Then came a flash of hope. Perhaps after all Tode was not so badly hurt. Perhaps he had been shamming just to scare them. At this thought, Dick's quick pace slackened and he had half a mind to go back and see if the body still lay there, but he could not bring himself to do that. He shivered and hurried on aimlessly, through the brightly lighted streets. He was afraid to go home, lest he be met there by the news that he dreaded. He was afraid to stay in the streets, for every moment he expected to feel the heavy hand of a policeman on his shoulder. He said to himself that Carrots and the others might inform against him just to save themselves.
So, as wretched as a boy well could be, he wandered about for an hour or two, stopping sometimes in dark corners and then hastening on again, stealing suspicious glances over his shoulders, and listening for pursuing footsteps. At last, he turned homeward, longing, yet dreading, to see his mother.
It was nearly midnight when he crept softly up the stairs, but his mother had been unable to sleep, and as his hand touched the door in the darkness, she threw it open with a sigh of relief that her weary waiting was over for that night. She did not find fault with him. It seemed to her utterly useless now to complain or entreat.
Dick longed to ask if she knew anything about Tode, but his tongue refused to utter the words and he tumbled into bed in gloomy silence.
There had been no shamming when Theo fell under the brutal blows of the four boys who had set upon him. They were all strong, well-grown lads, and striking blindly and viciously in the dark, had perhaps hit harder than they realised. At any rate Theo had felt his strength failing even before a last blow on his head made him unconscious of what followed.
The "somebody," whom the boys had heard, came slouching along through the dark alley and stumbled over the prostrate body.
"Hello! What's this?" he exclaimed, his nimble fingers running rapidly over the boy's face and figure. "Somebody's been up to something here. Let's see if—no! Well, that's queer!"
These disconnected remarks were the accompaniment to a rapid and skillful search through the boy's pockets, and the last emphatic expression was drawn forth by the discovery that there had been no robbery; whereupon the newcomer promptly proceeded to complete the job by emptying the said pockets in a manner that proved him no novice at such business. Then he stole noiselessly away, leaving the boy again alone in the darkness, and now there was no good bishop at hand to take him in.
Meantime, at home, Nan was wondering why Theo did not come in as usual to tell her what he had been doing at the night school, and to get Tag, who always staid with her when Theo was at the school. Tag was troubled and uneasy too. When it was time for the boy to come Tag sat watching the door, his ears alert for a footstep outside. Now and then he whined, and finally he showed so plainly his desire to go out that Nan opened the door, saying,
"Go find him, Tag."
She stood in her doorway listening, and heard the dog scamper up to Theo's door. There he listened and nosed about for a moment, then down he came again, and with a short, anxious bark, dashed down the stairs to the street. Nan waited a long time but the dog did not return, and at last she put out her light and went to bed with a troubled heart.
But Tag could not sleep. He seemed to know that there was something wrong and something for him to attend to. He raced first to his master's stand, then to the mission school and to the night school, and finding all these places now dark and silent, he pattered through the streets, his nose close to the ground, his anxious, loving eyes watching everything that moved. So at last he came to that dark heap in the dark alley, and first he was wild with joy, but when his frantic delight failed to awaken his master and make him come away home, Tag was sure that something was very wrong indeed and he began to run backward and forward between the motionless body and the corner, until he attracted the attention of a policeman who followed him around into the dark alley, and in a few minutes Theodore was on his way to the Emergency Hospital with Tag following after the ambulance at the top of his speed. But once again Tag found himself rudely repulsed when he tried to slip in after his master. This time he felt that he really could not bear it, and so he stood on the hospital steps and lifting up his voice howled his protest until somebody came and drove him away. But he couldn't stay away, so he crawled into a dark corner up against the wall, and curling himself into the smallest possible space, lay there watchful and wretched until morning, when, after eyeing wistfully those who came out and went in past him, he trotted slowly home to Nan, and did his poor best to tell her what had happened and where Theo was.
Nan had passed an anxious night, for she was sure that there was something wrong, and since Theo's return from the bishop's, he had been so changed, that she had grown very fond of him. Being a year or two his senior, she felt a kind of elder sisterly responsibility in regard to him, knowing as she did, that he was even more alone in the world than she, for she had Little Brother, and Theo had nobody at all.
So she was at Mrs. Hunt's door, talking the matter over with her, when Tag, with drooping head and tail, came slowly up the stairs. He wagged his tail faintly at sight of Nan, and rubbed his head affectionately against her, and then stood looking up at her, as if waiting to be questioned.
"He's been gone all night," Nan was saying to Mrs. Hunt, and referring to the dog, "but I don't believe he found Theo. He doesn't act as if he had. Oh, Mrs. Hunt, where do you suppose he is?"
Mrs. Hunt shook her head. "The dear knows," she said, "but something must 'a' happened to him, sure. He's been steady as clockwork since ever he took that room upstairs, I'll say that for him." She sighed as she spoke, thinking of her Dick.
"But what can I do, Mrs. Hunt?" cried Nan, her eyes full of tears. "It seems dreadful to keep right on, just as if he were here, as usual. Isn't there any way to find out where he is?"
"Look here, Nan," exclaimed Mrs. Hunt.
"Do you know where his teacher—that Mr. Scott—lives?"
"Well, why don't you send word to him? He seems to think a lot of Tode an' Dick. I guess he does of all his scholars. He would know what to do, an' where to look for the boy—don't you think so?"
Nan's face had brightened as her friend spoke.
"I'm sure that's a good idea," she replied. "He's always been so nice and kind to Theo. I most know he'll help find him."
"That's right now, child, stop fretting, for I'll warrant he'll set things straight in no time. I'll let Dick or Jimmy go around to Mr. Scott's as soon as they've had their breakfast."
Relieved by this promise, and trying hard to be hopeful and not to worry, Nan ran back to her room, while Mrs. Hunt called the boys.
Dick pretended to be very sound asleep, and it required more than one call and shake to arouse him, but in reality, he too had passed a most miserable night, and he had listened, with heart beating fast and hard, to his mother's colloquy with Nan; and as he listened, ever before his mind's eye was that dark, motionless heap on the ground. In imagination, he saw Theo's dead body on a slab in the morgue, and himself in a prison cell, condemned for murder. Dick's worst enemy could not have wished him to be any more wretched than he was in that hour, as he cowered in his bed, and strained his ears to catch every word that was uttered. But when his mother shook him, he rubbed his eyes, and pretended to be still half asleep, and flatly refused to go to Mr. Scott's.
"Let Jim go, 'f anybody's got to," he growled, as he began to pull on his clothes. "Here you, Jim, turn out lively now!" he added, yanking the bedclothes off his brother to emphasise his words.
"He's always a-puttin' off on me—Dick is," snarled Jim, as he joined his mother in the other room a few minutes later, but when he learned why he was to go to Mr. Scott's he made no further objections, but swallowed his breakfast hastily, and went off on the run. Jim did not share his brother's enmity toward the missing boy. Jim liked Theo. He liked Nan too, and was always ready to do an errand for her, if she wanted him.
Mr. Scott was just sitting down to breakfast when Jim appeared, and he left his coffee to cool while he listened with keen interest to what the boy had to tell him. His face was very grave as he said,
"Tell Miss Nan that I will be around there within an hour. See here, though, Jim,—have you had your breakfast?"
"Ye—yes, sir," Jim answered, with a quick glance at the hot cakes and chops that had such an appetising odour. Jim didn't have chops and hot cakes for breakfast.
"Aunt Mary, can you put another plate here for Jim?" Mr. Scott asked, and his aunt, with a smile, set another chair at the table, and piled a plate with eatables, of which the boy disposed as easily and speedily as if that had been his first meal that day.
Mr. Scott likewise made a hasty breakfast, and then he sent Jim back to Nan, while he himself went to his place of business to arrange for his absence that morning.
Within the hour, as he had said, he knocked at Nan's door. She welcomed him with a feeling of glad relief, assured that at least he would be able to find out where Theo was. He waited only to get what little information she could give him, and then set forth, but before he had reached the bottom of the first flight of stairs, Nan ran after him.
"Mr. Scott," she called. "Wouldn't it be a good plan to take Tag—Theo's dog—with you?"
Mr. Scott thought it would, but now an unexpected obstacle was encountered. Tag refused to go with him. He crept under Nan's dress, and crouched there, looking quietly out at the gentleman, but making no movement toward him, though he called and whistled as persuasively as he could.
"Oh, Tag, do go," pleaded Nan, almost ready to cry at the dog's unexpected obstinacy.
Tag twisted his head and looked up at her, and it almost seemed as if he were moved by her pleading tone, for, after a moment's hesitation, he crept slowly out from his refuge, and followed Mr. Scott down the stairs. Once outside the house he stopped and gazed with keen, questioning eyes at the gentleman, standing, meanwhile, ready to dart off, should any attempt be made to capture him, but Mr. Scott stopped too, and said quietly,
"Go find him, Tag. Find Theo."
That was enough for the intelligent little creature. With a quick, sharp yelp of satisfaction, Tag set off at such a pace that Mr. Scott had hard work to keep him in sight. In fact, as soon as they turned into a thronged business street, he lost sight of his four-footed guide entirely, but the direction Tag had taken was a sufficient clue. The young man was so certain that the Emergency Hospital was the place to which the dog was leading him, that he boarded a car and went directly there, and sure enough on the steps sat Tag, his short ears erect, and his eager eyes watching impatiently for a chance to slip inside the doors.
He seemed to know that his chance had come when he saw Mr. Scott running up the steps, for he frisked about and showed his delight in every conceivable fashion. Dogs were not allowed in the hospital, but when Mr. Scott picked Tag up in his arms and promised to keep him there, the attendant finally consented that he should do so. And so they went first to the waiting-room and then up the stairs and through the long corridors.
X. A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT
Theodore was still unconscious when he was lifted into the ambulance the night before, but on the way to the hospital he opened his eyes, wondering much to find himself flat on his back and being driven rapidly through the streets. In a few minutes he remembered what had happened, and guessed that he must have been stunned by a blow or a fall. As he reached this conclusion, the vehicle stopped, and he was lifted out and carried into the hospital in spite of his protests. He had a dread of entering a hospital as a patient, and he wanted to go home.
But the doctors would not allow him to go home. They told him that if he would be quiet and do as they said, he would probably be able to go home the next morning, and with this promise he was obliged to be content, and allow himself to be undressed and put to bed. He was badly bruised and his right shoulder was very lame, but there was no serious injury, and it seemed to the boy very trying to be compelled to spend the night where he was. He did not sleep much, partly because of his strange surroundings, and partly because of his aching head and shoulder, and as he lay there in the dimly-lighted ward, his thoughts were busy.
A hot anger burned in his heart as he recalled the cowardly attack in the dark alley. He saw that it had been deliberately planned by Dick Hunt, and that the four boys must have followed him from the corner where he saw them.
"I'll pay that Dick Hunt for this," he muttered under his breath, "an' Carrots, too. I know the chap that hit so hard was Carrots. I'll make 'em suffer for it!"
He lay there, his eyes flashing and his cheeks burning, as he thought over various schemes of vengeance. Then suddenly he thought of Mr. Scott, and that brought something else to his remembrance. He seemed to see his teacher holding out his little Bible and making him—Theodore—read aloud those two verses:
"Dearly beloved avenge not yourselves."
And "Recompense to no man evil for evil."
As he repeated these words to himself, the fire died slowly out of the boy's eyes and the angry colour faded from his cheeks. He turned restlessly in his bed and tried to banish these thoughts and bring back his schemes of vengeance, but he could not do it. He knew what was the right—what he ought to do—but he was not willing to do it. Hour after hour he argued the matter with himself, finding all sorts of reasons why, in this case, he might take vengeance into his own hands and "learn that Dick Hunt a lesson," yet feeling and knowing in the depths of his heart that whatever the old Tode Bryan might have done, Theodore Bryan, who was trying to be the bishop's shadow, certainly had no right to do evil to somebody else simply because that somebody had done evil to him.
It was nearly morning before the long battle with himself was over, but it ended at last, and it was Theodore, and not Tode who was victorious, and it was the memory of the bishop's face, and of the bishop's prayer that day in the poorhouse, that finally settled the matter.
"He'd fight for somebody else, the bishop would, but he wouldn't ever fight for himself, an' I mustn't neither," the boy murmured, softly, and then with a long breath he turned his face to the wall and fell asleep, and he had but just awakened from that sleep when Mr. Scott, with Tag under his arm, came through the long corridor to the ward where Theodore was lying in the very last cot, next the wall.
Mr. Scott had promised not to let the dog out of his arms, but if he had been better acquainted with Tag he would never have made such a rash promise. As the gentleman followed the nurse into the ward, the dog's eyes flashed a swift glance over the long line of cots, and the next instant something dark went flying down the room and up on to that last cot in the row, and there was Tag licking his master's face and hands, and wagging his tail, and barking like mad.
"Dear me!" exclaimed the nurse, running toward the corner. "This will never do. He'll drive the patients into fits! Why didn't you keep hold of him?"
She threw the question back in a reproachful tone to Mr. Scott.
He laughed a little as he answered, "If you will try to pick him up now and hold him, you will understand why."
Even as he spoke, the nurse was making an attempt to capture and silence the noisy little fellow. She might as well have tried to pick up a ball of quicksilver. Tag slipped through her fingers like an eel, scurrying from one end of the cot to the other, and barking excitedly all the time.
"Can't you stop him, Theodore?" exclaimed Mr. Scott, as he reached the corner where the boy lay.
"Here, Tag, lie down and be still," cried the boy, and with one last defiant yap at the nurse, Tag nosed aside the bedclothes and snuggled down beside his master with a sigh of glad content.
"Well, if ever I let a dog into my ward again!" exclaimed the nurse, in a tone of stern determination.
"I'm sorry he made such a noise, ma'am. It was only because he was so glad to find me," said Theodore, quickly.
The nurse turned away in offended silence, and Mr. Scott sat down by the bed and began to talk with the boy.
He listened with a grave face to Theo's story. When it was ended, he asked, "Did you recognise either of the boys?"
"Yes, sir; one, certainly, and I think I know one of the others."
"Well?" said the teacher, inquiringly.
Theodore hesitated a moment, then answered in a low tone, "You 'member them verses you showed me that first Sunday, Mr. Scott?"
The gentleman smiled down into the sober, boyish face. "I remember," he replied, "but, Theo, this is a grave matter. To beat a boy until he is unconscious, and then leave him to live or die, is a crime. Such boys ought not to be shielded."
"Mr. Scott, I had an awful time over that last night," answered the boy, earnestly. "I wanted to pay them fellers for this job—you better b'lieve I did, but," he shook his head slowly, "I can't do it. You see, sir, I ain't Tode no more—I'm Theodore, now."
There was a look on the homely, boyish face that forbade further discussion of the matter, and, after a moment's silence, Mr. Scott said in a different tone, "Well, my boy, when are you going home? Nan and the baby want to see you."
Theo glanced impatiently about the long room.
"She said I'd got to stay in bed till the doctor had seen me," he replied, "'n the doctor'll be here 'bout nine o'clock."
"She" was the nurse.
"It's nearly nine now. I'll wait until the doctor comes, then," Mr. Scott said.
The doctor pronounced the boy quite fit to leave the hospital, and his clothes being brought to him, the curtains were drawn around his cot and he dressed himself hastily. But as he pushed aside the curtains, Mr. Scott saw a troubled look on his face, and asked:
"What's the matter, Theodore?"
Without answering the boy crossed the room to the nurse.
"Where's the money that was in my pocket?" he asked, anxiously.
The nurse looked at him sharply. "If there was any money in your pockets when you were brought here it would be in them now," she answered, shortly. "You can go to the office and ask any questions you like."
Theodore turned toward his teacher a very sorrowful face.
"I've been robbed, too," he said.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Theodore. How much have you lost?"
"Five dollars. She says to ask at the office, but 'twon't do no good, I s'pose."
"No, nothing would have been taken from your pockets here, but we will stop at the office and see if we can learn anything," Mr. Scott said.
Tag had kept close to his master's heels, and now at his teacher's suggestion Theodore picked up the dog, who went forth quietly enough in that fashion.
Inquiries at the office convinced the boy that he had been robbed before he was brought there, and naturally enough he came to the conclusion that his money had gone into the pockets of Dick Hunt and his companions.
At the door of the tenement house Mr. Scott left Theo, who hurried eagerly up the stairs. On the landing he met Jimmy Hunt, who called out:
"Hi—o, Tode, where ye been all night? Say, what was the matter? Did Mr. Scott find ye?"
"Yes," was Theo's only response, as he pushed open Nan's door, to be greeted with such a warm welcome that he hardly knew what to say and had to hide his embarrassment by poking the baby's ribs to make him laugh. Jimmy Hunt had followed him into the room and listened with open mouth as well as ears to the brief story that the boy told in reply to Nan's questions.
"Oh, 'twasn't much. I got knocked down an' carried to the hospital, an' they wouldn't let me come away till morning—that's all."
"An' wasn't ye hurt?" cried Jimmy, in a disappointed tone. It seemed to him altogether too tame an affair if nobody was hurt.
"My shoulder's sprained, an' my head was hurt a little," Theo answered. "Say, Jim, where's Dick?"
"I d'know. Out somewheres," replied Dick's brother, indifferently.
"Why ain't you in school, Jimmy?" was Theo's next question.
"Well, I like that!" exclaimed Jimmy, in a tone of deep disgust. "Ain't I been a-racin' all over town for you this mornin', a-gettin' Mr. Scott to hunt ye up, an' goin' ter see 'f your stand's open, an' carryin' things 'round fer Nan, too? How could I do all that an' be in school, I'd like to know?"
"'Deed, you couldn't, Jimmy," replied Nan, soothingly. "I don't know what I should have done this morning without him, Theo. He was my right hand man."
Jimmy coloured with satisfaction at this high praise, and his delight was complete when Theodore added,
"That so? Well now, Jimmy boy, I ain't goin' to forget this."
"Huh! Twarn't nothin'. I liked to do it," replied Jimmy, and then overcome by a sudden and unaccountable fit of bashfulness he ran hastily out of the room.
Then Theodore told Nan the details of his adventure, but not even to her would he tell the name of his enemy, and Nan did not guess, for she would never have imagined that Mrs. Hunt's Dick could have served Theo so.
Dick had gone out as usual after breakfast and did not come home even to get his supper, but of late his habits had been so irregular that nothing was said at home about his absence.
After supper Jimmy was sent out on an errand and Dick met him and questioned him in regard to Theo's return, and what he had to say. Jimmy waxed indignant over the story which he filled in from his own imagination with many vivid details.
"Some fellers pitched into him an' knocked him down an' beat him an' left him for dead an' they took him t' the hospital an' kep' him there all night. Guess them fellers'll suffer for it! They robbed him, too. Took five dollars out o' his pockets."
"They didn't neither!" exclaimed Dick, hastily, thrown off his guard by this unexpected statement.
"Come now, Dick Hunt, mebbe you know more'n I do about it," retorted Jimmy, with withering sarcasm, little suspecting how much more his brother did know. "Mebbe you heard what Nan said to ma 'bout it."
"No, no! 'Course I d'know nothin' 'bout it. How would I know?" replied Dick, quickly and uneasily. "Say, Jimmy, is he—is Tode goin' to have them fellers took up?"
"'Spect he is—I would," answered Jimmy; then remembering his errand, he ran off, leaving Dick looking after him with a haggard, miserable face.
"Robbed," Dick said to himself, as he walked moodily and aimlessly on. "We didn't do that anyhow. Somebody must 'a' gone through his pockets after we cleared out. Nice box I'm in now!"
Dick did not go home at all that night. He was afraid that he might be arrested if he did.
"He knows 'twas me did it, an' he's keepin' dark 'bout it till they can nab me," he thought.
He hunted up the three boys who had been so ready to help him the night before, but he found them now firmly banded together against him. Moreover, they had spread such reports of him among their companions, that Dick found himself shunned by them all. He dared not go home, so he wandered about the streets, eating in out-of-the-way places, and sleeping where he could. One day Carrots told him that Tode Bryan was huntin' everywhere for him. Then Dick, in desperation, made up his mind to go to sea—he could stand the strain no longer. He dared not go home, even to bid his mother goodbye. Dick was selfish and cruel, but he had even yet a little lingering tenderness for his mother. It was not enough to make him behave himself and do what he knew would please her, but it did make him wish that he could see her just for a moment before going away. It was enough to make him creep cautiously to the house after dark, and stand in the shadow, looking up at her window, while he pictured to himself the neat, pleasant room, where at that hour, she would be preparing supper. While he stood there, Theo came out of the house, with Tag, as usual, at his heels. Tag ran over to the dark corner and investigated Dick, but cautiously, for there was no friendship between him and this member of the Hunt family. Dick stood silent and motionless afraid that the dog might bark and draw Theo over there, but he stood ready for flight until Theo whistled and Tag ran back to him, and presently followed him off in another direction. Then, with a breath of relief, Dick stole off into the darkness, and the next day he left the city on a vessel bound for South America, rejoicing that at last he was beyond reach of Tode Bryan.
Dick was not mistaken in thinking that Theo had been searching for him, but he was greatly mistaken as to the boy's purpose in it. Theodore was entirely ready now to obey that command that Mr. Scott had shown him and to do his best to "overcome evil with good." He took it for granted that Dick and the others had robbed as well as beaten him, but all the same, he felt that he was bound to forget all that and find some way to show them a kindness. But though Theo was always on the lookout for him, Dick managed to keep out of his sight while he remained in the city. After Dick had sailed, some boy told Jimmy where his brother had gone, and so at last the news reached Theodore.
Since his return from the bishop's, Theo had had few idle moments, but after losing the five dollars he worked early and late to make up the loss. He grew more silent and thoughtful, and when alone his thoughts dwelt almost continually on that happy day when he should look once more into the bishop's kind face.
"I'll tell him all about it," he would say to himself, "how I saw that Mrs. Russell drop the pocketbook, an' how I slipped under the wagon an' snatched it up out o' the mud, an' used the money. I'll tell it all, an' ev'rything else bad that I can 'member, so he'll know jest what a bad lot I've been, an' then I'll tell him how sorry I am, an' how I'm a-huntin' ev'rywhere for that Jack Finney, an' how I'll keep a-huntin' till I find him."
All this and much more Theodore planned to tell the bishop, and, as he thought about it, it seemed as if he could not wait another hour, so intense was his longing to look once more into that face that was like no other earthly face to him, to listen again to the voice that thrilled his heart, and hear it say, "My boy, I forgive you." Many a time he dreamt of this and started up from sleep with those words ringing in his ears, "My boy, I forgive you," and then finding himself alone in his dark, dismal little room, he would bury his wet cheeks in the pillow and try to stifle the longing in his lonely, boyish heart.
Even Nan, who knew him better than did any one else, never guessed how his heart hungered to hear those words from the lips of the bishop.
But little by little—in nickels and dimes and quarters—Theodore laid by another five dollars. He knew to a penny how much there was, but when he brought the last dime, he and Nan counted it all to make sure. There was no mistake. It amounted to thirty-seven dollars and twenty-five cents, and the boy drew a long, glad breath as he looked up at Nan with shining eyes and flushed cheeks, saying,
"To-morrow, Nan, I can see—him!"
"Don't look so—so awfully glad, Theo. I'm afraid something will happen," said Nan, with a troubled expression in her eyes as she looked at him.
"Don't you worry. I ain't a-goin' to be robbed again—you better believe I ain't!" cried the boy. Then he glanced at his worn suit and tried to pull down his jacket sleeves, as he added, wistfully, "D'you think I look well enough to go there, Nan? I wanted to buy a collar an' necktie, but, I just couldn't wait any longer."
Nan's private opinion was, that if the bishop could only see Theo's face at that moment, the garments he wore would be a matter of small importance. She answered, quickly,
"You look plenty well enough, Theo. Don't worry about that."
She gathered up the money and put it back into the box in which it had been kept, and the boy went across the room to the bed where the baby lay asleep.
"Seems to me he looks kind o' peaked—don't he, Nan?" he remarked, uneasily.
Nan cast an anxious glance at the little, thin face, and shook her head. "He doesn't get strong as I hoped he would," she answered, sadly.
"Oh well, he will, when it comes warmer, so he can get out doors oftener," the boy said, as he went away to his room.
He hurried through his work the next day, closing his stand at the earliest possible moment, and rushing home to get ready for his visit. He always, now, kept his face and hands scrupulously clean. His hair might have been in better condition if he had had money to buy a comb or a brush, but those were among the luxuries that he felt he must deny himself until he had made all the restitution in his power.
To-day, however, when he went to Nan's room for his money, she offered him the use of her comb, and helped him reduce his rough, thick hair to some kind of order. Even then he looked at himself somewhat doubtfully. His suit was so shabby in spite of Nan's careful mending, and his shoes were worse than his suit, but they were polished to the last degree. He had exchanged a sandwich and two doughnuts for that "shine."
"You look well enough, Theo," Nan said, "plenty well enough. Now go on, and oh, I do hope it will be all right."
"I know 'twill," cried the boy, joyously, as he tucked the money carefully into an inside pocket. "Oh, Nan!"
He looked at her with such a happy face that her own beamed a bright response. Then he ran off and Nan stood in the doorway watching him as he went down the stairs, closely followed by his inseparable companion, Tag.
"The dear boy! He is fairly pale," said Nan, to herself, as she turned back into her room. "It is strange how he loves that bishop—and what a different boy he is, too, since he came home. I don't see how the bishop can help loving him. Oh, I do hope nothing will happen to spoil his visit. He has looked forward to it so long."
The boy felt as if he were walking on air as he went rapidly through the crowded streets, seeing nothing about him, so completely were his thoughts occupied with the happiness before him. As he got farther up town the crowd lessened, and when he turned into the street on which the bishop lived, the passers-by were few.
At last he could see the house. In a few minutes he would reach it. Then his joyous anticipations suddenly vanished and he began to be troubled.
What if Brown wouldn't let him in, he thought, or—what if the bishop should refuse to see him or to listen to his story?
As these thoughts came to him his eager pace slackened and for a moment he was tempted to turn back. Only for a moment, however. He knew that the bishop would not refuse to see him, and as for Brown, if Brown refused to admit him, he would go to the servants' door and ask for Mrs. Martin.
So thinking, he pushed open the iron gate and went slowly up the walk.
"Stay here, Tag. Lie down, sir!" he ordered, and the dog obediently dropped down on the steps, keeping his bright eyes fastened on his master, as the boy rang the bell. Theo could almost hear his heart beat as he waited. Suddenly the door swung open and there was Brown gazing severely at him.
"Well—what do you want?" questioned the man, brusquely.
"I want—Don't you know me, Brown? I want to see—Mrs. Martin."
The boy's voice was thick and husky, and somehow he could not utter the bishop's name to Brown standing there with that cold frown on his face.
"Oh—you want to see Mrs. Martin, do you? Well, I think you've got cheek to come here at all after leaving the way you did," Brown growled. He held the door so that the boy could not enter, and seemed more than half inclined to shut it in his face.
"Oh, please, Brown, do let me in," pleaded the boy, with such a heart-broken tone in his voice, that Brown relented—he wasn't half so gruff as he pretended to be—and answered, grudgingly,
"Well, come in, if you must, an' I'll find out if Mrs. Martin will see you."
With a sudden gleam of joy in his eyes, Theodore slipped in.
"Come along!" Brown called over his shoulder, and the boy followed to the housekeeper's sitting-room. The door of the room stood open, and Mrs. Martin sat by the window with a newspaper in her hand. She glanced up over her spectacles as Brown's tall figure appeared at the door.
"Mrs. Martin, this boy says he wants to see you," he announced, and then sauntered indifferently away to his own quarters.
Mrs. Martin took off her glasses as she called, "Come in, boy, and tell me what you want."
Theo walked slowly toward her hoping that she would recognise him, but she did not. Indeed it was a wonder that Brown had recognised him, so different was his appearance in his rough worn clothes, from that of the handsomely dressed lad, whose sudden departure had so grieved the kindhearted housekeeper.
"Don't you know me, Mrs. Martin?" the boy faltered, sorrowfully, as he paused beside her chair.
"No, I'm sure I—why! You don't mean to say that you are our deaf and dumb boy!" exclaimed the good woman, as she peered earnestly into the grey eyes looking down so wistfully into hers.
"Yes, I'm the bad boy you were so good to, but I've been keepin' straight ever since I was here, Mrs. Martin," he answered, earnestly. "I have, truly."
"Bless your dear heart, child," cried the good woman, springing up hastily and seizing the boy's hands. "I'm sure you have. I guess I know a bad face when I see one, and it don't look like yours. Sit down, dear, and tell me all about it."
In the fewest possible words Theo told his story, making no attempt to excuse anything. The housekeeper listened with keen interest, asking a question now and then, and reading in his face the confirmation of all he said. He did not say very much about the bishop, but the few words that he did say and the look in his eyes as he said them, showed her what a hold upon the boy's heart her master had so unconsciously gained, and her own interest in the friendless lad grew deeper.
When his story was told, she wiped her eyes as she said, slowly, "And to think that you've been working all these weeks to save up that money! Well, well, how glad the dear bishop will be! He's said all the time that you were a good boy."
"Oh, has he?" cried Theo, his face all alight with sudden joy. "I was afraid he'd think I was all bad when he found out how I'd cheated him."
"No, no!" exclaimed Mrs. Martin. "He was grieved over your going off so, and he has tried his best to find you, but you see he didn't know where to look for you."
"Did he try to find me, Mrs. Martin? Oh, I'm so glad! And can I see him now, please?"
The boy's voice trembled with eagerness as he spoke.
The housekeeper's kind face was full of pity and sympathy as she exclaimed, "Why, my boy, didn't you know? The bishop is in California. He went a week ago to stay three months."
All the glad brightness faded from the boy's face as he heard this. He did not speak, but he turned aside, and brushed his sleeve hastily across his eyes. Mrs. Martin laid her hand gently on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry," she said, "and he will be too, when he knows of your coming. I will write him all about it."
Still the boy stood silent. It seemed to him that he could not bear it. It had not once occurred to him that the bishop might be away, and now there was no possibility of seeing him for three long months. It seemed an eternity to the boy. And to think that he was there—at home—a week ago!
"If they hadn't stole that five dollars from me, I might 'a' seen him last week," the boy said to himself, bitter thoughts of Dick Hunt rising in his heart. At last he turned again to the housekeeper and at the change in his face her eyes filled with quick tears.
He took from his pocket the little roll of money and held it out, saying in a low unsteady voice, "You send it to him—an' tell him—won't you?"
"I'll write him all about it," the housekeeper repeated, "and don't you be discouraged, dear. He'll want to see you just as soon as he gets home, I know he will. Tell me where you live, so I can send you word when he comes."
In a dull, listless voice the boy gave the street and number, and she wrote the address on a slip of paper.
"Remember, Theodore, I shall write the bishop all you have told me, and how you are trying to find the Finney boy and to help others just as he does," said the good woman, knowing instinctively that this would comfort the boy in his bitter disappointment.
He brightened a little at her words but he only said, briefly,
"Yes—tell him that," and then he went sorrowfully away.
Mrs. Martin stood at the window and looked after him as he went slowly down the street, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground, while Tag, well aware that something was wrong, trotted beside him with drooping ears and tail.
"Tell me that that's a bad boy!" the good woman said to herself. "I know better! I don't care what that Mr. Gibson said. I never took much stock in Mr. Gibson myself, anyhow. He always had something to say against anybody that the bishop took an interest in. There—I wish I'd told Theodore that he was here only as a substitute, and had to leave when the regular secretary was well enough to come back. I declare my heart aches when I think of that poor little fellow's face when I told him that the bishop was gone. Ah well, this is a world of disappointment!" and with a sigh she turned away from the window.
Nan sat in a rocking-chair with Little Brother in her arms, when Theodore opened her door.
"Oh Theo—what is it? What is the matter?" she cried, as she saw his face.
He dropped wearily into a seat and told her in a few words the result of his visit.
"Oh, I am so sorry!" she exclaimed. "And it seems so hard to think that you would have seen the bishop if you hadn't lost that five dollars!"
The boy sighed, but made no reply. He could not talk about it then, and presently he got up and went out.
XI. THEO'S NEW BUSINESS
Theodore went slowly down the stairs, but stopped on the outside steps and stood there with his hands in his pockets looking listlessly up and down the street. There was another big tenement house opposite, and on its steps sat a girl of ten or eleven with a baby in her lap. The baby kept up a low wailing cry, but the girl paid no attention to it. She sat with her head leaning against the house, and seemed to notice nothing about her.
Theodore glanced at her indifferently. His thoughts were still dwelling on his great disappointment—the sorrowful ending of the hopes and longings of so many weeks. It seemed to him that he had now nothing to which to look forward; nothing that was worth working for. Then suddenly there flashed into his mind the words he had heard the bishop speak to a man who came to him one day in great sorrow.
"My life is spoiled," the man had said. "All my hopes and plans are destroyed. What shall I do?"
And the bishop had answered, "My son, you must forget yourself, and your broken hopes and plans, and think of others. Do something for somebody else—and keep on doing."
"That's what he would say to me, I s'pose," thought the boy. "I wonder what I can do. There's Tommy O'Brien, I 'spect he'd be glad 'nough to see most anybody."
He turned and went slowly and reluctantly back up the stairs. He didn't want to see Tommy O'Brien. He didn't want to see anybody just then, but still he went on to Tommy's door. As he approached it, he heard loud, angry voices mingled with the crying of a baby. He knocked, but the noise within continued, and after a moment's pause he pushed open the door and went in.
The three women who lived in the room were all standing with red, angry faces, each trying to outscold the others. Three or four little children, with frightened eyes, were huddled together in one corner, while a baby cried unheeded on the floor, its mother being too much occupied with the quarrel to pay any attention to her child. The women glanced indifferently at Theodore as he entered, and kept on with their loud talk. Theo crossed over to Tommy's cot. The sick boy had pulled his pillow over his head and was pressing it close to his ears to shut out the racket.
"Le'me 'lone!" he exclaimed, as Theodore tried to lift the pillow. His face was drawn with pain and there were dark hollows beneath his heavy eyes. Such a weary, suffering face it was that a great flood of pity surged over Theodore's heart at sight of it. Then Tommy opened his eyes and as he saw who had pulled aside his pillow a faint smile crept around his pale lips.
"Oh!" he cried. "It's you. I thought 'twas some o' them a-pullin' off my piller. Can't you make 'em stop, Tode? They've been a-fightin' off an' on all day." He glanced at the noisy women as he spoke.
"What's the row about?" asked Theo.
"'Cause Mis' Carey said Mis' Green's baby was cross-eyed. Mis' Green got so mad at that that she's been scoldin' 'bout it ever since an' leavin' the baby to yell there by itself on the floor—poor little beggar! Seem's if my head'll split open with all the noise," sighed Tommy, wearily, then he brightened up as he inquired, "What d' you come for, Tode?"
"Just to talk to you a little," replied Theo. "S'pose you get awful tired layin' here all the time, don't ye, Tommy?"
The unexpected sympathy in the voice and look touched the lonely heart of the little cripple. His eyes filled with tears, and he reached up one skinny little hand and laid it on the rough, strong one of his visitor as he answered,
"Oh, you don't know—you don't know anything about it, Tode. I don't b'lieve dyin' can be half so bad's livin' this way. She wishes I'd die. She's said so lots o' times," he nodded toward his aunt, who was one of the women in the room, "an' I wish so too, 'f I've got to be this way always."
"Ain't ye never had no doctor, Tommy?" asked Theo, with a quick catch in his breath as he realised dimly what it would be to have such a life to look forward to.
"No—she says she ain't got no money for doctors," replied the boy, soberly.
"I'll"—began Theodore, then wisely concluding to raise no hopes that might not be realised, he changed his sentence to, "I'll find out if there's a doctor that will come for nothin'. I believe there is one. Can ye read, Tommy?"
The sick boy shook his head. "How could I?" he answered. "Ain't nobody ter show me nothin'."
"Wonder 'f I couldn't," said Theo, thoughtfully. "I c'n tell ye the letters anyhow, an' that'll be better'n nothin'."
A bit of torn newspaper lay on the floor beside the bed. He picked it up and pointed out A, O and S, to Tommy. By the time the little cripple had thoroughly mastered those three letters so that he could pick them out every time, the women had given up their quarrel. Mrs. Green had taken up her baby and was feeding it, and the other women, with sullen faces, had resumed their neglected duties.
"Oh dear! Must you go?" Tommy exclaimed as Theo got off the cot on which he had been sitting. "But you was real good to come, anyhow. When'll ye come again an' tell me some more letters?"
"I'll show ye one ev'ry day if I can get time. Then in three weeks you'll know all the big ones an' some o' the little ones that are just like the big ones. Now don't ye forget them three."
"You bet I won't. I shall say 'em a hundred times 'fore to-morrow," rejoined the little fellow, and his eyes followed his new friend eagerly until the door closed behind him.
As for Theodore himself, half the weight seemed to have been lifted from his own heart as he went down the stairs again.
"I'll run outside a minute 'fore I go to supper," he said to himself. "The air was awful thick in that room. Reckon that's one thing makes Tommy feel so bad."
He walked briskly around two or three squares, and as he came back to the house he noticed that the girl and the baby still sat where he had seen them an hour before. The baby's cry had ceased, but it began again as Theo was passing the two. He stopped and looked at them. The girl's eyes rested on his face with a dull, indifferent glance.
"What makes it cry? Is it sick?" the boy asked, nodding toward the baby.
The girl shook her head.
"What ails it then?"
The girl uttered the word in a lifeless tone as if it were a matter of no interest to her.
"Where's yer mother?" pursued the boy.
"An' yer father?"
"Ain't there nobody to look out for ye?"
Again the girl shook her head.
"Ain't ye had anything to eat to-day?"
"What d'ye have yesterday?"
"Some crusts I found in the street. Do go off an' le'me 'lone. We're most dead, an' I'm glad of it," moaned the girl, drearily.
"You gi' me that baby an' come along. I'll get ye somethin' to eat," cried Theo, and as the girl looked up at him half doubtfully and half joyfully, he seized the bundle of shawl and baby and hurried with it up to Nan's room, the girl dragging herself slowly along behind him.
Nan cast a doubtful and half dismayed glance at the two strangers as Theodore ushered them in, but the boy exclaimed,
"They're half starved, Nan. We must give 'em somethin' to eat," and when she saw the baby's little pinched face she hesitated no longer, but quickly warmed some milk and fed it to the little one while the girl devoured the bread and milk and meat set before her with a ravenous haste that confirmed what she had said.
Then, refreshed by the food, she told her pitiful story, the old story of a father who spent his earnings in the saloon, leaving his motherless children to live or die as might be. Nan's heart ached as she listened, and Theodore's face was very grave. When the girl had gone away with the baby in her arms, Theo said, earnestly,
"Nan, I've got to earn more money."
"How can you?" Nan asked. "You work so hard now, Theo."
"I must work harder, Nan. I can't stand it to see folks starvin' an' not help 'em. I'll pay you for what these two had you know."
Nan looked at him reproachfully. "Don't you think I want to help too?" she returned. "Do you think I've forgotten that meal you gave Little Brother an' me?"
"That was nothin'. Anyhow you've done lots more for me than ever I did for you," the boy answered, earnestly, "but, Nan, how can rich folks keep their money for themselves when there are people—babies, Nan—starvin' right here in this city?"
"I suppose the rich folks don't know about them," replied the girl, thoughtfully, as she set the table for supper.
"I've got to talk it over with Mr. Scott," Theo said, as he drew his chair up to the table.
"You talk everything over with Mr. Scott now, don't you, Theo?"
"'Most everything. He's fine as silk, Mr. Scott is. He rings true every time, but he ain't"—
He left his sentence unfinished, but Nan knew of whom he was thinking.
The next afternoon Theodore walked slowly through the business streets, with eyes and ears alert, for some opening of which he might take advantage to increase his income. Past block after block he wandered till he was tired and discouraged. Finally he sat down on some high stone steps to rest a bit, and while he sat there a coloured boy came out of the building. He had a tin box and some rags in his hands, and he began in an idle fashion to clean the brass railing to the steps. Theodore fell into conversation with him, carelessly and indifferently at first, but after a little with a sudden, keen interest as the boy began to grumble about his work.
"I ain't a-goin' ter clean these yer ol' railin's many more times," he said. "It's too much work. I c'n git a place easy where the' ain't no brasses to clean, an' I'm a-goin' ter, too. All the office boys hates ter clean brasses."
"What do ye clean 'em with?" Theodore inquired.
The boy held out the tin box. "This stuff an' soft rags. Say—you want ter try it?"
He grinned as he spoke, but to his surprise his offer was accepted. "Gi' me your rags," cried Theo, and he proceeded to rub and polish energetically, until one side of the railings glittered like gold.
"Yer a gay ol' cleaner!" exclaimed the black boy, as he lolled in blissful idleness on the top step. "Now go ahead with the other rail."
But Theodore threw down the rags.
"Not much," he answered. "I've done half your work an' you can do the other half."
"Oh, come now, finish up the job," remonstrated the other. "'Tain't fair not to, for you've made that one shine so. I'll have ter put an extry polish on the other to match it."
But Theodore only laughed and walked off saying to himself,
"Rather think this'll work first-rate."
He went straight to a store, and asked for "the stuff for shining up brass," and bought a box of it. Then he wondered where he could get some clean rags.
"Per'aps Mrs. Hunt'll have some," he thought, "an' anyhow I want to see Jim."
So home he hastened as fast as his feet would carry him.
Good Mrs. Hunt was still a little cool to Theodore, though she could see for herself how steady and industrious he was now, and how much he had improved in every way; but she had never gotten over her first impression of him, founded not only on his appearance and manners when she first knew him, but also on Dick's evil reports in regard to him. Now that Dick himself had gone so far wrong, his mother went about with a heartache all the time, and found it hard sometimes to rejoice as she knew she ought to do in the vast change for the better in this other boy.
"Is Jim here?" Theodore asked when Mrs. Hunt opened the door in response to his knock.
"Yes—what's wanted, Tode?" Jimmy answered for himself before his mother could reply.
"Can you stay out o' school to-morrow?" Theo questioned.
"No, he can't, an' you needn't be temptin' him," broke in the mother, quickly.
"Oh, come now, ma, wait till ye hear what he wants," remonstrated Jimmy, in whose eyes Theo was just about right.
"I wanted him to run my stand to-morrow," said Theodore. "I've got somethin' else to 'tend to. There's plenty o' fellers that would like to run it for me, but ye see I can't trust 'em an' I can trust Jim every time."
Jimmy drew himself up proudly. "Oh, ma, do let me stay out an' do it," he cried, eagerly.
"It's Friday, an' we don't have much to do Fridays anyhow, in our school."
"We-ell, I s'pose then you might stay out just this once," Mrs. Hunt said, slowly, being fully alive to the advantages to Jimmy of such a friendly feeling on Theo's part. She recognized Theodore's business ability, and would have been only too glad to see her own boy develop something of the same kind. She was haunted with a dread that he might become idle and vicious as Dick had done.
"All right, then," Theodore responded, promptly. "You be ready to go down with me at seven o'clock, Jim, an' I'll see you started all right before I leave you. Oh, Mrs. Hunt, there's one more thing I want. Have you any clean old rags?"
"Any kind o' soft white cotton stuff or old flannel will do," replied the boy, purposely leaving her question unanswered. "I'll pay you for 'em, of course, if you let me have 'em."
"Well, I guess I ain't so stingy as all that comes to," exclaimed Mrs. Hunt, sharply. "D'ye want 'em now?"
"I'll come for 'em after supper," answered the boy, thinking that it was best to make sure of them, lest he be delayed for want of them in the morning.
When later that evening, he knocked at her door, Mrs. Hunt had the pieces ready for him, and the next morning, Jimmy was waiting in the hall when Theo came from Nan's room with his big basket, and the two boys went down the street carrying the basket between them. As soon as its contents had been arranged as attractively as possible on the clean white marbled oilcloth with which the stand was covered, and the coffee made and ready to serve, Theo handed Jimmy two dollars in dimes, nickels and pennies, to make change, and set off with the box of paste in his pocket, and the roll of rags under his arm.
Jimmy watched him out of sight, and then with a proud sense of responsibility awaited the appearance of his customers.
Theodore walked rapidly on till he reached the business streets where most of the handsome stores and offices were. Then he slackened his pace and went on slowly, glancing keenly at each building until he came to one that had half a dozen brass signs on the front.
"Here's a good place to make a try," he said to himself, and going into the first office on the ground floor he asked as politely as he knew how,
"Can I shine up your brass signs for you?"
There were several young men in the outer office. One of them answered carelessly, "Yes indeed, shine 'em up, boy, and see 't you make a good job of it."
"I will that, sir," responded Theodore, blithely, and set to work with a will.
There had been much wet weather and the signs were badly discoloured. It took hard, steady rubbing for nearly an hour to get them into good shining order, but Theodore worked away vigourously until they gleamed and glittered in the morning sunlight. Then he went again into the office.
"I've finished 'em, sir," he said to the young man to whom he had spoken before, "an' I think I've made a good job of it. Will you step out an' see what you think?"
"Not at all necessary. If you're satisfied, I am," replied the man, bending over his desk and writing rapidly.
Theodore waited in silence. The young man wrote on. Finally he glanced up and remarked in a tone of surprise,
"Oh, you here yet? Thought you'd finished your job."
"I have done my part. I'm waitin' for you to do yours," replied the boy.
"Mine? What's my part, I'd like to know?" demanded the young man, sharply.
"To pay me for my work." replied Theo, promptly, but with a shadow falling on his face.
"Pay you? Well, if this isn't cheeky! I didn't agree to pay you anything."
"But you knew that I expected to be paid for my work," persisted the boy, the angry colour rising in his cheeks.
"You expected—pshaw! Young man, you've had a lesson that is well worth the time and labour you've expended," remarked the clerk in a tone of great dignity. "Hereafter you will know better than to take anything for granted in business transactions. Good-morning," and he turned his back on the boy and began to write again.
Theodore glanced around the room to see if there was any one on his side, but two of the other clerks were grinning at his discomfiture, and the others pretended not to know anything about the affair. He saw now that he had been foolish to undertake the work as he had done, but he realised that it would not help his case to make a fuss about it. All the same he was unwilling to submit without a protest.
"Next time I'll take care to make my bargain with a gentleman," he said, quietly.
He saw a singular change in the expression of the clerk's face at these words, and as he turned sharply about to leave the office he almost ran into a tall, grey-haired man who had just entered.
"Stop a bit, my boy. I don't understand that remark of yours. What bargain are you going to make with a gentleman?"
The tone of authority, together with the disturbed face of one clerk and the quite evident amusement of the others, suddenly enlightened Theodore. He knew instinctively that this man was master here and in a few quick sentences he told what had happened.
The gentleman listened in silence, but his keen, dark eyes took note of the flushed face of one clerk and the amused smiles of his companions.
"Is this boy's story true, Mr. Hammond?" he asked, sternly.
Mr. Hammond could not deny it "It was only a joke, sir," he said, uneasily.
"A joke, was it?" responded his employer. "I am not fond of such jokes." Then he turned again to the boy and inquired, "How much is due you for cleaning the signs?"
"I don't know. I'm just starting in in this business, an' I'm not sure what I ought to charge. Can you tell me, sir?"
The gentleman smiled down into the young face lifted so frankly to his.
"Why, no," he answered, gravely, but with a twinkle in his eyes. "I believe our janitor usually attends to the signs."
"Guess he don't attend to 'em very well, for they were awful dirty," remarked the boy. "Took 'me 'most an hour to shine 'em up. Did you notice 'em, sir, as you came in?"
"No, I did not. I'll look at them now," and Theodore followed the gentleman out to the steps.
"Well, you have made a good job of it, certainly," the gentleman said. "The signs haven't shone like that since they were first put there. Quite a contrast to the others on the building. Come back into the office a moment."
He went back to Mr. Hammond's desk and again Theodore followed.
"Mr. Hammond," said the gentleman, quietly, "you are willing of course to pay for your joke. The boy has done his work extremely well. I think he ought to have half a dollar for it."
With anything but a happy expression, Mr. Hammond drew from his pocket a half dollar and handed it to Theodore, who said, not to the clerk, but to the gentleman, "Thank you, sir," and left the office.
But he did not leave the building. He went to the owner of every brass sign in or on the building and asked to be allowed to make every other sign look as well as those of T.S. Harris, which he had just polished.
Now, T.S. Harris was the owner of the building and the occupants of the other offices considered that it would be wise to follow his example in this matter, so the result was that Theodore spent all the morning over the signs on that one building, and Mr. Harris having set the price, he received twenty-five cents for each sign. He was just putting a finishing rub on the last one when the janitor discovered what had been going on. He came at the boy in a great rage for he wanted no one to have anything to do with the care of the building except those whom he chose to hire.
"You take your traps an' clear out o' this now, an' don't you ever dare to show your face here again," he shouted, angrily. "If I catch ye here again I'll kick ye down the stairs!"
"P'raps Mr. Harris will have a word to say about that," replied Theodore, coolly, for in one and another of the offices he had picked up enough to convince him that the word of Mr. Harris was law in that building. Then he added, in a much more friendly tone,
"Now, look here, mister. You're too busy a man to be cleaning signs—'course you are. You've got to hire somebody t' do it an' the' won't anybody do it better or fer less money 'n I will. I'm a-goin' to make a reg'lar business of cleanin' brasses all 'round this neighbourhood, an' if you'll stan' by me an' help me fix it all right with the other bosses 'bout here—I'll see 't you don't lose anythin' by it."
The janitor's fierce frown had slowly faded as the boy spoke. Nothing pleased him so much as to be considered a person of influence, and had Theodore been ever so shrewd he could have adopted no other line of argument that would so quickly and effectually have changed an enemy into a friend as did this that he hit upon merely by chance. The man stepped down to the sidewalk and looked up at the signs with a critical air.
"Wai'," he answered, slowly, "I ain't a-goin' to deny that you've done your work well—yes a sight better'n any of the lazy rascals I've been hiring, an' if you could be depended on now, I d'know but what I might's well give the work to you as to anybody else. Of course, as you say, 'tain't my place to do servant's work like brass cleanin'."
"Of course not," assented Theo, promptly.
"But then," the man went on, "if I should speak for ye t' the janitors of the other buildings 'long here, 'n' get ye a big line o' custom, 'course I sh'ld have a right t' expect a—er—a sort o' commission on the profits, so to speak?"
"Oh!" replied Theodore, rather blankly. "What is a commission, anyhow?"
The man explained.
"And how much of a commission would you expect?" questioned the boy.
The janitor made a mental calculation. Here on this one building, the boy had cleaned seven signs. That made a dollar and seventy-five cents that he had earned in one morning. Of course he would not often get so much out of one building, but the man saw that there were good possibilities in this line of work.
"S'pose we say ten per cent.—ten cents out of every dollar?" he ventured, with a keen glance at the boy.
"You mean ten per cent, on all the work that I get through you?" Theo replied.
"Oh no—on all the work of this sort that you do. That's no more'n fair since you'll owe your start to me."
"Not much! I owe my start to myself, an' I'll make no such bargain as that," answered Theo, decidedly. "I'm willin' to give you ten per cent. on all that I get through you, but not a cent more. You see I'm bound to put this thing through whether you help me or not," he added, quietly.
The janitor saw that he had been too grasping and hastened to modify his demands lest he lose his commissions altogether.
"Well, well," he said, soothingly, "we won't quarrel over a little difference like that. Let it be as you say, ten per cent. on all the jobs I get for ye, an' there's the janitor of the Laramie Building on the steps this minute. Come along with me an' I'll give ye a start over there—or, first—ain't there a little matter to attend to," he added, with an insinuating smile. "You'll settle your bills fast as they come due, of course, an' you've got a snug little sum out of my building here."
"Yes, but no thanks to you for that," replied Theo, but as the man's face darkened again, he added, "but never mind, I'll give you the commission on this work since it's in your building," and he handed eighteen cents to the janitor, who slipped it into his pocket with an abstracted air as if unconscious of what he was doing.
The result of the man's recommendation to his brother janitor was that Theodore secured the promise of all the brass cleaning in the Laramie Building also, and that with one or two small jobs kept him busy until dark when he went home with a light heart and with the sum of three dollars and fourteen cents in his pocket. To be sure he had worked hard all day to earn it, but Theodore never had been lazy and he was willing enough to work hard now.
He carried home some oranges as a special treat that night, for now he took his supper regularly with Nan who was glad to make a return in this fashion for the help he was continually giving her in carrying out her food supplies, as well as many other ways.
As they arose from the supper-table, Theodore said, "I'll go across an' see how Jimmy got on to-day, at the stand," but even as he spoke there came a low knock at the door and there stood Jimmy—no longer proud and happy as he had been in the morning, but with red eyes and a face full of trouble.
"Why, Jimmy, what's the matter?" cried Nan and Theo, in one voice.
"Come in," added Nan, kindly pulling him in and gently pushing him toward a chair.
Jimmy dropped into it with an appealing glance at Theo.
"I'm—I'm awful sorry, Tode," he began. "But I—I couldn't help it, truly I couldn't." He rubbed his sleeve hastily across his eyes as he spoke.
"But what is it, Jimmy? I'm sure you did the best you could whatever is wrong, but do tell us what it is," exclaimed Theodore, half laughing and half impatient at the uncertainty.
"'Twas that mean ol' Carrots," began Jimmy, indignantly. "I was sellin' things off in fine style, Tode, an' Carrots, he came along an' he said he wanted three san'wiches in a paper. I put 'em up fer him, an' then he asked fer six doughnuts an' some gingerbread, an' a cup o' coffee—an' he wanted 'em all in a paper."
"Not the coffee, Jimmy," said Nan, laughingly, as the boy stopped to take breath.
"No, 'course not the coffee. He swallered that an' put in a extry spoonful o' sugar too, but he wanted all the rest o' the things in a paper bag, an' I did 'em up good for him, an' then he asked me to tie a string 'round 'em, an' I got down under the stand for a piece of string, an' when I found it, an' looked up—don't you think Tode—that rascal was streakin' it down the street as fast's he could go, an' I couldn't leave the stand to run after him, an' 'course the' wasn't any p'lice 'round, an' so I had to let him go. I'm awful sorry, Theo, but I couldn't help it."
"'Course you couldn't, Jimmy. And is that all the trouble?"
"Yes, that's 'nough, ain't it?" answered Jimmy, mournfully. "He got off with more'n forty cents worth o' stuff—the old pig! I'll fix him yet!"
"Well, don't worry any more over it, Jimmy. Losin' th' forty cents won't break me, I guess," said Theo, kindly.
Jimmy brightened up a little, but the shadow again darkened his face as he said, anxiously, "I s'pose you won't never trust me to run the stand again?"
"Trust you, Jimmy? Well, I guess I will. No danger of your trusting Carrots again, I'm sure."
"Not if I know myself," responded Jimmy, promptly, and Theo went on,
"I s'pose your mother wouldn't want you to stay out of school mornin's for a week or two?"
Jimmy looked at him with sparkling eyes.
"Do you mean"—he began, breathlessly, and then paused.
"I mean that I may want you to run the stand for me all next week, as well as to-morrow," Theo answered.
"Oh—ee! That's most too good to b'lieve," cried the little fellow. "Say! I think you're—you're prime, Tode. I must go an' tell ma," and he dashed out of the door, his face fairly beaming with delight.
"It's worth while to make anybody so happy, isn't it, Theo?" Nan said, then she added, thoughtfully, "Do you think the brass-cleaning will take all your time, so you can't be at the stand any more?"
"Just at first it will. Maybe I shall fix it differently after a while," he answered.
On his way to the business district the next morning, he stopped and bought a blank book and a pencil, and wherever he cleaned a sign or a railing that day, he tried to make a regular engagement to keep the brasses in good condition. If he secured a promise of the work by the month he made a reduction on his price, and every business man—or janitor who regularly engaged him, was asked to write his own name in the new blank book. Not on the first page of the book, however. That the boy kept blank until about the time when Mr. Harris had come to his office the day before. At that hour, Theodore was waiting near the office door, and there Mr. Harris found him as he came up the steps.
"Good-morning, sir," said Theo, pulling off his cap with a smile lighting up his plain face.
"Good-morning," returned the gentleman. "Have you found something else to polish up here to-day?"
"No, sir, but I wanted to ask you if you would sign your name here in my book," the boy replied.
Mr. Harris looked amused. "Come into my office," he said, "and tell me what it is that you want."
Theodore followed him across the outer office to the private room beyond. The clerks cast curious glances after the two, and Hammond scowled as he bent over his desk.
"Now let me see your book," said Mr. Harris, as the door of the office swung silently behind them.
Theo laid his rags and paste box on the carpet, and then put the blank book on the desk as he said, earnestly,
"You see, sir, I'm trying to work up a reg'lar business, an' so I want the business men I work for to engage me by the month to take care of their brass work—an' I guess I did learn a lesson here yesterday, for to-day I've asked every gentleman who has engaged me to sign his name in this book—See?"
He turned over the leaves and showed three names on the second page.
"And you want my name there, too? But I haven't engaged you. I only gave you a job yesterday."
"But your janitor has engaged me," answered Theodore, quickly.
"Well, then, isn't it the janitor's name that you want?"
"Oh, no, sir," cried the boy, earnestly. "Nobody knows the janitor, but I guess lots o' folks know you, an' your name would make others sign—don't you see?"
Mr. Harris laughed. "I see that you seem to have a shrewd business head. You'll make a man one of these days if you keep on. And you want my name on this first page?" he added, dipping his pen into the inkstand.
"Yes, because you was my first friend in this business," replied Theodore.
Mr. Harris glanced at him with that amused twinkle in his eye, but he signed his name on the first page.
Then he said, "I wish you success in your undertaking, and here's a trifle for a send-off." He held out a silver dollar as he spoke, but Theodore did not take it.
"Thank ye, sir," he said, gratefully; "you've been real good to me, but I can't take any money now, 'cept what I earn. I c'n earn all I need."
"So?" replied Mr. Harris, "you're independent. Well, I like that, but I'll keep this dollar for you, and if you ever get in a tight place you can come to me for it."
"Thank you, Mr. Harris," said the boy again. "I won't forget, but I hope I won't need it," and then he picked up his belongings and left the office. As he passed Mr. Hammond's desk, he said, "Good-morning, sir," but the clerk pretended not to hear.
All through the next week and for weeks after, Theodore spent his time from nine to five o'clock, cleaning brasses and making contracts for the regular care of them, until he had secured as much work as he could attend to himself.
Meantime, Jimmy Hunt had taken entire charge of the stand and was doing well with it. Theo gave him four-fifths of the profits and he was perfectly satisfied, and so was his mother, who found his earnings a welcome addition to the slim family income, and it was so near the end of the school term that she concluded it did not matter if Jimmy did stay out the few remaining weeks.
But busy as Theodore was, he still found time to carry out what Nan cooked for the people in the two houses, as well as to drop in on one and another of his many neighbours every evening—for by this time the night school had closed for the season. His Saturday evenings were still spent at the flower stand, and now that blossoms were more plentiful, he received more and better ones in payment for his work, and his Sunday morning visits to the different rooms were looked forward to all the week by many of those to whom he went, and hardly less so by himself, for the boy was learning by glad experience the wonderful joy that comes from giving happiness to others. When he saw how the flowers he carried to stuffy, dirty, crowded rooms, were kept and cherished and cared for even until they were withered and dead—he was sure that his little flower mission was a real blessing.
Before the hot weather came, Tommy O'Brien was carried away out of the noisy, crowded room to the Hospital for Incurables. Theo had brought one of the dispensary doctors to see the boy, and through the doctor's efforts and those of Mr. Scott, Tommy had been received into the hospital. He had never been so comfortable in his brief life as he was there, but at first he was lonely, and so Theodore went once or twice a week to see him, and he never failed to save out some flowers to carry to Tommy on Sunday.
But, however full Theodore's time might be, and however busy his hands, he never forgot the search for Jack Finney. His eyes were always watching for a blue-eyed, sandy-haired boy of sixteen, and he made inquiries for him everywhere. Three times he heard of a boy named Finney, and sought him out only to be disappointed, for the first Jack Finney he found was a little chap of ten or eleven, and the next was a boy of sixteen, but with hair and eyes as black as a Jew's—and besides, it turned out that his name wasn't Finney at all, but Findlay; and the third time, the boy he found was living at home with his parents, so Theo knew that no one of the three was the boy of whom he was in search and although he did not in the least give up the matter, he came to the conclusion at last that his Jack Finney must have left the city.
Mr. Scott interested himself in the search because of his great interest in Theodore, and he went to the reform school and the prison, but the name he sought was on neither record.
Although Theodore said nothing to any one about it, he was also on the lookout for another boy, and that boy was Carrots. Ever since Carrots had stolen the food from the stand, Theo had wanted to find him. More than once he had caught a glimpse in the streets of the lank figure and the frowzy red head, but Carrots had no desire to meet Theo and he took good care to keep out of his way.
XII. NAN FINDS FRIENDS
So the spring days slipped away until March and April were gone and the middle of May had come. Theodore was counting the days now, for it was in May that the bishop was to return—so Mrs. Martin had told him—and the boy began to watch eagerly for the word that the housekeeper had promised to send him. So full of this were his thoughts and so busy was he with his work for himself and for others, that he spent much less time than usual with Nan and Little Brother.
About this time there was a week of extremely hot weather. One day toward the close of this week as Theodore was passing Mrs. Hunt's door, she called him in.
"You'd better come here for your supper to-night," she said.
Theodore looked at her with a quick, startled glance.
"Why—where's Nan?" he inquired.
"Nan's in her room, but she can't get you any supper to-night. She's sick. I've seen for weeks past that Nan was overworkin' with all that cooking she's been doin', and to-day she just gave out—an' she's flat on her back now."
Theodore was silent in blank dismay. Until that moment he had not realised how much he had come to depend upon Nan.
"Has she had a doctor, or anything?" he asked, in such a troubled voice that Mrs. Hunt could not but be sorry for him.
"No, I offered to send Jimmy for a doctor, but she said she only wanted to rest, but I tell you what, Theo, she ain't goin' to get much rest in that room, hot's an oven with the constant cooking, an' what's more that baby can't stand it neither."
"I'll go an' see her," replied the boy, slowly, "an'—I guess I don't want any supper to-night, Mrs. Hunt."
"Yes, you do want supper, too, Theodore. You come back here in half an hour an' get it, an' look here—Don't worry Nan, talkin' 'bout her being sick," Mrs. Hunt called after him in a low voice, as he turned toward the girl's door.
It seemed strange enough to Theodore to see bright, energetic Nan lying with pale face and idle hands on the bed. She smiled up at the boy as he stood silent beside the bed finding no words to say.
"I'm only tired, Theo," she said, gently. "It has been so hot to-day, and Little Brother fretted so that I couldn't get through my work so well as usual."
"He's sick too," answered Theodore, gravely.
Nan turned her head to look at the little white face on the pillow beside her.
"Yes, he's sick. Oh Theo"—and then the girl covered her face with her hands, and Theodore saw the tears trickling through her fingers.
"Don't Nan, don't!" he cried, in a choked voice, and then he turned and ran out of the room and out of the house. Straight to his teacher he went, sure of finding there sympathy, and if possible, help.
He was not disappointed. Mr. Scott listened to what he had to say, and wrote a note to a friend of his own who was a physician, asking him to see Nan and the baby at his earliest convenience. Then having comforted Theodore, and compelled him to take some supper, Mr. Scott sent him away greatly refreshed, and proceeded to talk the matter over with his aunt, Mrs. Rawson.
"Those two children ought to be sent away into the country, Aunt Mary," he began.
"Nan and Theodore, do you mean?"
"No, no! Theodore's all right. He's well and strong. I mean Nan and her little brother. Aunt Mary, it would make your heart ache to see such a girl as that working as she has worked, and living among such people. I wish you would go and see the child."
"I'll try to go to-morrow, Allan. I've been intending to ever since you told me about her, but the days do slip away so fast!" answered the lady.
But she found time to go the next day, and the first sight of Nan's sweet face was enough to make her as deeply interested in the two as her nephew had long been.
"But what an uncomfortable place for a sick girl!" Mrs. Rawson thought, as she glanced at the shutterless windows through which the sun was pouring, making the small room almost unbearably hot, although there was no fire in the stove. She noticed that the place was daintily clean and neat, though bare as it well could be, but noisy children were racing up and down the stairways and shouting through the halls, making quiet rest impossible. Mrs. Rawson's kind heart ached as she looked from the room to the pure face of the girl lying there with the little child beside her.
"She must be a very unusual girl to look like that after living for months in this place," she thought to herself.
While she was there the doctor came, and when he went away, Mrs. Rawson went with him that she might tell him what she knew about the girl's life and learn what he thought of the case.
"It is a plain case of overwork," he said. "From what you tell me the girl has been doing twice as much as she was able to do, and living in that little oven of a room with nothing like the fresh air and exercise she should have had, and very likely not half enough to eat. The baby seems extremely delicate. Probably it won't live through the summer, and a good thing too if there's no one but the girl to provide for them. What they need is—to go straight away into the country and stay there all summer, or better yet, for a year or two, but I suppose that is out of the question."
"I must see what can be done, doctor. Such a girl as that surely ought not to be left to struggle along unfriended."
"No, but there are so many such cases. Well, I hope something can be done for her. I'll call and see her again to-morrow, but medicine is of little use in a case like this," the doctor replied.
Mrs. Rawson was not one to "let the grass grow under her feet," when she had anything to do, and she felt that she had something to do in this case. She thought it over as she went home, and before night she had written to a relative in the country—a woman who had a big farm and a big heart—to ask if she would board Nan and her little brother for the summer. She described the two, and told how bravely the girl had battled with poverty and misfortune until her strength had failed. The letter went straight from the warm heart of the writer to that of her friend and the response was prompt.
"Send those two children right to me, and if rest and pure air and plenty of wholesome food are what they need, please God, they shall soon be strong and well. They are surely His little ones, and you know I am always ready and glad to do His work."
Such was the message that Mrs. Rawson read to her nephew two days after her visit to Nan, and his face was full of satisfaction as he listened to it.
"Nothing could be better," he said. "It will be a splendid place for those children, and it will be a good thing too for Mrs. Hyde to have them there."
"Yes, I think so," replied Mrs. Rawson, "but now the question is—will Nan consent to go? From what little I have seen of her I judge that she will not be at all willing to accept help from strangers."
"She will shrink from it, perhaps, for herself, but for the sake of that little brother I think she will consent to go. Theo tells me that she has been exceedingly anxious about the child for weeks past," answered Mr. Scott.
"Well, I'll go to-morrow and see if I can prevail upon her to accept this offer, but Allan, one thing you must do, if Nan does consent to go—and that is, you must break it to Theodore. It's going to be a blow to him, to have those two go away from the city. He'll be left entirely alone."
"So he will. I hadn't thought of that. I must think it over and see what can be done for him. He certainly must not stay there, with no place but that dark little closet in which he sleeps," replied the gentleman.
Mrs. Rawson's kindly sympathy and gentle manners had quickly won Nan's confidence and the girl welcomed her warmly when she appeared in the little room the next morning. She found Nan sitting by the open window, with her pale little brother in her arms.
"Oh, I'm ever so much better," she said, in reply to Mrs. Rawson's inquiries. "The doctor's medicine helped me right away, but I don't feel very strong yet—not quite well enough to begin my cooking again. I'm going to begin it to-morrow," she added.
"Indeed, you'll not do any cooking to-morrow, Nan," said the lady, decidedly. "You're not fit to stand over the stove or the mixing board, and besides, it would make the room too hot for the baby."
Nan glanced anxiously at the little face on her arm.
"I can carry him in to Mrs. Hunt's. He's no trouble, and she's always willing to keep him," she answered.
"Now, my child, I want you to listen to me," Mrs. Rawson began, and went on to tell the girl about the plans she had made for her and her little brother.
Nan listened, with the colour coming and going in her face.
"It is so good—so kind of you to think of this," she exclaimed, earnestly, "and I'd love to go. Mrs. Rawson, you don't know how I hate living in a place like this," she shuddered, as she spoke, "and it would be like heaven to get away into the sweet clean country, with good people—but I can't go unless there is something I can do there. I couldn't go and live on charity, you know."
"It wouldn't be charity, Nan; it would be love," answered Mrs. Rawson, gently. "Mrs. Hyde keeps one room in her house always ready for any guest whom the Lord may send her and I think He is sending you there now. Remember, my child, you have this dear sick baby to think of, as well as yourself. Nan, the doctor thinks Little Brother will not live through the summer unless he is taken away from the city."
Nan gave a quick, gasping breath, as she drew the baby closer and bent her face over his. When she looked up again her eyes were wet, and she said, in a low tone,
"If that is so, I can't refuse this kind offer, and I will try to find some way to make it right."
"There's nothing to make right, dear; you've only to go and be just as happy and contented as you can be. I know you will be happy there. You can't help loving Mrs. Hyde. And now, my child, there's another matter." She paused and added, in a low tone, "I had a little girl once, but God took her away from my home. She would have been about your age now if she had staid with me. For her sake, Nan, I want you to let me get a few things that you and the baby will need. Will you, dear?"
Nan was proud. She had never gotten accustomed to poverty and its painful consequences, and she would have preferred to do without, any time, rather than accept a gift from those on whom she had no claim; but she realised that she could not go among strangers with only the few poor garments that she now had, so, after a moment's silence, she answered, in a voice that was not quite steady,
"You are very, very good to me, Mrs. Rawson. I'll try to be good too, only, please don't get a single thing that I can do without."
"Nan, if you had plenty of money and you found a girl who had been left all alone in the world, with no one to do anything for her—would you think it was any wonderful kindness in you to spend a few dollars for her?"
"N—no, of course not. I'd just love to do it," replied Nan, "but"—
"That's enough, then, and now there's only one more thing I have to speak about. I know some girls, who have formed themselves into a band called a 'King's Daughter Circle,' and they meet once a week to sew for somebody who is not able to do her own sewing. I've told these girls a little about you and they want very much to do some sewing for Little Brother and you. Now, would you be willing to let them come here to-morrow afternoon? Would it trouble you?"
The colour rose in Nan's cheeks and her lips trembled, and for a moment she seemed to shrink into herself as she thought what a contrast her poor surroundings would be to these other girls, who lived such different lives from hers, but she saw that Mrs. Rawson was really desirous that they should come, and she was not willing to disappoint one who was doing so much for her; so after a moment's silence she answered,
"Of course they can come, if you think they won't mind too much." She glanced about the room as she spoke.
Mrs. Rawson leaned over and kissed her. "Child," she said, "they know nothing about the trials that come into other lives—like yours. I want them to know you. Don't worry one bit over their coming. They are dear girls and I'm sure you will like them—as sure as I am that they will all love you—and Nan, one thing more, leave Mr. Scott to tell Theodore about your going."
Then she went away, leaving Nan with many things to think about. She could not help worrying somewhat over the coming of those girls. As she recalled her own old home, she realised how terribly bare and poor her one room would look to these strangers and she shrank nervously from the thought of meeting them. More than once, she was tempted to ask Theo to go to Mrs. Rawson and tell her that the girls could not come there.
Mrs. Rawson went straight from Nan's room to the shopping district, where she purchased simple but complete outfits for Nan and the baby. The under garments and the baby's dresses she bought ready-made and also a neat wool suit for the girl and hats and wraps for both, but she bought enough pretty lawn and gingham to make as many wash dresses as Nan would require, and these she carried home and cut out the next morning. That evening too she sent notes to the members of the circle telling them to meet at her house before one o'clock the next day, which was Saturday.
They came promptly, eleven girls between fifteen and seventeen, each with her sewing implements. Bright, happy girls they were, as Nan might have been, had her life been peaceful and sheltered like theirs, Mrs. Rawson thought, as she welcomed them.
"Sit down, girls," she said, "I want to tell you more about my poor little Nan before you see her."
She told the story in such fashion that the warm, girlish hearts were filled with a sweet and tender sympathy for this other girl, and they were eager to do all that they could for her.
Not one of them had ever before been in a tenement house like the one to which Mrs. Rawson led them, and they shrank from the rude children and coarse women whom they encountered in the halls and on the stairs, and pressed closer together, grasping each other's hands.
Nan's face whitened and her thin hands were clasped tightly together as she heard them coming along the hall. She knew it was they, so different were their quiet footsteps from most that passed her door.
Nan opened the door in response to Mrs. Rawson's knock and the girls flocked in, looking so dainty and pretty in their fresh shirt-waists and dimities, and their gay ribbons. As Nan looked at them she was painfully conscious of her own faded calico and worn shoes, and her cheeks flushed, but the girls gave her no time to think of these things. They crowded about her, introducing each other with merry laughter and gay little jokes, seeming to take Nan right in among them as one of themselves, and taking prompt possession of the baby, who wasn't a bit shy, and appeared to like to be passed from one to another, and kissed, and called sweet names.
Nan had borrowed all Mrs. Hunt's chairs, but still there were not enough, and three or four girls gleefully settled themselves on the bed. Every one of them had come with her hands full of flowers, and seeing these, Mrs. Rawson had brought along a big glass rose bowl, which the girls speedily filled and set in the middle of the table.
A tap at the door announced the arrival of a boy with a box and a bag for Mrs. Rawson, and out of the box she lifted a baby sewing machine, which she fastened to the table. Then from the bag she took the lawn and gingham as she said,
"Now, girls, your tongues can run just as fast as your fingers sew, but remember this tiny machine works very rapidly and you've got to keep it supplied. I'll hem this skirt first."
In an instant every girl had on her thimble, and they all set to work with right good will.
"Can't I do some, too?" said Nan. "I don't want to be the only idle one."
"You can gather some ruffles in a few minutes—as soon as I have hemmed them," answered Mrs. Rawson, smiling to herself, as she saw how bright and interested Nan looked already.
All that long, bright afternoon tongues and needles were about equally busy. Fortunately it was cooler, else the girls would have been uncomfortable in the small room, but as it was, not even Nan gave more than a passing thought to the bare room and its lack of comfort. Indeed, after the first few moments, Nan forgot all about herself and just gave herself up to the delight of being once more a girl among girls. She thought them lovely, every one, and indeed they were lovely to her in every way, for her sweet face and gentle manners had won them all at first sight. How they did chatter! Never before had that room—or indeed any room in that dreary building, held such a company as gathered there that day.
At half-past five there came another rap on the door, and Mrs. Rawson exclaimed, "Put up your sewing, girls. We've business of another sort to attend to now."
The girls looked at her inquiringly as Nan opened the door again.
"Bring them in," called Mrs. Rawson, and a man edged his way gingerly among the girls and set two big baskets and an ice cream freezer beside the table.
"A house picnic! Mrs. Rawson, you're a darling!" called one and another of the girls.
Mrs. Rawson nodded a laughing acknowledgment of the compliment, as she said, "Open the baskets, girls. The dishes are in the round one. I thought Nan might not be prepared for quite such a family party."
With quick, deft fingers the girls swept aside the sewing, unscrewed the little machine, spread a fine damask cloth over the pine table, and on it arranged the pretty green and gold dishes and glasses, putting the big bowl of roses in the centre.
Then from the other basket they took tiny buttered biscuits, three-cornered sandwiches, tied with narrow green ribbons, a dish of chicken salad, and a big loaf of nut cake. All these quite covered the table so that the cream had to be left in the freezer until it was wanted.
How Nan did enjoy that feast! How her eyes shone with quiet happiness as she watched the bright faces and listened to the merry talk; not all merry either, for more than once it touched upon the deep things of life, showing that the girls had thought much, even if their lives had been happy, sheltered ones.
When the feast was ended, the dishes repacked in the basket, and the unfinished work put away, the girls gathered about Nan to say "good-bye," and she wondered how she could have dreaded their coming,—for now it seemed as if she could not let them go. She felt as if all the joyous brightness would vanish with them. The quick young eyes read something of this feeling in her face, and more than one girl left a kiss with her cordial farewell.
The room seemed very still and lonely to Nan when the last flutter of light dresses was gone and the last faint echo of girlish voices and footsteps had died on her eagerly listening ears. She dropped into the rocking-chair and looked about the room, trying to repeople it with those fair, young, friendly faces. She could almost have imagined it all a dream but for the cake and sandwiches and ice cream on the table.
The sight of the fast melting cream suggested another thought to her. Hastily filling a plate with portions of everything on the table, she set it away for Theodore and then went across to Mrs. Hunt's rooms to tell her to come with the children and take all that was left.
The eyes of the children gleamed with delight at sight of the unexpected treat, and they speedily emptied the dishes which their mother then carried home to wash, while the children took back the borrowed chairs.
By this time Nan began to feel very weary, and she threw herself down on the bed with the baby, but she kept in her hand some little scrips of the pretty lawns and ginghams that she had found on the floor. It seemed hardly possible to her that she could be going to have such dresses. Why—one of the scrips was exactly like a waist that one of those girls had worn. Nan gazed at it with a smile on her lips, a smile that lingered there until it was chased away by the remembrance of Theo's loneliness when she and Little Brother should be far away.
XIII. NAN'S DEPARTURE
Theo was feeling that he needed sympathy about that time, for it seemed to him as if every one that he cared for was to be taken away from him.
Mr. Scott had invited the boy to go with him for a row on the river and then to go home with him to supper. The river was beautiful in the afternoon sunlight, and Theodore enjoyed the row and the friendly talk with his teacher, but he felt a little shy with Mrs. Rawson and was not sorry to find her absent from the supper-table.
When the meal was over Mr. Scott took the boy up to his own room to see some of his curiosities. Theo's quick eyes took silent note of everything, and he mentally decided that some day he would have just such a room as that. He was thinking thus, when Mr. Scott said,
"Theo, you haven't asked me what Dr. Reed thinks about Nan and her little brother."
"She's better to-day—Nan is," exclaimed the boy, quickly.
"Yes, I suppose the medicine has toned her up a little, but the doctor says that she must have a long rest. She has been working too hard."
"Well, she can. I'm earnin' enough now to take care of 'em," interposed the boy.
"Nan would never be content to let you do that, I think, but, Theo, that isn't all."
Theo said nothing, but his anxious eyes asked the question that his lips refused to utter.
Mr. Scott went on, "The doctor says that the baby must go away into the country or—he will die."
Theodore walked quickly to the window, and stood there looking out in silence. After a moment, his teacher crossed the room and laid his arm affectionately over the boy's shoulders.
"Sit down, Theodore," he said, gently, "I want to tell you what we have planned for Nan and the little one."
Then in few words he told of Mrs. Rawson's letter and the reply, describing the beautiful country home to which Nan and the baby were to go.
"You will be glad to think of them in such a place during the hot summer days," he went on, "even though their going leaves you very lonely, as I know it will, Theodore."
"I ought to be glad, Mr. Scott," replied the boy, slowly, as his teacher paused, "an' I am, but ye see you don't know how hard 'tis for a feller to keep straight when he ain't got no home an' nobody to talk to after his work's done at night. Nan—well you know she ain't like the rest o' the folks down our way. She never scolds nor nags at me, but somehow I can't ever look her straight in the eye if I've been doin' anything mean."
"Nan has been a good friend to you, I'm sure, and I think you have been a good friend to her and the baby, Theodore. I know that she will miss you sadly at first, and if she thinks you are to be very lonely without them, I'm afraid she will worry about it and not get as much good from the change as she might otherwise," Mr. Scott added.
The boy drew a long breath. "I won't let her know 't I care much 'bout their goin'," he said, bravely.
"Nan will guess quite enough," answered the gentleman, "but, Theodore, how would you like to come here? Mrs. Rawson has a little room over the L that she seldom uses, and she says that you can sleep there if you like, and pay for it the same that you pay for the dark room that you now have."
The boy's eyes were full of surprise and pleasure as he answered, gratefully, "I'd like that fine!"
"Come on, then, and we'll take a look at the place. It has been used as a storeroom and will, of course, need some fixing up."
As Mr. Scott threw open the door of the L room Theodore stepped in and looked about him with shining eyes. It was a long, low room with windows on three sides. The floor was covered with matting and the walls with a light, cheerful paper.
"This for me!" exclaimed the boy. "Why, Mr. Scott, it's—it's too fine for a chap like me."
"Not a bit, my boy, but I think you can be very comfortable here, and you will know that you have friends close at hand. And now, Theodore, I suppose you will want to get home, for we hope to get Nan away next week."