay—he can't!" he murmured. "It ain't possible for you to keep 'im here."
In his excitement Lafe bent forward and closed his hands over Peg's massive shoulder bones. Peggy coughed hoarsely and looked away.
"Who says the kid can't stay?" she muttered roughly. "Who said he can't?"
The words jumped off the woman's tongue in sullen defiance.
"But you got too much to do now, Peg. We've made you a lot of trouble, woman dear, an' you sure don't want to take another——"
Like a flash, Peg's features changed. She squinted sidewise as if a strong light suddenly hurt her sight.
"Who said I didn't?" she drawled. "Some husbands do make me mad, when they're tellin' me what I want, an' what I don't want. I hate the blind brat like I do the girl, but he's goin' to stay just the same."
A deep flush dyed Lafe's gray face. The intensity of his emotion was almost a pain. Life had ever vouchsafed Lafe Grandoken encouragement when the dawn was darkest. Now Peg's personal insult lined his clouds of fear with silver, and they sailed away in rapid succession as quickly as they had come; he saw them going like shadows under advancing sun rays.
"Peggy," he said, touching her gently, "you've the biggest heart in all the world, and you're the very best woman; you be, sure! If you let the poor little kid stay, I'll make more money, if God gives me strength."
Peggy pushed Lafe's hand from her arm.
"I 'spose if you do happen to get five cents more, you'll puff out with pride till you most bust.... Anyway, it won't take much more to buy grub for a kid with an appetite like a bird.... Come on! I'll wheel you to the kitchen so you can have a look at 'im."
Jinnie glanced around as the husband and wife entered the room. She pushed Happy Pete from her lap and got up.
"Lafe," she exclaimed, "this is Bobbie—he's come to live with us."
She drew the blind boy from his chair and went forward.
"Bobbie," she explained, "this is the cobbler. I told you about him in the park. See 'im with your fingers once, and you'll know he's the best man ever."
The small boy lifted two frail arms, his lips quivering in fright and homesickness. Some feeling created by God rose insistent within Lafe. It was a response from the heart of the Good Shepherd, who had always gathered into his fold the bruised ones of the world. Lafe drew the child to his lap.
"Poor little thing!" he murmured sadly.
With curling lips, his wife stood watching the pair.
"You're a bigger fool'n I thought you was, Lafe Grandoken," she said, turning away sharply. "I wouldn't make such a fuss over no one livin'. That's just what I wouldn't."
She threw the last remark over her shoulder as if it were something she spurned and wanted to be rid of.
Bobbie slipped from Lafe's arms and described a zigzag course across the kitchen floor toward the place where Mrs. Grandoken stood. His hands fluttered over Peg's dress, as high as they could reach.
"I like you awful well, Mrs. Peggy," he told her, "and I just love your kisses, too, Mrs. Peggy dear. They made my stars shine all over my head."
The cobbler's wife started guiltily, casting her eyes upon Lafe. He was silent, his patient face expressing melancholy sweetness. As far as the woman could determine, he had not heard the boy's words. Relieved, she allowed her eyes to rest upon Jinnie. The girl was looking directly at her. Then Jinnie slowly dropped one white lid over a bright, gleeful blue eye in a wicked little wink. This was more than Peggy could endure. She had kissed the little boy several times during the process of washing the tear-stained face and combing the tangled hair, but that any one should know it! Just then, Peggy secretly said to herself, "If uther one of them kids get any more kisses from me, it'll be when water runs uphill. I 'spose now I'll never hear the last of them smacks."
"Let go my skirt! Get away, kid," she ordered Bobbie.
The boy dropped his hands reluctantly. He had hoped for another kiss.
"Peggy," said Lafe, "can I hold him? He seems so sad."
Mrs. Grandoken, consciously grim, placed the boy in her husband's lap.
"You see," philosophized Jinnie, when she and the blind child were with the cobbler, "if a blind kid hasn't any place to live, the girl who finds 'im has to bring him home! Huh, Lafe?"
Then she whispered in his ear, "Couldn't Bobbie join the 'Happy in Spite'?"
"Sure he can, lass; sure he can," assented Lafe.
Jinnie whirled back to the little boy.
"Bobbie, would you like to come in a club that'll make you happy as long's you live?"
The bright blind eyes of the boy flashed from Jinnie to the man, and he got to his feet tremulously. In his little mind, out of which daylight was shut, Jinnie's words presaged great joy. The girl took his hand and led him to the cobbler.
"You'll have to explain the club to 'im, Lafe," she said.
"Yes, 'splain it to me, Lafe dearie," purred Bobbie.
"It's just a club," began Lafe, "only good to keep a body happy. Now, me—well, I'm happy in spite a-havin' no legs; Jinnie there, she's happy in spite a-havin' no folks. Her and me's happy in spite a everything."
Bobbie stood alongside Lafe's bench, one busy set of fingers picking rhythmically at the cobbler's coat, the other having sought and found his hand.
"I want to be in the club, cobbler," he whispered.
Mr. Grandoken stooped and kissed the quivering face.
"An' you'll be happy in spite a havin' no eyes?" he questioned.
The little boy, pressing his cheek against the man's arm, cooed in delight.
"And happy in spite of not finding your mother right yet?" interjected Jinnie.
"Yes, yes, 'cause I am happy. I got my beautiful Peggy, ain't I? And don't she make me a hull lot of fine soup, and ain't I got Lafe, Happy Pete——"
"You got me, too, Bobbie," Jinnie reminded him gently.
Bobbie acquiesced by a quick bend of his head, and Lafe grasped his hand.
"Now you're a member of the 'Happy in Spite', Bob," said he smiling. "This club is what I call a growin' affair. Four members——"
"Everybody's in," burst forth Jinnie.
"Except Peggy," sighed Lafe. "Some day something'll bring her in, too."
JINNIE'S EAR GETS A TWEAK
Bobbie had been at the Grandoken home scarcely a week before Jinnie again got into difficulty. One morning, wide-awake, beside the blind boy, she happened to glance toward the door. There stood Peg, her face distorted by rage, staring at her with terrible eyes. Jinnie sat up in a twinkling.
"What is it, Peggy, dear?" she faltered. "What have I done now?"
Without reply, Peggy marched to the bed and took the girl by the ear. In this way she pulled her to the floor, walking her ahead of her to the kitchen.
"I don't know what I've done, Peggy," repeated Jinnie, meekly.
"I'll show you. You'll know, all right, miss! Now if you've eyes, squint down there!"
She was pointing to the floor, and as the room was rather dark, Jinnie at first could discern nothing. Then as her eyes became accustomed to the shadows, she saw——
"Oh, what is it, Peggy? Oh, my! Oh, my!"
Peggy gave her a rough little shake.
"I'll tell you what, Jinnie Grandoken, without any more ado. Well, they're cats, just plain everyday cats! Another batch of Miss Milly Ann's kits, if y' want to know. They can't stay in this house, miss, an' when I say a thing, I mean it! My word's law in this shanty!"
She was still holding the girl's ear, and suddenly gave it another tweak. Jinnie pulled this tender member from Peggy's fingers with a delighted little chuckle.
"Peggy darling, aren't they sweet? Oh, Peggy——"
"Ain't they sweet?" mimicked Peggy. "They're just sweet 'nough to get chucked out. Now, you get dressed, an' take 'em somewhere. D' you hear?"
Jinnie wheeled about for another tug of war. It was dreadful how she had to fight with Peggy to get her own way about things like this. First with Happy Pete, then with Bobbie, and now—to-day—with five small kittens, not one of them larger than the blind child's hand. She looked into Mrs. Grandoken's face, which was still grim, but Jinnie decided not quite so grim as when the woman appeared at her bedroom door.
"I suppose you'll go in an' honey round Lafe in a minute, thinkin' he'll help you keep 'em," said Mrs. Grandoken. "But this time it won't do no good."
"Peggy!" blurted Jinnie.
"Shut your mouth! An' don't be Peggyin' me, or I'll swat you," vowed Peg.
The woman glared witheringly into a pair of beseeching blue eyes.
"Get into your clothes, kid," she ordered immediately, "then you——"
"Then I'll come back, dear," gurgled Jinnie, "and do just what you want me to." Then with subtle modification, she continued, "I mean, Peg, I'll do just what you want me to after I've talked about it a bit... Oh, please, let me give 'em one little kiss apiece."
Peggy flounced to the stove.
"Be a fool an' kiss 'em if you want to... I hate 'em."
In the coarse nightdress Peggy had made for her, Jinnie sat down beside Milly Ann. The yellow mother purred in delight. She'd brought them five new babies, and no idea entered her mother heart that she would have to part with even one.
Out came the kittens into the girl's lap, and one by one they were tenderly lifted to be kissed. Both Peggy and the kisser were silent while this loving operation was in process. Then Jinnie, still sitting, looked from Milly Ann to Peggy.
"I guess she's awful fond of her children, don't you, Peg?"
Peggy didn't answer.
"You see it's like this, Peg——"
"Didn't I tell you not to Peggy me?"
"Then it's like this, darling," drawled Jinnie, trying to be obedient.
"An' you needn't darlin' me nuther," snapped Peggy.
Jinnie thought a minute.
"Then it's like this, honey bunch," she smiled again.
Peg whirled around on her.
"Say, you kid——"
"Wait, dearie!" implored Jinnie. "Don't you know mother cats always love their kitties just like live mothers do their babies?"
Peggy rattled the stove lids outrageously. Hearing these words, she stopped abruptly. Who knows where her thoughts flew? Jinnie didn't, for sure, but she thought, by the sudden change of Mrs. Grandoken's expression, she could guess.
The woman looked from Milly Ann to the wriggling kittens in Jinnie's lap, then she stooped down and again brought to view Jinnie's little ear tucked away under the black curls.
"Get up out o' here an' dress; will you? I've said them cats've got to go, and go they will!"
Jinnie returned the kittens to their mother, and when she got back to her room, Bobbie was sitting up in bed rubbing his eyes.
"I couldn't find you, girl," he whimpered. "I felt the bed over and you was gone."
Jinnie bent over him.
"Peg took me out in the kitchen, dear... What do you think, Bobbie?"
Bobbie began to tremble.
"I got to go away from here ... eh?"
"Mercy, no!" laughed Jinnie. "Milly Ann's got a lot of new babies."
Bobbie gave a delighted squeal.
"Now I'll have something else to love, won't I?" he gurgled.
Jinnie hoped so! But she hadn't yet received Peg's consent to keep the family, so when the little boy was dressed and she had combed her hair and dressed herself, they went into the shop, where the cobbler met them with a smile.
"Peg's mad," Jinnie observed with a comprehensive glance at Mr. Grandoken.
"Quite so," replied Lafe, grinning over the bowl of his pipe. "She had frost on her face a inch thick when she discovered them cats. I thought she'd hop right out of the window."
"She says I must throw 'em away," ventured Jinnie.
"Cluck! Cluck!" struck Lafe's tongue against the roof of his mouth, and he smiled. Jinnie loved that cluck. It put her in mind of the Mottville mother hens scratching for their chickens.
"Hain't she ever said anything like that to you before, lass?" the cobbler suggested presently.
"She said it about me," piped in Bobbie.
"An' about Happy Pete, too," added Lafe.
"I bet I keep 'em," giggled Jinnie.
"I'll bet with you, kid," said the cobbler gravely.
"I want to see 'em!" Bobbie clamored with a squeak.
But he'd no more than made the statement before the door burst violently open and Peg stood before them. Her apron was gathered together in front, held by one gripping hand; something moved against her knees as if it were alive. In the other hand was Milly Ann, carried by the nape of her neck, hanging straight down at the woman's side, her long yellow tail dragging on the floor. The woman looked like an avenging angel.
"I've come to tell you folks something," she imparted in a very loud voice. "Here's this blasted ragtail, that's went an' had this batch of five cats. Now I'm goin' to warn y' all——"
Bobbie interrupted her with a little yelp.
"Let me love one, Peggy, dear," he begged.
"I'm goin' to warn you folks," went on Peg, without heeding the child's interjection, "that—if—you don't want their necks wrung, you'd better keep 'em out of my way."
Saying this, she dropped the mother cat with a soft thud, and without looking up, dumped the kittens on top of her, and stalked out of the room.
When Jinnie appeared five minutes later in the kitchen with a small kitten in her hand, Peg was stirring the mush for breakfast.
"You hate the kitties, eh, Peg?" asked Jinnie.
The two tense wrinkles at the corners of Mrs. Grandoken's mouth didn't relax by so much as a hair's line.
"Hate 'em!" she snapped, "I should say I do! I hate every one of them cats, and I hate you, too! An' if y' don't like it, y' can lump it. If the lumps is too big, smash 'em."
"I know you hate us, darling," Jinnie admitted, "but, Peg, I want to tell you this: it's ever so much easier to love folks than to hate 'em, and as long as the kitties're going to stay, I thought mebbe if you kissed 'em once—" Then she extended the kitten. "I brought you one to try on."
"Well, Lord-a-massy, the girl's crazy!" expostulated Peg. "Keep the cats if you're bound to, you kid, but get out of this kitchen or I'll kiss you both with the broom."
Jinnie disappeared, and Peggy heard a gleeful laugh as the girl scurried back to the shop.
JINNIE DISCOVERS HER KING'S THRONE
Two years and almost half of another had passed since Jinnie first came to live with Lafe and Peggy Grandoken. These two years had meant more to her than all the other fifteen in her life. Lafe, in his kindly, fatherly way, daily impressed upon her the need of her studying and no day passed without planting some knowledge in the eager young mind.
Her mornings were spent gathering shortwood, her afternoons in selling it, but the hours outside these money-earning duties were passed between her fiddle and her books. The cobbler often remarked that her mumbling over those difficult lessons at his side taught him more than he'd ever learned in school. Sometimes when they were having heart-to-heart talks, Jinnie confided to him her ambitions.
"I'd like to fiddle all my life, Lafe," she told him once. "I wonder if people ever made money fiddling; do they, Lafe?"
"I'm afraid not, honey," he answered, sadly.
"But you like it, eh, Lafe?"
"Sure!... Better'n anything."
One day in the early summer, when there was a touch of blue mist in the clear, warm air, Jinnie wandered into the wealthy section of the town, hoping thereby to establish a new customer or two.
Maudlin Bates had warned her not to enter his territory or to trespass upon his part of the marshland, and for that reason she had in the past but turned longing eyes to the hillside besprinkled with handsome homes.
But Lafe replied, when she told him this, "No section belongs to Maudlin alone, honey.... Just go where you like."
She now entered a large open gate into which an automobile had just disappeared, and walked toward the house.
She paused to admire the exterior of the mansion. On the front, the porches were furnished with rocking chairs and hammocks, but no person was in sight. She walked around to the back, but as she was about to knock, a voice arrested her action.
"Do you want to see somebody?"
She turned hastily. There before her was her King, the man she had met on that memorable night more than two years before. He doffed his cap smiling, recognizing her immediately, and Jinnie flushed to the roots of her hair, while the shortwood strap slipped slowly from her shoulders.
"Ah, you have something to sell?" he interrogated.
Jinnie's tongue clove to the roof of her mouth. She had never completely forgotten him, and his smile was a delightful memory. Now as he watched her quizzically, all her former admiration returned.
"Well, well," laughed the man, "if this isn't my little violin girl. It's a long time since I saw you last.... Do you love your music as much as ever?"
Her first glance at him brought the flushing consciousness that she was but a shortwood gatherer; the strap and its burden placed a great barrier between them. But his question about the fiddle, her fiddle, placed her again on equal footing with him. She permitted herself to smile.
"I play every day. My uncle loves it, but my aunt doesn't," she answered naively.
"And you're selling wood?"
"Yes, I must help a little."
She made the assertion proudly, offering no excuse for her chosen trade.
"And this is all for sale?" indicating the wood.
"Yes," said Jinnie, looking down upon it.
"I'll take it all," Theodore offered, putting his hand into his pocket. "How much do you want for it?"
The girl gave him a puzzled glance. "I don't just know, but I wish——I wish I could give it to you without any pay."
She moved a little closer and questioned eagerly:
"Won't you please take it?"
An amused expression crossed the man's handsome face.
"Of course not, my child," he exclaimed. "That wouldn't be business. I want to buy it.... How about a dollar?"
Jinnie gasped. A dollar, a whole dollar! She made but little more during an entire week; she had made less. A dollar would buy——Then a thought flashed across her mind.
"I couldn't take a dollar," she refused, "it's too much. It's only worth about twenty cents."
"But if I choose to give you a dollar?" pursued the man.
Again the purple black curls shook decidedly.
"I couldn't take more'n it's worth. My uncle wouldn't like me to. He says all we can expect in this world's our own and no more. Twenty cents is all."
Mr. King studied her face, thoughtfully.
"I've an idea, a good one. Now what do you say to furnishing me wood every morning, say at fifty cents a day. We use such a lot! You could bring a little more if you like or—or come twice."
Jinnie could scarcely believe she'd heard aright. Unshed tears dimmed her eyes.
"I wouldn't have to peddle to any one else, then, would I?" she stammered.
"No! That's just what I meant."
Then the tears welled over the drooping lids and a feeling of gratitude surged through the girl's whole being. Fifty cents a day! It was such a lot of money—as much as Lafe made five days out of six.
Jinnie sent the man a fleeting glance, meeting his smiling eyes with pulsing blood.
"I'd love to do it," she whispered gratefully. "Then I'd have a lot of time to—to—fiddle."
Mr. King's hand slipped into his pocket.
"I'll pay you fifty cents for to-day's wood," he decided, "and fifty for what you're going to bring to-morrow. Is that satisfactory?"
As if in a dream, Jinnie tumbled out the contents of the shortwood strap. As she took the money from Mr. King's hand, his fingers touched hers; she thrilled to the tips of her curls. Then she ran hastily down the long road, only turning to glance back when she reached the gate. Mr. King stood just where she had left him, and was looking after her. He raised his cap, and Jinnie, with burning face, fled on again.
She wondered what Lafe would say about her unexpected good fortune. She would tell him first, before she saw Peggy. She imagined how the sweet smile would cross his lips, and how he would put his arm gently around her.
Lafe heard her open the side door and called,
"Come in, honey!... Come on in."
She entered after one hasty glance proved the cobbler was alone.
"You sold quick to-day, lass," said he, holding out his hand.
Jinnie had planned on the way home to make great rehearsing of Theodore King's kindness, but in another instant she broke forth:
"Lafe, Lafe! I've got something to tell you! Oh, a lovely something! I sold all the wood to one man, and I'm going to take him a load every day, and get fifty cents for it. Regular customer, Lafe!... Here's a dollar for Peg."
Lafe did just what Jinnie expected he would, slipped an arm about her waist.
"The good God be praised!" he ejaculated. "Stand here an' tell me all about it."
"It was Mr. King——"
"Theodore King?" asked Lafe. "Why, he's the richest man in town. He owns the iron works."
Jinnie nodded. "Yes! He's the one I played for in the train when I first came here. You remember my telling you, Lafe? And he wants wood every day from me. Isn't it fine?"
"'Tis so!" affirmed Lafe. "Jinnie, lass, them angels come in shapes of human bein's—mostly so. Now go tell Peggy. It'll take a load off'n her heart."
As Jinnie told her story to Mrs. Grandoken and handed her the money, the woman's lips twitched at the corners, but she only said, warningly:
"Don't get a swelled head over your doin's, lass, for a brat ain't responsible for her own smartness."
One morning, about a week afterward, Jinnie rapped at the back door of the King mansion.
"Is Mr. King in?" she asked timidly of the servant.
The girl stared hard at the flushed, pretty face.
"He's in, but you can leave the wood if you want to."
"No," refused Jinnie. "I want to see him."
The maid turned away, grumbling, and Jinnie backed from the door with bated breath.
Mr. King appeared immediately, seemingly embarrassed. He took both her hands.
"Why, my dear child!" he exclaimed. "I'd completely forgotten to leave the money for the wood, and you've been bringing it every day."
"Peggy made the dollar go a long ways—that and Lafe's money. We didn't need any till to-day.... So—so I asked for you."
"I'm glad you did," responded King, counting and giving her the money.
Then his glance fell upon the bulging shortwood strap.
"I'm afraid you carry too much at a time," he admonished, gravely. "You mustn't do that."
Jinnie dropped her eyes.
"I was talking to my uncle about it," she explained embarrassedly, "and he thought same's I, that you were paying too much for that little wood. I'm goin' to bring more after this."
"I'm satisfied, though, and I can't have you hurting yourself by being too strenuously honest.... I might—yes, I will! I'll send for you every day or every other——"
Jinnie's eyes lighted up with happiness.
"Oh, sir,——" she began entreatingly.
"Wait——" said Mr. King. "It's this way! If you brought it up here in one of my cars, it would save a lot of your time, and you wouldn't have to come every day."
"I could fiddle more," Jinnie blurted radiantly. She remembered how sympathetically he had listened to her through the blizzard. He liked the fiddle! She went a little nearer him. "I'm trying to make a tune different from any I've ever done, and I can't always play well after lugging shortwood all day.... I'd love to deliver it the way you said."
King stood gazing at her. How strangely beautiful she was! Something in the wind-browned face stirred his heart to its depths.
"Then that's settled," he said kindly. "You tell me where to have my man and what time, and to-morrow he'll meet you."
Jinnie thought a moment.
"I wonder if he knows where Paradise Road ends near the edge of the marsh."
"He could find it, of course."
"There's a path going into the marsh right at the end of the road. I'll meet him there to-morrow at twelve o'clock, and—and I'm so much obliged to you."
When Jinnie told Lafe of the new arrangement, she gurgled with joy.
"Lafe, now I'll make that tune."
"Yes, honey," murmured Lafe contentedly. "Now get your fiddle and practice; after that you c'n study a while out of that there grammar book."
RED ROSES AND YELLOW
The days went on peacefully after the new arrangements for the shortwood. Every other day, at twelve o'clock, one of Theodore King's cars waited for Jinnie at the head of the path leading into the marsh.
When the weather was stormy, Bennett, the chauffeur, took the wood, telling Jinnie to run along home.
All this made it possible for Jinnie to study profitably during the warm months, and by the last of August she had mastered many difficult subjects. Lafe helped her when he could, but often shook his head despondently as she sat down beside him on the bench, asking his advice.
"The fact is, honey, I ain't got much brains," he said to her one afternoon. "If I hung by my neck till I could see through them figures, I'd be as dead as Moses."
One Thursday morning, as she climbed into the big car with her load, Bennett said,
"I ain't goin' to pay you this mornin'! The boss'll do it. Mr. King wants to see you."
Jinnie nodded, her heart pounding.
It was delightful to contemplate seeing him once more. She wondered where he had been all these days and if he had thought of her. Jinnie's pulses were galloping along like a race horse. She stood quietly until the master was called, and he came quickly without making her wait.
"I'm going to ask you to do me a favor," he said, coming forward, holding out his hand.
Now when Jinnie first heard that he wished to see her, she thought her heart could beat no faster, but his words made that small organ tattoo against her sides like the flutter of a bird's wing in fright. She could do something for him! Oh, what joy! What unutterable joy!