"Three years ago," he said smilingly. "It was a chance meeting. You know," with a touch of sadness in his voice, "the people of my race are not always kindly treated—even in so new a country as this—and so big," he went on musingly. "Who shall say what Canada is to be in the future?—I see things, I see things—a great northern power; men of many races blended together in one great nationality under the British flag. Well for her that her statesmen build truly, well for her——" he broke off abruptly, and with a quiet, "I beg your pardon, we were talking of William. I was walking along the street one day, in a section of the city where many of our people live, when a 'rags and bones man' came along trundling a well-laden push cart. Three young roughs began to bait him. They threw his cap into the middle of the street, overturned his cart, and began to attack him when William's father intervened. He was driving his express wagon near the scene. He jumped from the wagon, laid one of the roughs out with his fist, and turned on the other two. William, who had been riding with his Pa, took a hand in the proceedings then, climbing from the wagon and using the whip on the roughs. They turned and fled. William and his Pa helped the 'rags and bones man' to right his push cart, and then I introduced myself to them. The father turned my commendation aside with a good-natured remark to the effect that three to one wasn't fair play, and William added, 'What Pa says goes,' and there you are. He's a brave lad, a good lad, full of mischief I know, but—but he's full of determination too. William will go a long way. I will not live to see it; my days are few now, but I'll die the happier," he added softly, "for having known William Adolphus Turnpike."
It was a big feeling William that reported for duty on the succeeding Monday morning. "Importance" was written large on his face, and again expressed in his every action. Lucien Torrance timidly ventured several questions in the hope of elucidating the why and wherefore of William's attitude without receiving any reply. "Say," drawled William after another attempt on Lucien's part, "what's the difference between you and a clam?"
"I don't know."
"Of course you don't; a fellow like you'd never know."
"Well, what is the difference?" demanded Lucien desperately.
"Well, a clam ain't no good unless it's baked, and that's what's the matter with you, Lucien Torrance." Whereupon Lucien imitated a clam to the extent of shutting his mouth and keeping it shut.
In the afternoon, Whimple having departed to the law courts, where the growth of his business was beginning to take him quite often, William ordered Lucien to keep an eye on the office while he went across the road to study the baseball scores. "The way them Torontos is playin' on the road," he added by way of explanation, "has me goin'! They won five outer the last six games, and they're up against the Buffaloes to-day, and that's a hard team to beat. But Torontos can do it, b'lieve me—two outer three from Buffaloes my guess—have you got any?"
"No—I don't care who wins. Baseball doesn't interest me."
"What's that! Say, you're the limit; the last—the very last limit. Is there any game whatever that stirs your thick blood?"
"Lawn—Oh, cheese it, Lucien, cheese it. First thing I know you'll be tellin' me you play chess too."
"Indeed I do. Father is teaching me the game; we play nearly every night."
"Halt! who goes there?" William rolled out the words as though the fate of armies depended on them. "The ch-e-eld wonder of the cen-tury," he went on, waving his arms dramatically. "Pass the ch-e-eld wonder and be careful with him." He walked around the bewildered Lucien, pretending to examine his head very closely. "Ah," he said, after the first scrutiny, "now I begin to tumble." His voice was now low-pitched and full of pathos. "Now I'm getting on to the reason for those grey hairs on so young a head." He placed one hand on Lucien's shoulder, and covered his own eyes with the other. "Me boy—m-boy," he murmured brokenly, "you're breaking my heart, my strong manly heart what's held up this many a year—against who knows what. Lucien, Lucien, you're burning the gas in both jets, to say nothing of the escape in the middle. Leave me, boy—leave me to my grief."
Lucien brushed William's hand off his shoulder and blurted out angrily, "You're crazy."
"Well, I'd sooner be crazy, if I am crazy, than be sane the way you are," returned William loftily. "'Chuck' Epstein says everybody's got a looney streaker some kind; else, he says, they'd all die young. It's a tough outlook for you, Lucien," he added as he departed.
Ten minutes later William returned, bringing with him a fine bulldog attached to a stout string. William's eyes were shining, and his lips were parted in a wide grin of delight. "Say," he cried to Lucien, "get on to the pup."
Lucien didn't like the looks of the dog, and backed hastily away.
"Aw gee, he won't eat you," said William disgustedly. "He's a good one, a prize winner; and the cop says Briscombe the banker owns him."
"Well, what are you doing with him?"
"Me! The dog just nat-ur-ally adopted me, Lucien. I was standing looking at the bulletins—and the Torontos is leadin', don't you forget it—when I feels something rubbing at me leg, and here's his nibs making up kinder friendly like. So I takes hold of the string and hunts up a cop and tells him about it. And I says, 'He looks like a good dog,' I says, 'I s'pose you can take him over to the station and leave him till the owner's found.' And the cop says, 'Not for mine,' he says, 'I ain't going off my beat to be a godfather to no dog. It belongs to Mr. Bill Briscombe,' he says, 'and I'll bet he'll give you a two spot if you take it to him.' So I goes along to Briscombe's bank, and the place is shut up tighter'n a drum. Say, but them bankers has the classy hours. And Briscombe lives about a mile north of the city limits, so I guess I'll have to take the dog up there to-night."
"Well, where are you going to put him in the meantime?"
"I'll just hitch him up to Mr. Whimple's table. He won't be in till near closing time, and then he'll just tell me I needn't stay, like he usually does."
And forthwith the dog was hitched. He did not display any decided signs of displeasure, though evidently ill at ease. Lucien could not be persuaded to go near the dog, but William was quite solicitous for the animal's welfare. He fed it on tea biscuits, surreptitiously abstracted from Lucien's luncheon box—that worthy being somewhat partial to the delicacy. Also overlooking the formality of asking permission, he used Lucien's cap as a holder for a liberal helping of ice water from the office jug. The dog ate the biscuits, but spurned the ice water, which William promptly emptied from the open window. Then things happened.
When the ice water fell, most of it fell upon the head of a distinguished K.C., who was using his hat as a fan while he discussed with an acquaintance some of the questions attendant upon a provincial election then looming up. Some of the water sprinkled the K.C.'s acquaintance. Both men looked up quickly enough to note drops of water trickling from the sill of the open window, and as one, both turned and dashed up the front stairway to Whimple's office. William's hearing was acute; he did not like the sound of the hasty footsteps, and he was quick to surmise the cause. He made for the back stairway and descending in quick time, traversed the lane until, by a roundabout way, he emerged on the street, and came to a standstill at a point on the opposite side of the street, but in front of the office building.
The K.C. and his acquaintance by this time had burst into the office and dashed into Whimple's room on the run, not noticing the dog, over which the former fell full length. The bulldog had no particular grievance against the K.C., but he had a decided objection to playing cushion to him, and he snapped at the first thing he could get his teeth into. This, fortunately for the ornament of the bar, happened to be his coat tail, and on this the dog took a firm and impassioned hold. The K.C., by this time aware of the dog's presence, half rolled and half scrambled toward the door, the dog hanging so determinedly to the coat tails that, between the combined efforts of man and dog, the table began to move, and moved until it stuck at the jambs of the door. The dog could not go any further; the K.C. gave a final rolling jerk that left the dog half choked, but plus a large section of coat tail. The K.C. thereupon rose, dust-covered, his dignity gone, murder in his heart, wrath on his face.
Lucien Torrance seized this unfortunate moment to leave the office of his employer and to enter that of William's. With a cry of satisfaction, the K.C. sprang at him. "Now I have you, you young villain," he shouted, and without more ado he posed the frightened and dazed Lucien in an old-fashioned attitude across William's desk, and in a manner that bespoke some knowledge, proceeded to thrash him.
Lucien was screaming, "It wasn't me—it wasn't me," when Whimple entered the office, also on the run, flung aside the perspiring K.C., righted Lucien, whom, on his entrance, he had thought was William, and demanded angrily the meaning of the disturbance. The K.C. wrathfully explained from his point of view; Lucien tearfully, but firmly, declared that he was in no way responsible. "William—brought—the—dog—here," he sobbed, "and—he—threw—the—water out of the window." There were cries for "William," but no William responded, and all the time the dog, hanging on to the captured piece of coat tail, surveyed the scene in calm silence.
Whimple and the K.C., after some further parleying, essayed the task of releasing the dog and allowing the K.C.'s friend to leave Whimple's room. But they found themselves confronting a problem that their legal training could not solve. For the dog, thinking that they wanted his trophy, laid the piece of coat tail on the floor, placed thereon one paw, and bared his teeth for fight. Both men were angry; both men were puzzled. Each urged the other to action, and each held the other inferentially to be lacking in courage.
It was Lucien who suggested a way out. "If the gentleman in Mr. Whimple's room would get on the table from the back and cut the string, the dog would run away, I'm sure."
The plan was adopted, Whimple, Lucien, and the K.C. having first taken a strategic position in the corridor leading to the rooms of Simmons, the architect. The string was cut, and the bulldog, having again taken the piece of coat tail between his teeth, walked slowly out of the office and down the stairs to the street. William saw him emerge, and ran across the road. The dog greeted him in a friendly manner, and William, taking the now shortened string, started for Briscombe's residence, for, said he to the dog, "It looks to me like there's been some trouble, and I guess I'd better not go back to the office until the morning."
And Briscombe, the banker, gave William two dollars for bringing the dog home. "But," said he, "where on earth did he get that piece of cloth?"
"I ain't sure, but I think I could make a good guess, Mister Briscombe," said William, and thereupon he departed for home, where later he slept the profound sleep characteristic of all office boys.
William was at the office half an hour earlier than usual the next morning. He entered cautiously by the back stair, and reconnoitred carefully before closing the door. Lucien was the only person in sight. He preserved a profound silence to William's first questionings as to the happenings of the previous afternoon, but when William gave him one minute in which to decide on fighting or telling the story, he told. His narrative was curt and his demeanour cold: it became quite frosty when William laughed delightedly over the recital of the thrashing Lucien had received.
"Where did he hit you, Lucien?" asked William when the story had been told.
"In this room," answered Lucien with dignity, and William roared again.
Lucien waited until the laughter died away and then called attention to the fact that there was a letter on William's desk. "You're right for once, Lucien," said William, who had noticed the letter on first entering the room. He picked it up, aware that Lucien was watching him closely, and feeling certain that the letter did not contain good news for him. Therefore he slipped it into his pocket and walked out of the office to the Bay front, where, with his feet dangling over one of the wharves, he slowly opened the envelope and unfolded the enclosure. The letter was as follows:—
"DEAR WILLIAM,—In view of the events of this afternoon, the full details of which by the time you get this you will doubtless have gleaned from Lucien, it is impossible that you should longer remain in my employ. I am very sorry to lose you, but there is a limit to the length that even an office boy can be allowed to go.
"Yours sincerely, "CHAS. WHIMPLE."
"Fired!" said William to himself, "fired! Well, I ain't surprised. Tough luck though." He read the letter through again, and continued his soliloquy. "Well, after this, no more dogs for me. Gee—but I hate to leave that place. It beats the band how things will turn out rotten just when the luck seems to be all right."
But William didn't spend much time in regrets. The day was blazing hot, the civic tug for the free baths off the Island sand bar was about to leave the wharf, and he constituted himself a part of the noisy human freight with which it was laden. He had a glorious swim, and at noon time surprised the Turnpike household by arriving for luncheon, having during his business career eaten that meal—packed by his mother's hands—in the office. Quite frankly, and with the mimicry which was the pride of his father and a constant source of astonishment to his mother, he related the whole story. His mother grieved despite her laughter: his father laughed and sorrowed not. "It'll come out right in the end," he said philosophically, "and if it don't, you'll soon get another job."
"Sure," said William; "don't you worry, Ma," he added. After the meal he departed, his head full of a plan that had been nebulous only after his first reading of the letter, but which now seemed to promise much. The more he thought it over, the better he liked it, and despite the heat, he walked quickly to the "Emporium" of one Walter Wadsworth. Walter was the owner, manager, and entire staff of the "Emporium," which consisted of a rickety two-storied structure with a shooting gallery on one side, and a peanut, candy, tobacco, and fruit department on the other side. Walter, whose friendship with William was as old almost as the boy himself, owned the building and the land, as well as a more valuable property near by. But his greater claim to importance, in the opinion of most of the boyhood of Toronto, lay in the fact that for years he had held the refreshment privileges in the baseball park.
After a few preliminaries, William said, "The team's due next week, ain't they?"
"According to schedule," answered Walter, a thick-set, pleasant-faced, middle-aged man, who wasted few words, and who, in his day, had been a star of the diamond.
"How's the chances for a job?"
"I thought you were in the law business, young fellow?"
"Well—I was kinder makin' a dab at it."
"Chucked it already?"
"No," said William, "it kinder chucked me.
"Umph! Watcher want?"
"Well, what's the matter with me having a basket and selling stuff around the stands?"
"You're on, William: you're on. I've had an awful bunch of dubs on the job so far this season, and I'd be glad to let you have a try."
"All right: and what do I get for it?" asked William in a business-like tone.
"Well, of course, you see the game for nothing."
"Yes—" said William, slowly, "or some of it, between sales."
"Well, I never knew any one of the boys yet but could give all the details of the game, whether his sales were good or not. I guess you won't miss much of any of the games."
"Go on—I see the games free," said William, "and——" he paused.
"And you get ten cents commission on every dollar's worth of stuff you sell."
"Any of the boys ever say they got too much?" inquired William, with a pretence of eager interest.
Walter smiled. "Not that I remember," he answered, "but they don't do so bad."
"All right," said William, "I'll be on hand for Monday's game. But I can't afford to be loafin' until then. Anything doin' before that?"
"This place ain't had a cleaning up since I don't know when," replied Walter, "and there's a lot of old boxes in the back yard that have to be broken up for firewood sooner or later, and stored in the cellar. Want to tackle the job? There's a few dollars in it anyway."
"Sure," said William, and set to work forthwith. He toiled steadily in the Emporium, but not with his usual cheerfulness, for he was really sorry to be away from Whimple's office. The more he thought of the causes leading up to his dismissal, the more he wished that Lucien had been responsible. "He got the lickin' anyway," said William to himself with a smile, "but darn a fellow like that: I wonder if he ever made a fool of himself in his life."
It was at this moment that William noticed a large megaphone, one of Walter's cherished possessions, in the back part of the Emporium. "Say, Walter," he cried excitedly, "let me have a crack at the megaphone."
"Go ahead," said Walter good-naturedly, "but don't blame me if you get pinched for disturbing the peace."
William carried the megaphone upstairs, rested one end on the sill of the open window, and took a critical survey of the passers-by on the street.
"Wow!" he cried aloud, and as though addressing some one in the room; "look who's acomin'." He hastily adjusted the megaphone, waited until he thought the person he had spoken of was within striking range, and then there arose a weird shriek that attracted the attention of everybody within seven blocks of the Emporium. It filled the heart of one boy momentarily with fear, and brought him to a sudden standstill without at once becoming acquainted with the source of the noise. He looked around bewildered, and, as he looked, voices seemed to bellow in both his ears, "Good evening, Lucien. How many stamps did you lick to-day?"
Several people halted, irresolute, eventually focussing their gaze on Lucien, who, having now noticed the megaphone, was staring towards it like one under the influence of hypnotism. Again a question bellowed forth from the megaphone, "Oh, Lucien: where did he hit you?" and Lucien, waking up to the truth of the situation, for once displayed some evidences of his youth. He shook his fists towards the open window, and cried out threats of vengeance on William, but those were soon drowned in another blast from the megaphone. "Get on to Lucien, ladies and gents, the chee-ild wonder of the century." It was then that Lucien, with a final shake of his fists, turned and fled. William laid the megaphone away and walked down the stairs, to find Walter at the door gazing after the fleeing Lucien.
"That kid was hollering something about knocking your block off," said Walter. "He seemed to be sore on you."
"Maybe he is," answered William, slyly, "but yesterday he was sore for me."
During the next few days William found plenty of work to do at the Emporium, and in the intervals of leisure he consulted gravely with Walter Wadsworth on the methods to be followed to attain success as a pedlar of refreshments in the stands of a baseball park. He did not, however, neglect his morning lessons with "Chuck" Epstein in Tommy Watson's auctioneering rooms. There is this to be added too, that neither Epstein nor Tommy questioned him as to the loss of his position with Whimple. They had laughed with the latter over the causes therefor, but as William did not mention it himself, they carefully avoided opening up the question, knowing from their experience with him that, in his own way, and at a time of his choosing, the lad would talk of it.
William was, however, a puzzle to Wadsworth, though he had been acquainted with him so long. In the intimacy of their relationship at the Emporium, Wadsworth found himself constantly amazed at the lad's shrewdness, at his vocabulary of slang, the readiness with which he could turn from the sheerest of jibing and fun-making to the recital of a bit of "Bill Shakespeare," or a scene from the plays of other authors. "Where on earth do you get it all from?" he asked William one afternoon when the lad, with real dramatic fire, had recited "Henry's oration to his men before Agincourt." You, dear reader, know it, of course.
"Outer books," William said, all slang and smiles again. "Say, Walter, it beats the band and the good stuff some of them guys had in their think-tanks, and it fits in, a lot of it, like they were toddlin' around Toronto to-day."
"It certainly does—some of it," said Walter. "I wonder if they ever played baseball in those days?"
"Not so far as I can make out," answered William. "Half their time they were fighting, and the other half making love: that is, most of 'em. Our friend Bill Shakespeare and a few others were writing plays and acting them too."
Walter stood at the door for a minute and watched William as the latter walked away from the Emporium that evening, and to himself he said, "He's a corker that one; but there's a heap of boy in him. If there wasn't, that stuff he's carrying around in his brain would soon drive him to the daffy house."
The great day arrived at last, and William, keen for business and a new experience, reported early at the baseball grounds, where Walter Wadsworth supplied him and a dozen other boys with uniforms of white cotton. The caps bore in letters of gold an appeal to buy a certain baking powder, and on the back of the coats, in black letters, was an announcement regarding the charms of a particular brand of chewing tobacco.
"It's a shame," said William with sarcasm, "that there ain't any reading on the pants."
"Yes, it is too bad," answered Walter, solemnly, "but you can never get everything you want in this world. I get the caps and the suits free for the advertising they have on 'em; they're not so bad, it might be worse."
"It might be," answered William, "but not much," as he departed for his section of the grand stand with a basket hanging from his neck and a small megaphone attached to one wrist with a strap. In the stand, William's courage deserted him for a few minutes: the crowd was large and included many ladies. The lad was uncomfortable; his voice seemed to have deserted him utterly. All the fine things he had meant to say were for the moment forgotten. It was not until a woman had purchased a bag of peanuts, and a man a cigar, that William became convinced that his goods were wanted, and that restored some of his usual confidence. He began to call out his wares and found that sales were easily made, though not so rapidly as he had hoped. But as the game progressed, his courage steadily rose. The Toronto team was playing that of Buffalo, an ancient and honorable enemy, and the game, in its initial stages, was very close. With the score one to one in the third innings, William found that his voice had come back, and he began to use it with all his power and most of his courage.
"Peanuts, popcorn, chewing gum, candy, cigars, and tobacco," he shouted as he walked along the aisles: "here's where you get 'em at the lowest prices and finest qual-ity."
The responses were becoming readier, but not fast enough, and William began to use the megaphone. Taking a stand in front of the lowest seat and addressing the crowd impartially he asked, "Did all you folks leave your money at home, or ain't you never had any?" Some of the people laughed, and the emboldened William went on, "Ladies, what's the good of a ball game without peanuts or chewing gum? I've got a lot of both to sell," and that resulted in a goodly number of sales. Then he tried again. "There's lots of fellows here with girls, and it's a shame the way they're letting the girls suffer for a little candy, or chewing gum, or peanuts. Make the fellows loosen up, girls!" The crowd laughed, and William tried in vain to respond to the demands for his wares from all quarters. His basket was soon emptied, and in a little while he had disposed of his second load. He sold others, but when the game had advanced to the sixth innings, with the score still one all, he found the people almost unresponsive to his appeals, and, returning to Walter's little store under the grand stand, changed into his street clothes and rushed back to see the finish of the game, his first venture as a pedlar having netted him the sum of fifty cents.
The game had reached its critical stage, "the fatal seventh innings," when William again made his appearance known. The crowd was painfully silent, for the Buffaloes, with only one man out, had men on the first and second bases, and the heaviest hitter of their team at the bat. The batsman spat on his hands, wiped them off in the dust around the home plate, and set himself firmly for a swing. The Toronto pitcher having almost succeeded in tying himself into a bow knot suddenly unloosened, and sent in a swift drop ball, and even as it sped the voice of William, well modulated through the megaphone, but quite distinct, cried out, "Strike one." Strike it was, the batter missing the sphere by several feet, and following the miss there came in stentorian tones from the umpire the words, "Strike one."
"Why did you call it a strike before?" yelled the batsman.
"Never opened my mouth," retorted the umpire, and the crowd laughed.
The batsman again set himself for a swing, and the pitcher once more tried to make a human knot; again the ball shot, this time straight and true for the plate, and as it did, William, with a volume of agonised pleading in his voice, yelled, "Mind your head." Instinctively the batter ducked and, of course, missed the ball, while the umpire dispassionately cried, "Strike two." The batter grieved loudly and bitterly. He accused the umpire of having eyes like a codfish, and of being stampeded by "some guy in the stand." He declared him to be incompetent to the verge of insanity, and wondered, in a voice that could be heard all over the field, how he had kept out of the asylum so long. His team mates supported him loyally, and incidentally demanded of the Toronto team's manager that William, whom they had discovered as the source of the heavy batter's discomfort, be instantly removed from the grounds and kept therefrom until the game was over, while the impatient, but delighted crowd, cried at intervals, "play ball," "put 'em off," "give the game to the Torontos."
The manager of the Torontos disclaimed all or any responsibility for William. "Nay, nay, Pauline," he said gently, when the Buffalo manager repeated his request, "if the boy annoys you, put him out yourself, or ask the police to do it."
"You know what'd happen if I tackled that boy," answered the Buffalo man heatedly: "why, that crowd would eat me."
"Not in your present condition," retorted the Toronto man affably, "you're too hot."
The Buffalonian appealed to a police constable, but that worthy shook his head. "There's only me and a sergeant here," he said, "and we ain't over anxious to start a riot." The sergeant strolled up and was consulted.
"It can't be done," he said sagely, "there isn't a section under the law or the regulations governing the force that'd justify me putting the kid out. He ain't hurting anybody anyway."
"But he's putting our man on the pork," cried the Buffalonian disgustedly; "how in the name of Uncle Sam is the team to go on playing with that kind of a racket!"
"It's nothing to the racket there'll be if you don't go on with the game," said the sergeant quietly, as he walked back to the stand. And the game went on. The batter was struck out on the next ball, and the crowd shrieked its delight, the innings closing without a score.
When the eighth innings started, William, all swagger and confidence, started on a new tack. "Fans and fan-esses," he said, addressing the crowd through the megaphone, "why don't you root? Make a noise like you meant it. The Torontos have simply gotter win this game; they need it, but you gotter help 'em. Now then, every-body—ROOT," and "root" they did, arduously, continuously, joyously. The din was terrific, ear-splitting, and weird. Everybody had a different idea as to the best methods of rooting, and even the fanesses made noises of sorts. Nobody thereafter heard what the umpire said, they gathered his decisions only by the result of the various plays, and when, in the ninth and last innings, the Torontos batted out the winning run, one prolonged wild "root" spread the glad tidings to all and sundry outside the gates for many blocks around.
William, with a final yell through the megaphone, hurried back to Walter Wadsworth's stand, and there ran into Whimple and Simmons, who were pledging each other in glasses of lemonade. The boy paused irresolutely.
"William," said Whimple, who was also rather embarrassed, "was it fair?"
William smiled. "Well, Mister Whimple," he said, "when that bunch was here once last season for a series of five games, my Pa took their stuff from the station up to the hotel in one of his express wagons, and I was with him, so, of course, I helped to lift the stuff off the wagon, and when I'm through the same manager what they have this year slips something into my hand and I thought it was a dime, and he says to me, 'I hate to give a Canuck anything,' he says, 'but you are a bright chap, only don't spend it all at once,' and when he goes into the hotel I opens up my hand, and there's one of them dinky little American cents. You bet I was mad, but my Pa says to me, 'It's mostly a long street that don't have cross streets, William,' he says, 'so, keep your hair on.' I did, and I guess me and that Buffalo man are quits now."
One afternoon, a few days afterwards, Whimple, dropping into Tommy Watson's store, found the auctioneer and "Chuck" Epstein gravely examining a doll's carriage and its occupant, a doll eminently respectable in mien and terrifically blue of eye.
"Is this a new line, Tommy?" Whimple asked.
"No—it's 'Chuck's' purchase, he intends to present the outfit to a young lady."
"To Dolly Turnpike," said Epstein quietly, "it's her birthday to-morrow; what do you think of it?"
Whimple examined the carriage and the doll as closely and as gravely as the others had done, and expressed the opinion that it was all right. He added the hope that the young lady would think so too, and the opinion that she was extremely fortunate in having among her friends so thoughtful a man as Epstein.
It is doubtful if Epstein heard him, although it was quiet enough in the back part of the store where the three had conducted their examination. Whimple started to repeat his hope when he became aware that Tommy was shaking his head and holding a finger to his lips. Whimple thereupon broke off in the middle of a sentence and kept silence.
Epstein was looking at him, but not with the eyes of one who sees the object he gazes on. Whimple thought to himself that he had never dreamed the retired comedian was as old as he looked now. He wondered if it would be kindly taken if he should advise the old man that home and a rest in bed would brace him up a little, when Epstein began to speak.
"My little girl," he said, in the rich round voice his friends loved to hear, "was born on the same day of the month that Dolly was. Only, a long time ago—quite a long time ago, or perhaps I only dream that it was long ago," he stammered and paused, and then went on. "She would have been thirty years old now, wedded, no doubt, a mother, perhaps—what dreams—what dreams——" Again he paused.
Tommy Watson rose softly, went to the front door, deliberately locked it, and then returned to Whimple and Epstein—who was talking again. "I had retired from the stage, happy and contented, to take up a business career, so that I might be with my wife and child, and the other children, if they should come. We loved so well—we loved so well—and—and——" again a long pause. And then, as though some one had spoken to him, "Yes, yes, I went back to the stage again, but that was afterwards; and how they welcomed me and cheered me and praised me; for I made them laugh as in the olden time, but my heart was gone.
"My little girl was two years old when we began to notice the shadow. Just two; with a wealth of brown hair and eyes, her eyes—they were brown too; such a brown, so wonderful, and they were her mother's eyes. The shadow darkened; the little tongue became strangely quiet, the little limbs were tired so easily, the little hands were all too often idle. But how she clung to us—she seemed to know that she must go, and so she slipped away at last, so gently—so gently—and we could not hold her.
"What is a man anyway?" he demanded abruptly, but they did not speak: they knew he did not see them. "What is a man?" he reiterated. "I have made thousands laugh the world over: I have driven away their sorrows and heartaches, for a few hours at least, but I could not drive away the shadow; I could not, I could not. Nor could she who held first place in my heart and first place in the heart of our darling." His voice lowered again and he went on, "After—after—we had laid her little body in the graveyard we went to the home of a friend, thinking—thinking: I know not what. But when the night came, I could not rest nor even sit still, and all the while she was listening, listening, and looking at her arms. I knew, I knew: for my heart was bleeding too, and at last I took her arm, and together we went back to our own home; 'For it seems to me,' said my wife, 'that I hear the patter of her little feet moving about the rooms, and I hear her crying, "Mamma: Dad-dy:" and we are not there, Jacob, and she'll be so lonely, so lonely.'
"I was thinking that too. I could not have stayed away, and so back we went. She—she—my wife, seemed more content there. But always I noticed that she seemed to be listening and waiting, and often she smiled and talked as though she was answering the little one, but—but——" his head was drooping, he seemed to be falling asleep. Whimple stirred uneasily, and Tommy Watson, whose cheeks were wet with tears, shook a warning finger at him. The old man looked up again. "The shadow came again," he said quietly, "and somewhere—somewhere—they are waiting for me. Men differ on religion, and fight over the future state. What do I know of it? I don't know. A Jew, though a British subject born, a comedian—some say I have no religion, and never had. I don't know. But, oh! I know they wait for me—and where they wait is home."
For a long time there was silence; Epstein was the first to break it. He stood up suddenly, and with a new light in his eyes asked of Whimple, as though seeing him for the first time that day, how he liked the carriage and the doll.
"Fine," said Whimple as heartily as he could, for his throat was lumpy and his heart was beating quickly.
"I'm glad of that. Why, what's the matter, Tommy, you look as though you had been crying?"
"Slight cold in the head," returned Tommy rather abruptly, "rotten time of the year to get a cold too."
"It'll be all right in a day or two, I hope," said Epstein. "I must be going to Turnpike's. I want them to give this to Dolly to-morrow. You know I had a baby girl one time"—he proceeded quite firmly—"she—she died—and Rachel, her mother, followed—shortly. We called her Dolly—after Flo Dearmore's mother, who was very good to us"—here he looked smilingly at Tommy, who had blushed at the mention of Flo's name—"my little girl had beautiful brown eyes—just like Dolly Turnpike's."
He left them then. Whimple lingered a little while and finally blurted out—"I never knew that about Epstein."
"I've heard little bits of it," said Tommy, whose eyes were still moist. "Say, but he's a wonder though." Whimple agreed. Twice he made as though to go, and after the second attempt he asked bluntly, "Does William come here every morning yet?"
"Yes," answered Tommy.
"Well, I—that is——" he did not finish the sentence, and did not know how he could, but Tommy saved him. "That's all right," he said, "I'll send him over right after his lesson to-morrow. Whimple, you know what the good book says: it's more blessed to take a man on again than to refuse to give him another chance."
"Well, I don't just remember that," said Whimple, "but I do know that I've had sixty applicants in response to my advertisement for an office boy, and of all the——"
"I know—I know," broke in Tommy, "there's mighty few William Adolphus Turnpikes in this world, and he'll be just as glad to get back as you will be to have him."
"Confound him," said Whimple, but he laughed as he said it.
"Sure, but that'll be all right so long as the two of you get together again."
When Whimple reached the office the next morning he found William there. The lad's face was shining with pleasure. "I'm sorry about that dog business, Mister Whimple," he said, "and I'll try to be good."
"All right, William," said Whimple happily, "let it go at that." But to the surprised and disgruntled Lucien Torrance, William said darkly, "Well, what between you and the bunch that was after my job, I guess Mister Whimple was nearly crazy. It's more'n one man can stand for keeping you straight; it beats me how your own boss can put up with it."
The provincial political pot, which had been simmering all through the early spring, boiled over in July of that year. The Legislature was dissolved with all the solemn formalities attendant upon the death of an important public body, and many gentlemen with aspirations for public office or government jobs found that they must forego much of the joy that was offered in the shape of baseball, lacrosse, and rowing fixtures, and get out and hustle for their respective "grand old party."
The issues at stake in the contest, according to Tommy Watson, were such as no self-respecting auctioneer could put on the block at any sale and not blush for shame. "It's just a case," said he, "of the government, knowing they cannot be beaten, wanting to make sure of a new lease of power," and Tommy, as usual, was not far wrong. But if there were no really great issues in a general sense, there was a big one in Mid-Toronto, and stripped of all party rhetoric and verbiage it was this: "Shall 'The Big Wind' continue to represent us?"
The people were tired of "The Big Wind." So was the government. But the government dare not say so, while the people—including the many who had voted for him four years before—hoped that "The Big Wind" (his real name does not belong to this chronicle of facts) would have sense enough to blow himself out of public life. He might have done that if some of those who called themselves his friends had been strong enough in their friendship to have so advised him. For even in the moments—and they were many—when he thought much of himself, "The Big Wind" had glimmerings of common sense.
The government had taken him up for reasons that at the time seemed to be sufficient. He was the sole male survivor of a family that had done much for Toronto; was the possessor of a large fortune, and a liberal giver to charities, as his father in his lifetime had been; his position socially was distinguished, and he was a handsome man, tall and straight, with a fine olive-complexioned face, well set off with mustachios and an imperial. Much had been hoped from him, a cabinet position was in his reach, until the day he made his first speech in the Provincial House. That was a day indeed. The party papers had blazoned the announcement the day before that on the morrow "The Big Wind" would make his maiden address in the House, taking as his subject "two or three important matters in connection with the budget. A rare treat is in store for those who will be able to attend," and all the rest of the hyperbole that the party papers—except yours, dear reader—are wont to indulge in. Of course, the galleries of the House were crowded, and on the floor every member was in his seat. In the press gallery the attendance of managers and editorial writers was as large as that of the men who do the real work on newspapers—the reporters. All the reporters representing the government papers had been instructed to give "The Big Wind" pretty fully, while the men from the opposition papers had been informed that they might give him a "good show." When he arose to address the House, the government side greeted him with cheers, and the opposition joined in the desk pounding that followed.
"The Big Wind" started gracefully—he always did that, and the House listened indulgently while he patted every one on the back—not forgetting himself. This occupied some fifteen minutes, during which the reporters began to ask one another in whispers, "Why doesn't he get going?" They were beginning to wonder if he would ever get going when he said, "And now, Mr. Speaker, as to the budget." There was a suppressed "Ah!" in the press gallery, followed by a surprised "Oh!" when "The Big Wind" averred that "budgets" had been known since the world began. He delved into a pile of manuscript, and made some allusion to the Book of Genesis—without giving any one the slightest idea of what he was talking about. He paid a great deal of attention to Genesis, he stayed with it for an hour or so, in fact. People began to leave the galleries, members left the chamber to find solace in the smoking-room or the library. The managing editor of the chief leading government organ, who had condescended to take a seat in the press gallery, told the three reporters representing the paper to cut the speech to one column, and himself returned to his office. An hour later this editor telephoned to the press gallery and asked one of his reporters, "Say, where is that chump now?"
"Well," answered the reporter, "he's just figuring on leading the children of Israel into the promised land."
"It's a pity the Egyptians couldn't kill him," shouted the editor; "cut him down to half a column."
And "The Big Wind" went on blowing. At six o'clock he had left the children of Israel to their fate, and was grappling with the Norman invasion of England. The House adjourned for dinner then, and it is on record that as they walked the corridor to the dining-room, a member of the cabinet asked the premier, "Where in the name of all we stand for is this fellow going to land?" that the premier, without even the trace of a blush, answered in two words, and that one of them rhymed with "well."
"The Big Wind" resumed his address at eight o'clock at night and concluded it at eleven, with a few playful allusions to the Peninsular War and an expression of regret that time did not permit of his dealing with other matters no less important.
And this was the man that Mid-Toronto was asked to return again because his own party was afraid to antagonise him, and the opposition felt that they hadn't a ghost of show to carry a riding that for twenty years had beaten their candidates by large majorities. It looked indeed as though "The Big Wind" might be elected by acclamation.
Two weeks before the official nomination, Whimple, himself a dabbler in politics and a supporter of the government, heard, with other rumours, that an independent candidate would be in the field in Mid-Toronto, and the next morning the rumours were declared, by no less a personage than William Adolphus Turnpike, to have truth as their foundation.
"You live in Mid-Toronto, William," said Whimple, jocularly, "and you ought to know what's going on there!"
"Well, I know a few things," said William, smilingly.
"Such as——" and Whimple paused.
"Politics," said William, grinning.
"A fight—a fight, and it'll be a loller-palluselar."
"That's just a word my Pa uses, Mister Whimple—honest, I couldn't say it more'n once a day."
"And who's going to fight 'The Big Wind,' pray?"
"The People's Party."
"The—what—oh! I say, William, what kind of a game is this?"
"No yarn—it's straight goods. The People's Party was formed last night, and picked their man."
"But, how do you know that? There's nothing in the papers about it this morning."
"No, because Tommy Watson's the press agent and secretary, and he says it's time enough to give it to the papers to-night, so he's going to do it."
"Tommy Watson! What on earth is he butting in for? He doesn't live in the riding!"
"No, but he was at the meetin', him and a few others—about seven altogether—and he says, 'I'll keep the minutes,' he says, 'and load up the papers.' The meetin' was held in our house," William went on, "and my Pa was elected to the chair. Gee! it was an elegant meetin': Pa made a corking speech. He says, '"The Big Wind" ain't to blame much for thinking he's the white-haired darlin',' he says, 'because his friends should put him wise that he ain't.' And Tony Gaston, what drives oner Jimmy Duggan's coal-wagons, he says, 'The Bigga de Wind is an awful mutt,' so he ups and asks why don't Jimmy Duggan run, so Pa says 'Carried,' and Tommy Watson makes 'em do it all reg'lar, and they forms the People's Party and puts Jimmy Duggan up for their man."
"It sounds foolish," said Wimple, reflectively.
"Well," said William, slowly, "that's what Tommy Watson says. 'It looks foolish,' he says, 'and that's just where a lot of other people's goin' to be made look foolish too. The party men'll be thinking there's no chance for Jimmy, and first thing you know he'll slip in.' So they asked Jimmy is he game, and Jimmy says he's game to buck up against any government anywheres, he says, especially one what'll stand for 'The Big Wind.'"
William paused, and then went on slowly, "Say, Mister Whimple, my Pa's a wonder to know what's what, and he says quite solemn to Tommy Watson after the meeting's over, 'Jimmy's the best man in a fight of any kind I ever knew,' he says; 'b'lieve me, Mister Watson,' he says, 'he'll punc-ture "The Big Wind." This part of the city don't have to stand for a gas-bag that ain't even got sense enough to burst when it's too full, and we ain't going to stand for it,' he says."
Whimple found the secretary and press agent of the People's Party busily engaged in the back of his store preparing reports of the nomination meeting for the newspapers.
"What's this I hear about a fight in Mid-Toronto, Tommy?" he asked.
"Meaning that the news has been gently broken to you by one William Adolphus Turnpike?"
"Well, put your money on Jimmy Duggan, coal and woodyard man, defender of the rights of the common people, candidate of the People's Party, the valiant David that's going to knock the stuffing out of the false Goliar——"
"Isn't it Goliath?" suggested Whimple, mildly.
"Well, maybe you're right, but, any way, there'll be an awful explosion in Mid-Toronto on August tenth, duly fixed by royal proclamation as the day on which the manhood of this fair province——"
"Oh, drop it, Tommy——"
"If the gentleman has any questions to ask I'll be pleased to answer them at the close of my address," Tommy went on. "I was about to say this fair province of Toronto, rising in their might, will go to the polls, well knowing that under the freedom and liberty which is theirs by right of the grand old flag——"
"Tommy, shut up!"
"I was about to say, they can vote as they darned well please, and the same will be mostly the way they've voted every election the last fifteen years—except in Mid-Toronto."
"Are you through?"
"Well, that's all I can think of just now."
"But what's the use? You haven't got the shadow of a chance. Why, the government 'll be returned hands down."
"Sure; but 'The Big Wind' won't. He'll be returned sky high. Don't you forget it. Why, Mid-Toronto's just seething, Whimple—just seething. Every patriotic soul in the riding is repeating that well-known verse from Bill Shakespeare's 'Saturday Night in London':—
'Breathes there a man with soul so punk, Who never to himself has thunk, By hedges and by hook or crook, We'll surely give Big Wind the Hook.'"
"Shakespeare! Shakespeare! Are you sure, Tommy?"
"Well, perhaps it wasn't him; but he's as good as any to tack it to."
"But, Tommy—seriously, is Jimmy Duggan going to fight?"
"Fight!—you bet your life he's going to fight, and he's going to win, too."
"Umph again, Whimple, you and the government will be umphing to the finish, and then you'll umph some more."
"But look here, Tommy, you know the opposition and its press has had the government tottering to its fall every election these fifteen years, and it's as solid as ever."
"Well, we'll make a dint in its solidity any way. You keep your eyes on Jimmy Duggan."
And Whimple did; others were a little slower to turn their gaze in that direction. They treated Duggan and the People's Party as a joke until the official nomination meeting when the strength and enthusiasm of Jimmy's supporters jolted them. There was a hurried consultation thereafter in the government's campaign quarters. Cabinet ministers were turned loose in the riding; the city papers supporting the government, though loth to do it, began to play up "The Big Wind." Every hall in the riding was hired for every night of the remaining week of the campaign, and two or three meetings were held every night. The People's Party and Jimmy Duggan could not afford to rent halls; their material platforms were express and coal delivery wagons drawn up on vacant lots: their speakers, outside of Tommy Watson, were men who laboured in the factories and workshops, or, like William Turnpike's Pa and Jimmy Duggan himself; had little businesses of their own. Jimmy could talk—after a fashion. "Pa" Turnpike did a little in the speech-making line. Tommy Watson did a great deal, and so did Tony Gaston, who had distinguished himself by nominating Duggan on the night the People's Party was formed.
Tony was a treat; William followed him around from meeting to meeting, declaring one of Tony's speeches to be worth more than all the others put together. "Gee! you'd orter hear him, Lucien," he said to Simmons' office boy one afternoon. "He's a Dago—but he's white. He gets leaning over the side of a wagon and he waves his arms till you'd think he'd shake them off, and all the time he's spitten' out words so blamed fast you'd wonder his tongue don't drop off. 'Ladies and der Gents,' he says, 'dis is de pr'r'oudest minnit of me life. It's an honor to stand befacin' such a audonce to spek a wor'r'd,' he says, 'for me frend, James de Duggan.' Somebody yells, 'Well, yer work f'r him, that's why.' 'Sure, I wor'rks for him,' says Tony, 'and I wor'r'ks har'rd f'r him,' he says, 'and that's more'n you do f'r the man dats payin' you good mon ev'ry week what you don't ear'r'r'n. Ladies and der Gents,' he says, 'har'rk nottin's to dat loaf-er, but vote f'r the frends of de honest wor'r'k de mans and stick de Big Wind so up he blows-puff.'"
But a new problem faced the People's Party when, for the final four days of campaigning, "The Big Wind's" committee announced a band or an orchestra at every meeting for every night.
"That'll take lots of our people away," said Tommy Watson, thoughtfully, when he read the announcement. "What can we do, I wonder, to meet it?" But William's Pa was solving the difficulty while Tommy was pondering over it. Flo Dearmore—the theatrical season being over—was in town, living, as she always did between seasons, with her mother. She was immensely interested in the contest, the faithful Tommy Watson, whose courting of her was proceeding with some success, keeping her fully informed, and when William's Pa called on her, she listened to his request with interest, refused to consider it at all, but, woman-like, changed her mind, and appeared that night on one of the People's Party platforms—an express wagon loaned by Turnpike. Tommy Watson was in the chair, and he almost fell out of it when he saw Flo approaching the wagon. Almost before he could move, she was seated beside him, many willing hands having assisted her on her way.
Tommy's eyes were popping and his mouth was gaping. He framed his lips to question her, but the words would not come. Flo greeted him demurely, and smiled mischievously over his evident embarrassment. "Don't worry, Tommy," she said, "I'm in this fight too. They're not going to beat your man if I can help prevent it. If they have their bands—well, I can sing still," with just a touch of pride.
"Flo—Flo," gasped Tommy, "you're a brick. There's lots here who know you, and some of them know you're going to be Mrs. Tommy Watson pretty soon, and they'll tell the others. Flo, this is worth hundreds of votes to us. Oh! but you're a woman in a thousand." She flushed with pleasure at this. "You'll have to tell me later all about it," Tommy went on; "who put you up to this, or did you think of it yourself?"
"It was Pa Turnpike," she said.
"Good old Turnpike. Say, but that Pa of William's is certainly smart. You remember William: the lad who sang for you at the Variety."
And just here Jimmy Duggan, who had been making a brief address, finished suddenly, as was his wont, with an invitation to all, "whether they know me or not, to solemnly weigh the merits of the two candidates, and to decide in favour of the man whose platform prin-ciples are those for which the common people have long been fighting, and if you do, you'll vote for me."
On the instant that he finished Tommy Watson was up. "The next speaker," said he, "will be a singer. (Cheers.) Our respected town's lady, Flo Dearmore—(cheers)—who has won a high place on the stage. She is for Duggan—(loud cheers)—and says it'll break her heart if he ain't elected, and that wouldn't do. (Cheers.) She's a woman in a million."
Here some one cried out, "Why don't you marry the lady, Tommy?"
"I'm going to, and pretty soon," answered Tommy, promptly, turning toward Flo as he spoke. All blushes, she nodded her head affirmatively, while the crowd shouted approval. Then she sang for them—two songs only—and afterwards went on to another meeting, accompanied by Tommy Watson, Tony Gaston, and William, where she sang again. And William's heart was throbbing with happiness, for, from the night in the Variety, when he had first seen her on the stage, he had placed this lovely lady in a niche of his heart next to that occupied by the mother to whom he was an unsolvable puzzle. He would have followed her to fifty meetings that night had she been going to that many, but his happiness was the more nearly perfect because the lady and Gaston were going to the only other Duggan meeting together, and he would be able to worship her, and listen in ecstasy to her singing, and afterwards hear one of Tony Gaston's fiery orations.
"Gee!" said William to himself: "ain't this the great luck?" and then, with an admiring glance at Flo, "and ain't she a pippin?"
Of course, Jimmy Duggan won. Even the present generation of hustling Canadians know that, though many of them could not tell an inquirer, off-hand, the name of the Canadian Prime Minister who preceded Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Of course he won—by a bare 3000 majority—that's all. Mid-Toronto shouted itself black in the face that night, and went about its own business for the next seven days in a manner that one eminent alienist would have described—had he been giving expert evidence for the defence at fifty dollars per hour—as "between a state of hysterical mania and senile decay, but not close enough to the one to necessitate confinement in an asylum, or to the other as to require the attention of a trained nurse." Jimmy Duggan was the least affected of any of the People's Party. He made fifty-five brief speeches of thanks in various sections of Mid-Toronto, and made his last to Tommy Watson, Tony Gaston, and Pa Turnpike, who escorted him to his home.
"I owe most to you three," he said earnestly, "and you'll have to help me think up some kind of legislation to press for. There's one thing we have to be glad about though," he added.
"What's that?" asked Tommy.
"Well—I ain't a government man, so it's no good anybody coming to me to worry me to death trying to get a government job for them."
"What are you going to do about William?" That was the question Flo Dearmore asked of Tommy Watson one afternoon when Tommy should have been attending strictly to his business as an auctioneer, but was neglecting it for the business of courtship, which, he declared for the one hundred and ninety-ninth time, had more charms for him than the most exciting sale he had ever conducted.
"Well, what about him?" was Tommy's answer.
"Isn't that Scottish though?" said Flo: "question for question."
"You know the old proverb," Tommy said, smilingly, "'don't answer too quickly, or you'll put your foot in it.'"
"I never heard of it before," she said, "and I don't believe there is such a proverb."
"It's something like that, anyway," retorted Tommy; "but, coming back to the question I asked, what about William?"
"I asked it first."
"You're beginning to get your hooks in for the last word rather early, aren't you?"
"Tommy Watson! make no mistake about me. I'm going to have the first and last word now and—and——"
"To the end of your married life, I suppose," broke in Tommy with a sigh so heavy that it shook him.
Flo tapped him on the head with the fingers of one dainty hand. "You're almost intelligent at times, Tommy Watson," she said, with mock seriousness.
"Yes," he retorted, "yes; almost intelligent enough to go on the stage," and then he spent the next ten minutes in explaining that he had meant to convey no reflections; that his sweetheart was the dearest, most lovable, and most intelligent person in the world; that he would never have made, and never could make, an actor: that he was the biggest bonehead in the boundaries of the City of Toronto, and all his friends and acquaintances knew it. She made him withdraw the last assertion, and beg her pardon in his nicest manner for insulting himself and his wife to be, and then came back to the subject of William.
"There's promise in the boy," she said, "he'll be a great comedian some day, if he gets a fair start."
"Yes, and he knows it, too," Tommy commented, "confound the kid. Sometimes he drives me frantic, but all the time I like him. He hasn't got the faintest notion of ever being anything but a comedian. He's almost uncanny. What he doesn't think of hasn't been thought of by anybody yet, I'll bet. He can't find words, often, to tell what his thoughts are, and then he falls back on the greatest line of slang I've ever heard. Only yesterday he said to 'Chuck' Epstein, 'Many's the time when things all go wrong I've felt like going home and crying, honest. Then, when I'd get home, there's Pa dead tired, but chirpin' like a cricket, and Ma tired too, but hustlin' around gettin' supper for Pa and the kids and me, and Dolly and Pete and the others all waitin' to see what line I'm going to take. So I gets busy and cuts up, and, say, maybe we don't have the merry ha ha times, and my Pa says to me often, he says, "William, make 'em laugh; a feller what can hide the sores in his own heart," he says, "while he's makin' somebody else laugh," he says, "he's a winner more ways than one." And it's true, Mister Epstein.'"
"Yes," said Flo, softly, "it's true."
"But now, here's the situation," Tommy went on. "William's Pa is doing pretty well now, and he won't stand for any charity game. If the boy will go back to school, Pa Turnpike will cheerfully consent, but William won't. He's very stubborn on that point. 'Not for mine,' he says. 'If I could stick to history and reading lessons, all right, but the rest of the truck they try to shovel into a boy's head at school kills me dead. Say, I've come outer the school some days almost scared to put me feet down for fear they'd slip over the edge of the world, and I never really know whether the sun goes around the world or the world around the sun, and often I ain't been sure whether the sun might hit us, or us hit the sun, and everything bust to pieces.'"
"Well, you'll have to try persuasion on him."
"We're trying it," said Tommy, "and I think we're beginning to see daylight. It's down to the point now where William comes over and takes luncheon in my room with Epstein and myself, and he gets an hour of reading and instruction from the old man then, in addition to the one in the morning. We arranged that with Whimple, and William walked right into it. If we could only get him to cut out the slang——"
"Well, that's just what Epstein said when I suggested it to him."
"I should think so, Tommy Watson; that boy is a natural born 'slanger.'"
"You're laughing in the wrong place, Tommy—that boy will go on absorbing slang to the end of his days, unless you're foolish enough to shame it out of him. By the time he is ready to go on the stage he will have a stock-in-trade of slang that will be the making of him, for he is so apt and ready with it. But, tell—no, I'll tell Epstein myself—to take care that his slang does not mar the rest of his speech. He must not be allowed to get into the way of just mouthing slang and nothing else. Does he read well?"
"You should hear him, Flo: it's a treat, and when he gets stuck on a big word he dives into the dictionary head first, or questions Epstein until he can say it properly and understand its meaning."
"That is real progress. He's a delightful mimic, too."
"Yes: he takes off Epstein, or Whimple, or myself, to the life."
"The latter must be extremely difficult," said Flo, demurely.
"True—quite true—for there's no doubt I'm a wonderful man, Flo," answered Tommy, solemnly: "so inscrutable and impassive—is that the way to say it—so adept at hiding my inmost thoughts, so——"
"But you needn't squeeze my hand so hard, Tommy, while you pronounce your eulogy; it isn't an auctioneer's gavel."
"It's a very pretty hand, though," Tommy said with a smile, "a very pretty hand."
"Are you an impartial judge, Tommy?"
"Well, I can't say I have much experience in regard to the hands of the fair sex, but I'm willing to bet there are none like yours in the wide world."
"And you have travelled so much of it."
"Not lately, perhaps, but I once spent four hours in Montreal, 330 miles away; think of it! and half a day in Hamilton—that's all of forty miles off—and Toronto never looked so sweet to me as it did when I got back to it. Good old Toronto; it's been kind to me. It has given me the dearest of all women, and a good business, and—and——" he kissed her hand and a few minutes later departed.
At a down town corner he ran into William, who was studying with great interest the baseball bulletins displayed outside of a newspaper office. William was one of a pretty large crowd that was doing the same thing. News bulletins seemingly had little attraction for the majority of them. As Tommy neared him, William remarked to a man in the crowd, "Gee! wouldn't that jar you?"
"I don't see why: that's a very important piece of news. It isn't every day the city council decides to spend so much——"
"City council my neck," broke in William, rudely, "what's that got to do with the score?"
"Score! what score?"
"Oh, gee! I thought I was talking to a baseball fan."
"You thought wrong, young man," retorted the man, sharply. "I've no patience with such frivolous things."
And then William caught sight of Tommy. "Say," he called out, "what do you think of that score?"
Tommy, himself an enthusiast, studied it carefully. "Jersey City two, Toronto one," he said aloud, "and down we go to second place, William."
"Yes; and Jersey City putting us there! Say, that team of ours is certainly on the pork."
"Oh, they're not doing so badly; we're only a few points down."
"Only? What's the use? Every time they lick the good ones they fall down when they stack up against the tail-enders; it's rotten."
"Cheer up, William, cheer up! The team will soon be home for another long series, and then they'll soar."
"Yes," said William, gloomily, "to the bottom."
"You seem to be downhearted; what's the matter?"
"Mister Whimple lost a case to-day."
"Well, lots of lawyers do that. In baseball, or law, or anything else, William, you've got to lose sometimes. Remember the old saying, 'It's better to have tried to buck the line, and failed, than never to have tried at all.'"
"But Mister Whimple's just getting a good start, and he can't afford to lose cases. It gives him a bad steer with people that's looking for lawyers in the winning column!"
The plans that men make in the belief that the knowledge and wisdom of the adult mind knows what is best for youth are many and of small account. For the youthful mind sees easily through the most of them, intuitively perhaps, and not by methods of reasoning, and decides for itself whether it shall accept or reject them. And office boys constitute a particularly abnormal department—if such it may be termed—of the youthful mind. This is merely a roundabout way of preparing the readers, if any, of this veracious chronicle with the fact that William had not, as Tommy Watson supposed, "walked into" the plan whereby he was to receive an additional hour of tuition from that prince of tutors, "Chuck" Epstein. If this was a history, the truth might be coloured with the glamour of romance at times. But, as Tommy Watson himself was wont to say, "Facts are real, facts are earnest, facts are very stubborn things, facts are facts where'er you find 'em, facts are what gives truth its wings." Therefore, it is here set down in black and white that William himself engineered that additional hour, and the wise men who thought they had initiated it patted themselves on the back because it was a success.
William, of a truth, was beginning to find himself by finding others out. He had discovered, and it was a bitter shock to William, that Lucien Torrance, for whom his feelings were tinctured by good-natured tolerance, was making good use of his spare time around the office. Lucien had no "vaulting ambition:" he would hardly have understood the meaning of the words. He wanted to improve his position though, and he practised consistently on the typewriter, he took lessons in shorthand, and was beginning to master the intricacies of bookkeeping, taking his lessons therein at a night school. His desk was always neat and clean, and the clerical work that Simmons, the architect, was beginning to trust him with was well done.
William's desk always looked to be over-crowded, and was never neat. Periodically, the lad had a cleaning-up day, but he never seemed to make much headway in getting rid of the assorted mass of newspaper and magazine clippings that he accumulated with avidity. It was an amazing collection, and every bit of reading in it, and every picture, referred to comedians; always comedians.
Lucien Torrance tackled him about it one day. "Why don't you throw all that truck away?" he said; "it's an awful lot of rubbish."
"Yes: what do you want with that?"
"You wouldn't tumble to it if I told you," William answered, so mildly that Lucien, who had expected a stinging rebuke, was almost overcome with surprise. "It's a secret," William went on, "a dark secret, but one of these days you'll be paying good money to find out about it."
"Yes, you, Lucien Torrance; you'll be doing it, and paying for your girl, or your wife, perhaps, to help you find it out."
"I haven't got a girl, and as for a wife, I'm only fifteen——"
"Don't give your age away," interrupted William. "I told you you wouldn't understand, and I ain't going to waste any of my breath trying to make you now. Some day you will, unless you turn to stone, like the fellow at the show last week."
"Oh, you mean 'the petrified man.'"
"You've got the name down fine, Lucien; I wanted to say it, but, honest, I couldn't. I thought it was stiffified, or something like that. But don't worry about me and this 'truck' and 'rubbish,' Lucien; I'm not daffy yet. Let's talk about something else."
"Love, for instance."
"Love: what on earth do you want to talk about love for? Are you——"
"Not on your life," interrupted William, hurriedly, "no skirts for mine. Why I wouldn't worry about any woman in the world but Ma or my sisters. But I'd like to get at the bottom of this love business anyway. 'Chuck' Epstein says love is the greatest thing in the world, but it makes the most trouble. Can you beat that?"
"I don't know anything about it——"
"No, no; I don't figure that you do, Lucien. But when 'Chuck' says it, he says it to Tommy Watson, and Tommy heaves a sigh big enough to burst the store to pieces if the door hadn't been open so's the sigh floats out into the street and blows an old gent's hat off, and——"
"I don't believe it."
"I know you don't, Lucien: that's another of your troubles. Some day, maybe, your mind'll take in somer the things you're missin' now, and maybe it never will. But, anyway, Tommy says, 'You're right, "Chuck,"' he says, kinder gloomy like. Now, whatjer think of that, and him going to be married to Flo Dearmore in August?"
"Tommy Watson is?"
"I always thought he was an old bachelor."
"Well, you think again, Lucien, think again. Tommy ain't so old; and it seems to me every man's a bach-e-lor until he gets married. Now, you'd think Tommy'd be fairly bustin' with joy, and maybe he is; I don't know. But he goes around singing all them mournful songs, and, say, you'd ought to hear him singing. Oh, gee! Honest, Lucien, the fog horn over on the Island's a treat to it. Your boss was over once when Tommy was whanging away on oner them songs, and he says, 'Heavens, Tommy, when's the funeral?' and Tommy says, 'Guess again, Simmons,' he says. 'It's for very joy I'm singing.' So your boss says, 'Well, it ain't a fair deal for you to be so all fired joyful as to kill everybody else's joy,' he says; so Tommy shies a book at him, and Simmons ducks, and the book hits a vase and smashes it. Well, you'd think Tommy would be mad at himself and at everybody else because of that, but he laughs and says to Simmons, 'Better the vase than your head, Simmons. Gee! I'm so happy I could smash everything in the place.' So your boss says, 'Wait till your wife begins to try her cookin' on you.' Then Tommy gets after him, and Simmons scoots, and Tommy begins again on Scotch songs; all the slow, sad ones, and, honest, I had to go out too."
"You spend a lot of time there, don't you, William?"
"Sh—sh—Don't be sleuthing around, Lucien, you might find out something, and I'm afraid the blow would kill you. Anyway, I asked my Pa about this love business, and he kinder laughs, and looks at Ma, and she laughs too, like when she's pleased about something, and they kisses each other right there, and Pa says, 'It'll come to you some day, boy, please God, and when it comes——' and then he kisses Ma again and don't finish what he's started to say, and I don't ask him. I know enough anyway to know when Pa ain't going to be no mark for a buncher questions, but it's got me going. There's Miss Whimple loved a fellow when she's young, and he gets carved up by some black fellows in a desert around Egypt somewhere——"
"That's the name; who told you?"
"My father's brother is a soldier, and he fought the Dervishes."
"That's the bunch. Say, you certainly know something, Lucien, sometimes. So, Miss Whimple don't get married, and it's the icy mitt for anybody that asked her; and plenty did."
"She's a funny old——"
"You say a word about her, Lucien Torrance, that ain't nice, and I'll knock the head off'n you. She's—she's—well, there ain't another like her except Ma."
"I wasn't going to say anything——" began Lucien.
William cut him short. "You started wrong then," he said, "that's all there is to it; and now what about your boss?"
"Yes; he's going crazy about a girl."
"You heard me; you know you did. Say, he can't sleep nights thinking of that girl, by the looks of him, and he don't see her more'n seven times a week, and she's just as looney about him too; but she ain't showing it much."
"I don't believe it!"
"There you are again, and a lot of this thing going on under your very nose. Say, you're sticking so close to business you can't see a blame thing but your work. Do you ever have a day dream, Lucien?"
"I'm too busy."
"That's it, busy—too busy to have day dreams. Gee, I don't know what I'd do if I never had 'em. Say——"
Whimple entered at this moment with Simmons. The lawyer was urging the architect to "buck up." William smiled. "The girl loves you," Whimple said, in an undertone, but not pitched low enough, for the two boys heard it quite distinctly. William winked at Lucien, and the latter blushed. Simmons refused to be comforted, and passed into his own office, melancholy settled heavily on his usually bright face, and Lucien followed him.
"William," said Whimple a few minutes later, "will you please take this letter to Mrs. Stewart, and wait for an answer?"
William's "yes" was prompt. He liked Mrs. Stewart, a young and pretty widow, to whom of late he had carried a number of notes. While he was putting on his cap, Whimple, who was sitting in his own room, began to sing softly. William did not pay particular attention to the air until, as he started toward the outer door of the office, Whimple's voice rose a little, and then he listened intently. Whimple could sing well, and he was singing well now, and the song was "Annie Laurie." William paused irresolutely, looked at the letter, counted swiftly on one hand, then opened the door, and ran quickly down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs he paused again, once more he counted, and then said to himself, "Friday, and I've taken five letters to her this week, and brought five back, and—and—I thought I was smarter'n Lucien. Dang it, all the men are going crazy together."
The real awakening of William to the sterling qualities of Lucien Torrance came with the Binks' knitting factory fire. The story was told in full detail by the newspapers at the time, but the public memory is not long, and, because this is a record of facts, it is here re-told, from the view-point of William and Lucien. The factory, in which some sixty girls were employed, was a three-story building, facing the rear of the building in which were located the offices of Whimple and Simmons. On one side it ran so close to the latter building that even the boys could, by a little stretching, touch the sill of a window to the right of the window in the room that served as office for William and waiting-room for his employer's clients.
The fire broke out one hot afternoon in August in the lower floor of the factory, and, as the building was "modern and fire-proof," the flames naturally spread at a terrific rate. Some thirty of the girls managed to escape from the lower floor at once. The escape of the others was cut off completely, the one iron ladder, designated as a fire escape, and running down to the ground, being, on its lower rungs, "wrapped in flame," as the reporters have it.
William and Lucien, who had been making faces at some of the girls at the time the fire broke out, were shocked into helplessness for a moment. Lucien recovered first. "Quick," he said, grasping William by the arm, "we can help." He half pulled William into Simmons' room, "Grab the other end," he commanded, curtly, himself seizing one end of what appeared to be a long table top. In reality it consisted of three stout planks braced together underneath, and resting on scantling supports. Several plans were pinned to the top, and these Lucien yanked off without ceremony. Between them the boys carried the table top to the window, and, though for a few seconds it seemed that their combined strength was not equal to the demand on it, they succeeded in placing one end of it on the sill of the open factory window, around which the imprisoned girls were gathered, some screaming wildly, others pale-faced, but quiet. A rough bridge was thus formed between the factory and Whimple's office. Lucien crossed it first, with William a close second. The boys urged the girls to "get a move on, one at a time," but it was not until William had escorted the heaviest one across to Whimple's office that the others, despite the rapid approach of the fire, could be persuaded to venture. Convinced of the safety of the "bridge," they began to make the journey rapidly enough. Lucien calmly and quietly encouraged them. William said nothing, but he carried out with alacrity every suggestion Lucien made.
By this time a detachment of the fire brigade was on the scene. Three of the firemen, with a hose, rushed up the front stairs of Whimple's office and to the window through which the girls were coming.
"Well, I'll be swizzled," said one of them, excitedly, "who made the bridge?"
One of the girls paused a moment before leaving the office. "Two boys," she cried, hysterically, "they're in the factory helping the other girls."
"Bully for them," shouted one of the firemen. The next moment he hurried across the "bridge," which bore his weight splendidly, and assisted the boys. Other firemen, with more hose, arrived, and several streams of water were soon playing on the factory walls below the "bridge."
"We'll save this building, anyway," said one of the firemen, handling a hose from one of Whimple's windows. And save it they did.
As the last girl crossed the bridge, the fireman who had been assisting Lucien and William ordered them to get out quickly. The big room was now full of smoke, the lads and the firemen were almost choked with it, and tongues of flame were beginning to lick one of the wooden partition walls. Just as the man spoke, the partition fell. A burning scantling struck Lucien on the head and sent him to the floor. In a moment William grabbed the burning timber with his bare hands and tried to lift it, but without the assistance of the fireman, who inserted his hook-axe under it, and added a man's strength to that of the boy's, he would not have been successful. Lucien was still conscious when they picked him up, and, with the assistance of William, made the journey across the "bridge" to Whimple's office in safety. Here kindly hands temporarily bound up his wounds and those of William too, the latter meanwhile asserting loudly, "Lucien did it; he thought of it; Lucien did it."
Finally, Lucien's parched and cracked lips parted in a smile. "Couldn't have done it without you, William," he gasped, and then the floor, so William Adolphus Turnpike afterwards solemnly asserted, rose up and hit him, and he knew nothing more until, in the evening, he woke up in a private ward in St. Michael's Hospital. There were only two beds in that ward. When William opened his eyes, a kindly faced nursing sister was bending over him.
"Where's Lucien?" he demanded.
The sister smiled. "In the bed near you," she said, gently; "his mother and father have just left him; he's——"
William sat straight up in the bed. "Say," he said, brokenly, "he ain't going to die, is he?"
"No," she answered, "he's doing splendidly, and he's fast asleep."
William laughed happily. "Oh, but he's a pippin, a real pippin; and me thinking he was a dub. If he wakes up, and I'm asleep, nurse, you can tell him from me that I'm a mutt. He's the real thing, is Lucien." Then he looked down at his hands, swathed in bandages, and grinned. "Kinder early for winter mitts," he said. "Gee, but my hands sting! Has my Ma and Pa been here?"
"They're here now, waiting to see you. They've been here for two hours, William."
"Two hours! and me lying on the downy while they're worryin'. Me—uh!—I ain't worth it."
The sister opened the door, and Mr. and Mrs. Turnpike, with anxious faces and eyes somewhat dimmed, were soon bending over their boy, kissing him, and whispering words of love and praise and sympathy. After their farewells, William turned to the sister with shining eyes. "Nobody ever had a Ma and Pa like mine," he said, "and my hands are sore, but I'm tired—tired—" he closed his eyes—"and I'm a mutt. Lucien's got it on me all over when it comes to a show down." And William slept.
There followed a strange experience for the two boys. Reporters interviewed them, and the interviews mostly read as though the boys were past masters in the use of correct English. One enterprising reporter wrote up William's story just as the lad gave it. The majority of readers appreciated that interview because the lad's language appealed to them, but by the time the editor of the newspaper in which it appeared had read the third letter from "pro bono publico," protesting against the putting of so much slang into the mouth of a mere child, he regretted that he had not made the reporter re-write it. Being human, he, of course, lectured the reporter with asperity, and the reporter, being a man of spirit, instead of taking the lecture to heart, resigned, entered the field of literature, and, in a comparatively short time, became a noted writer of short stories. He blessed William at the time and ever afterwards for opening his eyes to the possibilities of the boy in fiction—and fact.
Two days in the hospital was enough for William. He gave his ultimatum to Ma and Pa after the mayor had called upon Lucien and himself to express admiration "on behalf of the citizens of Toronto," and informed them that they were to be presented with gold watches "as a permanent token of appreciation of their bravery."
William insisted on going home that day. "Another day here," he said, "with bunches of people buttin' in and slobberin' over me, and I'm a dead one. Besides! it was all Lucien; I'm no bloomin' hero."
Lucien was sick of it too, but, because his injuries were the more serious, he had perforce to stay a little longer in the hospital.
The presentation of the watches was made in the mayor's office one week after the fire. It was a painful ceremony, so far as the boys were concerned, and they were immensely relieved when the last word had been said, and their admiring parents were allowed to proudly escort them to their respective homes.
It required the combined efforts of Whimple, Epstein, and Watson to persuade William to take a two weeks' holiday before returning to work. He didn't want to go to the country: knew he would die after two days there: was positive he was as strong and as able to work as he ever had been: and, in short, he wouldn't go. Watson wormed the truth out of him after an hour's private talk. "I'm just crazy about keeping up my lessons with Mister Epstein," said William, finally; "I feel that I can't afford to miss one; I wanter be something, Tommy, and I'm finding out every day how much of a dub I am."
Tommy suppressed a strong desire to whoop; the spirit of the lad was so manifest; his earnestness so marked. But, as calmly as possible, he said, "Don't worry on that score, William, a rest will do you good. Besides, if you go where Mr. Whimple wants you to, you'll not miss a great deal. I know the boys in that family. They're clean; they have a good library, and—oh well, you go! Remember the proverb: 'It's better to go slow sometimes, than to hustle all the time.'"
William was back at work two weeks before Lucien, who, on leaving the hospital, had also gone to the country. The boys greeted each other cordially the day Lucien returned, and spent some time, on the first opportunity afforded, in recounting their experiences. Lucien told his in a plain, matter-of-fact way, and declared he was immensely relieved to be back again.
"Well," said William, when it came to his turn, "I'm glad to be back too. Not that I didn't like it. Say, after the first day, I enjoyed ev'ry minute. I went to the Millers' farm at Varency, in Haldmand County, and maybe they ain't THE PEOPLE. B'lieve me—well—say, honest, Lucien, all the fool things I uster think about farmers, callin' 'em 'Rubes' and 'Hayseeds,' and such like, and about their work and houses and everything, makes me feel like kicking myself from here to home, and that's quite a walk. If I was oner them kind that wakes up in the night and thinks about the past, I'd blush in the dark for the fool I was. But when I falls asleep it's me's a log till somebody yells in my ear that breakfast's ready. Anyway, what I used to think about farmers is buried deep, with a lot more foolish truck I've been getting rid of this last few weeks.
"Say, there's three fellows there, Emerson, Laird, and George, and every one of 'em's over six feet, and wide too, and smart, uh! Laird, he's a schoolmaster already, and you'd orter hear him telling stories about them old Romans and Greeks, and explainin' things that a dub like me's sure to get stuck on. The other two they say one schoolmaster to a family's enough, and it's them sticking to the farm, and they ain't no slouches on farming neither. They've read an awful lot, and attended lectures, and got things down fine. They doctor the horses and cattle when they're sick, and, unless they break a leg or something like that, they doctor themselves too. Emerson, he's a swell re-citer. Honest, Lucien, he'd make you laugh, or cry, or anything, with the pieces he knows by heart, let alone what he can do with pieces he ain't never seen before when he reads 'em out for the first time. And George, he can clog-dance, and play the banjo like a pro-fessional. And the girls are smart too; there's four of 'em. Gee! I thought I'd have to go home long before two weeks was up, they were so kind to me. The boys and their Dad—they always called him that—uster work like blazes from daylight, and often before, right on until evenings, and then we'd sit around on the porch after supper, and—and——" he broke off abruptly.
"Yes?" said Lucien, quietly, after a moment's silence.
"Say, Lucien, did you ever get a hunch all of a sudden, just when you're enjoyin' yourself, that it'll never be the same again?"
Lucien answered with a prim, "Oh, yes—sometimes."
William went on, "Don't it grip your heart—don't it? We'd be sitting there—the house is built on pretty high ground, and on one side there's quite a valley, with a little stream running through it; they call it a river, but it ain't; and lots of big trees, and some willows. And our old friend, the moon, would be glummerin' around, and making paths on the water, and you'd hear the frogs, and crickets, and sometimes the creaking that the wagons would make as they passed. That's all; there wouldn't be another sound for a while, and then Emerson'd begin to recite, or George would play the banjo, or Laird would tell us stories about them old fighters long ago. And all of 'em know the names of the stars—whatjer think of that?—and they'd talk about them like they were old friends, especially their Dad, for he came from Scotland and was a sailor. Oh! it was great—great. Then some one would begin to sing, and everybody would join in the chorus. First, they'd sing somer the new songs; then the comic ones; then it would be 'Annie Laurie,' 'Will ye no come back again,' 'The Low-backed Car,' 'Willie, we have missed you,' 'Nellie Grey,' 'My Old Kentucky Home'—all the old-timers. I'd join in too, and one night when we were singing 'Will ye no come back again,' that think tank of mine got outer gear someway, and starts a hammerin' on one thought: 'It'll never be the same again—never—never—never,' and it made me feel bad, I tell you, but I went on singing. I had that kinder feeling three or four times after. It sounds crazy, don't it, Lucien? but, oh, it's true, it's true! But, don't you forget it, I had a bully time. I don't know when I really liked it most; in the early morning, when everything's bright and fresh, or at night, when it's still, like I'm tellin' you. There's one thing I noticed about the nights, too, that got me going."
"The stars. Say, Lucien, they seem to be so much closer than they do in the city; and more of 'em: that's because there ain't so many buildings, and you can see more sky. Sally used to say——"
"Yes, Sally! she's the youngest, and at that she's a little older'n I am. And there ain't no mother in that house, because their mother died just when Sally was a kiddie, and they're all mothers and fathers to her."
"Now, hold on, Lucien; hold on. Don't bite on anything until you're sure you can swallow it. Say, she's a wonder, Sally is! There's been something wrong with her spine for about four years, and she can't walk, 'cept once in a while she kinder hobbles slow around the table. They have a big wheel chair for Sally, and always when it's fine they wheel her out on to the verandah, and there she sits for hours an' hours. You'd think she's have a grouch being the way she is, but, honest, Lucien, she's enough to make all the grouchers get a hunch to throw themselves off the earth, she's that chirpy. Laugh! she's got a laugh 'ud chase the blues outer anybody; but she's mighty sad too, sometimes, when she thinks no one ain't watchin' her. Sally's a wonder, Lucien—and she's got big brown eyes, and brown hair fallin' all around her face, and the sweetest mouth——"
Lucien had occasional flashes of originality, and struck in with one. "Sweetest—the sweetest——"
"Yes," said William, firmly, though he blushed slightly, "sweet. And if you're trying to be wise about me getting tangled up with the fair sex the way you think, cut it out, cut it out. You're on the wrong track, and the danger signal's set against you. But she's certainly a wonder. Sometimes I'd be two or three hours in the field with the boys, and maybe it ain't enough to keep a fellow's think tank humming, to try to learn a quarter of what they know about the soil, and what to do with it, and about the insects, and roots, and everything. Then if I'd get tired I'd go and sit on the porch by Sally, and we'd just talk, or perhaps we'd both have a book, and just sit there readin', and I'd get tired readin', and begin to think about things, and one day, when I'm doing that I turns sudden, and Sally's looking at me, and she says, 'Yes, it is a big world, Willie'—they all called me that—she says, 'and we're none of us nearly so im-port-ant as we like to think we are.' Gee! I almost swallowed me neck, for I was just thinking that; and she read my thoughts often like that, as easy as—— Oh, well; I told her all about my plans, and what I mean to be, and—and—I've got to get busy and write to her now. I promised to."
Lucien smiled slightly.
"Rub off the smile, you hero," said William, pleasantly, himself smiling too; "there's none of that love business going into my letters."
Sally read that letter, sitting in the porch in her wheeled chair; first to herself, and later aloud to all the members of the family. It was scarred by blots and erasures; in some places William had obviously "stuck" on words, and, after writing them as he thought they should be spelled, had consulted the dictionary to make sure, and had re-written them.
This is what Sally read:—
"DEAR SALLY,—The Toronto baseball team is on the top of the heap again, and all the rest of the bunch is laying around like old tin cans waiting for the garbage man to collect them. Looks like the pennant for us. I'm half crazy about the team, so's Tommy Watson, and the other half of him's bughouse about Flo Dearmore, so he's a rare subject.
"Lucien's all right now. He's surprising me all the time. A husky kid came into the office to-day with a message and got kind of sassy when I told him the boss was out on business, so I gave him a swat in the eye, and he was just about wiping the floor with me when Lucien tackled him, and in about five minutes that kid was a sight to see. He cried fierce, but Lucien wouldn't quit till he said he'd behave himself the next time. So I says to Lucien, 'Well, if you ain't the artist with your fists; where in Sam Hill did you pick that up?' and he says his Pa used to be a pretty good boxer and gave him lessons. And me thinking yet in spite of the fire that he was a kind of sissy boy. So I began to believe what Tommy Watson says, that you can't tell what's in a fellow until he has a chance to show it, and lots of fellows ain't going around hunting up chances, they just wait till one comes. Anyway, Lucien's a pippin.
"My Pa got another man to work for him, and he's bought a team of mules. Mules are the dickens to work steady all the time. Pa says he don't know yet which has the most sense, the mules or the new man, but the man's good and honest, and the more work he gets, the more he smiles, and smiles is about all the language he has. I never saw a man what could say so much with a smile. Honest, the horses and mules get frisky the minute he gets into the stable, like they were saying, 'Here he is, cheer up.' When he gets them, Pa tells the bunch at home the mules ain't brought up in no riding school, but Pete's not hearing very well or something, and the first chance he gets tries to prove Pa's wrong. So Pete's going around now with six stitches on the front of his brain works, and he's that wise about mules a mule doctor couldn't beat him.