Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XIX. Establishing Protectorates
"I'm sorry no end!" said Mickey. "First time I ever been late. I was helping Peter; we were so busy that the first thing I knew I heard the hum of her gliding past the clover field, so I was left. I know how hard you're working. It won't happen again."
Mickey studied his friend closely. He decided the time had come to watch. Douglas Bruce was pale and restless, he spent long periods in frowning thought. He aroused from one of these and asked: "What were you and Peter doing that was so very absorbing?"
"Well about the most interesting thing that ever happened," said Mickey. "You see Peter is one of the grandest men who ever lived; he's so fine and doing so many big things, in a way he kind of fell behind in the little ones."
"I've heard of men doing that before," commented Douglas. "Can't you tell me a new one?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You know the place and how good it seems on the outside--well it didn't look so good inside, in the part that counted most. You've noticed the big barns, sheds and outbuildings, all the modern conveniences for a man, from an electric lantern to a stump puller; everything I'm telling you--and for the nice lady, nix! Her work table faced a wall covered with brown oilcloth, and frying pans heavy enough to sprain Willard, a wood fire to boil clothes and bake bread, in this hot weather, the room so low and dark, no ice box, with acres of ice close every winter, no water inside, no furnace, and carrying washtubs to the kitchen for bathing as well as washing, aw gee--you get the picture?"
"I certainly do," agreed Douglas, "and yet she was a neat, nice-looking little woman."
"Sure!" said Mickey. "If she had to set up housekeeping in Sunrise Alley in one day you could tell her place from anybody else's. Sure, she's a nice lady! But she has troubles of her own. I guess everybody has."
"Yes, I think they have," assented Douglas. "I could muster a few right now, myself."
"Yes?" cried Mickey. "That's bad! Let's drop this and cut them out."
"Presently," said Douglas. "My head is so tired it will do me good to think about something else a few minutes. You were saying Mrs. Harding had trouble; what is it?"
Mickey returned to his subject with a chuckle.
"She was 'bout ready to tackle them nervous prostrations so popular with the Swell Dames," he explained, "because every morning for fifteen years she'd faced the brown oilcloth and pots and pans, while she'd been wild to watch sunup from under a particular old apple tree; when she might have seen it every morning if Peter had been on his job enough to saw a window in the right place. Get that?"
"Yes, I get it," conceded Douglas. "Go on!"
"Well I began her work so she started right away, and before she got back in comes Peter. When he asks where she was and why she went, I was afraid, but for her sake I told him. I told him everything I had noticed. At first he didn't like it."
"It's a wonder he didn't break your neck."
"Well," said Mickey judicially, "as I size Peter up he'd fight an awful fight if he was fighting, but he ain't much on starting a fight. I worked the separator steady, and by and by when I 'summed up the argument,' as a friend of mine says, I guess that cream separator didn't look any bigger to Peter, set beside a full house and two or three sheds for the stuff he'd brought to make his work easier, than it did to me."
"I'll wager it didn't," laughed Douglas.
"No it didn't!" cried Mickey earnestly. "And when he stood over it awhile, that big iron stove made his kitchen, where his wife lived most of her day, seem 'bout as hot as my room where he was raving over Lily having been; and when he faced the brown oilcloth and the old iron skillets for a few minutes of silent thought, he bolted at about two. Peter ain't so slow!"
"What did he do?" asked Douglas.
"Why we planned to send her on a visit," said Mickey, "and cut that window, and move in the pump, and invest in one of those country gas plants, run on a big tank of gasoline away outside where it's all safe, and a bread-mixer, and a dishwasher, and some lighter cooking things; but we got interned."
"How Mickey?" interestedly inquired Douglas.
"Remember I told you about Junior coming in to hunt work because he was tired of the country, and how it turned out?" said Mickey.
"Yes I recall perfectly," answered Douglas.
"There's a good one on me about that I haven't told you yet, but I will," said Mickey. "Well when son came home, wrapped in a comfort, there was a ripping up on the part of Peter. He just 'hurled back the enemy,' and who do you think he hit the hardest?"
"I haven't an idea," said Douglas.
"In your shoes, I wouldn't a-had one either," said Mickey. "Well, he didn't go for Junior, or his Ma, or me. Peter stood Mister Peter Harding out before us, and then didn't leave him a leg to stand on. He proved conclusive he'd used every spare moment he'd had since Junior was in short clothes, carrying him to Multiopolis to amuse him, and feed him treats, and show him shows; so he was to blame if Junior developed a big consuming appetite for such things. How does the argument strike you?"
"Sound!" cried Douglas. "Perfectly sound! It's precisely what the land owners are doing every day of their lives, and then wailing because the cities take their children. I've had that studied out for a year past."
"Well Peter figured it right there for us in detail," said Mickey. "Then he tackled Ma Harding and her sunup, and then he thought out a way to furnish entertainment and all the modern comforts right there at home."
"What entertainment?" said Douglas.
"Well he specified saddles and horses to ride," grinned Mickey, "and swimming, and a fishing-boat and tackle for all of us, a launch on whatever lake we like best, a big entertainment house with a floor for skating and dancing, and a stage for plays we will get up ourselves, and a movie machine. I'm to find out how to run one and teach them, and then he'll rent reels and open it twice a week. The big hole that will cave in on the north side of Multiopolis soon now will be caused by the slump when our neighbourhood withdraws its patronage and begins being entertained by Peter. And you'll see that it will work, too!"
"Of course it will," agreed Douglas. "Once the country folk get the idea it will go like a landslide. So that's what made you late?"
"Well connected with that," explained Mickey. "Peter didn't do a thing but figure up the price he'd paid for every labour-saver he ever bought for himself, and he came out a little over six thousand. He said he wouldn't have wanted Ma in a hardware store selecting his implements, so he guessed he wouldn't choose hers. He just drew a check for what he said was her due, with interest, and put it in her name in the bank, and told her to cut loose and spend it exactly as she pleased."
"What did she do?" marvelled Douglas.
"Well she was tickled silly, but she didn't lose her head; she began investigating what had been put on the market to meet her requirements. At present we are living on the threshing floor mostly, and the whole house is packed up; when it is unpacked, there'll be a bathroom on the second floor, and a lavatory on the first. There'll be a furnace in one room of the basement, and a coal bin big enough for a winter's supply. We can hitch on to the trolley line for electric lights all over the house, and barn, and outbuildings, and fireless cooker, iron, and vacuum cleaner, and a whole bunch of conveniences for Ma, including a washing machine, and stationary tubs in the basement. Gee! Get the picture?"
"I surely do! What else Mickey?" asked Douglas. "You know I've a house to furnish soon myself."
"Well a new kitchen on the other end of the building where there's a breeze, and a big clover field, and a wood, and her work table right where it is in line with her private and particular sunup. There's a big sink with hot and cold water, and a dishwasher. There's a bread-mixer and a little glass churn, both of which can be hitched to the electricity to run. There's a big register from the furnace close the work table for winter, and a gas cook stove that has more works than a watch."
"What does the lady say about it?"
"Mighty little!" said Mickey. "She just stands and wipes the shiny places with her apron or handkerchief, and laughs and cries, 'cause she's so glad. It ain't set up yet, but you can see just standing before it what it's going to mean for her. And there's a chute from the upstairs to the basement, to scoot the wash down to the electric machine to rub them, and a little gas stove with two burners to boil them, and the iron I told you of. Hanging it up is the hardest part of the wash these days, and since they have three big rooms in the basement, Peter thought this morning that he could put all the food in one, and stretch her lines in the winter for the clothes to dry in the washroom. The furnace will heat it, and it's light and clean; we are going to paint it when everything is in place."
"Is that all?" queried Douglas.
"It's a running start," said Mickey; "I don't know as Peter will ever get to 'all'. The kitchen is going to have white woodwork, and blue walls and blue linoleum, and new blue-and-white enamelled cooking things from start to finish, with no iron in the bunch except two skillets saved for frying. Even the dishpan is going to be blue, and she's crying and laughing same time while she hems blue-and-white wash curtains for the windows. All the house is going to have hardwood floors, the rooms cut more convenient; out goes the old hall into just a small place to take off your wraps, and the remainder added to the parlour. All the carpets and the old heavy curtains are being ground up and woven into rugs. Gee, it's an insurrection! Ma Harding and I surely started things when we planned to dose Junior on Multiopolis, and let her 'view the landscape o'er.' You can tell by her face she's seeing it! If she sails into the port o' glory looking more glorified, it'll be a wonder! And Peter! You ought to see Peter! And Junior! You should see Junior planning his room. And Mickey! You must see Mickey planning his! And Mary and Bobbie! And above all, you should see Lily! Last I saw of her, Peter was holding her under her arms, and she was shoving her feet before her trying to lift them up a little. We've most rubbed them off her with fine sand, and then stuck them in cold water, and then sanded them again, and they're not the same feet--that's a cinch!"
"Is that the sum of the Harding improvements?" asked Douglas, drawing fine lines on a sheet of figures before him.
"Well it's a fair showing," said Mickey. "We ain't got the new rugs, and the music box, and the books; or the old furniture rubbed and oiled yet. When the house is finished, Peter expressly specified that his lady was to get her clothes so she could go to the club house, and not be picked for a country woman by what she wore."
"Mickey, this is so interesting it has given my head quite a rest. Maybe now I can see my way clearly. But one thing more: how long are you planning to stay there? You talk as if----"
"'Stay there?'" said Mickey. "Didn't you hear me say there was a horse and saddle and a room for me, and a room for Lily? 'Stay there!' Why for ever and ever more! That's home! When I got into trouble and called on Peter to throw a lifeline, he did it up browner than his job for Ma. A line was all I asked; but Peter established a regular Pertectorate--nobody can 'get' us now----"
"You mean Peter adopted both of you?" cried Douglas.
"Sure!" indorsed Mickey with a flourish. "You see it was like this: when we dosed Junior with Multiopolis, the old threshing machine took a hand and did some things to him that wasn't on the program; he found out about it, and it made him mad. When he got his dander up he hit back by turning old Miss Country loose on me. First I tried a ram and yellow jackets; then only a little bunch of maple twigs was all the pull I had to keep me from going to the bottomless pit by the way of the nastiest quicksand on Atwater Lake. Us fellows went back one day and fed it logs bigger than I am, and it sucked them down like Peter does a plate of noodles. Then Junior thought curling a big dead rattler in the path, and shunting me so I'd step right on it, would be a prime joke; but he didn't figure on the snake he had fixed for me having a mate as big and ugly as it was, that would follow and coil zipping mad over the warm twisting body----"
"Mickey!" gasped Douglas.
"Just so! Exactly what I thought--and then some. When I dragged what was left of me home that night, and figured out where I'd been if the big maple hadn't spread its branch just as wide as it did, or if the snake had hit my leg 'stead of my britches--when I took my bearings and saw where I was at, the thing that really hurt me worst was that if I'd gone, either down or up, I hadn't done anything for Lily but give her a worse horror than she had, of being 'got' by them Orphings' Home people, when I should have made her safe forever. I took Peter to the barn and told him just how it was, 'cause I felt mighty queer. I wasn't so sure that one scratch on my leg that looked ugly mightn't a-been the snake striking through the cloth and dosing me some, I was so sick and swelled up; it turned out to be yellow jackets, but it might a-been snakes, and I was a little upset. As man to man I asked him what I ought to do for my family 'fore I took any more risks. A-body would have thought the jolt the box gave me would have been enough, but it wasn't! It took the snake and the quicksand to just right real wake me up. First I was some sore on Junior; but pretty quick I saw how funny it was, so I got over it----"
"He should have had his neck broken!"
"Wope! Wope! Back up!" cautioned Mickey. "Nothing of the kind! You ain't figuring on the starving, the beating, being knocked senseless, robbed of all his clothes twice, and landing in the morgue with the cleaning-house victims. Gee, Junior had reasons for his grouch!"
Douglas Bruce suddenly began to laugh wildly.
"Umhum! That's what I told you," said Mickey. "Well, that night I laid the case before Peter, out on the hay wagon in the barnyard, so moon white you could have read the Herald, the cattle grunting satisfied all around us, katydids insisting on it emphatic, crickets chirping, and the old rooster calling off the night watches same as he did for that first Peter, who denied his Lord. I thought about that, as I sat and watched the big fellow slowly whittling the rack, and once in a while putting in a question, and when I'd told him all there was to tell, he said this: he said sure Lily was mine, and I had a perfect right to keep her; but the law might butt in, 'cause there was a law we couldn't evade that could step in and take her any day. He said too, that if she had to go to the hospital, sudden, first question a surgeon would ask was who were her parents, and if she had none, who in their place could give him a right to operate. He said while she was mine, and it was my right, and my job, the law and the surgeon would say no, 'cause we were not related, and I was not of age. He said there were times when the law got its paddle in, and went to fooling with red tape, it let a sick person lay and die while it decided what to do. He said he'd known a few just exactly such cases; so to keep the law from making a fool of itself, as it often did, we'd better step in and fix things to suit us before it ever got a showdown."
"What did he do?" asked Douglas Bruce eagerly.
"Well, after we'd talked it over we moved up to the back porch and Peter explained to Ma, who is the boss of that family, only she doesn't know it, and she said for him to do exactly what his conscience and his God dictated. That's where his namesake put it over that first Peter. Our Peter said: 'Well if God is to dictate my course, you remember what He said about "suffering the little children to come to Him," and we are commanded to be like Him, so there's no way to twist it, but that it means suffer them to come to us,' he said.
"Ma she spoke quick and said: 'Well we've got them!'
"Peter said, 'Yes, we've got them; now the question is whether we keep them, or send them to an Orphings' Home.'
"The nice lady she said faster than I can tell you: 'Peter Harding, I'm ashamed of you! There's no question of that kind! There's never going to be!'
"'Well don't get het up about it,' said Peter. 'I knew all the time there wasn't, I just wanted to hear you say so plain and emphatic. So far as I'm concerned, my way is clear as noonday sun,' said Peter. 'Then you go first thing in the morning and adopt them, and adopt them both,' said Ma. 'Lily will make Mary just as good a sister as she could ever have,' said she, and then she reached over and put her arms right around me and she said, 'And if you think I'm going to keep on trying to run this house without Mickey, you're mistaken.' I began to cry, 'cause I had had a big day, and I was shaking on my feet anyway. Then Peter said, 'Have you figured it out to the end? Is it to be 'til they are of age, or forever?' She just gripped tighter and said fast as words can come, 'I say make it forever, and share and share alike. I'm willing if you are.' Peter, he said, 'I'm willing. They'll pay their way any place. Forever, and share and share alike, is my idea. Do you agree, Mickey?' 'Exactly what do you mean?' I asked, and Peter told me it was making me and Lily both his, just as far as the law could do it; we could go all the farther we wanted to ourselves. He said it meant him getting the same for me and Lily as he did for his own, and leaving us the same when he died. I told him he needn't do that, if he'd just keep off the old Orphings' Home devil, that's had me scared stiff all my days, I'd tend to that, so now me and Lily belong to Peter; he's our Pertectorate."
"Mickey, why didn't you tell me?" asked Douglas. "Why didn't you want me to adopt you?"
"Well so far as 'adopting' is concerned," said Mickey, "I ain't crazy about it, with anybody. But that's the law you men have made; a boy must obey it, even if he'd rather be skinned alive, and when he knows it ain't right or fair. That's the law. I was up against it, and I didn't know but I did have the snake, and Peter was on hand and made that offer, and he was grand and big about it. I don't love him any more than I do you; but I've just this minute discovered that it ain't in my skin to love any man more than I do Peter; so you'll have to get used to the fact that I love him just as well, and say, Mr. Bruce, Peter is the finest man you ever knew. If you'll come out and get acquainted, you'll just be tickled to have him in the Golf Club, and to come to his house, and to have him at yours. His nice lady is exactly like Miss Winton, only older. Say, she and Peter will adopt you too, if you say so, and between us, just as man to man, Peter is a regular lifesaver! If you got a chance you better catch on! No telling what you might want of him!"
"Mickey, you do say the most poignant things!" cried Douglas. "I'd give all I'm worth to catch on to Peter right now, and cling for much more than life; but what I started, I must finish, and Peter isn't here."
"Well what's the matter with me?" asked Mickey. "Have you run into the yellow jackets too? 'Cause if you have, I'm ahead of you, so I know what to do. Just catch on to me!"
"Think you are big enough to serve as a straw for a drowning man, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.
"Sure! I'm big enough to establish a Pertectorate over you, this minute. The weight of my body hasn't anything to do with the size of my heart, or how fast I can work my brains and feet, if I must."
"Mickey," said Douglas despairingly, "it's my candid opinion that no one can save me, right now."
Mickey opened his lips, and showed that his brain was working by shutting them abruptly on something that seemed very much as if it had started to be: "Sure!"
"Is that so?" he substituted.
"Yes, I'm in the sweat box," admitted Douglas.
"And it's uncomfortable and weakening. What's the first thing we must do to get you out?"
"What I'm facing now is the prospect that there's no way for me to get out, or for my friends to get me out," admitted Douglas. "I wish I had been plowing corn."
The boy's eyes were gleaming. He was stepping from one foot to the other as if the floor burned him.
"Gosh, we must saw wood!" he cried. "You go on and tell me. I been up against a lot of things. Maybe I can think up something. Honest, maybe I can!"
"No Mickey, there's nothing you or any one can do. A miracle is required now, and miracles have ceased."
"Oh I don't know!" exclaimed Mickey. "Look how they been happening to me and Lily right along. I can't see why one mightn't be performed for you just as well. I wish you wouldn't waste so much time! I wish you hadn't spent an hour fooling with what I was telling you; that would keep. I wish you'd give me a job, and let me get busy."
Douglas Bruce smiled forlornly.
"I'd gladly give you the job of saving me, my dear friend," he said, "but the fact is I haven't a notion of how to go to work to achieve salvation."
"Is somebody else getting ahead of you?"
"Not that I know of! No I don't think so. That isn't the trouble," said Douglas.
"I do wish you'd just plain tell me," said Mickey. "Now that I got the Pertectorate all safe over Lily, I'd do anything for you. Maybe I could think up some scheme. I'm an awful schemer! I wish you'd trust me! You needn't think I'd blab! Come on now!"
Suddenly Douglas Bruce's long arms stretched across the table before him, his head fell on them, and shuddering sobs shook him. Mickey's dance steps became six inches high, while in desperation he began polishing the table with his cap. Then he reached a wiry hand and commenced rubbing Douglas up and down the spine. The tears were rolling down his cheeks, but his voice was even and clear.
"Aw come on now!" he begged. "Cut that out! That won't help none! What shall I do? Shall I call Mr. Minturn? Shall I get Miss Leslie on the wire?"
Bruce arose and began walking the floor.
"Yes," he said. "Yes! 'Bearer of Morning,' call her!"
Mickey ran to the telephone. In a minute, "Here she is," he announced. "Shall I go?"
"No! Stay right where you are."
"Hello Leslie! Are you all right? I'm sorry to say I am not. I'm up against a proposition I don't know how to handle. Why just this: remember your father told me in your presence that if in the course of my investigations I reached his office, I was to wait until he got back? Yes. I thought you'd remember. You know the order of the court gave me access to the records, but the officials whose books I have gone over haven't been pleased about it, although reflection would have told them if it hadn't been I, it would have been some other man. But the point is this: I'm almost at the finish and I haven't found what obviously exists somewhere. I'm now up to the last office, which is your father's. The shortage either has to be there, or in other departments outside those I was delegated to search; so that further pursuit will be necessary. Two or three times officials have suggested to me that I go over your father's records first, as an evidence that there was no favouritism; now I have reached them, and this proposition: if I go ahead in his, as I have in other offices, I disobey his express order. If I do not, the gang will set up a howl in to-morrow morning's paper, and they will start an investigation of their own. Did you get anything from him this morning Leslie? Not for four days? And he's a week past the time he thought he would be back? I see! Leslie, what shall I do? In my morning's mail there is a letter from the men whose records I have been over, giving me this ultimatum: 'begin on Winton's office immediately, or we will.'
"Tell them to go ahead? But Leslie! Yes I know, but Leslie----Yes! You are ordering me to tell them that I propose to conduct the search in his department as I did theirs, and if they will not await his return from this business trip, they are perfectly free to go ahead----You are sure that is the thing you want said? But Leslie----Yes, I know, but Leslie it is disobeying him, and it's barely possible there might be a traitor there; better men than he have been betrayed by their employees. I admit I'm all in. I wish you would come and bring your last letter from him. We'll see if we can't locate him by wire. It's an ugly situation. Of course I didn't think it would come to this. Yes I wish you would! If you say so, I will, but----All right then. Come at once! Good-bye!"
Douglas turned to his desk, wrote a few hasty lines and said to Mickey: "Deliver that to Muller at the City Hall."
Mickey took the envelope and went racing. In half the time he would have used in going to the City Hall he was in the Herald Building, making straight for the office of the editor. Mr. Chaffner was standing with a group of men earnestly discussing some matter, when his eye was attracted by Mickey, directly in range, and with the tip of his index finger he was cutting in air letters plainly to be followed: "S.O.S." Chaffner nodded slightly, and continued his talk. A second later he excused himself, and Mickey followed to the private room.
"Well?" he shot at the boy.
"Our subm'rine has sunk our own cotton."
"Humph!" said Chaffner. "I've known for two weeks it was heading your way. Just what happened?"
Mickey explained and produced the letter. Chaffner reached for it. Mickey drew back.
"Why I wouldn't dare do just that," he said. "But I know that's what's in it, because I heard what he said, and by it you could tell what she said. I've told you every word, and you said the other day you knew; please tell me if I should deliver this letter?"
"If you want to give me a special with the biggest scoop of ten years," said Chaffner, "and ruin Douglas Bruce and disgrace the Wintons, take it right along."
"Aw gee!" wailed Mickey, growing ghastly. "Aw gee, Mr. Chaffner! Why you can't do that! Not to them! Why they're the nicest folks; and 'tain't two weeks ago I heard Miss Leslie say to Mr. Bruce right in our office, 'losing money I could stand, disgrace would kill me.' You can't kill her, Mr. Chaffner! Why she's the nicest, and the prettiest----She found me, and sent me to the boss, like I told you. Honest she did! Why you can't! You just can't! Why Mr. Chaffner, I can see by your nice eyes you can't! Aw gee, come on now!"
Mickey's chin hooked over the editor's elbow, his small head was against his arm, his eyes were dripping tears, but his voice controlled and steady was entreating.
"You know there's a screw loose somewhere," explained Mickey. "You know 'darling old Daddy' couldn't ever have done it; and if somebody under him has gone wrong, maybe he could make it up, if he was here and had an hour or so. That day, Miss Leslie said he should give all he had for his friend, and he could have all of hers. If she'd be willing for the money to go for her 'dear old Daddy's' friend, course she'd be glad to use it for her Daddy, and she's got a lot from her mother, and maybe Daddy has sold the land he went to sell, and all of that ought to be enough; and if it isn't, I know who will help them. Honest I do!"
"Who, Mickey?" demanded Mr. Chaffner, instantly.
"Mr. Minturn! Mr. James Minturn!" said Mickey. "He's Mr. Bruce's best friend, and he told me he would do anything for Miss Leslie, that day right after I saw you, for if his home ever came right again, it would be 'cause she made it; and she did make it, and it is right, and he's so crazy happy he can't hardly keep on the floor. Course he'd pay Miss Leslie back. He said he would. He's the nicest man!"
"Isn't your world rather full of nice men, Mickey?"
Mickey renewed his grip. His eyes were pleading, the white light on his brow was shining, his voice was irresistibly sweet: "You just bet my world is full of nice men, packed like sardines; but they'll all scrooge up a little and make room for you on the top layer among the selects! Come on now! Rustle for your place before we revolve and leave you. All your life you'll be sorry if you make that scoop, and kill Miss Leslie, and shame 'darling old Daddy,' and ruin my boss. Oh I say Mr. Chaffner, you can't! You can't ever sleep nights again, if you do! They haven't ever done anything to you. You'll be the nicest man of all, if you'll tell me what to do. 'Twon't take you but a second, 'cause you know. Oh tell me, for the love of God tell me, Mr. Chaffner! You'll be the nicest man I know, if you'll tell me."
The editor looked down in Mickey's compelling eyes. He laid his hand on the lad's brow and said: "That would be worth the price of any scoop I ever pulled off, Mickey. Are you going to be a lawyer or write that poetry for me?"
"If I'd ever even thought of law, this would cook me," said Mickey. "Poetry it is, as soon as I earn enough to pay for finding out how to do it right."
"And when you find out, will you come on my staff, and work directly under me?" asked Mr. Chaffner.
"Sure!" promised Mickey. "I'd rather do it than anything else in the world. It would suit me fine. That is, if you're coming in among my nice men----"
Mr. Chaffner held out his hand. "This is going to cost me something in prestige and in cash," he said, "but Mickey, you make it worthwhile. Here are your instructions: don't deliver that letter! Cut for Minturn and give it to him. Tell him if he wants me, to call any time inside an hour, and that he hasn't longer than noon to make good. He'll understand. If you can't beat a taxi on foot, take one. Have you money?"
"Yes," said Mickey, "but just suppose he isn't there and I can't find him?"
"Then find his wife, and tell her to call me."
"All right! Thanks, boss! You're simply great!"
Mickey took the taxi and convinced the driver he was in a hurry. He danced in the elevator, ran down the hall, and into Mr. Minturn's door. There he stopped abruptly, for he faced Miss Winton and Mrs. Minturn, whose paling face told Mickey that he was stamped on her memory as she was on his. He pulled off his cap, and spoke to Mr. Minturn.
"Could I see you a minute?" he asked.
"Certainly! Step this way. Excuse us ladies."
Mickey showed the letter, told what had caused it to be written, and that he had gone to Mr. Chaffner instead of delivering it, and what instructions had been given him there. Mr. Minturn picked up the telephone and called Mr. Chaffner. When he got him he merely said: "This is Minturn. What's the amount, and where does he bank his funds? Thank you very much indeed."
Then he looked at Mickey. "Till noon did you say?"
"Yes," cried Mickey breathlessly, "and 'tisn't so long!"
"No," said Mr. Minturn, "it isn't. Ask Mrs. Minturn if I may speak with her a moment."
"Shall I come back or stay there?" inquired Mickey.
"Come back," said Mr. Minturn. "I may need you."
Mickey stood before Mrs. Minturn.
"Please will you speak with Mr. Minturn a minute?"
"Excuse me Leslie," said the lady, rising, and entering the private room. There she turned to Mickey. "I remember you very well," she said, with a steady voice. "You needn't shrink from me. I've done all in my power to atone. It will never be possible for me to think of forgiving myself; but you'll forgive me, won't you?"
"Sure! Why lady, I'm awful sorry for you."
"I'm sorry for myself," said she. "What was it you wanted, Mr. Minturn?"
"Suppose you tell Mrs. Minturn about both your visits here," suggested Mr. Minturn to Mickey.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You see it was like this lady. This morning Mr. Bruce's head is down, and if he doesn't get help before noon, he and Miss Leslie and all those nice people are in trouble. I thought Mr. Minturn ought to know, so I slipped in and told him."
"What is the trouble, lad?" asked Mrs. Minturn.
"Why you see Miss Leslie's 'darling old Daddy' is one of the city officials, and of course Mr. Bruce left him 'til last, because he would a- staked his life he'd find the man he was hunting before he got to his office, and he didn't!"
"What, James?" said the lady, turning hurriedly.
"Tell her about it, Mickey," said Mr. Minturn calmly.
"Well there ain't much to tell," said Mickey. "My boss he just kept stacking up figures; two or three times he thought he had his man and then he'd strike a balance; and the men whose records he searched kept getting madder, and Mr. Winton went west to sell some land. Someway he's been gone a week longer than he expected; and my boss is all through except him, and now the other men say if he doesn't begin on Mr. Winton's books right away, they will, and he told my boss not to 'til he got back. A while ago I was in the Herald office talking to Mr. Chaffner, whose papers I've sold since I started and I was telling him what nice friends I had, and how Mr. Bruce and Miss Leslie were engaged, and he like to ate me up. When I couldn't see why, he told me about investigations he had his men, like I'm going to be, make, and sometimes they get a 'scoop' on the men appointed to do the job, and he told me he had a 'scoop' on this, and if I saw trouble coming toward my boss, I was to tell him and maybe--he didn't say sure, but maybe he'd do something."
"Oh James!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"Wait dear! Go on Mickey," said Mr. Minturn.
"Well," said Mickey, "the elevated jumped the track this morning when my boss got a letter saying if he didn't go on at once with Mr. Winton's office, somebody else would; and the people who have been in the air ever since are due to land at noon, and it's pretty quick now, and they are too nice for any use. Did you ever know finer people?"
"No I never did," said Mrs. Minturn; "but James, I don't understand. Tell me quickly and plainly."
"Chaffner just gave me the figures," he said, holding over a slip of paper. "If that amount is to Mr. Winton's credit on his account with the city, at the Universal Bank before noon--nothing at all. If it's not, disgrace for them, and I started it by putting Bruce on the case. I'll raise as much as I can, but I can't secure enough by that time without men knowing it. Mr. Winton has undoubtedly gone to try to secure what he needs; but he's going to be too late. There never has been a worse time to raise money in the history of this country."
"But if money is the trouble," said Mrs. Minturn, "you said you never would touch what I put in your name for yourself, why not use it for him? If that isn't enough, I will gladly furnish the remainder. That I'm not a stranded, forsaken woman is due to Leslie Winton; all I have wouldn't be big enough price to pay for you, and my boys, and my precious home. Be quick James!"
Mr. Minturn was calling the Universal Bank.
Mickey and Mrs. Minturn waited anxiously. They involuntarily drew together, and the woman held the boy in a close grip, while her face alternately paled and flushed, and both of them were breathing short.
"I want the cashier!" Mr. Minturn was saying.
"Don't his voice just make you feel like you were on the rock of ages?" whispered Mickey.
Mrs. Minturn smiling nodded.
"Hello, Mr. Freeland. This is Minturn talking--James Minturn. You will remember some securities I deposited with you not long ago? I wish to use a part of them to pay a debt I owe Mr. Winton. Kindly credit his account with--oh, he's there in the bank? Well never mind then. I didn't know he was back yet. Let it go! I'll see him in person. And you might tell him that his daughter is at my office. Yes, thank you. No you needn't say anything about that to him; we'll arrange it ourselves. Good-bye!"
"Now where am I at?" demanded Mickey.
"I don't think you know, Mickey," said Mr. Minturn, "and I am sure I don't, but I have a strong suspicion that Mr. Winton will be here in a few minutes, and if his mission has been successful, his face will tell it; and if he's in trouble, that will show; and then we will know what to do. Mr. Bruce would like to know he is here, and at the bank I think."
"I'll go tell him right away," said Mickey.
Douglas was walking the floor as Mickey entered.
"You delivered the letter?" he cried.
Mickey shook his head, producing the envelope.
"You didn't!" shouted Bruce. "You didn't! Thank God! Oh, thank God you didn't!"
"Aw-w-ah!" protested Mickey.
"Why didn't you?" demanded Douglas.
"Well you see," said Mickey, "me and Mr. Chaffner of the Herald were talking a while ago about some poetry I'm going to write for his first page, soon now--I've always sold his papers you know, so I sort of belong --and I happened to tell him I was working for you, and how fine you were, and about your being engaged to Miss Leslie, and he seemed to kind of think you was heading for trouble; he just plain said so. I was so scared I begged him not to let that happen. I told him how everything was, and finally I got him to promise that if you did get into trouble he'd help you, at least he almost promised. You see he's been a newspaper man so long, he eats it, and sleeps it, and he had a 'scoop'--"
"'He had a scoop?'" repeated Douglas.
"Yes! A great one! Biggest one in ten years!" said the boy. "He loved it so, that me trying to pry him loose from it was about like working to move the Iriquois Building with a handspike. All he'd promise that first trip was that if I'd come and tell him when I saw you'd got into trouble, he'd see what he could do."
"Wanted to pump you for material for his scoop, I suppose?" commented Douglas.
"Wope! Wope! Back up!" warned Mickey. "He didn't pump me a little bit, and he didn't try to. He told me nearly three weeks ago just what would happen about now, as he had things doped out, and they have. I didn't think that letter should be delivered this morning, 'cause you had no business in 'darling old Daddy's' office if he said 'stay out.'" In came Mickey's best flourish. "Why he mightn't a-been ready!" he exclaimed. "He had his friend to help you remember, I heard Miss Leslie tell you he did. And she told him to. She told you he could have what she had, you remember of course. He might a-had to use some of his office money real quick, to save a friend that he had to save if it took all he had and all Miss Leslie had; and that was right. I asked you the other day if a man might use the money he handled, and you said yes, he was expected to, if he had his books straight and the money in the bank when his time for accounting came. 'Tain't time to account yet; but you was doing this investigating among his bunch, and so I guess if he did use the money for his friend, he had to go on that trip he was too busy to take Miss Leslie, and sell something, or do something to get ready for you. That's all right, ain't it?"
"Yes, if he could do it," conceded Douglas.
"Well he can!" triumphed Mickey. "He can just as easy, 'cause he's down at the Universal Bank doing it right now!"
"What?" cried Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "Back on time! At the bank fixing things so you can investigate all you want to. What's the matter with 'darling old Daddy?' He's all right! Go on and write your letter over, and tell them anxious, irritated gents, that you'll investigate 'til the basement and cupola are finished, just as soon as you make out the reports you are figuring up now. That will give you time to act independent, and it will give Daddy time to be ready for you----"
"Mickey, what if he didn't get the land sold?" wavered Douglas. "What if his trip was a failure?"
"Well that's fixed," said Mickey, stepping from one toe to the other. "Don't ruffle your down about that. If 'darling old Daddy' has bad luck, and for staking his money and his honour on his friend, he's going to get picked clean and dished up himself, why it's fixed so he isn't! See?"
"It's fixed?" marvelled Douglas.
"Surest thing you know!" cried Mickey. "You've had your Pertectorate all safe a long time, and didn't know it."
"Mickey, talk fast! Tell me! What do you mean?"
"Why that was fixed three weeks ago, I tell you," explained Mickey. "When Mr. Chaffner said you would strike trouble, I wasn't surprised any, 'cause I've thought all the time you would; and when you did, I went skinning to him, and he told me not to deliver that letter; and he was grand, just something grand! He told me what had to happen to save you, so I kept the letter, and scuttled for Mr. James Minturn, who started all this, and I just said to him, 'Chickens, home to roost,' or words like that; and he got on the wire with Chaffner, and 'stead of giving that 'scoop' to all Multiopolis and the whole world, he give Mr. Minturn a few figures on a scrap of paper that he showed to his nice lady--gosh you wouldn't ever believe she was a nice lady or could be, but honest, Mr. Bruce, me and her has been holding hands for half an hour while we planned to help you out, and say, she's so nice, she's just peachy--and she's the same woman. I don't know how that happens, but she's the same woman who fired me and the nice lady from Plymouth, and now she ain't the same, and these are the words she said: 'All I have on earth would not be enough to pay Leslie Winton for giving you back to me, and my boys, and my precious home.' 'Precious home!' Do you get that? After her marble palace, where she is now must look like a cottage on the green to her, but 'precious home' is what she said, and she ought to know----"
"Mickey go on! You were saying that Mr. Chaffner gave Mr. Minturn some figures--" prompted Douglas.
"Yes," said Mickey. "His precious 'scoop,' so Mr. Minturn showed her, and she said just as quick to put that amount to Mr. Winton's credit at the Universal Bank, so he called the bank to tell them; when he got the cashier he found that 'darling old Daddy' was there that minute----"
"'Was there?'" cried Douglas.
"'Was there,'" repeated Mickey; "so Mr. Minturn backed water, and then he told the cashier he needn't mention to Mr. Winton that he was going to turn over some securities he had there to pay a debt he owed him, 'cause now that he was home, they could fix it up between themselves. But he told the cashier to tell Mr. Winton that Miss Leslie was in his office. He said 'Daddy' would come to her the minute he could, and then if he was happy and all right, it meant that he had sold his land and made good; and if he was broke up, we would know what to do about putting the money to his credit. The nice lady said to put a lot more than he needed, so if they did investigate they could see he had plenty. See? Mr. Minturn said we could tell the minute we saw him----"
"Well young man, can you?" inquired a voice behind them.
With the same impulse Douglas and Mickey turned to Mr. Winton and Leslie standing far enough inside the door to have heard all that had been said. A slow red crept over Mickey's fair face. Douglas sprang to his feet, his hand outstretched, words of welcome on his lips. Mr. Winton put him aside with a gesture.
"I asked this youngster a question," he said, "and I'm deeply interested in the answer. Can you?"
Mickey stepped forward, taking one long, straight look into the face of the man before him; then his exultant laugh trilled as the notes of Peter's old bobolink bird on the meadow fence.
"Surest thing you know!" he cried in ringing joy. "You're tired, you need washing, sleep, and a long rest, but there isn't any glisteny, green look on your face. It's been with you, like I told Mr. Chaffner it's in the Bible; only with you, it's been even more than a man 'laying down his life for his friend,' it was a near squeak, but you made it! Gee, you made it! I should say I could tell!"
Mr. Winton caught Mickey, lifting him from his feet. "God made a jewel after my heart when he made you lad," he said. "If you haven't got a father, I'm a candidate for the place."
"Gee, you're the nicest man!" said Mickey. "If I was out with a telescope searching for a father, I'd make a home run for you; but you see I'm fairly well fixed. Here's my boss, too fine to talk about, that I work for to earn money to keep me and my family; there's Peter, better than gold, who's annexed both me and my child; there's Mr. Chaffner punching me up every time I see him about my job for him, soon as I finish school; I'd like you for a father, only I'm crazy about Peter. Just you come and see Peter, and you'll understand----"
"I'll be there soon," said Mr. Winton. "I have reasons for wanting to know him thoroughly. And by the way, how do you do, Douglas? How is the great investigation coming on? 'Fine!' I'm glad to hear it. Push it with all your might, and finish up so we can have a month on Atwater without coming back and forth. I feel as if I'd need about that much swimming to make me clean, as the young man here suggests; travelling over the west in midsummer is neither cool nor cleanly; but it's great, when things sell as ours did. Land seems to be moving, and there's money under the surface; nobody has lost so much, they are only economizing; we must do that ourselves, but Swain and I are both safe, so we shall enjoy a few years of work to recoup some pretty heavy losses; we're not worth what we were, but we are even, with a home base, the love of God big in our hearts, and doubly all right, since if we couldn't have righted ourselves, our friends would have saved us, thanks to this little live wire on my left!"
"Oh Daddy, if you'd searched forever, you couldn't have found a better name for Mickey!" cried Leslie. "Come on Douglas let's go home and rest."
"Just as soon as I write and start Mickey with a note," said Douglas. "Go ahead, I'll be down soon."
He turned to his desk, wrote a few lines, and sealing them, handed the envelope to the waiting boy.
"City Hall," he said. "And Mickey, I see the whole thing. It will take some time to figure just what I do owe you----"
"Aw-a-ah g'wan!" broke in Mickey, backing away.
"Mickey, we'll drive you to take the note, and then you come with us," said Douglas.
"Thanks, but it would try my nerve," said Mickey, "and I must help Peter move in the pump!"