Chapter XVI. Pep.

In a week Richard felt quite at home, both in the stock-room at Williams & Mann's and at the Massanets'.

During that time Mr. Williams had returned from Chicago, and both of the members of the firm seemed to be well satisfied by the way in which their new clerk discharged the duties assigned to him.

A warm friendship sprang up between Frank Massanet and Richard--a friendship that was destined to bear important results. The stock-clerk, though Richard's superior in the business, acted more like a chum, and in the evenings the two, accompanied by Mattie Massanet, walked, talked, played games, or listened to Mrs. Massanet's music on the flutina, and were all but inseparable.

Richard received several letters from home--one from his mother, congratulating him on the position he had secured, and another from Grace and Nancy, full of village gossip, and what people had said about his going away.

Both Frank and Richard loved their work, and by the second week the books in the stock-room were in a neater and handier condition than they had ever been before, and Frank expressed his pleasure at having some one who could really help, and not hinder, as the discharged clerk had done.

On Tuesday morning of the second week, Richard was hurrying to the store a little earlier than usual. The big consignment of books was soon to arrive, and they must have even more room for it than had at first been anticipated.

As he came down the Bowery at a rapid gait, a small figure crossed the street directly before him, and stopped to gaze into the well-filled window of a German bakery. It was the street Arab who had robbed Richard in Park Row!

For an instant Richard could hardly believe his eyes, but, stepping up, he took a closer view, and then grasped the urchin by the arm.

Instinctively the street Arab shrank away. Then he turned his pinched and startled face around, and, seeing who it was that held him, gave a loud cry of alarm.

"Oh, please, mister, please lemme go!" he pleaded. "I won't do it again, please, sir, no I won't! Oh, don't lock me up, mister!"

That piteous appeal went straight to Richard's heart. If he had felt any indignation, it melted away at the sight of that haggard, famished, desperate look.

"What have you done with the stuff you took from my pockets?" he asked, but his tones were not very harsh.

The boy began to whimper.

"I--I ain't got de money no more," he sobbed, "It's all gone, mister; I spent every cent of it but two nickels fer medicine and de doctor. Please don't lock me up, mister."

"Medicine and the doctor?" repeated Richard, rather astonished by this unexpected statement. "Who is sick?"

"Me dad, mister."

"Your dad? Your father?"

"Yes, mister; been sick going on two months now, and ain't no better."

Richard looked at the boy sharply. He had been deceived so many times that he was half inclined to discredit the urchin's story.

"It's the truth, mister," went on the boy, seeing the look of distrust. "I ain't tellin' no lies, so help--"

"What's your name?"

"Pep, sir."

"Pep what?"

The urchin held down his head.

"I ain't got no other name!" he answered hesitatingly.

"Oh, you must have!" exclaimed Richard. "Come, out with it."

But the little ragged figure only began to cry again, harder than ever.

"Come, tell me; I won't have you arrested," urged Richard.

"Oh, thank you, mister! It would kill dad to know I'd been stealin'. I told him I made the money sellin' papers."

"That was a lie," said Richard sternly.

"I know it, mister, but I couldn't help it. It was better than tellin' him I'd been stealin'. I wouldn't have taken yer money only I was afraid he'd die if he didn't have de doctor and de medicine, so help--"

"There, don't swear," interrupted Richard. "If you were so hard up you should have asked me for help. I would have given you something."

"I would have asked, only most of de people laughs at me and tells me to clear out, and they think I'm lyin' when I say dad's sick, and say they guess he must drink de money up, which is a lie itself, 'cause dad don't drink a drop; he's got pneumony, so de doctor says, and he's coughin' all de time."

"Is your mother home?"

"Ain't got no mother; she died when I was a kid."

"Well, Pep, I'm sorry for you," said Richard kindly, "and I won't do anything to you for having taken that money. But those letters--they were valuable. What have you done with them?"

"I've got 'em home, sir. I'll bring 'em to you right away, sir."

"I haven't got time to wait now," returned Richard, highly elated to find that Doc Linyard's property was safe. "Will you meet me here at six o'clock to-night?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sure? Remember I must have those letters."

"I'll bring 'em. I've got 'em hid in de garret. I didn't open 'em or noddin'. I can't read only a little newspaper print--'nough to find out what's in de paper ter sell it."

"Well, I shall expect you sure," replied Richard. "I'll give you ten cents for bringing them," he added, to make certain that Pep would not change him mind. "Have you had any breakfast?"

"I haven't had no eatin' since yesterday mornin'."

"What would you do if I gave you ten cents?"

Pep's eyes opened in wonder. In his knockabout life he had met all sorts of people, yet here was certainly a new kind.

"Yer jokin'!" he gasped.

"No, I'm not."

"Then if I had ten cents I'd go and buy some morning papers--I could sell 'em yet--and take de money home."

"All of it?"

"Yes, sir. Every cent."

Richard felt in his pocket. He had just sixteen cents in change.

"Here is the ten cents," he said, handing it out. "And here is six cents. I want you to buy something to eat for that."

Slowly Pep took the money. He did not know but he might be dreaming.

"Thank you, mister, you--you're good to me," he said in a low tone.

"I'm in a hurry now," went on Richard, "otherwise I'd talk to you some more. I want to find out how you get along and how your father makes out. You can trust me."

"I know I can--now," replied Pep. "And I'll be on hand at six o'clock with those letters sure. I'm very, very thankful fer what you've done, indeed I am, and I'll try to make it up to you some day, see if I don't."

"Anyway, don't steal any more," said Richard. "It isn't right, and it will land you in jail sooner or later."

"I never took noddin' before," replied Pep, "and I won't ag'in."

"I hope so, Pep."

"Will yer please tell me yer name?"

"Richard Dare."

"I'll remember it, Mr. Dare; ye're the first gentleman ever noticed me, and I'm much obliged, even if you hadn't given me a cent."

"I shall expect to see you at six o'clock or a few minutes later," was Richard's reply, and fearful of being late at the store he hurried off.

The street urchin stood still, gazing after him. There were tears in the light blue eyes, and a choking sensation in the thin little throat.

"He must be one of them missionaries I once heard tell of," was Pep's thought. "They said they went around doing good, and that's what he's doing. Six cents for something to eat, and a dime to buy papers with! That's the best luck I've had in five years. If I don't make a quarter by nine o'clock I'm no good. And I'll never steal again--I won't--as sure as my name is Pep Clover."