A SUNNY LITTLE LASS
New York Hurst & Company Publishers
Copyright, 1906, by George W. Jacobs & Company
Published August, 1906
All rights reserved
Printed in U. S. A.
CONTENTS CHAPTER PAGE I. The One Room House 9 II. After the Colonel's Visit 25 III. In Elbow Lane 47 IV. Beside Old Trinity 59 V. A Desolate Awakening 77 VI. The Beginning of the Search 93 VII. A Guardian Angel 111 VIII. With Bonny as Guide 125 IX. In the Ferry-House 143 X. Another Stage of the Journey 155 XI. A Haven of Refuge 177 XII. News from the Lane 201 XIII. The Wonderful Ending 217
The One Room House
It was in "the littlest house in Ne' York" that Glory lived, with grandpa and Bo'sn, the dog, so she, and its owner, often boasted; and whether this were actually true or not, it certainly was so small that no other sort of tenant than the blind captain could have bestowed himself, his grandchild, and their few belongings in it.
A piece-of-pie shaped room, built to utilize a scant, triangular space between two big warehouses, only a few feet wide at the front and no width at all at the rear. Its ceiling was also its roof and from it dangled whatever could be hung thus, while the remaining bits of furniture swung from hooks in the walls. Whenever out of use, even the little gas-stove was set upon a shelf in the inner angle, thereby giving floor space sufficient for two camp-stools and a three-cornered scrap of a table at which they ate and worked, with Bo'sn curled beneath.
This mite of a house stood at the crook of Elbow Lane, down by the approaches to the big bridge over East River, in a street so narrow that the sun never could shine into it; yet held so strong an odor of salt water and a near-by fish-market, that the old sailor half fancied himself still afloat. He couldn't see the dirt and rubbish of the Lane, nor the pinched faces of the other dwellers in it, for a few tenements were still left standing among the crowding warehouses, and these were filled with people. Glory, who acted as eyes for the old man, never told him of unpleasant things, and, indeed, scarcely saw them herself. To her, everything was beautiful and everybody kind, and in their own tiny home, at least, everything was scrupulously clean and shipshape.
When they had hung their hammocks back upon the wall, for such were the only beds they had room for, and had had their breakfast of porridge, the captain would ask: "Decks scrubbed well, mate?"
"Aye, aye, sir!" came the cheery answer, and Glory's hands, fresh from the suds, would touch the questioner's cheek.
"Brasses polished, hawsers coiled, rations dealt?"
"Aye, aye, cap'n!" again called the child.
"Eight bells! Every man to his post!" ordered the master, and from the ceiling a bell struck out the half-hours in the only way the sailor would permit time to be told aboard his "ship." Then Glory whisked out her needle and thread, found grandpa his knife and bit of wood, and the pair fell to their tasks. His was the carving of picture frames, so delicately and deftly that one could hardly believe him sightless; hers the mending of old garments for her neighbors, and her labor was almost as capable as his. It had earned for her the nickname of "Take-a-Stitch," for, in the Lane, people were better known by their employments than their surnames. Grandpa was "Cap'n Carver" when at his morning work, but after midday, "Captain Singer," since then, led by his dog Bo'sn, he sang upon the streets to earn his livelihood. In the later hours the little girl, also, wore another title—"Goober Glory"—because she was one of the children employed by Antonio Salvatore, the peanut man, to sell his wares on commission.
But grandpa, Glory, and Bo'sn had the long delightful mornings at home and together; and this day, as usual, their talk turned upon the dream of their lives—"Sailors' Snug Harbor."
"Now, grandpa, talk. Tell how 'tis. Do it fast an' picturey-like, 'less I never can guess how to make this piece do. It's such a little patch an' such a awful big hole! Posy Jane gets carelesser an' carelesser all the time. This very last week that ever was she tore this jacket again. An' I told her, I said: 'Jane, if you don't look out you'll never wear this coat all next winter nohow.' An' she up an' laughed, just like she didn't mind a thing like that. An' she paid me ten whole centses, she did. But I love her. Jane's so good to everybody, to every single body. Ain't she, grandpa?"
"Aye, aye, deary. I cal'late she done it a purpose. She makes her money easy, Jane does. Just sets there on the bridge-end and sells second-hand flowers to whoever'll buy. If she had to walk the streets——"
Glory was so surprised by this last sentence that she snapped her thread off in the wrong place and wasted a whole needleful. Until yesterday, she had never heard her grandfather speak in any but the most contented spirit about his lot in life. Then he had twice lamented that he "didn't know whatever was to become o' two poor creatur's like them," and now, again, this gay morning, he was complaining—almost complaining. Glory didn't feel, in the least, like a "poor creatur'." She felt as "chirpy as a sparrow bird," over in City Hall park; and, if the sun didn't shine in the Lane, she knew it was shining in the street beyond, so what mattered?
Vaguely disturbed, the child laid her hand on his arm and asked, "Be you sick, grandpa?"
He answered promptly and testily, "Sick? No, nor never was in my life. Nothin' but blind an' that's a trifle compared to sickness. What you askin' for? Didn't I eat my breakfast clean up?"
"Ye-es, but—but afterward you—you kicked Bo'sn, an' sayin' that about 'walkin' the street' just a singin'; why, I thought you liked it. I know the folks like to hear you. You do roll out that about the 'briny wave' just grand. I wish you'd sing it to Bo'sn an' me right now, grandpa, dear."
Wholly mollified and ashamed of his own ill-temper, the captain tried the familiar tune but it died in his throat. Music was far beyond him just then, yet he stroked the child's head tenderly, and said, "Some other time, mate, some other time. I'm a little hoarse, maybe, or somethin'."
"Well, then, never mind. Let's talk 'Snug Harbor.' You begin. You tell an' I'll put in what I'm mind to; or I'll say what I guess it's like an' you set me straight if I get crooked. 'Cause you've seen it, grandpa, an' I never have. Not once; not yet. Bime-by—— Oh, shall I begin, shall I, grandpa?"
The sailor sighed fit to shake the whole small tenement and nodded in consent; so, observing nothing of his reluctance to their once favorite subject, Glory launched forth:
"'Sailors' Snug Harbor' is the most beautifulest spot in the whole world! It's all flowery an' grassy an' treesy. It's got fountains an' birds an' orchestry-music forever an' ever. 'Tain't never cloudy there, nor rainy, nor freezy, nor snowy, nor nothin' mean. Eh, grandpa? Am I straight or crooked?"
The captain, roused as from a reverie, replied absently, "It's a beautiful place, mate; I know that. Nobody wants for nothin' there, an' once a man casts anchor there he's in safe haven for the rest of his days. Oh, I ain't denyin' none of its comforts, but I wish the whole concern'd burn to the ground or sink in the bay. I wish the man first thought of it had died before he did."
In his anger, the blind man clasped his knife till its blade cut his hand and Glory cried out in dismay. But he would not have her bathe the wound and resumed his carving in silence. The little girl waited awhile, once more fitting the small patch into the big hole of Posy Jane's jacket; then she went on as if nothing had occurred:
"When we go there to live, me an' you, we'll have a room as big an' nice as this an' you won't have to do a hand's turn for yourself. You an' Bo'sn'll just set round in rockin'-chairs—I've seen 'em in the stores—with welwet cushings on your laps—I mean you two a settin' on the cushings, a dressed up to beat. Maybe, they'll let you order the whole crew, yourself, into white ducks for muster at six bells, or somethin'.
"An'," Glory continued, "there'll be me a wearin' a white frock, all new an' never mended, an' my hair growed long an' lovely, an' me just as purty as I wish I was, an' as everybody has to be that lives to the 'Harbor.' An' bime-by, of a Sunday, maybe, when they can spare the time, Posy Jane an' Billy Buttons, an' Nick, the Parson, 'll come walkin' up to the beautiful gate, an' the captain what keeps it'll write their names in a book an' say, 'Walk right in, ladies an' gentlemens, walk right in. You'll find Captain Simon Beck an' Miss Glorietta Beck'—'cause I'm goin' to put that long tail to my plain 'Glory' when I go to live there, grandpa.
"Lemme see. Where was I?" the little girl went on. "Oh, yes. The Elbow folks had just come, an' was showed in. They was told, 'Walk right in. You'll find your friends settin' in the front parlor on them welwet cushings readin' stories out o' books an' chewin' candy all day long.' An' then they'll scurce know us, Billy an' them, an' not till I laugh an' show my teeth an' you get up an' salute will they suspicion us. An' you'll have on gold specs an' dress-uniform an' that'll make you look just like you could see same's other folks. Why, grandpa, darlin', I've just thought, just this very minute that ever was, maybe, to the 'Harbor' you won't be blind any more; for true, maybe not. In such a splendid place, with doctors settin' round doin' nothin', an' hospitals an' all, likely they'll put somethin' in your eyes will make you see again. O grandpa—— If!"
The old man listened silently.
"An' when—when do you think would be the soonest we might go? 'Twon't cost much to take me an' you an' Bo'sn on the boat to Staten Island. I know the way. Onct I went clear down to the ferry where they start from just a purpose to see, an' we could 'most any time. Will we go 'fore next winter, grandpa? An' yet I hate, I do hate, to leave this dear Lane. We live so lovely in our hull house an' the folks'd miss us so an' we'd miss the folks. Anyway, I should. You wouldn't, course, havin' so many other old sailors all around you. An'—— Why, here's that same man again!"
Even in Elbow Lane, where the shadows lie all day long, other and darker shadows may fall; and such a shade now touched Glory's shoulder as she pictured in words the charm of that blessed asylum to which the captain and she would one day repair. He had always fixed the time to be "when he got too old and worthless to earn his living." But that morning she had swiftly reasoned that since he had grown cross—a new thing in her experience—he must also have suddenly become aged and that the day of their departure might be near at hand.
The shadow of the stranger pausing at their door cut short her rhapsody and sent her, the table, and Bo'sn, promptly out of doors, because when any of the sailor's old cronies called to see him, there wasn't room in "the littlest house" for all. So, from the narrow sidewalk beyond the door, the child listened to the talk within, not much of it being loud enough for her to hear, and fancied, from grandpa's short, sharp replies to his guest's questions, that he was crosser, therefore, more ill, than ever.
Bo'sn, too, sat on his haunches beside her, closely attentive and, at times, uttering a low, protesting growl. Both child and dog had taken a dislike to this unknown, who was so unlike the usual visitors to the Lane.
Glory sometimes wandered as far as Fifth Avenue, with her peanut basket, and now confided to Bo'sn:
"He's just like them dressed-up folks on th' avenue, what goes by with their noses in th' air, same's if they couldn't abide the smell o' goobers, whilst all the time they're just longing to eat 'em. Big shiny hat, clothes 'most as shiny, canes an' fixin's, an' gloves, doggie; gloves this hot day, when a body just wants to keep their hands under the spigot, to cool 'em.
"An'," continued Glory, "he ain't like the rest, Cap'n Gray, an' Cap'n Wiggins, what makes grandpa laugh till he cries, swoppin' yarns. This one 'most makes him cry without the laughin' an'—— Why, Bo'sn, Bo'sn!"
In the midst of her own chatter to the terrier, Glory had overheard a sentence of the "shiny gentleman" which sent her to her feet, and the table, work, and stool into the gutter, while her rosy face paled and her wide mouth opened still more widely. The stranger was saying:
"Of course, they'll never take in the child. You can go to the 'Harbor' to-day, if you will, and you ought. She—oh, there are plenty of Homes and Orphanages where they will give her shelter. She'd be far better off than she is here, in this slum, with only a blind old man to look after her. You come of good stock, Beck, and, with a proper chance, the little girl might make a nice woman. Here—whew, I really can't endure the stench of this alley any longer. We'll make it this afternoon, captain. At three o'clock I'll send a man to take you over, and I'll get my sister, who knows about such things, to find a place for your grandchild. Eh? I didn't quite catch your words."
Grandpa was murmuring something under his breath about: "Slum! I knew it was small but 'slum'—my little Glory—why, why——"
Colonel Bonnicastle interrupted without ceremony. He had put himself out to do an old employee a service and was vexed that his efforts were so ungratefully received. However, he was a man who always had his way and intended to do so now; so he remarked, as if the captain had not objected to so sudden a removal, "The man will be here at three precisely. Have whatever traps you value put together ready. You'll not know yourself in your new quarters. Good-morning."
With that the visitor turned to depart but Bo'sn darted between his feet, causing him either to step about in a peculiar fashion or crush the dog; and, with equal want of courtesy, Glory pushed him aside to fling herself on grandpa's neck, and to shriek to the guest, "Go 'way! Go 'way! Don't you come back to Elbow Lane! I hate you—oh, I do hate you!"
The great man was glad to go, nor did he notice her rudeness. His carriage was waiting in the street outside the alley, and even his sister Laura, who spent her days working to help the poor and who had sent him here, could expect no more of him than he had done. Neither his visit of yesterday nor to-day seemed appreciated by that old captain who had once so faithfully commanded the colonel's own ship.
Miss Laura had chanced to hear of the seaman's blindness and poverty, and promptly tried to help him by having him placed in "Sailors' Snug Harbor," of which her brother was a trustee. Nobody had told her about Glory, nor that the "Harbor" was the subject oftenest discussed within the "littlest house."
But other old sailors had told the captain of it, and pictured its delights, and once a crony had even taken him to visit it. After that, to him and his grandchild, the asylum had seemed like a wonderful fairyland where life was one happy holiday. When at their work, they talked of this safe "Harbor" and the little girl's imagination endowed the place with marvelous beauties. In all their dreaming they had still been together, without thought of possible separation, till Colonel Bonnicastle's sentence fell with a shock upon their ears, "They will never take in the child."
After the Colonel's Visit
"Don't you go an' leave me, grandpa. Grandpa, don't you dast to go!" wailed Glory, her arms clasped so tightly about the captain's neck that they choked him. When he loosened them, he drew her to his knee and laid her curly head against his cheek, answering, in a broken voice, "Leave you, deary? Not while I live. Not while you will stay with the old blind man, who can't even see to what sort of a home he has brought his pet."
"Why, to the nicest home ever was. Can't be a nicer nowhere, not any single where. Not even on that big avenue where such shiny people as him live. Why, we've got a hull house to ourselves, haven't we?"
"Child, stop. Tell me exact, as you never told before. Is Elbow Lane a 'slum'?"
"'Deed I don't know, 'cause I never heard tell of a 'slum' 'fore. It's the cutest little street ever was. Why, you can 'most reach acrost from one side to the other. Me an' Billy has often tried. It's got the loveliest crook in it, right here where we be; an' one side runs out one way an' t'other toward the river. Why, grandpa, Posy Jane says onct—onct, 'fore anybody here was livin', the Lane was a cow-path an' the cows was drove down it to the river to drink. Maybe she's lyin'. 'Seems if she must be, 'cause now there ain't no cows nor nothin' but milk-carts an' cans in corner stores, an' buildin's where onct she says was grass—grass, grandpa, do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear, mate. But the folks, the neighbors. A slum, deary, I guess a slum is only where wicked people live. I don't know, really, for we had no such places on the broad high sea. Are our folks in the Lane wicked, daughter?"
"Grandpa!" she cried, indignantly. "When there's such a good, good woman, Jane's sister Meg-Laundress, what washes for us just 'cause I mend her things. An' tailor-Jake who showed me to do a buttonhole an' him all doubled up with coughin'; an' Billy Buttons who gives us a paper sometimes, only neither of us can read it; an' Nick, the parson, who helps me sort my goobers; an' Posy Jane, that's a kind o' mother to everybody goin'. Don't the hull kerboodle of 'em treat you like you was a prince in a storybook, as I've heard Billy tell about? Huh! Nice folks? I should think they was. Couldn't be any nicer in the hull city. Couldn't, for sure, an' I say so, I, Glory Beck."
"And all very poor, mate, terrible, desperate poor; an' ragged an' dirty an' swearers, an' not fit for my pet to mix with. Never go to church nor Sunday-school, nor——Eh, little mate?" persisted the old man, determined to get at the facts of the case at last.
Glory was troubled. In what words could she best defend her friends and convince her strangely anxious guardian that Elbow folks were wholly what they should be? Since she could remember she had known no other people, and if all were not good as she had fancied them, at least all were good to her. With all her honest loyal heart she loved them, and saw virtues in them which others, maybe, would not have seen. With a gesture of perplexity, she tossed her head and clasped her hands, demanding:
"An' what's poor? Why, I've heard you say that we're poor, too, lots o' times. But is any of us beggars? No, siree. Is any of us thievers? No, Grandpa Beck, not a one. An' if some is ragged or dirty, that's 'cause they don't have clothes an' spigots handy, an' some's afraid o' takin' cold, like the tailor man. Some of us lives two er three families in a room, but—but that's them. Me an' you don't. We have a hull house. Why, me an' you is sort of rich, seems if, and——It's that big shiny-hatted man makes you talk so queer, grandpa darlin', an' I hate him. I wish he'd stayed to his house an' not come near the Lane."
"No, no, mate, hate nobody, nobody. He meant it kind. He didn't know how kindness might hurt us, deary. He is Colonel Bonnicastle, who owned the ship I mastered, an' many another that sails the sea this day. He's got a lot to do with the 'Harbor' an' never dreamed how't we'd known about it long ago. A good ship it was an' many a voyage she made, with me layin' dollars away out of my wage, till the sudden blindness struck me an' I crept down here where nobody knew me to get over it. That's a long while since, deary, and the dollars have gone, I always hopin' to get sight again and believin' I'd done a fine thing for my orphan grandchild, keepin' so snug a place over her head. So far, I've paid the rent reg'lar, and we've had our rations, too. Now, mate, fetch me the bag and count what's in it."
The little canvas bag which Glory took from the tiny wall-cupboard seemed very light and empty, and when she had untied the string and held it upside down not a coin fell from it. The old man listened for the clink of silver but there was none to hear and he sighed deeply as he asked, "Empty, Glory?"
"Empty, grandpa. Never mind, we'll soon put somethin' back in it. You must get your throat cleared and go out early an' sing your loudest. I'll get Toni to let me have a fifty-bagger, an' I'll sell every single one. You might make as much as a hull quarter, you might, an' me—I'll have a nickel. A nickel buys lots o' meal, an' we can do without milk on our porridge quite a spell. That way we can put by somethin' toward the rent, an' we'll be all right.
"Maybe," little Glory went on, "that old colonel don't have all to say 'bout the 'Harbor.' Maybe he don't like little girls an' that's why. I'll get Cap'n Gray to find out an' tell. He likes 'em. He always gives me a cent to put in the bag—if he has one. He's poor, too, though, but he's got a daughter growed up 'at keeps him. When I get growed I'll earn. Why, darlin' grandpa, I'll earn such a lot we can have everything we want. I will so and I'll give you all I get. If—if so be, we don't go to the 'Harbor' after all."
The captain stroked his darling's head and felt himself cheered by her hopefulness. Though they were penniless just now, they would not be for long if both set their minds to money getting; and, as for going to "Snug Harbor" without Glory, he would never do that, never.
"Well, well, mate, we're our own masters still; and, when the colonel sends his man for me, I'll tell him 'no,' so plain he'll understand. 'Less I may be off on my rounds, singin' to beat a premer donner. Hark! mess-time already. There goes eight bells. What's for us, cook?"
As he spoke, the little bell, which hung from the ceiling, struck eight tinkling notes and Glory's face clouded. There was nothing in the tiny cupboard on the wall save a remnant of porridge from breakfast, that had cooled and stiffened, and the empty money-bag.
"O grandpa! So soon? Why, I ought to have finished Jane's jacket and took it to her. She'd have paid me an' I'd ha' got the loveliest chop from the store 'round the corner. But now, you dear, you'll just have to eat what is an' make the best of it. Next time it'll be better an' here's your plate."
Humming a tune and making a great flourish of plate and spoon, she placed the porridge before the captain and watched his face anxiously, her heart sinking as she saw the distaste apparent at his first mouthful. He was such a hungry old dear always, and so was she hungry, though she didn't find it convenient to eat upon all such occasions. When there happened to be enough food for but one, she was almost glad of the sailor's blindness. If he smelled one chop cooking on the little stove, how should he guess there weren't two? And if she made a great clatter with knife and plate, how could he imagine she was not eating?
Up till now, Glory could always console herself with dreams of the "Snug Harbor" and the feasts some day to be enjoyed there. Alas! The colonel's words had changed all that. For her there would be no "Harbor," ever; but for him, her beloved grandpa, it was still possible. A great fear suddenly possessed her. What if the captain should get so very, very hungry, that he would be tempted beyond resistance, and forsake her after all! She felt the suspicion unworthy, yet it had come, and as the blind man pushed his plate aside, unable to swallow the unpalatable porridge, she resolved upon her first debt. Laying her hand on his she begged, "Wait a minute, grandpa! I forgot—I mean I didn't get the milk. I'll run round an' be back with it in a jiffy!"
"Got the pay, mate?" he called after her, but, if she heard him, she, for once, withheld an answer.
"O Mister Grocer!" she cried, darting into the dairy shop, like a stray blue and golden butterfly, "could you possibly lend me a cent's worth o' milk for grandpa's dinner? I'll pay you to-night, when I get home from peddlin', if I can. If I can't then, why the next time——"
"Say no more, Take-a-Stitch, I've a whole can turnin' sour on me an' you're welcome to a pint on't if you'll take it. My respects to the captain, and here's good luck to the Queen of Elbow Lane!"
Glory swept him a curtsy, flashed a radiant smile upon him and was tempted to hug him; but she refrained from this, not knowing how such a caress might be received. Then she thanked and thanked him till he bade her stop, and with her tin cup in her hand sped homeward again, crying:
"Here am I, grandpa! More milk 'an you can shake a stick at, with the store-man's respeckses an' all. A hull pint! Think o' that! An' only just a teeny, tiny mite sour. Isn't he the nicest one to give it to us just for nothin'? An' he's another sort of Elbow folks, though he's off a bit around the block. Oh, this is just the loveliest world there is! An' who'd want to go to that old 'Snug Harbor' an' leave such dear, dear people, I sh'd like to know? Not me nor you, Cap'n Simon Beck, an' you know it!"
Glory sat down and watched her grandsire make the best dinner he could upon cold porridge and sour milk, her face radiant with pleasure that she had been able so well to supply him, and almost forgetting that horrid, all-gone feeling in her own small stomach. Never mind, a peanut or so might come her way, if Toni Salvatore, the little Italian with the long name, should happen to be in a good humor and fling them to her, for well he knew that of the stock he trusted to her, not a single goober would be extracted for her personal enjoyment; and this was why he oftener bestowed upon her a tiny bag of the dainties than upon any other of his small sales people.
The captain finished his meal and did not distress his darling by admitting that it was still distasteful, then rose, slung his basket of frames over his shoulder, took Bo'sn's leading-string, and passed out to his afternoon's peddling and singing. But, though he had kissed her good-bye, Glory dashed after him, begging still another and another caress, and feeling the greatest reluctance to letting him go, yet equally unwilling to have him stay.
"If he stays here that man will come and maybe get him, whether or no; an' if he goes, the shiny colonel may meet him outside and take him anyhow. If only he'd sing alongside o' my peddlin' route! But he won't. He never will. He hates to hear me holler. He says 'little maids shouldn't do it'; only I have to, to buy my sewin' things with; an'——My, I clean forgot Posy Jane's jacket! I must hurry an' finish it, then off to peanuttin'," pondered the child, and watched the blind man making his way, so surely and safely, around the corner into the next street, with Bo'sn walking proudly ahead, what tail he had pointing skyward and his one good ear pricked forward, intent and listening.
The old captain in the faded uniform he still wore, and the faithful little terrier, who guided his sightless master through the dangers of the city streets with almost a human intelligence were to Goober Glory the two dearest objects in the world, and for them she would do anything and everything.
"Funny how just them few words that shiny man said has changed our hull feelin's 'bout the 'Harbor.' Only this mornin', 'fore he come, we was a-plannin' how lovely 'twas; an' now—now I just hate it! I'm glad they's water 'twixt us an' that old Staten Island, an' I'm glad we haven't ferry money nor nothin'," cried the little girl, aloud, shaking a small fist defiantly southward toward the land of her lost dreams. Then, singing to make herself forget how hungry she was, she hurried into the littlest house and—shall it be told?—caught up her grandpa's plate and licked the crumbs from it, then inverted the tin cup and let the few drops still left in it trickle slowly down her throat; and such was Glory's dinner.
Afterward she took out needle and thread and heigho! How the neat stitches fairly flew into place, although to make the small patch fill the big hole, there had to be a little pucker here and there. Never mind, a pucker more or less wouldn't trouble happy-go-lucky Jane, who believed little Glory to be the very cleverest child in the whole world and a perfect marvel of neatness; for, in that particular, she had been well trained. The old sea captain would allow no dirt anywhere, being as well able to discover its presence by his touch as he had once been by sight; and, oddly enough, he was as deft with his needle as with his knife.
So, the jacket finished, Glory hurried away up the steep stairs to the great bridge-end, received from the friendly flower-seller unstinted praise and a ripe banana and felt her last anxiety vanish.
"A hull banana just for myself an' not for pay, dear, dear Jane? Oh, how good you are! But you listen to me, 'cause I want to tell you somethin'. Me an' grandpa ain't never goin' to that old 'Snug Harbor,' never, nohow. We wouldn't be hired to. So there."
"Why—why, Take-a-Stitch! Why, be I hearin' or dreamin', I should like to know. Not go there, when I thought you could scarce wait for the time to come? What's up?"
"A shiny rich man from the avenue where such as him lives and what owns the ship grandpa used to master, an' a lot more like it has so much to do with the 'Harbor' 'at he can get anybody in it or out of it just as he pleases. He's been twice to see grandpa an' made him all solemn an' poor-feelin', like he ain't used to bein'. Why, he's even been cross, truly cross, if you'll believe it!"
"Can't, hardly. Old cap'n's the jolliest soul ashore, I believe," said Jane.
"An' if grandpa maybe goes alone, 'cause they don't take little girls, nohow, then that colonel'd have me sent off to one o' them Homeses or 'Sylums for childern that hasn't got no real pas nor mas. Huh, needn't tell me. I've seen 'em, time an' again, walkin' in processions, with Sisters of Charity in wide white flappin' caps all the time scoldin' them poor little girls for laughin' too loud or gettin' off the line or somethin' like that. An' them with long-tailed frocks an' choky kind of aperns an' big sunbonnets, lookin' right at my basket o' peanuts an' never tastin' a single one. Oh, jest catch me! I'll be a newspaper boy, first, but—but, Jane dear, do you s'pose anything—any single thing, such as bein' terrible hungry, or not gettin' paid for frames or singin'—could that make my grandpa go and leave me?"
For at her own breathless vivid picture of the orphanage children, as she had seen them, the doubt concerning the captain's future actions returned to torment her afresh.
"He might be sick, honey, or somethin' like that, but not o' free will. Old Simon Beck'll never forsake the 'light o' his eyes,' as I've heard him call you, time an' again."
"Don't you fret, child," continued Posy Jane. "Ain't you the 'Queen of Elbow Lane'? Ain't all of us, round about, fond of you an' proud of you, same's if you was a real queen, indeed? Who'd look after Mis' McGinty's seven babies, when she goes a scrubbin' the station floors, if you wasn't here? Who'd help the tailor with his job when the fits of coughin' get so bad? 'Twas only a spell ago he was showin' me how't you'd sewed in the linin' to a coat he was too sick to finish an' a praisin' the stitches beautiful. What'd the boys do without you to sew their rags up decent an' tend to their hurt fingers an' share your dinner with 'em when—when you have one an' they don't?
"An' you so masterful like," went on the flower-seller, "a makin' everybody do as you say, whether or no. If it's a scrap in a tenement, is my Glory afraid? not a mite. In she walks, walks she, as bold as bold, an' lays her hand on this one's shoulder an' that one's arm an' makes 'em quit fightin'. Many's the job you've saved the police, Glory Beck, an' that very officer yonder was sayin' only yesterday how't he'd rather have you on his beat than another cop, no matter how smart he might be. He says, says he, 'That little girl can do more to keep the peace in the Lane 'an the best man on the force,' says he. 'It's prime wonderful how she manages it.' An' I up an' tells him nothin' wonderful 'bout it at all.' It's 'cause everybody loves you, little Glory, an' is ashamed not to be just as good as they know you think they be.
"Don't you fret, child," Jane went on, "Elbow folks won't let you go, nor'll the cap'n leave you, and if bad come to worst them asylums are fine. The Sisters is all good an' sweet, givin' their lives to them 'at needs. Don't you get notions, Glory Beck, an' judge folks 'fore you know 'em. If them orphans gets scolded now an' then it does 'em good. They ought to be. So'd you ought, if you don't get off to your peddlin'. It's long past your time. Here's a nickel for the jacket an' you put it safe by 'fore you start out. May as well let me pin one o' these carnations on you, too. They ain't sellin' so fast an' 'twould look purty on your blue frock. Blue an' white an' yeller—frock an' flower an' curly head—they compare right good."
Ere Jane's long gossip was ended, her favorite's fears were wholly banished. With a hug for thanks and farewell, Glory was off and away, and the tired eyes of the toilers in the Lane brightened as she flitted past their dingy windows, waving a hand to this one and that and smiling upon all. To put her earnings away in the canvas bag and catch up her flat, well-mended basket, took but a minute, and, singing as she went, the busy child sped around to that block where Antonio had his stand.
That day the trade in goobers had been slack and other of his small employees had found the peanut-man a trifle cross; but, when Glory's shining head and merry face came into view, his own face cleared and he gave her a friendly welcome.
"A fifty-bagger this time, dear Toni! I've got to get a heap of money after this for grandpa!"
"Alla-right, I fill him," returned the vender; and, having carefully packed the fifty small packets in the shallow basket, he helped her to poise it on her head, as he had long since taught her his own countrywomen did. This was a fine thing for the growing child and gave her a firm erectness not common to young wage-earners. She was very proud of this accomplishment, as was her teacher, Antonio, and had more than once outstripped Billy Buttons in a race, still supporting her burden.
"Sell every bag, little one, and come back to me. I, Antonio Salvatore have secret, mystery. That will I tell when basket empty. Secret bring us both to riches, indeed!"
Crafty Antonio! Well he knew that the little girl's curiosity was great, and had led her into more than one scrape, and that his promise to impart a secret would make her more eager to sell her stock than the small money payment she would earn by doing so.
Glory clasped her hands and opened her brown eyes more widely, entreating, "Now, Toni, dear Tonio, tell first and sell afterward. Please, please."
"No, not so, little one. Sell first, then I tell. If you sell not——" Antonio shrugged his shoulders in a way that meant no sale, no secret. So, already much belated, Goober Glory—as she had now become—was forced to depart to her task, though she turned about once or twice to wave farewell to her employer and to smile upon him, but she meant to make the greatest haste, for, of all delightful things, a secret was best.
In Elbow Lane
This cry shrilled, almost yelled from the sidewalk upon which she was descending from her carriage so startled Miss Bonnicastle that she tripped and fell. In falling, she landed plump in a basket of the nuts and scattered them broadcast.
"Look out there! What you doin'?" indignantly demanded Glory, while a crowd of street urchins gathered to enjoy a feast.
"Help me up, little girl; never mind the nuts," begged the lady, extending her gloved hand.
"You don't mind 'em, 'course. They ain't yours!" retorted the dismayed child, yet seizing the hand with such vigor that she split the glove and brought its owner to an upright position with more precision than grace. Then, paying no further heed to the stranger, she began a boy-to-boy assault upon the purloiners of her wares; and this, in turn, started such an uproar of shrieks and gibes and laughter that poor Miss Laura's nerves gave way entirely. Clutching Glory's shoulder, she commanded, "Stop it, little girl, stop it, right away! You deafen me."
The effect was instant. In astonished silence, the lads ceased struggling and stared at this unknown lady who had dared lay hands on the little "Queen of Elbow Lane." Wild and rough though they were, they rarely interfered with the child, and there was more amazement than anger in Glory's own gaze as it swept Miss Bonnicastle from head to foot. The keen scrutiny made the lady a trifle uncomfortable and, realizing that she had done an unusual thing, she hastened to apologize, saying, "Beg pardon, little girl, I should not have done that, only the noise was so frightful and——"
"Ho, that?" interrupted the peanut vender, with fine scorn. "Guess you ain't used to Elbow boys. That was nothin'. They was only funnin', they was. If they'd been fightin' reg'lar—my, s'pose you'd a fell down again, s'pose."
Wasting no further time upon the stranger, Glory picked up the basket and examined it, her expression becoming very downcast; and, seeing this, the boy who had been fiercest in the scramble stepped closer and asked, "Is it clean smashed, Glory?"
"Clean," she answered, sadly.
"How much'll he dock yer?" asked another lad, taking the damaged article into his own hands. "Pshaw, hadn't no handle, nohow. Half the bottom was tore an' patched with a rag. One side's all lopped over, too. Say, if he docks yer a cent, he's a mean old Dago!"
"Well, ain't he a Dago, Billy Buttons? An' I put in that patch myself. I sewed it a hour, with strings out the garbage boxes, a hull hour. Hi, there! you leave them goobers be!" cried the girl, swooping down upon the few youngsters who had returned to pilfer the scattered nuts and, at once, the two larger boys came to her aid.
"We'll help yer, Glory. An' me an' Nick'll give ye a nickel a-piece, fer new bags, won't we, Nick?" comforted Billy. But, receiving no reply from his partner in the news trade, he looked up to learn the reason. Nick was busily picking up nuts and replacing them in such bags as remained unbroken but he wasn't eager to part with his money. Nickels were not plentiful after one's food was paid for, and though lodgings cost nothing, being any odd corner of floor or pavement adjoining the press-rooms whence he obtained his papers, there were other things he craved. It would have been easy to promise but there was a code in Elbow Lane which enforced the keeping of promises. If one broke one's word one's head was, also, promptly broken. There was danger of this even now and there, because Billy's foot came swiftly up to encourage his mate's generosity.
However, the kick was dexterously intercepted by Glory; Master Buttons was thrown upon his back, and Nick escaped both hurt and promise. With a burst of laughter all three fell to work gathering up the nuts and the small peddler's face was as gay as ever, as she cried:
"Say, boys, 'tain't nigh so bad. Ain't more'n half of 'em busted. I guess the grocer-man'll trust me to that many—he's real good-natured to-day. His jumper's tore, too, so maybe he'll let me work it out." Then, perceiving a peculiar action on the part of the too helpful Billy, she sternly demanded, "What you doin' there, puttin' in them shells that's been all chewed?"
"Huh! That's all right. I jams 'em down in the bottom. They don't show an' fills up faster'n th' others. Gotter make yer losin's good, hain't yer?"
"Yes, Billy Buttons, I have, but I ain't goin' to make 'em cheatin' anybody. What'd grandpa think or say to that? Now you can just empty out every single goober shell you've put in an' fill up square. I'll save them shells by theirselves, so's to have 'em ready next time you yourself want to buy off me."
The beautiful justice of this promise so impressed the newsboy that he turned a somersault, whereby more peanuts were crushed and he earned a fresh reproof.
Miss Bonnicastle had remained an amused observer of the whole scene, though the actors in it had apparently forgotten her presence. To remind them of this, she inquired, "Children, will you please tell me how much your peanuts were worth?"
"Cent a bag!" promptly returned Glory, selecting the best looking packet and holding it toward this possible customer.
"All of them, I mean. I wish to pay you for all of them," explained the lady, opening her purse.
Too surprised to speak for herself, Nick answered for the vender, "They was fifty bags, that's fifty cents, an' five fer commish. If it'd been a hunderd, 'twould ha' been a dime. Glory, she's the best seller Toni Salvatore's got, an' he often chucks her in a bag fer herself, besides. Fifty-five'd be fair, eh, Take-a-Stitch?"
Glancing at Glory's sunny face, Miss Laura did not wonder at the child's success. Almost anybody would buy from her for the sake of bringing forth one of those flashing smiles, but the girl had now found her own voice and indignantly cried:
"Oh, parson, if you ain't the cheat, I never! Chargin' money for goobers what's smashed! Think you'll get a lot for yourself, don't you? Well, you won't an' you needn't look to, so there."
Thus having rebuked her too zealous champion Glory explained to Miss Bonnicastle that "they couldn't be more'n twenty-five good bags left. They belongs to Antonio Salvatore, the peanut man. I was goin' to buy needles an' thread with part, needin' needles most, but no matter. Better luck next time. Do you really want a bag, lady?"
Again the tiny packet was extended persuasively, the small peddler being most anxious to make a sale although her honesty forbade her accepting payment for goods unsold.
But Miss Laura scarcely saw the paper bag, for she was looking with so much interest upon the child's own face. Such a gay, helpful, hopeful small face it was! Beneath a tangle of yellow curls, the brown eyes looked forth so trustfully, and the wide mouth parted in almost continual laughter over white and well-kept teeth. Then the white carnation pinned to the faded, but clean, blue frock, gave a touch of daintiness. Altogether, this seemed a charming little person to be found in such a locality, where, commonly, the people were poor and ill-fed, and looked sad rather than glad. The lady's surprise was expressed in her question, "Little girl, where do you live? How came you in this neighborhood?"
"Why—I belong here, 'course. Me an' grandpa live in the littlest house in Ne' York. Me an' him we live together, all by our two selves, an' we have the nicest times there is. But—but, did you want a bag?" she finished, pleadingly. Time was passing and she was too busy to waste more. She wondered, too, why anybody so rich as to ride in a carriage should tarry thus long in Elbow Lane, though, sometimes, people did get astray and turn into the Lane on their way to cross the big bridge.
"Yes, little Glory, as I heard them call you, I meant just what I said. I wish to buy all your stock as well as pay for a new basket. Will you please invite your friends to share the feast with you? I'm sorry I caused you so much trouble and here, the little boy suggested fifty-five cents, suppose we make it a dollar? Will that be wholly satisfactory?"
The face of Take-a-Stitch was again a study in its perplexity. The temptation to take the proffered money was great, but a sense of justice was even greater. After a pause, she said with complete decision, "It must be this way; you give me the fifty cents for Toni Salvatore—that'll be hisn. You take the goobers an' give 'em to who you want. I won't take no pay for the basket, 'cause I can mend it again; nor for myself, 'cause I hain't earned it. I hain't hollered scarce any to sell such a lot. That's fair. Will I put 'em in your carriage, lady?"
"No, no! Oh, dear! No, indeed. Call your mates and divide among them as you choose. Then—I wonder why my man doesn't come back. The coachman can't leave the horses, and the footman seems to have lost himself looking for a number it should be easy to find."
The children had gathered about Glory who was now beaming with delight at the chance to bestow a treat upon her mates as well as enjoy one herself. Indeed, her hunger made her begin to crack the goobers with her strong white teeth and to swallow the kernels, skins and all. But again Miss Bonnicastle touched her shoulder, though this time most gently, asking:
"If this is Elbow Lane, and you live in or near it, can you show me the way to the house of Captain Simon Beck, an old blind man?"
Glory gasped and dropped her basket. All the rosy color forsook her face and fear usurped its gaiety. For a time, she stared at the handsome old lady in terror, then demanded, brokenly, "Be—you—from—'Snug Harbor'?"
It was now the stranger's turn to stare. Wondering why the child had asked such a question and seemed so startled, she answered, "In a way, both yes and no. I am interested in 'Snug Harbor,' and have come to find an old, blind sea captain whom my brother employed, in order to take him, myself, to that comfortable home. Why do you ask?"
Then Glory fled, but she turned once to shake a warning fist toward Nick and Billy, who instantly understood her silent message and glared defiantly upon the lady who had just given them an unexpected feast.
Beside Old Trinity
"Why, what is the matter? Why did she run away?" asked the astonished stranger.
Billy giggled and punched Nick who was now apportioning the peanuts among the children he had whistled to his side, but neither lad replied.
This vexed Miss Bonnicastle who had come to the Lane in small hope of influencing the old captain to do as her brother had wished him to do and to remove, at once, to the comfortable "Harbor" across the bay. She had undertaken the task at her brother's request; and also at his desire, had driven thither in the carriage, in order to carry the blind man away with her, without the difficulty of getting him in and out of street cars and ferry boat. It would greatly simplify matters if he would just step into the vehicle at his own humble door and step out of it again at the entrance to his new home.
But the Lane had proved even narrower and dirtier than she had expected. She was afraid that having once driven into it the coachman would not be able to drive out again, and the odors of river and market, which the blind seaman found so delightful, made her ill. She had deprived herself of her accustomed afternoon nap; she had sprained her ankle in falling; her footman had been gone much longer than she expected, searching for the captain's house; and though she had been amused by the little scene among the alley children which had been abruptly ended by Glory's flight, she was now extremely anxious to finish her errand and be gone.
In order to rest her aching ankle, she stepped back into the carriage and from thence called to Billy, at the same time holding up to view a quarter dollar.
Master Buttons did not hesitate. He was glad that Nick happened to be looking another way and did not see the shining coin which he meant to have for himself, if he could get it without disloyalty to Glory. Hurrying forward, he pulled off his ragged cap and inquired, "Did you want me, ma'am?"
"Yes, little boy. What is your name?"
"What else? Your surname?" continued the questioner.
"Eh? What? Oh—I guess 'Buttons,' 'cause onct I was a messenger boy. That's what gimme these clo'es, but I quit."
He began to fear there was no money in this job, after all, for the hand which had displayed the silver piece now rested in the lady's lap; and, watching the peanut feasters, he felt himself defrauded of his own rightful share. He stood first upon one bare foot then upon the other, and, with affectation of great haste, pulled a damaged little watch from his blouse and examined it critically. The watch had been found in a refuse heap, and even in its best days had been incapable of keeping time, yet its possession by Billy Buttons made him the envy of his mates.
He did not see the amused smile with which the lady regarded him, and though disappointed by her next question it was, after all, the very one he had anticipated.
"Billy Buttons, will you earn a quarter by showing me the way to where Captain Beck lives? that is, if you know it."
"Oh, I knows it all right, but I can't show it."
"Can't? Why not? Is it too far?"
Billy thought he had never heard anybody ask so many questions in so short a time and was on the point of saying so, impertinently, yet found it not worth while. Instead, he remarked, "I ain't sayin' if it's fur er near, but I guess I better be goin' down to th' office now an' see if they's a extry out. Might be a fire, er murder, er somethin' doin'."
With that courtesy which even the gamins of the streets unconsciously acquire from their betters, Billy pulled off his cap again and moved away. But he was not to escape so easily. Miss Laura's hand clasped his soiled sleeve and forth came another question, "Billy, is that little girl your sister?"
"Hey? No such luck fer Buttons. She ain't nobody's sister, she ain't. She just belongs to the hull Lane, Glory does. Huh! Take-a-Stitch my sister? Wished she was. She's only cap'n—— Shucks!" Having so nearly betrayed himself, Billy broke from the restraining hand and disappeared.
Miss Bonnicastle sighed and leaned back upon her cushions, feeling that something evil must have befallen her faithful footman to keep him so long away, and almost deciding to give up this apparently hopeless quest. Then she discovered that Nick had drawn near. Possibly, he would act as her guide, even if his mate had refused. She again held up the quarter and beckoned the lad.
He responded promptly, his eyes glittering with greed as they fixed upon the coin—not to be removed from it till it was in his own possession, no matter how many questions were asked. These began at once, in a crisp, imperative tone.
"Little boy, tell me your name."
"Nick, the parson."
"Indeed? Nick Parsons, I suppose. Is it?"
"No'm. I'm Nicky Dodd. I got a father. He's Dodd. So be I, 'course. But the fellers stuck it onto me 'cause—'cause onct I went to a Sunday-school."
"Don't you go now, Nick Dodd?"
"No, indeedy! Ketch me!" laughed the boy, watching the gleam of the money his questioner held so lightly between her gloved fingers. What if she should drop it! If some other child should see it fall and seize it before he could! "Was—was you a-wantin' somethin' of me, lady?"
"Yes, I was. Will you show me the way to Captain Beck's house?"
Now Nick loved Glory as well as Billy did and he had as fully understood from her warning gesture that he was to give this stranger no information concerning her or her grandfather, but, alas! he also loved money, and he so rarely had it. Just then, too, the "Biggest Show On Earth" was up at Madison Square Garden and, if Nick had not remembered that enticing circus, he might not have betrayed his friend. Yet those wonderful trained animals——Ah!
"Fer that quarter? Ye-es, ma'am, I—I—will," stammered the lad.
So Miss Laura again left her carriage and walked the narrow, dirty length of the Lane, past the sharp bend which gave it its name of "Elbow," far down among the warehouses and wharves crowding the approach to the bridge. As she walked, she still asked questions and found that all the dwellers in the Lane were better known by their employments than their real names, how that Glory's deftness with a needle had made her "Take-a-Stitch," and anybody might guess why Jane was called "Posy" or Captain Beck had become the "Singer." Besides, she discovered that this ragged newsboy was as fond and proud of his "Lane" as she was of her avenue, and that if she had any pity to bestow, she needn't waste it on him or his mates and that——
"There 'tis! The littlest house in Ne' York," concluded Nick, proudly pointing forward, seizing the coin she held so carelessly, and vanishing.
"Well! have I become a scarecrow that all these children desert me so suddenly!" exclaimed Miss Laura, looking helplessly about and lifting her skirts the higher to avoid the dirty suds which somebody was emptying into the gutter.
"Ma'am?" asked the woman with the tub, dropping it and with arms akimbo staring amazedly at the stranger. How had such a fine madam come there? "Was you a-lookin' for somebody, ma'am?"
Miss Laura turned her sweet old face toward the other, Meg-Laundress, and answered, "Yes, for one, Captain Simon Beck. A boy told me this tiny place was where he lives—though it doesn't seem possible any one could really live in so small a room—and it's empty now, anyway. Do you know where he is?"
"Off a-singin' likely. He mostly is, this time o' day."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I have come——" Miss Bonnicastle checked herself, unwilling to disclose to this rough stranger affairs in which she had no concern. "I was told he had a grandchild living with him. Is she anywhere about?"
"Glory? She's off peddlin' her goobers, I s'pose. I can give 'em any word that's left," said Meg, with friendly interest.
"Glory? Is her name Glory? Is it she I saw with a basket of peanuts, a yellow haired, bright-faced little girl, in a blue frock?" cried the lady, eagerly, and recalling the child's inquiry about "Snug Harbor" felt that she should have guessed as much even then.
"Sure. The purtiest little creatur' goin'; or, if not so purty, so good-natured an' lovin'. Why, she's all the sunlight we gets in the Lane, Glory is, an', havin' her, some on us don't 'pear to need no more. Makes all on us do her say-so but always fer our own betterment. In an' out, up an' down, lendin' a hand or settin' a stitch or tendin' a baby, all in the day's work, an' queenin' it over the hull lot, that's our 'Goober Glory,' bless her! And evil to anybody would harm the child, say I! Though who'd do ill to her? Is't a bit of word you'd be after leavin', ma'am?" said Meg, with both kindness and curiosity.
"Thank you. If you see either of them, will you say that Miss Bonnicastle, Colonel Bonnicastle's sister, will be here again in the morning, unless it storms, upon important business? Ask them to wait here for me, please. I should not like to make a second useless trip. Good-afternoon."
As the gentlewoman turned and made her way back along the alley toward her distant carriage, which could come no nearer to her because the Lane was so narrow, Meg watched and admired her, reflecting with some pride:
"She's the real stuff, that old lady is. Treated me polite 's if I was the same sort she is. I wonder what's doin' 'twixt her an' the Becks? Well, I'll find out afore I sleep, or my name ain't Meg-Laundress, an' I say it. Guess Jane'll open her eyes when I up an' tells her how one them grand folks she sees crossin' the bridge so constant has got astray in the Lane an' come a visitin', actilly a visitin', one our own folks. But then, I always knowed, we Elbowers was a touch above some, an' now she'll know it, too.
"I do wish the cap'n would come in," continued Meg. "But 'twill be a long spell yet afore he does. An', my land! I must sure remind him to put on his other shirt in the mornin'. He don't never get no sile on him, the cap'n don't, yet when grand carriage folks comes a callin', it's a time for the best or nothin'."
By a roundabout way, Glory had hurried, breathlessly, to her tiny home, fearing that by some mischance grandpa might have returned to it, and that this fresh advocate of the "Harbor" would find him there. She was such a pretty old lady, she had such a different manner from that of the Lane women, she might persuade the gallant old captain to accompany her to the asylum, whether or no. If he were at home, Glory meant to coax him elsewhere; or, if he would not go, then she would remain and use her own influence against that of this dangerous stranger.
One glance showed her that all was yet safe. The tiny room was empty and neither "Grandpa!" nor "Bo'sn!" answered to her call.
"I hain't got no goobers to sell now an' them boys won't show her a step of the way an' she couldn't get here so quick all herself without bein' showed so I may as well rest a minute," said Glory to herself, and sat down on the narrow threshold to get cool and to decide upon what she should do.
But she could not sit still. A terrible feeling that these strangers were determined to separate her from her grandfather made her too restless. It was natural, she thought, that they should wish to do him a kindness, such as providing him with a fine home for life. He was a grown-up man and a very clever one, while she was only a little girl, of no account whatever. They didn't care about her, 'course, but him——
"I must go find him! I must keep him away, clear, clear away from the Lane till it gets as dark as dark. Then we can come home an' sleep. Such as them don't come here o' nights," cried Glory, springing up. "An' I'm glad grandpa is blind. If he went right close by them two he couldn't see 'em, an' she, she, anyway, don't know him. I wonder where best to look first. I s'pose Broadway, 'cause that's where he gets the most money. They's such a heap of folks on that wide street an' it's so nice to look at."
Having decided her route, Glory was off and away. She dared not think about Toni Salvatore and his anger. She did not see how she would ever be able to repay him for his loss and she could remember nothing at all about the money Miss Bonnicastle had offered her. If Billy or Nick had taken it, they would give it to her, of course; but if not—well, that was a small matter compared to the spiriting away of her grandfather and she must find him and hold him fast.
"Grandpa don't go above the City Hall, 'cause Bo'sn don't know the way so well. Up fur's there an' down to Trinity; that's the 'tack he sails' an' there I'll seek him. I wish one them boys was here to help me look, though if he was a-singin' I shouldn't need nobody."
So thinking and peering anxiously into the midst of every crowd and listening with keen intentness, the little girl threaded her way to the northern limit of the captain's accustomed "beat." But there was no sign nor sound of him upon the eastern side of the thoroughfare, and, crossing to the more crowded western side, she crept southward, step by step, scanning every face she passed and looking into every doorway, for in such places the blind singer sometimes took his station, to avoid the jostling of the passers-by.
"Maybe I'll have to go 'way down to the Battery, 'cause he does, often. Though 'seems he couldn't hardly got there yet."
Now Glory was but a little girl, and, in watching the shifting scenes of the busy street, she soon forgot her first anxiety and became absorbed in what was around her. And when she had walked as far southward as old Trinity, there were the lovely chimes ringing and, as always, a mighty crowd had paused to listen to them. Glory loved the chimes, and so did grandpa; and it was their habit on every festival when they were to be rung to come and hear them. Always the child was so moved by these exquisite peals that when they ceased she felt as if she had been in another world, and it was so now. To hear every tone better, she had clasped her hands and closed her eyes and uplifted her rapt face; and so standing upon the very curb, she was rudely roused by a commotion in the crowd about her.
There was the tramping of horses' feet, the shouts of the police, the "Ahs!" and "Ohs!" of pity which betokened some accident.
"Out the way, child! You'll be crushed in this jam! Keep back there, people! Keep back!"
Glory made herself as small as she could and shrank aside. Then curiosity sent her forward again to see and listen.
"An old man!"
"Looks as if he were blind!"
"Back those horses! Make way—the ambulance—make way!"
"All over with that poor fellow! A pity, a pity!"
These exclamations of the onlookers and the orders of the policemen mingled in one harsh clamor, yet leaving distinct upon Glory's hearing the words, "An old blind man."
"Oh, how sorry grandpa will be to know that!" thought the child, and, with eagerness to learn every detail of the sad affair, stooped and wormed her way beneath elbows and between legs till she had come to the very roadbed down which an ambulance was dashing at highest speed, its clanging bell warning everything from its path. Right before the curb where she stood it paused, uniformed men sprang to the pavement and, with haste that was still reverent and tender, laid the injured man upon the stretcher; then off and away again, and the little girl had caught but the faintest glimpse of a gray head and faded blue garments, yet thought:
"Might be another old captain, it might. Won't grandpa be sorry—if I tell him. Maybe I shan't, though I must hurry up an' find him, 'cause seein' that makes me feel dreadful lonesome, 'seems if. Oh! I do wish nobody ever need get hurted or terrible poor, or anything not nice! And—oh, oh, there's that very lady I run away from, what come to the Lane! Drivin' down in her very carriage and if——She mustn't see me! She must not—'less she's got him in there with her a'ready! What if!"
Miss Bonnicastle's laudau was, indeed, being carefully driven through the jam of wagons which had stopped to give the ambulance room and she was anxiously watching the inch-by-inch progress of her own conveyance. Yet with an expression of far keener anxiety, Goober Glory recklessly darted into the very tangle of wheels and animals, crying aloud:
"She's goin' straight down toward that 'Harbor' ferry! Like's not she's heard him singin' somewhere an' coaxed him to get in there with her. He might be th' other side—where I can't see—an' I must find out—I must! For——What if!"
She reached the carriage steps, sprang upon them, by one glance satisfying herself that the lady was alone, turned to retreat, but felt herself falling.
A Desolate Awakening
"You little dunce! Don't you know better than do that?"
An indignant shake accompanied these words, with which the big policeman set Glory down upon the sidewalk after having rescued her from imminent death.
In the instant of her slipping from the carriage step, the child had realized her own peril and would most certainly have been trampled under the crowding, iron-shod hoofs, had not the officer been on the very spot, trying to prevent accidents, and to keep clear from each other the two lines of vehicles, one moving north, the other south.
Glory was so rejoiced to find herself free and unhurt that she minded neither the shaking nor the term "dunce," but instantly caught the rescuer's hand and kissed it rapturously, crying, "Oh, thank you, thank you! Grandpa would have felt so bad if I'd been hurt like that poor blind man. Oh, I wish I could do somethin' for you, you dear, splendid p'liceman!"
"Well, you can. You can remember that a young one's place is at home, not in the middle of the street. There, that will do. Be off with you and never cut up such a caper again, long's you live. It would have been 'all day' with you, if I hadn't been just where I was, and two accidents within five minutes is more'n I bargain for. Be off!"
Releasing his hand, he returned to his task among the wagons but carried with him a pleasant memory of a smile that was so grateful and so gay; while Glory, subdued by what she had gone through, slowly resumed her search for her missing grandfather. Away down to the South ferry she paced, looking and listening everywhere. Then back again on the other side of the long street till she had reached the point nearest to Elbow Lane and still no sign of a blue-coated old man or a little dog with a stub of a tail and but one good ear.
"Well, it's nigh night now, an' he'll be comin' home. Most the folks what gives him pennies or buys his frames has left Broadway so I might as well go myself. Come to think, I guess I better not tell grandpa 'bout that poor hurted man. Might make him 'fraid to go round himself with nobody 'cept Bo'sn to take care of him an' him a dog. An' oh, dear! Whatever shall I do for sewin' things, now I didn't get no goober money? Well, anyway, there's that nickel o' Jane's will buy a chop for his supper an' I best hurry get it ready. He's always so terrible hungry when he comes off his 'beat.' An' me—why, I b'lieve I hain't eat a thing to-day, save my breakfast porridge an' Jane's banana, an' two er three goobers. Never mind, likely grandpa'll bring in somethin' an' I can eat to-morrow."
Back to the littlest house she ran, singing to forget her appetite, and whisked out the key of the tiny door from its hiding-place beneath the worn threshold, yet wondering a little that grandpa should not already have arrived.
"Never mind, I'll have everything done 'fore. Then when he does get here all he'll have to do'll be to eat an' go to bed," she said to herself. Glory was such a little chatterbox that when she had no other listener she made one of herself.
The corner-grocer was just taking his own supper of bread and herrings on the rear end of his small counter when she entered, demanding, "The very best an' biggest chop you've got for a nickel, Mister Grocer; or if you could make it a four-center an' leave me a cent's worth o' bread to go along it, 't would be tastier for grandpa."
"Sure enough, queeny, sure enough. 'Pears like I brought myself fortune when I give you that pint o' milk. I've had a reg'lar string o' customers sence, I have. An' here, what you lookin' so sharp at that one chop for? Didn't you know I was goin' to make it two, an' loaf accordin'?"
Glory swallowed fast. This was almost too tempting for resistance, but she had been trained to a horror of debt and had resolved upon that slight one, earlier in the day, only because she could not see her grandfather distressed. Her own distress——Huh! That was an indifferent matter.
The corner groceries of the poor are also their meat markets, bakeries, and dairies, and there was so much in the crowded little shop that was alluring that the child forced herself to look diligently out of the door into the alley lest she should be untrue to her training. In a brief time the shopman called, "All ready, Take-a-Stitch! Here's your parcel."
Glory faced about and gasped. That was such a very big parcel toward which he pointed that she felt he had made a mistake and so reminded him, "Guess that ain't mine, that ain't. One chop an' a small roll 'twas. That must be Mis' Dodd's, 'cause she's got nine mouths to feed, savin' Nick's 'at he feeds himself."
"Not so, neighbor. It's yourn. The hull o' it. They's only a loaf, a trifle stale—one them three-centers, kind of mouldy on the corners where't can be cut off—an' two the finest chops you ever set your little white teeth into. They're all yourn."
The grocer enjoyed doing this kindness as heartily as she enjoyed receiving it, although he was so thrifty that he made his own meal from equally stale bread and some unsalable dried fish. But, after a momentary rapture at the prospect of such delicious food, Glory's too active conscience interfered, making her say, with a regret almost beyond expression, "I mustn't, I mustn't. Grandpa wouldn't like it, 'cause he says 'always pay's you go or else don't go,' an' that nickel's all I've got."
"No, 'tisn't. Not by a reckonin'. You've got the nimblest pair o' hands I know an' I've got the shabbiest coat. I'm fair ashamed to wear it to market, yet I ain't a man 'shamed of trifles. If you'll put them hands of yourn and that coat o' mine together, I'd be like to credit you a quarter, an' you find the patches."
"A quarter! A hull, endurin' quarter of a dollar! You darlin' old grocer-man. 'Course I will, only I—I'm nigh out o' thread, but I've got a power o' patches. I've picked 'em out the ash-boxes an' washed 'em beautiful. An' they're hung right on our own ceiling in the cutest little bundle ever was—an'—I love you, I love you; Give me the coat, quick, right now, so's I can run an' patch it, an' you see if I don't do the best job ever!"
"Out of thread, be you? Well, here, take this fine spool o' black linen an' a needle to fit. A workman has to have his tools, don't he? I couldn't keep store if I didn't have things to sell, could I? Now, be off with you, an' my good word to the cap'n."
There wasn't a happier child in all the great city than little Take-a-Stitch as she fairly flew homeward to prepare the most delicious supper there had been in the littlest house for many a day. Down came the tiny gas stove from its shelf, out popped a small frying pan from some hidden cubby and into it went a dash of salt and the two big chops. Oh, how delightful was their odor, and how Glory's mouth did water at thought of tasting! But that was not to be till grandpa came. She hoped that would be at once, before they cooled; for the burning of gas, their only fuel, was managed with strictest economy. It would seem a wasteful sin to light the stove again to reheat the chops, as she would have to do if the captain was not on hand soon.
Alas! they were cooked to the utmost limit of that brown crispness which the seaman liked, and poor Glory had turned faint at the delayed enjoyment of her own supper, when she felt she must turn out the blaze or ruin all. Covering the pan to keep its contents hot as long as might be, she sat down on the threshold to wait; and, presently, was asleep.
It had grown quite dark before the touch of a cold wet nose upon the palm of her hand aroused her, and there was Bo'sn, rubbing his side against her knee and uttering a dismal sort of sound that was neither bark nor howl, but a cross between both and full of painful meaning.
"Bo'sn! You? Then grandpa—oh, grandpa, darlin', darlin', why didn't you wake me? I've got the nicest supper——Smell?"
With that she sprang up and darted within, over the few feet of space there was, but nobody was in sight; then out again, to call the captain from some spot where he had doubtless paused to exchange a bit of neighborly gossip. To him the night was the same as the day, the child remembered, and though it wasn't often he overstayed his regular hour, or forgot his meal-time, he might have done so now. Oh, yes, he might easily have done so, she assured herself. But why should Bo'sn forsake his master and come home alone? He had never done that before, never. And why, oh, why, did he make that strange wailing noise? He frightened her and must stop it.
"Quiet, boy, quiet!" she ordered, clasping the animal's head so that he was forced to look up into her face. "Quiet, and tell me—where is grandpa? Where did you leave grandpa?"
Of course, he could not answer, save by ceasing to whine and by gazing at her with his loving brown eyes as if they must tell for him that which he had seen.
Then, seized by an overwhelming anxiety, which she would not permit herself to put into a definite fear, she shook the dog impatiently and started down the Lane. It was full of shadows now, which the one gas street lamp deepened rather than dispersed, and she did not see a woman approaching until she had run against her. Then she looked up and exclaimed, "Oh, Posy Jane! You just gettin' home? Have you seen my grandpa?"
"The cap'n? Bless you, child, how should I, seein' he don't sing on the bridge. Ain't he come in yet?"
"No, and oh, Jane, dear Jane, I'm afraid somethin' 's happened to him. He never, never stayed away so late before an' Bo'sn came alone. What s'pose?"
The flower-seller had slipped an arm about the child's shoulders and felt them trembling, and though an instant alarm had filled her own heart, she made light of the matter to give her favorite comfort.
"What do I s'pose? Well, then, I s'pose he's stayin' away lest them rich folks what runs the 'Harbor' comes again an' catches him unbeknownst. Don't you go fret, honey. Had your supper?"
"No, Jane, an' it's such a splendid one. That lovely grocer man——"
"Ugh!" interrupted the woman, with a derisive shrug of her shoulders. "You're the beatin'est child for seein' handsomeness where 'tain't."
"Oh, I 'member you don't like him much, 'cause onct he give short measure o' flour, or somethin', but he is good an' I didn't mean purty, an' just listen!"
Jane did listen intently to the story of the grocer's unusual generosity, and she hearkened, also, for the sound of a familiar, hesitating footstep and the thump of a heavy cane, such as would reveal the captain's approach long before he might be seen, but the Lane was very silent. It was later than Glory suspected and almost all the toilers were in their beds. It was late, even for the flower-seller, who had been up-town to visit an ailing friend and had tarried there for supper.
Jane had always felt it dangerous for a blind man, like the old seaman, to go about the city, attended only by a dog, but she knew, too, that necessity has no choice. The Becks must live and only by their united industry had they been able to keep even their tiny roof over their heads thus far. If harm had come to him—what would become of Glory? Well, time enough to think of that when the harm had really happened. The present fact was that the little girl was famishing with hunger yet had a fine supper awaiting her. She must be made to eat it without further delay.
"Come, deary, we'll step along an' you eat your own chop, savin' hisn till he sees fit to come get it. A man 'at has sailed the ocean hitherty-yender, like Cap'n Simon Beck has, ain't likely to get lost in the town where he was born an' raised. Reckon some them other old crony cap'ns o' hisn has met an' invited him to eat along o' them. That Cap'n Gray, maybe, or somebody. First you know, we'll hear him stumpin' down the Lane, singin' 'A life on the ocean wa-a-ave,' fit to rouse the entire neighborhood. You eat your supper an' go to bed, where children ought to be long 'fore this time."
Posy Jane's tone was so confident and cheerful that Glory forgot her anxiety and remembered only that chop which was awaiting her. The pair hurried back to the littlest house which the flower-seller seemed entirely to fill with her big person, but she managed to get about sufficiently to relight the little stove, place Glory in her own farthest corner, and afterward watch the child enjoy her greatly needed food.
When Glory had finished, she grew still more happy, for physical comfort was added to that of her friend's words; nor did Jane's kindness stop there. She herself carefully covered the pan with the captain's portion in it, and bade Glory undress and climb into her little hammock that swung from the side of the room opposite the seaman's. This she also let down and put into it the pillow and blanket.
"So he can go right straight to sleep himself without botherin' you, honey. Come, Bo'sn, you've polished that bone till it shines an' you quit. Lie right down on the door-sill, doggie, an' watch 'at nobody takes a thing out the place, though I don't know who would, that belongs to the Lane, sure enough. But a stranger might happen by an' see somethin' temptin' 'mongst the cap'n's belongings. An' so good-night to you, little Take-a-Stitch, an' pleasant dreams."
Then Posy Jane, having done all she could for the child she loved betook herself to her room in Meg-Laundress's small tenement, though she would gladly have watched in the littlest house for the return of its master, a return which she continually felt was more and more doubtful. And Glory slept peacefully the whole night through. Nor did Bo'sn's own uneasy slumbers disturb her once. Not till it was broad daylight and much later than her accustomed hour for waking, did she open her eyes and glance across to that other hammock where should have rested a dear gray head.
It was still empty, and the fact banished all her drowsiness. With a bound she was on her feet and at the door, looking out, all up and down the Lane. Alas! He was nowhere in sight and, turning back into the tiny room, she saw his supper still untasted in the pan where Jane had left it. Then with a terrible conviction, which turned her faint, she dropped down on the floor beside Bo'sn, who was dolefully whining again, and hugged him to her breast, crying bitterly, "They have got him! They have got him! He'll never come again!"
The Beginning of the Search
"O Bo'sn, Bo'sn! Where did you leave him? You never left him before—never, not once! Oh, if you could only talk!" cried poor Glory, at last lifting her head and releasing the dog whom she had hugged till he choked.
His brown eyes looked back into her own pleading ones as if he, too, longed for the gift of speech and he licked her cheek as if he would comfort her. Then he threw back his own head, howled dismally, and dejectedly curled himself down beneath the captain's hammock.
Little Take-a-Stitch pondered a moment what she had best do in order to find her grandfather and, having decided, made haste to dress. The cold water from the spigot in the corner refreshed her and seemed to clear her thoughts, but she did not stop to eat anything, though she offered a crust of the dry loaf to the dog. He, also, refused the food and the little girl understood why. Patting him on the head she exclaimed:
"We both of us can't eat till he comes, can we, Bo'sn dear? Well, smart doggie, put on your sharpest smeller an' help to track him whichever way he went. You smell an' I'll look, an' 'twixt us we'll hunt him quick's-a-wink. Goin' to find grandpa, Bo'sn Beck! Come along an' find grandpa!"
Up sprang the terrier, all his dejection gone, and leaped and barked as joyfully as if he fully understood what she had said. Then, waiting just long enough to lock the tiny door and hide the key in its accustomed place, so that if the captain came home before she did he could let himself in, she started down the Lane, running at highest speed with Bo'sn keeping pace. So running, she passed the basement window where Meg-Laundress was rubbing away at her tub full of clothes and tossed that good woman a merry kiss.
"Guess the old cap'n's back, 'less Glory never 'd look that gay," thought Meg, and promptly reported her thought to Posy Jane who was just setting out for her day's business. She was already over-late and was glad to accept Meg's statement as fact and thus save the time it would have taken to visit the littlest house and learn there how matters really stood. It thus happened that neither of Glory's best friends knew the truth of the case nor that the child had set off on a hopeless quest, without food or money or anything save her own strong love and will to help her.
"But we're goin' to find grandpa, Bo'sn, an' we don't mind a thing else. Don't take so very long to get to that old 'Harbor,' an' maybe he might have a bite o' somethin' saved up 'at he could give us, though we don't neither of us want to eat 'fore we get him back, do we, doggie?" cried the child as they sped along and trying not to notice that empty feeling in her stomach.
But they had gone no further than the end of the Lane before they collided with Nick, the parson, just entering it. He had finished his morning's sale of papers and was feeling hungry for his own breakfast and, as Take-a-Stitch ran against him, demanded rather angrily, "What you mean, Goober Glory, knockin' a feller down that way?"
"O Nick! Have you seen grandpa?"
"Seen the cap'n? How should I? Ain't this his time o' workin' on his frames?"
Glory swiftly told her trouble and Nick's face clouded in sympathy. Finally he suggested, "They was a old blind feller got run over on Broadway yest'day. Likely 'twas him an' that's why. 'Twas in the paper all right, 'cause I heard a man say how't somethin' must be done to stop such accidentses. Didn't hear no name but, 'course, 'twas the cap'n. Posy Jane always thought he'd get killed, runnin' round loose, like he did, without nobody but a dog takin' care."
Glory had clutched Nick's shoulder and was now shaking him with what little strength seemed left to her after hearing his dreadful words. As soon as she could recover from that queer feeling in her throat, and was able to speak, she indignantly denied the possibility of this terrible thing being true.
"'Tis no such thing, Nick Dodd, an' you know it! Wasn't I there, right alongside, when't happened? Wasn't I a-listenin' to them very chimes a-ringin' what he listens to every time he gets a chanst? Don't you s'pose I'd know my own grandpa when I saw him? Huh!"
"Did—you see him, Glory Beck? How'd come them amberlance fellers let a kid like you get nigh enough to see a thing? Hey?"
Glory gasped as the remembrance came that she had not really seen the injured man but that the slight glimpse of his clothing and his white hair had been, indeed, very like her grandfather's. Still, this awful thing could not, should not be true! Better far that dreaded place, Snug Harbor, where, at least, he would be alive and well cared for.
"Oh, I got nigh. I got nigh enough to get knocked down my own self, an' be picked up by one them 'finest' p'licemens, what marches on Broadway. He shook me fit to beat an' set me on the sidewalk an' scolded me hard, but I didn't care, 'cause I was so glad to keep alive an' not be tooken off to a hospital, like that old man was. Huh! You needn't go thinkin' nor sayin' that was Grandpa Simon Beck, 'cause I know better. I shan't have it that 'twas, so there."
Glory's argument but half-convinced herself and only strengthened Nick's opinion. However, his own mind was troubled. He felt very guilty for having guided Miss Bonnicastle to the littlest house, and the quarter-dollar earned by that treacherous deed seemed to burn through his pocket into his very flesh. Besides that coin, he had others in store, having had a successful morning, and the feeling of his affluence added to another feeling slowly awakening within him. This struggling emotion may have been generosity and it may have been remorse. Whatever it was, it prompted him to say, "Look-a-here, Glory, I'll help ye. I've got to go get somethin' t'eat, first off. Then, listen, you hain't got no money, have ye?"
"What o' that? I've got eyes, an' I've got Bo'sn. I'm goin' to the ferry an' I'm goin' tell the ferry man just how 'tis. That I must—I must be let go over to that Staten Island on that boat, whether or no. Me an' a dog won't take up much room, an', if he won't let me, I'll wait round till I get some sort o' job an' earn the money to pay. You needn't think, Nick Parson, that a teeny thing like a few centses will keep me from grandpa. I'd go to Toni an' ask him only—only—I don't know a thing what come o' that fifty-five cents the lady paid for the goobers, an' so I s'pose he'd be mad an' wouldn't trust me. Besides, grandpa always said to 'Pay as you go,' an' now I seem—I seem—to want to do what he told more'n ever. O Nick Dodd! What if—what if—he shouldn't never—never come—no—more!"
Poor Glory's courage gave way at last and, without ado, she flung herself upon Nick as she had done upon Bo'sn and clung to him as chokingly.
"Now, this is a purty fix, now ain't it?" thought the victim of her embrace, casting a wary eye up and down the Lane, lest any mate should see and gibe at him, and call him a "softy." Besides, for Glory to become sentimental—if this was sentiment—was as novel as for him to be generous. So, to relieve the situation, the newsboy put these two new things together and wrenched himself free, saying, "Quit it, Glory Beck! I got to breathe same's another, ain't I? You look a-here. See that cash? Well, I'll tell ye, I'll go fetch my grub——Had any yerself, Glory Beck?"
The question was spoken like an accusation and Glory resented it, answering quickly, "I don't know as that's anythin' to you, Nick Parson!"
"'Course. But I'll fetch enough fer two an' I'll tell ye, I'll go to that 'Snug Harbor' my own self, a payin' my own way, I will. I can afford it an' you can't. If so be the cap'n 's there, I'll fetch him out lickety-cut. If he ain't, why then, 'twas him was killed. See?"
"No, I don't see. Maybe they wouldn't let a boy in, anyhow."
"Pooh! They're sure to. Ain't I on the papers? Don't newsboys go anywhere they want, same's other press folks? Hey?"
Glory admitted that they did. She had often seen them jumping on and off of street cars at the risk of their lives and without hindrance from the officials. Also, the lad's offer to share his breakfast with her was too tempting to be declined. As he hurried away toward his poor home, she sat down on the threshold of the warehouse before which they had talked to wait, calling after him, "Don't forget a bite for Bo'sn, Nick!"
"All right!" he returned, and disappeared within his own cellar doorway.
Already Glory's heart was happier. She would not allow herself to think it possible that her grandfather was hurt, and Nick's willingness to help was a comfort. Maybe he would even take her with him, though she doubted it. However, she put the question to him as he reappeared with some old scraps in a torn newspaper, but while they were enjoying these as best they could and sharing the food with Bo'sn, Nick unfolded a better plan.
"Ye see, Take-a-Stitch, it's this way—no use wastin' eight cents on a old ferry when four'll do. You look all over Broadway again. Then, if he ain't anywheres 'round there, go straight to them other crony captains o' hisn an' see. Bein's he can't tell difference 'twixt night an' day, how'd he know when to come back to the Lane, anyway?"
"He always come 'fore," answered Glory, sorrowfully.
It was a new thing for Nick to take the lead in anything which concerned the little girl, who was the recognized leader of all the Lane children, and it made him both proud and more generous. Yielding to a wild impulse that now seized him, with a gesture of patronage, he drew from his pocket Miss Bonnicastle's quarter and dropped it in Glory's lap.
She stared at it, then almost gasped the question, "What—what's it for, Nick Dodd?"
"Fer—you!" cried the boy. He might have added that it was "conscience money," and that the unpleasant burning in his pocket had entirely ceased the instant he had rid himself of the ill-gotten coin, because at the time he had guided Miss Laura to the littlest house he had not tarried to learn how fruitless her visit was; else he might have felt less like a traitor. As it was, he tossed his head and answered loftily, "Don't do fer girls to go trav'lin' round 'ithout cash. You ain't workin' to-day an'—an' ye may need it. Newspaper men—well, we can scrape along 'most anyhow. Hello, here's Buttons!"
A cheery whistle announced the arrival of the third member of this intimate trio, and presently Billy came in sight around the Elbow, his freckled face as gay as the morning despite the facts that he still carried some unsold papers under his arm and that he had just emerged from a street fight, rather the worse for that event.
Glory's fastidiousness was shocked, and, forgetting her own trouble in disgust at his carelessness, she exclaimed, "You bad Billy Buttons! There you've gone lost two more your buttons what I sewed with my strongest thread this very last day ever was! An' your jacket——What you been doin' with yourself, Billy Buttons?"
The newcomer seated himself between his friends, though in so doing he crowded Nick from the door-sill to the sidewalk, and composedly helped himself to what was left of their scanty breakfast. Better than nothing he found it and answered, as he ate, Glory's repeated inquiry, "What doin'? Why, scrappin', 'course. Say, parson, you hear me? They's a new feller come on our beat an' you chuck him, soon's ye see him. I jest punched him to beat, but owe him 'nother, 'long o' this tear. Sew it, Take-a-Stitch?"
"Can't, Billy. I've got to hunt grandpa. Oh, Billy, Billy, he hain't never come home!"
The newsboy paused in the munching of a crust and whistled, but this time in dismay rather than good cheer. Then he demanded, "What ye givin' us?"
The others explained, both talking at once, though Master Buttons soon silenced his partner in trade that he might better hear the girl's own story. When she had finished, and now with a fresh burst of tears, he whistled again; then ordered:
"Quit snivelin', Glory Beck! A man ain't dead till he dies, is he? More'n likely 'twas the old cap'n got hurt but that ain't nothin'. Why, them hospitals is all chuck full o' smash-up folks, an' it's jest meat fer them doctor-fellers to mend 'em again. He ain't dead, an' don't you believe it; but dead or alive we'll find him 'fore dark.
"Fer onct," continued Billy, "the parson's showed some sense. He might's well do the 'Harbor,' 'cause that's only one place an' he can't blunder much—seems if. You take the streets, same's he said; and I—if you'll put a needle an' thread through me, bime-by, after he's found, I'll go find him an' call it square. I'll begin to the lowest down end the city hospitals they is an' I'll interview 'em, one by one, clean up to the Bronx. If Cap'n Beck is in any one, I'll fetch him out, judge, an' don't you forget it."
This division of the search pleased Glory and, springing up, the trio separated at once, nor did they meet again till nightfall. Alas! when reassembled then in the littlest house none had good news to tell.
"They ain't been no new old cap'ns tooken in to that 'Harbor' this hull week. Th' sailor what keeps the gate said so an' was real decent. Said he'd heard o' Cap'n Beck, he had, an' if he'd a-come he'd a-knowed. Told me better call ag'in, might get there yet, an' I'll go," reported Nick, putting a cheerful tone into his words for pity of Glory's downcast face.
"Didn't do a quarter th' hospitals they is, but he ain't in none them I have," said Billy. "But I'll tell ye. They's a man on our force reports all the accidentses an' I'll see him to-night, when I go for my papers, an' get him to hunt, too. He's worth while an' me an' him's sort o' pardners. I give him p'ints an' he 'lows I'll be a reporter myself, when I'm bigger. An' say, I sold a pape' to a man couldn't stop fer change an' I've got three cream-puffs in this bag. That's fer our suppers, an' me an' Nick's goin' to stay right here all night an' take care of ye, Take-a-Stitch, an' leave the door open, so cap'n can come straight in if he happens 'long 'fore mornin'."
"An' I've been to every single place he ever sung at, every single. An' to all the captains, an'—an'—every, everywhere! An' he ain't! But I will find him. I will!" cried Glory, resolutely. "An' you're dear, dear darlin' boys to help me so, an' I love you, I love you!"
"All right, but needn't bother to hug me!" protested Buttons.
"Ner me!" cried Nick, retreating as far from the grateful child as the limited space would permit. "An' now choose corners. This is mine."
Down he dropped in the inner point of the triangular floor and almost before his head had made itself a pillow of his arm he was sound asleep. Billy flung himself beside his mate and, also, slept; and though Glory intended to keep her eyes wide open "till grandpa comes," she placed herself near them and rested her own tired head on Billy's shoulder, and, presently, followed their example.
Half an hour later, the Lane policeman sauntered by, glanced into the dim interior, and saw the group of indistinct forms huddled together in dreamless slumber on their bed of bare boards. Then he softly closed the door upon them, murmuring in pity, "Poor little chummies! Life's goin' to be as hard for 'em as the floor they lie on. But the Lane'd seem darker 'n 'tis if they wasn't in it."
A Guardian Angel
City newsboys are early astir, and the shadows had but begun to lift themselves from Elbow Lane when Billy punched Nick in the ribs to rouse him and, with finger on lip, pointed to Glory still asleep.
The very poor pity the poor, and with a chivalric kindness which would have done credit to better reared lads, these two waifs of the streets stole softly from the littlest house without waking its small mistress.
When they were out upon the sidewalk, Billy shook his head and whispered, as if even there he might disturb her, "Poor little kid! He ain't never comin' back, sure! An' me an' you 's got the job o' lookin' after her, same 's he'd a liked. He was good to me, the cap'n was. An' I'm thinkin' Meg-Laundress's 'll be the best place to stow her. Hey?"
"Meg can't. She's chuck full. They ain't a corner o' her room but what's slep' in, an' you know it," responded Nick, hitching his buttonless knickers a trifle higher beneath the string-waistband which kept them in place.
"Where then, pard?"
Nick hesitated. On the day before he had developed a generosity which had surprised himself quite as much as it had Glory; but, if allowed room, generosity is a plant of rapid growth, so that now the once niggardly boy was ready with a plan that was even more astonishing. His thin face flushed and he pretended to pick a sliver from his foot as he answered:
"Let's me an' you hire the littles' house an' pay the rent ourselves an' Goober Glory do our cookin' an' sewin' an'—an'—quit yer foolin', Billy Buttons! This ain't no make-b'lieve, this ain't. I plumb mean it."
For, the instant of its suggestion, this wild scheme had sent the partner of Nick Dodd's fortunes to turning somersaults which would have befitted an acrobat. To put his head where his feet should be was Billy's only way of relieving his emotion and he brought his gymnastics to an end, some distance down the Lane, by assuming a military uprightness and bowing profoundly to Nick, who joined him.