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Title: Michael O'Halloran
Author: Stratton-Porter, Gene, 1863-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Michael O'Halloran" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                                _MICHAEL_

                              _O'HALLORAN_

                         _Gene Stratton-Porter_

                          Copyright 1915, 1916

_Contents_

PAGE

I.     Happy Home in Sunrise Alley II.    Moccasins and Lady Slippers
III.   S.O.S. IV.    "Bearer of Morning" V.     Little Brother VI.
The Song of a Bird VII.   Peaches' Preference in Blessings VIII.  Big
Brother IX.    James Jr. and Malcolm X.     The Wheel of Life XI.
The Advent of Nancy and Peter XII.   Feminine Reasoning XIII.  A Safe
Proposition XIV.   An Orphans' Home XV.    A Particular Nix XVI.   The
Fingers in the Pie XVII.  Initiations in an Ancient and Honourable
Brotherhood XVIII. Malcolm and the Hermit Thrush XIX.   Establishing
Protectorates XX.    Mickey's Miracle



CHAPTER I


_Happy Home in Sunrise Alley_


"_Aw_ KID, _come on! Be square!_"

"_You look out what you say to me._"

"_But ain't you going to keep your word?_"

"_Mickey, do you want your head busted?_"

"_Naw! But I did your work so you could loaf; now I want the pay you
promised me._"

"_Let's see you get it! Better take it from me, hadn't you?_"

"_You're twice my size; you know I can't, Jimmy!_"

"_Then you know it too, don't you?_"

"_Now look here kid, it's 'cause you're getting so big that folks will
be buying quicker of a little fellow like me; so you've laid in the sun
all afternoon while I been running my legs about off to sell your
papers; and when the last one is gone, I come and pay you what they
sold for; now it's up to you to do what you promised._"

"_Why didn't you keep it when you had it?_"

"_'Cause that ain't business! I did what I promised fair and square; I
was giving you a chance to be square too._"

"_Oh! Well next time you won't be such a fool!_"

Jimmy turned to step from the gutter to the sidewalk. Two things
happened to him simultaneously: Mickey became a projectile. He smashed
with the force of a wiry fist on the larger boy's head, while above
both, an athletic arm gripped him by the collar.

Douglas Bruce was hurrying to see a client before he should leave his
office; but in passing a florist's window his eye was attracted by a
sight so beautiful he paused an instant, considering. It was spring;
the Indians were coming down to Multiopolis to teach people what the
wood Gods had put into their hearts about flower magic.

The watcher scarcely had realized the exquisite loveliness of a
milk-white birch basket filled with bog moss of silvery green, in which
were set maidenhair and three yellow lady slippers, until beside it was
placed another woven of osiers blood red, moss carpeted and bearing
five pink moccasin flowers, faintly fined with red lavender; between
them rosemary and white ladies' tresses. A flush crept over the lean
face of the Scotsman. He saw a vision. Over those baskets bent a girl,
beautiful as the flowers. Plainly as he visualized the glory of the
swamp, Douglas Bruce pictured the woman he loved above the orchids.
While he lingered, his heart warmed, glowing, his wonderful spring day
made more wonderful by a vision not adequately describable, on his ear
fell Mickey's admonition: "Be square!"

He sent one hasty glance toward the gutter. He saw a sullen-faced
newsboy of a size that precluded longer success at paper selling,
because public sympathy goes to the little fellows. Before him stood
one of these same little fellows, lean, tow-haired, and blue-eyed,
clean of face, neat in dress; with a peculiar modulation in his voice
that caught Douglas squarely in the heart. He turned again to the
flowers, but as his eyes revelled in beauty, his ears, despite the
shuffle of passing feet, and the clamour of cars, lost not one word of
what was passing in the gutter, while with each, slow anger surged
higher. Mickey, well aware that his first blow would be all the
satisfaction coming to him, put the force of his being into his punch.
At the same instant Douglas thrust forth a hand that had pulled for
Oxford and was yet in condition.

"Aw, you big stiff!" gasped Jimmy, twisting an astonished neck to see
what was happening above and in his rear so surprisingly. Had that
little Mickey O'Halloran gone mad to hit _him?_ Mickey standing back,
his face upturned, was quite as surprised as Jimmy.

"What did he promise you for selling his papers?" demanded a deep voice.

"Twen--ty-_five_," answered Mickey, with all the force of inflection in
his power. "And if you heard us, Mister, you heard him own up he was
owing it."

"I did," answered Douglas Bruce tersely. Then to Jimmy: "Hand him over
twenty-five cents."

Jimmy glared upward, but what he saw and the tightening of the hand on
his collar were convincing. He drew from his pocket five nickels,
dropping them into the outstretched hand of Douglas, who passed them to
Mickey, the soiled fingers of whose left hand closed over them, while
his right snatched off his cap. Fear was on his face, excitement was in
his eyes, triumph was in his voice, while a grin of comradeship curved
his lips.

"Many thanks, Boss," he said. "And would you add to them by keeping
that strangle hold 'til you give me just two seconds the start of him?"
He wheeled, darting through the crowd.

"Mickey!" cried Douglas Bruce. "Mickey, wait!"

But Mickey was half a block away turning into an alley. The man's grip
tightened a twist.

"You'll find Mickey's admonition good," he said. "I advise you to take
it. 'Be square!' And two things: first, I've got an eye on the Mickeys
of this city. If I ever again find you imposing on him or any one else,
I'll put you where you can't. Understand? Second, who is he?"

"Mickey!" answered the boy.

"Mickey who?" asked Douglas.

"How'd I know?" queried Jimmy.

"You don't know his name?" pursued Douglas.

"Naw, I don't!" said the boy.

"Where does he live?" continued Douglas.

"I don't know," answered Jimmy.

"If you have a charge to prefer, I'll take that youngster in for you,"
offered a policeman passing on his beat.

"He was imposing on a smaller newsboy. I made him quit," Douglas
explained. "That's all."

"Oh!" said the officer, withdrawing his hand. Away sped Jimmy; with him
went all chance of identifying Mickey, but Bruce thought he would watch
for him. He was such an attractive little fellow.

Mickey raced through the first alley, down a street, then looked
behind. Jimmy was not in sight.

"Got _him_ to dodge now," he muttered. "If he ever gets a grip on me
he'll hammer me meller! I'm going to have a bulldog if I half starve to
buy it. Maybe the pound would give me one. I'll see to-morrow."

He looked long, then started homeward, which meant to jump on a car and
ride for miles, then follow streets and alleys again. Finally he
entered a last alley that faced due east. A compass could not have
pointed more directly toward the rising sun; while there was at least
half an hour each clear morning when rickety stairs, wavering
fire-escapes, flapping washes, and unkept children were submerged in
golden light. Long ago it had been named. By the time of Mickey's
advent Sunrise Alley was as much a part of the map of Multiopolis as
Biddle Boulevard, and infinitely more pleasing in name. He began
climbing interminable stairs. At the top of the last flight he unlocked
his door to enter his happy home; for Mickey had a home, and it was a
happy one. No one else lived in it, while all it contained was his.

Mickey knew three things about his father: he had had one, he was not
square, and he drank himself to death. He could not remember his
father, but he knew many men engaged in the occupation of his passing,
so he well understood why his mother never expressed any regrets.

Vivid in his mind was her face, anxious and pale, but twinkling; her
body frail and overtaxed, but hitting back at life uncomplainingly. Bad
things happened, but she explained how they might have been worse; so
fed on this sop, and watching her example, Mickey grew like her. The
difficult time was while she sat over a sewing machine to be with him.
When he grew stout-legged and self-reliant, he could be sent after the
food, to carry the rent, and to sell papers, then she could work by the
day, earn more, have better health, while what both brought home paid
the rent of the top room back, of as bad a shamble as a self-respecting
city would allow; kept them fed satisfyingly if not nourishingly, and
allowed them to slip away many a nickel for the rainy day that she
always explained would come. And it did.

One morning she could not get up; the following Mickey gave all their
savings to a man with a wagon to take her to a nice place to rest. The
man was sure about it being a nice place. She had told Mickey so often
what to do if this ever happened, that when it did, all that was
necessary was to remember what he had been told. After it was over and
the nice place had been paid for, with the nickels and the sewing
machine, with enough left for the first month's rent, Mickey faced life
alone. But he knew exactly what to do, because she had told him. She
had even written it down lest he forget. It was so simple that only a
boy who did not mind his mother could have failed. The formula worked
perfectly.

_Morning: Get up early. Wash your face, brush your clothes. Eat what
was left from supper for breakfast. Put your bed to air, then go out
with your papers. Don't be afraid to offer them, or to do work of any
sort you have strength for; but be deathly afraid to beg, to lie, or to
steal, while if you starve, freeze, or die, never, never touch any kind
of drink_.

Any fellow could do that; Mickey told dozens of them so.

He got along so well he could pay the rent each month, dress in whole
clothing, have enough to eat, often cooked food on the little gasoline
stove, if he were not too tired to cook it, and hide nickels in the old
place daily. He had a bed and enough cover; he could get water in the
hall at the foot of the flight of stairs leading to his room for his
bath, to scrub the floor, and wash the dishes. From two years on, he
had helped his mother with every detail of her housekeeping; he knew
exactly what must be done.

It was much more dreadful than he thought it would be to come home
alone, and eat supper by himself, but if he sold papers until he was
almost asleep where he stood, he found he went to sleep as soon as he
reached home and had supper. He did not awaken until morning; then he
could hurry his work and get ahead of the other boys, and maybe sell to
their customers. It might be bad to be alone, but always he could
remember her, and make her seem present by doing every day exactly what
she told him. Then, after all, being alone was a very wonderful thing
compared with having parents who might beat and starve him and take the
last penny he earned, not leaving enough to keep him from being hungry
half the time.

When Mickey looked at some of the other boys, and heard many of them
talk, he almost forgot the hourly hunger for his mother, in
thankfulness that he did not have a father and that his mother had been
herself. Mickey felt sure that if she had been any one of the mothers
of most other boys he knew, he would not have gone home at all. He
could endure cold, hunger, and loneliness, but he felt that he had no
talent for being robbed, beaten, and starved; while lately he had fully
decided upon a dog for company, when he could find the right one.

Mickey unlocked his door, entering for his water bucket. Such was his
faith in his environment that he relocked the door while he went to the
water tap. Returning to the room he again turned the key, then washed
his face and hands. He looked at the slip nailed on the wall where she
had put it. He knew every word of it, but always it comforted him to
see her familiar writing, to read aloud what to do next as if it were
her voice speaking to him. Evening: "Make up your bed." Mickey made
his. "Wash any dirty dishes." He had a few so he washed them. "Sweep
your floor." He swept. "Always prepare at least one hot thing for
supper." He shook the gasoline tank to the little stove. It sounded
full enough, so he went to the cupboard his mother had made from a
small packing case. There were half a loaf of bread wrapped in its
oiled paper, with two bananas discarded by Joe of the fruit stand. He
examined his pocket, although he knew perfectly what it contained.
Laying back enough to pay for his stock the next day, then counting in
his twenty-five cents, he had forty cents left. He put thirty in the
rent box, starting out with ten. Five paid for a bottle of milk, three
for cheese, two for an egg for breakfast.

Then he went home. At the foot of the fire-escape that he used in
preference to the stairs, he met a boy he knew tugging a heavy basket.

"Take an end for a nickel," said the boy.

"Thanks," said Mickey. "It's my time to dine. 'Sides, I been done once
to-day."

"If you'll take it, I'll pay first," he offered.

"How far?" questioned Mickey.

"Oh, right over here," said the boy indefinitely.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Cross my palm with the silver."

The nickel changed hands. Mickey put the cheese and egg in his pocket,
the milk in the basket, then started. The place where they delivered
the wash made Mickey feel almost prosperous. He picked up his milk
bottle and stepped from the door, when a long, low wail that made him
shudder, reached his ear.

"What's that?" he asked the woman.

"A stiff was carried past to-day. Mebby they ain't took the kids yet."

Mickey went slowly down the stairs, his face sober. That was what his
mother had feared for him. That was why she had trained him to care for
himself, to save the pennies, so that when she was taken away, he still
would have a home. Sounded like a child! He was halfway up the long
flight of stairs before he realized that he was going. He found the
door at last, then, stood listening. He heard long-drawn,
heart-breaking moaning. Presently he knocked. A child's shriek was the
answer. Mickey straightway opened the door. The voice guided him to a
heap of misery in a corner.

"What's the matter kid?" inquired Mickey huskily.

The bundle stirred, while a cry issued. He glanced around the room.
What he saw reassured him. He laid hold of the tatters, beginning to
uncover what was under them. He dropped his hands, stepping back, when
a tangled yellow mop and a weazened, bloated girl-child face peered at
him, with wildly frightened eyes.

"If you'd put the wind you're wastin' into words, we'd get something
done quicker," advised Mickey.

The tiny creature clutched the filthy covers, still staring.

"Did you come to '_get_' me?" she quavered.

"No," said Mickey. "I heard you from below so I came to see what hurt
you. Ain't you got folks?"

She shook her head: "They took granny in a box and they said they'd
come right back and '_get_' me. Oh, please, please don't let them!"

"Why they'd be good to you," said Mickey largely. "They'd give you"--he
glanced at all the things the room lacked, then enumerated--"a clean
bed, lots to eat, a window you could be seeing from, a doll, maybe."

"No! No!" she cried. "Granny always said some day she'd go and leave
me; then they'd '_get_' me. She's gone! The big man said they'd come
right back. Oh don't let them! Oh hide me quick!"

"Well--well--! If you're so afraid, why don't you cut and hide yourself
then?" he asked.

"My back's bad. I can't walk," the child answered.

"Oh Lord!" said Mickey. "When did you get hurt?"

"It's always been bad. I ain't ever walked," she said.

"Well!" breathed Mickey, aghast. "And knowing she'd have to leave you
some day, your granny went and scared you stiff about the Home folks
taking you, when it's the only place for you to be going? Talk about
women having the sense to vote!"

"I won't go! I won't! I'll scratch them! I'll bite them!" Then in swift
change: "Oh boy, don't. Please, please don't let them '_get_' me."

Mickey took both the small bony hands reaching for him. He was so
frightened with their hot, tremulous clutch, that he tried to pull
away, dragging the tiny figure half to light and bringing from it moans
of pain.

"Oh my back! Oh you're hurting me! Oh don't leave me! Oh boy, oh _dear_
boy, please don't leave me!"

When she said "Oh dear boy," Mickey heard the voice of his mother in an
hourly phrase. He crept closer, enduring the touch of the grimy claws.

"My name's Mickey," he said. "What's your?"

"Peaches," she answered. "Peaches, when I'm good. Crippled brat, when
I'm bad."

"B'lieve if you had your chance you could look the peaches," said
Mickey, "but what were you bad for?"

"So's she'd hit me," answered Peaches.

"But if me just pulling a little hurt you so, what happened when she
hit you?" asked Mickey.

"Like knives stuck into me," said Peaches.

"Then what did you be bad for?" marvelled Mickey.

"Didn't you ever get so tired of one thing you'd take something that
hurt, jus' for a change?"

"My eye!" said Mickey. "I don't know one fellow who'd do that, Peaches."

"Mickey, hide me. Oh hide me! Don't let them '_get_' me!" she begged.

"Why kid, you're crazy," said Mickey. "Now lemme tell you. Where
they'll take you _looks_ like a nice place. Honest it does. I've seen
lots of them. You get a clean soft bed all by yourself, three big hot
meals a day, things to read, and to play with. Honest Peaches, you do!
I wouldn't tell you if it wasn't so. If I'll stay with you 'til they
come, then go with you to the place 'til you see how nice it is, will
you be good and go?"

She burrowed in the covers, screeching again.

"You're scared past all reason," said Mickey. "You don't know anything.
But maybe the Orphings' Homes ain't so good as they look. If they are,
why was mother frightened silly about them getting _me?_ Always she
said she just _had_ to live until I got so big they wouldn't 'get' me.
And I kept them from getting me by doing what she told me. Wonder if I
could keep them from getting you? There's nothing of you. If I could
move you there, I bet I could feed you more than your granny did, while
I know I could keep you cleaner. You could have my bed, a window to
look from, and clean covers." Mickey was thinking aloud. "Having you to
come home to would be lots nicer than nothing. You'd beat a dog all
hollow, 'cause you can talk. If I could get you there, I believe I
could be making it. Yes, I believe I could do a lot better than this,
and I believe I'd like you, Peaches, you are such a game little kid."

"She could lift me with one hand," she panted. "Oh Mickey, take me!
Hurry!"

"Lemme see if I can manage you," said Mickey. "Have you got to be took
any particular way?"

"Mickey, ain't you got folks that beat you?" she asked.

"I ain't got folks now," said Mickey, "and they didn't beat me when I
had them. I'm all for myself--and if you say so, I guess from now on,
I'm for you. Want to go?"

Her arms wound tightly around his neck. Her hot little face pressed
against it.

"Put one arm 'cross my shoulders, an' the other round my legs," she
said.

"But I got to go down a lot of stairs; it's miles and miles," said
Mickey, "and I ain't got but five cents. I spent it all for grub.
Peaches, are you hungry?"

"No!" she said stoutly. "Mickey, hurry!"

"But honest, I can't carry you all that way. I would if I could,
Peaches, honest I would."

"Oh Mickey, dear Mickey, hurry!" she begged.

"Get down and cover up 'til I think," he ordered. "Say you look here!
If I tackle this job do you want a change bad enough to be mean for me?"

"Just a little bit, maybe," said Peaches.

"But I won't hit you," explained Mickey.

"You can if you want to," she said. "I won't cry. Give me a good crack
now, an' see if I do."

"You make me sick at my stummick," said Mickey. "Lord, kid! Snuggle
down 'til I see. I'm going to get you there some way."

Mickey went back to the room where he helped deliver the clothes
basket. "How much can you earn the rest of the night?" he asked the
woman.

"Mebby ten cents," she said.

"Well, if you will loan me that basket and ten cents, and come with me
an hour, there's that back and just a dollar in it for you, lady," he
offered.

She turned from him with a sneering laugh.

"Honest, lady!" said Mickey. "This is how it is: that crying got me so
I went Anthony Comstockin'. There's a kid with a lame back all alone up
there, half starved and scared fighting wild. We could put her in that
basket, she's just a handful, and take her to a place she wants to go.
We could ride most of the way on the cars and then a little walk, and
get her to a cleaner, better room, where she'd be taken care of, and in
an hour you'd be back with enough nickels in your pocket to make a
great, big, round, shining, full-moon cartwheel. Dearest lady, doesn't
the prospect please you?"

"It would," she said, "if I had the cartwheel now."

"In which case you wouldn't go," said Mickey. "Dearest lady, it isn't
business to pay for undone work."

"And it isn't business to pay your employer's fare to get to your job
either," she retorted.

"No, that beats business a mile," said Mickey. "That's an _investment_.
You invest ten cents and an hour's time on a gamble. Now look what you
get, lady. A nice restful ride on the cars. Your ten cents back, a
whole, big, shining, round, lady-liberty bird, if you trust in God, as
the coin says the bird does, and more'n that, dearest lady, you go to
bed feeling your pinfeathers sprouting, 'cause you've done a kind deed
to a poor crippled orphing."

"If I thought you really had the money--" she said.

"Honest, lady, I got the money," said Mickey, "and 'sides, I got a
surprise party for you. When you get back you may go to that room and
take every scrap that's in it. Now come on; you're going to be enough
of a sporting lady to try a chance like that, ain't you? May be a gold
mine up there, for all I know. Put something soft in the bottom of the
basket while I fetch the kid."

Mickey ran up the stairs.

"Now Peaches," he said, "I guess I got it fixed. I'm going to carry you
down; a nice lady is going to put you in a big basket, then we'll take
you to the cars and so get you to my house; but you got to promise,
'cross your heart, you won't squeal, nor say a word, 'cause the police
will 'get' you sure, if you do. They'll think the woman is your ma, so
it will be all right. See?"

Peaches nodded. Mickey wrapped her in the remnants of a blanket,
carried her downstairs and laid her in the basket. By turning on her
side and drawing up her feet, she had more room than she needed.

"They won't let us on the cars," said the woman.

"Dearest lady, wait and see," said Mickey. "Now Peaches, shut your
eyes, also your mouth. Don't you take a chance at saying a word. If
they won't stand the basket, we'll carry you, but it would hurt you
less, while it would come in handy when we run out of cars. You needn't
take coin only for going, dearest lady; you'll be silver plated coming
back."

"You little fool," said the woman, but she stooped to her end of the
basket.

"Ready, Peaches," said Mickey, "and if it hurts, 'member it will soon
be over, and you'll be where nobody will ever hurt you again."

"Hurry!" begged the child.

Down the long stairs they went and to the car line. Crowded car after
car whirled past; finally one came not so full, it stopped to let off
passengers. Mickey was at the conductor's elbow.

"Please mister, a lame kid," he pleaded. "We want to move her. Please,
please help us on."

"Can't!" said the conductor. "Take a taxi."

"Broke my limousine," said Mickey. "Aw come on mister; ain't you got
kids of your own?"

"Get out of the way!" shouted the conductor.

"Hang on de back wid the basket," cried the woman.

With Peaches laid over her shoulder, she swung to the platform, and
found a seat, while Mickey grabbed the basket and ran to the back
screaming after her: "I got my fare; only pay for yourself." Mickey
told the conductor to tell the lady where to leave the car. When she
stepped down he was ready with the basket. Peaches, panting and in cold
perspiration with pain, was laid in it.

"Lovely part of the village, ain't it, lady?" said Mickey. "See the
castles of the millyingaires piercing the sky; see their automobiles at
the curb; see the lovely ladies and gents promenading the streets
enjoying the spring?"

Every minute Mickey talked to keep the woman from noticing how far she
was going; but soon she growled: "How many miles furder is it?"

"Just around a corner, up an alley, and down a side street a step.
Nothing at all! Nice promenade for a spry, lovely young lady like you.
Evening walk, smell spring in the air. 'Most there now, Peaches."

"Where are ye takin' this kid? How'll I ever get back to the car line?"
asked the woman.

Mickey ignored the first question. "Why, I'll be eschorting you of
course, dearest lady," he said.

At the point of rebellion, Mickey spoke. "Now set the basket down right
here," he ordered. "I'll be back in no time with the lady-bird."

He returned in a few minutes. Into her outstretched palm he counted
twenty-two nickels, picked the child from the basket, darted around a
corner calling, "Back in a minute," and was gone.

"Now Peaches, we got some steps to climb," he said. "Grip my neck tight
and stand just a little more."

"I ain't hurt!" she asserted. "I like seein' things. I never saw so
much before. I ain't hurt--much!"

"Your face, your breathing, and the sweating on your lips, is a little
disproving," said Mickey, "but I'll have to take your word for it,
'cause I can't help it; but it'll soon be over so you may rest."

Mickey climbed a flight, then sat down until he could manage another.
The last flight he rested three times. One reason he laid Peaches on
the floor was because he couldn't reach the bed. After a second's pause
he made a light, and opened the milk bottle.

"Connect with that," he said. "I got to take the lady back to the cars."

"Oh!" cried the connected child. "Oh Mickey, how good!"

"Go slow!" said Mickey. "You better save half to have with some bread
for your supper. Now I got to leave you a little bit, but you needn't
be afraid, 'cause I'll lock you in. Nobody will '_get_' you here."

"Now for the cars," said Mickey to his helper.

"What did them folks say?" she asked.

"Tickled all over," answered Mickey promptly.

"That bundle of dirty rags!" she scoffed.

"They are going to throw away the rags and wash her," said Mickey.
"She's getting her supper now."

"Sounds like lying," said the woman, "but mebby it ain't. Save me, I
can't see why anybody would want a kid at any time, let alone a reekin'
bunch of skin and crooked bones."

"You've known folks to want a dog, ain't you?" said Mickey. "Sure
something that can think and talk back must be a lot more amusing. I
see the parks are full of the rich folks dolling up the dogs, feeding
them candy and sending them out for an airing in their automobiles; so
it's up to the poor people to look after the homeless children, isn't
it?"

"Do you know the folks that took her?"

"Sure I do!" said Mickey.

"Do you live close?" she persisted.

"Yes! I'm much obliged for your help, dearest lady. When you get home,
go up to the last attic back, and if there is anything there you want,
help yourself. Peaches don't need it now, while there's no one else.
Thank you, and good-bye. Don't fly before your wings grow, 'cause I
know you'll feel like trying to-night."

Mickey hurried back to his room. The milk bottle lay on the floor, the
child asleep beside it. The boy gazed at her. There were strange and
peculiar stirrings in his lonely little heart. She was so grimy he
scarcely could tell what she looked like, but the grip of her tiny hot
hands was on him. Presently he laughed.

"Well fellers! Look what I've annexed! And I was hunting a dog! Well,
she's lots better. She won't eat much more, she can talk, and she'll be
something alive waiting when I come home. Gee, I'm _glad_ I found her."

Mickey set the washtub on the floor near the sleeping child, and
filling the dishpan with water, put it over the gasoline burner. Then
he produced soap, a towel, and comb. He looked at the child again, and
going to the box that contained his mother's clothing he hunted out a
nightdress. Then he sat down to wait for the water to heat. The door
slammed when he went after a bucket of cold water, and awakened the
girl. She looked at him, then at his preparations.

"I ain't going to be washed," she said. "It'll hurt me. Put me on the
bed."

"Put you on my bed, dirty like you are?" cried Mickey. "I guess not!
You are going to be a soaped lady. If it hurts, you can be consoling
yourself thinking it will be the last time, 'cause after this you'll be
washed every day so you won't need skinning alive but once."

"I won't! I won't!" she cried.

"Now looky here!" said Mickey. "I'm the boss of this place. If I say
wash, it's _wash!_ See! I ain't going to have a dirty girl with mats in
her hair living with me. You begged me and begged me to bring you, now
you'll be cleaned up or you'll go back. Which is it, back or soap?"

The child stared at him, then around the room.

"Soap," she conceded.

"That's a lady," said Mickey. "Course it's soap! All clean and sweet
smelling like a flower. See my mammy's nice white nightie for you? How
bad is your back, Peaches? Can you sit up?"

"A little while," she answered. "My legs won't go."

"Never you mind," said Mickey. "I'll work hard and get a doctor, so
some day they will."

"They won't ever," insisted Peaches. "Granny carried me to the big
doctors once, an' my backbone is weak, an' I won't ever walk, they all
said so."

"Poot! Doctors don't know everything," scorned Mickey. "That was _long_
ago, maybe. By the time I can earn enough to get you a dress and shoes,
a doctor will come along who's found out how to make backs over.
There's one that put different legs on a dog. I read about it in the
papers I sold. We'll save our money and get him to put another back on
you. Just a bully back."

"Oh Mickey, will you?" she cried.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Now you sit up and I'll wash you like Mammy
always did me."

Peaches obeyed. Mickey soaped a cloth, knelt beside her; then he
paused. "Say Peaches, when was your hair combed last?"

"I don't know, Mickey," she answered.

"There's more dirt in it than there is on your face."

"If you got shears, just cut it off," she suggested.

"Sure!" said Mickey.

He produced shears and lifting string after string cut all of them the
same distance from her head.

"Girls' shouldn't be short, like boys'," he explained. "Now hang your
head over the edge of the tub and shut your eyes so I can wash it," he
ordered.

Mickey soaped and scoured until the last tangle was gone, then rinsed
and partly dried the hair, which felt soft and fine to his fingers.

"B'lieve it's going to curl," he said.

"Always did," she answered.

Mickey emptied and rinsed the tub at the drain, then started again on
her face and ears, which he washed thoroughly. He pinned a sheet around
her neck, then she divested herself of the rags. Mickey lifted her into
the tub, draped the sheet over the edge, poured in the water, and
handed her the soap.

"Now you scour, while I get supper," he said.

Peaches did her best. Mickey locked her in and went after more milk. He
wanted to add several extras, but remembering the awful hole the dollar
had made in his finances, he said grimly: "No-sir-ee! With a family to
keep, and likely to need a doctor at any time and a Carrel back to buy,
there's no frills for Mickey. Seeing what she ain't had, she ought to
be thankful for just milk."

So he went back, lifted Peaches from the tub and laid her on the floor,
where he dried her with the sheet. Then he put the nightdress over her
head, she slipped her arms in the sleeves, and he stretched her on his
bed. She was so lost in the garment he tied a string under her arms to
hold it, and cut off the sleeves at her elbows. The pieces he saved for
washcloths. Mickey spread his sheet over her, rolled the bed before the
window where she could have air, see sky and housetops, then brought
her supper. It was a cup of milk with half the bread broken in, and a
banana. Peaches was too tired to eat, so she drank the milk while
Mickey finished the remainder. Then he threw her rags from the window,
and spread his winter covers on the floor for his bed. Soon both of
them were asleep.



CHAPTER II


_Moccasins and Lady Slippers_


"No messenger boy for those," said Douglas Bruce as he handed the
florist the price set on the lady slippers. "Leave them where people
may enjoy them until I call."

As he turned, another man was inquiring about the orchids; he too
preferred the slippers; but when he was told they were taken, he had
wanted the moccasins all the time, anyway. The basket was far more
attractive. He refused delivery, returning to his waiting car smiling
over the flowers. He also saw a vision of the woman into whose sated
life he hoped to bring a breath of change with the wonderful gift. He
saw the basket in her hands, and thrilled in anticipation of the
favours her warmed heart might prompt her to bestow upon him.

In the mists of early morning the pink orchids surrounded by rosemary
and ladies' tresses had glowed and gleamed from the top of a silvery
moss mound four feet deep, under a big tamarack in a swamp, through the
bog of which the squaw plunged to her knees at each step to uproot
them. In the evening glow of electricity, snapped from their stems, the
beautiful basket untouched, the moccasins lay on the breast of a woman
of fashion, while with every second of contact with the warmth of her
body, they drooped lower, until clasped in the arms of her lover, they
were quite crushed, then flung from an automobile to be ground to pulp
by passing wheels.

The slippers had a happier fate. Douglas Bruce carried them reverently.
He was sure he knew the swamp in which they grew. As he went his way,
he held the basket, velvet-white, in strong hands, swaying his body
with the motion of the car lest one leaf be damaged. When he entered
the hall, down the stairs came Leslie Winton.

"Why Douglas, I wasn't expecting you," she said.

Douglas Bruce held up the basket.

"Joy!" she cried. "Oh joy unspeakable! Who has been to the tamarack
swamp?"

"A squaw was leaving Lowry's as he put these in his window," answered
Douglas.

"Bring them," she said.

He followed to a wide side veranda, set the basket on a table in a cool
spot, then drew a chair near it. Leslie Winton seated herself, leaning
on the table to study the orchids. Unconsciously she made the picture
Douglas had seen. She reached up slim fingers in delicate touchings
here and there of moss, corolla and slipper.

"Never in all my days--" she said. "Never in all my days--I shall keep
the basket always, and the slippers as long as I possibly can. See this
one! It isn't fully open. I should have them for a week at least.
Please hand me a glass of water."

Douglas started to say that ice water would be too cold, but with the
wisdom of a wise man waited; and as always, was joyed by the waiting.
For the girl took the glass and cupping her hands around it sat talking
to the flowers, and to him, as she warmed the water with heat from her
body. Douglas was so delighted with the unforeseen second that had
given him first chance at the orchids, and so this unexpected call,
that he did not mind the attention she gave the flowers. He had reasons
for not being extravagant; but seldom had a like sum brought such
returns. He began drawing interest as he watched Leslie. Never had her
form seemed so perfect, her dress so becoming and simple. How could
other women make a vulgar display in the same pattern that clothed her
modestly? How wonderful were the soft coils of her hair, the tints
paling and flushing on her cheeks, her shining eyes! Why could not all
women use her low, even, perfectly accented speech and deliberate
self-control?

He was in daily intercourse with her father, a high official of the
city, a man of education, social position, and wealth. Mr. Winton had
reared his only child according to his ideas; but Douglas, knowing
these things, believed in blood also. As Leslie turned and warmed the
water, watching her, the thought was strong in his mind: what a woman
her mother must have been! Each day he was with Leslie, he saw her do
things that no amount of culture could instil. Instinct and tact are
inborn; careful rearing may produce a good imitation, they are genuine
only with blood. Leslie had always filled his ideal of a true woman. To
ignore him for his gift would have piqued many a man; Douglas Bruce was
pleased.

"You wonders!" she said softly. "Oh you wonders! When the mists lifted
in the marshes this morning, and the first ray of gold touched you to
equal goldness, you didn't know you were coming to me. I almost wish I
could put you back. Just now you should be in such cool mistiness,
while you should be hearing a hermit thrush sing vespers, a cedar bird
call, and a whip-poor-will cry. But I'm glad I have you! Oh I'm so glad
you came to me! I never materialized a whole swamp with such vividness
as only this little part of it brings. Douglas, when you caught the
first glimpse of these, how far into the swamp did you see past them?"

"To the heart--of the swamp--and of my heart."

"I can see it as perfectly as I ever did," she said. "But I eliminate
the squaw; possibly because I didn't see her. And however exquisite the
basket is, she broke the law when she peeled a birch tree. I'll wager
she brought this to Lowry, carefully covered. And I'm not sure but
there should have been a law she broke when she uprooted these orchids.
Much as I love them, I doubt if I can keep them alive, and bring them
to bloom next season. I'll try, but I don't possess flower magic in the
highest degree."

She turned the glass, touching it with questioning palm. Was it near
the warmth of bog water? After all, was bog water warm? Next time she
was in a swamp she would plunge her hand deeply in the mosses to feel
the exact temperature to which those roots had been accustomed. Then
she spoke again.

"Yes, I eliminate the squaw," she said. "These golden slippers are the
swamp to me, but I see you kneeling to lift them. I am so glad I'm the
woman they made you see."

Douglas sat forward and opened his lips. Was not this the auspicious
moment?

"Did the squaw bring more?" she questioned.

"Yes," he answered. "Pink moccasins in a basket of red osiers, with the
same moss, rosemary and white tresses. Would you rather those?"

She set down the glass, drawing the basket toward her with both hands.
As she parted the mosses to drop in the water she slowly shook her head.

"One must have seen them to understand what that would be like," she
said. "I know it was beautiful, but I'm sure I should have selected the
gold had I been there. Oh I wonder if the woman who has the moccasins
will give them a drink to-night! And will she try to preserve their
roots?"

"She will not!" said Douglas emphatically.

"How can you possibly know?" queried the girl.

"I saw the man who ordered them," laughed Douglas.

"Oh!" cried Leslie, comprehendingly.

"I'd stake all I'm worth the moccasins are drooping against a lavender
dress; the roots are in the garbage can, while the cook or maid has the
basket," he said.

"Douglas, how can you!" exclaimed Leslie.

"I couldn't! Positively couldn't! Mine are here!"

The slow colour crept into her cheek. "I'll make those roots bloom next
spring; you shall see them in perfection," she promised.

"That would be wonderful!" he exclaimed warmly.

"Tell me, were there yet others?" she asked hastily.

"Only these," he said. "But there was something else. I came near
losing them. While I debated, or rather while I possessed these, and
worshipped the others, there was a gutter row that almost made me lose
yours."

"In the gutter again?" she laughed.

"Once again," he admitted. "Such a little chap, with an appealing
voice, while his inflection was the smallest part of what he was
saying. 'Aw kid, come on. Be square!' Oh Leslie!"

"Why Douglas!" the girl cried. "Tell me!"

"Of all the wooden-head slowness!" he exclaimed. "I've let him slip
again!"

"Let who 'slip again?'" questioned Leslie. "My little brother!"
answered he.

"Oh Douglas! You didn't really?" she protested.

"Yes I did," he said. "I heard a little lad saying the things that are
in the blood and bone of the men money can't buy and corruption can't
break. I heard him plead like a lawyer and argue his case straight. I
lent a hand when his eloquence failed, got him his deserts, then let
him go! I did have an impulse to keep him. I did call after him. But he
disappeared."

"Douglas, we can find him!" she comforted.

"I haven't found either of the others I realized I'd have been
interested in, after I let them slip," he answered, "while this boy was
both of them rolled into one, and ten more like them."

"Oh Douglas! I'm so sorry! But maybe some other man has already found
him," said Leslie.

"No. You can always pick the brothered boys," said Douglas. "The first
thing that happens to them is a clean-up and better clothing; then an
air of possessed importance. No man has attached this one."

"Douglas, describe him," she commanded. "I'll watch for him. How did he
look? What was the trouble?"

"One at a time," cautioned the man. "He was a little chap, a white,
clean, threadbare little chap, with such a big voice, so wonderfully
intoned, and such a bigger principle, for which he was fighting. One of
these overgrown newsboys the public won't stand for unless he is in the
way when they are making a car, had hired him to sell his papers while
he loafed. Mickey----"

"'Mickey?'" repeated Leslie questioningly.

"The big fellow called him 'Mickey'; no doubt a mother who adored him
named him Michael, and thought him 'like unto God' when she did it. The
big fellow had loafed all afternoon. When Mickey came back and turned
over the money, and waited to be paid off, his employer laughed at the
boy for not keeping it when he had it. Mickey begged him 'to be square'
and told him that 'was not business'--'_not business_,' mind you, but
the big fellow jeered at him and was starting away. Mickey and I
reached him at the same time; so I got in the gutter again. I don't see
how I can be so slow! I don't see how I did it!"

"I don't either," she said, with a twinkle that might have referred to
the first of the two exclamations. "It must be your Scotch habit of
going slowly and surely. But cheer up! We'll find him. I'll help you."

"Have you reflected on the fact that this city covers many square
miles, of which a fourth is outskirts, while from them three thousand
newsboys gathered at the last Salvation Army banquet for them?"

"That's where we can find him!" she cried. "Thanksgiving, or Christmas!
Of course we'll see him then."

"Mickey didn't have a Salvation Army face," he said. "I am sure he is a
free lance, and a rare one; besides, this is May. I want my little
brother to go on my vacation with me. I want him now."

"Would it help any if I'd be a sister to you?"

"Not a bit," said Douglas. "I don't in the very least wish to consider
you in the light of a sister; you have another place in my heart, very
different, yet all your own; but I do wish to make of Mickey the little
brother I never have had. Minturn was telling me what a rejuvenation
he's getting from the boy he picked up. Already he has him in his
office, and is planning school and partnership with a man he can train
as he chooses."

"But Minturn has sons of his own!" protested Leslie.

"Oh no! Not in the least!" exclaimed Douglas. "Minturn has sons of his
_wife's_. She persistently upsets and frustrates Minturn's every idea
for them, while he is helpless. You will remember she has millions; he
has what he earns. He can't separate his boys, splendid physical little
chaps, from their mother's money and influence, and educate them to be
a help to him. They are to be made into men of wealth and leisure.
Minturn will evolve his little brother into a man of brains and
efficiency."

"But Minturn is a power!" cried the girl.

"Not financially," explained Douglas. "Nothing but money counts with
his wife. In telling me of this boy, Minturn confessed that he was
forced, _forced_ mind you, to see his sons ruined, while he is building
a street gamin as he would them, if permitted."

"How sad, Douglas!" cried Leslie. "Your voice is bitter. Can't he do
something?"

"Not a blooming thing!" answered Douglas. "She has the money. She is
their mother. Her character is unimpeachable. If Minturn went to
extremes, the law would give them to her; she would turn them over to
ignorant servants who would corrupt them, and be well paid for doing
it. Why Minturn told me--but I can't repeat that. Anyway, he made me
eager to try my ideas on a lad who would be company for me, when I
can't be here and don't wish to be with other men."

"Are you still going to those Brotherhood meetings?"

"I am. And I always shall be. Nothing in life gives me such big returns
for the time invested. There is a world of talk breaking loose about
the present 'unrest' among women; I happen to know that the 'unrest' is
as deep with men. For each woman I personally know, bitten by 'unrest,'
I know two men in the same condition. As long as men and women are
forced to combine, to uphold society, it is my idea that it would be a
good thing if there were to be a Sisterhood organized; then the two
societies frankly brought together and allowed to clear up the
differences between them."

"But why not?" asked the girl eagerly.

"Because we are pursuing false ideals, we have a wrong conception of
what is _worth while in life_," answered the Scotsman. "Because the
sexes except in rare, very rare, instances, do not understand each
other, and every day are drifting farther apart, while most of the
married folk I know are farthest apart of all. Leslie, what is it in
marriage that constrains people? We can talk, argue and agree or
disagree on anything, why can't the Minturns?"

"From what you say, it would seem to me it's her idea of what is worth
while in life," said Leslie.

"Exactly!" cried Douglas. "But he can sway men! He can do powerful
work. He could induce her to marry him. Why can't he control his own
blood?"

"If she should lose her money and become dependent upon him for
support, he could!" said Leslie.

"He should do it anyway," insisted Douglas.

"Do you think you could?" she queried.

"I never thought myself in his place," said Douglas, "but I believe I
will, and if I see glimmerings, I'll suggest them to him."

"Good boy!" said the girl lightly. And then she added: "Do you mind if
I think myself in her place and see if I can suggest a possible point
at which she could be reached? I know her. I shouldn't consider her
happy. At least not with what I call joy."

"What do you call joy?" asked Douglas.

"Being satisfied with your environment."

Douglas glanced at her, then at her surroundings, and looking into her
eyes laughed quizzically.

"But if it were different, I am perfectly confident that I should work
out joy from life," insisted Leslie. "It owes me joy! I'll have it, if
I fight for it!"

"Leslie! Leslie! Be careful! You are challenging Providence. Stronger
men than I have wrought chaos for their children," said a warning
voice, as her father came behind her chair.

"Chaos or no, still I'd put up my fight for joy, Daddy," laughed the
girl. "Only see, Preciousest!"

"One minute!" said her father, shaking hands with Douglas. "Now what is
it, Leslie? Oh, I do see!"

"Take my chair and make friends," said the girl.

Mr. Winton seated himself, then began examining and turning the basket.
"Indians?" he queried.

"Yes," said Douglas. "A particularly greasy squaw. I wish I might
truthfully report an artist's Indian of the Minnehaha type, but alack,
it was the same one I've seen ever since I've been in the city, and
that you've seen for years before my arrival."

Mr. Winton still turned the basket.

"I've bought their stuff for years, because neither Leslie nor her
mother ever would tolerate fat carnations and overgrown roses so long
as I could find a scrap of arbutus, a violet or a wake-robin from the
woods. We've often motored up and penetrated the swamp I fancy these
came from, for some distance, but later in the season; it's so very
boggy now. Aren't these rather wonderful?" He turned to his daughter.

"Perfectly, Daddy," she said. "Perfectly!"

"But I don't mean for the Creator," explained Mr. Winton. "I am
accustomed to His miracles. Every day I see a number of them. I mean
for the squaw."

"I'd have to know the squaw and understand her viewpoint," said Leslie.

"She had it in her tightly clenched fist," laughed Douglas. "One, I'm
sure; anyway, not over two."

"That hasn't a thing to do with the _art_ with which she made the
basket and filled it with just three perfect plants," said Leslie.

"You think there is real art in her anatomy?" queried Mr. Winton.

"Bear witness, O you treasures of gold!" cried Leslie, waving toward
the basket.

"There was another," explained Douglas as he again described the osier
basket.

Mr. Winton nodded. He looked at his daughter.

"I like to think, young woman, that you were born with and I have
cultivated what might be called artistic taste in you," he said.
"Granted the freedom of the tamarack swamp, could you have done better?"

"Not so well, Daddy! Not nearly so well. I never could have defaced
what you can see was a noble big tree by cutting that piece of bark,
while I might have worshipped until dragged away, but so far as art and
I are concerned, the slippers would still be under their tamarack."

"You are begging the question, Leslie," laughed her father. "I was not
discussing the preservation of the wild, I was inquiring into the state
of your artistic ability. If you had no hesitation about taking the
flowers, could you have gone to that swamp, collected the material and
fashioned and filled a more beautiful basket that this?"

"How can I tell, Daddy?" asked the girl. "There's only one way to
learn. I'll forget my scruples, you get me a pair of rubber boots, then
we'll drive to the tamarack swamp and experiment."

"We'll do it!" cried Mr. Winton. "The very first half day I can spare,
we'll do it. And you Douglas, you will want to come with us, of course."

"Why, 'of course,'" laughed Leslie.

"Because he started the expedition with his golden slippers. When it
come to putting my girl, and incidentally my whole family, in
competition with an Indian squaw on a question of art, naturally, her
father and one of her best friends would want to be present."

"But maybe 'Minnie' went alone, and what chance would her work have
with you two for judges?" asked Leslie.

"We needn't be the judges," said Douglas Bruce quietly.

"We can put this basket in the basement in a cool, damp place, where it
will keep perfectly for a week. When you make your basket we can find
the squaw and bring her down with us. Lowry could display the results
side by side. He could call up whomever you consider the most artistic
man and woman in the city and get their decision. You'd be willing to
abide by that, wouldn't you?"

"Surely, but it wouldn't be fair to the squaw," explained Leslie. "I'd
have had the benefit of her art to begin on."

"It would," said Mr. Winton. "Does not every artist living, painter,
sculptor, writer, what you will, have the benefit of all art that has
gone before?"

"You agree?" Leslie turned to Douglas.

"Your father's argument is a truism."

"But I will know that I am on trial. She didn't. Is it fair to her?"
persisted Leslie.

"For begging the question, commend me to a woman," said Mr. Winton.
"The point we began at, was not what you could do in a contest with
her. She went to the swamp and brought from it some flower baskets. It
is perfectly fair to her to suppose that they are her best art. Now
what we are proposing to test is whether the finest product of our
civilization, as embodied in you, can go to the same swamp, and from
the same location surpass her work. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly clear, Daddy, and it would be fair," conceded Leslie. "But
it is an offence punishable with a heavy fine to peel a birch tree;
while I wouldn't do it, if it were not."

"Got her to respect the law anyway," said Mr. Winton to Douglas. "The
proposition, Leslie, was not that you do the same thing, but that from
the same source you outdo her. You needn't use birch bark if it
involves your law-abiding soul."

"Then it's all settled. You must hurry and take me before the lovely
plants have flowered," said Leslie.

"I'll go day after to-morrow," promised Mr. Winton.

"In order to make our plan work, it is necessary that I keep these
orchids until that time," said Leslie.

"You have a better chance than the lady who drew the osier basket has
of keeping hers," said Mr. Winton. "If I remember I have seen the
slippers in common earth quite a distance from the lake, while the
moccasins demand bog moss, water and swamp mists and dampness."

"I have seen slippers in the woods myself," said Leslie. "I think the
conservatory will do, so they shall go there right now. I have to be
fair to 'Minnie.'"

"Let me carry them for you," offered Douglas, arising.

"'Scuse us. Back in a second, Daddy," said Leslie. "I am interested,
excited and eager to make the test, yet in a sense I do not like it."

"But why?" asked Douglas.

"Can't you see?" countered Leslie.

"No," said Douglas.

"It's shifting my sense of possession," explained the girl. "The
slippers are no longer my beautiful gift from you. They are perishable
things that belong to an Indian squaw. In justice to her, I have to
keep them in perfect condition so that my work may not surpass hers
with the unspeakable art of flower freshness; while instead of thinking
them the loveliest thing in the world, I will now lie awake half the
night, no doubt, studying what I can possibly find that is more
beautiful."

Douglas Bruce opened his slow lips, taking a step in her direction.

"Dinner is served," announced her father. He looked inquiringly toward
his daughter. She turned to Douglas.

"Unless you have a previous engagement, you will dine with us, won't
you?" she asked.

"I should be delighted," he said heartily.

When the meal was over and they had returned to the veranda, Leslie
listened quietly while the men talked, most of the time, but when she
did speak, what she said proved that she always had listened to and
taken part in the discussions of men, until she understood and could
speak of business or politics intelligently.

"Have you ever considered an official position, Douglas?" inquired Mr.
Winton. "I have an office within my gift, or so nearly so that I can
control it, and it seems to me that you would be a good man. Surely we
could work together in harmony."

"It never has appealed to me that I wanted work of that nature,"
answered Douglas. "It's unusually kind of you to think of me, and make
the offer, but I am satisfied with what I am doing, while there is a
steady increase in my business that gives me confidence."

"What's your objection to office?" asked Mr. Winton.

"That it takes your time from your work," answered Douglas. "That it
changes the nature of your work. That if you let the leaders of a party
secure you a nomination, and the party elect you, you are bound to
their principles, at least there is a tacit understanding that you are,
and if you should happen to be afflicted with principles of your own,
then you have got to sacrifice them."

"'Afflict' is a good word in this instance," said Mr. Winton. "It is
painful to a man of experience to see you young fellows of such great
promise come up and 'kick' yourself half to death 'against the pricks'
of established business, parties, and customs, but half of you do it.
In the end all of you come limping in, poor, disheartened, defeated,
and then swing to the other extreme, by being so willing for a change
you'll take almost anything, and so the dirty jobs naturally fall to
you."

"I grant much of that," Douglas said, in his deliberate way, "but
happily I have sufficient annual income from my father's estate to
enable me to live until I become acquainted in a strange city, and have
time to establish the kind of business I should care to handle. I am
thinking of practising corporation law; I specialized in that, so I may
have the pleasure before so very long of going after some of the men
who do what you so aptly term the 'dirty' jobs."

"A repetition of the customary chorus," said Mr. Winton, "differing
only in that it is a little more emphatic than usual. I predict that
you will become an office-holder, having party affiliations, inside ten
years."

"Possibly," said Douglas. "But I'll promise you this: it will be a new
office no man ever before has held, in the gift of a party not now in
existence."

"Oh you dreamers!" cried Mr. Winton. "What a wonderful thing it is to
be young and setting out to reform the world, especially on a permanent
income. That's where you surpass most reformers."

"But I said nothing about reform," corrected Douglas. "I said I was
thinking of corporation law."

"I'm accustomed to it; while you wouldn't scare Leslie if you said
'reform,'" remarked Mr. Winton. "She's a reformer herself, you know."

"But only sweat-shops, child labour, civic improvement, preservation of
the wild, and things like that!" cried Leslie so quickly and eagerly,
that both men laughed.

"God be praised!" exclaimed her father.

"God be _fervently_ praised!" echoed her lover.

Before she retired Leslie visited the slippers.

"I'd like to know," she said softly, as she touched a bronze striped
calyx, "I'd like to know how I am to penetrate your location, and find
and fashion anything to outdo you and the squaw, you wood creatures
you!" Then she bent above the flowers and whispered: "Tuck this in the
toe of your slipper! Three times to-night it was in his eyes, and on
his tongue, but his slowness let the moment pass. I can 'bide a wee'
for my Scotsman, I can bide forever, if I must; for it's he only, and
no other."

The moccasins soon had been ground to pulp and carried away on a
non-skid tire while at three o'clock in the morning a cross,
dishevelled society woman, in passing from her dressing room to her
bed, stumbled over the osier basket, kicking it from her way.



CHAPTER III


_S.O.S._


Mickey, his responsibility weighing upon him, slept lightly and
awakened early, his first thought of Peaches. He slipped into his
clothing and advancing peered at her through the grayness. His heart
beat wildly.

"Aw you poor kid! You poor little kid!" he whispered to himself as he
had fallen into the habit of doing for company. "The scaring, the
jolting, the scouring, and everything were too much for you. You've
gone sure! You're just like them at the morgue. Aw Peaches! I didn't
mean to hurt you, Peaches! I was _trying_ to be good to you. Honest I
was, Peaches! Aw----!"

As his fright increased Mickey raised his voice until his last wail
reached the consciousness of the sleeping child. She stirred slightly,
her head moving on the pillow. Mickey almost fell, so great was his
relief. He stepped closer, gazing in awe. The sheared hair had dried in
the night, tumbling into a hundred golden ringlets. The tiny clean face
was white, so white that the blue of the closed eyes showed darkly
through the lids, the blue veins streaked the temples and the little
claws lying relaxed on the sheet. Mickey slowly broke up inside. A big,
hard lump grew in his throat. He shut his lips tight and bored the
tears from his eyes with his wiry fists. He began to mutter his
thoughts to regain self-control.

"Gee kid, but you had me scared to the limit!" he said. "I thought you
were gone, sure. Honest I did! Ain't I glad though! But you're the
whitest thing! You're like----I'll tell you what you're like. You're
like the lily flowers in the store windows at Easter. You're white like
them, and your hair is the little bit of gold decorating them. If I'd
known it was like that I wouldn't a-cut it if I'd spent a month
untangling it. Honest I wouldn't, kid! I'm awful sorry! Gee, but it
would a-been pretty spread over mother's pillow."

Mickey gazed, worshipped and rejoiced as he bent lower from time to
time to watch the fluttering breath.

"You're so clean now you just smell good; but I got to go easy. The
dirt covered you so I didn't see how sick you were. You'll go out like
a candle, that's what you'll do. I mustn't let even the wind blow cold
on you. I couldn't stand it if I was to hurt you. I'd just go and lay
down before the cars or jump down an elevator hole. Gee, I'm glad I
found you! I wouldn't trade you for the smartest dog that's being rode
around in the parks. Nor for the parks! Nor the trees! Nor the birds!
Nor the buildings! Nor the swimming places! Nor the automobiles! Nor
nothing! Not nothing you could mention at all! Not eating! Nor seeing!
Nor having! Not no single thing--nothing at all--Lily!

"Lily!" he repeated. "Little snow white lily! Peaches is a good name
for you if you're referring to sweetness, but it doesn't fit for
colour. Least I never saw none white. Lily fits you better. If you'd
been a dog, I was going to name you Partner. But you're mine just as
much as if you was a dog, so I'll name you if I want to. Lily! That's
what God made you; that's what I'm going to call you."

The God thought, evoked by creation, remained in Mickey's heart. He
glanced at the sky clearing from the graying mists of morning, while
the rumble of the streets came up to him in a dull roar.

"O God, I guess I been forgetting my praying some, since mother went.
I'd nothing but myself and I ain't worth bothering You about. But O
God, if You are going to do any _big_ things to-day, why not do some
for Lily? Can't be many that needs it more. If You saw her yesterday,
You must see if You'll look down now, that she's better off, she's
worlds better off. Wonder if You sent me to get her, so she would be
better off. Gee, why didn't You send one of them millyingaires who
could a-dressed her up, fed her and took her to the country where the
sun would shine on her. Ain't never touched her, I bet a liberty-bird.
But if You did the sending, You sent just me, so she's _my_ job, an'
I'll do her! But I wish You'd help me, or send me help, O God. It's an
awful job to tackle all alone, for I'm going to be scared stiff if she
gets sick. I can tell by how I felt when I thought she was gone. So if
You sent me God, it's up to You to help me. Come on now! If You see the
sparrows when they fall, You jest good naturedly ought to see Lily
Peaches, 'cause she's always been down, and she can't ever get up,
unless we can help her. Help me all You can O God, and send me help to
help her all I can, 'cause she can use all the help she can get, and
then some! Amen!"

Mickey took one of Peaches' hands in his.

"I ain't the time now, but to-night I got to cut your nails and clean
them, then I guess you'll do to start on," he said as he squeezed the
hand. "Lily! Lily Peaches, wake up! It's morning now. I got to go out
with the papers to earn supper to-night. Wake up! I must wash you and
feed you 'fore I go."

Peaches opened her eyes, drawing back startled.

"Easy now!" cautioned Mickey. "Easy now! Don't be scared. Nobody can
'get' you here! What you want for breakfast, Flowersy-girl? Little Lily
white."

An adorable smile illumined the tiny face at the first kindly awakening
it ever had known.

"_You_ won't let them 'get' me, will you?" she triumphed.

"You know it!" he answered conclusively. "Now I'll wash your face, cook
your breakfast, and fix you at the window where maybe you can see birds
going across. Think of that, Lily! Birds!"

"My name's Peaches!" said the child.

"So 'tis!" said Mickey. "But since you arrived to such bettered
conditions, you got to be a lady of fashion. Now Peaches, every single
kid in the Park is named _two_ names, these days. Fellow can't have a
foot race for falling over Mary Elizabeths, and Louisa Ellens. I can't
do so much just to start on, 'cause I can't earn the boodle; fast as I
get it, you're going to line up; but nachally, just at starting you
must begin on the things that are not expensive. Now names don't cost
anything, so I can be giving you six if I like, and you are a lily, so
right now I'm naming you Lily, but two's the style; keep your Peaches,
if it suits you. Lily just flies out of my mouth when I look at you."

This was wonderful. No cursing! No beating! No wailing over a lame-back
brat to feed. Mickey _liked_ to give her breakfast! Mickey named her
for the wonderful flower like granny had picked up before a church one
day, a few weeks ago and in a rare sober moment had carried to her.
Mickey had made her feel clean, so rested, and so fresh she wanted to
roll over the bed. With child impulse she put up her arms. Mickey
stooped to them.

"You goin' to have two names too," she said. "You gotter be fash'nable.
I ist love you for everythin', washin', an' breakfast, an' the bed, an'
winder, an' off the floor; oh I just love you _sick_ for the winder,
an' off the floor. You going to be"--she paused in a deep study to
think of a word anywhere nearly adequate, then ended in a burst that
was her best emanation--"lovest! Mickey-lovest!"

She hugged him closely, then lifted her chin and pursed her lips.
Mickey pulled back, a dull colour in his face.

"Now nix on the mushing!" he said. "I'll stand for a hug once a day,
but nix on the smear!"

"You'd let a dog," she whimpered. "I ain't kissed nothin' since granny
sold the doll a lady gave me the time we went to the doctor's, an' took
the money to get drunk on, an' beat me more'n I needed for a change,
'cause I cried for it. I think you might!"

"Aw well, go on then, if you're going to bawl," said Mickey, "but put
it there!"

He stepped as far back as he could, leaned over, and swept the hair
from his forehead, which he brought in range of her lips. He had to
brace himself to keep from flinching at their cold touch and
straightened in relief.

"Now that's over!" he said briskly. "I'll wash you, and get your
breakfast."

"You do a lot of washin', don't you?" inquired Peaches.

"You want the sleep out of your eyes," coaxed Mickey.

He brought the basin and a cloth, washing the child's face and hands
gently as was in his power.

"Flowersy-girl," he said, "if you'd looked last night like you do this
morning, I'd never tackled getting you here in the world. I'd thought
you'd break sure."

"G'wan kid," she said. "I can stand a lot. I been knocked round somepin
awful. She dragged me by one hand or the hair when she was tight, and
threw me in a corner an' took the"--Peaches glanced over the bed,
refusing to call her former estate by the same name--"took the _place_
herself. You ain't hurting me. You can jerk me a lot."

"I guess you've been jerked enough, Lily Peaches," he said. "I guess
jerkin' ain't going to help your back any. I think we better be easy
with it 'til we lay up the money to Carrel it. He put different legs on
a dog, course he can put a new back on you."

"Dogs doesn't count only with rich folks 'at rides 'em, an' feeds 'em
cake; but where'll you find 'nother girl 'at ull spare her back for me,
Mickey-lovest?" asked Peaches.

"Gee, Lily!" he cried. "I didn't _think_ of that--I wish I hadn't
promised you. Course he could _change_ the backs, but where'd I get
one. I'll just have to let him take mine."

"I don't want no boy's back!" flashed Peaches. "I won't go out an' sell
papers, an' wash you, an' feed you, an' let you stay here in this nice
bed. I don't want no new back, grand like it is here. I won't have no
dog's back, even. I won't have no back!"

"Course I couldn't let you work and take care of me, Lily," he said.
"Course I couldn't! I was just thinking what I _could_ do. I'll write a
letter and ask the Carrel man if a dog's back would do. I could get one
your size at the pound, maybe."

Peaches arose at him with hands set like claws.

"You fool!" she shrieked. "You big damn fool! '_A dog's back!'_ I
won't! You try it an' I'll scratch your eyes out! You stop right now on
backs an' go hell-bent an' get my breakfast! I'm hungry! I like my
back! I will have it! You----"

Mickey snatched his pillow from the floor, using it to press the child
against hers. Then he slipped it down a trifle at one corner and spoke:

"Now you cut that out, Miss Chicken, right off!" he said sternly. "I
wouldn't take no tantrums from a dog, so I won't from you. You'll make
your back worse acting like that, than beating would make it, and
'sides, if you're going to live with me, you must be a lady. No lady
says such words as you used, and neither does no gentleman, 'cause I
don't myself. Now you'll either say, 'Mickey, please get me my
breakfast,' and I'll get you one with a big surprise, or you'll lay
here alone and hungry 'til I come back to-night. And it'll be a whole
day, see?"

"'F I wasn't a pore crippled kid, you wouldn't say that to me," she
wailed.

"And if you wasn't 'a poor crippled kid,' you wouldn't say swearin's to
me," said Mickey, "'cause you know I'd lick the stuffin' out of you,
and if you could see yourself, you'd know that you need stuffin' in,
more than you need it out. I'm 'mazed at you! Forget that you ever
heard such stuff, and be a nice lady, won't you? My time's getting
short and I got to go, or the other kids will sell to my paper men,
then we'll have no supper. Now you say, 'Mickey, please get my
breakfast,' like a lady, or you won't get a bite."

"'Mickey, please get my breakfast,'" she imitated.

Mickey advanced threateningly with the pillow.

"Won't do!" he said. "That ain't like no lady! That's like _me_. You'll
say it like _yourself_, or you won't get it."

She closed her lips, burying her face in her own pillow.

"All right," said Mickey. "Then I'll get my own. If you don't want any,
I'll have twice as much."

He laid the pillow on the foot of the bed, saying politely: "'Scuse me,
Lily, till I get _me_ a bottle of milk."

Soon he returned and with his first glimpse of the bed stood aghast. It
was empty. His eyes searched the room. His pallet on the floor outlined
a tiny form. A dismayed half smile flashed over his face. He took a
step toward her, and then turned, getting out a cloth he had not used
since being alone. Near the bed he set the table and laid a plate,
knife, fork and spoon. Because he was watching Peaches he soon
discovered she was peeking out at him, so he paid strict attention to
the burner he was lighting.

Then he sliced bread, put on a toaster, set the milk on the table,
broke an egg in a saucer, and turned the toast. Soon the odours filled
the room, also a pitiful sound. Mickey knew Peaches must have hurt
herself sliding from the bed, although her arms were strong for the
remainder of her body. She had no way to reach his pallet but to roll
across the floor. She might have bruised herself badly. He was amazed,
disgusted, yet compassionate. He went to her and turned back the
comfort.

"You must be speaking a little louder, Lily," he said gently. "I wasn't
quite hearing you."

Only muffled sobbing. Mickey dropped the cover.

"I want my breakfast," said a very small voice.

"You mean, 'Mickey, please _get_ my breakfast,' Flowersy-girl," he
corrected gently.

"Oh I hurt myself so!" Peaches wailed. "Oh Mickey, I fell an' broke my
back clear in two. 'Tain't like rollin' off my rags; oh Mickey, it's so
_far_ to the floor, from your bed! Oh Mickey, even another girl's back,
or yours, or a dog's, or anybody's wouldn't fix it now. It'll hurt for
days. Mickey, why did I ever? Oh what made me? Mickey-lovest, please,
please put me back on the nice fine bed, an' do please give me some of
that bread."

Mickey lifted her, crooning incoherent things. He wiped her face and
hands, combed her hair, and pushed the table against the bed. He broke
toast in a glass and poured milk over it. Then he cooked the egg and
gave her that, keeping only half the milk and one slice of bread. He
made a sandwich of more bread, and the cheese, put a banana with it,
set a cup of water in reach, and told her that was her lunch; to eat it
when the noon whistles blew. Then he laid all the picture books he had
on the back of the bed, put the money for his papers in his pocket, and
locking her in, ran down Sunrise Alley fast as he could.

He was one hour late. He had missed two regular customers. They must be
made up and more. Light, air, cleanliness, and kindness would increase
Peaches' appetite, which seemed big now for the size of her body.
Mickey's face was very sober when he allowed himself to think of his
undertaking. How would he make it? He had her now, he simply must
succeed. The day was half over before Mickey began to laugh for no
apparent reason. He had realized that she had not said what he had
required of her, after all.

"Gee, I'm up against it," said Mickey. "I didn't s'pose she'd act like
that! I thought she'd keep on being like when she woke up. I never
behaved like that."

Then in swift remorse: "But I had the finest mother a fellow ever had
to tell me, while she ain't had any one, and only got me now, so I'll
have to tell her; course I can't do everything at once. So far as that
goes, she didn't do any worse than the millyingaires' kids in the park
who roll themselves in the dirt, bump their own heads, and scream and
fight. I guess my kid's no worse than other people's. I can train her
like mother did me; then we'll be enough alike we can live together,
and even when she was the worst, I liked her. I liked her cartloads."

So Mickey shouldered the duties of paternity, and began thinking for
his child, his little, neglected, bad, sick child. His wits and feet
always had been nimble; that day he excelled himself. Anxiety as to how
much he must carry home at night to replace what he had spent in moving
Peaches to his room, three extra meals to provide before to-morrow
night, something to interest her through the long day: it was a
contract, surely! Mickey faced it gravely, but he did not flinch. He
did not know how it was to be done, but he did know it must be done.
"_Get_" her they should not. Whatever it had been his mother had feared
for him, nameless though the horror was, from _that_ he must save Lily.
Mickey had thought it must be careless nurses or lack of love.
Yesterday's papers had said there were some children at one of the
Homes, no one ever visited; they were sick for love; would not some
kind people come to see them? It must have been _that_ she feared. He
could not possibly know it was the stigma of having been a charity
child she had been combating with all her power.

They had not "got" him; they must not "get" his Lily; yet stirrings in
Mickey's brain told him he was not going to be sufficient, alone. There
were emergencies he did not know how to manage. He must have help.
Mickey revolved the problem in his worried head without reaching a
solution. His necessity drove him. He darted, dodged and took chances.
Far down the street he selected his victim and studied his method of
assault as he approached; for Mickey did victimize people that day. He
sold them papers when they did not want them. He bettered that and sold
them papers when they had them. He snatched up lost papers, smoothed
and sold them over. Every gay picture or broken toy dropped from an
automobile he caught up and pocketed for her.

A woman stumbled alighting from a passing car. Mickey dropped his
papers and sprang forward. Her weight bore him to the pavement, but he
kept her from falling, and even as he felt her on her feet, he snatched
under the wheels for her purse.

"Is that all your stuff, lady?" he asked.

"Thank you! I think so," she said. "Wait a minute!"

To lend help was an hourly occurrence with Mickey. _She_ had been most
particular to teach him that. He was gathering up and smoothing his
papers several of which were soiled. The woman opened the purse he had
rescued, taking therefrom a bill which she offered him.

"Thanks!" said Mickey. "My shoulder is worth considerable to me; but
nothing like that to you, lady!"

"Well!" she said. "Are you refusing the money?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I ain't a beggar! Just a balance on my shoulder
and picking up your purse ain't worth an endowment. I'll take five
cents each for three soiled papers, if you say so."

"You amazing boy!" said the woman. "Don't you understand that if you
hadn't offered your shoulder, I might now be lying senseless? You saved
me a hard fall, while my dress would have been ruined. You step over
here a minute. What's your name?"

"Michael O'Halloran," was the answer.

"Where do you live?"

"Sunrise Alley. It's miles on the cars, then some more walking,"
explained Mickey.

"Whom do you live with?"

"Myself," said Mickey.

"Alone?"

"All but Peaches," said Mickey. "Lily Peaches."

"Who is Lily Peaches?"

"She's about so long"--Mickey showed how long--"and about so wide"--he
showed how wide--"and white like Easter church flowers. Her back's bad.
I'm her governor; she's my child."

"If you won't take the money for yourself, then take it for her,"
offered the woman. "If you have a little sick girl to support, you
surely can use it."

"Umm!" said Mickey. "You kind of ball a fellow up and hang him on the
ropes. Honest you do, lady! I can take care of myself. I know I can,
'cause I've done it three years, but I don't know how I'm goin' to make
it with Lily, for she needs a lot. She may get sick any day, so I ain't
sure how I'm going to manage well with her."

"How long have you taken care of her?"

"Since last night," explained Mickey.

"Oh! How old is she?" Questions seemed endless.

"I don't know," answered Mickey. "Her granny died and left her lying on
rags in a garret. I found her screeching, so I took her to my castle
and washed her, and fed her. You should see her now."

"I believe I should!" said the woman. "Let's go at once. You know
Michael, you can't care for a _girl_. I'll put her in one of the
beautiful Children's Homes--"

"Now nix on the Children's Homes, fair lady!" he cried angrily. "I
guess you'll _find_ her, 'fore you take her! I found her first, and
she's _mine!_ I guess you'll _find_ her, 'fore you take her to a
Children's Home, where the doctors slice up the poor kids for practice
so they'll know how to get money for doing it to the rich ones. I've
_annexed_ Lily Peaches, and you don't '_get_' her! See?"

"I see," said the woman. "But you're mistaken----"

"'Scuse crossing your wire, but I don't think I _am_," said Mickey.
"The only way you can know, is to have been there yourself. I don't
think you got that kind of a start, or want it for kids of your own. My
mother killed herself to keep me out of it, and if it had been so
grand, she'd _wanted_ me there. Nix on the Orphings' Home talk. Lily
ain't going to be raised in droves, nor flocks, nor herds! See? Lily's
going to have a home of her own, and a man to take care of her by
herself."

Mickey backed away, swallowing a big lump in his throat, and blinking
down angry tears.

"'Smorning," he said, "I asked God to help me, and for a minute I was
so glad, 'cause I thought He'd helped by sending _you_, so you could
tell me how to do; but if God can't beat _you_, I can get along by
myself."

"You _can't_ take care of a girl by yourself," she insisted. "The _law_
won't allow you."

"Oh can't I?" scoffed Mickey. "Well you're mistaken, 'cause I am! And
getting along bully! You ought to seen her last night, and then this
morning. Next time I yell for help, I won't ask to have anybody sent,
I'll ask Him to help me save our souls, myself. Ever see that big,
white, wonderful Jesus at the Cathedral door, ma'am, holding the little
child in His arms so loving? I don't s'pose He stopped to ask whether
it was a girl, or a boy, 'fore He took it up; He just opened his arms
to the first _child_ that _needed_ Him. And if I remember right, He
didn't say: 'Suffer little children to be sent to Orphings' Homes.'
Mammy never read it to me _that_ way. It was suffer them to come to
'Me,' and be took up, and held tender. See? Nix on the Orphings' Home
people. They ain't in my class. Beaucheous lady, adoo! Farewell! I
depart!"

Mickey wheeled, vanishing. It was a wonderful exhibition of curves,
leaps, and darts. He paused for breath when he felt safe.

"So that's the dope!" he marvelled. "I can't take care of a girl? Going
to take her away from me? I'd like to know _why?_ Men all the time take
care of women. I see boys taking care of girls I know their mothers
left with them, every day--I'd like to know _why_. Mother said I was to
take care of _her_. She said that's what men were made _for_. 'Cause
_he didn't_ take care of her, was why she was glad my father was
_dead_. I guess I know what I'm doing! But I've learned something! Nix
on the easy talk after this; and telling anybody you meet all you know.
Shut mouth from now on. 'What's your name, little boy?' 'Andrew
Carnegie.' 'Where d'you live?' 'Castle on the Hudson!' A mouth just
tight shut about Lily, after this! And nix on the Swell Dames! Next one
can bust her crust for all I care! I won't touch her!"

On the instant, precisely that thing occurred, at Mickey's very feet.
With his lips not yet closed, he knelt to shove his papers under a
woman's head, then went racing up the stone steps she had rolled down,
his quick eye catching and avoiding the bit of fruit on which she had
slipped. He returned in a second with help. As the porter lifted the
inert body, Mickey slid his hands under her head, and advised: "Keep
her straight!" Into one of the big hospitals he helped carry a blue and
white clad nurse, on and on, up elevators and into a white porcelain
room where they laid her on a glass table. Mickey watched with
frightened eyes. Doctors and nurses came running. He stood waiting for
his papers. He was rather sick, yet he remembered he had five there he
must sell.

"Better clear out of here now!" suggested a surgeon.

"My papers!" said Mickey. "She fell right cross my feet. I slid them
under, to make her head more pillowlike on the stones. Maybe I can sell
some of them."

The surgeon motioned to a nurse at the door.

"Take this youngster to the office and pay him for the papers he has
spoiled," he ordered.

"Will she--is she going to----?" wavered Mickey.

"I'm not sure," said the surgeon. "From the bleeding probably
concussion; but she will live. Do you know how she came to fall?"

"There was a smear of something on the steps she didn't see," explained
Mickey.

"Thank you! Go with the nurse," said the surgeon. Then to an attendant:
"Take Miss Alden's number, and see to her case. She was going after
something."

Mickey turned back. "Paper, maybe," he suggested, pointing to her
closed hand. The surgeon opened it and found a nickel. He handed it to
Mickey. "If you have a clean one left, let this nurse take it to Miss
Alden's case, and say she has been assigned other duty. See to sending
a substitute at once."

Every paper proved to be marked.

"I can bring you a fresh one in a second, lady," offered Mickey. "I got
the money."

"All right," she said. "Wait with it in the office and then I'll pay
you."

"I'm sent for a paper. I'm to be let in as soon as I get it," announced
Mickey to the porter. "I ain't taking chances of being turned down," he
said to himself, as he stopped a second to clean the step.

He returned and was waiting when the nurse came. She was young and fair
faced; her hair was golden, and as she paid Mickey for his papers he
wondered how soon he could have Lily looking like her. He took one long
survey as he pocketed the money, thinking he would rush home at once;
but he wanted to fix in his mind how Lily must appear, to be right, for
he thought a nurse in the hospital would be right.

The nurse knew she was beautiful, and to her Mickey's long look was
tribute, male tribute; a small male indeed, but such a winning one; so
she took the occasion to be her loveliest, and smile her most
attractive smile. Mickey surrendered. He thought she was like an angel,
that made him think of Heaven, Heaven made him think of God, God made
him think of his call for help that morning, the call made him think of
the answer, the beautiful woman before him made him think that possibly
_she_ might be the answer instead of the other one. He rather doubted
it, but it might be a chance. Mickey was alert for chances for Peaches,
so he smiled again, then he asked: "Are you in such an awful hurry?"

"I think we owe you more than merely paying for your papers," she said.
"What is it?"

Again Mickey showed how long and how wide Lily was. "And with hair like
yours, and eyes and cheeks that would be, if she had her chance, and
nobody to give her that chance but just me," he said. "Me and Lily are
all each other's got," he explained hastily. "We're _home_ folks. We're
a family. We don't want no bunching in corps and squads. We're nix on
the Orphings' Home business; but you _must know_, ma'am--would you, oh
would you tell me just how I should be taking care of her? I'm doing
everything like my mother did to me; but I was well and strong. Maybe
Lily, being a girl, should have things different. A-body so beautiful
as you, would tell me, wouldn't you?"

Then a miracle happened. The nurse, so clean she smelled like a drug
store, so lovely she shone as a sunrise, laid an arm across Mickey's
shoulders. "You come with me," she said. She went to a little room, and
all alone she asked Mickey questions; with his eyes straight on hers,
he answered. She told him surely he could take care of Lily. She
explained how. She rang for a basket and packed it full of things he
must have, showing him how to use them. She told him to come each
Saturday at four o'clock, as she was going off duty, and tell her how
he was getting along. She gave him a thermometer, and told him how to
learn if the child had fever. She told him about food, and she put in
an ointment, instructing him to rub the little back with it, so the bed
would not be so tiresome. She showed him how to arrange the pillows;
when he left, the tears were rolling down Mickey's cheeks. Both of them
were so touched she laid her arm across his shoulder again and went as
far as the elevator, while a passport to her at any time was in his
pocket.

"I 'spect other folks tell you you are beautiful like flowers, or
music, or colours," said Mickey in farewell, "but you look like a
window in Heaven to me, and I can see right through you to God and all
the beautiful angels; but what gets me is why the other one had to bust
her crust, to make you come true!"

The nurse was laughing and wiping her eyes at the same time. Mickey
gripped the basket until his hands were stiff as he sped homeward at
least two hours early and happy about it. At the last grocery he
remembered every word and bought bread, milk, and fruit with care "for
a sick lady" he explained, so the grocer, who knew him, used care.
Triumphing Mickey climbed the stairs. He paused a second in deep
thought at the foot of the last flight, then ascended whistling to let
Peaches know that he was coming, then on his threshold recited:

"_One't a little kid named Lily,
  Was so sweet she'd knock you silly,
Yellow hair in millying curls,
  Beat a mile all other girls._"

She was on his bed; she was on his pillow; she had been lonely; both
arms were stretched toward him.

"Mickey, hurry!" she cried. "Mickey, lemme hold you 'til I'm sure!
Mickey, all day I didn't hardly durst breathe, fear the door'd open an'
they'd '_get_' me. Oh Mickey, you won't let them, will you?"

Mickey dropped his bundles and ran to the bed. This time he did not
shrink from her wavering clasp. It was delight to come home to
something alive, something that belonged to him, something to share
with, something to work and think for, something that depended upon him.

"Now nix on the scare talk," he comforted. "Forget it! I've lived here
three years alone, and not a single time has anybody come to 'get' me,
so they won't you. There's only one thing can happen us. If I get sick
or spend too much on eating, and don't pay the rent, the man that owns
this building will fire us out. If we, _if we_" Mickey repeated
impressively, "pay our rent regular, in advance, nobody will _ever_
come, not _ever_, so don't worry."

"Then what's all them bundles?" fretted Peaches. "You ortn't a-got so
much. You'll never get the _next_ rent paid! They'll 'get' me sure."

"Now throttle your engine," advised Mickey. "Stop your car! Smash down
on the brakes! They are things the city you reside in furnishes its
taxpayers, or something like that. I pay my rent, so this is my
_share_, and it's things for you: to make you comfortable. Which are
you worst--tiredest, or hungriest, or hottest?"

"I don't know," she said.

"Then I'll make a clean get-a-way," said Mickey. "Washing is cooling;
and it freshens you up a lot."

So Mickey brought his basin again, bathing the tired child gently as
any woman could have done it.

"See what I got!" he cried as he opened bundles and explained. "I'm
going to see if you have fever."

Peaches rebelled at the thermometer.

"Now come on in," urged Mickey. "Slide straight home to your base! If
I'm going to take care of you, I'm going to right. You can't lay here
eating wrong things if you have _fever_. No-sir-ee! You don't get to
see in any more of these bundles, nor any supper, nor talked to any
more, 'til you put this little glass thing under your tongue and hold
it there just this way"--Mickey showed how--"three minutes by the
clock, then I'll know what to do with you next. I'll sit beside you,
and hold your hands, and tell you about the pretty lady that sent it."

Mickey wiped the thermometer on the sheet, then presented it. Peaches
took one long look at him and opened her lips. Mickey inserted the
tube, set the clock in sight, and taking both her hands he held them
closely and talked as fast as he could to keep her from using them. He
had not half finished the day when the time was up. If he had done it
right, Peaches had very little, if any, fever.

"Now turn over so I can rub your back to make it all nice and rested,"
he said. "And then I'll get supper."

"I don't want my back rubbed," she protested. "My back's all right now."

"Nothing to do with going to have it rubbed," said Mickey. "It would be
a silly girl who would have a back that wouldn't walk, and then
wouldn't even try having it doctored, so that it would get better. Just
try Lily, and if it doesn't _help_, I won't do it any more."

Peaches took another long look at Mickey, questioning in nature, then
turned her back to him.

"Gosh, kid! Your back looks just like horses' going to the fertilizer
plant," he said.

"Ain't that swearin's?" asked Peaches promptly.

"First-cousin," answered Mickey. "'Scuse me Lily. If you could see your
back, you'd 'scuse worse than that."

"Feelin' ull do fer me," said Peaches. "I live wid it." "Honest kid,
I'm scared to touch you," he wavered.

"Aw g'wan!" said Peaches. "I ain't goin' screechin' even if you hurt
awful, an' you touch like a sparrer lookin' for crumbs. Mickey, can we
put out a few?"

"For the sparrows? Sure!" cried Mickey. "They're the ones that God sees
especial when they fall. Sure! Put out some in a minute. Still now!"

Mickey poured on ointment, then began softly rubbing it into the
dreadful back. His face was drawn with anxiety and filled with horror.
He was afraid, but the nurse said this he should do, while Mickey's
first lesson had been implicit obedience. So he rubbed gently as he was
fearful; when Peaches made no complaint, a little stronger, and a
little stronger, until he was tired. Then he covered her, telling her
to lie on it, and see how it felt. Peaches looked at him with wondering
eyes.

"Mickey," she said, "nothin" in all my life ever felt like that, an'
the nice cool washin' you do. Mickey-lovest, nex' time I act mean 'bout
what you want to do to me, slap me good, an' hold me, an' go on an'
_do_ it!"

"Now nix on the beating," said Mickey. "I never had any from my mother;
but the kids who lost sales to me took my nickels, and give me plenty.
You ought to know, Lily, that I'm trying hard as I can to make you feel
good; and to take care of you. What I want to do, I think will make you
_better_, so I'm just nachally going to _do_ it, 'cause you're mine,
and you got to do what I say. But I won't say anything that'll hurt you
and make you worse. If you must take time to think new things over, I
can wait; but I can't hit you Lily, you're too little, too sick, and I
like you too well. I wish you'd be a lady! I wish you wouldn't ever be
bad again!"

"Hoh I feel so good!" Peaches stretched like a kitten. "Mickey, bet I
can walk 'fore long if you do that often! Mickey, I just love you, an'
_love_ you. Mickey, say that at the door over again."

"What?" queried Mickey.

"'One't a little kid named Lily,'" prompted Peaches.

Mickey laughed and obeyed.

Neatly he put away all that had been supplied him; before lighting the
burner he gave Lily a drink of milk and tried arranging both pillows to
prop her up as he had been shown. When the water boiled he dropped in
two bouillon cubes the nurse had given him, and set out some crackers
he had bought. He put the milk in two cups, and when he cut the bread,
he carefully collected every crumb, putting it on the sill in the hope
that a bird might come. The thieving sparrows, used to watching windows
and stealing from stores set out to cool, were soon there. Peaches, to
whom anything with feathers was a bird, was filled with joy. The odour
of the broth was delicious. Mickey danced, turned handsprings, and made
the funniest remarks. Then he fixed the bowl on a paper, broke the
crackers in her broth, growing unspeakably happy at her delight as she
tasted it.

"Every Saturday you get a box of that from the Nurse Lady," he boasted.
"Pretty soon you'll be so fat I can't carry you and so well you can
have supper ready when I come, then we can----" Mickey stopped short.
He had started to say, "go to the parks," but if other ladies were like
the first one he had talked with, and if, as she said, the law would
not let him keep Peaches, he had better not try to take her where
people would see her.

"Can what?" asked Peaches.

"Have the most fun!" explained Mickey. "We can sit in the window to see
the sky and birds; you can have the shears and cut pictures from the
papers I'll bring you, while I'll read all my story books to you. I got
three that She gave me for Christmas presents, so I could learn to read
them----"

"Mickey could I ever learn to read them?"

"Sure!" cried Mickey. "Surest thing you know! You are awful smart,
Lily. You can learn in no time, and then you can read while I'm gone,
so it won't seem long. I'll teach you. Mother taught me. I can read the
papers I sell. Honest I can. I often pick up torn ones I can bring to
you. It's lots of fun to know what's going on. I sell many more by
being able to tell what's in them than kids who can't read. I look all
over the front page and make up a spiel on the cars. I always fold my
papers neat and keep them clean. To-day it was like this: 'Here's your
nice, clean, morning paper! Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized!'"

"Mickey what does that mean?" asked Peaches.

"Now you see how it comes in!" said Mickey. "If you could read the
papers, you'd _know_. 'Sterilized,' is what they do to the milk in hot
weather to save the slum kids. That's us, Lily. 'Deodorized,' is taking
the bad smell out of things. 'Vulcanized,' is something they do to
stiffen things. I guess it's what your back needs."

"Is all them things done to the papers?" asked Peaches.

"Well, not _all_ of them," laughed Mickey, "but they are starting in on
_some_ of them, and all would be a good thing. The other kids who can't
read don't know those words, so I study them out and use them; it
catches the crowd for they laugh, and then pay me for making them. See?
This world down on the streets is in such a mix a laugh is the scarcest
thing there is; so they _pay_ for it. No grouchy,
sad-cat-working-on-your-sympathy kid sells many. I can beat one with a
laugh every inning."

"What's 'inning,' Mickey?" came the next question.

"Playin' a side at a ball game. Now Ty Cobb----"

"Go on with what you say about the papers," interrupted Peaches.

"All right!" said Mickey. "'Here's your nice, clean morning paper!
Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized! I _like_ to sell them. You _like_
to buy them! _Sometimes_ I sell them! Sometimes I _don't!_ Latest war
news! Japan takes England! England takes France! France takes Germany!
Germany takes Belgium! Belgium takes the cake! Here's your paper! Nice
clean paper! Rush this way! Change your change for a paper! Yes, I
_like_ to sell them----' and on and on that way all day, 'til they're
gone and every one I pick up and smooth out is gone, and if they're
torn and dirty, I carry them back on the cars and sell them for pennies
to the poor folks walking home."

"Mickey, will we be slum kids always?" she asked.

"Not on your tin type!" cried Mickey.

"If this is slum kids, I like it!" protested Peaches.

"Well, Sunrise Alley ain't so slummy as where you was, Lily," explained
the boy.

"This is grand," said Peaches "Fine an' grand! No lady needn't have
better!"

"She wouldn't say so," said Mickey. "But Lily, you got something most
of the millyingaire ladies hasn't."

"What Mickey?" she asked interestedly.

"One man all to yourself, who will do what you want, if you ask pretty,
and he ain't going to drag you 'round and make you do things you don't
like to, and hit you, and swear at you, and get drunk. Gee, I bet the
worst you ever had didn't hurt more than I've seen some of the swell
dames hurt sometimes. It'd make you sick Lily."

"I guess 'at it would," said the girl, "'cause granny told me the same
thing. Lots of times she said 'at she couldn't see so much in bein'
rich if you had to be treated like she saw rich ladies. She said all
they got out of it was nice dresses an' struttin' when their men wasn't
'round; nelse the money was theirn, an' nen they made the men pay. She
said it was 'bout half and half."

"So 'tis!" cried Mickey. "Tell you Lily, don't let's ever _be_ rich!
Let's just have enough."

"Mickey, what is 'enough?'" asked Peaches.

"Why plenty, but not too much!" explained Mickey judicially. "Not
enough to fight over! Just enough to be comfortable."

"Mickey, I'm comf'rable as nangel now."

"Gee, I'm glad, Lily," said Mickey in deep satisfaction. "Maybe He
heard my S.O.S. after all, and you just being _comfortable_ is the
answer."



CHAPTER IV


"_Bearer of Morning_"


"Douglas," called Leslie over the telephone, "I have developed nerves."

"Why?" inquired he.

"Dad has just come in with a pair of waist-high boots, and a scalping
knife, I think," answered Leslie. "Are you going to bring a blanket and
a war bonnet?"

"The blanket, I can; the bonnet, I might," said Douglas.

"How early will you be ready?" she asked.

"Whenever you say," he replied.

"Five?" she queried.

"Very well!" he answered. "And Leslie, I would suggest a sweater, short
stout skirts, and heavy gloves. Do you know if you are susceptible to
poison vines?"

"I have handled anything wild as I pleased all my life," she said. "I
am sure there is no danger from that source; but Douglas, did you ever
hear of, or see, a massasauga?"

"You are perfectly safe on that score," he said. "I am going along
especially to take care of you."

"All right, then I won't be afraid of snakes," she said.

"I have waders, too," he said, "and I'm going into the swamp with you.
Wherever you wish to go, I will precede you and test the footing."

"Very well! I have lingered on the borders long enough. To-morrow will
be my initiation. By night I'll have learned the state of my artistic
ability with natural resources, and I'll know whether the heart of the
swamp is the loveliest sight I ever have seen, and I will have proved
how I 'line up' with a squaw-woman."

"Leslie, I'm now reading a most interesting human document," said
Douglas, "and in it I have reached the place where Indians in the heart
of terrific winter killed and heaped up a pile of deer in early day in
Minnesota, then went to camp rejoicing, while their squaws were left to
walk twenty-eight miles and each carry back on her shoulder a deer
frozen stiff. Leslie, you don't line up! You are not expected to."

"Do you believe that, Douglas?" asked the girl.

"It's history dear, not fiction," he answered.

"Douglas!" she warned.

"Leslie, I beg your pardon! That was a slip!" cried he.

"Oh!" she breathed.

"Leslie, will you do something for me?" he questioned.

"What?" she retorted.

"Listen with one ear, stop the other, and tell me what you hear," he
ordered.

"Yes," she said.

"Did you hear, Leslie?" he asked anxiously.

"I heard something, I don't know what," she answered.

"Can you describe it, Leslie?"

"Just a rushing, beating sound! What is it Douglas?"

"My heart, Leslie, sending to you each throbbing stroke of my manhood
pouring out its love for you."

"Oh-h-h!" cried the astonished girl.

"Will you listen again, Leslie?" begged the man.

"No!" she said.

"You don't want to hear what my heart has to say to you?" he asked.

"Not over a wire! Not so far away!" she panted.

"Then I'll shorten the distance. I'm coming, Leslie!"

"What shall I do?" she gasped. She stared around her, trying to decide
whether she should follow her impulse to hide, when her father entered
the room.

"Daddy," she cried, "if you want to be nice to me, go away a little
while. Go somewhere a few minutes and stay until I call you."

"Leslie, what's the matter?" he asked.

"I've been talking to Douglas, and Daddy, he's coming like a charging
Highland trooper. Daddy, I heard him drop the receiver and start.
Please, please go away a minute. Even the dearest father in the world
can't do anything now! We must settle this ourselves."

"I'm not to be allowed a word?" he protested.

"Daddy, you've had two years! If you know anything to say against
Douglas and haven't said it in all that time, why should you begin now?
You couldn't help knowing! Daddy, do go! There he is! I hear him!"

Mr. Winton took his daughter in his arms, kissed her tenderly, and left
the room. A second later Douglas Bruce entered. Rushing to Leslie he
caught her to his breast roughly, while with a strong hand he pressed
her ear against his heart.

"Now you listen, my girl!" he cried. "You listen at close range."

Leslie remained quiet a long second. Then she lifted her face,
adorable, misty eyed and tenderly smiling.

"Douglas, I never listened to a heart before! How do I know what it is
saying? I can't tell whether it is talking about me or protesting
against the way you've been rushing around!" "No levity, my lady," he
said grimly. "This is serious business. You listen while I interpret. I
love you, Leslie! Every beat, every stroke, love for you. I claim you!
My mate! My wife! I want you!"

He held her from him, looking into her eyes.

"Now Leslie, the answer!" he cried. "May I listen to it or will you
tell me? _Is_ there any answer? What is _your_ heart saying? May I hear
or will you tell me?"

"I want to tell you!" said the girl. "I love you, Douglas! Every beat,
every stroke, love for you."

Early the next morning they inspected their equipment carefully, then
drove north to the tamarack swamp, where they arranged that Leslie and
Douglas were to hunt material, while Mr. Winton and the driver went to
the nearest Indian settlement to find the squaw who had made the other
basket, and bring her to the swamp.

If you have experienced the same emotions you will know how Douglas and
Leslie felt when hand in hand they entered the swamp on a perfect
morning in late May. If you have not, mere words are inadequate.

Through fern and brake head high, through sumac, willow, elder,
buttonbush, gold-yellow and blood-red osiers, past northern holly, over
spongy moss carpet of palest silvery green up-piled for ages, over
red-veined pitcher plants spilling their fullness, among scraggy,
odorous tamaracks, beneath which cranberries and rosemary were
blooming; through ethereal pale mists of dawn, in their ears lark songs
of morning from the fields, hermit thrushes in the swamp, bell birds
tolling molten notes, in a minor strain a swelling chorus of sparrows,
titmice, warblers, vireos, went two strong, healthy young people newly
promised for "better or worse." They could only look, stammer, flush,
and utter broken exclamations, all about "better." They could not
remotely conceive that life might serve them the cruel trick of "worse."

Leslie sank to her knees. Douglas lifted her up, set her on the firmest
location he could see, adoring her with his eyes and reverent touch.
Since that first rough grasp as he drew her to him, Leslie had felt
positively fragile in his hands. She smiled at him her most beautiful
smile when wide-eyed with emotion.

"Douglas, why just now, when you've waited two years?" she asked.

"Wanted a degree of success to offer," he answered.

Leslie disdained the need for success.

"Wanted you to have time to know me as completely as possible."

Leslie intimated that she could learn faster.

"Wanted to have the acknowledged right to put my body between yours and
any danger this swamp might have to offer to-day."

"Exactly what I thought!" cried she.

"Wise girl," commented the man.

"Douglas, I must hurry!" said Leslie. "It may take a long time to find
the flowers I want, while I've no idea what I shall do for a basket. I
saw osiers yellow and red in quantities, but where are the orchids?"

"We must make our way farther in and search," he said.

"Douglas, listen!" breathed Leslie.

"I hear exquisite music," he answered.

"But don't you recognize it?" she cried.

"It does seem familiar, but I am not sufficiently schooled in music----"

The girl began softly to whistle.

"By Jove!" cried the man. "What is that Leslie?"

"Di Provenza, from Traviata," she answered. "But I must stop listening
for birds Douglas, when I can scarcely watch for flowers or vines. I
have to keep all the time looking to make sure that you are really my
man."

"And I, that you are my woman. Leslie, that expression and this
location, the fact that you are in competition with a squaw and the
Indian talk we have indulged in lately, all conspire to remind me that
a few days ago, while I was still a 'searcher' myself, I read a poem
called 'Song of the Search' that was the biggest thing of its kind that
I have yet found in our language. It was so great that I reread it
until I am sure I can do it justice. Listen my 'Bearer of Morning,' my
'Bringer of Song----'"

Douglas stood straight as the tamaracks, his feet sinking in "the
little moss," while from his heart he quoted Constance Skinner's
wonderful poem:

"_I descend through the forest alone. Rose-flushed are the willows,
stark and a-quiver, In the warm sudden grasp of Spring; Like a woman
when her lover has suddenly, swiftly taken her. I hear the secret
rustle of little leaves, Waiting to be born. The air is a wind of love
From the wings of eagles mating---- O eagles, my sky is dark with your
wings! The hills and the waters pity me, The pine-trees reproach me.
The little moss whispers under my feet, "Son of Earth, Brother, Why
comest thou hither alone?" Oh, the wolf has his mate on the
mountain---- Where art thou, Spring-daughter? I tremble with love as
reeds by the river, I burn as the dusk in the red-tented west, I call
thee aloud as the deer calls the doe, I await thee as hills wait the
morning, I desire thee as eagles the storm; I yearn to thy breast as
night to the sea, I claim thee as the silence claims the stars. O
Earth, Earth, great Earth, Mate of God and mother of me, Say, where is
she, the Bearer of Morning, My Bringer of Song? Love in me waits to be
born, Where is She, the Woman?_

"'Where is she, the Woman?' The answer is 'Here!' 'Bearer of Morning,'
'Bringer of Song,' I adore you!"

"Oh Douglas, how beautiful!" cried Leslie. "My Man, can we think of
anything save ourselves to-day? Can we make that basket?"

"It would be a bad start to give up our first undertaking together," he
said.

"Of course!" she cried. "We must! We simply must find things. Father
may call any minute. Let go my hand and follow behind me. Keep close,
Douglas!"

"I should go before to clear the way," he suggested.

"No, I may miss rare flowers if you do," she objected.

"Go slowly, so I can watch before and overhead."

"Yes!" she answered. "There! There, Douglas!"

"Ah! There they are!" he exulted.

"But I can't take them!" she protested.

"Only a few, Leslie. Look before you! See how many there are!" he said.

"Douglas, could there be more wonderful flowers than the moccasins and
slippers?" she asked.

"Scarcely more wonderful; there might be more delicate and lovely!"

"Farther! Let us go farther!" she urged.

Her cry closed the man's arms around her.

Then there was a long silence during which they stood on the edge of a
small open space breathlessly worshipping, but it was the Almighty they
were now adoring. Here the moss lay in a flat carpet, tinted deeper
green. Water willow rolled its ragged reddish-tan hoops, with swelling
bloom and leaf buds. Overflowing pitcher plants grew in irregular beds,
on slender stems, lifting high their flat buds. But scattered in groups
here and there, sometimes with massed similar colours, sometimes in
clumps and variegated patches, stood the rare, early fringed orchis,
some almost white, others pale lavender and again the deeper colour of
the moccasins; while everywhere on stems, some a foot high, nodded the
exquisite lavender and white showy orchis.

"Count!" he commanded.

Leslie pointed a slender finger indicating each as she spoke: "One,
two, three--thirty-two, under the sweep of your arms, Douglas! And
more! More by the hundred! Surely if we are careful not to kill them,
the Lord won't mind if we take out a few for people to see, will He?"

"He must have made them to be seen!" said Douglas.

"And worshipped!" cried the girl.

"Douglas, why didn't the squaw----?" asked Leslie.

"Maybe she didn't come this far," he said. "Perhaps she knows by
experience that these are too fragile to remove. You may not be able to
handle them, Leslie."

"I'm going to try," she said. "But first I must make my basket. We'll
go back to the osiers to weave it and then come here to fill it. Oh
Douglas! Did you ever see such flower perfection in all your life?"

"Only in books! In my home country applied botany is a part of every
man's education. I never have seen ragged or fringed orchids growing
before. I have read of many fruitless searches for the white ones."

"So have I. They seem to be the rarest. Douglas, look there!"

"There" was a group of purple-lavender, white-lipped bloom, made by
years of spreading from one root, until above the rank moss and beneath
the dark tamarack branch the picture appeared inconceivably delicate.

"Yes! The most exquisite flowers I ever have seen!"

"And there, Douglas!" She pointed to another group. "Just the shade of
the lavender on the toe of the moccasin--and in a great ragged mass!
Would any one believe it?"

"Not without seeing it," he said emphatically.

"And there, Douglas! Exactly the colour of the moccasins--see that
cluster! There are no words, Douglas!"

"Shall you go farther?" he asked.

"No," she answered. "I'm going back to weave my basket. There is
nothing to surpass the orchids in rarity and wondrous beauty."

"Good!" he cried. "I'll go ahead and you follow."

So they returned to the osiers. Leslie pondered deeply a few seconds,
then resolutely putting Douglas aside, she began cutting armloads of
pale yellow osiers. Finding a suitable place to work, she swiftly and
deftly selected perfect, straight evenly coloured ones, cutting them
the same length, then binding the tip ends firmly with raffia she had
brought to substitute for grass. Then with fine slips she began
weaving, gradually spreading the twigs while inwardly giving thanks for
the lessons she had taken in basketry. At last she held up a big,
pointed, yellow basket.

"Ready!" she said.

"Beautiful!" cried Douglas.

Leslie carefully lined the basket with moss in which the flowers grew,
working the heads between the open spaces she had left. She bent three
twigs, dividing her basket top in exact thirds. One of these she filled
with the whitest, one with stronger, and one with the deepest lavender,
placing the tallest plants in the centre so that the outside ones would
show completely. Then she lifted by the root exquisite showy orchis,
lavender-hooded, white-lipped, the tiniest plants she could select and
set them around the edge. She bedded the moss-wrapped roots in the
basket and began bordering the rim and entwining the handle with a
delicate vine. She looked up at Douglas, her face thrilled with
triumph, flushed with exertion, her eyes humid with feeling, while he
gazed at her stirred to the depth of his heart with sympathy and the
wonder of possession.

"'Bearer of Morning,' you win!" he cried triumphantly. "There is no use
going farther. Let me carry that to your father, and he too will say
so."

"I have a reason for working out our plan," she said.

"Yes? May I know?" he asked.

"Surely!" she answered. "You remember what you told me about the
Minturns. I can't live in a city and not have my feelings harrowed
every day, and while I'd like to change everything wrong, I know I
can't all of it, so what I can't cope with must be put aside; but this
refuses, it is insistent. When you really think of it, that is so
_dreadful_, Douglas. If they once felt what we do now, could it _all_
go? There must be something left! You mention him oftener than any
other one man, so you must admire him deeply; I know her as well as any
woman I meet in society, better than most; I had thought of asking them
to be the judges. She is interested in music and art; it would please
her and be perfectly natural for me to ask her; you are on intimate
terms with him from your offices being opposite; there could be no
suspicion of any ulterior motive in having them. I don't know that it
would accomplish anything, but it would let them know, to begin with,
that we consider them friends; so it would be natural for them to come
with us; if we can't manage more than that to-day, it will give us
ground to try again."

"Splendid!" he said. "A splendid plan! It would let them see that at
least our part of the world thinks of them together, and expects them
to be friends. Splendid!"

"I have finished," said Leslie.

"I quite agree," answered Douglas. "No one could do better. That is the
ultimate beauty of the swamp made manifest. There is the horn! Your
father is waiting."

A surprise was also waiting. Mr. Winton had not only found the squaw
who brought the first basket, but he had made her understand so
thoroughly what was wanted that she had come with him, while at his
suggestion she had replaced the moccasin basket as exactly as she could
and also made an effort at decoration. She was smiling woodenly when
Leslie and Douglas approached, but as Leslie's father glimpsed and
cried out over her basket, the squaw frowned, drawing back.

"Where you find 'em?" she demanded.

"In the swamp!" Leslie nodded backward.

The squaw grunted disapprovingly. "Lowry no buy 'em! Sell slipper! Sell
moccasin! No sell weed!"

Leslie looked with shining eyes at her father.

"That lies with Lowry," he said. "I'll drive you there and bring you
back, and you'll have the ride and the money for your basket. That's
all that concerns you. We won't come here to make any more."

The squaw smiled again, so they started to the city. They drove
straight to the Winton residence for the slippers. While Mr. Winton and
the squaw went to take the baskets to Lowry's and leave Douglas at his
office, Leslie in his car went to Mrs. Minturn's.

"Don't think I'm crazy," laughed Leslie, as Mrs. Minturn came down to
meet her. "I want to use your exquisite taste and art instinct a few
minutes. Please do come with me. We've a question up. You know the
wonderful stuff the Indians bring down from the swamps to sell on the
streets and to the florists?"

"Indeed yes! I often buy of them in the spring. I love the wild white
violets especially. What is it you want?"

"Why you see," said Leslie, looking eagerly at Mrs. Minturn, "you see
there are three flower baskets at Lowry's. Douglas Bruce is going to
buy me the one I want most for a present, to celebrate a very important
occasion, and I can't tell which is most artistic. I want you to
decide. Your judgment is so unfailing. Will you come? Only a little
spin!"

"Leslie, you aren't by any chance asking me to select your betrothal
gift, are you?"

Leslie's face was rose-flushed smiling wonderment. She had hastily
slipped off her swamp costume. Joy that seemed as if it must be
imperishable shone on her brightly illumined face. With tightly closed,
smile-curved lips she vigorously nodded. The elder woman bent to kiss
her.

"Of course I'll come!" she laughed. "I feel thrilled, and flattered.
And I congratulate you sincerely. Bruce is a fine man. He'll make a big
fortune soon."

"Oh I hope not!" said Leslie.

"Are you crazy?" demanded Mrs. Minturn. "You said you didn't want me to
think you so!"

"You see," said Leslie, "Mr. Bruce has a living income; so have I, from
my mother. Fortunes seem to me to work more trouble than they do good.
I believe poor folks are happiest, they get most out of life, and after
all what gives deep, heart-felt joy, is the thing to live for, isn't
it? But we must hurry. Mr. Lowry didn't promise to hold the flowers
long."

"I'll be ready in a minute, but I see where Douglas Bruce is giving you
wrong ideas," said Mrs. Minturn. "He needs a good talking to. Money is
the only thing worth while, and the comfort and the pleasure it brings.
Without it you are crippled, handicapped, a slave crawling while others
step over you. I'll convince _him!_ Back in a minute."

When Mrs. Minturn returned she was in a delightful mood, her face
eager, her dress beautiful. Leslie wondered if this woman ever had
known a care, then remembered that not long before she had lost a
little daughter. Leslie explained as they went swiftly through the
streets.

"You won't mind waiting only a second until I run up to Mr. Bruce's
offices?" she asked.

He was ready, so together they stopped at Mr. Minturn's door. Douglas
whispered: "Watch the office boy. He is Minturn's Little Brother I told
you about."

Leslie nodded and entered gaily.

"Please ask Mr. Minturn if he will see Miss Winton and Mr. Douglas
Bruce a minute?" she said.

An alert, bright-faced lad bowed politely, laid aside a book and
entered the inner office.

"Now let me!" said Leslie. "Good May, Mr. Minturn!" she cried.
"Positively enchanting! Take that forbidding look off your face. Come
for a few minutes Maying! It will do you much good, and me more. All my
friends are pleasuring me to-day. So I want as good a friend of Mr.
Bruce as you, to be in something we have planned. You just must!"

"Has something delightful happened?" asked Mr. Minturn, retaining the
hand Leslie offered him as he turned to Douglas Bruce.

"You must ask Miss Winton," he said.

Mr. Minturn's eyes questioned her sparkling face, while again with
closed lips she nodded. "My most earnest congratulations to each of
you. May life grant you even more than you hope for, and from your
faces, that is no small wish to make for you. Surely I'll come! What is
it you have planned?"

"Something lovely!" said Leslie. "At Lowry's are three flower baskets
that are rather bewildering. I am to have one for my betrothal gift,
but I can't decide. I appealed to Mrs. Minturn to help me, and she
agreed; she is waiting below. Mr. Bruce named you for him; so you two
and Mr. Lowry are to choose the most artistic basket for me, then if I
don't agree, I needn't take it, but I want to see what you think.
You'll come of course?"

Mr. Minturn's face darkened at the mention of his wife, while he
hesitated and looked penetratingly at Leslie. She was guileless,
charming, and eager.

"Very well," Mr. Minturn said gravely. "I'm surprised, but also
pleased. Beautiful young ladies have not appealed to me so often of
late that I can afford to miss the chance of humouring the most
charming of her sex."

"How lovely!" laughed Leslie. "Douglas, did you ever know Mr. Minturn
could flatter like that? It's most enjoyable! I shall insist on more of
it, at every opportunity! Really, Mr. Minturn, society has missed you
of late, and it is our loss. We need men who are worth while."

"Now it is you who flatter," smiled Mr. Minturn.

"See my captive!" cried Leslie, as she emerged from the building and
crossed the walk to the car. "Mr. Bruce and Mr. Minturn are great
friends, so as we passed his door we brought him along by force."

"It certainly would require that to bring him anywhere in my company,"
said Mrs. Minturn coldly.

The shock of the cruelty of the remark closed Douglas' lips, but it was
Leslie's day to bubble, so she resolutely set herself to heal and cover
the hurt.

"I think business is a perfect bugbear," she said as she entered the
car. "I'm going to have a pre-nuptial agreement as to just how far work
may trespass on Douglas' time, and how much belongs to me. I think it
can be arranged. Daddy and I always have had lovely times together, and
I would call him successful. Wouldn't you?"

"A fine business man!" said Mr. Minturn heartily.

"You could have had much greater advantages if he had made more money,"
said Mrs. Minturn.

"The advantage of more money--yes," retorted Leslie quickly, "but would
the money have been of more advantage to me than the benefits of his
society and his personal hand in my rearing? I think not! I prefer my
Daddy!"

"When you take your place in society, as the mistress of a home, you
will find that millions will not be too much," said Mrs. Minturn.

"If I had millions, I'd give most of them away, and just go on living
about as I do now with Daddy," said Leslie.

"Leslie, where did you get bitten with this awful, common--what kind of
an idea shall I call it? You haven't imbibed socialistic tendencies
have you?"

"Haven't a smattering of what they mean!" laughed Leslie. "The 'istics'
scare me completely. Just _social_ ideas are all I have; thinking home
better than any other place on earth, the way you can afford to have
it. Merely being human, kind and interested in what my men are doing
and enjoying, and helping any one who crosses my path and seems to need
me. Oh, I get such joy, such delicious _joy_ from life."

"If I were undertaking wild-eyed reform, I'd sell my car and walk, and
do settlement work," said Mrs. Minturn scornfully.

Then Leslie surprised all of them. She leaned forward, looked beamingly
into the elder woman's face and cried enthusiastically: "I am positive
you'd be stronger, and much happier if you would! You know there is no
greater fun than going to the end of the car line and then walking
miles into the country, especially now in bloom-time. You see sights no
painter ever transferred even a good imitation of to canvas; you hear
music--I wish every music lover with your trained ear could have spent
an hour in that swamp this morning. You'd soon know where Verdi and
Strauss found some of their loveliest themes, and where Beethoven got
the bird notes for the brook scene of the Pastoral Symphony. Think how
interested you'd be in a yellow and black bird singing the Spinning
Song from Martha, while you couldn't accuse the bird of having stolen
it from Flotow, could you? Surely the bird holds right of priority!"

"If you weren't a little fool and talking purposely to irritate me,
you'd almost cause me to ask if you seriously mean that?" said Mrs.
Minturn.

"Why," laughed Leslie, determined not to become provoked on this her
great day, "that is a matter you can test for yourself. If you haven't
a score of Martha, get one and I'll take you where you can hear a bird
sing that strain, then you may judge for yourself."

"I don't believe it!" said Mrs. Minturn tersely, "but if it were true,
that would be the _most wonderful experience_ I ever had in my life."

"And it would cost you only ten cents," scored Leslie. "You needn't
ride beyond the end of the car line for that, while a woman who can
dance all night surely could _walk_ far enough, to reach any old
orchard. That's what I am trying to _tell_ you. Money in large
quantities isn't necessary to provide the _most interesting_ things in
the world, while millions don't bring happiness. I can find more in
what you would class almost poverty."

"Why don't you try it?" suggested Mrs. Minturn.

"But I _have!_" said Leslie. "And I enjoy it! I could go with a man I
love as I do Daddy, and make a home, and get joy I never have found in
society, from just what we two could do with our own hands in the
woods. I don't like a city. If Daddy's business didn't keep him here, I
would be in the country this minute. Look at us poor souls trying to
find pleasure in a basket from the swamp, when we might have the whole
swamp. I'd be happy to live at its door. Now try a basket full of it.
There are three. You are to examine each of them carefully, then write
on a slip of paper which you think the _most artistic_. You are not to
say things that will influence each other's decisions, or Mr. Lowry's.
I want a straight opinion from each of you."

They entered the florist's, and on a glass table faced the orchids, the
slippers, the fringed basket, and the moccasins. Mr. Winton and the
squaw were waiting, while the florist was smiling in gratification, but
the Minturns went to the flowers without a word. They simply stood and
looked. Each of the baskets was in perfect condition. The flowers were
as fresh as at home in the swamp. Each was a thing of wondrous beauty.
Each deserved the mute tribute it was exacting. Mrs. Minturn studied
them with gradually darkening face. Mrs. Minturn repeatedly opened her
lips as if she would speak, but did not. She stepped closer and gently
turned the flowers and lightly touched the petals.

"Beautiful!" she said at last. "Beautiful!"

Another long silence.

Then: "_Honestly Leslie, did you hear a bird sing that strain from
Martha?_"

"Yes!" said Leslie, "I did. And if you will go with me to the swamp
where those flowers came from, you shall hear one sing a strain that
will instantly remind you of the opening chorus, while another renders
Di Provenza Il Mar from Traviata."

The lady turned again to the flowers. She was thinking something deep
and absorbing, but no one could have guessed exactly what it might be.
Finally: "I have decided," she said. "Shall we number these one, two,
and three, and so indicate them?"

"Yes," said Leslie a little breathlessly.

"Put your initials to the slips and I'll read them," offered Douglas.
Then he smilingly read aloud: "Mr. Lowry, one. Mrs. Minturn, two. Mr.
Minturn, three!"

"I cast the deciding vote," cried Leslie. "One!"

The squaw seemed to think of a war-whoop, but decided against it.

"Now be good enough to state your reasons," said Mr. Winton. "_Why_ do
you prefer the slipper basket, Mr. Lowry?"

"It satisfies my sense of the artistic."

"Why the fringed basket, Mrs. Minturn?"

"Because it contains daintier, more wonderful flowers than the others,
and is by far the most pleasing production."

"Now Minturn, your turn. Why do you like the moccasin basket?"

"It makes the deepest appeal to me," he answered.

"But why?" persisted Mr. Winton.

"If you will have it--the moccasins are the colour I once loved on the
face of my little daughter."

"Now Leslie!" said Mr. Winton hurriedly as he noted Mrs. Minturn's
displeased look.

"Must I tell?" she asked.

"Yes," said her father.

"Douglas selected it for me, so I like it best."

"But Leslie!" cried Douglas, "there were only two baskets when I
favoured that. Had the fringed orchids been here then, I most certainly
should have chosen them. I think yours far the most exquisite! I claim
it now. Will you give it to me?"

"Surely! I'd love to," laughed the girl.

"You have done your most exquisite work on the fringed basket," said
Mrs. Minturn to the squaw.

"No make!" said she promptly, pointing to Leslie.

"Leslie Winton, did you go to the swamp to make that basket?" demanded
Mrs. Minturn.

"Yes," answered Leslie.

"Did you make all of them?"

"Only that one," replied Leslie.

"Why?" marvelled the lady.

"To see if I could go to the tamarack swamp and bring from it with the
same tools and material, a more artistic production than an Indian
woman."

"Well, you have!" conceded Mrs. Minturn.

"The majority is against me," said Leslie.

"Majorities mean masses, and masses are notoriously insane!" said Mrs.
Minturn.

"But this is a small, select majority," said Leslie.

"Craziest of all," said Mrs. Minturn decidedly. "If you have finished
with us, I want to thank you for the pleasure of seeing these, and
Leslie, some day I really think I shall try that bird music. The idea
interests me more than anything that I have ever heard of. If it were
true, it would indeed be wonderful, it would be a new experience!"

"If you want to hear for yourself, make it soon, because now is nesting
time; not again until next spring will the music be so entrancing. I
can go any day."

"I'll look over my engagements and call you. If one ever had a minute
to spare!"

"Another of the joys of wealth!" said Leslie. "Only the poor can afford
to 'loaf and invite their souls.' The flowers you will see will delight
your eyes, quite as much as the music your ears."

"I doubt your logic, but I'll try the birds. Are you coming Mr.
Minturn?"

"Not unless you especially wish me. Are these for sale?" he asked,
picking up the moccasins.

"Only those," replied the florist.

"Send your bill," he said, turning with the basket.

"How shining a thing is consistency!" sneered his wife. "You condemn
the riches you never have been able to amass, but at the same time
spend like a millionaire."

"I never said I was not able to gain millions," replied Mr. Minturn
coldly. "I have had frequent opportunities! I merely refused them,
because I did not consider them legitimate. As for my method in buying
flowers, in this one instance, price does not matter. You can guess
what I shall do with them."

"I couldn't possibly!" answered Mrs. Minturn. "The only sure venture I
could make is that they will not by any chance come to me."

"No. These go to baby Elizabeth," he said. "Do you want to come with me
to take them to her?"

With an audible sneer she passed him. He stepped aside, gravely raising
his hat, while the others said good-bye to him and followed.

"Positively insufferable!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "Every one of my friends
say they do not know how I endure his insults and I certainly will not
many more. I don't, I really don't know what he expects."

Mr. Winton and Douglas Bruce were confused, while Leslie was
frightened, but she tried turning the distressing occurrence off with
excuses.

"Of course he intended no insult!" she soothed. "He must have adored
his little daughter and the flowers reminded him. I am so much obliged
for your opinion and I shall be glad to take you to the swamp any time.
Your little sons--would they like to go? It is a most interesting and
instructive place for children."

"For Heaven's sake don't mention children!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They
are a bother and a curse!"

"Oh Mrs. Minturn!" exclaimed Leslie.

"Of course I don't mean _quite_ that; but I do very near! Mine are
perfect little devils; all the trouble James and I ever had came
through them. His idea of a mother is a combined doctor, wet-nurse and
nursery maid, while I must say, I far from agree with him. What are
servants for if not to take the trouble of children off your hands?"

Leslie was glad to reach the rich woman's door and deposit her there.

As the car sped away the girl turned a despairing face toward Douglas:
"For the love of Moike!" she cried. "Isn't that shocking? Poor Mr.
Minturn!"

"I don't pity him half so much as I do her," he answered. "What must a
woman have suffered or been through, to warp, twist, and harden her
like that?"

"Society life," answered Leslie, "as it is lived by people of wealth
who are aping royalty and the titled classes."

"A branch of them--possibly," conceded Douglas. "I know some titled and
wealthy people who would be dumbfounded over that woman's ideas."

"So do I," said Leslie. "Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes the
exception becomes bigger than the rule, but not in our richest society.
Douglas, let's keep close together! Oh don't let's ever drift into such
a state as that. I should have asked them to lunch, but I couldn't. If
that is the way she is talking before her friends, surely she won't
have many, soon."

"Then her need for a real woman like you will be all the greater,"
answered Douglas. "I suppose you should have asked her; but I'm
delighted that you didn't! To-day began so nearly perfect, I want to
end it with only you and your father. Will he resent me, Leslie?"

"It all depends on us. If we are selfish and leave him alone he will
feel it. If we can make him realize gain instead of loss he will be
happier than he is now."

"I wish I hadn't felt obliged to reject his offer the other night. I'm
very sorry about it."

"I'm not," said Leslie. "You have a right to live your life in your own
way. I have seen enough of running for office, elections and
appointments that I hate it. You do the work you educated yourself for
and I'll help you."

"Then my success is assured," laughed Douglas. "Leslie, may I leave my
basket here? Will you care for it like yours, and may I come to see it
often?"

"No. You may come to see me and look at the basket incidentally," she
answered.

"Do you think Mrs. Minturn will go to the swamp to listen to those
birds?" he asked.

"Eventually she will," answered the girl. "I may have to begin by
taking her to an orchard to hear a bird of gold sing a golden song
about 'sewing, and mending, and baby tending,' to start on; but when
she hears that, she will be eager for more."

"How interesting!" cried Douglas. "'Bearer of Morning,' sing that song
to me now."

Leslie whistled the air, beating time with her hand, then sang the
words:

"_I can wash, sir, I can spin, sir, I can sew and mend, and babies
tend._"

"Oh you 'Bringer of Song!'" exulted Douglas. "I'd rather hear you sing
that than any bird, but from what she said, Nellie Minturn won't care
particularly for it!"

"She may not approve of, or practise, the sentiment," said Leslie, "but
she'll love the music and possibly the musician."



CHAPTER V


_Little Brother_


"Now what am I going to do yet to make the day shorter, Lily?" asked
Mickey.

"I guess I got everything," she answered. "There's my lunch. Here's my
pictures to cut. Here's my lesson to learn. There's my sky and bird
crumbs. Mickey, sometimes they hop right in on the sheet. Yest'day one
tried to get my lunch. Ain't they sassy?"

"Yes," said Mickey. "They fight worse than rich folks. I don't know why
the Almighty pays attention if they fall."

"Mebby nobody else cares," said Peaches, "and He feels obliged to
'cause He made 'em."

"Gee! You say the funniest things, kid," laughed Mickey as he digested
the idea. "Wonder if He cares for us 'cause He made us."

"Mebby he didn't make us," suggested Peaches.

"Well we got one consoling thing," said Mickey. "If He made any of
them, He made us, and if He didn't make us, He didn't none of them,
'cause everybody comes in and goes out the same way; She said so."

"Then of course it's so," agreed Peaches. "That gives us as good a
chance as anybody."

"Course it does if we got sense to take it," said Mickey. "We got to
wake up and make something of ourselves. Let me see if you know your
lesson for to-day yet. There is the picture of the animal--there is the
word that spells its name. Now what is it?"

"Milk!" answered Peaches, her eyes mischievous.

Mickey held over the book chuckling.

"All right! There is the word for that, too. For being so smart, Miss
Chicken, you can learn it 'fore you get any more to drink. If I have
good luck to-day, I'm going to blow in about six o'clock with a slate
and pencil for you; and then you can print the words you learn, and
make pictures. That'll help make the day go a lot faster."

"Oh it goes fast enough now," said Peaches. "I love days with you and
the window and the birds. I wish they'd sing more though."

"When your back gets well, I'll take you to the country where they sing
all the time," promised Mickey, "where there are grass, and trees, and
flowers, and water to wade in and----"

"Mickey, stop and go on!" cried Peaches. "Sooner you start, the sooner
I'll get my next verse. I want just norful good one to-night."

She held up her arms. Mickey submitted to a hug and a little cold dab
on his forehead, counted his money, locked the door and ran. On the car
he sat in deep thought, then suddenly sniggered aloud. He had achieved
the next installment of the doggerel to which every night Peaches
insisted on having a new verse added as he entered. He secured his
papers, and glimpsing the headlines started on his beat crying them
lustily.

Mickey knew that washing, better air, enough food, and oil rubbing were
improving Peaches. What he did not know was that adding the interest of
her presence to his life, even though it made his work heavier, was
showing on him. He actually seemed bigger, stronger, and his face
brighter and fuller. He swung down the street thrusting his papers
right and left, crossed and went up the other side, watching closely
for a customer. It was ten o'clock and opportunities with the men were
almost over. Mickey turned to scan the street for anything even
suggesting a sale. He saw none and started with his old cry, watching
as he went: "I _like_ to sell papers! _Sometimes_ I sell them!
Sometimes I _don't_----!"

Then he saw her. She was so fresh and joyous. She walked briskly. Even
his beloved nurse was not so wonderful. Straight toward her went Mickey.

"I _like_ to sell papers! _Sometimes_ I sell them! Sometimes I _don't!_
Morning paper, lady! Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized! Nice _clean_
paper!"

The girl's eyes betokened interest; her smiling lips encouraged Mickey.
He laid his chin over her arm, leaned his head against it and fell in
step with her.

"_Sometimes_ I sell them! Sometimes I _don't!_ If I _sell_ them, I'm
happy! If I don't, I'm _hungry!_ If you _buy_ them, you're happy!
Pa--per?--lady."

"Not to-day, thank you," she said. "I'm shopping, so I don't wish to
carry it."

Mickey saw Peaches' slate vanishing. It was a beautiful slate, small so
it would not tire her bits of hands, and its frame was covered with
red. His face sobered, his voice changed, taking on unexpected
modulations.

"Aw lady! I thought _you'd_ buy my paper! Far down the street I saw you
_coming_. Lady, I like your gentle _voice_. I like your pleasant
_smile!_ You don't want a nice _sterilized_ paper?--lady."

The lady stopped short; she lifted Mickey's chin in a firm grip,
looking intently into his face.

"Just by the merest chance, could your name be Mickey?" she asked.

"Sure, lady! Mickey! Michael O'Halloran!"

Her smile became even more attractive.

"I really don't want to be bothered with a paper," she said; "but I do
wish a note delivered. If you'll carry it, I'll pay you the price of
half a dozen papers."

"Gets the slate!" cried Mickey, bouncing like a rubber boy. "Sure I
will! Is it ready, lady?"

"One minute!" she said. She stepped to the inside of the walk, opened
her purse, wrote a line on a card, slipped it in an envelope, addressed
it and handed it to Mickey.

"You can read that?" she asked.

"I've read worse writing than that," he assured her. "You ought to see
the hieroglyphics some of the dimun-studded dames put up!"

Mickey took a last glimpse at the laughing face, then wheeling ran.
Presently he went into a big building, studied the address board, then
entered the elevator and following a corridor reached the number.

He paused a second, glancing around, when he saw the name on the
opposite door. A flash passed over his face. "Ugh!" he muttered.
"'Member now--been to this place before! Glad she ain't sending a
letter to _that_ man." He stepped inside the open door before him,
crossed the room and laid the note near a man who was bending over some
papers on a desk. The man reached a groping hand, tore open the
envelope, taking therefrom a card on which was pencilled: "Could this
by any chance be your Little Brother?"

He turned hastily, glancing at Mickey, then in a continuous movement
arose with outstretched hand.

"Why Little Brother," he cried, "I'm so glad to see you!"

Mickey's smile slowly vanished as he whipped his hands behind him,
stepping back.

"Nothin' doing, Boss," he said. "You're off your trolley. I've no
brother. My mother had only me."

"Don't you remember me, Mickey?" inquired Douglas Bruce.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "You made Jimmy pay up!"

"Has he bothered you again?" asked the lawyer.

"Nope!" answered Mickey.

"Sit down, Mickey, I want to talk with you."

"I'm much obliged for helping me out," said Mickey, "but I guess you
got other business, and I know I have."

"What is your business?" was the next question.

"Selling papers. What's yours?" was the answer.

"Trying to be a corporation lawyer," explained Douglas. "I've been here
only two years, and it is slow getting a start. I often have more time
to spare than I wish I had, while I'm lonesome no end."

"Is your mother dead?" asked Mickey solicitously.

"Yes," answered Douglas.

"So's mine!" he commented. "You _do_ get lonesome! Course she was a
good one?"

"The very finest, Mickey," said Douglas. "And yours?"

"Same here, Mister," said Mickey with conviction.

"Well since we are both motherless and lonesome, suppose we be
brothers!" suggested Douglas.

"Aw-w-w!" Mickey shook his head.

"No?" questioned Douglas.

"What's the use?" cried Mickey.

"You could help me with my work and share my play, while possibly I
could be of benefit to you."

"I just wondered if you wasn't getting to that," commented Mickey.

"Getting to what?" inquired Douglas.

"Going to do me good!" explained Mickey. "The swell stiffs are always
going to do us fellows good. Mostly they do! They do us good and brown!
They pick us up a while and make lap dogs of us, then when we've lost
our appetites for our jobs and got to having a hankerin' for the fetch
and carry business away they go and forget us, so we're a lot worse off
than we were before. Some of the fellows come out of it knowing more
ways to be mean than they ever learned on the street," explained
Mickey. "If it's that Big Brother bee you got in your bonnet, pull its
stinger and let it die an unnatural death! Nope! None! Good-bye!"

"Mickey, wait!" cried Douglas.

"Me business calls, an' I must go--'way to my ranch in Idaho!" gaily
sang Mickey.

"I'd like to shake you!" said Douglas Bruce.

"Well, go on," said Mickey. "I'm here and you're big enough."

"If I thought it would jolt out your fool notions and shake some sense
in, I would," said Douglas indignantly.

"Now look here, Kitchener," said Mickey. "Did I say one word that ain't
so, and that you don't know is so?"

"What you said is not even half a truth, young man! I do know cases
where idle rich men have tried the Little Brother plan as a fad, and
made a failure of it. But for a few like that, I know dozens of
sincere, educated men who are honestly giving a boy they fancy, a
chance. I can take you into the office of one of the most influential
men in this city, right across the hall there, and show you a boy he
liked who has in a short time become his friend, an invaluable helper,
and hourly companion, and out of it that boy will get a fine education,
good business training, and a start in life that will give him a better
chance to begin on than the man who is helping him had."

Mickey laughed boisterously, then sobered suddenly.

"'Scuse me, Brother," he said politely, "but that's most _too funny_
for any use. Once I took a whirl with that gentleman myself. Whether he
does or not, I know the place where he ought to get off. See? Answer me
this: why would he be spending money and taking all that time for a
'newsy' when he hardly knows his own kids if he sees them, and they're
the wickedest little rippers in the park. Just _why_ now?"

Douglas Bruce closed the door; then he came back and placing a chair
for Mickey, he took one opposite.

"Sit down Mickey," he said patiently. "There's a reason for my being
particularly interested in James Minturn, and the reason hinges on the
fact you mention: that he can't control his own sons, yet can make a
boy he takes comfort in, of a street gamin."

Mickey's eyes narrowed while he sat very straight in the chair he had
accepted.

"If he's made so much of him, it sort of proves that he _wasn't_ a
gamin. Some of the boys are a long shot closer gentlemen than the guys
who are experimenting with them; 'cause they were born rich and can
afford it. If your friend's going to train his pick-up to be what _he_
is, then that boy would stand a better chance on his own side the curb.
See? I've been right up against that gentleman with the documents, so I
know him. Also her! Gee! 'Tear up de choild and gimme de papers' was
meant for a joke; but I saw that lady and gentleman do it. See? And she
was the prettiest little pink and yellow thing. Lord! I can see her
gasping and blinking now! Makes me sick! If the boy across the hall had
seen what I did, he'd run a mile and never stop. Gee!"

Douglas Bruce stared aghast. At last he said slowly: "Mickey, you are
getting mighty close the very thing I wish to know. If I tell you what
I know of James Minturn, will you tell me what you know and think?"

"Sure!" said Mickey readily. "I got no reasons for loving him. I
wouldn't convoy a millying to the mint for that gentleman!"

"Mickey, shall I go first, or will you?"

"I will," replied Mickey instantly, "'cause when I finish you'll save
your breath. See?"

"I see," said Douglas Bruce. "Proceed."

"Well, 'twas over two years ago," said Mickey, leaning forward to look
Bruce in the eyes. "I hadn't been up against the game so awful long
alone. 'Twas summer and my papers were all gone, and I was tired, so I
went over in the park and sat on a seat, just watching folks. Pretty
soon 'long comes walking a nice lady with a sweet voice and kind eyes.
She sat down close me and says: 'It's a nice day.' We got chummy-like,
when right up at the fountain before us stops as swell an automobile as
there is. One of the brown French-governess-ladies with the hatchet
face got out, and unloaded three kids: two boys and a girl. She told
the kids if they didn't sit on the benches she socked them on hard, and
keep their clothes clean so she wouldn't have to wash and dress them
again that day, she'd knock the livers out of them, and walked off with
the entrance policeman. Soon as she and Bobbie got interested, the kids
began sliding off the bench and running around the fountain. The girl
was only 'bout two or three, a fat toddly thing, trying to do what her
brothers did, and taking it like the gamest kid you ever saw when they
pushed her off the seat, and tripped her, and 'bused her like a dog.

"Me and the woman were getting madder every minute. 'Go tell your
nurse,' says she. But the baby thing just glanced where nurse was and
kind of shivered and laughed, and ran on round the fountain, when the
big boy stuck his foot out so she fell. Nursie saw and started for her,
but she scrambled up and went kiting for the bench, and climbed on it,
so nurse told her she'd cut the blood out of her if she did that again,
then went back to her policeman. Soon as she was gone those little
devils began coaxing their sister to get down and run again. At last
she began to smile the cunningest and slipped to the walk, then a
little farther, and a little farther, all the time laughing and
watching the nurse. The big boy, he said: 'You ain't nothing but a
_girl!_ You can't step on the edge like I can and then step back!' She
says: 'C'n too!' She did to show him, and just as she did she saw that
he was going to push her, then she tried to get back, but he did push,
and over she went! Not real in, but her arms in, and her dress front
some wet.

"She screamed while the little devil that pushed her grabbed her,
pretending to be _pulling her out_. Honest he did! Up came nurse just
frothing, and in language we couldn't understand she ripped and raved.
She dragged little pink back, grabbed her by the hair and cracked her
head two or three times against the _stone!_ The lady screamed, and so
did I, and we both ran at her. The boys just shouted and laughed and
the smallest one he up and kicked her while she was down. The policeman
walked over laughing too, but he told nurse that was _too rough_. Then
my lady pitched in, so he told her to tend to her business, that those
kids were too tough to live, and deserved all they got. The nurse
laughed at her, and went back to the grass with the policeman. The baby
lay there on the stones, and never made a sound. She just kind of
gasped, and blinked, and lay there, till my lady went almost wild. She
went to her and stooped to lift her up when she got awful sick. The
policeman said something to the nurse, so she came and dragged the kid
away and said, 'The little pig has gone and eaten too much again, and
now I'll have to take her home and wash and dress her all over,' then
she gave her an awful shake. The policeman said she'd better cut that
out, because it _might_ have been the bumping, and she said 'good for
her if 'twas.' The driver pulled up just then and he asked 'if the brat
had been stuffin' too much again?' She said, 'yes,' and the littlest
boy he said, 'she pounded her head on the stone, good,' and the nurse
hit him 'cross the mouth till she knocked him against the car, and she
said, 'Want to try _that_ again? Open your head to say _that_ again,
and I'll smash you too. _Eating too much made her sick_.' She looked at
the big boy fierce like so he laughed and said, 'Course eating too much
made her sick!' She nodded at him and said, 'Course! You get two dishes
of ice and two pieces of cake for remembering!' then she loaded them in
and they drove away.

"My lady was as white as marble and she said, 'Is there any way to find
out who they are?' I said, 'Sure! Half a dozen!' 'Boy,' she said, 'get
their residence for me and I'll give you a dollar.' Ought to seen me
fly. Car was chuffing away, waiting to get the traffic cop's sign when
to cut in on the avenue. I just took a dodge and hung on to the extra
tire under the top where nobody saw me, and when they stopped, I got
the house number they went in. Little pink was lying all white and
limber yet, and nurse looked worried as she carried her up. She said
something fierce to the boys, the big one rang and they went inside. I
saw a footman take the girl. I heard nurse begin that 'eat too much'
story, then I cut back to the park. The lady said, 'Get it?' I said,
'Sure! Dead easy.' She said, 'Can you take me?' I said, 'Glad to!'

"She said, 'That was the dreadfullest sight I ever saw. That child's
mother is going to know right now what kind of a nurse she is paying to
take care of her children. You come show me,' she said, so we went.

"'Will you come in with me?' she asked and I said, 'Yes!'

"Well, we rang and she asked pleasant to see the lady of the house on a
little matter of important business, so pretty soon here comes one of
the dimun-studded, fashion-paper ladies, all smiling sweet as honey,
and asked what the business was. My nice lady she said her name was
Mrs. John Wilson and her husband was a banker in Plymouth, Illinois,
and she was in the city shopping and went to the park to rest and was
talking to me, when an automobile let out a nurse, and two boys and a
lovely little pink girl, and she give the number and asked, 'was the
car and the children hers?' The dimun-lady slowly sort of began to
freeze over, and when the nice lady got that far, she said: 'I have an
engagement. Kindly state in a _few_ words what you want.'

"My lady sort of stiffened up and then she said: 'I saw, this boy here
saw, and the park policeman nearest the entrance fountain saw your
nurse take your little girl by the hair, and strike her head against
the fountain curb three times, because her brother pushed her in. She
lay insensible until the car came, and she has just been carried into
your house in that condition.'

"I could see the footman peeking and at that he cut up the stairs. The
dimun-lady stiffened up and she said: 'So you are one of those
meddling, interfering country jays that come here and try to make us
lose our good servants, so you can hire them later. I've seen that done
before. Lucette is invaluable,' said she, 'and perfectly reliable.
Takes all the care of those dreadful little imps from me. Now you get
out of here.' And she reached for the button. My lady just sat still
and smiled.

"'Do you really think I'd take the trouble to come here in this way if
I couldn't _prove_ I had seen the thing happen?' she asked.

"'God only knows what you country women would do!' the woman answered.

"'We would stand between our children and beastly cruelty,' my lady
said. 'Your child's _condition_ is all the proof my words need. You go
examine her head, and feel the welt on it; see hew ill she is and you
will thank me. Your nurse is _not_ reliable! Keep her and your children
will be ruined, if not killed.'

"'Raving!' sneered the dimun-lady. 'But I know your kind so I'll go, as
it's the only way to get rid of you.'

"Now what do you think happened next? Well sir, 'bout three minutes in
walked the footman and salutes, sneering like a cat, and he said:
'Madam's compliments. She finds her little daughter in perfect
condition, sweetly sleeping, and her sons having dinner. She asks you
to see how quickly you can leave her residence.'

"The woman looked at me so I said: 'It's all over but burying the kid
if it dies; come on, lady, they'd be _glad_ to plant it, and get it out
of the way.' So I started and she followed, and just as he let me out
the door I handed him this: 'I saw you listen and cut to tell, and I
bet you helped put the kid to sleep! But you better look out! She gave
it to that baby too rough for any use!'

"He started for me, but I flew. When we got on the street, the lady was
all used up so she couldn't say anything. She had me call a taxi to
take her to her hotel. I set down her name she gave me, and her house
and street number. I cut to a Newsies' directory and got the name of
the owner of the palace-place and it was Mrs. James Minturn. Next
morning coming down on the cars I was hunting headliners to make up a
new call, like I always do, and there I saw in big type, 'Mr. and Mrs.
James Minturn prostrate over the sudden death of their lovely little
daughter from poisoning, from an ice she ate.' I read it every word.
Even what the doctors said, and how investigation of the source of the
ice came from was to be made. What do you think of it?"

"I have no doubt but it's every word horrible truth," answered Douglas.

"_Sure!_" said Mickey. "I just hiked to the park and walked up to the
cop and showed him the paper, and he looked awful glum. I can point him
out to you, and give you the lady's address, and there were plenty more
who saw parts of it could be found if anybody was on the _kid's_ side.
Sure it's the truth!

"Well I kept a-thinking it over. One day about three weeks later, blest
if the same car didn't stop at the same fountain, and the same nurse
got out with the boys and she set them on the same bench and told them
the same thing, and then she went into another palaver with the same
p'liceman. I looked on pretty much interested, and before long the boys
got to running again and one tripped the other, and she saw and come
running, and fetched him a crack like to split his head, and pushed him
down still and white, so I said to myself: 'All right for you. Lady
tried a lady and got nothing. Here's where a gentleman tries a
gentleman, and sees what he gets.'

"I marched into the door just across the hall from you here, and faced
Mr. James Minturn, and gave him names, and dates, and addresses, even
the copper's name I'd got; and I told him all I've told you, and
considerable more. He wasn't so fiery as the lady, so I told him the
whole thing, but he never opened his trap. He just sat still and stony,
listened till I quit, and finally he heaved a big breath and looked at
me sort of dazed like and he said: 'What do you want, boy?'

"That made me red hot so I said: 'I want you to know that I saw the
same woman bust one of your _boys_ a good crack, over the head, a few
minutes ago.'

"That made him jump, but he didn't say or do anything, so I got up and
went--and--the same woman was in the park with the same boys yesterday,
and they're the biggest little devils there. What's the answer?"

"A heartbroken man," said Douglas Bruce. "Now let me tell you, Mickey."

Then he told Mickey all he knew of James Minturn.

"All the same, he ought to be able to do something for his own kids,
'stead of boys who don't need it _half_ so bad," commented Mickey. "Why
honest, I don't know one street kid so low that he'd kick a little
girl--after she'd been beat up scandalous, for his meanness to start
on. Honest, I don't! I don't care what he is doing for the boy he has
got, that boy doesn't need help half so much as his _own_; I can prove
it to you, if you'll come with me to the park 'most any morning."

"All right, I'll come," said Douglas promptly.

"Well I couldn't say that they would be there this minute," said
Mickey, "but I can call you up the first time I see they are."

"All right, I'll come, if it's possible. I'd like to see for myself. So
this gives you a settled prejudice against the Big Brother movement,
Mickey?"

"In my brogans, what would it give you?"

"A hard jolt!" said Douglas emphatically.

"Then what's the answer?"

"That it is more unfair than I thought you could be, to deprive me of
my Little Brother, because you deem the man across the hall unfit to
have one. Do I look as if you couldn't trust me, Mickey?"

"No, you don't! But neither does Mr. James Minturn. He _looks_ as if a
fellow could get a grip on him and pull safe across Belgium hanging on.
But you know I said the _same woman_----"

"I know Mickey; but that only proves that there are times when even the
strongest man can't help himself."

"Then like Ulhan I'd trot 1:54-1/2 to the judge of the Juvenile Court,"
said Mickey, "and I'd yell long and loud, and I'd put up the _proof_.
That would get the lady down to brass tacks. See?"

"But with Mrs. Minturn's position and the stain such a proceeding would
put on the boys----"

"Cut out the boys," advised Mickey. "They're gold plated, staining
wouldn't stick to them."

"So you are going to refuse education, employment and a respectable
position because you disapprove of one man among millions?" demanded
Douglas.

"That lets me out," said Mickey. "_She_ educated me a lot! No day is
long enough for the work I do right now; you can take my word for it
that I'm respectable, same as I'm taking yours that you are."

"All right!" said Douglas. "We will let it go then. Maybe you are
right. At least you are not worth the bother it requires to wake you
up. Will you take an answer to the note you brought me?"

"Now the returns are coming in," said Mickey. "Sure I will; but she is
in the big stores shopping."

"I'll find out," said Douglas.

He picked up the telephone and called the Winton residence; on learning
Leslie was still away, he left a request that she call him when she
returned.

"I would spend the time talking with you," he said to Mickey, "if I
could accomplish anything; as I can't, I'll go on with my work. You
busy yourself with anything around the rooms that interests you."

Mickey grinned half abashed. He took a long survey of the room they
were in, arose and standing in the door leading to the next he studied
that. To him "busy" meant work. Presently he went into the hall and
returned with a hand broom and dust pan he had secured from the
janitor. He carefully went over the floor, removing anything he could
see that he thought should not be there, and then began on the room
adjoining. Next he appeared with a cloth and dusted the furniture and
window seats. Once he met Douglas' eye and smiled. "Your janitor didn't
have much of a mother," he commented. "I could beat him to his base a
rod."

"Job is yours any time you want it."

"Morning papers," carrolled Mickey. "Sterilized, deodorized,
vulcanized. I _like_ to sell them----"

Defeated again Bruce turned to his work and Mickey to his. He
straightened every rug, pulled a curtain, set a blind at an angle that
gave the worker more light and better air. He was investigating the
glass when the telephone rang.

"Hello, Leslie! It certainly was! How did you do it? Not so hilarious
as you might suppose. Leslie, I want to say something, not for the
wire. Will you hold the line a second until I start Mickey with it? All
right!

"She is there now, Mickey. Can you find your way?"

"Sure!" laughed Mickey. "If you put the address on. She started me from
the street."

"The address is plain. For straightening my rooms and carrying the
note, will that be about right?"

"A lady-bird! Gee!" cried Mickey. "I didn't s'pose you was a plute! And
I don't s'pose so yet. You want a Little Brother bad if you're willing
to _buy_ one. This number ain't far out, and I wouldn't have sold more
than three papers this time of day--twenty-five is about right."

"But you forget cleaning my rooms," said Douglas.

Mickey grinned, his face flushed.

"Me to you!" he said. "Nothing! Just a little matter of keeping in
practice. Good-bye and be good to yourself!"

Douglas turned to the telephone.

"Leslie!" he said, "I'm sending Mickey back to you with a note, not
because I had anything to say I couldn't say now, but because I can't
manage him. I pretended I didn't care, and let him go. Can't you help
me? See if you can't interest him in something that at least will bring
him back, or show us where to find him. Certainly! Thank you very much!"

When Mickey delivered the letter the lovely young woman just happened
to be in the hall. She told him to come in until she read it, to learn
what Mr. Bruce wanted. Mickey followed into a big room, looked around,
then a speculative, appreciative gleam crossed his face. He realized
the difference between a home and a show room. He did not know what he
was seeing or why it affected him as it did. Really the thought that
was in his mind was that this woman was far more attractive, but had
less money to spend on her home, than many others. He missed the
glitter, but enjoyed the comfort, for he leaned back against the chair
offered him, thinking what a cool, restful place it was. The girl
seemed in no hurry to open the letter.

"Have trouble finding Mr. Bruce?" she asked.

"Easy! I'd been to the same building before."

"And I suppose you'll be there many times again," she suggested.

"I'm going back right now, if you want to send an answer to that
letter," he said.

"And if it requires none?" she questioned.

"Then I'm going to try to sell the rest of these papers, get a slate
for Lily and go home."

"Is Lily your little sister?" she asked.

Mickey straightened, firmly closing his lips. He had done it again.

"Just a little girl I know," he said cautiously.

"A little bit of a girl?" she asked.

"'Bout the littlest girl you ever saw," said Mickey, unconsciously
interested in the subject.

"And you are going to take her a slate to draw pictures on? How fine! I
wish you'd carry her a package for me, too. I was arranging my dresser
this morning and I put the ribbons I don't want into a box for some
child. Maybe Lily would like them for her doll."

"Lily hasn't any doll," he said. "She had one, but her granny sold it
and got drunk on the money."

Mickey stopped suddenly. In a minute more he would have another
Orphans' Home argument on his hands.

"Scandalous!" cried Leslie. "In my room there is a doll just begging to
go to some little girl. If you took it to Lily, would her granny sell
it again?"

"Not this morning," said Mickey. "You see Miss, a few days ago she lost
her breath. Permanent! No! If Lily had a doll, nobody would take it
from her now."

"I'll bring it at once," she offered "and the ribbons."

"Never mind," said Mickey. "I can get her a doll."

"But you haven't seen this one!" cried Leslie. "You save your money for
oranges."

Without waiting for a reply she left the room, presently returning with
a box and a doll that seemed to Mickey quite as large as Peaches. It
had a beautiful face, hair, real hair that could be combed, and real
clothes that could be taken off. Leslie had dressed it for a birthday
gift for the little daughter of one of her friends; but by making haste
she could prepare another. Mickey gazed in bewilderment. He had seen
dolls, even larger and more wonderful than that, in the shop windows,
but connecting such a creation with his room and Peaches required
mental adjustments.

"I guess you better not," he said with conviction.

"But why not?" asked Leslie in amazement.

"Well for 'bout fifty reasons," replied Mickey. "You see Lily is a poor
kid, and her back is bad. That doll is so big she couldn't dress it
without getting all tired out; and what's the use showing her such
dresses, when she can't have any herself. She's got the best she ever
had, and the best she can have right now; so that ain't the kind of a
doll for Lily--it's too big--and too--too gladsome!"

"I see," laughed Leslie. "Well Mickey, you show me what would be the
right size of a doll for Lily. I'll get another, and dress it as you
say. How would that do?"

"You needn't!" said Mickey. "Lily is happy now."

"But wouldn't she _like_ a doll?" persisted Leslie. "I never knew a
girl who didn't love a doll. Wouldn't she _like_ a doll?"

"'Most to death I 'spect," said Mickey. "I know she said she cried for
the one her granny sold, 'til she beat her. Yes I guess she'd _like_ a
doll; but I can get her one."

"But you can't make white nighties for Lily to put on it to take to bed
with her, and cunning little dresses for morning, and a street dress
for afternoon, and a party dress for evening," tempted the girl.

"Lily has been on the street twice, and she never heard of a party.
Just nighties and the morning dress would do, and there's no use for me
to be sticking. If you like to give away dolls, Lily might as well have
one, for she'd just--I don't know what she would do about it," conceded
Mickey.

"All right," said Leslie. "I'll dress it this afternoon, and tomorrow
you can come for it in the evening before you go home. If I am not
here, the package will be ready. Take the ribbons now. She'd like them
for her hair."

"Her hair's too short for a ribbon," said Mickey.

"Then a headband! This way!" said Leslie.

She opened a box and displayed a wonderment of ribbon bands, and bits
of gay colour.

"Gee!" gasped Mickey. "I couldn't pick up that much brightness for her
in a year!"

"You save what you find for her?" asked Leslie.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "You see Miss, things are pretty plain where she
is, so all the brightness I can take her ain't going to hurt her eyes.
Thank you heaps. Is there going to be any answer to the letter?"

"Why I haven't read it yet!" cried the girl.

"No! A-body can see that some one else is rustling for your grub!"
commented Mickey.

"That's so too," laughed Leslie. "Darling old Daddy!"

"Just about right is he?" queried Mickey, interestedly.

"Just exactly right!" said Leslie.

"Gur-ur-and!" said Mickey. "Some of them ain't so well fixed! And he
that wrote the note, I guess he's about as fine as you make them, too!"

"He's the finest man I ever have known, Mickey!" said the girl
earnestly.

"Barring Daddy?" suggested Mickey.

"Not barring anybody!" cried she. "Daddy is lovely, but he's Daddy! Mr.
Bruce is different!"

"No letter?" questioned Mickey, rising.

"None!" said the girl. "Come to-morrow night. You are sure Lily is so
very little, Mickey?"

"You wouldn't call me big, would you?" he asked. "Well! I can lift her
with one hand! Such a large doll as that would be tiring and confusing.
Please make Lily's _more like she's used to_. See?"

"Mickey, I do see!" said Leslie. "I beg your pardon. Lily's doll shall
not tire her or make her discontented with what she has. Thank you for
a good idea."

Mickey returned to the street shortly after noon, with more in his
pocket than he usually earned in a day, where by expert work he soon
disposed of his last paper. He bought the slate, then hurried home
carrying it and the box. At the grocery he carefully selected food
again. Then he threw open his door and achieved this:

"_Once a little kid named Peaches, Swelled my heart until it eatches.
If you think I'd trade her for a dog, Your think-tank has slipped a
cog!_"


Peaches laughed, stretching her hands as usual. Mickey stooped for her
caress, scattering the ribbons over her as he arose. She gasped in
delighted amazement.

"Oh! Mickey! Where did you ever? Mickey, where did you get them?
Mickey, you didn't st----?"

"You just better choke on that, Miss!" yelled Mickey. "No I didn't
st----! And I don't st----! And nothing I ever bring you will be
st----! And you needn't ever put no more st's---- at me. See?"

"Mickey, I didn't _mean_ that! Course I know you _wouldn't!_ Course I
know you _couldn't!_ Mickey, that's the best poetry piece yet! Did you
bring the slate?"

"Sure!" said Mickey, somewhat mollified, but still injured. "I must
have dropped it with the banquet!"

Peaches pushed away the billow of colour, taking the slate. Her fingers
picking at the string reminded Mickey of sparrow feet; but he watched
until she untied and removed the paper which he folded to lay away. She
picked up the pencil, meditating.

"Mickey!" she said. "Make my hand do a word!"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "What do you want to write first, Flowersy-girl?"

Peaches looked at him reproachfully.

"Course there wouldn't be but _one_ I'd want to do first of all," she
said. "Hold my hand tight, and big and plain up at the top make it
write, 'Mickey-lovest.'"

"Sure," said the boy in a hushed voice. He gripped the hand, bending
above her, but suddenly collapsed, buried his face in her hair and
sobbed until he shook.

Peaches crouched down, lying rigidly. She was badly frightened. At last
she could endure it no longer.

"Mickey!" she gasped. "Mickey, what did I do? Mickey, don't write it if
you don't _want_ to!"

Mickey arose, wiping his face on the sheet.

"You just bet I want to write that, Lily!" he said. "I never wanted to
do anything _more_ in all my life!"

"Then why----?" she began.

"Never you mind 'why' Miss!" said Mickey.

Grasping her hand, he traced the words. Peaches looked at them a long
time, then carefully laid the slate aside. She began fingering the
ribbons.

"Let me wash you," said Mickey, "and rub your back to rest you from all
this day, then I'll comb your hair and you pick the prettiest one. I'll
put it on the way she showed me, so you'll be a fash'nable lady."

"Who showed you Mickey, and gave you such pretties?"

"A girl I carried a letter to. After you're bathed and have had supper
I'll tell you."

Then Mickey began work. He sponged Peaches, rubbed her back, laid her
on his pallet, putting fresh sheets on her bed and carefully preparing
her supper. After she had eaten he again ran the comb through her
ringlets, telling her to select the ribbon he should use.

"No you!" said Peaches.

Mickey squinted, so exacting was the work of deciding. Red he discarded
with one sweep against her white cheeks; green went with it; blue
almost made him shudder, but a soft warm pink pleased him, so Mickey
folded it into the bands in which it had been creased before, binding
it around Peaches' head as Leslie had shown him, then with awkward
fingers did his best on a big bow. He crossed the room and picked up a
mirror which he held before her reciting: "Once a little kid named
Peaches, swelled my heart----"

Peaches took the mirror, studying the face intently. She glanced over
her shoulder so Mickey piled the pillows higher. Then she looked at
him. Mickey scrutinized her closely.

"You're clean kid, clean as a plate!" he assured her. "Honest you are!
You needn't worry about that. I'll always keep you washed clean. _She_
was more particular about that than anything else. Don't you fret about
my having a dirty girl around! You're clean, all right!"

Peaches sighed as she returned the mirror. Mickey replaced it, laid the
slate and ribbons in reach, washed the dishes, then the sheets he had
removed, and their soiled clothing. Peaches lay folding and unfolding
the ribbons; asking questions while Mickey worked, or with the pencil
tracing her best imitations of the name on the slate. By the time he
had finished everything to be done and drawn a chair beside the bed, to
see if she had learned her lesson for the day, it was cool evening. She
knew all the words he had given her, so he proceeded to write them on
the slate. Then told her about the big man named Douglas Bruce and the
lovely girl named Leslie Winton, also every word he could remember
about the house she lived in; then he added: "Lily, do you like to be
surprised better or do you like to think things over?"

"I don't know," said Peaches.

"Well, before long, I'll know," said Mickey. "What I was thinking was
this: you are going to have something. I just wondered whether you'd
rather know it was coming, or have me walk in with it and surprise you."

"Mickey, you just walk in," she decided.

"All right!" said Mickey.

"Mickey, write on the other side of my slate what you said at the door
to-night," she coaxed. "Get a little book an' write 'em all down.
Mickey, I want to learn all of them, when I c'n read. Lemme tell you.
You make all you c'n think of. Nen make more. An' make 'em, an' make
'em! An' when you get big as you're goin' to be, make books of 'em, an'
be a poet-man 'stead of sellin' papers."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I'd just as lief be a poet-man as not! I'd write
a big one all about a little yellow-haired girl named Lily Peaches, and
I'd put it on the front page of the _Herald!_ Honest I would! I'd like
to!"

"Gee!" said Peaches. "You go on an' grow hel--wope! I mean hurry! Hurry
an' grow up!"



CHAPTER VI


_The Song of a Bird_


"Leslie," said the voice of Mrs. James Minturn over the telephone, "is
there any particular time of the day when that bird of yours sings
better than at another?"

"Morning, Mrs. Minturn; five, the latest. At that time one hears the
full chorus, and sees the perfect beauty. Really, I wouldn't ask you,
if I were not sure, positively sure, that you'd find the trip worth
while."

"I'll be ready in the morning, but that's an unearthly hour!" came the
protest.

"It is almost unearthly sights and sounds to which you are going,"
answered Leslie. "And be sure you wear suitable clothing."

"What do you call suitable clothing?"

"High heavy shoes," said Leslie, "short stout skirts."

"As if I had such things!" laughed Mrs. Minturn.

"Let me send you something of mine," offered Leslie. "I've enough for
two."

"You're not figuring on really going in one of those awful places, are
you?" questioned Mrs. Minturn.

"Surely!" cried Leslie. "The birds won't sing to an automobile. And you
wouldn't miss seeing such flowers on their stems as you saw at Lowry's
for any money. It will be something to tell your friends about."

"Send what I should have. I'd ride a llama through a sea of champagne
for a new experience."

Mrs. Minturn turned from the telephone with a contemptuous sneer on her
face; but Leslie's gay laugh persisted in her ears. Restlessly she
moved through her rooms thinking what she might do to divert herself,
and shrinking from all the tiresome things she had been doing for years
until there was not a drop of the fresh juice of life to be extracted
from them.

"I'm going to take a bath, go to bed early and see if I can sleep," she
muttered. "I don't know what it is that James is contemplating, but his
face haunts me. Really, if he doesn't be more civil, and stop his
morose glowering when I do see him, I'll put him or myself where we
won't come in contact. He makes it plain every day that he blames me
about Elizabeth. Why should he? He couldn't possibly know of the call
of that wild-eyed reformer. So unfortunate that she should come just at
that time too! Of course hundreds of children die from spoiled milk
every summer, the rich as well as the poor. I'll never get over
regretting that I didn't finish what I started to do; but I'd scarcely
touched her in her life. She always was so pink and warm, and that
awful whiteness chilled me to the soul. I wish I had driven, forced
myself! Then I could defy James with more spirit. That's what I
lack--_spirit!_ Maybe this trip to the swamp will steady my nerves!
Something must be done soon, and I believe, actually I believe he is
thinking of doing it! Pooh! What _could_ he do? There isn't an
irregularity in my life he can lay his fingers on!"

She rang for her maid and cancelling two engagements for the evening,
went to bed, but not to sleep. When she was called early in the
morning, she gladly arose, and was dressed in Leslie Winton's short
skirts, a waist of khaki, and high shoes near enough her size to be
comfortable. Her bath had refreshed her, a cup of hot coffee stimulated
her, and despite the lack of sleep she felt better than she had that
spring as she went down to the car. On the threshold she met her
husband. Evidently he had been out all night on strenuous business. His
face was haggard, his eyes bloodshot, while in both hands he gripped a
small, square paper-wrapped package. They looked at each other a second
that seemed long to both, then the woman laughed.

"Evidently an accounting is expected," she said. "Leslie Winton at the
door and the roll of music I carry should be sufficient to prove why I
am going out at this hour. You heard us make the arrangement. Thank
Heaven I've no interest in knowing where you have been, or what your
precious package contains."

His expression and condition frightened her.

"For the weight of a straw overbalance," he said, "only for a hint that
you have a soul, I'd freeze it for all time with the contents of this
package."

"A threat? You to me?" she cried in amazement.

"Verily, Madam," he said. "I wish you all the joy of the birds and
flowers this morning."

"You've gone mad!" she cried.

"Contrarily, I have come to my senses after years of insanity," he
said. "I will see you when you return."

She stood bewildered, watching him go down the hall and enter his
library. That and his sleeping room were the only places in the house
sacred to him. No one entered, no one, not even the incorrigible
children, touched anything there. She slowly went to the car, trying to
rally to Leslie's greeting, struggling to fix her mind on anything
pointed out to her as something she might enjoy.

At last she said: "I don't know what is the matter with me Leslie.
James is planning something, I haven't an idea what; but his grim,
reproachful face is slowly driving me wild. I'm getting so I can't
sleep. You saw him come home as I left. He talked positively crazy, as
if he had the crack of doom in his hands and were prepared to crack it.
He said he 'would see me when I came back.' Indeed he will--to his
sorrow! He will be as he used to be, or we will separate. The idea,
with scarcely a cent to his name, of him undertaking to dictate to me,
_to me!_ Do you blame me Leslie? You heard him the other day! You know
how he insulted me!"

Leslie leaned forward, laying a firm hand in a grip on Mrs. Minturn's
arm.

"Since you ask me," she said, "I will answer. If you find life with Mr.
Minturn insufferable, an agony to both of you, I _would_ separate, and
_speedily_. If it has come to the place where you can't see each other
or speak without falling into unpleasantness, then I'd keep apart."

"That is exactly the case!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "Oh Leslie, I am so
glad you agree with me!"

"But I haven't finished," said Leslie, "you interrupted me in the
middle. If you are absolutely sure you can't go on peaceably, I would
stop; but if I once had loved a man enough to give my life and my
happiness into his keeping, to make him the father of my children, I
would not separate from him, until I had exhausted every resource, to
see if I couldn't in some possible way end with credit."

"If you had been through what I have," said Mrs. Minturn, "you wouldn't
endure it any longer."

"Perhaps," said Leslie. "But you see dear Mrs. Minturn, I am
handicapped by not knowing _what_ you have been through. To your world
you appear to be a woman of great wealth, who does exactly as she
pleases and pays her own bills. You seem to have unlimited money,
power, position, leisure for anything you fancy. I'll wager you don't
know the names of half the servants in your house; a skillful
housekeeper takes the responsibility off your hands. You never are seen
in public with your children; competent nurses care for them. You don't
appear with your husband any more; yet he is a man of fine brain,
unimpeachable character, who handles big affairs for other men, and
father says he believes his bank account would surprise you. He has
been in business for years; surely all he makes doesn't go to other
men."

"You know I never thought of that!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "He had nothing
to begin on and I've always kept our establishment; he's never paid for
more than his clothing. Do you suppose that he has made money?"

"I know that he has!" said Leslie. "Not so fast as he might! Not so
much as he could, for he is incorruptible; but money, yes! He is a
powerful man, not only in the city, but all over the state. Some of
these days you're going to wake up to find him a Senator, or Governor.
You seem to be the only person who doesn't know it, or who doesn't care
if you do. But when it comes about, as it will, you'll be so proud of
him! Dear Mrs. Minturn, please, please go slowly! Don't, oh don't let
anything happen that will make a big regret for both."

"Leslie, where did you get all this?" asked Mrs. Minturn in tones of
mingled interest and surprise.

"From my father!" answered Leslie. "And from Douglas Bruce. Douglas'
office is across the hall from Mr. Minturn's; they meet daily, and from
the first they have been friends. Mr. Minturn took Douglas to his
clubs, introduced him and helped him into business, so often they work
together. Why only yesterday Douglas came to me filled with delight.
Mr. Minturn secured an appointment for him to make an investigation for
the city which will be a great help to Douglas. It will bring him in
contact with prominent men, give him big work and a sample of how
mercenary I am--it will bring him big pay and he knows how to use the
money in a big way. Douglas knows Mr. Minturn so well, and respects him
so highly, yet no one can know him as you do----"

"That is quite true! I live with him! I know the real man!" cried Mrs.
Minturn.

"How mean of you!" laughed Leslie, "to distort my reasoning like that!
I don't ask you to think up all the little things that have massed into
one big grievance against him; I mean stop that for to-day, out here in
the country where everything is so lovely, and go back where I am."

"He surely has an advocate! Leslie, when did you start making an
especial study of Mr. Minturn?"

"When Douglas Bruce began speaking to me so frequently of him!"
answered Leslie. "Then I commenced to watch him and to listen to what
people were saying about him, and to ask Daddy."

"It's very funny that every one seems so well informed and so
enthusiastic just at the time when I feel that life is unendurable with
him," said Mrs. Minturn. "I can't understand it!"

"Mrs. Minturn, try, oh do try to get my viewpoint before you do
anything irreparable," begged Leslie. "Away up here in the woods let's
think it out! Let's discuss James Minturn in every phase of his nature
and see if the big manly part doesn't far outweigh the little
irritations. Let's see if you can't possibly go to the meeting he wants
when we return with a balance struck in his favour. A divorced woman is
always--well, it's disagreeable. Alone you'd feel stranded. Attempt
marrying again, where would you find a man with half the points that
count for good, to replace him? In after years when your children
realize the man he is, how are you going to explain to them why you
couldn't live with him?"

"From your rush of words, it is evident you have your arguments at
hand," said Mrs. Minturn. "You've been thinking more about my affairs
than I ever did. You bring up points I never have thought of; you make
me see things that would not have occurred to me; yet as you put them,
they have awful force. You haven't exactly said it, but what you mean
is that you believe _me_ in the wrong; so do all my friends. All of you
sympathize with Mr. Minturn! All of you think him a big man worthy of
every consideration and me deserving none."

"You're putting that too strong," retorted Leslie. "You are right about
Mr. Minturn; but I won't admit that I find you 'worthy of no
consideration at all,' or I wouldn't be imploring you to give yourself
a chance at happiness."

"'Give myself a chance at happiness!'"

"Dear Mrs. Minturn, yes!" said Leslie. "All your life, so far, you have
lived absolutely for yourself; for your personal pleasure. Has
happiness resulted?"

"Happiness?" cried Mrs. Minturn in amazement. "You little fool! With my
husband practically a madman, my children incorrigible, my nerves on
edge until I can't sleep, because one thought comes over and over."

"Well you achieved it in society!" said Leslie. "It's the result of
doing exactly what you _wanted to!_ You can't say James Minturn was to
blame for what you had the money and the desire to do. You can't think
your babies would have preferred their mother to the nurses and
governesses they have had----"

"If you say another word about that I'll jump from the car and break my
neck," threatened Mrs. Minturn. "No one sympathizes with me!"

"That is untrue," said Leslie. "I care, or I wouldn't be doing what I
am now. And as for sympathy, I haven't a doubt but every woman of your
especial set will weep tears of condolence with you, if you'll tell
them what you have me. There is Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Farley, and a
dozen women among your dearest friends who have divorced their
husbands, and are free lances or remarried; you can have friends enough
to suit you in any event."

"Fools! Shallow-pated fools!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They never read
anything! Their idea of any art would convulse you! They don't know a
note of real music!"

"But they are your best friends," interposed Leslie. "What then is
their attraction?"

"I am sure I don't know!" said Mrs. Minturn. "I suppose it's unlimited
means to follow any fad or fancy, to live extravagantly as they choose,
to dress faultlessly as they have taste, freedom to go as they please!
Oh they do have a good time!"

"Are you sure that they didn't go through the same 'good time' you are
having right now, before they lost the men they loved and married, and
then became mothers who later deliberately orphaned their own children?"

"Leslie, for God's sake where did you learn it?" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"How can you hit like that? You make me feel like a--like a----! Oh
Lord!"

"Don't let's talk any more, Mrs. Minturn," suggested Leslie. "You know
what all refined, home-loving people think. You know society and what
it has to offer. You're making yourself unhappy, while I am helping
you, but if some one doesn't stop you, you may lose the love of a good
man, the respect of the people worth while, and later of your own
children! See, here is the swamp and this is as close as we can go with
the car."

"Is this where you found the flowers for your basket?"

"Yes," said Leslie.

"No snakes, no quicksands?"

"Snakes don't like this kind of moss," answered Leslie; "this is an old
lake bed grown up with tamaracks and the bog of a thousand years."

"Looks as if ten thousand might come closer!"

"Where you ever in such a place?" asked Leslie.

"Never!" said Mrs. Minturn.

"Well to do this to perfection," said Leslie, "we should go far enough
for you to see the home life of our rarest wild flowers and to get the
music full effect. We must look for a high place to spread this
waterproof sheet I have brought along, then nestle down and keep still.
The birds will see us going in, but if we make ourselves inconspicuous,
they will soon forget us. Have you the score?"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Minturn. "Go ahead!"

Leslie had not expected Mrs. Minturn's calm tones and placid acceptance
of the swamp. The girl sent one searching look the woman's way, then
came enlightenment. This was a stunt. Mrs. Minturn had been doing
stunts in the hope of new sensations all her life. What others could
do, she could, if she chose; in this instance she chose to penetrate a
tamarack swamp at six o'clock in the morning, to listen to the notes of
a bird.

"I'll select the highest places and go as nearly where we were as I
can," said Leslie. "If you step in my tracks you'll be all right."

"Why, you're not afraid, are you?" asked Mrs. Minturn.

"Not in the least," said Leslie. "Are you?"

"No!" said Mrs. Minturn. "One strikes almost everything motoring
through the country, in the mountains or at sea, and travelling. This
looks interesting. How deep could one sink anyway?"

"Deeply enough to satisfy you," laughed Leslie. "Come quietly now!"

Grasping the score she carried, Mrs. Minturn unconcernedly plunged
after Leslie. Purposely the girl went slowly, stooping beneath
branches, skirting too wet places, slipping over the high hummocks,
turning to indicate by gesture a moss bed, a flower, or glancing upward
to try to catch a glimpse of some entrancing musician.

Once Leslie turned to look back and saw Mrs. Minturn on her knees
separating the silvery green moss heads and thrusting her hand deeply
to learn the length of the roots. She noticed the lady's absorbed face,
and the wet patches spreading around her knees. Leslie fancied she
could see Mrs. Minturn entering the next gathering of her friends,
smiling faintly and crying: "Dear people, I've had a perfectly new
experience!" She could hear every tone of Mrs. Minturn's voice saying:
"Ferns as luxuriant as anything in Florida! Moss beds several feet
deep. A hundred birds singing, and all before sunrise, my dears!" When
Mrs. Minturn arose Leslie went forward slowly until she reached the
moccasin flowers, but remembering, she did not stop. The woman did. She
stooped and Leslie winced as she snapped one to examine it critically.
She held it up in the gray light, turning it.

"Did you ever see--little Elizabeth?" she asked.

"Yes," said Leslie.

"Do you think----?" She stopped abruptly.

"That one is too deep," said Leslie. "The colour he saw was on a
freshly opened one like that."

She pointed to a paler moccasin of exquisite pink with red lavender
veining. Mrs. Minturn assented.

"He can't forget anything," she said, "or let any one else. He always
will keep harping."

"We were peculiarly unfortunate that day," said Leslie. "He really had
no intention of saying anything, if he hadn't been forced."

"Oh he doesn't require forcing," said Mrs. Minturn. "He's always at the
overflow point about her."

"Perhaps he was very fond of her," suggested Leslie.

"He was perfectly foolish about her," said Mrs. Minturn impatiently. "I
lost a nurse or two through his interference. When I got such a
treasure as Lucette I just told her to take complete charge, make him
attend his own affairs, and not try being a nursery maid. It really
isn't done these days!"

Leslie closed her lips, moving forward until she reached the space
where the ragged boys and the fringed girls floated their white
banners, where lacy yellow and lavender blooms caressed each other,
there on the highest place she could select, across a moss-covered log,
she spread the waterproof sheet, and seating herself, motioned Mrs.
Minturn to do the same. She reached for the music and opening it ran
over the score. Her finger paused on the notes she had whistled, while
with eager face she sat waiting.

Mrs. Minturn dropped into an attitude of tense listening. The sun began
dissipating the gray mists and heightening the exquisite tints on all
sides. Every green imaginable was there from palest silver to the
deepest, darkest shades; all dew wet, rankly growing, gold tinted and
showing clearer each minute. Gradually Mrs. Minturn relaxed, made
herself comfortable as possible, then turned to the orchids of the open
space. The colour flushed and faded on her tired face, she nervously
rolled the moccasin stem in her fingers, or looked long at the delicate
flower. She was thinking so intently that Leslie saw she was neither
seeing the swamp, nor hearing the birds.

It was then that a little gray singer straying through the tamaracks
sent a wireless to his mate in the bushes of borderland, in which he
wished to convey to her all there was in his heart about the wonders of
spring, the joy of mating, the love of her, and their nest. He waited a
second, then tucking his tail, swelled his throat, and made sure he had
done his best.

At the first measure, Leslie thrust the sheet before Mrs. Minturn,
pointing to the place. Instantly the woman scanned the score, then
leaned forward listening. As the bird flew, Leslie faced Mrs. Minturn
with questioning eyes. She cried softly: "He did it! Perfectly! If I
hadn't heard I never would have believed."

"There is another that can do this from Verdi's _Traviata_." Leslie
whistled the notes. "We may hear him also."

Again they waited. Leslie realized that Mrs. Minturn was not listening,
and would have to be recalled if the bird sang. Leslie sat silent. The
same bird sang, and others, but to the girl had come the intuition that
Mrs. Minturn was having her hour in the garden, so wisely she remained
silent. After an interminable time she arose, making her way forward as
far as she could penetrate and still see the figure of the woman, then
hunting an old stump, climbed upon it and did some thinking herself.

At last she returned to the motionless figure. Mrs. Minturn was leaning
against the tamarack's scraggy trunk, her head resting on a branch,
lightly sleeping. A rivulet staining her cheeks from each eye showed
where slow tears had slipped from under her closed lids. Leslie's heart
ached with pity. She thought she never had seen any one seem so sad, so
alone, so punished for sins of inheritance and rearing. She sat beside
Mrs. Minturn, waiting until she awakened.

"Why I must have fallen asleep!" she cried.

"For a minute," said Leslie.

"But I feel as if I had rested soundly a whole night," said Mrs.
Minturn. "I'm so refreshed. And there goes that bird again. Verdi to
take his notes! Who ever would have thought of it? Leslie, did you
bring any lunch? I'm famished."

"We must go back to the car," said Leslie.

They spread the waterproof sheet on the ground where it would be
bordered with daintily traced partridge berry, and white-lined plantain
leaves, and sitting on it ate their lunch. Leslie did what she could to
interest Mrs. Minturn and cheer her, but at last that lady said: "Thank
you dear, you are very good to me; but you can't entertain me to-day.
Some other time we'll come back and bring the scores you suggest, and
see what we can really hear from these birds. But to-day, I've got the
battle of my life to fight. Something is coming; I should be in a
measure prepared, and as I don't know what to expect, it takes all the
brains I have to figure things out."

"You don't know, Mrs. Minturn?" asked Leslie.

"No," she said wearily. "I know James hates the life I lead; he thinks
my time wasted. I know he's a disappointed man, because he thought when
he married me he could cut me out of everything worth while in the
world, and set me to waiting on him, and nursing his children. Every
single thing I have done since, or wanted or had, has been a
disappointment to him. I know now he never would have married me, if he
hadn't figured he was going to make me over; shape me and my life to
suit his whims, and throw away my money to please his fancies. He's
been utterly discontented since Elizabeth was born. Why Leslie, we
haven't lived together since then. He said if I were going to persist
in bringing 'orphans' into the world, babies I wouldn't mother myself,
or wouldn't allow him to father, there would be no more children. I
laughed at him, because I didn't think he meant it; but he did, so that
ended even a semblance of content. Half the time I don't know where he
is, or what he is doing; he seldom knows where I am; if we appear
together it is accidental; I thought I had my mind made up to leave
him, and soon; but what you say, coupled with doubts I had myself, have
set me to thinking, till I don't know. I hate a scandal. You know how
careful I always have been. All my closest friends have jeered me for a
prude; there isn't a flaw he can find, there has been none!"

"Certainly not," said Leslie. "Every one knows that."

"Leslie, you don't know, do you?" asked Mrs. Minturn. "He didn't say
anything to Bruce, did he?"

"You want an honest answer?" questioned Leslie.

"Of course I do!" cried Mrs. Minturn.

"Douglas did tell me in connection with Mr. Minturn joining the
Brotherhood and taking a gamin from the streets into his office, that
he said he was scarcely allowed to see his own sons, not to exercise
the slightest control, so he was going to try his theories on a Little
Brother. But Douglas wouldn't mention it, only to me, and of course I
wouldn't repeat it to any one. Mr. Minturn seemed to feel that Douglas
thought it peculiar for a man having sons, to take so much pains with a
newsboy; they're great friends, so he said that much to Bruce."

"'He said that much----'" scoffed Mrs. Minturn.

"Well, even so, that is very little compared with what you've said
about him to me," retorted Leslie. "You shouldn't complain on that
score."

"I suppose, in your eyes, I shouldn't complain about anything," said
Mrs. Minturn.

"A world of things, Mrs. Minturn, but not the ones you do," said Leslie.

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Minturn.

"I think your grievance is that you were born in, and reared for,
society," said Leslie, "and in your extremity it has failed you. I
believe I can give you more help to-day than any woman of your age and
intimate association."

"That's true Leslie, quite true!" exclaimed Mrs. Minturn eagerly. "And
I need help! Oh I do!"

"You poor soul, you!" comforted Leslie. "Turn where you belong! Turn to
your own blood!"

"My mother would jeer me for a weakling," said Mrs. Minturn. "She has
urged me to divorce James, ever since Elizabeth was born."

"I didn't mean your mother," said Leslie. "I meant closer relatives, I
meant your husband and sons."

"My husband would probably tell me he had lost all respect for me,
while my sons would very likely pull my hair and kick my shins if I
knelt to them for sympathy," said Mrs. Minturn. "They are perfect
little animals."

"Oh Mrs. Minturn!" cried Leslie amazed. "Then you simply must take them
in charge and save them; they are so fine looking, while you're their
mother, you are!"

"It means giving up life as I have known it always, just about
everything!" said Mrs. Minturn.

"Look at yourself now!" said Leslie. "I should think you would be glad
to give up your present state."

"Leslie, do you think it wrong to gather those orchids?"

"I think it unpardonable sin to _exterminate_ them," answered Leslie.
"If you have any reason for wanting a few, and merely gather the
flowers, leaving the roots to spread and bloom another year, I should
say take them."

"Will you wait in the car until I go back?" she asked.

"But I wish to be alone," said Mrs. Minturn.

"You're not afraid? You won't become lost?"

"I am not afraid, and I will not lose myself," said Mrs. Minturn. "Must
I hurry?"

"Take all the time you want," said Leslie.

It was mid-afternoon when she returned, her hands filled with a
dripping moss ball in which she had embedded the stems of a mass of
feathery pink-fringed orchids. Her face was flushed with tears, but her
eyes were bright, her step quick and alert.

"Leslie, what do you think I am going to do?" she cried. Then without
awaiting a reply: "I'm going to ask James to go with me to take these
to Elizabeth, to beg him to forgive my neglect of her; to pledge the
rest of my life to him and the boys."

Leslie caught Mrs. Minturn in her arms. "Oh you darling!" she exulted.
"Oh you brave, wonderful girl!"

"After all, it's no more than fair," Mrs. Minturn said. "I have had
everything my way since we were married. And I did love James. He's the
only man I have ever really wanted. Leslie, he will forgive me and
start over, won't he?"

"He'll be at your feet!" cried Leslie.

"Fortunately, I have decided to be at his," said Mrs. Minturn. "I've
reached the place where I will even wipe James Jr.'s nose and dress
Malcolm, and fix James' studs if it will help me to sleep, and have
only a tinge of what you seem to be running over with. Leslie, you are
the most joyous soul!"

"You see, I never had to think about myself," said Leslie. "Daddy
always thought for me, so there was nothing left for me to spend my
time and thought on but him. It was a beautiful arrangement."

"Leslie, this is your car, but won't you dear, drive fast!" begged Mrs.
Minturn.

"Of course Nellie!" exclaimed the girl.

"Leslie, will you stand by me, and show me the way, all you can?" asked
Mrs. Minturn anxiously. "I'll lose every friend I have got; my house
must be torn down and built up from the basement on a new system, as to
management; and I haven't an idea _how_ to do it. Oh, I hope James can
help me."

"You may be sure James will know and can help you," comforted Leslie.
"You'll be leaving for the seashore in a few days; install a complete
new retinue, and begin all fresh. Half the servants you keep, really
interested in their work, would make you far more comfortable than you
are now."

"Yes, I think that too!" agreed Mrs. Minturn eagerly. "Some way I feel
as if I were turning against Lucette. I never want to see her again,
after I tell her to go; not that I know what I shall do without her.
The boys will probably burn down the house, and where I'll find a woman
who will tolerate them, I don't know."

"Employ a man until you get control," suggested Leslie. "They are both
old enough; hire a man, and explain all you want to him. They'd be
afraid of a man."

"Afraid!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They are afraid of Lucette! I can't
understand it. I wonder if James----"

"Poor James!" laughed Leslie. "Honestly Nellie, don't impose too much
of your--your work on him. Undertake it yourself. Show him what a woman
you are."

"Great Heavens, Leslie, you don't know what you are saying!" cried Mrs.
Minturn. "My only hope lies in deceiving him. If I showed him the woman
I am, as I saw myself back there in that swamp an hour ago, he'd take
one look, and strangle me for the public good."

"How ridiculous!" exclaimed Leslie. "Why must a woman always rush from
one extreme to the other? Choose a middle course and keep it."

"That's what I am telling you I must do," said Mrs. Minturn. "Leslie,
it is wonderful how I feel. I'm almost flying. Do you honestly think it
is possible that there is going to be something new, something
interesting, something really worth while in the world for me?"

"I know it," said Leslie. "Such interest, such novelty, such joy as you
never have experienced!"

With that hope in her heart, her eyes filled with excitement, Nellie
Minturn rang her bell, ran past her footman and hurried up the stairs.
She laid her flowers on a table, summoned her maid, then began throwing
off her hat and outer clothing.

"Do you know if Mr. Minturn is here?"

"Yes. He----" began the maid.

"Never mind what 'he.' Get out the prettiest, simplest dress I own, and
the most becoming," she ordered. "Be quick! Can't you see I'm in a
hurry?"

"Mrs. Minturn, I think you will thank me for telling you there is an
awful row in the library," said the maid.

"'An awful row?'" Mrs. Minturn paused.

"Yes. I think they are killing Lucette," explained the maid. "She's
shrieked bloody murder two or three times."

"Who? What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Minturn.

She slipped on the bathrobe she had picked up, and stood holding it
together, gazing at the maid.

"Mr. Minturn came with two men. One was a park policeman we know. They
went into the library and sent for Lucette. There she goes again!"

"Is there any way I could see, could hear, what is going on, without
being seen?"

"There's a door to the den from the back hall, and that leads to the
library," suggested the maid.

"Show me! Help me!" begged Mrs. Minturn.

As they passed the table the orchids hanging over the edge caught on
the trailing robe and started to fall. Mrs. Minturn paused to push them
back, then studied the flowers an instant, and catching up the bunch
carried it along. She closed the den door after her without a sound,
and creeping beside the wall, hid behind the door curtain and peeped
into the library. There were two men who evidently were a detective and
a policeman. She saw Lucette backed against the wall, her hands
clenched, her eyes wild with fear. She saw her husband's back, and on
the table beside him a little box, open, its wrappings near, its
contents terrifying to the woman.

"To sum up then," said Mr. Minturn in tones she never before had heard:
"I can put on oath this man, who will be forced to tell what he
witnessed or be impeached by others who saw it at the same time, and
_are ready to testify to what he said;_ I can produce the boy who came
to tell me the part he took in it; I have the affidavit and have just
come from the woman who interfered and followed you here in an effort
to save Elizabeth; I have this piece of work in my hands, done by one
of the greatest scientists and two of the best surgeons living.
Although you shrink from it, I take pleasure in showing it to you. This
ragged seam is an impress of the crack you made in a tiny skull lying
in a vault out at Forest Hill."

He paused, holding a plaster cast before the woman.

"It's a little bit of a thing," he said deliberately. "She was a tiny
creature to have been done to death at your hands. I hope you will see
that small pink face as I see it, and feel the soft hair in your
fingers, and--after all, I can't go on with that. But I am telling you,
and showing you exactly what you are facing, because you must go from
this house with these men; your things will be sent. You must leave
this city and this country on the boat they take you to, and where you
go you will be watched; if ever you dare take service handling a
_child_ again, I shall have you promptly arrested and forced to answer
for the cold-blooded murder of my little daughter. Live you must, I
suppose, but not longer by the torture of children. Go, before I
strangle you as you deserve!"

How Mrs. Minturn came to be standing beside her husband, she never
afterward knew; only that she was, pulling down his arm to stare at the
white cast. Then she looked up at him and said simply: "But Lucette
didn't murder her; it was I. I was her mother. I knew she was beaten. I
knew she was abused! I didn't stop my pleasure to interfere, lest I
should lose a minute by having to see to her myself! A woman did come
to me, and a boy! I knew they were telling the truth! I didn't know it
was so bad, but I knew it must have been dreadful, to bring them. I had
my chance to save her. I went to her as the woman told me to, and
because she was quiet, I didn't even turn her over. I didn't run a
finger across her little head. I didn't call a surgeon. I preferred an
hour of pleasure to taking the risk of being disturbed. I am quite as
guilty as Lucette! Have them take me with her."

James Minturn stepped back, gazing at his wife. Then he motioned the
men toward the door, so with the woman they left the room.

"Lucette just had her sentence," he said, "now for yours! Words are
useless! I am leaving your house with my sons. They _are_ my sons, and
with the proof I hold, you will not claim them. If you do, you will not
get them. I am taking them to the kind of a house I deem suitable for
them, and to such care as I can provide. I shall keep them in my
presence constantly as possible until I see just what harm has been
done, and how to remedy what can be changed. I shall provide such
teachers as I see fit for them, and devote the remainder of my life to
them. All I ask of you is to spare them the disgrace of forcing me to
_prove_ my right to them, or ever having them realize just _what_
happened to their sister, and _your_ part in it."

She held the flowers toward him.

"I brought these----" she began, then paused. "You wouldn't believe me,
if I should tell you. You are right! Perfectly justified! Of course I
shall not bring this before the public. Go!"

At the door he looked back. She had dropped into a chair beside the
table, holding the cast in one hand, the fringed orchids in the other.



CHAPTER VII


_Peaches' Preference in Blessings_


"_God ain't made a sweeter girl 'An Lily, at keeps my heart a-whirl. If
I was to tell an awful whopper, I'd get took by the cross old copper._"

Thus chanted Mickey at his door, his hands behind him. Peaches
stretched both hers toward him as usual; but he stood still, swinging
in front of him a beautiful doll, for a little sick girl. A baby doll
in a long snowy dress and a lace cap; it held outstretched arms, but
was not heavy enough to tire small wavering hands. Peaches lunged
forward until only Mickey's agility saved her from falling. He tossed
the doll on the bed, and caught the child, the lump in his throat so
big his voice was strained as he cried: "Why you silly thing!"

With her safe he again proffered it. Peaches shut her eyes and buried
her face on his breast.

"Oh don't let me see it! Take it away!"

"Why Lily! I thought you'd be crazy about it," marvelled Mickey.
"Honest I did! The prettiest lady sent it to you. Let me tell you!"

"Giving them up is worser 'an never having them. Take it away!" wailed
Peaches.

"Well Lily!" said Mickey. "I never was stuck up about my looks, but I
didn't s'pose I looked so like a granny that you'd think _that_ of me.
Don't I seem man enough to take care of a little flowersy-girl 'thout
selling her doll? There's where I got your granny skinned a mile. I
don't booze, and I never will. Mother hammered that into me. Now look
what a pretty it is! You'll just love it! I wouldn't take it! I'd lay
out anybody who would. Come on now! Negotiate it! Get your flippers on
it!"

He was holding the child gently and stroking her tumbled hair. When he
put her from him to see her face, Mickey was filled with envy because
he had been forced to admit the gift was not from him. He shut his lips
tight, but his face was grim as he studied Peaches' flushed cheeks and
wet eyes, and noted the shaking eagerness for the doll she was afraid
to look at. He reached over and put it into her arms, then piled the
pillows so she could see better, talking the while to comfort her.

"Course it is yours! Course nobody is going to take it! Course you
shall _always_ have it, and maybe a grown-up lady doll by Christmas.
Who knows?"

In utter content Peaches sank against the pillows, watching Mickey,
while she gripped the baby.

"Thank you, Mickey-lovest," she said. "Oh thank you for this Precious
Child!"

"You got to thank a lady about twice my height, with dark hair, pink
cheeks, and beautiful dresses. She's got a big rest house, a lover man,
and an automobile I wish you could see, Lily," he said.

"If I was on the rags in the corner, I'd have this child--wouldn't I?"
scoffed Peaches, still clutching the doll, but her gaze on Mickey.
"What happened was, 'at she _liked you_ for something, and _give_ you
the baby, so you brought it to me. Thank you Mickey, for this Precious
Child!"

Peaches lifted her lips. Mickey met them more obsessed than before.
Then she turned away, clasping the doll. Mickey could see that the
tears were slipping from under the child's closed lids, but her lips
were on the doll face, so he knew she was happy. He stole out to bring
in his purchases for supper, and begin his evening work. He gave
Peaches a drink, her daily rub, cleaned the room without making dust as
the nurse had shown him, and brought water. He shook his fist at the
faucet.

"Now hereafter, nix on the butting in!" he said belligerently. "Mebby I
couldn't have got _that_ doll, but I could have got one she'd have
_liked_ just as well, and earned it extra, in one day. There's one
feature of the Big Brother business that I was a little too fast on.
He's the finest man that ever wanted me, while his rooms are done
shameful. I could put a glitter on them so he could see himself with
the things he has to work with, and he said any time I wanted it, the
job was mine. It wouldn't be cheating him any if I took it, and did
better work than he's getting, and my steady papers are sure in the
morning; that would be sure in the afternoon, and if I cut ice with a
buzz saw, I might get through in time to pick up something else before
coming home, and being sure beats _hoping_ a mile, yes ten miles! Mebby
I'll investigate that business a little further, 'cause hereafter I
provide for my own family. See? Lily was grand about it. Gee! she's
smart to think it out that way all in a minute. But by and by she's
going to have a lot of time to think. Then she'll be remembering about
the lady I got to tell her of 'stead of _me_, as she _should!_ Guess
I'll run my own family! I'll take another look at cleaning that office.
There ain't any lap-dog business in a job, and being paid for it, if
you do it well."

Mickey turned the faucet and marched up the stairs with head high and
shoulders square. His face was grave while he worked, but Peaches was
so happy she did not notice. When he came with her supper she kissed
the doll, then insisted on Mickey kissing it also. Such was the state
of his subjugation he commenced with "Aw!" and ended by doing as he was
told. He even helped lay the doll beside Peaches exactly as her fancy
dictated, and covered it with her sheet, putting its hands outside.
Peaches was enchanted. She insisted on offering it a drink of her milk
first, and was so tremulously careful lest she spill a drop that Mickey
had to guide her hand. He promised to wash the doll's dress if she did
have an accident, or when it became soiled, and bowed his head meekly
to the crowning concession by sitting on the edge of the bed, after he
had finished his evening work, and holding the doll where she could see
it, exactly as instructed, while he told her about his wonderful
adventure.

"Began yesterday," explained Mickey. "You know I told you there was
going to be a surprise. Well this is it. When the lady gave me the
ribbons for you, she told me to come back to-night, and get it. Course
I _could_ a-got it myself. I _would_ a-got it for Christmas----"

"Oh Mickey-lovest, does Christmas come here?"

"Surest thing you know!" said Mickey. "A fat stocking full of every
single thing the Nurse Lady tell Santa Claus a little--a little
flowersy-girl that ain't so strong yet, may have, and a big lady doll
and a picture book."

"But I never had no stockings," said Peaches.

"Well you'll have by _that_ time," promised Mickey.

"Oh Mickey, I'm so glad I want to say a prayin's 'at you found _me_,
'stead of some other kid!" exulted Peaches.

"Yes Miss, and that's one thing I forgot!" said Mickey. "We'll _begin_
to-night. You ain't a properly raised lady unless you say your prayers.
I know the one _She_ taught me. To-night will be a good time, 'cause
you'll be so thankful for your pretty ribbons and your baby, that
you'll just love to say a real thankful prayer." "Mickey, I ain't goin'
to say prayin's! I just _said_ I was," explained Peaches. "I never said
none for granny, 'cause she only told me to when she was drunk."

"No and you never had a box of ribbons to make you look so sweet, or a
baby to stay with you while I'm gone. If you ain't thankful enough for
them to say your prayers, you shouldn't have them, nor any more, nor
Christmas, nor anything, but just--_just like you was_."

Peaches blinked, gasped, digested the statements, then yielded wholly.

"I guess I'll say them. Mickey when shall I?"

"To-night 'fore you go to sleep," said Mickey.

"Now tell me about the baby," urged Peaches.

"Sure! I _was!_ I _could_ a-got it myself, like I was telling you; but
the ones in the stores have such funny clothes. They look so silly. I
knew I couldn't wash them and of course they'd get dirty like
everything does, and we couldn't _have_ them dirty, so I thought it
over, and I said to Mickey-boy, 'if the Joy Lady is so anxious to get
the baby, and sew its clothes herself, why I'll just let her,' so I did
_let_ her, but it took some time to make them, so I had to wait to
bring it 'til tonight. I was to go to her house after it, and when I
got there she was coming home in her car from a long drive, and gee,
Lily, I wish you could have seen her! She's the prettiest lady, and the
most joyous lady I ever saw."

"Prettier than the Nurse Lady?" asked Peaches.

"Well different," explained Mickey. "Nurse Lady is all gold like the
end of Sunrise Alley at four o'clock in the morning. This lady has dark
hair and eyes. Both of them are as pretty as women are made, but they
are not the same. Nurse Lady is when the sun comes up, and warms and
comforts the world; but the doll-lady is like all the stars twinkling
in the moonlight on the park lake, and music playing, and everybody
dancing. The doll-lady is joy, just the Joy Lady. Gee, Lily, you should
have seen her face when the car stopped, while I was coming down the
steps."

"Was she so glad to see you?" asked Peaches.

"'Twasn't me!" said Mickey. "'Twas on her face _before_ she saw me. She
was just gleaming, and shining, and spilling over joy! She isn't the
kind that would dance on the street, nor where it ain't nice to dance;
but she was dancing inside just the same. She pulled me right into that
big fine car, so I sat on the seat with her, and we went sailing, and
skating, and flying along and all the boys guying me, but I didn't
care! I like to ride in her car! I never rode in a car like that
before. She went a-whizzing right to the office of the big man, where
maybe I'll work; I guess I'll go see him tomorrow, I got a hankering
for knowing what I'm going to _do_, and _where_ I'm going to be paid
for it. Well she went spinning there, and she said 'you wait a minute,'
then she ran in and pretty soon out she came with him. His name is Mr.
Douglas Bruce, and I guess it would be a little closer what _She'd_
think right if I'd use it. And hers he calls her by, is Leslie. Ain't
that pretty? When he says 'Leslie' sounds as if he kissed the name as
it came through. Honest it does!"

"I bet he says it just like you say 'Lily!'"

"I wonder now!" grinned Mickey. "Well he came out and what she had told
him, set him crazy too. They just talked a streak, but he shook hands
with me, and she said, 'You tell the driver where to go Mickey,' and I
said, 'Go where, Miss?' and she said, 'To take you home,' and I said,
'You don't need!' and she said, 'I'd like to!' and I saw she didn't
care _what_ she did, so I just sent him to the end of the car line and
saved my nickel, and then I come on here, and both of them----"

"What?" asked Peaches eagerly.

Mickey changed the "wanted to come to see you" that had been on his
lips. If he told Peaches that, and she asked for them to come, and they
came, and then thought he was not taking care of her right, and took
her away from him--then what?

"Said good-bye the nicest," he substituted. "And I'm going to see if
she wants any more letters carried as soon as my papers are gone in the
morning, and if she does, I'm going to take them, and if one is to him,
I'm going to ask him more about the job he offered me, and if we can
agree, I'm going to take it. Then I can buy you what you want myself,
because I'll know every day exactly what I'll have, and when the rent
is counted out, and for the papers, all the rest will be for eating,
and what you need, and to save for your new back."

"My, I wisht I had it now!" cried Peaches. "I wisht I could a-rode in
that car too! Wasn't it perfeckly grand Mickey?"

"Grand as any king," said Mickey.

"What is a king?" asked Peaches.

"One of the big bosses across the ocean," explained Mickey. "You'll
learn them when you get farther with your lessons. They own most all
the money, and the finest houses, and _all the people_. Just _own_
them. Own them so's they can tell good friends to go to it, and _kill_
each other, even _relations_."

"And do they _do_ it?" marvelled Peaches.

"Sure they do it!" cried Mickey. "Why they are doing it _right now!_ I
could bring a paper and read you things that would make you so sick you
couldn't sit up!"

"What kind of things, Mickey?"

"About kings making all the fathers kill each other, and burn down each
other's houses, and blow up the cities, and eat all the food
themselves, and leave the mothers with no home, and no groceries, and
no stove, and no beds, and the bullets flying, and the cities burning,
and no place to go, and the children starving and dying--Gee, I ain't
ever going to tell you any more, Lily! It's too awful! You'd feel
better not to know. Honest you would! Wish I hadn't told you anything
about it at all. Where's your slate? We got to do lessons 'fore it gets
so dark and we are so sleepy we can't see."

Peaches proudly handed him the slate. In wavering lines and tremulous
curves ran her first day's work alone, over erasures, and with
relinings, in hills and deep depressions, which it is possible Mickey
read because he knew what it had to be, he proudly translated,
"Mickey-lovest." Then the lines of the night before, then "cow" and
"milk." And then Mickey whooped because he faintly recognized an effort
to draw a picture of the cow and the milk bottle.

"Grand Lily!" he cried. "Gee, you're the smartest kid I ever knew!
You'll know all I do 'fore long, and then you'll need your back, so's
you can get ready to go to a Young Ladies' Sem'nary."

"What's that?" interestedly asked Peaches.

"A school. Where other _nice_ girls go, and where you learn all that I
don't know to teach you," said Mickey.

"I won't go!" said Peaches.

"Oh yes you will, Miss," said Mickey. "'Cause you're my family, so
you'll do as I say."

"Will you go with me?" asked Peaches.

"Sure! I'll take you there in a big au----Oh, I don't know as I will
either. We'll have to save our money, if we _both_ go. We'll go on a
_street_ car, and walk up a grand av'noo among trees, and I'll take you
in, and see if your room is right, and everything, and all the girls
will like you 'cause you're so smart, and your hair's so pretty, and
then I'll go to a boys' school close by, and learn how to make poetry
pieces that beat any in the papers. Every time I make a new one I'll
come and ask, 'Is Miss Lily--Miss Lily Peaches----' Gee kid, _what's
your name?_"

Mickey stared at Peaches, while she stared back at him.

"I don't know," she said. "Do you care, Mickey?"

"What was your granny's?" asked Mickey.

"I don't know," answered Peaches.

"Was she your mother's mother?" persisted Mickey.

"Yes," replied Peaches.

"Did you ever see your father?" Mickey went on.

"I don't know nothing about fathers," she said.

Mickey heaved a deep sigh.

"Well! _That's_ over!" he said. "_I_ know something about fathers. I
know a lot. I know that you are no worse off, not knowing _who_ your
father was than to know he was so _mean_ that you are _glad_ he's dead.
Your way leaves you _hoping_ that he was just awful nice, and got
killed, or was taken sick or something; my way, there ain't no doubts
in your mind. You are plumb sure he wasn't decent. Don't you bother
none about fathers!"

"My I'm glad, Mickey!" cried Peaches joyously.

"So am I," said Mickey emphatically. "We don't want any fathers coming
here to butt in on us, just as we get your back Carreled and you ready
to start to school."

"Can I go without a _name_ Mickey?" asked Peaches.

"Course not!" said Mickey. "You have to put your name on a roll the
first thing, then you must be interdooced to the Head Lady and all the
girls."

"What'll I do Mickey?" anxiously inquired Peaches.

"Well, for smart as you are in some spots, you're awful dumb in
others," commented Mickey. "What'll you do, saphead? Gee! Ain't you
_mine?_ Ain't you my _family?_ Ain't _my name_ good enough for you?
Your name will be Miss Lily Peaches O'Halloran. That's a name good
enough for a Queen Lady!"

"What's a Queen?" inquired Peaches.

"Wife of those kings we were just talking about."

"Sure!" said Peaches. "None of them have a nicer name than that!
Mickey, is my bow straight?"

"Naw it ain't!" said Mickey. "Take the baby 'til I fix it! It's about
slipped off! There! That's better."

"Mickey, let me see it!" suggested Peaches.

Mickey brought the mirror. She looked so long he grew tired and started
to put it back, but she clung to it.

"Just lay it on the bed," she said.

"Naw I don't, Miss Chicken--O'Halloran!" he said. "Mirrors cost money,
and if you pull the sheet in the night, and slide ours off, and it
breaks, we got seven years of bad luck coming, and we are nix on
changing the luck we have right now. It's good enough for us. Think of
them Belgium kids where the kings are making the fathers fight. This
goes where it belongs, then you take your drink, and let me beat your
pillow, and you fix your baby, and then we'll say our prayers, and go
to sleep."

Mickey replaced the mirror and carried out the program he had outlined.
When he came to the prayer he ordered Peaches to shut her eyes, fold
her hands and repeat after him:

"'Now I lay me down to sleep'"----

Peaches' eyes opened.

"Oh, is it a poetry prayer, Mickey?" she asked.

"Yes. Kind of a one. Say it," answered Mickey.

Peaches obeyed, repeating the words lingeringly and in her sweetest
tones. Mickey thrilled to his task.

"'I pray the Lord my soul to keep'"----he proceeded.

"What's my soul, Mickey?" she asked.

"The very nicest thing inside of you," explained Mickey. "Go on!"

"Like my heart?" questioned Peaches.

"Yes. Only nicer," said Mickey. "Shut your eyes and go on!"

Peaches obeyed.

"'If I should die before I wake'"----continued Mickey.

Peaches' eyes flashed open; she drew back in horror.

"I won't!" she cried. "I won't _say_ that. That's what happened to
granny, an' I saw. She was the awfullest, an' then--the men came. I
_won't!_"

Mickey opened his eyes, looking at Peaches, his lips in a set line, his
brow wrinkled in thought.

"Well I don't know what they went and put _that_ in for," he said
indignantly. "Scaring little kids into fits! It's all right when you
don't _know_ what it means, but when kids has been through what we
have, it's different. I wouldn't say it either. You wait a minute. I
can beat that myself. Let me think. Now I got it! Shut your eyes and go
on:

"If I should come to live with Thee----"

"Well I ain't goin'!" said Peaches flatly. "I'm goin' to stay right
here with you. I'd a lot rather than anywhere. King's house or
anywhere!"

"I never saw such a kid!" wailed Mickey. "I think that's pretty. I like
it heaps. Come on Peaches! Be good! Listen! The next line goes: 'Open
loving arms to shelter me.' Like the big white Jesus at the Cathedral
door. Come on now!"

"I _won't!_ I'm goin' to live right here, and I don't want no big white
Jesus' arms; I want _yours_. 'F I go anywhere, you got to lift me
yourself, and let me take my Precious Child along."

"Lily, you're the worst kid I ever saw," said Mickey. "No you ain't
either! I know a lot worse than you. You just don't understand. I guess
you better pray something you _do_ understand. Let me think again. Now
try this: Keep me through the starry night----"

"Sure! I just love that," crooned Peaches.

"Wake me safe with sunrise bright," prompted Mickey, and the child
smilingly repeated the words. "Now comes some 'Blesses,'" said Mickey.
"I don't know just how to manage them. You haven't a father to bless,
and your mother got what was coming to her long ago; blessing her now
wouldn't help any if it wasn't pleasant; same with your granny, only
more recent. I'll tell you! Now I know! 'Bless the Sunshine Lady for
all the things to make me comfortable, and bless the Moonshine Lady for
the ribbons and the doll.'"

"Aw!" cried Peaches, staring up at him in rebellion.

"Now you go on, Miss Chicken," ordered Mickey, losing patience, "and
then you end with 'Amen,' which means, 'So be it,' or 'Make it happen
that way,' or something like that. Go to it now!"

Peaches shut her eyes, refolded her hands and lifted her chin. After a
long pause Mickey was on the point of breaking, she said sweetly:
"Bless Mickey-lovest, an' bless him, an' bless him million times; an'
bless him for the bed, an' the window, an' bless him for finding the
Nurse Lady, an' bringing the ribbons, an' the doll, an' bless him for
the slate, an' the teachin's, an' bless him for everything I just love,
an' love. Amen--hard!"

When Peaches opened her eyes she found Mickey watching her, a
commingling of surprise and delight on his face. Then he bent over and
laid his cheek against hers.

"You fool little kid," he whispered tenderly. "You precious fool little
flowersy-kid! You make a fellow love you 'til he nearly busts inside.
Kiss me good-night, Lily."

He slipped the ribbon from her hair, straightened the sheets, arranged
as the nurse had taught him, laid the doll as Peaches desired, and then
screened by the foot of the bed, undressed and stretched himself on the
floor. The same moon that peeped in the window to smile her broadest at
Peaches and her Precious Child, and touched Mickey's face to wondrous
beauty, at that hour also sent shining bars of light across the veranda
where Leslie sat and told Douglas Bruce about the trip to the swamp.

"I never knew I could be so happy over anything in all this world that
didn't include you and Daddy. But of course this does in a way; you, at
least. Much as you think of, and are with, Mr. Minturn, you can't help
being glad that joy has come to him at last. Why don't you say
something, Douglas?"

"I have been effervescing ever since you came to the office after me,
and I find now that the froth is off, I'm getting to the solid facts in
the case, and, well I don't want to say a word to spoil your joyous
day, but I'm worried, 'Bringer of Song.'"

"Worried?" cried Leslie. "Why? You don't think he wouldn't be pleased?
You don't think he might not be--responsive, do you?"

"Think of the past years of neglect, insult and humiliation!" suggested
Douglas.

"Think of the future years of loving care, reparation and joy!"
commented Leslie.

"Please God they outweigh!" said Douglas. "Of course they will! It must
be a few things I've seen lately that keep puzzling me."

"What have you seen, Douglas?" questioned Leslie.

"Deals in real estate," he answered. "Consultations with detectives and
policemen, scientists and surgeons."

"But what could that have to do with Nellie Minturn?"

"Nothing, I hope," said Douglas, "but there has been a grimness about
Minturn lately, a going ahead with jaws set that looks ugly for what
opposes him, and you tell me they have been in opposition ever since
they married. I can't put him from my thoughts as I saw him last."

"And I can't her," said Leslie. "She was a lovely picture as she came
across the silver moss carpet, you know that gray green, Douglas, her
face flushed, her eyes wet, her arms full of those perfectly beautiful,
lavender-pink fringed orchids. She's a handsome woman, dearest, and she
never looked quite so well to me as when she came picking her way
beneath the dark tamarack boughs. She was going to ask him to go with
her to take her flowers to Elizabeth, and over that little white casket
she intended--Why Douglas, he couldn't, he simply couldn't!"

"Suppose he had something previously worked out that cut her off!"

"Oh Douglas! What makes you think such a thing?"

"What Minturn said to me this morning with such bitterness on his face
and in his voice as I never before encountered in man," Douglas
answered.

"He said----?" prompted Leslie.

"This is my _last_ day as a _laughing-stock_ for my fellowmen!
To-morrow I shall hold up my head!"

"Why didn't you tell me that _before?_"

"Didn't realize until just now that you and she hadn't _seen_ him--that
you were acting on presumption.

"I'm going to call her!" cried Leslie.

"I wouldn't!" advised Douglas.

"Why not?"

"After as far as she went to-day, if she had anything she wanted you to
know, wouldn't she feel free to call you?"

"You are right," conceded Leslie. "Even after to-day, for me to call
would be an intrusion. Let's not talk of it further! Don't you wish we
could take a peep at Mickey carrying the doll to the little sick girl?"

"I surely do!" answered Douglas. "What do you think of him, Leslie?"

"Great! Simply great!" cried the girl. "Douglas you should have heard
him educate me on the doll question."

"How?" he asked interestedly.

"From the first glimpse I had of him, the thought came to me, 'That's
Douglas' Little Brother'" she explained. "When you telephoned and said
you were sending him to me, just one idea possessed me: to get what you
wanted. Almost without thought at all I tried the first thing he
mentioned, which happened to be a little sick neighbour girl he told me
about. All girls like a doll, and I had one dressed for a birthday gift
for a namesake of mine, and time plenty to fix her another. I brought
it to Mickey and thought he'd be delighted."

"Was he rude?" inquired Douglas anxiously.

"Not in the least!" she answered. "Only casual! Merely made me see how
thoughtless and unkind and positively vulgar my idea of pleasing a poor
child was."

"Leslie, you shock me!" exclaimed Douglas.

"I mean every word of it," said the girl. "Now listen to me! It _is_
thoughtless to offer a gift headlong, without considering a second, is
it not?"

"Merely impulsive," replied Douglas.

"Identically the same thing!" declared Leslie. "Listen I said! Without
a thought about suitability, I offered an extremely poor child the gift
I had prepared for a very rich one. Mickey made me see in ten words
that it would be no kindness to fill his little friend's head with
thoughts that would sadden her heart with envy, make her feel all she
lacked more keenly than ever; give her a gift that would breed
dissatisfaction instead of joy; if that isn't vulgarity, what is?
Mickey's Lily has no business with a doll so gorgeous the very sight of
it brings longing, instead of comfort. It was unkind to offer a gift so
big and heavy it would tire and worry her."

"There _are_ some ideas there on giving!"

"Aren't there though!" said Leslie. "Mickey took about three minutes to
show me that Lily was _satisfied_ as she was, so no one would thank me
for awakening discontent in her heart. He measured off her size and
proved to me that a small doll, that would not tire her to handle,
would be suitable, and so dressed that its clothes could be washed and
would be plain as her own. Even further! Once my brain began working I
saw that a lady doll with shoes and stockings to suggest outdoors and
walking, was not a kind gift to make a bedridden child. Douglas, after
Mickey started me I arose by myself to the point of seeing that a
little cuddly baby doll, helpless as she, one that she could nestle,
and play with lying in bed would be the proper gift for Lily. Think of
a 'newsy' making me see _that!_ Isn't he wonderful?"

"You should have heard him making me see things!" said Douglas. "Yours
are faint and feeble to the ones he taught me. Refused me at every
point, and marched away leaving me in utter rout! Outside wanting you
for my wife, more than anything else on earth, I wanted Mickey for my
Little Brother."

"You have him!" comforted the girl. "The Lord arranged that. You
remember He said, 'All men are brothers,' and wasn't it Tolstoy who
wrote: 'If people would only understand that they are not the sons of
some fatherland or other, nor of governments, but are sons of God?' You
and Mickey will get your brotherhood arranged to suit both of you some
of these days."

"Exactly!" conceded Douglas. "But I wanted Mickey at hand now! I wanted
him to come and go with me. To be educated with what I consider
education."

"It will come yet," prophesied Leslie. "Your ideas are splendid! I see
how fine they are! The trouble is this: you had a plan mapped out at
which Mickey was to jump. Mickey happened to have preconceived ideas on
the subject, so he didn't jump. You wanted to be the king on the throne
and stretch out a royal hand," laughed Leslie. "You wanted to lift
Mickey to your level, and with the inherent fineness in him, have him
feel eternal love and gratitude toward you?"

"That sounds different, but it is the real truth."

"And Mickey doesn't care to be brother to kings, he doesn't perceive
the throne even; he wants you to understand at the start that you will
_take_, as well as _give_. Refusing pay for tidying your office was his
first inning. That 'Me to you!' was great. I can see the accompanying
gesture. It was the same one he used in demolishing my doll. Something
vital and inborn. Something loneliness, work, the crowd, and raw life
have taught Mickey, that we don't know. Learn all you can from him.
I've had one good lesson, I'm receptive and ready for the next. Let's
call the car and drive an hour."

"That will be pleasant," agreed Douglas.

"Anywhere in the suburbs to avoid the crowds," was Leslie's order to
her driver.

Slowly, under traffic regulations, the car ran through the pleasant
spring night; the occupants talking without caring where they were so
long as they were together, in motion, and it was May. They were
passing residences where city and country met. The dwellings of people
city bound, country determined. Homes where men gave so many hours to
earning money, then sped away to train vines, prune trees, dig in warm
earth and make things grow. Such men now crossed green lawns and talked
fertilizers, new annuals, tree surgery, and carried gifts of fragrant,
blooming things to their friends. Here the verandas were wide and
children ran from them to grassy playgrounds; on them women read or sat
with embroidery hoops or visited in small groups.

"Let's move," said Leslie. "Let's coax Daddy to sell our place and come
here. One wouldn't ever need go summering, it's cool and pleasant
always. I'd love it! There's a new house and a lawn under old trees, to
shelter playing children; isn't it charming?"

"Quite! But that small specimen seems refractory."

Leslie leaned forward to see past him. In an open door stood a man
clearly silhouetted against the light. Down the steps sped a screaming
boy about nine. After him ran another five or six years older. When the
child saw he would be overtaken, he headed straight for the street; as
the pursuer's hand brushed him, he threw himself kicking and clawing.
The elder boy hesitated, looking for an opening to find a hold. The car
was half a block away when Leslie turned a white face to Douglas and
gasped inarticulately. He understood something was wrong so signalled
the driver to stop.

"Turn and pass those children again!" ordered Leslie.

As the car went by slowly the second time, the child still fought, the
boy stepped back, while James Minturn with grim face, bent under the
light and by force took into his arms the twisting, fighting boy.

"Heaven help him!" cried Douglas. "Not a sign of happy reconciliation
there!"

Leslie tried to choke down her sobs.

"Oh Nellie Minturn! Poor woman!" she wailed.

"So _that's_ what he was doing!" marvelled Douglas. "A house he has
built to suit himself; training his sons personally, with the
assistance of his Little Brother. That boy was William. I see him in
Minturn's office every day."

"Oh I think he might have given her a chance!" protested Leslie.
"Remember how she was reared! Think what a struggle it was for her even
to contemplate trying to be different."

"Evidently she was too late!" said Douglas. "He must have been gone
before you returned from the swamp."

"I'm going back there and tell him a few things! I think he might have
waited. Douglas, I'm afraid he did wait! She said he told her he wanted
to talk with her when she came back--and oh Douglas, she said he had a
small box and he threatend to 'freeze her soul with its contents!'
Douglas, _what_ could he have had?"

"'Freeze her soul!' Let me think!" said Douglas. "I met Professor
Tickner and Dr. Wills coming from his offices a few days ago, while
he's just back from a trip that he didn't tell me he was taking----

"You mean Tickner, the scientist; Wills, the surgeon?"

"Yes," answered Douglas.

"But those children! Aren't they perfectly healthy?"

"They look it! Lord, Leslie!" cried Douglas, "I have it! He _has_ made
good his threat. He has frozen her soul! What you want to do is to go
to her, Leslie!"

"Douglas, tell me!" she demanded.

"I can't!" said Douglas. "I may be mistaken. I think I am not, but
there is always a chance! Drive to the Minturn residence," he ordered.

They found a closed dark pile of stone.

"Go past that place where the children were again!" said Leslie.

The upper story was quiet. Outlined by veranda lights the massive form
of James Minturn paced back and forth under the big trees, his hands
clasped behind him, his head bowed, and he walked alone.

"Douglas, I'm going to speak to him. I'm going to tell him!" declared
Leslie.

"But you're now conceding that _she_ saw him!" Douglas pointed out.
"Then what have you to tell him that she would not? If she couldn't
move him with what she said, and while you don't know his side, what
could you say to him?"

"Nothing," she conceded.

"Precisely my opinion," said Douglas. "Remember Leslie I am a little
ahead of you in this. You know _her_ side. I know all you have told me
of her, also I know what he has told me; while putting what I have
seen, and heard at the office, and him here with the boys, in a house
she would consider too plebeian for words----"

"No Douglas. No! She is changed!" cried Leslie. "Completely changed, I
tell you! She said she would wipe Malcolm's nose and fix James'
studs----"

"Mere figures of speech!" remarked Douglas.

"They meant she was ready to work with her own hands for happiness,"
said Leslie indignantly.

"I think she's too late!" said Douglas. "I am afraid she is one of the
unhappiest women in the world to-night!"

"Douglas, it wrings my heart!" cried Leslie.

"Mine also, but what can we do?" he answered. "For ten years, she has
persisted in having her way, you tell me; what could she have expected?"

"That he would have some heart," protested Leslie. "That he would
forgive when he was asked, as all of us are commanded to."

"Does it occur to you that he might have confronted her with something
that prevented her from asking?" suggested Douglas. "She may never have
reached her flowers and her proposed concessions."

"What makes you think so?" queried Leslie.

"What I see and surmise, and a thing I know."

"What can I do?" asked Leslie.

"Nothing!" Douglas said with finality. "If either of them wants you,
they know where to find you. But you're tired now. Let's give the order
for home."

"Shan't sleep a wink to-night!" prophesied Leslie.

"I was afraid of that!" exclaimed Douglas. "There may be a message
there for you that will be a comfort."

"So there may be! Let's hurry!" urged the girl.

There was. They found a brief, pencilled note.

DEAR LESLIE:

_After to-day, it was due you to send a word. You tried so hard dear,
and you gave me real joy for an hour. Then James carried out his
threat. He did all to me he intended, and more than he can ever know. I
have agreed to him taking full possession of the boys, and going into a
home such as he thinks suitable. They will be far better off, and since
they scarcely know me, they can't miss me. Before you receive this, I
shall have left the city. I can't state just now where I am going or
what I shall do. You can realize a little of my condition. If ever you
are tired of home life and faintly tempted to neglect it for society,
use me for your horrible example. Good-bye,_

NELLIE MINTURN.

Leslie read this aloud.

"It's a relief to know that much," she said with a deep breath. "I
can't imagine myself ever being 'faintly tempted," but if I am, surely
she is right about the 'horrible example.' Douglas, whatever did James
Minturn have in that box?"

"I could tell you what I surmise, but so long as I don't _know_ I'd
better not," he answered.

"As our mutual friend Mickey would say, 'Nix on the Swell Dames,' for
me!" said Leslie determinedly.

"Thank God with all my heart!" cried Douglas Bruce.



CHAPTER VIII


_Big Brother_


"I've no time to talk," said Douglas Bruce, as Mickey appeared the
following day; "my work seems too much for one man. Can you help me?"

"Sure!" said Mickey, wadding his cap into his back pocket. Then he
rolled his sleeves a turn higher, lifted his chin a trifle and stepped
forward. "Say what!"

It caught Douglas so suddenly there was no time for concealment. He
laughed heartily.

"That's good!" he cried. Mickey grinned in comradeship. "First, these
letters to the box in the hall."

"Next?" Mickey queried as he came through the door.

"This package to the room of the Clerk in the City Hall, and bring back
a receipt bearing his signature."

Mickey saluted, laid the note inside the cover of a book, put it in the
middle of the package, and a second later his gay whistle receded down
the hall.

"'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will
not depart from it,'" Douglas quoted. "Mickey has been trained until he
would make a good trainer himself."

In one-half the time the trip had taken the messenger boys Douglas was
accustomed to employing, Mickey was back like the Gulf in the Forum,
demanding "more."

"See what you can do for these rooms, until the next errand is ready,"
suggested Douglas.

Mickey began gathering up the morning papers, straightening the rugs,
curtains and arranging the furniture.

"Hand this check to the janitor," said Douglas. "And Mickey, kindly ask
him if two dollars was what I agreed to pay him for my extras this
week."

"Sure!" said Mickey.

Douglas would have preferred "Yes sir," but "Sure!" was a permanent
ejaculation decorating the tip of Mickey's tongue. The man watching
closely did not fail to catch the flash of interest and the lifting of
the boy figure as he paused for instructions. When he returned Douglas
said casually: "While I am at it, I'll pay off my messenger service.
Take this check to the address and bring a receipt for the amount."

Mickey's comment came swiftly: "Gee! that boy would be sore, if he lost
his job!"

"Messenger Service Agency," Douglas said, busy at his desk. "No boy
would lose his job."

"Oh!" exclaimed Mickey comprehendingly. His face lighted at the
information. Next he carried a requisition for books to another city
official and telephoned a café to deliver a pitcher of lemonade and
some small cakes, and handed the boy a dime.

"Why didn't you send me and save your silver?"

"I did not think," answered Bruce. "Some one gets the tip, you might as
well have had it."

"I didn't mean me _have_ it, I meant you _save_ it."

"Mickey," said Douglas, "you know perfectly I can't take your time
unless you accept from me what I am accustomed to paying other boys."

"Letting others bleed you, you mean," said Mickey indignantly. "Why I'd
a-been glad to brought the juice for five! You never ought to paid
more."

"Should have paid more," corrected Douglas.

"'Should have paid more,'" repeated Mickey. "Thanks!"

"Now try this," said Douglas, filling two glasses.

"'Tain't usual!" said Mickey. "You drink that yourself or save it for
friends that may drop in."

"Very well!" said Douglas. "Of course you might have it instead of the
boy who comes after the pitcher, but if you don't like it----"

"All right if that's the way!" agreed Mickey.

He retired to a window seat, enjoyed the cool drink and nibbled the
cake, his eyes deeply thoughtful. When offered a second glass Mickey
did not hesitate.

"Nope!" he said conclusively. "A fellow's head and heels work better
when his stomach is running light. I can earn more not to load up with
a lot of stuff. I eat at home when my work is finished. She showed me
that."

"She showed you a good many things, didn't She?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "She was my mother, so we had to look out for
ourselves. When you got nothing but yourself between you and the wolf,
you learn to fly, and keep your think-tank in running order. She knew
just what was coming to me, so She _showed_ me, and _every single thing
She said has come, and then some!_"

"I see!" said Douglas. "A wise mother!"

"Sure!" agreed Mickey. "But I guess it wouldn't have done either of us
much good if I hadn't remembered and kept straight on doing what she
taught me."

"You are right, it wouldn't," conceded Douglas.

"That's where I'm going to climb above some of the other fellows,"
announced Mickey confidently. "Either they didn't have mothers to teach
them or else they did, and forget, or think the teaching wasn't worth
anything. Now me, I _know_ She was right! She always _proved_ it! She
had been up against it longer than I had and She knew, so I am going to
go right along doing as She said. I'll beat them, and carry double at
that!"

"How double, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.

"I didn't mean to say that," he explained. "That was a slip. There's
a--there's something----something I'm trying to do that costs more than
it does to live. I'm bound to do it, so I got to run light and keep my
lamps polished for chances. What next, sir?"

"Call 9-40-X, and order my car here," said Douglas.

He bent over his papers to hide his face when from an adjoining room
drifted Mickey's voice in clear enunciation and suave intonation: "Mr.
Douglas Bruce desires his car to be sent immediately to the Iroquois
Building."

His mental comment was: "The little scamp has drifted to street lingo
when he lacked his mother to restrain him. He can speak a fairly clean
grade of English now if he chooses."

"Next?" briskly inquired Mickey.

"Now look here," said Douglas. "This isn't a horse race. I earn my
living with my brains, not my heels. I must have time to think things
out; when your next job arrives I'll tell you. If you are tired, take a
nap on that couch in there." "Asleep at the switch!" marvelled Mickey.

He went to the adjoining room but did not sleep. He quietly polished
and straightened furniture, lingered before bookcases and was at
Douglas' elbow as he turned to call him. Then they closed the offices
and went to the car, each carrying a load of ledgers.

"You do an awful business!" commented Mickey. "Your car?"

"Yes," answered Douglas.

"You're doing grand, for young as you are."

"I haven't done it all myself, Mickey," explained Douglas. "I happened
to select a father who was of an acquisitive turn of mind. He left me
enough that I can have a comfortable living in a small way, from him."

"Gee! It's lucky you got the Joy Lady then!" exclaimed Mickey. "Maybe
you wouldn't ever work if you didn't have her to scratch for!"

"I always have worked and tried to make something of myself," said
Douglas.

"Yes, I guess you have," conceded Mickey. "I think it shows when a man
does. It just shows a lot on you."

"Thank you, Mickey! Same to you!"

"Aw, nix on me!" said Mickey. "I ain't nothing on looks! I ain't ever
looked at myself enough that if I was sent to find Michael O'Halloran I
mightn't bring in some other fellow."

"But you're enough acquainted with yourself that you wouldn't bring in
a dirty boy with a mouth full of swearing and beer," suggested Douglas.

"Well not this evening!" cried Mickey. "On a gamble that ain't my
picture!"

"If it were, you wouldn't be here!" said Douglas.

"No, nor much of any place else 'cept the gutters, alleys, and the
police court," affirmed Mickey. "That ain't my style! I'd like to
be--well--about like you."

"You are perfectly welcome to all I have and am," said Douglas. "If you
fail to take advantage of the offer, it will be your own fault."

"Yes, I guess it will," reflected Mickey. "You gave me the chance. I am
to blame if I don't cop on to it, and get in the game. I like you fine!
Your work is more interesting than odd jobs on the street, and you pay
like a plute. You're being worked though. You pay too much. If I work
for you it would save you money to let me manage that; I could get you
help and things a lot cheaper, then you could spend what you save on
the Joy Lady, making her more joyous."

"You are calling Miss Winton the Joy Lady?"

"Yes," said Mickey. "Doesn't she just look it?"

"She surely does," agreed Douglas. "It's a good title. I know only two
that are better. She sows happiness everywhere. What about your Lily
girl and her doll?"

"Doll doesn't go. That's a Precious Child!"

"I see! Lily is a little girl you like, Mickey?"

"Lily is the littlest girl you ever saw," answered Mickey, "with a bad
back so that she hasn't ever walked; and she's so sweet--she's the only
thing I've got to love, so I love her 'til it hurts. Her back is one
thing I'm saving for. I'm going to have it Carreled as soon as I get
money, and she grows strong enough to stand it."

"'Carreled?'" queried Douglas wonderingly.

"You know the man who put different legs on a dog?" said Mickey. "I
often read about him in papers I sell. I think he can fix her back. But
not yet. A Sunshine Nurse I know says nobody can help her back 'til she
grows a lot stronger and fatter. She has to have milk and be rubbed
with oil, and not be jerked for a while before it's any use to begin on
her back."

"And has she the milk and the oil and the kindness?"

"You just bet she has," said Mickey. "Her family tends to that. And she
has got a bed, and a window, and her Precious Child, and a slate, and
books."

"That's all right then," said Douglas. "Any time you see she needs
anything Mickey, I'd be glad if you would tell me or Miss Winton. She
loves to do kind things to little sick children to make them happier."

"So do I," said Mickey. "And Lily is _my_ job. But that isn't robbing
Miss Joy Lady. She can love herself to death if she wants to on
hundreds of little, sick, cold, miserable children, in every cellar and
garret and tenement of the east end of Multiopolis. The only kind thing
God did for them out there was to give them the first chance at
sunrise. Multiopolis hasn't ever followed His example by giving them
anything."

"You mean Miss Winton can find some other child to love and care for?"
asked Douglas.

"Sure!" said Mickey emphatically. "It's hands off Lily. Her family is
taking care of her, so she's got all she needs right now."

"That's good!" said Bruce. "Here we unload."

They entered a building and exchanged the books they carried for others
which Douglas selected with care, then returning to the office, locked
them in a safe.

"Now I am driving to the golf grounds for an hour's play," said
Douglas. "Will you go and caddy for me?"

"I never did. I don't know how," answered Mickey.

"You can learn, can't you?" suggested Douglas.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I've seen boys carrying golf clubs that hadn't
enough sense to break stone right. I can learn, but my learning might
spoil your day's sport."

"It would be no big price to pay for an intelligent caddy," replied
Douglas.

"Mr. Bruce, what price is an intelligent caddy worth?"

"Our Scotch Club pays fifty cents a game and each man employs his own
boy if he chooses. The club used to furnish boys, but since the Big
Brother movement began, so many of the men have boys in their offices
they are accustomed to, and want to give a run over the hills after the
day's work, that the rule has been changed. I can employ you, if you
want to serve me."

"I'd go to the _country_ in the car with you, every day you play, and
carry your clubs?" asked Mickey wonderingly.

"Yes," answered Douglas.

"Over real hills, where there's trees, grass, cows and water?"
questioned Mickey.

"Yes," repeated Douglas.

"What time would we get back?" he asked.

"Depends on how late I play, and whether I have dinner at the club
house, say seven as a rule, maybe ten or later at times."

"Nothing doing!" said Mickey promptly. "I got to be home at six by the
clock every day, even if we were engaged in 'hurling back the enemy.'
See?"

"But Mickey! That spoils everything!" cried Douglas. "Of course you
could work for me the remainder of the day if you wanted to, and I
could keep my old clubhouse caddy, but I want _you_. You want the ride
in the country, you want the walk, you _need_ the change and
recreation. You are not a real boy if you don't want that!"

"I'm so real, I'm two boys if _wanting_ it counts, but it doesn't!"
said Mickey. "You see I got a _job_ for evening. I'm promised. I'd
rather do what you want than anything I ever saw or heard of, except
just this. I've given my word, and I'm depended on. I couldn't give up
this work, and I wouldn't, if I could. Even golf ain't in it with this
job that I'm on."

"What is your work Mickey?"

"Oh I ain't ever exactly certain," said Mickey. "Sometimes it is one
thing, sometimes it is another, but always it's something, and it's
work for a party I couldn't disappoint, not noways, not for all the
golf in the world."

"You are sure?" persisted Douglas.

"Dead sure with no changing," said Mickey.

"All right then. I'm sorry!" exclaimed Douglas.

"So am I," said Mickey. "But not about the job!"

Douglas laughed. "Well come along this evening and look on. I'll be
back before six and I'll run you where we did last night, if that is
close your home."

"Thanks," said Mickey. "I'd love to, but you needn't bother about
taking me home. I can make it if I start at six. Shall I take the
things back to the café?" "Let them go until morning," said Douglas.

"What becomes of the little cakes?"

"Their fate is undecided. Have you any suggestions?"

"I should worry!" he exclaimed. "They'd fit my pocket. I could hike
past the hospital and ask the Sunshine Lady; if she said so, I could
take them to Lily. Bet she never tasted any like them. If it's between
her and the café selling them over, s'pose she takes the cake?"

Mickey's face was one big insinuating, suggestive smile. Douglas' was
another.

"Suppose she does," he agreed.

"I must wrap them," said Mickey. "Have to be careful about Lily. If
she's fed dirty, wrong stuff, it will make fever so her back will get
worse instead of better."

"Will a clean envelope do?" suggested Douglas.

"That would cost you two cents," said Mickey. "Haven't you something
cheaper?"

"What about a sheet of paper?" hazarded Douglas.

"Fine!" said Mickey, "and only half as expensive."

So they wrapped the little cakes and closed the office. Then Douglas
said: "Now this ends work for the day. Next comes playtime."

"Then before we begin to play we ought to finish business," said
Mickey. "I have been thinking over what you said the other day, and
while I was right about some of it, I was mistaken about part. I ain't
changing anything I said about Minturn men and his sort, and
millyingaire men and their sort; but you ain't that kind of a man----"

"Thank you, Mickey," said Douglas.

"No you ain't that _kind_ of a man," continued Mickey. "And you are
just the kind of a man I'd _like_ to be; so if the door ain't shut,
guess I'll stick around afternoons."

"Not all day?" inquired Douglas.

"Well you see I am in the paper business and that takes all morning,"
explained Mickey. "I can always finish my first batch by noon, lots of
times by ten; from that on to six I could work for you."

"Don't you think you could earn more with me, and in the winter at
least, be more comfortable?" asked Douglas.

"Winter!" cried Mickey, his face whitening.

"Yes," said Douglas. "The newsboys always look frightfully cold in
winter."

"Winter!" It was a piteous cry.

"What is it, Mickey?" questioned Bruce kindly.

"You know I _forgot_ it," he said. "I was so took up with what I was
doing, and thinking right now, that I forgot a time ever was coming
when it gets blue cold, and little kids freeze. Gee! I almost wish I
hadn't thought of it. I guess I better sell my paper business, and come
with you all day. I _know_ I could earn more. I just sort of _hate_ to
give up the papers. I been at them so long. I've had such a good time.
'I like to sell papers!' That's the way I always start my cry, and I
do. I just love to. I sell to about the same bunch every morning, and
most of my men know me, and they always say a word, and I like the rush
and excitement and the things that happen, and the looking for chances
on the side----"

"There's messenger work in my business."

"I see! I like that! I like your work all right," said Mickey. "Gimme a
few days to sell my route to the best advantage I can, and I'll come
all day. I'll come for about a half what you are paying now."

"But you admit you need money urgently."

"Well not so urgently as to skin a friend to get it--not even with the
winter I hadn't thought of coming. Gee--I don't know just what I am
going to do about that."

"For yourself, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.

"Well in a way, yes," hesitated Mickey. "There are things to _think_
about! Gee I got to hump myself while the sun shines! If you say so,
then I'll get out of the paper business as soon as I can; and I'll
begin work for you steady at noon to-morrow. I've seen you pay out over
seven to-day. I'll come for six. Is it a bargain?"

"No," said Douglas, "it isn't! The janitor bill was for a week of
half-done work. The messenger bill was for two days, no caddying at
all. If you come you will come for not less than eight and what you
earn extra over that. I don't agree to better service for less pay. If
you will have things between us on a commercial basis, so will I."

"Oh the Big Brother business would be all right--with you," conceded
Mickey, "but I don't just like the way it's managed, mostly. God didn't
make us brothers no more than he did all men, so we better not butt in
and try to fix things over for Him. Looks to me like we might cut the
brother business and just be _friends_. I could be an awful good
_friend_ to you, honest I could!"

"And I to you Mickey," said Douglas Bruce, holding out his hand. "Have
it as you will. Friends, then! Look for you at noon to-morrow. Now we
play. Hop in and we'll run to my rooms and get my clubs."

"Shall I sit up with your man?" asked Mickey.

"My friends sit beside me," said Douglas. Mickey spoke softly: "Yes,
but if I watched him sharp, maybe I could get the hang of driving for
you. Think what a lump that would save. When I'm going, I'd love to
drive, just for the fun of it."

"And I wouldn't allow you to drive for less than I pay him," said
Douglas.

"I don't see why!" exclaimed Mickey.

"When you grow older and know me better, you will."

While the car was running its smoothest, while the country Mickey had
not seen save on rare newsboy excursions, flashed past, while the
wonder of the club house, the links, and the work he would have loved
to do developed, he shivered and cried in his tormented little soul:
"Gee, how will I ever keep Lily warm?" Douglas noticed his abstraction
and wondered. He had expected more appreciation of what Mickey was
seeing and doing; he was coming to the realization that he would find
out what was in the boy's heart in his own time and way. On the home
run, when Douglas reached his rooms, he told the driver to take Mickey
to the end of the car line; the boy shyly interposed to ask if he might
go to the "Star of Hope Hospital," so Douglas changed the order.

Mickey's passport held good at the hospital. The Sunshine Nurse
inspected the cakes and approved them. She was so particular she even
took a tiny nibble of one and said: "Sugar, flour, egg and
shortening--all right Mickey, those can't hurt her. And how is she
to-day?"

"Fine!" cried Mickey. "She is getting a lot stronger already. She can
sit up longer and help herself better, and she's got ribbons, the
prettiest you ever laid eyes on, that a lady gave me for her hair, and
they make her pink and nicer; and she's got a baby doll in long clean
white dresses to snuggle down and stay with her all day; and she's got
a slate, and a book, and she knows 'cow' and 'milk' and my name, and
to-day she is learning 'bread.' To-morrow I am going to teach her
'baby,' and she can say her prayer too nice for anything, once we got
it fixed so she'd say it at all."

"What did you teach her, Mickey?"

"'Now I lay me,' only Lily wouldn't say it the way She taught me. You
see Lily was all alone with her granny when she winked out and it
scared her most stiff, so when I got to that 'If I should die before I
wake,' line, she just went into fits, and remembering what I'd seen
myself, I didn't blame her; so I changed it for her 'til she liked it."

"Tell me about it, Mickey?" said the nurse.

"Well you see she has a window, so she can see the stars and the sun.
She knows them, so I just shifted the old sad, scary lines to:

"_Guard me through the starry night, Wake me safe with sunshine
bright!_"

"But Mickey, that's lovely!" cried the nurse. "Wait till I write it
down! I'll teach it to my little people. Half of them come here knowing
that prayer and when they are ill, they begin to think about it. Some
of them are old enough to worry over it. Why you're a poet, Mickey!"

"Sure!" conceded Mickey. "That's what I'm going to be when I get
through school. I'm going to write a poetry piece about Lily for the
first sheet of the _Herald_ that'll be so good they'll pay me to write
one every day, but all of them will be about her."

"Mickey, is there enough of such a little girl to furnish one every
day?" asked the nurse.

"Surest thing you know!" cried Mickey enthusiastically. "Why there are
the hundred gold rings on her head, one for each; and her eyes, tender
and teasy, and sad and glad, one for each; and the colour of them
different a dozen times a day, and her little white face, and her lips,
and her smile, and when she's good, and when she's bad; why Miss,
there's enough of Lily for a book big as Mr. Bruce's biggest law book."

"Well Mickey!" cried the girl laughing. "There's no question but you
will write the poetry, only I can't reconcile it with the kind of a
hustler you are. I thought poets were languid, dreamy, up-in-the-clouds
kind of people."

"So they are," explained Mickey. "_That_ comes later. First I got to
hustle to get Lily's back Carreled and us through school, and ready to
_write_ the poetry; then it will take so much dreaming to think out
what is nicest about her, and how to say it best, that it would make
any fellow languid--you can see how that would be!"

"Yes, I see!" conceded the nurse. "Mickey, by Carreling her back, do
you mean Dr. Carrel?"

"Sure!" cried Mickey. "You see I read a lot about him in the papers I
sell. He's the biggest man in the _world! He's bigger than emperors and
kings!_ They--why the biggest thing they can _do_ is to kill all their
strongest, bravest men. He's so much bigger than kings, that he can
take men they shoot to pieces and put them together again. Killing men
ain't much! Anybody can do killing! Look at him making folks live!
_Gee, he's big!_"

"And you think he can make Lily's back better?"

"Why I _know_ he can!" said Mickey earnestly. "That wouldn't be a
patching to what he _has_ done! Soon as you say she is strong enough,
I'm going to write to him and tell him all about her, and when I get
the money saved, he'll come and fix her. Sure he will!"

"If you could get to him and tell him yourself, I really believe he
would," marvelled the nurse. "But you see it's like this, Mickey: when
men are as great as he is, just thousands of people want everything of
them, and write letters by the hundreds, and if all of them were read
there would be time for nothing else, so a secretary opens the mail and
decides what is important, and that way the big people don't always
know about the ones they would answer if they were doing it. He's been
here in this very hospital; I've seen him operate once. Next time a
perfectly wonderful case comes in, that is in his peculiar line, no
doubt he will be notified and come again. Then if I could get word to
you, and you could get Lily here, possibly--just possibly he would
listen to you and look at her--of course I can't say surely he
would--but I think he would!"

"Why of course he would!" triumphed Mickey. "Of course he would! He'd
be tickled to pieces! He'd just love to! Any man would! Why a white
little flowersy-girl who can't walk----!"

"If you could reach him, I really think he would," said the nurse
positively.

"Well just you gimme a hint that he's here, and see if I don't get to
him," said Mickey.

"Is there any place I'd be certain to find you quickly, if a chance
should come?" she asked. "One never can tell. He might not be here in
years, but he might be called, and come, to-morrow."

"Why yes!" cried Mickey. "Why of course! Why the telephone! Call me
where I work!"

"But I thought you were a 'newsy!'" said the nurse.

"Well I was," explained Mickey lifting his head, "but I've give up the
papers. I've graduated. I'm going to sell out tomorrow. I'm going to
work permanent for Mr. Douglas Bruce. He's the biggest lawyer in
Multiopolis. He's got an office in the Iriquois Building, and his call
is 500-X. Write that down too and put it where you can't lose it. He's
just a grand man. He asked about Lily to-day. He said any time he'd do
things for her. Sure he would! He'd stop saving the taxpayers of
Multiopolis, and take his car, and go like greased lightning for a
little sick girl. He's the grandest man and he's got a Joy Lady that
puts in most of her time making folks happy. Either of them would! Why
it's too easy to talk about! You call me, I take a car and bring her
scooting! If I'd see Lily standing on her feet, stepping right out like
other folks, I'd be so happy I'd almost bust wide open. Honest I would!
If he _does_ come, you'd try _hard_ to get me a chance, wouldn't you?"

"I'd try as hard for you as I would for myself Mickey; I couldn't
promise more," she said.

"Lily's as good as fixed," exulted Mickey. "Why there is that big easy
car standing down in the street waiting to take me home right now."

"Does Douglas Bruce send you home in his car?"

"Oh no, not regular! This is extra! Work is over for to-day so we went
to the golf links; then he lets his man take me while he bathes and
dresses to go to his Joy Lady. Gee, I got to hurry or I'll make the car
late; but I can talk with you all you will. I can send the car back and
walk or hop a 'tricity-wagon."

"Which is a street car?" queried the nurse.

"Sure!" said Mickey.

"Well go hop it!" she laughed. "I can't spare more time now, but I
won't forget, Mickey; and if he comes I'll keep him till you get here,
if I have to chain him."

"You go to it!" cried Mickey. "And I'll begin praying that he comes
soon, and I'll just pray and pray so long and so hard, the Lord will
send him quick to get rid of being asked so constant. No I won't
either! Well wouldn't that rattle your slats?"

"What, Mickey?" asked the nurse.

"Why don't you _see?_" cried Mickey.

"No, I don't see," admitted the girl.

"Well I do!" said Mickey. "What would be square about that? Why that
would be asking the Lord to make maybe some other little girl so sick,
the Carrel man would be sent for, so I'd get my chance for Lily. That
ain't business! I wouldn't have the cheek! What would the Lord _think_
of me? He wouldn't come in a mile of _doing_ it. I wouldn't come in ten
miles of having the nerve to ask him. I do get up against it 'til my
head swims. And there is _winter_ coming, too!"

The nurse put her arm around Mickey again, and gently propelled him
toward the elevator.

"Mickey," she said softly, her lips nipping his fair hair, "God doesn't
give many of us your clear vision and your big heart. I'd have asked
him that, with never a thought of who would have to be ill to bring Dr.
Carrel here. But I'll tell you. You can pray _this_ with a clean
conscience: you can ask God if the doctor _does_ come, to put it into
his heart to hear you, and to examine Lily. That wouldn't be asking ill
for anyone else so that you might profit by it. And dear laddie, don't
worry about _winter_. This city is still taking care of its taxpayers.
You do your best for Lily all summer, and when winter comes, if you're
not fixed for it, I will see what your share is and you can have it in
a stove that will burn warm a whole day, and lots of coal, _plenty_ of
it. I know I can arrange that."

"Gee, you're great!" he cried. "This is the biggest thing that ever
happened to me! I see now what I can ask Him on the square; so it's
_business_ and all right; and Mr. Bruce or Miss Leslie will loan me a
car, and if you see about the stove and the coal the city has for
me"--in came Mickey's royal flourish--"why dearest Nurse Lady, Lily is
as good as walking right now! Gee! In my place would you tell her?"

"I surely would," said the nurse. "It will do her good. It will give
her hope. Dr. Carrel isn't the only one who can perform miracles; if he
_doesn't_ come by the time Lily is strong enough to bear the strain of
being operated, we can try some other great man; and if she is shy, and
timid from having been alone so much, expecting it will make it easier
for her. By the way, wait until I bring some little gifts, I and three
of my friends have made for her in our spare time. I think your
mother's night dresses must be big and uncomfortable for her, even as
you cut them off. Try these. Give her a fresh one each day. It is going
to be dreadfully hot soon. When she has used two, bring them here and
I'll have them washed for you."

"Now nix on that!" said Mickey. "You're a shining angel bright to sew
them for her, I'm crazy over them, but I wash them. Mother showed me.
That will be _my_ share. I can do it fine. And they _will_ be better!
She's so lost in mother's, I have to shake them to find her!"

They laughed together, then Mickey sped to the sidewalk and ordered the
car back.

"I've been too long," he said. "Nurse Lady had some things to tell me
about a little sick girl and I was glad to miss my ride for them. Mr.
Bruce will be ready by now. You go where he told you."

"I got twenty-seven minutes yet," said the driver. "I can take you at
least almost there. Hop in."

"Mither o' Mike!" cried Mickey. "Is _that_ all there is to it? Gee, how
I'd like to have a try at it."

"Are you going to be in Mr. Bruce's office from now on?" asked the
driver.

"If I can sell my paper line," answered Mickey.

"Got a good route?" inquired the man.

"Best of any boy in my district," said Mickey. "I _like_ to sell
papers. I got it down fine!"

"I guess you have," said the driver. "I know your voice, and everybody
on your street knows that cry. Your route ought to be worth a fair
price. I got a kid that wants a paper start. What would you ask to take
him over your round and tell the men you are turning your business over
to him, and teach him your cries?"

"Hum-m-m-m!" said Mickey. "My cry is whatever has the biggest headlines
on the front page, mixed in with a lot of joyous fooling, and I'd have
to see your boy 'fore I'd say if I could teach him. Is he a clean kid
with a joyous face, and his anatomy decorated with a fine large hump?
That's the only kind that gets my job. I won't have my nice men made
sore all day 'cause they start it by seeing a kid with a boiled-owl
face."

"You think a happy face sells most papers?"

"Know it!" said Mickey, "'cause I wear it on the job, and I get away
with the rest of them three times and coming. Same everywhere as with
the papers. A happy face would work with your job, if you'd loosen up a
link or two, and tackle it. It may crack your complexion, if you start
too violent, but taking it by easy runs and greasing the ways 'fore you
cut your cable, I believe you'd survive it!"

Mickey flushed and grinned in embarrassment when people half a block
away turned to look at his driver, and the boy's mouth opened as a
traffic policeman smiled in sympathy when he waved his club, signalling
them to cross. Mickey straightened up reassured.

"_Did you get that?_" he inquired.

"I got it!" said the driver. "But it won't ever happen again. McFinley
has been on that crossing for five years and that's his first smile on
the job."

"Then make it your business to see that it ain't his _last!_" advised
Mickey. "There's no use growing morgue lines on your mug; with all May
running wild just to please you and the man in the moon; loosen up, if
you have to tickle your liver with a torpedo to start you!"

"You brass monkey!" said the driver. "You climb down right here, before
I'm arrested for a plain drunk."

"Don't you think it," called Mickey. "If you like your job, man, cotton
up to it; chuckle it under the chin, and get real familiar. See? Try
grin, 'stead of grouch just one day and watch if the whole world
doesn't look better before night."

"Thanks kid, I'll think it over!" promised the driver.

Mickey hurried home to Peaches. He hid the cake and the hospital box
under the things he bought for supper and went to her with empty hands.
He could see she was tired and hungry, so he gave her a drink of milk,
and proceeded to the sponge bath and oil rub. These rested and
refreshed her so that Mickey demanded closed eyes, while he slipped the
dainty night-robe over her head, and tied the pink ribbon on her curls.
Then he piled the pillows, leaned her against them and brought the
mirror.

"Now open your peepers, Flowersy-girl, and tell me how Miss O'Halloran
strikes you!" he exulted.

Peaches took one long look. She opened her mouth. Then she turned to
Mickey and shut her mouth; shut it and clapped both hands over it; so
that he saw the very act of strangling a phrase he would have condemned.

"That's a nice lady!" he commented in joy. "Now let me tell you! You
got four of these gorgeous garments, each one made by a different
nurse-lady, while she was resting. Every day you get a clean one, and I
wash the one you wore last, careful and easy not to tear the lacy
places. Ain't they the gladdest rags you ever saw!"

Peaches gasped: "Mickey, I'll bust!"

"Go on and bust then!" conceded Mickey. "Bust if you must; but don't
you dare say no words that ain't for the ladiest of ladies, in that
beautiful, softy, white dress."

Peaches set her lips, stretching her arms widely. She sat straighter
than Mickey ever had seen her, lifting her head higher. Gradually a
smile crept over her face. She was seeing a very pinched, white little
girl, with a shower of yellow curls bound with a pink ribbon tied in a
big bow; wearing a dainty night dress with a fancy yoke run with pink
ribbons tied under her chin and at her elbows. She crooked an arm,
primped her mouth, and peered at the puffed sleeves, then hastily
gulped down whatever she had been tempted to say.

Again Mickey approved. Despite protests he removed the mirror, then put
the doll in her arms. "Now you line up," he said. "Now you look alike!
After you get your supper, comes the joy part for sure."

"More joyous than this?" Peaches surveyed herself.

"Yes, Miss! The joyousest thing of all the world that could happen to
you," he said.

"But Mickey-lovest!" she cried in protest. "You know--_you know_--what
_that_ would be!"

"Sure I know!" said Mickey.

"I don't believe it! It never could!" she cried.

"There you go!" said Mickey in exasperation. "You make me think of them
Texas bronchos kicking at everything on earth, in the Wild West shows
every spring. Honest you do!"

"Mickey, you forgot my po'try piece to-night!" she interposed hastily.

"What you want a poetry piece for with such a dress and ribbon as you
got?" he demanded.

"I like the po'try piece _better_ than the dress or the ribbon," she
asserted positively.

"You'll be saying better than the baby, next!"

"Yes, an' better than the baby!"

"You look out Miss," marvelled Mickey. "You got to tell true or you
can't be my family."

"Sure and true!" said Peaches emphatically.

"Well if I ever!" cried Mickey. "I didn't think you was _that_ silly!"

"'Tain't silly!" said Peaches. "The po'try pieces is _you!_ 'Tain't
silly to like _you_ better than a dress, and a ribbon, or a Precious
Child. I want my piece now!"

"Well I've been so busy to-day, I forgot your piece, said Mickey.
"'Nough things have happened to make me forget my head, if 'twasn't
fast. I forgot your piece. I thought you'd like the dress and the
joyous thing better."

"Then you _didn't_ forget it!" cried Peaches. "You thought something
else, and you thought what ain't! So there! I _want_ my po'try piece!"

"Well do you want it worse than your supper?" demanded Mickey.

"Yes I do!" said Peaches.

"Well use me for a mop!" cried Mickey. "Then you'll have to wait 'til I
make one."

"Go on and make it!" ordered the child.

"Well how do you like this?"

"_Once a stubborn little kicker, Kicked until she made me snicker. If
she had wings, she couldn't fly, 'Cause she'd be too stubborn to try._"

A belligerent look slowly spread over Peaches' face.

"_That's_ no po'try piece," she scoffed, "an' I don't like it at all,
an' I won't write it on my slate; not if I never learn to write
anything. Mickey-lovest, please make a _nice_ one to save for my book.
It's going to have three on ev'ry page, an' a nice piece o' sky like
right up there for backs, and mebby--mebby a cow on it!"

"Sure a cow on it," agreed Mickey. "I saw a lot to-day! I'll tell you
after supper. Gimme a little time to think. I can't do nice ones right
off."

"You did that one right off," said Peaches.

"Sure!" answered Mickey. "I was a little--a little--per_voked!_ And you
said that wasn't a _nice_ one."

"And so it wasn't!" asserted Peaches positively.

"If I have a nice one ready when I bring supper, will that do?"
questioned Mickey.

"Yes," said Peaches. "But I won't eat my supper 'til I have it."

"Now don't you get too bossy, Miss Chicken," warned Mickey. "There's a
surprise in this supper like you never had in all your life. I guess
you'd eat it, if you'd see it."

"I wouldn't 'til I had my po'try piece."

In consideration of the poetry piece Mickey desisted. The inference was
too flattering. Between narrowed lids he looked at Lily. "You fool
sweet little kid," he muttered. Then he prepared supper. When he set it
on the table he bent over and taking both hands he said gently:

"_Flowersy-girl of moonbeam white, Golden head of sunshine bright,
Dancing eyes of sky's own blue, No other flower in the world like you._"

"Get the slate!" cried Peaches. "Get the slate! Now _that's_ a po'try
piece. That's the best one yet. I'm going to put that right under the
cow!"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I think that's the best yet myself. You see, you
make them come better every time, 'cause you get so much sweeter every
day."

"Then why did you make the bad one?" she pouted.

"Well every time you just yell 'I won't,' without ever giving me a
chance to tell you _what_ I'm going to do, or why," explained Mickey.
"If only you'd learn to wait a little, you'd do better. If I was to
tell you that Carrel man was at the door with a new back for you, if
you turn over and let him put it in, I s'pose you'd yell: 'I won't!'"

The first tinge of colour Mickey had seen, almost invisibly faint,
crept to the surface of Peaches' white cheek.

"Just you try it, Mickey-lovest!" she exclaimed.

"Finish your supper, and see what I try."

Peaches obeyed. She had stopped grabbing and cramming. She ate slowly,
masticating each morsel as the nurse told Mickey she should. To-night
he found her so dainty and charming, as she instinctively tried to be
as nice as her dress and supper demanded, that he forgot himself, until
she reminded him. Then he rallied and ate his share. He presented the
cakes, and while they enjoyed them he described every detail of the day
he thought would interest her, until she had finished. He told her of
the nurse and the dresses and when she wanted to see the others he
said: "No sir! You got to wait till you are bathed and dressed each
evening, and then you can see yourself, and that will be more fun than
taking things all at once. You needn't think I'm coming in here _every_
night with a great big lift-the-roof surprise for you. Most nights
there won't be anything for you only me, and your supper."

"But Mickey, them's the nicest nights of all!" said Peaches. "I like
thinking about you better than nurse-ladies, or joy-ladies, or my back,
even; if it wasn't for having supper ready to _help_ you."

"There you go again!" exclaimed Mickey. "Cut that stuff out, kid!
You'll get me so broke up, I won't be fit for nothing but poetry, and
that's tough eating; there's a lot must come, 'fore I just make a
business of it. Now Miss, you brace up, and get this: the Carrel man
has been in this very burg. See! Our Nurse Lady at the 'Star of Hope'
has watched him making some one over. Every time anybody is brought
there with a thing the matter with them, that he knows best how to
cure, the big head knifers slip it over to him, so he comes and does it
to get practice on the job. He _may_ not come for a long time; he
_might_ come to-morrow. See?"

"Oh Mickey! Would he?" gasped Peaches.

"Why sure he would!" cried Mickey with his most elaborate flourish.
"Sure he would! That's what he lives for. He'd be tickled to pieces to
make over the back of a little girl that can't walk. Sure he would!
What I ain't sure of is that you wouldn't gig back and say, 'I won't!'
if you had a chance to be fixed."

Peaches spoke with deliberate conviction: "Mickey, I'm most _sure_ I've
_about_ quit that!"

"Well, it's time!" said Mickey. "What you got to do is to eat, and
sleep, and be bathed, and rubbed, and get so big and strong that when I
come chasing up the steps and say, 'He's here, Lily, clap your arms
around my neck and come to the china room and the glass table and be
fixed,' you just take a grip and never open your head. See! You can be
a game little kid, the gamest I ever saw, you will then, Lily, won't
you?"

"Sure!" she promised. "I'll just grab you and I'll say, 'Go Mickey, go
h----!"

"Wope! Wope there lady!" interposed Mickey. "Look out! There's a
subm'rine coming. Sink it! Sink it!"

"Mickey what's a subm'rine?" asked Peaches.

"Why it's like this," explained Mickey. "There's places where there's
water, like I bring to wash you, only miles and miles of it, such a
lot, it's called an ocean----"

"Sure! 'Crost it where the kings is makin' people kill theirselves,"
cried Peaches.

"Yes," agreed Mickey. "And on the water, sailing along like a lady, is
a big, beautiful ship. Then there's a nasty little boat that can creep
under the water. It slips up when she doesn't know it's coming, and
blows a hole in the fine ship and sinks her all spoiled. But if the
nice ship sees the subm'rine coming and sinks it, why then she stays
all nice, and isn't spoiled at all. See?"

"Subm'rines spoil things?" ventured Peaches.

"They were just _invented_ for that, and nothing else."

"Mickey, I'll just say, 'Hurry! Run fast!' Mickey, can you carry me
that far?" she asked anxiously.

"No, I can't carry you that far," admitted Mickey. "But Mr. Douglas
Bruce, that we work for after this, will let me take his driver and his
nice, easy car, and it will beat streetcars a mile, and we'll just go
sailing for the 'Star of Hope' and get your back made over, and then
comes school and everything girls like. See?"

"Mickey, what if he never comes?" wavered Peaches.

"Yes, but he _will!_" said Mickey positively.

"Mickey, what if he should come, an' wouldn't even _look_ at my back?"
she pursued.

"Why, he'd be _glad_ to!" cried Mickey. "Don't be silly. Give the man
some chance!"



CHAPTER IX


_James Jr. and Malcolm_


Nellie Minturn returned to her room too dazed to realize her suffering.
She had intended doing something; the fringed orchids reminded her. She
rang for water to put them in, while her maid with shaking fingers
dressed her, then ordered the car. The girl understood that some
terrible thing had happened and offered to go with the woman who moved
so mechanically she proved she scarcely knew what she was doing.

"No," said Mrs. Minturn. "No, the little soul has been out there a long
time alone, her mother had better go alone and see how it is."

She entered the car, gave her order and sank back against the seat.
When the car stopped, she descended and found the gates guarding the
doors of the onyx vault locked. She pushed her flowers between the
bars, dropping them before the doors, then wearily sank on the first
step, leaning her head against the gate, trying to think, but she could
not. Near dawn her driver spoke to her.

"It's almost morning," he said. "You've barely time to reach home
before the city will be stirring."

She paid no attention, so at last he touched her.

"You, Weston?" she asked.

"Yes, Madam," he said. "I'm afraid for you. I ventured to come closer
than you said. Excuse me."

"Thank you Weston," she answered.

"Let me drive you home now, Madam," he begged.

"Just where would you take me if you were taking me home, Weston?"

"Where we came from," he replied.

"Do you think that has ever been a home, Weston?"

"I have thought it the finest home in Multiopolis, Madam," said the
driver in surprise.

She laughed bitterly. "So have I, Weston. And to-day I have learned
what it really is. Help me, Weston! Take me back to the home of my
making."

When he rang for her, she gave him an order: "Find Mr. John Haynes and
bring him here immediately."

"Bring him now, Madam?" he questioned.

"Immediately, I said," she repeated.

"I will try, Madam," said Weston.

"You will bring him at once if he is in Multiopolis," she said with
finality.

Weston knew that John Haynes was her lawyer; he had brought him from
his residence or office at her order many times; he brought him again.
At once John Haynes dismissed all the servants in the Minturn
household, arranged everything necessary, and saw Mrs. Minturn aboard a
train in company with a new maid of his selection; then he mailed a
deed of gift of the Minturn residence to the city of Multiopolis for an
endowed Children's Hospital. The morning papers briefly announced the
departure and the gift. At his breakfast table James Minturn read both
items, then sat in deep thought.

"Not like her!" was his mental comment. "I can understand how that
place would become intolerable to her; but I never knew her to give a
dollar to the suffering. Now she makes a princely gift, not because she
is generous, but because the house has become unbearable; and as usual,
with no thought of any one save herself. If the city dares accept, how
her millionaire neighbours will rage at disease and sickness being
brought into the finest residence district! Probably the city will be
compelled to sell it and build somewhere else. But there is something
fitting in the reparation of turning a building that has been a place
of torture to children, into one of healing. It proves that she has a
realizing sense."

He glanced around the bright, cheerful breakfast room, with its
carefully set, flower-decorated table, at his sister at its head, at a
son on either hand, at a pleasant-faced young tutor on one side, and
his Little Brother on the other; for so had James Minturn ordered his
household.

Mrs. Winslow had left a home she loved to come at her brother's urgent
call for help to save his boys. The tutor had only a few hours of his
position, and thus far his salary seemed the attractive feature. James
Jr. and Malcolm were too dazed to be natural for a short time. They had
been picked up bodily, and carried kicking and screaming to this place,
where they had been dressed in plain durable clothing. Malcolm's bed
stood beside Little Brother's in a big sunny room; James' was near the
tutor's in a chamber the counterpart of the other, save for its
bookcases lining one wall.

There was a schoolroom not yet furnished with more than tables and
chairs, its floors and walls bare, its windows having shades only. When
worn out with the struggle the amazed boys had succumbed to sleep on
little, hard, white beds with plain covers; had awakened to a cold bath
at the hands of a man, and when they rebelled and called for Lucette
and their accustomed clothing, were forcibly dressed in linen and khaki.

In a few minutes together before they were called to breakfast, James
had confided to Malcolm that he thought if they rushed into William's
back with all their strength, on the top step, they could roll him
downstairs and bang him up good. Malcolm had doubts, but he was willing
to try. William was alert, because as many another "newsy" he had known
these boys in the park; so when the rush came, a movement too quick for
untrained eyes to follow swung him around a newel post, while both boys
bumping, screaming, rolled to the first landing and rebounded from a
wall harder than they. When no one hastened at their screams to pick
them up, they arose fighting each other. The tutor passed and James
tried to kick him, merely because he could. He was not there either,
but he stopped for this advice to the astonished boy: "If I were you I
wouldn't do that. This is a free country, and if you have a right to
kick me, I have the same right to kick you. I wouldn't like to do it.
I'd rather allow mules and vicious horses to do the kicking; still if
you're bound to kick, I can; but my foot is so much bigger than yours,
and if I forgot and took you for a football, you'd probably have to go
to the hospital and lie in a plaster cast a week or so. If I were you,
I wouldn't! Let's go watch the birds till breakfast is called, instead."

The invitation was not accepted. The tutor descended alone. As he
stepped to the veranda he met Mr. Minturn.

"Well?" that gentleman asked tersely.

Mr. Tower shook his head. He was studying law. He needed money to
complete his course. He needed many things he could acquire from James
Minturn.

"It's a problem," he said guardedly.

"You draw your salary for its solution," Mr. Minturn said tartly. "Work
on the theory I outlined; if it fails after a fair test, we'll try
another. Those boys have got to be saved. They are handsome little
chaps with fine bodies and good ancestry. What happened just now?"

"They tried to rush William on the top step. William evaporated, so
they took the fall themselves."

"Exactly right," commented Mr. Minturn. "Get the idea and work on it.
Every rough, heartless thing they attempt, if at all possible, make it
a boomerang to strike them their own blow; but you reserve blows as a
last resort. There is the bell." Mr. Minturn called: "Boys! The
breakfast bell is ringing. Come!"

There was not a sound. Mr. Minturn nodded to the tutor. Together they
ascended the stairs. They found the boys hidden in a wardrobe. Mr.
Minturn opened the door, gravely looking at them.

"Boys," he said, "you're going to live with me after this, so you're to
come when I call you. You're going to eat the food that makes _men_ of
boys, where I can see what you get. You are going to do what I believe
best for you, until you are so educated that you are capable of
thinking for yourselves. Now what you must do, is to come downstairs
and take your places at the table. If you don't feel hungry, you
needn't eat; but I would advise you to make a good meal. I intend to
send you to the country in the car. You'll soon want food. With me you
will not be allowed to lunch at any hour, in cafes and restaurants. If
you don't eat your breakfast you will get nothing until noon. It is up
to you. Come on!"

Neither boy moved. Mr. Minturn smiled at them.

"The sooner you quit this, the sooner all of us will be comfortable,"
he said casually. "Observe my size. See Mr. Tower, a college athlete,
who will teach you ball, football, tennis, swimming in lakes and
riding, all the things that make boys manly men; better stop sulking in
a closet and show your manhood. With one finger either of us can lift
you out and carry you down by force; and we will, but why not be
gentlemen and walk down as we do?"

Both boys looked at him; then at each other, but remained where they
were.

"Time is up!" said Mr. Minturn. "They've had their chance, Mr. Tower.
If they won't take it, they must suffer the consequences. Take Malcolm,
I'll bring James."

Instantly both boys began to fight. No one bribed them to stop, struck
them, or did anything at all according to precedent. They raged until
they exposed a vulnerable point, then each man laid hold, lifted and
carefully carried down a boy, placing him on a chair. James instantly
slid to the floor.

"Take James' chair away!" ordered Mr. Minturn. "He prefers to be served
on the floor."

Malcolm laughed.

"I don't either. I slipped," cried James.

"Then excuse yourself, resume your chair, and be mighty careful you
don't slip again."

 James looked at his father sullenly, but at last muttered, "Excuse me,"
and took the chair. With bright inflamed eyes they stared at their
almost unknown father, who now had them in his power; at a woman they
scarcely knew, whom they were told to call Aunt Margaret; at a strange
man who was to take Lucette's place, and who had a grip that made hers
seem feeble, and who was to teach them the things of which they knew
nothing, and therefore hated; and at a boy nearer their own size and
years, whom their father called William. Both boys refused fruit and
cereal, rudely demanding cake and ice cream. Margaret Winslow looked at
her brother in despair. He placidly ate his breakfast, remarking that
the cook was a treasure. As he left the table Mr. Minturn laid the
papers before his sister, indicating the paragraphs he had read, then
calling for his car he took the tutor and the boys and left for his
office. He ordered them to return for him at half-past eleven, and with
minute instructions as to how they were to proceed, Mr. Tower and
William drove to the country to begin the breaking in of the Minturn
boys.

They disdained ball, did not care for football, improvised golf clubs
and a baseball were not interesting, further than the use of the clubs
on each other, which was not allowed. They did not care what the
flowers were, they jerked them up by the roots when they saw it annoyed
Mr. Tower, while every bird in range flew from a badly aimed stone.
They tried chasing a flock of sheep, which chased beautifully for a
short distance, then a ram declined to run farther and butted the
breath from Malcolm's small body until it had to be shaken in again.
They ran amuck and on finding they were not pursued, gave up, stopping
on the bank of a creek. There they espied tiny shining fish swimming
through the water and plunged in to try to capture them. When Mr. Tower
and William came up, both boys were busy chasing fish. From a bank
where they sat watching came a proposal from William.

"I'll tell you fellows, I believe if we could build a dam we could
catch them. Gather stones and pile them up till I get my shoes off."

Instantly both boys obeyed. Mr. Tower and William stripped their feet,
and rolled their trousers. Into the creek they went setting stones,
packing with sod and muck, using sticks and leaves until in a short
time they had a dam before which the water began rising, then
overflowing.

"Now we must wait until it clears," said William.

So they sat under a tree to watch until in the clean pool formed they
could see little fish gathering. Then the boys lay on the banks and
tried to catch them with their hands, and succeeded in getting a few.
Mr. Tower suggested they should make pools, one on each side of the
creek, for their fish, so they eagerly went to work. They pushed and
slapped each other, they fought over the same stone, but each
constructed with his own hands a stone and mud enclosed pool in which
to pen his fish. They were really interested in what they were doing,
they really worked, also soon they were really tired, they were really
hungry. With imperative voice they demanded food.

"You forget what your father told you at breakfast," said Mr. Tower.
"He knew you were coming to the country where you couldn't get food.
William and I are not hungry. We want to catch these little fish, and
see who can get the most. We think it's fun. We can't take the car back
until your father said to come."

"You take us back right now, and order meat, and cake, and salad and
ice cream, lots of it!" stormed James.

"I have to obey your father!" said Mr. Tower.

"I just hate fathers!" cried James.

"I'll wager you do!" conceded Mr. Tower.

James stared open mouthed.

"I can see how you feel," said Mr. Tower companionably. "When a fellow
has been coddled by nurses all his life, has no muscle, no appetite
except for the things he shouldn't have, and never has done anything
but silly park-playing, it must be a great change to be out with men,
and doing as they do."

Both boys were listening, so he went on: "But don't feel badly, and
don't waste breath hating. Save it for the grand fun we are going to
have, and next time good food is before you, eat like men. We don't
start back for an hour yet; see which can catch the most fish in that
time."

"Where is Lucette?" demanded James.

"Gone back to her home across the ocean; you'll never see her again,"
said Mr. Tower.

"Wish I could a-busted her head before she went!" said James
regretfully.

"No doubt," laughed Mr. Tower. "But break your own and see how it feels
before you try it on any one else."

"I wish I could break yours!" cried James angrily.

"No doubt again," agreed the tutor, "but if you do, the man who takes
my place may not know how to make bows and arrows, or build dams, or
anything that's fun, while he may not be so patient as I am."

"Being hungry ain't fun," growled Malcolm.

"That's your own fault," Mr. Tower reminded him. "You wouldn't eat.
That was a good breakfast."

"Wasn't a thing Lucette gave us!" scoffed James.

"But you don't like Lucette very well," said Mr. Tower. "After you've
been a man six months, you won't eat cake for breakfast; or much of it
at any time."

"Lucette is never coming back?" marvelled Malcolm.

"Never!" said Mr. Tower conclusively.

"How soon are we going home?" demanded James.

"Never!" replied Mr. Tower. "You are going to live where you were last
night, after this."

"Where is Mamma?" cried Malcolm.

"Gone for the summer," explained Mr. Tower.

"I know. She always goes," said James. "But she took us before. I just
hate it. I like this better. We make no difference to her anyway. Let
her go!"

"Ain't we rich boys any more?" inquired Malcolm.

"I don't know," said Mr. Tower. "That is your father's business. I
think you have as much money as ever, but from now on, you are going to
live like men."

"We won't live like men!" cried both boys.

"Now look here," said Mr. Tower kindly, "you may take my word for it
that a big boy almost ten years old, and another nearly his age, who
can barely read, who can't throw straight, who can't swim, or row, or
walk a mile without puffing like an engine, who begins to sweat over
lifting a few stones, is a mighty poor specimen. You think you are
wonders because you've heard yourself called big, fine boys; you are
soft fatties. I can take you to the park and pick out any number of
boys half your size and age who can make either of you yell for mercy
in three seconds. You aren't boys at all; if you had to get on your
feet and hike back to town, before a mile you'd be lying beside the
road bellowing worse than I've heard you yet. You aren't as tough and
game as half the girls of your age I know."

"You shut your mouth!" cried James in rage. "Mother'll fire you!"

"It is you who are fired, young man," said the tutor. "Your mother is
far away by this time. She left you boys with your father, who pays me
to make _men_ of you, so I'm going to do it. You are big enough to know
that you'll never be men, motoring around with nurses, like small
babies; eating cake and ice cream when your bones and muscles are in
need of stiffening and toughening. William, peel off your shirt, and
show these chaps how a man's muscle should be."

William obeyed, swelling his muscles.

"Now you try that," suggested Mr. Tower to James, "and see how much
muscle you can raise."

"I'm no gutter snipe," he sneered. "I'm a gentleman! I don't need
muscle. I'm never going to work."

"But you've just been working!" cried the tutor. "Carrying those stones
was work, and you'll remember it took both of you to lift one that
William, who is only a little older than you, James, moved with one
hand. You can't _play_ without working. You've got to pull to row a
boat, or hold a horse. You must step out lively to play tennis, or
golf, or to skate, while if you try to swim without work, you'll drown."

"I ain't going to do those things!" retorted James.

"No, you are going to spend your life riding in an automobile with a
nurse, feeding you cake!" scoffed the tutor.

William shouted and turned a cart wheel so flashingly quick that both
boys jumped, James' face coloured a slow red, so the tutor took hope.

"I see that makes you blush," he said. "No wonder! You should be as
tough as leather, and spinning along this creek bank like William.
Instead you are a big, bloated softy. You carry too much fat for your
size, while you are mushy as pudding! If I were you, I'd show my father
how much of a man I could be, instead of how much of a baby."

"Father isn't a gentleman!" announced Malcolm. "Lucette said so!"

"Hush!" cried Mr. Tower. "Don't you ever say that again! Your father is
one of the big men of this great city: one of the men who think, plan,
and make things happen, that result in health, safety and comfort for
all of us. One of the men who is going to rule, not only his own home,
but this city, and this whole state, one of these days. You don't
_know_ your father. You don't know what men say and think of him. You
do know that Lucette was fit for nothing but to wash and dress you like
babies, big boys who should have been _ashamed_ to let a woman wait on
them. You do know that she is on her way back where she came from,
because she could not do her work right. And you have the nerve to tell
me what she said about a fine man like your father. I'm amazed at you!"

"Gentlemen don't work!" persisted Malcolm. "Mother said so!"

"I'm sorry to contradict your mother, but she forgot something," said
Mr. Tower. "If the world has any gentlemen it surely should be those
born for generations of royal and titled blood, and reared from their
cradles in every tradition of their rank. Europe is full of them, and
many are superb men. I know a few. Now will you tell me where they are
to-day? They are down in trenches six feet under ground, shivering in
mud and water, half dead for sleep, food, and rest, trying to save the
land of their birth, the homes they own, to protect the women and
children they love. They are marching miles, being shot down in cavalry
rushes, and blown up in boats they are manning, in their fight to save
their countries. _Gentlemen don't work!_ You are too much of an idiot
to talk with, if you don't know how gentlemen of birth, rank and by
nature are working this very day."

The descent on him was precipitate and tumultuous.

"The war!" shouted both boys in chorus. "Tell us about the war! Oh I
just love the war!" cried Malcolm. "When I'm a man I'm going to have a
big shiny sword, and ride, and fight, and make the enemy fly! You ought
to seen Gretchen and Lucette fight! They ain't either one got much hair
left."

The tutor could not help laughing; but he made room for a boy on either
side of him, and began on the war. It was a big subject, there were
phases of it that shocked and repulsed him; but it was his task to undo
the wrong work of ten years, he was forced to use the instrument that
would accomplish that end. With so much material he could tell of
things unavoidable, that men of strength and courage were doing, not
forgetting the boys and the _women_. William stretched at his feet and
occasionally made a suggestion, or asked a question, while James and
Malcolm were interested in something at last. When it was time to
return, neither wanted to go.

"Your father's orders were to come for him at half-past eleven,"
reminded Mr. Tower. "I work for him, so I must obey!"

"Nobody pays any attention to father," cried James. "I order you to
stay here and tell of the fighting. Tell about the French boy who
wouldn't show where the troops were."

"Oh, I am to take orders from you, am I?" queried Mr. Tower. "All
right! Pay my salary and give me the money to buy our lunch!"

James stood thinking a second. "I have all the money I want," he said.
"I go to Mrs. Ranger for my money. Mother always makes her give me what
I ask for."

"You have forgotten that you have moved, and brought only yourselves,"
said Mr. Tower. "Your mother and the money are gone. Your father pays
the bills now, and if you'll watch sharp, you'll see that things have
changed since this time yesterday. Every one pays all the attention
there is to _father_ now. What we have, and do, and want, must come
from him, and as it's a big contract, and he's needed to help manage
this city, we'd better begin thinking about father, and taking care of
him as much as we can. Now we are to obey him. Come on William. It's
lunch time, and I'm hungry."

The boys climbed into the car without a word, and before it had gone a
mile Malcolm slipped against the tutor and shortly thereafter James
slid to the floor, tired to insensibility and sound asleep. So Mr.
Minturn found them when he came from his office. He looked them over
carefully, wet, mud-stained, grimy, bruised and sleeping in exhaustion.

"Poor little soldiers," he said. "Your battle has been a hard one I
see. I hope to God you gained a victory."

He entered the car, picked up James and taking him in his arms laid the
tired head on his breast, leaning his face against the boy's hair. When
the car stopped at the new house, the tutor waited for instructions.

"Wake them up, make them wash themselves, and come to lunch," said Mr.
Minturn. "Afterward, if they are sleepy, let them nap. They must
establish regular habits at the beginning. It's the only way."

Dashes of cold water helped, so William and the tutor telling each
other how hungry they were, brought two boys ready to eat anything, to
the table. Cake and cream were not mentioned. Bread and milk, cold
meat, salad, and a plain pudding were delicious. Between bites James
studied his father, then suddenly burst forth: "Are you a gentleman?"

"I try to be," answered Mr. Minturn.

"Are you running this city?" put in Malcolm.

"I am doing what I can to help," said his father.

"Make Johnston take me home to get my money."

"You have no home but this," said Mr. Minturn. "Your old home now
belongs to the city of Multiopolis. It is to be torn up and made over
into a place where sick children can be cured. If you are ever too ill
for us to manage, we'll take you there to be doctored."

"Will mother and Lucette be there?" asked James.

Malcolm nudged his brother.

"Can't you remember?" he said. "Lucette has gone across the ocean, and
she is never coming back, goody! goody! And you know about how much
mother cares when we are sick. She's _coming_ the other _way_, when
anybody is _sick_. She just hates sick people. Let _them_ go, and get
your _money!_"

Thus reminded, James began again, "I want to get my money."

"Your money came from your mother, so it went with your home, your
clothes, and your playthings," explained Mr. Minturn. "You have none
until you _earn_ some. I can give you a home, education, and a fine
position when you are old enough to hold it; but I _can't give you
money. No one ever gave me any. I always had to work for mine. From now
on you are going to live with me, so if you have money you'll have to
go to work and earn it_."

Both boys looked aghast at him. "Ain't we rich any more?"

"No," said Mr. Minturn. "Merely comfortable!"

James leaned back in his chair, twisting his body in its smooth linen
covering. He looked intently at the room, table and people surrounding
it. He glanced from the window at the wide green lawn, the big trees,
and for an instant seemed to be listening to the birds singing there.
He laid down his fork, turning to his brother. Then he exploded the
bomb that shattered the family.

"Oh damn being rich!" he cried. "I like being _comfortable_ a _lot_
better! Malcolm, being rich has put us about ten miles behind where we
ought to be. We're baby-girl softies! We wouldn't a-faced the guns and
_not_ told where the soldiers were, _we'd_ a-bellered for cake. Brace
up! Let's get in the game! Father, have we got to go on the street and
hunt work, or can you give us a job?"

James Minturn tried to speak, then pushing back his chair left the
table precipitately. James Jr. looked after him doubtfully. He turned
to Aunt Margaret.

"Please excuse me," he said. "I guess he's choked. I'd better go pound
him on the back like Lucette does us."

Malcolm looked at Aunt Margaret. "Mother won't let us work," he
announced.

"It's like this Malcolm," said Aunt Margaret gently. "Mother had charge
of you for ten years. The women she employed didn't train you as boys
should be, so mother has turned you over to father. For the next ten
years you will try _another_ plan; after that, you will be big enough
to decide how you want to live; but now I think you will just love
father's way, if you will behave yourself long enough to find out what
fun it is."

"Mother won't like it," said Malcolm positively.

"I think she does dear, or she wouldn't have gone and left you to try
it," said Aunt Margaret. "She knew what your father would think you
should do; if she hadn't thought he was _right_ she would have taken
you with her, as before."

"I just hate being taken on trains and boats with her. So does James!
We like the dam, the fish, and we're going to have bows and arrows, to
shoot at mark.

"And we are going to swim and row," added William.

"And we are going to be soldiers, and hurl back the enemy," boasted
Malcolm, "ain't we Mr. Tower?"

"Indian scouts are more fun," suggested the tutor.

"And there is the money we must earn, if we've _got_ to," said Malcolm.
"I guess father is telling James how. I'll go ask him too. Excuse me,
Aunt Margaret!"

"Of all the surprises I ever did have, this is the biggest one!" said
Aunt Margaret. "I was afraid I never could like them. I thought this
morning it would take years."

"There is nothing like the receptivity and plasticity of children,"
said the tutor.

Later James Minturn appeared on his veranda with a small boy clinging
to each hand. The trio came forth with red eyes, but firmly allied.

"Call the car, if you please, William," said Senior. "I am going to
help build that dam higher, and see how many fish I can catch for my
pool."

Malcolm walked beside him, rubbing his head caressingly across an arm.
"We don't have to go on the streets and hunt," he announced. "Father is
going to find us work. While the war is so bad, we'll drink milk, and
send what we earn to boys who have no father. The war won't take our
father, will it?"

"To-night we will pray God not to let that happen," said Aunt Margaret.
"Is there room in the car for me too, James? I haven't seen one of
those little brook fish in years!"

James Jr. went to her and leaned against her chair. "I got three in my
pool. You may see mine! I'll give you one."

"I'd love to see them," said Aunt Margaret. "I'll go bring my hat. But
I think you shouldn't give the fish away, James. They belong to God. He
made their home in the water. If you take them out, you will kill them,
and He won't like that. Let's just look at them, and leave them in the
water."

"Malcolm, the fish 'belong to God,'" said James, turning to his
brother. "We may play with them, but we mustn't take them out of the
water and hurt them."

"Well, who's going to take them out of the water?" cried Malcolm. "I'm
just going to scoot one over into father's pool to start him. Will you
give him one too?" "Yes," said James Jr.

"The next money I earn, I shall send to the war; but the first time I
rake the lawn, and clean the rugs, I'll give what I earn to father, so
he will have more time to play with us. Father is the biggest man in
this city!"

"It may take a few days to get a new régime started," said father,
"I've lived only for work so long; but as soon as it's possible, my day
will be so arranged that some part of it shall be yours, boys, to show
me what you are doing. I think one day can be given wholly to going to
the country."

With an ecstatic whoop they rushed James Minturn, whose wide aching
arms opened to them.



CHAPTER X


_The Wheel of Life_


"What are your plans for this summer, Leslie?" asked Mr. Winton over
his paper at breakfast.

"The real question is, what are yours?"

"I have none," said Mr. Winton. "I can't see my way to making any for
myself. Between us, strictly, Swain has been hard hit. He gave me my
chance in life. It isn't in my skin to pack up and leave for the
sea-shore or the mountains on the results of what he helped me to, and
allow him to put up his fight _alone_. If you understood, you'd be
ashamed of me if I did, Leslie."

"But I do understand, Daddy!" cried the girl. "What makes you think I
don't? All my life you've been telling me how you love Mr. Swain and
what a splendid big thing he did for you when you were young. Is the
war making business awfully hard for you men?"

"Close my girl," said Mr. Winton. "Bed rock close!"

"That is what cramps Mr. Swain?" she continued.

"It is what cramps all of us," said Mr. Winton. "It hit him with
peculiar force because he had made bad investments. He was running
light anyway in an effort to recoup. All of us are on a tension brought
about by the result of political changes, to which we were struggling
to adjust ourselves, when the war began working greater hardships and
entailing millions of loss and expenses."

"I see, and that's why I said the real question was, 'what are your
plans?'" explained Leslie, "because when I find out, if perchance they
should involve staying on the job this summer, why I wanted to tell you
that I'm on the job too. I've thought out the grandest scheme."

"Yes, Leslie? Tell me!" said Mr. Winton.

"It's like this," said Leslie. "Everybody is economizing,
shamelessly--and that's a bully word, Daddy, for in most instances it
is shameless. Open faced 'Lord save me and my wife, and my son John and
his wife.' In our women's clubs and lectures, magazines and sermons,
we've had a steady dose all winter of hard times, and economy, and I've
tried to make my friends see that their efforts at economy are
responsible for the very hardest crux of the hard times."

"You mean, Leslie--?" suggested Mr. Winton eagerly.

"I mean all of us quit using eggs, dealers become frightened, eggs soar
higher. Economize on meat, packers buy less, meat goes up. All of us
discharge our help, army of unemployed swells by millions. It works two
ways and every friend I've got is economizing for herself, and with
every stroke for herself she is weakening her nation's financial
position and putting a bigger burden on the man she is trying to help."

"Well Leslie--" cried her father.

"The time has come for women to find out what it is all about, then put
their shoulders to the wheel of life and push. But before we gain
enough force to start with any momentum, women must get together and
decide what they want, what they are pushing for."

"Have you decided what you are pushing for?"

"Unalterably!" cried the girl.

"And what is it?" asked her father.

"My happiness! My joy in life!" she exclaimed.

"And exactly in what do you feel your happiness consists, Leslie?" he
asked.

"You and Douglas! My home and my men and what they imply!" she answered
instantly. "As I figure it, it's _homes_ that count, Daddy. If the
nation prospers, the birth rate of Americans has got to keep up, or
soon the immigrants will be in control everywhere, as they are in
places, right now. Births imply homes. Homes suggest men to support
them, women to control them. If the present unrest resolves itself into
a personal question, so far as the women are concerned at least, if you
are going to get to primal things, whether she realizes it or no, what
each woman really _wants_ she learns, as Nellie Minturn learned when
she took her naked soul into the swamp and showed it to her God--what
each woman _wants_ is her man, her cave, and her baby. If the world is
to prosper, _that_ is woman's work, why don't you men who are doing big
things _realize_ it, and do yourselves what women are going to be
forced from home to _do_, mighty soon now, if you don't!"

"Well Leslie!" cried Mr. Winton.

"You said that before Daddy!" exclaimed the girl. "Yet what you truly
want of a woman is a home and children. Children imply to all men what
I am to you. If some men have not reared their children so that they
receive from them what you get from me, it is time for the men to
_realize_ this, and change their methods of _rearing_ their daughters
and sons. A home should mean to every man what your home does to you.
If all men do not get from their homes what you do, in most cases it is
_their own fault_. Of course I know there are women so abominably
obsessed with self, they refuse to become mothers, and prefer a café,
with tangoing between courses, to a home; such women should have first
the ducking stool, and if that isn't efficacious, extermination; they
are a disgrace to our civilization and the weakest spot we have. They
are at the bottom of the present boiling discontent of women who really
want to be home loving, home keeping. They are directly responsible for
the fathers, sons, brothers, and lovers with two standards of morals. A
man reared in the right kind of a home, by a real mother, who goes into
other homes of the same kind, ruled by similar mothers, when he leaves
his, and marries the right girl and establishes for himself a real
home, is not going to go _wrong_. It is the sons, lovers, and husbands
of the women who refuse home and children, and carry their men into a
perpetual round of what they deem pleasure in their youth, who find
life desolate when age begins to come, and who instantly rebel
strongest against the very conditions they have made. I've been
listening to you all my life, Daddy, and remembering mother, reading,
thinking, and watching for what really pays, and believe me, _I've
found out_. I gave Nellie Minturn the best in my heart the other day,
but you should see what I got back. Horrors, Daddy! Just plain horrors!
I said to Douglas that night when I read him the letter I afterward
showed you, that if, as she suggested, I was 'ever faintly tempted to
neglect home life for society,' in her I would have all the 'horrible
example' I'd ever need, and rest assured I shall."

"Poor woman!" exclaimed Mr. Winton.

"Exactly!" cried Leslie. "And the poorest thing about it is that _she_
is not to _blame_ in the least. You and my mother could have made the
same kind of a woman of me. If you had fed me cake instead of bread; if
you had given me candy instead of fruit; if you had taken me to the
show instead of entertaining me at home; if you had sent me to summer
resorts instead of summering with me in the country, you'd have had
another Nellie on your hands. The world is full of Nellies, but where
one woman flees too strict and monotonous a home, to make a Nellie out
of herself, ten are taken out and deliberately moulded, drilled and
fashioned into Nellies by their own parents. I have lain awake at
nights figuring this, Daddy; some woman is urging me every day to join
different movements, and I've been forced to study this out. I know the
cause of the present unrest among women."

"And it is--?" suggested Mr. Winton.

"It is the rebound from the pioneer lives of our grandmothers! They and
their mothers were at one extreme; we are at the widest sweep of the
other. They were forced to enter the forest and in most cases defend
themselves from savages and animals; to work without tools, to live
with few comforts. In their determination to save their children from
hardships, they lost sense, ballast and reason. They have saved them to
such an extent they have _lost_ them. By the very method of their
rearing, they have robbed their children of love for, and interest in,
home life, and with their own hands sent them to cafés and dance halls,
when they should be at their homes training their children for the
fashioning of future homes. I tell you, Daddy----"

"Leslie, tell me this," interposed Mr. Winton. "Did you get any small
part of what you have been saying to me, from me? Do you feel what I
have tried to teach you, and the manner in which I have tried to rear
you, have put your love for me into your heart and such ideas as you
are propounding into your head?"

"Of course, Daddy!" cried the girl. "Who else? Mother was dear and
wonderful, but I scarcely remember her. What you put into the growth of
me, that is what is bound to come out, when I begin to live
independently."

"This is the best moment of my life!" said Mr. Winton. "From your birth
you have been the better part of me, to me; and with all my heart I
have _tried_ to fashion you into such a woman for a future home, as
your mother began, and you have completed for me. Other things have
failed me; I count you my success, Leslie!"

"Oh Daddy!" cried the happy girl.

"Now go back to our start," said Mr. Winton. "You have plans for the
summer, of course! I realized that at the beginning. Are you ready to
tell me?"

"I am ready to ask you," she said.

"Thank you," said Mr. Winton. "I appreciate the difference. Surely a
man does enjoy counting for something with his women."

"Spoiled shamelessly, dearest, that's what you are," said Leslie. "A
spoiled, pampered father! But to conclude. Mr. Swain helped you. Pay
back, Daddy, no matter what the cost; pay _back_. You help _him_, I'll
help _you!_ My idea was this: for weeks I've foreseen that you wouldn't
like to leave business this summer. Douglas is delving into that
investigation Mr. Minturn started him on and he couldn't be dragged
away. He's perfectly possessed. Of course where my men are, like Ruth,
'there will be I also,' so for days I've been working on a plan, and
now it's all finished and waiting your veto or approval."

"Thrilling, Leslie! Tell quickly. I'm all agog!"

"It's this: let's not go away and spend big sums on travel, dress, and
close the house, and throw our people out of work. Do you realize,
Daddy, how long you've had the same housekeeper, cook, maid and driver?
Do you know how badly I'd feel to let them go, and risk getting them
back in the fall? My scheme is to rent, for practically nothing, a log
cabin I know, a little over an hour's run from here--a log cabin with
four rooms and a lean-to and a log stable, beside a lake where there is
grand fishing and swimming."

"But Leslie----" protested Mr. Winton.

"Now listen!" cried the girl. "The rent is nominal. We get the house,
stable, orchard, garden, a few acres and a rented cow. The cabin has
two tiny rooms above, one for you, the other for Douglas. Below, it has
a room for me, a dining-room and a kitchen. The big log barn close
beside has space in the hay-mow for the women, and in one side below
for our driver, the other for the cars. Over the cabin is a grapevine.
Around it there are fruit trees. There is a large, rich garden. If I
had your permission I could begin putting in vegetables tomorrow that
would make our summer supply. Rogers----"

"You are not going to tell me Rogers would touch a garden?" queried Mr.
Winton.

"I am going to tell you that Rogers has been with me in every step of
my investigations," replied Leslie. "Yesterday I called in my household
and gave them a lecture on the present crisis; I found them a
remarkably well-informed audience. They had a very distinct idea that
if I economized by dismissing them for the summer, and leaving the
house with a caretaker, what it would mean to _them_. Then I took my
helpers into the car and drove out the Atwater road--you know it well
Daddy, the road that runs smooth over miles of country and then instead
of jumping into a lake as it seems to be going to, it swings into
corduroy through a marsh, runs up on a little bridge spanning the
channel between two lakes, lifts to Atwater lake shore, than which none
is more lovely--you remember the white sand floor and the clean water
for swimming--climbs another hill, and opposite beautiful wood, there
stands the log cabin I told you of, there I took them and explained.
They could clean up in a day; Rogers could plant the garden and take
enough on one truck load, for a beginning. We may have wood for the
fireplace by gathering it from the forest floor. Rogers again!"

"Are you quite _sure_ about Rogers?"

"Suppose you ride with him going down and ask him yourself," suggested
Leslie. "Rogers is anxious to hold his place. You see it's like this:
all of them get regular wages, have a chance at the swimming, rowing,
gardening and the country. The saving comes in on living expenses. Out
there we have the cow, flour, fish, and poultry from the neighbours,
fresh eggs, butter and the garden--I can cut expenses to one-fourth;
lights altogether. Moonshine and candles will serve; cooking fuel,
gasoline. Daddy will you go to-night and see?"

"No, I won't go to-night and see, I'll go swim and fish," said Mr.
Winton. "Great Heavens, Leslie, do you really mean to live all _summer_
beside a lake, where a man can expand, absorb and exercise? I must get
out my fishing tackle. I wonder what Douglas has! I've tried that lake
when bass were slashing around wild thorn and crab trees shedding
petals and bugs. It is man's sport there! I like black bass fishing. I
remember that water. Fine for swimming! Not the exhilaration of salt,
perhaps, but grand, clean, old northern Indiana water, cooled by
springs. I love it! Lord, Leslie! Why don't we _own_ that place? Why
haven't we homed there, and been comfortable for years?"

"I shall go ahead then?" queried Leslie.

"You shall go a-hurry, Miss, hurry!" cried Mr. Winton. "I'll give you
just two days. One to clean, the other to move; to-morrow night send
for me. I want a swim; and cornbread, milk, and three rashers of bacon
for my dinner and nothing else; and can't the maids have my room and
let me have a blanket on the hay?"

"But father, the garden!" cautioned Leslie.

"Oh drat the garden!" cried Mr. Winton.

"But if you go dratting things, I can't economize," the girl reminded
him. "Rogers and I have that garden down on paper, and it's _late_ now."

"Leslie, don't the golf links lie half a mile from there?"

"Closer Daddy," said the girl, "right around the corner."

"I don't see why you didn't think of it before," he said. "Have you
told Douglas?"

"Not a word!" exclaimed Leslie. "I'm going to invite him out when
everything is in fine order."

"Don't make things fine," said Mr. Winton. "Let's have them rough!"

"They will be rough enough to suit you, Daddy," laughed Leslie, "but a
few things have got to be done."

"Then hurry, but don't forget the snake question."

"People are and have been living there for generations; common care is
all that is required," said Leslie. "I'll be careful, but if you tell
Bruce until I am ready, I'll never forgive you."

Mr. Winton arose. "'Come to me arms,'" he laughed, spreading them wide.
"I wonder if Douglas Bruce knows what a treasure he is going to
possess!"

"Certainly not!" said Leslie emphatically. "I wouldn't have him know
for the world! I am going to be his progressive housekeeping party, to
which he is invited every day, after we are married, and each day he
has got a new surprise coming, that I hope he will like. The woman who
endures and wears well in matrimony is the one who 'keeps something to
herself.' It's my opinion that modern marriage would be more
satisfactory if the engaged parties would not come so nearly being
married, for so long before they are. There is so little left for
afterward, in most cases, that it soon grows monotonous."

"Leslie, where did you get all of this?" he asked.

"I told you. From you, mostly," explained the girl, "and from watching
my friends. Go on Daddy! And send Rogers back soon! I want to begin
buying radish seed and onion sets."

So Leslie telephoned Douglas Bruce that she would be very busy with
housekeeping affairs the coming two days. She made a list of what would
be required for that day, left the maids to collect it, and went to buy
seeds and a few tools; then returning she divided her forces and
leaving part to pack the bedding, old dishes and things absolutely
required for living, she took the loaded car and drove to Atwater Lake.

The owner of the land, a cultured, refined gentleman, who spoke the
same brand of English used by the Wintons, and evinced a knowledge of
the same books, was genuinely interested in Leslie and her plans. It
was a land owner's busiest season, but he spared a man an hour with a
plow to turn up the garden, and came down himself and with practiced
hand swung the scythe, and made sure about the snakes. Soon the maids
had the cabin walls swept, the floors scrubbed, the windows washed, and
that was all that could be done. The seeds were earth enfolded in warm
black beds, with flower seeds tucked in for borders. The cut grass was
raked back, and spread to dry for the rented cow.

When nothing further was to be accomplished there, they returned to
Multiopolis to hasten preparations for the coming day. It was all so
good Leslie stopped at her father's office and poured a flood of
cloverbloom, bird notes and water shimmer into his willing ears.

She seldom went to Douglas Bruce's offices, but she ran up a few
moments to try in person to ease what she felt would be disappointment
in not spending the evening with her. The day would be full far into
the night with affairs at home, he would notice the closing of the
house, and she could not risk him spoiling her plans by finding out
what they were, before she was ready. She found him surrounded with
huge ledgers, delving and already fretting for Mickey. She stood
laughing in his doorway, half piqued to find him so absorbed in his
work, and so full of the boy he was missing, that he seemed to take her
news that she was too busy to see him that night with quite too
bearable calmness; but his earnestness about coming the following night
worked his pardon, so Leslie left laughing to herself over the surprise
in store for him.

Bruce bent over his work, praying for Mickey. Everything went wrong
without him. He was enough irritated by the boy who was not Mickey,
that when the boy who was Mickey came to his door, he was delighted to
see him. He wanted to say: "Hello, little friend. Come get in the game,
quickly!" but two considerations withheld him: Mickey's manners were a
trifle too casual; at times they irritated Douglas, and if he took the
boy into his life as he hoped to, he would come into constant contact
with Leslie and her friends, who were cultured people of homing
instincts. Mickey's manners must be polished, and the way to do it was
not to drop to his level, but to improve Mickey. And again, the day
before, he had told Mickey to sit down and wait until an order was
given him. To invite him to "get in the game" now, was good
alliteration; it pleased the formal Scotch ear as did many another
United States phrase of the street, so musical, concise and packed with
meaning as to become almost classic; but in his heart he meant as
Mickey had suspected, "to do him good"; so he must lay his foundations
with care. What he said was a cordial and cheerful, "Good morning!"

"Noon," corrected Mickey. "Right ye are! Good it is! What's my job?
'Scuse me! I won't ask that again!"

"Plenty," Douglas admitted, "but first, any luck with the paper route?"

"All over but killing the boy I sold it to, if he doesn't do right. I
ain't perfectly crazy about him. He's a papa's boy and pretty soft; but
maybe he'll learn. It was a fine chance for me, so I soaked it."

"To whom did you sell, Mickey?" asked Douglas.

"To your driver, for his boy," answered Mickey. "We talked it over last
night. Say, was your driver 'the same continued,' or did you detect
glimmerings of beefsteak and blood in him this morning?"

"Why?" asked Douglas curiously.

"Oh he's such a stiff," explained Mickey. "He looks about as lively as
a salted herring."

"And did you make an effort to enliven him, Mickey?"

"Sure!" cried Mickey. "The operation was highly successful! The patient
made a fine recovery. Right on the job, right on the street, right at
the thickest traffic corner, right at 'dead man's crossing,' he let out
a whoop that split the features of a copper who hadn't smiled in years.
It was a double play and it worked fine. What I want to know is whether
it was fleeting or holds over."

"It must be 'over,' Mickey," said Douglas. "Since you mention it, he
opened the door with the information that it was a fine morning, while
I recall that there was colour on his face, and light in his usually
dull eyes."

"Good!" cried Mickey. "Then there's some hope that his kid may go and
do likewise."

"The boy who takes your route has to smile, Mickey?"

"Well you see most of my morning customers are regulars, so they are
used to it," said Mickey. "The minute one goes into his paper, he's
lost 'til knocking off time; but if he starts on a
real-wide-a-wake-soulful smile, he's a chance of reproducing it, before
the day is over, leastwise he has _more_ chance than if he never
smiles."

"So it is a part of the contract that the boy smiles at his work?"
questioned Douglas.

"_It is so!_" exclaimed Mickey. "I asked Mr. Chaffner at the _Herald_
office what was a fair price for my route. You see I've sold the
_Herald_ from the word go, and we're pretty thick. So he told me what
he thought. It lifted my lid, but when I communicated it to Henry,
casual like, he never batted an eye, so I am going to try his boy 'til
I'm satisfied. If he can swing the job it's a go."

"Your customers should give you a vote of thanks!"

"And so they will!" cried Mickey. "You see the men who buy of me are
the top crust of Multiopolis, the big fine men who can smile, and open
their heads and say a pleasant word, and they like to. It does them
good! I live on it! I always get my papers close home as I can so I
have time coming down on the cars to take a peep myself, and nearly
always there are at least three things on the first page that hit you
in the eye. Once long ago I was in the _Herald_ office with a note to
Chaffner the big chief, and I gave him a little word jostle as I passed
it over. He looked at me and laughed good natured like, so I handed him
this: 'Are you the big stiff that bosses the make-up?' He says,
'Mostly! I can control it if I want to.' 'All right for you,' I said.
'I live by selling your papers, but I could sell a heap more if I had a
better chance.' 'Chance in what way?' said he. 'Building your first
page,' said I. He said, 'Sure. What is it that you want?' 'I'll show
you,' said I. 'I'll give you the call I used this morning.' Then I cut
loose and just like on the street I cried it, and he yelled some
himself. 'What more do you want?' he asked me. 'A lot,' I said. 'You
see I only got a little time on the cars before my men begin to get on,
and my time is precious. I can't read second, third, and forty-eleventh
pages hunting up eye-openers. I must get them _first_ page, 'cause I'm
short time, and got my pack to hang on to. Now makin'-up, if you'd
a-put that "Germans driven from the last foot of Belgian soil," first,
it would a-been better, 'cause that's what every living soul wants.
Then the biggest thing about _ourselves_. Place it prominent in big
black letters, where I get it quick and easy, and then put me in a
scream. Get me a laugh in my call, and I'll sell you out all by myself.
Folks are spending millions per annum for the glad scream at night,
they'll pay just the same morning, give them a chance. I live on a
laugh,' said I, to Chaffner. He looked me over and he said: 'When you
get too big for the papers, you come to me and I'll make a top-notch
reporter out of you.' 'Thanks Boss,' said I, 'you couldn't graft that
job on to me, with asphaltum and a buzz saw. I'm going to be on your
front page 'fore you know it, but it's going to be a poetry piece that
will raise your hair; I ain't going to frost my cake, poking into
folks' private business, telling shameful things on them that half
kills them. Lots of times I see them getting their dose on the cars,
and they just shiver, and go white, and shake. Nix on the printing
about shame, and sin, and trouble in the papers for me!' I said, and he
just laughed and looked at me closer and he said, 'All right! Bring
your poetry yourself, and if they don't let you in, give them this,'
and he wrote a line I got at home yet."

"Is that all about Chaffner?" asked Douglas.

"Oh no!" said Mickey. "He said, 'Well here is a batch of items being
written up for first page to-morrow. According to you, I should give
"Belgian citizens flocking back to search for devastated homes," the
first place?' 'That's got the first place in the heart of every man in
God's world. Giving it first place is putting it where it belongs.'
'Here's the rest of it,' said he, 'what do you want next?' 'At the same
glance I always take, _this_,' said I, pointing to where it said,
'Movement on foot to eliminate graft from city offices.' 'You think
that comes next?' said he. 'Sure!' said I. 'Hits the pocketbook! Sure!
Heart first! Money next!' 'Are you so sure it isn't exactly the
reverse?' asked he. 'Know it!' said I. 'Watch the crowds any day, and
every clip you'll see that loving a man's country, and his home, and
his kids, and getting fair play, comes _before_ money.' 'Yes, I guess
it does!' he said thoughtful like, 'least it _should_. We'll make it
the policy of this paper to put it that way anyhow. What next?' 'Now
your laugh,' said I. 'And while you are at it, make it a scream!' 'All
right,' he said, 'I haven't anything funny in yet, but I'll get it. Now
show me where you want these spaced.' So I showed him, and every single
time you look, you'll see Mr. _Herald_ is made up that way, and you
ought to hear me trolling out that Belgian line, soft and easy,
snapping in the graft quicklike, and then yelling out the scream. You
bet it catches them! If I can't get that kid on to his job, 'spect I'll
have to take it back myself; least if he can't get on, he's doomed to
get off. I gave him a three days' try, and if he doesn't catch by that
time, he never will."

"But how are you going to know?" asked Douglas.

"I'm going down early and follow him and drill him like a Dutch
recruit, and he'll wake up my men, and interest them and fetch the
laugh or he'll stop!"

"You think you got a fair price?" asked Douglas.

"Know it! All it's worth, and it looks like a margin to me," said
Mickey.

"That's all right then, and thank you for telling me about the papers,"
said Douglas. "I enjoyed it immensely. I see you are a keen student of
human nature."

"'Bout all the studying I get a chance at," said Mickey.

"You'll have opportunity at other things now," said Douglas. "Since you
mention it, I see your point about the papers, and if that works on
business men going to business, it should work on a _jury_. I think
I've had it in mind, that I was to be a compendium of information and
impress on a judge or jury what I know, and why what I say is _right_.
You give me the idea that a better way would be to impress on them what
_they_ know. Put it like this: first soften their hearts, next touch
their pockets, then make them laugh; is that the idea?"

"Duck again! You're doing fine! I ain't made my living selling men
papers for this long not to know the big boys _some_, and more. Each
man is different, but you can cod him, or bluff him, or scare him, or
let down the floodgates; some way you can put it over if you take each
one separate, and hit him where he lives. See? Finding his dwelling
place is the trouble."

"Mickey, I do see," cried Douglas. "What you tell me will be invaluable
to me. You know I am from another land so I have personal ways of
thinking and the men I'm accustomed to are different. What I have been
centring on is myself, and what I can do."

"Won't work here! What you got to get a bead on here is the _other
fellow_, and how to _do_ him. See?"

"Take these books and fly," said Douglas. "I've spent one of the most
profitable hours of my life, but concretely it is an hour, and we're
going to the Country Club to-night and may stay as long as we choose
and we're going to have a grand time. You like going to the country,
don't you?"

"Ain't words for telling," said Mickey, gathering his armload of books
and racing down the hall.

When the day's work was finished, with a load of books to deliver
before an office closed, they started on the run to the club house.
Bruce waited in the car while Mickey sped in with the books, and
returning, to save opening the door and crossing before the man he was
fast beginning to idolize, Mickey took one of his swift cuts across the
back end of the car. While his hand was outstretched and his foot
uplifted to enter, from a high-piled passing truck toppled a box, not a
big box, but large enough to knock Mickey senseless and breathless when
it struck him between the shoulders. Douglas had Mickey in the car with
orders for the nearest hospital, toward which they were hurrying, when
the boy opened his eyes and sat up. He looked inquiringly at Douglas,
across whose knees he had found himself.

"Wha--what happened?" he questioned with his first good indrawing of
recovered breath.

"A box fell from a truck loaded past reason and almost knocked the life
out of you!" cried Douglas.

"'Knocked the life out of me?'" repeated Mickey.

"You've been senseless for three blocks, Mickey."

A slow horror spread over Mickey's face.

"Wha--what was you going to do?" he wavered.

"Running for a hospital," said Douglas.

"S'pose my head had been busted, and I'd been stretched on the glass
table and maybe laid up for days or knocked out altogether?" demanded
Mickey.

"You'd have had the best surgeon in Multiopolis, and every care,
Mickey," assured Douglas.

"Ugh!" Mickey collapsed utterly.

"Must be hurt worse than I thought," was Douglas' mental comment. "He
couldn't be a coward!"

But Mickey almost proved that very thing by regaining his senses again,
and immediately falling into spasms of long-drawn, shuddering sobbing.
Douglas held him carefully, every moment becoming firmer in his
conviction of one of two things: either he was hurt worse or he
was----He would not let himself think it; but never did boy appear to
less advantage. Douglas urged the driver to speed. Mickey heard and
understood.

"Never mind," he sobbed. "I'm all right Mr. Bruce; I ain't hurt. Not
much! I'll be all right in a minute!"

"If you're not hurt, what _is_ the matter with you?"

"A minute!" gasped Mickey, as another spasm of sobbing caught him.

"I am amazed!" cried Douglas. "A little jolt like that! You are acting
like a coward, Mickey!"

The word straightened Mickey.

"Coward! Who? Me!" he cried. "Me that's made my way since I can
remember? Coward, did you say?"

"Of course not, Mickey!" cried Douglas. "Excuse me. I shouldn't have
said that. But it is unlike you. What the devil _is_ the matter with
you?"

"I helped carry in a busted head and saw the glass table once," he
cried. "Inch more and it would a-been my head--and I might have been
knocked out for days. O Lord! What will I _do?_"

"Mickey you're not afraid?" asked Douglas.

"'Fraid? Me? 'Bout as good as coward!"

"What is the matter with you?" demanded Douglas.

Mickey stared at him amazedly.

"O Lord!" he panted. "You don't s'pose I was thinking about _myself_,
do you?"

"I don't know what to think!" exclaimed Douglas.

"Sure! How could you?" conceded Mickey.

He choked back another big dry sob.

"Gimme a minute to think!" he said. "O God! What have I been doing? I
see now what I'm up against!"

"Mickey," said Douglas Bruce, suddenly filled with compassion, "I am
beginning to understand. Won't you tell me?"

"I guess I got to," panted Mickey. "But I'm afraid! O Lord, I'm so
afraid!"

"Afraid of me, Mickey?" asked Douglas gently now.

"Yes, afraid of you," said Mickey, "and afraid of her. Afraid of her,
more than you."

"You mean Miss Winton?" pursued Douglas.

"Yes, I mean Miss Winton," replied Mickey. "I guess I don't risk her,
or you either. I guess I go to the Nurse Lady. She's used to folks in
trouble. She's trained to know what to do. Why sure! That's the thing!"

"Your back hurts, Mickey?" questioned Douglas.

"My back hurts? Aw forget my back!" cried Mickey roughly. "I ain't
hurt, honest I ain't."

Douglas took a long penetrating look at the small shaking figure, then
he said softly: "I wish you wanted to confide in me, Mickey! I can't
tell you how glad I'd be if you'd trust me; but if you have some one
else you like better, where is it you want to be driven?"

"_Course_ there ain't any one I _like_ better than you, 'cept----" he
caught a name on the tip of his tongue and paused. "You see it's like
this: I've been to this Nurse Lady before, and I know exactly what
she'll say and think. If you don't think like I do, and if you go and
take----"

"Gracious Heaven Mickey, you don't think I'd try to take anything you
wanted, do you?" demanded Douglas.

"I don't know _what_ you'd do," said Mickey. "I only know what one
Swell Dame I struck wanted to do."

"Mickey," said Douglas, "when I don't know what you are thinking about,
I can't be of much help; but I'd give considerable if you felt that you
had come to trust me."

"Trust you? Sure I trust you, about myself. But this is----" cried
Mickey.

"This is about some one else?" asked Douglas casually.

Mickey leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his head bent with
intense thinking.

"Much as you are doing for me," he muttered, "if you really care, if it
makes a difference to you--of course I can _trust_ you, if you _don't_
think as I do!"

"You surely can!" cried Douglas Bruce. "Now Mickey, both of us are too
shaken to care for the country; take me home with you and let's have
supper together and become acquainted. We can't know each other on my
ground alone. I must meet you on yours, and prove that I'm really your
friend. Let's go where you live and have supper."

"Go where I live? You?" cried Mickey.

"Yes! You come from where you live fresh and clean each day, so can I.
Take me home with you. I want to go dreadfully, Mickey. Please?"

"Well, I ain't such a cad I'm afraid for you to see how I live," he
said. "Though you wouldn't want to come more than once; that ain't what
I was thinking about."

"Think all you like, Mickey," said Douglas. "Henry, drive to the end of
the car line where you've gone before."

On the way he stopped at a grocery, then a café, and at each place
piles of tempting packages were placed in the car. Mickey's brain was
working fast. One big fact was beginning to lift above all the others.
His treasure was slipping from him, and for her safety it had to be so.
If he had been struck on the head, forced to undergo an operation, and
had lain insensible for hours--Mickey could go no further with that
thought. He had to stop and proceed with the other part of his problem.
Of course she was better off with him than where she had been; no sane
person could dispute that; she was happy and looking improved each day
but--could she be made happier and cared for still better by some one
else, and cured without the long wait for him to earn the money? If she
could, what would be the right name for him, if he kept her on what he
could do? So they came at last as near as the car could go to Mickey's
home in Sunrise Alley. At the foot of the last flight Mickey paused,
package laden.

"Now I'll have to ask you to wait a minute," he said.

He ascended, unlocked the door and stepped inside. Peaches' eyes
gleamed with interest at the packages, but she waved him back. As
Mickey closed the door she cried: "My po'try piece! Say it, Mickey!"

"You'll have to wait again," said Mickey. "I got hit in the back with a
box and it knocked the poetry out of me. You'll have to wait 'til after
supper to-night, and then I'll fix the grandest one yet. Will that do?"

"Yes, if the box hit hard, Mickey," conceded Peaches.

"It hit so blame hard, Miss Chicken, that it knocked me down and
knocked me out, and Mr. Bruce picked me up and carried me three blocks
in his car before I got my wind or knew what ailed me."

Peaches' face was tragic; her hands stretched toward him. Mickey was
young, and his brain was whirling so it whirled off the thought that
came first.

"And if it had hit me _hard_ enough to bust my head, and I'd been
carried to a hospital to be mended and wouldn't a-knowed what hurt me
for days, like sometimes, who'd a-fed and bathed you, Miss?"

Peaches gazed at him wordless.

"You close your mouth and tell me, Miss," demanded Mickey, brutal with
emotion. "If I hadn't come, what would you have done?"

Peaches shut her mouth and stared while it was closed. At last she
ventured a solution.

"You'd a-told our Nurse Lady," she said.

Mickey made an impatient gesture.

"Hospitals by the dozen, kid," he said, "and not a chance in a hundred
I'd been took to the 'Star of Hope,' and times when your head is
busted, you don't know a thing for 'most a _week_. What would you _do_
if I didn't come for a week?"

"I'd have to slide off the bed if it killed me, and roll to the
cupboard, and make the things do," said Peaches.

"You couldn't get up to it to save your life," said Mickey, "and
there's never enough for a week, and you couldn't get to the
water--what would you _do?_"

"Mickey, what would I do?" wavered Peaches.

"Well, I know, if you don't," said Mickey, "and I ain't going to tell
you; but I'll tell you this much: you'd be scared and hurt worse than
you ever was yet; and it's soon going to be too hot for you here, so I
got to move you to a cooler place, and I don't risk being the only one
knowing where you are another day; or my think-tank will split. It's
about split now. I don't want to do it, Miss, but I got to, so you take
your drink and lemme straighten you, and wash your face, and put your
pretties on; then Mr. Douglas Bruce, that we work for now, is coming to
see you and he's going to stay for supper--Now cut it out! Shut right
up! Here, lemme fix you, and you see, Miss, that you act a _lady_ girl,
and don't make me lose my job with my boss, or we can't pay our rent.
Hold still 'til I get your ribbon right, and slip a fresh nightie on
you. There!"

"Mickey----" began Peaches.

"Shut up!" said Mickey in desperation. "Now mind this, Miss! You belong
to _me!_ I'm taking care of you. You answer what he says to you pretty
or you'll not get any supper this night, and look at them bundles he
got. Sit up and be nice! This is a party!"

Mickey darted around arranging the room, then he flung the door wide
and called: "Ready!"

Douglas Bruce climbed the stairs and entered the door. As Mickey
expected, his gaze centred and stopped. Mickey began taking packages
from his hands; still gazing Douglas yielded them. Then he stepped
forward when Mickey placed the chair, and said: "Mr. Douglas Bruce,
this is Lily. This is Lily Peaches O'Halloran. Will you have a chair?"
He turned to Peaches, putting his arm around her as he bent to kiss her.

"He's all right, Flowersy-girl," he said. "We _like_ to have him come.
He's our friend. Our big, nice friend who won't let a soul on earth get
us. He doesn't even want us himself, 'cause he's got _one_ girl. His
girl is the Moonshine Lady that sent you the doll. Maybe she will come
some day too, and maybe she'll make the Precious Child a new dress."

Peaches clung to Mickey and past him peered at her visitor, and the
visitor smiled his most winning smile. He recognized Leslie's ribbon,
and noted the wondrous beauty of the small white face, now slowly
flushing the faintest pink with excitement. Still clinging she smiled
back. Wordless, Douglas reached over to pick up the doll. Then the
right thought came at last.

"Has the Precious Child been good to-day?" he asked.

Peaches released Mickey, dropping back against her pillows, her smile
now dazzling. "Jus' as _good!_" she said.

"Fine!" said Douglas, straightening the long dress.

"An' that's my slate and lesson," said Peaches.

"Fine!" he said again as if it were the only adjective he knew. Mickey
glanced at him, grinning sympathetically, "She does sort of knock you
out!" he said.

"'Sort' is rather poor. Completely, would be better," said Douglas.
"She's the loveliest little sister in all the world, but she doesn't
resemble you. Is she like your mother?"

"Lily isn't my sister, only as you wanted me for a brother," said
Mickey. "She was left and nobody was taking care of her. She's my find
and you bet your life I'm going to _keep_ her!"

"Oh! And how long have you had her, Mickey?"

"Now that's just what the Orphings' Home dame asked me," said Mickey
with finality, "and we are nix on those dames and their askings. Lily
is _mine_, I tell you. My family. Now you visit with her, while I get
supper."

Mickey pushed up the table, then began opening packages and setting
forth their contents. Watching him as he moved swiftly and with
assurance, his head high, his lips even, a slow deep respect for the
big soul in the little body began to dawn in the heart of Douglas
Bruce. Understanding of Mickey came in rivers swift and strong, so
while he wondered and while he watched entranced, over and over in his
head went the line: "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." With
every gentle act of Mickey for the child Douglas' liking for him grew.
When he went over the supper and with the judgment of a nurse selected
the most delicate and suitable food for her, in the heart of the
Scotsman swelled the marvel and the miracle that silenced criticism.



CHAPTER XI


_The Advent of Nancy and Peter_


When Leslie began the actual work of closing her home, and loading what
would be wanted for the country, she found the task too big for the
time allotted, so wisely telephoned Douglas that she would be compelled
to postpone seeing him until the following day.

"Leslie," laughed Douglas over the telephone, "did you ever hear of the
man who cut off his dog's tail an inch at a time, so it wouldn't hurt
so badly?"

"I have heard of that particular dog."

"Well this process of cutting me out of seeing you a day at a time
reminds me of 'that particular dog,' and evokes my sympathy for the
canine as never before."

"It's a surprise I am getting ready for you Douglas!"

"It _is_ a surprise all right," answered Douglas, "and 'Bearer of
Morning,' I have got a surprise for you too."

"Oh goody!" cried Leslie. "I adore surprises."

"You'll adore this one!"

"You might give me a hint!" she suggested.

"Very well!" he laughed. "Since last I saw you I have seen the
loveliest girl of my experience."

"Delightful! Am I to see her also?"

"Undoubtedly!" explained Douglas. "And you'll succumb to her charms
just as I did."

"When may I meet her?" asked Leslie eagerly.

"I can't say; but soon now."

"All right!" agreed the girl. "Be ready at four tomorrow."

Leslie sat in frowning thought a moment, before the telephone; then her
ever-ready laugh bubbled. "Why didn't I think of it while I was
talking?" she wondered. "Of course Mickey has taken him to visit his
Lily. I must see about that wrong back before bone and muscle harden."

Then she began her task. By evening she had a gasoline stove set up,
the kitchen provisioned, her father's room ready and arrangements
sufficiently completed that she sent the car to bring him to his dinner
of cornbread and bacon under an apple tree scattering pink petals
beside the kitchen door, with every lake breeze. Then they went fishing
and landed three black bass.

Douglas Bruce did not mind one day so much, but he resented two. When
he greeted Mickey that morning it was not with the usual salutation of
his friends, so the boy knew there was something not exactly right. He
was not feeling precisely jovial himself. He was under suspended
judgment. He knew that when Mr. Bruce had time to think, and talk over
the situation with Miss Winton, both of them might very probably agree
with the woman who said the law would take Lily from him and send her
to a charity home for children.

Mickey, with his careful drilling on the subject, was in rebellion.
_How_ could the law take Lily from him? Did the law know anything
_about_ her? Was she in the _care_ of the law when he found her?
Wouldn't the law have allowed her to _die_ grovelling in filth and
rags, inside a few more hours? He had not infringed on the law in any
way; he had merely saved a life the law had forgotten to save. Now when
he had it in his possession and in far better condition than he found
it, how had the law _power_ to step in and rob him?

Mickey did not understand, while there was nothing in his heart that
could teach him. He had found her: he would keep her. The Orphans' Home
should not have her. The law should not have her. Only one possibility
had any weight with Mickey: if some one like Mr. Bruce or Miss Winton
wanted to give her a home of luxury, could provide care at once, for
which he would be forced to wait years to earn the money; if they
wanted her and the Carrel man of many miracles would come for them; did
he dare leave her lying an hour, when there was even hope she might be
on her feet? There was only one answer to that with Mickey, but it
pained his heart. So his greeting lacked its customary spontaneity.

By noon Bruce was irritable, while Mickey was as nearly sullen as it
was in his nature to be. At two o'clock Bruce surrendered, summoned the
car, and started to the golf grounds. He had played three holes when he
overtook a man who said a word that arrested his attention, so both of
them stopped, and with notebooks and pencils, under the shade of a big
tree began discussing the question that meant more to Douglas than
anything save Leslie. He dismissed Mickey for the afternoon, promising
him that if he would be ready by six, he should be driven back to the
city.

Mickey wanted to be alone to concentrate on his problem, but people
were everywhere and more coming by the carload. He could see no place
that was then, or would be, undisturbed. The long road with grassy
sides gave big promises of leading somewhere to the quiet retreat he
sought. Telling the driver that if he were not back by six, he would be
waiting down the road, Mickey started on foot, in thought so deep he
scarcely appreciated the grasses he trod, the perfume in his nostrils,
the concert in his ears. What did at last arouse him was the fact that
he was very thirsty. That made him realize that this was the warmest
day of the season. Instantly his mind flew to the mite of a girl, lying
so patiently, watching the clock for his coming, living for the sound
of his feet.

Mickey stopped, studying the landscape. A cool gentle breeze crossed
the clover field beside the way, refreshing him in its passing. He
sucked his lungs full, then lifted his cap, shaking the hair from his
forehead. He stuffed the cap into his pocket, walking slowly along,
intending to stop at the nearest farmhouse to ask for water. But the
first home was not to Mickey's liking. He went on, passing another and
another.

Then he came to land that attracted him. The fences were so straight.
The corners so clean where they were empty, so delightful where they
were filled with alder, wild plum, hawthorn; attractive locations for
the birds of the bushes that were field and orchard feeders. Then the
barn and outbuildings looked so neat and prosperous; grazing cattle in
rank meadows were so sleek; then a big white house began to peep from
the screen of vines, bushes and trees.

"Well if the water here gives you fever, it will anywhere," said
Mickey, and turning in at the open gate started up a walk having flower
beds on each side. There was a wide grassy lawn where the big trees
scattered around afforded almost complete shade. Mickey never had seen
a home like it closely. He scarcely could realize that there were
places in the world where families lived alone like this. He tried to
think how he would feel if he belonged there. When he reached the place
where he saw Lily on a comfort under a big bloom-laden pear tree, his
throat grew hard, his eyes dry and his feet heavy. Then the screen to
the front door swung back as a smiling woman in a tidy gingham dress
came through and stood awaiting Mickey.

"I just told Peter when he came back alone, I bet a penny you'd got off
at the wrong stop!" she cried. "I'm so glad you found your way by
yourself. But you must be tired and hot walking. Come right in and have
a glass of milk, then strip your feet and I'll ring for Junior."

For one second Mickey was dazed. The next, he knew what it must mean.
These people were the kind whom God had made so big and generous they
divided home and summer with tenement children from the big city thirty
miles away. Some boy was coming for a week, maybe, into what exactly
filled Mickey's idea of Heaven, but he was not the boy.

"'Most breaks my heart to tell you," he said, "but I ain't the boy
you're expecting. I'm just taking a walk and I thought maybe you'd let
me have a drink. I've wanted one past the last three houses, but none
looked as if they'd have half such good, cool water as this."

"Now don't that beat the nation!" exclaimed the woman. "The Multiopolis
papers are just oozing sympathy for the poor city children who are wild
for woods and water; and when I'd got myself nerved up to try one and
thought it over till I was really anxious about it, and got my children
all worked up too, here for the second time Peter knocks off plowing
and goes to the trolley to meet one, and he doesn't come. I've got a
notion to write the editor of the _Herald_ and tell him my experience.
I think it's funny! But you wanted water, come this way."

Mickey followed a footpath white with pear petals around the big house
and standing beside a pump waited while the woman stepped to the back
porch for a cup. He took it, drinking slowly.

"Thank you ma'am," he said as he handed it back, turning to the path.

Yesterday had weakened his nerve. He was going to cry again. He took a
quick step forward, but the woman was beside him, her hand on his
shoulder.

"Wait a minute," she said. "Sit on this bench under the pear tree. I
want to ask you something. Excuse me and rest until I come back."

Mickey leaned against the tree, shutting his eyes, fighting with all
his might. He was too big to cry. The woman would think him a coward as
Mr. Bruce had. Then things happened as they actually do at times. The
woman hurriedly came from the door, sat on the bench beside him, and
said: "I went in there to watch you through the window, but I can't
stand this a second longer. You poor child you, now tell me right
straight what's the matter!"

Mickey tried but no sound came. The woman patted his shoulder. "Now
doesn't it beat the band?" she said, to the backyard in general. "Just
a little fellow not in long trousers yet, and bearing such a burden he
can't talk. I guess maybe God has a hand in this. I'm not so sure my
boy hasn't come after all. Who are you, and where are you going? Don't
you want to send your ma word you will stay here a week with me?"

Mickey lifted a bewildered face.

"Why, I couldn't, lady," he said brokenly, but gaining control as he
went on. "I must work. Mr. Bruce needs me. I'm a regular plute compared
with most of the 'newsies'; you wouldn't want to do anything for me who
has so much; but if you're honestly thinking about taking a boy and he
hasn't come, how would you like to have a little girl in his place? A
little girl about _so_ long, and _so_ wide, with a face like Easter
church flowers, and rings of gold on her head, and who wouldn't be half
the trouble a boy would, because she hasn't ever walked, so she
couldn't get into things."

"Oh my goodness! A crippled little girl?"

"She isn't crippled," said Mickey. "She's as straight as you are, what
there is of her. She had so little food, and care, her back didn't seem
to stiffen, so her legs won't walk. She wouldn't be half so much
trouble as a boy. Honest, dearest lady, she wouldn't!"

"Who are you?" asked the woman.

Mickey produced a satisfactory pedigree, and gave unquestionable
references which she recognized, for she slowly nodded at the names of
Chaffner and Bruce.

"And who is the little girl you are asking me to take?"

Mickey studied the woman and then began to talk, cautiously at first.
Ashamed to admit the squalor and the awful truth of how he had found
the thing he loved, then gathering courage he began what ended in an
outpouring. The woman watched him, listening, and when Mickey had no
further word: "She is only a tiny girl?" she asked wonderingly.

"The littlest girl you ever saw," said Mickey.

"Perfectly helpless?" marvelled the woman.

"Oh no! She can sit up and use her hands," said Mickey. "She can feed
herself, write on her slate, and learn her lessons. It's only that she
stays put. She has to be lifted if she's moved."

"You lift her?" queried the woman.

"Could with one hand," said Mickey tersely.

"You say this young lawyer you work for, whose name I see in the
_Herald_ connected with the investigation going on, is at the club
house now?" she asked.

"Yes," answered Mickey.

"He's coming past here this evening?" she pursued.

Mickey explained.

"About how much waiting on would your little girl take?" she asked next.

"Well just at present, she does the waiting on me," said Mickey. "You
see, dearest lady, I have to get her washed and fix her breakfast and
her lunch beside the bed, and be downtown by seven o'clock, and I don't
get back 'til six. Then I wash her again to freshen her up and cook her
supper. Then she says her lesson, her prayers and goes to sleep. So you
see it's mostly _her_ waiting on _me_. A boy couldn't be less trouble
than that, could he?"

"It doesn't seem like it," said the woman, "and no matter how much
bother she was, I guess I could stand it for a week, if she's such a
little girl, and can't walk. The difficulty is this: I promised my son
Junior a boy and his heart is so set. He's wild about the city. He's
going to be gone before we know it. He doesn't seem to care for
anything we have, or do. I don't know just what he hoped to get out of
a city boy; but I promised him one. Then I felt scared and wrote Mr.
Chaffner how it was and asked him to send me a real nice boy who could
be trusted. If it were not for Junior--Mary and the Little Man would be
delighted."

"Well never mind," said Mickey. "I'll go see the Nurse Lady and maybe
she can think of a plan. Anyway I don't know as it would be best for
Lily. If she came here a week, seems like it would kill me to take her
back, and I don't know how she'd bear staying alone all day, after she
had got used to company. And pretty soon now it's going to get so hot,
top floors in the city, that if she had a week like this, going back
would make her sick."

"You must give me time to think," said the woman. "Peter will soon be
home to supper. I'll talk it over with him and with Junior and see what
they think. Where could you be found in Multiopolis? We drive in every
few days. We like to go ourselves, and there's no other way to satisfy
the children. They get so tired and lonesome in the country."

Mickey was aghast. "They _do?_ Why it doesn't seem possible! I wish I
could trade jobs with Junior for a while. What is his work?"

"He drives the creamery wagon," answered the woman.

"O Lord!" Mickey burst forth. "Excuse me ma'am, I mean----Oh my! Drives
a real live horse along these streets and gathers up the cream cans we
pass at the gates, and takes them to the trolley?"

"Yes," she said.

"And he'd give up _that_ job for blacking somebody's shoes, or carrying
papers, or running errands, or being shut up all summer in a big hot
building! Oh my!"

"When will you be our way again?" asked the woman. "I'll talk this over
with Peter. If we decided to try the little girl and she did the
'waiting' as you say, she couldn't be much trouble. I should think we
could manage her, and a boy too. I wish you could be the boy. I'd like
to have _you_. I've been thinking if we could get a boy to show Junior
what it is he wants to know about a city, he'd be better satisfied at
home, but I don't know. It's just possible it might make him worse. Now
such an understanding boy as you seem to be, maybe you could teach
Junior things about the city that would make him contented at _home_.
Do you think you could?"

"Dearest lady, I _get_ you," said Mickey. "_Do I think I could?_ Well
if you really wished me to, I could take your Junior to Multiopolis
with me for a week and make him so sick he'd never want to see a city
again while his palpitator was running."

"Hu'umh!" said the lady slowly, her eyes on far distance. "Let me
think! I don't know but that would be a fine thing for all of us. We
have land enough for a nice farm for both boys, and the way things look
now, land seems about as sure as anything; we could give them a farm
apiece when we are done with it, and the girl the money to take to her
home when she marries--I would love to know that Junior was going to
live on land as his father does; but all his life he's talked about
working in the city when he grows up. Hu'umh!"

"Well if you want him cured of that, gimme the job," he grinned. "You
see lady, I know the city, inside out and outside in again. I been
playing the game with it since I can remember. You can't tell me
anything I don't know about the lowest, poorest side of it. Oh I could
tell you things that would make your head swim. If you want your boy
dosed just sick as a horse on what a workingman gets in Multiopolis
'tween Sunrise Alley and Biddle Boulevard, just you turn him over to me
a week. I'll fix him. I'll make the creamery job look like 'Lijah
charioteering for the angels to him, honest I will lady; and he won't
ever _know_ it, either. He'll come through with a lump in his neck, and
a twist in his stummick that means home and mother. See?"

The woman looked at Mickey in wide-eyed and open-mouthed amazement:
"Well if I ever!" she gasped.

"If you don't believe me, try it," said Mickey.

"Well! Well! I'll have to think," she said. "I don't know but it would
be a good thing if it could be done."

"Well don't you have any misgivings about it being done," said Mickey.
"It's being _done_ every day. I know men, hundreds of them, just
scraping, and slaving and half starving to get together the dough to
pull out. I hear it on the cars, on the streets, and see it in the
papers. They're jumping their jobs and going every day, while hundreds
of Schmeltzenschimmers, O'Laughertys, Hansons, and Pietros are coming
in to take their places. Multiopolis is more than half filled with
crowd-outs from across the ocean now, instead of home folks' cradles,
as it should be. If Junior has got a hankering for Multiopolis that is
going to cut him out of owning a place like this, and bossing his own
job, dearest lady, cook him! Cook him quick!"

"Would you come here?" she questioned.

"Would I?" cried Mickey. "Well try me and see!"

"I'm deeply interested in what you say about Junior," she said. "I'll
talk it over to-night with Peter."

"Well I don't know," said Mickey. "He might put the grand kibosh on it.
Hard! But if Junior came back asking polite for his mush and milk, and
offering his Christmas pennies for the privilege of plowing, or driving
the cream wagon, believe me dear lady, then Peter would fall on your
neck and weep for joy."

"Yes, in that event, he would," said the lady, "and the temptation is
so great, that I believe if you'll give me your address, I'll look you
up the next time I come to Multiopolis, which will be soon. I'd like to
see your Lily before I make any promises. If I thought I could manage,
I could bring her right out in the car. Tell me where to find you, and
I'll see what Peter thinks."

Mickey grinned widely. "You ain't no suffragette lady, are you?" he
commented.

"Well I don't know about that," said the lady. "There are a good many
things to think of these days."

"Yes I know," said Mickey, "but as long as everything you say swings
the circle and rounds up with Peter, it's no job to guess what's most
important in your think-tank. Peter must be some pumpkins!"

"Come to think of it, he is, Mickey," she said. "Come to think of it, I
do sort of revolve around Peter. We always plan together. Not that we
always _think_ alike: there are some things I just _can't_ make Peter
see, that I wish I _could;_ but I wouldn't trade Peter----"

"No I guess he's top crust," laughed Mickey.

"He is so!" said the woman. "How did you say I could reach you?"

"Well, the easiest way would be this. Here, I'll write the number for
you."

"Fine!" said the woman. "I'll hurry through my shopping and call
you--when would it suit you best?"

"Never mind me," said Mickey. "For this, I'll come when you say."

"What about three in the afternoon, then?"

"Sure!" cried Mickey. "Suits me splendid! Mostly quit for the day then.
But ma'am, I don't know about this. Lily isn't used to anybody but me,
she may be afraid to come with you."

"And I may think I would scarcely want to try to take care of her for a
week, when I see her," said the woman.

"You may think that now, but you'll change your mind when you see her,"
said Mickey. "Dearest lady, when you see a little white girl that
hasn't ever walked, smiling up at you shy and timid, you won't be any
more anxious for Orphings' Homes and Charity Palaces to swallow her up
than I am; not a bit! All I must think of is what Lily will say about
coming. She's never been out of my room since I found her, and she
hasn't seen any one but Mr. Bruce, so she'll be afraid, and worried.
_Seeing her_ is all I ask of _you!_ What I'm up against is what she's
going to say; and how I'm going to take her _back_ after a week here,
when it will be hotter there and lonesomer than ever."

"You surely give one things to think about," commented the woman.

"Do I?" queried Mickey. "Well I don't know as I should. Probably with
Peter, and three children of your own, and this farm to run, you are
busy enough without spending any of your time on me."

"The command in the good book is plain: 'Bear ye one another's
burdens,'" quoted the woman.

"Oh yes! 'Burdens,' of course!" agreed Mickey. "But that couldn't mean
Lily, 'cause she's nothing but joy! Just pure joy! All about her is
that a fellow loves her so, that it keeps him laying awake at nights
thinking how to do what would be _best_ for her. She's mine, and I'm
going to _keep_ her; that's the surest thing you know. If I take you to
see Lily, and if I decide to let you have her a few days to rest her
and fresh her up, you wouldn't go and want to put her 'mong the
Orphings' Home kids, would you? You wouldn't think she ought to be took
from me and raised in a flock of every kind, from every place. Would
you lady?"

"No, I wouldn't," said the lady. "I see how you feel, and I am sure I
wouldn't want that for one of mine."

"Well, there's no question about her being _mine!_" said Mickey. "But I
like you so, maybe I'll let you _help_ me a _little_. A big boy that
can run and play doesn't need you, dearest lady, half so much as my
little girl. Do you think he does?"

"No, I think the Lord sent you straight here. If you don't stop I'll be
so worked up I can't rest. I may come to-morrow."

Mickey arose, holding out his hand.

"Thank you dearest lady," he said. "I must be getting out where the car
won't pass without my seeing it."

"You wait at the gate a minute," she said, "I want to send in a little
basket of things to-night. I'll have it ready in a jiffy."

Mickey slowly walked to the gate. When the woman came with a basket
covered with a white cloth, he thanked her again; as he took it he
rested his head against her arm, smiling up at her with his wide true
eyes.

"A thing I can't understand is," he said, "why when the Lord was making
mothers, he didn't cut all of them from the same piece he did you. I'll
just walk on down the road and smell June beside this clover field. Is
it yours?"

"Yes," she said.

"Would you care if I'd take just a few to Lily? I know she never saw
any."

"Take a bunch as big as your head if you want them."

"Lily is so little, three will do her just as well; besides, she's got
to remember how we are fixed, so she needn't begin to expect things to
come her way by baskets and bunches," said Mickey. "She's bound to be
spoiled bad enough as it is. I can't see how I'm going to come out with
her, but she's mine, and I'm going to keep her."

"Mickey," laughed the woman, "don't you think you swing around to Lily
just about the way I do to Peter?"

"Well maybe I do," conceded Mickey.

"What kind of a car did you say Mr. Bruce has?"

"Oh the car is dark green, and the driver has sandy hair; and Mr.
Bruce--why you'd know him anywhere! Just look for the finest man you
ever saw, if you are out when he goes by, and that will be Mr. Douglas
Bruce."

"I guess I'll know him if I happen to be out."

"Sure lady, you couldn't miss him," replied Mickey.

Carefully holding his basket he went down the road. The woman made
supper an hour late standing beside the gate watching for a green car.
Many whirled past, then at last one with the right look came gliding
along; so she stepped out and raised her hand for a parley. The car
stopped.

"Mr. Douglas Bruce?" she asked.

"At your service, Madam!" he answered.

"Just a word with you," she said.

He arose instantly, swung open the car door, and stepping down walked
with her to the shade of a big widely branching maple. The woman looked
at him, and said flushing and half confused: "Please to excuse me for
halting you, but I had a reason. This afternoon such an attractive
little fellow stopped here to ask for a drink in passing. Now Peter and
I had decided we'd try our hand at taking a city boy for a week or so
for his vacation, and twice Peter has left his work and gone to the
trolley station to fetch him, and he failed us. I supposed Peter had
missed him, so when I saw the boy coming, just the first glimpse my
heart went right out to him----"

"Very likely----" assented Mr. Bruce.

"He surely is the most winning little chap I ever saw with his keen
blue eyes and that sort of light on his forehead," said the woman.

"I've noticed that," put in the man.

"Yes," she said, "anybody would see that almost the first thing. So I
thought he was the boy I was to mother coming, and I went right at the
job. He told me quick enough that I was mistaken, but I could see he
was in trouble. Someway I'd trust him with my character or my money,
but I got to be perfectly sure before I trust him with my children. You
see I have three, and if ever any of them go wrong, I don't want it to
be because I was _careless_. I thought I'd like to have him around
some; my oldest boy is bigger, but just about his age. He said he might
be out this way with you this summer and I wanted to ask him in, and do
what I could to entertain him; but first I wanted to inquire of you----"

"I see!" said Douglas Bruce. "I haven't known Mickey so long, but owing
to the circumstances in which I met him, and the association with him
since, I feel that I know him better than I could most boys in a longer
time. The strongest thing I can say to you is this: had I a boy of my
own, I should be proud if Mickey liked him and would consider being
friends with him. He is absolutely trustworthy, that I know."

"Then I won't detain your further," she said.

Mickey, cheered in mind and heart, had walked ahead briskly with his
basket, while as he went he formulated his plans. He would go straight
to the Sunshine Nurse, tell her about the heat and this possible chance
to take Lily to the country for a week, and consult with her as to what
the effect of the trip might be, and what he could do with her
afterward, then he would understand better. He kept watching the clover
field beside the way. When he decided he had reached the finest, best
perfumed place, he saw a man plowing on the other side of the fence and
thought it might be Peter and that Peter would wonder what he was doing
in his field, so Mickey set the basket in a corner and advanced.

He was wonderfully elated by what had happened to him and the
conclusions at which he had arrived, as he came across the deep grasses
beside the fence where the pink of wild rose and the snow of alder
commingled, where song sparrows trilled, and larks and quail were
calling. He approached smiling in utter confidence. As he looked at the
man, at his height, his strong open face, his grip on the plow, he
realized why the world of the little woman revolved around Peter.
Mickey could have conceived of few happier fates than being attached to
Peter, so he thought in amazement of the boy who wanted to leave him.
Then a slow grin spread over his face, for by this time Peter had
stopped his horses and was awaiting him with an answering smile and
hand outstretched.

"Why son, I'm glad to see you!" he cried. "How did I come to miss you?
Did you get off at the wrong stop?"

Mickey shook his head as he took the proffered hand.

"You are Peter?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm Peter," confirmed the man.

"Well you're making the same mistake your pleasant lady did," explained
Mickey. "She thought I was the boy who had been sent to visit you, so
she gave me the glad hand too. I wish I was in his shoes! But I'm not
your boy. Gee, your lady is a nice gentle lady."

"You're all correct there," agreed Peter. "And so you are not the boy
who was to be sent us. Pshaw now! I wish you were. I'm disappointed.
I've been watching you coming down the road, and the way you held
together and stepped up so brisk and neat took my eye."

"I been 'stepping up brisk and neat' to sell papers, run errands, hop
cars, dodge cars and automobiles, and climbing fire-escapes instead of
stairs, and keeping from under foot since I can remember," laughed
Mickey. "You learn on the streets of Multiopolis to step up, and watch
sharp without knowing you are doing it."

"You're a newsboy?" asked Peter.

"I was all my life 'til a few days ago," said Mickey. "Then I went into
the office of Mr. Douglas Bruce. He's a corporation lawyer in the
Iriquois Building."

"Hum, I've been reading about him," said Peter. "If I ever have a case,
I'm going to take it to him."

"Well you'll have a man that will hang on and dig in and _sweat_ for
you," said Mickey. "Just now he's after some of them big office-holders
who are bleeding the taxpayers of Multiopolis. Some of these days if
you watch your _Herald_ sharp, you're going to see the lid fly off of
two or three things at once. He's on a hot trail now."

"Why I have seen that in the papers," said Peter. "He was given the job
of finding who is robbing the city, by James Minturn; I remember his
name. And you work for him? Well, well! Sit down here and tell me about
it."

"I can't now," said Mickey. "I must get back to the road. His car may
pass any minute, and I'm to be ready. Your pleasant lady said I might
take a few clover flowers to my little sick girl, and just as I came to
the finest ones in the field, I saw you so I thought maybe I'd better
tell you what I was doing before you fired me."

"Take all you want," said Peter. "I'd like to send the whole field,
larks and all, to a little sick girl. I'd like especial to send her
some of these clowny bobolink fellows to puff up and spill music by the
quart for her; I guess nothing else runs so smooth except water."

"I don't know what she'd say," said Mickey gazing around him. "You see
she hasn't ever walked, so all she's seen in her life has been the
worst kind of bare, dark tenement walls, 'til lately she's got a high
window where she can see sky, and a few sparrows that come for crumbs.
This!"--Mickey swept his arm toward the landscape--"I don't know what
she'd say to this!"

"Pshaw, now!" cried Peter. "Why bring her out! You bring her right out!
That's what we been wanting to know. Just what a city child would
_think_ of country things she'd never seen before. Bring her to see us!"

"She's a little bit of a thing and she can't walk, you know," explained
Mickey.

"Poor little mite! That's too bad," lamented Peter. "Wonder if she
couldn't be doctored up. It's a shame she can't walk, but taking care
of her must be easy!"

"Oh she takes care of herself," said Mickey. "You see she is alone all
day from six 'til six; she must take care of herself, so she studies
her lesson, and plays with her doll--I mean her Precious Child."

"Too bad!" said Peter. "By jacks that's a sin! Did you happen to speak
to Ma about her?"

"We did talk a little," admitted Mickey. "She was telling me of the
visitor boy who didn't come, and your son who doesn't think he'll want
to stay; so we got to talking. She said just what you did about wanting
to see how a city child who hadn't ever seen a chicken, or a cow, or
horse would act----"

"Good Lord!" cried Peter. "_Is_ there a child in Multiopolis who hasn't
ever seen a little chicken, or a calf?"

"Hundreds of them!" said Mickey. "I've scarcely seen a cow myself. I've
seen hens and little chickens in shop windows at Easter time----"

"But not in the orchard in June?" queried Peter.

"No, 'not in the orchard in June!'" said Mickey.

"Well, well!" marvelled Peter. "There's nothing so true as that 'one
half doesn't know how the other half lives.' I've heard that, but I
didn't quite sense it, and I don't know as I do yet. You bring her
right out!"

"Your pleasant lady talked about that; but you see bringing her out and
showing her these things, and getting her used to them is _one_ thing;
then taking her back to a room so hot I always sleep on the
fire-escape, and where she has to stay all day alone, is _another_. I
don't know but so long as she must go _back_ to what she has now, it
would be better to _leave_ her there."

"Humph! I see! What a pity!" exclaimed Peter. "Well, if you'll be
coming this way again, stop and see us. I'll talk to Ma about her. We
often take a little run to Multiopolis. Junior wouldn't be satisfied
till we got a car, and I can't say we ain't enjoying it ourselves. What
was that you were saying about my boy not thinking he'll stay?"

"_She_ told me," said Mickey, "about the city bug he had in his system.
Why don't you swat it immediate?"

"What do you mean?" inquired Peter.

"Turn him over to me a week or two," suggested Mickey. "I can give him
a dose of working in a city that will send him hiking back to home and
father."

"It's worth considering," said Peter.

"I know that what I got of Multiopolis would make me feel like von
Hindenberg if I had the job of handling the ribbons of your creamery
wagon; and so I know about what would put sonny back on the farm,
tickled 'most to death to be here."

"By gum! Well, I'll give you just one hundred dollars if you'll do it!"
exclaimed Peter. "You see my grandfather and father owned this land
before me. We've been on the plowing job so long we have it reduced to
a system, so it comes easy for me, and I take pride and pleasure in it;
I had supposed my boys would be the same. Do you really think you could
manage it?"

"Sure," said Mickey. "Only, if you really mean it, not now, nor ever,
do you want son to _know_ it. See! The medicine wouldn't work, if he
knew he took it."

"Well I'll be jiggered!" laughed Peter. "I guess you could do it, if
you went at it right."

"Well you trust me to do it right," grinned Mickey. "Loan me sonny for
a week or two, and you can have him back for keeps."

"Well it's worth trying," said Peter. "Say, when will you be this way
again?"

"'Most any day," said Mickey. "And your lady said she'd be in
Multiopolis soon, so we are sure to have a happy meeting before long. I
think that is Mr. Bruce's car coming. Goodbye! Be good to yourself!"

With a spring from where he was standing Mickey arose in air, alighted
on the top rail of the division fence, then balancing, he raced down it
toward the road. Peter watched him in astonishment, then went back to
his plowing with many new things on his mind. Thus it happened that
after supper, when the children were in bed, and he and his wife went
to the front veranda for their usual evening visit, and talk over the
day, she had very little to tell him.

As was her custom, she removed her apron, brushed her waving hair and
wore a fresh dress. She rocked gently in her wicker chair, while her
voice was moved to unusual solicitude as she spoke. Peter also had
performed a rite he spoke of as "brushing up" for evening. He believed
in the efficacy of soap and water, so his body, as well as his
clothing, was clean. He sat on the top step leaning against the pillar
where the moonlight emphasized his big frame, accented the strong lines
of his face and crowned his thick hair, as Nancy Harding thought it
should be, with glory.

"Peter," she said, "did you notice anything about that boy, this
afternoon, different from other boys?"

"Yes," answered Peter slowly, "I did Nancy. He didn't strike me as
being _one_ boy. He has the best of three or four concealed in his lean
person."

"He's had a pretty tough time, I judge," said Nancy.

"Yet you never saw a boy who took your heart like he did, and neither
did I," answered Peter.

Mickey holding his basket and clover flowers was waiting when the car
drew up, and to Bruce's inquiry answered that a lady where he stopped
for a drink had given him something for Lily. He left the car in the
city, sought the nurse and luckily found her at leisure. She listened
with the greatest interest to all he had to say.

"It's a problem," she said, as he finished. "To take her to such a
place for a week, and then bring her back where she is, would be harder
for her than never going."

"I got that figured," said Mickey; "but I've about made up my mind,
after seeing the place and thinking over the folks, that it wouldn't
_happen_ that way. Once they see her, and find how little trouble she
is, they're not people who would send her back 'til it's cool, if
they'd want to then. And there's this, too: there are other folks who
would take her now, and see about her back. Have I got the right to let
it go a day, waiting to earn the money myself, when some one else,
maybe the Moonshine Lady, or Mr. Bruce, would do it _now_, and not put
her in an Orphings' Home, either?"

"No Mickey, you haven't!" said the nurse.

"Just the way I have it figured," said Mickey. "But she's mine, and I'm
going to _keep_ her. If her back is fixed, I'm going to have it done. I
don't want any one else meddling with my family. You haven't heard
anything from the Carrel man yet?"

"No," she said.

"My, I wish he'd come!" cried Mickey.

"So do I," said the nurse. "But so far Mickey, I think you are doing
all right. If she must be operated, she'd have to be put in condition
for it; and while I suspect I could beat you at your job, I am positive
you are far surpassing what she did have."

"Well I know that too," said Mickey. "But surpassing nothing at all
isn't going either far or fast. I must do something."

"If you could bring yourself to consent to giving her up----" suggested
the nurse.

"Well I can't!" interposed Mickey.

"Just for a while!" continued the nurse.

"Not for a minute! I found her! She's mine!"

"Yes, I know; but----" began the nurse.

"I know too," said Mickey. "Gimme a little time." He studied the
problem till he reached his grocery. There he thriftily lifted the
cloth to peep, and with a sigh of satisfaction pursued his way.
Presently he opened his door, to be struck by a wave of hot air and to
note a flushed little face and drawn mouth as he went into Peaches'
outstretched arms. Then he delivered the carefully carried clover and
the following:

"_I got these from a big, pink field bewildering, That God made
a-purpose for cows and childering. Her share is being consumed by the
cow, Let's go roll in ours right now._"

"Again!" demanded Peaches.

Mickey repeated slowly.

"How could we?" asked Peaches.

"Easy!" said Mickey.

"'Easy?'" repeated Peaches.

"Just as easy!" reiterated Mickey.

"Did you see it?" demanded Peaches.

"Yes, I saw it to-day," said Mickey. "It's like this: you see some
folks live in houses all built together, and work at selling things to
eat, and wear, and making things, and doing other work that must be
done like doctors, and lawyers, and hospitals; _that's a city_. Then to
_feed them_, other folks live on big pieces of land; the houses are far
apart, with streets between, and beside them the big fields where the
wheat grows for our bread, and our potatoes, and the grass, and the
clover like this to feed the cows. To-day Mr. Bruce didn't play long,
so I went walking and stopped at a house for a drink, and there was the
nicest lady; we talked some and she give me our supper in that pretty
basket; and she sent you the clovers from a big pink field so sweet
smelly it would 'most make you sick; and there are trees through it,
and lots of birds sing, and there are wild roses and fringy white
flowers; and it's quiet 'cept the birds, and the roosters crowing, and
the wind comes in little perfumery blows on you, and such milk!"

"Better 'an our milk?" asked Peaches.

"Their milk is so rich it makes ours look like a poorhouse relation,"
scoffed Mickey.

"Tell me more," demanded Peaches.

"Wait 'til I get the water to wash you, you are so warm."

"Yes, it's getting some hot; but 'tain't nothing like on the rags last
summer. It's like a real lady here."

"A pretty warm lady, just the same," said Mickey.

Then he brought water and leaving the door ajar for the first time, he
soon started a draft; that with the coming of cooler evening lowered
the child's temperature, and made her hungry. As he worked Mickey
talked. The grass, the blooming orchard, the hen and her little downy
chickens, the big cool porch, the wonderful woman and man, the boy whom
they expected and who did not come; and then cautiously, slowly, making
sure she understood, he developed his plan to take her to the country.
Peaches drew back and opened her lips. Mickey promptly laid the
washcloth over them.

"Now don't begin to say you 'won't' like a silly baby," he said. "Try
it and see, then if you don't like it, you can come right back. You
want to ride in a grand automobile like a millyingaire lady, don't you?
All the swells go away to the country for the summer, you got to be a
swell lady! I ain't going to have you left way behind!"

"Mickey, would you be there?" she asked.

"Yes lady, I'd be right on the job!" said Mickey. "I'd be there a lot
more than I am here. You go the week they wanted that boy, and he
didn't come; then if you like it, I'll see if they won't board you, and
you can have a nice little girl to play with, and a fat, real baby, and
a boy bigger than me--and you should see Peter!"

Peaches opened her lips, Mickey reapplied the cloth.

"Calm down now!" he ordered. "I've decided to do it. We got to hump
ourselves. This is our _chance_. Why there's milk, and butter, and
eggs, and things to eat there like you never tasted, and to have a cool
breeze, and to lie on the grass----"

"Oh Mickey, could I?" cried Peaches.

"Sure silly! Why not?" said Mickey. "There's big fields of it, and the
cows don't need it all. You can lie on the grass, or the clover, and
hear the birds, and play with the children. I'll take a day and get
things started right before I leave you to come to work, like I'll have
to. When I come at night, I'll carry your outdoors; why I'll take you
down to the water and you can kick your feet in it, where it's nice and
warm; all the time you can have as many flowers as your hands will
hold; and such bird singing, why Lily Peaches O'Halloran, there are
birds as red as blood, yes ma'am, and yellow as orange peel and light
blue like this ribbon and dark blue like that--hold still 'til I fix
you--and such singing!"

"Mickey, would you hold me?" wavered Peaches.

"Smash anybody that lays a finger on you, unless you say so," said
Mickey promptly.

"And you'd stay a whole day?" she asked anxiously.

"Sure!" cried Mickey.

"An' if I was afraid you'd bring me back?" she went on.

"Sure! Right away!" he promised.

"An' they wouldn't anybody 'get' me there?"

"'Way out there 'mong the clover?" scoffed Mickey. "Why it's _here_
they'll '_get_' you if they are going to. Nobody out there _wants_ you,
but me."

"Mickey, when will you take me?" she asked eagerly.

"Before so very long," promised Mickey. "You needn't be surprised to
hear me coming with the nice lady to see you any day now, and to be
wrapped in a sheet, and put in a big car, and just scooted right out to
the very place that God made especial for little girls. To-night we put
in another blesses, Lily. We'll pray, 'Bless the nice lady who sent our
supper,' won't we?"

"Yes Mickey, and 'fore you came I didn't want any supper at all, and
now I _do_," said Peaches.

"You were too warm honey," said Mickey. "We'll just fix this old hot
city. We'll run right away from it. See? Now we'll have the grandest
supper we ever had."

Mickey brought water, plates, and forks, and opened the basket. Peaches
bolstered with her pillows cried out and marvelled. There was a quart
bottle of milk wrapped in a wet cloth. There was a big loaf of crusty
brown country bread. There was a small blue bowl of yellow butter, a
square of honey even yellower, a box of strawberries, and some powdered
sugar, and a little heap of sliced, cold boiled ham. Mickey surveyed
the table.

"Now Miss Chicken, here's how!" he warned. "I found you all warm and
feverish. If you load up with this, you'll be sick sure. You get a cup
of milk, a slice of bread and butter, some berries and a teeny piece of
meat. We can live from this a week, if the heat doesn't spoil it."

"You fix me," said Peaches.

Then they had such a supper as they neither one ever had known, during
which Mickey explained wheat fields and bread, bees and honey, cows and
clover, pigs and ham, as he understood them. Peaches repeated her
lesson and her prayers and then as had become her custom, demanded that
Mickey write his last verse on the slate, so she might learn and copy
it on the morrow. She was asleep before he finished. Mickey walked
softly, cleared the table, placed it before the window, and taking from
his pocket an envelope Mr. Bruce had given him drew out a sheet of
folded paper on which he wrote long and laboriously, then locking
Peaches in, he slipped down to the mail-box and posted this letter:

DEAR MISTER CARREL:

_I saw in papers I sold how you put different legs on a dog. I have a
little white flowersy-girl that hasn't ever walked. It's her back. A
Nurse Lady told me at the "Star of Hope" how you came there sometimes,
and the next time you come, I guess I will let you see my little girl;
and maybe I'll have you fix her back. When you see her you will know
that to fix her back would be the biggest thing you ever did or ever
could do. I got a job that I can pay her way and mine, and save two
dollars a week for you. I couldn't pay all at once, but I could pay
steady; and if you'd lose all you have in any way, it would come in
real handy to have that much skating in steady as the clock every week
for as long as you say, and soon as I can, I'll make it more. I'd give
all I got, or ever can get, to cure Lily's back, and because you fixed
the dog, I'd like you to fix her. I do hope you will come soon, but of
course I don't wish anybody else would get sick so you'd have to. You
can ask if I am square of Mr. Douglas Bruce, Iriquois Building,
Multiopolis, Indiana, or of Mr. Chaffner, editor of the_ Herald, _whose
papers I've sold since I was big enough._

MICHAEL O'HALLORAN.



CHAPTER XII


_Feminine Reasoning_


With vigour renewed by a night of rest Leslie began her second day at
Atwater Cabin. She had so many and such willing helpers that before
noon she could find nothing more to do. After lunch she felt a desire
to explore her new world. Choosing the shady side, she followed the
road toward the club house, but one thought in her mind: she must
return in time to take the car and meet Douglas Bruce as she had
promised.

She felt elated that she had so planned her summer as to spend it with
her father, while of course it was going to be delightful to have her
lover with her. So going she came to a most attractive lane that led
from the road between tilled fields, back to a wood on one side, and
open pasture on the other. Faintly she heard the shouts of children,
and yielding to sudden impulse she turned and followed the grassy path.
A few more steps, then she stopped in surprise. An automobile was
standing on the bank of a brook. On an Indian blanket under a tree sat
a woman of fine appearance holding a book, but watching with smiling
face the line of the water, which spread in a wide pool above a rudely
constructed dam, overflowing it in a small waterfall.

On either bank lay one of the Minturn boys, muddy and damp, trying with
his hands to catch something in the water. Below the dam, in a blue
balbriggan bathing suit, stood James Minturn, his hands filled with a
big piece of sod which he bent and applied to a leak. Leslie untied the
ribbons of her sunshade and rumpling her hair to the light breeze came
forward laughing.

"Well Mr. Minturn!" she cried. "What is going to become of the
taxpayers of Multiopolis while their champion builds a sod dam?"

Whether the flush on James Minturn's face as he turned to her was
exertion, embarrassment, or unpleasant memory Leslie could not decide;
but she remembered, after her impulsive greeting, that she had been
with his wife in that early morning meeting the day of the trip to the
swamp. She thought of many things as she went forward. James Minturn
held out his muddy hands as he said laughingly: "You see I'm not in
condition for our customary greeting."

"Surely!" cried Leslie. "It is going to wash off, isn't it? If from
you, why not from me?"

"Of course if you want to play!" he said.

"Playing? You? Honestly?" queried Leslie.

"Honestly playing," answered the man. "The 'honestest' playing in all
the world; not the political game, not the money game, not anything
called manly sport, just a day off with my boys, being a boy again.
Heavens Leslie, I'm wild about it. I could scarcely sleep last night
for eagerness to get started. But let me make you acquainted with my
family. My sister, Mrs. Winslow, a friend of mine, Miss Leslie Winton;
my sons' tutor, Mr. Tower; my little brother, William Minturn; my boys,
Junior and Malcolm."

"Anyway, we can shake hands," said Leslie to Mrs. Winslow. "The habit
is so ingrained I am scandalized on meeting people if I'm forced to
neglect it."

"Will you share my blanket?" asked Mrs. Winslow.

"Thanks! Yes, for a little time," said Leslie. "I am greatly interested
in what is going on here."

"So am I," said Mrs. Winslow. "We are engaged in the evolution of an
idea. A real 'Do-the-boy's-hall.'"

"It seems to be doing them good," commented Leslie.

"Never mind the boys," said Mr. Minturn. "I object to such small men
monopolizing your attention. Look at the 'good' this is doing me. And
would you please tell me why you are here, instead of disporting
yourself at, say Lenox?"

"How funny!" laughed Leslie. "I am out in search of amusement, and I'm
finding it. I think I'm perhaps a mile from our home for the summer."

"You amaze me!" cried Mr. Minturn. "I saw Douglas this morning, and
told him where I was coming, but he never said a word."

"He didn't know one to say on this subject," explained Leslie. "You see
I rented a cabin over at Atwater and had my plans made before I told
even father what a delightful thing was in store for him."

"But how did it happen?"

"Through my seeing how desperately busy Daddy and Douglas have been all
spring, Daddy especially," replied Leslie. "Douglas is bad enough, but
father's just obsessed, so much so that I think he's carrying double."

"I know he is," said Mr. Minturn. "And so you made a plan to allow him
to proceed with his work all day and then have the delightful ride,
fishing and swimming in Atwater morning and evening. How wonderful! And
of course Douglas will be there also?"

"Of course," agreed Leslie. "At least he shall have an invitation. I'm
going to surprise him with it this very evening. How do you think he'll
like it?"

"I think he will be so overjoyed he won't know how to express himself,"
said James Minturn. "But isn't it going to be lonely for you? Won't you
miss your friends, your frocks, and your usual summer round?"

"You forget," said Leslie. "My friends and my frocks always have been
for winter. All my life I have summered with father."

"How will you amuse yourself?" he asked.

"It will take some time each day to plan what to do the next that will
bring most refreshment and joy; I often will be compelled to drive in
of mornings with orders for my house-keeping, and when other things are
exhausted, I am going to make an especial study of wild-bird music."

"That is an attractive subject," said Mr. Minturn. "Have you really
made any progress?"

"Little more than verifying a few songs already recorded," replied
Leslie. "I hear smatterings and snatches, but they are elusive, while
I'm not always sure of the identity of the bird. But the subject is
thrillingly tempting."

"It surely is," conceded Mr. Minturn. "I could see that Nellie was
alert the instant you mentioned it. Come over here to the shade and
tell me how far you have gone. You see I've undertaken the boys'
education. Malcolm inherits his mother's musical ability to a wonderful
degree. It is possible that he could be started on this, and so begin
his work while he thinks he's playing."

Leslie walked to the spot indicated, far enough away that conversation
would not interrupt Mrs. Winslow's reading, and near enough to watch
the boys; she and Mr. Minturn sat on the grass and talked.

"It might be the very thing," said Leslie. "Whatever gives even a faint
hope of attracting a boy to an educational subject is worth testing."

"One thing I missed, I always have regretted," said Mr. Minturn, "I
never had educated musical comprehension. Nellie performed and sang so
well, and in my soul I knew what I could understand and liked in music
she scorned. Sometimes I thought if I had known only enough to
appreciate the right thing at the right time, it might have formed a
slender tie between us; so I want the boys both to recognize good music
when they hear it; but they have so much to learn all at once, poor
little chaps, I scarcely see where to begin, and in a musical way, I
don't even know how to begin. Tell me about the birds, Leslie. Just
what is it you are studying?"

"The strains of our famous composers that are lifted bodily for
measures at a time, from the song of a bird or indisputably based upon
it," answered Leslie.

"Did you and Nellie have any success?"

"Indeed yes! We had the royal luck to hear exactly the song I had
hoped; and besides we talked of many things and Nellie settled her
future course in her mind. When she went into the swamp alone and came
out with an armload of lavender fringed orchids she meant to carry to
Elizabeth, and her heart firmly resolved to begin a new life with you,
she told me she felt like flying; that never had she been so happy."

Leslie paused, glancing at James Minturn. He seemed puzzled: "I don't
understand. But nothing matters now. Tell me about the birds," he said.

"And it is what you admit you don't understand that I must tell you
of," said Leslie. "I've been afraid, horribly afraid you didn't
understand, and that you took some course you wouldn't have taken if
you did. What happened in the swamp was all my fault!"

"The birds, Leslie, tell me of the birds," commanded James Minturn.
"You can't possibly know what occurred that separated Nellie and me."

"No, I don't know your side of it; but I do know hers, and I don't
think you do," persisted Leslie. "Now if you would be big enough to let
me tell you how it was with her that day, and what she said to me, your
mind would be perfectly at rest as to the course you have taken."

"My mind is 'perfectly at rest now as to the course I have taken,'"
said Mr. Minturn. "I realize that a man should meet life as it comes to
him. I endured mine in sweating humiliation for years, and I would have
gone on to the end, if it had been a question of me only, but when the
girl was sacrificed and the boys in a fair way to meet a worse fate
than hers, the question no longer hinged on me. You have seen my sons
during their mother's régime, when they were children of wealth in the
care of servants; look at them now and dare to tell me that they are
not greatly improved."

"Surely they are!" said Leslie. "You did right to rescue them from
their environment; all the fault that lies with you so far is, that you
did not do from the start what you are now doing. The thing that haunts
me is this, Mr. Minturn, and I must get it out of my mind before I can
sleep soundly again--you will let me tell you--you won't think me
meddling in what must be dreadful heartache? Oh you won't will you?"

"No, I won't," said Mr. Minturn, "but it is prolonging heartache to
discuss this matter, and wasting time better used in the building of a
sod dam--indeed Leslie, tell me about the birds."

"I will, if you'll answer one question," said Leslie.

"Dangerous, but I'll risk it," replied Mr. Minturn.

"I must ask two or three minor ones to reach the real one," explained
the girl.

"Oh Leslie," laughed Mr. Minturn. "I didn't think you were so like the
average woman."

"A large number of men are finding 'the average woman' quite
delightful," said Leslie. "Men respect a masculine, well-balanced,
argumentative woman, but every time they love and marry the impulsive,
changeable, companionable one."

"Provided she be endowed with truth, character, and common mother
instinct enough to protect her young--yes--I grant it, and glory in
it," said Mr. Minturn. "I can furnish logic for one family, and most
men I know feel qualified to do the same."

"Surely!" agreed Leslie. "You were waiting for Nellie the night she
came from the tamarack swamp with me, and she told me you had a little
box, and that with its contents you had threatened to 'freeze her
soul,' if she had a soul. I'll be logical and fair, and ask but the
_one_ question I first stipulated. Here it is: did you wait until you
made sure she had a soul, worthy of your consideration, before you
froze it?"

James Minturn's laugh was ugly to hear.

"My dear girl," he said. "I made sure she had _not_ three years ago."

"And I made equally sure that she had," said Leslie, "in the tamarack
swamp when she wrestled as Jacob at Peniel against her birth, her
environment, her wealth, and triumphed over all of them for you and her
sons. I can't go on with my own plan for personal happiness, until I
know for sure if you perfectly understand that she came to you that
night to confess to you her faults, errors, mistakes, sins, if need be,
and ask you to take the head of your household, and to help her fashion
each hour of her life anew. Did she have a chance to tell you all this?"

"No," said Mr. Minturn. "But it would have made _no difference,_ if she
had. It came too late."

"You have not the right to say that to any living, suffering human
being!" protested Leslie.

"I have a perfect right to say it to her," said Mr. Minturn. "A right
that would be justified in any court in the world, either of lawyers or
people."

"Then thank God, Nellie gets her trial higher. He will understand, and
forgive her."

"You don't know what she did," said Mr. Minturn. "What she stood before
me and the officers of the law, and admitted she did."

"I don't care what she did! There were men forgiven on the cross;
because they sincerely repented, God had mercy on them, so He will on
her, and what's more, He won't have any on _you_, unless you follow His
example and forgive when you are asked, by a woman who is as deeply
repentant as she was."

"Her repentance comes too late," said Mr. Minturn with finality. "Her
error is _not reparable_."

"There is no such thing as true repentance being too late," insisted
Leslie. "You are distinctly commanded to forgive; you have got to do
it! There is no error that is reparable. Since you hint tragedy, I will
concede it. If she had been directly responsible for the death of her
child, it was a mistake, criminal carelessness, but not a thing
purposely planned; so she could atone for it by doing her best for you
and the boys."

"Any mother who once did the things she did is not fit to be trusted
again!"

"What nonsense! James Minturn, you amaze me!" said Leslie. "That is a
little too cold masculine logic. That is taking from the whole human
race the power to repent of and repair a mistake."

"There are some mistakes that cannot be repaired!"

"I grant it," said Leslie. "There are! _You are making one right now!_"

"That's the most strictly feminine utterance I ever heard," said Mr.
Minturn, with a short laugh.

"Thank you," retorted Leslie. "The compliment is high, but I accept it.
I ask nothing better at the hands of fate than to be the most feminine
of women. And I've told you what I feel forced to. You can now go on
with your plans, knowing they are exactly what she had mapped out,
hastily, but surely. She said to me that she must build from the
foundations, which meant a new home."

"You are fatuously mistaken!" said Mr. Minturn.

"She said to me," reiterated Leslie forcefully, "that for ten years she
had done exactly what she pleased, lived only for her own pleasure, now
she would do as _you_ dictated for a like time, live your way--I never
was farther from a mistake in my life. If you think it doesn't take
courage to tell you this, and if you think I enjoy it, and if you think
I don't wish I were a mile away----"

"I still maintain I know the lady better than you do," said Mr.
Minturn. "But you are wonderful Leslie, and I always shall respect and
honour you for your effort in our behalf. It does credit to your head
and heart. I envy Douglas Bruce. If ever an hour of trial comes to you,
I would feel honoured for a chance to prove to you how much I
appreciate----"

"Don't talk like that!" wailed Leslie. "It's all a failure if you do!
Promise me that you will _think this over_. Let me send you the note
Nellie wrote me before she went away. Won't you try to imagine what she
is suffering to-day, in the change from what she went to you hoping,
and what she received at your hands?"

"Let me see," said James Minturn. "At this hour she is probably
enduring the pangs of wearing the most tasteful afternoon gown on the
veranda of whatever summer resort suits her variable fancy, also the
discomfiture of the woman she induced to bid high and is now winning
from at bridge. I am particularly intimate with her forms of suffering;
you see I judge them by my own and my children's during the past years."

"Then you think I'm not sincere?" asked Leslie.

"Surely, my dear girl!" said Mr. Minturn. "With all my heart I believe
you! I know you are loyal to her, and to me! It isn't _you_ I
disbelieve, child, it is my wife."

"But I've told you over and over that she's changed."

"And I refuse to believe in her power to undergo the genuine and
permanent change that would make her an influence for good with her
sons, or anything but an uncontrollable element in my home," said Mr.
Minturn. "Why Leslie, if I were to hunt her up and ask her to come to
my house, do you think she would do it?"

"I know she would be most happy," said Leslie.

"Small plain rooms, wait on herself, children over the house and lawn
at all times--Nellie Minturn? You amuse me!" he said.

"There's no amusement in it for me, it is pitiful tragedy," said
Leslie. "She is willing, she has offered to change, you are denying her
the opportunity."

"You don't think deeply enough!" said the man. "Suppose, knowing her as
I do, I agreed to her coming to my house. Suppose I filled it with
servants to wait on her, and ruin and make snobs of the boys; it could
only result in a fiasco all around, and bring me again to the awful
thing I have been through once, in forcing a separation. The present is
too good for the boys, and now they are my first consideration."

"So I see," said Leslie. "Nellie isn't getting a particle and she _is_
their mother, and once she really awakened to the situation, she was
hungry to mother them, and to take her place in their hearts. I don't
know where she is, but feeling as she did when we parted, I know she's
not at any summer resort playing bridge at this minute."

"You are a friend worth having, Leslie; I congratulate my wife on so
staunch an advocate," said James Minturn. "And I'll promise you this:
I'll go back to the hateful subject, just when I felt I was free from
it. I'll think on both sides, and I'll weigh all you've said. If I see
a glimmering, I will do this much--I will locate her, and learn how
genuine was the change you witnessed, and I rather think I'll manage
for you to see also. Will that satisfy you?"

"That will make me radiant, because the change I witnessed was genuine.
I know that wherever Nellie is to-day and whatever she is doing, she is
still firm as when she left me in her desire for reparation toward you
and her sons. Please think fast, and find her quickly."

"Leslie, you're incorrigible! Go bring Douglas to his surprise. He has
a right to be happy."

"So have you," insisted Leslie. "More than he, because you have had
such deep sorrow. Good-bye."

Then Leslie took leave of the others, returned to the cabin, and
hurried to her room to dress for her trip to bring her lover. Douglas
Bruce was waiting when she stopped at the Iriquois and his greeting was
joyous. Mr. Winton was cordial, but Douglas noticed that he seemed
tired and worried, and inquired if he were working unusually hard. He
replied that he was, and beginning to feel the heat a little.

"Then we will drive to the country before dinner to cool off," said
Leslie, seeing her opportunity.

Both men agreed that would be enjoyable. After a few minutes of casual
talk they relaxed while making smooth passage over city streets and the
almost equally level highways of the country. At the end of half an
hour Douglas sat upright, looking around him.

"I don't recognize this," he said. "Have we been here before, Leslie?"

"I think not," she answered. "I don't know why. It is one of my best
loved drives. Always before we have taken the road to the club house,
or some of its branches."

They began a gentle ascent, when directly across their way stretched
the blue water of a lake.

"Is here where we take the plunge?" inquired Douglas.

"No indeed!" answered Leslie. "Here we speed until we gather such
momentum that we shoot across the water and alight on the opposite bank
without stopping. Make your landing neatly, Rogers!"

"Why have we never been here before?" marvelled Douglas. "I don't
remember any other road one-half so inviting. Just look ahead here! See
what a beautiful picture!" He indicated a vine of creeping blackberry
spreading over gold sand, its rough, deeply serrated leaves of most
artistic cutting, with tufts of snowy bloom surrounding dark-tipped
stamens in their centres.

"Isn't it!" answered Mr. Winton. "You know what Whitman said of it?"

"I'm not so well read in Whitman as you are."

"Which is your distinct loss," said Mr. Winton. "It was he who wrote,
'A running blackberry would adorn the parlours of Heaven.'"

"And so it would!" exclaimed Douglas. "What a frieze that would make
for a dining-room! Have you ever seen it used?"

"Never," answered Leslie, "or many other of our most exquisite forms of
wild growth."

"What beautiful country!" Douglas commented a minute later as the car
sped from the swamp, ran uphill, and down a valley between stretches of
tilled farm land on either side, sloping back to the lakes now growing
distant, then creeping up a gradual incline until Atwater flashed into
sight.

"Man! That's fine!" he said, rising in the car to better admire the
view, at which Leslie signalled the driver to run slower. "I don't
remember that I ever saw anything quite so attractive as this. And if
ever water invited a swimmer--that white sand bed seems to extend as
far into the lake as you can see. Jove! Wasn't that a black bass under
that thorn bush?"

Leslie's eyes were shining while her laugh was as joyous as any of the
birds. He need not say more. There was a bathing suit in his room; in
ten minutes he could be cleaving the water to the opposite shore and
have time to return before dinner. The car sped down where the road ran
level with the water. A flock of waders arose and circled the lake. On
the right was the orchard, the newly made garden, the tiny cabin with
green lawn, hammocks swinging between trees, Indian blankets spread,
and the odour of cooking food in the air. The car stopped, Douglas
sprang out and offered his hand as he saw Leslie intended descending.
She took the hand and kept it in her left. With her right she included
woods, water, orchard and cabin.

"These are my surprise for you," she said. "I am going to live here
this summer, and keep house for you and Dad while you run and reform
the world. Welcome home, Douglas!"

He slowly looked around, then at Mr. Winton.

"Do you believe her?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes indeed! Leslie has the faculty of making good. And I'm one day
ahead of you. She tried this on me last night. Hurry into your bathing
suit; we'll swim before dinner, and then we'll fish. It was great going
in this morning! I'm sure you'll enjoy it!"

"Enjoy it!" cried Douglas. "Here is where the paucity of our language
is made manifest."

Too happy herself for the right word, Leslie showed Douglas to his
room, with its white bed, and row of hooks, on one of which hung the
bathing suit; then she went to put on her own, and they hurried to the
lake.

"You are happy here, Leslie?" asked Douglas.

"Never in my life have I been so happy as I am this moment," said
Leslie, skifting the clear water with her hands while she waited for
her father before starting the swim to the opposite shore. "I've got
the most joyous thing to tell you."

"Go on and tell, 'Bearer of Morning,'" he said. "I am so delighted I'm
maudlin."

"Right over there, on the road to the club house, while 'seeking new
worlds to conquer' this afternoon, I ran into James Minturn wearing a
bathing suit, to his knees in mud and water, building a sod dam for his
boys."

"You did?" cried Douglas.

"I did!" said Leslie. "Here's the picture: a beautiful winding stream,
big trees like these on the banks, shade and flowers, birds, and air
a-plenty, a fine appearing woman he introduced as his sister, a Minturn
boy catching fish with his bare hands on either bank, the brother
Minturn must have adopted legally, since he gave him his name----"

"He did," interrupted Douglas. "He told me so----"

"I was sure of it," said Leslie. "And an interesting young man, a
tutor, bringing up more sod; the boys acted quite like any other
agreeably engaged children--but Minturn himself, looking like a man I
never saw before, down in the sand and water building a sod dam--a sod
dam I'm telling you----"

"I notice what you are telling me," cried Douglas. "It is duly
impressing me. 'Dam' is all I can think of."

"It's no wonder!" exclaimed Leslie.

"What did he say to you?" queried Douglas.

"It wasn't necessary for him to say anything," said Leslie. "I could
see. He is making over his boys and in order to do it sympathetically,
and win their confidence and love, he is being a boy himself again. He
has the little chaps under control now. There are love and admiration
in their tones when they speak to him, while they _obey_ him. Think of
it!"

"It is something worth thinking of," said Douglas. "He was driven to
action, but his methods must have been heroic; for they seem to have
worked."

"Yes, for him and the boys," said Leslie, "but they are not all his
family."

"The remainder of his family always has looked out for herself to the
exclusion of everything else in life, you have told me; I imagine she
is still doing it with wonderful success," hazarded Douglas.

"It amazes me how men can be so unfeeling."

"So you talked to him about her?"

"I surely did!" asserted Leslie.

"And I'll wager you wasted words," said Douglas.

"Not one!" cried the girl. "He will remember each one I spoke. If I
don't hear of him taking some action soon, I'll find another occasion,
and try again. He shall divide the joy of remaking those boys with
their mother."

"She will respectfully--I mean disdainfully, decline!"

"You don't believe she was in earnest in what she said to me then?"
asked the girl.

"I am quite sure she was," he answered, "but a few days of her former
life with her old friends will take her back to her previous ways with
greater abandon than ever. You mark my words."

"Bother your words!" cried Leslie emphatically. "I tell you Douglas, I
went through the fire with her. I watched her soul come out white.
Promise me that if ever he talks to you, you won't say anything against
her."

"It would be a temptation," he said. "Minturn is a different man."

"So is she a different woman! Come on Dad, we are waiting for you,"
called Leslie. "What kept you so?"

"A paper fell from my pocket, so I picked it up and in glancing at it I
became interested in a thought that hadn't occurred to me before, and I
forgot. You must forgive your old Daddy; his hands are about full these
days. Between my job for the city, and my own affairs, and those of a
friend, I have all I can carry. Now let me forget business. I call this
great of the girl. And one of the biggest appeals to me is the bill of
fare. I had a dinner for a king last night. What have we to-night?"

"But won't anticipation spoil it?" she asked.

"Not a particle," he declared.

"It's the fish we caught last night, baked potatoes, cress salad from
Minturn's brook, strawberries from Atwaters, cream from our rented cow,
real clover cream, Mrs. James says, and biscuit. That's all."

"Glory!" cried Mr. Winton. "Doesn't that thrill you? Let's head for the
tallest tamarack of the swamp and then have a feast."

On the opposite bank they rested a few minutes, then returned to
dinner. Afterward, with Rogers rowing for Mr. Winton, and Leslie for
Douglas, they went bass fishing. When the boats passed on the far shore
Leslie and Douglas had three, and Mr. Winton five. This did not prove
that he was the better fisherman, only that he worked constantly; they
lost much time in conversation which interested them; but as they
enjoyed what they had to say more than the sport, while Leslie only
wished them to take the fish they would use, it was their affair. The
girl soon returned to the Minturns and secured a promise from Douglas
that if Mr. Minturn talked with him, at least he would say nothing to
discourage his friend about the sincerity of his wife's motives.
Leslie's thoughts then turned to the surprise Douglas had mentioned.

"Oh, that pretty girl?" he inquired casually.

"Yes, Lily," she said. "Of course Mickey took you to see her! Is she
really a lovable child, and attractive? Could you get any idea of what
is her trouble?"

Douglas carefully reeled while looking at Leslie with a speculative
smile. "You refuse to consider an attractive young lady of greater
beauty than I have previously seen?" he queried.

"Absolutely! Don't waste time on it," she said.

"You'll have to begin again and ask me one at a time," he laughed.
"What was your first?"

"Is she really a lovable child?" repeated Leslie.

"She most certainly is," said Douglas. "I could love her dearly. It's
plain that Mickey adores her. Why when a boy gives up trips to the
country, the chance to pick up good money, in order to stand over,
wash, and cook for a little sick girl, what is the answer?"

"The one you have given--that he adores her," conceded Leslie. "The
next was, 'Is she attractive?'"

"Wonderfully!" cried Douglas. "And what she would be in health with
flesh to cover her bones and colour on her lips and cheeks is now only
dimly foreshadowed."

"She must have her chance," said Leslie. "I was thinking of her to-day.
I'll go to see her at once and bring her here. I will get the best
surgeon in Multiopolis to examine her and a nurse if need be; then
Mickey can come out with you."

"Would you really, Leslie?" asked Douglas.

"But why not?" cried she. "That's one of the things worth while in the
world."

"I'd love to go halvers with you," proposed Douglas. "Let's do it! When
will you go to see her?"

"In a few days," said Leslie. "The last one was, 'Could you get any
idea of what is the trouble?'"

"Very little," said Douglas. "She can sit up and move her hands. He is
teaching her to read and write. She had her lesson very creditably
copied out on her slate. She practises in his absence on poems Mickey
makes."

"Poems?"

"Doggerel," explained Douglas. "Four lines at a time. Some of it is
pathetic, some of it is witty, some of it presages possibilities. He
may make a poet. She requires a verse each evening, so he recites it,
then writes it out, and she uses it for copy the next day. The finished
product is to have a sky-blue cover and be decorated either with an
English sparrow, the only bird she has seen, or a cow. She likes milk,
and the pictures of cows give her an idea that she can handle them like
her doll----"

"Oh Douglas!" protested Leslie.

"I believe she thinks a whole herd of cows could be kept on her bed,
while she finds them quite suitable to decorate Mickey's volume," said
Douglas.

"Why, hasn't she seen anything at all?"

"She has been on the street twice in her life that she knows of,"
answered Douglas. "It will be kind of you to take her, and cure her if
it can be done, but you'll have to consult Mickey. She is his find, so
he claims her, belligerently, I might warn you!"

"Claims her! _He has her?_" marvelled Leslie.

"Surely! In his room! On his bed! Taking care of her himself, and doing
a mighty fine job of it! Best she ever had I am quite sure," said
Douglas.

"But Douglas!" cried Leslie in amazement.

"'But me no buts,' my lady!" warned Douglas. "I know what you would
say. Save it! You can't do anything that way. Mickey is right. She _is_
his. He found her in her last extremity, in rags, on the floor in a
dark corner of an attic. He carried her home in that condition, to a
clean bed his mother left him. Since, he has been her gallant little
knight, lying on the floor on his winter bedding, feeding her first and
most, not a thought for himself. God, Leslie! I don't stand for
anything coming between Mickey and his child, his 'family' he calls
her. He's the biggest small specimen I ever have seen. I'll fight his
cause in any court in the country, if his right to her is questioned,
as it will be the minute she is taken to a surgeon or a hospital."

"How old is she?" asked Leslie.

"Neither of them knows. About ten, I should think."

"How has he managed to keep her hidden this long?"

"He lives in an attic. The first woman he tried to get help from
started the Home question, and frightened him; so he appealed to a
nurse he met through being connected with an accident; she gave him
supplies, instructions and made Lily gowns."

"But why didn't she----?" began Leslie.

"She may have thought the child was his sister," said Douglas. "She's
the loveliest little thing, Leslie!"

"Very little?" asked Leslie.

"Tiny is the word," said Douglas. "It's the prettiest sight I ever saw
to watch him wait on her, and to see her big, starved, scared eyes
follow him with adoring trust."

"Adoration on both sides, then," laughed Leslie.

"You imply I'm selecting too big words," said Douglas. "Wait till you
see her, and see them together."

"It's a problem!" said Leslie.

"Yes, I admit that!" conceded Douglas, "but it isn't _your_ problem."

"But they can't go on that way!" cried Leslie.

"I grant that," said Douglas. "All I stipulate is that Mickey shall be
left to plan their lives himself, and in a way that makes him happy."

"That's only fair to him!" said Leslie.

"Now you are grasping and assimilating the situation properly,"
commented Douglas.

When they returned to the cabin they found Mr. Winton stretched in a
hammock smoking. Douglas took a blanket and Leslie a cushion on the
steps, while all of them watched the moon pass slowly across Atwater.

"How are you progressing with the sinners of Multiopolis?" asked Mr.
Winton of Douglas.

"Fine!" he answered. "I've found what I think will turn out to be a big
defalcation. Somebody drops out in disgrace with probably a
penitentiary sentence."

"Oh Douglas! How can you?" cried Leslie.

"How can a man live in luxury when he is stealing other people's money
to pay the bills?" he retorted.

"Yes I know, but Douglas, I wish you would buy this place and plow
corn, or fish for a living."

"Sometimes I have an inkling that before I finish with this I shall
wish so too," replied he.

"What do you think, Daddy?" asked Leslie.

"I think the 'way of the transgressor is hard,' and that as always he
pays in the end. Go ahead son, but let me know before you reach my
office or any of my men. I hope I have my department in perfect order,
but sometimes a man gets a surprise."

"Of course!" agreed Douglas. "Look at that water, will you? Just beyond
that ragged old sycamore! That fellow must have been a whale. Isn't
this great?"

"The best of life," said Mr. Winton, stooping to kiss Leslie as he said
good-night to both.



CHAPTER XIII


_A Safe Proposition_


When Mickey posted his letter, in deep thought he slowly walked home.
That night his eyes closed with a feeling of relief. He was certain
that when Peter and his wife and children talked over the plan he had
suggested they would be anxious to have such a nice girl as Lily in
their home for a week. He even went so far as the vague thought that if
they kept her until fall, they never would be able to give her up, and
possibly she could remain with them until he could learn whether her
back could be cured, and make arrangements suitable for her. In his
heart he felt sure that Mr. Bruce or Miss Leslie would help him take
care of her, but he had strong objections to them. He thought the
country with its clean air, birds, flowers and quiet the best place for
her; if he allowed them to take her, she would be among luxuries which
would make all he could do unappreciated.

"She wasn't born to things like that; what's the use to spoil her with
them?" he argued. "Course they haven't spoiled Miss Leslie, but she
wasn't a poor kid to start on, and she has a father to take care of
her, and Mr. Bruce. Lily has only me and I'm going to manage my family
myself. Pretty soon those nice folks will come, and if she likes them,
maybe I'll let them take her 'til it's cooler."

Mickey had thought they would come soon, but he had not supposed it
would be the following day. He went downtown early, spent some time
drilling his protégé in the paper business, and had the office ready
when Douglas Bruce arrived an hour late. During that hour, Mickey's
call came. He made an appointment to meet Mr. and Mrs. Peter Harding at
Marsh & Jordan's at four o'clock.

"Peter must have wanted to see her so bad he quit plowing to come,"
commented Mickey, as he hung up the receiver. "He couldn't have
finished that field last night! They're just crazy to see Lily, and
when they do, they'll be worse yet; but of course they wouldn't want to
take her from me, 'cause they got three of their own. I guess Peter is
the safest proposition I know. Course he wouldn't ever put a little
flowersy-girl in any old Orphings' Home. Sure he wouldn't! He wouldn't
put his own there, course he wouldn't mine!"

"Mickey, what do you think?" asked Douglas as he entered. "I've moved
to the country!"

Mickey stared. Then came his slow comment: "Gee! The cows an' the
clover gets all of us!"

"I can beat that," said Douglas. "I'm going to live beside a lake where
I can swim every night and morning, and catch big bass, and live on
strawberries from the vines and cream straight from the cow----"

"I thought you'd get to the cow before long."

"And you are invited to go out with me as often as you want to, and you
may arrange to have Lily out too! Won't that be fine?"

Mickey hesitated while his eyes grew speculative, before he answered
with his ever ready: "Sure!"

"Miss Winton made a plan for her father and me," explained Douglas.
"She knew we would lose our vacations this summer, so she took an old
cabin on Atwater, and moved out. We are to go back and forth each
morning and evening. I never was at the lake before, but it's not far
from the club house and it's beautiful. I think most of all I shall
enjoy the swimming and fishing."

"I haven't had experience with water enough to swim in," said Mickey.
"A tub has been my limit. You'll have a fine time all right, and thank
you for asking me. I think Miss Winton is great. Ain't it funny how
many fine folks there are in the world? 'Most every one I meet is too
nice for any use; but I don't know any Swell Dames, my people are just
common folks."

"You wouldn't call Miss Winton a 'Swell Dame,' then?"

"Well I should say nix!" cried Mickey. "You wouldn't catch her motoring
away to a party and leaving her baby to be slapped and shook out of its
breath by a mad nurselady, 'cause she left it herself where the sun
hurt its eyes. She wouldn't put a little girl that couldn't walk in any
Orphings' Home where no telling what might happen to her! She'd fix her
a Precious Child and take her for a ride in her car and be careful with
her."

"Are you quite sure about that Mickey?"

"Surest thing you know," said Mickey emphatically. "Why look her
straight in the eyes, and you can tell. I saw her coming away down the
street, and the minute I got my peepers on her I picked her for a
winner. I guess you did too."

"I certainly did," said Douglas. "But it is most important that I be
perfectly sure, so I should like to have your approval of my choice."

"I guess you're kidding now," ventured Mickey.

"No, I'm in earnest," said Douglas Bruce. "You see Mickey, as I have
said before, your education and mine have been different, but yours is
equally valuable."

"What shall I do now? 'Scuse me, I mean--what do I mean?" asked Mickey.

"To wait until I'm ready for you," suggested Douglas.

"Sure!" conceded Mickey. "It's because I'm used to hopping so lively on
the streets."

"Do you miss the streets?" inquired Douglas.

"Well not so much as I thought I would," said Mickey, "'sides in a way
I'm still on the job, but I guess I'll get Henry's boy so he can go it
all right. He seems to be doing fairly well; so does the old man."

"Have you got him in training too?" asked Douglas.

"Oh it's his mug," explained Mickey impatiently. "S'pose you do own a
grouch, what's the use of displaying it in your show window? Those
things are dangerous. They're contagious. Seeing a fellow on the street
looking like he'd never smile again, makes other folks think of their
woes, so pretty soon everybody gets sorry for themselves. I'd like to
see the whole world happy."

"Mickey, what makes _you_ so happy to-day?"

"I scent somepin' nice in the air," said Mickey. "I hear the rumble of
the joy wagon coming my way."

"You surely look it," declared Douglas. "It's a mighty fine thing to be
happy. I am especially thinking that, because it looks like this last
batch you brought me has a bad dose in it for a man I know. He won't be
happy when he sees his name in letters an inch high on the front page
of the _Herald_."

"No, he won't," agreed Mickey, his face dulling. "That _comes in my
line_. I've seen men forced to take it right on the cars. Open a paper,
slide down, turn white, shiver, then take a brace and try to sit up and
look like they didn't care, when you could see it was all up with them.
Gee, it's tough! I wish we were in other business."

"But what about the men who work hard for their money, not to mince
matters, that these men you are pitying steal?" asked Douglas.

"Yes, I know," said Mickey. "But there's a big bunch of taxpayers, so
it doesn't hit any _one_ so hard. It's tough on them, but honest, Mr.
Bruce, it ain't as tough to lose your coin as it is to lose your glad
face. You can earn more money or slide along without so much; but once
you get the slick, shamed look on your show window, you can't ever wash
it off. Since your face is what your friends know you by, it's an awful
pity to spoil it."

"That's so too, Mickey," laughed Bruce, "but keep this clearly in your
mind. _I'm not spoiling any one's face_. If any man loses his right to
look his neighbour frankly in the eye, from the job we're on, it is
_his_ fault, not _ours_. If men have lived straight we can't find
defalcations in their books, can we?"

"Nope," agreed Mickey. "Just the same I wish we were plowing corn,
'stead of looking for them. That plowing job is awful nice. I watched a
man the other day, the grandest big bunch of bone and muscle, driving a
team it took a gladiator to handle. First time I ever saw it done at
close range and it got me. He looked like a man you'd want to tie to
and stick 'til the war is over. If he ever has a case he is going to
bring it to you. But where he'll get a case out there ten miles from
anybody, with the bluest sky you ever saw over his head, and black
fields under his feet, I can't see. Yes, I wish we were plowing for
corn 'stead of trouble."

"You little dunce," laughed Douglas. "We'd make a fortune plowing corn."

"What's the difference how much you make if something black keeps
ki-yi-ing at your heels 'bout how you make it?" asked Mickey.

"There's a good strong kick in my heels, and the 'ki-yi-ing' is for the
feet of the man I'm after."

"Yes, I know," said Mickey, "but 'fore we get through with this I just
got a hunch that you'll wish we had been plowing corn, too."

"What makes you so sure, Mickey?" said Douglas.

"Oh things I hear men say when I get the books keep me thinking,"
replied Mickey.

"What things?" queried Douglas.

"Oh about who's going to get the axe next!" said Mickey.

"But what of that?" asked Douglas.

"Why it might be somebody you know!" he cried. "When you find these
wrong entries you can't tell who made them."

"I know that the man who made them deserves what he gets," said Douglas.

"Yes, I guess he does," agreed Mickey. "Well go on! But when I grow up
I'm going to plow corn."

"What about the poetry?" queried Douglas.

"They go together fine," explained Mickey. "When the book is finished,
I'd like clover on the cover better than the cow; but if Lily wants the
live stock it goes!"

"Of course," assented Douglas. "But when she sees a real cow she may
change her mind."

"Right in style! Ladies do it often," conceded Mickey. "I've seen them
so changeful they couldn't tell when they called a taxi where they
wanted to be taken." "Mickey, your observations on human nature would
make a better book than your poetry."

"Oh I don't know," said Mickey. "You see I ain't really got _at_ the
poetry job yet. I have to be educated a lot to do it right. What I do
now I wouldn't show to anybody else, it's just fooling for Lily. But I
got an address that gives me a look-in on the paper business if I ever
want it. I ain't got at the poetry yet, but I been on the human-nature
job from the start. When you go cold and hungry if you don't know human
nature--why you _know_ it, that's all!"

"You surely do," said Douglas. "Now let's hustle this forenoon, and
then you may have the remainder of the day. I am going fishing."

"Thank you," said Mickey, "I hope you get a bass as long as your arm,
and I hope the man you are chasing breaks his neck before you get him."

Mickey grinned at Douglas' laugh, and went racing about his work, then
he helped on his paper route until four, when he hurried to his meeting
with Nancy and Peter.

"When everybody is so nice if you give them any show at all, I can't
understand where the grouchers get their grouch," muttered Mickey, as
he hopped from one toe to the other and tried to select the car at the
curb which would be Peter's.

"Hey you!" presently called a voice from one of them. Mickey sent a
keen glance over a boy who had come up and entered the car.

"Straw you!" retorted Mickey, landing on the curb in a flying leap.

"Is your name Mickey?" inquired the boy.

"Yep. Is your father's name Peter?" asked Mickey.

"Yep. And mine is Peter too. So to avoid two Peters I am Junior. Come
on in 'til the folks come."

Formalities were over. Mickey laughed as he entered the car and
straightway began an investigation of its machinery. Now any boy is
proud to teach another something he wants to know and does not, so by
the time the car was thoroughly explained any listener would have
thought them acquaintances from birth.

"Hurry!" cried Junior when his parents came. "I want to get home with
Mickey. I want him to show me----"

"Don't you hurry your folks, Junior," said Mickey, "I'll show you all
right!"

"Well it's about time I was seeing something."

"Sure it is," agreed Mickey. "Come on with me here, and I'll show you
what real boys are!"

"Say father, I'm coming you know," cried Junior. "I'm tired poking in
the country. Just look what being in the city has made of Mickey."

"Yes, just look!" cried Mickey, waving both hands and bracing on feet
wide apart. "Do look! Your age or more, and about _half_ your beefsteak
and bone."

"But you got muscle. I bet I couldn't throw you!"

"I bet you couldn't either," retorted Mickey, "'cause I survived
Multiopolis by being Johnny _not_ on the spot! I've dodged for my life
and my living since I can remember. I'm champeen on that. But you come
on with me, and I'll get you a job and let you try yourself."

"I'm coming," said Junior. Then remembering he was not independent he
turned to his mother. "Can't I take a job and work here?"

Mrs. Harding braced herself and succumbed to habit. "That will be as
your father says."

Junior turned toward his father, doubt in his eye, to receive a shock.
There was not a trace of surprise or disapproval on the face of Peter.

"Now maybe that would be the best way in the world for you to help me
out," he said. "You see me through planting and harvest and then I'll
arrange to spare you, and you can see how you like it till fall. But
you are too young to give up school and I don't agree to interrupting
your education."

Mrs. Harding entered the car. "Now Mickey," she said as she distributed
parcels, "you sit up there with Peter and show him the way, and we will
go see if we want to undertake the care of your little girl for a week."

"Drop the anchor, furl the sail, right here," directed Mickey when they
reached Sunrise Alley. "You know I told you dearest lady, about how
scared my little girl is, having seen so few folks and not expecting
you; so I'll have to ask you to wait a few minutes 'til I go up and get
her used to your being here and then I'll have to sort of work her up
to you one at a time. I 'spect you can't hardly believe that there's
anything in all the world so small, and so white, that's lived to have
the brains she has, and yet hasn't seen the streets of this city but
for a short ride on a street-car twice in her life, and hasn't talked
to half a dozen people. She may take you for a bear, Peter; you will be
quiet and easy, won't you?"

"Why Mickey," said Peter, "why of course, son!"

Mickey bounded up the stairs and swung wide his door. Again the awful
heat hit him in the face. He swallowed a mouthful, hastily shutting the
door. "It's hard on Lily," was his mental comment, "but I guess I'll
just _save_ that for Mr. and Mrs. Peter. I think a few gulps of it will
do them good; it will show them better than talking why, once she's
_out_ of it, she shouldn't come back 'til cold weather at least, if at
all. Yes I guess!"

"Most baked honey?" he asked, taking her hot hands.

"Mickey, 'tain't near six," she panted.

"No it's two hours early," said Mickey. "But you know Flowersy-girl,
I'm going to take _care_ of you. It's getting too hot for you. Don't
you remember what I told you last night?"

"'Bout laying on the grass an' the clover flowers?"

"Exactly yes!" said Mickey. "'Fore we melt let's roll up in this sheet
and go, Lily! What do you say?"

"Has--has the red-berry folks come?" she cried.

"They're downstairs, Lily. They're waiting."

Peaches began climbing into his arms.

"Mickey, Mickey-lovest, hold me tight," she panted. "Mickey, I'm scairt
just God-damned!"

"Wope! Wope lady! None of that!" cried Mickey aghast. "The place where
you're going there's a _nice little girl_ that never said such a word
in all her life, and if she did her mammy would wash the badness out of
her mouth with soap, just like I'll have to wash out yours, if you
don't watch. You can't go in the big car, being held tight by me, else
you promise cross your heart never, not never to say that again."

"Mickey, will soapin' take it out?" wailed Peaches.

"Well my mammy took it out of _me_ that way!"

"Mickey get the soap, an' wash, an' scour it all out now, so's I can't
ever. Mickey, quick before the nice lady comes that has flower fields,
an' red berries, an' honey 'lasses. Mickey, hurry!"

"Oh you fool little sweet kid," he half laughed, half sobbed. "You fool
little precious child-kid--I can't! There's a better way. I'll just put
on a kiss so tight that no bad swearin's will ever pop out past it.
There, like that! Now you won't ever say one 'fore the nice little
girl, and when I want you not to so bad, will you?"

"Not never Mickey! Not never, never, never!"

"The folks can't wait any longer," said Mickey. "Here quick, I'll wash
your face and comb you, and get a clean nightie on you, and your
sweetest ribbon."

"Then it's pink," declared Peaches, "an' Mickey, make me a pretty girl,
so's the nice lady will like me to drink her milk."

"Greedy!" said Mickey. "How can I make you pretty when the Lord didn't!"

"Ain't I pretty any at all?" queried Peaches.

"Mebby you would be if you'd fatten up a little," said Mickey
judicially. "Can't anybody be pretty that's got bones sticking out all
over them."

"Mickey, is the girl where we are going pretty?"

"I don't know," said Mickey. "I haven't seen her. She's a fine little
girl, for she's at home taking care of her baby brother so's that her
mammy can come and see if you are _nice enough_ to go to her house and
not _spoil_ her children. See?"

Peaches nodded comprehendingly.

"Mickey, I won't again!" she insisted. "I said not never, never, never.
Didn't you _hear_ me?"

"Yes I heard you," said Mickey, applying the washcloth, slipping on a
fresh nightdress, brushing curls, and tying the ribbon with fingers
shaking with excitement and haste. "Yes I heard you, but that stuff
seems to come awful easy, Miss. You got to be careful no end. Now, I'm
going to bring them. You just smile at them, and when they ask you,
tell them the right answer _nice_. Will you honey? Will you _sure?_"

"Surest thing you know," quoted Peaches promptly.

"Aw-w-w-ah!" groaned Mickey. "That ain't right! Miss Leslie wouldn't
ever said that! You got that from me, too! I guess I better soap out my
mouth 'fore I begin on you. 'Yes ma'am,' is the answer. Now you
remember! I'll just bring in the lady first."

"I want to see Peter first!" announced Peaches.

"Well if I ever!" cried Mickey. "Peter is a great big man, 'bout twice
as big as Mr. Bruce. You don't either! You want to see the nice lady
first, 'cause it's up to _her_ to say if she'll take care of you. She
may get mad and not let you go at all, if you ask to see Peter _first_.
You want to see the nice lady first, don't you Lily?"

"Yes, if I got to, to see the cow. But I don't!" said Lily. "I want to
see Peter. I like Peter the _best_."

"Now you look here Miss Chicken, don't you start a tantrum!" cried
Mickey. "If you don't see this nice lady first and be pretty to her,
I'll just go down and tell them you _like_ lying here roasting, and
they can go back to their flower-fields and berries. See?"

Peaches drew a deep breath but her eyes were wilful. A wave of heat
seemed to envelop them.

"Sweat it out right now!" ordered Mickey. "When people do things for
you 'cause they are sorry for you, it's up to you to be polite, to pay
back with manners at least. See?"

Peaches' smile was irresistible: "Mickey, I feel so p'lite! I'll see
the nice lady first."

"Now there's a real, sure-enough lady!"

Mickey stooped to kiss Peaches again, take a last look at the hair
ribbon, and straighten the sheet, then he ran; but he closed in the
heat quickly as he slipped through the doorway. A few seconds later
with the Harding family at his heels he again approached it. There he
made his second speech. He addressed it to Peter and Junior.

"'Cause she's so little and so scared, I guess the nice lady better go
in first, and make up with her. Then one at a time you can come, so so
many strangers won't upset her."

Peter assented heartily, but with a suffocating gesture removed his
coat, so Junior followed his example. Mickey cut short something about
"extreme heat" on the lips of Mrs. Harding by indicating the door, and
opening it. He quickly closed it after her, advancing to Peaches.

"Lily, this is the nice lady I was telling you of who has got the bird
singing and the flower-fields----" he began. Peaches drew back, her
eyes wide with wonder and excitement, but her mind followed Mickey's
lead, for she shocked his sense of propriety by adding: "and the good
red berries."

But Mrs. Harding came from an environment where to have "good red
berries," spicy smoked ham, fat chickens and golden loaves constituted
a first test of efficiency. To have her red berries appreciated did not
offend her. If Peaches had said "the sweetest, biggest red berries in
Noble Country," the woman would have been delighted, because that was
her private opinion, but she was not so certain that corroboration was
unpleasant. She advanced, gazing at the child unconsciously gasping the
stifling air. She took one hurried glance at the room in its scrupulous
bareness, with waves of heat pouring in the open window, and bent over
Peaches.

"Won't you come out of this awful heat quickly, and let us carry you
away to a cool, shady place? Dear little girl, don't you want to come?"
she questioned.

"Is Mickey coming too?" asked Peaches.

"Of course Mickey is coming too!" said the lady.

"Will he hold me?"

"He will if you want him to," said Mrs. Harding, "but Peter is so much
bigger, it wouldn't tire him a mite."

Mickey shifted on his feet and gazed at Peaches; as her eyes sought
his, the message he telegraphed her was so plain that she caught it
right.

"Mickey is just awful strong," she said. "I'll go if he'll hold me. But
I want to _see_ Peter! I _like_ Peter!"

"Why you darling!" cried the nice lady.

"And I like Junior, that Mickey told me about, and your nice little
girl that I mustn't ever say no sw----"

Mickey promptly applied the flat of his hand to the lips of the
astonished child.

"And you like the little girl and the fat toddly baby----" he prompted.

"Yes," agreed Peaches enthusiastically, twisting away her head, "and I
like the milk and the meat--gee, I like the _meat_, only Mickey
wouldn't give me but a tiny speck 'til he asked the Sunshine Nurse
Lady."

"You blessed child!" cried Nancy Harding. "Call Peter quickly!"

Mickey opened the door and signalled Peter and Junior.

"She likes you. She asked for you. You can both come at once," he
announced, holding the door at a narrow crack until they reached it,
both red faced, dripping, and fanning with their hats. Peter gasped for
air.

"My God! Has any living child been cooped in this all day?" he roared.
"Get her out! Get her out quick! Get her out first and talk afterward.
This will give her scarlet fever!"

A shrill shout came from behind the intervening lady who arose and
stepped back as Peaches raised to her elbow, and stretched a shaking
hand toward Peter.

"Gee, Peter! You get your mouth soaped out first!" she cried. "Gee,
Peter! I _like_ you, Peter!"

Peter bent over her and then stooping to her level he explored her with
astonished eyes, as he cried: "Why child, you ain't big enough for an
exclamation point!" Peaches didn't know what an exclamation point was,
but Mickey did. His laugh brought him again into her thought.

"Mickey, let's beat it! Take me quick!" she panted. "Take me first and
talk afterward. Mickey, we just love these nice people, let's go drink
their milk, and eat their red berries."

"Well Miss Chicken!" said Mickey turning a dull red.

The Harding family were laughing.

"All right, everybody move," said Peter. "What do you want to take with
you Mickey?"

"That basket there," he said. "And that box, you take that Junior, and
you take the Precious Child, and the slate and the books dearest
lady--and I'll take my family; but I ain't so sure about this, lady.
She's sweaty now, and riding is the coolingest thing you can do. We
mustn't make her sick. She must be well wrapped."

"Why she couldn't take cold to-day----" began Peter.

"You and Junior shoulder your loads and go right down to the car," said
Mrs. Harding. "Mickey and I will manage this. He is exactly right about
it. To be taken from such heat to the conditions of motoring might----"

"Sure!" interposed Mickey, dreading the next word for the memories it
would awaken in the child's heart. "Sure! You two go ahead! We'll come
in no time!"

"But I'm not going to lug a basket and have a little chap carrying a
child. You take this and I'll take the baby!"

Mickey's wireless went into instant action so Peaches promptly rebelled.

"I ain't no baby!" she said. "Miss Leslie Moonshine Lady sent me her
hair ribbons and I 'spect she's been crying for them back every day;
and my name what granny named me is Peaches, so there!"

"Corrected! Beg pardon!" said Peter. "Miss Peaches, may I have the
honour of carrying you to the car?"

"Nope," said Peaches with finality. "Nobody, not nobody whatever, not
the biggest, millyingairest nobody alive can't ever carry me, nelse
Mickey says they can, and he is away off on the cars. I like you Peter!
I just like you heaps; but I'm Mickey's, so I got to do what he says
'cause he makes me, jes like he ort, and nobody can't ever tend me like
Mickey."

"So that's the ticket!" mused Peter.

"Yes, that's the ticket," repeated Peaches. "I ain't heavy. Mickey
carried me up, down is easier."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "_I take my own family_. You take yours. We'll be
there in a minute."

Peter and Junior disappeared with thankfulness and speed. Mrs. Harding
and Mickey wrapped Peaches in the sheet and took along a comfort for
shelter from the air stirred by motion. Steadying his arm, which he
wished she would not, they descended. Did she think he wanted Peaches
to suppose he couldn't carry her? He ran down the last flight to show
her, frightening her into protest, and had the reward of a giggle
against his neck and the tightening of small arms clinging to him. He
settled in the car and wrapped Lily in the comfort until she had only a
small peep of daylight.

Mickey knew from Peaches' laboured breathing and the grip of her hands
how agitated she was; but as the car glided smoothly along, driven
skilfully by mentality, guided by the controlling thought of a tiny
lame back, she became easier and clutched less frantically. He kept the
comfort over her head. She had enough to make the change, to see so
many strangers all at once, without being excited by unfamiliar things
that would bewilder and positively frighten her.

Mickey stoutly clung to a load that soon grew noticeably heavy; while
over and over he repeated in his heart with fortifying intent: "She is
my family, I'll take care of her. I'll let them keep her a while
because it is too hot for her there, but they shan't _boss_ her, and
they got to know it first off, and they shan't take her from me, and
they got to understand it."

Right at that point Mickey's grip tightened until the child in his arms
shivered with delight of being so enfolded in her old and only
security. She turned her head to work her face level with the comfort
and whisper in glee: "Mickey, we are going just stylish like
millyingaire folks, ain't we?"

"You just bet we are!" he whispered back.

"Mickey, you wouldn't let them 'get' me, would you?"

"Not on your life!" said Mickey, gripping her closer.

"And Peter wouldn't let them 'get' me?"

"No, Peter would just wipe them clear off the slate if they tried to
get you," comforted Mickey. "We're in the country now Lily. Nobody will
even think of you away out here."

"Mickey, I want to see the country!" said Peaches.

"No Miss! I'm scared now," replied Mickey. "It was awful hot there and
it's lots cooler here, even slow and careful as Peter is driving. If
you get all excitement, and rearing around, and take a chill, and your
back gets worse, just when we have such a grand good chance to make it
better--you duck and lay low, and if you're good, and going out doesn't
make you sick, after supper when you rest up, maybe I'll let you have a
little peepy yellow chicken in your hand to hold a minute, and maybe
I'll let you see a cow. You'd give a good deal to see the cow that's
going on your book, wouldn't you?"

Peaches snuggled down in pure content and proved her femininity as she
did every day. "Yes. But when I see them, maybe I'll like a chicken
better, and put it on."

"All right with me," agreed Mickey. "You just hold still so this
doesn't make you sick, and to-morrow you can see things when you are
all nice and rested."

"Mickey," she whispered.

Mickey bent and what he heard buried his face against Peaches' a second
and when lifted it radiated a shining glory-light, for she had
whispered: "Mickey, I'm going to always mind you and love you best of
anybody."

Because she had expected the trip to result in the bringing home of the
child, Mrs. Harding had made ready a low folding davenport in her
first-floor bedroom, beside a window where grass, birds and trees were
almost in touch, and where it would be convenient to watch and care for
her visitor. There in the light, pretty room, Mickey gently laid
Peaches down and said: "Now if you'll just give me time to get her
rested and settled a little, you can see her a peep; but there ain't
going to be _much_ seeing or talking to-night. If she has such a lot
she ain't used to and gets sick, it will be a bad thing for her, and
all of us, so we better just go slow and easy."

"Right you are, young man," said Peter. "Come out of here you kids!
Come to the back yard and play quietly. When Little White Butterfly
gets rested and fed, we'll come one at a time and kiss her hand, and
wish her pleasant dreams with us, and then we'll every one of us get
down on our knees and ask God to help us take such good care of her
that she will get well at our house."

Mickey suddenly turned his back on them and tried to swallow the lump
in his throat. Then he arranged his family so it was not in a draft,
sponged and fed it, and failed in the remainder of his promise, because
it went to sleep with the last bite and lay in deep exhaustion. So
Mickey smoothed the sheet, slipped off the ribbon, brushed back the
curls, shaded the light, marshalled them in on tiptoe, and with anxious
heart studied their compassionate faces.

Then he telephoned Douglas Bruce to ask permission to be away from the
office the following day, and ventured as far from the house as he felt
he dared with Junior; but so anxious was he that he kept in sight of
the window. And so manly and tender was his scrupulous care, so tiny
and delicate his small charge as she lay waxen, lightly breathing to
show she really lived, that in the hearts of the Harding family grew a
deep respect for Mickey, and such was their trust in him, that when he
folded his comfort and stretched it on the floor beside the child, not
even to each other did they think of uttering an objection. So Peaches
spent her first night in the country breathing clover air, watched
constantly by her staunch protector, and carried to the foot of the
Throne on the lips of one entire family; for even Bobbie was told to
add to his prayer: "God bless the little sick girl, and make her well
at our house."



CHAPTER XIV


_An Orphans' Home_


"Margaret, I want a few words with you some time soon," said James
Minturn to his sister.

"Why not right now?" she proposed. "I'm not busy and for days I've
known you were in trouble. Tell me at once, and possibly I can help
you."

"You would deserve my gratitude if you could," he said. "I've suffered
until I'm reduced to the extremity that drives me to put into words the
thing I have thrashed over in my heart day and night for weeks."

"Come to my room James," she said.

James Minturn followed his sister.

"Now go on and tell me, boy," she ordered. "Of course it's about
Nellie."

"Yes it's about Nellie," he repeated. "Did you hear any part of what
that very charming young lady had to say to me at our chosen
playground, not long ago?"

"Yes I did," answered Mrs. Winslow. "But not enough to comprehend
thoroughly. Did she convince you that you are mistaken?"

"No. But this she did do," said Mr. Minturn. "She battered the walls of
what I had believed to be unalterable decision, until she made this
opening: I must go into our affairs again. I have got to find out where
my wife is, and what she is doing; and if the things Miss Leslie thinks
are true. Margaret, I thought it was _settled_. I was happy, in a way;
actually happy! No Biblical miracle ever seemed to me half so wonderful
as the change in the boys."

"The difference in them is quite as much of a marvel as you think it,"
agreed Mrs. Winslow.

"It is greater than I would have thought possible in any
circumstances," said Mr. Minturn. "Do they ever mention their mother to
you?"

"Incidentally," she replied, "just as they do maids, footman or
governess, in referring to their past life. They never ask for her, in
the sense of wanting her, that I know of. Malcolm resembles her in
appearance and any one could see that she liked him best. She always
discriminated against James in his favour if any question between them
were ever carried to her."

"Malcolm is like her in more than looks. He has her musical ability in
a marked degree," said Mr. Minturn. "I have none, but Miss Winton
suggested a thing to me that Mr. Tower has been able to work up some,
and while both boys are deeply interested, it's Malcolm who is
beginning to slip away alone and listen to and practise bird cries
until he deceives the birds themselves. Yesterday he called a catbird
to within a few feet of him, by reproducing the notes as uttered and
inflected by the female."

"I know. It was a triumph! He told me about it."

"James is well named," said Mr. Minturn. "He is my boy. Already he's
beginning to ask questions that are filled with intelligence,
solicitude and interest about my business, what things mean, what I am
doing, and why. He's going to make the man who will come into my
office, who in a few more years will be offering his shoulder for part
of my load. You can't understand what the change is from the old
attitude of regarding me as worth no consideration; not even a
gentleman, as my wife's servants were teaching my sons to think.
Margaret, how am I going back even to the thought that I may be making
a mistake? Wouldn't the unpardonable error be to again risk those boys
an hour in the company and influence which brought them once to what
they were?"

"You poor soul!" exclaimed Mrs. Winslow.

"Never mind that!" warned Mr. Minturn. "I'm not accustomed to it, and
it doesn't help. Have you any faith in Nellie?"

"None whatever!" exclaimed Mrs. Winslow. "She's so selfish it's simply
fiendish. I'd as soon bury you as to see you subject to her again."

"And I'd much sooner be buried, were it not that my heart is set on
winning out with those boys," said Mr. Minturn. "There is material for
fine men in them, but there is also depravity that would shock you
inexpressibly, instilled by ignorant, malicious servants. I wish Leslie
Winton had kept quiet."

"And so do I!" agreed Mrs. Winslow. "I could scarcely endure it, as I
realized what was going on. While Nellie had you, there was no
indignity, no public humiliation at which she stopped. For my own
satisfaction I examined Elizabeth before she was laid away, and I held
my tongue because I thought you didn't know. When _did_ you find out?"

"A newsboy told me. He went with a woman who was in the park where it
happened, to tell Nellie, but they were insulted for their pains. Some
way my best friend Douglas Bruce picked him up and attached him, as I
did William; it was at my suggestion. Of course I couldn't imagine that
out of several thousand newsies Douglas would select the one who knew
my secret and who daily blasts me with his scorn. If he runs into an
elevator where I am, the whistle dies on his lips; his smile fades and
he actually shrinks from my presence. You can't blame him. A man
_should be able to protect the children he fathers_. What he said to me
stunned me so, he thought me indifferent. In my place, would you stop
him some day and explain?"

"I most certainly would," said Mrs. Winslow. "A child's scorn is
withering, and you don't deserve it."

"I have often wondered what or how much he told Bruce," said Mr.
Minturn.

"Could you detect any change in Mr. Bruce after the boy came into his
office?" asked Mrs. Winslow.

"Only that he was kinder and friendlier than ever."

"That probably means that the boy told him and that Mr. Bruce
understood and was sorry."

"No doubt," he said. "You'd talk to the boy then? Now what would you do
about Nellie?"

"What was it Miss Winton thought you _should_ do?"

"See Nellie! Take her back!" he exclaimed. "Give her further
opportunity to exercise her brand of wifehood on me and motherhood on
the boys!"

"James, if you do, I'll never forgive you!" cried his sister. "If you
tear up this comfortable, healthful place, where you are the honoured
head of your house, and put your boys back where you found them, I'll
go home and stay there; and you can't blame me."

"Miss Winton didn't ask me to go back," he explained; "that couldn't be
done. I saw and examined the deed of gift of the premises to the city.
The only thing she could do would be to buy it back, and it's torn up
inside, and will be in shape for opening any day now, I hear. The city
needed a Children's Hospital; to get a place like that free, in so
beautiful and convenient a location--and her old friends are furious at
her for bringing sickness and crooked bodies among them. No doubt they
would welcome her there, but they wouldn't welcome her anywhere else.
She must have endowed it liberally, no hospital in the city has a staff
of the strength announced for it."

"James, you are wandering!" she interrupted. "You started to tell me
what Miss Winton asked of you."

"That I bring Nellie here," he explained. "That I make her mistress of
this house. That I put myself and the boys in her hands again."

"Oh good Lord!" ejaculated Mrs. Winslow. "James, are you actually
thinking of _that?_ Mind, I don't care for myself. I have a home and
all I want. But for you and those boys, are you really contemplating
it?"

"No!" he said. "All I'm thinking of is whether it is my duty to hunt
her up and once more convince myself that she is heartless vanity
personified, and utterly indifferent to me personally, as I am to her."

"Suppose you do go to her and find that through pique, because you made
the move for separation yourself, she wants to try it over, or to get
the boys again--she's got a mint of money. Do you know just how much
she has?"

"I do not, and I never did," he replied. "Her funds never in any part
were in my hands. I felt capable of making all I needed myself, and I
have. I earn as much as it is right I should have; but she'd scorn my
plan for life and what satisfies me; and she'd think the boys
disgraced, living as they are."

"James, was there an hour, even in your honeymoon, when Nellie forgot
herself and was a lovable woman?"

"It is painful to recall, but yes! Yes indeed!" he answered. "Never did
a man marry with higher hope!"

"Then what----?" marvelled Mrs. Winslow.

"Primarily, her mother, then her society friends, then the power of her
money," he answered.

"Just how did it happen?" she queried.

"It began with Mrs. Blondon's violent opposition to children; when she
knew a child was coming she practically moved in with us, and spent
hours pitying her daughter, sending for a doctor at each inevitable
consequence, keeping up an exciting rush of friends coming when the
girl should have had quiet and rest, treating me with contempt, and
daily holding me up as the monster responsible for all these things.
The result was nervousness and discontent bred by such a course at such
a time, until it amounted to actual pain, and lastly unlimited money
with which to indulge every fancy.

"In such circumstances delivery became the horror they made of it,
although several of the doctors told me privately not to have the
slightest alarm; it was simply the method of rich selfish women to make
such a bugbear of childbirth a wife might well be excused for refusing
to endure it. Sifted to the bottom that was _exactly what it was_. I
didn't know until the birth of James that they had neglected to follow
the instructions of their doctors and made no preparation for nursing
the child; as a result, when I insisted that it must be done, shrieks
of pain, painful enough as I could see, resulted in a nervous chill for
the mother, more inhumanity in me, and the boy was turned over to a
hired woman with his first breath and to begin unnatural life. I
watched the little chap all I could; he was strong and healthy, and
while skilled nurses were available he upset every rule by thriving;
which was one more count against me, and the lesson pointed out and
driven home that no young wife could give a child such attention, so
the baby was better off in the hands of the nurse. That he was reared
without love, that his mother took not an iota of responsibility in his
care, developed not a trait of motherhood, simply went on being a
society belle, had nothing to do with it.

"He did so well, Nellie escaped so much better than many of her
friends, that in time she seemed to forget it and didn't rebel at
Malcolm's advent, or Elizabeth's, but by that time I had been
practically ostracized from the nursery; governesses were empowered to
flout and insult me; I scarcely saw my children, and what I did see
made me furious, so I vetoed more orphans bearing my name, and gave up
doing anything. Then came the tragedy of Elizabeth. Surely you
understand 'just how' it was done Margaret?"

"Of course I had an idea, but I never before got just the perfect
picture, and now I have it, though it's the last word I _want_ to say
to you, God made me so that I'm forced to say it, although it furnishes
one more example of what is called inconsistency."

"Be careful what you say, Margaret!"

"I must say it," she replied. "I've encouraged you to talk in detail,
because I wanted to be sure I was right in the position I was taking;
but you've given me a different viewpoint. Why James, think it over
yourself in the light of what you just have told me. Nellie never has
been a mother at all! Her heart is more barren than that of a woman to
whom motherhood is physical impossibility, yet whose heart aches with
maternal instinct!"

"Margaret!" cried James Minturn.

"James, it's true!" she persisted. "I never have understood. For fear
of that, I led you on and now look what you've told me. Nellie never
had a chance at natural motherhood. The thing called society made a
foolish mother to begin with, while she in turn ruined her daughter,
and if Elizabeth had lived it would have been passed on to her. You
throw a new light on Nellie. As long as she was herself, she was tender
and loving, and you adored her; if you had been alone and moderately
circumstanced, she would have continued being so lovable that after ten
years your face flushes with painful memory as you speak of it. I've
always thought her abandoned as to wifely and motherly instinct. What
you say proves she was a lovable girl, ruined by society, through the
medium of her mother and friends."

"If she cared for me as she said, she should have been enough of a
woman----" began Mr. Minturn.

"Maybe she _should_, but you must take into consideration that she was
not herself when the trouble began; she was, as are all women, even
those most delighted over the prospect, in an unnatural condition, _in
so far that usual conditions were unusual_, and probably made her ill,
nervous, apprehensive, not herself at all."

"Do you mean to say that you are changing?"

"Worse than that!" she said emphatically. "I have positively and
permanently changed. Even at your expense I will do Nellie justice.
James, your grievance is not against your wife; it is against the
mother who bore her, the society that moulded her."

"She should have been woman enough----" he began.

"Left alone, she was!" insisted Mrs. Winslow. "With the ills and
apprehensions of motherhood upon her, she yielded as most young,
inexperienced women would yield to what came under the guise of tender
solicitude, and no doubt eased or banished pain, which all of us avoid
when possible; and the pain connected with motherhood is a thing in awe
of which the most practised physicians admit themselves almost stunned.
The woman who would put aside pampering and stoically endure what money
and friends could alleviate is rare. Jim, pain or no pain to you, you
must find your wife and learn for yourself if she is heartless; or
whether in some miraculous way some one has proved to her what you have
made plain as possible to me. You must hunt her up, and if she is still
under her mother's and society's influence, and refuses _to change_,
let her remain. But--but if she has changed, as you have just seen me
change, then you should give her another chance if she asks it."

"I can't!" he cried.

"You must! The evidence is in her favour."

"What do you mean?" he demanded impatiently.

"Her acquiescence in your right to take the boys and alter their method
of life; her agreement that for their sakes you might do as you chose
with no interference from her; both those are the acknowledgment of
failure on her part and willingness for you to repair the damages if
you can," she explained. "Her gift of a residence, the furnishings of
which would have paid for the slight alterations necessary to transform
a modern home into the most beautiful of modern hospitals, in a
wonderfully lovely location, and leave enough to start it with as fine
a staff as money can provide--that gift is a deliberately planned
effort at reparation; the limiting of patients to children under ten is
her heart trying to tell yours that she would atone."

"O Lord!" cried James Minturn.

"Yes I know," said Mrs. Winslow. "Call on Him! You need Him! There is
no question but that He put into her head the idea of setting a home
for the healing of little children, in the most exclusive residence
district of Multiopolis, where women of millions are forced to see it
every time they look from a window or step from their door. Have you
seen it yourself, James?"

"Naturally I wouldn't haunt the location."

"I would, and I did!" said Mrs. Winslow. "A few days ago I went over it
from basement to garret. You go and see it. And I recall now that her
lawyer was there, with sheets of paper in his hand, talking with
workmen. I think he's working for Nellie and that she is probably
directing the changes and personally evolving a big, white, shining
reparation."

"It's a late date to talk about reparation," he said.

"Which simply drives me to the truism, 'better late than never!' and to
the addition of the comment that Nellie is only thirty and that but ten
years of your lives have been wasted; if you hurry and save the
remainder, you should have fifty apiece coming to you, if you breathe
deep, sleep cool, and dine sensibly," said Mrs. Winslow.

She walked out of the room and closed the door. James Minturn sat
thinking a long time, then called his car and drove to Atwater alone.
He found Leslie in the orchard, a book of bird scores in her hands, and
several sheets of music beside her. Her greeting was so cordial, so
frankly sweet and womanly, he could scarcely endure it, because his
head was filled with thoughts of his wife.

"You are still at your bird study?" he asked.

"Yes. It's the most fascinating thing," she said.

"I know," he conceded. "I want the titles of the books you're using. I
mentioned it to Mr. Tower, our tutor, and he was interested instantly,
and far more capable of going at it intelligently than I am, because he
has some musical training. Ever since we talked it over he and the boys
have been at work in a crude way; you might be amused at their results,
but to me they are wonderful. They began hiding in bird haunts and
listening, working on imitations of cries and calls, and reproducing
what they heard, until in a few weeks' time--why I don't even know
their repertoire, but they can call quail, larks, owls, orioles,
whip-poor-wills, so perfectly they get answers. James will never do
anything worth while in music, he's too much like me; but Malcolm is
saving his money and working to buy a violin; he's going to read a
music score faster than he will a book. I'm hunting an instructor for
him who will start his education on the subjects which interest him
most. Do you know any one Leslie?"

"No one who could do more than study with him. It's a branch that is
just being taken up, but I have talked of it quite a bit with Mr.
Dovesky, the harmony director of the Conservatory. If you go to him and
make him understand what you want along every line, I think he'd take
Malcolm as a special student. I'd love to help him as far as I've gone,
but I'm only a beginner myself, and I've no such ability as it is very
possible he may have."

"He has it," said Mr. Minturn conclusively. "He has his mother's fine
ear and artistic perception. If she undertook it, what a success she
could make!"

"I never saw her so interested in anything as she was that day at the
tamarack swamp," said Leslie, "and her heart was full of other matters
too; but she recognized the songs I took her to hear. She said she
never had been so attracted by a new idea in her whole life."

"Leslie, I came to you this morning about Nellie. I promised you to
think matters over, and I've done nothing else since I last saw you,
hateful as has been the occupation. You're still sure of what you said
about her then?"

"Positively!" cried Leslie.

"Do you hear from her?" he asked.

"No," she answered.

"You spoke of a letter----" he suggested.

"A note she wrote me before leaving," explained Leslie. "You see I'd
been with her all day and we had raced home so joyously; and when
things came out as they did, she knew I wouldn't understand."

"Might I see it?" he asked.

"Surely," said Leslie. "I spoke of that the other day. I'll bring it."

When Leslie returned James Minturn read the missive several times; then
he handed it back, saying: "What is there in that Leslie, to prove your
points?"

"Three things," said Leslie with conviction: "The statement that for an
hour after she reached her decision she experienced real joy and
expected to render the same to you; the acknowledgment that she
understood that you didn't know what you were doing to her, in your
reception of her; and the final admission that life now held so little
for her that she would gladly end it, if she dared, without making what
reparation she could. What more do you want?"

"You're very sure you are drawing the right deductions?" he asked.

"I wish you would sit down and let me tell you of that day," said
Leslie.

"I have come to you for help," said James Minturn. "I would be more
than glad, if you'd be so kind."

At the end: "I don't think I've missed a word," said Leslie. "That day
is and always will be sharply outlined."

"You've not heard from her since that note?" he asked. "You don't know
where she is?"

"No," said Leslie. "I haven't an idea where you could find her; but
because of her lawyer superintending the hospital repairs, because of
the wonderful way things are being done, Daddy thinks it's sure that
the work is in John Haynes' hands, and that she is directing it through
him."

"If it were not for the war, I would know," said Mr. Minturn. "But
understanding her as I do----"

"I think instead of understanding her so well, you scarcely know her at
all," said Leslie gently. "You may have had a few months of her real
nature to begin with, but when her rearing and environment ruled her
life, the real woman was either perverted or had small chance. Do you
ever stop to think what kind of a man you might have been, if all your
life you had been forced and influenced as Nellie was?"

"Good Lord!" cried Mr. Minturn.

"Exactly!" agreed Leslie. "That's what I'm telling you! She had got to
the realization of the fact that her life had been husks and ashes; so
she went to beg you to help her to a better way, and you failed her.
I'm not saying it was your fault; I'm not saying I blame you; I'm
merely stating facts."

"Margaret blames me!" said Mr. Minturn. "She thinks I'm enough at fault
that I never can find happiness until I locate Nellie and learn whether
she is with her mother and friends, or if she really meant what she
said about changing, enough to go ahead and be different from
principle."

"Her change was radical and permanent."

"I've got to know," said Mr. Minturn, "but I've no faith in her ability
to change, and no desire to meet her if she has."

"Humph!" said Leslie. "That proves that you need some changing
yourself."

"I certainly do," said James Minturn. "If I could have an operation on
my brain which would remove that particular cell in which is stored the
memory of the past ten years----"

"You will when you see her," said Leslie, "and she'll be your surgeon."

"Impossible!" he cried.

"Go find her," said Leslie. "You must to regain peace for yourself."

James Minturn returned a troubled man, but with viewpoint shifting so
imperceptibly he did not realize what was happening. On his way he
decided to visit the hospital, repugnant as the thought was to him.
From afar he was amazed at sight of the building. He knew instantly
that it must have been the leading topic of conversation among his
friends purposely avoided in his presence. Marble pillars and
decorations had been freshly cleaned, the building was snowdrift white;
it shone through the branches of big trees surrounding it like a fairy
palace. At the top of the steps leading to the entrance stood a marble
group of heroic proportions that was wonderful. It was a seated figure
of Christ, but cut with the face of a man of his station, occupation,
and race, garbed in simple robe, and in his arms, at his knees, leaning
against him, a group of children: the lean, sick and ailing, such as
were carried to him for healing. Cut in the wall above it in large
gold-filled letters was the admonition: "Suffer little children to come
unto me."

That group was the work of a student and a thinker who could carry an
idea to a logical conclusion, and then carve it from marble. The
thought it gave James Minturn, arrested before it, was not the
stereotyped idea of Christ, not the conventional reproduction of
childhood. It impressed on Mr. Minturn's brain that the man of Galilee
had lived in the form of other men of his day, and that such a face,
filled with infinite compassion, was much stronger and more forceful
than that of the mild feminine countenance he had been accustomed to
associating with the Saviour.

He entered the door to find his former home filled with workmen, and
the opening day almost at hand. Everywhere was sanitary whiteness. The
reception hall was ready for guests, his library occupied by the
matron; the dining-hall a storeroom, the second and third floors in
separate wards, save the big ballroom, now whiter than ever, its
touches of gold freshly gleaming, beautiful flowers in tubs, canaries
singing in a brass house filling one end of the room, tiny chairs,
cots, every conceivable form of comfort and amusement for convalescing
little children. The pipe organ remained in place, music boxes and
wonderful mechanical toys had been added, rugs that had been in the
house were spread on the floor. No normal man could study and interpret
the intention of that place unmoved. All over the building was the same
beautiful whiteness, the same comfort, and thoughtful preparation for
the purpose it was designed to fill. The operating rooms were perfect,
the whole the result of loving thought, careful execution, and
uncounted expense.

He came in time to the locked door of his wife's suite, and before he
left the building he met her lawyer. He offered his hand and said
heartily: "My sister told me of the wonderful work going on here; she
advised me to come and see for myself. I am very glad I did. There's
something bigger than the usual idea in this that keeps obtruding
itself."

"I think that too," agreed John Haynes. "I've almost quit my practice
to work out these plans."

"They are my wife's, by any chance?"

"All hers," said Mr. Haynes. "I only carry out her instructions as they
come to me."

"Will you give me her address?" asked Mr. Minturn. "I should like to
tell her how great I think this."

"I carry a packet for you that came with a bundle of plans this
morning," said Mr. Haynes. "Perhaps her address is in it. If it isn't,
I can't give it to you, because I haven't it myself. She's not in the
city, all her instructions she sends some one, possibly at her mother's
home, and they are delivered to me. I give my communications to the boy
who brings her orders."

"Then I'll write my note and you give it to him."

"I'm sorry Minturn," said Mr. Haynes, "but I have my orders in the
event you should wish to reach her through me."

"She doesn't wish to hear from me?"

"I'm sorry no end, Mr. Minturn, but----"

"Possibly this contains what I want to know," said Mr. Minturn. "Thank
you, and I congratulate you on your work here. It is humane in the
finest degree."

James Minturn went to his office and opened the packet. It was a
complete accounting of every dollar his wife was worth, this divided
exactly into thirds, one of which she kept, one she transferred to him,
and the other she placed in his care for her sons to be equally divided
between them at his discretion. He returned and found the lawyer had
gone to his office. He followed and showed him the documents.

"What she places to my credit for our sons, that I will handle with the
utmost care," he said. "What she puts at my personal disposal I do not
accept. We are living comfortably, and as expensively as I desire to.
There is no reason why I should take such a sum at her hands, even
though she has more than I would have estimated. You will kindly return
this deed of transfer to her, with my thanks, and a note I will
enclose."

"Sorry Minturn, but as I told you before, I haven't her address. I'm
working on a salary I should dislike to forfeit, and my orders are
distinct concerning you."

"You could give me no idea where to find her?"

"Not the slightest!" said the lawyer.

"Will you take charge of these papers?" he questioned.

"I dare not," replied Mr. Haynes.

"Will you ask her if you may?" persisted Mr. Minturn.

"Sorry Minturn, but perhaps if you should see my instructions in the
case, you'd understand better. I don't wish you to think me
disobliging."

Mr. Minturn took the sheet and read the indicated paragraph written in
his wife's clear hand:

_Leslie Winton was very good to me my last day in Multiopolis. She was
with me when I reached a decision concerning my future relations with
Mr. Minturn, as I would have arranged them; and I am quite sure when
she knows of our separation she will feel that it would not have
occurred had James known of this decision of mine. It would have made
no difference; but I am convinced Leslie will think it would, and that
she will go to James about it. I doubt if it will change his attitude;
but if by any possibility it should, and if in any event whatever he
comes to you seeking my address, or me, I depend on you to in no way
help him, if it should happen that you could. For this reason I am
keeping it out of your power, unless I make some misstep that points to
where I am. I don't wish to make any mystery of my location, or to
disregard any intention that it is barely possible Leslie could bring
Mr. Minturn to, concerning me. I merely wish to be left alone for a
time; to work out my own expiation, if there be any; and to test my
soul until I know for myself whether it is possible for a social
leopard to change her spots. I have got to know absolutely that I am
beyond question a woman fit to be a wife and mother, before I again
trust myself in any relation of life toward any one_.

Mr. Minturn returned the sheet, his face deeply thoughtful. "I see her
point," he said. "I will deposit the papers in a safety vault until she
comes, and in accordance with this, I shall make no effort to find her.
My wife feels that she must work out her own salvation, and I am
beginning to realize that a thorough self-investigation and revelation
will not hurt me. Thank you. Good morning."



CHAPTER XV


_A Particular Nix_


Peaches awakened early the following morning, but Mickey was watching
beside her to help her remember, to prompt, to soothe, to comfort and
to teach. He followed Mrs. Harding to the kitchen and from the prepared
food selected what he thought came closest filling the diet prescribed
by the Sunshine Nurse, and then he carried the tray to a fresh, cool
Peaches beside a window opening on a grassy, tree-covered lawn. Her
room was bewildering on account of its many, and to the child,
magnificent furnishings. She found herself stretching, twisting and
filled with a wild desire to walk, to see the house, the little girl
and the real baby, the lawn beyond her window, the flower-field, the
red berries where they grew, and the birds and animals from which came
the most amazing sounds.

After doing everything for Peaches he could, Mickey went to his
breakfast. Mary Harding and Bobbie were so anxious to see the visitor
they could scarcely eat. Knowing it was no use to try forcing them,
their mother excused them and they ventured as far as the door. There
they stopped, gazing at the little stranger, while she stared back at
them; but she was not frightened, because she knew who they were and
that they would be good to her, else Mickey would not let them come. So
when Mary, holding little brother's hand, came peeping around the
door-casing, Peaches withdrew her attention from exploration of the
strip of lawn in her range and concentrated on them. If they had come
bounding at her, she would have been frightened, but they did not. They
stood still, half afraid, watching the tiny white creature, till
suddenly she smiled at them and held out her hand.

"I like you," she said. "Did you have red berries for breakfus?"

Mary nodded and smiled back.

"I think you're a pretty little girl," said Peaches.

"I ain't half as pretty as you," said Mary.

"No a-course you ain't," she admitted. "Your family don't put your
ribbon on you 'til night, do they? Mickey put mine on this morning
'cause I have to look nice and be jus' as good, else I have to be took
back to the hot room. Do you have to be nice too?"

"Yes, I have to be a good girl," said Mary.

"What does your family do to you if you don't mind?"

"I ain't going to tell, but it makes me," said Mary. "What does yours
do to you?"

"I ain't going to tell either," said Peaches, "but I get jus' as good!
What's your name?"

"Mary."

"What's his?"

"Bobbie. Mostly we call him little brother. Ain't he sweet?" asked Mary.

"Jus' a Precious Child! Let him mark on my slate."

Mickey hurried to the room. As he neared the door he stepped softly and
peeped inside. It was a problem with him as to how far Mary and Bobbie
could be trusted. Having been with Peaches every day he could not
accurately mark improvements, but he could see that her bones did not
protrude so far, that her skin was not the yellow, glisteny horror it
had been, that the calloused spots were going under the steady rubbing
of nightly oil massage, so lately he had added the same treatment to
her feet; if they were not less bony, if the skin were not soft and
taking on a pinkish colour, Mickey felt that his eyes were unreliable.

Surely she was better! Of course she was better! She had to be! She ate
more, she sat up longer, she moved her feet where first they had hung
helpless. She was better, much better, and for that especial reason,
now was the time to watch closer than before. Now he must make sure
that a big strong child did not drag her from the bed, and forever undo
all he had gained. Since he had written Dr. Carrel, Mickey had rubbed
in desperation, not only nights but mornings also, lest he had asked
help before he was ready for it; for the Sunshine Lady had said
explicitly that the sick back could not be operated until the child was
stronger. He was working according to instructions.

Mickey watched. Any one could have seen the delicate flush on Peaches'
cheek that morning, the hint of red on her lips, the clearing whites of
her lovely eyes. She was helping Bobbie as Mickey had taught her. And
Bobbie approved mightily. He lifted his face, put up his arms and
issued his command: "Take Bobbie!"

"No! No, Bobbie," cautioned Mary. "Mother said no! You must stay on the
floor! Sister will take you. You mustn't touch Peaches 'til God makes
her well. You asked Him last night, don't you know? Mother will spank
something awful if you touch her. You must be careful 'til her back is
well, mother said so, and father too; father said it crosser than
mother, don't you remember?"

"Mustn't touch!" repeated Bobbie, drawing back.

Mickey was satisfied with Mrs. Harding's instructions, but he took the
opportunity to emphasize a few points himself. He even slipped one
white, bony foot from under the sheet and showed Mary how sick it was,
and how carefully it must be rubbed before it would walk.

"I can rub it," announced Mary.

"Well don't you try that," cautioned Mickey.

"Why go on and let her!" interposed Peaches. "Go on and let her! After
today you said you'd be gone all day, an' if rubbing in the morning and
evening is good, maybe more would make me walk sooner. Mickey I ain't
ever said it, 'cause you do so much an' try so hard, but Mickey, _I'm
just about dead to walk!_ Mickey, I'm so tired being lifted. Mickey, I
want to get up an' _go_ when I want to, like other folks!"

"Well that's the first time you ever said that."

"Well 'tain't the first time I ever could a-said it, if I'd a-wanted
to," explained Peaches.

"I see! You game little kid, you," said Mickey. "All right Mary, you
ask your mother and if she says so, I'll show you how, and maybe you
can rub Lily's feet, if you go slow and easy and don't jar her back a
speck."

"Ma said I could a-ready," explained Mary. "Ma said for me to! She said
all of us would, all the time we had while you were away, so she'd get
better faster. Ma said she'd give a hundred dollars if Peaches would
get so she could walk here."

Mickey sat back on his heels suddenly.

"Who'd she say that to?" he demanded.

"Pa. And he said he'd give five hundred."

"Aw-a-ah!" marvelled Mickey.

"He did too!" insisted Mary. "This morning 'fore you came out. And
Junior would too. He'd give all in his bank! And he'd rub too! He said
he would."

"Well, if you ain't the nicest folks!" cried Mickey. "Gee, I'm glad I
found you!"

"Jus' as glad!" chimed in Peaches.

"Mary bring Robert here!" called Mrs. Harding from the hall. Mary
obeyed. Mickey moved up and looked intently at Peaches.

"Well Lily," he asked, "what do you _think_ of this?"

"I wouldn't trade this for Heaven!" she answered.

"The country is all the Heaven a-body needs, in June."

"Mickey, bring in the cow now!" ordered Peaches.

"Bring in the cow?" queried Mickey.

"Sure, the little red cow in the book that makes the milk. I want you
to milk her right here on my bed!"

"Well, if I ever!" gasped Mickey. "Sure, I'll bring her in a minute;
but a cow is big, Lily! Awful, great big. I couldn't bring her in here;
but maybe I can drive her where you can see, or I don't know what would
be the harm in taking you where the cows are. But first, one thing! Now
you look right at me, Miss Chicken. There's something I got to _know_
if you got in your head _straight_. Who found you, and kept them from
'getting' you?"

"Mickey-lovest," replied Peaches promptly.

"Then who d'you belong to?" he demanded.

"Mickey!" she answered instantly.

"Who you got to do as I say?" he continued.

"Mickey," she repeated.

"Whose _family_ are you?" he pursued.

"Mickey's!" she cried. "Mickey, what's the matter? Mickey, I love you
best. I'm all yours. Mickey, I'll go back an' never say a word 'bout
the hotness, or the longness, or anything, if you don't _want_ me here."

"Well I do want you here," said Mickey in slow insistent tone. "I want
you right here! But you got to _understand_ a few things. You're mine.
I'm going to keep you; you got to understand that."

"Yes Mickey," conceded Peaches.

"And if it will help you to be rubbed more than I can rub you while I
got to earn money to pay for our supper when we go home, and fix your
back, and save for the seminary, I'll let the nice pleasant lady rub
you; and I'll let a good girl like Mary rub you, and if his hands ain't
so big they hurt, maybe I'll let Peter rub you; he takes care of
Bobbie, maybe he could you, and he's got a family of his own, so he
knows how it feels; but it's _nix_ on anybody else, Miss Chicken, see?"

"They ain't nobody else!" said Peaches.

"There is too!" contradicted Mickey. "Mary said Junior would rub your
feet! Well he _won't!_ It's nix on Junior! _He's only a boy! He ain't
got a family. He hasn't had experience. He doesn't know anything about
families! See?_"

"He carries Bobbie, an' I bet he's heavier 'an me."

For the first time Mickey lost his temper.

"Now you looky here, Miss Chicken," he stormed. "I ain't saying what he
_can_ do, I'm saying what he _can't!_ See? You are mine, and I'm going
to keep you! He can lift me for all I care, but he can't carry you, nor
rub your feet, nor nothing; because he didn't find you, and you ain't
his; and I won't have it, not at all! Course he's a good boy, and he's
a nice boy, and you can play with him, and talk to him, I'll let you
just be awful nice to him, because it's polite that you should be, but
when it comes to carrying and rubbing, it's nix on Junior, because he's
got no family and doesn't understand. See?"

"Umhuh," taunted Peaches.

"Well, are you going to promise?" demanded Mickey.

"Maybe," she teased.

"Back you go and never see a cow at all if you don't promise,"
threatened Mickey.

"Mickey, what's the matter with you?" cried Peaches suddenly. "What you
getting a tantrum yourself for? You ain't never had none before."

"That ain't no sign I ain't just busting full of them," said Mickey.
"Bad ones, and I feel an awful one as can be coming right now, and
coming quick. Are you going to promise me nobody who hasn't a _family_,
carries you, and rubs you?"

Peaches looked at him in steady wonderment.

"I guess you're pretty tired, an' you need to sleep a while, or
somepin," she said. "If you wasn't about sick yourself, you'd know 'at
anybody 'cept you 'ull get their dam-gone heads ripped off if they
touches me, nelse _you_ say so. _Course_, you found me! _Course_,
they'd a-got me, if you hadn't took me. _Course_, I'm yours! _Course_,
it's nix on Junior, an' it's _nix_ on Peter if you say so. Mickey, I
jus' love you an' love you. I'll go back now if you say so, I tell you.
Mickey _what's_ the matter?"

She stretched up her arms, and Mickey sank into them. He buried his
face beside hers and for the first time she patted him, and whispered
to him as she did to her doll. She rubbed her cheek against his,
crooned over him, and held him tight while he gulped down big sobs.

"Mickey, tell me," she begged, like a little mother. "Tell me honey?
Are you got a pain anywhere?"

"No!" he said. "Maybe I _was_ kind of strung up, getting you here and
being so awful scared about hurting you; but it's all right now. You
are here, and things are going to be fine, only, will you, cross your
heart, _always and forever remember this: it's nix on Junior, or any
boy, who ain't got a family, and doesn't understand?_"

"Yes Mickey, cross my heart, an' f'rever, an' ever; an' Mickey, you
must get the soap. I slipped, an' said the worse yet. I didn't mean to,
but Mickey, I guess you can't _trust_ me. I guess you got to soap me,
or beat me, or somepin awful. Go on an' do it, Mickey."

"Why crazy!" said Mickey. "You're mixed up. You didn't say anything!
What you said was all rightest ever; rightest of anything I ever heard.
_It was just exactly what I wanted you to say_. I just _loved_ what you
said."

"Well if I ever!" cried Peaches. "Mickey, you was so mixed up you
didn't hear me. I got 'nother chance. Goody, goody! Now show me the
cow!"

"All right!" said Mickey. "I'll talk with Mrs. Harding and see how she
thinks I best go at it. Lily, you won't ever, ever forget that
particular nix, will you?"

"Not ever," she promised, and lifted her lips to seal the pact with a
kiss that meant more to Mickey than all that had preceded it.

"Just how do you feel, anyway, Flowersy-girl?"

"Fine!" said Peaches. "I can tell by how it is right now, that it isn't
going to get all smothery an' sweatin's here; whoohoo it's so good,
Mickey!"

Mickey bent over her holding both hands and whispered: "Then just you
keep right before your eyes where you came from, Miss, and what you
must go _back_ to, if you don't behave. You will be a good girl, won't
you?"

"Honest, Mickey-lovest, jus' as good."

"Well how goes it with the Little White Butterfly?" asked Peter at the
door.

Mickey looked at Peaches to slightly nod encouragement, then he slipped
from the room. She gave Peter a smile of wonderment and answered
readily: "Grand as queen-lady. You're jus' so nice and fine."

Now Peter hadn't known it, but all his life he had been big; handled
rough tools, tasks, implements and animals; while his body grew sinewy
and hard, to cope with his task, his heart demanded more refined
things; so if Peaches had known the most musical languages on earth,
she could not have used words to Peter that would have served her
better. He radiated content.

"Good!" he cried. "That's grand and good! I didn't take a fair look at
you last night. It was so sissing hot in that place and you went to
sleep before I got my chores done; but now we must get acquainted. Tell
me honey, does any particular place in your little body hurt you? If
there does, put your hand and show Peter where."

Peaches stared at Peter, then she faintly smiled at him and laid a
fluttering hand on her left side.

"Oh shockings!" mourned Peter. "That's too bad! That's vital! Your
heart's right under there, honey. Is there a pain in your _heart?_"

Peaches nodded solemnly.

"Not _all_ the time!" she explained. "Only like now, when you are so
_good_ to me. Jus' so fine and good."

Then and there Peter surrendered. He bent and kissed the hand he held,
and said with tears saturating his words, just as tears do permeate
speech sometimes: "Pshaw now, Little White Butterfly! I never was more
pleased to hear anything in my life. Ma and I have talked for years of
having some city children here for summer, but we've been slow trying
it because we hear such bad reports from many of them, and it's natural
for people to shield their own; but I guess instead of shielding, we
may have been denying. I can't see anything about you children to hurt
ours; and I notice a number of ways where it is beneficial to have you
here. It's surely good for all of us. You're the nicest little folks!"

Peaches sat up suddenly and smiled on Peter.

"Mickey is nice an' fine," she told him. "Not even you, or anybody, is
nice as Mickey. An' I'm _going_ to be. I'd _like_ to be! But you see, I
laid alone all day in a dark corner so long, an' I got so wild like,
'at when granny did come, I done an' said jus' like she did, but Mickey
doesn't like it. He's scairt 'most stiff fear I'll forget an' say bad
swearin's, an' you'll send me back to the hotness, so's I won't get
better. Would you send me back if I forget _just once_, Peter?"

"Why pshaw now!" said Peter. "Pshaw Little Soul, don't you worry about
that. You try _hard_ to remember, and be like Mickey wants you to, and
if you make a slip, I'll speak to Ma about it, and we'll just turn a
deaf ear, and away out here, you'll soon forget it."

Just then, Mickey, trailing a rope, passed before the window; there was
a crunching sound; a lumbering cow stopped, lifted a mouth half filled
with grass, and bawled her loudest protest at being separated from her
calf. Peaches had only half a glance, but her shriek was utter terror.
She launched herself on Peter and climbed him, until her knees were on
his chest, and her fingers clutching his hair.

"God Jesus!" she screamed. "It 'ull eat me!"

Peter caught her in his arms, turning his back. Mickey heard, and saw,
and realized that the cow was too big and had appeared too
precipitately, and bellowed too loudly. He should have begun on the
smallest calf on the place. He rushed the cow back to Junior, and
himself to Peaches, who, sobbing wildly, still clung to Peter. As
Mickey entered, frightened and despairing, he saw that Peter was much
concerned, but laughing until his shoulders shook, and in relief that
he was, and that none of the children were present, Mickey grinned,
acquired a slow red, and tried to quiet Peaches.

"Shut that window!" she screamed. "Shut it quick!"

"Why honey, that's the cow you wanted to see," soothed Mickey. "That's
the nice cow that gave the very milk you had for breakfast. Junior was
going to milk her where you could see. We thought you'd _like_ it!"

"Don't let it get me!" cried Peaches.

"Why it ain't going to get anything but grass!" said Mickey. "Didn't
you see me leading it? I can make that big old thing go where I please.
Come on, be a game kid now. You ain't a baby coward girl! It's only a
cow! You are going to put it on your book!"

"I ain't!" sobbed Peaches. "I ain't ever going to drink milk again! I
jus' bet the _milk_ will _get_ me!"

"Be game now!" urged Mickey. "Mary milks the cow. Baby Bobbie runs
right up to her. Everything out here is big, Lily. I ran from the
horses. I jumped on a fence, and Junior laughed at me."

"Mickey, what did you say?" wavered Peaches.

"I didn't say anything," said Mickey. "I just jumped."

"Mickey, I jumped, an' I said it, both. I said it right on Peter," she
bravely confessed. "Mickey, I said the worst yet! I didn't know I
_did_, 'til I heard it! But Mickey, I got another chance!"

Peaches wiped her eyes, tremulously glanced at the window, and still
clinging to Mickey explained: "I was just telling Peter about the
swearin's, an' Mickey, don't feel so bad. He won't send me back for
just once. Mickey, Peter has got 'a deaf ear.' He _said_ he had! He
ain't goin' to hear it when I slip a swearin's, an' Mickey, I am
tryin'! Honest I'm tryin' jus' as hard, Mickey!"

Mickey turned a despairing face toward Peter.

"Just like she says," assured Peter. "We've all got our faults. You'll
have to forgive her Mickey."

"Me? Of course!" conceded Mickey. "But what about you? You don't want
your nice little children to hear bad words."

"Well," said Peter, "don't make too much of it! It's likely there are
no words she can say that my children don't know. Just ignore and
forget it! She won't do it often. I'm sure she won't!"

"Are you sure you won't, Miss?" demanded Mickey.

"Sure!" said Peaches, and in an effort to change the subject: "Mickey,
is that cow out there yet?"

"No. Junior took her back to the barnyard."

"Mickey, I ain't going to put a cow on my book; but I want to see her
again, away off. Mickey, take me where I can see. You said last night
you would."

"But the horses are bigger than the cows. You'll get scared again, and
with scaring and crying you'll be so bad off your back won't get any
better all day, and to-morrow I got to leave you and go to work."

"Then I'll see all the things to-day, an' to-morrow I'll think about
them 'til you come back. Please Mickey! If things don't get Bobbie an'
Mary, they won't get me!"

"That's a game little girl!" said Mickey. "All right, I'll take you.
But you ought to have----"

"Have what Mickey?" she inquired, instantly alert.

"Well never you mind what," said Mickey. "You be a good girl and lie
still, so your back will be better, and watch the bundle I'll bring
home to-morrow night."

Peaches shivered in delight. Mickey proceeded slowly, followed by the
entire family.

"Mickey, it's so big!" she marvelled. "Everything is so far away, an'
so big!"

"Now isn't it!" agreed Mickey. "You see it's like I told you. Now let
me show you the garden."

He selected that as a safe proposition. Peaches grasped the idea
readily enough. Mrs. Harding gathered vegetables for her to see. When
they reached the strawberry bed Mickey knelt and with her own fingers
Peaches pulled a berry and ate it, then laughed, exclaimed, and cried
in delight. She picked a flower, and from the safe vantage of the
garden viewed the cows and horses afar; and the fields and sheep were
explained to her. Mickey carried her across the road, Mary brought a
comfort, and for a whole hour the child lay under a big tree with pink
and white clover in a foot-deep border around her. When they lifted her
she said: "Mickey, to-night we put in the biggest blesses of all."

"What?" inquired Mickey.

"Bless the nice people for such grand things, an' the berries; but
never mind about the cow."

Then Mickey took her back to the house. She awoke from a restful nap to
find a basket of chickens waiting for her, barely down dry from their
shells. She caught up a little yellow ball, and with both hands
clutched it, exclaiming and crying in joy until Mickey saw the chicken
was drooping. He pried open her excited little fingers; but the chicken
remained limp. Soon it became evident that she had squeezed the life
from it.

"Oh Peaches, you held it too tight!" wailed Mickey. "I'm afraid you've
made it sick!"

"I didn't mean to Mickey!" she protested.

Mrs. Harding reached over and picked the chicken from Mickey's fingers.

"That chicken wasn't very well to begin with," she said. "'You give it
to me, and I'll doctor it up, while you take another one. Which do you
want?"

"Yellow," sniffed Peaches, "but please hurry, and Mickey, you hold this
one. Maybe I held too hard!"

"Yes you did," laughed Peter. "But we wanted to see what you'd do. One
little chicken is a small price for the show you give. It's all right,
Butterfly."

"Peter, you make everything all right, don't you?"

"Well honey, I would if I could," said Peter. "But that's something of
a contract. Now you rest till after dinner, and if Ma and Mickey agree
on it, we'll go see the meadow brook and hear the birds sing."

"The water!" shouted Peaches. "Mickey, you promised----"

"Yes I remember," said Mickey. "I'll see how cold it is and if I think
it won't chill you--yes."

"Oh gee!" chortled Peaches. "'Nother blesses!"

"What does she mean?" asked Peter.

Mickey explained.

"Can't see how it would hurt her a mite," said Peter. "Water is warm,
nice day. It will be good for her."

"All right," said Mickey, "then we'll try it. But how about the plowing
Peter, shouldn't I be helping you?"

"Not to-day," said Peter. "I never allow my work to drive me, so I get
pleasure from life my neighbours miss, and I'll compare bank accounts
with any of them. To-morrow I'll work. To-day I'm entertaining company,
or rather they are entertaining me. I think this is about the best day
of my life. Isn't it great, Ma?"

"It just is! I can't half work, myself!" answered Nancy Harding. "I
just wonder if we could take a little run in the car after supper?"

"What do you think about it, Mickey?" asked Peter.

"Why, I can't see that coming out hurt her any."

"Then we'll go," said Peter.

"Do I have to be all covered?" questioned Peaches.

"Not nearly so much," explained Mickey. "I'll let you see a lot more.
There's a bobolink bird down the street Peter wants to show you."

"'Street!'" jeered Junior. "That's a road!"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I got a lot to learn. You tell me, will you
Junior?"

"Course!" said Junior, suddenly changing from scorn to patronage. "Now
let's take her to the creek!"

"Well that's quite a walk," said Peter. "We're not going there unless I
carry the Little White Butterfly. You want me to take you, don't you?"

Peaches answered instantly.

"Mickey always carries me. He can! And of course I like _him_ the best;
but after him, I like you best Peter, so you may, if he'll let you."

"So that's the way the wind blows!" laughed Peter. "Then Mickey, it's
up to you."

"Why sure!" said Mickey. "Since you are so big, and got a family of
your own, so you understand----"

"What Mickey?" asked Peter.

"Oh how to be easy with little sick people," answered Mickey, "and that
a man's family is _his_ family, and he don't want anybody else butting
in!"

"I see!" said Peter, struggling with his facial muscles. "Of course!
But this sheet is going to be rather bunglesome. Ma, could you do
anything about it?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Harding. "Mary, you run up to the flannel chest, and
get Bobbie's little blue blanket."

Peter lifted the child to his broad breast, she slipped her arms around
his neck, and laid her head on his shoulder.

Bloom time was past, but bird time was not, while the leaves were still
freshly green and tender. Some of them reached to touch Peaches' gold
hair in passing. She was held high to see into nests and the bluebirds'
hollow in the apple tree. Peaches gripped Peter and cried: "Don't let
it get my feet!" when the old turkey gobbler came rasping, strutting,
and spitting at the party. Mickey pointed to Mary, who was unafraid,
and Peaches' clutch grew less frantic but she defended: "Well, I don't
care! I bet if she hadn't ever seen one before, an' then a big thing
like that would come right at her, tellin' plain it was goin' to eat
her alive, it would scare the livers out of her."

"Yes I guess it would," conceded Peter. "But you got the eating end of
it wrong. It isn't going to eat us, we are going to eat it. About
Thanksgiving, we'll lay its head on the block and Ma will stuff it----"

"I've quit stuffing turkeys, Peter," said Mrs. Harding. "I find it
spoils the flavour of the meat."

"Well then it will stuff us," said Peter, "all we can hold, and mince
pie, plum pudding, and every good thing we can think of. What piece of
turkey do you like best, Butterfly?"

Mickey instantly scanned Peter, then Mrs. Peter, and tensely waited.

"Oh stop! Stop! Is _that a turkey bird?_" cried Peaches.

"Surely it is," said Mrs. Harding. "Why childie, haven't you ever seen
a turkey, either?"

"No I didn't ever," said Peaches. "Can turkey birds sing?"

Just then the gobbler stuck forward his head and sang: "Gehobble,
hobble, hobble!" Peaches gripped Peter's hair and started to ascend him
again. Mrs. Harding waved her apron; the turkey suddenly reduced its
size three-fourths, skipped aside, and a neat, trim bird, high stepping
and dainty, walked through the orchard. Peaches collapsed in Peter's
arms in open-mouthed wonder. "Gosh! How did it cave in like that?" she
cried.

Peter's shoulders were shaking, but he answered gravely: "Well that's a
way it has of puffing itself up and making a great big pretense that it
is going to flop us, and then if just little Bobbie or Ma waves an
apron or a stick it gets out of the way in a hurry."

"I've seen Multiopolis millyingaires cave in like that sometimes when I
waved a morning paper with an inch-high headline about them," commented
Mickey.

Peter Harding glanced at his wife, then they laughed together. Peter
stepped over a snake fence, went carefully down a hill, crossed the
meadow to the shade of a tree, sat on the bank of the brook and watched
Peaches as she studied first the clear babbling water, then the grass
trailing in the stream, the bushes, trees, and then the water again.

"Mickey, come here!" she commanded. "Put your head right down beside
mine. Now look just the way I do, an' tell me what you see."

"I see running water, grassy banks, trees, the birds, the sky and the
clouds--the water shows what's above it like a mirror, Lily."

Peaches pointed. Mickey watched intently.

"Sure!" he cried. "Little fish with red speckles on them. Shall I catch
you one to see?"

"'Tain't my eyes then?" questioned Peaches.

"Your eyes, Miss?" asked Mickey bewildered.

"'Tain't my eyes seein' things that yours doesn't?"

Mickey took her hand and drew closer.

"Well, it isn't any wonder you almost doubt it, honey," he said. "I
would too, if I hadn't ever seen it before. But I been on the trolley,
and on a few newsboys' excursions, and in the car with Mr. Bruce, and
I've got to walk along the str--roads some, so I know it's real. Let me
show you----!"

Mickey slipped down the bank, scooped his hands full of water, and
lifted them, letting it drip through his fingers. Then he made a sweep
and brought up one of the fish, brightly marked as a flower, and
gasping in the air.

"Look quick!" he cried. "See it good! It's used to water and the air
chokes it, just like the water would you if a big fish would take you
and hold your head under; I got to put it back quick."

"Mickey, lay it in my hand, just a little bit!"

Mickey obeyed while Peaches examined it hurriedly.

"Put it back!" she cried. "I guess that's as long as I'd want to be
choked, while a fish looked at me."

Mickey exchanged the fish for a handful of wet, vividly coloured
pebbles, then brought a bunch of cowslips yellow as gold, and a long
willow whip with leaves on, and when she had examined these, she looked
inquiringly at Mrs. Harding.

"Nicest lady, may I put my feet in your water?"

"How about the temperature of it, Mickey?" inquired Mrs. Harding.

"It's all right," said Mickey. "I've washed her in colder water lots of
times. The Sunshine Lady said I should, to toughen her up."

"Then go ahead," said Mrs. Harding.

"Peter, may I?" asked Peaches.

"Surely!" agreed Peter. "Whole bunch may get in if Ma says so!"

"Well, I don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Harding. "The children have
their good clothes on and they always get to romping and dirty
themselves and then it's bigger washings and mine are enough to break
my back right now."

Peter looked at his wife intently. "Why Nancy, I hadn't heard you
complain before!" he said. "If they're too big, we must wear less and
make them smaller, and I'll take an hour at the machine, and Junior can
turn the wringer. All of you children listen to me. Your Ma is feeling
the size of the wash. That means we must be more careful of our clothes
and help her better. If Ma gets sick, or tired of us, we'll be in a
fix, I tell you!"

"I didn't say I was sick, or tired of you, I'm just tired of washing!"
said Mrs. Harding.

"I see!" said Peter. "But it is a thing that has got to be done, like
plowing and sowing."

"Yes I know," said Mrs. Harding, "but plowing and sowing only come once
a year. Washing comes once and twice a week."

"Let me," said Mickey. "I always helped mother, and I do my own and
Lily's at home. Of course I will here, and I can help you a lot with
yours!"

"Yes a boy!" scoffed Mrs. Harding.

"Well I'll show you that a boy can work as well as a girl, if he's been
taught right," said Mickey.

"I wasn't bringing up any question of work," said Mrs. Harding. "I just
didn't want the children to dirty a round of clothing apiece. They may
wade when their things are ready for the wash anyway. Go on Peaches!"

Peter moved down the bank and prepared to lower her to the water, but
she reached her arms for Mickey.

"He promised me," she said. "Back there on his nice bed in the hot room
he promised me this."

"So I did," said Mickey, radiating satisfaction he could not conceal.
"So I did! Now, I'll let you put your feet in, like I said."

"Will the fish bite me?" she questioned timidly.

"Those little things! What if they did?"

Thus encouraged she put her toes in the water, gripping Mickey and
waiting breathlessly to see what happened. Nothing happened, while the
warm, running water felt pleasant, so she dipped lower, and then did
her best to make it splash. It wasn't much of a splash, but it was a
satisfying performance to the parties most interested, and from their
eagerness the watchers understood what it meant to them. Junior sidled
up to his mother.

"Ain't that tough?" he whispered.

She bit her lip and silently nodded.

"Look at her feet, will you?" he breathed.

She looked at him instead, then suddenly her eyes filled with a mist
like that clouding his.

"_Think they'll ever walk?_" he questioned.

"I don't know," she said softly, "but it looks as if God has given us
the chance to make them if it's possible."

"Well say what's my share?" he said.

"Just anything you see that you think will help."

"If I be more careful not to dirty so many clothes, will it help?" he
asked.

"It would leave me that much more time and strength to give to her,"
she said.

"Will all I can save you in any way be helping her that much?" he
persisted.

"Surely!" she said. "Soon as he's out of sight, I'm going to begin on
her. But don't let them hear!"

Junior nodded. He sat down on the bank watching as if fascinated the
feet trying to splash in the water. Mickey could feel the effort of the
small body.

"You take her now," he said to Peter. Then he threw off his shoes and
stockings, turned up his knee breeches and stepped into the water,
where he helped the feet to kick and splash. He rubbed them and at last
picked up handfuls of fine sand and lightly massaged with it until he
brought a pink glow.

"That's the stuff," indorsed Peter. "Look at that! You're pulling the
blood down."

"Where's the blood?" asked Peaches.

Peter explained the circulatory system and why all the years of lying,
with no movement, had made her so helpless. He told her why scarce and
wrong food had not made good blood to push down and strengthen her feet
so they would walk. He told her the friction of the sand-rubbing would
pull it down, while the sun, water, and earth would help. Peaches with
wide eyes listened, her breath coming faster and faster, until suddenly
she leaned forward and cried: "Rub, Mickey! Rub 'til the blood flies!
Rub 'em hot as hell!"

"Well, Miss Chicken!" he cried in despair.

Peaches buried her shamed face on Peter's breast. He screened her with
a big hand.

"Now never you mind! Never you mind!" he repeated. "Everybody turn a
deaf ear! That was a slip! Nobody heard it! You mean Little Butterfly
White, 'rub hard.' Say rub hard and that will fix it!"

"Mickey," she said in a faint voice so subdued and contrite as to be
ridiculous, "Mickey-lovest, won't you please to rub hard! Rub jus' as
hard!"

Mickey suddenly bent to kiss the bony little foot he was chafing.

"Yes darling, I'll rub 'til it a-most bleeds," he said.

When the feet were glowing with alternate sand-rubbing and splashing in
cold water, Peter looked at his wife.

"I think that's the ticket!" he said. "Nancy, don't you? That pulls
down the blood with rubbing, and drives it back with cold water, and
pulls it down, to be pushed back again--ain't that helping the heart
get in its work? Now if we strengthen her with right food, and make
lots of pure blood to run in these little blue canals on her temples,
and hands and feet, ain't we gaining ground? Ain't we making headway?"

"We've just got to be," said Mrs. Harding. "There's no other way to
figure it. But this is enough for a start."

Peaches leaned toward her and asked: "May we do this again to-morrow,
nicest lady?"

"Well I can't say as we can come clear here every day; I'm a busy
woman, and my spare time is scarce; and even light as you are, you'd be
a load for me; I can't say as we can do this when Peter is busy plowing
and harvesting and Junior is away on the cream wagon, and Mickey is in
town at his work; we can't do just this; but there is something we can
do that will help the feet quite as much. We can bring a bucket of sand
up to the house, and set a tub of water in the sun, and you can lie on
a comfort under an apple tree with Mary and Bobbie to watch you, and
every few hours we can take a little time off for rubbing and
splashing."

"My job!" shouted Junior. "I get a bucket and carry up the sand!"

"I bring the tub and pump the water!" cried Mary.

"Me shoo turkey!" announced Bobbie.

"I lift the tub to the edge of the shade and carry out the Butterfly!"
said Peter.

"And where do I come in?" demanded Mickey.

"Why Mickey, you 'let' them!" cried Peaches. "You '_let_' them! An' you
earn the money to pay for the new back, when I get strong enough to
have it changed, an' the Carrel man comes! Don't you 'member?"

"Sure!" boasted Mickey, taking on height. "I got the biggest job of
all! I got the job that really does the trick, and to-morrow I get
right after it. Now I must take you back to the house to rest a while."

"Aw come on to the barn with me!" begged Junior. "Let father carry her!
Ain't you going to be any company for me at all?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Wait a minute! I'd like to go to the barn with
you."

He dried Peaches' feet with his handkerchief, stuffed his stockings in
his pocket, and picked up his shoes.

"Lily, can you let Peter take you back to rest 'til supper time, so I
can see what Junior wants to show me?"

"Yes I can," said Peaches. "Yes I can, 'cause I'm a game kid; but I
don't wish to!"

"Now you look here, Miss Chicken, that hasn't got anything to do with
it," explained Mickey. "Every single time you can't have your way,
'cause it ain't good for you. If all these nice folks are so kind to
you, you must think part of the time about what they want, and just now
Junior wants _me_, so you march right along nice and careful with
Peter, and pretty soon I'll come."

Peaches pouted a second, then her face cleared by degrees, until it
lifted to Peter with a smile.

"Peter, will you please to carry me while Mickey does what Junior
wants?" she asked with melting sweetness.

"Sure!" said Peter. "I'm the one to take you anyway, big and strong as
an ox; but that's a pretty way to ask, and acting like a nice lady!"

Peaches radiated pride while Peter returned her to the couch, brought
her a glass of milk and a cracker, pulled the shade, and going out
softly closed the door. In five minutes she was asleep.

An hour before supper time Mickey appeared and without a word began
watching Mrs. Harding. Suddenly her work lightened. When she was ready
for water, the bucket was filled, saving her a trip to the pump. When
she lifted the dishpan and started toward the back door, Mickey met her
with the potato basket. When she glanced questioningly at the stove, he
put in more wood. He went to the dining-room and set the table exactly
as it had been for dinner. He made the trip to the cellar with her and
brought up bread and milk, while she carried butter and preserves. As
she told Peter that night, no strange woman ever had helped her as
quickly and understandingly.

With dishwashing he was on hand, for he knew that Peaches' fate hung on
how much additional work was made for Mrs. Harding. That surprised
woman found herself seated in a cool place on the back porch preparing
things for breakfast, while Mickey washed the dishes, and Mary carried
them. Peaches was moved to the couch in the dining-room where she could
look on.

Then wrapped in Bobbie's blanket and held closely in Mickey's arms, the
child lay quivering with delight while the big car made the trip to the
club house, and stopped under the trees to show Peaches where Mr. Bruce
played, and then slowly ran along the country road, with all its
occupants talking at once in their effort to point out everything to
her. No one realized how tired she was, until in calling her attention
to a colt beside its mother, she made no response, then it was
discovered that she was asleep, so they took her home and put her to
bed.



CHAPTER XVI


_The Fingers in the Pie_


When Mickey went the following morning to bring water for the
inevitable washing, Mrs. Harding said to him: "Is it possible that
child is awake this early?"

"No. She is sleeping like she'd never come to," said Mickey. "I'll wait
'til the last minute before I touch her."

"You shouldn't wake her," said Mrs. Harding.

"But I must," said Mickey. "I can't go away and leave her not washed,
fed, and fixed the best I can."

"Of course I understand that," said Mrs. Harding, "but now it's
different. Then you were forced, this is merely a question of what is
best for her. Now Mickey, we're all worked up over this till we're most
beside ourselves, so we want to help; suppose you humour us, by letting
us please ourselves a trifle. How does that proposition strike you?"

"Square, from the ground up," answered Mickey promptly. "But what would
please you?"

"Well," said Mrs. Harding, "it would please me to keep this house
quiet, and let that child sleep till the demands of her satisfied body
wake her up. Then I'd love to bathe her as a woman would her own, in
like case; and cook her such dainties as she should have: things with
lots of lime in them. I think her bones haven't been built right; I
believe I could make her fifty per cent better in three months myself;
and as far as taking her away when this week is up, you might as well
begin to make different plans right now. If she does well here, and
likes it, she can't be taken back where I found her, till cool weather,
if I can get the consent of my mind to let her go then. Of course I
know she's yours, so things will be as you say, but think a while
before you go against me. If I do all I can for her I ought to earn the
privilege of having my finger in the pie a little bit."

"So far as Lily goes," said Mickey, "I'd be tickled 'most to death. I
ain't anxious to pull and haul, and wake up the poor, little sleepy
thing. Every morning it 'most makes me sick. I'd a lot rather let her
sleep it out as you say, but while Lily is mine, and I've got to do the
best by her I can, you are Peter's so he must do the best by you he
can; and did you notice how he jumped on that washing business
yesterday? How we going to square up with Peter?"

"I'm perfectly willing to do what I said for the sake of that child.
I've come to be mighty fond of you Mickey, in the little time I've
known you; if I didn't like and want to help Peaches I'd do a lot for
her, just to please you----"

"Gee, you're something grand!" cried Mickey.

"Just common clay, commonest kind of clay Mickey," said Mrs. Harding.
"But if you want to know how you could 'square' it with me, which will
'square' it with Peter--I'll tell you. You may think I'm silly; but as
we're made, we're made, and this is how it is with me: of course I love
Peter, my children, my home, and I love my work; but I've had this job
without 'jot or tittle' of change for fifteen years, and I'm about
stalled with the sameness of it. I know you'll think I'm crazy----"

"I won't!" interrupted Mickey. "You go on and tell me! The sameness of
it is getting you and----"

"Just the way you flew around and did things last night perfectly
amazed me. I never saw a boy like you before; you helped me better and
with more sense than any woman I ever hired, and thinking it over last
night, I said to myself, 'Now if Mickey would be willing to trade jobs
with me, it would give me a change, and it wouldn't be any more woman's
work for him than what he _is_ doing----"

"Well never you mind about the 'woman's work' part of it," said Mickey.
"That doesn't cut any ice with me. It's men's work to eat, and I don't
know who made a law that it was any more 'woman's work' to cook for men
than it is their own. If there _is_ a law of that kind, I bet a
liberty-bird the _men_ made it. I haven't had my show at law-making
yet, but when I get it, there are some things I can see right now that
I'm going to fix for Lily, and I'd sooner fix them for you too, than
not. Just _what_ were you thinking?"

Mrs. Harding went to Mickey, took him by the shoulder, turned him
toward the back door and piloted him to the porch, where she pointed
east indicating an open line. It began as high as his head against the
side of the Harding back wall and ran straight. It crossed the yard
between trees that through no design at all happened to stand in line
with those of the orchard so that they formed a narrow emerald wall on
each side of a green-carpeted space that led to the meadow, where it
widened, ran down hill and crossed lush grass where cattle grazed. Then
it climbed a far hill, tree crested, cloud capped, and in a mist of
glory the faint red of the rising sun worked colour miracles with the
edges of cloud rims, tinted them with flushes of rose, lavender,
streaks of vivid red, and a broad stripe of pale green. Alone, on the
brow of the hill, stood one giant old apple tree, the remains of an
early-day orchard. It was widely branching, symmetrically outlined,
backed and coloured by cloud wonder, above and around it. The woman
pointed down the avenue with a shaking finger, and asked: "See that
Mickey? Start slow and get all of it. Every time I've stepped on this
back porch for fifteen years, summer or winter, I've seen that just as
it is now or as it was three weeks ago when the world was blooming, or
as it will be in the red and gold of fall, or the later grays and
browns, and when it's ice coated, and the sun comes up, I think
sometimes it will kill me. I've neglected my work to stand staring,
many's the time in summer, and I've taken more than one chill in
winter--I've tried to show Peter, and a few times I've suggested----"

"He ought to have seen for himself that you should have had a window
cut there the first thing," said Mickey.

"Well, he didn't; and he doesn't!" said Mrs. Harding. "But Mickey, for
fifteen years, _there hasn't been a single morning when I went to the
back porch for water_----"

"And you ought to have had water inside, fifteen years ago!" cried
Mickey.

"_Why so I had!_" exclaimed Mrs. Harding. "And come to think of it,
I've mentioned _that_ to Peter, over and over, too. But Mickey, what I
started to say was, that I've been perfectly possessed to follow that
path and watch the sun rise while sitting under that apple tree; and
never yet have I got to the place where there wasn't bread, or
churning, or a baby, or visitors, or a wash, or ironing, or some reason
why I couldn't go. Maybe I'm a fool, but sure as you're a foot high,
I've got to take that trip pretty soon now, or my family is going to
see trouble. And last night thinking it over for the thousandth time I
said to myself: since he's so handy, if he'd keep things going just one
morning, just one morning----"

Mickey handed her a sun hat.

"G'wan!" he said gruffly. "I'll do your work, and I'll do it right.
Lily can have her sleep. G'wan!"

The woman hesitated a second, pushed away the hat, took her bearings
and crossed the walk, heading directly toward the old apple tree on the
far crest. Her eyes were set on the rising sun, and as she turned to
close the yard gate, Mickey could see that there was an awed, unnatural
expression on her face. He stepped into the dining-room. By the time
Peter and Junior came with big buckets of milk, Mickey had the cream
separator rinsed and together, as he had helped Mrs. Harding fix it the
day before. With his first glance Peter inquired: "Where's Ma?"

"She's doing something she's been crazy to for fifteen years," answered
Mickey calmly, as he set the gauge and poured in the first bucket of
milk.

"Which ain't answering where she is."

"So 'tain't!" said Mickey, starting the machine. "Well if you'll line
up, I'll show you. Train your peepers down that green subway, and on
out to glory as presented by the Almighty in this particular stretch of
country, and just beyond your cows there you'll see a spot about as big
as Bobbie, and that will be your nice lady heading straight for
sunrise. She said she'd wanted to go for fifteen years, but there
always had been churning, or baking, or something, so this morning, as
there wasn't a thing but what I could do as good as she could, why we
made it up that I'd finish her work and let her see her sunrise, since
she seems to be set on it; and when she gets back she's going to wash
and dress Lily for a _change_. Strange how women folks get discouraged
on their job, among their best friends, who would do anything in the
world for them, 'cept just to see that a little bit of change would
help them. It will be a dandy scheme for Lily, 'cause it lets her get
her sleep out, and it will be good for you, 'cause if Mrs. Harding
doesn't get to sit under that apple tree and watch sunup pretty soon,
things are going to go wrong at this house."

Peter's lower jaw slowly sagged.

"If you don't hurry," said Mickey, "even loving her like you do, and
loving you as she does, she's going to have them nervous prostrations
like the Swell Dames in Multiopolis get when they ask a fellow to carry
a package, and can't remember where they want to send it. She's not
there _yet_. She's ahead of them now, for she _wants_ to sit under that
apple tree and watch sunup; but if she hadn't got there this morning or
soon now, she'd a-begun to get mixed, I could see that plain as the
City Hall."

"Mickey, what else can you see?" asked Peter.

"Enough to make your head swim," said Mickey.

"Out with it!" ordered Peter.

"Well," said Mickey gravely, and seemingly intent on the separator, but
covertly watching Peter, "well, if you'd a-cut that window she's wanted
for fifteen years, right over her table there where the line comes, she
would a-been seeing that particular bit of glory--you notice Peter,
that probably there's nothing niftier on earth than just the little
spot she's been pining for; look good yourself, and you'll see, there
she's just climbing the hill to the apple tree--look at it carefully,
and then step inside and focus on what she's faced instead."

"What else does she want?" inquired Peter.

"She didn't mention anything but to watch sunup, just once, under that
apple tree," said Mickey. "I don't know _what_ she wants; but from one
day here, I could tell you things she _should_ have."

"Well go ahead and tell," said Peter.

"Will you agree not to break my neck 'til I get this cream in the can,
and what she keeps strained, and these buckets washed?" asked Mickey.
"I want to have her job all done when she gets back, 'cause I promised
her, and that's quite a hike she's taking."

"Well I was 'riled' for a minute, but I might as well hold myself,"
said Peter. "Looks like you were right."

"Strangers coming in can always see things that folks on the job
can't," consoled Mickey.

"Well go on and tell me what you've seen here Mickey!"

Mickey hoisted the fourth bucket.

"Well, I've seen the very nicest lady I ever saw, excepting my mother,"
said Mickey. "I've seen a man 'bout your size, that I like better than
any man I know, barring Mr. Douglas Bruce, and the bar is such a little
one it would take a microscope to find it." Peter laughed, which was
what Mickey hoped he would do, for he drew a deep breath and went on
with greater assurance: "I've seen a place that I thought was a new
edition of Heaven, and it is, only it needs a few modern
improvements----"

"Yes Mickey! The window, and what else?"

"You haven't looked at what I told you to about the window yet," said
Mickey.

"Well since you insist on it, I will," said Peter.

"And while you are in there," suggested Mickey, "after you finish with
that strip of brown oilcloth and the pans and skillets adorning it,
cotton up to that cook stove, and imagine standing over it while it is
roaring, to get three meals a day, and all the baking, fruit canning,
boiling clothes, and such, and tell me if Lily's bed was in so much
hotter a place than your wife is, all but about three hours each day."

Mickey listened as intently as he could for the separator he dared not
stop, heard not a sound for what seemed a long time, and then came
amazing ones. He grinned sympathetically as Peter emerged red faced and
raging.

"And you're about the finest man I ever met, too," commented Mickey,
still busy with the cream. "You can see what a comfort this separator
must be, but it's the _only_ thing your nice lady has got, against so
many for your work it takes quite a large building to keep them in.
Junior was showing me last night and telling me what all those machines
were made for. You know Peter, if there was money for a hay rake, and a
manure spreader, and a wheel plow, and a disk, and a reaper, and a
mower, and a corn planter, and a corn cutter, and a cider press, and a
windmill, and a silo, and an automobile--you know Peter, there _should_
have been enough for that window, and the pump inside, and a kitchen
sink, and a bread-mixer, and a dish-washer; and if there wasn't any
other single thing, there ought to be some way you sell the wood, and
use the money for the kind of a summer stove that's only hot under what
you are cooking, and turns off the flame the minute you finish. Honest
there had Peter! I got a little gasoline one in my room that's better
than what your nice lady has. The things she should have would cost
something, cost a lot for all I know, but I bet what she needs wouldn't
take half the things in the building Junior showed me did; and it
couldn't be the start of what a sick wife, and doctor bills, and
strange women coming and going, and abusing you and the children would
cost----"

"Shut up!" cried Peter. "That will do! Now you listen to me young man.
Since you are so expert at seeing things, and since you've traded work
with my wife, to _rest her_ by _changing her job_, suppose you just
keep your eyes open, and make out a list of what she should have to do
her work convenient and easy as can be, and of course, comfortably.
That stove's hot yet! And breakfast been over an hour too! Nothing like
it must be going full blast, and things steaming and frying!"

"Sure!" said Mickey.

"Watch a few days, and then we'll talk it over. If it is your train
time, ride down with Junior, and I'll stay in the house till she comes.
I guess Little White Butterfly won't wake up; and if she does, she'll
be all right with me. Mary dresses herself and Bobbie. Is Mary helping
her Ma right?"

"Well some," said Mickey. "Not all she could! But her taking care of
Bobbie is a big thing. Junior could do a lot of things, but he doesn't
seem to see them, and----"

"And so could I?" asked Peter. "Is that the ticket?"

"Yes," said Mickey.

"All right young man," said Peter. "Fix us over! We are ready for
anything that will benefit Ma. She's the pinwheel of this place. Now
you scoot! I can see her coming."

"It's our secret then?" asked Mickey.

"Yes, it's our secret!" answered Peter gravely.

Mickey took one long look at Peaches and went running to the milk
wagon. Junior offered to let him drive, so for the first time he took
the lines and guided a horse. He was a happy boy as he spun on his heel
waiting a few minutes for the trolley. He sat in the car with no paper
in which to search for headlines, no anxiety as to whether he could
dispose of enough to keep Peaches from hunger that night, sure of her
safety and comfort. The future, coloured by what Mrs. Harding had said
to him, took on such a rosy glow it almost hurt his mental eyes. He
revelled in greater freedom from care than he ever had known. He sat
straighter, and curiously watched the people in the car. When they
entered the city and the car swung down his street near the business
centre, Mickey stepped off and hiding himself watched for the passing
of the boy, on his old route. Before long it came, "I _like_ to sell
papers," in such good imitation of his tone and call that Mickey's face
grew grave and a half-jealous little ache began in his heart.

"Course we're better off," he commented. "Course I can't go back now,
and I wouldn't if I could; but it makes me want to swat any fellow
using my call, and taking my men. Gee, the kid is doing better than I
thought he could! B'lieve he's got the idea all right. I'll just join
the procession."

Mickey stepped into line and followed, pausing whenever a paper was
sold, until he was sure that his men were patronizing his substitute,
then he overtook him.

"Good work, kid!" he applauded. "Been following you and you're doing
well. Lemme take a paper a second. Yes, I thought so! You're leaving
out the biggest scoop on the sheet! Here, give them a laugh on this
'Chasing Wrinkles.' How did you come to slide over it and not bump
enough to wake you up? Get on this sub-line, 'Males seeking beauty
doctors to renew youth.'"

"How would you cry it?" asked the boy.

"Aw looky! Looky! Looky!" Mickey shouted, holding his side with one
hand and waving a paper with the other. "All the old boys hiking to the
beauty parlours. Pinking up the glow of youth to beat Billie Burke.
Corner on icicles; Billie gets left, 'cause the boys are using all of
them! Oh my! Wheel o' time oiled with cold cream and reversed with an
icicle! Morning paper! Tells you how to put the cream on your face
'stead of in the coffee! Stick your head in the ice box at sixty, and
come out sixteen! Awah get in line, gentlemen! Don't block traffic!"

When the policemen scattered the crowd Mickey's substitute had not a
paper remaining. With his pocket full of change he was running to the
nearest stand for a fresh supply. Mickey went with him and watched with
critical eye while the boy tried a reproduction of what he called "a
daily scream!" The first time it was rather flat.

"You ain't going at it right!" explained Mickey. "'Fore you can make
anybody laugh on this job, you must see the fun of life yourself.
Beauty parlours have always been for the Swell Dames and the theatre
ladies, who pink up, while their gents hump to pay the bill. You ought
always take one paper home, and _read_ it, so you know what's going on
in the world. Now from what I've read, I know that the get-a-way of the
beauty parlours is cold cream. And one of the show ladies the boys are
always wild over told the papers long ago 'bout how she used icicles on
her face to pink it up. Now if you'd a-knowed this like you should, the
minute you clapped your peepers on that, 'Chasing Wrinkles,' you'd
a-knowed where your laugh came in today, like I've told you over and
over you _must_ get it. Bet Chaffner put that there on purpose for me.
Which same gives me an idea. You been calling the Hoc de Geezer war,
and the light-weight champeen of Mexico, and 'the psychological panic'
something fine; but did you sell out on them? Not on your topknot! You
lost your load on the scream. _Get the joke of life soaked in your
system good_. On this, you make yourself see the plutes, and the
magnates, and the city officials leaving their jobs, and hiking to the
beauty parlours, to beat the dames at their daily stunt of being
creamed and icicled and--it's funny! When it's so funny to you that you
just howl about it, why it's catching! Didn't you see me catch them
with it? Now go on and do it again, and get the _scream_ in."

The boy began the cry with tears of laughter in his eyes. He kept it up
as he handed out papers and took in change. Satisfied, Mickey called to
him: "Tell your sire it's all over but polishing the silver."

He started down the street glancing at clocks he was passing, with
nimble feet threading the crowds until he reached the _Herald_ office;
there he dodged in and making his way to the editorial desk he waited
his chance. When he saw an instant of pause in the work of the busy
man, he started his cry: "Morning papers! I _like_ to sell them!" and
so on to the "Chasing Wrinkles." There because he was excited, for he
knew that his reception would depend on how good a laugh he gave them,
Mickey outdid himself. Reporters waiting assignments crowded around
him; Mr. Chaffner beckoned, and Mickey stepped to him.

"Found it all right, did you, young man?"

"The scream lifted the load!" cried Mickey. "War, and waste, and
wickedness, didn't get a look in."

"I thought you'd like that!" laughed the editor.

"Biggest scoop yet!" said Mickey. "Why it took the police to scatter
the crowd. They struggled to get papers, 'til they looked like the bird
on the coin they were passing in, trying to escape the awful things it
goes through on the money, and get back to nature where perfectly good
birds belong. Honest, they did!"

"Have you any poetry for me yet?"

"No, but I'm headed that way," answered Mickey.

"How so?" inquired the editor.

"Why I've got another kid so he can do my stunt 'til nobody knows the
difference, and I've gone into Mr. Bruce's office, and we're after the
grafters."

"Douglas Bruce?" queried Mr. Chaffner.

"Yes," said Mickey. "He's my boss, and say, he's the finest man you
ever met; and his Joy Lady is nice as he is, and prettier than
moonshine on the park lake. I never saw a lady who could hold a candle
to Miss Leslie Winton, and they just love to tell folks they're
engaged."

Suddenly the editor arose from his chair, gripped his desk, leaned
across it toward Mickey, and almost knocked him from his feet with one
word.

"_What?_"

Mickey staggered. At last he recovered his breath.

"Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie don't care if I tell," he defended. "They
all the time tell it!"

"_What?_"

"Why that they are going to be married, soon as Mr. Bruce gets the
grafter who's robbing the taxpayers of Multiopolis, and collects his
big fee. That's what."

As suddenly as he had arisen Mr. Chaffner dropped back, and in a
stupefied way still looked at Mickey. Then: "You come with me," Mr.
Chaffner said rising, and he entered a small room and closed the door.

"Now you tell me all about this engagement."

"Maybe they don't want it in the papers yet," said Mickey. "I guess
I'll let Mr. Bruce do his own talking."

"But you said they told everybody."

"So they do," said Mickey. "And of course they'd tell you. You can call
him. His number is 500-X."

The editor made a note of it, studying Mickey.

"Yes, that would be the better way, of course," he agreed. "You have a
long head, young man. And so you think Miss Leslie Winton is a fine
young lady?"

"Surest thing you know," said Mickey. "Why let me tell you----"

And then in a few swift words, Mickey sketched in the young woman so
intelligent she had selected him from all the other "newsies" by a
description, and sent him to Mr. Bruce; how she had dolls ready to give
away, and poor children might ride in her car; how she lived with
"darling old Daddy," and there Mickey grew enthusiastic, and told of
the rest house, and then the renting of the cabin on Atwater by the
most considerate of daughters for her father and her lover, and when he
could not think of another commendatory word to say, Mickey paused,
while a dazed man muttered a word so low the boy scarcely heard it.

"I don't know why you say _that!_" cried Mickey.

"Ommh!" said Mr. Chaffner, slowly. "I don't either, only I didn't
understand they were _engaged_. It's my business to find and distribute
news, and get it fresh, 'scoop it,' as our term is, and so, Mickey,
when investigations are going on, and everybody knows a denou--a big
surprise is coming, in order to make sure that my paper gets in on the
ground floor, I make some investigation for myself, and sometimes by
accident, sometimes by intuition, sometimes by sharp deduction we
_happen_ to land before the investigators. Of course we have personal,
financial, and political reasons for not spoiling the game. Now we
haven't gone into the City Hall investigation as Bruce has and we can't
show figures, but we know enough to understand where he's coming out;
so when the gig upsets, we have our side ready and we'll embroider his
figures with what the public is entitled to, in the way of news."

"Sure! But I don't see why you act so funny!"

"Oh it's barely possible that I've got ahead of your boss on a few
features of his investigation."

"Aw-w-wh!" said Mickey. "Well I hope you ain't going to rush in and
spoil _his_ scoop. You see he doesn't know who he's after, himself. We
talk about it a lot of times. I tell him how I've sold papers, and seen
men like he's chasing get their dose, and go sick and white, and can't
ever face men straight again; but he says stealing is stealing, and cut
where it will, those who rob the taxpayers must be exposed. I told him
maybe he'd be surprised, and maybe he'd be sorry; but he says it's got
to be stopped, no matter who gets hurt."

"Well he's got his nerve!" cried the editor.

"Yes!" agreed Mickey. "He's so fine himself, he thinks no other men
worth saving could go wrong. I told him I wished the men he was after
would break their necks 'fore he gets them, but he goes right on."

"Mickey, you figure closer than your boss does."

"In one way I _do_," conceded Mickey. "It's like this: he knows books,
and men, and how things _should_ be; but I know how they _are_. See?"

"I certainly see," said the intent listener. "Mickey, when it comes to
the place where you think you know better than your boss, while it's
bad business for me to tell you, keep your eye open, and maybe you can
save him. Books and theories are all right, but there are times when a
man comes a cropper on them. You watch, and if you think he's riding
for a fall, you come skinning and tell me, not over the 'phone, _come
and tell me_. Here, take this, it will get you to me any time, no
matter where I am or what I'm doing. Understand?"

"You think Mr. Bruce is going to get into trouble?"

"His job is to get other people into trouble----"

"But he says he ain't got a thing to do with it," said Mickey. "He says
they get themselves into trouble."

"That's so too," commented Mr. Chaffner. "Anyway, keep your mouth tight
shut, and your eyes wide open, and if you think your boss is getting
into deep water, you come and tell me. I want things to go right with
_you_, because I'm depending on that poem for my front page, soon."

Mickey held out his hand.

"Sure!" he agreed. "I'm in an awful good place now to work up the
poetry piece, being right out among the cows and clover. And about Mr.
Bruce, gee! I wish he was plowing corn. I just hate his job he's doing
now. Sure if I see rocks I'll make a run for you. Thanks Boss!"

Mickey had lost time, and he hurried, but things seemed to be
happening, for as he left the elevator and sped down the hall, he ran
into Mr. James Minturn. With a hasty glance he drew back, and darted
for the office door. Mr. Minturn's face turned a dull red.

"One minute, young man!" he called.

"I'm late," said Mickey shortly. "I must hurry."

"Bruce is late too. I just came from his office and he isn't there,"
answered Mr. Minturn.

"Well I want to get it in order before he comes."

"In fact you want anything but to have a word to say to me!" hazarded
Mr. Minturn.

"Well then, since you are such a good guesser, I ain't just crazy about
you," said Mickey shortly.

"And I'm tired of having you run from me as if I were afflicted with
smallpox," said Mr. Minturn.

"If your blood is right, smallpox ain't much," said Mickey. "I haven't
a picture of myself running from _that_, if it really wanted a word
with me."

"But you have a picture of yourself running from me?"

"Maybe I do," conceded Mickey.

"I've noticed it on occasions so frequent and conspicuous that others,
no doubt, will do the same," said Mr. Minturn. "If you are all Bruce
thinks you, then you should give a man credit for what he tries to do.
You surprised me too deeply for words with the story you brought me one
day. I knew most of your facts from experience, better than you did,
except the one horrible thing that shocked me speechless; but Mickey,
when I had time to adjust myself, I made the investigations you
suggested, and proved what you said. I deserve your scorn for not
acting faster, but what I had to do couldn't be done in a day, and for
the boys' sake it had to be done as privately as possible. There's no
longer any reason why you should regard me as a monster----"

"I'm awful glad you told me," Mickey said. "I surely did have you sized
up something scandalous. And yet I couldn't quite make out how, if my
view was right, Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie would think so much of you."

"They are friends I'm proud to have," said Mr. Minturn. "And I hope
you'll consider being a friend to me, and to my boys also. If ever a
times comes when I can do anything for you, let me know."

"Now right on that point, pause a moment," said Mickey. "You _are_ a
friend to my boss?"

"I certainly am, and I'm under deep obligations to Miss Winton. If ever
my home becomes once more what it was to start with, it will be her
work. Could a man bear heavier obligation than that?"

"Well hardly," said Mickey. "Course there wouldn't likely ever be
anything you could do for Miss Leslie that would square _that_ deal;
but I'm worried about my boss something awful."

"Why Mickey?" asked Mr. Minturn.

"That investigation you started him on."

"I did start him on that. What's the matter?"

"Well the returns are about all in," said Mickey, "and the man who
draws the candy suit is about ready to put it on. See?"

"Good! Exactly what he should do."

"Yes exactly," agreed Mickey dryly, "but _who_ do you figure it is? We
got some good friends in the City Hall."

"Always is somebody you don't expect," said Mr. Minturn. "Don't waste
any sympathy on them, Mickey."

"Not unless in some way my boss got himself into trouble," said Mickey.

"There's no possible way he could."

"About the smartest man in Multiopolis thinks yes," said Mickey. "I
just been talking with him."

"Who, Mickey?" asked Mr. Minturn, instantly.

"Chaffner of the _Herald_," said Mickey.

"_What!_"

Mr. Minturn seized the boy's arm, shoved him inside his door and closed
it. Mickey pulled away and turned a belligerent face upward.

"Now nix on knocking me down with _your_ 'whats!'" he cried. "I just
been hammered meller with his, and dragged into his room, and shut up,
and scared stiff, about twenty minutes ago."

"_The devil you say!_" exploded Mr. Minturn.

"No, I said Chaffner!" insisted Mickey. "Chaffner of the _Herald_. I'm
going to write a poetry piece for his front page, some day soon now. I
been selling his paper all my life."

"And so you're a friend of Chaffner's?"

"Oh not bosom and inseparable," explained Mickey. "I haven't seen so
awful much of him, but when I do, we get along fine."

"And he said----?" questioned Mr. Minturn.

"Just what I been afraid of all the time," said Mickey. "That these
investigations at times got into places you didn't _look_ for, and made
awful trouble; and that my boss _might_ get it with his."

"Mickey, you will promise me something?" asked Mr. Minturn. "You see I
started Mr. Bruce on this trying to help him to a case that would bring
him into prominence, so if it should go wrong, it's in a way through
me. If you think Douglas is unlike himself, or worried, will you tell
me? Will you?"

"Why surest thing you know!" cried Mickey. "Why I should say I would!
Gee, you're great too! I think I'll like you awful well when we get
acquainted."

Mickey was busy when Bruce entered, and with him was Leslie Winton.
They brought the breath of spring mellowing into summer, freighted with
emanations of real love, touched and tinctured with joy so habitual it
had become spontaneous on the part of Leslie Winton, and this morning
contagious with Douglas Bruce. Mickey stood silent, watched them
closely, and listened. So in three minutes, from ragged scraps and
ejaculations effervescing from what was running over in their brains,
he knew that they had taken an early morning plunge into Atwater,
landed a black bass, had a breakfast of their own making, at least in
so far as gathering wild red raspberries from the sand pit near the
bridge; and then they had raced to the Multiopolis station to start Mr.
Winton on a trip west to try to sell his interest in some large land
holdings there, the care of which he was finding burdensome.

"Heavens, how I hope Daddy makes that sale!" cried Leslie. "I've been
so worried about him this summer."

"I wondered at you not going with him," said Douglas.

"He didn't seem to want me," said Leslie. "He said it was a flying trip
and he was forced to be back before some reports from his office were
filed; so he thought I wouldn't enjoy it; and for the first time in my
life he told me distinctly that he didn't have _time_ for me. Fancy
Daddy! I can't understand it."

"I've noticed that he has been brooding and preoccupied of late, not at
all like himself," said Douglas. "Have you any idea what troubles him?"

"Of course! He told me!" said Leslie. "It's Mr. Swain. When Daddy was a
boy, Mr. Swain was his father's best friend, and when grandfather died,
he asked him to guide Daddy, and he not only did that, but he opened
his purse and started him in business. Now Mr. Swain is growing old,
and some of his investments have gone wrong; just when political
changes made business close as could be, he lost heavily; and then came
the war. There was no way but for Daddy to stay here and fight to save
what he could for him. He told me early last fall; we talked of it
again in the winter, and this spring most of all--I've told you!"

"Yes I know! I wish I could help!" said Douglas.

"I do too! I wish it intensely," said Leslie. "When father comes, we'll
ask him. We're young and strong, and we should stand by. I never saw
Daddy in such a state. He _must_ sell that land. He _said_ so. He said
last night he'd be forced to sell if he only got half its value, and
that wouldn't be enough."

"Enough for what?" asked Douglas.

"To help Mr. Swain," said Leslie.

"He's going to use his fortune?" queried Douglas.

"I don't know that Daddy has holdings large enough to deserve the
word," said Leslie. "He's going to use what he has. I urged him to;
it's all he can do."

"Did you take into consideration that it may end in his failure?" asked
Douglas.

"I did," said Leslie, "and I forgot to tell him, but I will as soon as
he comes back: he can have all mother left me, too, if he needs it."

"Leslie, you're a darling, but have you ever had even a small taste of
poverty?" asked Douglas.

"No! But I've always been curious, if I did have, to see if I couldn't
so manage whatever might be my share, that it would appear to the world
without that peculiar state of grime which always seems to distinguish
it," said the girl. "I'm not afraid of poverty, and I'm not afraid of
work; it's dishonour that would kill me. Daddy accepted obligations; if
they involve him, which includes me also, then to the last cent we
possess, we pay back."

Mickey drew the duster he handled between vacuum days across a table
and steadily watched first Douglas, then Leslie, both of whom had
forgotten him.

"That should be good enough for Daddy; what about me?" asked Douglas.
"If ever I get in a close place, does the same hold good?"

"If I know what you are doing, surely!"

"I knew you were a 'Bearer of Morning' first time I saw you," said
Douglas. "But we are forgetting Mickey."

Mickey promptly stepped forward, putting away the duster to be ready
for errands.

"How are you this morning?" asked Douglas.

"Fine!" answered Mickey. "I've taken my family to the country, too!"

"Why Mickey! without saying a word!" cried Douglas.

"Well it happened so fast," said Mickey, "and I didn't want to bother
you when your head was so full of your old investigation and your own
moving."

"Did you hear that Leslie?" he asked. "Mickey dislikes my investigation
as much as the man who comes out short is going to, any day now. So
you've moved Peaches to the country? You should have told me, first."

"I'm sorry if you don't like it," said Mickey. "You see my room was
getting awful hot. I never was there days this time of year, and nights
I slept on the fire-escape; all right for me, but it wouldn't do for
Lily. Why should I have told you?"

"Because Miss Winton had plans for her," explained Douglas. "She
intended to take her to Atwater, and she even contemplated having her
back examined for you."

Mickey's eyes danced and over his face spread a slow grin of
comprehension.

"Well?" ejaculated Douglas.

"Nothing!" said Mickey.

"Well?" demanded Douglas.

Mickey laughed outright. Then he sobered suddenly and spoke gravely,
directly to Miss Winton.

"Thank you for thinking of it, and planning for her," he said. "I was
afraid you would."

"Thank me for something you feared I would do! Mickey, aren't you
getting things mixed?"

"Thank you for thinking of Lily and wanting to help her," explained
Mickey, "but she doesn't need you. She's mine and I'm going to keep
her; so what I can do for her will have to be enough, until I can do
better."

"I see," said Leslie. "But suppose that she should have attention at
once, that you can't give her, and I can?"

"Then I'd be forced to let you, even if it took her from me," agreed
Mickey. "But thank the Lord, things ain't that way. I didn't take my
say-so for it; I went to the head nurse of the Star of Hope; she's gone
to the new Elizabeth Home now; she loves to nurse children best. All
the time from the first day she's told me how, and showed me, so Lily
has been taken care of right, you needn't worry about that. And where
she is now, if she was a queen-lady she couldn't have grander; honest
she couldn't!"

"But Mickey, how are you going to pay for all that?" queried Douglas.

"Easy as falling off a car in a narrow skirt," said Mickey. "'Member
that big house where things are Heaven-white, and a yard full of trees,
and the fence corners are cut with the shears, and the street--I mean
the road--swept with a broom, this side the golf grounds about two
miles?"

"Yes," said Douglas. "The woman there halted my car one evening and
spoke to me about you."

"Oh she did?" exclaimed Mickey. "Well I hope you gave me a good
send-off, 'cause she's a lady I'm most particular about. You see I
stopped there for a drink, the day you figured instead of playing, and
she told me about a boy who was to be sent out by the _Herald_ and
hadn't come, and as she was ready, and interested, she was
disappointed. So I just said to her if the boy didn't come, how'd she
like to have a nice, good little girl that wouldn't ever be the least
bother. Next day she came to see us, and away Lily went sailing to the
country in a big automobile, and she isn't coming back 'til my rooms
are cool, if she can be spared then."

"But how are you going to pay, Mickey? Most people only take children
for a week----?"

"Yes I know," said Mickey. "But these folks haven't ever tried it
before, and they don't know the ropes, so we're doing it our own way,
and it works something grand."

"If they are suited----" said Douglas. "That place is far better than
where we feel so comfortable."

"We started this morning," said Mickey. "The lady and I traded jobs;
she sat on a hill under an apple tree and watched sunrise. I washed the
dishes, sep'rated the cream, and scrubbed the porch for her. When Lily
wakes up, the lady is going to bathe, rub, feed her, and see to her
like she owned her, to pay me back. It's a bargain! You couldn't beat
it, could you?"

"Of course if you want to turn yourself into a housemaid!" said Douglas
irritably.

Mickey laughed, and Leslie sent a slightly frowning glance toward
Douglas.

"You can search me!" cried the boy, throwing out his hands in his
familiar gesture. "Why I just love to! I always helped mother! Pay?
I'll pay all right; the nice lady will say I do, and so will Peter.
It's my most important job to make her glad of me as I am of her. And
if you put it up to me, I'd a lot rather have my job than yours; and I
bet I get more joy from it for my family!"

"Croaker!" laughed Bruce.

"'Tain't going to be a scream for the fellow who comes short," warned
Mickey.

"So you're planning not to allow me to do anything for Lily?" inquired
Miss Winton.

"Well there's something you can do this minute if you'd like," said
Mickey. "I was going to hurry up and see my Sunshine Nurse, but it's a
long way to the new hospital, and you could do as well, if you would."

"Mickey, I'd love to. What is it? And may I see your family? You know I
haven't had a peep yet."

"Well soon now, you may," said Mickey. "You see I ain't quite ready."

"Mickey, what do you know about the new Elizabeth Home?" asked Douglas.

"Only that a rich lady gave her house and money, and that my Sunshine
Nurse is going to be there after this. I was going for my first trip
to-night."

"I wondered," said Douglas. "Mickey, when you get there, you'll find
that you've been there _before_."

"My eye!" cried Mickey.

"Fact! Mr. Minturn did put his foot down, and took his boys----" began
Douglas.

"Yes he was telling me this morning. That's what I get for stopping at
the first page. If I'd a-looked inside, bet I'd have known that long
ago." "He was telling you?" queried Douglas.

"Yes. I guess I must kind of shied at him 'til he noticed it; I didn't
_know_ I did, but he caught me and told me his troubles by force. We
shook hands to quit on. Say, he's just fine when you know him, and
there doesn't seem to be a thing on earth he wouldn't do for you, Miss
Leslie. Why he said if ever he found happiness again, and his home
become what it should, it would be because you were sorry for him, and
fixed things."

"Mickey, did he really?" rejoiced the girl. "Douglas, when may Mickey
show me what he wants me to do?"

"Right now," he answered. "I got a load of books while he was away
yesterday and I haven't started them yet. Now is the best time."

When Mickey made a leap from the trolley platform that night, at what
he already had named Cold Cream Junction, he was almost buried under
boxes. He stepped high and prideful, for he had collected the money
from his paper route and immediately spent some of it under Leslie
Winton's supervision.

Pillow bolstered, on the front porch, on his comfort lay the tiny girl
he loved. Mickey stopped and made a detailed inspection. Peaches leaned
forward and reached toward him; her greeting was indescribably sweet.
Mickey dropped the bundles and went into her arms; even in his joy he
noted a new strength in her grip on him, an unusual clinging. He drew
back half alarmed.

"You been a good girl?" he queried suspiciously.

"Jus' as good!" asserted Peaches.

"You didn't go and say any----?"

"Not ever Mickey-lovest! Not one!" she cried. "I ain't even _thinked_
one! That will help, Peter says so!"

"You have been washed and fed and everything all right?" he proceeded.

"Jus' as right!" she insisted.

"You like the nice lady?" he went on.

"Jus' love the nice lady, an' Mary, an' Bobbie, an' Peter, an' Junior,
jus' love all of them!" she affirmed.

"Well I hope I don't bust!" he said. "I never was so glad as I am that
everything is good for you."

"They's two things that ain't good."

"Well if things ain't right here, with what everybody's doing for you,
they ought to be!" cried Mickey. "You cut complaining right out, Miss
Chicken!"

"You forgot to set my lesson, an' I ain't had my po'try piece for two
days. That ain't complainin'."

"No 'tain't honey," conceded Mickey regretfully. "No 'tain't! That's
just all right. I thought you were going to start kicking, and I wasn't
going to stand for it. Course I'll set your lesson; course I'll make up
your piece, but you must give me a little time. I was talking with Mr.
Chaffner of the _Herald, our_ paper you know, and he's beginning to get
in a hurry about his piece, too."

"I want mine first!" demanded Peaches.

"Sure! You'll get it first! Always! But I'm going to do something for
you before I make it, 'cause I won't know how it goes 'til afterward.
See?"

"What you going to do?" she questioned. "What's all the bundles? My
they look excitements!"

"And so they are!" triumphed Mickey. "Where are all the folks? Do they
leave you alone like this?"

"No, they don't leave me alone only when I'm asleep in the room," said
Peaches. "They saw you coming an' went away 'cause they know families
likes to be alone, sometimes. Ain't they smart to know that?"

"They are!" said Mickey. "First, you come to your bed a little while. I
got something for you."

"Ooh Mickey! Those bundles jus' look----!"

"Now you hold on. You wait and see, Miss!"

Mickey carried her in then he returned for the boxes. He opened one and
from it selected a pair of pink stockings and slipped them on Peaches;
then tiny, soft buckskin moccasins embroidered and tied with ribbons to
match the hose. Peaches squealed and clapped her hand over her mouth to
muffle the sound; but Mrs. Harding heard and came to the door. Mickey
asked for help.

"Young ladies who are going automobiling and taking walks are well
enough to have dresses, and things that all _good_ girls have," he
announced. "But I'm a little dubious about how these things go. Will
you dress her?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Harding. "You fill the water bucket and the wood box,
and start the fire for supper."

Mrs. Harding looked over the contents of the box and from plain soft
pieces of underwear chose a gauze shirt, a dainty combination suit and
a tucked and trimmed petticoat, while Peaches laughed and sobbed for
pure joy. Then Mickey came, and Mrs. Harding went away. After various
trials he decided on a white dress with pink ribbons run in the neck,
sleeves, and belt, slipping it on her and carefully fastening it.

"Mickey, I want the glass!" she begged. "Please, oh please hurry,
Mickey."

"Now you just wait, Miss Chicken!" said Mickey.

Then he brushed her hair and put on a new pink ribbon, not so large as
those she had, but much more becoming. He laid a soft warm little gray
sweater with white collar and cuffs in reach, and in turning it she
discovered a handkerchief and a pair of gloves in one pocket.
Immediately she searched the other and produced a purse with five
pennies in it. Then for no reason at all, Peaches began to cry.

"Well Miss Chicken!" exclaimed Mickey in surprise, "I thought you'd be
pleased!"

"Pleased!" sobbed Peaches. "Pleased! Mickey, I'm dam--I'm busted!"

"Oh well then, go on and cry, if you want to," agreed Mickey. "But
you'd look much nicer to show Mrs. Harding and Peter if you wouldn't!"

Peaches immediately wiped her eyes. Mickey lifted and carried her back
to the porch, placing her in a pillow-piled big chair. Then he put the
gloves on her hands, set a hat on her head and tied the pink ribbons.
Peaches both laughed and cried at that, while the Harding family came
in because they could not wait. Mickey raised and put in Peaches'
shaking fingers the crowning glory of any small girl: a wonderful
little pink parasol. Peaches appeared for a minute as if a faint were
imminent.

"Now do you see why I couldn't come with a poetry piece when my head
was so full of these things?"

"Yes Mickey, but you will before night?" she begged.

"You want it even now?" he marvelled.

"More 'an the passol, even!" she declared.

"Well you fool little sweet kid!" cried Mickey and choked. He fled
around the house as Peter came out. In his ears as he went sounded
Peter's big voice and the delighted cries of the family.

"I want Mickey!" wailed Peaches.

He heard her call and ran back fast for fear he might be so slow
reaching her that Peter would serve. But to his joy he found that he
alone would answer.

"I want to see me!" demanded Peaches.

"Sure you do!" cried Peter. "I'll just hand down the big hall mirror so
you can see all of you at once."

He brought it and set it before her. Peaches stared and drew back. She
cried, "Aw-w--ah!" in a harsh, half-scared voice. She gripped Mickey
with one hand and the parasol with the other; she leaned and peeped,
and marvelled, and smiled at a fully clothed little girl in the glass,
while the image smiled back. Peaches thought of letting go of Mickey to
touch her hat and straighten her skirt, but felt so lost without him,
that she handed Peter the parasol, and used that hand, while the other
clung to her refuge. When Mickey saw the treasure go in his favour, he
swallowed lumps of emotion so big that the Hardings could see them
running down his throat. Peaches intent on the glass smiled, grimaced,
tilted her head, and finally began flirting outrageously with herself,
until all of them laughed and recalled her. She looked at Peter, smiled
her most winsome smile and exclaimed: "Well ain't I the----"

"Now you go easy, Miss Chicken," warned Mickey.

"Mickey, if you hadn't stopped me I'd done it sure!" sobbed Peaches,
collapsing against him. "'F I had, would you a-took these bu'ful things
'way from me?" "No I wouldn't!" said Mickey. "I couldn't to save me.
But I _should!_"

"Mickey, I'm so tired," she said. "Take my hat an' put it where I can
see it, an' my passol, an' my coat; gee, I don't have to be wrapped in
sheets no more, an' lay me down. Quick Mickey, I'm sick-like."

"Well I ought to had the sense not to spring so much all at once," said
Mickey, "but it all seemed to belong. Sure I will, you poor kid!"

"And Mickey, you won't forget the lesson and the po'try piece?" she
panted.

"No, I won't forget," promised Mickey, as he stretched her among her
treasures and watched her fall asleep even while he slipped the gloves
from her fingers.

Next morning she found the lesson and the poetry on her slate. Mrs.
Harding bathed and clothed her in the little garments, and showed her
enough more for the changes she would need, even two finer dresses for
Sunday. She left the coat, hat, and parasol in reach. Then Peaches
resolutely took up her pencil and set herself to copy the lines without
knowing enough of the words to really understand; but she was extremely
well acquainted with one word that Mickey had said "just flew out of
his mouth when he looked at her," and in her supreme satisfaction over
her new possessions she was sure the lines must be concerning them.
Most of all she was delighted with her slippers. A hundred times that
morning she looked down, wiggled her toes and moved her feet so that
she could see them better. Between whiles she copied over and over:

_LILY

Miss L. P. O'Halloran daily went walking, In slippers so nifty the
neighbours were talking. The minute she raised her gay pink parasol The
old red cow began to friskily bawl. When they observed the neat coat on
her back, All the guineas in the orchard cried: "Rack! Pot rack!" She
was so lovely a bird flying her way, Sang "Sweet, sweet, sweet!" all
the rest of the day._

Peter came in to visit a few minutes, so she gave him the slate to see
if he could read her copy, and by this ruse she found what the lines
were. She was so overjoyed she opened her lips and then clapped both
hands over them, to smother the ejaculation at her tongue's end. To
distract Peter she stuck out her foot and moved it for him to see.

"Ain't that pretty, an' jus' as soft and fine?" she asked.

"Yes," said Peter. "They remind me of a flower called 'Lady Slipper,'
that grows along the edge of the woods. It's that shape and the
prettiest gold yellow, but little, they'd about fit your doll."

"Oh Peter, could you get me one? I want to see."

"Why I would, but they are all gone now, honey," answered Peter. "Next
year I'll remember and bring you some when they bloom. But it's likely
by that time you can go yourself, and see them."

"Do you honest think it Peter?" asked Peaches, leaning forward eagerly.

"Yes I honest think it," repeated Peter emphatically.

"But I won't be here then," Peaches reminded him.

"Well it won't be my fault, if you're not," said Peter.



CHAPTER XVII


_Initiations in an Ancient and Honourable Brotherhood_


"Now father, you said if I'd help till after harvest, I could go to
Multiopolis and hunt a job," Junior reminded Peter. "When may I?"

"I remember," said Peter. "You may start Monday morning if you want to.
Ma and I have talked it over, and if you're bound to leave us, I guess
there'd never be a better time. I can get Jud Jason to drive the cream
wagon for me, and I'll do the best I can at the barn. I had hoped that
we'd be partners and work together all our days; but if you have
decided upon leaving us, of course you won't be satisfied till you've
done it."

"Well I can try," said Junior, "and if I don't like it I can come back."

"I don't know about that," objected Peter. "Of course I'd have other
help hired; your room would be occupied and your work contracted
for----"

"Well I hadn't figured on that," he said. "I supposed I could go and
try it, and if I didn't like it I could come home. Couldn't I come home
Ma?"

Nancy slowly became a greenish white colour; but the situation had been
discussed so often, it worried her dreadfully; now that it had to be
met, evasion would do no good. Peter grimly watched her. He knew she
was struggling with a woman's inborn impulse to be the haven of her
children, her son, her first-born, especially. He was surprised to hear
her saying: "Why I hardly think so Junior, it wouldn't be a right start
in life. You must figure that whatever kind of work you find, or
whoever you work for, there will be things you won't like or think
fair, but if you are going to be your own man, you must begin like a
man; and of course a man doesn't go into business with his mind made up
to run for his mother's petticoats, the first thing that displeases
him. No, I guess if you go, you must start with your mind made up to
stay till the October term of school opens, anyway."

"Then we'll call that settled," said Peter. "You may go with Mickey on
the Monday morning car and we probably won't see you again till you are
one of the leading business men of Multiopolis, and drive out in your
automobile. Have you decided which make you'll get?"

"Well from what I've learned driving yours, if I were buying one
myself, I'd get a Glide-by," said Junior. "They strike me as the best
car on the market."

Peter glanced sharply at his son. When he saw that the answer was
perfectly sincere, his heart almost played him the trick he had
expected from his wife.

"All right Ma, gather up his clothes and get them washed, and have him
ready," said Peter.

"I thought maybe you'd take me in the car and sort of look around with
me," said Junior.

"I don't see how I am going to do it, with both our work piled on me,"
said Peter. "And besides, I'm a farmer born and bred; I wouldn't have
the first idea about how to get a boy a job in the city or what he
ought to do or have. Mickey is on to all that; he'll go with you, won't
you Mickey?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "And you can save a lot by using my room. It is
high, but it's clean"--Junior scowled but Mickey proceeded calmly--"and
while it gets hot in the daytime, if you open the door at night, and
push the bed before the window, it soon cools off, while very hottest
times I always take to the fire-escape. It's nice and cool there."

"Of course! That will be the ticket," said Peter heartily. "A boy
starting with everything to learn couldn't expect to earn much, and
when you haven't Ma and me to depend on for your board you'll be glad
to have the bed free. Thank you Mickey, that's fine!"

Junior did not look as if he thought it were. Presently he asked: "How
much money ought I to take to start on, Mickey?"

"Hully gee!" said Mickey. "Why your fare in! You're going to make
money, kid, not to spend it. If I was turned loose there with just one
cent I'd be flying by night, and if I hadn't the cent, I'd soon earn
it."

"How could you Mickey?" asked Junior eagerly.

"With or without?" queried Mickey.

"Both!" exclaimed Junior.

"Well, 'without,'" said Mickey, "I'd keep my lamps trimmed and burning,
and I'd catch a lady falling off a car, or pick up a purse, or a kid,
or run an errand. 'With,' there'd be only one thing I'd think of,
because papers are my game. I'd buy one for a penny and sell it for
two; buy two, sell for four; you know the multiplication table, don't
you? But of course you don't want a street job, you want in a factory
or a store. If you could do what you like best, what would it be
Junior?"

Junior opened his mouth several times and at last admitted he hadn't
thought that far: "Why I don't know."

"Well," said Mickey calmly, "there's making things, that's factories.
There's selling them, that's stores. There's doctors, and lawyers,
that's professional, like my boss. And there's office-holders, like the
men he is after, but of course you'd have to be old enough to vote and
educated enough to do business, and have enough money earned at
something else to buy your office; that's too far away. Now if you
don't like the street, there's the other three. The quickest money
would be in the first two. If you were making things, what would you
make?"

"Automobiles!" said Junior.

"All right!" said Mickey, "we can try them first. If we can't find a
factory that you'd like, what would you rather sell?"

"Automobiles," said Junior promptly.

"Gee!" said Mickey. "I see where we hit that business at both ends. If
we miss, what next?"

"I don't know," said Junior. "I'll make up my mind when I have looked
around some."

"You can come closer deciding out here, than you can in the rush of the
streets," said Mickey. "There, you'll be rustling for your supper, and
you'll find boys hunting jobs thick as men at a ball game, and lots of
them with dads to furnish their room and board."

Junior hesitated, but Mickey excused himself and without having been
told what to do, he accomplished half a day's work for Mrs. Harding,
then began some of Peter's jobs and afterward turned his attention to
hearing Peaches' lesson and setting her new copy. When Junior paid his
fare Monday morning, Mickey, judging by the change he exhibited,
realized that both his mother and father had given him, to start on, a
dollar to spend. Mickey would have preferred that he be penniless. He
decided as they ran cityward that the first thing was to part Junior
from his money, so he told him he would be compelled to work in the
forenoon, and for a while in the afternoon, and left him to his own
devices on the street, with a meeting-place agreed on at noon.

When Mickey reached the spot he found Junior with a pocket full of
candy, eating early peaches, and instead of hunting work, he had
attended three picture shows. Mickey could have figured to within ten
cents of what was left of one of Junior's dollars; but as the cure did
not really begin until the money disappeared, the quicker it went the
better. As he ate his sandwich and drank his milk, he watched Junior
making a dinner of meat, potatoes, pie and ice-cream, and made a mental
estimate of the remains of the other dollar. As a basis for a later "I
told you so," he remonstrated, and pointed out the fact that there were
hundreds of unemployed men of strength, skilled artisans with families
to support, looking for work that minute.

"I know your dad signed up that contract with Jud Jason," he said,
"'cause I saw him, and that means that he's got no use for you for
three months; so you must take care of yourself for that long at least,
if you got any ginger in you. Of course," explained Mickey, "I know
that most city men think country boys won't stick, and are big cowards,
but I'm expecting you to show them just where they are mistaken. I know
you're not lazy, and I know you got as much sand and grit as any city
boy, but you must _prove it_ to the rest of them. You must show up!"

"Sure!" said Junior. "I'll convince them!"

By night the last penny of the second dollar was gone, so Junior
borrowed his fare to his room from Mickey, who was to remain with him
to show him the way back and forth, and to spend an early hour in
search of employment. It was Mickey's first night away from Peaches,
and while he knew she was safe, he felt that when night came she would
miss him. The thought that she might cry for him tormented him to
speech. He pointed out to Junior very clearly that he would have to
mark corners and keep his eyes open because he need not expect that he
could leave her longer than that. Junior agreed with him, for he had
promised Peaches in saying good-bye to keep Mickey only one night.

He had treated himself to candy and unusual fruits until his money was
gone, while by night these and a walk of miles on hot pavement had bred
such an appetite that he felt he had not eaten a full meal in years, so
when Mickey brought out the remains of the food Mrs. Harding had given
him, her son felt insulted. But Mickey figured a day on the basis of
what he had earned, what he had expended, what he must save to be ready
when the great surgeon came, and prepared exactly as he would have done
for himself and Peaches. On reaching the tenement and climbing until
his legs ached, Junior faced stifling heat, but Mickey opened the
window and started a draft by setting the door wide. While they ate
supper, Mickey talked unceasingly, but Junior was sulkily silent. He
tried the fire-escape, but one glance from the rickety affair, hung a
mile above the ground it seemed to him, was enough, so he climbed back
in the window and tossed on the bed.

Junior did his first real thinking that night. He was ravenous before
morning and aghast at what he was offered for breakfast. He was eager
to find work and he knew for what his first day's wage would go. In
justice to his own sense of honour and in justice to Junior, mere
common fairness, such as he would have wanted in like case, for the
first few days Mickey honestly and unceasingly hunted employment. With
Junior at his elbow he suffered one rebuff after another, until it was
clear to him that it was impossible for a country boy unused to the
ways of the city to find or to hold a job at which he could survive,
even with his room provided, while the city swarmed with unemployed
men. Everywhere they found the work they would have liked done by an
Italian, Greek, Swede, German, or Polander who seemed strong as oxen,
oblivious, as no doubt they were, to treatment Junior never had seen
accorded a balky mule, and able to live on a chunk of black bread, a
bit of cheese, and a few cents' worth of stale beer. When Mickey had
truly convinced himself of what he had believed, with a free conscience
he then began allowing Junior to find out for himself exactly what he
was facing. By that time Junior had lost himself on the way to Mickey's
rooms, spent a night wandering the streets, and breakfastless was
waiting before the Iriquois.

Mickey listened sympathetically, supplied a dime, which seemed to be
all he had, for breakfast, and said as he entered the building: "Well
kid, 'til we can find a job you'll just have to go up against the
street. If I can live and save money at it, you ought to be smart
enough to _live_. Go to it 'til I get my day's work done. You just
can't go home, because they'll think you don't amount to anything; the
fellows will make game of you, and besides Jud is doing wonderfully
well, your father said so. He seemed so tickled over him, I guess the
fact is he is getting more help from him that he ever did from Junior
boy, so your job there isn't open. Go at whatever you can see that
needs to be done, 'til I get my work over and we'll try again. I'll be
out about three, and you can meet me here."

Empty and disheartened Junior squeezed the dime and hurried toward the
nearest restaurant. But the transaction had been witnessed by a boy as
hungry as he, and hardened to the street. How Junior came to be
sprawling on the sidewalk he never knew; only that his hand
involuntarily opened in falling and he threw it out to catch himself,
so he couldn't find the dime. Before noon he was sick and reeling with
sleeplessness and hunger. He was waiting when it was Mickey's time to
lunch, but he did not come, and in desperation Junior really tried the
street. At last he achieved a nickel by snatching a dropped bundle from
under a car. He sat a long time in a stairway looking at it, and then
having reached a stage where he was more sick, and less hungry, he
hunted a telephone booth and tried to get his home, only to learn that
the family was away. Gladdened by the thought that they might be in the
city, he walked miles, watching the curb before stores where they
shopped, searching for their car, and he told himself that if he found
it, nothing could separate him from the steering gear until he sped
past all regulation straight to his mother's cupboard.

He had wanted ham and chicken in the beginning; later helping himself
to cold food in the cellar seemed a luxury; then crackers and cookies
in the dining-room cupboard would have satisfied his wildest desire;
and before three o'clock, Junior, in mad rebellion, remembered his
mother's slop bucket. How did she dare put big pieces of bread and
things good enough for any one to eat in feed for pigs and poultry! If
he ever reached home he resolved he would put a stop to that.

At three to Mickey's cheerful, "Now we'll find a job or make it," he
answered: "No we will find a square meal or steal it," and then he
told. Mickey watched him reflectively, but as he figured the case, it
was not for him to suggest retreat. He condoled, paid for the meal, and
started hunting work again, with Junior silent and dogged beside him.
To the surprise of both, almost at once they found a place for a week
with a florist.

Junior went to work. After a few tasks bunglingly performed, he was
tried on messenger service and started with his carfare to deliver a
box containing a funeral piece. He had no idea where he was to go, or
what car line to take. In his extremity a bootblack came to his aid. He
safely delivered the box at a residence where the owner was leaving his
door for his car. He gave Junior half a dollar. Junior met the first
friendly greeting he had encountered in Multiopolis, as he reached the
street.

Two boys larger than he walked beside him and talked so frankly, that
before he reached his car line, he felt he had made friends. They
offered to show him a shorter cut to the car line just by going up an
alley and out on a side street. At the proper place for seclusion, the
one behind knocked him senseless, and the one before wheeled and
relieved him of money, and both fled. Junior lay for a time, then
slowly came back, but he was weak and ill. He knew without
investigating what had happened, and preferring the mercy that might be
inside to that of the alley, he crawled into a back door. It proved to
be a morgue. A workman came to his assistance, felt the lump on his
head, noticed the sickness on his face, and gave him a place to rest.
Junior was dubious from the start about feeling better, as he watched
the surroundings. The proprietor came past and inquired who he was and
why he was there. Junior told him, and showed the lumps behind his ear
and on his forehead, to prove his words.

The man was human. He gave Junior another nickel and told him which car
to take from his front door. He had to stand aside and see five pieces
of charred humanity from a cleaning-establishment explosion, carried
through the door before he had a chance to leave it. He reached the
florist's two hours late and in spite of his story and his perfectly
discernible bumps to prove it, he was discharged as a fool for
following strangers into an alley.

On the streets once more and penniless, he started to walk the miles to
his room. When he found the building he thought it would be cooler to
climb the fire-escape and sit on it until he decided what to do, then
he could open the door from the inside. At the top he thrust a foot,
head, and shoulders into the room and realized he had selected the
wrong escape. He tried to draw back, but two men leaped for him, and as
he was doubled in the window he could not make a swift movement.

He was landed in the middle of the room, cursed for a prowling thief,
his protestations silenced, his pockets searched, and when they yielded
nothing, his body stripped of its clean, wholesome clothing and he was
pitched down the stairs. He appealed to several people, and found that
the less he said the safer he was. He snatched a towel from a basket of
clothes before a door, twisted it around him, and ran down the street
to Mickey's front entrance. With all his remaining breath he sped up
flight after flight of stairs and at last reached the locked door, only
to find that the key was in the pocket of his stolen trousers, and he
could not force his way with his bare hands. He could only get to his
clothing by trying the fire-escapes again. He was almost too sick to
see or cling to the narrow iron steps, but that time he counted
carefully, and looked until he was sure before he entered. He found his
clothes, and in the intense heat dressed himself, but he could not open
the door. He sat on the fire-escape to think.

Presently he espied one of the men who had robbed him watching him from
another escape, and being afraid and beaten sore, he crept into the
heat, and lay on the bed beside the window. After a while a breath of
air came in, and Junior slept the sleep of exhaustion. When he awoke it
was morning, his head aching, his mouth dry, and the room cooler.
Glancing toward the door he saw it standing open and then noticed the
disorder of the room, and of himself, and sat up to find he was on the
floor, once more disrobed, and the place stripped of every portable
thing in it, even the bed, little stove, and the trunk filled with
clothes and a few personal possessions sacred to Mickey because they
had been his mother's. The men had used the key in Junior's pocket to
enter while he slept, drugged him, and carried away everything. He
crept to the door and closed it, then sank on the floor and cried until
he again became unconscious. It was four o'clock that afternoon when
Mickey looked in and understood the situation. He bent over Junior's
bruised and battered body, stared at his swollen, tear-stained face,
and darting from the room, brought water, and then food and clothing.

Redressed and fed, Junior lay on the floor and said to Mickey: "Go to
the nearest 'phone and call father. Tell him I'm sick, to come in a
hurry with the car."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "But hadn't we better wait 'til morning now, and
get you rested and fed up a little?"

"No," said Junior. "The sooner he sees the fix I'm in the better he
will realize that I'm not a quitter; but that this ain't just the place
for me. Mickey, did you ever go through this? Why do I get it so awful
hard?"

"It's because the regulars can tell a mile off you are country,
Junior," said Mickey. "All my life I've been on the streets so they
knew me for city born, and supposed I'd friends to trace them and back
me if they abused me; and then, I always look ahead sharp, and don't
trust a living soul about alleys. You say the next escape but one? I've
got to find them, and get back my things. I want mother's, and Lily and
I can't live this winter with no bed, and no stove, and nothing at all."

"I'm sorry about your mother's things Mickey, but don't worry over the
rest," said Junior. "Pa and Ma won't ever be willing to give up Peaches
again, I can see that right now, and if they keep her, they will have
to take you too, because of course you can't be separated from her;
your goods, I'll pay back. I owe you a lot as it is, but I got some
money in the bank, and I'll have to sell my sheep."

Junior laid his head on his arm and sobbed weakly.

"Don't Junior," said Mickey. "I feel just awful about this. I thought
you had a place that would earn your supper, and you had the room, and
would be all right."

"Why of course!" said Junior.

Mickey looked intently at him. "Now look here Junior," he said, "I got
to square myself on this. I didn't think all the time you'd like
Multiopolis, when you saw it with the bark off. Course viewing it on a
full stomach, from an automobile, with spending money in your pocket,
and a smooth run to a good home before you, is one thing; facing up to
it, and asking it to hand out those things to you in return for work
you can do here, without knowing the ropes, is another. You've stuck it
out longer than I would, honest you have, but it isn't your game, and
you don't know how, and you'd be a fool to learn. I thought you'd get
enough to satisfy you when you came, but seeing for yourself seemed to
be the only way to cure you."

"Oh don't start the 'I told you so,'" said Junior. "Father and mother
will hand it out for the rest of my life. I'd as lief die as go back,
but I'm going; not because I can't get in the game, and make a living
if you can, even if I have to go out and start as you did, with a
penny. I'm going back, but not for the reason you think. It's because
seen at close range, Multiopolis ain't what it looks like from an
automobile. I know something that I really know, and that comes natural
to me, that beats it a mile; and now I've had my chance, and made my
choice. I'm so sore I can't walk, but if you'll just call father and
tell him to come in on high, I'll settle with you later."

"Course if that's the way you feel, I'll call him," said Mickey, "but
Junior, let me finish this much I was trying to say. I knew Multiopolis
would do to you all it had done to me, and I knew you wouldn't like it;
but I _didn't_ figure on your big frame and fresh face spelling country
'til it would show a mile down the street. I _didn't_ figure on you
getting the show I would, and I _didn't_ intend anything worse should
happen to you than has to me. Honest I didn't! I'm just about sick over
this Junior. Don't you want to go to Mr. Bruce's office--I got a key
and he won't care--don't you want to go there and rest a little, and
feed up better, before I call your father?"

"No I don't! I got enough and I know it! They must know it some time;
it might as well come at once."

"Then let's go out on the car," said Mickey.

"I guess you don't realize just how bad this is," said Junior. "You
call father, and call him quick and emphatic enough to bring him."

"All right then," said Mickey. "Here goes!"

"And put the call in nearest place you can find and hustle back," said
Junior. "I'm done with alleys, and sluggers, and robbers. Goliath
couldn't have held his own against two big men, when he was fifteen,
and I guess father won't think I'm a coward because they got away with
me. But you hurry!"

"Sure! I'll fly, and I'll get him if I can."

"There's no doubt about getting him. This is baked potato, bacon,
blackberry roll, honey and bread time at our house. They wouldn't be
away just now, and it's strange they have been so much this week."

Mickey gave Junior a swift glance; then raced to the nearest telephone.

"You Mickey?" queried Peter.

"Yes. It's you for S.O.S., and I'm to tell you to come on high, and
lose no time in starting."

"Am I to come Mickey, or am I too busy?"

"You are to come, Peter, to my room, and in a hurry. Things didn't work
according to program."

"Why what's the matter, Mickey?"

"Just what I told you would be when it came to getting a job here; but
I didn't figure on street sharks picking on Junior and robbing him, and
following him to my room, and slugging him 'til he can't walk. You come
Peter, and come in a hurry, and Peter----"

"You better let me start----" said Peter.

"Yes, but Peter, one minute," insisted Mickey. "I got something to say
to you. This didn't work out as I planned, and I'm awful sorry, and
you'll be too. But Junior is cured done enough to suit you; he won't
ever want to leave you again, you can bank on that--and he ain't hurt
permanent; but if you have got anything in your system that sounds even
a little bit like 'I told you so,' forget it on the way in, and leave
instructions with the family to do the same. See? Junior is awful sore!
He don't need anything rubbed in in the way of reminiscences. He's
ready to do the talking. See?"

"Yes. You're sure he ain't really hurt?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Three days will fix him, but Peter, it's been
mighty rough! Go easy, will you?"

"Mickey have you got money----"

"All we need, just you get here with the car, and put in a comfort and
pillow. All my stuff is gone!"

Peter Senior arrived in a surprisingly short time, knelt on the floor
and looked closely at his sleeping boy.

"Naked and beaten to insensibility, you say?"

Mickey nodded.

"Nothing to eat for nearly two days?"

Another affirmation. Peter arose, pushed back his hat and wiped the
sweat from his brow.

"I haven't been thinking about anything but him ever since he left," he
said, "and what makes me the sorest is that the longer I think of it,
the surer I get that this is my fault. I didn't raise him right!"

"Aw-w-ah Peter!" protested Mickey.

"I've got it all studied out," said Peter, "and I didn't! There have
been two mistakes, Junior's and mine, and of the two, mine is twice as
big as the boy's."

Peter stooped and picked up his son, who stirred and awakened. When he
found himself in his father's arms Junior clung to him and whispered
over and over: "Father, dear father!" Peter gripped him with all his
might and whispered back: "Forgive me son! Forgive me!"

"Well I don't know what for?" sobbed Junior.

"You will before long," said Peter. He drove to a cool place, and let
the car stand while he called his wife, and explained all of the
situation he saw fit. She was waiting at the gate when they came. She
never said a word except to urge Junior to eat his supper. But Junior
had no appetite.

"I want to run things here for a few minutes," he said. "When the
children finish, put them to bed, and then let me tell you, and you can
decide what you'll do to me."

"Well, don't you worry about that," said Peter.

"No I won't," said Junior, "because there's nothing you can do that
will be half I deserve."

When the little folks were asleep, and Mickey had helped Mrs. Harding
finish the work, and Jud Jason had been paid five dollars for his
contract and had gone home, Junior lay in the hammock on the front
porch, while his father, mother and Mickey sat close. When he started
to speak Peter said: "Now Junior, wait a minute! You've been gone a
week, and during that time I've used my brains more than I ever did in
a like period, even when I was courting your Ma, and the subject I
laboured on was what took you away from us. I've found out why you were
not satisfied, and who made you dissatisfied. The guilty party is Peter
Harding, aided and abetted by one Nancy Harding, otherwise known as
Ma----"

"Why father!" interrupted Junior.

"Silence!" said Peter. "I've just found out that it's a man's job to be
the _head of his family_, and I'm going to be the head of mine after
this, and like Mickey here, 'I'm going to keep it.' Let me finish. I've
spent this week thinking, and all the things I have thought would make
a bigger book than the dictionary if they were set down. Why should you
ask to be forgiven for a desire to go to Multiopolis when I carried you
there as a baby, led you as a toddler, and went with you every chance I
could trump up as a man? Who bought and fed you painted, adulterated
candy as a child, when your Ma should have made you pure clean taffy at
home from our maple syrup or as good sugar as we could buy? Often I've
spent money that now should be on interest, for fruit that looked fine
to you there, and proved to be grainy, too mellow, sour or not half so
good as what you had at home.

"I never took you hunting, or fishing, or camping, or swimming, in your
life; but I haven't had a mite of trouble to find time and money to
take you to circuses, which I don't regret, I'll do again; and picture
shows, which I'll do also; and other shows. I'm not condemning any form
of amusement we ever patronized so much, we'll probably do all of it
again; but what gets me now, is how I ever came to think that the only
_interesting things_ and those worth taking time and spending money on,
were running to Multiopolis, to eat, to laugh, to look, and getting
little to show for it but disappointment and suffering for all of us.
You haven't had the only punishment that's struck the Harding family
this week, Junior. Your Ma and I have had our share, and I haven't
asked her if she has got enough, but speaking strictly for myself, I
have."

"I wouldn't live through it again for the farm," sobbed Mrs. Harding.
"I see what you are getting at Pa, and it's we who are the guilty
parties, just as you say."

Junior sat up and stared at them.

"I don't so much regret the things I did," said Peter, "as I condemn
myself for the things I haven't done. I haven't taught you to ride so
you don't look a spectacle on a horse, and yet horses should come as
natural as breathing to you. You should be a skilled marksman; you
couldn't hit a wash-tub at ten paces. You should swim like a fish, with
a hundred lakes in your country; you'd drown if you were thrown in the
middle of one and left to yourself. You ought to be able to row a boat
as well as it can be done, and cast a line with all the skill any lad
of your age possesses. That you can't make even a fair showing at any
sport, results from the fact that every time your father had a minute
to spare he took you and headed straight for Multiopolis. Here's the
golf links at our door, and if ever any game was a farmer's game, and
if any man has a right to hold up his head, and tramp his own hills,
and swing a strong arm and a free one, and make a masterly stroke, it's
a _land owner_. There's no reason why plowing and tilling should dull
the brains, bend the back, or make a pack-horse of a man. Modern
methods show you how to do the same thing a better way, how to work one
machine instead of ten men, how to have time for a vacation, just as
city men do, and how to have money for books, and music, and school,
instead of loading with so much land it's a burden to pay the taxes. I
have quite a bunch of land for sale, and I see a way open to make three
times the money I ever did, with half the hard work. We've turned over
a new leaf at this place from start to finish, including the house,
barn, land, and family. A year from now you won't know any of us; but
that later. Just now, it's this: I'm pointing out to you Junior,
exactly how you came to have your hankering for Multiopolis. I can see
you followed the way we set you thinking, that all the amusing things
were there, the smart people, the fine clothes, the wealth, and the
freedom----"

"Yes you ought to see the 'amusing things' and the 'happy people' when
your stomach's cramping and your head splitting!" cried Junior. "I tell
you down among them it looks different from riding past in an
automobile."

"Exactly!" conceded Peter. "Exactly what I'm coming at. All your life
I've given you the wrong viewpoint. Now you can busy yourselves
planning how to make our share of the world over, so it will bring all
the joy of life right to the front door. I guess the first big thing is
to currycomb the whole place, and fix it as it should be to be most
convenient for us. Then we better take a course of training in making
up our minds to be _satisfied_ with what we can afford. Junior, does
home look better to you than it did this time last week?"

"Father," began Junior, and sobbed aloud.

"The answer is sufficient," said Peter dryly. "Never mind son! When,
with our heads put together, we get our buildings and land fixed right,
I suggest that we also fix our clothes and our belongings right. I
can't see any reason why a woman as lovely as Ma, should be told from
any other pretty woman, by her walk or dress. I don't know why a man as
well set up as I am, shouldn't wear his clothes as easy as the men at
the club house. I can't see why we shouldn't be at that same club house
for a meal once in a while, just to keep us satisfied with home
cooking, and that game looks interesting. Next trip to Multiopolis I
make, I'm going to get saddles for Junior and Mickey and teach them
what I know about how to sit and handle a horse properly; and it
needn't be a plow horse either. Next day off I have, I'm going to spend
hauling lumber to one of these lakes we decide on, to build a house for
a launch and fishing-boat for us. Then when we have a vacation, we'll
drive there, shelter our car, and enjoy ourselves like the city folks
by the thousand, since we think what they do so right and fine. They've
showed us what they like, flocking five thousand at a clip, to Red Wing
Lake a few miles from us. Since we live among what they are spending
their thousands every summer to enjoy, let's help ourselves to a little
pleasure. I am going to buy each of us a fishing rod, and get a box of
tackle, soon as I reach it, and I'm going fast. I've wasted sixteen
years, now I'm on the homestretch, and it's going to be a stretch of
all there is in me to make our home the sweetest, grandest place on
earth to us. Will you help me, Nancy?"

"I think maybe I'll be saved nervous prostration if I can help just a
few of these things to take place."

"Yes, I've sensed that," said Peter. "Mickey pointed that out to me the
morning you jumped your job and headed for sunup. For years, just _half
your time and strength has been thrown away using old methods and
implements in your work, and having the kitchen unhandy and
inconvenient; and I'm the man who should have seen it, and got you
right tools for your job at the same time I bought a houseful for
myself and my work_. We must stir up this whole neighbourhood, and
build a big entertainment house, where we can have a library suitable
for country folks, and satisfying to their ways of life. It's got to
have music boxes in it, and a floor fit for dancing and skating, and a
stage for our own entertainments, and the folks we decide to bring here
to amuse us. We can put in a picture machine and a screen, that we can
pay for by charging a few cents admission the nights we run it, and
rent films once or twice a week from a good city show. We could fix up
a place like that, and get no end of fun and education out of it,
without going thirty miles and spending enough money in one night to
get better entertainment for a month at home, and in a cool,
comfortable hall, and where we can go from it to bed in a few minutes.
Once I am started, with Mickey and Junior to help me, I'm going to call
a meeting and talk these things over with my neighbours, and get them
to join in if I can. If I can't, I'll go on and put up the building and
start things as I think they should be, and charge enough admittance to
get back what I invest; and after that, just enough to pay running
expenses and for the talent we use. I'm so sure it can be done, I'm
going to do it. Will you help me, son?"

"Yes father, I'd think it was fine to help do that," said Junior.
"_Now_ may I say what I want to?"

"Why yes, you might son," said Peter, "but to tell the truth I can't
see that you have anything to say. If you have got the idea, Junior,
that you have wronged us any, and that it's your job to ask us to
forgive you for wanting to try the things we started and kept you
hankering after all your life so far, why you're mistaken. If I'd
trained you from your cradle to love your home, as I've trained you to
love Multiopolis, you never would have left us. So if there is
forgiving in the air, you please forgive me. And this includes your Ma
as well. I should ask her forgiveness too, for a whole lot of things
that I bungled about, when I thought I was loving her all I possibly
could. I've got a new idea of love so big and all-encompassing it
includes a fireless cooker and a dish-washing machine. I'm going to put
it in practice for a year; then if my family wants to change back,
we'll talk about it."

"But father----" began Junior.

"Go to bed son," said Peter. "You can tell us what happened when you
ain't as sleepy as you are right now."

Junior arose and followed his mother to the kitchen.

"Ain't he going to let me tell what a fool I've been at all?" he
demanded.

"I guess your Pa felt that when he got through telling what fools we've
been, there wasn't anything left for you to say. I know I feel that
way. This neighbourhood does all in its power, from the day their
children are born, to teach them that _home_ is only a
_stopping-place,_ to eat, and sleep, and work, and be sick in; and that
every desirable thing in life is to be found _somewhere else_, the else
being, in most cases, Multiopolis. Just look at it year after year
gobbling up our boys and girls, and think over the ones you know who
have gone, and see what they've come to. Among the men as far as I
remember, Joel Harris went into a law office and made a rich,
respectable man; and two girls married and have good homes; the others,
many of them, I couldn't name to you the places they are in. This
neighbourhood needs reforming, and if Pa has set out to attempt it,
I'll lend a hand, and I guess from what you got this week, you'll be in
a position to help better than you could have helped before."

"Yes I guess so too," said Junior emphatically.

He gladly went back to the cream wagon. Peter didn't want him to, but
there was a change in Junior. He was no longer a wilful discontented
boy. He was a partner, who was greatly interested in a business and
felt dissatisfied if he were not working at furthering it. He had
little to say, but his eyes were looking far ahead in deep thought. The
first morning he started out, while Junior unhitched his horse, Peter
filled the wagon and went back to the barn where Mickey was helping him.

Junior, passing, remembered he had promised Jud Jason to bring a bundle
he had left there, and stopped for it. He stepped into the small front
door and bent for the package lying in sight, when clearly and
distinctly arose Mickey's voice lifted to reach Peter, at another task.

"Course I meant him to get enough to make him good and sick of it, like
we agreed on; but I never intended him to get any such a dose as he
had."

Junior straightened swiftly, and his lower jaw dropped. His father's
reply was equally audible.

"Of course I understand _that_, Mickey."

"Surest thing you know!" said Mickey. "I like Junior. I like him better
than any other boy I ever knew, and I've known hundreds. I tell you
Peter, he was gamer than you'll ever believe to hang on as long as he
did."

"Yes I think that too," said Peter.

"You know he didn't come because he was all in," explained Mickey. "You
can take a lot of pride in that. He'd about been the limit when he
quit. And he quit, not because he was robbed and knocked out, but
because what he had seen showed him that Multiopolis wasn't the job he
wanted for a life sentence. See?"

"I hope you are right about that," said Peter. "I'm glad to my soul to
get him home, cured in any way; but it sort of gags me to think of him
as having been scared out. It salves my vanity considerable to feel, as
you say, that he had the brains to sense the situation, and quit
because he felt it wasn't the work for which he was born."

Then Mickey's voice came eagerly, earnestly, warming the cockles of
Junior's heart.

"Now lemme tell you Peter; I was there, and I _know_. It _was_ that
way. _It was just that way exact!_ He wasn't scared out, he'd have gone
at it again, all right, if he'd seen anything in it he _wanted_. It was
just as his mother felt when she first talked it over with me, and the
same with you later: that if he got to the city, and got right up
against earning a living there, he would find it wasn't what he wanted;
and he did, like all of us thought. Course I meant to put it to him
stiff; I meant to 'niciate him in the ancient and honourable third
degree of Multiopolis all right, so he'd have enough to last a
lifetime; but I only meant to put him up against what I'd. had myself
on the streets; I was just going to test his ginger; I wasn't counting
on the robbing, and the alleys, and the knockout, and the morgue. Gee,
Peter!"

Then they laughed. A dull red surged up Junior's neck, and flooded his
face. He picked up the bundle, went silently from the barn, and climbed
on the wagon. The jerk of the horse stopping at its accustomed place
told him when to load the first can. He had been thinking so deeply he
was utterly oblivious to everything save the thought that it had been
prearranged among them to "cure" him; even his mother knew about, if he
heard aright, had been the instigator of the scheme to let him go, to
be what Mickey called "initiated in the ancient and honourable third
degree of Multiopolis."

Once he felt so outraged he thought of starting the horse home, taking
the trolley, going back to Multiopolis and fighting his way to what his
father would be compelled to acknowledge success. He knew that he could
do it; he was on the point of vowing that he _would_ do it; but in his
heart he knew better than any one else how repulsed he was, how he
hated it, and against a vision of weary years of fighting, came that
other vision of himself planning and working beside his father to
change and improve their home life.

"Say Junior are you asleep?" called Jud Jason. "You sit there like you
couldn't move. D'ye bring my bundle?"

"Yes, it's back there," answered Junior. "Get it!"

"How'd you like Multiopolis?" asked Jud.

Junior knew he had that to face.

"It's a cold-blooded sell, Jud," he said promptly. "I'm glad I went
when I did, and found out for myself. You see it's like this, Jud: I
_could_ have stayed and made my way; but I found out in a few days that
I wouldn't give a snap for the way when it was made. We fellows are
better off right where we are, and a lot of us are ready to _throw
away_ exactly what _many of the men in Multiopolis are wild to get_.
Now let me tell you----"

Junior told him, and through putting his experience into words, he
eased his heart and cleared his brain. He came to hints of great and
wonder-working things that were going to happen soon. There was just a
possibility that Jud gleaned an idea that the experience in Multiopolis
had brought his friend home to astound and benefit the neighbourhood.
At any rate Junior picked up the lines with all the sourness gone from
his temperament, which was usually sweet, except that one phrase of
Mickey's, and the laughter. Suddenly he leaned forward.

"Jud, come here," he said. Junior began to speak, and Jud began to
understand and sympathize with the boy he had known from childhood.

"Could we?" asked Junior.

"'Could we?' Well, I just guess we _could!_"

"When?" queried Junior.

"This afternoon, if he's going to be off," said Jud.

"Well I don't know what his plans are, but I could telephone from here
and by rustling I could get back by two. I've done it on a bet. Where
will we go, and what for?"

"To Atwater. Fishing is good enough excuse."

"All right! Father will let me take the car."

"Hayseed! Isn't walking good enough to suit you? What's the matter with
the Elkhart swale, Atwater marsh, and the woods around the head of the
lake----"

"Hold the horse till I run in and 'phone him."

When he came down the walk he reported: "He wants to go fishing awful
bad, and he'll be ready by two. That's all settled then. We'll have a
fine time."

"Bully!" said Jud laconically, and started to the house of another
friend, where a few words secured a boy of his age a holiday. Junior
drove fast as he dared and hurried with his work; so he reached home a
little before two, where he found Mickey with poles and a big can of
worms ready. Despite the pressing offer of the car, they walked, in
order to show Mickey the country which he was eager to explore on foot.
Junior said the sunfish were big as lunch plates at Atwater, the perch
fine, and often if you caught a grasshopper or a cricket for bait, you
got a big bass around the shore, and if they had the luck to reach the
lake, when there was no one ahead of them, and secured a boat they were
sure of taking some.

"Wouldn't I like to see Lily eating a fish I caught," said Mickey,
searching the grass and kicking rotting wood as he saw Junior doing to
find bass bait.

"Minnies are the real thing," explained Junior. "When we get the scheme
father laid out going, before we start fishing, you and I will take a
net and come to this creek and catch a bucketful of right bait, and
then we'll have man's sport, for sure. Won't it be great?"

"Exactly what the plutes are doing," said Mickey. "Gee, Junior, if your
Pa does all the things he said he was going to, you'll be a plute
yourself!"

"Never heard him say anything in my life he didn't do," said Junior,
"and didn't you notice that he put _you_ in too? You'll be just as much
of a plute as I will."

"Not on your bromide," said Mickey. "He is _your_ father, and you'll be
in business with him; I'll just be along sometimes, as a friend, maybe."

"I usually take father at just what he says. I guess he means you to
stay in our family, if you like."

"I wonder now!" said Mickey.

"Looks like it to me. Father and mother both like you, and they're
daffy about Peaches."

"It's because she's so little, and so white, and so helpless," Mickey
hastened to explain, "and so awful sweet!"

"Well for what ever it is, it _is_," said Junior, "and I'm just as
crazy about her as the rest. Look out kid! That fellow's coming right
at us!"

Junior dashed for the fence, while Mickey lost time in turning to see
what "that fellow" might be; so he faced the ram that had practised on
Malcolm Minturn. With lowered head, the ram sprang at Mickey. He flew
in air, and it butted space and whirled again, so that before the boy's
breath was fully recovered he lifted once more, with all the agility
learned on the streets of Multiopolis; but that time the broad straw
hat he wore to protect his eyes on the water, sailed from his head; he
dropped the poles, and as the ram came back at him he hit it squarely
in the face with the bait can, which angered rather than daunted it.
Then for a few minutes Mickey was too busy to know exactly what
happened, and movements were too quick for Junior. When he saw that
Mickey was tiring, and the ram was not, he caught a rail from the fence
and helped subdue the ram. Panting they climbed the fence and sat
resting.

"Why I didn't know Higgins had that ram," said Junior. "We fellows
always crossed that field before. Say, there ain't much in that

  '_Gentle sheep pray tell me why,
  In the pleasant fields you lie?_'

business, is there?"

"Not much but the lie," said Mickey earnestly.

Junior dropped from the fence and led the way toward a wood thick with
underbrush, laughing until his heart pained. As they proceeded they
heard voices.

"Why that sounds like my bunch," said Junior.

He whistled shrilly, which brought an immediate response, and soon two
boys appeared.

"Hello!" said Junior.

"Hello!" answered they.

"Where're you going?" asked Junior.

"To Atwater Lake, fishing. Where you?"

"There too!" said Junior. "Why great! We'll go together! Sam, this is
Mickey."

Mickey offered his hand and formalities were over.

"But I threw our worms at the ram," said Mickey.

"Well that was a smart trick!" cried Junior.

"Wasn't it?" agreed Mickey. "But you see the ram was coming and I had
the worms in my strong right, so I didn't stop to think I'd spent an
hour digging them; I just whaled away--"

"Never mind worms," said Jud. "I guess we got enough to divide; if you
fellows want to furnish something for your share, you can find some
grubs in these woods, and we'll get more chance at the bass."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "What are grubs and where do you look for them?"

"Oh anywhere under rotting wood and round old logs," said Jud. "B'lieve
it's a good place right here, Mickey; dig in till I cut a stick to help
with."

Mickey pushed aside the bushes, dropped on his knees and "dug in." A
second later, with a wild shriek, he rolled over and over striking and
screaming.

"Yellow jackets!" shouted Jud. "Quick fellers, help Mickey! He's got
too close to a nest!"

Armed with branches they came beating the air and him; until Mickey had
a fleeting thought that if the red-hot needles piercing him did not
kill, the boys would. Presently he found himself beside a mudhole and
as the others "ouched" and "o-ohed" and bewailed their fate, and
grabbed mud and plastered it on, he did the same. Jud generously
offered, as he had not so many stings, to help Mickey. Soon even the
adoring eyes of Peaches could not have told her idol from the mudhole.
He twisted away from an approaching handful crying: "Gee Jud! Leave a
feller room to breathe! If you are going to smother me, I might as well
die from bites!"

"Bites!" cried the boys while all of them laughed wildly, so wildly
that Mickey flushed with shame to think he had so little appreciation
of the fun calling a sting a bite, when it was explained to him.

"Well they sure do get down to business," he chattered, chilling from
the exquisite pain of a dozen yellow-jacket stings, one of which on his
left eyelid was rapidly closing that important organ. He bowed a
willing head for Jud's application of cold mud.

Finally they gathered up their poles and bait and again started toward
the lake. The day was warm, and there was little air in the marsh, and
on the swampy shore they followed. Suddenly Jud cried: "I tell you
fellows, what's the use of walking all the way round the lake? Bet the
boats will be taken when we get there! Let's cut fishing and go
swimming right here where there's a cool, shady place. It will be good
for you Mickey, it will cool off your stings a lot."

Mickey promptly began to unbutton, and the others did the same. Then
they made their way through the swamp tangle lining the shore at the
head of the lake, and tried to reach the water beside the tamaracks.
Sam and Junior found solid footing, and waded toward deep water. Jud
piloted Mickey to a spot he thought sufficiently treacherous, and said:
"Looks good here; you go ahead Mickey, and I'll come after you."

Mickey was unaccustomed to the water. He waded in with the assurance he
had seen the others use, but suddenly he cried: "Gee boys, I'm sucking
right down!"

Then on his ears fell a deafening clamour. "Help! Help! Quicksands!
Mickey's sinking! Help him!"

Mickey threw out his arms. He grabbed wildly; while a force, seemingly
gentle but irresistible, sucked him lower and lower, and with each inch
it bore him down, gripped tighter, and pulled faster. When he glanced
at the boys he saw panic in their faces, and he realized that he was
probably lost, and they were terror stricken. The first gulp of tepid
shore water that strangled him in running across his gasping lips made
him think of Peaches. Struggling he threw back his head and so saw a
widespreading branch of a big maple not far above him. All that was
left of Mickey went into the cry: "Junior! Bend me that branch!" Junior
swiftly climbed the tree, crept on the limb, and swayed it till it
swept the water, then Mickey laid hold; just a few twigs, and then as
Junior backed, and the branch lifted higher and higher, Mickey worked,
hand over hand, and finally grasped twigs that promised to stand a
gentle pull.

Then Jud began to shout instructions: "Little lower, Junior! Get a
better grip before you pull hard, Mickey! Maple is brittle! Easy! It
will snap with you! Kind of roll yourself and turn to let the water in
and loosen the sand. Now roll again! Now pull a little! You're making
it! You are out to your shoulders! Back farther, Junior! Don't you fall
in, or you'll both go down!"

Mickey was very quiet now. His small face was pallid with the terror of
leaving Peaches forever with no provision for her safety. The grip of
the sucking sand was yet pulling at his legs and body; while if the
branch broke he knew what it meant; that sucking, insistent pulling,
and caving away beneath his feet told him. Suddenly Mickey gave up
struggling, set his teeth, and began fighting by instinct. He moved his
shoulders gently, until he let the water flow in, then instead of
trying to work his feet he held them rigid and flattened as he could,
and with the upper part of his body still rolling, he reached higher,
and kept inching up the branch as Junior backed away, until with
sickening slowness he at last reached wood thick as his wrist. Then he
dragged his helpless body after him to safety, where he sank in a heap
to rest.

"Jud, it's a good thing I went in there first," he said. "Heavy as you
are, you'd a-been at the bottom by now, if there _is_ any bottom."

Mickey's gaze travelled slowly over his lumpy, purple frame, and then
he looked closely at the others. "Why them stingers must a-give about
all of it to me," he commented. "I don't see any lumps on the rest of
you."

"Oh we are used to it," scoffed Jud. "They don't show on you after you
get used to them. 'Sides most all mine are on my head, I kept 'em off
with the bushes."

"So did I," chimed in Sam and Junior with one voice.

"I guess I did get a lot the worst of it," conceded Mickey. "But if
they only stung your heads, it's funny you didn't know where to put
your mud!"

"Well I'll tell you," said Jud earnestly. "On your head they hurt worst
of all. They hurt so blame bad, you get so wild like you don't know
where you _are_ stung, and you think till you cool off a little, you
got them all over."

"Yes I guess you do," agreed Mickey.

The boys were slowly putting on their clothing and Junior was scowling
darkly. Jud edged close.

"Gosh!" he whispered. "I thought it was only a little spring! I didn't
think it was a quicksand!"

"You cut out anything more!" said Junior tersely.

Jud nodded. After a while they started home, walking slowly and each
one being particularly careful of and good to Mickey. When he had
rested, he could see that it was only an accident; such an astounding
one he forgot his bites and could talk of little else.

They made another long pause under a big tree, and Mickey felt so much
better as they again started home, that Junior lagged behind, and Jud
seeing, joined him. Junior asked softly: "Have any more?"

Jud nodded.

"What?" whispered Junior.

Jud told him.

"Oh that! Nothing in that! Go on!"

So they struck into the path they had followed from the swamp to the
woods, when suddenly a warm, yielding, coiling thing slipped under
Mickey's feet. With a wild cry he leaped across the body of a big
rattlesnake that had been coiled in the path. As he arose, clear cut
against the light launched the ugly head and wide jaws of the rattler,
then came the sickening buzz of its rattles in mad recoil for a second
stroke.

"Run Mickey! Jump!" screamed Junior.

"What is it?" asked Mickey bewildered.

"Rattlesnakes! Sure death!" yelled Jud. "Run fool!"

But Mickey stood perfectly still, and looked, not where the increasing
buzz came from, but at them. They had no choice. Jud carried a heavy
club; he threw himself in front of Mickey and as the second stroke
came, he swung at the snake's head. The other boys collected their
senses and beat it to pulp, then the dead mate it watched beside.
Junior glared at Jud, but when he saw how frightened he was, he knew
what had happened.

Mickey gazed at the snakes in horror.

"Ain't that a pretty small parcel to deal out sudden death in?" he
asked. "And if they're laying round like that, ain't we taking an awful
risk to be wading through here, this way? Gee, they're the worst sight
I ever saw!"

Mickey became violently ill. He lay down for a time, while the boys
waited on him, and at last when he could slowly walk toward home, they
went on. Jud and Sam left them at the creek, and Junior and Mickey
started up the Harding lane. Suddenly Mickey sat down in a fence
corner, leaned against the rails, and closed his eyes.

"Gee!" he said. "Never felt so rotten in all my life."

"Maybe that snake grazed you."

"If it did, would it kill me?" asked Mickey dully.

"Well after the yellow-jacket poison in your blood, and being so tired
and hot, you wouldn't stand the chance you'd had when we first
started," said Junior. "Do you know where it came closest to you?"

"Back of my legs, I s'pose," said Mickey.

"If it had hit you, it would leave two places like needles stuck in,
just the width of its head apart. I can't find any-thing that looks
like it, thank the Lord!"

"Here too!" said Mickey. "You see if it or the quicksands had finished
me, I haven't things fixed for Lily. They might '_get'_ her yet. If
anything should happen to me, she would be left with no one to take
care of her."

"Father would," offered Junior. "Mother never would let anybody take
her. I know she wouldn't."

"Well I don't," said Mickey, "and here is where guessing doesn't cut
any ice. I must be _sure_. To-night I'll ask him. I'd like to know how
it happens that sudden death has just been rampaging after me all this
trip, anyway. I seemed to get it coming or going."

Junior did not hide his grin quickly enough.

"Aw-w-w-ah!" grated Mickey, suddenly tense and alert.

He sprang to his feet. So did Junior.

"Say, look here----" cried Mickey.

"All right, 'look here,'" retorted Junior. His face flamed Ted, then
paled, and his hands gripped, while his jaw protruded in an ugly scowl.
Then slowly and distinctly he quoted: "Course I meant to put it to you
stiff; I meant to 'niciate you in the ancient and honourable third
degree of the Country all right, so's you'd have enough to last a
lifetime; but I only meant to put you up against what I'd had myself in
the fields and woods; I was just going to test your ginger; I wasn't
counting on the _quicksand_, and the _live_ snake, finding its dead
mate Jud fixed for you."

"So you were sneaking in the barn this morning, when we thought you
were gone?" demanded Mickey.

"Easy you!" cautioned Junior. "Going after the bundle I promised Jud
was _not_ sneaking----"

"So 'twasn't," conceded Mickey, instantly. "So 'twasn't!"

He looked at Junior a second.

"You heard us, then?" he demanded. "All of it?"

"I don't know," answered Junior. "I heard what I just repeated, and
what you said about my being game, and exactly why I came back; thank
you for _that_, even if I lick you half to death in a minute--and I
heard that my own mother first fixed it up with you, and then father
agreed. Oh I heard enough----!"

"And so you got a grouch?" commented Mickey.

"Yes I did," admitted Junior. "But I got over all of it, after I'd had
time to think, but that third degree business; that made me so sore I
told Jud about it, and he said he'd help me pay you up; but we struck
the same rock you did, in giving you a bigger dose than we meant to.
Honest Mickey, Jud didn't know there was a _real_ quicksand there, and
of course we didn't dream a live snake would follow and find the one
the boys hunted, killed, and set for you this morning----"

"Awful innocent!" scoffed Mickey. "'Member you didn't know about the
ram either?"

"Honest I _didn't_, Mickey," persisted Junior. "I thought steering you
into the yellow jackets was to be the first degree! Cross my heart, I
did."

Suddenly Mickey whooped. He tumbled on the grass in the fence corner
and twisted in wild laughter until he was worn out. Then he struggled
up, and held out his hand to Junior.

"If you're willing," he said, "I'll give you the grip, and the password
will be, 'Brothers!'"



CHAPTER XVIII


_Malcolm and the Hermit Thrush_


"Mr. Dovesky, I want a minute with you," said James Minturn.

"All right, Mr. Minturn, what is it?"

"You are well acquainted with Mrs. Minturn?"

"Very well indeed!" said Mr. Dovesky. "I have had the honour of working
with her in many concerts."

"And of her musical ability you are convinced?"

"Brilliant is the only word," exclaimed the Professor.

"My reason for asking is this," said Mr. Minturn: "one of our boys, the
second, Malcolm, is like his mother, and lately we discovered that he
has her gift in music. We ran on it through Miss Leslie Winton, who
interested Mrs. Minturn in certain wild birds."

"Yes I know," cried the Professor eagerly.

"When she became certain that she had heard a--I think she said Song
Sparrow, sing Di Provenza from Traviata--correct me if I am
wrong--until she felt that Verdi copied the bird or the bird copied the
master, she told my wife, and Nellie was greatly interested."

"Yes I know," repeated the musician. "She stopped here one day in
passing and told me what she had heard from Miss Winton. She asked me
if I thought there were enough in the subject to pay for spending a day
investigating it. I knew very little, but on the chance that she would
have a more profitable time in the woods than in society, I strongly
urged her to go. She heard enough to convince her, for shortly after
leaving for her usual summer trip she wrote me twice concerning it."

"You mean she wrote you about studying bird music?"

"Yes," said the Professor, "the first letter, if I remember, came from
Boston, where she found much progress had been made; there she heard of
a man who had gone into the subject more deeply than any one ever
before had investigated, and written a book. Her second letter was from
the country near Boston, where she had gone to study under his
direction. I have thought about taking it up myself at odd times this
spring."

"That is why I am here," said Mr. Minturn. "I want you to begin at
once, and go as far as you are able, taking Malcolm with you. The boys
have been spending much of their time in the country lately, hiding in
blinds, selecting a bird and practising its notes until they copy them
so perfectly they induce it to answer. They are proud as Pompey when
they succeed; and it teaches them to recognize the birds. I believe
this is setting their feet in the right way. But Malcolm has gone so
fast and so far, that he may be reproducing some of the most wonderful
of the songs, for all I know, for the birds come peering, calling,
searching, even to the very branch which conceals him. Isn't it enough
for a beginning?"

"Certainly," said the musician.

"He's been badly spoiled by women servants," said Mr. Minturn, "but the
men are taking that out of him as fast as it can be eliminated. I
believe he is interested enough to work. I think his mother will be
delighted on her return to find him working at what she so enjoys. Does
the proposition interest you?"

"Deeply!" cried the Professor. "Matters musical are extremely dull here
now, and I can't make my usual trip abroad on account of the war; I
should be delighted to take up this new subject, which I could make
serve me in many ways with my advanced Conservatory pupils."

"May I make a suggestion?" asked Mr. Minturn.

"Most assuredly," exclaimed the Professor.

"You noticed I began by admitting I didn't know a thing about it, so
I'll not be at all offended if you indorse the statement. My boys are
large, and old for the beginning they must make. I have to go carefully
to find what they care for and will work at; so that I get them started
without making them feel confined and forced, and so conceive a dislike
for the study to which I think them best adapted. Would you find the
idea of going to the country, putting a tuned violin in the hands of
the lad, and letting him search for the notes he hears, and then
playing the composers' selections to him, and giving his ear a chance,
at all feasible?"

"It's a reversal, but he could try it."

"Very well, then," said Mr. Minturn rising. "All I stipulate is that
you allow the other boys and the tutor to go along and assimilate what
they can, and that when you're not occupied with Malcolm, their tutor
shall have a chance to work in what he can in the way of spelling,
numbers, and nature study. Is it a bargain?"

"A most delightful one on my part, Mr. Minturn," said Mr. Dovesky.
"When shall I begin?"

"Whenever you have selected the instrument you want the boy to have,
call Mr. Tower at my residence and arrange with him to come for you,"
said Mr. Minturn. "You can't start too soon to suit the boy or me."

"Very well then, I'll make my plans and call the first thing in the
morning," said the Professor.

James Minturn went home and told what he had done.

"Won't that be great, Malcolm?" cried James Jr. "Maybe you can do the
music so well you can be a birdman and stand upon a stage before a
thousand people and make all of them think you're a bird."

"I believe I'd like to do it," said Malcolm. "If I find out the people
who make music have gone and copied in what the birds sing, and haven't
told they did it, I'll tell on them. It's no fair way, 'cause of course
the birds sang their songs before men, didn't they father?"

"I think so, but I can't prove it," said Mr. Minturn.

"Can you prove it, Mr. Tower?" asked Malcolm.

"Yes," said Mr. Tower, "science proves that the water forms developed
first. Crickets were singing before the birds, and both before man
appeared."

"Then that's what I think," said Malcolm.

"When are they to begin, James?" asked Mrs. Winslow.

"Mr. Dovesky is to call Mr. Tower in the morning and tell him what
arrangements he has been able to make," answered Mr. Minturn. "Malcolm,
you are old enough to recognize that he is a great man, and it is a big
thing for him to leave his Conservatory and his work, and go to the
woods to help teach one small boy what the birds say. You'll be very
polite and obey him instantly, will you not?"

"Do I have to mind him just like he was Mr. Tower?"

"I don't think you are obeying Mr. Tower because you must," said Aunt
Margaret. "Seems to me I saw you with your arms around his neck last
night, and I think I heard you tell him that you'd give him all your
money, except for your violin, if he wouldn't go away this winter.
Honestly, Malcolm, do you obey Mr. Tower because you feel forced to?"

"No!" cried Malcolm. "We have dandy times! And we are learning a lot
too! I wonder if Mr. Dovesky will join our campfire?"

"Very probably he'll be eager to," said Mrs. Winslow, "and more than
likely you'll obey him, just as you do father and Mr. Tower, because
you love to."

"Father, are William and I going to study the birds?" asked James.

"If you like," said Mr. Minturn. "It would please me greatly if each of
you would try hard to understand what Mr. Dovesky teaches Malcolm, and
to learn all of it you can, and to produce creditable bird calls if
possible; and of course these days you're not really educated unless
you know the birds, flowers, and animals around you. It is now a
component and delightful part of life."

"Gee, it's a pity mother isn't here," said Malcolm. "I bet she knows
more about it than Mr. Dovesky."

"I bet she does, too," agreed James. "But she wouldn't go where we do.
There isn't a party there, and if a mosquito bit her she'd have a fit."

"Aw! She would if she wanted to!" insisted Malcolm.

"Well she wouldn't _want_ to!" said James.

"Well she might, smarty," said Malcolm. "She did once! I saw the boots
and skirt she was going to wear. Don't you wish she liked the things we
do better than parties, father?"

"Yes, I wish she did," said Mr. Minturn. "Maybe she will."

"If she'd hear me call the quail and the whip-poor-will, she'd like
it," said Malcolm.

"She wouldn't like it well enough to stay away from a party to go with
you to hear it," said James.

"She might!" persisted Malcolm. "She didn't know about this when she
went to the parties. When she comes back I'm going to tell her; and I'm
going to take her to hear me, and I'll show her the flowers and my
fish-pond, and yours and father's. Wouldn't it be fun if she'd wear the
boots again, and make a fish-pond too?"

"Yes, she'd wear boots!" scoffed James.

"Well she would if she wanted to," reiterated Malcolm. "She wore them
when she wanted to hear the birds; if she did once, she would again, if
she pleased."

"Well she wouldn't please," laughed James.

"Well she _might_," said Malcolm stubbornly. "Mightn't she, father?"

"If she went once, I see no reason why she shouldn't again," said Mr.
Minturn.

"Course she'll go again!" triumphed Malcolm. "I'll make her, when she
comes."

"Yes 'when' she comes!" jeered James. "She won't ever live here! She
wouldn't think this was good enough for Lucette and Gretchen! And she
gave away our house for the sick children, and she hates it at
grandmother's! Bet she doesn't ever come again!"

"Bet she does!" said Malcolm instantly.

"Would you like to have mother come here, Malcolm?" interrupted Mr.
Minturn quietly.

"Why----" he said and shifted his questioning gaze toward Aunt
Margaret, "why--why--well, I'll tell you, father: if she would wear
boots and go see the birds and the flowers--if she would do as we
do----Sometimes in the night I wake up and think how pretty she is, and
I just get hungry to see her--but of course it would only kick up a row
for her to come here--of course she better stay away--but father, if
she _would_ come, and if she _would_ wear the boots--and if she'd let
old slapping Lucette go, and live as we do, father, _wouldn't that be
great?_"

"Yes I think it would," said James Minturn conclusively, as he excused
himself and arose from the table.

"James," said Malcolm, when they went to their schoolroom, "if Mr.
Dovesky goes to shutting us up in the study and won't let us play while
we learn, what will we do to him to make him sick of his job?"

"Oh things would turn up!" replied James. "But Malcolm, wouldn't you
kind o' hate to have him see you be mean?"

"Well father saw us be mean," said Malcolm.

"Yes, but what would you give if he _hadn't?_"

"I'm not proud of it," replied Malcolm.

"Yes and that's just it!" cried James. "That's just what comes of
living here. All of them are so polite, and if you are halfway decent
they are so good to you, and they help you to do things that will make
you into a man who needn't be ashamed of himself--that's just it! How
would you like to go back and be so rough and so mean nobody at all
would care for us?"

"Father wouldn't let us, would he?" asked Malcolm.

"He wouldn't if he could help it," said James. "He didn't used to seem
as if he could help it. Don't you remember he would tell us it was not
the right way, and try to have us be decent, and Lucette would tell
mother, and mother would fire him? I wonder how she could! And if she
could then, why doesn't she now? I guess he doesn't want to stop her
party to bother with us; but if she ever conies and wants to take us
back like we were, Malcolm, I'm not going. I _like_ what we got now.
Mother always said we were to be gentlemen; but we never could be that
way. Father and Mr. Tower and Mr. Dovesky are gentlemen, just as kind,
and easy, and fine. When we were mean as could be, and acted like
fight-cats, you remember father and Mr. Tower only _held_ us; they
didn't get mad and beat us. If mother comes you may go with her if you
want to."

"I wish she'd come with us!" said Malcolm.

"Not mother! We ain't her kind of a party."

"I know it," admitted Malcolm slowly. "Sometimes I want her just awful.
I wonder why?"

"I guess it's 'cause a boy is born wanting his mother. I want her
myself a lot of times, but I wouldn't go with her if she'd come today,
so I don't know _why_ I want her, but I _do_ sometimes."

"I didn't know you did," said Malcolm.

"Well I do," said James, "but I ain't ever going. Often I think the
queerest things!"

"What queer things do you think, James?"

"Why like this," said James. "That it ain't _safe_ to let children be
jerked, and their heads knocked. You know what Lucette did to
Elizabeth? I think she hit her head too hard. She gave me more cake,
and said I was a good boy for saying the ice made her sick, but all the
time I thought it was hitting her head. I wouldn't be the boy who said
that again, if I had to be shot for _not_ saying it, like the French
boy was about the soldiers. 'Member that day?"

"Yes I do," said Malcolm shortly.

"You know you coaxed her off the bench, and I pushed her in!" said
James, slowly.

"Yes," said Malcolm. "And I kicked her. And I wasn't mad at her a bit.
I wonder _why_ I did it!"

"I guess you did it because you were more of an animal than a decent
boy, same as I pushed her," said James. "I guess I won't ever forget
that I pushed her."

"Pushing her wasn't as bad as what I did," said Malcolm. "I guess ain't
either one of us going to feel right about Elizabeth again, long as we
live."

"Malcolm, we can't get her back," said James, "but if any way happens
that we ever get another little sister, we'll take care of her like
father _wanted to_."

"You bet we will!" said Malcolm.

Next morning the boys had the car ready. They packed in all their bird
books, their flower records, and botanies, and were eagerly waiting
when the call from Mr. Dovesky came. At once they drove to his home for
him, and from there to a music store where a violin was selected for
Malcolm.

Mr. Dovesky was so big, the boys stood in awe of his size. He was so
clean, no boy would want him to see him dirty. He was so handsome, it
was good to watch his face, because you had to like him when he smiled.
He was so polite, that you never for a minute forgot that soon you were
going to be a man, and if you could be the man you wished, you would be
exactly like him. Both boys were very shy of him and very much afraid
his entrance into their party would spoil their fun.

When they left the music store, Malcolm carefully carrying his new
violin, Mr. Dovesky his, and a roll of music, the boys with anxious
hearts awaited developments.

"Now Mr. Tower," said Mr. Dovesky, "suppose we drive wherever you are
likely to find the birds you have been practising on, and for a start
let me hear just what you have done and can do, and then I can plan
better to work in with you."

When they reached the brook they stopped to show the fish pools and
then entered an old orchard, long abandoned for fruit growing and so
worm infested as to make it a bird Paradise. Cuckoos, jays, robins,
bluebirds, thrashers, orioles, sparrows, and vireos, nested there,
singing on wing, among the trees, on the fences, and from bushes in the
corners.

Malcolm and Mr. Dovesky secreted themselves on a board laid across the
rails of an alder-filled fence corner, then the boy began pointing out
the birds he knew and giving his repetition of their calls, cries, bits
of song, sometimes whistled, sometimes half spoken, half whistled, any
vocal rendition that would produce the bird tones. He had practised
carefully, he was slightly excited, and sooner than usual he received
replies. Little feathered folk came peeping, peering, calling, and
beyond question answering Malcolm's notes. In an hour Mr. Dovesky was
holding his breath with interest, suggesting corrections, trying notes
himself, and when he felt he had whistled accurately and heard a bird
reply, he was as proud as the boy.

Then a thing happened that none of them had mentioned, because they
were not sure enough that it would. A brown thrush, catching the
unusual atmosphere of the orchard that morning, selected the tallest
twig of an apple tree and showed that orchard what real music was.

The thrush preened, flirted his feathers, opened his beak widely and
sang his first liquid notes. "Starts on C," commented Mr. Dovesky
softly.

"Three times, and does it over, to show us we needn't think it was an
accident and he can't do it as often as he pleases," whispered Malcolm.
Mr. Dovesky glanced at the boy and nodded.

"There he goes from C to E," he commented an instant later, "repeats
that--C again, falls to B, up to G, repeats that--I wish he would wait
till I get my pencil."

"I can give it to you," said Malcolm. "He does each strain over as soon
as he sings it. I know his song!"

On the back of an envelope, Mr. Dovesky was sketching a staff of music
in natural key, setting off measures and filling in notes. As the bird
confused him with repetitions or trills on E or C so high he had to
watch sharply to catch just what it was, his fingers trembled when he
added lines to the staff for the highest notes. For fifteen minutes the
blessed bird sang, and at each rendition of its full strain, it seemed
to grow more intoxicated with its own performance. Finishing the last
notes perfectly, the bird gave a hop, glanced around as if he were
saying: "Now any one who thinks he can surpass that, has my permission
to try." From a bush a small gray bird meouwed in derision and accepted
the challenge. The watchers could not see him, but he came so close
singing the same song that he deceived Mr. Dovesky, for he said: "He's
going to do it over from the bushes now!"

"Listen!" cautioned Malcolm. "Don't you hear the difference? He starts
the same, but he runs higher, he drops lower, and does it quicker, and
I think the notes clearer and sweeter when the little gray fellow sings
them, and you should see his nest! Do you like him better?"

"Humph!" said Mr. Dovesky. "Why I was so entranced with the first
performance I didn't suppose anything could be better. I must have time
to learn both songs, and analyze and compare."

"I can't do gray's yet," said Malcolm. "It's so fine, and cut up, with
going up and down on the jump, but I got the start of it, and the part
that goes this way----"

"This is my work!" cried Mr. Dovesky. "Is there any chance the
apple-tree bird will repeat his performance?"

"Mostly he doesn't till evening," answered Malcolm. "He's pretty sure
to again to-morrow morning, but old cat of the bushes, he sings any
time it suits him all day. His nest isn't where he sings, and he
doesn't ever perch up so high and make such a fuss about it, but I
think mother would like his notes best."

"First," said Mr. Dovesky, "I'll take down what Mr. Brown Bird sang,
and learn it. I'd call that a good start, and when I get his song so I
can whistle, and play it on the instruments, then we'll go at Mr. Cat's
song, and see if I can learn why, and in what way you think it finer."

"Oh, it goes from high to low quicker, more notes in a bunch, and
sweeter tones trilling," explained Malcolm. Mr. Dovesky laughed, saying
in a question of music that would constitute quite a difference. They
went to the brook and lunched and made easy records of syllabic calls
that could be rendered in words and by whistling. Then all of them
gathered around Mr. Dovesky while he drew lines, crossed them with
bands and explained the staff, and different time, and signatures, and
together they had their first music lesson.

Malcolm whistled the thrush song while Mr. Dovesky copied the notes,
tuned the violin, and showed the boy how the strings corresponded to
the lines he had made, where the notes lay on them, and how to draw
them out with the bow. He could not explain fast enough to satisfy the
eager lad. After Mr. Dovesky had gone as far as he thought wise, and
left off with music, he wandered with Mr. Tower hunting flowers in
which he seemed almost as much interested as the music. Malcolm clung
to the violin, and over and over ran the natural scale he had been
taught; then slowly, softly, with wavering awkward bow, he began
whistling plain easy calls, and hunting up and down the strings for
them.

That day was the beginning. Others did not dawn fast enough to suit
Malcolm, while the ease with which he mastered the songs of the orchard
and reproduced them, in a few days set him begging to be taken to the
swamp to hear the bird that sang "from the book." Leslie Winton was
added to the party that day. Malcolm came from the land of the tamarack
obsessed. James, William, and the tutor did not care for that location,
but Malcolm and Mr. Dovesky wanted to erect a tent and take provisions
and their instruments and live among the dim coolness, where miracles
of song burst on the air at any moment. They heard and identified the
veery. They went on their knees at their first experience with the
clear, bell-toned notes of the wood thrush. With a little practice
Malcolm could reproduce the "song from the book." He talked of it
incessantly, sang and whistled it, making patent to every member of the
family that what was in his heart was fully as much a desire to do the
notes so literally that he would win the commendation of his mother, as
to obtain an answer from an unsuspecting bird; for that was the sport.
The big thing for which to strive! They worked to obtain a record so
accurately, to reproduce it so perfectly that the bird making it would
answer and come at their call. The day Malcolm, hidden in the tamarack
swamp, coaxed the sparrow, now flitting widely in feeding its young, he
knew not how far, to the bush sheltering him, and with its own notes
set it singing against him as a rival, the boy was no happier than Mr.
Dovesky.

Mr. Minturn could not quite agree to the camp at the swamp, but he
provided a car and a driver and allowed them to go each morning and
often to remain late at night to practise owl and nighthawk calls,
veery notes, chat cries, and the unsurpassed melody of the evening
vespers of the Hermit bird. This song once heard, comprehended, copied,
and reproduced, the musician and the boy with music in his heart,
brain, and finger tips, clung to each other and suffered the exquisite
pain of the artist experiencing joy so poignant it hurt. After a
mastery of those notes as to time, tone, and grouping, came the task of
perfecting them so that the bird would reply.

Hours they practised until far in the night, and when Malcolm felt he
really had located a bird, gained its attention, and set it singing
against him, he was wild, and nothing would satisfy him but that his
father should go to the swamp with him, and well hidden, hear and see
that he called the bird. Gladly Mr. Minturn assented. Whether the boy
succeeded in this was a matter of great importance to his father, but
it was not paramount. The thing that concerned him most was that
Malcolm's interest in what he was doing, his joy in the study he was
making, had bred a deep regard in his heart for his instructor. The boy
loved the man intensely in a few days, and immediately began studying
with him, watching him, copying him. He moved with swift alertness,
spoke with care to select the best word, and was fast becoming
punctiliously polite.

On their return Mr. Dovesky had fallen into the habit of lunching with
the Minturns. The things of which he and the boy reminded each other,
the notes they reproduced by whistling, calling, or a combination, the
execution of these on the violin, the references Mr. Dovesky made to
certain bird songs which recalled to his mind passages in operas, in
secular and sacred productions, his rendition of the wild music, and
then the human notes, his comparison of the two, and his remarks on
different composers, his mastery of the violin, and his ability to play
long passages preceding and following the parts taken from the birds,
were intensely absorbing and educative to all of them. Then Mr. Tower
would add the description and history of each bird in question. Mr.
Minturn started the boys' library with interesting works on
ornithology, everything that had been written concerning strains in
bird and human music; the lives and characters of the musicians in
whose work the bird passages appeared, or who used melodies so like the
birds it made the fact apparent the feathered folk had inspired them.
This led to minute examination of the lives of the composers, in an
effort to discover which of them were country born and had worked in
haunts where birds might be heard. The differing branches of
information opened up seemed endless. The change this work made in the
boys appeared to James Minturn and his sister as something marvellous.
That the work was also making a change in the heart of the man himself,
was an equal miracle he did not realize.

As each day new avenues opened, he began to understand dimly how much
it would have meant to him in his relations with his wife, if he had
begun long ago under her tuition and learned, at least enough to
appreciate the one thing outside society, which she found absorbing. He
began to see that if he had listened, and tried, and had induced her to
repeat to him parts of the great composers she so loved, on her
instruments, when they reached home, he soon could have come to
recognize them, and so an evening at the opera with her would have
meant pleasure to himself instead of stolid endurance. Ultimately it
might have meant an effective wedge with which to pry against the waste
of time, strength and money on the sheer amusement of herself in
society. Once he started searching for them, he found many ways in
which he might have made his life with his wife different, if indeed he
had not had it in his power to effect a complete change by having been
firm in the beginning.

Of this one thing he was sure to certainty: that if he had been able to
introduce any such element of interest into his wife's residence as he
had, through merely saying the word, in his own, it surely would have
made some of the big difference then it was making now. He found
himself brooding, yearning over his sons, and his feeling for them
broadening and deepening. As he daily saw James seeking more and more
to be with him, to understand what he was doing, his pride in being
able to feel that he had helped if it were no more than to sit in court
and hand a marked book at the right moment, he began to make a comrade
of, and to develop a feeling of dependence on, the boy.

He watched Malcolm with his quicker intellect, his daily evidence of
temperament, his rapidly developing musical ability, and felt the
tingle of pride in his lithe ruddy beauty, so like his mother, and his
talent, so like hers. The boy, under the interest of the music, and
with the progress he was making in doing a new, unusual thing, soon
began to develop her mannerisms; when he was most polite, her charm was
apparent; when he was offended, her hauteur enveloped him. When he was
pleased and happy, her delicate tinge of rose flushed his transparent
cheek, while the lights on his red-brown hair glinted with her colour.
He shut himself in his room and worked with his violin until time to
start to the tamarack swamp. When Mr. Minturn promptly appeared with
the car, he found Malcolm had borrowed Mr. Dovesky's khaki suit and
waders for him, and on the advice of the boy he wore the stiff coarse
clothing, which the tamaracks would not tear, the mosquitoes could not
bite through, and muck and water would not easily penetrate--there were
many reasons.

When they reached the swamp both of them put on boots and then,
following his son and doing exactly what he was told, James Minturn
forgot law, politics, and business. With anxious heart he prayed that
the bird the lad wished to sing would evolve its sweetest notes, and
that his high hope of reproducing the music perfectly enough to induce
the singer to answer would be fulfilled. Malcolm advanced softly,
slipping under branches, around bushes, over deep moss beds that sank
in an ooze of water at the pressure of a step and sprung back on
release. Imitating every caution, stepping in the boy's tracks, and
keeping a few rods behind, followed his father. He had rolled his
sleeves to the elbow, left his shirt open at the throat, while for
weeks the joy of wind and weather on his bared head had been his, so
that as he silently followed his son he made an impressive figure. At a
certain point Malcolm stopped, motioning his father to come to him.

"Now this is as far as I've gone yet," he whispered. "You stay here,
and we'll wait till the music begins. If I can do it as well as I have
for three nights, and get an answer, I'm going to try to call the
Hermit bird I sing with. If a hen answers, I'll do the male notes, and
try to coax her where you can see. If a male sings, I'll do his song
once or twice to show you how close I can come, and then I'll do the
hen's call note, and see if I can coax him out for you. If I creep
ahead, you keep covered as much as you can and follow; but stay as far
as that big tree behind me, and don't for your life move or make a
noise when I'm still. I'll go far ahead as I want to be, to start on.
Now don't forget to be quiet, and listen hard!"

"I won't forget!" said James Minturn.

"Oh but it will be awful if one doesn't sing to-night!"

"Not at all!" answered Mr. Minturn. "This is a new experience for me;
I'll get the benefit of a sight of the swamp that will pay for the
trip, if I don't even see a bird."

By the boy's sigh of relief the father knew he had quieted his anxiety.
Malcolm went softly ahead a few yards, and stopped, sheltering himself
in a clump of willow and button bushes. His father made himself as
inconspicuous as he could and waited. He studied the trunks of the big
scaly trees, the intermingled branches covered with tufts of tiny
spines, and here and there the green cones nestling upright. The cool
water rising around his feet called his attention to the deep moss bed,
silvery green in the evening light. Here and there on moss mounds at
the tree bases he could see the broad leaves and ripening pods that he
thought must be moccasins seeding. Then his eye sought the crouching
boy, and he again prayed that he would not be disappointed; with his
prayer came the answer. A sweep of wings overhead, a brown flash
through the tamaracks, and then a burst of slow, sweet notes, then
silence.

James Minturn leaned forward, his eyes on his son, his precious little
lad. How the big strong man hoped, until it became the very essence of
prayer, that he would be granted the pride and pleasure, the triumph,
of success; for his ears told him that to reproduce the notes he had
just heard would undoubtedly be the crowning performance of bird music;
surely there could be no other songster gifted like that! The bird made
a short flight and sang again. Across the swamp came a repetition of
his notes from another of his kind, so the brown streak moved in that
direction. At its next pause its voice arose again, sweeter for the
mellowing distance, and then another bird, not so far away, answered.
The bird replied and came winging in sight, this time peering, uttering
a short note, unlike its song; and not until it came searching where he
could see it distinctly, did James Minturn awake to the realization
that the last notes had been Malcolm's. His heart swelled big with
prideful possession. What a wonderful accomplishment! What a fine boy!
How careful he must be to help and to guide him.

Again the bird across the swamp sang and the one in sight turned in
that direction. Then began a duet that was a marvellous experience. The
far bird called. Malcolm answered. Soon they heard a reply. Mr. Minturn
saw the boy beckoning him, and crept to his side.

"It's a female," whispered Malcolm. "I'm going to sing the male notes
and calls, and try to toll her. You follow, but don't get too close and
scare her."

The father could see the tense poise of Malcolm, stepping lightly,
avoiding the open, stooping beneath branches, hiding in bushes, making
his way onward, at every complete ambush sending forth those wonderful
notes. At each repetition it seemed to the father that the song grew
softer, more pleading, of fuller intonation; and then his heart almost
stopped, for he began to realize that each answer to the boy's call was
closer than the one before. Malcolm would sleep that night with a
joyful heart. He was tolling the bird he imitated; it was coming at his
call, of that there could be no question. His last notes came from a
screen of spreading button bushes and northern holly. At the usual
interval they heard the reply, but recognizably closer. Malcolm raised
his hand without moving or looking back, but his father saw, and
interpreted the gesture to mean that the time had come for him to stop.
He took a few steps to conceal himself, for he was between trees when
the signal came, and paused, already so elated he wanted to shout; he
scarcely could restrain the impulse. What was the use in going farther?
His desire was to race back to Multiopolis at speed limit to tell Mr.
Dovesky, Margaret, and Mr. Tower what a triumph he had witnessed. He
wanted to talk about it to his men friends and business associates.

Distinctly, through the slowly darkening green, he could see the boy
putting all his heart into the song. James Minturn watched so closely
he was not mistaken in thinking he could see the lad's figure grow
tense as he delivered the notes, and relax when the answer relieved his
anxiety as to whether it would come again, and then gather for another
trial. At the last call the reply came from such a short distance that
Mr. Minturn began intently watching from his shelter to witness the
final triumph of seeing the bird Malcolm had called across the swamp,
come into view. He could see that the boy was growing reckless, for as
he delivered the strain, he stepped almost into the open, watching
before him and slowly going ahead. With the answer, there was a
discernible movement a few yards away. Mr. Minturn saw the boy start,
and gazed at him. With bent body Malcolm stared before him, and then
his father heard his amazed, awed cry: "_Why mother!_ Is that _you_,
mother?"

"_Malcolm! Are you Malcolm?_" came the incredulous answer.

James Minturn was stupefied. Distinctly he could see now. He did not
recognize the knee boots, the outing suit of coarse green material, but
the beautiful pink face slowly paling, the bright waving hair framing
it, he knew very well. Astonishment bound him. Malcolm advanced another
step, still half dazed, and cried: "Why, have I been calling _you?_ I
thought it was the bird I saw, still answering!"

"And I believed you were the Hermit singing!" she said.

"But you fooled the bird," said the boy. "Close here it answered you."

"And near me it called you," said Mrs. Minturn. "Your notes were quite
as perfect."

Malcolm straightened and seemed reassured.

"Why mother!" he exclaimed. "When did you study _bird_ music? Have you
just come back?"

"I've been away only two weeks, Malcolm," she answered, "and if it
hadn't been for learning the bird notes, I'd have returned sooner."

"But where have you _been?_" cried the boy.

"At home. I reserved my suite!" she answered.

"But home's all torn up, and pounding and sick people, and you hate
pounding and sick people," he reminded her.

"There wasn't so very much noise, Malcolm," she said, "and I've changed
about sickness. You have to suffer yourself to do that. Once you learn
how dreadful pain is, you feel only pity for those who endure it. Every
night when the nurses are resting, I change so no one knows me, and
slip into the rooms of the suffering little children who can't sleep,
and try to comfort them."

"Mother, who takes care of _you?_" he questioned.

"A very sensible girl named Susan," she answered.

The boy went a step closer.

"Mother, have you changed about anything besides sickness?" he asked
eagerly.

"Yes Malcolm," said his mother. "I've changed about every single thing
in all this world that I ever said, or did, or loved, when you knew me."

"You have?" he cried in amazement. "Would you wear that dress and come
to the woods with us now, and do some of the things we like?"

"I'd rather come here with you, and sing these bird notes than anything
else I ever did," she answered.

Malcolm advanced another long stride.

"Mother, is Susan a pounding, beating person like Lucette?" he asked
anxiously.

"No," she said softly. "Susan likes children. When she's not busy for
me, she goes into the music room and plays games, and sings songs to
little sick people."

"Because you know," said Malcolm, "James and I talk it over when we are
alone, we never let father hear because he loved Elizabeth so, and he's
so fine--mother you were _mistaken_ about father not being a gentleman,
not even Mr. Dovesky is a finer gentleman than father--and father loved
her so; but mother, James and I _saw_. We believe if it had been the
cream, it would have made us sick too, and we're so _ashamed_ of what
we did; if we had another _chance_, we'd be as good to a little sister
as father is to us. Mother, we wish we had her back so we could try
_again_----"

Nellie Minturn shut her eyes and swayed on her feet, but presently she
spoke in a harsh, breathless whisper, yet it carried, even to the ears
of the listening man.

"Yes Malcolm, I'd give my life, oh so gladly if I could bring her back
and try over----"

"You wouldn't have any person like Lucette around, would you mother?"
he questioned.

"Not ever again Malcolm," she answered. "I'd have Little Sister back if
it were possible, but that can't ever be, because when we lose people
as Elizabeth went, they never can come back; but I'll offer my life to
come as near replacing her as possible, and everywhere I've neglected
you, and James, and father. I'll do the best there is in me, if any of
you love me, or _want_ me in the least, or will give me an opportunity
to try."

"Mother, would you come where we are? Would you live as we do?"
marvelled the boy.

"Gladly," she answered. "It's about the only way I could live now, I've
given away so much of the money."

"Then I'll ask father!" cried the boy. "Why I forgot! Father is right
back here! Father! Father! Father come quick! Father it wasn't the
Hermit bird at all, it was mother! And oh joy, father, joy! She's just
changed and changed, till she's _most as changed as we are!_ She'll
come back, father, and she'll go to the woods with us, oh she will!
Father, you're _glad_, aren't you?"

When Nellie Minturn saw her husband coming across the mosses, his arms
outstretched, his face pain-tortured, she came swiftly forward, and as
she reached Malcolm, Mr. Minturn caught both of them in his arms
crying: "My sweetheart! My beautiful sweetheart, give me another
chance, and this time I'll be the head of my family in deed and in
truth, and I'll make life go right for all of us."



CHAPTER XIX


_Establishing Protectorates_


"I'm sorry no end!" said Mickey. "First time I ever been late. I was
helping Peter; we were so busy that the first thing I knew I heard the
hum of her gliding past the clover field, so I was left. I know how
hard you're working. It won't happen again."

Mickey studied his friend closely. He decided the time had come to
watch. Douglas Bruce was pale and restless, he spent long periods in
frowning thought. He aroused from one of these and asked: "What were
you and Peter doing that was so very absorbing?"

"Well about the most interesting thing that ever happened," said
Mickey. "You see Peter is one of the grandest men who ever lived; he's
so fine and doing so many _big_ things, in a way he kind of fell behind
in the _little_ ones."

"I've heard of men doing that before," commented Douglas. "Can't you
tell me a new one?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "You know the place and how good it seems on the
outside--well it didn't look so good inside, in the part that counted
most. You've noticed the big barns, sheds and outbuildings, all the
modern conveniences for a man, from an electric lantern to a stump
puller; everything I'm telling you--and for the nice lady, nix! Her
work table faced a wall covered with brown oilcloth, and frying pans
heavy enough to sprain Willard, a wood fire to boil clothes and bake
bread, in this hot weather, the room so low and dark, no ice box, with
acres of ice close every winter, no water inside, no furnace, and
carrying washtubs to the kitchen for bathing as well as washing, aw
gee--you get the picture?"

"I certainly do," agreed Douglas, "and yet she was a neat, nice-looking
little woman."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "If she had to set up housekeeping in Sunrise
Alley in one day you could tell her place from anybody else's. Sure,
she's a nice lady! But she has troubles of her own. I guess everybody
has."

"Yes, I think they have," assented Douglas. "I could muster a few right
now, myself."

"Yes?" cried Mickey. "That's bad! Let's drop this and cut them out."

"Presently," said Douglas. "My head is so tired it will do me good to
think about something else a few minutes. You were saying Mrs. Harding
had trouble; what is it?"

Mickey returned to his subject with a chuckle.

"She was 'bout ready to tackle them nervous prostrations so popular
with the Swell Dames," he explained, "because every morning for fifteen
years she'd faced the brown oilcloth and pots and pans, while she'd
been wild to watch sunup from under a particular old apple tree; when
she might have seen it every morning if Peter had been on his job
enough to saw a window in the right place. Get that?"

"Yes, I get it," conceded Douglas. "Go on!"

"Well I began her work so she started right away, and before she got
back in comes Peter. When he asks where she was and why she went, I was
afraid, but for her sake I told him. I told him everything I had
noticed. At first he didn't like it."

"It's a wonder he didn't break your neck."

"Well," said Mickey judicially, "as I size Peter up he'd fight an awful
fight if he was fighting, but he ain't much on _starting_ a fight. I
worked the separator steady, and by and by when I 'summed up the
argument,' as a friend of mine says, I guess that cream separator
didn't look any bigger to Peter, set beside a full house and two or
three sheds for the stuff he'd brought to make _his_ work easier, than
it did to me."

"I'll wager it didn't," laughed Douglas.

"No it didn't!" cried Mickey earnestly. "And when he stood over it
awhile, that big iron stove made his kitchen, where his wife lived most
of her day, seem 'bout as hot as my room where he was raving over Lily
having been; and when he faced the brown oilcloth and the old iron
skillets for a few minutes of silent thought, he bolted at about two.
Peter ain't so slow!"

"What did he do?" asked Douglas.

"Why we planned to send her on a visit," said Mickey, "and cut that
window, and move in the pump, and invest in one of those country gas
plants, run on a big tank of gasoline away outside where it's all safe,
and a bread-mixer, and a dishwasher, and some lighter cooking things;
but we got interned."

"How Mickey?" interestedly inquired Douglas.

"Remember I told you about Junior coming in to hunt work because he was
tired of the country, and how it turned out?" said Mickey.

"Yes I recall perfectly," answered Douglas.

"There's a good one on me about that I haven't told you yet, but I
will," said Mickey. "Well when son came home, wrapped in a comfort,
there was a ripping up on the part of Peter. He just 'hurled back the
enemy,' and who do you think he hit the hardest?"

"I haven't an idea," said Douglas.

"In your shoes, I wouldn't a-had one either," said Mickey. "Well, he
didn't go for Junior, or his Ma, or me. Peter stood Mister Peter
Harding out before us, and then didn't leave him a leg to stand on. He
proved conclusive he'd used every spare moment he'd had since Junior
was in short clothes, carrying him to Multiopolis to amuse him, and
feed him treats, and show him shows; so he was to blame if Junior
developed a big consuming appetite for such things. How does the
argument strike you?"

"Sound!" cried Douglas. "Perfectly sound! It's precisely what the land
owners are doing every day of their lives, and then wailing because the
cities take their children. I've had that studied out for a year past."

"Well Peter figured it right there for us in detail," said Mickey.
"Then he tackled Ma Harding and her sunup, and then he thought out a
way to furnish entertainment and all the modern comforts right there at
home."

"What entertainment?" said Douglas.

"Well he specified saddles and horses to ride," grinned Mickey, "and
swimming, and a fishing-boat and tackle for all of us, a launch on
whatever lake we like best, a big entertainment house with a floor for
skating and dancing, and a stage for plays we will get up ourselves,
and a movie machine. I'm to find out how to run one and teach them, and
then he'll rent reels and open it twice a week. The big hole that will
cave in on the north side of Multiopolis soon now will be caused by the
slump when our neighbourhood withdraws its patronage and begins being
entertained by Peter. And you'll see that it will work, too!"

"Of course it will," agreed Douglas. "Once the country folk get the
idea it will go like a landslide. So that's what made you late?"

"Well connected with that," explained Mickey. "Peter didn't do a thing
but figure up the price he'd paid for every labour-saver he ever bought
for himself, and he came out a little over six thousand. He said he
wouldn't have wanted Ma in a hardware store selecting his implements,
so he guessed he wouldn't choose hers. He just drew a check for what he
said was her due, with interest, and put it in her name in the bank,
and told her to cut loose and spend it exactly as she pleased."

"What did she do?" marvelled Douglas.

"Well she was tickled silly, but she didn't lose her head; she began
investigating what had been put on the market to meet her requirements.
At present we are living on the threshing floor mostly, and the whole
house is packed up; when it is unpacked, there'll be a bathroom on the
second floor, and a lavatory on the first. There'll be a furnace in one
room of the basement, and a coal bin big enough for a winter's supply.
We can hitch on to the trolley line for electric lights all over the
house, and barn, and outbuildings, and fireless cooker, iron, and
vacuum cleaner, and a whole bunch of conveniences for Ma, including a
washing machine, and stationary tubs in the basement. Gee! Get the
picture?"

"I surely do! What else Mickey?" asked Douglas. "You know I've a house
to furnish soon myself."

"Well a new kitchen on the other end of the building where there's a
breeze, and a big clover field, and a wood, and her work table right
where it is in line with her private and particular sunup. There's a
big sink with hot and cold water, and a dishwasher. There's a
bread-mixer and a little glass churn, both of which can be hitched to
the electricity to run. There's a big register from the furnace close
the work table for winter, and a gas cook stove that has more works
than a watch."

"What does the lady say about it?"

"_Mighty little!_" said Mickey. "She just stands and wipes the shiny
places with her apron or handkerchief, and laughs and cries, 'cause
_she's so glad_. It ain't set up yet, but you can see just standing
before it what it's going to mean for her. And there's a chute from the
upstairs to the basement, to scoot the wash down to the electric
machine to rub them, and a little gas stove with two burners to boil
them, and the iron I told you of. Hanging it up is the hardest part of
the wash these days, and since they have three big rooms in the
basement, Peter thought this morning that he could put all the food in
one, and stretch her lines in the winter for the clothes to dry in the
washroom. The furnace will heat it, and it's light and clean; we are
going to paint it when everything is in place."

"Is that all?" queried Douglas.

"It's a running start," said Mickey; "I don't know as Peter will ever
get to 'all'. The kitchen is going to have white woodwork, and blue
walls and blue linoleum, and new blue-and-white enamelled cooking
things from start to finish, with no iron in the bunch except two
skillets saved for frying. Even the dishpan is going to be blue, and
she's crying and laughing same time while she hems blue-and-white wash
curtains for the windows. All the house is going to have hardwood
floors, the rooms cut more convenient; out goes the old hall into just
a small place to take off your wraps, and the remainder added to the
parlour. All the carpets and the old heavy curtains are being ground up
and woven into rugs. Gee, it's an insurrection! Ma Harding and I surely
started things when we planned to dose Junior on Multiopolis, and let
her 'view the landscape o'er.' You can tell by her face she's seeing
it! If she sails into the port o' glory looking more glorified, it'll
be a wonder! And Peter! You ought to see Peter! And Junior! You should
see Junior planning his room. And Mickey! You must see Mickey planning
his! And Mary and Bobbie! And above all, you should see Lily! Last I
saw of her, Peter was holding her under her arms, and she was shoving
her feet before her trying to lift them up a little. We've most rubbed
them off her with fine sand, and then stuck them in cold water, and
then sanded them again, and they're not the same feet--that's a cinch!"

"Is that the sum of the Harding improvements?" asked Douglas, drawing
fine lines on a sheet of figures before him.

"Well it's a fair showing," said Mickey. "We ain't got the new rugs,
and the music box, and the books; or the old furniture rubbed and oiled
yet. When the house is finished, Peter expressly specified that his
lady was to get her clothes so she could go to the club house, and not
be picked for a country woman by what she _wore_."

"Mickey, this is so interesting it has given my head quite a rest.
Maybe now I can see my way clearly. But one thing more: how long are
you planning to stay there? You talk as if----"

"'Stay there?'" said Mickey. "Didn't you hear me say there was a horse
and saddle and a room for me, and a room for Lily? 'Stay there!' Why
for ever and ever more! That's _home!_ When I got into trouble and
called on Peter to throw a lifeline, he did it up browner than his job
for Ma. A _line_ was all I asked; _but Peter established a regular
Pertectorate_--_nobody can 'get' us now_----"

"You mean Peter adopted both of you?" cried Douglas.

"Sure!" indorsed Mickey with a flourish. "You see it was like this:
when we dosed Junior with Multiopolis, the old threshing machine took a
hand and did some things to him that wasn't on the program; he found
out about it, and it made him mad. When he got his dander up he hit
back by turning old Miss Country loose on me. First I tried a ram and
yellow jackets; then only a little bunch of maple twigs was all the
pull I had to keep me from going to the bottomless pit by the way of
the nastiest quicksand on Atwater Lake. Us fellows went back one day
and fed it logs bigger than I am, and it sucked them down like Peter
does a plate of noodles. Then Junior thought curling a big dead rattler
in the path, and shunting me so I'd step right on it, would be a prime
joke; but he didn't figure on the snake he had fixed for me having a
mate as big and ugly as it was, that would follow and coil zipping mad
over the warm twisting body----"

"Mickey!" gasped Douglas.

"Just so! Exactly what I thought--and then some. When I dragged what
was left of me home that night, and figured out where I'd been if the
big maple hadn't spread its branch just as wide as it did, or if the
snake had hit my leg 'stead of my britches--when I took my bearings and
saw where I was at, the thing that really hurt me worst was that if I'd
gone, either down or up, I hadn't done anything for Lily but give her a
worse horror than she had, of being 'got' by them Orphings' Home
people, when I should have made her _safe forever_. I took Peter to the
barn and told him just how it was, 'cause I felt mighty queer. I wasn't
so sure that one scratch on my leg that looked ugly mightn't a-been the
snake striking through the cloth and dosing me some, I was so sick and
swelled up; it turned out to be yellow jackets, but it might a-been
snakes, and I was a little upset. As man to man I asked him what I
ought to do for my _family_ 'fore I took any more _risks_. A-body would
have thought the jolt the box gave me would have been enough, but it
wasn't! It took the snake and the quicksand to just right real wake me
up. First I was some sore on Junior; but pretty quick I saw how funny
it was, so I got over it----"

"He should have had his neck broken!"

"Wope! Wope! Back up!" cautioned Mickey. "Nothing of the kind! You
ain't figuring on the starving, the beating, being knocked senseless,
robbed of all his clothes _twice_, and landing in the morgue with the
cleaning-house victims. Gee, Junior had reasons for his grouch!"

Douglas Bruce suddenly began to laugh wildly.

"Umhum! That's what I told you," said Mickey. "Well, that night I laid
the case before Peter, out on the hay wagon in the barnyard, so moon
white you could have read the _Herald_, the cattle grunting satisfied
all around us, katydids insisting on it emphatic, crickets chirping,
and the old rooster calling off the night watches same as he did for
that first Peter, who denied his Lord. I thought about that, as I sat
and watched the big fellow slowly whittling the rack, and once in a
while putting in a question, and when I'd told him all there was to
tell, he said this: he said _sure_ Lily was _mine_, and I had a perfect
_right_ to _keep_ her; but the law _might_ butt in, 'cause there _was_
a law we couldn't evade that _could_ step in and take her any day. He
said too, that if she had to go to the hospital, sudden, first question
a surgeon would ask was who were her parents, and if she had none, who
in their place could give him a right to operate. He said while she was
_mine_, and it was my _right_, and _my job_, the law and the surgeon
would say _no_, 'cause we were not related, and I was not of age. He
said there were times when the law got its paddle in, and went to
fooling with red tape, it let a sick person lay and die while it
decided what to do. He said he'd known a few just exactly such cases;
so to keep the law from making a fool of itself, as it often did, we'd
better step in and fix things to suit us before it ever got a showdown."

"What did he do?" asked Douglas Bruce eagerly.

"Well, after we'd talked it over we moved up to the back porch and
Peter explained to Ma, who is the boss of that family, only she doesn't
_know_ it, and she said for him to do exactly what his conscience and
his God dictated. That's where his namesake put it over that first
Peter. Our Peter said: 'Well if God is to dictate my course, you
remember what He said about "suffering the little children to come to
Him," and we are commanded to be like Him, so there's no way to _twist_
it, but that it means _suffer them to come to us_,' he said.

"Ma she spoke quick and said: 'Well we've got them!'

"Peter said, 'Yes, we've got them; now the question is whether we
_keep_ them, or send them to an Orphings' Home.'

"The nice lady she said faster than I can tell you: 'Peter Harding, I'm
ashamed of you! There's no question of that kind! There's never going
to be!'

"'Well don't get het up about it,' said Peter. 'I knew all the time
there _wasn't_, I just _wanted to hear you say so plain and emphatic_.
So far as I'm concerned, my way is clear as noonday sun,' said Peter.
'Then you go first thing in the morning and adopt them, and adopt them
_both_,' said Ma. 'Lily will make Mary just as good a sister as she
could ever have,' said she, and then she reached over and put her arms
right around me and she said, 'And if you think I'm going to keep on
trying to run this house without Mickey, you're mistaken.' I began to
cry, 'cause I had had a big day, and I was shaking on my feet anyway.
Then Peter said, 'Have you figured it out to the end? Is it to be 'til
they are of age, or forever?' She just gripped tighter and said fast as
words can come, 'I say make it forever, and share and share alike. I'm
willing if you are.' Peter, he said, 'I'm willing. They'll pay their
way any place. Forever, and share and share alike, is my idea. Do you
agree, Mickey?' 'Exactly what do you mean?' I asked, and Peter told me
it was making me and Lily both his, just as far as the law could do it;
we could go all the farther we wanted to ourselves. He said it meant
him getting the same for me and Lily as he did for his own, and leaving
us the same when he died. I told him he _needn't do that_, if he'd just
keep off the old Orphings' Home devil, that's had me scared stiff all
my days, I'd tend to _that_, so now me and Lily belong to Peter; he's
our _Pertectorate_."

"Mickey, why didn't you tell me?" asked Douglas. "Why didn't you want
me to adopt you?"

"Well so far as 'adopting' is concerned," said Mickey, "I ain't _crazy_
about it, with anybody. But that's the _law_ you men have made; a boy
must obey it, even if he'd rather be skinned alive, and when he _knows_
it ain't _right or fair_. That's the law. I was up against it, and I
didn't know but I _did_ have the snake, and Peter was on hand and made
that offer, and he was grand and big about it. I don't love him any
more than I do you; but I've just this minute discovered that it ain't
in my skin to love any man more than I do Peter; so you'll have to get
used to the fact that I love him just as well, and say, Mr. Bruce,
Peter is the finest man you ever knew. If you'll come out and get
acquainted, you'll just be tickled to have him in the Golf Club, and to
come to his house, and to have him at yours. His nice lady is exactly
like Miss Winton, only older. Say, she and Peter will adopt you too, if
you say so, and between us, just as man to man, Peter is a regular
lifesaver! If you got a chance you better catch on! No telling what you
might want of him!"

"Mickey, you do say the most poignant things!" cried Douglas. "I'd give
all I'm worth to catch on to Peter right now, and cling for much _more_
than life; but what I started, I must finish, and Peter isn't here."

"Well what's the matter with me?" asked Mickey. "Have you run into the
yellow jackets too? 'Cause if you have, I'm ahead of you, so I know
what to do. Just catch on to me!"

"Think you are big enough to serve as a straw for a drowning man,
Mickey?" inquired Douglas.

"Sure! I'm big enough to establish a _Pertectorate_ over you, this
minute. The weight of my body hasn't anything to do with the size of my
heart, or how fast I can work my brains and feet, if I must."

"Mickey," said Douglas despairingly, "it's my candid opinion that no
one can save me, right now."

Mickey opened his lips, and showed that his brain _was_ working by
shutting them abruptly on something that seemed very much as if it had
started to be: "Sure!"

"Is that so?" he substituted.

"Yes, I'm in the sweat box," admitted Douglas.

"And it's uncomfortable and weakening. What's the first thing we must
do to get you out?"

"What I'm facing now is the prospect that there's no way for me to get
out, or for my friends to get me out," admitted Douglas. "I wish I
_had_ been plowing corn."

The boy's eyes were gleaming. He was stepping from one foot to the
other as if the floor burned him.

"Gosh, we must saw wood!" he cried. "You go on and tell me. I been up
against a lot of things. Maybe I can think up something. Honest, maybe
I can!"

"No Mickey, there's nothing you or any one can do. A miracle is
required now, and miracles have ceased."

"Oh I don't know!" exclaimed Mickey. "Look how they been happening to
me and Lily right along. I can't see why one mightn't be performed for
you just as well. I wish you wouldn't waste so much time! I wish you
hadn't spent an hour fooling with what I was telling you; _that_ would
keep. I wish you'd give me a job, and let me get busy."

Douglas Bruce smiled forlornly.

"I'd gladly give you the job of saving me, my dear friend," he said,
"but the fact is I haven't a notion of how to go to work to achieve
salvation."

"Is somebody else getting ahead of you?"

"Not that I know of! No I don't think so. That isn't the trouble," said
Douglas.

"I do wish you'd just plain tell me," said Mickey. "Now that I got the
_Pertectorate_ all safe over Lily, I'd do anything for you. Maybe I
could think up some scheme. I'm an awful schemer! I wish you'd _trust_
me! You needn't think I'd _blab!_ Come on now!"

Suddenly Douglas Bruce's long arms stretched across the table before
him, his head fell on them, and shuddering sobs shook him. Mickey's
dance steps became six inches high, while in desperation he began
polishing the table with his cap. Then he reached a wiry hand and
commenced rubbing Douglas up and down the spine. The tears were rolling
down his cheeks, but his voice was even and clear.

"Aw come on now!" he begged. "Cut that out! That won't help none! What
shall I _do?_ Shall I call Mr. Minturn? Shall I get Miss Leslie on the
wire?"

Bruce arose and began walking the floor.

"Yes," he said. "Yes! 'Bearer of Morning,' call her!"

Mickey ran to the telephone. In a minute, "Here she is," he announced.
"Shall I go?"

"No! Stay right where you are."

"Hello Leslie! Are you all right? I'm sorry to say I am not. I'm up
against a proposition I don't know how to handle. Why just this:
remember your father told me in your presence that if in the course of
my investigations I reached his office, I was to wait until he got
back? Yes. I thought you'd remember. You know the order of the court
gave me access to the records, but the officials whose books I have
gone over haven't been pleased about it, although reflection would have
told them if it hadn't been I, it would have been some other man. But
the point is this: I'm almost at the finish and I haven't found what
obviously exists somewhere. I'm now up to the last office, which is
your father's. The shortage either has to be there, or in other
departments outside those I was delegated to search; so that further
pursuit will be necessary. Two or three times officials have suggested
to me that I go over your father's records first, as an evidence that
there was no favouritism; now I have reached them, and this
proposition: if I go ahead in his, as I have in other offices, I
disobey his express order. If I do not, the gang will set up a howl in
to-morrow morning's paper, and they will start an investigation of
their own. Did you get anything from him this morning Leslie? Not for
four days? And he's a week past the time he thought he would be back? I
see! Leslie, what shall I do? In my morning's mail there is a letter
from the men whose records I have been over, giving me this ultimatum:
'begin on Winton's office immediately, or we will.'

"Tell them to go ahead? But Leslie! Yes I know, but Leslie----Yes! You
are ordering me to tell them that I propose to conduct the search in
his department as I did theirs, and if they will not await his return
from this business trip, they are perfectly free to go ahead----You are
_sure_ that is the thing you want said? But Leslie----Yes, I know, but
Leslie it is _disobeying_ him, and it's barely possible there might be
a traitor there; better men than he have been betrayed by their
employees. I admit I'm all in. I wish you would come and bring your
last letter from him. We'll see if we can't locate him by wire. It's an
ugly situation. Of course I didn't think it would come to this. Yes I
wish you would! If you say so, I will, but----All right then. Come at
once! Good-bye!"

Douglas turned to his desk, wrote a few hasty lines and said to Mickey:
"Deliver that to Muller at the City Hall."

Mickey took the envelope and went racing. In half the time he would
have used in going to the City Hall he was in the _Herald_ Building,
making straight for the office of the editor. Mr. Chaffner was standing
with a group of men earnestly discussing some matter, when his eye was
attracted by Mickey, directly in range, and with the tip of his index
finger he was cutting in air letters plainly to be followed: "S.O.S."
Chaffner nodded slightly, and continued his talk. A second later he
excused himself, and Mickey followed to the private room.

"Well?" he shot at the boy.

"Our subm'rine has sunk our own cotton."

"Humph!" said Chaffner. "I've known for two weeks it was heading your
way. Just what happened?"

Mickey explained and produced the letter. Chaffner reached for it.
Mickey drew back.

"Why I wouldn't dare do just that," he said. "But I know that's what's
in it, because I heard what he said, and by it you could tell what she
said. I've told you every word, and you said the other day you knew;
please tell me if I should deliver this letter?"

"If you want to give me a special with the biggest scoop of ten years,"
said Chaffner, "and ruin Douglas Bruce and disgrace the Wintons, take
it right along."

"Aw gee!" wailed Mickey, growing ghastly. "Aw gee, Mr. Chaffner! Why
you _can't_ do that! Not to _them!_ Why they're the _nicest folks;_ and
'tain't two weeks ago I heard Miss Leslie say to Mr. Bruce right in our
office, 'losing money I could stand, disgrace would _kill_ me.' You
can't kill her, Mr. Chaffner! Why she's the nicest, and the
prettiest----She found me, and sent me to the boss, like I told you.
Honest she did! Why you can't! You just _can't!_ Why Mr. Chaffner, I
can see by your nice eyes you can't! Aw gee, come on now!"

Mickey's chin hooked over the editor's elbow, his small head was
against his arm, his eyes were dripping tears, but his voice controlled
and steady was entreating.

"You know there's a screw loose somewhere," explained Mickey. "You know
'darling old Daddy' couldn't ever have done it; and if somebody under
him has gone wrong, maybe he could make it up, if he was here and had
an hour or so. That day, Miss Leslie said he should give all he had for
his friend, and he could have all of hers. If she'd be willing for the
money to go for her 'dear old Daddy's' _friend_, course she'd be glad
to use it for her Daddy, and she's got a lot from her mother, and maybe
Daddy has sold the land he went to sell, and all of that ought to be
enough; and if it isn't, I know who will help them. Honest I do!"

"Who, Mickey?" demanded Mr. Chaffner, instantly.

"Mr. Minturn! Mr. James Minturn!" said Mickey. "He's Mr. Bruce's best
friend, and he _told_ me he would do _anything_ for Miss Leslie, that
day right after I saw you, for if his home ever came right again, it
would be 'cause she made it; and she _did_ make it, and it is _right_,
and he's so crazy happy he can't hardly keep on the floor. _Course_
he'd pay Miss Leslie back. He _said_ he would. He's the nicest man!"

"Isn't your world rather full of nice men, Mickey?"

Mickey renewed his grip. His eyes were pleading, the white light on his
brow was shining, his voice was irresistibly sweet: "You just bet my
world is full of nice men, packed like sardines; but they'll all
scrooge up a little and make room for you on the top layer among the
selects! Come on now! Rustle for your place before we revolve and leave
you. All your life you'll be sorry if you make that scoop, and kill
Miss Leslie, and shame 'darling old Daddy,' and ruin my boss. Oh I say
Mr. Chaffner, you _can't!_ You can't ever sleep nights again, if you
do! They haven't ever done anything to you. You'll be the _nicest_ man
of all, if you'll _tell me what to do_. 'Twon't take you but a second,
'cause you _know_. Oh tell me, for the love of God tell me, Mr.
Chaffner! _You'll be the nicest man I know, if you'll tell me_."

The editor looked down in Mickey's compelling eyes. He laid his hand on
the lad's brow and said: "That would be worth the price of any scoop I
ever pulled off, Mickey. Are you going to be a lawyer or write that
poetry for me?"

"If I'd ever even thought of law, _this_ would cook me," said Mickey.
"Poetry it is, as soon as I earn enough to pay for finding out how to
do it right."

"And when you find out, will you come on my staff, and work directly
under me?" asked Mr. Chaffner.

"Sure!" promised Mickey. "I'd rather do it than anything else in the
world. It would suit me fine. That is, if you're coming in among my
nice men----"

Mr. Chaffner held out his hand. "This is going to cost me something in
prestige and in cash," he said, "but Mickey, you make it _worthwhile_.
Here are your instructions: _don't_ deliver that letter! Cut for
Minturn and give it to him. Tell him if he wants me, to call any time
inside an hour, and that he hasn't longer than noon to make good. He'll
understand. If you can't beat a taxi on foot, take one. Have you money?"

"Yes," said Mickey, "but just suppose he isn't there and I can't find
him?"

"Then find his wife, and tell her to call me."

"All right! Thanks, boss! You're simply great!"

Mickey took the taxi and convinced the driver he was in a hurry. He
danced in the elevator, ran down the hall, and into Mr. Minturn's door.
There he stopped abruptly, for he faced Miss Winton and Mrs. Minturn,
whose paling face told Mickey that he was stamped on her memory as she
was on his. He pulled off his cap, and spoke to Mr. Minturn.

"Could I see you a minute?" he asked.

"Certainly! Step this way. Excuse us ladies."

Mickey showed the letter, told what had caused it to be written, and
that he had gone to Mr. Chaffner instead of delivering it, and what
instructions had been given him there. Mr. Minturn picked up the
telephone and called Mr. Chaffner. When he got him he merely said:
"This is Minturn. What's the amount, and where does he bank his funds?
Thank you very much indeed."

Then he looked at Mickey. "Till noon did you say?"

"Yes," cried Mickey breathlessly, "and 'tisn't so long!"

"No," said Mr. Minturn, "it isn't. Ask Mrs. Minturn if I may speak with
her a moment."

"Shall I come back or stay there?" inquired Mickey.

"Come back," said Mr. Minturn. "I may need you."

Mickey stood before Mrs. Minturn.

"Please will you speak with Mr. Minturn a minute?"

"Excuse me Leslie," said the lady, rising, and entering the private
room. There she turned to Mickey. "I remember you very well," she said,
with a steady voice. "You needn't shrink from me. I've done all in my
power to atone. It will never be possible for me to think of forgiving
myself; but you'll forgive me, won't you?"

"Sure! Why lady, I'm awful sorry for you."

"I'm sorry for myself," said she. "What was it you wanted, Mr. Minturn?"

"Suppose you tell Mrs. Minturn about both your visits here," suggested
Mr. Minturn to Mickey.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "You see it was like this lady. This morning Mr.
Bruce's head is down, and if he doesn't get help before noon, he and
Miss Leslie and all those nice people are in trouble. I thought Mr.
Minturn ought to know, so I slipped in and told him."

"What is the trouble, lad?" asked Mrs. Minturn.

"Why you see Miss Leslie's 'darling old Daddy' is one of the city
officials, and of course Mr. Bruce left him 'til last, because he would
a-staked his life he'd find the man he was hunting before he got to his
office, and he _didn't!_"

"What, James?" said the lady, turning hurriedly.

"Tell her about it, Mickey," said Mr. Minturn calmly.

"Well there ain't much to tell," said Mickey. "My boss he just kept
stacking up figures; two or three times he thought he had his man and
then he'd strike a balance; and the men whose records he searched kept
getting madder, and Mr. Winton went west to sell some land. Someway
he's been gone a week longer than he expected; and my boss is all
through except him, and now the other men say if he doesn't begin on
Mr. Winton's books right away, _they_ will, and he told my boss _not to
'til he got back_. A while ago I was in the _Herald_ office talking to
Mr. Chaffner, whose papers I've sold since I started and I was telling
him what nice friends I had, and how Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie were
engaged, and he like to ate me up. When I couldn't see why, he told me
about investigations he had his men, like I'm going to be, make, and
sometimes they get a 'scoop' on the men appointed to do the job, and he
told me he had a 'scoop' on this, and if I saw trouble coming toward my
boss, I was to tell him and maybe--he didn't say sure, but _maybe_ he'd
do something."

"Oh James!" cried Mrs. Minturn.

"Wait dear! Go on Mickey," said Mr. Minturn.

"Well," said Mickey, "the elevated jumped the track this morning when
my boss got a letter saying if he didn't go on at once with Mr.
Winton's office, somebody else would; and the people who have been in
the air ever since are due to land at noon, and it's pretty quick now,
and they are too nice for any use. Did you ever know finer people?"

"No I never did," said Mrs. Minturn; "but James, I don't understand.
Tell me quickly and plainly."

"Chaffner just gave me the figures," he said, holding over a slip of
paper. "If that amount is to Mr. Winton's credit on his account with
the city, at the Universal Bank before noon--nothing at all. If it's
_not_, disgrace for them, and I started it by putting Bruce on the
case. I'll raise as much as I can, but I can't secure enough by that
time without men knowing it. Mr. Winton has undoubtedly gone to try to
secure what he needs; but he's going to be too late. There never has
been a worse time to raise money in the history of this country."

"But if _money_ is the trouble," said Mrs. Minturn, "you said you never
would touch what I put in your name for yourself, why not use it for
him? If that isn't enough, I will gladly furnish the remainder. That
I'm not a stranded, forsaken woman is due to Leslie Winton; all I have
wouldn't be big enough price to pay for you, and my boys, and my
precious home. Be quick James!"

Mr. Minturn was calling the Universal Bank.

Mickey and Mrs. Minturn waited anxiously. They involuntarily drew
together, and the woman held the boy in a close grip, while her face
alternately paled and flushed, and both of them were breathing short.

"I want the cashier!" Mr. Minturn was saying.

"Don't his voice just make you feel like you were on the rock of ages?"
whispered Mickey.

Mrs. Minturn smiling nodded.

"Hello, Mr. Freeland. This is Minturn talking--James Minturn. You will
remember some securities I deposited with you not long ago? I wish to
use a part of them to pay a debt I owe Mr. Winton. Kindly credit his
account with--oh, he's there in the bank? Well never mind then. I
didn't know he was back yet. Let it go! I'll see him in person. And you
might tell him that his daughter is at my office. Yes, thank you. No
you needn't say anything about that to him; we'll arrange it ourselves.
Good-bye!"

"Now where am I at?" demanded Mickey.

"I don't think you know, Mickey," said Mr. Minturn, "and I am sure I
don't, but I have a strong suspicion that Mr. Winton will be here in a
few minutes, and if his mission has been successful, his face will tell
it; and if he's in trouble, that will show; and then we will know what
to do. Mr. Bruce would like to know he is here, and at the bank I
think."

"I'll go tell him right away," said Mickey.

Douglas was walking the floor as Mickey entered.

"You delivered the letter?" he cried.

Mickey shook his head, producing the envelope.

"You didn't!" shouted Bruce. "You didn't! Thank God! Oh, thank God you
_didn't!_"

"Aw-w-ah!" protested Mickey.

"Why didn't you?" demanded Douglas.

"Well you see," said Mickey, "me and Mr. Chaffner of the _Herald_ were
talking a while ago about some poetry I'm going to write for his first
page, soon now--I've always sold his papers you know, so I sort of
belong--and I happened to tell him I was working for you, and how fine
you were, and about your being engaged to Miss Leslie, and he seemed to
kind of think you was heading for trouble; he just plain _said so_. I
was so scared I begged him not to let _that_ happen. I told him how
everything was, and finally I got him to promise that if you _did_ get
into trouble he'd help you, at least he _almost_ promised. You see he's
been a newspaper man so long, he eats it, and sleeps it, and he had a
s'scoop'--"

"'He had a scoop?'" repeated Douglas.

"Yes! A great one! Biggest one in ten years!" said the boy. "He loved
it so, that me trying to pry him loose from it was about like working
to move the Iriquois Building with a handspike. All he'd promise that
first trip was that if I'd come and tell him when I saw you'd got into
trouble, he'd _see_ what he could do."

"Wanted to pump you for material for his scoop, I suppose?" commented
Douglas.

"Wope! Wope! Back up!" warned Mickey. "He didn't pump me a little bit,
and he didn't _try_ to. He told me nearly three weeks ago just what
_would_ happen about now, as he had things doped out, and they have. I
didn't _think_ that letter should be delivered this morning, 'cause you
had no business in 'darling old Daddy's' office if he said 'stay out.'"
In came Mickey's best flourish. "_Why he mightn't a-been ready!_" he
exclaimed. "He had his friend to help you remember, I heard Miss Leslie
tell you he did. And she told him to. She told you he could have what
she had, you remember of course. He might a-had to use some of his
office money real quick, to save a friend that he _had_ to save if it
took all he had and all Miss Leslie had; and _that_ was right. I asked
you the other day if a man might use the money he handled, and you said
yes, he was _expected_ to, if he had his books straight and the money
in the bank when his time for accounting came. 'Tain't time to account
yet; but you was doing this investigating among his bunch, and so I
guess if he did use the money for his friend, he had to go on that trip
he was too busy to take Miss Leslie, and sell something, or do
something to get ready for you. _That's_ all right, ain't it?"

"Yes, if he could _do_ it," conceded Douglas.

"Well he can!" triumphed Mickey. "He can just as easy, 'cause he's down
at the Universal Bank doing it right now!"

"What?" cried Douglas.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Back on time! At the bank fixing things so you
can investigate all you want to. What's the matter with 'darling old
Daddy?' _He's all right!_ Go on and write your letter over, and tell
them anxious, irritated gents, that you'll investigate 'til the
basement and cupola are finished, just as soon as you make out the
reports you are figuring up _now_. That will give you time to act
independent, and it will give Daddy time to be ready for you----"

"Mickey, what if he didn't get the land sold?" wavered Douglas. "What
if his trip was a failure?"

"Well that's fixed," said Mickey, stepping from one toe to the other.
"Don't ruffle your down about that. If 'darling old Daddy' has bad
luck, and for staking his money and his honour on his friend, he's
going to get picked clean and dished up himself, why it's fixed so he
_isn't!_ See?"

"_It's fixed?_" marvelled Douglas.

"Surest thing you know!" cried Mickey. "You've had your _Pertectorate_
all safe a long time, and didn't know it."

"Mickey, talk fast! Tell me! What do you mean?"

"Why that was fixed three weeks ago, I tell you," explained Mickey.
"When Mr. Chaffner said you would strike trouble, I wasn't surprised
any, 'cause I've thought all the time you _would;_ and when you did, I
went skinning to him, and he told me _not_ to deliver that letter; and
he was grand, just something grand! He told me what had to happen to
save you, so I kept the letter, and scuttled for Mr. James Minturn, who
started all this, and I just said to him, 'Chickens, home to roost,' or
words like that; and he got on the wire with Chaffner, and 'stead of
giving that 'scoop' to all Multiopolis and the whole world, he give Mr.
Minturn a few figures on a scrap of paper that he showed to his nice
lady--gosh you wouldn't ever believe she _was_ a nice lady or could be,
but honest, Mr. Bruce, me and her has been holding hands for half an
hour while we planned to help you out, and say, she's so nice, she's
just peachy--and she's the _same_ woman. I don't know how that happens,
but she's the same woman who fired me and the nice lady from Plymouth,
and now she _ain't_ the same, and these are the words she said: 'All I
have on earth would not be enough to pay Leslie Winton for giving you
back to me, and my boys, and my precious home.' 'Precious home!' Do you
get that? After her marble palace, where she is now must look like a
cottage on the green to her, but 'precious home' is what she said, and
she ought to know----"

"Mickey go on! You were saying that Mr. Chaffner gave Mr. Minturn some
figures--" prompted Douglas.

"Yes," said Mickey. "His precious 'scoop,' so Mr. Minturn showed her,
and she said just as quick to put that amount to Mr. Winton's credit at
the Universal Bank, so he called the bank to tell them; when he got the
cashier he found that 'darling old Daddy' was there that minute----"

"'Was there?'" cried Douglas.

"'_Was there_,'" repeated Mickey; "so Mr. Minturn backed water, and
_then_ he told the cashier he needn't mention to Mr. Winton that he was
going to turn over some securities he had there to pay a debt he owed
him, 'cause now that he was home, they could fix it up between
themselves. But he told the cashier to tell Mr. Winton that Miss Leslie
was in his office. He said 'Daddy' would come to her the minute he
could, and then if he was happy and all right, it meant that he had
sold his land and made good; and if he was broke up, we would know what
to do about putting the money to his credit. The nice lady said to put
a lot more than he needed, so if they did investigate they could see he
had plenty. See? Mr. Minturn said we could tell the minute we saw
him----"

"Well young man, can you?" inquired a voice behind them.

With the same impulse Douglas and Mickey turned to Mr. Winton and
Leslie standing far enough inside the door to have heard all that had
been said. A slow red crept over Mickey's fair face. Douglas sprang to
his feet, his hand outstretched, words of welcome on his lips. Mr.
Winton put him aside with a gesture.

"I asked this youngster a question," he said, "and I'm deeply
interested in the answer. _Can you?_"

Mickey stepped forward, taking one long, straight look into the face of
the man before him; then his exultant laugh trilled as the notes of
Peter's old bobolink bird on the meadow fence.

"Surest thing you know!" he cried in ringing joy. "You're tired, you
need washing, sleep, and a long rest, but there isn't any glisteny,
green look on your face. It's been with you, like I told Mr. Chaffner
it's in the Bible; only with you, it's been even more than a man
'laying down his life for his friend,' it was a near squeak, but you
made it! Gee, you made it! I should say I _could_ tell!"

Mr. Winton caught Mickey, lifting him from his feet. "God made a jewel
after my heart when he made you lad," he said. "If you haven't got a
father, I'm a candidate for the place."

"Gee, you're the nicest man!" said Mickey. "If I was out with a
telescope searching for a father, I'd make a home run for you; but you
see I'm fairly well fixed. Here's my boss, too fine to talk about, that
I work for to earn money to keep me and my family; there's Peter,
better than gold, who's annexed both me and my child; there's Mr.
Chaffner punching me up every time I see him about my job for him, soon
as I finish school; I'd _like_ you for a father, only I'm crazy about
Peter. Just you come and see _Peter_, and you'll understand----"

"I'll be there soon," said Mr. Winton. "I have reasons for wanting to
know him thoroughly. And by the way, how do you do, Douglas? How is the
great investigation coming on? 'Fine!' I'm glad to hear it. Push it
with all your might, and finish up so we can have a month on Atwater
without coming back and forth. I feel as if I'd need about that much
swimming to make me clean, as the young man here suggests; travelling
over the west in midsummer is neither cool nor cleanly; but it's great,
when things sell as ours did. Land seems to be moving, and there's
money under the surface; nobody has lost so much, they are only
economizing; we must do that ourselves, but Swain and I are both safe,
so we shall enjoy a few years of work to recoup some pretty heavy
losses; we're not worth what we were, but we are even, with a home
base, the love of God big in our hearts, and doubly all right, since if
we couldn't have righted ourselves, our friends would have saved us,
thanks to this little live wire on my left!"

"Oh Daddy, if you'd searched forever, you couldn't have found a better
name for Mickey!" cried Leslie. "Come on Douglas let's go home and
rest."

"Just as soon as I write and start Mickey with a note," said Douglas.
"Go ahead, I'll be down soon."

He turned to his desk, wrote a few lines, and sealing them, handed the
envelope to the waiting boy.

"City Hall," he said. "And Mickey, I see the whole thing. It will take
some time to figure just what I do owe you----"

"Aw-a-ah g'wan!" broke in Mickey, backing away.

"Mickey, we'll drive you to take the note, and then you come with us,"
said Douglas.

"Thanks, but it would try my nerve," said Mickey, "and I must help
Peter move in the pump!"



CHAPTER XX


_Mickey's Miracle_


That night Mickey's voice, shrill in exuberant rejoicing, preceded him
down the highway, so the Hardings, all busy working out their new plans
for comfort, understood that something unusually joyous had happened.
Peaches sat straighter in her big pillow-piled chair, leaned forward,
and smilingly waited.

"Ain't he happy soundin'?" she said to Mrs. Harding, who sat near her
sewing. "I guess he has thought out the best po'try piece yet. Mebby
this time it will be good enough for the first page of the _Herald_."

"Young as he is, that's not likely," said the literal woman. "There's
no manner of doubt in my mind but that he _can_ do great newspaper work
when he finishes his education and makes his start; but I think Mr.
Bruce will use all his influence to turn him toward law."

"Mr. Douglas Bruce is a swell gentl'man," said Peaches, "and me and
Mickey just loves him for his niceness to us; but we got _that_ all
settled. Mickey is going to write the po'try piece for the first page
of the _Herald_--that's our paper--and then we are going to make all my
pieces into a bu'ful book, like I got it started here."

Peaches picked up a small notebook, scrupulously kept, and lovingly
glanced over the pages, on each of which she had induced Mickey to
write in his plainest script one section of her nightly doggerel; and
if he failed from the intense affairs of the day, she left a blank page
for him to fill later. Taken together, the remainder of her possessions
were as nothing to Peaches compared with that book. Not an hour of the
day passed that it was not in her fingers, every line of it she knew by
heart, and she learned more from it than all Mickey's other educational
efforts. Peter scraped a piece of fine black walnut furniture free from
the accumulated varnish of years, and ran an approving hand over the
smooth dark surface, seasoned with long use. He smiled at her. She
smiled back, falling into a little chant that had been on her lips much
of the time of late: "You know, Peter! You know, Peter! We know
somepin' we won't tell!"

Peter nodded, beaming on her.

"Just listen to that boy, Peter, he must be perfectly possessed!" said
Nancy.

"He didn't ever sound so glad before!" cried the child eagerly.

Mickey came up the walk radiant. He divided a smile between Mrs.
Harding and Peter, and bowed low before Peaches as he laid a package at
her feet. Then he struck an attitude of exaggerated obeisance and
recited:

"_Days like this I'm tickled silly, When I see my August Lily. No other
fellow, dude or gawk, Owns a flower that can laugh and talk._"

Peaches immediately laughed; so did all of them.

"Peter," asked Mickey, "were you ever so glad that you thought you
would bust wide open?"

"I was," said Peter; "I am this minute."

"Would you mind specifying circumstances?"

"Not a bit," said Peter. "First time was when Ma said she'd marry me,
and I got my betrothal kiss; second, was the day she said she'd forgive
my years of selfish dunderheadedness, and start over. Now you, Mickey,
what's yours?"

"The great investigation is over, so far as our commission goes,"
answered Mickey. "Multiopolis isn't robbed where she was sure she was.
Her accounts balance in the departments we've gone over. Nobody gets
the slick face, the glass eye, the lawn mower on his cocoanut, or dons
the candy suit from our work; but some folks I love had a near squeak,
and I got a month vacation! Think of that, Miss Lily Peaches
O'Halloran! Gee, let's get things fixed up here and have a party, to
show the neighbouring gentlemen what's coming to them, before the
weather gets so cold they won't have time to finish their jobs this
fall. Some of them will squirm, but we don't care. Some of them will
think they won't do it, but they _will_. Kiss me, Lily! Hug me tight,
and let me go dig on the furnace foundation 'til I sweat this out of
me."

When the children were sleeping that night he sat on the veranda and
told Mrs. Harding and Peter exactly what he thought wise to repeat of
the day's experience and no more; so that when he finished, all they
knew was that the investigation was over, so far as Mr. Bruce was
concerned, Mickey had a vacation, and was a happy boy.

As she came to dinner the next day, Mary laid a bundle of mail beside
her father's plate. When he saw it, Peter, as was his custom, reached
for the _Herald_ to read the war headlines. He opened the paper, gave
it a shake, stared at it in amazement, scanned a few lines and
muttered: "Well for the Lord's sake!"

Then he glanced over the sheets at Mickey and back again. The family
arose and hurried to a point of vantage at Peter's shoulder, while he
spread the paper wide and held it high so that all of them could see.
Enclosed in a small ruled space they read:

_Sacred to the memory of the biggest scoop, That ever fell in Mister
Chaffner's soup,
  And was pitched by this nicest editor-man,
  Where it belonged, in the garbage can,
  To please his friend, Michael O'Halloran.
Whoop fellers, whoop, for the drownded scoop, That departed this life
in our Editor's soup!
  All together boys, Scoop! Soup! Whoop!_

They rushed at Mickey, shook hands, thumped, patted and praised him,
when a wail arose to the point of reaching his consciousness.

"Mickey, what?" cried Peaches.

"Let me take it just a minute, Peter," said Mickey.

"Wait a second," suggested Mrs. Harding, picking up a big roll that
they had knocked to the floor. "This doesn't look like catalogues, and
it's addressed to you. Likely they've sent you some of your own."

"Now maybe Mr. Chaffner did," said Mickey, almost at the bursting
point. "Course he is awful busy, the busiest man in the world, I
expect, but he _might_ have sent me a copy of my poetry, since he used
it."

With shaking fingers he opened the roll, and there were several copies
of the _Herald_ similar to the one Peter held, and on the top of one
was scrawled in pencil: "Your place, your desk, and your salary are
ready whenever you want to begin work. You can't come too soon to suit
me.--CHAFFNER."

Mickey read it aloud.

"Gee!" he said. "I 'most wish I had education enough to begin right
now. I'd _like_ it! I could just go _crazy_ about that job! Yes honey!
Yes, I'm coming!"

He caught up another paper, and hurried across the room, quietly but
decidedly closing the door behind him, so when Mary started to follow,
Junior interposed.

"Better not, Molly," he said. "Mickey wants to be alone with his family
for a few minutes. Say father, ain't there a good many newspaper men
worked all their lives, and got no such show as that?"

"I haven't a doubt of it," said Peter.

"Mickey must have written that, and sent it in before he came home
yesterday," said Mrs. Harding. "I call it pretty bright! I bet if the
truth was told, something went wrong, and he was at the bottom of
shutting it up. Don't you call that pretty bright, Pa?"

"I guess I'm no fair judge," said Peter. "I'm that prejudiced in his
favour that when he said, 'See the cat negotiate the rat' out in the
barn, I thought it was smart."

"Yes, and it was," commented Junior. "It's been funny for everybody to
'negotiate' all sorts of things ever since that north pole business, so
it was funny for the cat too. Father, do you think that note really
means that Mr. Chaffner would give Mickey a place on his paper, and pay
him right now?"

"I don't know why Chaffner would write it out and sign his name to it
if he _didn't_ mean it," said Peter.

"You know he is full of stuff like that," said Junior. "He could do
some every day about people other than Peaches if he wanted to. Father,
ain't you glad he's in our family? Are you going to tell him to take
that job if he asks you?"

"No I ain't," said Peter. "He's too young, and not the book learning to
do himself justice, while that place is too grown up and exciting for a
boy of his nerve force. Don't you think, Nancy?"

"Yes, I do, but you needn't worry," said Mrs. Harding. "Mickey knows
that himself. Didn't you hear him say soon as he read it, that he
hadn't the education yet? He's taken care of himself too long to spoil
his life now, and he will see it; but I marvel at Chaffner. He ought to
have known better. And among us, I wonder at Mickey. Where did he get
it from?"

"Easy!" said Peter. "From a God-fearing, intelligent mother, and an
irresponsible Irish father, from inborn, ingrained sense of right, and
a hand-to-hand scuffle with life in Multiopolis gutters. Mickey is all
right, and thank God, he's _ours_ If he does show signs of wanting to
go to the _Herald_ office, discourage him all you can, Ma; it wouldn't
be good for him--yet."

"No it wouldn't; but it would be because he needs solid study and
school routine to settle him, and make him _great_ instead of a clown,
as that would at his age. But if you think there is anything in the
_Herald_ office that could _hurt_ Mickey, you got another think coming.
It wouldn't hurt Mickey; but it would be mighty good for the rest of
them. The _Herald_ has more honour and conscience than most; some of
the papers are just disgraceful in what they publish, and then take
back next day; while folks are forced to endure it. Sit up and eat your
dinners now. I want to get on with my work."

"Mickey, what happened?" begged Peaches as Mickey came in sight,
carrying the papers.

He was trembling and tensely excited as her sharp eyes could see. They
rested probingly a second on him, then on the paper. Her lips tightened
while her eyes darkened. She stretched out her hand.

"Mickey, let me see!" she commanded.

Mickey knelt beside her, spreading out the sheet. Then he took her
hand, setting a finger on the first letter of his name and slowly moved
along as she repeated the letters she knew best of all, then softly
pronounced the name. She knew the _Herald_ too. She sat so straight
Mickey was afraid she would strain her back, lifting her head "like a
queen," if a queen lifts her head just as high as her neck can possibly
stretch, and smiled a cold little smile of supreme self-satisfaction.

"Now Mickey, go on and read what you wrote about _me_," her Highness
commanded.

The collapse of Mickey was sudden and complete. He stared at Peaches,
at the paper, opened his lips, thought a lie and discarded it, shut his
lips to pen the lie in for sure, and humbly and contritely waited, a
silent candidate for mercy. Peaches had none. To her this was the
logical outcome of what she had been led to expect. There was the
paper. The paper was the _Herald_. There was the front page. There was
Mickey's name. She had no conception of Mickey writing a line which did
_not_ concern her; also he had expressly stated that all of them and
the whole book were to be about her. She indicated the paper and his
name, while the condescension of her waiting began to be touched with
impatience.

"Mickey, why don't you go on and read what it says about me?" she
demanded.

Mickey saw plainly what must be done. He gazed at her and suddenly, for
the first time, a wave of something new and undefined rushed through
him. This exquisitely delicate and beautiful little Highness, sitting
so proudly straight, and so uncompromisingly demanding that he redeem
his promises, made a double appeal to Mickey. Her Highness scared him
until he was cold inside. He was afraid, and he knew it. He wanted to
run, and he knew it; yet no band of steel could have held him as this
bit of white femininity, beginning to glow a soft pink from slowly
enriching blood, now held and forever would hold him, and best of all
he knew that. It was in his heart to be a gentleman; there was nothing
left save to be one now. He took both Peaches' hands, and began
preparing her gently as was in his power for what had to come.

"Yes, Flowersy-girl," he said, "I'll read it to you, but you won't
understand 'til I tell you----"

"I always understand," she said sweepingly.

"You know how wild like I came home last night," explained Mickey.
"Well, I had reason. Some folks who have been good to us, and that I
love like we love Peter and Ma, had been in awful danger of something
that would make them sore all their lives, and maybe I had some little
part in putting it over, so it never touched them; anyway, they thought
so, and I was tickled past all sense and reason about it. It was up to
the editor of the _Herald_ to decide; and what he did, was what I
begged him to. Course left to himself, he would a-done it anyway,
_after he had time to think_----"

"Mickey, read my po'try piece about me, an' then talk," urged Peaches.

"Honey, you make me so sick I can't tell you."

"Mickey, what's the matter?"

Peaches' penetrating eyes were slowly changing to accusing. She drew a
deep breath, giving him his first cold, unrelenting look.

"Mister Michael O'Halloran," she said in incisive tones, "did you write
a po'try piece for the first page of the _Herald, not_ about me?"

"Well Miss Chicken," he cried, "I wish you wouldn't talk so much! I
wish you'd let me _tell_ you."

"I guess you ain't got anything to tell," said Peaches, folding her
arms and tilting her chin so high Mickey feared she might topple
backward.

"I guess I have!" shouted Mickey. "_I_ didn't put that there! I didn't
_mean_ it to _be_ there! If I'd a-put it there, and _meant_ it there,
and knowed it would _be_ there, it would a-been about you, of course!
Answer me this, Miss. Any single time did I ever _not_ do anything that
I said I would?"

"Nothing but this," admitted Peaches.

"There you go again!" said Mickey. "I tell you I _didn't_ do _this_,
and when I tell you, I tell true, Miss, get that in your system. If
you'd let me explain how it was, you'd see that I didn't have a single
thing to do with it."

Peaches accomplished a shrug that was wonderful, and gazed at the
ceiling, her lips closed. Mickey watched her a second, then he began
softly: "Flowersy-girl, I don't see what you mean! I don't know why you
act like this! I don't know what's to have a tantrum for, when I didn't
_mean_ it to be there, and didn't _know_ it would be there. Honest, I
don't!"

"Go on an' read it!" she commanded.

Mickey obeyed. As he finished she faced him in wonder.

"Why they ain't a damn bit of sense to it!" she cried.

"_Course_ there ain't!" agreed Mickey. "Course there _would be_ no
sense to anything that wasn't about _you!_"

"Then what did you put it there in my place for?"

"I didn't! I'm trying to tell you!" persisted Mickey.

Peaches shed one degree of royal hauteur. "Well why don't you go on an'
tell, then?"

"Aw-w-ah! Well if you don't maneuver to beat a monoplane! I've tried to
tell you, and you won't _let_ me. If you stop me again, I'm going to
march out of this room and stay 'til you bawl your eyes red for me."

"If you go, I'll call Junior!" said Peaches instantly.

"Well go on and call him!"

He turned, his heart throbbing, his eyes burning with repressed tears,
the big gulp in his throat audible to Peaches, as her little wail was
to him. He whirled and dropping on his knees took her in his arms. She
threw hers around his neck, buried her face against his cheek, and they
cried it out together. At last she produced a bit of linen, and mopped
Mickey's eyes and face, then her own. While still clinging to him she
whispered: "Mickey, I'm jus' about _dead_ to have it be the _Herald_,
an' the _front page_, an' _you_, an' _not_ about _me!_"

"Flowersy-girl, I'm just as sorry as you are," said Mickey. "It was
this way: I was just crazy over things our editor-man did, that saved
our dear boss and the lovely Moonshine Lady who gave you your Precious
Child and her 'darling old Daddy' from such awful trouble it would just
a-killed them; honest it would Lily! When our editor-man was so great
and nice, and did what he didn't _want_ to at all, I went sort of wild
like, and when I was off for the day and got on the streets, everything
pulled me his way. I was anxious just to see him again, and if I'd done
what I wanted to, I'd a-gone in the _Herald_ office and knelt down, and
said: 'Thank you, oh thank you!' and kissed his feet, but of course I
knew men didn't do like that, and it would have shamed him, but I had
to do something or bust, and I went running for the office like flying,
and my mind got whirling around, and that stuff began to come.

"I slipped in and back to his desk, like I may if I want to, and there
he sat. He had a big white sheet just like this before it is printed,
spread out, and a pencil in his fingers, and about a dozen of his best
men were crowding 'round with what they had for the paper to-day. I've
told you how they do it, often, and when I edged up some of the men saw
me. They knew I had a pass to him, so they stepped back just as he
said: 'Well boys, who's got some _big stuff_ to fill the space of our
departed scoop?' That 'departed' word means lost, gone, and it's what
they say about people when they--they go for good. Then he looked up to
see who would speak first, and noticed me. 'Oh there is the little
villain who scooped our scoop, right now,' he said. 'Let's make him
fill the space he's cut us out of.' I thought it was a joke, but I
wasn't going to have all that bunch of the swellest smarties who work
for him put it clear over me; I've kidded back with my paper men too
long for that; so I stepped back and shot it at him, that what's
printed there, and when I got to the end and invited the fellows to
'Whoop,' Lily, you could a-heard them a mile. I saw they was starting
for me, so I just slung in a 'Thank you something awful, boss,' and
ducked through and between, and cut for life; 'cause if they'd a-got
me, I might a-been there yet. They are the _nicest_ men on earth, but
they get a little keyed up sometimes, and a kid like me couldn't keep
even. Now that's all there is to it, Lily, honest, cross my heart! I
_didn't_ know they would put it there. I didn't know they thought it
was _good_ enough. I wouldn't a-let them for the life of them, if I'd
_known_ they was going to."

"You jus' said it once, Mickey?" inquired Peaches.

"Jus' once, Flowersy-girl, fast as I could rattle."

"It's twice as long as mine ever are," she said. "I don't see how they
'membered."

"Oh that!" cried Mickey. "Why honey, that's easy! Those fellows jump on
to a thing like chained lightning, and they got a way of writing that
is just a lot of little twists and curls, but one means a whole
sentence--they call it 'shorthand'--and doing that way, they can set
down talk as fast as anybody can speak, and there were a dozen of them
there with pencils and paper in their fingers. That wasn't anything for
them!"

"Mickey, are you going to learn to write that way?"

"Sure!" said Mickey. "Before I go to the _Herald_ to take my desk, and
my 'signment,' I've got to know, and you ought to know too; 'cause I
always have to bring what I write to you first, to see if you like it."

"Yes, if the mean old things don't go an' steal my place again, when
you don't know it," protested Peaches.

"Well, don't you fret about that," said Mickey. "They got away with me
this time, but they won't ever again, 'cause I'll be on to their
tricks. See? Now say you forgive me, and eat your dinner, 'cause it
will be spoiled, and you must have a good rest, for there's going to be
something lovely afterward. You ain't mad at me any more, Lily?"

"No, I ain't mad at you, but I'm just so----"

"Wope! wope!" cautioned Mickey.

Peaches pulled away indignantly.

"--so--so--so _estremely mad_ at those paper men! Mickey, I don't think
I'll ever let you be a _Herald_ man at all if they're going to leave me
out like that!"

"What do you care about an old paper sold on the streets, and ground up
for buckets, and used to start fires, anyway?" scoffed Mickey. "Why
don't you sit up on the shelf in a nice pretty silk dress and be a book
lady? I wouldn't be in the papers at all, if I were you."

"No, an' I won't, either!" cried Peaches instantly. "Take the old paper
an' put what you please in it. I shall have all about _me_ in the nice
silky covered book on the shelf; so there, you needn't try to make me
do anything else, 'cause I shan't ever!"

"Course you shan't!" agreed Mickey.

He went back to the dinner table to find the family finished and gone.
He carried what had been left for him to the back porch, and eating
hastily began helping to get things in place. As always he went to Mrs.
Harding for orders. She was a little woman, so very like his mother in
size, colouring, speech, and manner, that Mickey could almost forget
she was not truly his, when every hour she made him feel her motherly
kindness; so from early habit it was natural with him to seek her
first, and do what he could to assist her before he attempted anything
else. All the help Peter had from him came when he found no more to do
for Mrs. Harding. As he washed the dishes while she sat sewing for the
renovation of the house, he said to her: "When you dress Lily for this
afternoon I wish you'd make her just as pretty as you can, and put her
very nicest dress on her."

"Why Mickey, is some one coming?" she asked.

"I don't know," said Mickey, "but I have a hunch that my boss, and Miss
Leslie, and her father may be out this afternoon. They have been
talking about it a long time, but I kept making every excuse I could
think up to keep them away."

"Why, Mickey?" asked Mrs. Harding, looking at him intently. She paused
in her sewing, running the needle slowly across the curtain material.

"Well, for a lot of reasons," said Mickey. "A fellow of my size doesn't
often tackle a family, and when he does, if he's going to be square
about it, he has got to do a lot of _thinking_. One thing was that it's
hard for me to get Lily out my head like I first saw her. I guess I
couldn't tell you so you'd get a fair idea of how dark, dirty, alone,
and little, and miserable she was. Just with all my heart I was ashamed
of her folks, and sick sorry for her; but I can't bear for anybody else
to be! I didn't want any of them to see her 'til she was fed, and
fatted up a lot, and trained 'til how nice she really is shows plain.
It just hurt me to think of it."

"Um-m-uh!" agreed Mrs. Harding, differing emotions showing on her face.
"I see, Mickey."

"Then," continued Mickey, "I'm sticking sore and mean on one point. I
_did_ find her! She _is_ mine! I _am_ going to keep her! Nobody in all
this world takes her, nor God in Heaven!"

"Mickey, be careful what you say," she cautioned.

"I don't mean anything wicked," explained Mickey. "I'm just telling you
that nobody on earth can have her, and I'd fight 'til I'd die with her,
before even Heaven gets her. I don't mean anything ugly about it. I'm
just telling you friendly like, how I _feel_ about her."

"I see Mickey," said Mrs. Harding. "Go on!"

"Well, lots of reasons," said Mickey. "She wasn't used to folks, so
they scared her. She was crazy with fear about the Orphings' Home
getting her, while I wasn't any too sure myself. I flagged one Swell
Dame, and like to got caught in a trap and lost her. Then my Sunshine
Nurse helped me all I needed; so not knowing how much women were alike,
I didn't care to go rushing in a lot on Lily just to find out. She was
a little too precious to experiment with.

"That Home business has been a big, grinning, 'Get-you-any-minute
devil,' peeping 'round the corner at me ever since mother went. I could
dodge him for myself, but I couldn't take any _risks_ for Lily. _These
Orphings' Homes ain't no place for children_. 'Stead of the law
building them, and penning the little souls starving for home and love
in them, what it _should_ do is to make people who pay the money to run
them, take the children in their _own homes_ and love and raise them
_personal_. If every family in the world that has no children would
take two, and them that has would take just one, all the Orphings'
Homes would make good hospitals and schools; while the orphings would
be fixed like Lily and I are. Course I know all folks ain't the same as
you and Peter; but in the long run, children are _safer in homes_ than
they are in _squads_. 'Most any kind of a home beats no home at all.
You can stake your liberty-birds on that."

"You surely can," agreed Mrs. Harding.

"You just bet," persisted Mickey. "When I didn't know what they would
do, I didn't want them pestering 'round, maybe to ruin everything; and
when I _did_, I didn't want them any more, 'cause then I saw their idea
would be to take her themselves, and in one day they would a-made all I
could do look like thirty cents. She was mine, and what she had with me
was so much better than what she would a-had without me, or if the law
got her, that I thought she was doing well enough. I see now she could
a-had more; but I thought then it was all right!"

"Now Mickey, don't begin that," said Mrs. Harding. "What you did was to
find her, and without a doubt, save her life; at least if you didn't,
you landed her in a fairly decent home where all of us will help you do
_what you think best for her;_ and there's small question but we can
beat any Orphans' Home yet in existence. And as for the condition in
which I found her, it _was_ growing warm in that room, but I'll face
any court in the universe and swear I never saw a cleaner child, or one
in better condition for what you had to begin on. The Almighty Himself
couldn't have covered those awful bones with flesh and muscle, and
smoothed the bed sores and scars from that little body; and gone much
faster training her right, unless He was going back to miracles again.
As far as miracles are concerned, I think from what you tell me, and
what the child's condition proves, that you have performed the miracle
yourself. To the day of my death I'll honour, respect, and love you,
Mickey, for the way in which you've done it. I've yet to see a woman
who could have done better, so I want you to know it."

"I don't know the right words to say to you and Peter."

"Never mind that," said Mrs. Harding. "We owe you quite as much, and
something we are equally as thankful for. It's an even break with us,
Mickey, and no talk of obligations on either side. We prize Junior as
he is just now, fully as much as you do anything you've gained."

Mickey polished the plates and studied Mrs. Harding. Then he spoke
again: "There's one more obligation I'm just itching to owe you."

"Tell me about it, Mickey," she said.

"Well right in line with what we been talking of," said Mickey. "Just
suppose a big car comes chuffing up here this afternoon, like I have a
hunch it will, and all those nice folks so polite and beautifully
dressed come to see us, I know you are busy, but I'll work afterward to
pay back, if you and Peter will dust up a little--course I know the
upset fix we are in; but just glorify a trifle, and lay off and _keep
right on the job without a second of letting up_, 'til they are gone.
See?"

"You mean you don't want to be left _alone_ with them?"

"You get me!" cried Mickey. "You get me clearly. I don't want to be
left alone with them, for them to put ideas in Lily's head about a
nicer car than ours, and a bigger house, and finer dolls and dresses,
and going to the city to stay with them on visits; or me going to live
with Mr. Winton, to be the son he should have found for himself long
ago. I guess I have Lily sized up about as close as the next one; and
she has got all that is _good_ for her, right now. She'd make the worst
spoiled kid you ever saw if she had half a chance. What she needs to
make a grand woman of her, like you and mother, is clean air, quiet,
good food like she's got here, with bone as well as muscle in it; and
just enough lessons and child play with children to keep her brains
going as fast as her body, and no silly pampering to make her foolish
and disagreeable. I know how little and sick she is, but she shan't use
it for capital to spoil her whole life. See?"

"'Through a glass darkly,'" quoted Mrs. Harding laughing. "Oh Mickey, I
didn't think it of you. You're deeper than the well."

"That's all right," said Mickey, his face flushing. "Often I hear you
say 'let good enough alone.' My sentiments exact. Lily is fine, and so
am I. Let us alone! If you and Peter will do me the 'cap-sheaf favour,
as he would say, you'll dust up and _spunk_ up, and the very first hint
that comes--'cause it's coming--at the very first hint of how Miss
Leslie would love to take care of the dear little darling awhile, smash
down with the nix! _Smash like sixty!_ Keep your eyes and ears open,
and if you could, dearest lady, beat them to it: I'd be tickled silly
if you manage _that_. If you could only tell them how careful she has
to be handled, and taken care of, and how strangers and many around
would be bad for her----"

"Mickey, the minute they see the shape things are in here, it will give
them the chance they are after, so they will begin that very thing,"
she said.

"I know it," conceded Mickey. "That's why I'd put them off if I could,
'til we were fixed and quiet again. But at _that_, their chance isn't
so grand. This isn't worrying Lily any. She saw all of it happen, she
knows what's going on. What I want, dearest lady, is for you to get on
the job, and spunk up to them, just like you did about Junior going
away. I didn't think you'd get through with that, and I know Peter
didn't; but you _did_, fine! Now if you and Peter would have a little
private understanding and engineer this visit that I scent in the air,
so that when you see they are going to offer pressing invitations to
take Lily, and to take me, and put me at work that I wasn't born to do;
if you'd only have a receiver out, and when your wires warn you what's
coming down the line, first and beforehand, _calm_ and _plain_, fix
things so the nix wouldn't even be needed; do you get me, dearest
Mother Harding, do you see?"

"That I do!" said Mrs. Harding rising abruptly. "I'll go and speak to
Peter at once, then we'll shift these workmen back, and quiet them as
much as we can. I'll slip on a fresh dress, and put some buttermilk in
the well, and fix Peaches right away, if she's finished her nap----"

Mrs. Harding's voice trailed back telling what she would do as she
hastened to Peter. Mickey, with anxious heart, helped all he could,
washed, slipped on a fresh shirt, and watched the process of adjusting
Peaches' hair ribbon.

"Now understand, I don't _know_ they're coming," he said. "I just
_think_ they will."

Because he thought so, for an hour the Harding premises wore a
noticeable air of expectation. All the family were clean and purposely
keeping so; but the waiting was long, while work was piled high in any
direction. Peaches started the return to normal conditions by calling
for her slate, and beginning to copy her lesson. Mary with many
promises not to scatter her scraps, sat beside the couch, cutting
bright pictures from the papers. Mickey grew restless and began
breaking up the remains of packing cases, while Junior went after the
wheelbarrow. Mrs. Harding brought out her sewing, and Peter went back
to scraping black walnut furniture. Mickey passed him on an errand to
the kitchen and asked anxiously: "Did she tell you?"

"Yes," said Peter.

"Will you make it a plain case of 'nobody home! nobody home?'"
questioned Mickey.

"I will!" said Peter emphatically.

Being busy, the big car ran to the gate before they saw it coming.
Leslie Winton and Douglas Bruce came up the walk together, while Mr.
Winton and Mrs. Minturn waited in the car, in accordance with a
suggestion from Douglas that the little sick girl must not see too many
strange people at once. Mickey went to meet them, and Peaches watching,
half in fear and wholly in pride, saw Douglas Bruce shake his hand
until she frowned lest it hurt, clap him on the back, and cry: "Oh but
I'm proud of you! Say that was great!"

Leslie purposely dressed to emphasize her beauty, slipped an arm across
his shoulders and drawing him to her kissed his brow.

"Our poet!" she said. "Oh Mickey, hurry! I'm so eager to hear the ones
in the book Douglas tells me you are making! Won't you please read them
to us?"

Mickey smiled as he led the way. "Just nonsense stuff for Lily," he
said. "Nothing but fooling, only the prayer one, and maybe two others."

An abrupt movement from Peaches as they advanced made Mrs. Harding
glance her way in time to see the first wave of deep colour that ever
had flooded the child's white face, come creeping up her neck and begin
tinging her cheeks, even her forehead. With a swift movement she
snatched her poetry book, which always lay with her slate and primer,
thrusting it under her pillow; when she saw Mrs. Harding watching her
she tilted her head and pursed her lips in scorn: "'Our!'" she
mimicked. "'Our!' Wonder whose she thinks he is? Nix on her!"

Mrs. Harding, caught surprisedly, struggled to suppress a laugh as she
turned to meet her guests. Mickey noticed this. He made his
introductions, and swiftly thrust Peaches' Precious Child into her
arms, warning in a whisper: "_You be careful, Miss!_"

Peaches needed the reminder. She loved the doll. She had been drilled
so often on the thanks she was to tender for it, that with it in her
fingers she thought of nothing else, so her smile as Leslie approached
was lovely. She held out her hand and before Mickey could speak
announced: "Jus' as glad to see you! Thank you ever so much for my
Precious Child!"

Nothing more was necessary. Leslie was captivated and would scarcely
make way for Douglas to offer his greeting. Mary ran to call her
father, while the visitors seated themselves to say the customary
polite things; but each of them watched a tiny white-clad creature,
with pink ribbons to match the colour in a flawless little face,
rounded to the point of delicate beauty, overshadowed by a shower of
gold curls, having red lips and lighted by a pair of big, blue-gray
eyes with long dark lashes. When Mrs. Harding saw both visitors look so
intently at Peaches, and intercepted their glance of admiration toward
each other, she looked again herself, and then once more.

Peaches spoke imperiously. "Mickey-lovest, come here and bend down your
head."

Mickey slipped behind Douglas' chair, knelt on one knee, and leaned to
see what Peaches desired of him. She drew her hankerchief from her
waist ribbon, rubbed it across his forehead, looked at the spot with
frowning intentness, rubbed again, and then dropping the handkerchief,
laid a hand on each side of his head, bent it to her and kissed the
spot fervently; then she looked him in the eyes and said with
solicitous but engaging sweetness: "_Mickey, I do wish you would be
more careful what you get on your face!_"

Mickey drew back thrilled with delight, but extremely embarrassed.
"Aw-a-ah you fool little kid!" he muttered, and could not look at his
friends.

Watching, Douglas almost shouted, while the flush deepened on Miss
Winton's cheeks. Peter began talking to help the situation, so all of
them joined in.

"You are making improvements that look very interesting around here,"
said Douglas to Mrs. Harding.

"We are doing our level best to evolve a sanitary, modern home for all
of us, and to set an example for our neighbours," she said quietly. "We
always got along very well as we were, but lately, we have found we
could have things much more convenient, and when God gave us two more
dear children, we needed room for them, and comforts and appliances to
take care of our little new daughter right. When we got started, one
thing led to another until we are pretty well torn up; but we've saved
the best place for her, and the worst is over."

"Yes we are on the finish now," said Peter.

"I did think of taking her and going to my sister's," continued Mrs.
Harding, "but Peaches isn't accustomed to meeting people, while Mickey
and I both thought being among strangers and changing beds and food
would be worse for her than the annoyance of remodelling; then too, I
wanted very much to see the work here done as I desired. At first I was
doubtful about keeping her, but she doesn't mind in the least; she even
takes her afternoon naps with hammers pounding not so far from her----"

"Gee, there is no noise and jar here to compare with Multiopolis," said
Mickey. "She's all right, getting stronger every day."

Peaches spread both hands, looking at them critically, back and palm.

"They are better," she said. "You ought to seen them when they was so
clawy they made Mickey shiver if I touched him; and first time I wanted
to kiss something or go like granny did, he wouldn't let me 'til I
cried, an' then he made me put it on his forehead long time, 'til I got
so the bones didn't scratch him; didn't you Mickey?"

"Well I wish you wouldn't tell everything!"

"Then I won't," said Peaches, "'cause _I'm_ your fam'ly, an' I must do
what _you_ say; an' _you_ are _my_ fam'ly, an' you must do what _I_
say. Are you a fam'ly?" she questioned Leslie and Douglas.

"We hope to be soon," laughed Leslie.

"Then," said Peaches, "you can look how we're fixing our house so you
can make yours nice as this. Mickey, I want to show that pretty lady in
the auto'bile my Precious Child."

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I'll go tell her. And the man with her is Miss
Leslie's father, just like Peter is ours; you want to show him the
Child, don't you?"

"Maybe!" said Peaches with a tantalizing smirk.

"Miss Chicken, you're getting well too fast," commented Mickey in
amazement as he started to the car.

Because of what Mr. Winton had said to him the previous day, he
composed and delivered this greeting when he reached it: "Lily is
asking to show you her Precious Child, Mrs. Minturn, and I want both of
you to see our home, and meet our new father and mother. Letting us
have them is one thing the law does that makes up a little for the
Orphings' Homes most kids get who have had the bad luck to lose their
own folks."

"Mickey, are you prejudiced against Orphans' Homes?" asked Mrs. Minturn
as she stepped from the car.

"Ain't no name for it," said Mickey. "I'm dead against bunching
children in squads. If rich folks want to do something worth while with
their money, they can do it by each family taking as many orphings as
they can afford, and raising them personal. See?"

"I should say I do!" exclaimed the lady. "I must speak to James about
that. We have two of our own, and William, but I believe we could
manage a few more."

"I know one I'd like very much to try," said Mr. Winton, but Mickey
never appeared so unconscious.

He managed his introductions very well, while again Peaches justified
her appellation by being temptingly sweet and conspicuously acid. When
Mickey reached Peter in his round of making friends acquainted, he slid
his arm through that of the big man and said smilingly: "Nobody is
going to mix me with Peter's son by blood--see what a fine chap Junior
is; but Peter and I fixed up my sonship with the Almighty, whom my
Peter didn't deny, when he took me in, and with the judge of the
Multiopolis courts; so even if it doesn't show on the outside, I
belong, don't I?"

Peter threw his left arm around Mickey even as he shook hands with his
right: "You surely do," he said, "by law and by love, to the bottom of
all our hearts."

The visit was a notable success. The buttermilk was cold, the spice
cake was fresh, the apples and peaches were juicy, the improvements
highly commendable. Peter was asked if he would consider a membership
in the Golf Club, the playhouse was discussed, and three hours later a
group of warm friends parted, with the agreement that Mickey was to
spend a day of the latter part of the week fishing on Atwater. The
Hardings smiled broadly. "Well son, did we manage that to your
satisfaction?" asked Peter.

"Sure!" said Mickey. "I might have been mistaken in what half of that
trip was for, but I think not."

"So do I," said Mrs. Harding emphatically. "They were just itching to
get their fingers on Peaches; while Bruce and Mr. Winton both were
chagrined over our getting you first."

"We feel bad about that too, don't we, Peter?" laughed Mickey.

"Well, I would," said Peter, "if it were the other way around. I didn't
mind the young fellow. You'll be with him every day, and he'll soon
have boys of his own no doubt; but I feel sorry for Mr. Winton. He
looks hungry when he watches you. He could work you into his business
fine."

"He's all right, he's a nice man," said Mickey, "but I've lived off the
_Herald_ all my life 'til this summer, so when school is over I go
straight to Mr. Chaffner."

The Winton car ran to the club house; sitting in a group, the occupants
looked at each other rather foolishly.

"Seems to me you were going to bring Peaches right along, if you liked
her, Leslie," laughed Douglas.

"The little vixen!" she said flushing.

"Sorry you didn't care for her," he commented.

"It is a pity!" said Leslie. "But I didn't 'miss bringing her along'
any farther than Mrs. Minturn missed taking her to the hospital to be
examined and treated!"

"I'll have to go again about that," said Mrs. Minturn. "I just couldn't
seem to get at it, someway."

"No, you 'just couldn't seem to,'" agreed Douglas. "And Mr. Winton
'just couldn't seem to' lay covetous hands on Mickey, and bear him away
to be his assistant any more than I could force him to be my Little
Brother. I hope all of us have a realizing sense that we are permitted
to be good and loyal friends; but we will kindly leave Mickey to make
his own arrangements, and work out his own salvation, and that of his
child. And Leslie, I didn't hear you offering to buy any of the quaint
dishes and old furniture you hoped you might pick up there, either."

"Heavens!" cried Leslie half tearfully. "How would any one go about
offering to buy an old platter that was wrapped in a silk shawl and
kept in the dresser drawer during repairs, or ask a man to set a price
on old furniture, when he was scraping off the varnish of generations,
and showing you wood grain and colouring with the pride of a veteran
collector? I feel so silly! Let's play off our chagrin, and then we'll
be in condition for friendship which is the part that falls to us, if I
understand Mickey."

"Well considering the taste I've had of the quality of his friendship,
I hope you won't be surprised at the statement that I feel highly
honoured," said Mr. Winton, leading the way, while the others
thoughtfully followed.

With four days' work the Harding home began to show what was being
accomplished. The song of the housewife carried to the highway.
Neighbours passing went home to silent, overworked drudges, and
critically examined for the first time stuffy, dark kitchens, reeking
with steam, heat, and the odour of cooking and decorated with the grime
of years. The little leaven of one home in the neighbourhood, as all
homes should be, set them thinking. A week had not passed until people
began calling Mrs. Harding to the telephone to explain just what she
was doing, and why. Men would stop to ask Peter what was going on, so
every time he caught a victim, he never released him until the man saw
sunrise above a kitchen table, a line in the basement for a winter
wash, kitchen implements from a pot scraper and food pusher to a gas
range and electric washing machine, with a furnace and hardwood floors
thrown in. Soon the rip of shovelled shingles, the sound of sawing, and
the ring of hammers filled the air.

The Harding improvements improved so fast, that sand, cement, and the
big pile of lumber began accumulating at Peter's corner of the
crossroads below the home, for the playhouse. Men who started by
calling Peter a fool, ended by borrowing his plans and belabouring
themselves for their foolishness; for the neighbourhood was awakening
and beginning to develop a settled conviction as to what constituted
the joy of life, and that the place to enjoy it was at home, and the
time immediately. Peter's reward was not only in renewed happiness for
himself and Nancy; equal to it was his pleasure over the same renewal
for many of his lifelong friends.

Mickey started on his day to Atwater with joyful anticipation, but he
jumped from Douglas' car and ran up the Harding front walk at three
o'clock, his face anxious. He saw the Harding car at the gate, and
wondered at Peter sitting dressed for leisure on the veranda.

"Got anxious about Lily," he explained. "Out on the lake I thought I
heard her call me, then I had the notion she was crying for me. They
laughed at me, but I couldn't stand it. Is she asleep, as they said
she'd be?"

Peter opened his lips, but no word came. Mickey slowly turned a ghastly
white. Peter reached in his side pocket, drew out a letter, and handed
it to the boy. Mickey pulled the sheet from the envelope, still staring
at Peter, then glanced at what he held and collapsed on the step. Peter
moved beside him, laid a steadying arm across his shoulders and proved
his fear was as great as Mickey's by being unable to speak. At last the
boy produced articulate words.

"_He came?_" he marvelled.

"About ten this morning," said Peter.

"He took her to the hospital?" panted Mickey.

"Yes," said Peter.

"Why did you let him?" demanded Mickey.

That helped Peter. He indicated the letter.

"There's your call for him!" he said, emphatically. "You asked me to
adopt her so I could give him orders to go ahead when he came."

"Why didn't you telephone me?" asked Mickey.

"I did," said Peter. "The woman who answered didn't know where you
were, but she said their car had gone to town, so I thought maybe
they'd find you there. I was just going to call them again."

"Was she afraid?" wavered Mickey.

"Yes, I think she was," said Peter.

"Did she cry for me?" asked Mickey.

"Yes she did," admitted Peter, who hadn't a social lie in his being,
"but when he offered to put off the examination till he might come
again, she climbed from the cot and made him take her. Ma went with
her."

"The Sunshine Nurse came?" questioned Mickey.

"Yes," said Peter, "and Mrs. Minturn. She sent for him to see about an
operation on a child she is trying to save, so when it was over, he
showed her your letter. She brought them out in her car, and Ma went
back with them."

"She may be on that glass table right now," gulped Mickey. "What time
is it? When's the next car? Run me to the station will you, and if
you've got any money, let me have it 'til I get to mine."

"Of course!" said Peter.

"Will Junior and Mary be all right?" asked Mickey, pausing in his
extremity to think of others.

"Yes, they often stay while we go."

"Hurry!" begged Mickey.

Peter took hold of the gear and faced straight ahead.

"She's oiled, the tank full, the engine purring like a kitten," he
said. "Mickey, I always wanted to beat that trolley just once, to show
it I _could_, if I wasn't loaded with women and children. Awful nice
road----"

"Go on!" said Mickey.

Peter smiled, sliding across the starter.

"Sit tight!" he said tersely.

The big car slipped up the road no faster than it had gone frequently,
passed the station, then on and on; Mickey twisted to look back at the
rattle of the trolley stopping behind them, watching it with wishful
eye. Peter opened his lips to say: "Just warmed up enough, and an even
start!"

The trolley came abreast and whistled. Peter blew his horn, glancing
that way with a little "come on" forward jerk of his head. The motorman
nodded, touched his gear and the car started. Peter laid prideful,
loving hands on his machinery; for the first time with legitimate
racing excuse, as he long had wished to, he tried out his engine.
Mickey could see the faces of the protesting passengers and the
conductor grinning in the door, but Peter could not have heard if he
had tried to tell him. Flying it was, smooth and even, past fields,
orchards, and houses; past people who cried out at them and shook their
fists. Mickey looked at Peter and registered for life each line of his
big frame and lineament of his face, as he gripped the gear and put his
car over the highway. When they reached the pavement, Mickey touched
Peter's arm. "Won't make anything by getting arrested," he cautioned.

"No police for blocks yet," said Peter.

"Well there's risk of life and damage suit at each crossing!" shouted
Mickey, so Peter slowed a degree; but he was miles ahead of all
regulations as he stopped before the gleaming entrance. Mickey sprang
from the car and hurried up the steps. Mrs. Minturn arose from a seat
and came to meet him.

"Take me to her quick!" begged Mickey.

Silently she led the way to her suite in her old home, and opened the
door. Mickey had a glimpse of Mrs. Harding, his Sunshine Nurse, and
three men, one of whom he recognized from reproductions of his features
in the papers. A very white, tired-looking Peaches stretched both hands
and uttered a shrill cry as Mickey appeared in the doorway. His answer
was inarticulate while his arms spread widely. Then Peaches arose, and
in a few shuffling but sustained steps fell on his breast, gripping him
with all her strength.

"Oh darling, you'll kill yourself," wailed Mickey.

He laid her on the davenport and knelt clasping her. Peaches regained
self-control first; she sat up, shamelessly wiping Mickey's eyes and
her own alternately.

"Flowersy-girl, did you hurt yourself awful?"

"I know something I won't tell," chanted Peaches, as she had been doing
for days.

Mickey looked at her, then up at Peter, who had entered and come to
them.

"_Did you?_" eagerly asked Peter of the child.

Peaches nodded proudly. "To meet Mickey," she triumphed. "I wouldn't
for anybody else _first! The longest piece yet! And it didn't hurt and
I didn't fall!_"

"Good!" shouted Peter. "That's the ticket!"

"You look here Miss Chicken, what do you mean?" cried Mickey
wonderingly.

"Oh the Doctor Carrel man you sent for, came," explained Peaches, "and
you wasn't there, but he had your name on the letter you wrote; he
showed me, so I came and let him examination me; but Peter and I been
standing alone, and taking steps when nobody was looking. You've
surprised me joyful so much, it takes one as big as that to pay you
back."

Mickey clung to his treasure, while turning to Peter an awed,
questioning face.

"That's it!" said Peter. "She's been on her feet for ten days or such a
matter!"

Mickey appealed to Dr. Carrel. "How about this?" he demanded.

"She's going to walk," said the great man assuringly.

"It's all over? You've performed your miracle?" asked Mickey.

"Yes," said Dr. Carrel. "It's all over, Mickey; but you had the miracle
performed before I saw her, lad."

Mickey retreated to Peaches' neck again, while she smiled over and
comforted him.

"Mickey, I knew you'd be crazy," she said. "I knew you'd be glad, but I
didn't know you could be so----"

Mickey took her in his arms a second, then slowly recovered his feet
and a small amount of self-possession. Again he turned to the surgeons.

"_Are you sure?_ Will it hurt her? Will it last?"

"Very sure," said Dr. Carrel. "Calm yourself, lad. Her case is not so
unusual; only more aggravated than usual. I've examined her from crown
to sole, and she's straight and sound. You have started her permanent
cure; all you need is to keep on exactly as you are going, and limit
her activities so that in her joy she doesn't overdo and tire herself.
You are her doctor. I congratulate you!"

Dr. Carrel came forward, holding out his hand, and Mickey took it with
the one of his that was not gripping Peaches and said, "Aw-a-ah!" but
he was a radiant boy.

"Thank you sir," he said. "Thank everybody. But thank you especial,
over and over. I don't know how I'll ever square up with you, but I'll
pay you all I have to start on. I've some money I've saved from my
wages, and I'll be working harder and earning more all the time."

"But Mickey," protested the surgeon, "you don't owe me anything. I
didn't operate! You had the work done before I arrived. I would have
come sooner, but I knew she couldn't be operated, even if her case
demanded it, until she had gained more strength----"

He was watching Mickey's face and he read aright, so he continued: "I
like that suggestion you made in your letter very much. Something
'coming in steadily' is a good thing for any man to have. For the next
three months, suppose you send me that two dollars a week you offered
me if I'd come. How would that be?"

Mickey gathered Peaches in his arms and looked over his shoulder as he
started on the homeward trip.

"Thank you sir," he said tersely. "That would be square."

THE END





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