Chapter XXIV. Pep's Home.
 

Sunday morning dawned clear and bright. Richard was naturally an early riser, but the unaccustomed sounds in the streets awoke him at an even earlier hour than he usually arose, and when seven o'clock came, and the Massanets assembled for breakfast, they found that their boarder had had quite a delightful walk.

By ten o'clock the Massanets were all ready and bound for church.

When the congregation was dismissed, Richard and Frank hurried home ahead, wishing to see if Pep had come.

They found the street urchin waiting for them at the door. He was very pale and nearly out of breath.

"I was thinkin' you'd never come!" he gasped. "I run all de way, and went upstairs, but couldn't find nobody."

"What's the matter?" cried Richard. "Is your father worse?"

"Yes, indeed; a heap worse. I was thinkin' he was goin' to croak last night."

"I'll go right down with you."

"Shall I go, too?" put in Frank hesitatingly. "I'll go willingly if you want me."

"I dunno," replied Pep slowly. "Dad don't want no visitors. I was only going to get Mr. Dare. But I reckon you can come. Dad won't know de difference. He ain't right here."

And the street urchin tapped his forehead significantly.

Rushing upstairs, Frank got out a basket and filled it with a number of things that Mrs. Massanet and Mattie had prepared. He was down again in a moment, and then the three, guided by Pep, hurried off.

It was far down on the east side, through streets that are narrow, dirty and notorious for crimes of all kinds, that the boy led them.

"'Tain't no nice walk to take," he said, "and you're dressed too good to go through here after dark. If you come ag'in put on yer old clo'es; da won't notice you so much."

"I'm glad that your sister isn't along," said Richard to Frank, with a shudder. "I never dreamed of a place as wretched as this."

"Mattie knows how bad it is," returned Frank. "In her mission class she has several children from the Italian quarter, and that's every bit as bad as this."

"Here we are," remarked Pep, as they came to a narrow court. "Dis is my street. Da calls it de Fryin' Pan, 'cause one of de houses took fire last year and ten people were burnt up."

On this Sunday morning the Frying Pan was alive with people, Jewish tailors and cloakmakers, who were enjoying a bit of needed rest. They filled the doorways and the steps, and down on the pavement the children ran around, shouting and playing games.

Picking their way among the latter and the heaps of dirt and streams of filthy water on all sides, the two boys followed Pep to the end of the court. Curious eyes gazed after them, and open remarks concerning their presence in that locality were not wanting.

But to these the two paid no attention, though both were glad enough to escape into the hallway of the tenement to which the street boy led them.

"Look out for de stairway," cautioned Pep, as they ascended the first flight. "It's mighty rotten, and you kin break a leg widout half tryin'."

Up and up they went, until finally they stopped at the door of a room on the top floor and in the rear.

"Here we are," whispered Pep. "Let me go in alone first, and see how he is."

The street urchin opened the door and went inside. In a moment he reappeared.

"He's asleep," he said. "You can come in."

The room was part of a garret, with a sloping side and a dormer window. Opposite was a large brick chimney with an open fireplace. Near it lay a mattress on the floor, and upon this rested a man.

He was apparently nearly fifty years of age. His face and form were terribly shrunken, and his untrimmed hair and beard and generally untidy appearance made him a repulsive object indeed.

"That's him," whispered Pep. "Glad he's asleep. Hope he don't raise no row when he wakes up."

Just then the man turned and moaned to himself.

"Water! Water!" he cried.

"Have you any?" asked Richard.

"Yes, but 'tain't fresh," replied Pep. "I'll get some."

And catching up a pail, he ran out of the room and down the stairs.

"That man has a raging fever," declared Frank, after a careful look at the sufferer.

"There ought to be more ventilation here," said Richard, "I'm going to open that window."

For the dormer window, the only one in the place, was tightly closed.

It was no easy job. The window had probably not been opened for some time, and stuck obstinately. Finally it went up with a bang, and a draught of fresh air swept into the place.

"It's a pretty stiff breeze," remarked Frank; "but too much is certainly better than too little."

The noise had aroused the sick man, and, opening his eyes, he stared at the two boys.

"Ah, I've caught you!" he cried. "Pep! Pep! Bind them--don't let 'em get away Where's the water?--

  "Water, water everywhere,
  Upon the deep blue sea;
  Water, water, here and there,
  But not a drop for me!

"That used to be Doc's favorite song. Why don't you give poor Tom a drink? Where's Betty? She'll give her brother what he wants. Oh, Pep, Pep, don't leave your dad to die of thirst!"

Richard uttered an exclamation, and grasped Frank's arm.

"That man is Tom Clover!" he gasped. "He is Doc Linyard's lost brother-in-law!"