Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter V. Little Brother
"Now what am I going to do yet to make the day shorter, Lily?" asked Mickey.
"I guess I got everything," she answered. "There's my lunch. Here's my pictures to cut. Here's my lesson to learn. There's my sky and bird crumbs. Mickey, sometimes they hop right in on the sheet. Yest'day one tried to get my lunch. Ain't they sassy?"
"Yes," said Mickey. "They fight worse than rich folks. I don't know why the Almighty pays attention if they fall."
"Mebby nobody else cares," said Peaches, "and He feels obliged to 'cause He made 'em."
"Gee! You say the funniest things, kid," laughed Mickey as he digested the idea. "Wonder if He cares for us 'cause He made us."
"Mebby he didn't make us," suggested Peaches.
"Well we got one consoling thing," said Mickey. "If He made any of them, He made us, and if He didn't make us, He didn't none of them, 'cause everybody comes in and goes out the same way; She said so."
"Then of course it's so," agreed Peaches. "That gives us as good a chance as anybody."
"Course it does if we got sense to take it," said Mickey. "We got to wake up and make something of ourselves. Let me see if you know your lesson for to-day yet. There is the picture of the animal--there is the word that spells its name. Now what is it?"
"Milk!" answered Peaches, her eyes mischievous.
Mickey held over the book chuckling.
"All right! There is the word for that, too. For being so smart, Miss Chicken, you can learn it 'fore you get any more to drink. If I have good luck to-day, I'm going to blow in about six o'clock with a slate and pencil for you; and then you can print the words you learn, and make pictures. That'll help make the day go a lot faster."
"Oh it goes fast enough now," said Peaches. "I love days with you and the window and the birds. I wish they'd sing more though."
"When your back gets well, I'll take you to the country where they sing all the time," promised Mickey, "where there are grass, and trees, and flowers, and water to wade in and----"
"Mickey, stop and go on!" cried Peaches. "Sooner you start, the sooner I'll get my next verse. I want just norful good one to-night."
She held up her arms. Mickey submitted to a hug and a little cold dab on his forehead, counted his money, locked the door and ran. On the car he sat in deep thought, then suddenly sniggered aloud. He had achieved the next installment of the doggerel to which every night Peaches insisted on having a new verse added as he entered. He secured his papers, and glimpsing the headlines started on his beat crying them lustily.
Mickey knew that washing, better air, enough food, and oil rubbing were improving Peaches. What he did not know was that adding the interest of her presence to his life, even though it made his work heavier, was showing on him. He actually seemed bigger, stronger, and his face brighter and fuller. He swung down the street thrusting his papers right and left, crossed and went up the other side, watching closely for a customer. It was ten o'clock and opportunities with the men were almost over. Mickey turned to scan the street for anything even suggesting a sale. He saw none and started with his old cry, watching as he went: "I like to sell papers! Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't----!"
Then he saw her. She was so fresh and joyous. She walked briskly. Even his beloved nurse was not so wonderful. Straight toward her went Mickey.
"I like to sell papers! Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't! Morning paper, lady! Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized! Nice clean paper!"
The girl's eyes betokened interest; her smiling lips encouraged Mickey. He laid his chin over her arm, leaned his head against it and fell in step with her.
"Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't! If I sell them, I'm happy! If I don't, I'm hungry! If you buy them, you're happy! Pa--per?--lady."
"Not to-day, thank you," she said. "I'm shopping, so I don't wish to carry it."
Mickey saw Peaches' slate vanishing. It was a beautiful slate, small so it would not tire her bits of hands, and its frame was covered with red. His face sobered, his voice changed, taking on unexpected modulations.
"Aw lady! I thought you'd buy my paper! Far down the street I saw you coming. Lady, I like your gentle voice. I like your pleasant smile! You don't want a nice sterilized paper?--lady."
The lady stopped short; she lifted Mickey's chin in a firm grip, looking intently into his face.
"Just by the merest chance, could your name be Mickey?" she asked.
"Sure, lady! Mickey! Michael O'Halloran!"
Her smile became even more attractive.
"I really don't want to be bothered with a paper," she said; "but I do wish a note delivered. If you'll carry it, I'll pay you the price of half a dozen papers."
"Gets the slate!" cried Mickey, bouncing like a rubber boy. "Sure I will! Is it ready, lady?"
"One minute!" she said. She stepped to the inside of the walk, opened her purse, wrote a line on a card, slipped it in an envelope, addressed it and handed it to Mickey.
"You can read that?" she asked.
"I've read worse writing than that," he assured her. "You ought to see the hieroglyphics some of the dimun-studded dames put up!"
Mickey took a last glimpse at the laughing face, then wheeling ran. Presently he went into a big building, studied the address board, then entered the elevator and following a corridor reached the number.
He paused a second, glancing around, when he saw the name on the opposite door. A flash passed over his face. "Ugh!" he muttered. "'Member now--been to this place before! Glad she ain't sending a letter to that man." He stepped inside the open door before him, crossed the room and laid the note near a man who was bending over some papers on a desk. The man reached a groping hand, tore open the envelope, taking therefrom a card on which was pencilled: "Could this by any chance be your Little Brother?"
He turned hastily, glancing at Mickey, then in a continuous movement arose with outstretched hand.
"Why Little Brother," he cried, "I'm so glad to see you!"
Mickey's smile slowly vanished as he whipped his hands behind him, stepping back.
"Nothin' doing, Boss," he said. "You're off your trolley. I've no brother. My mother had only me."
"Don't you remember me, Mickey?" inquired Douglas Bruce.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You made Jimmy pay up!"
"Has he bothered you again?" asked the lawyer.
"Nope!" answered Mickey.
"Sit down, Mickey, I want to talk with you."
"I'm much obliged for helping me out," said Mickey, "but I guess you got other business, and I know I have."
"What is your business?" was the next question.
"Selling papers. What's yours?" was the answer.
"Trying to be a corporation lawyer," explained Douglas. "I've been here only two years, and it is slow getting a start. I often have more time to spare than I wish I had, while I'm lonesome no end."
"Is your mother dead?" asked Mickey solicitously.
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"So's mine!" he commented. "You do get lonesome! Course she was a good one?"
"The very finest, Mickey," said Douglas. "And yours?"
"Same here, Mister," said Mickey with conviction.
"Well since we are both motherless and lonesome, suppose we be brothers!" suggested Douglas.
"Aw-w-w!" Mickey shook his head.
"No?" questioned Douglas.
"What's the use?" cried Mickey.
"You could help me with my work and share my play, while possibly I could be of benefit to you."
"I just wondered if you wasn't getting to that," commented Mickey.
"Getting to what?" inquired Douglas.
"Going to do me good!" explained Mickey. "The swell stiffs are always going to do us fellows good. Mostly they do! They do us good and brown! They pick us up a while and make lap dogs of us, then when we've lost our appetites for our jobs and got to having a hankerin' for the fetch and carry business away they go and forget us, so we're a lot worse off than we were before. Some of the fellows come out of it knowing more ways to be mean than they ever learned on the street," explained Mickey. "If it's that Big Brother bee you got in your bonnet, pull its stinger and let it die an unnatural death! Nope! None! Good-bye!"
"Mickey, wait!" cried Douglas.
"Me business calls, an' I must go--'way to my ranch in Idaho!" gaily sang Mickey.
"I'd like to shake you!" said Douglas Bruce.
"Well, go on," said Mickey. "I'm here and you're big enough."
"If I thought it would jolt out your fool notions and shake some sense in, I would," said Douglas indignantly.
"Now look here, Kitchener," said Mickey. "Did I say one word that ain't so, and that you don't know is so?"
"What you said is not even half a truth, young man! I do know cases where idle rich men have tried the Little Brother plan as a fad, and made a failure of it. But for a few like that, I know dozens of sincere, educated men who are honestly giving a boy they fancy, a chance. I can take you into the office of one of the most influential men in this city, right across the hall there, and show you a boy he liked who has in a short time become his friend, an invaluable helper, and hourly companion, and out of it that boy will get a fine education, good business training, and a start in life that will give him a better chance to begin on than the man who is helping him had."
Mickey laughed boisterously, then sobered suddenly.
"'Scuse me, Brother," he said politely, "but that's most too funny for any use. Once I took a whirl with that gentleman myself. Whether he does or not, I know the place where he ought to get off. See? Answer me this: why would he be spending money and taking all that time for a 'newsy' when he hardly knows his own kids if he sees them, and they're the wickedest little rippers in the park. Just why now?"
Douglas Bruce closed the door; then he came back and placing a chair for Mickey, he took one opposite.
"Sit down Mickey," he said patiently. "There's a reason for my being particularly interested in James Minturn, and the reason hinges on the fact you mention: that he can't control his own sons, yet can make a boy he takes comfort in, of a street gamin."
Mickey's eyes narrowed while he sat very straight in the chair he had accepted.
"If he's made so much of him, it sort of proves that he wasn't a gamin. Some of the boys are a long shot closer gentlemen than the guys who are experimenting with them; 'cause they were born rich and can afford it. If your friend's going to train his pick-up to be what he is, then that boy would stand a better chance on his own side the curb. See? I've been right up against that gentleman with the documents, so I know him. Also her! Gee! 'Tear up de choild and gimme de papers' was meant for a joke; but I saw that lady and gentleman do it. See? And she was the prettiest little pink and yellow thing. Lord! I can see her gasping and blinking now! Makes me sick! If the boy across the hall had seen what I did, he'd run a mile and never stop. Gee!"
Douglas Bruce stared aghast. At last he said slowly: "Mickey, you are getting mighty close the very thing I wish to know. If I tell you what I know of James Minturn, will you tell me what you know and think?"
"Sure!" said Mickey readily. "I got no reasons for loving him. I wouldn't convoy a millying to the mint for that gentleman!"
"Mickey, shall I go first, or will you?"
"I will," replied Mickey instantly, "'cause when I finish you'll save your breath. See?"
"I see," said Douglas Bruce. "Proceed."
"Well, 'twas over two years ago," said Mickey, leaning forward to look Bruce in the eyes. "I hadn't been up against the game so awful long alone. 'Twas summer and my papers were all gone, and I was tired, so I went over in the park and sat on a seat, just watching folks. Pretty soon 'long comes walking a nice lady with a sweet voice and kind eyes. She sat down close me and says: 'It's a nice day.' We got chummy-like, when right up at the fountain before us stops as swell an automobile as there is. One of the brown French-governess-ladies with the hatchet face got out, and unloaded three kids: two boys and a girl. She told the kids if they didn't sit on the benches she socked them on hard, and keep their clothes clean so she wouldn't have to wash and dress them again that day, she'd knock the livers out of them, and walked off with the entrance policeman. Soon as she and Bobbie got interested, the kids began sliding off the bench and running around the fountain. The girl was only 'bout two or three, a fat toddly thing, trying to do what her brothers did, and taking it like the gamest kid you ever saw when they pushed her off the seat, and tripped her, and 'bused her like a dog.
"Me and the woman were getting madder every minute. 'Go tell your nurse,' says she. But the baby thing just glanced where nurse was and kind of shivered and laughed, and ran on round the fountain, when the big boy stuck his foot out so she fell. Nursie saw and started for her, but she scrambled up and went kiting for the bench, and climbed on it, so nurse told her she'd cut the blood out of her if she did that again, then went back to her policeman. Soon as she was gone those little devils began coaxing their sister to get down and run again. At last she began to smile the cunningest and slipped to the walk, then a little farther, and a little farther, all the time laughing and watching the nurse. The big boy, he said: 'You ain't nothing but a girl! You can't step on the edge like I can and then step back!' She says: 'C'n too!' She did to show him, and just as she did she saw that he was going to push her, then she tried to get back, but he did push, and over she went! Not real in, but her arms in, and her dress front some wet.
"She screamed while the little devil that pushed her grabbed her, pretending to be pulling her out. Honest he did! Up came nurse just frothing, and in language we couldn't understand she ripped and raved. She dragged little pink back, grabbed her by the hair and cracked her head two or three times against the stone! The lady screamed, and so did I, and we both ran at her. The boys just shouted and laughed and the smallest one he up and kicked her while she was down. The policeman walked over laughing too, but he told nurse that was too rough. Then my lady pitched in, so he told her to tend to her business, that those kids were too tough to live, and deserved all they got. The nurse laughed at her, and went back to the grass with the policeman. The baby lay there on the stones, and never made a sound. She just kind of gasped, and blinked, and lay there, till my lady went almost wild. She went to her and stooped to lift her up when she got awful sick. The policeman said something to the nurse, so she came and dragged the kid away and said, 'The little pig has gone and eaten too much again, and now I'll have to take her home and wash and dress her all over,' then she gave her an awful shake. The policeman said she'd better cut that out, because it might have been the bumping, and she said 'good for her if 'twas.' The driver pulled up just then and he asked 'if the brat had been stuffin' too much again?' She said, 'yes,' and the littlest boy he said, 'she pounded her head on the stone, good,' and the nurse hit him 'cross the mouth till she knocked him against the car, and she said, 'Want to try that again? Open your head to say that again, and I'll smash you too. Eating too much made her sick.' She looked at the big boy fierce like so he laughed and said, 'Course eating too much made her sick!' She nodded at him and said, 'Course! You get two dishes of ice and two pieces of cake for remembering!' then she loaded them in and they drove away.
"My lady was as white as marble and she said, 'Is there any way to find out who they are?' I said, 'Sure! Half a dozen!' 'Boy,' she said, 'get their residence for me and I'll give you a dollar.' Ought to seen me fly. Car was chuffing away, waiting to get the traffic cop's sign when to cut in on the avenue. I just took a dodge and hung on to the extra tire under the top where nobody saw me, and when they stopped, I got the house number they went in. Little pink was lying all white and limber yet, and nurse looked worried as she carried her up. She said something fierce to the boys, the big one rang and they went inside. I saw a footman take the girl. I heard nurse begin that 'eat too much' story, then I cut back to the park. The lady said, 'Get it?' I said, 'Sure! Dead easy.' She said, 'Can you take me?' I said, 'Glad to!'
"She said, 'That was the dreadfullest sight I ever saw. That child's mother is going to know right now what kind of a nurse she is paying to take care of her children. You come show me,' she said, so we went.
"'Will you come in with me?' she asked and I said, 'Yes!'
"Well, we rang and she asked pleasant to see the lady of the house on a little matter of important business, so pretty soon here comes one of the dimun-studded, fashion-paper ladies, all smiling sweet as honey, and asked what the business was. My nice lady she said her name was Mrs. John Wilson and her husband was a banker in Plymouth, Illinois, and she was in the city shopping and went to the park to rest and was talking to me, when an automobile let out a nurse, and two boys and a lovely little pink girl, and she give the number and asked, 'was the car and the children hers?' The dimun-lady slowly sort of began to freeze over, and when the nice lady got that far, she said: 'I have an engagement. Kindly state in a few words what you want.'
"My lady sort of stiffened up and then she said: 'I saw, this boy here saw, and the park policeman nearest the entrance fountain saw your nurse take your little girl by the hair, and strike her head against the fountain curb three times, because her brother pushed her in. She lay insensible until the car came, and she has just been carried into your house in that condition.'
"I could see the footman peeking and at that he cut up the stairs. The dimun-lady stiffened up and she said: 'So you are one of those meddling, interfering country jays that come here and try to make us lose our good servants, so you can hire them later. I've seen that done before. Lucette is invaluable,' said she, 'and perfectly reliable. Takes all the care of those dreadful little imps from me. Now you get out of here.' And she reached for the button. My lady just sat still and smiled.
"'Do you really think I'd take the trouble to come here in this way if I couldn't prove I had seen the thing happen?' she asked.
"'God only knows what you country women would do!' the woman answered.
"'We would stand between our children and beastly cruelty,' my lady said. 'Your child's condition is all the proof my words need. You go examine her head, and feel the welt on it; see hew ill she is and you will thank me. Your nurse is not reliable! Keep her and your children will be ruined, if not killed.'
"'Raving!' sneered the dimun-lady. 'But I know your kind so I'll go, as it's the only way to get rid of you.'
"Now what do you think happened next? Well sir, 'bout three minutes in walked the footman and salutes, sneering like a cat, and he said: 'Madam's compliments. She finds her little daughter in perfect condition, sweetly sleeping, and her sons having dinner. She asks you to see how quickly you can leave her residence.'
"The woman looked at me so I said: 'It's all over but burying the kid if it dies; come on, lady, they'd be glad to plant it, and get it out of the way.' So I started and she followed, and just as he let me out the door I handed him this: 'I saw you listen and cut to tell, and I bet you helped put the kid to sleep! But you better look out! She gave it to that baby too rough for any use!'
"He started for me, but I flew. When we got on the street, the lady was all used up so she couldn't say anything. She had me call a taxi to take her to her hotel. I set down her name she gave me, and her house and street number. I cut to a Newsies' directory and got the name of the owner of the palace-place and it was Mrs. James Minturn. Next morning coming down on the cars I was hunting headliners to make up a new call, like I always do, and there I saw in big type, 'Mr. and Mrs. James Minturn prostrate over the sudden death of their lovely little daughter from poisoning, from an ice she ate.' I read it every word. Even what the doctors said, and how investigation of the source of the ice came from was to be made. What do you think of it?"
"I have no doubt but it's every word horrible truth," answered Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I just hiked to the park and walked up to the cop and showed him the paper, and he looked awful glum. I can point him out to you, and give you the lady's address, and there were plenty more who saw parts of it could be found if anybody was on the kid's side. Sure it's the truth!
"Well I kept a-thinking it over. One day about three weeks later, blest if the same car didn't stop at the same fountain, and the same nurse got out with the boys and she set them on the same bench and told them the same thing, and then she went into another palaver with the same p'liceman. I looked on pretty much interested, and before long the boys got to running again and one tripped the other, and she saw and come running, and fetched him a crack like to split his head, and pushed him down still and white, so I said to myself: 'All right for you. Lady tried a lady and got nothing. Here's where a gentleman tries a gentleman, and sees what he gets.'
"I marched into the door just across the hall from you here, and faced Mr. James Minturn, and gave him names, and dates, and addresses, even the copper's name I'd got; and I told him all I've told you, and considerable more. He wasn't so fiery as the lady, so I told him the whole thing, but he never opened his trap. He just sat still and stony, listened till I quit, and finally he heaved a big breath and looked at me sort of dazed like and he said: 'What do you want, boy?'
"That made me red hot so I said: 'I want you to know that I saw the same woman bust one of your boys a good crack, over the head, a few minutes ago.'
"That made him jump, but he didn't say or do anything, so I got up and went--and--the same woman was in the park with the same boys yesterday, and they're the biggest little devils there. What's the answer?"
"A heartbroken man," said Douglas Bruce. "Now let me tell you, Mickey."
Then he told Mickey all he knew of James Minturn.
"All the same, he ought to be able to do something for his own kids, 'stead of boys who don't need it half so bad," commented Mickey. "Why honest, I don't know one street kid so low that he'd kick a little girl-- after she'd been beat up scandalous, for his meanness to start on. Honest, I don't! I don't care what he is doing for the boy he has got, that boy doesn't need help half so much as his own; I can prove it to you, if you'll come with me to the park 'most any morning."
"All right, I'll come," said Douglas promptly.
"Well I couldn't say that they would be there this minute," said Mickey, "but I can call you up the first time I see they are."
"All right, I'll come, if it's possible. I'd like to see for myself. So this gives you a settled prejudice against the Big Brother movement, Mickey?"
"In my brogans, what would it give you?"
"A hard jolt!" said Douglas emphatically.
"Then what's the answer?"
"That it is more unfair than I thought you could be, to deprive me of my Little Brother, because you deem the man across the hall unfit to have one. Do I look as if you couldn't trust me, Mickey?"
"No, you don't! But neither does Mr. James Minturn. He looks as if a fellow could get a grip on him and pull safe across Belgium hanging on. But you know I said the same woman----"
"I know Mickey; but that only proves that there are times when even the strongest man can't help himself."
"Then like Ulhan I'd trot 1:54-1/2 to the judge of the Juvenile Court," said Mickey, "and I'd yell long and loud, and I'd put up the proof. That would get the lady down to brass tacks. See?"
"But with Mrs. Minturn's position and the stain such a proceeding would put on the boys----"
"Cut out the boys," advised Mickey. "They're gold plated, staining wouldn't stick to them."
"So you are going to refuse education, employment and a respectable position because you disapprove of one man among millions?" demanded Douglas.
"That lets me out," said Mickey. "She educated me a lot! No day is long enough for the work I do right now; you can take my word for it that I'm respectable, same as I'm taking yours that you are."
"All right!" said Douglas. "We will let it go then. Maybe you are right. At least you are not worth the bother it requires to wake you up. Will you take an answer to the note you brought me?"
"Now the returns are coming in," said Mickey. "Sure I will; but she is in the big stores shopping."
"I'll find out," said Douglas.
He picked up the telephone and called the Winton residence; on learning Leslie was still away, he left a request that she call him when she returned.
"I would spend the time talking with you," he said to Mickey, "if I could accomplish anything; as I can't, I'll go on with my work. You busy yourself with anything around the rooms that interests you."
Mickey grinned half abashed. He took a long survey of the room they were in, arose and standing in the door leading to the next he studied that. To him "busy" meant work. Presently he went into the hall and returned with a hand broom and dust pan he had secured from the janitor. He carefully went over the floor, removing anything he could see that he thought should not be there, and then began on the room adjoining. Next he appeared with a cloth and dusted the furniture and window seats. Once he met Douglas' eye and smiled. "Your janitor didn't have much of a mother," he commented. "I could beat him to his base a rod."
"Job is yours any time you want it."
"Morning papers," carrolled Mickey. "Sterilized, deodorized, vulcanized. I like to sell them----"
Defeated again Bruce turned to his work and Mickey to his. He straightened every rug, pulled a curtain, set a blind at an angle that gave the worker more light and better air. He was investigating the glass when the telephone rang.
"Hello, Leslie! It certainly was! How did you do it? Not so hilarious as you might suppose. Leslie, I want to say something, not for the wire. Will you hold the line a second until I start Mickey with it? All right!
"She is there now, Mickey. Can you find your way?"
"Sure!" laughed Mickey. "If you put the address on. She started me from the street."
"The address is plain. For straightening my rooms and carrying the note, will that be about right?"
"A lady-bird! Gee!" cried Mickey. "I didn't s'pose you was a plute! And I don't s'pose so yet. You want a Little Brother bad if you're willing to buy one. This number ain't far out, and I wouldn't have sold more than three papers this time of day--twenty-five is about right."
"But you forget cleaning my rooms," said Douglas.
Mickey grinned, his face flushed.
"Me to you!" he said. "Nothing! Just a little matter of keeping in practice. Good-bye and be good to yourself!"
Douglas turned to the telephone.
"Leslie!" he said, "I'm sending Mickey back to you with a note, not because I had anything to say I couldn't say now, but because I can't manage him. I pretended I didn't care, and let him go. Can't you help me? See if you can't interest him in something that at least will bring him back, or show us where to find him. Certainly! Thank you very much!"
When Mickey delivered the letter the lovely young woman just happened to be in the hall. She told him to come in until she read it, to learn what Mr. Bruce wanted. Mickey followed into a big room, looked around, then a speculative, appreciative gleam crossed his face. He realized the difference between a home and a show room. He did not know what he was seeing or why it affected him as it did. Really the thought that was in his mind was that this woman was far more attractive, but had less money to spend on her home, than many others. He missed the glitter, but enjoyed the comfort, for he leaned back against the chair offered him, thinking what a cool, restful place it was. The girl seemed in no hurry to open the letter.
"Have trouble finding Mr. Bruce?" she asked.
"Easy! I'd been to the same building before."
"And I suppose you'll be there many times again," she suggested.
"I'm going back right now, if you want to send an answer to that letter," he said.
"And if it requires none?" she questioned.
"Then I'm going to try to sell the rest of these papers, get a slate for Lily and go home."
"Is Lily your little sister?" she asked.
Mickey straightened, firmly closing his lips. He had done it again.
"Just a little girl I know," he said cautiously.
"A little bit of a girl?" she asked.
"'Bout the littlest girl you ever saw," said Mickey, unconsciously interested in the subject.
"And you are going to take her a slate to draw pictures on? How fine! I wish you'd carry her a package for me, too. I was arranging my dresser this morning and I put the ribbons I don't want into a box for some child. Maybe Lily would like them for her doll."
"Lily hasn't any doll," he said. "She had one, but her granny sold it and got drunk on the money."
Mickey stopped suddenly. In a minute more he would have another Orphans' Home argument on his hands.
"Scandalous!" cried Leslie. "In my room there is a doll just begging to go to some little girl. If you took it to Lily, would her granny sell it again?"
"Not this morning," said Mickey. "You see Miss, a few days ago she lost her breath. Permanent! No! If Lily had a doll, nobody would take it from her now."
"I'll bring it at once," she offered "and the ribbons."
"Never mind," said Mickey. "I can get her a doll."
"But you haven't seen this one!" cried Leslie. "You save your money for oranges."
Without waiting for a reply she left the room, presently returning with a box and a doll that seemed to Mickey quite as large as Peaches. It had a beautiful face, hair, real hair that could be combed, and real clothes that could be taken off. Leslie had dressed it for a birthday gift for the little daughter of one of her friends; but by making haste she could prepare another. Mickey gazed in bewilderment. He had seen dolls, even larger and more wonderful than that, in the shop windows, but connecting such a creation with his room and Peaches required mental adjustments.
"I guess you better not," he said with conviction.
"But why not?" asked Leslie in amazement.
"Well for 'bout fifty reasons," replied Mickey. "You see Lily is a poor kid, and her back is bad. That doll is so big she couldn't dress it without getting all tired out; and what's the use showing her such dresses, when she can't have any herself. She's got the best she ever had, and the best she can have right now; so that ain't the kind of a doll for Lily--it's too big--and too--too gladsome!"
"I see," laughed Leslie. "Well Mickey, you show me what would be the right size of a doll for Lily. I'll get another, and dress it as you say. How would that do?"
"You needn't!" said Mickey. "Lily is happy now."
"But wouldn't she like a doll?" persisted Leslie. "I never knew a girl who didn't love a doll. Wouldn't she like a doll?"
"'Most to death I 'spect," said Mickey. "I know she said she cried for the one her granny sold, 'til she beat her. Yes I guess she'd like a doll; but I can get her one."
"But you can't make white nighties for Lily to put on it to take to bed with her, and cunning little dresses for morning, and a street dress for afternoon, and a party dress for evening," tempted the girl.
"Lily has been on the street twice, and she never heard of a party. Just nighties and the morning dress would do, and there's no use for me to be sticking. If you like to give away dolls, Lily might as well have one, for she'd just--I don't know what she would do about it," conceded Mickey.
"All right," said Leslie. "I'll dress it this afternoon, and tomorrow you can come for it in the evening before you go home. If I am not here, the package will be ready. Take the ribbons now. She'd like them for her hair."
"Her hair's too short for a ribbon," said Mickey.
"Then a headband! This way!" said Leslie.
She opened a box and displayed a wonderment of ribbon bands, and bits of gay colour.
"Gee!" gasped Mickey. "I couldn't pick up that much brightness for her in a year!"
"You save what you find for her?" asked Leslie.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You see Miss, things are pretty plain where she is, so all the brightness I can take her ain't going to hurt her eyes. Thank you heaps. Is there going to be any answer to the letter?"
"Why I haven't read it yet!" cried the girl.
"No! A-body can see that some one else is rustling for your grub!" commented Mickey.
"That's so too," laughed Leslie. "Darling old Daddy!"
"Just about right is he?" queried Mickey, interestedly.
"Just exactly right!" said Leslie.
"Gur-ur-and!" said Mickey. "Some of them ain't so well fixed! And he that wrote the note, I guess he's about as fine as you make them, too!"
"He's the finest man I ever have known, Mickey!" said the girl earnestly.
"Barring Daddy?" suggested Mickey.
"Not barring anybody!" cried she. "Daddy is lovely, but he's Daddy! Mr. Bruce is different!"
"No letter?" questioned Mickey, rising.
"None!" said the girl. "Come to-morrow night. You are sure Lily is so very little, Mickey?"
"You wouldn't call me big, would you?" he asked. "Well! I can lift her with one hand! Such a large doll as that would be tiring and confusing. Please make Lily's more like she's used to. See?"
"Mickey, I do see!" said Leslie. "I beg your pardon. Lily's doll shall not tire her or make her discontented with what she has. Thank you for a good idea."
Mickey returned to the street shortly after noon, with more in his pocket than he usually earned in a day, where by expert work he soon disposed of his last paper. He bought the slate, then hurried home carrying it and the box. At the grocery he carefully selected food again. Then he threw open his door and achieved this:
"Once a little kid named Peaches, Swelled my heart until it eatches. If you think I'd trade her for a dog, Your think-tank has slipped a cog!"
Peaches laughed, stretching her hands as usual. Mickey stooped for her caress, scattering the ribbons over her as he arose. She gasped in delighted amazement.
"Oh! Mickey! Where did you ever? Mickey, where did you get them? Mickey, you didn't st----?"
"You just better choke on that, Miss!" yelled Mickey. "No I didn't st----! And I don't st----! And nothing I ever bring you will be st----! And you needn't ever put no more st's---- at me. See?"
"Mickey, I didn't mean that! Course I know you wouldn't! Course I know you couldn't! Mickey, that's the best poetry piece yet! Did you bring the slate?"
"Sure!" said Mickey, somewhat mollified, but still injured. "I must have dropped it with the banquet!"
Peaches pushed away the billow of colour, taking the slate. Her fingers picking at the string reminded Mickey of sparrow feet; but he watched until she untied and removed the paper which he folded to lay away. She picked up the pencil, meditating.
"Mickey!" she said. "Make my hand do a word!"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "What do you want to write first, Flowersy-girl?"
Peaches looked at him reproachfully.
"Course there wouldn't be but one I'd want to do first of all," she said. "Hold my hand tight, and big and plain up at the top make it write, 'Mickey-lovest.'"
"Sure," said the boy in a hushed voice. He gripped the hand, bending above her, but suddenly collapsed, buried his face in her hair and sobbed until he shook.
Peaches crouched down, lying rigidly. She was badly frightened. At last she could endure it no longer.
"Mickey!" she gasped. "Mickey, what did I do? Mickey, don't write it if you don't want to!"
Mickey arose, wiping his face on the sheet.
"You just bet I want to write that, Lily!" he said. "I never wanted to do anything more in all my life!"
"Then why----?" she began.
"Never you mind 'why' Miss!" said Mickey.
Grasping her hand, he traced the words. Peaches looked at them a long time, then carefully laid the slate aside. She began fingering the ribbons.
"Let me wash you," said Mickey, "and rub your back to rest you from all this day, then I'll comb your hair and you pick the prettiest one. I'll put it on the way she showed me, so you'll be a fash'nable lady."
"Who showed you Mickey, and gave you such pretties?"
"A girl I carried a letter to. After you're bathed and have had supper I'll tell you."
Then Mickey began work. He sponged Peaches, rubbed her back, laid her on his pallet, putting fresh sheets on her bed and carefully preparing her supper. After she had eaten he again ran the comb through her ringlets, telling her to select the ribbon he should use.
"No you!" said Peaches.
Mickey squinted, so exacting was the work of deciding. Red he discarded with one sweep against her white cheeks; green went with it; blue almost made him shudder, but a soft warm pink pleased him, so Mickey folded it into the bands in which it had been creased before, binding it around Peaches' head as Leslie had shown him, then with awkward fingers did his best on a big bow. He crossed the room and picked up a mirror which he held before her reciting: "Once a little kid named Peaches, swelled my heart----"
Peaches took the mirror, studying the face intently. She glanced over her shoulder so Mickey piled the pillows higher. Then she looked at him. Mickey scrutinized her closely.
"You're clean kid, clean as a plate!" he assured her. "Honest you are! You needn't worry about that. I'll always keep you washed clean. She was more particular about that than anything else. Don't you fret about my having a dirty girl around! You're clean, all right!"
Peaches sighed as she returned the mirror. Mickey replaced it, laid the slate and ribbons in reach, washed the dishes, then the sheets he had removed, and their soiled clothing. Peaches lay folding and unfolding the ribbons; asking questions while Mickey worked, or with the pencil tracing her best imitations of the name on the slate. By the time he had finished everything to be done and drawn a chair beside the bed, to see if she had learned her lesson for the day, it was cool evening. She knew all the words he had given her, so he proceeded to write them on the slate. Then told her about the big man named Douglas Bruce and the lovely girl named Leslie Winton, also every word he could remember about the house she lived in; then he added: "Lily, do you like to be surprised better or do you like to think things over?"
"I don't know," said Peaches.
"Well, before long, I'll know," said Mickey. "What I was thinking was this: you are going to have something. I just wondered whether you'd rather know it was coming, or have me walk in with it and surprise you."
"Mickey, you just walk in," she decided.
"All right!" said Mickey.
"Mickey, write on the other side of my slate what you said at the door to- night," she coaxed. "Get a little book an' write 'em all down. Mickey, I want to learn all of them, when I c'n read. Lemme tell you. You make all you c'n think of. Nen make more. An' make 'em, an' make 'em! An' when you get big as you're goin' to be, make books of 'em, an' be a poet-man 'stead of sellin' papers."
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I'd just as lief be a poet-man as not! I'd write a big one all about a little yellow-haired girl named Lily Peaches, and I'd put it on the front page of the Herald! Honest I would! I'd like to!"
"Gee!" said Peaches. "You go on an' grow hel--wope! I mean hurry! Hurry an' grow up!"