Chapter X. In Murphy's Alley
 

With the opulent purr that seems to be peculiar to luxurious limousines, Mrs. Carew's car rolled down Commonwealth Avenue and out upon Arlington Street to Charles. Inside sat a shining-eyed little girl and a white-faced, tense woman. Outside, to give directions to the plainly disapproving chauffeur, sat Jerry Murphy, inordinately proud and insufferably important.

When the limousine came to a stop before a shabby doorway in a narrow, dirty alley, the boy leaped to the ground, and, with a ridiculous imitation of the liveried pomposities he had so often watched, threw open the door of the car and stood waiting for the ladies to alight.

Pollyanna sprang out at once, her eyes widening with amazement and distress as she looked about her. Behind her came Mrs. Carew, visibly shuddering as her gaze swept the filth, the sordidness, and the ragged children that swarmed shrieking and chattering out of the dismal tenements, and surrounded the car in a second.

Jerry waved his arms angrily.

"Here, you, beat it!" he yelled to the motley throng. "This ain't no free movies! Can that racket and get a move on ye. Lively, now! We gotta get by. Jamie's got comp'ny."

Mrs. Carew shuddered again, and laid a trembling hand on Jerry's shoulder.

"Not--here!" she recoiled.

But the boy did not hear. With shoves and pushes from sturdy fists and elbows, he was making a path for his charges; and before Mrs. Carew knew quite how it was done, she found herself with the boy and Pollyanna at the foot of a rickety flight of stairs in a dim, evil-smelling hallway.

Once more she put out a shaking hand.

"Wait," she commanded huskily. "Remember! Don't either of you say a word about--about his being possibly the boy I'm looking for. I must see for myself first, and--question him."

"Of course!" agreed Pollyanna.

"Sure! I'm on," nodded the boy. "I gotta go right off anyhow, so I won't bother ye none. Now toddle easy up these 'ere stairs. There's always holes, and most generally there's a kid or two asleep somewheres. An' the elevator ain't runnin' ter-day," he gibed cheerfully. "We gotta go ter the top, too!"

Mrs. Carew found the "holes"--broken boards that creaked and bent fearsomely under her shrinking feet; and she found one "kid"--a two-year-old baby playing with an empty tin can on a string which he was banging up and down the second flight of stairs. On all sides doors were opened, now boldly, now stealthily, but always disclosing women with tousled heads or peering children with dirty faces. Somewhere a baby was wailing piteously. Somewhere else a man was cursing. Everywhere was the smell of bad whiskey, stale cabbage, and unwashed humanity.

At the top of the third and last stairway the boy came to a pause before a closed door.

"I'm just a-thinkin' what Sir James'll say when he's wise ter the prize package I'm bringin' him," he whispered in a throaty voice. "I know what mumsey'll do--she'll turn on the weeps in no time ter see Jamie so tickled." The next moment he threw wide the door with a gay: "Here we be--an' we come in a buzz-wagon! Ain't that goin' some, Sir James?"

It was a tiny room, cold and cheerless and pitifully bare, but scrupulously neat. There were here no tousled heads, no peering children, no odors of whiskey, cabbage, and unclean humanity. There were two beds, three broken chairs, a dry-goods-box table, and a stove with a faint glow of light that told of a fire not nearly brisk enough to heat even that tiny room. On one of the beds lay a lad with flushed cheeks and fever-bright eyes. Near him sat a thin, white-faced woman, bent and twisted with rheumatism.

Mrs. Carew stepped into the room and, as if to steady herself, paused a minute with her back to the wall. Pollyanna hurried forward with a low cry just as Jerry, with an apologetic "I gotta go now; good-by!" dashed through the door.

"Oh, Jamie, I'm so glad I've found you," cried Pollyanna. "You don't know how I've looked and looked for you every day. But I'm so sorry you're sick!"

Jamie smiled radiantly and held out a thin white hand.

"I ain't sorry--I'm glad," he emphasized meaningly; "'cause it's brought you to see me. Besides, I'm better now, anyway. Mumsey, this is the little girl, you know, that told me the glad game--and mumsey's playing it, too," he triumphed, turning back to Pollyanna. "First she cried 'cause her back hurts too bad to let her work; then when I was took worse she was glad she couldn't work, 'cause she could be here to take care of me, you know."

At that moment Mrs. Carew hurried forward, her eyes half-fearfully, half-longingly on the face of the lame boy in the bed.

"It's Mrs. Carew. I've brought her to see you, Jamie," introduced Pollyanna, in a tremulous voice.

The little twisted woman by the bed had struggled to her feet by this time, and was nervously offering her chair. Mrs. Carew accepted it without so much as a glance. Her eyes were still on the boy in the bed.

"Your name is--Jamie?" she asked, with visible difficulty.

"Yes, ma'am." The boy's bright eyes looked straight into hers.

"What is your other name?"

"I don't know."

"He is not your son?" For the first time Mrs. Carew turned to the twisted little woman who was still standing by the bed.

"No, madam."

"And you don't know his name?"

"No, madam. I never knew it."

With a despairing gesture Mrs. Carew turned back to the boy.

"But think, think--don't you remember anything of your name but--Jamie?"

The boy shook his head. Into his eyes was coming a puzzled wonder.

"No, nothing."

"Haven't you anything that belonged to your father, with possibly his name in it?"

"There wasn't anythin' worth savin' but them books," interposed Mrs. Murphy. "Them's his. Maybe you'd like to look at 'em," she suggested, pointing to a row of worn volumes on a shelf across the room. Then, in plainly uncontrollable curiosity, she asked: "Was you thinkin' you knew him, ma'am?"

"I don't know," murmured Mrs. Carew, in a half-stifled voice, as she rose to her feet and crossed the room to the shelf of books.

There were not many--perhaps ten or a dozen. There was a volume of Shakespeare's plays, an "Ivanhoe," a much-thumbed "Lady of the Lake," a book of miscellaneous poems, a coverless "Tennyson," a dilapidated "Little Lord Fauntleroy," and two or three books of ancient and medieval history. But, though Mrs. Carew looked carefully through every one, she found nowhere any written word. With a despairing sigh she turned back to the boy and to the woman, both of whom now were watching her with startled, questioning eyes.

"I wish you'd tell me--both of you--all you know about yourselves," she said brokenly, dropping herself once more into the chair by the bed.

And they told her. It was much the same story that Jamie had told Pollyanna in the Public Garden. There was little that was new, nothing that was significant, in spite of the probing questions that Mrs. Carew asked. At its conclusion Jamie turned eager eyes on Mrs. Carew's face.

"Do you think you knew--my father?" he begged.

Mrs. Carew closed her eyes and pressed her hand to her head.

"I don't--know," she answered. "But I think--not."

Pollyanna gave a quick cry of keen disappointment, but as quickly she suppressed it in obedience to Mrs. Carew's warning glance. With new horror, however, she surveyed the tiny room.

Jamie, turning his wondering eyes from Mrs. Carew's face, suddenly awoke to his duties as host.

"Wasn't you good to come!" he said to Pollyanna, gratefully. "How's Sir Lancelot? Do you ever go to feed him now?" Then, as Pollyanna did not answer at once, he hurried on, his eyes going from her face to the somewhat battered pink in a broken-necked bottle in the window. "Did you see my posy? Jerry found it. Somebody dropped it and he picked it up. Ain't it pretty? And it smells a little."

But Pollyanna did not seem even to have heard him. She was still gazing, wide-eyed about the room, clasping and unclasping her hands nervously.

"But I don't see how you can ever play the game here at all, Jamie," she faltered. "I didn't suppose there could be anywhere such a perfectly awful place to live," she shuddered.

"Ho!" scoffed Jamie, valiantly. "You'd oughter see the Pikes' down-stairs. Theirs is a whole lot worse'n this. You don't know what a lot of nice things there is about this room. Why, we get the sun in that winder there for 'most two hours every day, when it shines. And if you get real near it you can see a whole lot of sky from it. If we could only keep the room!--but you see we've got to leave, we're afraid. And that's what's worrin' us."

"Leave!"

"Yes. We got behind on the rent--mumsey bein' sick so, and not earnin' anythin'." In spite of a courageously cheerful smile, Jamie's voice shook. "Mis' Dolan down-stairs--the woman what keeps my wheel chair for me, you know--is helpin' us out this week. But of course she can't do it always, and then we'll have to go--if Jerry don't strike it rich, or somethin'."

"Oh, but can't we--" began Pollyanna.

She stopped short. Mrs. Carew had risen to her feet abruptly with a hurried:

"Come, Pollyanna, we must go." Then to the woman she turned wearily. "You won't have to leave. I'll send you money and food at once, and I'll mention your case to one of the charity organizations in which I am interested, and they will--"

In surprise she ceased speaking. The bent little figure of the woman opposite had drawn itself almost erect. Mrs. Murphy's cheeks were flushed. Her eyes showed a smouldering fire.

"Thank you, no, Mrs. Carew," she said tremulously, but proudly. "We're poor--God knows; but we ain't charity folks."

"Nonsense!" cried Mrs. Carew, sharply. "You're letting the woman down-stairs help you. This boy said so."

"I know; but that ain't charity," persisted the woman, still tremulously. "Mrs. Dolan is my friend. She knows I'D do her a good turn just as quick--I have done 'em for her in times past. Help from friends ain't charity. They care; and that--that makes a difference. We wa'n't always as we are now, you see; and that makes it hurt all the more--all this. Thank you; but we couldn't take--your money."

Mrs. Carew frowned angrily. It had been a most disappointing, heart-breaking, exhausting hour for her. Never a patient woman, she was exasperated now, besides being utterly tired out.

"Very well, just as you please," she said coldly. Then, with vague irritation she added: "But why don't you go to your landlord and insist that he make you even decently comfortable while you do stay? Surely you're entitled to something besides broken windows stuffed with rags and papers! And those stairs that I came up are positively dangerous."

Mrs. Murphy sighed in a discouraged way. Her twisted little figure had fallen back into its old hopelessness.

"We have tried to have something done, but it's never amounted to anything. We never see anybody but the agent, of course; and he says the rents are too low for the owner to put out any more money on repairs."

"Nonsense!" snapped Mrs. Carew, with all the sharpness of a nervous, distraught woman who has at last found an outlet for her exasperation. "It's shameful! What's more, I think it's a clear case of violation of the law;--those stairs are, certainly. I shall make it my business to see that he's brought to terms. What is the name of that agent, and who is the owner of this delectable establishment?"

"I don't know the name of the owner, madam; but the agent is Mr. Dodge."

"Dodge!" Mrs. Carew turned sharply, an odd look on her face. "You don't mean--Henry Dodge?"

"Yes, madam. His name is Henry, I think."

A flood of color swept into Mrs. Carew's face, then receded, leaving it whiter than before.

"Very well, I--I'll attend to it," she murmured, in a half-stifled voice, turning away. "Come, Pollyanna, we must go now."

Over at the bed Pollyanna was bidding Jamie a tearful good-by.

"But I'll come again. I'll come real soon," she promised brightly, as she hurried through the door after Mrs. Carew.

Not until they had picked their precarious way down the three long nights of stairs and through the jabbering, gesticulating crowd of men, women, and children that surrounded the scowling Perkins and the limousine, did Pollyanna speak again. But then she scarcely waited for the irate chauffeur to slam the door upon them before she pleaded:

"Dear Mrs. Carew, please, please say that it was Jamie! Oh, it would be so nice for him to be Jamie."

"But he isn't Jamie!"

"O dear! Are you sure?"

There was a moment's pause, then Mrs. Carew covered her face with her hands.

"No, I'm not sure--and that's the tragedy of it," she moaned. "I don't think he is; I'm almost positive he isn't. But, of course, there is a chance--and that's what's killing me."

"Then can't you just think he's Jamie," begged Pollyanna, "and play he was? Then you could take him home, and--" But Mrs. Carew turned fiercely.

"Take that boy into my home when he wasn't Jamie? Never, Pollyanna! I couldn't."

"But if you can't help Jamie, I should think you'd be so glad there was some one like him you could help," urged Pollyanna, tremulously. "What if your Jamie was like this Jamie, all poor and sick, wouldn't you want some one to take him in and comfort him, and--" "Don't--don't, Pollyanna," moaned Mrs. Carew, turning her head from side to side, in a frenzy of grief. "When I think that maybe, somewhere, our Jamie is like that--" Only a choking sob finished the sentence.

"That's just what I mean--that's just what I mean!" triumphed Pollyanna, excitedly. "Don't you see? If this is your Jamie, of course you'll want him; and if it isn't, you couldn't be doing any harm to the other Jamie by taking this one, and you'd do a whole lot of good, for you'd make this one so happy--so happy! And then, by and by, if you should find the real Jamie, you wouldn't have lost anything, but you'd have made two little boys happy instead of one; and--" But again Mrs. Carew interrupted her.

"Don't, Pollyanna, don't! I want to think--I want to think."

Tearfully Pollyanna sat back in her seat. By a very visible effort she kept still for one whole minute. Then, as if the words fairly bubbled forth of themselves, there came this:

"Oh, but what an awful, awful place that was! I just wish the man that owned it had to live in it himself--and then see what he'd have to be glad for!"

Mrs. Carew sat suddenly erect. Her face showed a curious change. Almost as if in appeal she flung out her hand toward Pollyanna.

"Don't!" she cried. "Perhaps--she didn't know, Pollyanna. Perhaps she didn't know. I'm sure she didn't know--she owned a place like that. But it will be fixed now--it will be fixed."

"She! Is it a woman that owns it, and do you know her? And do you know the agent, too?"

"Yes." Mrs. Carew bit her lips. "I know her, and I know the agent."

"Oh, I'm so glad," sighed Pollyanna. "Then it'll be all right now."

"Well, it certainly will be--better," avowed Mrs. Carew with emphasis, as the car stopped before her own door.

Mrs. Carew spoke as if she knew what she was talking about. And perhaps, indeed, she did--better than she cared to tell Pollyanna. Certainly, before she slept that night, a letter left her hands addressed to one Henry Dodge, summoning him to an immediate conference as to certain changes and repairs to be made at once in tenements she owned. There were, moreover, several scathing sentences concerning "rag-stuffed windows," and "rickety stairways," that caused this same Henry Dodge to scowl angrily, and to say a sharp word behind his teeth--though at the same time he paled with something very like fear.