Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VIII. Big Brother
"I've no time to talk," said Douglas Bruce, as Mickey appeared the following day; "my work seems too much for one man. Can you help me?"
"Sure!" said Mickey, wadding his cap into his back pocket. Then he rolled his sleeves a turn higher, lifted his chin a trifle and stepped forward. "Say what!"
It caught Douglas so suddenly there was no time for concealment. He laughed heartily.
"That's good!" he cried. Mickey grinned in comradeship. "First, these letters to the box in the hall."
"Next?" Mickey queried as he came through the door.
"This package to the room of the Clerk in the City Hall, and bring back a receipt bearing his signature."
Mickey saluted, laid the note inside the cover of a book, put it in the middle of the package, and a second later his gay whistle receded down the hall.
"'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,'" Douglas quoted. "Mickey has been trained until he would make a good trainer himself."
In one-half the time the trip had taken the messenger boys Douglas was accustomed to employing, Mickey was back like the Gulf in the Forum, demanding "more."
"See what you can do for these rooms, until the next errand is ready," suggested Douglas.
Mickey began gathering up the morning papers, straightening the rugs, curtains and arranging the furniture.
"Hand this check to the janitor," said Douglas. "And Mickey, kindly ask him if two dollars was what I agreed to pay him for my extras this week."
"Sure!" said Mickey.
Douglas would have preferred "Yes sir," but "Sure!" was a permanent ejaculation decorating the tip of Mickey's tongue. The man watching closely did not fail to catch the flash of interest and the lifting of the boy figure as he paused for instructions. When he returned Douglas said casually: "While I am at it, I'll pay off my messenger service. Take this check to the address and bring a receipt for the amount."
Mickey's comment came swiftly: "Gee! that boy would be sore, if he lost his job!"
"Messenger Service Agency," Douglas said, busy at his desk. "No boy would lose his job."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mickey comprehendingly. His face lighted at the information. Next he carried a requisition for books to another city official and telephoned a cafe to deliver a pitcher of lemonade and some small cakes, and handed the boy a dime.
"Why didn't you send me and save your silver?"
"I did not think," answered Bruce. "Some one gets the tip, you might as well have had it."
"I didn't mean me have it, I meant you save it."
"Mickey," said Douglas, "you know perfectly I can't take your time unless you accept from me what I am accustomed to paying other boys."
"Letting others bleed you, you mean," said Mickey indignantly. "Why I'd a- been glad to brought the juice for five! You never ought to paid more."
"Should have paid more," corrected Douglas.
"'Should have paid more,'" repeated Mickey. "Thanks!"
"Now try this," said Douglas, filling two glasses.
"'Tain't usual!" said Mickey. "You drink that yourself or save it for friends that may drop in."
"Very well!" said Douglas. "Of course you might have it instead of the boy who comes after the pitcher, but if you don't like it----"
"All right if that's the way!" agreed Mickey.
He retired to a window seat, enjoyed the cool drink and nibbled the cake, his eyes deeply thoughtful. When offered a second glass Mickey did not hesitate.
"Nope!" he said conclusively. "A fellow's head and heels work better when his stomach is running light. I can earn more not to load up with a lot of stuff. I eat at home when my work is finished. She showed me that."
"She showed you a good many things, didn't She?"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "She was my mother, so we had to look out for ourselves. When you got nothing but yourself between you and the wolf, you learn to fly, and keep your think-tank in running order. She knew just what was coming to me, so She showed me, and every single thing She said has come, and then some!"
"I see!" said Douglas. "A wise mother!"
"Sure!" agreed Mickey. "But I guess it wouldn't have done either of us much good if I hadn't remembered and kept straight on doing what she taught me."
"You are right, it wouldn't," conceded Douglas.
"That's where I'm going to climb above some of the other fellows," announced Mickey confidently. "Either they didn't have mothers to teach them or else they did, and forget, or think the teaching wasn't worth anything. Now me, I know She was right! She always proved it! She had been up against it longer than I had and She knew, so I am going to go right along doing as She said. I'll beat them, and carry double at that!"
"How double, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.
"I didn't mean to say that," he explained. "That was a slip. There's a-- there's something----something I'm trying to do that costs more than it does to live. I'm bound to do it, so I got to run light and keep my lamps polished for chances. What next, sir?"
"Call 9-40-X, and order my car here," said Douglas.
He bent over his papers to hide his face when from an adjoining room drifted Mickey's voice in clear enunciation and suave intonation: "Mr. Douglas Bruce desires his car to be sent immediately to the Iroquois Building."
His mental comment was: "The little scamp has drifted to street lingo when he lacked his mother to restrain him. He can speak a fairly clean grade of English now if he chooses."
"Next?" briskly inquired Mickey.
"Now look here," said Douglas. "This isn't a horse race. I earn my living with my brains, not my heels. I must have time to think things out; when your next job arrives I'll tell you. If you are tired, take a nap on that couch in there." "Asleep at the switch!" marvelled Mickey.
He went to the adjoining room but did not sleep. He quietly polished and straightened furniture, lingered before bookcases and was at Douglas' elbow as he turned to call him. Then they closed the offices and went to the car, each carrying a load of ledgers.
"You do an awful business!" commented Mickey. "Your car?"
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"You're doing grand, for young as you are."
"I haven't done it all myself, Mickey," explained Douglas. "I happened to select a father who was of an acquisitive turn of mind. He left me enough that I can have a comfortable living in a small way, from him."
"Gee! It's lucky you got the Joy Lady then!" exclaimed Mickey. "Maybe you wouldn't ever work if you didn't have her to scratch for!"
"I always have worked and tried to make something of myself," said Douglas.
"Yes, I guess you have," conceded Mickey. "I think it shows when a man does. It just shows a lot on you."
"Thank you, Mickey! Same to you!"
"Aw, nix on me!" said Mickey. "I ain't nothing on looks! I ain't ever looked at myself enough that if I was sent to find Michael O'Halloran I mightn't bring in some other fellow."
"But you're enough acquainted with yourself that you wouldn't bring in a dirty boy with a mouth full of swearing and beer," suggested Douglas.
"Well not this evening!" cried Mickey. "On a gamble that ain't my picture!"
"If it were, you wouldn't be here!" said Douglas.
"No, nor much of any place else 'cept the gutters, alleys, and the police court," affirmed Mickey. "That ain't my style! I'd like to be--well--about like you."
"You are perfectly welcome to all I have and am," said Douglas. "If you fail to take advantage of the offer, it will be your own fault."
"Yes, I guess it will," reflected Mickey. "You gave me the chance. I am to blame if I don't cop on to it, and get in the game. I like you fine! Your work is more interesting than odd jobs on the street, and you pay like a plute. You're being worked though. You pay too much. If I work for you it would save you money to let me manage that; I could get you help and things a lot cheaper, then you could spend what you save on the Joy Lady, making her more joyous."
"You are calling Miss Winton the Joy Lady?"
"Yes," said Mickey. "Doesn't she just look it?"
"She surely does," agreed Douglas. "It's a good title. I know only two that are better. She sows happiness everywhere. What about your Lily girl and her doll?"
"Doll doesn't go. That's a Precious Child!"
"I see! Lily is a little girl you like, Mickey?"
"Lily is the littlest girl you ever saw," answered Mickey, "with a bad back so that she hasn't ever walked; and she's so sweet--she's the only thing I've got to love, so I love her 'til it hurts. Her back is one thing I'm saving for. I'm going to have it Carreled as soon as I get money, and she grows strong enough to stand it."
"'Carreled?'" queried Douglas wonderingly.
"You know the man who put different legs on a dog?" said Mickey. "I often read about him in papers I sell. I think he can fix her back. But not yet. A Sunshine Nurse I know says nobody can help her back 'til she grows a lot stronger and fatter. She has to have milk and be rubbed with oil, and not be jerked for a while before it's any use to begin on her back."
"And has she the milk and the oil and the kindness?"
"You just bet she has," said Mickey. "Her family tends to that. And she has got a bed, and a window, and her Precious Child, and a slate, and books."
"That's all right then," said Douglas. "Any time you see she needs anything Mickey, I'd be glad if you would tell me or Miss Winton. She loves to do kind things to little sick children to make them happier."
"So do I," said Mickey. "And Lily is my job. But that isn't robbing Miss Joy Lady. She can love herself to death if she wants to on hundreds of little, sick, cold, miserable children, in every cellar and garret and tenement of the east end of Multiopolis. The only kind thing God did for them out there was to give them the first chance at sunrise. Multiopolis hasn't ever followed His example by giving them anything."
"You mean Miss Winton can find some other child to love and care for?" asked Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey emphatically. "It's hands off Lily. Her family is taking care of her, so she's got all she needs right now."
"That's good!" said Bruce. "Here we unload."
They entered a building and exchanged the books they carried for others which Douglas selected with care, then returning to the office, locked them in a safe.
"Now I am driving to the golf grounds for an hour's play," said Douglas. "Will you go and caddy for me?"
"I never did. I don't know how," answered Mickey.
"You can learn, can't you?" suggested Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I've seen boys carrying golf clubs that hadn't enough sense to break stone right. I can learn, but my learning might spoil your day's sport."
"It would be no big price to pay for an intelligent caddy," replied Douglas.
"Mr. Bruce, what price is an intelligent caddy worth?"
"Our Scotch Club pays fifty cents a game and each man employs his own boy if he chooses. The club used to furnish boys, but since the Big Brother movement began, so many of the men have boys in their offices they are accustomed to, and want to give a run over the hills after the day's work, that the rule has been changed. I can employ you, if you want to serve me."
"I'd go to the country in the car with you, every day you play, and carry your clubs?" asked Mickey wonderingly.
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"Over real hills, where there's trees, grass, cows and water?" questioned Mickey.
"Yes," repeated Douglas.
"What time would we get back?" he asked.
"Depends on how late I play, and whether I have dinner at the club house, say seven as a rule, maybe ten or later at times."
"Nothing doing!" said Mickey promptly. "I got to be home at six by the clock every day, even if we were engaged in 'hurling back the enemy.' See?"
"But Mickey! That spoils everything!" cried Douglas. "Of course you could work for me the remainder of the day if you wanted to, and I could keep my old clubhouse caddy, but I want you. You want the ride in the country, you want the walk, you need the change and recreation. You are not a real boy if you don't want that!"
"I'm so real, I'm two boys if wanting it counts, but it doesn't!" said Mickey. "You see I got a job for evening. I'm promised. I'd rather do what you want than anything I ever saw or heard of, except just this. I've given my word, and I'm depended on. I couldn't give up this work, and I wouldn't, if I could. Even golf ain't in it with this job that I'm on."
"What is your work Mickey?"
"Oh I ain't ever exactly certain," said Mickey. "Sometimes it is one thing, sometimes it is another, but always it's something, and it's work for a party I couldn't disappoint, not noways, not for all the golf in the world."
"You are sure?" persisted Douglas.
"Dead sure with no changing," said Mickey.
"All right then. I'm sorry!" exclaimed Douglas.
"So am I," said Mickey. "But not about the job!"
Douglas laughed. "Well come along this evening and look on. I'll be back before six and I'll run you where we did last night, if that is close your home."
"Thanks," said Mickey. "I'd love to, but you needn't bother about taking me home. I can make it if I start at six. Shall I take the things back to the cafe?" "Let them go until morning," said Douglas.
"What becomes of the little cakes?"
"Their fate is undecided. Have you any suggestions?"
"I should worry!" he exclaimed. "They'd fit my pocket. I could hike past the hospital and ask the Sunshine Lady; if she said so, I could take them to Lily. Bet she never tasted any like them. If it's between her and the cafe selling them over, s'pose she takes the cake?"
Mickey's face was one big insinuating, suggestive smile. Douglas' was another.
"Suppose she does," he agreed.
"I must wrap them," said Mickey. "Have to be careful about Lily. If she's fed dirty, wrong stuff, it will make fever so her back will get worse instead of better."
"Will a clean envelope do?" suggested Douglas.
"That would cost you two cents," said Mickey. "Haven't you something cheaper?"
"What about a sheet of paper?" hazarded Douglas.
"Fine!" said Mickey, "and only half as expensive."
So they wrapped the little cakes and closed the office. Then Douglas said: "Now this ends work for the day. Next comes playtime."
"Then before we begin to play we ought to finish business," said Mickey. "I have been thinking over what you said the other day, and while I was right about some of it, I was mistaken about part. I ain't changing anything I said about Minturn men and his sort, and millyingaire men and their sort; but you ain't that kind of a man----"
"Thank you, Mickey," said Douglas.
"No you ain't that kind of a man," continued Mickey. "And you are just the kind of a man I'd like to be; so if the door ain't shut, guess I'll stick around afternoons."
"Not all day?" inquired Douglas.
"Well you see I am in the paper business and that takes all morning," explained Mickey. "I can always finish my first batch by noon, lots of times by ten; from that on to six I could work for you."
"Don't you think you could earn more with me, and in the winter at least, be more comfortable?" asked Douglas.
"Winter!" cried Mickey, his face whitening.
"Yes," said Douglas. "The newsboys always look frightfully cold in winter."
"Winter!" It was a piteous cry.
"What is it, Mickey?" questioned Bruce kindly.
"You know I forgot it," he said. "I was so took up with what I was doing, and thinking right now, that I forgot a time ever was coming when it gets blue cold, and little kids freeze. Gee! I almost wish I hadn't thought of it. I guess I better sell my paper business, and come with you all day. I know I could earn more. I just sort of hate to give up the papers. I been at them so long. I've had such a good time. 'I like to sell papers!' That's the way I always start my cry, and I do. I just love to. I sell to about the same bunch every morning, and most of my men know me, and they always say a word, and I like the rush and excitement and the things that happen, and the looking for chances on the side----"
"There's messenger work in my business."
"I see! I like that! I like your work all right," said Mickey. "Gimme a few days to sell my route to the best advantage I can, and I'll come all day. I'll come for about a half what you are paying now."
"But you admit you need money urgently."
"Well not so urgently as to skin a friend to get it--not even with the winter I hadn't thought of coming. Gee--I don't know just what I am going to do about that."
"For yourself, Mickey?" inquired Douglas.
"Well in a way, yes," hesitated Mickey. "There are things to think about! Gee I got to hump myself while the sun shines! If you say so, then I'll get out of the paper business as soon as I can; and I'll begin work for you steady at noon to-morrow. I've seen you pay out over seven to-day. I'll come for six. Is it a bargain?"
"No," said Douglas, "it isn't! The janitor bill was for a week of half- done work. The messenger bill was for two days, no caddying at all. If you come you will come for not less than eight and what you earn extra over that. I don't agree to better service for less pay. If you will have things between us on a commercial basis, so will I."
"Oh the Big Brother business would be all right--with you," conceded Mickey, "but I don't just like the way it's managed, mostly. God didn't make us brothers no more than he did all men, so we better not butt in and try to fix things over for Him. Looks to me like we might cut the brother business and just be friends. I could be an awful good friend to you, honest I could!"
"And I to you Mickey," said Douglas Bruce, holding out his hand. "Have it as you will. Friends, then! Look for you at noon to-morrow. Now we play. Hop in and we'll run to my rooms and get my clubs."
"Shall I sit up with your man?" asked Mickey.
"My friends sit beside me," said Douglas. Mickey spoke softly: "Yes, but if I watched him sharp, maybe I could get the hang of driving for you. Think what a lump that would save. When I'm going, I'd love to drive, just for the fun of it."
"And I wouldn't allow you to drive for less than I pay him," said Douglas.
"I don't see why!" exclaimed Mickey.
"When you grow older and know me better, you will."
While the car was running its smoothest, while the country Mickey had not seen save on rare newsboy excursions, flashed past, while the wonder of the club house, the links, and the work he would have loved to do developed, he shivered and cried in his tormented little soul: "Gee, how will I ever keep Lily warm?" Douglas noticed his abstraction and wondered. He had expected more appreciation of what Mickey was seeing and doing; he was coming to the realization that he would find out what was in the boy's heart in his own time and way. On the home run, when Douglas reached his rooms, he told the driver to take Mickey to the end of the car line; the boy shyly interposed to ask if he might go to the "Star of Hope Hospital," so Douglas changed the order.
Mickey's passport held good at the hospital. The Sunshine Nurse inspected the cakes and approved them. She was so particular she even took a tiny nibble of one and said: "Sugar, flour, egg and shortening--all right Mickey, those can't hurt her. And how is she to-day?"
"Fine!" cried Mickey. "She is getting a lot stronger already. She can sit up longer and help herself better, and she's got ribbons, the prettiest you ever laid eyes on, that a lady gave me for her hair, and they make her pink and nicer; and she's got a baby doll in long clean white dresses to snuggle down and stay with her all day; and she's got a slate, and a book, and she knows 'cow' and 'milk' and my name, and to-day she is learning 'bread.' To-morrow I am going to teach her 'baby,' and she can say her prayer too nice for anything, once we got it fixed so she'd say it at all."
"What did you teach her, Mickey?"
"'Now I lay me,' only Lily wouldn't say it the way She taught me. You see Lily was all alone with her granny when she winked out and it scared her most stiff, so when I got to that 'If I should die before I wake,' line, she just went into fits, and remembering what I'd seen myself, I didn't blame her; so I changed it for her 'til she liked it."
"Tell me about it, Mickey?" said the nurse.
"Well you see she has a window, so she can see the stars and the sun. She knows them, so I just shifted the old sad, scary lines to:
"Guard me through the starry night, Wake me safe with sunshine bright!"
"But Mickey, that's lovely!" cried the nurse. "Wait till I write it down! I'll teach it to my little people. Half of them come here knowing that prayer and when they are ill, they begin to think about it. Some of them are old enough to worry over it. Why you're a poet, Mickey!"
"Sure!" conceded Mickey. "That's what I'm going to be when I get through school. I'm going to write a poetry piece about Lily for the first sheet of the Herald that'll be so good they'll pay me to write one every day, but all of them will be about her."
"Mickey, is there enough of such a little girl to furnish one every day?" asked the nurse.
"Surest thing you know!" cried Mickey enthusiastically. "Why there are the hundred gold rings on her head, one for each; and her eyes, tender and teasy, and sad and glad, one for each; and the colour of them different a dozen times a day, and her little white face, and her lips, and her smile, and when she's good, and when she's bad; why Miss, there's enough of Lily for a book big as Mr. Bruce's biggest law book."
"Well Mickey!" cried the girl laughing. "There's no question but you will write the poetry, only I can't reconcile it with the kind of a hustler you are. I thought poets were languid, dreamy, up-in-the-clouds kind of people."
"So they are," explained Mickey. "That comes later. First I got to hustle to get Lily's back Carreled and us through school, and ready to write the poetry; then it will take so much dreaming to think out what is nicest about her, and how to say it best, that it would make any fellow languid--you can see how that would be!"
"Yes, I see!" conceded the nurse. "Mickey, by Carreling her back, do you mean Dr. Carrel?"
"Sure!" cried Mickey. "You see I read a lot about him in the papers I sell. He's the biggest man in the world! He's bigger than emperors and kings! They--why the biggest thing they can do is to kill all their strongest, bravest men. He's so much bigger than kings, that he can take men they shoot to pieces and put them together again. Killing men ain't much! Anybody can do killing! Look at him making folks live! Gee, he's big!"
"And you think he can make Lily's back better?"
"Why I know he can!" said Mickey earnestly. "That wouldn't be a patching to what he has done! Soon as you say she is strong enough, I'm going to write to him and tell him all about her, and when I get the money saved, he'll come and fix her. Sure he will!"
"If you could get to him and tell him yourself, I really believe he would," marvelled the nurse. "But you see it's like this, Mickey: when men are as great as he is, just thousands of people want everything of them, and write letters by the hundreds, and if all of them were read there would be time for nothing else, so a secretary opens the mail and decides what is important, and that way the big people don't always know about the ones they would answer if they were doing it. He's been here in this very hospital; I've seen him operate once. Next time a perfectly wonderful case comes in, that is in his peculiar line, no doubt he will be notified and come again. Then if I could get word to you, and you could get Lily here, possibly--just possibly he would listen to you and look at her--of course I can't say surely he would--but I think he would!"
"Why of course he would!" triumphed Mickey. "Of course he would! He'd be tickled to pieces! He'd just love to! Any man would! Why a white little flowersy-girl who can't walk----!"
"If you could reach him, I really think he would," said the nurse positively.
"Well just you gimme a hint that he's here, and see if I don't get to him," said Mickey.
"Is there any place I'd be certain to find you quickly, if a chance should come?" she asked. "One never can tell. He might not be here in years, but he might be called, and come, to-morrow."
"Why yes!" cried Mickey. "Why of course! Why the telephone! Call me where I work!"
"But I thought you were a 'newsy!'" said the nurse.
"Well I was," explained Mickey lifting his head, "but I've give up the papers. I've graduated. I'm going to sell out tomorrow. I'm going to work permanent for Mr. Douglas Bruce. He's the biggest lawyer in Multiopolis. He's got an office in the Iriquois Building, and his call is 500-X. Write that down too and put it where you can't lose it. He's just a grand man. He asked about Lily to-day. He said any time he'd do things for her. Sure he would! He'd stop saving the taxpayers of Multiopolis, and take his car, and go like greased lightning for a little sick girl. He's the grandest man and he's got a Joy Lady that puts in most of her time making folks happy. Either of them would! Why it's too easy to talk about! You call me, I take a car and bring her scooting! If I'd see Lily standing on her feet, stepping right out like other folks, I'd be so happy I'd almost bust wide open. Honest I would! If he does come, you'd try hard to get me a chance, wouldn't you?"
"I'd try as hard for you as I would for myself Mickey; I couldn't promise more," she said.
"Lily's as good as fixed," exulted Mickey. "Why there is that big easy car standing down in the street waiting to take me home right now."
"Does Douglas Bruce send you home in his car?"
"Oh no, not regular! This is extra! Work is over for to-day so we went to the golf links; then he lets his man take me while he bathes and dresses to go to his Joy Lady. Gee, I got to hurry or I'll make the car late; but I can talk with you all you will. I can send the car back and walk or hop a 'tricity-wagon."
"Which is a street car?" queried the nurse.
"Sure!" said Mickey.
"Well go hop it!" she laughed. "I can't spare more time now, but I won't forget, Mickey; and if he comes I'll keep him till you get here, if I have to chain him."
"You go to it!" cried Mickey. "And I'll begin praying that he comes soon, and I'll just pray and pray so long and so hard, the Lord will send him quick to get rid of being asked so constant. No I won't either! Well wouldn't that rattle your slats?"
"What, Mickey?" asked the nurse.
"Why don't you see?" cried Mickey.
"No, I don't see," admitted the girl.
"Well I do!" said Mickey. "What would be square about that? Why that would be asking the Lord to make maybe some other little girl so sick, the Carrel man would be sent for, so I'd get my chance for Lily. That ain't business! I wouldn't have the cheek! What would the Lord think of me? He wouldn't come in a mile of doing it. I wouldn't come in ten miles of having the nerve to ask him. I do get up against it 'til my head swims. And there is winter coming, too!"
The nurse put her arm around Mickey again, and gently propelled him toward the elevator.
"Mickey," she said softly, her lips nipping his fair hair, "God doesn't give many of us your clear vision and your big heart. I'd have asked him that, with never a thought of who would have to be ill to bring Dr. Carrel here. But I'll tell you. You can pray this with a clean conscience: you can ask God if the doctor does come, to put it into his heart to hear you, and to examine Lily. That wouldn't be asking ill for anyone else so that you might profit by it. And dear laddie, don't worry about winter. This city is still taking care of its taxpayers. You do your best for Lily all summer, and when winter comes, if you're not fixed for it, I will see what your share is and you can have it in a stove that will burn warm a whole day, and lots of coal, plenty of it. I know I can arrange that."
"Gee, you're great!" he cried. "This is the biggest thing that ever happened to me! I see now what I can ask Him on the square; so it's business and all right; and Mr. Bruce or Miss Leslie will loan me a car, and if you see about the stove and the coal the city has for me"--in came Mickey's royal flourish--"why dearest Nurse Lady, Lily is as good as walking right now! Gee! In my place would you tell her?"
"I surely would," said the nurse. "It will do her good. It will give her hope. Dr. Carrel isn't the only one who can perform miracles; if he doesn't come by the time Lily is strong enough to bear the strain of being operated, we can try some other great man; and if she is shy, and timid from having been alone so much, expecting it will make it easier for her. By the way, wait until I bring some little gifts, I and three of my friends have made for her in our spare time. I think your mother's night dresses must be big and uncomfortable for her, even as you cut them off. Try these. Give her a fresh one each day. It is going to be dreadfully hot soon. When she has used two, bring them here and I'll have them washed for you."
"Now nix on that!" said Mickey. "You're a shining angel bright to sew them for her, I'm crazy over them, but I wash them. Mother showed me. That will be my share. I can do it fine. And they will be better! She's so lost in mother's, I have to shake them to find her!"
They laughed together, then Mickey sped to the sidewalk and ordered the car back.
"I've been too long," he said. "Nurse Lady had some things to tell me about a little sick girl and I was glad to miss my ride for them. Mr. Bruce will be ready by now. You go where he told you."
"I got twenty-seven minutes yet," said the driver. "I can take you at least almost there. Hop in."
"Mither o' Mike!" cried Mickey. "Is that all there is to it? Gee, how I'd like to have a try at it."
"Are you going to be in Mr. Bruce's office from now on?" asked the driver.
"If I can sell my paper line," answered Mickey.
"Got a good route?" inquired the man.
"Best of any boy in my district," said Mickey. "I like to sell papers. I got it down fine!"
"I guess you have," said the driver. "I know your voice, and everybody on your street knows that cry. Your route ought to be worth a fair price. I got a kid that wants a paper start. What would you ask to take him over your round and tell the men you are turning your business over to him, and teach him your cries?"
"Hum-m-m-m!" said Mickey. "My cry is whatever has the biggest headlines on the front page, mixed in with a lot of joyous fooling, and I'd have to see your boy 'fore I'd say if I could teach him. Is he a clean kid with a joyous face, and his anatomy decorated with a fine large hump? That's the only kind that gets my job. I won't have my nice men made sore all day 'cause they start it by seeing a kid with a boiled-owl face."
"You think a happy face sells most papers?"
"Know it!" said Mickey, "'cause I wear it on the job, and I get away with the rest of them three times and coming. Same everywhere as with the papers. A happy face would work with your job, if you'd loosen up a link or two, and tackle it. It may crack your complexion, if you start too violent, but taking it by easy runs and greasing the ways 'fore you cut your cable, I believe you'd survive it!"
Mickey flushed and grinned in embarrassment when people half a block away turned to look at his driver, and the boy's mouth opened as a traffic policeman smiled in sympathy when he waved his club, signalling them to cross. Mickey straightened up reassured.
"Did you get that?" he inquired.
"I got it!" said the driver. "But it won't ever happen again. McFinley has been on that crossing for five years and that's his first smile on the job."
"Then make it your business to see that it ain't his last!" advised Mickey. "There's no use growing morgue lines on your mug; with all May running wild just to please you and the man in the moon; loosen up, if you have to tickle your liver with a torpedo to start you!"
"You brass monkey!" said the driver. "You climb down right here, before I'm arrested for a plain drunk."
"Don't you think it," called Mickey. "If you like your job, man, cotton up to it; chuckle it under the chin, and get real familiar. See? Try grin, 'stead of grouch just one day and watch if the whole world doesn't look better before night."
"Thanks kid, I'll think it over!" promised the driver.
Mickey hurried home to Peaches. He hid the cake and the hospital box under the things he bought for supper and went to her with empty hands. He could see she was tired and hungry, so he gave her a drink of milk, and proceeded to the sponge bath and oil rub. These rested and refreshed her so that Mickey demanded closed eyes, while he slipped the dainty night- robe over her head, and tied the pink ribbon on her curls. Then he piled the pillows, leaned her against them and brought the mirror.
"Now open your peepers, Flowersy-girl, and tell me how Miss O'Halloran strikes you!" he exulted.
Peaches took one long look. She opened her mouth. Then she turned to Mickey and shut her mouth; shut it and clapped both hands over it; so that he saw the very act of strangling a phrase he would have condemned.
"That's a nice lady!" he commented in joy. "Now let me tell you! You got four of these gorgeous garments, each one made by a different nurse-lady, while she was resting. Every day you get a clean one, and I wash the one you wore last, careful and easy not to tear the lacy places. Ain't they the gladdest rags you ever saw!"
Peaches gasped: "Mickey, I'll bust!"
"Go on and bust then!" conceded Mickey. "Bust if you must; but don't you dare say no words that ain't for the ladiest of ladies, in that beautiful, softy, white dress."
Peaches set her lips, stretching her arms widely. She sat straighter than Mickey ever had seen her, lifting her head higher. Gradually a smile crept over her face. She was seeing a very pinched, white little girl, with a shower of yellow curls bound with a pink ribbon tied in a big bow; wearing a dainty night dress with a fancy yoke run with pink ribbons tied under her chin and at her elbows. She crooked an arm, primped her mouth, and peered at the puffed sleeves, then hastily gulped down whatever she had been tempted to say.
Again Mickey approved. Despite protests he removed the mirror, then put the doll in her arms. "Now you line up," he said. "Now you look alike! After you get your supper, comes the joy part for sure."
"More joyous than this?" Peaches surveyed herself.
"Yes, Miss! The joyousest thing of all the world that could happen to you," he said.
"But Mickey-lovest!" she cried in protest. "You know--you know--what that would be!"
"Sure I know!" said Mickey.
"I don't believe it! It never could!" she cried.
"There you go!" said Mickey in exasperation. "You make me think of them Texas bronchos kicking at everything on earth, in the Wild West shows every spring. Honest you do!"
"Mickey, you forgot my po'try piece to-night!" she interposed hastily.
"What you want a poetry piece for with such a dress and ribbon as you got?" he demanded.
"I like the po'try piece better than the dress or the ribbon," she asserted positively.
"You'll be saying better than the baby, next!"
"Yes, an' better than the baby!"
"You look out Miss," marvelled Mickey. "You got to tell true or you can't be my family."
"Sure and true!" said Peaches emphatically.
"Well if I ever!" cried Mickey. "I didn't think you was that silly!"
"'Tain't silly!" said Peaches. "The po'try pieces is you! 'Tain't silly to like you better than a dress, and a ribbon, or a Precious Child. I want my piece now!"
"Well I've been so busy to-day, I forgot your piece, said Mickey. "'Nough things have happened to make me forget my head, if 'twasn't fast. I forgot your piece. I thought you'd like the dress and the joyous thing better."
"Then you didn't forget it!" cried Peaches. "You thought something else, and you thought what ain't! So there! I want my po'try piece!"
"Well do you want it worse than your supper?" demanded Mickey.
"Yes I do!" said Peaches.
"Well use me for a mop!" cried Mickey. "Then you'll have to wait 'til I make one."
"Go on and make it!" ordered the child.
"Well how do you like this?"
"Once a stubborn little kicker, Kicked until she made me snicker. If she had wings, she couldn't fly, 'Cause she'd be too stubborn to try."
A belligerent look slowly spread over Peaches' face.
"That's no po'try piece," she scoffed, "an' I don't like it at all, an' I won't write it on my slate; not if I never learn to write anything. Mickey-lovest, please make a nice one to save for my book. It's going to have three on ev'ry page, an' a nice piece o' sky like right up there for backs, and mebby--mebby a cow on it!"
"Sure a cow on it," agreed Mickey. "I saw a lot to-day! I'll tell you after supper. Gimme a little time to think. I can't do nice ones right off."
"You did that one right off," said Peaches.
"Sure!" answered Mickey. "I was a little--a little--pervoked! And you said that wasn't a nice one."
"And so it wasn't!" asserted Peaches positively.
"If I have a nice one ready when I bring supper, will that do?" questioned Mickey.
"Yes," said Peaches. "But I won't eat my supper 'til I have it."
"Now don't you get too bossy, Miss Chicken," warned Mickey. "There's a surprise in this supper like you never had in all your life. I guess you'd eat it, if you'd see it."
"I wouldn't 'til I had my po'try piece."
In consideration of the poetry piece Mickey desisted. The inference was too flattering. Between narrowed lids he looked at Lily. "You fool sweet little kid," he muttered. Then he prepared supper. When he set it on the table he bent over and taking both hands he said gently:
"Flowersy-girl of moonbeam white, Golden head of sunshine bright, Dancing eyes of sky's own blue, No other flower in the world like you."
"Get the slate!" cried Peaches. "Get the slate! Now that's a po'try piece. That's the best one yet. I'm going to put that right under the cow!"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I think that's the best yet myself. You see, you make them come better every time, 'cause you get so much sweeter every day."
"Then why did you make the bad one?" she pouted.
"Well every time you just yell 'I won't,' without ever giving me a chance to tell you what I'm going to do, or why," explained Mickey. "If only you'd learn to wait a little, you'd do better. If I was to tell you that Carrel man was at the door with a new back for you, if you turn over and let him put it in, I s'pose you'd yell: 'I won't!'"
The first tinge of colour Mickey had seen, almost invisibly faint, crept to the surface of Peaches' white cheek.
"Just you try it, Mickey-lovest!" she exclaimed.
"Finish your supper, and see what I try."
Peaches obeyed. She had stopped grabbing and cramming. She ate slowly, masticating each morsel as the nurse told Mickey she should. To-night he found her so dainty and charming, as she instinctively tried to be as nice as her dress and supper demanded, that he forgot himself, until she reminded him. Then he rallied and ate his share. He presented the cakes, and while they enjoyed them he described every detail of the day he thought would interest her, until she had finished. He told her of the nurse and the dresses and when she wanted to see the others he said: "No sir! You got to wait till you are bathed and dressed each evening, and then you can see yourself, and that will be more fun than taking things all at once. You needn't think I'm coming in here every night with a great big lift-the-roof surprise for you. Most nights there won't be anything for you only me, and your supper."
"But Mickey, them's the nicest nights of all!" said Peaches. "I like thinking about you better than nurse-ladies, or joy-ladies, or my back, even; if it wasn't for having supper ready to help you."
"There you go again!" exclaimed Mickey. "Cut that stuff out, kid! You'll get me so broke up, I won't be fit for nothing but poetry, and that's tough eating; there's a lot must come, 'fore I just make a business of it. Now Miss, you brace up, and get this: the Carrel man has been in this very burg. See! Our Nurse Lady at the 'Star of Hope' has watched him making some one over. Every time anybody is brought there with a thing the matter with them, that he knows best how to cure, the big head knifers slip it over to him, so he comes and does it to get practice on the job. He may not come for a long time; he might come to-morrow. See?"
"Oh Mickey! Would he?" gasped Peaches.
"Why sure he would!" cried Mickey with his most elaborate flourish. "Sure he would! That's what he lives for. He'd be tickled to pieces to make over the back of a little girl that can't walk. Sure he would! What I ain't sure of is that you wouldn't gig back and say, 'I won't!' if you had a chance to be fixed."
Peaches spoke with deliberate conviction: "Mickey, I'm most sure I've about quit that!"
"Well, it's time!" said Mickey. "What you got to do is to eat, and sleep, and be bathed, and rubbed, and get so big and strong that when I come chasing up the steps and say, 'He's here, Lily, clap your arms around my neck and come to the china room and the glass table and be fixed,' you just take a grip and never open your head. See! You can be a game little kid, the gamest I ever saw, you will then, Lily, won't you?"
"Sure!" she promised. "I'll just grab you and I'll say, 'Go Mickey, go h----!"
"Wope! Wope there lady!" interposed Mickey. "Look out! There's a subm'rine coming. Sink it! Sink it!"
"Mickey what's a subm'rine?" asked Peaches.
"Why it's like this," explained Mickey. "There's places where there's water, like I bring to wash you, only miles and miles of it, such a lot, it's called an ocean----"
"Sure! 'Crost it where the kings is makin' people kill theirselves," cried Peaches.
"Yes," agreed Mickey. "And on the water, sailing along like a lady, is a big, beautiful ship. Then there's a nasty little boat that can creep under the water. It slips up when she doesn't know it's coming, and blows a hole in the fine ship and sinks her all spoiled. But if the nice ship sees the subm'rine coming and sinks it, why then she stays all nice, and isn't spoiled at all. See?"
"Subm'rines spoil things?" ventured Peaches.
"They were just invented for that, and nothing else."
"Mickey, I'll just say, 'Hurry! Run fast!' Mickey, can you carry me that far?" she asked anxiously.
"No, I can't carry you that far," admitted Mickey. "But Mr. Douglas Bruce, that we work for after this, will let me take his driver and his nice, easy car, and it will beat streetcars a mile, and we'll just go sailing for the 'Star of Hope' and get your back made over, and then comes school and everything girls like. See?"
"Mickey, what if he never comes?" wavered Peaches.
"Yes, but he will!" said Mickey positively.
"Mickey, what if he should come, an' wouldn't even look at my back?" she pursued.
"Why, he'd be glad to!" cried Mickey. "Don't be silly. Give the man some chance!"