Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XVII. Initiations in an Ancient and Honourable Brotherhood
"Now father, you said if I'd help till after harvest, I could go to Multiopolis and hunt a job," Junior reminded Peter. "When may I?"
"I remember," said Peter. "You may start Monday morning if you want to. Ma and I have talked it over, and if you're bound to leave us, I guess there'd never be a better time. I can get Jud Jason to drive the cream wagon for me, and I'll do the best I can at the barn. I had hoped that we'd be partners and work together all our days; but if you have decided upon leaving us, of course you won't be satisfied till you've done it."
"Well I can try," said Junior, "and if I don't like it I can come back."
"I don't know about that," objected Peter. "Of course I'd have other help hired; your room would be occupied and your work contracted for----"
"Well I hadn't figured on that," he said. "I supposed I could go and try it, and if I didn't like it I could come home. Couldn't I come home Ma?"
Nancy slowly became a greenish white colour; but the situation had been discussed so often, it worried her dreadfully; now that it had to be met, evasion would do no good. Peter grimly watched her. He knew she was struggling with a woman's inborn impulse to be the haven of her children, her son, her first-born, especially. He was surprised to hear her saying: "Why I hardly think so Junior, it wouldn't be a right start in life. You must figure that whatever kind of work you find, or whoever you work for, there will be things you won't like or think fair, but if you are going to be your own man, you must begin like a man; and of course a man doesn't go into business with his mind made up to run for his mother's petticoats, the first thing that displeases him. No, I guess if you go, you must start with your mind made up to stay till the October term of school opens, anyway."
"Then we'll call that settled," said Peter. "You may go with Mickey on the Monday morning car and we probably won't see you again till you are one of the leading business men of Multiopolis, and drive out in your automobile. Have you decided which make you'll get?"
"Well from what I've learned driving yours, if I were buying one myself, I'd get a Glide-by," said Junior. "They strike me as the best car on the market."
Peter glanced sharply at his son. When he saw that the answer was perfectly sincere, his heart almost played him the trick he had expected from his wife.
"All right Ma, gather up his clothes and get them washed, and have him ready," said Peter.
"I thought maybe you'd take me in the car and sort of look around with me," said Junior.
"I don't see how I am going to do it, with both our work piled on me," said Peter. "And besides, I'm a farmer born and bred; I wouldn't have the first idea about how to get a boy a job in the city or what he ought to do or have. Mickey is on to all that; he'll go with you, won't you Mickey?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "And you can save a lot by using my room. It is high, but it's clean"--Junior scowled but Mickey proceeded calmly--"and while it gets hot in the daytime, if you open the door at night, and push the bed before the window, it soon cools off, while very hottest times I always take to the fire-escape. It's nice and cool there."
"Of course! That will be the ticket," said Peter heartily. "A boy starting with everything to learn couldn't expect to earn much, and when you haven't Ma and me to depend on for your board you'll be glad to have the bed free. Thank you Mickey, that's fine!"
Junior did not look as if he thought it were. Presently he asked: "How much money ought I to take to start on, Mickey?"
"Hully gee!" said Mickey. "Why your fare in! You're going to make money, kid, not to spend it. If I was turned loose there with just one cent I'd be flying by night, and if I hadn't the cent, I'd soon earn it."
"How could you Mickey?" asked Junior eagerly.
"With or without?" queried Mickey.
"Both!" exclaimed Junior.
"Well, 'without,'" said Mickey, "I'd keep my lamps trimmed and burning, and I'd catch a lady falling off a car, or pick up a purse, or a kid, or run an errand. 'With,' there'd be only one thing I'd think of, because papers are my game. I'd buy one for a penny and sell it for two; buy two, sell for four; you know the multiplication table, don't you? But of course you don't want a street job, you want in a factory or a store. If you could do what you like best, what would it be Junior?"
Junior opened his mouth several times and at last admitted he hadn't thought that far: "Why I don't know."
"Well," said Mickey calmly, "there's making things, that's factories. There's selling them, that's stores. There's doctors, and lawyers, that's professional, like my boss. And there's office-holders, like the men he is after, but of course you'd have to be old enough to vote and educated enough to do business, and have enough money earned at something else to buy your office; that's too far away. Now if you don't like the street, there's the other three. The quickest money would be in the first two. If you were making things, what would you make?"
"Automobiles!" said Junior.
"All right!" said Mickey, "we can try them first. If we can't find a factory that you'd like, what would you rather sell?"
"Automobiles," said Junior promptly.
"Gee!" said Mickey. "I see where we hit that business at both ends. If we miss, what next?"
"I don't know," said Junior. "I'll make up my mind when I have looked around some."
"You can come closer deciding out here, than you can in the rush of the streets," said Mickey. "There, you'll be rustling for your supper, and you'll find boys hunting jobs thick as men at a ball game, and lots of them with dads to furnish their room and board."
Junior hesitated, but Mickey excused himself and without having been told what to do, he accomplished half a day's work for Mrs. Harding, then began some of Peter's jobs and afterward turned his attention to hearing Peaches' lesson and setting her new copy. When Junior paid his fare Monday morning, Mickey, judging by the change he exhibited, realized that both his mother and father had given him, to start on, a dollar to spend. Mickey would have preferred that he be penniless. He decided as they ran cityward that the first thing was to part Junior from his money, so he told him he would be compelled to work in the forenoon, and for a while in the afternoon, and left him to his own devices on the street, with a meeting-place agreed on at noon.
When Mickey reached the spot he found Junior with a pocket full of candy, eating early peaches, and instead of hunting work, he had attended three picture shows. Mickey could have figured to within ten cents of what was left of one of Junior's dollars; but as the cure did not really begin until the money disappeared, the quicker it went the better. As he ate his sandwich and drank his milk, he watched Junior making a dinner of meat, potatoes, pie and ice-cream, and made a mental estimate of the remains of the other dollar. As a basis for a later "I told you so," he remonstrated, and pointed out the fact that there were hundreds of unemployed men of strength, skilled artisans with families to support, looking for work that minute.
"I know your dad signed up that contract with Jud Jason," he said, "'cause I saw him, and that means that he's got no use for you for three months; so you must take care of yourself for that long at least, if you got any ginger in you. Of course," explained Mickey, "I know that most city men think country boys won't stick, and are big cowards, but I'm expecting you to show them just where they are mistaken. I know you're not lazy, and I know you got as much sand and grit as any city boy, but you must prove it to the rest of them. You must show up!"
"Sure!" said Junior. "I'll convince them!"
By night the last penny of the second dollar was gone, so Junior borrowed his fare to his room from Mickey, who was to remain with him to show him the way back and forth, and to spend an early hour in search of employment. It was Mickey's first night away from Peaches, and while he knew she was safe, he felt that when night came she would miss him. The thought that she might cry for him tormented him to speech. He pointed out to Junior very clearly that he would have to mark corners and keep his eyes open because he need not expect that he could leave her longer than that. Junior agreed with him, for he had promised Peaches in saying good- bye to keep Mickey only one night.
He had treated himself to candy and unusual fruits until his money was gone, while by night these and a walk of miles on hot pavement had bred such an appetite that he felt he had not eaten a full meal in years, so when Mickey brought out the remains of the food Mrs. Harding had given him, her son felt insulted. But Mickey figured a day on the basis of what he had earned, what he had expended, what he must save to be ready when the great surgeon came, and prepared exactly as he would have done for himself and Peaches. On reaching the tenement and climbing until his legs ached, Junior faced stifling heat, but Mickey opened the window and started a draft by setting the door wide. While they ate supper, Mickey talked unceasingly, but Junior was sulkily silent. He tried the fire- escape, but one glance from the rickety affair, hung a mile above the ground it seemed to him, was enough, so he climbed back in the window and tossed on the bed.
Junior did his first real thinking that night. He was ravenous before morning and aghast at what he was offered for breakfast. He was eager to find work and he knew for what his first day's wage would go. In justice to his own sense of honour and in justice to Junior, mere common fairness, such as he would have wanted in like case, for the first few days Mickey honestly and unceasingly hunted employment. With Junior at his elbow he suffered one rebuff after another, until it was clear to him that it was impossible for a country boy unused to the ways of the city to find or to hold a job at which he could survive, even with his room provided, while the city swarmed with unemployed men. Everywhere they found the work they would have liked done by an Italian, Greek, Swede, German, or Polander who seemed strong as oxen, oblivious, as no doubt they were, to treatment Junior never had seen accorded a balky mule, and able to live on a chunk of black bread, a bit of cheese, and a few cents' worth of stale beer. When Mickey had truly convinced himself of what he had believed, with a free conscience he then began allowing Junior to find out for himself exactly what he was facing. By that time Junior had lost himself on the way to Mickey's rooms, spent a night wandering the streets, and breakfastless was waiting before the Iriquois.
Mickey listened sympathetically, supplied a dime, which seemed to be all he had, for breakfast, and said as he entered the building: "Well kid, 'til we can find a job you'll just have to go up against the street. If I can live and save money at it, you ought to be smart enough to live. Go to it 'til I get my day's work done. You just can't go home, because they'll think you don't amount to anything; the fellows will make game of you, and besides Jud is doing wonderfully well, your father said so. He seemed so tickled over him, I guess the fact is he is getting more help from him that he ever did from Junior boy, so your job there isn't open. Go at whatever you can see that needs to be done, 'til I get my work over and we'll try again. I'll be out about three, and you can meet me here."
Empty and disheartened Junior squeezed the dime and hurried toward the nearest restaurant. But the transaction had been witnessed by a boy as hungry as he, and hardened to the street. How Junior came to be sprawling on the sidewalk he never knew; only that his hand involuntarily opened in falling and he threw it out to catch himself, so he couldn't find the dime. Before noon he was sick and reeling with sleeplessness and hunger. He was waiting when it was Mickey's time to lunch, but he did not come, and in desperation Junior really tried the street. At last he achieved a nickel by snatching a dropped bundle from under a car. He sat a long time in a stairway looking at it, and then having reached a stage where he was more sick, and less hungry, he hunted a telephone booth and tried to get his home, only to learn that the family was away. Gladdened by the thought that they might be in the city, he walked miles, watching the curb before stores where they shopped, searching for their car, and he told himself that if he found it, nothing could separate him from the steering gear until he sped past all regulation straight to his mother's cupboard.
He had wanted ham and chicken in the beginning; later helping himself to cold food in the cellar seemed a luxury; then crackers and cookies in the dining-room cupboard would have satisfied his wildest desire; and before three o'clock, Junior, in mad rebellion, remembered his mother's slop bucket. How did she dare put big pieces of bread and things good enough for any one to eat in feed for pigs and poultry! If he ever reached home he resolved he would put a stop to that.
At three to Mickey's cheerful, "Now we'll find a job or make it," he answered: "No we will find a square meal or steal it," and then he told. Mickey watched him reflectively, but as he figured the case, it was not for him to suggest retreat. He condoled, paid for the meal, and started hunting work again, with Junior silent and dogged beside him. To the surprise of both, almost at once they found a place for a week with a florist.
Junior went to work. After a few tasks bunglingly performed, he was tried on messenger service and started with his carfare to deliver a box containing a funeral piece. He had no idea where he was to go, or what car line to take. In his extremity a bootblack came to his aid. He safely delivered the box at a residence where the owner was leaving his door for his car. He gave Junior half a dollar. Junior met the first friendly greeting he had encountered in Multiopolis, as he reached the street.
Two boys larger than he walked beside him and talked so frankly, that before he reached his car line, he felt he had made friends. They offered to show him a shorter cut to the car line just by going up an alley and out on a side street. At the proper place for seclusion, the one behind knocked him senseless, and the one before wheeled and relieved him of money, and both fled. Junior lay for a time, then slowly came back, but he was weak and ill. He knew without investigating what had happened, and preferring the mercy that might be inside to that of the alley, he crawled into a back door. It proved to be a morgue. A workman came to his assistance, felt the lump on his head, noticed the sickness on his face, and gave him a place to rest. Junior was dubious from the start about feeling better, as he watched the surroundings. The proprietor came past and inquired who he was and why he was there. Junior told him, and showed the lumps behind his ear and on his forehead, to prove his words.
The man was human. He gave Junior another nickel and told him which car to take from his front door. He had to stand aside and see five pieces of charred humanity from a cleaning-establishment explosion, carried through the door before he had a chance to leave it. He reached the florist's two hours late and in spite of his story and his perfectly discernible bumps to prove it, he was discharged as a fool for following strangers into an alley.
On the streets once more and penniless, he started to walk the miles to his room. When he found the building he thought it would be cooler to climb the fire-escape and sit on it until he decided what to do, then he could open the door from the inside. At the top he thrust a foot, head, and shoulders into the room and realized he had selected the wrong escape. He tried to draw back, but two men leaped for him, and as he was doubled in the window he could not make a swift movement.
He was landed in the middle of the room, cursed for a prowling thief, his protestations silenced, his pockets searched, and when they yielded nothing, his body stripped of its clean, wholesome clothing and he was pitched down the stairs. He appealed to several people, and found that the less he said the safer he was. He snatched a towel from a basket of clothes before a door, twisted it around him, and ran down the street to Mickey's front entrance. With all his remaining breath he sped up flight after flight of stairs and at last reached the locked door, only to find that the key was in the pocket of his stolen trousers, and he could not force his way with his bare hands. He could only get to his clothing by trying the fire-escapes again. He was almost too sick to see or cling to the narrow iron steps, but that time he counted carefully, and looked until he was sure before he entered. He found his clothes, and in the intense heat dressed himself, but he could not open the door. He sat on the fire-escape to think.
Presently he espied one of the men who had robbed him watching him from another escape, and being afraid and beaten sore, he crept into the heat, and lay on the bed beside the window. After a while a breath of air came in, and Junior slept the sleep of exhaustion. When he awoke it was morning, his head aching, his mouth dry, and the room cooler. Glancing toward the door he saw it standing open and then noticed the disorder of the room, and of himself, and sat up to find he was on the floor, once more disrobed, and the place stripped of every portable thing in it, even the bed, little stove, and the trunk filled with clothes and a few personal possessions sacred to Mickey because they had been his mother's. The men had used the key in Junior's pocket to enter while he slept, drugged him, and carried away everything. He crept to the door and closed it, then sank on the floor and cried until he again became unconscious. It was four o'clock that afternoon when Mickey looked in and understood the situation. He bent over Junior's bruised and battered body, stared at his swollen, tear-stained face, and darting from the room, brought water, and then food and clothing.
Redressed and fed, Junior lay on the floor and said to Mickey: "Go to the nearest 'phone and call father. Tell him I'm sick, to come in a hurry with the car."
"Sure!" said Mickey. "But hadn't we better wait 'til morning now, and get you rested and fed up a little?"
"No," said Junior. "The sooner he sees the fix I'm in the better he will realize that I'm not a quitter; but that this ain't just the place for me. Mickey, did you ever go through this? Why do I get it so awful hard?"
"It's because the regulars can tell a mile off you are country, Junior," said Mickey. "All my life I've been on the streets so they knew me for city born, and supposed I'd friends to trace them and back me if they abused me; and then, I always look ahead sharp, and don't trust a living soul about alleys. You say the next escape but one? I've got to find them, and get back my things. I want mother's, and Lily and I can't live this winter with no bed, and no stove, and nothing at all."
"I'm sorry about your mother's things Mickey, but don't worry over the rest," said Junior. "Pa and Ma won't ever be willing to give up Peaches again, I can see that right now, and if they keep her, they will have to take you too, because of course you can't be separated from her; your goods, I'll pay back. I owe you a lot as it is, but I got some money in the bank, and I'll have to sell my sheep."
Junior laid his head on his arm and sobbed weakly.
"Don't Junior," said Mickey. "I feel just awful about this. I thought you had a place that would earn your supper, and you had the room, and would be all right."
"Why of course!" said Junior.
Mickey looked intently at him. "Now look here Junior," he said, "I got to square myself on this. I didn't think all the time you'd like Multiopolis, when you saw it with the bark off. Course viewing it on a full stomach, from an automobile, with spending money in your pocket, and a smooth run to a good home before you, is one thing; facing up to it, and asking it to hand out those things to you in return for work you can do here, without knowing the ropes, is another. You've stuck it out longer than I would, honest you have, but it isn't your game, and you don't know how, and you'd be a fool to learn. I thought you'd get enough to satisfy you when you came, but seeing for yourself seemed to be the only way to cure you."
"Oh don't start the 'I told you so,'" said Junior. "Father and mother will hand it out for the rest of my life. I'd as lief die as go back, but I'm going; not because I can't get in the game, and make a living if you can, even if I have to go out and start as you did, with a penny. I'm going back, but not for the reason you think. It's because seen at close range, Multiopolis ain't what it looks like from an automobile. I know something that I really know, and that comes natural to me, that beats it a mile; and now I've had my chance, and made my choice. I'm so sore I can't walk, but if you'll just call father and tell him to come in on high, I'll settle with you later."
"Course if that's the way you feel, I'll call him," said Mickey, "but Junior, let me finish this much I was trying to say. I knew Multiopolis would do to you all it had done to me, and I knew you wouldn't like it; but I didn't figure on your big frame and fresh face spelling country 'til it would show a mile down the street. I didn't figure on you getting the show I would, and I didn't intend anything worse should happen to you than has to me. Honest I didn't! I'm just about sick over this Junior. Don't you want to go to Mr. Bruce's office--I got a key and he won't care--don't you want to go there and rest a little, and feed up better, before I call your father?"
"No I don't! I got enough and I know it! They must know it some time; it might as well come at once."
"Then let's go out on the car," said Mickey.
"I guess you don't realize just how bad this is," said Junior. "You call father, and call him quick and emphatic enough to bring him."
"All right then," said Mickey. "Here goes!"
"And put the call in nearest place you can find and hustle back," said Junior. "I'm done with alleys, and sluggers, and robbers. Goliath couldn't have held his own against two big men, when he was fifteen, and I guess father won't think I'm a coward because they got away with me. But you hurry!"
"Sure! I'll fly, and I'll get him if I can."
"There's no doubt about getting him. This is baked potato, bacon, blackberry roll, honey and bread time at our house. They wouldn't be away just now, and it's strange they have been so much this week."
Mickey gave Junior a swift glance; then raced to the nearest telephone.
"You Mickey?" queried Peter.
"Yes. It's you for S.O.S., and I'm to tell you to come on high, and lose no time in starting."
"Am I to come Mickey, or am I too busy?"
"You are to come, Peter, to my room, and in a hurry. Things didn't work according to program."
"Why what's the matter, Mickey?"
"Just what I told you would be when it came to getting a job here; but I didn't figure on street sharks picking on Junior and robbing him, and following him to my room, and slugging him 'til he can't walk. You come Peter, and come in a hurry, and Peter----"
"You better let me start----" said Peter.
"Yes, but Peter, one minute," insisted Mickey. "I got something to say to you. This didn't work out as I planned, and I'm awful sorry, and you'll be too. But Junior is cured done enough to suit you; he won't ever want to leave you again, you can bank on that--and he ain't hurt permanent; but if you have got anything in your system that sounds even a little bit like 'I told you so,' forget it on the way in, and leave instructions with the family to do the same. See? Junior is awful sore! He don't need anything rubbed in in the way of reminiscences. He's ready to do the talking. See?"
"Yes. You're sure he ain't really hurt?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "Three days will fix him, but Peter, it's been mighty rough! Go easy, will you?"
"Mickey have you got money----"
"All we need, just you get here with the car, and put in a comfort and pillow. All my stuff is gone!"
Peter Senior arrived in a surprisingly short time, knelt on the floor and looked closely at his sleeping boy.
"Naked and beaten to insensibility, you say?"
"Nothing to eat for nearly two days?"
Another affirmation. Peter arose, pushed back his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow.
"I haven't been thinking about anything but him ever since he left," he said, "and what makes me the sorest is that the longer I think of it, the surer I get that this is my fault. I didn't raise him right!"
"Aw-w-ah Peter!" protested Mickey.
"I've got it all studied out," said Peter, "and I didn't! There have been two mistakes, Junior's and mine, and of the two, mine is twice as big as the boy's."
Peter stooped and picked up his son, who stirred and awakened. When he found himself in his father's arms Junior clung to him and whispered over and over: "Father, dear father!" Peter gripped him with all his might and whispered back: "Forgive me son! Forgive me!"
"Well I don't know what for?" sobbed Junior.
"You will before long," said Peter. He drove to a cool place, and let the car stand while he called his wife, and explained all of the situation he saw fit. She was waiting at the gate when they came. She never said a word except to urge Junior to eat his supper. But Junior had no appetite.
"I want to run things here for a few minutes," he said. "When the children finish, put them to bed, and then let me tell you, and you can decide what you'll do to me."
"Well, don't you worry about that," said Peter.
"No I won't," said Junior, "because there's nothing you can do that will be half I deserve."
When the little folks were asleep, and Mickey had helped Mrs. Harding finish the work, and Jud Jason had been paid five dollars for his contract and had gone home, Junior lay in the hammock on the front porch, while his father, mother and Mickey sat close. When he started to speak Peter said: "Now Junior, wait a minute! You've been gone a week, and during that time I've used my brains more than I ever did in a like period, even when I was courting your Ma, and the subject I laboured on was what took you away from us. I've found out why you were not satisfied, and who made you dissatisfied. The guilty party is Peter Harding, aided and abetted by one Nancy Harding, otherwise known as Ma----"
"Why father!" interrupted Junior.
"Silence!" said Peter. "I've just found out that it's a man's job to be the head of his family, and I'm going to be the head of mine after this, and like Mickey here, 'I'm going to keep it.' Let me finish. I've spent this week thinking, and all the things I have thought would make a bigger book than the dictionary if they were set down. Why should you ask to be forgiven for a desire to go to Multiopolis when I carried you there as a baby, led you as a toddler, and went with you every chance I could trump up as a man? Who bought and fed you painted, adulterated candy as a child, when your Ma should have made you pure clean taffy at home from our maple syrup or as good sugar as we could buy? Often I've spent money that now should be on interest, for fruit that looked fine to you there, and proved to be grainy, too mellow, sour or not half so good as what you had at home.
"I never took you hunting, or fishing, or camping, or swimming, in your life; but I haven't had a mite of trouble to find time and money to take you to circuses, which I don't regret, I'll do again; and picture shows, which I'll do also; and other shows. I'm not condemning any form of amusement we ever patronized so much, we'll probably do all of it again; but what gets me now, is how I ever came to think that the only interesting things and those worth taking time and spending money on, were running to Multiopolis, to eat, to laugh, to look, and getting little to show for it but disappointment and suffering for all of us. You haven't had the only punishment that's struck the Harding family this week, Junior. Your Ma and I have had our share, and I haven't asked her if she has got enough, but speaking strictly for myself, I have."
"I wouldn't live through it again for the farm," sobbed Mrs. Harding. "I see what you are getting at Pa, and it's we who are the guilty parties, just as you say."
Junior sat up and stared at them.
"I don't so much regret the things I did," said Peter, "as I condemn myself for the things I haven't done. I haven't taught you to ride so you don't look a spectacle on a horse, and yet horses should come as natural as breathing to you. You should be a skilled marksman; you couldn't hit a wash-tub at ten paces. You should swim like a fish, with a hundred lakes in your country; you'd drown if you were thrown in the middle of one and left to yourself. You ought to be able to row a boat as well as it can be done, and cast a line with all the skill any lad of your age possesses. That you can't make even a fair showing at any sport, results from the fact that every time your father had a minute to spare he took you and headed straight for Multiopolis. Here's the golf links at our door, and if ever any game was a farmer's game, and if any man has a right to hold up his head, and tramp his own hills, and swing a strong arm and a free one, and make a masterly stroke, it's a land owner. There's no reason why plowing and tilling should dull the brains, bend the back, or make a pack- horse of a man. Modern methods show you how to do the same thing a better way, how to work one machine instead of ten men, how to have time for a vacation, just as city men do, and how to have money for books, and music, and school, instead of loading with so much land it's a burden to pay the taxes. I have quite a bunch of land for sale, and I see a way open to make three times the money I ever did, with half the hard work. We've turned over a new leaf at this place from start to finish, including the house, barn, land, and family. A year from now you won't know any of us; but that later. Just now, it's this: I'm pointing out to you Junior, exactly how you came to have your hankering for Multiopolis. I can see you followed the way we set you thinking, that all the amusing things were there, the smart people, the fine clothes, the wealth, and the freedom----"
"Yes you ought to see the 'amusing things' and the 'happy people' when your stomach's cramping and your head splitting!" cried Junior. "I tell you down among them it looks different from riding past in an automobile."
"Exactly!" conceded Peter. "Exactly what I'm coming at. All your life I've given you the wrong viewpoint. Now you can busy yourselves planning how to make our share of the world over, so it will bring all the joy of life right to the front door. I guess the first big thing is to currycomb the whole place, and fix it as it should be to be most convenient for us. Then we better take a course of training in making up our minds to be satisfied with what we can afford. Junior, does home look better to you than it did this time last week?"
"Father," began Junior, and sobbed aloud.
"The answer is sufficient," said Peter dryly. "Never mind son! When, with our heads put together, we get our buildings and land fixed right, I suggest that we also fix our clothes and our belongings right. I can't see any reason why a woman as lovely as Ma, should be told from any other pretty woman, by her walk or dress. I don't know why a man as well set up as I am, shouldn't wear his clothes as easy as the men at the club house. I can't see why we shouldn't be at that same club house for a meal once in a while, just to keep us satisfied with home cooking, and that game looks interesting. Next trip to Multiopolis I make, I'm going to get saddles for Junior and Mickey and teach them what I know about how to sit and handle a horse properly; and it needn't be a plow horse either. Next day off I have, I'm going to spend hauling lumber to one of these lakes we decide on, to build a house for a launch and fishing-boat for us. Then when we have a vacation, we'll drive there, shelter our car, and enjoy ourselves like the city folks by the thousand, since we think what they do so right and fine. They've showed us what they like, flocking five thousand at a clip, to Red Wing Lake a few miles from us. Since we live among what they are spending their thousands every summer to enjoy, let's help ourselves to a little pleasure. I am going to buy each of us a fishing rod, and get a box of tackle, soon as I reach it, and I'm going fast. I've wasted sixteen years, now I'm on the homestretch, and it's going to be a stretch of all there is in me to make our home the sweetest, grandest place on earth to us. Will you help me, Nancy?"
"I think maybe I'll be saved nervous prostration if I can help just a few of these things to take place."
"Yes, I've sensed that," said Peter. "Mickey pointed that out to me the morning you jumped your job and headed for sunup. For years, just half your time and strength has been thrown away using old methods and implements in your work, and having the kitchen unhandy and inconvenient; and I'm the man who should have seen it, and got you right tools for your job at the same time I bought a houseful for myself and my work. We must stir up this whole neighbourhood, and build a big entertainment house, where we can have a library suitable for country folks, and satisfying to their ways of life. It's got to have music boxes in it, and a floor fit for dancing and skating, and a stage for our own entertainments, and the folks we decide to bring here to amuse us. We can put in a picture machine and a screen, that we can pay for by charging a few cents admission the nights we run it, and rent films once or twice a week from a good city show. We could fix up a place like that, and get no end of fun and education out of it, without going thirty miles and spending enough money in one night to get better entertainment for a month at home, and in a cool, comfortable hall, and where we can go from it to bed in a few minutes. Once I am started, with Mickey and Junior to help me, I'm going to call a meeting and talk these things over with my neighbours, and get them to join in if I can. If I can't, I'll go on and put up the building and start things as I think they should be, and charge enough admittance to get back what I invest; and after that, just enough to pay running expenses and for the talent we use. I'm so sure it can be done, I'm going to do it. Will you help me, son?"
"Yes father, I'd think it was fine to help do that," said Junior. "Now may I say what I want to?"
"Why yes, you might son," said Peter, "but to tell the truth I can't see that you have anything to say. If you have got the idea, Junior, that you have wronged us any, and that it's your job to ask us to forgive you for wanting to try the things we started and kept you hankering after all your life so far, why you're mistaken. If I'd trained you from your cradle to love your home, as I've trained you to love Multiopolis, you never would have left us. So if there is forgiving in the air, you please forgive me. And this includes your Ma as well. I should ask her forgiveness too, for a whole lot of things that I bungled about, when I thought I was loving her all I possibly could. I've got a new idea of love so big and all- encompassing it includes a fireless cooker and a dish-washing machine. I'm going to put it in practice for a year; then if my family wants to change back, we'll talk about it."
"But father----" began Junior.
"Go to bed son," said Peter. "You can tell us what happened when you ain't as sleepy as you are right now."
Junior arose and followed his mother to the kitchen.
"Ain't he going to let me tell what a fool I've been at all?" he demanded.
"I guess your Pa felt that when he got through telling what fools we've been, there wasn't anything left for you to say. I know I feel that way. This neighbourhood does all in its power, from the day their children are born, to teach them that home is only a stopping-place, to eat, and sleep, and work, and be sick in; and that every desirable thing in life is to be found somewhere else, the else being, in most cases, Multiopolis. Just look at it year after year gobbling up our boys and girls, and think over the ones you know who have gone, and see what they've come to. Among the men as far as I remember, Joel Harris went into a law office and made a rich, respectable man; and two girls married and have good homes; the others, many of them, I couldn't name to you the places they are in. This neighbourhood needs reforming, and if Pa has set out to attempt it, I'll lend a hand, and I guess from what you got this week, you'll be in a position to help better than you could have helped before."
"Yes I guess so too," said Junior emphatically.
He gladly went back to the cream wagon. Peter didn't want him to, but there was a change in Junior. He was no longer a wilful discontented boy. He was a partner, who was greatly interested in a business and felt dissatisfied if he were not working at furthering it. He had little to say, but his eyes were looking far ahead in deep thought. The first morning he started out, while Junior unhitched his horse, Peter filled the wagon and went back to the barn where Mickey was helping him.
Junior, passing, remembered he had promised Jud Jason to bring a bundle he had left there, and stopped for it. He stepped into the small front door and bent for the package lying in sight, when clearly and distinctly arose Mickey's voice lifted to reach Peter, at another task.
"Course I meant him to get enough to make him good and sick of it, like we agreed on; but I never intended him to get any such a dose as he had."
Junior straightened swiftly, and his lower jaw dropped. His father's reply was equally audible.
"Of course I understand that, Mickey."
"Surest thing you know!" said Mickey. "I like Junior. I like him better than any other boy I ever knew, and I've known hundreds. I tell you Peter, he was gamer than you'll ever believe to hang on as long as he did."
"Yes I think that too," said Peter.
"You know he didn't come because he was all in," explained Mickey. "You can take a lot of pride in that. He'd about been the limit when he quit. And he quit, not because he was robbed and knocked out, but because what he had seen showed him that Multiopolis wasn't the job he wanted for a life sentence. See?"
"I hope you are right about that," said Peter. "I'm glad to my soul to get him home, cured in any way; but it sort of gags me to think of him as having been scared out. It salves my vanity considerable to feel, as you say, that he had the brains to sense the situation, and quit because he felt it wasn't the work for which he was born."
Then Mickey's voice came eagerly, earnestly, warming the cockles of Junior's heart.
"Now lemme tell you Peter; I was there, and I know. It was that way. It was just that way exact! He wasn't scared out, he'd have gone at it again, all right, if he'd seen anything in it he wanted. It was just as his mother felt when she first talked it over with me, and the same with you later: that if he got to the city, and got right up against earning a living there, he would find it wasn't what he wanted; and he did, like all of us thought. Course I meant to put it to him stiff; I meant to 'niciate him in the ancient and honourable third degree of Multiopolis all right, so he'd have enough to last a lifetime; but I only meant to put him up against what I'd. had myself on the streets; I was just going to test his ginger; I wasn't counting on the robbing, and the alleys, and the knockout, and the morgue. Gee, Peter!"
Then they laughed. A dull red surged up Junior's neck, and flooded his face. He picked up the bundle, went silently from the barn, and climbed on the wagon. The jerk of the horse stopping at its accustomed place told him when to load the first can. He had been thinking so deeply he was utterly oblivious to everything save the thought that it had been prearranged among them to "cure" him; even his mother knew about, if he heard aright, had been the instigator of the scheme to let him go, to be what Mickey called "initiated in the ancient and honourable third degree of Multiopolis."
Once he felt so outraged he thought of starting the horse home, taking the trolley, going back to Multiopolis and fighting his way to what his father would be compelled to acknowledge success. He knew that he could do it; he was on the point of vowing that he would do it; but in his heart he knew better than any one else how repulsed he was, how he hated it, and against a vision of weary years of fighting, came that other vision of himself planning and working beside his father to change and improve their home life.
"Say Junior are you asleep?" called Jud Jason. "You sit there like you couldn't move. D'ye bring my bundle?"
"Yes, it's back there," answered Junior. "Get it!"
"How'd you like Multiopolis?" asked Jud.
Junior knew he had that to face.
"It's a cold-blooded sell, Jud," he said promptly. "I'm glad I went when I did, and found out for myself. You see it's like this, Jud: I could have stayed and made my way; but I found out in a few days that I wouldn't give a snap for the way when it was made. We fellows are better off right where we are, and a lot of us are ready to throw away exactly what many of the men in Multiopolis are wild to get. Now let me tell you----"
Junior told him, and through putting his experience into words, he eased his heart and cleared his brain. He came to hints of great and wonder- working things that were going to happen soon. There was just a possibility that Jud gleaned an idea that the experience in Multiopolis had brought his friend home to astound and benefit the neighbourhood. At any rate Junior picked up the lines with all the sourness gone from his temperament, which was usually sweet, except that one phrase of Mickey's, and the laughter. Suddenly he leaned forward.
"Jud, come here," he said. Junior began to speak, and Jud began to understand and sympathize with the boy he had known from childhood.
"Could we?" asked Junior.
"'Could we?' Well, I just guess we could!"
"When?" queried Junior.
"This afternoon, if he's going to be off," said Jud.
"Well I don't know what his plans are, but I could telephone from here and by rustling I could get back by two. I've done it on a bet. Where will we go, and what for?"
"To Atwater. Fishing is good enough excuse."
"All right! Father will let me take the car."
"Hayseed! Isn't walking good enough to suit you? What's the matter with the Elkhart swale, Atwater marsh, and the woods around the head of the lake----"
"Hold the horse till I run in and 'phone him."
When he came down the walk he reported: "He wants to go fishing awful bad, and he'll be ready by two. That's all settled then. We'll have a fine time."
"Bully!" said Jud laconically, and started to the house of another friend, where a few words secured a boy of his age a holiday. Junior drove fast as he dared and hurried with his work; so he reached home a little before two, where he found Mickey with poles and a big can of worms ready. Despite the pressing offer of the car, they walked, in order to show Mickey the country which he was eager to explore on foot. Junior said the sunfish were big as lunch plates at Atwater, the perch fine, and often if you caught a grasshopper or a cricket for bait, you got a big bass around the shore, and if they had the luck to reach the lake, when there was no one ahead of them, and secured a boat they were sure of taking some.
"Wouldn't I like to see Lily eating a fish I caught," said Mickey, searching the grass and kicking rotting wood as he saw Junior doing to find bass bait.
"Minnies are the real thing," explained Junior. "When we get the scheme father laid out going, before we start fishing, you and I will take a net and come to this creek and catch a bucketful of right bait, and then we'll have man's sport, for sure. Won't it be great?"
"Exactly what the plutes are doing," said Mickey. "Gee, Junior, if your Pa does all the things he said he was going to, you'll be a plute yourself!"
"Never heard him say anything in my life he didn't do," said Junior, "and didn't you notice that he put you in too? You'll be just as much of a plute as I will."
"Not on your bromide," said Mickey. "He is your father, and you'll be in business with him; I'll just be along sometimes, as a friend, maybe."
"I usually take father at just what he says. I guess he means you to stay in our family, if you like."
"I wonder now!" said Mickey.
"Looks like it to me. Father and mother both like you, and they're daffy about Peaches."
"It's because she's so little, and so white, and so helpless," Mickey hastened to explain, "and so awful sweet!"
"Well for what ever it is, it is," said Junior, "and I'm just as crazy about her as the rest. Look out kid! That fellow's coming right at us!"
Junior dashed for the fence, while Mickey lost time in turning to see what "that fellow" might be; so he faced the ram that had practised on Malcolm Minturn. With lowered head, the ram sprang at Mickey. He flew in air, and it butted space and whirled again, so that before the boy's breath was fully recovered he lifted once more, with all the agility learned on the streets of Multiopolis; but that time the broad straw hat he wore to protect his eyes on the water, sailed from his head; he dropped the poles, and as the ram came back at him he hit it squarely in the face with the bait can, which angered rather than daunted it. Then for a few minutes Mickey was too busy to know exactly what happened, and movements were too quick for Junior. When he saw that Mickey was tiring, and the ram was not, he caught a rail from the fence and helped subdue the ram. Panting they climbed the fence and sat resting.
"Why I didn't know Higgins had that ram," said Junior. "We fellows always crossed that field before. Say, there ain't much in that
'Gentle sheep pray tell me why, In the pleasant fields you lie?'
business, is there?"
"Not much but the lie," said Mickey earnestly.
Junior dropped from the fence and led the way toward a wood thick with underbrush, laughing until his heart pained. As they proceeded they heard voices.
"Why that sounds like my bunch," said Junior.
He whistled shrilly, which brought an immediate response, and soon two boys appeared.
"Hello!" said Junior.
"Hello!" answered they.
"Where're you going?" asked Junior.
"To Atwater Lake, fishing. Where you?"
"There too!" said Junior. "Why great! We'll go together! Sam, this is Mickey."
Mickey offered his hand and formalities were over.
"But I threw our worms at the ram," said Mickey.
"Well that was a smart trick!" cried Junior.
"Wasn't it?" agreed Mickey. "But you see the ram was coming and I had the worms in my strong right, so I didn't stop to think I'd spent an hour digging them; I just whaled away--"
"Never mind worms," said Jud. "I guess we got enough to divide; if you fellows want to furnish something for your share, you can find some grubs in these woods, and we'll get more chance at the bass."
"Sure!" said Mickey. "What are grubs and where do you look for them?"
"Oh anywhere under rotting wood and round old logs," said Jud. "B'lieve it's a good place right here, Mickey; dig in till I cut a stick to help with."
Mickey pushed aside the bushes, dropped on his knees and "dug in." A second later, with a wild shriek, he rolled over and over striking and screaming.
"Yellow jackets!" shouted Jud. "Quick fellers, help Mickey! He's got too close to a nest!"
Armed with branches they came beating the air and him; until Mickey had a fleeting thought that if the red-hot needles piercing him did not kill, the boys would. Presently he found himself beside a mudhole and as the others "ouched" and "o-ohed" and bewailed their fate, and grabbed mud and plastered it on, he did the same. Jud generously offered, as he had not so many stings, to help Mickey. Soon even the adoring eyes of Peaches could not have told her idol from the mudhole. He twisted away from an approaching handful crying: "Gee Jud! Leave a feller room to breathe! If you are going to smother me, I might as well die from bites!"
"Bites!" cried the boys while all of them laughed wildly, so wildly that Mickey flushed with shame to think he had so little appreciation of the fun calling a sting a bite, when it was explained to him.
"Well they sure do get down to business," he chattered, chilling from the exquisite pain of a dozen yellow-jacket stings, one of which on his left eyelid was rapidly closing that important organ. He bowed a willing head for Jud's application of cold mud.
Finally they gathered up their poles and bait and again started toward the lake. The day was warm, and there was little air in the marsh, and on the swampy shore they followed. Suddenly Jud cried: "I tell you fellows, what's the use of walking all the way round the lake? Bet the boats will be taken when we get there! Let's cut fishing and go swimming right here where there's a cool, shady place. It will be good for you Mickey, it will cool off your stings a lot."
Mickey promptly began to unbutton, and the others did the same. Then they made their way through the swamp tangle lining the shore at the head of the lake, and tried to reach the water beside the tamaracks. Sam and Junior found solid footing, and waded toward deep water. Jud piloted Mickey to a spot he thought sufficiently treacherous, and said: "Looks good here; you go ahead Mickey, and I'll come after you."
Mickey was unaccustomed to the water. He waded in with the assurance he had seen the others use, but suddenly he cried: "Gee boys, I'm sucking right down!"
Then on his ears fell a deafening clamour. "Help! Help! Quicksands! Mickey's sinking! Help him!"
Mickey threw out his arms. He grabbed wildly; while a force, seemingly gentle but irresistible, sucked him lower and lower, and with each inch it bore him down, gripped tighter, and pulled faster. When he glanced at the boys he saw panic in their faces, and he realized that he was probably lost, and they were terror stricken. The first gulp of tepid shore water that strangled him in running across his gasping lips made him think of Peaches. Struggling he threw back his head and so saw a widespreading branch of a big maple not far above him. All that was left of Mickey went into the cry: "Junior! Bend me that branch!" Junior swiftly climbed the tree, crept on the limb, and swayed it till it swept the water, then Mickey laid hold; just a few twigs, and then as Junior backed, and the branch lifted higher and higher, Mickey worked, hand over hand, and finally grasped twigs that promised to stand a gentle pull.
Then Jud began to shout instructions: "Little lower, Junior! Get a better grip before you pull hard, Mickey! Maple is brittle! Easy! It will snap with you! Kind of roll yourself and turn to let the water in and loosen the sand. Now roll again! Now pull a little! You're making it! You are out to your shoulders! Back farther, Junior! Don't you fall in, or you'll both go down!"
Mickey was very quiet now. His small face was pallid with the terror of leaving Peaches forever with no provision for her safety. The grip of the sucking sand was yet pulling at his legs and body; while if the branch broke he knew what it meant; that sucking, insistent pulling, and caving away beneath his feet told him. Suddenly Mickey gave up struggling, set his teeth, and began fighting by instinct. He moved his shoulders gently, until he let the water flow in, then instead of trying to work his feet he held them rigid and flattened as he could, and with the upper part of his body still rolling, he reached higher, and kept inching up the branch as Junior backed away, until with sickening slowness he at last reached wood thick as his wrist. Then he dragged his helpless body after him to safety, where he sank in a heap to rest.
"Jud, it's a good thing I went in there first," he said. "Heavy as you are, you'd a-been at the bottom by now, if there is any bottom."
Mickey's gaze travelled slowly over his lumpy, purple frame, and then he looked closely at the others. "Why them stingers must a-give about all of it to me," he commented. "I don't see any lumps on the rest of you."
"Oh we are used to it," scoffed Jud. "They don't show on you after you get used to them. 'Sides most all mine are on my head, I kept 'em off with the bushes."
"So did I," chimed in Sam and Junior with one voice.
"I guess I did get a lot the worst of it," conceded Mickey. "But if they only stung your heads, it's funny you didn't know where to put your mud!"
"Well I'll tell you," said Jud earnestly. "On your head they hurt worst of all. They hurt so blame bad, you get so wild like you don't know where you are stung, and you think till you cool off a little, you got them all over."
"Yes I guess you do," agreed Mickey.
The boys were slowly putting on their clothing and Junior was scowling darkly. Jud edged close.
"Gosh!" he whispered. "I thought it was only a little spring! I didn't think it was a quicksand!"
"You cut out anything more!" said Junior tersely.
Jud nodded. After a while they started home, walking slowly and each one being particularly careful of and good to Mickey. When he had rested, he could see that it was only an accident; such an astounding one he forgot his bites and could talk of little else.
They made another long pause under a big tree, and Mickey felt so much better as they again started home, that Junior lagged behind, and Jud seeing, joined him. Junior asked softly: "Have any more?"
"What?" whispered Junior.
Jud told him.
"Oh that! Nothing in that! Go on!"
So they struck into the path they had followed from the swamp to the woods, when suddenly a warm, yielding, coiling thing slipped under Mickey's feet. With a wild cry he leaped across the body of a big rattlesnake that had been coiled in the path. As he arose, clear cut against the light launched the ugly head and wide jaws of the rattler, then came the sickening buzz of its rattles in mad recoil for a second stroke.
"Run Mickey! Jump!" screamed Junior.
"What is it?" asked Mickey bewildered.
"Rattlesnakes! Sure death!" yelled Jud. "Run fool!"
But Mickey stood perfectly still, and looked, not where the increasing buzz came from, but at them. They had no choice. Jud carried a heavy club; he threw himself in front of Mickey and as the second stroke came, he swung at the snake's head. The other boys collected their senses and beat it to pulp, then the dead mate it watched beside. Junior glared at Jud, but when he saw how frightened he was, he knew what had happened.
Mickey gazed at the snakes in horror.
"Ain't that a pretty small parcel to deal out sudden death in?" he asked. "And if they're laying round like that, ain't we taking an awful risk to be wading through here, this way? Gee, they're the worst sight I ever saw!"
Mickey became violently ill. He lay down for a time, while the boys waited on him, and at last when he could slowly walk toward home, they went on. Jud and Sam left them at the creek, and Junior and Mickey started up the Harding lane. Suddenly Mickey sat down in a fence corner, leaned against the rails, and closed his eyes.
"Gee!" he said. "Never felt so rotten in all my life."
"Maybe that snake grazed you."
"If it did, would it kill me?" asked Mickey dully.
"Well after the yellow-jacket poison in your blood, and being so tired and hot, you wouldn't stand the chance you'd had when we first started," said Junior. "Do you know where it came closest to you?"
"Back of my legs, I s'pose," said Mickey.
"If it had hit you, it would leave two places like needles stuck in, just the width of its head apart. I can't find any-thing that looks like it, thank the Lord!"
"Here too!" said Mickey. "You see if it or the quicksands had finished me, I haven't things fixed for Lily. They might 'get' her yet. If anything should happen to me, she would be left with no one to take care of her."
"Father would," offered Junior. "Mother never would let anybody take her. I know she wouldn't."
"Well I don't," said Mickey, "and here is where guessing doesn't cut any ice. I must be sure. To-night I'll ask him. I'd like to know how it happens that sudden death has just been rampaging after me all this trip, anyway. I seemed to get it coming or going."
Junior did not hide his grin quickly enough.
"Aw-w-w-ah!" grated Mickey, suddenly tense and alert.
He sprang to his feet. So did Junior.
"Say, look here----" cried Mickey.
"All right, 'look here,'" retorted Junior. His face flamed Ted, then paled, and his hands gripped, while his jaw protruded in an ugly scowl. Then slowly and distinctly he quoted: "Course I meant to put it to you stiff; I meant to 'niciate you in the ancient and honourable third degree of the Country all right, so's you'd have enough to last a lifetime; but I only meant to put you up against what I'd had myself in the fields and woods; I was just going to test your ginger; I wasn't counting on the quicksand, and the live snake, finding its dead mate Jud fixed for you."
"So you were sneaking in the barn this morning, when we thought you were gone?" demanded Mickey.
"Easy you!" cautioned Junior. "Going after the bundle I promised Jud was not sneaking----"
"So 'twasn't," conceded Mickey, instantly. "So 'twasn't!"
He looked at Junior a second.
"You heard us, then?" he demanded. "All of it?"
"I don't know," answered Junior. "I heard what I just repeated, and what you said about my being game, and exactly why I came back; thank you for that, even if I lick you half to death in a minute--and I heard that my own mother first fixed it up with you, and then father agreed. Oh I heard enough----!"
"And so you got a grouch?" commented Mickey.
"Yes I did," admitted Junior. "But I got over all of it, after I'd had time to think, but that third degree business; that made me so sore I told Jud about it, and he said he'd help me pay you up; but we struck the same rock you did, in giving you a bigger dose than we meant to. Honest Mickey, Jud didn't know there was a real quicksand there, and of course we didn't dream a live snake would follow and find the one the boys hunted, killed, and set for you this morning----"
"Awful innocent!" scoffed Mickey. "'Member you didn't know about the ram either?"
"Honest I didn't, Mickey," persisted Junior. "I thought steering you into the yellow jackets was to be the first degree! Cross my heart, I did."
Suddenly Mickey whooped. He tumbled on the grass in the fence corner and twisted in wild laughter until he was worn out. Then he struggled up, and held out his hand to Junior.
"If you're willing," he said, "I'll give you the grip, and the password will be, 'Brothers!'"