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Title: Harry Harding—Messenger "45"
Author: Raymond, Alfred
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 "Harry Harding—Messenger "45"" ***

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                             HARRY HARDING
                          --_Messenger “45”_

                                 _By_
                            ALFRED RAYMOND


                         [Illustration: _The_
                               GOLDSMITH
                           _Publishing Co._
                            CLEVELAND OHIO
                            MADE IN U.S.A.]



                         _Copyright 1917, by_
                        CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                                      PAGE
      I A MENACE TO THE SCHOOL                   1
     II ON THE TRAIL OF A JOB                    9
    III AN ANXIOUS MOMENT                       27
     IV A SURPRISE AND A DISAPPOINTMENT         37
      V FRIENDS AND FOES                        51
     VI AT THE END OF THE DAY                   67
    VII TEDDY COMES INTO HIS OWN                75
   VIII THE RECRUITS TO COMPANY A               81
     IX THE BITTERNESS OF INJUSTICE             95
      X BREAKERS AHEAD FOR HARRY               105
     XI TEDDY BURKE DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF      116
    XII A DISASTROUS COMBAT                    122
   XIII THE MEASURE OF A MAN                   129
    XIV THE PRICE OF HONESTY                   138
     XV A FATEFUL GAME OF CATCH                148
    XVI ALL IN THE DAY’S WORK                  158
   XVII THE SINGER AND THE SONG                169
  XVIII CONFIDENCES                            178
    XIX THE BELATED DAWN                       185
     XX TEDDY’S TRIUMPH                        191
    XXI GETTING EVEN WITH THE GOBBLER          202
   XXII A DISTURBING CONVERSATION              213
  XXIII HARRY PAYS HIS DEBT                    224
   XXIV WRITING THE WELCOME ADDRESS            239
    XXV COMMENCEMENT                           250



HARRY HARDING--_Messenger “45”_



CHAPTER I

A MENACE TO THE SCHOOL


“I _will_ drown and no one _shall_ help me,” announced Miss Alton
defiantly.

The first class in English accepted this remarkable statement in
absolute silence, their eyes fixed on their teacher. As she stood
high and dry on the platform, facing her class, there seemed little
possibility of such a catastrophe overtaking her, therefore, they
knitted their wise young brows, not in fear of her demise by drowning,
but in puzzled worry over the intricacies of shall and will.

“I _will_ drown,” repeated Miss Alton firmly, “and no one----”

“Oh-h-h!” a piercing shriek rent the grammar-laden air. As though
about to prove her declaration, Miss Alton made a sudden dive off the
platform that carried her half-way up an aisle toward the immediate
vicinity of that anguished voice.

The first class in grammar immediately forgot the uses of shall and
will and twisted about on their benches to view their teacher’s hurried
progress toward the scene of action.

“It’s Teddy Burke,” muttered a boy to his nearest classmate. “Wonder
what he’s done.”

Miss Alton had now brought up between two seats at the rear of the
room. In one of them sat a little girl, her head buried in her arms.
Directly opposite her sat a red-haired boy. His thin face wore an
expression of deep disgust, but his big black eyes were dancing with
mischief. As the teacher approached, he made an ineffectual dive toward
a grayish object on the floor. Miss Alton was too quick for him. She
stooped, uttered a half-horrified exclamation, then gathered the object
in. It was a most terrifying imitation of a snake, made of rubber, and
coiled realistically.

“Theodore Burke, what does this mean?” she demanded, holding out the
snake and glaring at the offender.

The little girl raised her head from her arms and eyed the culprit with
reproachful horror. “He put it on my seat,” she accused. “I thought it
was alive, and it scared me awful.” Her voice rose to a wail on the
last word.

“This is too much. You’ve gone just a little too far, young man. Come
with me.” Miss Alton stood over the red-haired lad, looking like a
grim figure of Justice.

The boy shot a glance of withering scorn at his tearful victim, then
rose from his seat.

Grasping him none too gently by the arm, Miss Alton piloted him down
the aisle and out of the door. It closed with a resounding bang.

A buzz of conversation began in the big schoolroom. Two or three
little girls left their seats and gathered about the heroine of the
disquieting adventure, while half a dozen boys of the eighth grade of
the West Park Grammar School put their heads together to discuss this
latest bit of mischief on the part of their leader and idol, Teddy
Burke.

Meanwhile, Teddy, of the black eyes and Titian hair, was being marched
rapidly toward the principal’s office.

Miss Alton flung open the door and ushered him into the august presence
of Mr. Waldron, the principal, with, “Here is an incorrigible boy, Mr.
Waldron.”

The principal, a short, stern-faced man, adjusted his eye-glasses and
stared hard at Teddy. The boy hung his head, then raising his eyes
regarded Mr. Waldron defiantly.

“So you are here again, young man, for the third time in two weeks,”
thundered the principal. “What has this bad boy done, Miss Alton?”

Miss Alton began an indignant recital of Teddy’s latest misdeed. The
principal frowned as he listened. When she had finished, he fixed Teddy
with severe eyes.

“Let me see. The last time you were here it was for interrupting the
devotional exercises by putting a piece of ice inside the collar of one
of your schoolmates. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? How would you like
to have your schoolmates play upon you the unkind pranks you are so
fond of playing upon them?”

“I wouldn’t care,” returned the boy, unabashed. “I wouldn’t make a
fuss, either.”

“Miss Alton is right,” snapped Mr. Waldron, his face reddening angrily
at the boy’s retort. “You are, indeed, an incorrigible boy. I think
I had better put your case before the Board of Education. There are
special schools for bad boys like you. We don’t care to have such a
boy among us. You are a menace to the school.” He continued to lecture
Teddy sharply, ending with, “Take him back to your room for the day,
Miss Alton, but make him remain after the others have gone home this
afternoon. By that time I shall have decided what we had better do with
him.”

Teddy walked down the corridor ahead of Miss Alton with a sinking
heart. Was he a menace to the school and could Mr. Waldron really put
him in a school for bad boys? He had heard of such schools. He had
heard, too, that sometimes the boys came out of them much worse than
when they entered. The murmur of voices came to his ears as Miss Alton
flung open the door and urged him into the schoolroom. The noise died a
sudden death as she stepped over the threshold.

“Go to your seat,” she ordered coldly.

Teddy obeyed. The little girl, whose shriek had caused his downfall,
eyed him with horror. Even in the midst of his troubles he could not
resist giving her an impish grin. She promptly made a face at him
and looked the other way. The smile vanished from Teddy’s face. Then
he folded his hands on his desk and thought busily for the next five
minutes.

The class resumed its interrupted recitation. Suddenly the boy reached
into his desk and began stealthily to take out his belongings. The
books belonged to the school, but a pencil box, a knife, a box of
marbles, a top, a dilapidated baseball, a magnet and a small, round
mirror with which he delighted to cast white shadows on the books
of the long-suffering eighth-grade girls, were treasures of his
own. Stuffing them into his pockets he replaced the books; then he
sat very still. It was almost time for the recess bell to ring. He
hardly thought Miss Alton would order him to keep his seat. Such
light punishments were not for him. To-night--but there would be no
to-night in school for him. When recess came he would go outside and
say good-bye to the fellows, then he would start out and hunt a job.
He was almost sixteen, and the law said a boy could work when he was
fourteen, if he had a certificate. Well, he would get that certificate.
His mother would let him go to work if he wanted to. She was so busy
with her own affairs she never cared much what he did. If he had a job,
then Mr. Waldron couldn’t send him to a reform school. That was the
place where incorrigible boys were sent.

Teddy did not stop to consider that his mother might prove a match for
Miss Alton and Mr. Waldron when it came to a question of her son’s
incorrigibility. He thought only of putting himself beyond the reach of
the school authorities by his own efforts.

The recess bell rang at last and the pupils filed out in orderly rows
to the big, grassy yard, at one side of the school building. Teddy was
at once surrounded by half a dozen boys, his particular friends. The
girls collected in little groups about the yard to comment on Teddy’s
iniquity. They eyed him askance with curious, aloof glances. The boys,
however, were deeply interested in the possible outcome of Teddy’s rash
defiance.

“You’re goin’ to get fired all right,” was the cheerful prophecy of one
boy. “What’ll your mother say?”

“She won’t say,” giggled a freckle-faced boy. “She’ll just take Ted
across her knee and----”

“Well, I guess not,” flung back Teddy. “I’m not going to wait to get
fired, either. I’m going to beat it. When the recess bell rings I’m
not going in with the rest of you. See here,” Teddy began pulling his
various treasured belongings out of his pockets. “I brought all this
stuff out to give you fellows. I sha’n’t want it. I’m going down to
Martin Brothers’ Department Store and get a job. That’s what I’m going
to do. Here’s my looking glass, Sam. Every time you cast a shadow with
it, think of me. And you can have my marbles, Bob.”

Teddy distributed his belongings rapidly about the little circle. The
boys took them with some reluctance. They had far rather have Teddy
Burke, ringleader of all their mischief, with them than his belongings.

“Aw, why don’t you get your mother to come down here and fix it up with
those old cranks?” demanded Sam Marvin regretfully. “It ain’t your
stuff we want, Ted. It’s you. What’re we goin’ to do without you?”

“Be good,” grinned Teddy. “I’m a menace to the school, you know.”

“I wish I was goin’ to work,” said Bob Rayburn sadly. “Pa won’t let me,
though.”

“Honestly, won’t your mother lick you if she finds out about what
happened to-day?” inquired Arthur Post, a tall, thin boy with a solemn
face.

“Lick nothing,” retorted Ted. “She isn’t going to find out about it.
I’m going to tell her myself. She’ll say I can go to work if I feel
like it.”

His chums eyed him with mingled admiration and regret. To them Teddy
was a hero.

“There goes the bell. I’ve got to beat it. Don’t any of you start to
go in till I get to the corner,” directed Ted. “Then _she_,” he jerked
his thumb in Miss Alton’s direction, “won’t know I’ve skipped until
it’s too late. I’ll let you know where I am as soon as I get that job.
Good-bye, fellows. Be sure and do what smarty Alton tells you, and
don’t go bringing any rubber snakes to school. You can have that one of
mine if you can get it away from old Cross-patch.”

With an air of gay bravado Teddy raised his hand in a kind of parting
salute, then darted down the yard and through the gateway to the
street. At the corner he waved his hand again, then swung out of sight,
leaving a little knot of boys to gaze regretfully after him and wonder
how they could possibly get along without wide-awake, mischievous Teddy
Burke.



CHAPTER II

ON THE TRAIL OF A JOB


“I don’t know what we are going to do, Harry, if the cost of living
goes any higher.” Mrs. Harding stared across the little center table
at her sixteen-year-old son, an expression of deep worry looking out
of her patient, brown eyes. “A dollar used to seem like quite a lot of
money, but it doesn’t go far these days. I’ve spent every cent I dare
this week for groceries, and we’ve still three days to go until I’ll
have the money for this dress. I’ve got to sew every minute to get it
done. Thank goodness, the rent’s paid for this month. But you must
have a new pair of shoes and I don’t know where they are going to come
from.” The little woman sighed, then attacked her sewing with fresh
energy. “I can’t stop even to complain,” she added bravely.

“You’ll just _have_ to let me go to work, Mother.” Harry Harding laid
the text-book he was studying on the table and regarded his mother with
serious eyes.

“But I don’t want to take you out of school, Harry,” she protested.
“You are getting along so well. Why, next year you’ll be in high
school.”

“No, I won’t, Mother. Do you think that a great big boy like me is
going to let his mother support him any longer? It’s time I went to
work. Besides, I haven’t the money for clothes and books and all the
other things high school fellows have to have. I’m past sixteen. Lots
of boys have to go to work when they’re only fourteen. I guess it won’t
hurt me any to begin now.”

“But I want you to have an education, Harry. If your father had lived,
he intended to let you go through high school and then to college.”
Mrs. Harding’s voice trembled a little. The sudden death of her
husband two years previous had been a shock from which she had never
quite recovered. It was hard for her even to mention his name without
shedding tears.

“I’ll get an education, somehow, and work, too,” returned Harry
confidently. “There are night schools where a fellow can go and learn
things. Please let me quit school to-morrow and try,” he pleaded. “I
can’t earn much at first, but even three dollars a week’ll help some.
I’ve got to start some time, you know. If you won’t let me go to work I
could sell papers after school.”

“No, you couldn’t,” retorted his mother with decision. “I’d rather
have you leave school than see you racing around the city streets
selling papers. That’s one thing you sha’n’t do.”

“Then let me go and hunt a job,” begged the boy.

“I’ll think it over. Now go on studying your lesson and don’t tease me
any more about it.”

Harry took up his book obediently enough. His frequent pleading to
leave school to go to work had always been promptly vetoed by his
mother. She had struggled desperately to keep her son in school and
was willing to go on with the struggle. It was Harry himself who had
repeatedly begged her to allow him to take his place in the work-a-day
world. She could never quite bring herself to the point of consenting
to the boy’s plea. But, to-night, as she thought darkly of their
poverty and of their continual fight against actual want she was nearer
consent than she had ever been before.

Perhaps Harry felt this, for it was not long until the book went down
on the table again. “Do say you’ll let me try, Mother,” he implored
earnestly. “You don’t know how much it means to me. It isn’t as if I’d
stop trying to learn things as soon as I started to work. I’d study
harder than ever. Just think how much the money would help us after
I’d been working awhile. Why, some of the greatest men that ever lived
had to quit school and go to work when they were lots younger than I.
Benjamin Franklin did, and so did Abraham Lincoln. Just yesterday the
teacher read us a story of how Lincoln earned his first dollar when he
was a boy.”

Mrs. Harding looked wistfully at her son’s eager face. “My little son,
do you want to help mother so much?” she asked tenderly. Her voice
trembled a little.

“You know I do. Oh, Mother, may I try? Are you going to say ‘yes’ at
last?” Harry sprang from his chair and going to his mother’s chair
slipped his arm around her neck.

“Well,” began the little woman reluctantly, “if you are so set on
working, I guess you might as well try it. But remember, Harry, if you
don’t like it, you can go back to school. We’ll get along some way.”

“But I shall like it,” protested Harry. “I’ve always said I was going
to be a business man when I grew up. If I start right now maybe I’ll be
one in a few years.”

“But where are you going to look for work, child?” asked Mrs. Harding.
Now that she had given her son the longed-for sanction to make his own
way, she began to feel something of his boyish enthusiasm.

“I don’t know,” returned Harry thoughtfully. Then, seized with a sudden
inspiration, “I guess I’ll look in the _Journal_. That always has a lot
of advertisements.”

Picking up the evening paper, which lay on the center table, Harry
turned its leaves to the column of “Male Help Wanted,” and scanned it
earnestly. “Here’s one, Mother. ‘Boy wanted for errands, good chance
for advancement. Opportunity to learn business. 894 Tyler.’ That
sounds good.” Taking the stub of a lead pencil from his pocket, Harry
carefully marked it. “Oh, here’s another. ‘Bright boy for office work.
1684 Cameron.’” This advertisement was duly checked. Harry went eagerly
down the column until he had marked six advertisements. “There, that
will do to start with. If I don’t get a position at any of those places
I’ll try again when to-morrow’s paper comes out. But surely some of
them will have a chance for me. It’s nine o’clock. I guess I’ll go to
bed right now, so as to be up bright and early in the morning.”

Piling his books on one arm, Harry went over to his mother and kissed
her good night. “You must keep thinking hard that I’m going to get one
of those positions, Mother,” he said brightly. Then he went into the
tiny room that was really half of his mother’s room, curtained off for
his use. Harry was very proud of his little room. It was so small it
held nothing but his cot bed, one chair, a small table and a bamboo
book-case of two shelves, which he had bought in a second-hand store
for a quarter. This held the few books he owned and was dear to his
heart.

After he had undressed and lay down on his bed he found that he was too
much excited over the prospect of his new venture to sleep. Already
he could see himself in a beautiful office, with soft rugs on the
floor and shining oak furniture. He could imagine himself saying,
“Yes, sir,” and “no, sir,” to his employer, and listening with alert
respectfulness to his orders. He would prove himself so willing to work
and perform whatever he was given to do so faithfully that in time he
would be promoted to something better. His favorite story-book hero,
Dick Reynolds, had begun work as an office boy and had done wonderful
things. Why couldn’t the same things happen again to him?

When at ten o’clock his mother stole into the room, as was her nightly
custom before going to bed, for a last look at her son, she saw two
bright, wide-awake eyes peering at her. “This will never do, little
man,” she said, patting his cheek. “You must go to sleep, if you are
anxious to be up early to-morrow morning.”

“I’ll try, Mother,” sighed Harry, “but I just can’t help thinking about
it.”

After his mother had kissed him again and gone to her own room, Harry
shut his eyes tightly and resolved to go to sleep. When finally the
sandman did visit him, he dreamed that he was Dick Reynolds and had
secured a position in a bank. He was the president’s office boy, and
the president had sent him to the City Hall with a bag full of bank
notes. He ran all the way from the bank to the Hall and was just going
in the door when two boys leaped out from behind it and tried to take
the bag away from him. He fought like a tiger, but he had to hang on to
the bag with one hand while he knocked down the thieves with the other.
As fast as he knocked them down they bobbed up again. Finally, one of
them hit him over the head with an arithmetic. It was his own book. He
recognized it by the green paper cover he had put on it. He wondered as
he fought how the boy happened to have his arithmetic. Then the other
boy suddenly took a long coil of rope from under his coat and lassoed
him. He felt himself falling, falling. He struck the pavement with a
terrible crash. Then----

“Why, Harry, what is the matter?” The City Hall, the money bag, even
the robbers had faded away, and Harry found himself sitting on the bare
floor, blinking up at his mother, who bent anxiously over him.

“I guess I must have been asleep, Mother, and fell out of bed.” Harry
eyed his mother sheepishly. “I dreamed I had a job in a bank and was
fighting two fellows who tried to take a whole lot of money away from
me. What time is it?”

“It’s ten minutes to twelve. Now, go straight to sleep, or I won’t call
you early.”

Harry obediently climbed back into bed and was not heard from again
that night. It seemed to him as though he had hardly gone to sleep
before he heard his mother calling, “Six o’clock, Harry.” The boy was
out of bed in an instant. He pattered to the window, rubbing the sleep
out of his eyes as he went. The light of a perfect day in early October
shone in as he raised the shade. If good weather were a happy omen,
then surely he would obtain that which he was going forth so earnestly
to seek.

His mother had taken special pains with his breakfast that morning, and
though he was quivering with excitement over what was to be his first
venture into the busy world of trade, he tried to show his appreciation
of her tender thoughtfulness by eating a hearty meal. In his neat,
blue serge suit, he had put on his Sunday best, his well-shined shoes
and his clean, white shirt with its immaculate collar, he was above
reproach as far as attire went, and his bright, boyish face with its
clear, blue eyes and clean-cut, resolute mouth made him a boy to be
proud of. So his mother thought as she looked approvingly at him across
the table. She stifled the sigh of regret that her boy must so early
take his place among the bread-winners, and listened to his eager plan
of what he intended to do with an encouraging smile.

“Well, Mother, I’m off. That was a dandy breakfast. You know what I
like, don’t you. I wish all the boys in the world had mothers like
you. I don’t know when I’ll be back. If I don’t come home all day,
you’ll know I’m working.” Reaching to the nail where he always hung his
cap, Harry stood for an instant with it in his hand. Then he kissed his
mother and went manfully down the two flights of stairs to the street.

He had clipped from the paper the section of the want column with the
advertisements he had marked. Now he studied it earnestly and set out
for the Tyler Street address. It was at least fifteen squares from his
home, but the clock on a nearby church had just chimed out the hour
of seven. In his pocket reposed twenty cents in small change. He had
earned it by doing errands after school. But he made up his mind that
not a penny of it should go for carfare if he could help it. He had
plenty of time to walk. He would very likely reach the place he had
selected for his first call before the office was open. He wondered
what sort of building it would be, and whether it was an office
building or a factory. More than one person glanced in friendly fashion
at the erect, manly lad as he hurried along. There was something in his
earnest young face that commanded attention and instant approbation.

“There it is,” he murmured as, after a half-hour’s brisk walk he came
opposite a tall rather dingy-looking brick building. “That must be the
office over there where the sign is hanging out.”

Hurrying across the street the boy approached the door over which hung
the sign, “The Knickerbocker Worsted Mills.” He read it aloud, then
looked a trifle disappointed. This did not exactly accord with his
ideas of a position. Then he laughed at his own mental hesitation.
“What do you care if it _is_ a mill office, Harry Harding,” he
murmured. “It’s work you’re looking for, and you can’t expect to have
everything just the way you want it.”

Turning the knob on the door that bore a small sign of “Office,” the
boy opened it and stepped inside a long room that had the shining
oak furniture of his dreams. This room was divided off into many
compartments by little oak fences with swinging gates. Near the door,
at a little desk, sat a boy of about his own age. As he stepped into
the room the boy rose to meet him.

“Whada yuh want?” he asked superciliously.

“Good morning,” said Harry politely. “I came in answer to your
advertisement in the _Journal_ for a boy. To whom do I go?”

“Yuh don’t _go_ unless I let yuh in,” declared the boy ill-naturedly.
“Anyway, the position’s filled. The boss just hired a boy about ten
minutes ago. That’s him over there.” He pointed to a black-haired lad,
who had just emerged from a room adjoining the long office. “That’s
the kid. Yuh better beat it. Nothin’ doin’ around here.”

“Can’t I see the manager or--or--someone?” persisted Harry.

“Naw, yuh can’t. Think I wanta get my head snapped off by buttin’ in
where Mr. Warner’s openin’ his mail? Guess I know my business. Didn’t
the boss just say, ‘Fred, if any more boys come here answerin’ our ad,
tell ’em we’ve hired a boy?’ There’s nothin’ doin’, I tell yuh. Can’t
yuh understand that?”

“Yes, I can understand that,” retorted Harry with spirit. “What I can’t
understand is how a big firm like this happens to have such a rude
office boy. Good morning.”

Harry walked away, his cheeks burning, eyes snapping, leaving the
disagreeable boy to gaze after him in positive astonishment.

Once outside the office, Harry paused and taking out the section of
newspaper he had marked, scanned it earnestly. The next nearest place
he had selected was at least a mile and a half from where he stood. It
was twenty minutes to eight o’clock. “I guess I’d better ride,” mused
Harry. “The earlier I reach a place, the better my chance will be to
get something to do. I hope all the places won’t be like that mill.
Why, I didn’t have a chance to talk to a soul except that smart office
boy.”

When, at a few minutes after eight o’clock, Harry climbed the steps of
an imposing building of white stone, and was waved to a door on the
right by a uniformed attendant, he entered a good-sized ante-room, only
to find it filled with boys of anywhere from fourteen to eighteen years
of age. They were not making so much noise as one might expect at least
fifteen active boys to make, yet a distinct buzz of conversation was
going on.

Harry paused irresolutely. His eyes met those of a thin, red-haired,
black-eyed boy with a mischievous face who stood just to the right of
the door. The black-eyed boy grinned in friendly fashion. “Hullo,” he
said.

“Good-morning,” returned Harry, answering the grin with a pleasant
smile. “Are all these boys looking for the same position?”

“Yep,” nodded the black-eyed boy. “I guess the fellow that’s in the
office now is going to get it. He’s been there quite a while.”

He had hardly finished speaking when the door to the inner office
opened and a tall, severe-looking man appeared. “We won’t need you,
boys,” he said curtly. “The position is filled.” He waved his arm as
though to shoo the waiting throng of lads out of the ante-room, then
disappeared. The door closed after him with a reverberating bang that
shattered the hopes of the fifteen waiting youngsters.

“Huh,” ejaculated the black-eyed boy in disgust, “no more offices like
this for me. I’ve been to two before this, and every time I’m too
late. I guess these fellows that get the jobs get up in the middle of
the night. Me for Martin’s Department Store. That’s where I ought to
have gone in the first place.”

“Do they need boys there?” asked Harry. He had walked beside his new
acquaintance as far as the door. Here they paused. The attendant eyed
them threateningly.

“I hope so. Come on. Let’s get out of here. That man in the uniform
will hurt his eyes tryin’ to look a hole through us.” The thin little
boy urged Harry out of the building and down the steps to the street.
“Say, what’s your name?” he asked curiously.

“Harry Harding. What is yours?”

“My name’s Theodore Burke, but everybody calls me Ted or Teddy, and I
just quit school to find a job.”

“I haven’t quit yet,” declared Harry, “but I’m going to as soon as I
find work.”

“Then you didn’t get fired?”

“Oh, no. I am going to work to help my mother. I am obliged to find
work.”

“I had a fight with the teacher,” related Teddy, with unabashed candor.
“She said I was a menace to the West Park School, and she was going to
have me put in a school for tough kids. So I gave the fellows my stuff
and beat it at recess. Ma was mad, but she got over it right away and
said I could go to work if I wanted to.”

“The teacher couldn’t put you in a school for tough boys, unless you
did something pretty bad,” informed Harry.

“I put a rubber snake in a girl’s seat,” confessed Ted, “and she
hollered like anything.” His black eyes twinkled.

Harry laughed. “Nobody could put you in a reform school for that,” he
said wisely. “The teacher was trying to scare you. I guess you’re just
full of mischief, that’s all.”

“I guess I am,” agreed Ted, “but, anyhow, I’m not goin’ back to West
Park School again.”

“Was that your school? I’ve been going to the Winthrop School. It’s on
the North Side. I’d be in high school next year if I kept on.”

“So would I,” nodded Teddy, “but not for mine. I’d rather work.”

“I’d rather go to school,” sighed Harry, “but I can’t.”

“Say, wouldn’t it be funny if we’d both get a job at Martins’?” queried
Teddy.

“What makes you think they need boys there? There was no advertisement
in the paper.”

“Oh, I know a boy that quit there yesterday for an office job, and he
told me that there was always a chance there for a fellow that wasn’t
afraid to work.”

“Is that so?” Harry brightened visibly. “Suppose we go down there right
away,” he proposed. “What time does the store open?”

“Half past eight.” Teddy Burke took a dollar watch from his pocket and
consulted it, saying, “It’s twenty after now. We can walk all right and
be there by 8:45. That’s early enough.”

Without further parley the two boys set out for Martin Brothers’
Department Store, the largest retail concern of its kind in the city.
Accustomed as they were to the roar of the city streets, they talked on
earnestly in their boyish voices, oblivious to the noise.

“Here we are,” announced Teddy, at last, as they paused before a huge
stone edifice that towered high above the neighboring buildings. “Let’s
go in at that big middle door. Then we can ask someone the way to the
office.”

“Suppose we ask that man standing in front of the elevators,” suggested
Harry a moment later, as they threaded their way in and out of the
crowded aisles. Suiting the action to the word, he approached the man
and asked his question.

“All the way down, turn to your right, and four aisles over,” repeated
the man mechanically.

“Thank you,” Harry replied doubtfully. “‘All the way down, turn to your
right, and four aisles over,’” he repeated.

“That’s clear as mud,” was Teddy’s satirical comment.

“I guess we can find it. Let me see. We have to go clear down to that
desk. Come on.” Harry led the way. From the desk they made the turning
to the right and counted the aisles.

“I see it,” Teddy cried, pointing straight ahead.

“Yes, there it is.”

A dozen steps down a short, narrow aisle brought the boys to an
enclosure railed off from the passage by a flat-topped, breast-high
partition of oak. Within the enclosure were several desks. At these
desks young men and women were seated. Beyond the enclosure they caught
sight through half-opened doors of an inner office with a shining
desk, before which a grave, middle-aged man was sitting. Along the
wall, facing the outer office, were long, oak benches. These were but
sparsely occupied. A gray-haired woman occupied the end of one of them.
The length of a bench from her two young girls sat, talking in whispers
and glancing furtively at the young man who received the aspirants for
positions.

It seemed hours to both lads before their turn came. “Well, boys, what
is it?” asked the young man kindly. He had a dark, alert face, and
dark, penetrating eyes.

“We came to apply for work in the store, sir.” It was Harry who
answered, at a nudge from Ted.

“How old are you?”

“He is fifteen and I am sixteen, sir,” replied Harry.

“You will have to go to Mr. Keene’s office to fill your application
blanks. He has charge of the store messenger service, and of all the
boys who work here.”

“Where is his office, sir?”

“On the third floor, Warren Street front; north-east corner.”

“Thank you, sir. Do you think Mr. Keene needs any boys?” Harry could
not refrain from asking the question.

“I don’t know, my boy,” smiled the young man, “but if he does need any
help, I shouldn’t be surprised if he gave you a trial.”

Harry’s eyes glowed with eagerness to know his fate. Thanking the young
man, he nudged Ted to come on.

“Let’s not bother with the elevator,” he proposed. “That’s the way
to the Warren Street side. As soon as we find the stairway we can go
straight to Mr. Keene’s office.”

The prospective wage-earners skipped nimbly up the long flights of
stairs, bent on reaching their goal as fast as sturdy young leg-power
could carry them. After a little inquiry they managed to bring up
at their goal. Here they found themselves standing before a large,
railed-in space similar to that of the main office on the first
floor. On a closed door at the left of this space appeared the magic
words, “Mr. Keene.” The two lads brought up at the railing and looked
uncertainly about them, not quite sure what their next move would be.

A pretty young woman with curly brown hair and pink cheeks rose from
a nearby typewriter desk. “Well, boys?” she interrogated with an
encouraging smile.

“We’d like to see Mr. Keene.” As before, Harry was spokesman.

“Sit down there and wait a few minutes.” She pointed to an oak settee.
“Mr. Keene is busy with his mail just now. You can see him when he
has finished. I will tell him about you when I go into his office for
dictation.”

Just then there was a loud buzzing sound. The young woman picked up her
notebook and hurried toward the office door marked “Mr. Keene,” leaving
two anxious boys to wonder what fortune had in store for them.



CHAPTER III

AN ANXIOUS MOMENT


“Mr. Keene will see you. Go in there, boys.” The pretty young woman
emerged from an inner office with this welcome announcement. Resuming
her seat at her typewriter, she began clicking the keys industriously.

“At last,” breathed Teddy Burke, with an impatient twitch of his head.
“You go first, Harry.”

Harry stepped rather diffidently forward and over the threshold of Mr.
Keene’s office, Teddy following closely at his heels. The only occupant
of the room, the man at the desk, looked up from a letter he was
reading as the boys entered. His shrewd, dark eyes took in his callers
at one sweeping glance. “Well, boys,” he began in quick, business-like
tones, “what can I do for you?”

“We came to see about getting work, sir.” Harry found himself answering
in the same business-like tones of the superintendent.

“How old are you?”

“I am sixteen.”

“And how old are you?” He turned to Teddy.

“Fifteen, sir.”

“Have you a certificate?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let me see it.”

Teddy drew his certificate from an inner pocket. It was rolled up and
fastened with an elastic band. His first thought after receiving his
mother’s permission to go to work had been for the obtaining of the
necessary certificate.

The shrewd-eyed man examined it carefully. “Why did you leave school?”
he asked quietly.

Teddy blushed rosy red. Then looking rather defiant, he said clearly,
“I couldn’t get along with the teacher. But I’ve had enough of school.
I want to work.”

Their interrogator smiled slightly. Then his eyes sought Harry’s face.

“And did you have trouble with the teacher, too?”

“No, sir. I am obliged to go to work to help my mother support us. I
left school of my own free will.”

“You will have to bring your certificate of birth. We must know
positively that you are as old as you claim to be.”

Harry’s face fell. He had hoped that they would be able to start work
at once, provided they were lucky enough to obtain positions.

The brown-eyed man studied the two boys in silence. Teddy braced
himself and put on as dignified an expression as he could muster. Harry
returned the scrutiny with calm, steady eyes. Still without speaking,
Mr. Keene touched the buzzer at one side of his desk. The next instant
the pretty girl appeared.

“Miss Mason, give these boys application blanks to fill. Show them
where to sit to write,” he directed. “When you have filled them, boys,
bring them to me.”

“We’re goin’ to get a job, all right,” whispered Teddy, as, with their
application blanks in their hands, they followed their attractive guide
to a long table where another boy sat, laboriously filling in the
spaces on the big white card. Teddy’s thin little face was aglow with
triumph as he slipped into a chair beside the first-comer and began a
curious inspection of his own application blank.

“Don’t be too sure,” murmured Harry. “We may fill out these blanks and
then Mr. Keene may tell us that he will send for us if he needs us.”

“Looks like a bill-of-fare, doesn’t it?” grinned Teddy, as he opened
the blank, which was folded twice like a programme, and had printed
matter on all four sides. “Let me see. What’ll I have to eat. Oh,
excuse me! I mean, What’s your full name?” Teddy’s voice rose a little
higher with each word.

“Sh-h-h,” warned Harry. “Be more quiet, Teddy. You don’t want to be
told to keep still, even before you’re hired, do you?”

There was nothing goody-goody or priggish in Harry’s tone, so Teddy did
not resent his new friend’s warning. While Harry, unconsciously drawn
toward the mischief-loving, black-eyed youngster, spoke as he might
have to a brother, if he had had one.

“All right. I’ll be good.” Teddy seized a fresh hold on his application
card and glowered at it with a purposely threatening scowl that made
Harry smile in spite of himself. Then the little boy laid it down, and
seizing a pen from the rack in front of him, dipped it energetically
into the ink, spattered a few drops on the table and settled himself
to his task. There were a great many questions to answer, such as,
“Have you ever before been employed?” “Are you the sole support of your
family?” “How many persons are dependent upon your earnings?” “Will
you cheerfully obey the rules of this establishment?” and “Would you
consider it your duty to report any disobedience of the rules of the
store on the part of your fellow employees?”

“I’m not goin’ to say, ‘yes’ to this,” whispered Teddy, pointing with
his index finger to the objectionable rule. “Catch me reporting
anybody. I’m no telltale. That’s a nice idea--running to the
superintendent’s office with every little thing.” Teddy sat back in his
chair, disgust written on every feature.

“I don’t think it means every little thing, Ted.” Harry soberly scanned
the paragraph. “I think it means the big things like stealing, or
damaging store property or something like that. Wouldn’t you report
another fellow if you saw him taking what didn’t belong to him?”

“No; I’d make him put it back,” declared Ted stoutly.

“But he might steal it again when your back was turned,” argued Harry.
“Do you think a boy who would steal would be a safe person to employ in
a big place like this, full of beautiful and expensive things? I don’t.
Why, if such things weren’t looked after and reported, a whole lot of
the employees might be tempted to take what didn’t belong to them.
First thing you know the store might fail and then everyone in it would
be without work.”

“I guess that’s so,” admitted Ted, visibly impressed by Harry’s
somewhat far-fetched argument for strict honesty of purpose as well as
deed.

“Of course it’s so,” nodded Harry. “Why, I wouldn’t put my name on
this card if I weren’t ready and willing to obey all the rules of this
store.”

“Well, I don’t suppose I would, either,” admitted Teddy. “I thought
if I got clear of school and went to work I could do as I pleased. But
this doesn’t look like it.” He wagged his head in disapproval of the
card.

“Oh, well, here goes.” He wrote “Yes” in a large, boyish hand after the
contested question.

A brief silence ensued. The boys wrote their answers carefully. They
wished to hand Mr. Keene neatly written applications.

“There, it’s done.” Harry heaved a little sigh of relief. Laying down
his pen he turned to the first page of his application blank and
began to read over what he had written. Teddy finished writing soon
afterward. His application filled, Harry busied himself with watching
what went on about him, while he waited for Teddy. The outer office,
which they were in, was much larger than the inner one. About it were
scattered several desks. There was one large desk at one side of the
room, but it was closed. The boy wondered vaguely to whom it belonged.
It must belong to a person of importance. It was by far the largest
desk in the office. At a smaller desk a little to one side sat a young
man. He was busily engaged in transferring something from cards to a
large book that looked for all the world like the teacher’s register in
school. The cards were about the size of a post-card and from where he
sat Harry could see that they were ruled into little squares and had
printing at the left-hand side. He guessed that these were the record
cards of the boys of the great establishment, and he afterward found
his guess to be correct.

“All right. I’m done.” Teddy finished writing with a flourish, and rose
from the table.

“Better look your blank over, first,” advised Harry. “I went over mine.”

“Oh, bother,” ejaculated Teddy impatiently. Nevertheless, he sat down
again and read over what he had written. “Say,” he turned to Harry.
“What salary did you put down?”

“Four dollars a week,” returned Harry. “I think I can earn it.”

“I put down three. They’ll never give you four to start with. I guess
two and a half’ll be about what we’ll get.”

“I won’t take that.” Harry’s boyish mouth set in a determined line. “A
big boy of sixteen who can’t earn at least four dollars a week doesn’t
amount to much. I think I’m worth four dollars a week, so I put it
down. If I don’t get that, I’ll surely get three. A boy I know, who
works in Arnold’s store, says that when you apply for a position in a
store you must always ask for more salary than you expect to get. But
that isn’t why I put down four dollars. I set it down because I know I
can earn it.”

“I guess I’ll change mine.” Ted picked up his pen, hesitated, then laid
it down. “Oh, what’s the use of changing it now. I’ve written three,
I’ll stick to it and see what happens. Come along. That man in there’ll
think we are pretty slow.”

The boys once more made their way to Mr. Keene’s office. He was busy
for the moment with a tall, cross-looking man who turned at the
interruption and glowered at the two boys like a veritable ogre, then
resumed his conversation with Mr. Keene in quick, harsh tones.

“Some crank,” whispered the irrepressible Ted to Harry.

Harry gave his companion a sly poke. Teddy subsided with his usual
cheerful grin. But low-spoken as was Teddy’s rude comment, the
cranky-looking man had heard. Instead of attributing it to Teddy,
however, he glared straight at Harry, as, his business with Mr.
Keene finished, he passed the waiting boys and stalked on out of the
office. Luckily, at the very instant Teddy had made this careless but
uncomplimentary comment, Mr. Keene had been called upon to answer the
telephone on his desk. He was still talking when the disagreeable man
left his office and under cover of it Harry said sternly, “Cut it,
Teddy.”

Teddy, whose quick eyes had noted that the cross-looking man had
silently blamed Harry for the rude remark, became at once unduly solemn.

“Here are our applications, sir.” Harry was again spokesman. He laid
his application blank on Mr. Keene’s desk. Teddy followed suit.
Mr. Keene looked searchingly at the two eager, boyish faces. Long
experience in the handling and training of promising youth had taught
him to read boy nature. In Harry’s and Teddy’s features he saw much
that appealed to him, and before reading their meagre histories and
expectations as set down on the blanks before him, he had determined
to give them a chance. However, he merely said, “Very well, young men.
You may come here to this office at half past seven o’clock to-morrow
morning and I will see what I can do for you. Bring your certificates
with you.”

“Thank you, sir. Good morning,” said Harry politely.

“Thank you, sir. Good morning,” repeated Teddy hastily.

“Good morning,” returned Mr. Keene pleasantly.

Neither boy spoke until they had left the outer office behind. Then
Teddy Burke gave vent to his disappointment. “We don’t know any more
about whether we’re going to work here than we did when we came in,” he
grumbled.

“It looks hopeful to me,” was Harry’s cheery response. “I’m going home
and think just as hard as I can that I’m going to get the position. Mr.
Keene looked so nice and kind, I don’t believe he’d tell us to come
back in the morning if he didn’t intend to give us a trial.”

“Maybe not.” Teddy’s tones expressed lingering doubt. “I’ll try to make
myself believe I’m goin’ to get it, too. If we don’t, we’ll just have
to go somewhere else to find work.”

Harry nodded emphatically.

“The fellows up at West Park School will wish they were me, if I do get
it. Won’t it be great not to have to go to school any more?”

“No, it won’t.” Harry’s face fell, as the memory of the school life
which he had been obliged to leave rose before him. “I wish I _could_
go to school.”

“Not for mine,” reiterated Ted slangily. “I’m all done with school
forever and ever.”

But even as he boasted of his freedom from the school-room, a most
astonishing surprise was hurrying to catch up with Teddy Burke.



CHAPTER IV

A SURPRISE AND A DISAPPOINTMENT


A thin, black-eyed boy halted on the street corner opposite Martin
Brothers’ Department Store and looked eagerly up and down the street.
It was fifteen minutes past seven by the clock on a nearby public
building. Commerce Street was beginning to teem with early-morning
activity. Noisy, crowded trolley cars rumbled by, each bearing its
patient load of working men and women, forced by necessity to make
their daily pilgrimage in over-crowded cars, where they paid their
hard-earned nickels for the privilege of hanging to a strap, or being
knocked about like unresisting nine-pins as the cars jolted and bumped
over weary blocks of city streets. Hurrying pedestrians impatiently
dodged one another, each intent on reaching his goal at the very
earliest possible moment. The thin little boy on the corner eyed the
clock with a frown. It was now twenty minutes past seven. Where was
Harry Harding?

“Did you think I was never coming?” Teddy Burke gave a positive jump,
as he heard Harry’s voice in his ear. The other boy had come up the
street at a moment when Teddy was busily gazing in the opposite
direction. “I know it’s late. I walked. I should have given myself a
little more time, though. To-morrow I’ll start ten minutes earlier.
We’ll just about reach Mr. Keene’s office by half past seven.”

“Catch me walking to work in the morning,” said Teddy, as they hurried
across the street. “I don’t mind walking home, but I’d have to start
fifteen minutes earlier if I hoofed it down here every day, and I need
that fifteen minutes for sleep. Ma gave me a quarter for lunch and
carfare, too, so I guess I can spend it.”

“You’re richer than I am,” laughed Harry. “I’ve only a dime.”

By this time the boys had entered the store and were walking briskly
down the main arcade to the elevator nearest to Mr. Keene’s office.

“We’ll make it, with five minutes to spare,” commented Harry as they
stepped out of the elevator. He pointed to a clock on the wall. It was
twenty-five minutes past seven.

But when they reached the large outer office and waiting room where
they had filed their applications, they were somewhat surprised to see
at least eight boys of about their own age seated on the oak benches
reserved for applicants.

“I wonder if they’ve got jobs, or are just waiting to see Mr. Keene,”
whispered Teddy. “I wonder where that nice girl is. The one who took
us into the office yesterday. I’d like to know how we’re going to get
in to see Mr. Keene, if he doesn’t know we are here. There’s a man at
the big desk this morning. Don’t you remember? It was shut when we
were here yesterday. I wonder what he does?” Teddy’s sharp, black eyes
roved here and there, taking in every point of interest. Suddenly they
grew round with astonishment. “Oh, look, Harry!” He pointed excitedly.
Advancing from the direction of the stairway was a procession of boys.
They were walking two abreast, in precise, orderly fashion. Harry and
Teddy watched them in fascination.

“Whew!” breathed Teddy. “What a lot o’ boys. I wonder where they’re
goin’? I don’t b’lieve they’ll want us here when they’ve got so many
other fellows.”

“I thought you said you were going to keep thinking you’d get a
position,” reminded Harry, smiling. His eyes were riveted interestedly
on the line of boys now almost out of sight around a corner formed by a
partition at the further end of the long open space where the waiting
boys were seated.

“Well, I did, and I am,” retorted Teddy. “Oh, dear, it’s a quarter to
eight now, and here we sit.” He fidgeted impatiently, slid to the far
end of the long bench, then slid back again, bumping smartly against
Harry.

“Quit it, Ted,” rebuked Harry good-humoredly.

Ted snickered softly, but ceased his sliding. He sat quietly for
perhaps three minutes, then impatience overcame him. “If nobody comes
to ask us what we want by eight o’clock, I’m goin’ to beat it out of
here,” he warned. “I’ll go somewhere else and look for a job.”

“My, what a lot of patience you have,” commented Harry sarcastically.

At that moment the man at the large desk, whose back had been toward
them, swung round in his chair and viewed the little assemblage with
critical eyes. Rising from his chair he strolled over to where the
waiting youngsters sat. “How many of you were here yesterday?” he asked.

“I was,” Teddy answered like a flash.

“So was I,” declared Harry.

No one else answered.

“Did Mr. Keene tell you to come back this morning?” was the next
question.

“Yes, sir,” came the simultaneous answer.

The young man, who had a fair, pleasant face, very blue eyes, and a
large, humorous mouth, stepped into the inner office. The next second
he appeared in the doorway and beckoned to Harry and Teddy.

“Good morning, boys,” greeted Mr. Keene briskly. His alert eyes
scanned the lads before him. “Did you bring your certificates?”

“Here is mine, sir.” Harry tendered his birth certificate. Teddy once
more presented to Mr. Keene the certificate from the Bureau of Labor,
which, in company with his mother, the boy had secured on the previous
day before starting out on the glorious adventure which was to end
his school days for good and all--by his own reckoning, at least. Mr.
Keene had returned it to him the day before, but he again accepted the
fateful document, and went over the two certificates carefully.

“Well, boys,” he said at last, “do you think you can work for the
highest interests of the store?”

“I will try very hard, sir,” answered Harry seriously.

“I think I can.” Teddy spoke more boldly.

Mr. Keene regarded him with a quizzical expression that was very near
to a smile. In Teddy’s sharp little face and bright eyes he read the
boy’s mischievous nature. But he also looked further and saw honesty
and manliness in him.

“Remember, at first you will be only a very small part of this great
business machine, but sometimes a defect in the smallest part will
serve to clog the whole machine. If you faithfully perform whatever
you are given to do, in a little while you will receive larger
salaries and promotion. It rests with yourselves whether you will be
indispensable to this store, or worthless. Let me see.” He picked up a
memorandum on his desk. “Which of you is Theodore Burke?”

“Me,” answered Teddy with a fine disregard for English. “I--I--mean, I
am, sir.”

“You are to go to the house furnishings, Department Number 40, in the
basement. They need a bright, steady, obedient boy there very badly. Do
you think you can fill the position?”

“I--think I can.” Teddy’s voice was not quite so confident as in the
beginning. The idea of house furnishings did not appeal to him. He had
secretly hoped to be put in the sporting goods department. Teddy’s
whole soul was bound up in games and sports, and though slender he
was strong, well-muscled and had considerable reputation among his
schoolmates for running, leaping and swimming.

“And you are Harry Harding.” Mr. Keene consulted his memorandum, then
glanced up at Harry.

“Yes, sir.”

“I am going to put you at the exchange desk, between the book
department and the jewelry. Here is your card. Every boy in the store
carries one. You must take care of it. Do not deface it or lose it.
It is marked every day by your aisle manager and your teacher, and is
a record of your behavior in the store, whether in school or on the
selling floor.”

At the word “teacher,” Teddy Burke figuratively pricked up his ears.
What was Mr. Keene talking about, and what did he mean by his record in
school? Was it possible that each day he would have to take his card
to his ancient enemy, Miss Alton? Would Mr. Keene send to West Park
Grammar School for his record? It was a most uncomfortable moment for
Teddy.

Harry, however, was drinking in the superintendent’s words with an
eagerness born of a sudden hope. He thrilled at the words “teacher” and
“school.” He remembered dimly that a boy had once told him of a certain
department store in the city which conducted a school for its messenger
and stock boys. He had forgotten all about it, but now his heart beat
faster. Suppose that store were Martins’, and that he----

Mr. Keene interrupted his reflections with, “Through the kindness of
Mr. Edwin Martin, the senior partner of Martin Brothers, the store has
a school for both the boys and girls under eighteen years of age who
are employed here. Every boy and every girl must go to school from
half-past seven until eleven o’clock on two different days of each
week. We expect our boys to take advantage of this great privilege and
do their very best, all the time, whether in school or on the floor.”

“I am _so_ glad I can still go to school.” Harry’s voice vibrated with
thankfulness. Teddy was strangely silent.

“It is a great opportunity, my boy,” returned Mr. Keene kindly. “Now,
take these slips to Mr. Marsh, the young man who brought you here. He
will show you to your departments and tell you what to do.”

“Thank you, sir,” Harry’s eyes were shining with happiness as he turned
to leave the room.

“Thank you, sir,” said Teddy mechanically. His thin face was decidedly
solemn. Supreme disgust looked out of his black eyes. Once outside the
office, Harry felt a quick clutch at his arm. Harry’s blue eyes met
Teddy’s scornful gaze. “I’m goin’ to beat it,” he declared. “Catch me
working any place where I have to go to school.”

“Oh, don’t be such a goose.” Harry’s voice was purposely sharp. He had
no time to argue the matter with Teddy. “I wouldn’t be a quitter until
I’d tried things out. You may like this school as much as you hated the
other. Come on. We can’t stand here talking all day.”

Teddy walked beside Harry to Mr. Marsh’s desk with the air of a martyr.
As he passed the still-waiting row of boys he hunched his shoulders
and stared at them with a cross-eyed glare, which was one of his
accomplishments, and caused them to giggle audibly.

“What did you do to make those boys laugh?” queried Harry.

“I just looked at them. Want me to look at you the same way?”

“No, I don’t. I want you to be good and not get fired before you’re
hired,” smiled Harry.

This brought a snicker from Teddy, and the grin had not vanished from
his impish face when they paused before Mr. Marsh’s desk.

“All right, boys?” was his cheerful inquiry. “Let me have your slips.
You are to go to Department 40, Burke, and you, Harding, to exchange
desk Number 10, on the first floor. I’ll send messengers with you to
these departments.”

“Please, sir, we would like to know something about our work and where
we go to school,” put in Harry, anxiously.

“I am coming to that,” smiled the pleasant young man. “You must be in
the store, at the boys’ assembly room, every morning at twenty minutes
after seven o’clock. I will assign both of you to Company A, which goes
to school every Monday and Thursday morning. On these mornings you will
form in line in the assembly room with the other boys of your section
and march to the schoolrooms, which are on this floor at the opposite
side of the building. When school is dismissed you are to go directly
to your departments. At ten minutes past eleven every boy must be in
his department, or receive a demerit for loitering. That is, unless he
has an exceptionally good excuse.”

Mr. Marsh took a number of cards, ruled off into little squares, from a
pigeon hole in his desk. Consulting the slips the boys had given him,
he wrote their names in the blank space at the top, reserved for that
purpose. “These are your report cards,” he explained. “If you can keep
them clear, you will be the kind of boys that this store needs. These
little squares are for demerits. Untidiness, disobedience of orders,
failure in lessons, bad behavior in school, in fact, all the things
which you know to be wrong, but do wilfully, will put black marks on
this card. Your aisle manager, or your teacher, can give them to you,
and ten demerits mean that you will be sent to Mr. Keene’s office.
He is the special superintendent for the boys, and it rests with him
whether you stay in the store or not. But first of all it rests with
yourselves, boys. It is just as easy to be neat and obedient and manly
as it is to be untidy, disobedient and unruly. Remember that. If there
is anything you do not understand or that you wish to know you can
come to me between five and half past five o’clock on any afternoon,
after first having received permission from your aisle manager to do
so. Now, are there any questions you wish to ask before going to your
departments?”

“How much time do we have for lunch?” asked Teddy.

“Forty-five minutes. Your aisle manager will set the time for your
lunch hours. There is an employees’ restaurant in the store where you
can buy a substantial lunch for ten cents.”

“I should like to ask, sir, what wages we are to receive?” was Harry’s
pertinent question.

“Three dollars a week. We start all our boys at that salary. If they
make good, they are sure of a fifty cent increase within six months
after they start to work.”

Harry vowed mentally that he would “make good,” if such a thing were
possible. He made no response to Mr. Marsh’s statement, as it seemed to
call for none.

“I will send a messenger with you to your departments. Here, Alec.”
Mr. Marsh addressed a tall, thin lad seated at a little desk near the
end of the room. “Take this boy to Department 40. Take him straight to
Mr. Duffield. Then show this boy,” indicating Harry, “to Mr. Barton at
exchange desk Number 10. Tell him I am sending him a boy. He asked Mr.
Keene for one yesterday morning.” With a friendly smile at Harry and
Teddy the pleasant young man handed the boys their cards. “Here are
your honor rolls. Keep them clean,” he admonished. “All right, Alec.”
He nodded to the messenger.

The tall, thin boy started off at a quickstep, followed by the two
latest recruits to the great store of Martin Brothers.

“Say, he’s some fellow, ain’t he?” remarked Teddy, as he hustled to
keep up with their guide’s lengthy stride.

“Who, Mr. Marsh? You just better believe he is,” was the emphatic
tribute.

“He’s pretty smart. He looked at our names when we handed him our slips
and he knew right away which of us was which,” went on Teddy.

“What he don’t know about boys ain’t worth knowing. The fellows here
all think he’s the candy kid. Mr. Keene’s pretty good to us, but
there’s only one Mr. Marsh.”

“What is his position?” asked Harry, curiously.

“Oh, he’s Mr. Keene’s assistant, but he does most of the lookin’ after
the boys.”

“Is the house furnishings department a nice place to work?” asked
Teddy, abruptly.

“Not for mine,” was the slangy retort. “I wouldn’t call hustling pans
and kettles a cinch. Still, it’s better than workin’ for old Piggy
Barton at Number 10. Say, I’ll bet that old crab just hates himself.”

“What does this Mr. Barton do?” queried Harry apprehensively.

“He’s the meanest aisle manager in the store. You want to watch
yourself or you’ll get ten demerits in about ten minutes. Every boy
that works for him gets fired. It ain’t always the fellow’s fault,
either. I know of two fellows he canned, all right enough.”

Teddy grinned at the slang expression “canned.” It happened to be new
to him. He had a vision of the two helpless messengers being forcibly
bottled, and the humor of the idea appealed to him immensely. Harry’s
face had fallen a trifle. Just when he had built up high ideals of his
future usefulness in the store it was rather discouraging to know that
he must begin his work under such a disagreeable person.

“I’m going to try very hard to get along with Mr. Barton,” he said
bravely, smothering the sudden pang of disappointment that seized him.

The thin boy grinned knowingly, but made no answer. Just then they
brought up in front of an elevator. During the descent to the basement
nothing further was said on the subject of Mr. Barton. The two boys
followed their guide through a sea of millinery and women’s clothing
and made port at last in the land of house furnishings.

“There’s Mr. Duffield now.” The tall, thin boy conducted Harry and
Teddy to one corner of the department where a short, stout man with
gray hair and a red face was talking to a salesman. “Come on here.” He
marched Teddy up to the stout little man with, “Here’s a new boy for
your department. Mr. Marsh sent him. Come along.” This last command was
addressed to Harry.

“In a minute,” returned Harry tranquilly. “Ted, I’ll wait for you
to-night where we met this morning.”

Teddy had only time for a quick, backward nod as he followed Mr.
Duffield down the aisle between rows of shining kitchen ware. Harry
turned and accompanied his companion up a nearby stairway and down the
main arcade. Just off the broad aisle his guide stopped and peered
about him. “There he is.” He hustled Harry past a long row of glass
cases filled with shining silver. A tall man was standing with his back
to the boys. He was writing on a salesman’s book with a blue pencil.
Then he said loudly, “You ought to be more careful.” The harsh tones
chilled Harry through and through. There was something familiar, too,
about that grim, uncompromising back.

“Mr. Barton,” began the messenger. “Mr. Marsh told me to tell you----”

The tall figure wheeled about and to his amazement Harry found himself
staring at the man whom Teddy had thoughtlessly dubbed “some crank,”
and who had mistakenly laid the untimely remark at Harry Harding’s
door.



CHAPTER V

FRIENDS AND FOES


Harry Harding’s heart sank as he stood before Mr. Barton. It was
evident from the frowning glance which the aisle manager bestowed upon
him that he had recognized him, furthermore that he believed Harry to
be the boy who had called him a crank.

“Let me see your card,” snapped Mr. Barton.

Harry instantly handed his card to the aisle manager.

“Your number’s 45; just remember that. When I call you, come on the
jump. I’ve no time to waste on idle, disobedient boys. You are to stay
at this exchange desk whenever you are not sent on an errand. If a
customer brings an article into the store to be exchanged, on a cash
sale, you are to wait until the exchange clerk makes out a credit slip.
Then you must take the slip and the article to the department to be
signed in stock. You are to do whatever the exchange clerk or I tell
you to do, and you are to step lively. No grumbling or excuses.” He
eyed Harry severely.

“I will try, sir,” Harry answered in quiet, respectful tones.

“You’ll have to do more than try, if you expect to stay at this desk,”
retorted Mr. Barton. “Here, Miss Welch, is a new boy for you.” He
addressed the young woman at the exchange desk, then stalked off down
the aisle.

The girl smiled winningly at the lad, then said, “What’s your name,
son?”

“Harry Harding, ma’am.” The smile went straight to Harry’s sore little
heart. Keenly sensitive, the harsh words of the aisle manager had cut
him to the quick. If only Teddy hadn’t made that unlucky remark, he
thought mournfully. Then he could have started fairly with Mr. Barton.
Now Mr. Barton believed him to be a rude and disrespectful boy, and
would treat him accordingly until he proved that he was neither. Harry
threw back his shoulders and made a firm resolution to win Mr. Barton’s
good will. He would be prompt, courteous and obedient, and “in time”
Mr. Barton would learn to trust him, perhaps like him.

Harry looked shyly at Miss Welch. He hoped she would like him. She was
so pretty, with her big, blue eyes and pink cheeks, and how gracefully
her thick, black hair curled about her forehead!

“What’s on your mind, son?” she asked, noting the boy’s timid scrutiny.
“Cheer up. Don’t look so sad. That old grouch, Barton, is enough to
give anyone the blues, but just remember he can’t eat you, or kill you,
or do anything worse than scold you. He never opens his mouth to say a
pleasant word. We’re all used to him down here.”

“He--he--doesn’t like me,” stammered Harry.

“He doesn’t like anybody. He even hates himself,” declared the girl.

“He thinks I called him a crank,” Harry colored slightly, as he made
this admission.

“When did all this happen?” The sympathetic exchange clerk elevated her
eyebrows in surprise.

“Yesterday morning. I was waiting in the employment office to see Mr.
Keene. There was another boy sitting there waiting, too. Mr. Barton was
in the office talking to Mr. Keene. When he left the office he looked
so cross that the boy said, ‘some crank,’ and he heard it. He thought I
said it.”

“Good for the boy that said it,” laughed Miss Welch. “I’m glad smarty
Barton heard it. Now he knows what other people think of him. I’m sorry
you got blamed, though. Why don’t you tell him you didn’t say it?”

Harry shook his head. In his recital of the incident he had been
careful not to mention Teddy as the real transgressor. “I’d rather not
say anything. Maybe he’ll forget about it if he sees me trying hard to
please him.”

“You couldn’t please _him_ if you gave him a million dollars,” was
the discouraging information. “But never mind, kid. I’ll see that he
don’t bite your head off. I’m not afraid of him. He isn’t afraid of me,
neither,” she added with a giggle. “Still, it takes the Irish to hand
him one, once in a while.”

“Are you Irish?” asked Harry.

“Irish as can be. Don’t I look it? And proud of it, at that. Now you
just listen to me, Harry. Keep out of Mr. Barton’s way as much as you
can. If there’s anything you don’t know, ask me. Now you’d better take
a walk around the jewelry and the book department and find out where
you’re at. Size up ‘jewelry’ first and then come back here. I may have
something for you to do. If I don’t need you, you can chase yourself
over into the books for a walk around. If you hear me call ‘45’ at any
time, then come over here as fast as your feet’ll let you.”

“Thank you for being so kind. I certainly will try hard to please
_you_.” Harry forgot his shyness. This pretty girl with her sharp
tongue and slang phrases was quite different from his meek, quiet
little mother, but he felt somehow that she had the same warm heart.

“Listen to the kid.” Margaret Welch beamed on Harry and made a mental
resolve that old Cross-patch would have to let him alone or settle
with her. And thus Harry Harding began his store life by making an
enemy and a friend.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime, Teddy Burke, greatly to his displeasure, had been left
to thrive or languish among the kettles and pans. There was little
danger of Teddy languishing. His was a disposition that longed to be
up and doing. House furnishings were altogether too tame to suit his
active tastes. Still, there might be a chance for a little fun. Teddy
eyed the red-faced, gray-haired aisle man and decided that he wasn’t
very cross, and quite easy. Now that he was away from Harry’s subduing
influence, his mischievous nature began to come to the surface and his
bright black eyes roved speculatively about the department.

“What’s your name, boy?” asked Mr. Duffield, in placid tones.

“Teddy Burke--sir.” Teddy tardily remembered the sir, but forgot to say
Theodore.

“Well, Teddy, you are to make yourself generally useful in this
department. Do you think you can do that?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” was Teddy’s confident answer.

“Stay right in your department, where we can get you when we need you.
No running off the floor, unless I give you permission. I don’t want a
boy here who says, ‘I can’t,’ or ‘I haven’t time,’ when he’s asked to
do something. I want a pleasant, willing boy. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” murmured Teddy, rather meekly. The red-faced little man
didn’t seem quite so easy. There was a ring of finality in his voice
that meant business. Just then a monotonous voice was heard calling,
“Mr. Duf-field, Mr. Duf-field,” and the aisle manager trotted off
toward the sound, leaving Teddy to his own devices. He sidled up to a
table of blue and white kitchen ware and surveyed it with contemptuous
eyes. How the fellows in school would tease him if they knew where he
was. They would call him “kitchen mechanic” and “Bridget,” and any
other appropriate names that happened to come to their minds. Teddy’s
unhappy reflections were broken in upon by a peremptory voice, “Here,
boy.” Teddy turned toward the sound and saw a salesman beckoning
to him. The little, red-haired boy obeyed the call with alacrity.
Mischievous though he might be, Teddy, thanks to Harry’s earnest views
of good service, had made up his mind to do his best.

“Take these over to the wrapping desk. It’s all the way back, behind
that partition.” The man piled Teddy’s thin, wiry arms high with
cooking utensils.

“Don’t drop ’em,” he directed, “and don’t lose the checks.”

The boy started off jauntily enough. The granite-ware utensils had
been piled one upon another in a huge dishpan. On the very top of the
lot was a stewpan with a long handle. Before Teddy had proceeded ten
feet, it slid off the pile to the floor with a protesting rattle. Teddy
glanced quickly about. He wondered if anyone had seen him drop the pan.
There was no one near the long aisle through which he walked, except a
demonstrator, who was so busy cooking something on a shining hot-plate
that she paid no attention to him. Setting down his load on the end of
a table piled with similar goods, he picked up the offending stewpan
and put it in place. He had barely started when off it slid again.
“I’ll fix you,” he muttered. Seizing it savagely he measured it with
his eye, then jamming it firmly down upon his head, proceeded calmly up
the aisle, looking not unlike a small helmeted knight.

“Boy!” A horrified voice checked Teddy’s triumphal progress, causing
him to let the whole armful of kitchen ware clatter to the floor.
Bearing down upon him strode a tall, loose-jointed man, whose arms
seemed to flap as he walked.

“Take that pan off your head. Take it off, I say!” He pointed
dramatically toward the stewpan, still perched upon Teddy’s red hair.
Two sales-girls and a customer passed by. The girls giggled outright.
The customer, a stout, comfortable-looking woman, smiled.

The pan came off Teddy’s head in a twinkling. “It wouldn’t stay on the
pile,” he murmured, but his eyes were dancing. He stooped to gather up
his fallen wares.

“Look at me,” commanded the man. “How long have you been in this
department?”

“’Bout half an hour.” Far from being abashed, Teddy straightened up
and eyed his questioner. He was not thinking about what he had done.
He could still see the tall man flapping toward him, looking for all
the world like a funny scarecrow he had once seen in a play. He had to
scowl to keep from laughing.

“Well, let me tell you, young man, you won’t be here half an hour
longer, if I catch you at any more such tricks. Do you think a customer
wants a stewpan that a boy has been using for a head piece? What do
you suppose our customers will say about Martin Brothers’ store, if we
allow our boys to disgrace us in that fashion!”

Teddy hung his head, but, wise child that he was, said nothing.

“What is your name and your number? Mr. Keene must hear of this. He is
responsible for putting such boys as you in the store.”

Teddy gave his name and number, which was 65, and the tall man flapped
off down the aisle with the air of one who has done his duty, leaving
poor little Number 65 to collect his scattered burden.

“You better watch yourself, kid.” The laughing voice caused Teddy to
straighten up, the big dishpan in his hand. A young man with hair as
red as Teddy’s own and twinkling blue eyes was regarding him amiably.
“That’s Mr. Seymour, the floor superintendent.”

“I guess his name oughta be _talk_ more,” grumbled Teddy, reaching for
the last spilled article and setting it down hard. “Stewpan hats aren’t
goin’ to be the style this year,” he grinned, placing the troublesome
pan where it could not roll off.

“You’re a funny one,” commented the salesman. “You and I are in the
same class when it comes to red hair. I’ll bet you’re chuck full of
mischief. I used to be, too, when I was a kid like you.”

“I guess you ain’t got over it yet,” said Teddy slyly. “Say,” the young
man’s friendly manner invited confidence, “will that guy report me to
Mr. Keene?”

“He will if he happens to think of it again, but it’s not likely he’ll
remember. He’s a lot on his mind all the time. He looks grouchy, but
he’s not so bad. Now you better get over to that desk with that stuff.
Got your checks?”

“Yep.” Teddy exhibited them, clutched in one hand.

“All right. Run along, youngster.” Teddy had also made a friend, and a
true one.

Teddy reached the desk without further mishap. When he returned to
his department, he heard Mr. Duffield calling, “Boy, boy,” and from
that moment on his work began in earnest. Being as quick-witted as
he was mischievous, it did not take Teddy long to get his bearings.
By the time the morning was over he had explored every corner of the
department, and knew the location of the wrapping and exchange desks,
the buyer’s office and the names of several sales persons. At half-past
twelve he was told that he might go to lunch. The red-haired salesman,
whose name was Samuel Hickson, showed him the way to the men’s time
desk and by following three boys who were bound for the lunch room he
brought up safely in the big room where the men and boys of Martin
Brothers’ store could obtain a substantial meal for ten cents.

Teddy’s first move was to look for Harry Harding. Despite the fact
that he was hungry, he wandered up and down among the small tables set
for from four to eight persons, his sharp, black eyes darting alertly
about the room in search of Harry. After ten of his precious forty-five
minutes had passed, he gave up his quest and walked over to where the
eatables were laid out in tempting rows on a long counter. Behind the
counter were several women, who served the meats and vegetables. The
salads, bread and desserts were put within convenient reach. One chose
or ordered what one wished, and placing it upon a tray carried it to
a nearby desk, where a cashier inspected it and collected the amount
due for the luncheon. Then the purchaser was free to carry it to an
unoccupied place at any of the tables and eat it at his leisure.

Teddy spied a sign which read, “Regular dinner, 10 cents,” and decided
to invest his dime. He received two slices of bread, a bit of butter,
a medium-sized piece of roast beef, a boiled potato and a small wedge
of pie. In spite of his disappointment at not seeing Harry, he felt
quite jubilant over having been able to get as much as he could eat for
ten cents. If he walked home with Harry that night, he would have ten
cents left from his quarter. That would take him and Harry to the movie
theatre across the street, where “The Outlaw’s Last Stand” was showing,
and one could see six reels for five cents.

Rising so early had given Teddy a keen appetite for dinner and it
did not take him long to dispose of it. He found he still had twenty
minutes to do as he pleased, so he wandered about the lunch room
watching wistfully several tables where merry little companies of boys
were talking and laughing over their lunch.

“Wish I knew some of those fellows,” was his thought. His eyes still on
a group of four particularly lively boys at a small table, he forgot
for a second to steer a safe course among the lads who were passing
back and forth with trays.

“Crash!” He came into full collision with a stout boy who was hurrying
from the opposite direction with a full tray.

“Now see what you’ve done,” exploded the stout boy angrily. The wreck
of a ten-cent dinner lay scattered over the floor. Only one dish had
been broken. The plate on which reposed the piece of beef. The other
dishes were still whole.

“I--I--didn’t mean to,” faltered Teddy.

“You big elephant. You did it on purpose,” scolded the fat boy.

“Huh!” snorted Teddy, his own temper rising. “I guess you look more
like an elephant than I do.”

By this time a dozen boys had surrounded the two belligerents, with
others constantly arriving. Several men stood laughingly in the
background.

“See here, freshie, do you want to fight?” blustered the fat boy. “If
you do, just call me another name and see what happens.”

“Rhinoceros,” flung back Teddy, white with defiance. Both his fists
were now doubled menacingly.

“Teddy Burke!” a surprised, disapproving voice caused Teddy’s eyes to
leave the fat boy’s face momentarily. Harry Harding was pushing his way
through the crowd to Teddy’s side. “What is the matter here, Ted?”

“Aw, I bumped into this--this fellow and upset his tray and now he
wants to lick me for it. I didn’t mean to, but he’s so thick he can’t
get it through his head.”

“He did it a-purpose,” sputtered the boy. “Now I haven’t any dinner
or any more money. I gotta have something to eat.” His voice became a
whine.

“Oh, you make me tired,” retorted Teddy scornfully. “Do you s’pose I
wasn’t goin’ to pay for your old dinner? Here’s a dime. Go buy another,
and keep still.” He handed the fat boy his dime.

The latter clutched it eagerly. “But my dinner cost fifteen cents,” he
objected, as he pocketed the silver.

At this moment one of the women employed in the lunch room had come
forward to clear away the wreck.

“Wait a minute, please.” Harry Harding began an examination of the
food on the floor. Then he turned to the woman. “Isn’t this a ten-cent
dinner?” he asked. “Is there anything besides the regular dinner there?”

The woman viewed the wreckage. “It’s a ten-cent dinner, all right,” she
nodded.

Harry’s eyes were full of contempt as he turned to the fat boy, who,
caught in a lie, colored deeply, his small, shifting eyes refusing to
meet Harry’s. Those who had crowded around the two began looking and
voicing their disapproval.

“Pretty small, isn’t he,” sneered a young man. “He was trying to work
that other boy for a nickel.”

“Serve him right if he had to go without his dinner,” commented a boy
of about Harry’s own age.

“Come on, Ted.” Taking the red-haired boy by the arm, Harry turned
his back on the dishonest boy. The surrounding group dissolved, by
magic, leaving the fat youth standing alone, a deep scowl darkening his
disagreeable face.

“See here, Ted,” began Harry as they walked down the long room, “did
you start that fuss?”

“Course I didn’t,” flung back Teddy in indignation. “I was goin’ along,
minding my own business, when I bumped into that fathead. Why didn’t he
look where he was goin’?”

“Why didn’t you look where _you_ were going?” questioned Harry slyly.

“I guess that’s right, too,” admitted Teddy. “Still, he needn’ta made
all that pow-wow. I was goin’ to make his old dinner up to him. I had
ten cents left of my quarter and I was goin’ to take you to the movies
when we got out to-night. Then he had to come along and spoil it all.”

“I couldn’t go to the movies to-night, anyhow, Ted,” said Harry, “but
it’s good in you to think of me.”

“Why not?” demanded Teddy.

“I’ve got to go straight home. Mother will be waiting for me. She’ll
want to know how I made out to-day. Your mother will probably want to
know, too.”

“Oh, she won’t care,” retorted Ted. “She’s too busy goin’ to a club
she belongs to, to care what I do. If I ain’t there at supper time she
leaves my supper on the table or in the oven for me and beats it off to
her old club. They’re always havin’ meetin’s and parties and things.”

Harry cast a quick glance of sympathy at his companion. He could not
imagine life without his mother’s interest in all he did. He made a
secret resolve to take Teddy home with him as often as he would go.
Teddy should share his mother. Then a bright idea came to him. “Why
don’t you tell your mother what you do and where you go?” he proposed.
“If she got used to hearing about it she might want to know. My mother
always likes to know all I do. It helps a fellow a lot if his mother’s
that way.”

“I s’pose it does,” returned Teddy soberly.

“My goodness, I forgot to buy my dinner!” exclaimed Harry. “Have you
eaten yours?”

“Yep. It’s time for me to go back to my department. I had a lot to tell
you, but it’ll have to keep till to-night. Wait for me on the corner.”

“I will. I’ve a lot to tell you, too.”

“So long,” nodded Teddy.

The two boys separated. Teddy left the room, while Harry went over to
buy his dinner. Twenty minutes of his precious time had already gone.
He carried his tray of food to a nearby table and sat down to eat it.
But he had hardly settled himself when he heard a surly voice in his
ear, “You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you? Well, next time you
butt in where it ain’t any of your business you’ll be sorry.”

Harry whirled in his chair to see the sulky fat boy directly behind
him, glowering down at him. His steady blue eyes measured the other
with a long look of quiet contempt and indifference. Then he turned his
back squarely upon the disgruntled boy and went on eating his dinner.



CHAPTER VI

AT THE END OF THE DAY


“Well, how did you get along this afternoon?” was Harry’s greeting, as
the two boys met on the corner after work. It was fifteen minutes to
six. The store closed at half past five o’clock, but the boys of the
store were obliged to form in line in the assembly room and pass out
of the building, reporting their numbers at their special time desk as
they went.

“Oh, pretty good. Better’n this morning. Got a call down first thing,”
confessed Teddy.

“You did! I’m surprised.” Harry didn’t look in the least surprised.
“What could you possibly do to get a scolding?”

“Aw, quit teasing me,” retorted Teddy. He related his first disastrous
errand to the wrapping desk. As might be expected, Harry laughed.
He had a mental vision of Teddy parading down the aisle in his
granite-ware helmet, his arms full of kitchen utensils.

“You wouldn’ta thought it was quite so funny if you’d seen that great
tall giraffe comin’ down the aisle at you,” grumbled Teddy.

“I don’t suppose I would,” Harry regarded the red-haired boy smilingly.
“Still, you couldn’t blame him very much. You’d better be careful about
calling people pet names, though, Ted.” Harry grew serious. “You got me
into trouble by calling Mr. Barton a crank, then you called that fat
boy an elephant. I must say, the name suits him, only it’s rather hard
on the elephant. Now you’ve named another man a giraffe. First thing
you know, you’ll have a zoo, and when they hear you calling their names
the whole menagerie will come at you and gobble you up.”

“You talk like a fairy story,” grinned Teddy. “Don’t worry. I won’t
let anyone hear me calling ’em pet names. I’m sorry about that fellow
I called ‘some crank.’ If his ears had been in the right place he
wouldn’ta thought you said it. I’ll go to him and tell him I’m the boy
that said it. He may treat you pretty mean.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort.” Harry’s lips set with decision. “Mr.
Barton will probably forget about it. I don’t believe he’ll be so very
mean to me. There’s a nice young lady at the exchange desk. Her name
is Miss Welch. She has been real good to me to-day. She told me not to
mind if Mr. Martin was cross.”

“There’s a nice man in the old pans and kettles department,” returned
Teddy. “His name’s Hickson and he has red hair, too. He says he used
to act like me when he was a boy.”

“Then we’ve each made a friend, haven’t we?” commented Harry. “You’re
better off than I am, though, Ted. You haven’t anyone down on you, and
I’m on the bad side of two persons.”

“Yes, and I’m to blame,” said Ted savagely. “You shoulda let me alone
with that fat kid up in the lunch room. I’da punched him and----”

“Been discharged,” finished Harry.

“Well, he wouldn’t’ve jumped on you, anyhow,” muttered Teddy.

Harry regarded the little, red-haired boy with genuine affection. This
sudden revelation of regard for him on Teddy’s part pleased him greatly.

“You’re a good chum, Teddy,” he said. “Don’t you worry about that fat
boy. He won’t bother either of us again. He’s a coward.”

The boys trudged along the busy city streets, talking earnestly of
their day’s work. In spite of the fact that they had been on their feet
all day, neither of them felt tired. The novelty of their first day’s
work had caused them to forget themselves. When at last they separated
at the corner where their ways diverged, Teddy said eagerly, “Well,
it’s been some day, all right. I’d a good deal rather work than go to
school. Say, if I can get up early enough to-morrow morning I’ll meet
you on this corner at seven o’clock. If you don’t see me, don’t wait.”

“All right,” nodded Harry. “Good-bye, Teddy. Don’t forget to tell your
mother all about your first day in the store.”

“I will,” promised Teddy. Then he was off down a side street like a
flash, leaving Harry to pursue the rest of his walk home alone.

The pleasant aroma of newly-made coffee and broiling beefsteak greeted
his nostrils as he opened the door of their tiny apartment. His mother
was so busily engaged in bending over a pan of biscuits which she was
in the act of removing from the oven that she did not hear the boy
enter. Slipping quietly up to her he wound both arms about her waist,
just as she straightened up.

Crash! The pan of biscuits fell to the floor, but obligingly landed
right side up and in the pan.

“Mercy, child, how you startled me!” exclaimed Mrs. Harding. “It’s a
good thing those biscuits landed right side up with care. Well, dearie,
how did you get along to-day? I suppose you got the position, or you’d
have been home long ago.” Mrs. Harding set the biscuits safely on the
end of the table and, turning, gave Harry an affectionate hug and kiss.

“Yes, Mother, I’m a working man at last. My, but I’m hungry and how
good the supper smells! I didn’t know until this minute just how
starved I was. It’s splendid in you to have beefsteak. It’s just what
a hungry fellow likes best. And creamed potatoes, too!” He had stepped
over to the stove, lifted the lid of a saucepan, and was peering into
it.

“I thought we could afford to have a little beefsteak to-night. I knew
you’d be hungry. I had to ask the man in the meat market to trust me
for it until Saturday, but I wanted you to have a good supper, son.
Let’s sit right down as soon as you’ve washed your face and hands.
Everything’s ready. Then you can tell me what happened to you to-day.”

“I’ll be ready, too, in a jiffy,” declared Harry. Going over to a stand
on which stood a china bowl and pitcher, Harry took the pitcher and
filled it with water from the sink. One room served the Hardings as
kitchen and dining-room. Pouring the water into the bowl, he began a
vigorous splashing. Five minutes later, his boyish face shining with
health and cleanliness, he seated himself opposite his mother at the
table.

“Now, eat first and talk afterwards,” she commanded, as she heaped her
son’s plate with beefsteak and creamed potatoes and passed it to him.

When his first hunger had been appeased, Harry began an account of the
day’s happenings. His mother listened in interested silence. Harry
said nothing about Mr. Barton’s evident dislike for him, or of the
fat boy who had sworn to “be even” with him. He felt that these tales
were better left untold. His mother would merely worry if she knew that
things had not gone quite smoothly. Besides, it was a poor sort of boy
who couldn’t fight his own battles.

Mrs. Harding laughed merrily over Teddy’s triumphant march down the
aisle in his stewpan headgear. “He must be a funny little boy, Harry,”
she said. “You must bring him home with you to supper, some night.”

“Oh, may I?” Harry’s eyes shone. “That will be fine. I know Ted can
come. He says his mother lets him do whatever he pleases. Do you know,
Mothery,” this was Harry’s pet name for his mother, “I feel a little
bit sorry for Ted, to think his mother doesn’t make a fuss over him
like you do over me. She belongs to some kind of a club, and she’s
always going off to it, so Ted hardly sees her in the evenings. You
see, he isn’t so poor as we are. He doesn’t have to work if he doesn’t
want to. He can go to school. His father’s dead, too, but his mother
has money enough to take care of her and Teddy so long as they both
live. He just started to work because he didn’t like school. Nobody
cares much what he does.”

“The poor little mite!” sympathized Mrs. Harding. “You just bring him
home with you. I’ll mother him.”

“You can’t help liking him. He’s such a jolly, funny little fellow,”
was Harry’s enthusiastic reply.

But while the Hardings were discussing him, Teddy Burke was trying
to put into execution his new plan of telling his mother everything.
The moment he entered the hall of the two-story brick house which his
mother owned, he hurried up the stairs to the sitting room. He drew
aside the portiere and peeped in, then looked disappointed. There was
no one there. Then he set off down the hall to her bedroom. The door
was closed. He listened for an instant, then tapped on the door.

“Is that you, Teddy?” came in quick, business-like tones. “What do you
want?”

“I want to see you. Can’t I come in?”

“Yes, but don’t bother me. I am going to a concert that the Mozart
Club is giving to-night and I’m in a hurry. You’ll find your supper
downstairs in the oven. I couldn’t wait for you.”

Teddy had entered the room while his mother was talking. He found her
sitting before her dressing table in a kimono, arranging her hair.

“I just want to tell you about the kind of a day I had in the store,”
he began bravely. “I started to work----”

“You can tell me about it when I come home to-night, dear. I haven’t
time to listen to you now. I am to meet Mrs. Andrews at the club at
seven o’clock and I’ll never get there on time if you bother me. Run
downstairs and get your supper. That’s a good boy.”

“All right,” Teddy sighed, and turning on his heel went downstairs to
the kitchen. He paused before the kitchen range and stared at it with a
scowl. “I knew it wouldn’t work,” he muttered. “Harry’s lucky. I’ll try
it again to-morrow. If I keep it up, maybe she’ll listen to me, even if
I do bother her.” Then he set to work to carry his lonely supper to the
table, and was soon eating it with the appetite of a very hungry little
boy, his brief disappointment forgotten.

But though Teddy did not then know it, the seed had fallen on good
ground, for Mrs. Burke could not help wondering as she dressed for
the concert what had caused her usually non-communicative son to be
so ready to talk. A sudden vague regret that she had sent him away
swept over her, and as she hurried downstairs to keep her appointment
she found time to stop in the dining-room and say, “I’m sorry I have
to hurry away, dear. But I wish you’d tell me all about the store
to-morrow.” Stooping, she kissed Teddy’s cheek and hurried off to the
Mozart Club, leaving a happy little boy to murmur, “Maybe it’s goin’ to
work, after all. She certainly is some mother.”



CHAPTER VII

TEDDY COMES INTO HIS OWN


Their second day in the store passed much more quickly than the first,
for Harry Harding and Teddy Burke. In the first place everything did
not seem so new and strange. To Teddy, his realm of kettles and pans
looked fairly familiar, and he felt quite as though he had known Mr.
Hickson, the red-haired salesman, all his life. Harry, however, was
not at ease at the exchange desk. It seemed to him that Mr. Barton
perpetually hovered near the desk, ordering everyone about, his heavy,
black eyebrows almost meeting in a ferocious scowl. Even Miss Welch,
the pretty clerk, could not escape his fault-finding. Above the hum
of the busy departments his loud, strident voice was constantly
to be heard, and wherever he moved he left behind him a trail of
dissatisfaction and muttered rebellion.

Harry had fully determined to obey the crabbed man’s orders so promptly
that he should have no room for complaint. All day he was strictly
on the alert, and though Mr. Barton spoke sharply to him whenever he
demanded his services, he found no room to criticize the clear-eyed,
obedient lad.

Harry went to lunch earlier that day and made his way to the lunch
room with the feeling that if he kept on as he had done that morning,
Mr. Barton would understand that he was trying to do his best. As he
entered the long room he glanced quickly about to see if the fat boy
of his yesterday’s encounter had arrived. Yes, there he was at the
far end of the room, greedily gobbling his dinner, his head bent low
over his food. When Harry had secured his own tray of food, he took
good care to put the length of the room between them. Though far from
being afraid of the disagreeable youth, he had no desire to precipitate
another scene. Meanwhile, he kept one eye on the door for Teddy, who
was due in the lunch room some minutes later than himself. He intended
to go forward and meet his chum with the idea of steering him clear of
trouble. To his relief, however, the belligerent fat youth finally rose
and shuffled off, disappearing through the door that led to the stairs.

Five minutes later Teddy appeared, and hailing him, Harry pointed to a
place at his table which he had reserved for his chum.

“Did you meet that fat boy?” was Harry’s first question.

“Nope. Didn’t see the big baby,” replied Teddy contemptuously. “Did
you see him?”

“Yes; he just left here. I thought you might have met him in the hall.
I am glad you didn’t.”

“It’s a good thing for him. If I’d seen him and he’d said a word to me,
I’d have punched him, sure,” threatened Teddy.

“See here, Ted, you had better make up your mind here and now to let
that boy alone if you happen to meet him. He isn’t worth bothering
with. Certainly he isn’t worth losing your position for. If you get
into a fight with him, you’ll both be discharged. Even though he is so
hateful, he may have to work to help support his family. You wouldn’t
like to be the means of doing the boy’s mother out of her son’s help,
would you?”

“Aw, rats! He couldn’t support a mosquito,” jeered Teddy. “I’ll bet
he’s a great, big, spoiled kid, that got fired from school just as I
did. He’s no good.”

“Then if he’s no good, keep away from him,” retorted Harry sharply.

“Oh, I’m not going to chase after him,” grinned Teddy. “Don’t get
excited.”

“I sha’n’t. At least, not over anything like that.” Harry smiled in
sympathy with Teddy’s irresistible grin. Then he changed the subject
abruptly by saying, “To-morrow is our first day to go to school, Teddy.
Have you forgotten it?”

“No, I haven’t. I wish I had. I wish when to-morrow morning came I’d
forget every single thing about school until eleven o’clock. What’s
the use of going to an old school when you’ve got a job? I know enough
already.”

“I don’t,” said Harry earnestly. “I think it’s a splendid chance. Why,
Ted, we’re lucky to have it.”

“Then I’d rather be unlucky,” asserted Teddy stubbornly. “I’d rather
hang around with the old kettles and pans all my life than be chased
off to a silly school.”

There was a moment’s silence after Teddy’s grumbling speech. Then Harry
said, “I hope we are put in the same division.”

“We won’t be. You know more’n I do, and you use better grammar. How far
did you go in arithmetic?”

“I was just through percentage when I left school,” Harry made reply.

“You’ve got me beaten a mile. I only went as far as decimal fractions.
I don’t know much about ’em, either. Don’t know that I want to.”

“Yes, you do. You must try to do your best in school, as well as in
your department. I think if you’d try not to use so much slang, you’d
find your grammar improved.” Harry regarded the red-haired boy with an
anxious solicitude, that quite took away the impression that he was
attempting to dictate to his little companion.

“See here, Harry,” Teddy’s black eyes were fixed earnestly on the
other lad, “if any of the fellows I knew at school had handed me a lot
of goody-goody talk, I’d have told ’em to shut up pretty quick, but
somehow I don’t mind what you say to me. I guess it’s because I like
you, and I wouldn’t be su’prised if you are pretty near right. I’ll try
to get along in the old school, just because you want me to.”

“Will you shake hands on that?” asked Harry, extending his hand.

Teddy’s hand shot out instantly to meet Harry’s. His black eyes were
gentle with friendliness. Then he said almost sheepishly, “I gotta go.
I’ll see you on the same old corner to-night. If you get there first be
sure and wait for me.”

The rest of the day went by uneventfully and, as agreed, the boys met
after the store closed and walked part way home together. Both lads
found themselves a trifle more tired than on their first day. For once
Teddy had the supreme satisfaction of eating supper with his mother.
Strange to relate, she had no engagement for the evening, and heard
his tales of the day’s work with considerable interest. She listened
closely to Teddy’s description of Harry, and his eager assertion that
Harry’s mother “liked boys a lot” and had told Harry to bring him home
to supper some night. Teddy could hardly believe his ears when his
mother said, “Then you must invite this boy to our home to supper,
too.”

After the meal they sat together in the living room, Ted reading
one of the books in a favorite series of his, in which a wonderful
boy hero goes through all sorts of hair-raising adventures and bobs
up triumphantly at the end of the story, while his mother stitched
diligently on a doyley she had begun months before and neglected to
finish. Still more wonderful, when at nine o’clock he began to yawn
over his book and decided to go to bed, she called him to her and
kissed him good night.

After her son had gone happily to bed, Mrs. Burke began to consider him
more seriously than she had done for years. She felt a little piqued
over Teddy’s enthusiastic description of Harry and his mother. She
wondered if she had done right in allowing Teddy to leave school and
go to work, and she resolved that in future she would look after him a
little more closely than she had in the past.

Meanwhile, in his own humble home, Harry was going over the day’s
doings to his own mother, entirely unconscious of the blessed change
his admonition to Teddy Burke to cultivate his mother’s acquaintance
had wrought in two lives.



CHAPTER VIII

THE RECRUITS TO COMPANY A


“To-day’s the day!” exclaimed Harry Harding joyfully, as he came within
hailing distance of Teddy Burke, who, as usual, had arrived first at
the corner on which the two boys had met every morning since they had
begun their work in Martin Brothers’ Department Store.

“What day?” demanded Teddy Burke, with a purposely blank expression.
“To-day’s nothin’ but Thursday.”

“You know very well what day I mean,” smiled Harry. “To-day is the day
we go to school.”

“Don’t you s’pose I know it?” grumbled Teddy. “What made you tell me
about it? I was trying to forget it.”

Harry laughed. “Oh, forget you’ve a grudge against school. Maybe it
won’t be so bad as you think.”

“Cheer up. The worst is yet to come,” grinned Teddy.

“Exactly; only the worst may turn out to be the best. You never can
tell.”

“No, you can’t. That’s right. If I’d known that this store had a school
I’d have beat it out of here pretty quick,” retorted Teddy.

“I believe you told me that yesterday, and the day before that, which
was our first day in the store,” reminded Harry, his eyes twinkling.

Teddy made no reply. They had by this time reached the men’s entrance
to the store and the red-haired boy’s eyes roved about, taking in
everything from the row of time-keepers seated behind their high desks
to a dilapidated glove that someone had dropped on the floor.

Although the boys entered the store at the men’s door, they did not
report to the time-keepers at the men’s desk whose business it was to
record the male employees’ time, from the moment of their arrival until
they stepped out into the street when their day’s work was done. The
entire force of boys was obliged to report each day in the assembly
room on the second floor to a time-keeper there. It was in the assembly
room that they received a critical looking over before going to their
departments or to school. Here they lined up for a general inspection,
which included neatness of dress, clean hands and faces, and freshly
shined shoes. Dark blue or black clothing was preferred, but not
exacted, although the boys were not allowed to wear light-colored
suits or shoes, or brightly colored ties.

Any untidiness in personal appearance meant a black mark on the report
card which each boy carried. Having been given their cards on the day
they entered the store, Teddy and Harry had had ample time to look them
over. They had found that the little squares on them were made by the
divisions ruled off after the words untidiness, discourtesy, tardiness,
carelessness, absence, lying, inattention, loud talking, bad language,
low average in school, deportment in school. These words were printed
in regular order down the card, while the space after them was used for
the little ruled squares, each one just large enough to hold a blank
mark. These demerits could be given by either the teacher or the aisle
manager of the boy who transgressed. Once a month these cards passed
into the hands of Mr. Marsh’s assistant for a general inspection and
averaging. As Mr. Marsh had already explained, ten demerits in one
month meant a most uncomfortable session in Mr. Keene’s office, when
the superintendent decided whether the offender should be dropped from
the store, while a lesser number was recorded against him and held for
future reference. A boy who month after month had received from five to
eight demerits was also quite likely to find himself without a position.

So far, Harry’s and Teddy’s cards remained as clean as when Mr. Marsh
had handed them to the lads. Harry’s had remained so because he had
doggedly determined to make no mistakes or call down upon his head the
displeasure of the crabbed aisle man, Mr. Barton. Teddy’s card had
stayed clean by sheer good luck. If Mr. Duffield had spied him calmly
wearing his stewpan crown, it is safe to say that there would have
been at least one black mark on his card. Fortunately, Mr. Seymour was
far too busy a man to bother about report cards. To be sure, he had
threatened to report Teddy to Mr. Keene. Then he had gone on his way
and forgotten all about it. So Teddy had escaped a demerit on his first
day in the store.

Inspection was hardly over when one of the two young men who had charge
of the assembly room, and whose duty it was to conduct the inspection,
called, “Company A, fall in for school.”

“That’s us,” whispered Harry to Teddy, who stood next to him in the
line. “Mr. Marsh said we’d be in Company A.”

Teddy nodded disconsolately, as he took his place beside Harry in the
rapidly forming line. He felt that the shades of his old prison were
about to close around him again. The very thought of school made him
unhappy. He wondered if his teacher would be as old and as cranky as
Miss Alton. He supposed she would be, and his mischievous, freckled
face looked decidedly solemn as he marched along beside his chum.

Out of the assembly room, up a flight of stairs, through several
departments and straight past Mr. Marsh’s desk went the long line of
boys. It was the same line Harry and Teddy had watched when first
they had come to Mr. Keene’s office. Harry gave a little shiver of
sheer pride as his eyes wandered to the bench where he and Teddy had
sat and viewed the long procession, of which they were now a part. It
was wonderful to think that they had so quickly found places in the
work-a-day world. Now it remained to them to go ever onward and upward
to prosperity and success.

His rapt reflections were disturbed by a sharp nudge in the ribs.

“Look who’s here,” muttered Teddy.

“Where? Who?” asked Harry in a whisper.

“The elephant; old Fatty Felix. There he is, waddling along ahead of
us,” murmured Ted in guarded tones. “Wouldn’t that make you sick,
though. Hope he isn’t in my class.” Teddy’s voice rose higher as his
disgust grew greater.

“No talking in the line, young man,” came the sharp command. Company A
was rapidly dividing itself into three sections. They had reached the
southern end of the building, which faced on a small side street. This
end had been reserved for the school rooms. There were three of them
in a row, each being the size of an ordinary class-room, and seating
comfortably twenty-five boys. There were rarely that number to a room,
however, as each of the three companies comprised not more than fifty
boys, except at the holiday season. But during those busy days, school
was not in session.

Both boys glanced sharply about at the sound of the voice. A short,
severe-looking woman with small blue eyes and a sallow complexion
stared fixed reproval upon them. Teddy’s heart sank. She was even worse
than Miss Alton, he decided.

“Where do you boys belong? Why haven’t I seen you before? How long have
you been in the store?” came the sharp questions.

“We were taken on last Tuesday, and we were told to come to school
to-day. This boy is in Department 40, and I am at Exchange Desk Number
10.” Harry spoke in pleasant, respectful tones.

“Where are your school slips?”

“We haven’t any. We----”

“Go and get them.”

“Where shall we go for them?”

“To Mr. Marsh, of course. It’s very evident you boys were not
paying attention to what he said to you when you were taken on the
store messenger force. Look out, or you each will get a demerit for
inattention.”

Both boys were decidedly embarrassed. Harry’s pale face was red with
confusion. Teddy colored hotly under his freckles. His black eyes
became two belligerent sparks.

“Shall we go to Mr. Marsh now?” asked Harry quietly.

“Yes, and return at once. Don’t play along the way. Bring them to me. I
shall be in that room.” She pointed to the door on the right.

“B-r-rr!” shivered Teddy, once their backs were fairly turned to the
woman. “I wonder who she is.”

“I suppose she’s the principal,” returned Harry.

“She makes me tired. How were we to know about school slips? It’s Mr.
Marsh’s fault for not telling us. Why didn’t you tell her that he
didn’t say anything about ’em?” demanded Teddy.

“Because I didn’t like to begin that way. I’d rather take the blame
than lay it upon him. I’d hate to tell tales of anyone who has been so
nice to us as he has.”

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt him. He’s a match for this old girl.”

“Teddy Burke!” Harry’s voice carried a note of sternness. “Do you think
it’s nice to call a lady an ‘old girl?’ Suppose someone called your
mother that. You’d be pretty angry, I guess.”

“Nobody could call my mother that,” flung back Teddy. “She’s young and
nice, and not a bit like that old crank of a principal. I’m going to
call her the Dragoness.”

“Well, I don’t suppose your mother is that sort,” conceded Harry. Then
in spite of his reproving words, he could not repress a faint giggle.
Teddy’s disrespectful appellations were so funny.

Teddy echoed the giggle and racked his brain for something else to say
about the principal. But before he had thought of anything, they had
arrived at Mr. Marsh’s desk, at which he sat, writing busily.

The boys paused beside him. He did not look up for a moment. Teddy gave
a little impatient wriggle. The pleasant young man raised his eyes and
viewed the lads with a slight frown.

“You mustn’t come to me at this hour, boys,” he reproved. “That is,
unless you were sent here on an errand.”

“The principal of the school sent us down to you, sir,” began Harry.
“We did not know we were obliged to have school slips.”

Mr. Marsh’s face had grown a trifle stern at Harry’s first words.
Was it possible that he had been mistaken in these boys? Had they
transgressed so soon? With the last sentence, however, his expression
changed.

“Of course you didn’t know. That was my fault. I should have told you.
Did you tell Miss Pierce that I forgot to give them to you?”

“No, sir,” returned Teddy. “The Drag----”

“We did not think it necessary to tell her, sir.” Harry interrupted
Teddy just in time. The red-haired boy turned scarlet as a poppy and
meekly subsided.

Mr. Marsh studied Harry’s clear, honest face for an instant. Moved by
a sudden impulse he reached forth his hand to Harry. “Thank you, my
boy,” he said. “My shoulders are broad enough to bear just censure.
Still I appreciate your kindly spirit. Let me tell you something,
boys. Occasions often arise when it is only fair and right for a boy
to shield himself, even at the expense of someone else, provided that
someone else is to blame. But the boy who can fight his own battles
without drawing others into them is worthy of praise. Just remember
that. Here are your school slips. If you feel that you wish to consult
me about your affairs, I am always ready to hear whatever you may wish
to say to me, between five and half-past five o’clock every afternoon.”

“Thank you, sir.” This from both boys as they turned to go.

“Hm-m,” sniffed Teddy as they started away from Mr. Marsh’s desk. “He
didn’t shake hands with me.”

“I was surprised,” admitted Harry.

“Te-he,” snickered Teddy. “I came pretty near calling that old
principal ‘Dragoness’ right out. I’d’a said it, if you hadn’t begun to
talk so quick.”

“Yes, I know it.” Harry could not repress a smile. “I don’t suppose
it will do the least bit of good for me to tell you again not to give
people funny names.”

“Huh!” exploded Teddy, again. “It don’t hurt ’em any. They can’t hear
’em.”

“You might forget yourself as you did to-day,” reminded Harry.
“How would you like it if someone called you----” Harry eyed Teddy
speculatively--“a red-head.”

“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it?” demanded Teddy. “I wouldn’t care what
folks called me,” he added with a fine air of indifference, “if they
didn’t call me too early in the morning.”

“Just wait until someone calls you a name and see,” Harry predicted.

By this time the boys had reached the school rooms and conversation
between them ceased. Entering the room Miss Pierce had designated,
they tendered their slips to the principal, who stood talking to a
fair-haired young woman. There were perhaps eighteen boys seated at the
desks.

“Which of you is Harry Harding?” she asked, examining the slips, then
fixing her pale-blue eyes on the two boys.

“I am he, ma’am,” returned Harry.

“Where did you go to school? What grade were you in? How old are you?”
came the rapid questions.

Harry answered them in turn.

“I shall put you in Section I of Company A. If you cannot keep up with
the class, you will be demoted.” Then she put Teddy through the same
brief catechism, assigning him also to Section I, which was the room on
the left.

Obeying her brusque command, “Come with me, boys,” the two lads
followed her out of the door and into the left-hand class-room. Their
eyes turned involuntarily toward their new teacher. She stood with her
back toward them, facing her class. At the sound of the opening door,
she turned her head. Teddy drew a long breath of relief. This teacher
might be cross, but at least she was pretty. She had big, brown eyes
and soft, fluffy, brown hair, and as she nodded good morning to Miss
Pierce, her smile disclosed white, even teeth, while two deep dimples
appeared in her cheeks.

“Here are two new boys, Miss Leonard.” Miss Pierce indicated Teddy and
Harry with a gesture which implied that they were of small consequence.
Then she marched majestically out of the room, leaving the newcomers to
their fate.

That fate promised to be a happy one. If Miss Leonard were nice as
well as pretty, school might be endurable, was Teddy’s thought, while
Harry’s eyes sparkled with delight. He was sure Miss Leonard liked
boys. He was even surer when he heard her say, “Boys, we are glad to
welcome you to our section. We have just two vacant seats. I think
they must have been waiting for you. I will put your names on my
register; then you can take your places.”

Stepping over to her desk, she beckoned the two boys to her side and
wrote their names on the register. Then she conducted them down the
center aisle between the rows of desks to two empty seats, the last two
on the last of the four rows of seats, each row of which contained six
seats.

“Faces front,” reminded Miss Leonard, gently, as pair after pair of
curious eyes were directed toward these latest arrivals. “After classes
you may stop and speak to the new members of our school-room family.
All ready for your writing lesson, boys. Take out copy books. Remember,
we are going to work quickly and quietly.” She walked to the front of
the room and faced her class.

Miss Leonard did not raise her voice above an ordinary conversational
tone, yet her class obeyed her at once, with the exception of a stout,
cross-faced boy who occupied the seat directly across from Teddy in the
next section. He was glaring at Teddy as though about to pounce upon
him, then as Teddy’s eyes happened to rest on him, he screwed his fat
face into a most hideous contortion.

Teddy leaned forward and touched Harry on the shoulder. “Well, if here
isn’t the elephant,” he said in a loud whisper. “Dear old Fatty Felix.”

Unluckily, the fat boy’s ears were sharp. He heard the whispered words
“elephant” and “Fatty Felix.” His broad face grew very red; then he
raised his hand. Before Miss Leonard could ascertain the cause of the
upraised hand, he fairly shouted out, “Teacher, _he_,” pointing a
pudgy, accusing forefinger at Teddy, “called me ‘elephant’ an’ ‘Fatty
Felix,’ an’ Tuesday he knocked my tray out of my hand in the lunch room
and spilled my dinner. He did it apurpose. He wasn’t goin’ to pay for
it, neither.”

A tense, little figure, crowned with a mop of red hair launched itself
straight at the now maliciously-grinning fat boy. Another second and
Teddy’s closed fists would have landed on his tormentor’s body with all
the force which an angry little boy can put into blows. Someone caught
him and set him down hard in his seat. He raised astonished eyes to
Harry’s stern face. “You crazy boy,” hissed Harry. “Now you _are_ in
for it!”

“He can’t say I wasn’t goin’ to pay for his old lunch without gettin’
punched,” sputtered Teddy, wriggling from Harry’s grasp.

“Boys, what does this mean?” Miss Leonard’s dimples were not in
evidence. She looked uncompromisingly stern, and her eyes sparkled
angrily. “Tell me, at once.” The other occupants of the class set up an
excited buzzing.

“Silence!” Miss Leonard’s voice rang out with subduing effect. “Now,”
turning to the fat boy, “what have you to say for yourself, sir?”

The boy began a loud arraignment of Teddy’s misdeeds.

Miss Leonard’s face expressed an astonishment which changed to lively
displeasure, as the boy again blared forth his accusation of Teddy’s
refusal to pay for the damage he had caused to his luncheon.

“He is not telling the truth, Miss Leonard,” broke in a quiet voice.

Unable to endure hearing Teddy maligned in this wholesale fashion,
Harry Harding had come to his rescue.



CHAPTER IX

THE BITTERNESS OF INJUSTICE


There was a tense silence in the schoolroom. Every eye was directed
toward the two lads whose appearance had been the signal for so much
commotion. They had made a decidedly disturbing entrance into school,
to say the least.

Miss Leonard regarded Harry searchingly. His clear, unwavering glance
seemed to assure her of his honesty of purpose. “Suppose you tell me
all about this argument,” she said quietly. “You appear to understand
what it means. First, let me ask you why you say that this boy,” she
indicated the fat youth, “is not telling the truth.”

“I know that he is not telling the truth, because I was in the
lunch-room when Ted--this boy, upset his tray. It was entirely an
accident. He was looking at something else and bumped into the boy. The
boy was very angry. He tried to make my friend pay fifteen cents, when
his dinner cost ten. My friend gave him ten cents, and I suppose he
bought another dinner.”

“He said he’d get even with me,” put in Teddy.

“Wait a moment!” Miss Leonard held up her hand. “I have not asked you
to say anything yet,” she reminded. Then she turned to the fat boy.
“Howard, did you make all this commotion simply because you wanted to
‘be even’ with this boy?”

“He called me ‘elephant’ and ‘Fatty Felix,’” whined the boy addressed
as Howard. “He spoiled my dinner apurpose.”

“He made a face at me,” declared Teddy, scowling. “That’s why I called
him names. We were minding our own affairs and he----”

“Howard, it looks to me as though you began this quarrel. Therefore,
you are to apologize to Theodore for speaking falsely of him and for
making a face at him. You, Theodore, must apologize to Howard for
calling him unkind names. Now, Howard.”

Howard glared at the red-haired boy, whose impish face wore a most
tantalizing grin, then he mumbled a most unwilling apology.

“I’m sorry I had to call him names. I wouldn’t have done it if he
hadn’t made a face at me.” Teddy addressed this naïve apology to Miss
Leonard, rather than the injured Howard.

Miss Leonard had difficulty in keeping an unsmiling face. Teddy’s
offhand, unrepentant manner of apologizing was funny in the extreme.
She felt her heart warm toward this mischievous-faced, ruddy-haired
boy. She liked the honesty that peeped out from behind the mischief,
just as she disliked the mean, dishonorable spirit of which she knew
Howard Randall, her oldest and most stupid pupil, to be possessed.

“Now, boys, I shall expect you to mind your own affairs strictly, in
future. If any more such scenes occur, I shall send you to Mr. Keene.
As it is, I shall give each of you a demerit. Hand me your cards.”

The boys’ hands traveled reluctantly to the breast pockets of their
coats. Teddy brought forth a card devoid, by lucky chance, of black
marks. Howard Randall’s card, however, was decorated with several
evidences of his failure to obey the rules of Martin Brothers’ store.

“I am sorry to be obliged to give a boy a demerit before he has been my
pupil ten minutes,” she said with a significance that made Teddy hang
his head and resolve to keep his card clear thereafter.

Her pretty face grew perceptibly harder as she leveled cold eyes upon
the fat boy. “This is the fifth demerit for you this month, sir.
Remember, October is not half over. It would pay you to make up your
mind to be a good boy. Now, listen to me. The next time I have occasion
to speak to you I shall send you to Miss Pierce and tell her that I do
not care to have a boy like you in my class.”

The fat boy listened in sulky silence to Miss Leonard’s threat. As she
turned and walked down the aisle to her desk, he made a face at her
retreating back. Several boys, who were watching him, giggled. The
teacher eyed him sharply as she faced her class, but by this time the
fat boy’s face had returned to its expression of sullenness.

After this break in the usual routine of the school work, matters
progressed more smoothly. Miss Leonard interviewed Teddy and Harry as
to their class standing in the schools which they had attended previous
to their entry into the store. She was not slow to perceive Harry’s
eagerness for study, and that he was farther advanced than the majority
of the boys in her class. He seemed so anxious to learn, too. She
felt that it would be a pleasure to teach him. She had serious doubts
of Teddy, however. By no means did she hold him blameless for the
recent disturbance. Still, there was something very likable about him.
At least Teddy was honest and straightforward. This would, perhaps,
outweigh his mischievous tendencies. She determined to keep him busy
every moment of the time he spent in her class-room, and in this
respect she showed that rare good sense which had made her the most
successful teacher in Martin Brothers’ school for boys.

As each boy had only two mornings in the week in which to attend
school, these mornings were extremely busy ones. On Tuesday and Friday
Company B went to school, on Wednesday and Saturday it was Company
C’s turn. School opened promptly at half-past seven o’clock, with the
reading of the Bible. In Miss Leonard’s room each boy was required
to recite a Bible verse or poetical quotation. The recital of the
quotations followed the Bible reading. Then the remainder of the time
until eight o’clock was devoted to penmanship, the boys copying a
paragraph placed on the large blackboard which took up most of the wall
space directly behind Miss Leonard’s desk. A peculiarity of the writing
lesson was that once the copy was begun it could not be erased or
re-written. It must stand as it had been originally put down. This was
Miss Leonard’s own idea, and it went far toward inculcating the habits
of neatness and carefulness in writing.

From eight o’clock until half-past eight, the three sections joined in
gymnastic exercises on one morning and on the other the same period was
devoted to concert singing. On the same floor with the schoolrooms a
small gymnasium had been fitted with wands, dumb-bells, Indian clubs,
and all the paraphernalia of a high-school gymnasium. Their instructor
was a young salesman in the sporting goods department, who left the
selling floor for a half hour every other morning to give the boys the
benefit of his services.

From half-past eight until nine o’clock came the arithmetic recitation,
followed by a half hour of geography. From half-past nine until ten
o’clock was a study hour, followed by half an hour of English grammar
and composition. From half-past ten until a quarter to eleven was also
given over to study, and the last fifteen minutes of the morning were
devoted to spelling. As far as possible the boys were given no home
work to do, although they were privileged to prepare their arithmetic,
English or geography lessons outside of school, if they failed to
finish them during the time allotted during each school morning for
study.

Such was the programme of the school in which Teddy and Harry now
found themselves. Harry’s eyes shone with a great happiness, as the
morning wore away and the several periods of recitation and study came
and went, while for the first time in his life, perhaps, Teddy was
genuinely interested in school.

When, at eleven o’clock, Section A filed out of the schoolroom, Teddy
hurried to catch up with Harry, who was walking a few steps ahead of
him. “How about it?” he asked jocularly. He was not quite sure how
Harry had taken his lapse from good conduct.

“How about what?” retorted Harry, purposely dense.

“Wh-y--er--school,” beamed Teddy. “It wasn’t so _bad_, after all.”

“Oh, no, _school_ wasn’t bad,” flung back Harry with unmistakable
emphasis.

Teddy grinned cheerfully. “Well, it wasn’t your fault, anyway. You told
me not to call people names. I’m much obliged to you for being on my
side, though.”

“I wouldn’t have helped you at all if that boy had told the truth,”
informed Harry calmly. “You got just what you deserved, a demerit. But
it wasn’t fair in that Randall boy to say what he said.”

“Well, I’m not going to get any more demerits. Not unless I’m asleep
and somebody steals my card and puts ’em there.”

“You’d never get any while you were asleep. That’s when you are really
good,” was Harry’s sly comment.

Teddy’s grin grew broad again. “Some knock,” he murmured. “Well, here’s
where I leave you. See you to-night.”

“All right,” nodded Harry. His eyes followed Teddy as he ran down a
basement stairway. He turned in the direction of his own department.
Suddenly a peevish voice addressed him: “Where’s the perfume counter,
boy?” He felt a decided poke between the shoulders.

Harry whirled and saw a cross-looking old man with a cane partly
raised, as though to poke him again if necessary.

“Two aisles down, turn to your left, sir,” answered Harry politely.

“I’d like to know who can make anything of that information,” snapped
the old man. “You take me down there, boy. That’s what you’re here for.”

“Very well, sir, I will.” Harry led the way down the aisle toward
the perfumes, while the old man trotted after him, grumbling that he
couldn’t see why department stores tried to hide their wares if they
expected to sell them.

It was at least ten minutes before Harry succeeded in getting away from
the ill-natured customer, who insisted that the boy call a salesgirl to
wait on him.

“Oh, dear,” he breathed in consternation, as, free at last, he hurried
toward his department. He had caught sight of the clock in the book
department. It was seventeen minutes past eleven. He hurried down the
aisle that separated the books from the jewelry, so intent on reaching
the exchange desk that he did not see a man, carrying several books,
who stepped from a narrow aisle, formed by several tables, into the
main one.

Crash! The books fell from the man’s hands to the floor. The impact of
the collision sent both man and boy backward several steps.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I did not see you coming.” Harry stooped.
Gathering up the fallen books, he presented them to the stranger, a
fine-looking man of perhaps forty-two, with keen, gray eyes and black
hair, lightly touched with gray at the temples.

“It was my fault, my lad,” smiled the man. “I was so busy thinking I
was not looking where I walked.”

His gray eyes took in the boy from head to foot with a searching glance
that contained decided approval.

“What a nice man,” was Harry’s thought as he turned away. “I wonder
who he is. He must be a salesman in the books. He had all those books.
My goodness! It’s twenty minutes after eleven o’clock. What will Mr.
Barton say, I wonder. Still, I couldn’t help taking that man to the
perfumes.”

Harry was soon to learn what Mr. Barton had to say. He had hardly
reached the exchange desk when he saw the aisle manager bearing down
upon him, looking like a cross old bird.

“Look at that clock,” began Mr. Barton in a voice that could be heard
the length of the department. “Eleven minutes late. Give me your card.
If you play along the way, you mustn’t expect I’m going to excuse you.
Oh, no!”

“Mr. Barton, I would have been here on time if----”

“You hadn’t stopped to fool with some other boy,” supplied the man
sarcastically. “Where’s your card? Give it to me, I say.”

“But, Mr. Barton,” protested Harry, “I had to show an old gentleman
where the perfume----”

“That’ll do,” roared the aisle manager. Harry’s mild protest had
aroused his temper. “Either give me your card, or up to the front you
go.”

Harry said no more. With his boyish face white and set he handed Mr.
Barton his precious card, the card he had dreamed of keeping clear and
fair.

“There’s one for tardiness, one for impertinence, and one for--lying.
You can’t fool me with a yarn about having to show a customer a
department. I’ll let you go with demerits, this time, but don’t you
ever lie to me again. I know too much about boys.”

Harry’s face turned from white to scarlet. He clenched his hands in an
effort to control himself. It seemed to him that for the first time
in his life he knew what hatred really meant. Now he understood, or
thought he understood, Teddy’s rooted dislike for his former teacher,
Miss Alton.

“Here, take your card and put it away.” Mr. Barton thrust Harry’s card
into his hands and stalked off. The boy gazed gloomily at the three
black marks that loomed in a sinister row on the bit of cardboard that
spelled his future in the store, while, for the first time, deep in his
soul, rankled and stung the bitterness of injustice.



CHAPTER X

BREAKERS AHEAD FOR HARRY


“Don’t feel so bad about it, Kiddy.” It was the sympathetic Miss Welch
who addressed Harry. Seated at the exchange desk she had witnessed Mr.
Barton’s harsh, unjust manner of dealing with Harry. Her pretty eyes
still snapped with angry sympathy as she tried to comfort the boy, who
looked ready to cry.

Harry clenched his hands hard, and manfully swallowed the lump that
rose in his throat. He was a sturdy boy and not given to tears, but
now his sense of outraged justice was so great that they were very
near to falling. “I--I----” he stammered, then stopped, fighting for
self-control.

“Don’t I know you wasn’t to blame?” soothed Miss Welch’s kindly voice.
“Ain’t I seen him get after other boys besides you, when they hadn’t
done a thing? Don’t tell me. You don’t have to. I guess I know old
Smarty Barty.”

Harry’s woe-begone face lightened a little at Miss Welch’s
disrespectful reference to the formidable Mr. Barton.

“Oh, see the gloom break up!” she exclaimed in pretended astonishment.
“I guess it’ll be a nice day after all. How about it, Kiddy?”

“I guess it will,” smiled Harry. Then he sighed. “I couldn’t help
being late, Miss Welch. First an old man asked me where the perfumes
were. I directed him to them, but he said I’d have to go with him to
show him. I was afraid he’d report me, so I went with him. Then, just
as I was coming through the book department, I bumped into a man with
some books. The books fell to the floor and I stooped to pick them up.
Then I came here as fast as ever I could, but I was ten minutes late.
Now I’ve got three demerits on my card, and I wanted to keep it so
nice--and--clean.” Harry’s voice broke.

“Never mind, Kiddy, never mind,” comforted Miss Welch. “Just let me put
you wise, though. Don’t have nothing to do with these old fuss-budgets
that want you to go on a personally conducted tour of the store with
’em. Answer ’em politely if they ask you anything, and then beat it
out of their vicinity as fast as you can. They won’t report you. They
wouldn’t know you from Adam if they saw you two minutes afterward.
Course, you couldn’t help but pick up those books. You’re all right,
youngster, and you just keep on being the little gentleman you are, no
matter what fifty Smarty Bartys have to say.

“Now, cheer up. I’m goin’ to tell you something funny. ’Bout half an
hour ago, while you was up to school, a long, thin, solemn-looking
woman came up to the desk and says in a kind of a scared voice, ‘Is
this the exchange desk?’

“‘It is,’ says I, ‘what can I do for you?’

“She hands me a big package and says, ‘I bought two little gold
baby-pins here day before yesterday on a transfer, and when they come
home they was two pairs of men’s overalls. They wasn’t no pins at all.’
Maybe I didn’t laugh. I couldn’t help it. When the woman saw me laugh,
she grinned a kind of a sickly grin, too. Now, wasn’t that funny?”

Miss Welch leaned back in her chair and indulged in a fresh burst
of laughter. “Ha, ha! That certainly was a good one on the Transfer
Department,” she chuckled. “They certainly changed things around that
time.”

Harry forgot his troubles and joined in the laugh. The sunshine cast by
the good-natured exchange clerk had scattered his gloom for the time
being, at least. “I’ll try harder than ever,” he thought, setting his
boyish mouth firmly. “He sha’n’t give me any more demerits. I guess
everybody has to learn things by experience.”

He was greatly surprised and not a little perplexed that afternoon
when Mr. Barton beckoned to him from one of the aisles and said in an
actually pleasant tone, “45, I want you to go on an errand. Here is a
pass. Show this to the time-keeper as you go out. Come with me and I
will tell you what you are to do.” Beckoning to Harry, he strode down
the aisle, the boy at his heels. At the extreme end of the jewelry
department was a small room in which Mr. Barton kept his personal
effects. It had formerly been used by the buyer of the jewelry as an
office. Now it held nothing but empty boxes and odds and ends that had
drifted into it. Unlocking a small closet, Mr. Barton took from it a
good-sized pasteboard box. “Here, boy, I want you to take this to 1855
Commerce Street. It goes to Jacoby’s tailor shop. Here’s his card.
There’s a note in the box. Just ask for Mr. Jacoby, and say that Mr.
Barton sent you. It won’t take you long.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Harry obediently. “Shall I go now?”

“Yes, and get back as soon as you can.” Mr. Barton’s grim features
relaxed into what he evidently considered a pleasant smile.

Taking the box under his arm, Harry started toward the men’s coat room
for his cap. As he walked, he examined the bit of paper. It was a
printed form of store pass, and at the bottom was written, “On store
business. Barton.”

The man at the time-desk examined the slip indifferently, made a
mysterious mark on it with a red pencil, and shoved it back to Harry.
It was not until Harry had left the store behind and walked at least
a block that he took the card bearing the tailor’s address from his
pocket and again glanced at the street and number. Martin Brothers’
store fronted on Commerce Street. It took up the entire space between
numbers five and six hundred. But it was to number 1855 that Mr.
Barton was sending him. Twelve long, city blocks lay before him.
The boy looked rather dismayed; not because he objected to the long
walk in the crisp, autumn air, but because of the time it would take
him to go to the shop and return. Harry wondered vaguely if it were
not customary to allow the messengers their carfare when on outside
business for the store. Perhaps Mr. Barton had forgotten all about
it. He was decidedly absent-minded. Even in the short time Harry had
been stationed at the exchange desk, he had discovered that. Had he
not heard Miss Welch scold frequently over Mr. Barton’s mistakes, due
to his absent-mindedness? But he was so crabbed that she never dared
call him to account openly for them. She had to content herself with
throwing out barbed insinuations, to which he never appeared to pay the
slightest attention.

Harry soon forgot his brief uneasiness over the distance to his
destination and trudged briskly along the city streets, happy in being
out in the fresh air. After twenty minutes fast walking he arrived
at the shop. Over the door hung a large sign, which read, “A. Jacoby,
Repairing, Cleaning and Pressing Garments While You Wait.” It was
followed by a list of prices.

Harry delivered the box into the hands of a stout, gray-haired man with
a red face and a decided German accent. The man opened the box. In it
lay a blue serge suit. On top of the suit lay a note. The tailor read
the note, then motioning Harry to a chair he said, “Sit down and vait.
It vill be a little while only before I can do dot shob for Meester
Parton.”

The old man took the suit over one arm and trotted off into an
adjoining room with it.

Harry sat down obediently enough. He glanced curiously about him at
the rows of suits, single coats and trousers that hung on racks set
on three sides of the room, each garment bearing a large white tag.
Harry always made it a point to be interested in all that he saw, but
tailoring and repairing did not in the least appeal to him. After
twenty minutes had passed he began to feel slightly impatient. Mr.
Barton had said it would not take him long. When twice twenty minutes
had slipped away, he grew uneasy. It had been twenty minutes past two
o’clock when he left the store. It was now twenty minutes past three. A
whole hour had vanished.

“Won’t Mr. Barton’s suit be ready soon, sir?” he asked the gray-haired
proprietor politely, as Mr. Jacoby waddled into view at the sound of
the door-bell.

“Ven it ees hready, I dell you, poy,” the old man returned placidly,
then went on explaining, to a beetle-browed young man who had just come
in, why it would be advisable to steam clean a much-soiled gray suit he
had brought into A. Jacoby’s dominion for renovation.

Half-past three, then a quarter to four arrived. Harry fidgeted
uneasily. He was in an agony of apprehension lest Mr. Barton might
accuse him of playing along the way. At four o’clock, A. Jacoby waddled
into the room where Harry sat in despair. The blue serge suit hung over
one pudgy arm.

“You dell Mr. Parton he should pring his glose alhready sooner. Next
dime he haf to vait until the next tay.” The old man was folding the
suit in the box as he talked. It seemed to Harry that he was hours
tying up the box. “Dell him he can bay me any dime,” he instructed
Harry.

“Two hours in that shop, and it’ll take twenty minutes to get back to
the store. Oh, if I just had a nickel.” He looked longingly at the cars
as they lumbered by him, then squaring his shoulders he set off toward
Martin Brothers’ Store almost on a run.

He thought the time-keeper eyed him rather suspiciously as he tendered
his slip at the time-desk. He wondered if the man thought he had been
loitering. But what would Mr. Barton say? That was the all-important
question. Harry decided that if Mr. Barton accused him of playing
along the way, he would suggest that he call A. Jacoby himself on the
telephone and thus find out the time he left the tailor shop.

Harry hastily handed his cap to the boy who was on duty in the
coat-room and hurried up the nearest stairway, two steps at a time.
As he neared the exchange desk number 10, his eyes traveled over the
jewelry department, in a search for Mr. Barton. Then suddenly he heard
an indignant voice exclaim, “Well, 45, I wonder where _you’ve_ been all
afternoon!”

Harry whirled to face Miss Welch’s disapproving eyes. Her pretty face
was not lighted by its usual smile. She looked distinctly out of humor.

“I didn’t think it of you, Kid,” she replied. “I thought you was a good
boy. Here, when I’m as busy as can be, you go and lose yourself for
all afternoon. I nearly ruined my voice hollering for you, and maybe
Mr. Seymour ain’t mad. He flopped up here with some lady friend of his
awhile ago. She wanted to exchange a ring and I had no boy to send with
her to the department. He had to go himself. After she was gone he came
back and I had to give him your number. He asked Smarty Barton where
you was and he said he sent you to the stock-room half an hour ago,
and you’d oughta been back. Now there’s just this about it, Kid. If you
aren’t going to be on the job when I need you, then I’m going to ask
for another boy. I’ve tried to be good to you and you ought to kinda
look out for me and be Johnny-on-the-spot when I call, ‘Boy,’ without
my wasting my breath and splitting my throat yelling for you.”

Harry stared at the ruffled exchange clerk in silent amazement. Could
he believe his ears? What was it Miss Welch had just said about Mr.
Barton?

“I guess you know you didn’t do right,” went on Miss Welch. “I
certainly am su’prised and sorry.”

“Miss Welch,” Harry’s voice rose in excitement. “I wasn’t up in the
stock-room. Why, I don’t even know where it is. I was out of the store
on an errand for Mr. Barton.”

It was the exchange clerk’s turn to stare. There was absolute truth in
the boy’s clear eyes. They met hers unflinchingly.

“Well, what do you think of that?” she muttered. “On an errand for old
Smarty! Where’d he send you?”

“To a tailor shop on Commerce Street. I had to take a blue suit there
to be pressed. I had to wait for it, and it took a long time. He gave
me a store pass. I’m afraid he’ll scold me, though, for being gone so
long. But I----”

“Scold you,” snorted Miss Welch. “Don’t you worry. He won’t scold
you. The mean old reprobate! Here he sends you out on an errand for
him and then tells Mr. Seymour he sent you to the stock-room. Oh, just
wait till the next time he gets on his ear around here. I’ll hand him
something. Now, you listen to me, Harry. I mighta known you was too
good a kid to go playing hookey from your department. Don’t you ever go
on personal errands for anybody but a real boss. No aisle man can send
you out with his clothes or his laundry or to buy theatre tickets or
anything like that. Some of ’em do it, I know, but they’re generally
men enough to stand up and say so. If he tries it again, say ‘No,’
right out flat. Just like that. He can’t do a thing to you, because if
he reported you he’d have to tell on himself. Catch him doing that!”

“But what shall I say if Mr. Seymour asks me about to-day?” queried
Harry, his boyish face very sober.

“Tell him--let me see--tell him--the truth, of course. You don’t love
Smarty Barton so much that you want to be a nice, gentle martyr for
him, do you?”

“No-o-o, only I hate to--tell tales,” faltered Harry.

“Humph!” ejaculated the exchange clerk with deep scorn. “Well, wait and
see. Maybe Mr. Seymour won’t think of it again. But you remember what I
told you. No more errands for S. B. I’ll bet you he never gave you a
cent of carfare, now did he?”

Harry shook his head.

“Can you beat it?” muttered Miss Welch. “Yes, lady, this is the
exchange desk.” She turned to the customer who had asked the question.
“Where’s your check? You’ll have to get the aisle manager to sign it.”

Harry moved a little away from the desk, still keeping within call.
His honest young soul rebelled against Mr. Barton’s treachery. He made
up his mind, however, that he would not betray the aisle manager if he
could avoid doing so, provided Mr. Seymour should take him to task for
his long absence from the floor. But he hoped with all his heart that
Mr. Barton would not ask him to go on another similar errand.



CHAPTER XI

TEDDY BURKE DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF


But while Harry Harding was finding life in a department store far
from tranquil, Teddy Burke was making himself very much at home in the
prosaic realm of kettles and pans. In fact, the kettles and pans were
but a small part of department 40. It did not take the active Teddy
long to discover this. The kingdom of house furnishings spread over a
large part of the basement, and from a profound contempt for the lowly
conveniences and necessities of the housekeeper, he developed at least
a good-natured tolerance for the engines of housekeeping, great and
small.

It did not take him long to explore every foot of the territory into
which his lot had been cast, and before he had been in the department a
week he knew everyone in it. The demonstrator who concocted appetizing
dishes on her shining gas range became his firm friend and slipped him
many a surreptitious dainty. Mr. Duffield, the aisle manager, liked
Teddy chiefly because he was unusually keen of understanding. “I never
have to tell 65 a thing more than once,” he was wont to remark to the
salesmen. Samuel Hickson, the red-haired young man, was Teddy’s chief
crony, however, and Teddy liked nothing better than to travel about
at his heels. Mr. Hickson laughingly referred to Teddy as his mascot,
and more than once the little boy’s sharp eyes singled out prospective
customers “who looked as though they wanted a whole lot of things,” and
put his friend on their trail.

“Say,” began Teddy one afternoon when during a lull in business he
lined his thin little body beside Hickson, who stood leaning against
a table, peering anxiously across the wide stretch of household wares
for customers. It had been an unusually dull day and few sales were
recorded on Hickson’s book. “Who’s this man Everett they’re always
talkin’ about?”

“Mr. Everett’s the buyer. He’s been in New York ever since you came. I
expect to see him in here most any time.”

“What do you suppose he’ll think of me?” asked Teddy naïvely.

The salesman laughed. “Probably he’ll never see you, unless he happens
to want you to go on an errand. Who do you think you are, Reddy?”

Teddy’s face fell, then he put on an expression of ridiculous dignity,
puffed out his chest and said, “Well, I guess I’m just as much as some
other people I know.”

The salesman only laughed the louder. Looking deeply injured, Teddy
marched off down a narrow aisle, between high-stacked rows of granite
ware, to a section reserved entirely for mops, brooms, long-handled
brushes and other paraphernalia for cleaning.

“I guess if the buyer saw me once, he’d remember my hair, anyhow,”
Teddy muttered. At that moment his eyes were attracted to a curious,
many-colored figure poking disconsolately along toward him. “She’s an
Eyetalion,” decided Ted. “I guess she’s just got here to America.” The
woman wore a red skirt and a bright blue waist; a wide red and yellow
kerchief was folded about her shoulders. On her head she wore a red
silk handkerchief with a ringed red and white border, the ends of which
were tied under her chin. In her ears hung long hoops of gold that
swung and shook as she walked. She was looking eagerly from side to
side as though in search of something.

While Teddy was still several yards from her, a saleswoman approached
and addressed the woman.

“What can I show you, madam?” The saleswoman smiled ingratiatingly.

Whether the stranger understood the other woman’s words or not, she at
least seemed to comprehend the offer of services. With a smile more
than equal to the one bestowed upon her, she gestured with both hands
as though pushing something ahead of her. “Aht, aht!” she exclaimed,
with another vigorous shoving forward of both hands.

“Oh, yes, I see.” The saleswoman stepped to a stack of long-handled
floor brushes, and selecting one demonstrated its good qualities for
the customer’s benefit.

The Italian woman smiled broadly, but shook her head. “Aht, aht,” she
repeated plaintively.

By this time two other saleswomen, attracted by the unusual spectacle
the woman presented, joined the first.

“Aht, aht,” pleaded the woman, repeating her gesture.

“She wants a mop. That’s what she wants,” nodded one of the women, a
tall, stout blonde, whom Teddy had privately named “The Gobbler,” on
account of her loud voice.

“Yes, show her a mop,” echoed the third saleswoman.

The mop was duly shown. A carpet-sweeper was next paraded forth. It was
followed by a broom. The Italian woman seemed highly appreciative of
the display. She continued to smile broadly, although she still shook
her head and repeated her monotonous, “aht, aht.”

Gradually a dozen persons drifted to the scene of action. As they
stood viewing the brisk demonstration of brooms, sweepers and mops,
into their midst strode a rather slender, blue-eyed man, with a
close-lipped, resolute mouth and a distinct air of business about him.

“What does this woman want?” he asked sharply.

“We don’t know,” blared forth the saleswoman whom Teddy had wickedly
named the Gobbler. “We’ve showed her everything. She keeps going like
this and saying, ‘Aht!’”

“Give me that carpet-sweeper,” ordered the man. He ran it back and
forth in front of the smiling customer.

“No--no; aht!” The misunderstood daughter of Italy made a desperate
sweep of her arms.

Suddenly, a wide smile irradiated Teddy Burke’s freckled face. Stepping
directly up to the woman he said, “Come along. I know what you want.
You want to get out of the store. Out--_out_,” he emphasized.

“Aht!” The Italian clasped her fat brown hands in rapture and, nodding
delightedly to her amazed audience, shuffled after Teddy, who had
already started up the aisle toward an elevator.

“Forevermore!” gasped the Gobbler. “I’d like to know how that boy
guessed what she wanted.”

“Who is that boy?” came the sharp question from the business-like man.

“His name is Teddy. That’s all I know about him,” volunteered one of
the saleswomen.

“He’s the messenger boy in this department,” stated another girl,
better informed.

“He’s a very bright boy,” cut in the man decisively, “and decidedly
observing.” Then he marched off down the aisle to his office, while
the little knot of salespersons resumed their usual stations in their
department.



CHAPTER XII

A DISASTROUS COMBAT


“Say, Reddy,” called Sam Hickson, a little later. A chance customer had
prevented him from joining the group about the Italian woman. “Look
down the aisle. There’s the buyer, if you’re dying to see him.”

“Oh, I saw him long ago,” drawled Teddy. “He was over there with that
Eyetalion woman who was lost in the wilds of Martins’ basement.” He
related the incident to Hickson who had been busy with a customer at
that time.

Hickson laughed heartily. “And it took little Reddy to show ’em. I
guess maybe Mr. Everett _will_ know you the next time he sees you.”

But before the day was over, Mr. Everett was destined to receive a most
vivid impression of Teddy. The long, dull afternoon was drawing slowly
to a close. The wall clock at one end of the department pointed to a
quarter to five.

“I’m not sorry this day’s pretty near done,” grumbled Sam Hickson to
Teddy. “I haven’t sold enough to-day to earn my salary, let alone my
commission.”

“If you don’t sell enough of this junk to earn your salary, will you
get fired?” was Teddy’s anxious inquiry.

“Well, Martin Brothers haven’t said anything yet about keeping me for
an ornament,” Hickson made humorous answer.

“Te, he!” snickered Teddy, “I guess they think these old kettles and
pans are nicer ornaments than you are. All they have to do is to hang
around here till somebody buys ’em, or they jump off the table,” he
added, as, his arm coming into contact with a long-handled dipper, it
bounced to the floor with a protesting bang. “I’m goin’ to take a walk
down there where the wash boilers grow.”

Teddy slammed the dipper into its accustomed place and strolled down
the aisle, his alert, black eyes roving over the department in search
of adventure. He could never pass the rows of wash boilers without
slyly lifting the lid of one of them and holding it in the position of
a shield. He always wondered how cannibals and head-hunters could hold
those great, clumsy things in one hand and fight with the other. To-day
he peered sharply about to see if anyone was observing him. That end of
the department was apparently deserted. Far up the aisle the Gobbler
was expatiating on the glories of a clothes-wringer to a stolid-faced
woman, who clamored for a bargain in wringers. The loud gobble, gobble
of the saleswoman’s strident voice floated down the aisle to Teddy.
It meant that the Gobbler was too much taken up with her customer to
trouble herself about him. With the shield-like lid in his hand he
flitted through a cross-aisle, like a mischievous little shadow, to a
corner where a collection of clothes-poles stood. He ran his eye over
the lot, then singling out the smallest one, reached for it. Again he
glanced quickly about him. The coast was clear.

Holding his improvised shield in an attitude of defence, Teddy charged
down the deserted aisle, the clothes-pole poised threateningly. His
impish face was aglow with the excitement of his pretended warfare.
At the end of the cross-aisle he paused to reconnoiter. No one was in
sight. Teddy took a fresh grip on his shield and charged back again.
Suddenly, to his amazed horror, his shield came in violent contact with
something moving. The snarling, “Hi, there, whoda you think you’re
hitting,” proved the “something moving” to be a very angry human being.

The clothes-pole clattered to the floor. The victim of his spirited
charge was none other than his old enemy, Howard Randall, the fat boy.
Teddy hastily flung aside his shield and doubled his fists.

“Thought you’d lick me, didn’t you,” sputtered Howard. “Had to get a
clothes-pole and a boiler lid to do it, though. I c’n lick _you_ with
my two fists, and I’m goin’ to do it right now while no one’s lookin’.”
Howard aimed a savage blow at Teddy, who dodged nimbly, placing the
width of a narrow aisle table between them.

“’Fraid of me, ain’t you, baby,” sneered Howard, following Teddy up
menacingly. “I’ll show you.”

Both boys reached the end of the protecting table at the same instant
and met in the narrow aisle. Intent on what promised to be a real
battle, neither had noted the approach of a very short, stout man, who,
equally occupied in trying to gaze on both sides of the aisle at once,
had not yet perceived them.

“Take that, you red-head.” With unseeing rage Howard lunged viciously,
putting all his strength into the blow. Teddy again side-stepped.

A groan of deep anguish, followed by an angry snort rent the air.

Howard’s fist had missed Teddy but it had not missed the stout man. The
force with which Howard had delivered his blow had caused him to lurch
forward. Before he could recover his balance, he was seized in an iron
grip.

“You young rascal,” growled the enraged recipient of the blow, “I’ll
teach you to go about attacking customers!”

Teddy stood transfixed. Things had happened with most amazing
suddenness.

The fat boy wriggled ineffectively to free himself. “Aw, let me go,
mister. I didn’t mean to hit you. I was tryin’ to hit _him_,” he
begged, wagging his head toward Teddy.

“Let you go! I guess not, you young ruffian. Why don’t you pick a boy
of your own size, if you want to fight?”

“I guess it was some my fault,” put in Teddy. “I ran into him, and
he thought I did it on purpose. That’s why he was goin’ to fight me.
Please don’t report him, mister. He didn’t mean to hit you. There isn’t
a boy in this store that would do such a thing on purpose.”

Teddy’s black eyes were fastened on the man with desperate pleading.
The fat boy stared at Teddy in amazed unbelief.

The man looked from one lad to the other. His grim face softened. He
relaxed his hold on Howard’s arm. “I ought to report you both for
fighting,” he said, “but I’ve a boy about your age at home. So I’ll let
you go. You’d better be careful in future whom you hit. The next person
might not see things as I do.” He turned abruptly and walked off in the
opposite direction.

The belligerents watched him out of sight, then their glances met. The
fat boy looked somewhat sheepish. Teddy was grinning broadly.

“I’m glad he had a boy of his own,” he commented.

“You got me into that mess, but you got me out of it, too,” said Howard
slowly. “Say, honest, did you mean to upset my dinner that day?”

“Of course not,” sniffed Teddy, “but you had no business to try to
stick me for five cents. That was just the same as stealing.”

The fat boy colored hotly. “I don’t know what made me do it,” he
muttered. “_You_ hadn’t any business to call me an elephant and Fatty
Felix. I can’t help being fat any more’n you can help having red hair.”

“I guess I know that.” This time it was Teddy who blushed.

“Say, I don’t think you’re a baby. You’re a real scrapper for a boy of
your size. I kind of like you.”

“You’ve got an awful punch in that right arm of yours,” was Teddy’s
magnanimous tribute. “I’ll bet you hurt that man, all right.”

Both boys giggled.

Down the aisle floated the Gobbler’s voice, “Boy, boy. Num-ber 65.” She
had triumphantly put over the sale of the wringer.

“That’s my number. I’ll have to go. See you in school Thursday.”
Teddy’s little thin hand shot out. A fat hand clasped it half-way, and
marked the beginning of a friendship between the two lads that was to
be the making of Howard Randall.

As Teddy hurried up the aisle and the fat boy lumbered off about his
business, a man emerged from a small room not far from where the
disastrous encounter had taken place. His face wore a broad smile.
Seated in his office, through the partially-closed door, he had
heard the boyish altercation, and had decided not to interfere. The
surprising turn the affair took had convulsed him with mirth, despite
his efforts to sympathize with the maltreated customer. He had also
witnessed the end of the scene, and as he watched Teddy’s wiry, lithe
body speed up the aisle, he murmured, “Mischievous as that youngster
seems to be, he’s a boy with a future.”



CHAPTER XIII

THE MEASURE OF A MAN


“I’m glad you are going home with me to supper to-night,” was Harry’s
first speech as they left the assembly room that evening. As the boys
were obliged to line up for roll call before going home, the chums did
not now have to meet on the street corner. “I’ve a lot to tell you.”

“Good news?” questioned Teddy.

“No.” Harry’s face clouded. “I never have any good news to tell.” His
voice vibrated with bitterness.

“Go ahead. Tell me your troubles. After you’re done, I’ll tell you
something funny.”

Harry related the disheartening events of the afternoon. Teddy
listened, his elfish face unusually solemn.

“I wish I hadn’t called your aisle man ‘some crank,’” he deplored.
“That started the whole business.”

“No, I don’t believe so,” disagreed Harry. “If you hadn’t said a word
he would have treated me just the same. Miss Welch says he treats all
his boys that way. I can’t go on any more errands for him, it wouldn’t
be fair to Martin Brothers.”

“Suppose he asks you.”

“I’ll say ‘no,’” was Harry’s firm response, “but I’ll offer to do the
errand for him when the store closes.”

“You’re easy if you do anything of the kind,” burst forth Teddy. “Why,
he can’t say a single thing to you if you say you won’t go on his old
errands.”

“He can make it pretty hard for me in the department,” reminded Harry.
“He gave me three demerits for nothing, and Miss Leonard thinks I
deserved them. I know she does. He wasn’t even cross with me for
anything when he did that. What do you suppose he’d do if he really was
mad?”

“Try to get you fired, most likely.”

Harry nodded sadly. “Sometimes I think I’ll leave the store before
anything happens, and try to get work in an office. I hate to give up
my school, though. Miss Leonard is a splendid teacher. I’ve learned a
good deal in the little time I’ve gone to school to her.”

“So have I. She makes a fellow feel as if he wanted to study. I don’t
mind school so much now. But, Harry, you mustn’t leave the store. What
would I do without my chum?” Teddy’s thin hand fastened upon Harry’s
shoulder with a quick clutch of fellowship.

“I know. I’d miss you, too. Oh, I suppose I might as well stay and make
the best of things. Mother is so pleased to think I can work and still
go to school. Don’t say a word to her about Mr. Barton. I haven’t.”

“I won’t,” promised Teddy. “I wonder if your mother’ll like me!”

“Of course she will. She always likes my boy friends. You’ll like her.
You can’t help it.”

“My mother says I am to bring you home with me to supper. Any night
that suits you’ll suit us.”

“Does you mother----” Harry stopped. He was about to ask if Teddy’s
mother had become interested in her son’s progress as a business boy.
Then in fear of intruding upon what did not concern him, the rest of
the question died on his lips.

Teddy cast a swift, sidelong glance at him from under his long heavy
lashes. “My mother likes to hear about what happens to me in the store.
I kept telling her things, just the way you said you told your mother.
At first she didn’t seem to care, but now she does. We have lots of
talks, and last week she stayed home with me every night but one. That
was the night of her club meeting. She’s a vice-president, so she had
to go to it.”

“Isn’t that fine?” glowed Harry. “I’m glad she likes to hear about the
store.”

“I never had anything good to tell her about school,” returned Teddy,
“and I didn’t want her to know what a----” Teddy grinned--“a--menace
to the school I was. It’s different when you work. I feel more like a
man.” Teddy drew his slender body up to its fullest height and stalked
proudly along beside Harry, who was divided between laughter and
approbation of his small companion’s newly found dignity. He managed
to keep a sober face, however, for he was too fond of Teddy to run the
risk of wounding his pride.

“Seems funny not to go that way,” remarked Teddy as they passed the
corner where he usually bade Harry good night.

“Yes, it does seem queer for you to keep right on going with me,”
smiled Harry. “But you said you had something funny to tell me. Go
ahead with it.”

Smiling at the recollection of the puzzled Italian woman who had
plaintively begged to be conducted to Warren Street, and had been shown
a large part of Martin Brothers’ stock of house furnishings instead,
Teddy related the circumstance, interspersing the tale with frequent
giggles.

Harry’s boyish laugh rang out at the ridiculous incident. He laughed
still more when Teddy went on with the story of his spirited charge
down the aisle and its unlooked for consequences.

“It was square of you, Ted, to ask that man not to report the fat
boy.” Harry regarded Teddy with affection and appreciation. It didn’t
much matter, he thought, if Teddy couldn’t keep out of mischief. He
was truthful and honest, and that was what counted in a fellow who was
one’s best chum. “What did that Howard Randall say? I suppose he didn’t
say, ‘thank you?’”

“Well, he didn’t exactly say that, but--he--I--he isn’t such a mean
kid, after all. He said he was sorry he tried to stick me for a nickel,
and I’m not going to call him the elephant any more. We kind of made
up.”

“I’m surprised.” The corners of Harry’s mouth twitched. Then he burst
into laughter. “Don’t get mad, Ted,” he gasped, “but it’s so funny.
He’s the last fellow I know that I’d say you’d be friends with.”

“I’m not friends with him, yet,” retorted Teddy, flushing, “but I’m not
going to put him in the Zoo class again, unless he gets too smart. Say,
Harry, let’s go to the Zoo some Sunday afternoon, before it gets too
cold. How about next Sunday?”

“I’d like to go. I’ve never been there,” was the eager answer.

“You haven’t! Oh, I’ve been there slews of times. Once Miss Alton read
us a story about a funny little animal named Rickey Tickey Tavi, that
lived in a man’s house in India, and kept all the snakes away. There
are barrels of snakes in India. They get into the houses and even into
your bed and everything. This Rickey Tickey killed two big snakes named
Nag and Nagaina. They were cobras and had hoods on their heads.”

“Yes, I know,” nodded Harry. “I’ve seen pictures of them.”

“They’ve got two real ones at the Zoo. I stayed around their case one
whole afternoon, but the stingy old things hid in a log and wouldn’t
come out. I’m going to see ’em some time, though. There are lots of
other funny things. I like to tease the monkeys and there’s the seals
and a great big animal called a gnu. I always make faces at him. He
stares at me so funny.”

“Perhaps I can go next Sunday. I’ll let you know by Friday night.”

The walk to Harry’s home seemed very short to the chums. There was so
much to talk about. Being a boy, it did not occur to Teddy to draw a
comparison between the Harding’s tiny apartment and his mother’s large,
comfortable brick house. He knew only that, next to his mother, he was
sure Mrs. Harding was the nicest person in the world, and she certainly
knew what boys liked to eat. Teddy was by no means a shy, retiring
youngster, although he was not overbold. He was just a normal boy,
with a boy’s joy of living, ready to talk to anyone who wished to talk
to him on the subjects that lie nearest a boy’s heart.

After supper, Harry insisted that his mother go into the sitting-room
and read the paper while he and Teddy washed and wiped the dishes. It
was new work for Teddy, but he rather enjoyed it, and polished each
dish as he dried it with an energy worthy of a better cause. Far from
looking upon Harry with scorn because he was willing to perform a
household task that usually falls to a woman, Teddy thoroughly enjoyed
the novelty of his labor.

When the last knife and fork were put away, the boys repaired to
the sitting-room, where Mrs. Harding sat sewing industriously on a
gown for a customer. Harry brought out a combination checker and
backgammon-board, and the boys played several games of checkers. Harry
had begun to instruct Teddy in the mysteries of backgammon, when the
mission clock on the sitting-room wall struck nine.

“I’ll have to go. I promised my mother I wouldn’t stay later’n nine,”
said Teddy, with a little air of pride. “She’s at home to-night waiting
for me.”

“You must come to see us often, Teddy,” smiled Mrs. Harding.

“Yes’m, I will. I’d like to come to see you. I think my mother would
like to come, too.”

“I should be pleased to meet her,” was Mrs. Harding’s courteous
response, but she decided there was little possibility of Mrs. Burke
coming to visit any person in her humble circumstances. From what Teddy
had told her of his home and his mother, she concluded that the Burkes
were in far better circumstances than were she and Harry.

“Your friend Teddy is a dear, little fellow, Harry,” she remarked after
Teddy had gone. “I’m so glad his mother has waked up to it.” Harry had
repeated to her the story of Teddy’s home progress. “I had hard work
not to smile when he said he thought his mother would like to come
here. Very likely she wouldn’t look at us.”

“If Teddy’s mother ever comes here once, she’ll come again. She
couldn’t stay away, Mothery. She’d just have to.” Harry sidled over to
where his mother sat sewing and slid a loving, loyal arm about her neck.

Mrs. Harding dropped her work and gathered her boy into her arms. “I
don’t mind hard work and poverty as long as I have you, little son,”
she said tenderly.

“But we are not going to be poor always, Mothery. I’m going to keep
earning more money all the while. By the time I’m twenty-one, you won’t
have to do a single thing but keep house for me. I’m going to be a
business man by that time.”

Mrs. Harding stroked her son’s curly head. “Perhaps you will be. Who
knows? I’m so pleased that you are getting along so well in the store.
No one could help liking you, Harry, you are such a good, thoughtful
boy.”

Harry’s sensitive face clouded briefly. He felt as though he would like
to pour forth to his mother the whole cruel truth about his store life.
He wished she knew how unjustly he was being treated by Mr. Barton, yet
he had a curious conviction that he must bear his cross alone. He must
get used to being silent about the things which did not please him. No
great business man would publish the story of his hurts abroad, and as
he intended to become a truly great business man he must be silent,
too. Perhaps some day, when he had been promoted to a position of trust
in Martin Brothers’, he would tell his mother about these first unhappy
days, but while he was only number 45 of the store messenger force, he
would meet whatever came to him with a brave face and no whimpering.



CHAPTER XIV

THE PRICE OF HONESTY


When Harry took his station near the exchange desk the next morning,
it was with renewed determination to do his duty to the full as he saw
it. He wondered if Mr. Barton would mention the errand on which the
aisle manager had sent him the previous afternoon. He also speculated
anxiously as to whether Mr. Seymour would send for him and demand
an explanation of his absence from the department. The day sped on,
however, and no summons came. Mr. Barton managed to keep some distance
from poor little messenger 45, and studiously avoided the boy’s
unconsciously accusing eyes, whenever they happened to come in contact
with each other at the exchange desk.

Late in the afternoon, as Harry was returning from an errand to a
basement exchange desk, he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. Wheeling
about, he faced Mr. Barton.

“Boy, if anyone asks you about that errand I sent you on yesterday,
don’t you tell where you went. I said you had gone to the stock room.
That’s enough for any curious people who come prying around here to
know.”

“But I didn’t go to the stock-room, sir, so I couldn’t truthfully say
that.”

“You just do as I tell you. I know how to run this end of the store.
If I need the services of a messenger, I am at liberty to send you
wherever I like,” snapped Mr. Barton.

“Then why did you not say exactly where I went?” asked Harry quietly.
The boyish mouth had set in the firm lines that meant stubborn
resistance to the end. “Why did you say that I had gone to the
stock-room?”

“Don’t be impudent,” hissed the man, his eyes narrowing. “I’m not
obliged to answer your questions. You’re here to do as I say. Every
other boy who has worked for me has done my errands and said nothing.
You aren’t any better than the rest. Any time I have anything for you
to do outside the store, you’ll do it, or I’ll get a boy down here that
will.”

Mr. Barton had grown angrier with every word he spoke.

Harry measured the enraged aisle manager with a clear, searching glance
in which lurked a shade of contempt. “I give you fair warning, Mr.
Barton, I won’t do an errand on the store’s time unless it is strictly
on business for Martin Brothers. I can’t help what you say about
getting another boy down here, I won’t do what I think is unfair to the
men who hired me. I’ve never done a dishonest thing yet, and I’m not
going to begin now.”

“I suppose you think you’ll go to Mr. Keene and tell him a pack of
lies,” sneered the aisle manager, “rather than do me a little personal
favor now and then.”

“I’m not a telltale, and I’ll gladly do any errand you wish me to do on
my lunch hour, or after the store closes. You are welcome to _my_ time,
but I can’t give away what doesn’t belong to me.”

“You’ll do as I say,” ordered the aisle manager grimly, as though he
had not heard Harry’s firm refusal. Then he turned on his heel and
walked rapidly away, leaving Harry to stare after him, a bitter smile
on his youthful face. He was learning the ways of men all too rapidly.

“What are you looking so gloomy about, Kiddy?” questioned Margaret
Welch, as Harry strolled thoughtfully up to the desk, his hands behind
his back. “Come here. I want to ask you something.”

Harry approached the exchange clerk’s desk. She bent down and said in
an undertone, “Were you and old Smarty Barton having it out over there?”

Harry nodded.

“Did you say what I told you to say?” she asked sharply.

“Yes, Miss Welch, I did.”

“Good for you. If he has any sense he’ll let you alone, or Margaret
Welch’ll take a hand in things. You’ll have to watch yourself harder
than ever, Harry. He won’t have your kind of a boy around.”

“Miss Welch, there aren’t many of the aisle managers in the store like
Mr. Barton, are there?”

“No, indeed,” was Miss Welch’s vigorous reply. “Most of them are as
nice men as you’d care to meet anywhere. There’s only about three or
four mistakes in the aisle-man bunch here, and Smarty’s one of ’em.
He’s been here a long while and served in almost every department in
the store. If there was to be a contest to find out who’s the meanest
man in the store, everybody’d vote for his crabship. Do I love him?
Well, not so you could notice it. Does anyone else? Nay, nay, my child.
Here he comes, bless him. Run along, or he’ll think you’re telling me
everything you know.”

Harry trotted obediently down the aisle, and wandering into the
juvenile section of the book department, began reading, with longing
eyes, the titles on the gaily-colored jackets of a table of boys’
books. He was never tired of exploring the book department. Whenever
there was a lull in the business of the exchange desk, he slipped
across the space that divided the books from the jewelry department to
spend a few rapturous minutes among the volumes he loved.

On several occasions he had encountered the man with whom he had
collided on that first, disastrous school morning. By this time he knew
him to be Mr. Rexford, the buyer of the books. Miss Welch had given him
that information. Mr. Rexford had invariably smiled at him in a kindly
fashion that quite won the boy to him. Harry never saw him without
wishing secretly that he had been placed in the book department. It
would be the height of happiness to work for such a man as Mr. Rexford.

As he stood eagerly devouring the titles with book-hungry eyes, a deep,
pleasant voice at his elbow said, “Well, my boy, it’s evident that you
like to read.”

Harry swung about. Mr. Rexford stood looking at him, a half smile on
his handsome, clean-cut face.

“Oh, yes, sir. I’d rather read than do anything else. I’ve read some of
these books. I get books from the Public Library.”

“Did you ever read ‘Alice in Wonderland!’” asked the buyer.

Harry smiled. “Long ago,” he answered. “I’ve read ‘Through the Looking
Glass,’ and ‘Treasure Island,’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and lots of books
like that. I call those my baby books. I read adventure stories now,
but I’m trying to read Shakespeare and Thackeray and Dickens. I don’t
understand Shakespeare so very well yet, but I love ‘Henry Esmond’ and
‘The Tale of Two Cities.’”

Mr. Rexford’s eyebrows were elevated in surprise. He scrutinized
Harry’s flushed, animated face. Yes, here was a boy who really loved
books. Such a boy would be extremely valuable in his department. He
made mental note of it and resolved to set the wheels in motion to
bring about the desired end.

“Forty-five, forty-five!” shrilled Miss Welch’s high voice.

“That is I. I must go.” Harry set off up the aisle toward the exchange
desk.

“An obedient boy, too,” murmured Mr. Rexford, as he watched Harry bring
up at the desk, stand in a respectfully attentive attitude, then hurry
off on his errand. “Well, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Contrary to all expectation, Mr. Barton let Harry strictly alone for
several days. He ordered him about in his usual gruff fashion, but did
not again broach the subject on which he and Harry had disagreed. Then,
suddenly and without warning, he began a series of petty persecutions
of the boy that caused Miss Welch to glower with rage and hurl caustic
remarks in his direction that he could hardly fail to overhear. He
began operations by detaining Harry in the department on his school
mornings just long enough to give the appearance of deliberate
lateness. On the first morning this had happened, Miss Leonard had
looked surprised, and accepted his excuse. On the second morning she
had looked displeased, on the third as well as the fourth mornings,
she had scolded him and given him demerits. She had flatly refused to
listen to his plea of being detained and responded severely that any
boy who _wished_ to be in his class on time, _could_ be on time.

Dropping the pleasantness with which she had treated him on his
entrance into her room, she became stern and uncompromising. She had
been greatly attracted toward Harry in the beginning, and it annoyed
her to find him in the least disappointing. He already had five
demerits on his card and he had been in the store only three weeks.
At the rate he was going he would hardly last the month. Absorbed in
her own affairs, Miss Leonard had not inquired into Messenger 45’s
record at the exchange desk, and, therefore, knew nothing of the boy’s
trials. She had anticipated frequent trouble from Teddy Burke, but
to her surprise none arose in his corner. One demerit, and one only,
disfigured Teddy’s card.

Poor Harry was in despair. Keenly sensitive, he read Miss Leonard’s
attitude toward him only too correctly, yet he could neither do nor say
that which would place him once more on the pleasant footing that had
been his when he began his school work. He talked matters over with
Teddy, who was deeply downcast over his chum’s misfortunes, but could
suggest no remedy beyond offering “to tell Miss Leonard all about it,”
or to “punch that old snapping-turtle,” as he had fondly named Mr.
Barton.

“If he gives me any more demerits, I don’t know what I’ll do. Miss
Welch says to go to Mr. Marsh about it, but I hate to be such a baby,”
mourned Harry, as he and Teddy trudged home together one crisp evening
in late October.

“I’d go to him,” advised Teddy. “I wouldn’t let him put it all over me
like that. I’d fight him.”

“Perhaps I had better go to Mr. Marsh,” Harry spoke with indecision.
“If he gives me another demerit, I’ll go.”

Harry had reason to remember his resolve when, early in the afternoon,
Mr. Barton set him to straightening the cubby-hole where he kept his
various effects and dignified with the title of his “office.” It was
dusty work and when Harry had finished, there was a long streak of
dirt across one cheek, his white collar bore evidences of his work,
and his hands were dark with dust. Just as he was putting the last
box in place, he heard Mr. Barton’s strident voice raised in a cry of
“Forty-five, forty-five.”

Forgetting his unsightly appearance, Harry rushed in the direction
of the call. The habit of obedience was firmly ingrained. The aisle
manager stared hard at him. “What do you mean by coming out on the
floor in such an untidy condition?” he thundered.

For the first time Harry remembered his disheveled and dusty appearance.

“I came straight to you when I heard you call, sir. I forgot how I
looked. I had just finished cleaning your office, sir, and I hadn’t
time to wash my hands.”

“You should have tidied yourself before daring to appear on the floor,
even if you did hear me calling. Suppose Mr. Martin had seen you? What
would he say of such a slovenly boy? Give me your card. You deserve
half a dozen demerits. You’re lucky to get off with two. Now go and
wash your hands and face, at once.”

“Mr. Barton,” choked an indignant voice, “you had no business to give
that boy those demerits. You did it on purpose, and _I know why_.”

Mr. Barton whirled and faced the exchange desk. Miss Welch’s blue eyes
flashed with quiet fury.

“You tend to your own affairs, Miss Welch. Don’t interfere with me.
That is, if you know what’s good for you.”

“I know I’m not going to see that boy abused,” flashed the exchange
clerk. “How about that errand--to the _stock-room_?”

A deep flush mounted to the man’s forehead. “You mind your own
business,” he said quickly, his voice shaking with anger. “When Martin
Brothers give you charge of this end of the floor, then you can offer
your advice. But I don’t believe you’ll be here long enough for that to
happen.” He stalked away from the desk.

“The old scorpion,” muttered Margaret Welch. “He’ll never rest till he
gets that poor kid out of here. Harry’s too honest to suit him.”

And this was precisely what Mr. Barton was thinking as he walked away.



CHAPTER XV

A FATEFUL GAME OF CATCH


But while the clouds of injustice lowered over Harry Harding’s head,
the days moved along far more pleasantly for Teddy Burke in his realm
of kettles and pans than he had expected when first cast adrift in
Department 40. Notwithstanding Teddy’s love of mischief, he had made
many friends in the department. His impish performances were never
directed against a particular individual, and they were usually so
funny as to be extremely entertaining, rather than reprehensible. The
very sight of a slim little figure, topped by a brilliant red head,
bobbing about between the rows of house furnishings was sure to be
productive of a smile on the part of the salespersons. Teddy was in a
fair way to be spoiled, and had he not possessed a sturdy honesty of
purpose that spurred him on to do his work well, he might frequently
have taken advantage of the good-natured tolerance with which the
members of the department looked upon him.

Teddy was very sure that he liked everyone in Department 40 except the
Gobbler. She alone was a thorn to his flesh. In the first place, the
gobble, gobble of her loud voice sent the shivers up and down his back.
In the second place, she detested boys and did not hesitate to say so
frankly in Teddy’s presence. Then, too, she was continually complaining
to Mr. Duffield that she could never find Teddy when she needed him. He
was never in one spot for two consecutive minutes. Mr. Duffield usually
listened to her complaints in silence, then walked away quickly to
hide a smile. He knew, perhaps, better than anyone else Teddy Burke’s
rapidly increasing usefulness. Given a commission to perform, Teddy
carried it to an end without a mistake. He was quick as lightning
when it came to grasping an idea, and rarely had to be told anything
twice. Mr. Duffield, who had trained boys in the work of the store,
realized that Teddy’s elfish propensities were but an outlet for the
high-strung, brilliant temperament of the lad.

Mr. Everett, too, had found time to keep a starboard eye on Teddy.
Since the momentous day when Teddy had gone to the Italian woman’s
rescue, and later, had pleaded for clemency for his arch-enemy, the fat
boy, the buyer had grown daily more interested in the lively lad, and,
unobserved, often watched Teddy at his work in the department.

So, although Teddy did not know it, he stood well in the eyes of the
men who held his fate as a business boy in their hands.

His store standing was not worrying Teddy one rainy afternoon, however,
as he strolled about his department, his black eyes roving over the
shining expanse of kitchen-ware as if to discern if there were anything
new on the placid surface of 40. Suddenly his black eyes sparkled with
the joy of discovery. He made a sudden dive down a cross aisle and,
stooping over, garnered an entirely new feather duster from a secret
recess formed by two protecting ice-cream freezers. Only a part of the
handle had been coyly exposed to view, and it was this same handle that
Teddy’s alert eyes had spied from afar.

Sliding the duster behind him, he leaned against a table and took a
comprehensive survey of the landscape. Far down the department the
Gobbler was holding forth, with many gobbles, upon the beauties and
uses of a fireless cooker. Her customer, a meek little man, was either
too horrified or too interested to do other than stare in fascination
at her rapidly moving lips. Chuckling gleefully, Teddy made a wide
detour of the department and brought up at the far end. Sliding his
hand under the lower part of a table of granite ware, he extracted
a duster, sparsely feathered and bearing evidences of long usage.
Even the handle looked worn. He attempted to unscrew the handle from
the duster. It stuck. Slipping his hand into his pocket, Teddy drew
forth his four-bladed pocket knife, his most cherished possession,
and deliberately pried loose the handle of the work-worn duster, then
unscrewed it. Placing the new duster where the old had reposed, Teddy
gathered up the parts of the now useless weapon for waging war against
dust and slid cautiously back to the vicinity of the two sheltering
ice-cream freezers.

Bending low, he placed the duster handle at the same coy angle that
the other had displayed. Then jamming the other part into his coat
pocket, he once more made his way to where the new duster now reposed.
Again the pocket knife played a brief but effective part. Teddy chipped
off at least an inch of the end of its handle. Then on the wood next
the handle that formed a casing for the feathers, he laboriously cut
the initials S. H. One more move and his work would be done. Slipping
slyly up to the half-open door of Mr. Everett’s office, Teddy peered
in. There was no one there. Darting across the floor, he dipped the
end of the duster in the ink-well, giving it a lavish baptism of
ink. Then, with the innocent air of a young cherub, he trotted back
to the place where Sam Hickson kept his duster and carefully placing
the new acquisition so that the ink-stained handle would dry, went on
his way with the consciousness of having done a good deed. For three
weeks Samuel Hickson, the red-haired salesman, had vainly importuned
Mr. Duffield for a new duster, while the Gobbler gobbled in triumph,
because she had managed to lay hands on a fine one, and boasted that
she kept it hidden where no one could find it. Now it was the duster of
his pet aversion that he had spied after conducting a still hunt for
it for several days, and as his sympathies all lay with Hickson, he
decided that the duster should be his.

Teddy felt extremely pleased with himself after making this righteous
exchange, and went about grinning so broadly that Samuel Hickson
remarked curiously, “I’d like to know what you’ve been up to. Some
piece of mischief, I’ll be bound.”

Teddy’s grin only widened. “Wait till to-morrow morning. You’re going
to be su’prised.”

“I’ll warrant I shall, if you’ve anything to do with it,” smiled the
salesman.

“It’s a good su’prise, though. You’ll like it, all right, but some
other people won’t.”

“Tell me about it now,” teased Hickson, amused at Teddy’s important air
of mystery.

“Nope. You’ve got to find it for yourself. I’ll be round when you do,
but don’t you say a word. You just leave it to me. I know something I’m
goin’ to do.”

“All right, youngster,” nodded Hickson. “I guess I’ll have to wait
till you get ready to talk. To-morrow’ll do.”

At this moment Mr. Everett came toward them, looking sharply on both
sides of him.

“Were you looking for me, sir?” In a twinkling Teddy was the alert,
respectful messenger. There was something about Mr. Everett that always
inspired him to do his best.

“Yes. You are to take this note to Mr. Eddy, the buyer of the
upholstery. Do you know where the upholstery department is?”

“Oh, yes, sir. I know where every department in the store is.”

Mr. Everett smiled slightly at this information. He did not in the
least doubt it.

Teddy was off up the aisle almost as soon as the answer to Mr.
Everett’s question left his lips. The upholstery department was on the
second floor, so he made for the nearest stairway which led to it,
disdaining to wait for an elevator. The stairway which Teddy had chosen
was cut in half by a balcony on which was a part of the sporting goods
department. Just as Teddy set foot on the balcony landing, he heard
a soft whistle. Coming down the balcony aisle was a tall, blue-eyed
boy named Arthur Worden, who went to school in Teddy’s division. He
had been lovingly handling a number of baseballs which a salesman had
been showing to a customer and which had been left there while the
customer’s purchases were being wrapped. Now the boy raised one of the
balls, struck an attitude in imitation of a famous pitcher he had seen,
and commanded, “Catch.”

Whether it was Arthur’s intention to throw the ball, or whether he was
merely pretending to do so, Teddy never knew. He saw the ball hurtling
toward him. Instinctively, he put up his hands to receive it, but it
merely grazed the tips of his fingers and went sailing over the balcony
rail.

The two boys stared at each other in silent horror.

“We’d better get out of here,” advised Arthur.

“I guess we had. Do you s’pose that----” Teddy tittered softly in spite
of his consternation--“it hit anyone?”

“I donno. Hope not. Come on, let’s beat it!”

Teddy scuttled up the half flight of stairs to the upholstery
department, most uneasy in mind. Suppose somebody had been hit? It
would surely be a surprise. It would probably hurt, too. Then there
was the ball itself. It ought to be put back in the department. Teddy
delivered the note to the buyer of the upholstery and departed with all
speed for the first floor.

When he arrived upon the spot where he decided the ball was likely
to have landed, his expression of dismay deepened. A small group of
salespersons and customers had surrounded a tall man with a pained
expression, who held one hand to his head, while in the other hand he
held a globular object which Teddy had no difficulty in identifying.
The man rubbed his head ruefully, then as his hand descended, Teddy saw
that there was no hair on the top of that head, only a pink, angry,
glistening surface with a large bump rising on the middle of it.

“Whew!” breathed Teddy. “That certainly must have hurt him.” Turning,
he walked quickly away. But after he was safely back in his department
the memory of that maltreated bald head would not leave him. To be
sure, it had been an accident, but if he and Arthur had been attending
strictly to business it wouldn’t have happened. Now, how was the ball
to be put back where it belonged? If he went forward to the group and
frankly admitted his part in the affair, it would in all probability
mean dismissal from the store for him. Teddy decided to ask Harry’s
advice on the subject before committing himself. Although he had not
known Harry long, he had come to lean upon his judgment.

It was a sober-faced little boy who wended his way slowly back to
department 40.

“What’s the matter, Teddy?” hailed Sam Hickson as he saw the red-haired
boy coming toward him, wearing an expression of deep dejection.

“Nothin’ much. I’m only thinking,” was Teddy’s brief response.

“Well, don’t let it strike in and kill you,” warned the salesman
waggishly.

Teddy smiled, but faintly. He was hardly in the mood for pleasantries.

That evening as he and Harry started up Commerce Street together, Teddy
said in a low tone, “Maybe I won’t work in the store much longer.”

Harry’s eyes opened wide.

“Why not?” he demanded. “What’s the matter?”

Teddy plunged into an account of the impromptu game of catch that had
ended so disastrously. “What had I better do? Must I go to Mr. Marsh
and tell him?” For once Teddy could see nothing funny in the situation.

Harry hesitated before answering. “Yes, Ted, I believe I would,” he
said at last. “If someone else has happened to see you, Mr. Marsh will
surely hear of it. Then it will be a good deal worse for you. You can
explain to him that it was an accident.”

“But I don’t want to tell on Arthur,” objected Teddy.

“You needn’t tell his name. If Mr. Marsh asks you, you can say you
don’t wish to mention any names. He will probably let you off. He
understands how one fellow feels about telling tales on another.”

“Well, I guess I’ll do as you say,” sighed Teddy. “I’d been thinking
that I ought to, but I wanted to see you first. I’ll go to him
to-morrow afternoon. You know he will see any of the boys from five
until half-past. I’m afraid he’ll hear about it before I have a chance
to tell him myself, though. Next time I’m sent on an errand maybe
I’ll know enough to go on about my business. That is, if there is any
next time. I’ll get a bunch of demerits for this, even if I don’t get
discharged, and all for a dinky old ball.”



CHAPTER XVI

ALL IN THE DAY’S WORK


Teddy’s fears that the news of yesterday’s madness would reach Mr.
Marsh’s ears before he had an opportunity to make a confession, were
only too well grounded. While the boys were lining up for inspection
the next morning, Mr. Marsh walked into the assembly room, with a grave
face that spelled trouble for someone.

Teddy, standing next to Harry, gave his chum a frantic nudge that sent
him against the boy next to him, eliciting a grunt of disapproval from
that lad. Harry returned the nudge with less force, but with as great
significance.

Mr. Marsh waited until his assistant had formed the line into its usual
order. Every pair of boyish eyes was fixed on him. It was unusual for
him to be present at the daily line-up.

“Boys,” began Mr. Marsh, in his pleasant, direct fashion, “something
very disagreeable has happened. Yesterday afternoon two boys of the
store messenger force decided to play a game of ball on the balcony.
What they were doing up there remains to be seen. Certainly they were
not attending to business, or they would not have done what they did
do. One of them couldn’t have been a very skilful catcher, for he
missed the ball and it flew over the balcony rail and hit a man on the
head who _was_ going about the store’s business. If it had hit him
squarely on the head, it might have injured him seriously. It just
grazed his head, however, but caused him intense pain. Now, I know that
two of our boys are guilty. An employee of the store saw the whole
thing from the first floor, but could not describe the boys. Those
boys must be made to understand that we cannot tolerate such conduct.
If they are manly boys, they must be very sorry by this time for their
fault. What I came here for this morning is, the whole truth of the
matter. I am going to put you on your honor. Will the two boys who were
playing ball on the balcony yesterday step out of line?”

A tense silence reigned in the room. Each boy eyed his neighbor
furtively. Someone was guilty, but who? Suddenly a slim, little figure
stepped manfully out of line, an evidence that honor lived in that
assemblage.

“I’m one of those boys, Mr. Marsh,” said Teddy in a clear, resolute
voice. “I didn’t mean to hurt the man. I was going to come and tell
you all about it this afternoon.” Teddy was so pale that the freckles
stood out like brown polka-dots on his set face.

Mr. Marsh regarded him for an instant without speaking. At last he
asked, “Did you throw the ball?”

“No, sir.”

“Who threw it?”

“I can’t tell you, sir; that is, I don’t want to.”

Mr. Marsh stared hard at Teddy. “Did you have the ball in the first
place? Tell me just how it happened.”

“I was going to the upholstery department on an errand for Mr. Everett.
Just as I got to the sporting goods balcony, a boy I know came along.
There were some baseballs on the show-case. The boy picked up one and
said, ‘Catch.’ I don’t think he meant to throw it, sir. It just went
before he knew what he was doing. I saw it coming, and put up my hands,
but I couldn’t catch it. The first thing I saw when I went downstairs
was the man rubbing his head. I was going to tell you about it then,
but I thought I’d better ask a friend of mine what to do.”

The assembled boys listened with breathless interest.

“And what did your friend say?” inquired Mr. Marsh enigmatically.

“He advised me to tell you about it,” returned Teddy simply.

Involuntarily, Mr. Marsh’s glance traveled down the line until it
rested upon Harry Harding. A deep flush rose to Harry’s face, but he
met the quizzical glance with steady eyes.

“Well, Burke, I’m glad to know you are a manly boy, at least,” asserted
Mr. Marsh, “but I must know who the other boy is. Someone else in this
room is more at fault than you. Still, if he won’t own up to his part
of this affair, and you won’t give me his name, then you will have to
bear your punishment and his too.” Mr. Marsh spoke with a decision that
made Teddy’s heart sink.

“I’m--sorry--I can’t tell you, sir,” he stammered.

“I’m sorry, too,” returned Mr. Marsh, gravely, “because I shall----”

There was a sudden movement at one end of the line. A tall boy came
awkwardly forward.

“I’m the ki--boy that threw that ball. I’m not going to let _him_ be
blamed. It was my fault.” The speaker’s face was lit with a gleam of
positive admiration as he jerked his head in Teddy’s direction with the
word “him.”

A murmur of astonishment went up and down the line.

“It was just the way _he_ says it happened. I wasn’t goin’ to really
throw the ball. It went before I could stop it. I’m sorry.” The tall
boy gulped and looked miserably at Mr. Marsh.

“You’re a _man_, even though you did wrong,” declared Mr. Marsh. He
gave the word “man” special emphasis. He wished to impress upon every
boy present his appreciation of the courageous spirit that had prompted
two boys to tell the truth, even in the face of dismissal.

“Now, boys, because you have been honest with yourselves and with me,
I’m going to give you both another chance to retrieve yourselves. Your
names will have to go to Mr. Keene, as the principals in this affair,
but he has left the rest to me. I’m not going to allow you to go
scot-free. That wouldn’t be fair to the boys who keep the rules of the
store. I’m going to give each of you six demerits to help you remember
that Martin Brothers’ store isn’t a playground. Give me your cards.”

Two hands went into two breast pockets with positive alacrity. Taking
out his fountain pen, Mr. Marsh went to a small desk at the end of
the room and laying the cards on top of it put six sinister marks on
each of them. He handed them back with, “Tend strictly to business
hereafter, boys.” Then, with a pleasant nod to the young man in charge
of the assembly, he left the room. But the little he had said had sunk
deeper into the boyish hearts of the culprits than if he had given them
a severe rating.

“I never was so glad to get anything in my life as I was to get those
demerits,” murmured Teddy, in Harry’s ear. “I don’t want to leave this
store, Harry. I never knew how stuck on it I was until I thought I was
goin’ to lose my job.”

“I’m glad it came out right,” whispered Harry. “I want to stay here,
too--if Mr. Barton’ll let me,” he added too low for Teddy to hear.

Beginning with his anxiety over Teddy’s trouble, things seemed
determined to go wrong with him that morning. Miss Leonard’s clock
happened to be a trifle slow and Harry arrived in the department at
least five minutes late. Luckily for him, Mr. Barton was off the floor
at the time, and he escaped a demerit. Then, too, Miss Welch was in a
bad humor--something quite unusual for her--over a credit that had been
lost.

“It’s a good thing Barty didn’t see you come in late,” she remarked
crossly, as Harry approached her desk. “You want to see to it that you
get around on time, 45.”

“Miss Leonard’s clock was slow,” defended Harry.

“Tell that to old Smarty Barty and see what he says,” was her short
rejoinder. Then, noting the boy’s hurt look, she repented her curtness
and apologized, “Don’t mind me, Kiddo. I’m cranky enough to-day to bite
a ten-penny nail into three pieces. I’ve had a string of customers a
rod long at this desk ever since the store opened. This is our grand
annual exchange day, I guess.” She smiled enough to show her dimples,
and Harry brightened visibly.

Trouble lay in wait for him, however. Not an hour later, as he happened
to stop for a moment in one of the aisles of the book department, a man
rushed up to him and asked hurriedly, “Where will I find running water?”

“All the way down the aisle and around the corner,” Harry made polite
answer. The man rushed off in the direction indicated, only to return
three minutes later, looking black as a thundercloud.

“See here, young man, what do you mean? I ask you for a book called
‘Running Water’ and you send me on a wild goose chase clear out of the
department.”

Harry’s look of blank amazement made the man angrier.

“I’ll report you, you young rascal. I’ll----”

“I didn’t know you meant a book, sir. I thought you wanted a drink of
water. I’m not in this department, but I’ll find a salesperson for you.”

Harry’s tone was gravely respectful, although he had hard work to keep
from laughing. The absurdity of the situation had dawned upon him.

The man’s face relaxed suddenly into a wide grin. “Oh, ha, ha! Ha, ha!
That’s a funny one! All right, boy, you get me a clerk. I’ll wait here.
Running water! Ha, ha!”

“That was a narrow escape,” smiled Harry to himself as, after securing
the desired saleswoman, he hurried back to his desk. “I seem to be
unlucky to-day. I hope I won’t get into any more mixups.”

The afternoon brought its own crosses, however. Harry did not have an
opportunity to go to lunch until after two o’clock. When he returned to
the department, he was scolded and hustled here and there by Mr. Barton
until he was ready to cry with sheer vexation.

“I’m glad it’s almost five,” he confided to Miss Welch, when at last
there came a lull in the day’s business. “I guess there’s a jinx on my
shoulders to-day. Everything’s gone wrong.”

“Half an hour more and it’ll be over,” she sympathized. “I’m dead tired
myself. Some of these customers would give you the hydrophobia.”

“Boy! Forty-five!” came Mr. Barton’s raucus call from the direction of
the silverware section, which was a part of the jewelry department.

Harry trotted obediently up the aisle. Mr. Barton stood at the end of
the cut glass and sterling silver counter. Just as Harry approached, an
elaborately-dressed woman walked down the aisle. As she passed Harry,
she switched close to the flat-topped glass show-case. Her silk sleeve
brushed against a row of cut-glass powder-boxes with silver tops.
There was a jingling, then a crash, and one of the larger boxes lay
on the floor in fragments. Harry stood rooted to the spot. The woman
hurried down the aisle and around the corner without a backward glance.

“Now see what you’ve done,” snarled Mr. Barton. “You are the clumsiest
boy I ever saw. Miss Winton,” a dark-faced woman came forward with a
scowl, “how much was that powder box? This careless boy just broke it.
I’m going to sub-slip him for it, too.”

“Give me that lid,” ordered the woman, turning to Harry.

White with righteous indignation, Harry picked it up and handed it to
her.

“Seven-fifty,” she announced, after scrutinizing the silver top.

“I won’t pay it,” burst forth Harry. “I didn’t break it, and I won’t be
sub-slipped. I’ll go to Mr. Keene, first. That customer broke it. I saw
her with my own eyes. Her sleeve brushed the show-case. That box was
right close to the edge and----”

“None of your made-up yarns,” roared Mr. Barton. “You broke it and now
you’re trying to lay it to----”

“That will do, Barton,” cut in a stern voice. “I happened to see that
this boy did _not_ break the powder box.”

Mr. Barton whirled to find himself staring into the steady,
contemptuous eyes of Mr. Rexford, the book-buyer.

“If you sub-slip that boy, or even give him a demerit, you’ll be
sorry.” Turning on his heel the book-buyer walked away. Nevertheless,
his threat had the desired effect. Mr. Barton put the sub-slip blank he
had taken from his pocket into it again, and with a spiteful glance at
Harry, strode off towards the exchange desk.

Harry stood gazing after him, too dazed to do anything but stare. It
had all happened so quickly. And Mr. Rexford, that splendid man, had
come to his rescue. A rush of grateful tears blinded the boy’s eyes.
He winked them back, then moved by his feeling of gratitude he made
straight for Mr. Rexford’s office.

The door stood open. Mr. Rexford was just about to seat himself before
his handsome mahogany desk.

“Oh, Mr. Rexford, I don’t know how to thank you,” cried Harry
impulsively.

The book-buyer faced about. “Oh, it’s you, my boy. You had rather a bad
case against you, didn’t you? Lucky I happened to see the whole thing.”

“Yes, sir. Mr. Barton wouldn’t have believed me.”

“Yet I don’t believe you are an untruthful boy. What makes Mr. Barton
so hard on you? What have you done to offend him?”

Harry colored and was silent.

“Nothing very criminal, I’ll wager,” commented Mr. Rexford dryly. “I
am fairly well acquainted with Mr. Barton and his methods. You are not
the first boy I have championed. Now, listen to me, my boy, if you have
any further trouble with Mr. Barton, come straight to me with it. I can
help you.”

“Thank you. I will, sir. I must go now. I hope I can do something for
you some day, sir.”

Mr. Rexford smiled. “Perhaps you can. One never knows.”

Harry walked back to the exchange desk with a light heart. Mr. Rexford
was his friend. He was glad now that he had not found the time to go to
Mr. Marsh with his story of Mr. Barton’s harshness. If worst came to
worst, Mr. Rexford would help him. Had he not just said so? Even though
he met with discouragements from one source, there would always be
someone to help him in his hour of need.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SINGER AND THE SONG


“I wonder when school will close,” remarked Harry Harding to Teddy
Burke one morning in late November. It was now a little more than a
month since the two chums had enlisted under the banner of Martin
Brothers, and they had become thoroughly familiar with the routine of
store life.

“After Thanksgiving, I guess,” returned Teddy. It was a cold,
blustering morning, but the lads swung down the street apparently
unmindful of the officious wind which whisked pedestrians’ hats from
their heads and blew the red into their cheeks and noses.

“Won’t it be glorious to have a whole day off?” glowed Harry.

“Will it? Well, I guess maybe,” rejoined Teddy, his small face animated
with the prospect of the coming holiday. “What are you going to do?”

“Oh, my mother and I are going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner
and then I’m going to take her to The Pickford, that new motion
picture house we pass every day. Oh, yes, we are going to church in the
morning. Mother says everyone ought to go to church on Thanksgiving
Day, even if one never goes any other time, to give thanks for one’s
blessings.”

“I never go to church,” stated Teddy, cheerfully unashamed. “My mother
used to take me, but I behaved so bad she quit. I go to Sunday School,
but not every Sunday.”

“What did you ever do in church that was so very terrible?” asked
Harry, smiling.

“Oh, a lot of things. Once I sang a whole line of a hymn after
everybody else got through singing, and I fell out of our pew into the
aisle and made all the folks laugh. I tied two girls’ sashes together
once in Sunday School. They sat right in front of me and the ends of
their ribbons hung down. Maybe they weren’t wild when they started
to go home in different directions. Once I lost my nickel for the
collection plate, so I put a milk bottle check on the plate instead. It
looked just like a quarter, but the man who passed the plate was pretty
mad about it. He told my mother afterwards, and she said I’d better
stay home, if I couldn’t behave better than that. So I stayed home. I
guess that was the best place for me.”

“I always go to the church that Father used to go to with Mother.
Sometimes I get tired before it’s out, but sometimes I hear really
interesting things,” said Harry. He was still smiling over Teddy’s
list of iniquities.

“I don’t mind the singing. It’s the sermons that make me sleepy. I love
to sing.” Teddy’s eyes glowed. “I think it’s fine that we have one
morning a week for singing. My mother can play the piano, and sing,
too. Sometimes she lets me sing with her. I know a lot of songs.”

“I can’t sing very much,” confessed Harry, “but I love to hear singing.”

“I like that Miss Verne, who plays the piano for us at school. She’s so
small and pretty. She looks like a little girl dressed up in a grown
woman’s clothes. Did you hear Miss Leonard tell three of the boys last
Monday that Miss Verne wanted them to sing for her after school?”

“Yes,” nodded Harry. “I heard her tell them. Elmer Barry told me that
there is to be a Christmas play, or something, and these boys are going
to sing.”

“I wish I was going to be in it,” sighed Teddy wistfully. “I wouldn’t
be afraid to sing in public. My mother says I have a good voice.”

“Maybe Miss Verne will ask you to be in the entertainment,” suggested
Harry kindly, noting Teddy’s wistful look.

“How can she when she doesn’t even know I can sing? I’m not going
to tell her, either. She’d think I was crazy about myself. Oh, I
guess I’ll live if I don’t have a chance to show off,” ended Teddy
philosophically.

Nevertheless, that morning as Company A filed into the room used as
a gymnasium and seated themselves in the rows of chairs arranged for
them, Teddy could not help cherishing a faint hope that Miss Verne
would notice him and ask him to sing in the Christmas entertainment.
There was small chance of that, he reflected, for this was to be their
last morning in school until after the holiday rush was over. School
closed that Saturday, not to open again until after New Year’s.

“Now, boys,” began Miss Verne, after Company A had sung several songs
of her suggesting, “I am going to teach you such a pretty, new song
this morning. You’ll like it, I’m sure. Listen while I play and sing
the first verse for you.” After a rollicking introduction on the piano,
she began a delightful little popular song that had just recently
been published and was fast gaining popularity. Although Miss Verne
frequently chose popular music for the boys to sing, she was extremely
careful in her choice of songs, and never presented any which could be
classed as vulgar or over-sentimental.

She played and sang the verse to the boys three times, then said
brightly, “Now, boys, you try it.”

With the quick ear for music possessed by the majority of children, the
boys took up the first two or three lines of the song at once. They
wavered on the fourth line, and at the fifth there was only one boy
singing in perfect time with the accompaniment. But that boy was well
worth listening to. His clear, soprano voice sang on, growing stronger
and surer with every breath. The song ended with a gay little run up to
a fairly high note. The boy took the run exquisitely, holding that note
for an instant. Miss Verne’s hands dropped from the piano. “Come up
here,” she commanded, beckoning to the boy who had sung so sweetly.

With his freckled face only a shade paler than his hair, Teddy Burke
reluctantly ascended the platform. In spite of his boastful denial
that he wouldn’t be afraid to sing in public, Teddy was decidedly
embarrassed. He had not meant to sing a solo. As it happened, the song
was one which he had heard his mother practising for the past week to
sing at a club entertainment. It had appealed to Teddy from the moment
he had first heard it, and happy in the love of letting out his voice
in sweet sounds he had sung on, wholly unconscious of singing alone,
until the end of the song. The dead silence which followed it, and Miss
Verne’s command to come to the piano had awakened him to what he had
done.

“What’s your name?” asked the pretty little woman abruptly.

“Teddy--Theodore Burke, ma’am.”

“Well, Teddy, who taught you to sing?”

“No one--I mean--I hear my mother sing and I sing, too,” stammered
Teddy.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you have a beautiful voice?”

Teddy’s face blazed with fresh embarrassment at the complimentary
grilling he was undergoing. He hung his head and made no reply.

“Well, if no one else ever told you, I am going to tell you now,” Miss
Verne said in brisk fashion. “You are just the boy I am looking for to
sing the leading part in the Christmas musical play we are getting up.
Would you like to sing in it?”

“Yes, ma’am. I mean, no, ma’am. I don’t--know--whether I would like it
or not,” floundered Teddy.

“Of course you would. The only part you won’t like is rehearsing after
the store closes.”

“I don’t mind _that_,” admitted the boy.

“All right. Take your seat. I’ll talk with you about it after singing
is over. Miss Leonard, may I keep this boy here for a moment after the
others are gone?”

Miss Leonard bowed a smiling assent. She was very proud to think that
one of her boys was to be honored.

“Now, boys,” she returned to her class again. “Let’s try our song once
more.”

Teddy Burke finished the rest of the singing period in a delightful
daze. Once he gave his hand a wicked little pinch to see if he were
really awake. He pinched himself hard enough to leave an angry red
spot, so he ruefully concluded that he was not dreaming. Every now and
then he glanced shyly at Harry, who beamed at him in a way that left no
doubt in Teddy’s mind of Harry’s pleasure in his good fortune.

Harry was unselfishly glad that his friend was to have the longed-for
chance to sing, particularly so since he had heard the boy’s sweet
voice. He waited anxiously about for a moment after school was
over, thinking perhaps Miss Verne would take time merely to make an
appointment with his chum after the store closed.

“Don’t loiter here, Harry,” reproved Miss Leonard rather coldly.
Although the boy was the soul of good behavior in school, she did not
trust him. The growing number of demerits on his card influenced her
against him, and instead of inquiring into matters, she placed a secret
ban of disapproval upon him and privately characterized him as one of
those boys who were well-behaved when watched, and then only. Usually
clever in her reading of boy character, she was wholly in error as far
as Harry was concerned, an error which time alone could rectify.

Harry glanced wistfully toward the gymnasium, then he went sadly
downstairs. Miss Leonard did not like him. She did not trust him. She
believed the story of his report card. She would never know that he
had not deserved all those demerits, for he could never tell her. How
beautifully everything was going for Teddy. He wondered what would have
happened to Teddy, had their positions been reversed. Suppose Teddy had
been placed at the exchange desk, while he, Harry, had taken Teddy’s
place in the house furnishings. Teddy was such a droll little boy.
Perhaps Mr. Barton would have liked him. Then he remembered Miss Welch
had said that Mr. Barton had never been kind to any of the various boys
who had been stationed at the exchange desk. Harry gave a little sigh,
then involuntarily straightened his shoulders. He was better fitted
to bear harsh treatment than his chum. Teddy would have flared at the
first cross word on the part of the crabbed aisle manager. He would
have rebelled, defied Mr. Barton, delivered a most uncomplimentary
opinion of him to his face, and then he would have walked out of the
store without waiting to be discharged. That was precisely what Teddy
would have done.

“I’m glad Teddy’s in a nice department and glad folks like him,” was
Harry’s honest reflection, as he walked down one of the aisles of the
book department to the exchange desk. “I suppose ‘what is to be, will
be.’ That’s what Mother always says. Maybe there’s a better day ahead
for me, too. Only I guess it’s so far ahead I can’t see it.”

But while he peered hopefully into the veiled future, that “better day”
was not far distant, although he was destined to pass through one more
ordeal before it dawned.



CHAPTER XVIII

CONFIDENCES


“Teddy Burke, I was never so glad in all my life as when Miss Verne
called you to the piano, this morning!” exclaimed Harry, as he and
Teddy passed out the door that night and stepped into the street. It
was the first opportunity the two boys had had for conversation since
Teddy’s remarkable vocal demonstration that morning.

“I was never so su’prised in my life,” returned Teddy, almost
sheepishly. “I forgot all about the other fellows. I learned that song
from hearing my mother sing it. I didn’t know everybody’d stopped
singing till I quit singing myself.”

“I hadn’t any idea you could sing like that,” praised Harry, warmly.

“Oh, I’m not so much. I guess there are a lot of fellows in school that
can sing better’n I can.”

“I don’t believe it. Your voice is--is just splendid.” Harry glowed
with enthusiasm. “I’m so glad everything is going so well for you, Ted.”

“It’s you that ought to have things fine and dandy,” retorted Teddy, in
a burst of loyalty. “If it hadn’t been for you I’d of hated school, and
acted up and been discharged from the store long ago.”

Harry’s earnest face flushed with pleasure. Teddy’s good opinion was
very sweet. There were at least three persons who believed in him,
Teddy, Mr. Rexford and Miss Welch.

“It’s a shame you have to work for that cranky old aisle man,”
continued Teddy. “Why don’t you ask to be transferred? You didn’t talk
to Mr. Marsh. You said you were going to, you know.”

“I thought I’d try to stick it out. I hated to begin complaining the
very first thing. If only Mr. Barton would believe in me.” Harry’s face
fell as he mentioned the aisle manager’s name.

“He wouldn’t believe in the President of the United States,” was
Teddy’s scornful reply.

Harry smiled at this. “I try not to think about him when I’m out of the
store. All I’m afraid of is that he’ll be worse when the Christmas rush
begins. Miss Welch says an angel would get mad then.”

“I don’t think our department’s going to be so very busy,” commented
Teddy. “People aren’t going to give clothes baskets and tin pans and
wringers and ice-cream freezers for presents.”

“Jewelry’s going to be pretty busy, I suppose; and books, too. I wish
I’d get a whole cartload of books for Christmas.”

“Maybe you might get some.” Teddy registered a private vow that he
would play Santa Claus to Harry in that respect.

“Mother always gives me one.” Harry brightened. His mother’s simple
presents to him were sacred. “What did Miss Verne say to you, to-day?”

“I have to stay to-morrow night. She’s going to give me my part in
the Christmas play and begin to teach me the songs.” Teddy looked
important. “She told me all about the play. Every year the boys give
one in Martin Hall. It’s a place in the store where they give all
the entertainments. We have to give the play every afternoon for two
weeks before Christmas. It’s for the children whose mothers bring ’em
to the store to see Santa Claus. There’s going to be a Santa Claus in
this show. It’s all about a boy who didn’t like Christmas, and didn’t
believe there was a Santa Claus. I’m to be that boy.” Teddy looked very
proud.

“How splendid!” breathed Harry. “I hope I can see it.”

“I hope you can,” nodded Teddy, “but if you come to it, don’t you dare
look at me, or I’ll burst right out laughing.”

The boys trudged home through the bleak November night, talking of the
wonderful honor that had come to Teddy. When Harry reached home he
could not eat his supper until he had related the day’s happenings to
his mother.

“Teddy seems to be a very lucky boy,” commented Mrs. Harding.

“Yes, he is.” There was no trace of envy in Harry’s sensitive face.

“I wish something just as nice would happen to my boy,” said his mother
fondly. “You never say much of yourself, dear child.”

“Oh, there isn’t anything to tell, Mothery. I just work and that’s all.
Wait until something big happens to me. You’ll be the first one to hear
it. Isn’t it fine that we are going out together on Thanksgiving Day?”
He changed the subject abruptly. They were on dangerous ground. His
mother must never know how little possibility there was of anything
“big” happening to him.

“I’m very proud to think my son is going to take me out.” His mother
came over to Harry and kissed him.

“You’re the best mother a fellow ever had,” murmured Harry. What were
a few hardships to him, compared to the satisfaction of being able to
give his mother pleasure with the money he had earned by his own labor.
“I hope Ted’ll have a nice time with his mother, Thanksgiving. I must
ask him what he’s going to do.”

Harry did not see his chum the next morning. For once, Teddy failed
to be at their usual meeting place. The two boys did not meet until
they happened to come together in the lunch-room at noon. For once,
Mr. Barton had allowed Harry to go to lunch on time. Usually, he kept
the boy at the exchange desk until long after the time he had first
assigned to him to go to lunch.

“I was late. My mother overslept this morning. I had to hustle to get
here. I was only ten minutes late, though. Mr. Duffield didn’t scold.
My, but he’s good. He just said, ‘Try not to be late again.’ Mr.
Hickson says he’s always like that to everybody. Mr. Hickson’s a pretty
good fellow, too. I’d do most anything for him. I like all the folks in
kettles and pans, except the old Gobbler. Maybe she didn’t gobble the
other day, though.” Teddy launched forth with the tale of the purloined
feather duster. “You ought to have heard her gobble the next morning
when she went to fish out her duster and got nothing but a handle.” He
giggled gleefully at the memory. “I was watching her to see what she’d
do. She made a lot of fuss. She went around making the folks in the
department show her their dusters to see if any of ’em had hers.”

“But didn’t she know her duster when Mr. Hickson showed it to her?”
asked Harry, his eyes dancing with amusement.

“He didn’t happen to be on the floor when she was going around the
department. Te, he! I went and got the duster and took it over to her.
She was telling Mr. Duffield her troubles. ‘Is this your duster, Miss
Newton?’ I asked. That’s her real name. She looked at it and gobbled,
‘That duster, mine? No, sir. My duster’s brand new. That’s all cut up,
and the top’s gone.’ So I put it away again. Maybe Mr. Hickson didn’t
laugh when I told him. He said he was even with her now for taking a
big sale away from him the other day.”

“You’re a bad boy, Teddy,” laughed Harry. But his tone contained little
rebuke.

“I’m good sometimes,” defended Teddy stoutly. “Doesn’t it seem funny to
think we won’t have to go to school any more until after Christmas?”
Teddy preferred not to speak of his shortcomings.

“I’m sorry, aren’t you?”

“Well,” Teddy squinted reflectively, “school isn’t so bad. I have a
pretty good time in my department, though. How’s dear, kind Mr. Barton
to-day?” he asked sarcastically.

“Dear, kind Mr. Barton has been quite mild lately. I hope it lasts.”

“He’s glad he’s going to get a holiday. He has something to be thankful
for on Thanksgiving. He can be thankful he isn’t any uglier than he
is,” berated Teddy.

Strangely enough, Mr. Barton’s mild mood remained with him, and when
Harry left the department on Wednesday night he felt more cheerful than
since he had first taken up his work at exchange desk Number 10.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thanksgiving came and went, bringing to the two lads the sweetness of
their first hard-earned holiday. Harry and his mother followed to the
letter the programme he had outlined to Teddy. Imbued with the spirit
of Harry’s gallantry to his mother, Teddy solemnly proposed to Mrs.
Burke that he accompany her to church on Thanksgiving morning. To his
secret delight, she made no protest and, when dressed in his Sunday
best, Teddy marched decorously along beside her to the church which she
attended, she felt a strange, new thrill of pride in her son. It seemed
to her that she was just beginning to become acquainted with him. That
afternoon she did the honors and took Teddy to a wonderful play for
children that was having a popular run at one of the theatres, and on
Thanksgiving night mother and son spent a blissful evening at home, at
the piano, trying over the songs that Teddy was to sing in the play,
which Miss Verne had painstakingly copied for him.

Teddy was bubbling over with joy the following morning, when he and
Harry met. The two lads compared notes and decided unanimously that it
was the best Thanksgiving they had ever spent.



CHAPTER XIX

THE BELATED DAWN


“Watch yourself, Harry,” was the greeting he received from Miss Welch
as he went to his station, still glowing with yesterday’s happiness.
“Smarty Barty’s on the warpath. I guess his Thanksgiving dinner didn’t
agree with him.”

Although Miss Welch did not know it, that was precisely what ailed Mr.
Barton. Being afflicted with dyspepsia, he had eaten to his sorrow, and
when he stalked into his section that morning, he was ready to snap at
the first unlucky person who might offend him.

By prompt obedience to orders, Harry managed all morning to avoid a
clash with Mr. Barton. Just before twelve o’clock, however, the aisle
manager swooped down upon him with, “Here, boy, take this money over to
Miss Exley in the perfumes and get it changed. Bring it back to me, and
hustle. Miss Rowe, at the book desk, is waiting for it.”

Harry was instantly off on his errand. He was frequently intrusted
with a five-dollar bill to be changed. This morning, however, it was
a yellow-backed twenty-dollar note that Mr. Barton handed to him.
Hurrying to Miss Exley’s desk, he handed her the money. She grumbled
at having to part with her small notes, but counted out four crisp
five-dollar bills, and thrust them into the boy’s hand with, “Take that
to Mr. Barton, and don’t you dare lose it.”

Three minutes later the notes lay in the aisle manager’s hand. In
that same instant, however, he was besieged by an irate customer, who
demanded that he sign her check for the return of a bracelet which had
been sent to her in place of one she had purchased. Intent on pacifying
the woman, he accompanied her to Miss Welch’s desk, the money in his
hand.

It took at least fifteen minutes to rectify the mistake, and send the
woman on her way with the bracelet she had originally purchased safely
in her shopping bag.

“After that, it’s me for lunch,” announced Miss Welch grimly. “I need
food to sustain me until the next trouble hunter hits this desk.” Mr.
Barton mumbled a disgruntled reply and stalked off up the aisle in
answer to a frantic call from a salesman in the books.

“I hope Mr. Barton lets me go to lunch on time to-day,” reflected
Harry. “It isn’t a bit busy. Here he comes back again. I wonder if I
dare ask him. My, but he looks cross.”

“Boy,” thundered the aisle man, approaching Harry almost on a run.
“Where’s that money I gave you to change?”

“I gave it to you, sir,” replied Harry. “Don’t you remember, I----”

“You gave me nothing,” stormed the man.

“Oh, yes I did, sir,” Harry’s voice rose in an anxious note.

“You did _not_. I _say_ you did _not_.” The aisle manager’s voice
soared to a hoarse bellow of rage.

“What’s this? What’s this?” demanded a stern voice. Mr. Seymour, the
floor superintendent, had come up in time to hear Mr. Barton’s words.

“I gave this boy a twenty-dollar note to take over to Miss Exley to
change. Now he says he gave it to me. I tell you, he didn’t. He has
lost it or else he has stolen it.”

“Stolen it! Oh, Mr. Barton!” rang out Harry’s agonized cry.

“What have you done with that money, young man?” thundered Mr. Seymour.

“I gave it to Mr. Barton, sir. I came straight from Miss Exley’s desk
and gave it to him.”

“He didn’t. I haven’t seen it.” Mr. Barton glared vindictively at
Harry. “Search that boy. He’s taken it.”

“Come with me.” Mr. Seymour grasped the stunned, unresisting boy by the
arm and steered him to the nearest elevator.

“Oh, Mr. Seymour, I didn’t take it. Please believe me. I didn’t.”

“Hold your tongue. Get into that elevator. We’ll soon find out whether
you did or not. I’m going to have you searched.”

The three passengers in the elevator eyed the boy askance.

“He’s stolen something,” whispered one of them to the other. “They’re
taking him to the store detective’s office.”

Harry heard the whisper. “Oh, please----” he began. His voice died away
in a half sob. The elevator stopped at the fourth floor. He was hustled
roughly off it and down a narrow passage to a door which he had learned
to know led to the room where the force of store detectives searched
the persons they caught stealing Martin Brothers’ wares. A stern-faced
man seated at a desk rose to meet them as they entered.

“Search this boy,” commanded Mr. Seymour. “Barton says he has stolen
twenty dollars.”

Then the most humiliating moment of Harry Harding’s short life began.
The search did not reveal the missing money, however. For half an
hour the detective kept up a merciless grilling of the unfortunate
boy. Harry’s brief desire to cry had vanished. With pale, set face,
he repeated over and over again, “I didn’t take it. I gave it to Mr.
Barton.”

“Send for Barton,” ordered the detective. Mr. Seymour left the room
on his errand. The detective eyed the boy angrily. His patience was
becoming exhausted.

“You’d better own up, youngster. If you don’t----”

The door was suddenly flung open and two persons fairly rushed into it.
One of them was Miss Welch. Her face was white with rage. Her blue eyes
shot fire. In her hand was clutched four five-dollar notes.

“There’s your old money,” she cried, throwing it on the desk. “Oh,
Kiddy, what a shame!” She ran to Harry and encircled him with
protecting arms. Then she turned fiercely upon the detective. “You
ought to be ashamed of yourself. Torturing this poor boy, before you
stop to find out things. Look at him, the poor lamb. His heart’s
broken. Why don’t you take somebody your own size? He _did_ give the
money to Mr. Barton, just as he said he did. The old trouble-hunter
laid it in my exchange book and I just now found it. Maybe I didn’t
hot-foot it up here!”

“See here, miss, this boy was brought to me for stealing. How was I to
know----”

“You didn’t know,” broke in the person who had accompanied Miss Welch.
It was Mr. Rexford. “This boy is innocent. I’ll be responsible for him.
You can settle this with Barton. Come, Harry.”

As one in a dream, Harry found himself leaving the hated room between
his two protectors.

“Now, my boy,” said Mr. Rexford grimly, “we are going to settle matters
once and for all. I’m going to take you to Mr. Keene, and he is going
to give you a transfer slip. I need a boy like you in my department,
and if you are not working for me within the next ten minutes, then my
name isn’t Henry Rexford.”

Harry Harding’s “better day” had dawned.



CHAPTER XX

TEDDY’S TRIUMPH


Although only the width of an aisle separated Harry Harding from his
former station at Exchange desk Number 10, it seemed to him as if he
had entered into a new and wonderful realm. Three busy, happy weeks
had glided swiftly by since that bitter morning when, crushed by Mr.
Barton’s shameful accusation, he had been haled to the detective’s
office and searched for the missing twenty dollars.

From the moment when, vindicated from the aisle manager’s unjust
charge, he had walked out of that hateful office under the protection
of Miss Welch and Mr. Rexford, he felt that he was leaving his
misfortunes behind him, that for him the “better day” of which he had
dreamed was, indeed, a reality. Five minutes confidential conversation
between Mr. Keene and Mr. Rexford had resulted in the transferring of
Harry from the exchange desk to the book department. Mr. Rexford had
also insisted on taking Harry to Mr. Marsh. There was another short,
private confab, then Harry was called upon to present his much-marked
report card to Mr. Marsh. That kindly man tore it in bits and writing
Harry’s name on a fresh card, handed it to him with a pleasant, “Well,
my boy, I think you can be trusted to keep _this_ card clear of
demerits.”

But when Harry reached the department of which he had so often vainly
sighed to be a part, the greatest joy of all was his. Mr. Rexford
did not intend him to be a messenger. He was to be a stock boy, and
his salary was to be increased to four dollars a week. Thus in one
eventful day the current of his life was changed, and through shame and
suffering he came into his own.

During those first, blissful days among the books, Harry’s affection
for Mr. Rexford was so great that it made him feel like crying.
Gradually, however, he regained his normal poise, and tried to show his
gratitude by giving the best possible service to the man who had fought
for him in his hour of need. Of Mr. Barton Harry saw little. To be
sure, he was still aisle manager in the book department, but he passed
Harry with averted head, or, if they chanced to meet face to face,
with no sign of recognition. He had been lectured most severely by Mr.
Seymour for his hasty accusation against Harry on that disastrous day.
Mr. Prescott, the detective who had searched Harry, had also rated him
scathingly, and Miss Welch, aside from business transactions, treated
him with a sweeping contempt that was more humiliating to the crabbed
man than he cared to admit even to himself. He had learned a lesson,
however, that he was not likely to forget, and the boy who took Harry’s
place at the exchange desk profited by Harry’s suffering in that Mr.
Barton accorded him at least fair treatment.

December brought with it the great annual rush that precedes Christmas.
Day after day the store was crowded with busy shoppers, and though the
employees of Martin Brothers’ store had much to contend with, still the
spirit of Christmas which is yearly being lived up to more faithfully
by the customers in the treatment of those who serve their never-ending
wants, pervaded the whole establishment.

Harry Harding spent little time in the department. All day long he
worked like a beaver in the stock-room on the tenth floor of the
store, coming into the department merely to bring down truckload after
truckload of books to fill up the constantly diminishing tables. For,
at the holiday season, the book department reaped its richest harvest,
and the demand for its wares never seemed to lessen.

Those were halcyon days for Teddy Burke, too. Not because of the rush
of business in his department, although trade was brisk, and a few new
salespersons had been added to the house-furnishings force, but for the
delightful reason that he was the most talked-of boy in school.

As the chief actor in the little play that was being daily given in
Martin Hall, Teddy was covering himself with glory. Miss Verne had
spared no pains in training him for his part of “Dicky Darrow,” the boy
who didn’t believe in Santa Claus, and Teddy displayed a histrionic
ability that astonished all who were fortunate enough to witness the
musical play.

It may be said to Teddy’s credit that much adulation had not turned
his head. Off the stage he was the same old Teddy, and far from given
to swaggering he showed a positive distaste for crowing over the fresh
laurels that he daily won.

“A lot of these people make me tired,” he grumbled to Harry as they
trudged home together one snowy evening. “I wish they would not come
around talking to me about my voice and all that foolishness.”

“But, Teddy, you’ve a right to be proud of yourself,” was Harry’s
hearty praise. “Everybody’s talking about you. I’m crazy to see the
show. Two more days and the rush will be over. Then the boys will all
have a chance to hear you sing and see you act.”

Mr. Keene had arranged for a special performance to be given for the
benefit of the employees after the store closed on Christmas eve, and
Harry was eagerly looking forward to seeing Teddy in his wonderful
part. Harry had a delightful secret he was hugging to his breast, and
he could hardly wait for the time to come to carry it out.

“I’m glad that’ll be the last of it,” returned Teddy. “I came to this
store to be a business man, like Mr. Everett, not to sing for a lot of
folks who think they’re goin’ to hear something wonderful. Just you
remember, Harry Harding, not to dare look at me when I’m singing, or
I’ll laugh; see if I don’t.”

“I’ll turn my back to the stage,” promised Harry, with twinkling eyes.

“Now you’re making fun of me,” declared Teddy, with a snicker. “If I
should happen to look out at the audience and see nothin’ but your
back, I’d laugh all right. I guess you’d better look at the stage, if
you don’t look too hard. My mother’s been to hear me sing three times.
She thinks I’m some son.”

“My mother was here yesterday. She thinks so, too. You are kind of an
adopted son of hers, you know.”

“I guess I’m lucky to have two mothers,” nodded Teddy, his small face
glowing.

Teddy had become a frequent visitor at the Harding’s humble home,
while Harry had paid several visits to the Burkes. Mrs. Harding and
Mrs. Burke had also met, liked each other on sight and a vigorous
friendship had sprung up between the two little families. In fact,
Harry and his mother were to spend Christmas Day with the Burkes and
the boys were looking eagerly forward to the occasion.

On the day before Christmas, trade slackened in the store. Here and
there, through the rapidly thinning aisles, dilatory customers wandered
who had refused to obey the mandate to do their Christmas shopping
early, while shrewd bargain hunters darted about, ready to pounce upon
any article that had been “marked down” at the last moment.

But even these indefatigable shoppers drifted out of the store, one
by one, and at the last the welcome ringing of “closing” gongs in all
parts of the store proclaimed that another holiday rush had passed out
to keep company with the shades of past busy seasons.

Harry Harding was positively thrilling with excitement, as he hurried
to the assembly room to form in line for the triumphal march to Martin
Hall. The hour had come when he was to witness his chum’s triumph. A
number of rows of seats had been reserved for the store messengers,
and as Harry marched into the hall with his work-a-day comrades to
the inspiring strains of Sousa’s “Salute to the Colors,” played by
the store orchestra, he was wrought up to a high pitch of pleasurable
emotion.

Once seated, his eyes never left the curtain that hid his chum from
view, and as with a warning tinkle of the bell it rose, disclosing a
pretty living room in which two boys were seated, he could have shouted
out of sheer joy.

The play began with a discussion between two little boys in regard to
the reality of Santa Claus. The opening lines were Teddy’s, and the
first sound of his clear young voice uttering the emphatic words, “I
don’t believe in Santa Claus, so there!” thrilled Harry through and
through. After a short dialogue, Teddy sang his first song, “There
is No Santa Claus,” and the boy who played the part of his brother
responded to it with, “Santa Will Come To-night.”

Although the other boy’s voice was sweet and true, the interest of
the audience was centered in Teddy. He was obliged to repeat part of
his song before his listeners would allow the play to proceed. More
dialogue followed in which the boys agreed to steal downstairs to the
living-room after the household were asleep to watch for the coming of
their patron saint. Then followed a beautiful duet, “We’ll Watch for
Him To-night,” which closed the act.

The second act opened with the stealthy entrance of the boy watchers.
Dicky’s brother was given the opening song, “When Santa Comes Down the
Chimney,” and Teddy answered it with a funny little song, “Seeing is
Believing.”

Then followed a brisk dialogue which died out as two drowsy youngsters
succumbed to sleep on each side of the fireplace, only to waken as a
cuckoo clock sang out the hour of midnight. A faint jingling of distant
sleigh-bells sounded and a surprising thing happened. The big fireplace
opened wide and a radiant white figure, glittering with diamond dust,
stepped out. She waved a wand. The chime of bells grew louder and in
dashed Santa Claus, perched in a tiny sleigh, drawn by eight little
boys in queer, tight-fitting brown suits and close-fitting hoods,
topped with funny little antlers. They stamped and curvetted in true
reindeer style, then stepped out of harness and sang, “Run, Run, Run,
You Little Reindeer.”

A serious time followed for the abashed Dicky. Santa Claus rated him
soundly in a queer, shrill voice, and the eight reindeer wagged their
antlered heads in stern disapproval. The radiant figure, which was
none other than the Spirit of Christmas, sang a tuneful number, “What
Shall We Do with Dicky?” and Santa Claus answered with, “Try Him for
Unbelief.” Dicky protested with, “I Won’t Be Tried in Court,” but the
eight reindeer seized him and dragged him before Santa Claus.

Then followed a funny trial scene in which the prosecutor was the
Spirit of Christmas, the eight reindeer the jury, and the judge, Santa
Claus, who condemned him to go without presents every Christmas until
he acknowledged the reality of Santa.

The play ended with Dicky’s remorseful solo, “I Believe in Santa
at Last,” while Santa Claus was finally persuaded by the Spirit of
Christmas to shake hands with Teddy and recall his stern sentence. Then
came a ringing chorus of “Merry Christmas to All and Good Night.” Santa
Claus flung down a pack of toys, called to his reindeer, and the whole
procession skipped through the yawning chimney. The stage was darkened
for an instant. Suddenly the lights flashed up, revealing the two boys
sitting up, rubbing their eyes. Springing to their feet they ran down
to the front of the stage and sang the final number, a duet, “Santa’s
the Friend of the Children.”

Hardly had the curtain dropped when tumultuous applause broke forth.
Dicky and his brother were called again and again before the curtain.
Mr. Marsh hurried down the aisle with two immense bouquets of red
roses. This was Harry’s surprise. He had proposed to the messenger boys
that they give ten cents apiece to buy these tributes of honor, and
they had responded to a boy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later two happy-faced lads, their arms full of be-ribboned
bundles, stepped into the snow-packed street. The bundles represented
the good will of the various members of their department. They meant
that the tired salespeople who had stuck to their posts so faithfully
through the bustle and hurry of Christmas had not been so tired as to
forget that a merry, gift-laden Christmas is the most important thing
in the world to a boy. In each lad’s pocket reposed a two dollar and
a half gold piece, the gift of their respective buyers, and as Harry
Harding and Teddy Burke trudged home through the sharp wintry air they
both agreed that they were truly the luckiest boys under the sun.

“I guess Santa Claus will be around to see you to-night,” was Teddy’s
observation, called after Harry as they parted at the corner.

“I shouldn’t be surprised if he called on you, too,” flung back Harry.

Each boy smiled to himself as he sped home on his separate way, glowing
with the unselfish ardor of giving.

When Harry Harding opened his eyes the next morning on the light of a
perfect Christmas day, the first thing that met his eager gaze was a
thick, square, be-ribboned package. It lay on the little table beside
his bed, and on the holly-wreathed tag tied to the ribbon was written
in Teddy’s unmistakable handwriting, “Merry Christmas from Teddy.” The
package contained a set of Kipling’s “Jungle Books,” for which Harry
had often sighed. While at almost the same moment Teddy Burke was
lovingly caressing a beautiful dark blue sweater which Mrs. Harding’s
patient fingers had knitted for her adopted son. And as each youngster
admired and gloated over this newest proof of the other’s regard it
came to him that after all there was nothing in the world quite so
satisfactory as having a real chum.



CHAPTER XXI

GETTING EVEN WITH THE GOBBLER


The few days that were left of the old year proved to be particularly
busy ones for Harry Harding. The holiday rush for books had left
the department in wholesale disorder. The head salesperson of each
particular stock of books clamored for the services of a stock boy to
help bring order out of confusion, and Harry was hurried here and there
at the command of many masters. Far from trying to dodge hard work,
however, he plunged into it with an enthusiasm born of his love of
books and his earnest desire to further Mr. Rexford’s cause in every
possible way.

In the matter of sales it had been a banner Christmas for Mr. Rexford’s
department. The almost emptied stock-room testified to that fact, so
did the many blank spaces on the tables, when once the jumbled stock
of many-colored volumes had been put in place. All this, however,
was not accomplished in a day. It meant hard and constant labor for
the salespeople, and the New Year was at least a week old before
Department 85 settled into something resembling its usual placidity.

During these busy days of putting things to rights in the book
department, Harry and Teddy Burke seldom met in the lunch room,
although they never failed to walk home together at night. School was
not scheduled to begin again until the last Monday in January, after
the annual stock-taking in the store was over. Released for the time
being from study, both boys centered their interest on learning all
they could about their respective departments.

Harry longed to know more about books, because of his predilection for
them, while Teddy burned to be a business man like Mr. Everett, whom he
secretly worshipped.

It was Teddy’s first case of hero worship, and he kept it strictly to
himself. He managed, however, when not busy, to keep within call of the
buyer, or to flit about after him as he made his round of Department
40, looking for all the world like a mischievous sprite as he suddenly
bobbed up from behind a table or appeared like magic from around a
corner. Mr. Everett had grown to depend on his services to such an
extent that to see him suddenly stop in the middle of the department
and cast searching eyes over the rows of household utensils usually
indicated that he was looking for Teddy. Already a curious sense of
camaraderie had sprung up between the boy and man that later was to
develop into an exceptional friendship. To the little, red-haired boy
the once despised realm of kettles and pans seemed like a second home.
There was but one drawback to the satisfaction he derived from his
work in the house furnishings, and that drawback was--the Gobbler.
She, alone, of all the salespersons in Department 40, disliked Teddy.
Over and over again she had railed loudly against him, even going so
far as to complain of him to Mr. Everett, and to ask that another boy
be given his place in the department. In this instance she had gone a
step too far, however. Wearied of her constant and prejudiced harping
upon the subject of Teddy’s shortcomings, Mr. Everett had turned on
her with a sudden burst of anger that left her gasping, and thereafter
she had modified her spleen against Teddy to muttered grumbling, with
an occasional loud-toned reprimand, whenever the object of her dislike
gave her the slightest opportunity for complaint.

To be sure, there was no great reason why Miss Newton should evince
a fondness for Teddy Burke. He had never laid himself out to win her
regard. Quick to note her hostile attitude toward him, he had taken a
wicked delight in playing more than one mischievous prank upon her,
which in time she had ferreted out and very correctly laid at his door.
She had been the only person in Department 40 to refuse to contribute
toward the collection of Christmas gifts which the others had taken
so much pains and pleasure in preparing for the boy. “What! Give
that impudent youngster a present? Well, I guess not!” had been her
indignant exclamation when Sam Hickson had put the project for making
Teddy’s Christmas a merry one before her. “Catch me spending a cent on
a boy who calls me names.” Unfortunately, it had been borne to her ears
that Teddy had named her “The Gobbler.”

In due season, Teddy had learned all this from Sam Hickson, and,
although he received the news with a fine show of indifference, and
declared loftily that the “old Gobbler could keep her old present
for all he cared,” nevertheless it piqued him considerably more than
he would let his friend Sam know, or would admit even to himself. He
vowed secretly that he would “get even” with her, and planned untold
mischievous vengeance to be wreaked upon her offending head. Yet deep
in his heart it hurt him just a trifle to feel that there was one
person in Department 40 who, to use his expression, “had no use for
him.”

It now lacked but two days until stock taking, and Teddy had made
himself exceptionally useful to Sam Hickson in straightening and
counting innumerable granite-ware utensils which formed a large part
of the red-haired salesman’s individual stock. As is usually the case
in a department store, the salespersons in the house furnishings had
begun to take account of their wares before the day set for wholesale
reckoning of left-over stock. “Nobody in their right mind ever leaves
it till the last day,” Hickson had confided to Teddy. “I’d have to stay
here all night if I didn’t start beforehand. You keep an eye on this
stuff. Whenever you see these folks selling any of it, tell me. Then I
can take it off my count.”

As the others in the department were of precisely the same mind,
everyone watched his or her tables with an eagle eye. The Gobbler, who
had dominion over a vast region of tinware, hovered about her tables,
for all the world like the cross old fowl for which Teddy had named
her, and gobbled loud directions to all comers who ventured into the
sacred precincts of her domain.

It was on the day before stock-taking that Teddy, flitting impishly
about the department, conceived the great scheme for “getting even.”
From a safe distance he eyed his enemy, who was laboriously counting
row upon row of shining pie and cake tins, and moving each pile, as she
counted it, to one side of the long table on which it reposed. Long
before the hour when she departed for the lunch-room, neat stacks of
tinware rose on one half of her table, while a space of about a foot in
width separated the elect from the uncounted.

“Just wait until she goes to lunch,” reflected Teddy wickedly, as,
safely screened by a protecting wall of dishpans, he peered owlishly at
the industrious Gobbler as she delved patiently in her stock.

Miss Newton, however, was in no great hurry to go to lunch. Engrossed
in her task the minutes slipped by, and when at last she stalked
majestically off in the direction of the time-desk, Teddy was called
upon to go on an errand for Mr. Everett.

The instant he was free, he hurried down the aisle toward the hapless
table, vengeance in his eye. “Maybe she won’t be mad, though,” he
chuckled, as he paused before the rows of tinware and eyed the dividing
space which separated the figurative sheep from the goats. “She won’t
know what she’s counted and what she hasn’t, when I get through with
’em. She’ll think a customer did it. I’d just as soon tell her it was
little Teddy that mixed ’em up, though.”

His hand slid out toward a pile of cake tins. Dividing it evenly, he
lifted the upper half and was about to distribute it in picturesque
confusion over the table, when a sudden cry of distress broke upon his
ears, causing him to let the pile of pans to rattle back into place.
Bearing down upon him came Miss Newton, but her hard face wore a look
of dismay which was quite new to it.

“Oh, boy,” she shrieked, as she hurried toward him, “have you seen
it? Help me look for it. Oh, I must find it!” She wrung her hands
frantically, and to Teddy’s horror began to cry.

“What’s the matter?” asked Teddy sharply. The woman’s evident distress
had driven all thought of mischief from his mind.

“Oh, oh!” she moaned. “I’ve lost my purse. It had all my salary in it.
I just got paid this morning. I put it in my apron pocket. I’m sure I
did. But it’s not there now. Oh, dear, what’ll I do? I haven’t paid my
board, or my laundry, or anything!”

She searched frantically among the rows of tinware, peered up and down
the narrow aisles, then dropped her head in her hands and lurching
against the tinware table with a force that sent a pile of pie tins
jingling to the floor, burst into noisy weeping.

A thin little hand reached forth and patted the sobbing woman on the
shoulder. “Never you mind, Miss Newton, I’ll find your money for you.
How much did you lose, and where do you think you lost it?” Teddy was
transformed into a small edition of a knight-errant about to go to the
rescue of a lady in distress. “What kind of a purse was it?”

“Ten dollars,” gurgled the Gobbler. “I don’t know where I lost it. It
was all I had. Oh-h-h! It was a little, black pocketbook.”

“Don’t you cry, now. I’ll find it,” promised Teddy hopefully. He began
a rapid search among the piles of tinware. This time, however, he was
extremely careful not to disarrange them. Next he darted up and down
the aisles, peering under the tables, his alert eyes scanning every
inch of the floor, but to no purpose.

“Maybe someone’s picked it up and taken it to the ‘Lost and Found,’ or
to Mr. Duffield. You stay here. I’ll go and see.”

Down the department hurried the little figure, anxiously inquiring of
the various salespersons, “Have you seen Miss Newton’s purse?” But
no one had seen it. A knot of sympathetic clerks gathered about him,
asking eager questions and shaking their heads in denial. A hurried
trip to the “Lost and Found” proved fruitless. Mr. Duffield disclaimed
all knowledge of it.

“I guess it’s gone for good,” remarked a woman. “Somebody’s always
ready to snap up money and keep it. She might as well brace up and make
the best of it. I know how it goes, though. I lost my salary once, and
I never heard of it again.”

“It was all the money she had,” Teddy found himself repeating
mechanically. “I hate to go and tell her we can’t find it.”

“I’ll tell her,” volunteered the woman. “Where is she?”

“Down there in tin pans, crying her eyes out,” muttered Teddy.

The woman started in the direction of Miss Newton.

“Wait a minute.” Inspiration had come to Teddy. His hand went into his
trousers’ pocket. Only that morning he had received his salary. “Here.”
He fished up three new one-dollar bills. Separating one of them from
its companions, he held it up. “I’m goin’ to give her this. How much
are the rest of you goin’ to give?”

“There’s a dollar for you, Reddy.” Sam Hickson laid the mate to Teddy’s
dollar in the boy’s hand.

“I’ll give you fifty cents. I know how it goes. I can’t spare any
more.” This came from the woman who had volunteered to break the news.

“I’ll give a dollar,” volunteered another salesman.

“Here’s fifty cents more,” smiled a pretty girl, opening a tiny purse
she had taken from her apron pocket. “Listen, Teddy, go ’round the
department and ask everybody.”

“Hold this.” Teddy thrust the money he had collected into Hickson’s
hand and sped off on his errand of mercy. He was back within a few
moments with the encouraging news, “Got two dollars more.”

“What’s all this?” demanded a brusque voice. “How often have I said to
you, ‘don’t stand in groups?’” Mr. Everett had appeared on the scene
with a suddenness that startled the knot of workers gathered about
Teddy.

“The Gob--Miss Newton’s lost her purse. She feels awful. We’ve got six
dollars, and we’re goin’ to give it to her,” announced Teddy almost
defiantly. He had flushed rosy red.

Mr. Everett regarded the boy with a quizzical smile. “How much did she
lose?” he asked sharply.

“Ten dollars, and she hasn’t paid her board, or her laundry, or
anything. She----”

The buyer’s hand traveled to his breast pocket. Taking out a seal
wallet, he counted four crisp one-dollar bills. “There’s your ten
dollars. Now, scatter, all of you. What would Mr. Martin say if he
happened along?” Turning abruptly, Mr. Everett walked away.

“There’s a buyer for you!” glowed one of the men.

“He’s a real man. Now, Teddy----”

But Teddy was half way down the aisle.

“Here’s your ten dollars, Miss Newton,” he cried jubilantly. “Hold your
hands, and don’t dare lose it this time.”

The disconsolate weeper straightened up with a jerk, and stared in
tearful amazement at the boy who had so sturdily come to her aid.

“Why--where--did you get it? That’s not my money!”

“Yes it is. Hurry up and take it,” retorted Teddy impatiently. “It’s
from the folks in the department. You’d better go and get your lunch
now. I won’t let anybody touch your stock while you’re gone. Take it.
I’ve got to go. Mr. Everett is yelling 65.”

Dumping the money on the table, Teddy was about to scuttle away, when
two detaining arms reached out and seized him. “You’re the best boy
that ever lived,” quavered the Gobbler. Then Teddy Burke turned redder
than his ruddy hair, as his erstwhile enemy, the Gobbler, imprinted a
resounding kiss on his freckled cheek.

Wriggling from the grateful embrace, Teddy raced off up the aisle
almost at a gallop, muttering, “She got even with me, all right!”



CHAPTER XXII

A DISTURBING CONVERSATION


“Who do you s’pose likes me?” asked Teddy Burke that evening, as he and
Harry began their homeward walk together.

“Quite a number of persons, I should say,” returned Harry, smiling.

“But this is the last person you’d ever guess. It’s the Gobbler--I
mean, Miss Newton. She said I was the best boy that ever lived. What do
you think of that?”

“I think you must be dreaming, or else Miss Newton isn’t in her right
mind,” jeered Harry. More than once Teddy had recounted to his chum
his frequent tilts with the saleswoman he had naughtily named the
Gobbler. Harry knew, too, that she had ignored Teddy in the matter of
a Christmas gift, and far from being sympathetic had slyly reminded
his friend that he could not expect favors from one he had teased and
ridiculed.

“She’s not crazy, and I’m not dreaming,” retorted Teddy. “I started to
mix up her pie tins after she got ’em counted this morning, to get even
with her for Christmas, and----”

“No wonder she likes you,” interrupted Harry. “Are you sure she said
you were the _best_ boy that ever lived?”

“Aw, quit teasing me,” grinned Teddy, “and listen to what I’m telling
you. Where was I? Oh, yes. Just as I started on those tins she came
yelling down the aisle like an Indian! She’d lost her pocketbook with
her salary in it.”

“What did you do then?” asked Harry, with a curious sidelong glance at
his companion.

“Oh, I had to drop the pans and help her hunt it. There wasn’t any
fun in mixing ’em when she was crying like anything,” replied Teddy.
“She didn’t find it, but the folks in the department all put together
and made it up to her. She lost ten dollars. Mr. Everett made me give
it to her. That’s when she said I was the best boy that ever lived.
She--she--don’t you dare tell anybody,” Teddy stipulated threateningly,
“but--she--she kissed me. Can you beat it?” His small face wore an
expression of supreme disgust.

Harry shouted with laughter. “That’s a funny one on you, Ted.” Then,
straightening his face, he asked with a suddenness that caught Teddy
off his guard, “Who put in the first money for Miss Newton?”

“I did, I--oh, what made you go and ask that? I wasn’t goin’ to tell
you.” Teddy looked abashed.

“I suspected she had a pretty strong reason for saying you were such a
good boy. It was a kind thing to do, Teddy. I’m glad and proud you’re
my chum.” Harry’s earnest, admiring speech brought a quick flush to
Teddy’s cheeks. “Oh, forget it,” he muttered. “Say, did you know that
if we pass an examination in May we can’t go to day school next year?”

“Yes, I heard that when first we came to the store. We will have to go
to school on two evenings during the week after the store closes. But
we are to have our suppers. Martin Brothers do that for the boys, to
help them along. It’s mighty fine in them, isn’t it?”

“Yep,” agreed Teddy. “Oh, say, who do you suppose is coming to see me
to-morrow night?”

“Frank Campbell?” guessed Harry. He was the lad who had shared honors
with Harry in the Christmas play.

“Nope; Fatty--I mean, Howard Randall. He’s coming home to supper with
me. You don’t care if he walks home with us, do you? Why can’t you come
to supper, too?”

“I don’t believe I will.” Harry shook his head. He wisely decided that
it would be better for Teddy and Howard to spend the evening together,
without the presence of a third party.

“What a splendid boy Teddy is,” was Harry’s reflection as he hurried
on toward home after saying good night to his chum. “The people in his
department must like him. It’s great to be liked.” His face glowed with
happiness. Since his advent into the book department he was tasting the
joy of having his efforts to be of use to his buyer appreciated. He
felt that there was nothing he would not do for Mr. Rexford to show his
gratitude, and he longed for some fitting opportunity to demonstrate it.

The winter days rolled swiftly on, however, bringing with them
nothing more stirring than the chance for Harry to perform faithfully
and painstakingly his daily duties. But these he executed with a
thoroughness and good will that made him a general favorite in
Department 85, and caused Mr. Rexford to congratulate himself on having
the boy in his department.

February came in, stiff, cold and apparently implacable, only to thaw
unexpectedly, hold out a deceitful promise of springlike warmth,
then maliciously freeze again at the very moment when everyone was
congratulating himself on the mildness of the winter. March came in
blustering, buffeting the great city with hard, icy fingers, and
roaring forth a challenge of unending winter. Later, however, he
relented, grew sunny and smiling by day, and merely snappy and frosty
by night, indulging only in an occasional blast of fury by way of
keeping up his lionlike reputation.

To Teddy Burke and Harry Harding the winter fairly raced along the
frozen road to spring. Work brought the lads a contentment they
had never before experienced. Teddy’s efforts had been rewarded
with another dollar a week, and an initiation into the mysteries of
stock in the realm of kettles and pans. Determined to give the boy
every chance, Mr. Everett made much of him, giving him simple but
invaluable information in the business of careful buying and the care
of stock. Teddy was laying the foundation for a useful future amid the
pleasantest possible surroundings.

Harry Harding was also making rapid strides along the line of his
work. The only drawback to his satisfaction lay in the thought that
he could not do more for the man who had done so much for him. Over
and over again he said to Teddy, “I wish I could do something splendid
for Mr. Rexford and for Martin Brothers, too, just to show them that I
appreciate working for them.” With this aim in mind he was continually
on the alert for a chance to demonstrate his gratitude, and it was this
spirit of watchfulness that finally placed in his path the opportunity
to prove his earnest words.

One morning, while busily engaged in unloading a truck full of books,
Harry overheard what struck him as a curious conversation. He had
moved his truck alongside a long, projecting ledge of book shelves
under which stock was usually placed in open bins at unloading, then
carried to the various tables where it belonged. Having emptied
his truck, Harry had seated himself on the floor behind it and was
straightening the rows of books he had placed in the bins.

“I haf had my eye feexed on that set of Poe seence Christmas,” he heard
a low, unfamiliar voice say. He felt a sudden jarring of the truck.
Someone had leaned against it. The truck rolled an inch or two, and
the speaker changed position, without turning about or noting the boy
seated under the shelf.

“Wait until that girl in the desk goes to lunch,” came the cautious,
whispered answer. “I can’t do a thing, with her there. If the
inspectress who relieves her is as stupid as the reliefs Wallace has
been sending down here lately, I can put it through all right. You’ll
have to pay ten cents a volume, though.”

“It weel not break me,” laughed the first speaker. “I weel return the
favor whenever you say. Come to the department on your luncheon hour
with your hat on and you shall haf the embroidered----”

“Beat it,” hissed the other voice, “there comes----”

There was a quick scurry of feet. Harry rose hastily from the bin where
he had been crouching, bumping his head smartly on the projecting
ledge as he straightened up. The impact made him see stars for an
instant. He struggled to his feet, however, pushing the truck from him,
and glanced quickly up and down the department. But he was too late.
Half a dozen salespersons stood about the floor, but there were no
strange salesmen to be seen. The unfamiliar voice belonged to no one in
Department 85, and the whispered voice he could not recognize. It might
belong to anyone in the department.

Then he remembered the words, “that set of Poe.” He hurried to the
section where the sets of expensive books were displayed and began an
eager scanning of the titles. Here he met with defeat. There were at
least a dozen sets of Poe, all in expensive bindings.

“What are you looking for, boy?” A drawling voice suddenly addressed
him. The salesman who had charge of the stock, a stout, brown-haired
young man with rather sleepy-looking, blue eyes stood blinking at the
boy. “You mustn’t finger those sets. Remember, they cost money.”

“I wasn’t fingering them. I was just looking.” Inwardly, Harry was
indignant. His quiet, respectful voice did not reveal this fact,
however. Then he said innocently, although his blue eyes studied the
salesman intently. “I suppose these sets of _Poe_ are very expensive.”

His remark drew no blood. The salesman merely grinned derisively at him
and said, “I guess it would take more than your week’s wages to buy a
set.”

“I guess it would.” Harry smiled and walked away. He had learned
nothing. He had not even had time to count the sets, or fix their
appearance in his mind. True, he had had an object in mentioning Poe
to the man, but his ruse had failed. The man seemed not in the least
perturbed.

“What had I better do?” was the uppermost question in Harry’s mind. “I
hate to tell Mr. Rexford that there is a thief in this department, when
I haven’t the least idea who it is. I’ll wait a little, then I’ll go
back and count the sets when that fellow isn’t around. If one’s missing
later, I’ll know. But suppose somebody should sell one? I’d have to go
around the department and look on everyone’s book. I can’t do that.
I’ll keep my eyes open, though; maybe I’ll find out something. I’ll
look at those sets again, when I have a good chance.”

But a little later Harry was ordered to the stock-room and spent not
only the rest of that day there, arranging surplus stock, but the
next three days, as well, and in the fulfilling of his duties, the
disturbing conversation was, for the time being, forgotten.

It was revived when, one day, a week later, he stopped at Exchange Desk
number 10 for a moment’s conversation with his old friend. Miss Welch.

“Well, Kiddy, how’s books?” greeted the kind-hearted Irish girl.
“Aren’t you the busy boy, though? Haven’t much time for your old
friends, have you?”

“I’ve been pretty busy,” admitted Harry, “but I’ve always time for you,
Miss Welch.”

“Hear him talk,” smiled the girl. “Don’t cry about it, youngster.
I know you haven’t forgot your old friend Irish. I’ve been busy
myself. Most of these people with the exchange habit ought to be in
a sanitarium. Say, there’s an old friend of yours over there in the
jewelry. I wonder what’s up.”

Harry’s eyes followed Miss Welch’s quick glance. Leaning against the
counter, deep in conversation with Mr. Cohen, the buyer of the jewelry,
stood Mr. Prescott, the head detective.

An almost imperceptible shudder shook the lad’s slender body. He would
never forget Mr. Prescott.

“I guess it’s about that stock they’ve been missing in jewelry,”
speculated Miss Welch.

“Have they been losing stock?” asked Harry.

“Yes, but you just keep it under your hat. A lot of stuff has skidooed
out of the department since Christmas. I’ve heard it’s not shoplifters,
either.”

“Then it must be----”

“Employees,” supplied Miss Welch. “A friend of mine told me that it’s
the same all over the store. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a
gang.” She nodded wisely.

“A gang?” questioned Harry.

“Yes, a gang, Innocent. When I was inspecting in Harrington’s store
the detectives got next to a gang of thieves there. It was sort of
an endless chain; inspectors and sales were both mixed up in it. One
person would steal one thing and another would steal something else;
then they’d exchange. Sometimes they’d send their friends in to cart
stuff out. Sometimes they’d buy things for almost nothing and the
inspectors would pass it. They kept it up for two years and then----”

“Miss Welch,” Harry’s voice trembled with excitement, “I want to
tell you something.” The boy recounted in a low voice the curious
conversation he had overheard on the morning he had been seated in the
bin.

“Whada you think of that!” exclaimed the girl. “My, but it would have
been some feather in Kiddy’s cap if he’d got a look at those two.
Better keep your eyes peeled. Mark my words, there’ll be more of it in
your department. Why didn’t you tell Mr. Rexford?”

“I hated to, because I couldn’t prove a single thing. I was afraid
I might make trouble for some innocent person,” returned Harry. “I
thought maybe one of the men might be that Mr. Farley who has the
sets, but I was mistaken.”

“Farley. U-mm. Let me see. That’s that fellow with the sleepy eyes.
Looks like the real thing. Still, you never can tell. Sometimes
these harmless-looking people are fakes. Why don’t you do a little
Sherlocking on your own account?”

“Sherlocking?” inquired Harry.

“Yes. Didn’t you ever read about Sherlock Holmes? He was some
detective. Put it all over Nick Carter and a few others. Go to it,
Kiddy, and beat him.”

“I will,” promised Harry. “Do you think----?”

“Where’s your check, madam?” Miss Welch had turned to a woman who had
come up to the desk.

Harry walked away, reviewing the conversation he had overheard on that
morning of over a week past. “I’ll watch,” he resolved, “and perhaps
I’ll find out something. If only I could I’d be helping Mr. Rexford and
Martin Brothers, too.”



CHAPTER XXIII

HARRY PAYS HIS DEBT


Harry made good his promise. For once fate seemed with him. A huge
job lot of books, which it had taken him three days to bring from
the stock-room to the first floor, was to be placed on sale in the
department and the handling of this stock kept him busy on the floor,
where he could see what went on.

The day before the sale he was detailed to work after the store had
closed. The majority of the men in 85 had also been detained for night
work and among them was Mr. Farley, the sleepy-eyed salesman.

A week had passed since Harry’s conversation with Miss Welch.
During that time the boy had watched Mr. Farley whenever he had the
opportunity to do so, without being observed. His vigilance had met
with no reward. To all intents the salesman appeared to be perfectly
open and above-board in his dealings. Harry felt almost ashamed
of himself for shadowing a man of whom he had really no cause for
suspicion other than the fact that he had charge of the sets and that
Miss Welch had suggested that he might bear watching. Even though there
were a chain of thieves among Martin Brothers’ employees, it might not
extend to the book department. Still the conversation he had overheard
pointed plainly to the dishonesty of someone in Department 85.

Late that afternoon, however, Harry chanced to witness something which
bore out Miss Welch’s suggestion. The boy was hard at work, arranging a
table of bargain books when the sound of voices in his ears caused him
to glance up. Mr. Farley stood before a shelf of special books devoted
to arts and crafts. It was situated directly across the narrow aisle in
which Harry was working. The man’s back was toward the boy. Beside him
stood a pretty young woman. She was talking animatedly on the subject
of interior decorating and examining with interest the various books
the salesman showed her.

“How much is this book?” Harry heard her ask.

“Five dollars,” was the salesman’s response.

The young woman turned the leaves of the book as though undecided
whether she wished to pay that price for it. The salesman watched her
narrowly.

“I’ll take it,” she said at last, “but need I have it wrapped? I wish
to make a train and I can save time by tucking it in this bag.” She
pointed to a leather traveling bag she had set down on the shelf.
Fumbling in her hand-bag she took from it a five-dollar note and handed
it to Mr. Farley.

“That will be all right, madam,” Harry heard him say. He glanced
cautiously up and down the aisle, still with his back toward Harry. The
woman hastily opened her traveling bag, dropped the book into it and
hurried out of the department. The man watched her out of sight, then
he strolled off in the opposite direction without looking back, but as
he went, Harry’s watchful eyes saw him thrust the hand that held the
money into his trousers pocket. When he withdrew his hand it was empty.

“He’s going to keep that money,” sprang to Harry’s mind, then, anxious
to give the man the benefit of the doubt, “Perhaps he has put it in his
pocket until he gets his sales book.” The boy strolled slowly behind
the salesman, determined to see what Mr. Farley intended to do with the
money. It soon became evident that the man was not searching for his
book on which to record the sale. He walked to the end of the aisle,
then crossed over to the other side of the department. Harry dodged
behind a high pile of large dictionaries that had been stacked at the
end of the aisle. From this point of vantage he watched Mr. Farley for
at least ten minutes. During that time the man made no effort to record
the sale. Instead, he approached one of the saleswomen and entered into
a conversation with her. Spying a customer who was examining a set of
Thackeray, he made his way to his own stock, with Martin Brothers’
money still reposing in his trousers pocket.

Here Harry’s watch ended. He could spend no further time shadowing the
man. He went slowly back to the table on which he had been at work,
hardly knowing what to do. He had seen Mr. Farley pocket the money, but
how could he prove what he had seen, were he to accuse the man openly?
He had no way of finding out who the customer was, or where she lived.
If Mr. Farley were confronted with Harry’s story he would no doubt deny
the whole transaction, or make some sort of clever explanation that
would entirely discount Harry’s accusation.

“I’ll tell Miss Welch,” decided the boy. He made his way to the
exchange desk, but his friend was too busily engaged with a row of
more or less patient women, afflicted with the exchange habit, for
confidences.

“I’ll tell her as soon as she isn’t so busy,” he decided. Before that
time arrived he was sent up to the stock-room for a small consignment
of books for which a saleswoman had an order on the following morning.
When he returned to the floor the second closing gong had rung and
Miss Welch’s desk was deserted.

“I suppose I’d better go and eat my supper.” Harry turned in
disappointment from the exchange desk and went downstairs to the
basement, pondering what he had best do. As is the custom in large
department stores, the employees who work after the store’s regular
hour for closing receive their supper at the management’s expense. They
are usually given from thirty to fifty cents and allowed time enough
to go to an outside restaurant for their evening meal. Certain stores,
however, make it a point to serve supper to their salespersons working
overtime. Martin Brothers were among the latter, and served their night
workers with a substantial meal in the basement restaurant.

Harry had just begun his supper when he saw Mr. Farley enter the
restaurant in company with a slender young man whose black eyes and
hair, together with a small black moustache, gave him a decidedly
foreign air. The two seated themselves at a table some distance from
Harry, and with their heads close together began what appeared to be an
extremely confidential conversation. He noted that when the waiter came
to take their order they stopped talking and waited until he was well
out of hearing before resuming their confab.

“I wonder who that man is,” was Harry’s thought. “I don’t believe I
ever saw him before.” As he sat watching the two salesmen, Fred Alden,
the other stock boy for Department 85, slid into the chair opposite
Harry.

“Any objections to the pleasure of my company for supper?” he grinned
cheerfully. He was a tow-headed, homely youth, older by two years than
Harry, and his unfailing good humor was proverbial in the department.

“I’m glad to have you. I hate to eat alone. I’d have waited for you to
go to supper, but I wished to see Miss Welch. She’d gone home, though,
so I came on down stairs,” explained Harry. Seized with a sudden idea
he asked carelessly, “Who is that man with Mr. Farley? They’re over
there.” Harry indicated them with a nod of his head.

“Who’s he? Oh, he’s a salesman in the upholstery. He’s a Frenchman,
and thinks he’s a whole lot. He talks like an American, though.
Sometimes when he gets mad or excited you can tell he’s a foreigner.
The messenger kids used to tease him to see him get wrathy. He’s got an
awful temper.”

Harry’s heart gave a sudden leap. The unfamiliar voice he had heard
that morning of some weeks past had held a curious note which he knew
to be out of the ordinary, yet was at a loss to guess why. Now it was
all clear. The peculiarly accented words were the speech of an alien.
At last he was on the trail of at least two thieves. Whether that
trail led out of the book department and through the store, he could
not know. He only knew that Miss Welch’s random suspicion had hit the
mark.

During the remainder of the meal he let Fred carry on the greater
part of the conversation, a proceeding which exactly suited the other
boy, who was a chronic talker. Harry’s thoughts were busy with his
discovery. He could not be sure of his man until he heard the dark
young man speak. But while he pondered as to his next move he saw Mr.
Farley and his companion rise from the table. Harry sprang to his feet,
leaving his dessert half eaten. “I’m sorry I can’t wait for you, Fred,”
he apologized, “but I--I--must go.” Without further words he hastened
toward the stairs.

The two men were half way up the stairs when Harry set foot on the
first step. Up he sped, so quietly that they did not hear him. At
least, they did not turn around. He was only three steps behind them
as they reached the first floor. To his intense chagrin they stopped
short at the head of the stairs. There was nothing left for Harry to do
but pass them. Mr. Farley cast a sleepy glance at the boy, but did not
speak. He invariably treated the lad as though he were a part of the
department furnishings. The slender, dark man paid no attention to him
whatever.

“How can I hear his voice if I can’t get near enough to him to hear
it?” was Harry’s disgusted reflection. “I’ve got to hear it, but how
can I manage to?”

From behind a concealing screen of books some distance from the
stairway, Harry peered at the two men. Acting on a flash of impulse,
he suddenly walked boldly toward them. He had happened to recall that
there was to be a sale of sets, too, along with the miscellaneous books.

“Do you want me to help you with your sets, Mr. Farley?” At the sound
of the boyish voice the men at the stairway whirled about. They had
turned their backs to the book department and had not heard his almost
noiseless approach.

“When I do, I’ll let you know,” frowned Mr. Farley. His sleepy eyes
awoke and gleamed angrily at the interruption. The Frenchman glowered
reprovingly at the lad. “Go away, boy,” he rebuked. “Why haf you
interropted os?”

“I beg your pardon.” There was a mocking inflection in Harry’s tone.
Then he obediently removed his undesired presence to the other end
of the department. He was quite ready to go for he had attained his
object. The dark man had spoken, and in the voice was the inflection he
had reason to remember.

“It’s the same voice,” he breathed half aloud. “Now that I know, I
suppose I’d better tell Mr. Rexford about it, and let him see to it.
He’ll believe me, but if I told somebody else he might not. Well, I’ve
found out what I wanted to, so now I’ll get to work as fast as I can.
It’s after six and I have to be out of here by eight o’clock.”

“Here, Harry,” directed a pleasant voice. “I need you.” It was Mr.
Denby, the man who had charge of the new fiction, who called out. “This
table is to be cleared and those books put on it.”

“All right, sir.” Harry attacked the job with vigor.

It was twenty minutes past seven when that task was finished. Harry
stood eyeing his grimy hands. “I guess I’d better wash my hands,” he
decided. The water faucet was situated in a small room devoted to the
book mail-orders, at one side of the department, and opened into it by
two doors. There was no light and as Harry did not know the situation
of the switch he felt his way to the faucet in the dark.

He had washed his hands, dried them on his handkerchief, and was about
to pass out through the upper door when he heard subdued voices. Two
men entered by the lower door and began to converse in low tones.

“You go and get it,” drawled a familiar voice. “Here’s the set, all
wrapped. Keep to the lower end of the department. I’ll wait here until
you bring my stuff. Make it flat, so I can button it inside my coat.
You’d better take the books out one at a time. That’s a peach of a set.
It’s full morocco. If Rexford ever misses it there’ll be some yelling.”

A dark, indistinct figure slipped from the lower door, another dimly
outlined figure drew close to the side of a high desk out of sight
of any chance intruder, while a third boyish figure sped across the
department in search of Mr. Rexford, who had announced his intention of
returning that evening to direct the preparation for the sale.

“Have you seen Mr. Rexford, Fred?” Harry’s eyes blazed with excitement,
as he paused for an instant to question the other stock boy whom he met
coming toward him, his arms full of books.

“Nope,” was the answer. “I don’t b’lieve he’ll show up. He hardly ever
comes around when the fellows are workin’ at night.”

“But he _said_ he’d be here.” Harry’s face was full of anxious concern.

“Well, mebbe he will, then. Don’t cry about it,” jeered Fred.

Harry did not answer this jibe. He merely smiled and set off in the
direction of the buyer’s office. The door stood half open, but the
office was dark, except for the faint light which shone into it from
the department. “He isn’t there,” muttered the boy. “I’ll have to tell
someone else.” He realized that if he did not act quickly the two men
would have exchanged packages and gone. To prove their guilt it was
necessary to surprise them in the mail-order room.

Harry darted from the buyer’s office and collided violently with a man
who had stepped into his path from between two tables.

“I beg your pardon,” he began, “I didn’t---- Oh, Mr. Rexford, I was
looking for you.” The man with whom he had collided was the man he
sought. “Please come quickly, or it will be too late. Two men are
trying to steal some books. They’re in the mail-order room. That is,
they were there, if they haven’t got away. We must slip in at the upper
door without making any noise.”

Mr. Rexford followed Harry without question. To the boy it seemed an
hour since he had stolen from the mail-order room on his anxious quest
for the buyer. In reality not more than four minutes had passed. “I’ll
stay back,” he whispered as they neared the door. “You go in.”

Just inside the upper door stood a tall filing cabinet. It effectually
screened Mr. Rexford’s noiseless entrance into the room. By crouching
to one side of it he could lean forward and thus view all that went
on, the darkness of the room protecting him from observation. Outside
the doorway Harry waited in an agony of suspense. No sound came from
within the room. He wondered if the Frenchman had returned while he was
hunting Mr. Rexford, if the quick exchange of packages had already been
made and the two thieves had stolen away.

Mr. Rexford, however, had heard someone moving in the vicinity of the
desk. He knew, if Harry did not, that one of the men was still there.
Who they were he could not guess. The sight of Harry’s troubled face as
he cried out to him to come quickly was sufficient to convince him of
the seriousness of the situation.

It was not long before the watcher heard a stealthy footfall. Someone
had entered through the lower doorway. A dark figure left the
protection of the desk. “I thought you’d changed your mind about coming
back,” drawled a low voice.

Mr. Rexford started in astonishment.

“It is not long--ten minutes, perhaps,” rebuked the newcomer. “Here is
the portiere. The package is small. You can----”

The room was suddenly flooded with a penetrating light, revealing
the Frenchman in the act of holding out a package to the sleepy-eyed
salesman, Mr. Farley.

“What does this mean, Farley?” Mr. Rexford confronted the astonished
pair. The man Farley turned deathly pale. The package dropped from his
hand. The Frenchman evaded Mr. Rexford and leaped for the door. The
next second there was a rumble, followed by a loud crash. The man had
stumbled over an empty truck, sending it rumbling against a book table,
while he sprawled headlong to the floor.

The noise, coupled with the man’s fall, brought several workers to the
scene. The Frenchman scrambled to his feet and was about to slink off
when Mr. Rexford’s authoritative voice called out from the mail-order
door, “Don’t let that man get away. I want him. Take him to my office
and keep him there until I come.”

Two of the salesmen hustled the man unceremoniously toward the buyer’s
office. Mr. Rexford retired into the mail-order room, only to appear
almost instantly with Farley. The salesman’s face was ghastly, his
usually sleepy eyes were dark with fear. He walked quietly beside the
buyer, however, making no effort to flee.

Mr. Rexford stopped and said something in a low tone to Mr. Denby, the
man who had charge of the fiction. The salesman hurried out of the
department, while the buyer motioned Farley into his office, stepped in
after him and closed the door.

A little group of workers gathered at one side of the department to
discuss the meaning of the scene they had just witnessed.

“I suppose they’ve been stealing. Looks like it,” advanced one young
man. “Who’s that dark fellow? I’ve seen him around the department
talking to Farley. _He’s_ the last person I’d accuse of stealing. He’s
been here for ten years.”

“It’s cribbing, all right enough. Here comes Prescott, the head
detective,” murmured one of the men who had escorted the Frenchman into
the office. “I wonder who spotted the game?”

Harry Harding might have given that information, but, instead, he stood
in silence, listening to the talk that went on among the men. Glancing
at the clock he saw that it was five minutes to eight. The law forbade
any boy of his age to work after that hour. He was glad of it. He would
go at once. He feared he might be called behind that closed door to
testify against the offenders, and he shrank from doing so. He was not
really needed. Mr. Rexford had caught the men in the act of exchanging
stolen goods. Now the detective could do the rest. Harry lost no time
in turning his night pass over to the man on the door and leaving the
store behind him.

He had been gone perhaps fifteen minutes when Mr. Rexford emerged from
the office and asked for him.

“He went home on the dot of eight,” reported Mr. Denby, the fiction
salesman. “You know these boys have to keep within the labor law.”

Mr. Rexford smiled. “That boy has done a good deal more to-night than
keep within the labor law. He’s been of untold service to Martin
Brothers and to me. He has rounded up the ringleaders of a gang of
thieving employees that have been profiting at the store’s expense for
a long time. What I’d like to know is where he got his first clue?”



CHAPTER XXIV

WRITING THE WELCOME ADDRESS


The next morning, however, Harry could not escape testifying against
the two men. Once more he found himself in Mr. Prescott’s office, and
although he entered it reluctantly, it was only because of the pity he
felt for the men who had by their own wrong doing placed themselves in
the toils of the law. To his relief he found no one save Mr. Rexford
and Mr. Prescott in the office. To them he related everything that
bore on the case, from the first conversation he had overheard while
seated in the bin, to the moment when he had discovered the men in the
mail-order room and gone for Mr. Rexford.

“You’re a smart boy,” commented the detective when he had finished.

“I don’t believe I’d ever have kept on watching Mr. Farley, if it
hadn’t been for Miss Welch,” confessed Harry. “I hated to do it.”

“Is that the girl who jumped all over me the day Seymour sent you up
here?” asked the detective. “I wish the store had a lot more girls
like her.”

“Yes, sir, that was Miss Welch.” Harry treasured the compliment to
repeat to his friend. Then he added rather timidly, “Will Mr. Farley
and the other man have to go to prison? It’s too bad. I’m sorry they
weren’t honest.”

“I guess they’re sorry, too,” returned Mr. Prescott grimly. “I can’t
say what’ll be done with ’em. It’ll take a week to get all the facts.
Did you know that they belonged to a gang of thieves, all employees
here? You did a good job, boy.”

“I--wish--I hadn’t--I didn’t like to do it,” faltered Harry, “but when
I came here to work I promised on my application blank that I’d report
anyone I saw working against the store’s interest.”

“No true man likes to bring even deserved misfortune on others, Harry,”
broke in Mr. Rexford kindly. “We understand how you feel about it.”

“Will I have to--to----” Harry stopped.

“Appear against them?” interrupted the detective. “No; Farley has
confessed everything. You’re out of it from now on.”

After a little further conversation, Mr. Rexford and Harry left the
detective’s office and returned to the book department. During the
morning Harry was assailed with curious questions concerning the
affair, but he only shook his head and replied, “I can’t tell you.
Please don’t ask me.”

The news had traveled rapidly throughout the store, however, as at
least thirty salespersons in the various departments were implicated
in the thieving. Even Teddy, in his distant realm of kettles and
pans, heard the tale and besieged Harry with countless questions when
they met at the end of the day. But Harry told him nothing beyond the
barest details, and at home he was absolutely silent on the subject. He
was greatly relieved when at the end of the week he learned from Mr.
Rexford that the offenders had escaped prison. They were each compelled
to pay a sum to the store, set by the management, then discharged.
Martin Brothers were not vindictive. They did not care to prosecute.

After this unpleasant experience followed a delightful monotony for
Harry, in which he did his work faithfully, went to school, read the
books Mr. Rexford frequently lent him and considered himself the
luckiest boy alive. The friendship between him and Teddy had daily
grown and deepened, and the acquaintance between the boys’ mothers bade
fair to become intimacy. Harry spent frequent evenings at Teddy’s home,
and Teddy was a welcome visitor in the Harding’s humble rooms.

But while these pleasant friendships progressed, the year progressed
also, and before the lads realized the change, winter had given an
early place to spring and May arrived in all her flower-decked glory.

“Walking’s good these days,” remarked Teddy as he and Harry strolled
leisurely home one night through the warm spring sunshine. “Summer’s
coming pretty fast. I’m glad, but I’m sorry.”

“What!” exclaimed Harry, “aren’t you glad that vacation time is coming,
and school will soon close?” he added slyly.

Teddy’s freckled face grew red. Then he laughed. “You said that on
purpose,” he accused. “You know I hate to leave Miss Leonard.”

“So do I,” sighed Harry. “Still, if we don’t pass our examinations we
won’t have to leave her.”

“I guess I’ll fail,” grinned Teddy. “Maybe I will, anyhow. I know I
won’t pass in English. I never can remember how to parse and a lot of
other things. I know more’n Howard Randall does about grammar, though.
What do you s’pose he went and wrote the other day?”

“I don’t know. Tell me.” Harry’s eyes danced. Howard Randall’s lapses
in English were the joke of Company A.

“You know that ten-question test we had last week,” related Teddy.
“Well, Howard couldn’t answer a single question. Grammar won’t stay
in his head, somehow. He didn’t want to leave his paper blank so he
thought he’d try to answer one. He answered that one, ‘What is meant by
the first, second and third persons?’ He, he! This is what he wrote,
‘The first person was Adam, the second person was Eve and the third was
the children.’ Some answer, wasn’t it?” Teddy ended with a giggle.

Harry shouted with laughter at the fat boy’s strenuous attempt to prove
that he knew something about English.

“When are you going to take your vacation, Harry?” asked Teddy, as they
halted at the corner where they separated.

“The first week in July, I think. I’m not going away anywhere. I can’t
afford it. You know we won’t be paid for our vacation week, don’t you?”

“Yes. The fellows say you have to be in the store a year before you can
draw vacation money. That don’t hurt me any, though. My Mother says I
must take two weeks off. I’m going the first of July, too. She wants me
to take a month, but I’m not going to do it. I’m afraid I might lose
my job. Some of the boys of the West Park School are teasing me to go
camping with ’em, but I haven’t made up my mind about it. I thought
I’d see first if you’d go along.” Teddy eyed his chum wistfully. “The
fellows would like you, and I’d be tickled to have you.”

“You’re a loyal chum, Teddy.” Harry was deeply touched by the
red-haired boy’s thought of him. “I’d like to go, but I can’t afford to
spend a cent on a vacation trip. If I could I’d make Mother go away for
a week. She needs a rest more than I do.”

Teddy was silent in the face of this argument.

“I’m going to read and help Mother,” continued Harry cheerfully. “I’m
not going to let myself even think that I’d have a better time camping
or in the country, or at the seashore. Next year, if I live, and all
goes well, Mother and I will both go on a vacation trip. I’m going to
save every penny I can, just for that.”

Nevertheless, as the spring days lengthened and the weather went from
warm to hot, Harry could not repress an occasional wistful longing
that he had money enough to send his mother away to the country for a
week, while the merciless heat of summer rioted in all its scorching
fury. For himself the boy had no thought. The dull season for the book
department had begun. During the summer his work would be comparatively
light. There would be no school. Only one more week of study remained,
then a week of examinations. If he passed, it meant night school for
him the next fall. He was glad to think of advancing in his studies,
yet sorry to leave Miss Leonard. Since his transference from the
exchange desk to the book department his report card had remained
clean. Miss Leonard and he were now on the best of terms. It would be
hard to say good-bye to her.

This depressing thought made the boy’s face unduly solemn as he sat
watching his teacher on the last Monday morning of the regular study
session. She had just called the roll, but instead of proceeding with
the regular programme of school she rose and stepped down to the front
row of seats with, “I have something to say to you this morning, boys,
which I believe will interest all of you. Mr. Edwin Martin has offered
a prize of twenty dollars in gold to the boy who can write the best
welcome address. This address is to be learned and delivered by the boy
who wins the prize on the night of the store messengers’ commencement
exercises, to be given in Martin Hall. Your address must not contain
more than two hundred words. It must be neatly written on one side of
the paper only, with your name in the upper left-hand corner of the
first page. It must be handed to me one week from to-day. Mr. Keene,
Mr. Marsh and Miss Pierce are to be the judges. Every boy on the store
messenger force must write an address. Although only one boy can win
the prize, remember, that if you do your very best, you may be that
boy.”

Miss Leonard’s announcement met with a buzz of interest among the boys
of Company A. To many of them twenty dollars in gold seemed limitless
wealth. More than one pair of boyish eyes brightened at the prospect
just opened to them, and the majority of them made secret resolve to
try their hardest to win the golden prize.

“I’m not goin’ to try for that old prize,” Teddy confided to Harry as
they walked downstairs together after school was over that morning.
“I’m goin’ to sing a solo at the exercises and be in a duet and a
quartette. I’ve got to learn my songs. Let somebody else win the
money. Course, I’d get it, you know, if I tried for it,” he declared
waggishly. Then he added in a flash of inspiration, “You’re the boy who
can win it, Harry. You write the best compositions in Company A Class.
Miss Leonard’s always reading ’em out to us and saying how good they
are.”

“A welcome address is a good deal harder to write than a composition,”
demurred Harry. “I’m going to try to do my best to write a good one,
but not because of the money. I don’t expect to win that.”

“Yes, but if you could win the twenty dollars you could take your
mother away for a vacation,” reminded Teddy.

Harry felt himself grow hot and cold at these significant words. A
wave of determination swept over him to put forth the highest effort
that lay within him for his mother’s sake. Teddy’s reminder had acted
as a fresh spur to his ambition to write his best. He had, indeed, an
object in winning the gold piece.

That night after supper he sat at the little center table, pencil in
hand, a pad of paper before him, but try as he might he could not
compose a line that seemed in keeping with his idea of what a welcome
address should be.

“What are you writing, Harry?” his mother asked curiously, as the boy
wrote and erased, stripping off one sheet of paper after another from
the pad, only to tear it to bits.

“I’m writing--a--well--it’s a kind of composition.” Harry had decided
not to tell his mother of the prize competition until it was over. If
he won, it would be a glorious surprise. If he did not, then she would
never know, and thus escape being disappointed because the prize had
not been awarded her son.

Harry went to bed that night in a rather disheartened frame of mind. He
had not written a single line which he considered worthy. A constant
reader of good books, he had decided ideas as to literary style, and
was fairly competent to judge his own work. The next night he attacked
his task with renewed resolve, but the words of inspiration would not
come.

“I don’t believe I can write anything good enough for an every-day
composition, let alone a welcome address,” he confided to Teddy after
four evenings of hard, but futile effort at composing an address worth
while.

“Mine’s written and handed in,” grinned Teddy. “I wrote seven lines, so
I’ll sure get the prize. I couldn’t think of anything more. It’s seven
lines too much, anyhow.”

Harry’s sober face relaxed into a faint smile. He had a very fair idea
of Teddy’s welcome address.

“I’m going to keep on trying,” he declared, his pleasant face setting
in lines of dogged determination.

“To-day’s Friday. You’ve only Saturday and Sunday,” was Teddy’s
well-meant reminder.

That evening Harry went to his task divided between the desire to
write a fitting address and the despair of ever doing so. He read
over the one he had written the night before, then, with an impatient
exclamation tore it to bits. It was dull. It lacked force and
sincerity. He longed to put into it his gratitude toward the man who
had given so many boys not only work but the splendid chance to gain an
education as well. If only he could set down that gratitude in smooth,
elegant language!

He stared frowningly at the paper before him. All at once an idea
occurred to him. Why not write all that he felt in every-day fashion?
Then, perhaps, he could revise it and improve upon it. Seizing his
pencil he began to write just what he would have liked to say to Mr.
Martin had the opportunity come for him to tell this great man how
much his goodness had meant to one boy. He wrote on and on, filling one
sheet of paper, then another and still another.

Finally, he laid down his pencil and began to read what he had written.
It seemed very crude and boyish to him, but it had come straight from
his heart. Whether he won the money or not he could write nothing else.
He had said his say. All that remained to be done was to copy his
address and write his name upon it. He had done his best.



CHAPTER XXV

COMMENCEMENT


At precisely eight o’clock on a warm June evening a long line of boys
walked sedately into Martin Hall and marching to the front to the
inspiring strains of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” played by the
store orchestra, filed into the rows of seats ribboned off in white
which had been reserved for them. There was a buzz of expectation from
an audience which packed the hall. A bell tinkled. Then the great
curtain rose, disclosing a palm-decorated stage. There was a sudden
hush. Then a slender, blue-eyed lad walked serenely out on the stage,
as though utterly unconscious of the sea of upturned faces directed
toward him. The boy was Harry Harding. He had come before this large
and interested assemblage to deliver the welcome address.

“Dear friends,” he began in a clear, earnest voice that carried to
every part of the crowded room, “we are here to-night to do honor to
the man who has proved, and is proving every day, his interest in
the welfare of the messenger boys of Martin Brothers’ store. To Mr.
Edward Martin we owe our lasting thanks in that he has given us not
only a chance to become useful business men, but to attain an education
as well. Many of us have been obliged to leave the public schools in
order to help those at home who need our assistance. It is a wonderful
thing for us to be able to go on with our school work and earn money
as well. We are glad to welcome you here to-night because we wish you
to know that we appreciate the splendid opportunities that have been
given us. We have tried earnestly to make the most of our good fortune
and we shall continue to try to prove ourselves worthy in every respect
of our privileges. We are young, and we must pass through many trials
and experiences before we become men. But surely, with the help and
guidance of those whose effort is given to directing and moulding of
our character, we must finally become useful, thoughtful men, striving
only to reach the highest and hold it fast.

“In the name of Martin Brothers and the boys of their store messenger
service, we extend you our heartiest welcome and thank you for your
attendance to-night.”

Ungrudging applause burst forth as Harry Harding bowed. As he was about
to leave the stage the leader of the orchestra reached up and handed
him an immense bouquet of pink roses. This time Teddy had taken up a
collection, and honors were even.

There was more applause, and Harry retired, considerably more
confused than when he had stepped forth to make his speech, while a
brown-haired, happy-faced woman in the audience wiped tears of sheer
joy from her loving eyes at the triumph of her boy.

The exercises proceeded with a smoothness that was a supreme
satisfaction to Mr. Keene, Mr. Marsh, Miss Verne and all those who had
helped make the occasion one long to be remembered by those present.
The graduates were at last called to the stage and presented one by
one with the diplomas that marked the end of their course in the day
school. To all of them it meant an increase of salary, promotion in the
store, and night school during the coming year.

At last it was over and the audience had dispersed in leisurely
fashion. Two radiant-faced boys made their way to where two proud
mothers awaited them. Teddy’s mother had equal reason to be proud of
her son, whose sweet voice had added much to make the entertainment
memorable.

“Here, Mother, you must carry my roses,” laughed Harry, handing the
huge bouquet of fragrant flowers into his mother’s keeping.

“Oh, Harry, dear, Mother is so proud of her boy,” the little woman
whispered as they walked arm in arm to the street corner to wait for
their car. Teddy and his mother were just behind them.

“I guess we won’t walk home to-night, Harry,” grinned the irrepressible
Teddy. “We deserve to ride home for once. We’re some folks. My, but I’m
glad you won the prize. I felt the shivers go up and down my back when
you made the address. It was a welcome one, all right.”

“It wasn’t half so welcome as the money. Isn’t it splendid, Ted, to
think that we are all going on that vacation together?”

The Burkes and the Hardings had arranged to rent a bungalow in the
suburbs for two weeks. By joining forces Harry’s twenty dollars would
be sufficient to pay his and his mother’s share of the expenses. The
boys’ vacation was to begin the following week. As the store was to
be closed on Saturday they would not return to work until after their
vacation.

“I can never be thankful enough that we went together to Martin
Brothers that day to look for work,” returned Harry; his eyes were
bright with the memory of that never-to-be-forgotten morning when he
and Teddy Burke had joined forces.

“You can’t be any gladder than I am,” was Teddy’s serious answer. “It
looks as though you and I were going to be business men for sure,
doesn’t it?”

“We’ll get there after a while, I hope. It won’t be long until we’re
salesmen.”

“And after that we’ll be buyers,” declared Teddy eagerly. “Perhaps
we’ll own a store like Martin Brothers’ some day, Harry.”

“Perhaps we will. At least, we’ve started on the long road to business
and success, and it rests with us to keep in the middle of it. There’s
a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” boasted Teddy. “Just watch me wade into
it when I come back from my vacation.”

“I won’t have time,” retorted Harry, laughing. “I’ll be too busy
myself.”

“My boy, I was very proud of you to-night!” a deep voice sounded at
Harry’s elbow, causing him to turn quickly. His color rose as he
recognized the pleasant tones of Mr. Rexford. He had scanned the
audience anxiously during the evening, wondering if the man to whom
he owed so much had been present at the exercises. He could not know
that Mr. Rexford had learned beforehand from Mr. Keene that he, Harry
Harding, had been chosen for the honor of delivering the welcome
address. The book-buyer had lingered in the hall just long enough to
hear the boy’s earnest little speech, then retired to his office to
write letters. The task had taken him longer than he had expected,
and he had left the store just in time to encounter the little group
standing on the corner.

“Oh, Mr. Rexford! I’m so glad you happened to come this way!” cried
Harry, extending his hand to meet that of his employer. “I tried to see
you this afternoon to say good-bye, but couldn’t find you. I looked for
you in the audience to-night, too, but I didn’t see you. This is my
mother, and Mrs. Burke, and my chum, Theodore Burke.” Harry welcomed
the opportunity of presenting his dear ones to the man he so greatly
respected and admired.

“Allow me to congratulate you on your son, Mrs. Harding,” were Mr.
Rexford’s first words after acknowledging the introduction.

“Thank you, Mr. Rexford.” Mrs. Harding’s brown eyes shone in
appreciation of this praise of her boy. Although Harry still kept the
secret of those dark days, long since passed, locked in his heart, she
had daily heard him voice his gratitude for Mr. Rexford’s interest in
him. “I must thank you, also, for your goodness to Harry,” she added.

“I consider myself fortunate in having him in my department. I wish he
were _my_ son,” smiled the buyer. Then he bade them a kindly good night
and walked on, leaving a happy-faced quartette behind him.

“Here’s our car,” called Teddy. “Come on, Mother. Good-bye, Martin
Brothers. I’ll see you after vacation.” He waved his hand at the huge
building which had sheltered and schooled the two boys and which held
the promise of a future for them both far greater than they could then
dream or know.

Yet Harry and Teddy knew only too well that in order to become
successful business men they must, as boys, lay a sure foundation on
which to build their careers. They must be ready to greet each day
with a smile and live it for all it was worth. To do the little things
cheerfully and well, in the hope of greater things to come was to be
their watchword. The story of their return to Martin Brothers’ store
after their hard-earned vacation, and what befell them on the field of
duty, remains yet to be told.

Those who have followed the two lads through their first year as
business boys will meet them once more and learn just what happened to
them next in the second volume of this series, “HARRY HARDING’S YEAR OF
PROMISE.”


THE END



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 --Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 --Printer's, punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently
   corrected.

 --Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.





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