V. IN THE BISHOP'S HOUSE
Tode's patrons were mostly newsboys of his acquaintance, who came pretty regularly to his stand for breakfast, and generally for a midday meal, lunch or dinner as it might be. Where they took their supper he did not know, but he usually closed his place of business after one o'clock, and spent a couple of hours roaming about the streets doing any odd job that came in his way, if he happened to feel like it, or to be in need of money.
After his meeting with the bishop he often wandered up into the neighbourhood of St. Mark's with a vague hope that he might see again the man who seemed to his boyish imagination a very king among men. It had long been Tode's secret ambition to grow into a big, strong man himself—bigger and stronger than the common run of men. Now, whenever he thought about it, he said to himself, "Just like the bishop."
But he never met the bishop, and having found out that he did not preach regularly at St. Mark's, Tode never went there after the second time.
One afternoon in late September, the boy was lounging along with Tag at his heels in the neighbourhood of the church, when he heard a great rattling of wheels and clattering of hoofs, and around the corner came a pair of horses dragging a carriage that swung wildly from side to side, as the horses came tearing down the street. There was no one in the carriage, but the driver was puffing along a little way behind, yelling frantically, "Stop 'em! Stop 'em! Why don't ye stop the brutes!"
There were not many people on the street, and the few men within sight seemed not at all anxious to risk life or limb in an attempt to stop horses going at such a reckless pace.
Now Tode was only a little fellow not yet fourteen, but he was strong and lithe as a young Indian, and as to fear—he did not know what it was. As he saw the horses dashing toward him he leaped into the middle of the street and stood there, eyes alert and limbs ready, directly in their pathway. They swerved aside as they approached him, but with a quick upward spring he grabbed the bit of the one nearest him, and hung there with all his weight. This frightened and maddened the horse, and he plunged and reared and flung his head from side to side, until he succeeded in throwing the boy off. The delay however, slight as it was, had given the driver time to come up, and he speedily regained control of his team while a crowd quickly gathered.
Tode had been flung off sidewise, his head striking the curbstone, and there he lay motionless, while faithful Tag crouched beside him, now and then licking the boy's fingers, and whining pitifully as he looked from face to face, as if he would have said,
"Won't some of you help him? I can't."
The crowd pressed about the unconscious boy with a sort of morbid curiosity, one proposing one thing and one another until a policeman came along and promptly sent a summons for an ambulance; but before it appeared, a tall grey-haired man came up the street and stopped to see what was the matter. He was so tall that he could look over the heads of most of the men, and as he saw the white face of the boy lying there in the street, he hastily pushed aside the onlookers as if they had been men of straw, and stooping, lifted the boy in his strong arms.
"Stand back," he cried, his voice ringing out like a trumpet, "would you let the child die in the street?"
They fell back before him, a whisper passing from lip to lip. "It's the bishop!" they said, and some ran before him to open the gate and some to ring the bell of the great house before which the accident had occurred.
Mechanically the bishop thanked them, but he looked at none of them. His eyes were fixed upon the face that lay against his shoulder, the blood dripping slowly from a cut on one side of the head.
The servant who opened the door stared for an instant wonderingly, at his master with the child in his arms, and at the throng pressing curiously after them, but the next moment he recovered from his amazement and, admitting the bishop, politely but firmly shut out the eager throng that would have entered with him. A lank, rough-haired dog attempted to slink in at the bishop's heels, but the servant gave him a kick that made him draw back with a yelp of pain, and he took refuge under the steps where he remained all night, restless and miserable, his quick ears yet ever on the alert for a voice or a step that he knew.
As the door closed behind the bishop, he exclaimed,
"Call Mrs. Martin, Brown, and then send for the doctor. This boy was hurt at our very door."
Brown promptly obeyed both orders, and Mrs. Martin, the housekeeper, hastily prepared a room for the unexpected guest. The doctor soon responded to the summons, but all his efforts failed to restore the boy to consciousness that day. The bishop watched the child as anxiously as if it had been one of his own flesh and blood. He had neither wife nor child, but perhaps all the more for that, his great heart held love enough and to spare for every child that came in his way.
It was near the close of the following day when Tode's eyes slowly opened and he came back to consciousness, but his eyes wandered about the strange room and he still lay silent and motionless. The doctor and the bishop were both beside him at the moment and he glanced from one face to the other in a vague, doubtful fashion. He asked no question, however, and soon his eyes again closed wearily, but this time in sleep, healthful and refreshing, instead of the stupor that had preceded it, and the doctor turned away with an expression of satisfaction.
"He'll pull through now," he said in a low tone. "He's young and full of vitality—he'll soon be all right."
The bishop rubbed his hands with satisfaction. "That's well! That's well!" he exclaimed, heartily.
The doctor looked at him curiously. "Did you ever see the lad before you picked him up yesterday?" he asked.
"No, never," answered the bishop, who naturally had not recognised in Tode the boy whom he had taken into church that Sunday, weeks before.
The doctor shook his head as he drove off and muttered to himself,
"Whoever saw such a man! Who but our bishop would ever think of taking a little street urchin like that right into his home and treating him as if he were his own flesh and blood! Well, well, he himself gets taken in often no doubt in another fashion, but all the same the world would be the better if there were more like him!"
And if the doctor's pronouns were a little mixed he himself understood what he meant, and nobody else had anything to do with the matter.
The next morning Tode awoke again and this time to a full and lively consciousness of his surroundings. It was still early and the nurse was dozing in an easy-chair beside the bed. The boy looked at her curiously, then he raised himself on his elbow and gazed about him, but as he did so he became conscious of a dull throbbing pain in one side of his head and a sick faintness swept over him. It was his first experience of weakness, and it startled him into a faint groan as his head fell back on the pillow.
The sound awoke the nurse, who held a spoonful of medicine to his lips, saying,
"Lie still. The doctor says you must not talk at all until he comes."
"So," thought the boy. "I've got a doctor. Wonder where I am an' what ails me, anyhow."
But that strange weakness made it easy to obey orders and lie still while the nurse bathed his face and hands and freshened up the bed and the room. Then she brought him a bowl of chicken broth with which she fed him. It tasted delicious, and he swallowed it hungrily and wished there had been more. Then as he lay back on the pillows he remembered all that had happened—the horses running down the street, his attempt to stop them, and the awful blow on his head as it struck the curbstone.
"Wonder where I am? Tain't a hospital, anyhow," he thought. "My! But I feel nice an' clean an' so—so light, somehow! If only my head wasn't so sore!"
No wonder he felt "nice and clean and light somehow," when, for the first time in his life his body and garments as well as his bed, were as sweet and fresh as hands could make them. Tode never had minded dirt. Why should he, when he had been born in it and had grown up knowing nothing better? Yet, none the less, was this new experience most delightful to him—so delightful that he didn't care to talk. It was happiness enough for him, just then, to lie still and enjoy these new conditions, and so presently he floated off again into sleep—a sleep full of beautiful dreams from which the low murmur of voices aroused him, and he opened his eyes to see the nurse and the doctor looking down at him.
"Well, my boy," said the doctor, with his fingers on the wrist near him, "you look better. Feel better too, don't you?"
Tode gazed at him, wondering who he was and paying no attention to his question.
"Doctor," exclaimed the nurse, suddenly, "he hasn't spoken a single word. Do you suppose he can be deaf and dumb?"
The bishop entered the room just in time to catch the last words.
"Deaf and dumb!" he repeated, in a tone of dismay. "Dear me! If the poor child is deaf and dumb, I shall certainly keep him here until I can find a better home for him."
As his eyes rested on the bishop Tode started and uttered a little inarticulate cry of joy; then, as he understood what the bishop was saying, a singular expression passed over his face. The doctor, watching him closely could make nothing of it.
"He looks as if he knew you, bishop," the doctor said.
The bishop had taken the boy's rough little hand in his own large, kindly grasp.
"No, doctor," he answered, "I don't think I've ever seen him before yesterday, but we're friends all the same, aren't we, my lad?" and he smiled down into the grey eyes looking up to him so earnestly and happily.
Tode opened his lips to speak, then suddenly remembering, slightly shook his head while the colour mounted in his pale cheeks.
"He acts like a deaf mute, certainly," muttered the doctor, and stepping to the head of the bed he pulled out his watch and held it first to one and then the other of Tode's ears, but out of his sight.
Tode's ears were as sharp as a ferret's and his brain was as quick as his ears. He knew well enough what the doctor was doing but he made no sign. Were not the bishop's words ringing in his ears? "If the poor child is deaf and dumb I shall certainly keep him here until I can find a better home for him."
There were few things at which the boy would have hesitated to ensure his staying there. He understood now that he was in the house of the bishop—"my bishop" he called him in his thought.
So, naturally enough, it was taken for granted that the boy was deaf and dumb, for no one imagined the possibility of his pretending to be so. Tode thought it would be easy to keep up the deception, but at first he found it very hard. As his strength returned there were so many questions that he wanted to ask, but he fully believed that if it were known that he could hear and speak he would be sent away, and more and more as the days went by he longed to remain where he was.
As he grew stronger and able to sit up, books and games and pictures were provided for his amusement, yet still the hours sometimes dragged somewhat heavily, but it was better when he was well enough to walk about the house.
Mrs. Martin, the housekeeper, had first admired the boy's bravery, then pitied him for his suffering, and had ended by loving him, because she, too, had a big, kindly heart that was ready to love anybody who needed her love and service. So, it was with great satisfaction that she obeyed the bishop's orders, and bought for the boy a good, serviceable outfit as soon as he was able to walk about his room.
She combed out and trimmed his rough, thick hair, and then helped him dress himself in one of his new suits. As she tied his necktie for him she looked at him with the greatest satisfaction, saying to herself,
"Whoever would believe that it was the same boy? If only he could hear and speak now like other boys, I'd have nothing more to ask for him."
Then she stooped and kissed him. Tode wriggled uneasily under the unwonted caress, not quite certain whether or not he liked it—from a woman. The housekeeper took his hand and led him down the stairs to the bishop's study. It was a long room containing many books and easy-chairs and two large desks. At one of these the bishop sat writing, and over the other bent a short, dark-faced man who wore glasses.
"Come in, Mrs. Martin, come in," called the bishop, as he saw her standing at the open door. "And who is this?" he added, holding out his hand to the boy.
"You don't recognize him?" Mrs. Martin asked smiling down on Tode's smooth head.
The bishop looked keenly at the boy, then he smiled contentedly and drew the little fellow to his side.
"Well, well!" he said, "the clothes we wear do make a great difference, don't they, Mrs. Martin? He's a fine looking lad. Gibson, this is the boy I was telling you about."
The little dark man turned and looked at Tode as the bishop spoke. It was not a friendly look, and Tode felt it.
"Ah," replied Mr. Gibson, slowly. "So this is the boy, is it? He was fortunate to fall into your hands;" and with a sharp, sidelong glance over his shoulder, Mr. Gibson turned again to his work.
The bishop drew a great armchair close to his table and gently pushed Tode into it. Then he brought a big book full of pictures and put it into the boy's hands.
"Let him stay here for a while, Mrs. Martin," he said. "I always work better when there is a child near me—if it's the right sort of a child," he added, with a smile.
Mrs. Martin went out, and Tode, with a long, happy breath, leaned back in the big chair and looked about him at the many books, at the dark head bent over the desk in the alcove, finally at the noble face of the bishop intent on his writing.
This was the beginning of many happy hours for Tode. Perhaps it was the weakness and languor resulting from his accident that made him willing to sit quietly a whole morning or afternoon in the study beside the bishop's table, when, before this, to sit still for half an hour would have been an almost unendurable penance to him; but there was another and a far stronger reason in the deep reverential love for the bishop, that day by day was growing and strengthening into a passion in his young heart. The boy's heart was like a garden-spot in which the rich, strong soil lay ready to receive any seed that might fall upon it. Better seed could not be than that which all unconsciously this man of God—the bishop—was sowing therein, as day after day he gave his Master's message to the sick and sinful and sorrowful souls that came to him for help and comfort.
It goes without saying that the bishop had small leisure, for many and heavy were the demands upon his time and thought, but nevertheless he kept two hours a day sacredly free from all other claims, that he might give them to any of God's poor or troubled ones who desired to see him, and believing that Tode could hear nothing that was said, he often kept the boy with him during these hours.
Strange and wonderful lessons were those that the little street boy learned from the consecrated lips of the good bishop—lessons of God's love to man, and of the loving service that man owes not only to his God, but to his brother man. Strange, sad lessons too, of sin and sorrow, and their far-reaching influence on human lives. Tode had not lived in the streets for nearly fourteen years without learning a great deal about the sin that is in the world, but never until now, had he understood and realised the evil of it and the cure for it. Many a time he longed to ask the bishop some of the questions that filled his mind, but that he dared not do.
Among these visitors there came one morning to the study a plainly dressed lady with a face that Tode liked at the first glance. As she talked with the bishop, the boy kept his eyes on the book open in his lap, but he heard all that was said—heard it at first with a startled surprise that changed into a sick feeling of shame and misery—for the story to which he listened was this:
The lady was a Mrs. Russell. The bishop had formerly been her pastor and she still came to him for help and counsel. She had been much interested in a boy of sixteen who had been in her class in the mission school, a boy who was entirely alone in the world. He had picked up a living in the streets, much as Tode himself had done, and finally had fallen into bad company and into trouble.
Mrs. Russell had interested herself in his behalf, and upon her promise to be responsible for him, he had been delivered over to her instead of being sent to a reform school. She went to a number of the smaller dry goods stores and secured promises of employment for the boy as parcel deliverer. To do this work he must have a tricycle, and the energetic little lady having found a secondhand one that could be had for thirty dollars, set herself to secure this sum from several of her friends. This she had done, and was on her way to buy the tricycle when she lost her pocketbook. The owner of the tricycle, being anxious to sell, and having another offer, would not hold it for her, but sold it to the other customer. The boy, bitterly disappointed, lost hope and heart, and that night left the place where Mrs. Russell had put him. Since then she had sought in vain for him, and now, unwilling to give him up, she had come to ask the bishop's help in the search.
To all this Tode listened with flushed cheeks and fast-beating heart, while before his mind flashed a picture of himself, wet, dirty and ragged, gliding under the feet of the horses on the muddy street, the missing pocketbook clutched tightly in his hand. Then a second picture rose before him, and he saw himself crowding the emptied book into that box on the chapel door of St. Mark's.
The bishop pulled open a drawer in his desk and took from it a pocketbook, broken and stained with mud. He handed it to Mrs. Russell, who looked at him in silent wonder as she saw her own name on the inside.
"How did it get into your hands?" she questioned, at last.
"You would never guess how," the bishop answered. "It was found in the pastor's box at St. Mark's, and the rector came to me to inquire if I knew any one of that name. I had not your present address, but have been intending to look you up as soon as I could find time."
"I cannot understand it," said Mrs. Russell, carefully examining each compartment of the book. "Why in the world should the thief have put the empty pocketbook there, of all places?"
"Of course he would want to get rid of it," the bishop replied, thoughtfully, "but that certainly was a strange place in which to put it."
"If the thief could know how the loss of that money drove that poor foolish boy back into sin and misery, he surely would wish he had never touched it—if he has any conscience left," said Mrs. Russell. "There is good stuff in that poor boy of mine, and I can't bear to give him up and leave him to go to ruin."
The bishop looked at her with a grave smile as he answered:
"Mrs. Russell, I never yet knew you willing to give up one of your straying lambs. Like the Master Himself, your big heart always yearns over the wanderers from the fold. I wonder," he added, "if we couldn't get one or two newsboys to help in this search. Many of them are very keen, sharp little fellows, and they'd be as likely as anybody to know Jack, and to know his whereabouts if he is still in the city. Let me see—his name is Jack Finney, and he is about fifteen or sixteen now, isn't he?"
"Yes, nearly sixteen."
"Suppose you give me a description of him, Mrs. Russell. I ought to remember how he looks, but I see so many, you know," the bishop added, apologetically.
"Of course you cannot remember all the boys who were in our mission school," replied Mrs. Russell. "Jack is tall and large, for fifteen. His hair is sandy, his eyes blue, and, well—his mouth is rather large. Jack isn't a beauty, and he is rough and rude, and I'm afraid he often does things that he ought not to do, but only think what a hard time he has had in the world thus far."
"Yes," replied the bishop with a sigh, "he has had a hard time, and it is not to be wondered at that he has gone wrong. Many a boy does that who has every help toward right living. Well now, Mrs. Russell, I'll see what I can do to help you in this matter. Your faith in the boy ought to go far toward keeping him straight if we can find him."
The bishop walked to the hall with his visitor. When he came back Tode sat with his eyes fastened on the open book in his lap, though he saw it not.
He did not look up with his usual bright smile when the bishop sat down beside him. That night he could not eat, and when he went to bed he could not sleep.
"Thief! Thief! You're a thief! You're a thief!"
Over and over and over again these words sounded in Tode's ears. He had known of course that he was a thief, but he had never realised it until this day. As he had sat there and listened to Mrs. Russell's story, he seemed to see clearly how his soul had been soiled with sin as surely as his body had been with dirt, and even as now the thought of going back to his former surroundings sickened him, so the remembrance of the evil that he had known and done, now seemed horrible to him. It was as if he looked at himself and his past life through the pure eyes of the bishop—and he hated it all. Dimly he began to see that there was something that he must do, but what that something was, he could not as yet determine. He was not willing in fact to do what his newly awakened conscience told him that he ought to do.
In the morning he showed so plainly the effects of his wakeful night, and of his first moral battle, that the bishop was much concerned.
He had begun to teach the boy to write that he might communicate with him in that fashion, but as yet Tode had not progressed far enough to make communication with him easy, though he was beginning to read quite readily the bold, clear handwriting of the bishop.
This morning, the bishop, noting the boy's pale cheeks and heavy eyes, proposed a walk instead of the writing lesson. Tode was delighted to go, and the two set off together. Now the boy had an opportunity to see yet farther into the heart and life of this good, great man. They went on and on, away from the wide streets and handsome houses, into the tenement house district, and finally into an old building, where many families found shelter—such as it was. Up one flight after another of rickety stairs the bishop led the boy. At last he stopped and knocked at a door on a dark landing.
The door was opened by a woman whose eyes looked as if she had forgotten how to smile, but a light flashed into them at sight of her visitor. She hurriedly dusted a chair with her apron, and as the bishop took it he lifted to his knee one of the little ones clinging to the mother's skirts. There were four little children, but one lay, pale and motionless on a bed in one corner of the room.
"She is sick?" inquired the bishop, his voice full of sympathy, as he looked at the small, wan face.
The woman's eyes filled with tears.
"Yes," she answered, "I doubt I'm goin' to lose her, an' I feel I ought to be glad for her sake—but I can't." She bent over the little form and kissed the heavy eyelids.
"Tell me all about it, my daughter," the bishop said, and the woman poured out her story—the old story of a husband who provided for his family after a fashion, when he was sober, but left them to starve when the drink demon possessed him. He had been away now for three weeks, and there was no money for medicine for the sick child, or food for the others.
Before the story was told the bishop's hand was in his pocket and he held out some money to the woman, saying,
"Go out and buy what you need. It will be better for you to get it, than for me to. The breath of air will do you good, and I will see to the children until you come back."
She hesitated for a moment, then with a word of thanks, threw a shawl over her head and was gone.
The bishop gathered the three older children about him, one on each knee and the third held close to his side, and told them stories that held them spellbound until the sick baby began to stir and moan feebly. Then the bishop arose, and taking the little creature tenderly in his strong arms, walked back and forth in the small room until the moaning cry ceased and the child slept. He had just laid it again on the bed when the mother came back with her arms full of packages. The look of dull despair was gone from her worn face, and there was a gleam of hope in her eyes as she hastily prepared the medicine for the baby, while the bishop eagerly tore open one of the packages, and put bread into the hands of the other children.
"God bless you, sir,—an' He will!" the woman said, earnestly, as the bishop was departing with a promise to come soon again.
Tode, from his seat in a corner had looked on and listened to all, and now followed the bishop down to the street, and on until they came to a big building. The boy did not know then what place it was. Afterward he learned that it was the poorhouse.
Among the human driftwood gathered here there was one old man who had been a cobbler, working at his trade as long as he had strength to do so. The bishop had known him for a long time before he gave up his work, and now it was the one delight of the old man's life to have a visit from the bishop, and knowing this, the latter never failed to come several times each year. The old cobbler lived on the memory of these visits through the lonely weeks that followed them, looking forward to them as the only bright spots in his sorrowful life.
"You'll pray with me before ye go?" he pleaded on this day when his visitor arose to leave.
"Surely," was the quick reply, and the bishop, falling on his knees, drew Tode down beside him, and the old cobbler, the child and the man of God, bowed their heads together.
A great wonder fell upon Tode first, as he listened to that prayer, and then his heart seemed to melt within him. When he rose from his knees, he had learned Who and What God is, and what it is to pray, and though he could not understand how it was, or why—he knew that henceforth his own life must be wholly different. Something in him was changed and he was full of a strange happiness as he walked homeward beside his friend.
But all in a moment his new joy departed, banished by the remembrance of that pocketbook.
"I found it. I picked it up," he argued to himself, but then arose before him the memory of other things that he had stolen—of many an evil thing that he had done, and gloried in the doing. Now the remembrance of these things made him wretched.
The bishop was to deliver an address that evening, and Tode was alone, for he did not feel like going to the housekeeper's room.
He was free to go where he chose about the house, so he wandered from room to room, and finally to the study. It was dark there, but he felt his way to his seat beside the bishop's desk, and sitting there in the dark the boy faced his past and his future; faced, too, a duty that lay before him—a duty so hard that it seemed to him he never could perform it, yet he knew he must. It was to tell the bishop how he had been deceiving him all these weeks.
Tears were strangers to Tode's eyes, but they flowed down his cheeks as he sat there in the dark and thought of the happy days he had spent there, and that now he must go away from it all—away from the bishop—back to the wretched and miserable life which was all he had known before.
"Oh, how can I tell him! How can I tell him!" he sobbed aloud, with his head on the desk.
The next moment a strong, wiry hand seized his right ear with a grip that made him wince, while a voice with a thrill of evil satisfaction in it, exclaimed in a low, guarded tone,
"So! I've caught you, you young cheat. I've suspected for some time that you were pulling the wool over the bishop's eyes, but you were so plaguy cunning that I couldn't nab you before. You're a fine specimen, aren't you? What do you think the bishop will say to all this?"
Tode had recognised the voice of Mr. Gibson, the secretary. He knew that the secretary had a way of going about as soft-footed as a cat. He tried to jerk his ear free, but at that Mr. Gibson gave it such a tweak that Tode could hardly keep from crying out with the pain. He did keep from it, however, and the next moment the secretary let him go, and, striking a match, lit the gas, and then softly closed the door.
"Now," he said, coming back to the desk, "what have you to say for yourself?"
"Nothing—to you," replied Tode, looking full into the dark face and cruel eyes of the man. "I'll tell the bishop myself what there is to tell."
"Oh, you will, will you?" answered the man, with a sneer. "I reckon before you get through with your telling you'll wish you'd never been born. The bishop's the gentlest of men—until he finds that some one has been trying to deceive him. And you—you whom he picked up out of the street, you whom he has treated as if you were his own son—I tell you, boy, you'll think you've been struck by lightning when the bishop orders you out of his sight. He never forgives deceit like yours."
Tode's face paled and his lips trembled as he listened, but he would not give way before his tormentor.
His silence angered the secretary yet more. "Why don't you speak?" he exclaimed, sharply.
"I'll speak to the bishop—not to you," replied the boy, steadily.
His defiant tone and undaunted look made the secretary furious. He sprang toward the boy, but Tode was on the watch now, and slipped out of his chair and round to the other side of the desk, where he stopped and again faced his enemy, for he knew now that this man was his enemy, though he could not guess the reason of his enmity. The secretary took a step forward, but at that Tode sped across the room out of the door, and up to his own room, the door of which he locked.
Then he sat down and thought over what had happened, and the more he thought of it the more certain he felt that what the secretary had said was true.
A long, long time the boy sat there, thinking sad and bitter thoughts. At last, with a heavy sigh, he lifted his head and looked about the bright, pretty room, as if he would fix it all in his mind so that he never could forget it, and as he looked at the soft, rich carpet, the little white bed with its fresh, clean linen, the wide, roomy washstand and bureau, he seemed at the same time to see the bare, dirty, cheerless little closet-like room to which he must return, and his heart ached again.
At last he started up, searched in his pockets for a piece of paper and a pencil, and began to write. His paper was a much-crumpled piece that he had found that morning in the wastebasket, and as yet his writing and spelling were poor enough, but he knew what he wanted to express, and this is what he wrote:
I hav ben mene and bad i am not def and dum but i acted like i was caus I thot you wood not kepe me if yu knu I am sory now so i am going away but i am going to kepe strate and not bee bad any more ever. I thank you and i lov you deer.
It took the boy a long time to write this and there were many smudges and erasures where he had rubbed out and rewritten words. He looked at it with dissatisfied eyes when it was done, mentally contrasting it with the neat, beautifully written letters he had so often seen on the bishop's desk.
"Can't help it. I can't do no better," he said to himself, with a sigh. Then he stood for several minutes holding the paper thoughtfully in his hand.
"I know," he exclaimed at last, and ran softly down to the study. It was dark again there and he knew that Mr. Gibson had gone.
Going to the desk, he found the Bible which the bishop always kept there. As Tode lifted it the leaves fell apart at one of the bishop's best-loved chapters, and there the boy laid his letter and closed the book. He hesitated a moment, and then kneeling down beside the desk, he laid his face on the cover of the Bible and whispered solemnly,
"I will keep straight—I will."
It was nearly nine o'clock when Tode returned to what had been his room; what would be so no longer. He undressed slowly, and as he took off each garment he looked at it and touched it lingeringly before he laid it aside.
"I b'lieve he'd want me to keep these clothes," he thought, "but I don't know. Maybe he wouldn't when he finds out how I've been cheatin' him. Mrs. Martin's burnt up my old ones, an' I've got to have some to wear, but I'll only take what I must have."
So, with a sigh, he laid aside his white shirt with its glossy collar and cuffs, his pretty necktie and handkerchief. He hesitated over the shoes and stockings, but finally with a shake of the head, those, too, were laid aside, leaving nothing but one under garment and his jacket, trousers and cap.
Then he put out the gas and crept into bed. A little later he heard Mrs. Martin go up to her room, stopping for a moment to glance into his and see that he was in bed. Later still, he heard the bishop come in and go to his room, and soon after the lights were out and all the house was still.
Tode lay with wide open eyes until the big hall clock struck twelve. Then he arose, slipped on his few garments and turned to leave the room, but suddenly went back and took up a little Testament.
"He told me to keep it always an' read a bit in it ev'ry day," the boy thought, as with the little book in his hand he crept silently down the stairs. They creaked under the light tread of his bare feet as they never had creaked in the daytime. He crossed the wide hall, unfastened the door, and passed out into the night.
VI. TODE'S NEW START
A chill seemed to strike to Tode's heart as he stood on the stone steps and looked up to the windows of the room where the bishop was sleeping, and his eyes were wet as he passed slowly and sorrowfully out of the gate and turned down the street. Suddenly there was a swift rush, a quick, joyful bark, and there was Tag, dancing about him, jumping up to lick his fingers, and altogether almost out of his wits with joy.
Tode sat down on the curbstone and hugged his rough, faithful friend, and if he whispered into the dog's ear some of the grief that made the hour such a bitter one—Tag was true and trusty: he never told it. Neither did he tell how, night after night, he had watched beside the big house into which he had seen his master carried, nor how many times he had been driven away in the morning by the servants. But Tag's troubles were over now. He had found his master.
"Well, ol' fellow, we can't stay here all night. We must go on," Tode said at last, and the two walked on together to the house where the boy had slept before his accident. The outer door was ajar as usual, and Tode and the dog went up the stairs together.
Tode tried the door of his room. It was locked on the inside.
"They've let somebody else have it," he said to himself. "Well, Tag, we'll have to find some other place. Come on!"
Once the boy would not have minded sleeping on a grating, or a doorstep, but now it seemed hard and dreary enough to him. He shivered with the cold and shrank from going to any of his old haunts where he would be likely to find some of his acquaintances, homeless street Arabs, like himself. Finally he found an empty packing box in an alley, and into this he crept, glad to put his bare feet against Tag's warm body. But it was a dreary night to him, and weary as he was, he slept but little. As he lay there looking up at the stars, he thought much of the new life that he was to live henceforth. He knew very well that it would be no easy thing for him to live such a life, but obstacles in his way never deterred Tode from doing, or at least attempting to do, what he had made up his mind to. He thought much, too, of the bishop, and these thoughts gave him such a heartache that he would almost have banished them had he been able to do so—almost, but not quite, for even with the heartache it was a joy to him to recall every look of that noble face—every tone of that voice that seemed to thrill his heart even in the remembrance.
Then came thoughts of Nan and Little Brother, and these brought comfort to Tode's sorrowful heart. He had not forgotten Little Brother during the past weeks. There had never been a day when he had not thought of the child with a longing desire to see him, though even for his sake he could hardly have brought himself to lose a day with the bishop. Now, however, that he had shut himself out forever from what seemed to him the Paradise of the bishop's home, his thoughts turned again lovingly toward the little one, and he could hardly wait for morning, so eager was he to go to him.
Fortunately for his impatience, he knew that the Hunts and Nan would be early astir, and at the first possible moment he went in search of them. He ran up the stairs with Tag at his heels, and almost trembling with eagerness, knocked at the Hunts' door. Mrs. Hunt herself opened it, and stared at the boy for a moment before she realised who it was.
"For the land's sake, if it isn't Tode! Where in the world have you been all this time?" she cried, holding the door open for him to enter, while the children gazed wonderingly at him. "I've been sick—got hurt," replied Tode, his eyes searching eagerly about the room. "I don't see Nan or Little Brother," he added, uneasily.
"They don't live here no more," piped up little Ned.
Tode turned a startled glance upon Mrs. Hunt.
"Don't live here!" he stammered. "Where do they live?"
"Not far off; just cross the entry," replied Mrs. Hunt, quickly. "Nan's taken a room herself."
"Oh!" cried Tode, in a tone of relief, "I'll go'n see her;" and waiting for no further words, he went.
"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Hunt, "he might 'a' told us how he got hurt an' all, 'fore he rushed off, I should think."
"Jus' like that Tode Bryan. He don't know nothin'!" remarked Dick, scornfully.
His mother gave him a searching glance. "There's worse boys than Tode Bryan, I'm afraid," she said.
"There ye go agin, always a flingin' at me," retorted Dick, rudely. "How's a feller to git on in the world when his own mother's always down on him?"
"You know I'm not down on you, Dick," replied his mother, tearfully.
"You're always a hintin' nowdays, anyhow," muttered Dick, as he reached over and helped himself to the biggest sausage in the dish.
Mrs. Hunt sighed but made no answer, and the breakfast was eaten mostly in silence.
Meantime, Tode running across the entry, had knocked on the door with fingers fairly trembling with eagerness and excitement. Nan opening it, gave a glad cry at sight of him, but the boy, with a nod, pushed by her, and snatched up Little Brother who was lying on the bed.
The baby stared at him for an instant and then as Tode hugged him more roughly than he realised, the little lips trembled and the baby began to sob. That almost broke Tode's heart. He put the child down, crying out bitterly,
"Oh Little Brother, you ain't goin' to turn against me, sure?"
As he spoke he held out his hands wistfully, and the baby, now getting a good look at him, recognised his favorite, and with his old smile held out his arms to the boy, who caught him up again but more gently this time, and sat down with him on his knee.
It was some minutes before Tode paid any attention to Nan's questions, so absorbed was he with the child, but at length he turned to her and told her where he had been and what had happened to him. She listened to his story with an eager interest that pleased him.
"Wasn't it strange," she said, when he paused, "wasn't it strange, and lovely too, that you should have been taken into the bishop's house—and kept there all this time? Did you like him just as much in his home as in the church, Tode?"
"He's—he's"—began Tode with shining eyes, then as the bishop's face rose before him, he choked and was silent for a moment. "I don't b'lieve there's any other man like him in this world," he said, finally.
Nan looked at him thoughtfully, at his face that seemed to have been changed and refined by his sickness and his new associations, at the neat clothes he wore, then at his bare feet.
"I shouldn't think, if he's so good, that he would have let you come away—so," she said, slowly.
Tode flushed as he tried to hide his feet under his chair.
"'Twasn't his fault," he answered, quickly. He too was silent for a moment, then suddenly he sat upright with a look of stern resolve in his grey eyes, as he added, "Nan, I'll tell you all there is about it, 'cause things are goin' to be diff'runt after this. I'm goin' to live straight every way, I am; I've—promised."
Then he told her frankly the whole story; how he had deceived the bishop, pretending to be deaf and dumb; how Mr. Gibson had come upon him in the study, and what he had said, and how, finally, he himself had come away in the night.
Nan listened to it all with the keenest interest.
"And you had to sleep out of doors," she said; "I'm so sorry, but, if the bishop is so good, why didn't you stay and tell him all about it, Tode? Don't you think that that would have been better than coming away so without thanking him for all he had done—or anything?"
Tode shook his head emphatically. "You don't know him, Nan," he replied. "He's good, oh better than anybody else in the world, I b'lieve, but don't you see, just 'cause he's so good, he hates cheatin' an' lyin', just hates 'em; an', oh I couldn't tell him I'd been cheatin' him all this time, an' he so good to me."
"I know, 'twould have been awful hard to tell him, Tode, but seems to me 'twould have been best," the girl insisted.
"I couldn't, Nan," Tode repeated, sadly, then impatiently thrusting aside his sorrow and remorse, he added,
"Come now, I want to know what you've been doin' while I've been gone. I used to think an' think 'bout you'n him," glancing at the baby, "an' wonder what you'd be doin'."
"Oh, we've got on all right," answered Nan, "I was worried enough when you didn't come, 'specially when one of the Hunt boys went down and found that your stand had not been opened. I was sure something had happened to you, 'cause I knew you never would stay away from us so, unless something was the matter."
"Right you are!" put in Tode, emphatically.
Nan went on, "I was sure there was something wrong, too, when Tag came here the next day. Poor fellow, I was so sorry for him. One of his legs was all swollen and he limped dreadfully, and hungry—why, Tode, he acted as if he were starving. But just as soon as I had fed him he went off again, and didn't come back till the next morning, and he's done that way ever since."
Tag had kept his bright eyes fastened on Nan's face while she talked, and he gave a little contented whine as Tode stooped and patted his head.
"But tell me what you've ben doin', Nan. How'd you get money enough to hire this room an' fix it up so dandy?" Tode inquired, looking about admiringly.
While Nan talked she had been passing busily from table to stove, and now she said, "Breakfast is ready, Tode. Bring your chair up here and give me Little Brother."
Tode reluctantly gave up the baby, and took his seat opposite Nan at the little table.
"You've got things fine," he remarked, glancing at the clean towel that served for a tablecloth, and the neat white dishes and well-cooked food. He was hungry enough to do full justice to Nan's cooking, and the girl watched him with much satisfaction, eating little herself, but feeding the baby, as she went on with her story.
"When you didn't come back, I knew I must find some way to sell my cookies and gingerbread and so I made some fresh and went to every family in this house and asked 'em if they would buy their bread and all of me instead of at the bakeshops. I told 'em I'd sell at the same price as the shops and give them better things. Some wouldn't, but most of them had sense enough to see that it would be a good thing for them, and after they'd tried it once or twice they were ready enough to keep on. Now I supply this house and the next one. It keeps me cooking all day, but I don't mind that. I'm only too glad that I can earn our living—Little Brother's and mine. Of course, I couldn't be cooking all day on Mrs. Hunt's stove, and besides they have no room to spare and we crowded 'em, and so, as soon as I got money enough, I hired this room. I'm paying for the furniture as fast as I can. It was all secondhand, of course."
Tode looked admiringly at the girl, as she ceased speaking.
"You've got a head," he remarked. "But now about cooking for my stand. Will you have time to do that too?"
"Yes indeed," replied Nan, promptly. "I'll find time somehow."
Tode hesitated, moved uneasily in his chair and finally said, "'Spect you'll have to trust me for the first lot, Nan. I ain't got no money, ye know."
"Why, Tode, have you forgotten that ten dollars you asked me to keep for you?"
"No—'course I ain't forgot it, but I thought maybe you'd had to use it. Twould 'a' been all right if you had, you know."
"Oh no, I didn't have to use that. Here it is," and Nan brought it out from some hidden pocket about her dress.
"Then I'm all right," exclaimed the boy, in a tone of satisfaction. "I've got to get some clothes first an' then I'll be ready for business."
"What's the matter with those clothes?" questioned Nan.
"Oh, I've got to send these back to the bishop." Tode's face was grave as he spoke.
"But—I don't see why. He won't want em," Nan remonstrated.
"It's this way, Nan." Tode spoke very earnestly. "If I'd been what he thought I was, I know I could have kept all he gave me, but, you see, if he'd known I was cheatin' an' lyin' to him all the time he wouldn't 'a' given me a single thing, so don't ye see, I ain't no business to keep 'em, an' I ain't goin' to keep 'em a minute longer'n I have to."
Nan shook her head, for Tode's reasoning had not convinced her, but seeing how strong was his feeling in the matter she said no more, and in a few minutes the boy went out, his face radiant with satisfaction, because Little Brother cried after him.
He invested half his ten dollars in some second-hand clothes, including shoes and stockings. They were not very satisfactory after the garments he had been wearing of late, but he said to himself, "They'll have to do till I can get better ones an' sometime I'm agoin' to have some shirts an' have 'em washed every week, too."
Tode's trade, that day, was not very heavy, for it was not yet known among his regular customers that he had reopened his stand, but he took care to advertise the fact through those whom he met and he did not fear but that his business would soon be prospering again.
That afternoon he succeeded in securing a tiny room in the house with Nan. It was a dismal little closet, lighted only from the hall, but it was the best he could do, and Tode considered himself fortunate to have his dark corner to himself, even though a broken chair and a canvas cot without bedding of any sort were all the furniture he could put into it then. Nan shook her head doubtfully when he showed her the room.
"Dark and dirty," she said, with a sniff of disgust, as the boy threw open the door. "You must get somebody to scrub it for you, Tode, and then whitewash the walls. That will make it sweeter and lighter."
"So it will," responded the boy, promptly, "but I'll have to do the scrubbin' an' white-washin' both, myself."
Nan looked at him doubtfully. "I wonder if you'd get it clean," she said. "Scrubbing's hard work."
"You'll see. What'll I scrub it with—a broom?"
"You ought to have a scrub-brush, but I haven't any. You'll have to do it with an old broom and a cloth. I can let you have the broom and I guess we can get a cloth of Mrs. Hunt. You going to do it now?" she added, as Tode began to pull off his coat.
"Right now," he answered. "You see, Nan, I've got loads of things to do, an' I can't be wastin' time."
"What things?" questioned Nan, curiously.
"Oh—I'll tell you about them after awhile," replied the boy. "The broom in your room?"
"Yes, I'll bring it to you," and Nan hurried off.
She came back with an old pail full of hot water, a piece of soap, a broom and a cloth, and then she proceeded to show Tode how to clean the woodwork and floor, thoroughly, with special attention to the dark corners which looked, indeed, as if they had never been visited by a broom. Nan was a thorough little housewife, and she longed to do the whole work herself, but Tode would not allow that, so she could only stand and look on, wondering inwardly how a boy could handle a broom so awkwardly. But if he was slow and awkward about it, Tode was in earnest, and he looked with much satisfaction at the result of his labor when it was completed.
"You'll have to wash the floor again after you've whitewashed the walls," Nan said, "but it needed two scrubbings, anyhow."
Tode looked at it ruefully. "Oh, did it?" he said. "I think one such scrubbing as that ought to last it a year."
Nan laughed. "If you'll carry out my bread and things to-morrow, I'll do your whitewashing for you," she said.
But Tode shook his head. "I'll carry out your stuff all right," he answered, "but I ain't a-goin' to have a girl doin' my work for me."
He bought the lime and paid also for the use of a pail and brush, and the next day he put a white coat on his walls, and when this was done, he was much better satisfied with his quarters. Nan offered to lend him her shawl in place of a blanket, but he guessed that she needed it herself and refused her offer.
VII. AFTER TODE'S DEPARTURE
In the bishop's household, Mrs. Martin was always one of the earliest to rise in the morning, and just as Tode sat down to breakfast with Nan and Little Brother, the housekeeper was going downstairs. Tode's door stood open and she saw that he was not in the room. Her quick eyes noted also the pile of neatly folded garments on a chair beside the bed. She stepped into the room and looked around. Then she hurried to the study, knowing that the boy loved to stay there, but the study was unoccupied.
By the time breakfast was ready she knew that the boy had left the house, but the bishop refused to believe it, nor would he be convinced until the house had been searched from attic to cellar. When Mr. Gibson made his appearance, a gleam of satisfaction shone in his narrow eyes as he learned of Tode's disappearance.
"I was afraid something like this would happen," he remarked, gravely. "It's a hopeless kind of business, trying to make anything out of such material. I've had my suspicions of that boy for some time."
"Don't be too quick to condemn him, Mr. Gibson," exclaimed the bishop, hastily. "He may have had some good reason for going away so. I've no doubt he thought he had, but I had grown to love the lad and I shall miss him sadly."
"Did you never suspect that he was not deaf and dumb, as he pretended to be?" the secretary asked.
The bishop looked up quickly. "Why, no, indeed, I never had such an idea," he answered. An unpleasant smile flickered over the secretary's thin lips as he went on, "I heard the boy talking to himself, here in this room, last evening. He can hear and speak as well as you or I."
"Oh, I am sorry! I am sorry!" said the bishop, sadly, and then he turned to his desk, and sitting down, hid his face in his hands, and was silent. The secretary cast more than one swift, sidewise glance at him, but dared say no more then.
After a while the bishop drew his Bible toward him. It opened at the fourteenth chapter of John, and there lay Tode's poor little soiled and blotted note. The bishop read it with tear-dimmed eyes, read it again and again, and finally slipped it into an envelope, and replaced it between the leaves of his Bible. He said nothing about it to his secretary, and presently he went to his own room, where for a long time he walked back and forth, thinking about the boy, and how he might find him again.
Then Brown came to him with a telegram summoning him to the sickbed of his only sister, and within an hour he left the city, and was absent two weeks.
Meantime Tode, the morning after his scrubbing and whitewashing operations, had carefully folded the clothes he had worn when he left the bishop's house and tied them up in an old newspaper. Into one of the pockets of the jacket he had put a note which ran thus:
DEAR MRS. MARTIN:
Pleas giv thes cloes to the bishop and tell him i wud not have took them away if i had had any others. I did not take shoes or stockins. I keep the littel testament and i read in it evry day. Tell him i am trying to be good and when i get good enuf I shall go and see him. You was good to me but he was so good that he made me hate myself and evrything bad. I can never be bad again while i remember him.
He hired a boy whom he knew, to carry the bundle to the bishop's house, and from behind a tree-box further down the street, he watched and saw it taken in by Brown. The boy's heart was beating hard and fast, as he stood there longing, yet dreading, to see the bishop himself come out of the house. But the bishop was far away, and Tode walked sadly homeward, casting many a wistful, lingering glance backward, as he went.
Brown carried the package gingerly to Mrs. Martin, for the boy who had delivered it was not over clean, and Mrs. Martin opened it with some suspicion, but when she saw the clothes she recognised them instantly, and finding the note in the pocket read it with wet eyes.
"I knew that wasn't a bad boy," she said to herself, "and this proves it. He's as honest as the day, or he wouldn't have sent back these clothes—the poor little fellow. Well, well! I hope the bishop can find him when he gets back, and as to the boy's pretending to be deaf and dumb, I'm sure there was something underneath that if we only knew it. Anyhow, I do hope I'll see the little fellow again sometime."
When the bishop returned the accumulated work of his weeks of absence so pressed upon him that for a while he had no time for anything else, and when at last he was free to search for Tode, he could find no trace of him.
As for Tode, he had never once thought of the possibility of the bishop's searching for him. He looked forward to seeing his friend again sometime, but that time he put far away when he himself should be "more fit," as he said to himself.
One evening soon after his return, Nan had a long talk with him, a talk that left her wondering greatly at the change in his thoughts and purposes, and which made her regard him with quite a new feeling of respect.
"Nan," he began, "I told you I'd got loads of things to do now."
"Yes?" The girl looked at him inquiringly.
Tode was silent for a little. It was harder for him to speak than he had thought it would be.
"You see," he went on, slowly, "I've been mean as dirt all my life. You don't know what mean things I've done, an' I ain't goin' to tell ye, only that I know now I've got to turn straight around an' not do 'em any more. I've got to make a man of myself," he drew himself up as he spoke, "a real man—the kind that helps other folks up. I can't say just what I mean, but I feel it myself," he added, with a half-appealing glance at Nan.
She had listened attentively with her eyes fastened on his earnest face. Now she said softly, "You mean—you want to be the kind of man the bishop is, don't you?"
"Oh, I couldn't ever be really like him," protested the boy, quickly, "but, well, I'm goin' to try to be a sort of shadow of him. I mean I'm goin' to try to amount to something myself, an' do what I can to help other poor fellers up instead of down. I'm goin' to lend a hand 'mongst the folks 'round here, just a little you know, as he does 'mongst the poor people he goes to see. But I've got some other things to do too. I've got some money to pay back, an' I've got to find a feller that I helped to pull down."
And thereupon, Tode told the story of Mrs. Russell's pocketbook and her search for Jack Finney. He told it all quite frankly, not trying in the least to excuse or lessen his own guilt in the matter.
"It will take you a long time to save up so much money, Tode," Nan said when he paused.
"Yes, unless I can find some way to earn more, but I can't help that. I'll do the best I can, an' I've got some notions in my head."
He talked over with her some of his plans and projects, and as she listened, she thought to herself, "He's getting 'way ahead of me, but I'm afraid he'll get into trouble at first."
And she was not mistaken. Tode was now so thoroughly in earnest himself that he forgot to take into consideration the fact that those whom he meant to help up might prefer to be left to go down in their own fashion. His old associates speedily discovered that a great change had come over Tode Bryan, and the change did not meet with their approval. They called it "mighty cheeky" of him to be "pokin' his nose" into their affairs, and they would show him that he'd better stop it. So Tode soon found himself exceedingly unpopular, and, what was worse, in a way, under a boycott that threatened to ruin his business.
He fell into the way of carrying his trials and perplexities to Nan, and talking them over with her. She had plenty of that common sense, which is not very common after all, and she often made him see the reason of his failures, while at the same time he was sure of her sympathy.
One evening Tode appeared in her room with his little Testament in his hand. There was a perplexed expression in his eyes as he said, "Nan, 'bout readin' this, you know—I've been peggin' away at the first part, an' I can't make nothin' of it. It's just a string of funny words, names, I s'pose. I don't see no sense to it."
Nan glanced at the page to which he had opened. It was the first chapter of Matthew.
"Oh, that's all it is, just a lot of names. You can skip all that, Tode," she answered, easily.
"No I can't, neither," replied the boy, decidedly. "If I begin to skip, no knowin' where I'll stop. If it's readin' this book that makes folks good, I've got to know all 'bout it. Say, can't you read this with me an' tell me how to call all these jawbreakers?"
Nan looked rather shocked at the boy's free and easy reference to the Book, but seeing from his grave face and serious manner that he was very much in earnest, she sat down with him, and the two young heads bent over the page together.
"I remember reading this chapter with mother," Nan said, gently, "and she told me how to pronounce these names, but I can't remember all of them now. I'll do the best I can, though," and she read slowly the first seventeen verses, Tode repeating each name after her.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, in a tone of intense relief, when the task was ended, "that's 'bout the toughest job ever I tackled."
"Well, you see, you needn't read all that again. The rest of the chapter is different. It's all about Jesus," Nan said.
Tode read the remaining verses slowly by himself, but he shook his head in a dissatisfied way as he closed the book. "That's easier than the names to read, but I don't seem to get much out of it. Guess I'm too thick-headed," he said, in a discouraged tone.
"Tode," exclaimed Nan, suddenly, "you ought to go to some Sunday-school. Then you'd learn all about the Bible and the things you want to know."
"Might be a good scheme, that's a fact," he answered, thoughtfully. "Reckon I'll try it on anyhow, an' see how it works."
"Yes, do. I always used to go before mother was sick. If you have a good teacher you'll like it, I'm sure."
"There's a mission school down near my stand. I'll have a try at it next Sunday an' see what it's like," Tode said.
So the very next day he went to the mission chapel, and, from the notice on the door, found out the hours of service, and the following Sunday he was on hand in due season. As he went somewhat doubtfully up the steps, he saw in the vestibule a young man, who stepped forward and held out his hand, saying cordially,
"Glad to see you here. Are you a stranger?"
Tode wasn't quite sure what a stranger might be, but he muttered, "I ain't never been here before."
"Then I'm glad I happened to meet you. Will you come into my class?"
Tode nodded and followed the young man into the chapel, which was already nearly full of boys and girls.
"My name is Scott. What is yours?" inquired the stranger, as he led the way to his own corner of the room.
Tode gave his name, and Mr. Scott introduced him to half a dozen boys who had already taken their places in his class. One of these boys was Dick Hunt. He gave Tode a careless nod by way of greeting, as the latter dropped into the seat next him.
To Tode's great satisfaction the lesson chanced to be on the birth of the Lord Jesus, and Mr. Scott told the boys the whole story so clearly and vividly, that Tode at least was intensely interested. It was all new and fresh to him, and he was listening eagerly to every word, when suddenly Dick Hunt ran a long pin deep into his leg. The pain made him start and almost cry out, but he suppressed the cry as he turned and gave Dick a savage pinch that made him writhe, as he exclaimed in a threatening tone, "You stop that!"
Mr. Scott turned grave, inquiring eyes on the two, as he asked:
"What's the matter, Dick?"
"He's a pinchin' me—Tode Bryan is. He give me an awful tweak when you wasn't a lookin'."
"Is that so?" Mr. Scott asked, and Tode, with a scornfully defiant glance at Dick, answered promptly, "Yes."
"I am sorry, Tode," said Mr. Scott; "you can sit here on the other side."
Tode's face flushed a little as he changed his seat, but now another of the boys, having a grudge against Dick, cried out,
"Hunt stuck a pin in him first; I seen him do it."
"You hush up!" muttered Dick, with a scowl.
Just then the superintendent's bell sounded and the lesson time was over.
When the school was dismissed, Mr. Scott detained Tode.
"Why didn't you tell me that Dick had stuck a pin into you first," the teacher asked, rapidly turning the leaves of his Bible as he spoke.
"I ain't a sneak like he is," answered Tode, briefly.
Mr. Scott found the place that he wanted, and keeping his finger between the leaves, looked thoughtfully at the boy before him.
"You told me that your name is Tode. That is what the boys call you. It isn't your real name, is it?" he asked, with a friendly look.
Tode puckered his forehead into a puzzled frown at the question.
"N-no," he answered, slowly. "There's some more to it, but I can't think what 'tis. Wish't I could."
"You've no father or mother?"
"No—never had none since I's big enough to know anything," was the careless reply.
Mr. Scott laid his hand kindly on the lad's shoulder.
"My boy," he said, slowly and earnestly, "I believe yours is a very beautiful name. It must be Theodore."
"That's it! That's it!" exclaimed Tode, excitedly. "I 'member somebody told it to me once, an' I know that's it. How'd you know it so quick?" He looked up wonderingly into his teacher's face as he asked the question.
"I once knew another Theodore who was nicknamed Tode; but, my boy, do you know what your name means?"
Tode shook his head. "Didn't know names meant anything," he answered.
"But they do. Theodore means the gift of God. A boy with such a name as that ought to count for something in the world."
"I mean to." The boy uttered the words slowly and emphatically.
Mr. Scott's face brightened. "Do you mean that you love and serve the Lord Jesus, Theodore?" he asked, softly.
The boy shook his head half sadly, half perplexedly.
"I don't know nothin' much 'bout Him," he answered, with a gentleness most strange and unusual in him, "but I've promised to do the right thing every time now—an' I'm a-goin' to do it."
"You have promised—whom, Theodore?"
"Promised myself—but I don't know nothin' much 'bout what is the right thing," he added, in a discouraged tone.
"You'll soon learn if you're in earnest, my boy. This Book will tell you all you need to know. Can you read?"
"Then read this verse for me, will you?" Mr. Scott held out his Bible and pointed to the verse.
Slowly and stumblingly the boy read, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves," and again,
"Recompense to no man evil for evil."
Seeing that Tode did not understand the meaning of what he had read, Mr. Scott explained the passages to him. The boy listened attentively, then he exclaimed in a tone of dismay,
"But does it mean that a feller can't never strike back?"
"That's what it says."
Tode pondered this unpalatable statement with a clouded face.
"But what ye goin' to do when some other feller cuts up rough with ye?"
"Find some other way to get even with him."
"But I don't see—what other way is there 'cept hittin' him a harder one'n he gives you?"
Mr. Scott opened his Bible again and pointed to the last two verses of the twelfth chapter of Romans.
Tode went home that day with his mind in a tumult. These new ideas did not suit him at all. A "word and a blow," and the blow first had been his method of settling such questions heretofore, and it seemed to him far the better way.
He took a roundabout route home, for he did not want to see Nan until he had thought out this matter to his own satisfaction. To help people poorer or weaker than himself, or to "keep straight" himself, and help others to do likewise—this was one thing. To meekly submit to ill treatment and "take a blow" from a fellow whom he "could whip with his little finger"—this was quite another and, to one of Tode's temperament, a far more distasteful thing.
The boy had reached no conclusion when he finally went home to supper. He was silent and thoughtful all the evening, but it was not until the following day that he spoke of the matter to Nan.
Nan listened in perplexed silence to what he had to say. She had been well taught while her mother lived, but she had never given these subjects any real, deep thought, as Tode was doing now. She began to feel that this rough, untaught street boy was likely to get far ahead of her if he should keep on pondering over questions like this. Even now she could give him but little help.
Seeing this, Tode took up his Testament again, and read on and on until he had finished the book of Matthew, and gained a pretty clear idea of the life and death of Jesus the Christ. There was much, of course, that he did not understand at all. Many of the words and expressions conveyed no meaning to him, but yet he gathered enough to understand, in a measure, what that Life was, and he began dimly to realise why the bishop gave so much of his time and thought to God's poor. The boy pondered these things in his heart, and a new world seemed to open before him.
"Nan," he said at last, "I've found out what my real name is. It's Theodore."
"Theodore," repeated the girl. "Well, I'm glad to know it, for I never did like to call you Tode. How did you find out?"
"Mr. Scott said it to me, and I knew as soon as I heard it that that was it."
"Then I won't ever call you Tode again. I shall call you Theo. I like that."
The boy liked it too. It gave him a strange thrill of pleasure every time he thought of what Mr. Scott had said about the meaning of his name.
VIII. THEO'S SHADOW WORK
The days that followed were very busy ones for both Nan and Theo. The girl spent most of her time over the stove or the moulding board, and the boy, delivering the supplies to many of the families in the two big tenement houses, attending to his stand, and selling evening papers, found the days hardly long enough for all that he wanted to do.
As he went from room to room with Nan's bread and soup and gingerbread, he soon learned much about the different families and found plenty of opportunities to serve as the "bishop's shadow," in these poor homes. Money he had not to give, for every penny that he could possibly spare was laid aside for a special purpose now, but he found countless ways to carry help and sunshine to sad and sore hearts, without money.
One morning he left Nan's room with a basket piled with bread—brown and white—in one hand, and a big tin pail full of boiled hominy in the other. He went first to the top floor, stopping at one door after another, where dirty, frowzy women and children opened at the sound of his cheery whistle. He handed in the loaves, or the measures of hominy with a gay word or a joke that more than once banished a frown from a woman's worn face, or checked the tears of a tired, hungry child. Children were getting to be fond of the boy now, and he liked it.
In one room there were two families and half a dozen children. In one corner, on a rickety couch was a crippled boy, who had lain there day after day, through long, weary months. He was listening intently for that whistle outside the door, and when he heard it, his dull eyes brightened, and he called out eagerly,
"Oh, tell him to come in a minute—just a minute!"
The woman who opened the door, said indifferently, "Tommy wants you to come in a minute."
Theo stepped over to the tumbled couch, and smiled down into the wistful eyes of the sick boy.
"Hello, old man!" he said, cheerily. "I've brought you something," and out of his pocket he pulled a golden chrysanthemum that he had picked up in the street the day before, and had kept all night in water. It was not very fresh now, but Tommy snatched it hungrily, and gazed at it with a happy smile.
"Oh, how pretty—how pretty it is!" he cried, softly smoothing the golden petals with his little bony forefinger. "Can I keep it, truly?"
"'Course. I brought it for you," Theo answered, his round, freckled face reflecting the boy's delight. "But I must scoot. Folks'll be rowin' me if their bread's late."
He ran off leaving the sick boy with the flower held lovingly against his thin white cheek, while his eyes followed wistfully Theo's strong, active figure as he hurried away.
On the next floor, an old woman, bent and stiffened by rheumatism, sat alone all day, while her children were away at work. She could not get out of her chair, or help herself in any way. Her breakfast would be a penny's worth of Nan's hominy, but on this morning her children had gone off without even setting out a dish, or a cup of water for her.
Tode brought her a saucer and spoon, filled a cup with fresh water from the faucet, and pulled up the curtain so that the sunlight would shine in upon her.
"There, old lady," he said, brightly, when this was done, "now you're all right, an' I'll be in again an' fix your dinner for ye."
The old woman's dim eyes looked after him, and she muttered a word of thanks as she turned slowly to her breakfast.
The boy wasted no minutes, for he had none to spare, but even when he did not step inside a door at all, he always had a smile or a bright word ready for each customer, and in lives where sin or grinding poverty has destroyed all hope, and life has become simply dull, dogged endurance of suffering, a cheerful word or smile has a wonderful power. These wretched women and forlorn little children had already begun to look forward to the coming of the "bread boy," as the little ones called him, as a bright spot in their days. In almost every room he managed to leave a hint of cheer behind him, or at least to lighten a little the cloudy atmosphere.
His pail and basket empty, he ran back to Nan's room for his own supplies, and having opened his stand he served his customers, taking his own breakfast between whiles, as he had opportunity. He sold the morning papers, too, at his stand, and between twelve and one o'clock he was as busy as a boy could well be. After that hour few customers appeared, and then, having made his midday meal from whatever he had left, he closed his stand and went home.
Then was his time for a little more of what Nan called his "shadow work," when he refilled with fresh water the cup of the rheumatic old woman, or carried her a cup of tea that Nan had made for her, adding to it, perhaps, a cooky or a sandwich that remained from his stock. Or he glanced into a room where two or three children were locked in all day while the mothers were away at work—and attended to the fire for them. Often he found time for a five minutes' chat with crippled Tommy, and now and then he walked awhile with a sick baby in his arms as he had seen the bishop do that day long before. They were all little things that the boy did, but as he kept on doing them day after day, he found in this service for others such happiness as he never had known before.
Tommy's delight in the half-withered chrysanthemum set Theo to thinking, and the result of his thinking was that he began to frequent the flower stalls and pick up the broken blossoms that were occasionally thrown aside there.
One day a woman who was selling flowers, said to him, "Say, boy, what do you do with the flowers you pick up? I've seen you 'round here after 'em lots o' times lately."
"Give 'em to sick folks an' poor ones that can't get out anywheres," replied the boy, promptly.
The woman searched his face to see if he were deceiving her, but there was nothing sly or underhanded in the clear eyes that returned her gaze so frankly.
"Hm-m," she murmured, thoughtfully. "What do you do Saturday nights, boy?"
"Nothin' much, after I've sold out my papers."
"Well, Saturday night's our busy time here; one of our busy times, that is, an' if you want to come 'round an' help for an hour or two, I'll pay you in the flowers that are left over."
Theo's eyes brightened, but he was shrewd, and was not going to bind himself to an agreement that might not be satisfactory.
"I'll come next Sat'day an' try it," he said.
"All right," and the woman turned to a customer.
Theo was on hand promptly the next Saturday evening. He found that the flower woman wanted him to carry home pots of growing plants for lady purchasers. He was kept busy until nine o'clock, and received in payment a good-sized basket full of violets, roses, heliotrope and carnations. Some had short stems, and some were a little wilted, but the boy was well content with his pay.
"Most of them will freshen up and look bright as ever if you put them to-night in a pail of water where they'll have plenty of room," the woman said; "and here—this is for good luck," and she handed him a little pot of geranium with a cluster of pink blossoms.
That brought a smile of genuine delight to the boy's face.
"Oh!" he cried, "that's dandy! I'll give it to Nan."
"And who's Nan—your sister?" questioned the woman.
"N—no, not quite. Guess she's as good's my sister, though. Shall I come next Sat'day, ma'am?" replied the boy.
"Yes, come next Saturday, an' right along, if you keep on doing as well's you've done to-night."
Theo almost ran home, so eager was he to show Nan his treasures. He had never cared very much for flowers himself, but he was beginning now to realise their value to others, and he was sure that Nan would be delighted with the geranium.
He was not disappointed. The girl's eyes sparkled at sight of the delicate pink blossoms and she thanked him so heartily that he could only mutter, "Oh, shucks! 'Tain't nothin' much."
Then he showed her his basket of cut flowers, and she exclaimed delightedly over them as she lifted them out as tenderly as if they had been alive, and placed them carefully in a pail of fresh water in which she had sprinkled a little salt.
"Mother used to put salt in the water to keep flowers fresh," she said, "and oh, won't it be lovely to carry these around to the shut-ins, tomorrow, Theo! I think Mrs. Hunt would like some," she added.
"All right. Pick out what you like an' take 'em in to her now."
Nan selected some of the freshest blossoms and went across with them to her neighbour, leaving Theo with the baby, who was asleep. She was gone some time, and when she returned her face was grave.
"What's the matter? Didn't she like 'em?" asked the boy.
"Yes, indeed, she was ever so pleased with them, and told me to thank you for sending them to her—but, Theo, she's worrying so over Dick. She thinks he's going all wrong."
"So he is," answered Theo, soberly.
"And can't you do anything about it?"
"Don't see's I can. He's in with a mean lot o' fellers, 'n he's no good anyhow, nowadays."
"But there must be some good in him. His father and mother are so good," pleaded Nan.
"Mrs. Hunt was crying when I went in. She says Dick often stays out till midnight or after now, and she's afraid he'll be locked up."
"Serve him right if he was," muttered Theo, under his breath.
"He's lost the place his father got for him," added Nan.
"'Course. Nobody'd keep such a feller long."
Nan shook her head sorrowfully, thinking of Dick's mother. Theo said no more, and soon left the room. Nan thought he had gone to bed, but instead, he went out and walked slowly and somewhat doubtfully toward a saloon which he had seen Dick enter more than once of late. Theo, himself, used to go there, but he had not been near the place for many a week. He did not want to go in now, and he waited about outside, wishing that Dick would come out, and yet uncertain what to do if he did come. Finally he pushed open the door and went up the stairs. A dozen or so boys were there, many of whom he knew, and among them was Dick. The proprietor of the place gave the boy a warm welcome, and some of the boys greeted him gaily, but Dick scowled as Theo sat down beside him.
He waited until the loud talk began again, then he said in a low tone, "Dick, I came after you. Will you go home with me now? Your mother's frettin'."
Dick's face darkened angrily.
"Who made you boss over me?" he shouted, springing from his seat with a threatening gesture. "You mind your own business, will you?"
Theo's cheeks flushed as every face in the room was turned toward him.
"What's the row?"
"What's he doin'?"
"What does he want?"
"Put him out! Put him out!"
These shouts and others mingled with oaths as all crowded about the two boys.
"There's no row, an' nothin' to get mad about," said Theo, trying to speak quietly. "Dick's mother's frettin', an' I asked him to go home with me. That's all there is about it."
"An' enough it is too," exclaimed one of the boys. "Dick's big enough to know when to go home, ain't he?"
"What's he got to do with me or my mother?" growled Dick, "I'll go home when I get good an' ready, an' not before."
"An' it's time for you to go home now!" exclaimed the proprietor of the place, elbowing his way to the front of the group, and addressing Theo. "We don't want none o' your sort around here. Now clear out—d'ye hear?"
Seeing that it was useless to stay longer, Theo departed, followed by taunting cries and yells, from all in the room.
He went gloomily homeward, telling himself that he had been a fool to try to do anything for Dick Hunt. Dick was "no good anyhow." But, as he passed her door, Mrs. Hunt opened it and peered anxiously out. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she turned back with a disappointed air as she saw Theo. The next moment however, she stepped out into the hall, pushing the door to behind her.
"Tode," she whispered, "do you know where my Dick is?"
The boy answered reluctantly, "He's down at Todd's."
Mrs. Hunt put her apron to her eyes and sobbed softly. "Oh, dear," she moaned, "his father's gone to look for him, an' if he finds him there he'll most kill him—he's that mad with the boy for the way he's been goin' on lately."
Theo stood silent, not knowing what to say, and then Mrs. Hunt turned back into the room while he went up another flight to his. He had just reached his own door when he heard loud, angry voices accompanied by scuffling sounds on the stairs below, and he knew that Mr. Hunt had found Dick, and was bringing him home.
After Theodore had gone out, Nan had put all the flowers into two big dishes with plenty of water, and the next morning she was up early and separated them, putting together two or three pinks or a rose with its buds and a bit of foliage, or a cluster of geranium blossoms and green leaves.
When Theo came for them she laid the small clusters carefully in a basket, and sprinkled them with fresh water, then as she stooped and buried her face among the fragrant, beautiful things she exclaimed,
"Oh Theo, I wish I had time to go with you, and see how happy you make them all with these beautiful, lovely flowers."
"I'll begin with you," laughed the boy. "Pick out the ones you like best."
But Nan put her hands resolutely behind her and shook her head.
"No, I'm not sick and I've had the pleasure of seeing them all, and fixing them, beside my pot of geranium. That's plenty for me."
Theodore looked critically at her, then at the blossoms; then he picked out three delicate pink carnations.
"No, no! Please don't, Theo," began the girl, but with a laughing glance at her, Theodore laid the blossoms in Little Brother's small white fingers, and hurried away.
He went first to Tommy O'Brien's room. The sick boy's weary face brightened at sight of him, but it fairly beamed when Theodore held up the basket saying, "Choose any one of 'em Tommy—the very prettiest of all."
"O-oh!" cried Tommy. "I never saw so many. Oh, Theo, where did you get 'em all?"
Theo told him while the woman and the children crowded about the basket to see and exclaim over the contents.
Tommy chose a spray of lily of the valley and Theo added a pink rose and bud. Then he gave a blossom to each of the children and to their mothers as well, and went away leaving softened faces and smiles in place of frowns and sullen words.
The old woman whose breakfast was so often forgotten was not alone to-day. Her daughters were at home, but they were not paying much attention to her. At first she peered stupidly with her half-blind eyes into Theo's basket, then suddenly she cried out,
"Oh, I smell 'em! I smell vi'lets. Where be they? Where be they?"
There was one little bunch of violets in the basket. Theo snatched it up and laid it in the wrinkled, trembling hands. The old woman held the blossoms against her withered cheek, then she pressed them to her lips, and two big tears rolled slowly down her face.
"La! Ma's cryin' over them vi'lets. Here Tode, gi' me some o' them bright ones. Gi' me a rose!" cried one of the young women, and Theo handed each of them a rose and went away in silence. He glanced back as he left the room. The old woman was still holding the violets to her cheek and it was plain, even to the boy, that her thoughts were far away.
So, from room to room he went and nowhere did he fail of a glad welcome, because of the gifts he offered. In the dirtiest rooms, the most hardened of the women, the roughest and rudest of the children, seemed to become momentarily gentle and tender when the flowers were laid in their hands.
When all had been given away except one rose, Theodore paused and considered. There were several rooms that he had not visited. To which of these should he carry this last rose?
Not to Old Man Schneider surely. He was standing at the moment outside Old Man Schneider's door. The old man was the terror of all the children in the house, so ugly and profane was he, and so hideous to look at. Fearless as Theodore was—the sight of Old Man Schneider always made him shudder, and the boy had never yet spoken to him.
While he stood there trying to decide who should have the rose, he heard a deep, hollow groan, and surely it came from the room of Old Man Schneider. Theodore stood still and listened. There came another groan and another, and then he knocked on the door. There was no response and he opened it and went in. He had been in many dirty, dismal rooms, but never in one so dirty and so dismal as this. It looked as if it never had been clean. The only furniture was a tumble-down bed in one corner, a chair and a broken stove. On the bed, the old man was lying, covered with rags. He fixed his sunken eyes on the boy and roughly demanded what he wanted, but even as he spoke he groaned again.
"You are sick—can't I do something for you?" asked the boy.
The old man gazed at him for a moment, then he broke into a torrent of angry words, ending with,
"Get out o' my sight. I hate boys. I hate everybody an' everything."
Theodore stood still. The rose in his hand looked strangely out of place in that squalid room—but—beautifully out of place, for it seemed to shed light and color as well as perfume through the close, unhealthy atmosphere.
"Clear out, I say. Why don't ye go?" The old man tried to shake a threatening fist, but his arm dropped weakly, and in spite of himself he moaned with pain.
"Can't I bring a doctor or somebody to help you?" the boy asked gently.
"Ain't nobody ter help me. Don't I tell ye I hate everybody?" was the fierce reply.
Theodore gazed about him. There seemed nothing that he could do. He hesitated for a moment, then stepped forward and laid the beautiful rose against the dark, knotted fingers on the ragged bed-covering, and then he went away, closing the door behind him. Stopping only to put his basket into his room and lock the door, he hurried off to the dispensary and asked that a doctor be sent to Old Man Schneider as soon as possible. He waited until the doctor was at liberty and then returned with him. There was no response to their knock, and again Theodore opened the door and went in, the doctor following.
The old man did not move or look up even when the doctor spoke to him. He lay as Theo had last seen him only that his fingers were closed tightly over the stem of the rose, and one crimson petal lay on the pillow close to the sunken cheek. The old man was dead—but who could tell what thoughts of other days—of sinless days long past, perhaps—may have been awakened in his heart by that fragrant, beautiful bit of God's handiwork?
As Theodore went quietly up the stairs, he was glad that he had not passed by Old Man Schneider's door.
IX. THEO IN TROUBLE
Theo went regularly now to the mission school on Sunday afternoons, and Mr. Scott had become much interested in him.
One day Mr. Scott pleased Theo immensely by going to the boy's stand and getting his lunch there, and not long after he went one evening to the boy's room. He found the place dark and the door locked, but as he was turning away, Theo came running up the stairs.
"Oh!" he cried out, in a tone of pleased surprise, as he saw his teacher. "Wait a minute an' I'll get a light."
Having lighted his lamp, the boy sat down on the cot, giving the broken stool to his visitor. Mr. Scott's heart was full of sympathy as he glanced around the forlorn little room and remembered that it was all the home that the boy had.
"Theodore," he said, after talking a while, "what do you do evenings?"
"Oh, sometimes I stay in Nan's room, an' sometimes I drop in an' talk to Tommy O'Brien or some of the other sick ones in the house, an' sometimes I go somewheres outside. Saturday nights I help at a flower stand."
"Why don't you go to an evening school? I think that would be the best place for you to spend your evenings," said Mr. Scott.
This was a new idea to the boy. He thought it over in silence.
Mr. Scott went on, "It's not your fault, Theodore, that you have had no schooling, thus far, but now, you can go to an evening school and it will be your fault if you grow up ignorant. You will be able to do far more and better work in the world, with an education, than without one. The more you know yourself the better you can help others, you see."
"Yes," sighed the boy. "I guess that's so, but I 'spect I'll find it tough work learning."
"I'm not so sure of that. It will be rather hard at first, because you're not used to studying; but I think you are bright enough to go ahead pretty fast when you once get a good start. Now who is this girl, that I've heard you mention several times—Nan is her name?"
"Oh, yes, Nan. Come on, I want you to see her an' our baby," replied the boy, eagerly.
Somewhat uncertain as to what kind of a girl this might be, yet anxious to know as much as possible about Theo's associates and surroundings, Mr. Scott followed the boy down the stairs.
"Nan, here's my teacher, Mr. Scott, come to see the baby," Theodore exclaimed, as he unceremoniously pushed open the door and ushered in the visitor.
Mr. Scott was more taken aback than was Nan, at this abrupt introduction. The girl coloured a little, but quietly arose and shook hands with the gentleman, while Theo exclaimed:
"Good! Little Brother ain't asleep yet. This is our baby, Mr. Scott. Ain't he a daisy? Take him."
Now, Mr. Scott was a young man and totally unused to "taking" babies, but the boy had lifted the little one from the bed and was holding him out to his teacher with such a happy face that the young man felt that it would never do to disappoint him. So he received the baby gingerly in both hands and set him on his knee, but he did not know what to say or do to amuse the child, and it was an immense relief to him when Little Brother held out his hands to Theo, and the boy took him again saying,
"Ye don't know him yet, do ye, Little Brother? You will though, by 'n' by," wherein Theo was more of a prophet than he imagined.
Relieved of the child, Mr. Scott turned to Nan and the colour rose in his face as he saw a gleam of amusement in the girl's dark eyes, but Theo's ready tongue filled up the momentary pause, and soon all three were chatting like old friends, and when Mr. Scott took his departure, it was with the conviction that his new scholar was fortunate in having Nan for a friend. At the same time he realised that this great tenement with its mixed community was a most unsuitable place for a girl like Nan, and determined that she should be gotten into better surroundings as soon as it could be accomplished.
His interest in Theodore was deepened by this visit to his room and friends. He felt that there was something unusual in the boy, and determined to keep watch of him and give him any needed help.
It was November now and the night was chilly. As Mr. Scott left the tenement house he buttoned his thick overcoat about him, and shivered as he thought of Theodore's bare cot, with not a pillow or a blanket even.
"Not a single bit of bedding," he said, to himself, "and no fire! That will never do, in weather like this."
The next day he mentioned the case to the aunt with whom he lived, with the result that a couple of pillows and a warm comforter were sent before night to Nan's room, addressed to Theodore Bryan, and for the remainder of the winter the boy at least did not suffer from cold at night.
Theodore grew to like his teacher much as the weeks passed, and often after Sunday-school the two walked home together. Some of the boys that had been longer in the class rather resented this friendship, the more so as Theo was by no means popular among them just at this time.
"He's gettin' too good, Tode Bryan is," one of them said, one Sunday. "He walked home with teacher last week, an' now he's a doin' it again." He glanced gloomily after the two, as he spoke.
"I'd like ter punch his head; that's what I'd like to do," put in another. "He pitched inter me for swearin' t'other day."
"He's a fine one to talk 'bout swearin'," added a third. "I've heard him goin' it hot an' heavy many a time."
"Oh yes, but he's settin' up fer a saint now, ye know," said Dick Hunt, scornfully. "I owe him a lickin,' an' he'll get it too 'fore he's many days older."
"What for, Dicky?" questioned another.
"What for? For blabbin' to my daddy an' sendin' him to Todd's after me, the night he come sneakin' in there himself," cried Dick. "I've been layin' for him ever since, an' I'll give it to him good, first chance I get."
"He goes to night school now," remarked one.
"Oh, yes, he's puttin' on airs all 'round," returned Dick. "I'll night school him!" he added, vengefully.
It was not long before Dick found an opportunity to execute his threats of vengeance. He was loafing on a street corner, with Carrots and two other boys, one night, when Theodore passed them on his way home from school. He nodded to them as he went by, but did not stop. Dick's eyes followed him with a threatening glance until he saw him turn through a narrow street. Then Dick held a brief conference with Carrots and the other two, and all four set off hastily in the direction that Theodore had taken.
He, meantime, went on whistling cheerily and thinking pleasant thoughts, for he was beginning to get on at the school, and better yet, he had in his pocket at that moment, a five-dollar bill that meant a great deal to him.
Ever since his return from the bishop's house, he had been working as he never had worked before, neglecting no opportunity to earn even a nickel, and every penny that he could possibly spare he had given to Nan to keep for him. He had been perfectly frank with her, and she knew that as soon as he had saved up thirty-seven dollars he meant to carry it to the bishop for Mrs. Russell, and tell him the whole story. First, to stop all his wrongdoing and then as far as possible, to make up to those he had wronged—these were Theodore's firm purposes now, but he felt that he could never bear to face the bishop again until he could take with him the proof of his genuine repentance.
Many and many a time in these past weeks, had the boy planned with Nan how he would go to the house and what he would say to the bishop, and what he hoped the bishop would say to him, and Nan had rejoiced almost as much as the boy himself as, week by week, the sum in her hands grew toward the desired amount. Even Nan did not know all the hard work and stern self-denial that had made it possible for Theodore to put by that money out of his small earnings.
The five in his pocket on this evening would complete the entire sum and the very next day he meant to carry it to the bishop. The mere thought of seeing again the face that was to him like no other face in all the world—filled the boy's heart with a deep, sweet delight. He was thinking of it as he hurried along through a short, dark alley, where were only two or three stables and one empty house.
Quick, stealthy footsteps followed him, but he paid no heed to them until a heavy blow on the back of his head made him suddenly turn and face four dark figures that were close at his heels.
"Who are you? What ye hittin' me for?" he demanded, angrily.
There was no response, but Dick struck at him again. This time, however, Theodore was on his guard, and he caught Dick's arm and gave it a twist that made its owner cry out.
"Oh ho, it's you, Dick Hunt. I might a' known nobody else would sneak up on a feller this way. Well, now, what are ye after?"
"I'm after givin' you the worst lickin' ever you had," muttered Dick, trying in vain to free his arm from Theo's strong grip.
"What for?" demanded Theodore.
"For sneakin' into Todd's and then runnin' to tell my father where I was. That's one thing, but there's plenty more't I'm goin' to settle with you for, to-night," shouted Dick, as he pounded with his left hand, and kicked viciously at the other's shins.
"I never spoke to your father that night," Theo declared, but Dick responded, scornfully,
"Tell that to a greenhorn! Pitch into him, boys. He won't let go o' me."
Seeing the others start toward him, Theo flung Dick's arm aside, and bracing himself against a vacant house just behind him, faced them all in dogged silence. They hesitated for a moment, but Dick cried out again,
"Come on, boys!" and the four flung themselves upon Theo, striking, pounding and kicking all together. He defended himself as best he could, but the odds were too great. It was only when the boy slipped to the ground in a limp, motionless heap, that his assailants drew off, and looked uneasily at one another in the darkness.
"What'll we do now?" whispered Carrots.
"Cut it—somebody's comin'!" cried Dick, in a low tone, and thereupon they took to their heels, leaving Theo as he had fallen on the ground.
The boys stopped running as soon as they reached a lighted street where the passers-by might notice them; but they walked on rapidly and discussed the affair in low, guarded tones.
"You don't think he's done for, do ye, Dick?" questioned Carrots, uneasily.
Dick tried to laugh carelessly, but the effort was a failure. He was beginning to be anxious as to the result, though he was not ready to admit it.
"Done for? Not much!" he answered, promptly. "More like he was shammin', an' wasn't hurt half so much as he'd ought ter be."
"But if 'tain't so-if he's hurt bad, he may have us up for 'sault an' batt'ry," remarked another.
"Dick's the only one he could go for, 'cause 'twas so dark, he couldn't spot the rest of us," put in Carrots, hastily.
"Ye needn't try to sneak out o' it that way," cried Dick, sharply. "If I get took up, you'll be, too."
"D'ye mean't you'd give us away after gettin' us into it, jest ter help you out?" demanded the other, in a threatening tone.
"If he does, we'll make it hot fer him" put in another, as Dick answered, doubtfully,
"Wal if he should make a fuss 'bout it, I can't take all the blame, can I? I didn't do all the whackin'."
"Well, I say, boys, he's a nice one, Dick Hunt is! After gettin' us to help him lick a feller 'cause he darsent do it alone, he talks of gettin' us took up for it," exclaimed the last speaker; "but see here, you," he added to Dick, "Bryan knew you an' he didn't know any the rest of us, an' I tell ye what—if you get inter trouble 'bout this job, you lug us into it 'f ye dare! I'll swear 't Carrots an' Jo here were down t' my place with me, 'n' they'll swear to it too; hey, boys?"
"We will so!"
"We'll do that ev'ry time!" they answered in one voice; and then with a few cutting words the three turned off together, leaving Dick to pursue his way alone.
And miserable enough Dick was as he walked on alone. He was not in the least sorry for what had been done to Theodore, but he was afraid of the consequences. He turned sick with dread as he remembered how the boy's body had slipped in a limp heap to the ground and lain there motionless.
Suppose they had killed him? It would be murder. Somebody would have to answer for it and that somebody would be he—Dick Hunt. The cold perspiration started on his forehead and his heart throbbed heavily at the thought, and he felt a wild desire to run on and on till he had left that dark heap in the dark alley, miles and miles behind him.