BY ALICE HEGAN RICE
Author of "MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH," "LOVEY MARY," "SANDY," ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY WALTER BIGGS
THIS STORY IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO THE SMALL BAND OF KENTUCKY WRITERS WITH WHOM IT HAS BEEN MY HAPPY FORTUNE TO MAKE THE LITERARY PILGRIMAGE
I THE FIGHT II THE SNAWDORS AT HOME III THE CLARKES AT HOME IV JUVENILE COURT V ON PROBATION VI BUTTERNUT LANE VII AN EVICTION VIII AMBITION STIRS IX BUTTONS X THE PRINCESS COMES TO GRIEF XI THE STATE TAKES A HAND XII CLARKE'S XIII EIGHT TO SIX XIV IDLENESS XV MARKING TIME XVI MISS BOBINET'S XVII BEHIND THE TWINKLING LIGHTS XVIII THE FIRST NIGHT XIX PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT XX WILD OATS XXI DAN XXII IN THE SIGNAL TOWER XXIII CALVARY CATHEDRAL XXIV BACK AT CLARKE'S XXV MAC XXVI BETWEEN TWO FIRES XXVII FATE TAKES A HAND XXVIII THE PRICE OF ENLIGHTENMENT XXIX IN TRAINING XXX HER FIRST CASE XXXI MR. DEMRY XXXII THE NEW FOREMAN XXXIII NANCE COMES INTO HER OWN
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"The boy is infatuated with that girl"
"Her tense muscles relaxed; she forgot to cry"
"Don't call a policeman!" she implored wildly
You never would guess in visiting Cathedral Court, with its people's hall and its public baths, its clean, paved street and general air of smug propriety, that it harbors a notorious past. But those who knew it by its maiden name, before it was married to respectability, recall Calvary Alley as a region of swarming tenements, stale beer dives, and frequent police raids. The sole remaining trace of those unregenerate days is the print of a child's foot in the concrete walk just where it leaves the court and turns into the cathedral yard.
All the tired feet that once plodded home from factory and foundry, all the unsteady feet that staggered in from saloon and dance-hall, all the fleeing feet that sought a hiding place, have long since passed away and left no record of their passing. Only that one small footprint, with its perfect outline, still pauses on its way out of the alley into the great world beyond.
At the time Nance Molloy stepped into that soft concrete and thus set in motion the series of events that was to influence her future career, she had never been told that her inalienable rights were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nevertheless she had claimed them intuitively. When at the age of one she had crawled out of the soap-box that served as a cradle, and had eaten half a box of stove polish, she was acting in strict accord with the Constitution.
By the time she reached the sophisticated age of eleven her ideals had changed, but her principles remained firm. She did not stoop to beg for her rights, but struck out for them boldly with her small bare fists. She was a glorious survival of that primitive Kentucky type that stood side by side with man in the early battles and fought valiantly for herself.
On the hot August day upon which she began to make history, she stood in the gutter amid a crowd of yelling boys, her feet far apart, her hands full of mud, waiting tensely to chastise the next sleek head that dared show itself above the cathedral fence. She wore a boy's shirt and a ragged brown skirt that flapped about her sturdy bare legs. Her matted hair was bound in two disheveled braids around her head and secured with a piece of shoe-string. Her dirty round face was lighted up by a pair of dancing blue eyes, in which just now blazed the unholy light of conflict.
The feud between the Calvary Micks and the choir boys was an ancient one, carried on from one generation to another and gaining prestige with age. It was apt to break out on Saturday afternoons, after rehearsal, when the choirmaster had taken his departure. Frequently the disturbance amounted to no more than taunts and jeers on one side and threats and recriminations on the other, but the atmosphere that it created was of that electrical nature that might at any moment develop a storm.
Nance Molloy, at the beginning of the present controversy, had been actively engaged in civil warfare in which the feminine element of the alley was pursuing a defensive policy against the marauding masculine. But at the first indication of an outside enemy, the herd instinct manifested itself, and she allied herself with prompt and passionate loyalty to the cause of the Calvary Micks.
The present argument was raging over the possession of a spade that had been left in the alley by the workmen who were laying a concrete pavement into the cathedral yard.
"Aw, leave 'em have it!" urged a philosophical alleyite from the top of a barrel. "Them ole avenoo kids ain't nothin'!—We could lick daylight outen 'em if we wanted to."
"Ye-e-e-s you could!" came in a chorus of jeers from the fence top, and a brown-eyed youth in a white-frilled shirt, with a blue Windsor tie knotted under his sailor collar, added imperiously, "You get too fresh down there, and I'll call the janitor!"
This gross breach of military etiquette evoked a retort from Nance that was too inelegant to chronicle.
"Tomboy! tomboy!" jeered the brown-eyed youth from above. "Why don't you borrow some girls' clothes?"
"All right, Sissy," said Nance, "lend me yours."
The Micks shrieked their approval, while Nance rolled a mud ball and, with the deadly aim of a sharpshooter, let it fly straight at the white-frilled bosom of her tormentor.
"Soak it to her, Mac," yelled the boy next to him, "the kid's got no business butting in! Make her get out of the way!"
"Go on and make me!" implored Nance.
"I will if you don't stand back," threatened the boy called Mac.
Nance promptly stepped up to the alley gate and wiggled her fingers in a way peculiarly provocative to a juvenile enemy.
"Poor white trash!" he jeered. "You stay where you belong! Don't you step on our concrete!"
"Will if I want to. It's my foot. I'll put it where I like."
"Bet you don't. You're afraid to."
"I ain't either."
"Well, do it then. I dare you! Anybody that would take a—"
In a second Nance had thrust her leg as far as possible between the boards that warned the public to keep out, and had planted a small alien foot firmly in the center of the soft cement.
This audacious act was the signal for instant battle. With yells of indignation the choir boys hurled themselves from the fence, and descended upon their foes. Mud gave place to rocks, sticks clashed, the air resounded with war cries. Ash barrels were overturned, straying cats made flying leaps for safety, heads appeared at doorways and windows, and frantic mothers made futile efforts to quell the riot.
Thus began the greatest fight ever enjoyed in Calvary Alley. It went down in neighborhood annals as the decisive clash between the classes, in which the despised swells "was learnt to know their places onct an' fer all!" For ten minutes it raged with unabated fury, then when the tide of battle began to set unmistakably in favor of the alley, parental authority waned and threats changed to cheers. Old and young united in the conviction that the Monroe Doctrine must be maintained at any cost!
In and out of the subsiding pandemonium darted Nance Molloy, covered with mud from the shoestring on her hair to the rag about her toe, giving and taking blows with the best, and emitting yells of frenzied victory over every vanquished foe. Suddenly her transports were checked by a disturbing sight. At the end of the alley, locked in mortal combat, she beheld her arch-enemy, he of the brown eyes and the frilled shirt, whom the boys called Mac, sitting astride the hitherto invincible Dan Lewis, the former philosopher of the ash barrel and one of the acknowledged leaders of the Calvary Micks.
It was a moment of intense chagrin for Nance, untempered by the fact that Dan's adversary was much the bigger boy. Up to this time, the whole affair had been a glorious game, but at the sight of the valiant Dan lying helpless on his back, his mouth bloody from the blows of the boy above him, the comedy changed suddenly to tragedy. With a swift charge from the rear, she flung herself upon the victor, clapping her mud-daubed hands about his eyes and dragging him backward with a force that sent them both rolling in the gutter.
Blind with fury, the boy scrambled to his feet, and, seizing a rock, hurled it with all his strength after the retreating Dan. The missile flew wide of its mark and, whizzing high over the fence, crashed through the great rose window that was the special pride of Calvary Cathedral.
The din of breaking glass, the simultaneous appearance of a cross-eyed policeman, and of Mason, the outraged janitor, together with the horrified realization of what had happened, brought the frenzied combatants to their senses. Amid a clamor of accusations and denials, the policeman seized upon two culprits and indicated a third.
"You let me go!" shrieked Mac. "My father'll make it all right! Tell him who I am, Mason! Make him let me go!"
But Mason was bent upon bringing all the criminals to justice.
"I'm going to have you all up before the juvenile court, rich and poor!" he declared excitedly. "You been deviling the life out of me long enough! If the vestry had 'a' listened at me and had you up before now, that window wouldn't be smashed. I told the bishop something was going to happen, and he says, 'The next time there's trouble, you find the leaders and swear out a warrant. Don't wait to ask anybody!'"
By this time every window in the tenement at the blind end of the alley had been converted into a proscenium box, and suggestions, advice, and incriminating evidence were being freely volunteered.
"Who started this here racket, anyhow?" asked the policeman, in the bored tone of one who is rehearsing an oft-repeated scene.
"I did," declared Nance Molloy, with something of the feminine gratification Helen of Troy must have felt when she "launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium."
"You Nance!" screamed a woman from a third-story window. "You know you never done no such a thing! I was settin' here an' seen ever'thing that happened; it was them there boys."
"So it was you, Dan Lewis, was it?" said the policeman, recognizing one of his panting victims, the one whose ragged shirt had been torn completely off, leaving his heaving chest and brown shoulders bare. "An' it ain't surprised, I am. Who is this other little dude?"
"None of your business!" cried Mac furiously, trying to wrench himself free. "I tell you my father will pay for the darned old window."
"Aisy there," said the policeman. "Does anybody know him?"
"It's Mr. Clarke's son, up at the bottle works," said Mason.
"You let me go," shrieked the now half-frantic boy. "My father 'll make you pay for this. You see if he don't!"
"None o' your guff," said the policeman. "I ain't wantin' to keep you now I got your name. Onny more out o' the boonch, Mr. Mason?"
Mason swept a gleaning eye over the group, and as he did so he spied the footprint, in the concrete.
"Who did that?" he demanded in a fresh burst of wrath.
Those choir boys who had not fled the scene gave prompt and incriminating testimony.
"No! she never!" shouted the woman from the third floor, now suspended half-way out of the window. "Nance Molloy was up here a-washin' dishes with me. Don't you listen at them pasty-faced cowards a-puttin' it off on a innercent little girl!"
But the innocent little girl had no idea of seeking refuge in her sex. Hers had been a glorious and determining part in the day's battle, and the distinction of having her name taken down with those of the great leaders was one not to be foregone.
"I did do it," she declared excitedly. "That there boy dared me to. Ketch me takin' a dare offen a avenoo kid!"
"What's your name, Sis?" asked the policeman.
"Where do you live?"
"Up there at Snawdor's. That there was Mis' Snawdor a-yellin' at me."
"Is she yer mother?"
"Nope. She's me step."
"And yer father?"
"He's me step too. I'm a two-step," she added with an impudent toss of the head to show her contempt for the servant of the law, a blue-coated, brass-buttoned interloper who swooped down on you from around corners, and reported you at all times and seasons.
By this time Mrs. Snawdor had gotten herself down the two flights of stairs, and was emerging from the door of the tenement, taking down her curl papers as she came. She was a plump, perspiring person who might have boasted good looks had it not been for two eye-teeth that completely dominated her facial landscape.
"You surely ain't fixin' to report her?" she asked ingratiatingly of Mason. "A little 'leven-year-ole orphin that never done no harm to nobody?"
"It's no use arguing," interrupted Mason firmly. "I'm going to file out a warrant against them three children if it's the last act of my mortal life. There ain't a boy in the alley that gives me any more trouble than that there little girl, a-throwin' mud over the fence and climbing round the coping and sneaking into the cathedral to look under the pews for nickels, if I so much as turn my back!"
"He wants the nickels hisself!" cried Nance shrilly, pushing her nose flat and pursing her lips in such a clever imitation of the irate janitor that the alley shrieked with joy.
"You limb o' Satan!" cried Mrs. Snawdor, making a futile pass at her. "It's a God's mericle you ain't been took up before this! And it's me as 'll have the brunt to bear, a-stoppin' my work to go to court, a-lying to yer good character, an' a-payin' the fine. It's a pity able-bodied men like policemens an' janitors can't be tendin' their own business 'stid of comin' interferin' with the family of a hard-workin' woman like me. If there's any justice in this world it ain't never flowed in my direction!"
And Mrs. Snawdor, half dragging, half pushing Nance, disappeared into the dark entrance of the tenement, breathing maledictions first against her charge, then against the tyranny of the law.
THE SNAWDORS AT HOME
If ever a place had a down-at-heel, out-of-elbow sort of look, it was Calvary Alley. At its open end and two feet above it the city went rushing and roaring past like a great river, quite oblivious of this unhealthy bit of backwater into which some of its flotsam and jetsam had been caught and held, generating crime and disease and sending them out again into the main current.
For despite the fact that the alley rested under the very wing of the great cathedral from which it took its name, despite the fact that it echoed daily to the chimes in the belfry and at times could even hear the murmured prayers of the congregation, it concerned itself not in the least with matters of the spirit. Heaven was too remote and mysterious, Hell too present and prosaic, to be of the least interest. And the cathedral itself, holding out welcoming arms to all the noble avenues that stretched in leafy luxury to the south, forgot entirely to glance over its shoulder at the sordid little neighbor that lay under the very shadow of its cross.
At the blind end of the alley, wedged in between two towering warehouses, was Number One, a ramshackle tenement which in some forgotten day had been a fine old colonial residence. The city had long since hemmed it in completely, and all that remained of its former grandeur were a flight of broad steps that once boasted a portico and the imposing, fan-shaped arch above the doorway.
In the third floor of Number One, on the side next the cathedral, dwelt the Snawdor family, a social unit of somewhat complex character. The complication came about by the paterfamilias having missed his calling. Mr. Snawdor was by instinct and inclination a bachelor. He had early in life found a modest rut in which he planned to run undisturbed into eternity, but he had been discovered by a widow, who was possessed of an initiative which, to a man of Snawdor's retiring nature, was destiny.
At the time she met him she had already led two reluctant captives to the hymeneal altar, and was wont to boast, when twitted about the fact, that "the Lord only knew what she might 'a' done if it hadn't been fer them eye-teeth!" Her first husband had been Bud Molloy, a genial young Irishman who good-naturedly allowed himself to be married out of gratitude for her care of his motherless little Nance. Bud had not lived to repent the act; in less than a month he heroically went over an embankment with his engine, in one of those fortunate accidents in which "only the engineer is killed."
The bereft widow lost no time in seeking consolation. Naturally the first person to present himself on terms of sympathetic intimacy was the undertaker who officiated at poor Bud's funeral. At the end of six months she married him, and was just beginning to enjoy the prestige which his profession gave her, when Mr. Yager also passed away, becoming, as it were, his own customer. Her legacy from him consisted of a complete embalming outfit and a feeble little Yager who inherited her father's tendency to spells.
Thus encumbered with two small girls, a less sanguine person would have retired from the matrimonial market. But Mrs. Yager was not easily discouraged; she was of a marrying nature, and evidently resolved that neither man nor Providence should stand in her way. Again casting a speculative eye over the field, she discerned a new shop in the alley, the sign of which announced that the owner dealt in "Bungs and Fawcetts." On the evening of the same day the chronic ailment from which the kitchen sink had suffered for two years was declared to be acute, and Mr. Snawdor was called in for consultation.
He was a timid, dejected person with a small pointed chin that trembled when he spoke. Despite the easy conventions of the alley, he kept his clothes neatly brushed and his shoes polished, and wore a collar on week days. These signs of prosperity were his undoing. Before he had time to realize what was happening to him, he had been skilfully jolted out of his rut by the widow's experienced hand, and bumped over a hurried courtship into a sudden marriage. He returned to consciousness to find himself possessed of a wife and two stepchildren and moved from his small neat room over his shop to the indescribable disorder of Number One.
The subsequent years had brought many little Snawdors in their wake, and Mr. Snawdor, being thus held up by the highwayman Life, ignominiously surrendered. He did not like being married; he did not enjoy being a father; his one melancholy satisfaction lay in being a martyr.
Mrs. Snawdor, who despite her preference for the married state derived little joy from domestic duties, was quite content to sally forth as a wage-earner. By night she scrubbed office buildings and by day she slept and between times she sought diversion in the affairs of her neighbors.
Thus it was that the household burdens fell largely upon Nance Molloy's small shoulders, and if she wiped the dishes without washing them, and "shook up the beds" without airing them, and fed the babies dill pickles, it was no more than older housekeepers were doing all around her.
Late in the afternoon of the day of the fight, when the sun, despairing of making things any hotter than they were, dropped behind the warehouse, Nance, carrying a box of crackers, a chunk of cheese, and a bucket of beer, dodged in and out among the push-carts and the barrels of the alley on her way home from Slap Jack's saloon. There was a strong temptation on her part to linger, for a hurdy-gurdy up at the corner was playing a favorite tune, and echoes of the fight were still heard from animated groups in various doorways. But Nance's ears still tingled from a recent boxing, and she resolutely kept on her way until she reached the worn steps of Number One and scurried through its open doorway.
The nice distinction between a flat and a tenement is that the front door of one is always kept closed, and the other open. In this particular instance the matter admitted of no discussion, for there was no front door. The one that originally hung under the fan-shaped Colonial arch had long since been kicked in during some nocturnal raid, and had never been replaced.
When the gas neglected to get itself lighted before dark at Number One, you had to feel your way along the hall in complete darkness, until your foot struck something; then you knew you had reached the stairs and you began to climb. It was just as well to feel along the damp wall as you went, for somebody was always leaving things on the steps for people to stumble over.
Nance groped her way cautiously, resting her bucket every few steps and taking a lively interest in the sounds and smells that came from behind the various closed doors she passed. She knew from the angry voices on the first floor that Mr. Smelts had come home "as usual"; she knew who was having sauerkraut for supper, and whose bread was burning.
The odor of cooking food reminded her of something. The hall was dark and the beer can full, so she sat down at the top of the first flight and, putting her lips to the foaming bucket was about to drink, when the door behind her opened and a keen-faced young Jew peered out.
"Say, Nance," he whispered curiously, "have they swore out the warrant on you yet?"
Nance put down the bucket and looked up at him with a fine air of unconcern.
"Don't know and don't keer!" she said. "Where was you hidin' at, when the fight was goin' on?"
"Getting my lessons. Did the cop pinch the Clarke guy?"
"You betcher," said Nance. "You orter seen the way he took on! Begged to beat the band. Me and Danny never. Me and him—"
A volley of curses came from the hall below, the sound of a blow, followed by a woman's faint scream of protest, then a door slammed.
"If I was Mis' Smelts," said Nance darkly, with a look that was too old for ten years, "I wouldn't stand for that. I wouldn't let no man hit me. I'd get him sent up. I—"
"You walk yourself up them steps, Nance Molloy!" commanded Mrs. Snawdor's rasping voice from the floor above. "I ain't got no time to be waitin' while you gas with Ike Lavinsky."
Nance, thus admonished, obeyed orders, arriving on the domestic hearth in time to prevent the soup from boiling over. Mr. Snawdor, wearing a long apron and an expression of tragic doom, was trying to set the table, while over and above and beneath him surged his turbulent offspring. In a broken rocking-chair, fanning herself with a box-top, sat Mrs. Snawdor, indulging herself in a continuous stream of conversation and apparently undisturbed by the uproar around her. Mrs. Snawdor was not sensitive to discord. As a necessary adjustment to their environment, her nerves had become soundproof.
"You certainly missed it by not being here!" she was saying to Mr. Snawdor. "It was one of the liveliest mix-ups ever I seen! One of them rich boys bust the cathedral window. Some say it'll cost over a thousan' dollars to git it fixed. An' I pray to God his paw'll have to pay every cent of it!"
"Can't you make William J. and Rosy stop that racket?" queried Mr. Snawdor, plaintively. The twins had been named at a time when Mrs. Snawdor's loyalty was wavering between the President and another distinguished statesman with whom she associated the promising phrase, "free silver." The arrival of two babies made a choice unnecessary, and, notwithstanding the fact that one of them was a girl, she named them William J. and Roosevelt, reluctantly abbreviating the latter to "Rosy."
"They ain't hurtin' nothin'," she said, impatient of the interruption to her story. "I wisht you might 'a' seen that ole fool Mason a-lordin' it aroun', an' that little devil Nance a-takin' him off to the life. Everybody nearly died a-laughin' at her. But he says he's goin' to have her up in court, an' I ain't got a blessed thing to wear 'cept that ole hat of yours I trimmed up. Looks like a shame fer a woman never to be fixed to go nowhere!"
Mr. Snawdor, who had been trying ineffectually to get in a word, took this remark personally and in muttering tones called Heaven to witness that it was none of his fault that she didn't have the right clothes, and that it was a pretty kind of a world that would keep a man from gettin' on just because he was honest, and—
"Oh, shut up!" said Mrs. Snawdor, unfeelingly; "it ain't yer lack of work that gits on my nerves; it's yer bein' 'round. I'd pay anybody a quarter a week to keep yer busy!"
Nance, during this exchange of conjugal infelicities, assisted by Lobelia and Fidy, was rescuing sufficient dishes from the kitchen sink to serve for the evening meal. She, too, was finding it difficult to bring her attention to bear on domestic matters after the exciting events of the afternoon.
"An' he says to me,"—she was recounting with dramatic intensity to her admiring audience—"he says, 'Keep offen that concrete.' An' I says, 'It'll take somebody bigger'n you to make me!'"
Now, of course, we know that Nance never said that, but it was what she wished she had said, which, at certain moments in life, seems to the best of us to be quite the same thing.
"Then what?" said Fidy, with a plate suspended in air.
"Then," said Nance with sparkling eyes, "I sticks my foot right in the middle of their old concrete, an' they comes pilin' offen the fence, an' Dan Lewis he—"
"You Nance!" came in warning tones from the other room, "you shet your head an' git on with that supper. Here comes your Uncle Jed this minute!"
At this announcement Nance dropped her dish towel, and dashing to the door flung herself into the arms of a short, fat, baldheaded man who had just come out of the front room across the hall.
"Easy there!" warned the new-comer. "You ain't aimin' to butt the engine clean offen the track, air yer?"
Nance got his arm around her neck, and her arm around his knees, and thus entwined they made their way to the table.
Uncle Jed Burks, uncle by courtesy, was a boarder by day and a gate-tender by night at the signal tower at the railroad crossing. On that day long ago when he had found himself a widower, helpless in the face of domestic problems, he had accepted Mrs. Snawdor's prompt offer of hospitality and come across the hall for his meals. At the end of the week he had been allowed to show his gratitude by paying the rent, and by the end of the month he had become the chief prop of the family. It is difficult to conceive of an Atlas choosing to burden himself with the world, but there are temperaments that seek responsibilities just as there are those, like Mr. Snawdor, who refuse them.
Through endless discomforts, Uncle Jed had stayed on, coaxing Mr. Snawdor into an acceptance of his lot, helping Mrs. Snawdor over financial difficulties, and bestowing upon the little Snawdors the affection which they failed to elicit from either the maternal or the paternal bosom. And the amazing thing was that Uncle Jed always thought he was receiving favors instead of conferring them.
"What's this I hear about my little partner gittin' into trouble?" he asked, catching Nance's chin in his palm and turning her smudged, excited face up to his.
Nance's eyes fell before his glance. For the first time since the fight her pride was mingled with misgiving. But when Mrs. Snawdor plunged into a fresh recital of the affair, with evident approval of the part she had played, her self-esteem returned.
"And you say Mason's fixin' to send her up to the juvenile court?" asked Uncle Jed gravely, his fat hand closing on her small one.
"Dan Lewis has got to go too!" said Nance, a sudden apprehension seizing her at Uncle Jed's solemn face.
"Oh, they won't do nothin' to 'em," said Mrs. Snawdor, pouring hot water over the coffee grounds and shaking the pot vigorously. "Everybody knows it was the Clarke boy that bust the window. Clarke's Bottle Works' son, you know, up there on Zender Street."
"Was it the Clarke boy and Dan Lewis that started the fracas?" asked Uncle Jed.
"No, it was me!" put in Nance.
"Now, Nance Molloy, you lemme hear you say that one time more, an' you know what'll happen!" said Mrs. Snawdor, impressively. "You're fixin' to make me pay a fine."
"I'm mighty sorry Dan Lewis is mixed up in it," said Uncle Jed, shaking his head. "This here's his second offense. He was had up last year."
"An' can you wonder?" asked Mrs. Snawdor, "with his mother what she is?"
"Mrs. Lewis ain't a bad looker," Mr. Snawdor roused himself to observe dejectedly.
His wife turned upon him indignantly. "Well, it's a pity she ain't as good as her looks then. Fer my part I can't see it's to any woman's credit to look nice when she's got the right kind of a switch and a good set of false teeth. It's the woman that keeps her good looks without none of them luxuries that orter be praised."
"Mrs. Lewis ain't done her part by Dan," said Uncle Jed, seating himself at the red-clothed table.
"I should say she ain't," Mrs. Snawdor continued. "I never seen nothin' more pathetical than that there boy when he was no more than three years old, a-tryin' to feed hisself outer the garbage can, an' her a comin an' a goin' in the alley all these years with her nose in the air, too good to speak to anybody."
"Dan don't think his mother's bad to him," said Nance. "He saved up his shoe-shine money an' bought her some perfumery. He lemme smell it."
"Oh, yes!" said Mrs. Snawdor, "she's got to have her perfumery, an' her feather in her hat, an' the whitewash on her face, no matter if Dan's feet are on the groun', an' his naked hide shinin' through his shirt."
"Well, I wish him an' this here little girl wasn't mixed up in this business," repeated Uncle Jed. "Courts ain't no place fer children. Seems like I can't stand fer our little Nance to be mixin' up with shady characters."
Nance shot an apprehensive glance at him and began to look anxious. She had never seen Uncle Jed so solemn before.
"You jes' remember this here, Nancy," went on the signalman, who could no more refrain from pointing a moral when the chance presented itself, than a gun can help going off when the trigger is pulled; "nothin' good ever comes from breakin' laws. They wouldn't a-been made into laws if they wasn't fer our good, an' even when we don't see no reason in keepin' 'em, we ain't got no more right to break through than one of them engines up at the crossing's got a right to come ahead when I signals it from the tower to stop. I been handin' out laws to engines fer goin' on thirty year, an' I never seen one yet that bust over a law that didn't come to grief. You keep on the track, Sister, an' watch the signals an' obey orders an' you'll find it pays in the end. An' now, buck up, an' don't be scared. We'll see what we can do to git you off."
"Who's skeered?" said Nance, with a defiant toss of her head. "I ain't skeered of nothin'."
But that night when Mrs. Snawdor and Uncle Jed had gone to work, and Mr. Snawdor had betaken himself out of ear-shot of the wailing baby, Nance's courage began to waver. After she had finished her work and crawled into bed between Fidy and Lobelia, the juvenile court, with its unknown terrors, rose before her. All the excitement of the day died out; her pride in sharing the punishment with Dan Lewis vanished. She lay staring up into the darkness, swallowing valiantly to keep down the sobs, fiercely resolved not to let her bed-fellows witness the break-down of her courage.
"What's the matter, Nance?" asked Fidy.
"I'm hot!" said Nance, crossly. "It feels like the inside of a oven in here!"
"I bet Maw forgot to open the window into the shaft," said Fidy.
"Windows don't do no good," said Nance; "they just let in smells. Wisht I was a man! You bet I would be up at Slap Jack's! I'd set under a 'lectric fan, an' pour cold things down me an' listen at the 'phoney-graf ever' night. Hush! Is that our baby?"
A faint wail made her scramble out of bed and rush into the back room where she gathered a hot, squirming bundle into her arms and peered anxiously into its wizened face. She knew the trick babies had of dying when the weather was hot! Two other beloved scraps of humanity had been taken away from her, and she was fiercely determined to keep this one. Lugging the baby to the window, she scrambled over the sill.
The fire-escape was cluttered with all the paraphernalia that doubles the casualty of a tenement fire, but she cleared a space with her foot and sat down on the top step. Beside her loomed the blank warehouse wall, and from the narrow passage-way below came the smell of garbage. The clanging of cars and the rumbling of trucks mingled with the nearer sounds of whirring sewing machines in Lavinski's sweat-shop on the floor below. From somewhere around the corner came, at intervals, the sharp cry of a woman in agony. With that last sound Nance was all too familiar. The coming and going of a human life were no mystery to her. But each time the cry of pain rang out she tried in vain to stop her ears. At last, hot, hungry, lonesome, and afraid, she laid her dirty face against the baby's fuzzy head and they sobbed together in undisturbed misery.
When at last the child fell into a restless sleep, Nance sat patiently on, her small arms stiffening under their burden, and her bare feet and legs smarting from the stings of hungry mosquitos.
By and by the limp garments on the clothes line overhead began to stir, and Nance, lifting her head gratefully to the vagrant breeze, caught her breath. There, just above the cathedral spire, white and cool among fleecy clouds, rose the full August moon. It was the same moon that at that moment was turning ocean waves into silver magic; that was smiling on sleeping forests and wind-swept mountains and dancing streams. Yet here it was actually taking the trouble to peep around the cathedral spire and send the full flood of its radiance into the most sordid corners of Calvary Alley, even into the unawakened soul of the dirty, ragged, tear-stained little girl clasping the sick baby on Snawdor's fire-escape.
Something in Nance responded. Her tense muscles relaxed; she forgot to cry. With eyes grown big and wistful, she watched the shining orb. All the bravado, the fear, and rebellion died out of her, and in hushed wonder she got from the great white night what God in heaven meant for us to get.
THE CLARKES AT HOME
While the prodigal son of the house of Clarke was engaged in breaking stained-glass windows in Calvary Alley, his mother was at home entertaining the bishop with a recital of his virtues and accomplishments. Considering the fact that Bishop Bland's dislike for children was notorious, he was bearing the present ordeal with unusual fortitude.
They were sitting on the spacious piazza at Hill-crest, the country home of the Clarkes, the massive foundation of which was popularly supposed to rest upon bottles. It was a piazza especially designed to offset the discomforts of a Southern August afternoon and to make a visitor, especially if he happened to be an ecclesiastical potentate with a taste for luxury, loath to forsake its pleasant shade for the glaring world without.
"Yes, yes," he agreed for the fourth time, "a very fine boy. I must say I give myself some credit for your marriage and its successful result."
Mrs. Clarke paused in her tea-pouring and gazed absently off across the tree tops.
"I suppose I ought to be happy," she said, and she sighed.
"Every heart knoweth its own—two lumps, thank you, and a dash of rum. I was saying—Oh, yes! I was about to remark that we are all prone to magnify our troubles. Now here you are, after all these years, still brooding over your unfortunate father, when he is probably long since returned to France, quite well and happy."
"If I could only be sure. It has been so long since we heard, nearly thirteen years! The last letter was the one you got when Mac was born."
"Yes, and I answered him in detail, assuring him of your complete recovery, and expressing my hope that he would never again burden you until with God's help he had mastered the sin that had been his undoing."
Mrs. Clarke shook her head impatiently.
"You and Macpherson never understood about father. He came to this country without a friend or a relation except mother and me. Then she died, and he worked day and night to keep me in a good boarding-school, and to give me every advantage that a girl could have. Then his health broke, and he couldn't sleep, and he began taking drugs. Oh, I don't see how anybody could blame him, after all he had been through!"
"For whatever sacrifices he made, he was amply rewarded," the bishop said. "Few fathers have the satisfaction of seeing their daughters more successfully established in life."
"Yes, but what has it all come to for him? Made to feel his disgrace, aware of Macpherson's constant disapproval—I don't wonder he chose to give me up entirely."
"It was much the best course for all concerned," said the bishop, with the assured tone of one who enjoys the full confidence of Providence. "The fact that he had made shipwreck of his own life was no reason for him to make shipwreck of yours. I remember saying those very words to him when he told me of Mr. Clarke's attitude. Painful as was your decision, you did quite right in yielding to our judgment in the matter and letting him go."
"But Macpherson ought not to have asked it of me. He's so good and kind and good about most things, that I don't see how he could have felt the way he did about father."
The bishop laid a consoling hand on her arm.
"Your husband was but protecting you and himself against untold annoyance. Think of what it would have meant for a man of Mr. Clarke's position to have a person of your father's habits a member of his household!"
"But father was perfectly gentle and harmless—more like an afflicted child than anything else. When he was without an engagement he would go for weeks at a time, happy with his books and his music, without breaking over at all."
"Ah, yes! But what about the influence of his example on your growing son? Imagine the humiliation to your child."
Mrs. Clarke's vulnerable spot was touched.
"I had forgotten Mac!" she said. "He must be my first consideration, mustn't he? I never intend for him to bear any burden that I can bear for him. And yet, how father would have adored him, how proud he would have been of his voice! But there, you must forgive me for bringing up this painful subject. It is only when I think of father getting old and being ill, possibly in want, with nobody in the world—"
"Now, now, my dear lady," said the bishop, "you are indulging in morbid fancies. Your father knows that with a stroke of the pen he can procure all the financial assistance from you he may desire. As to his being unhappy, I doubt it extremely. My recollection of him is of a very placid, amiable man living more in his dreams than in reality."
Mrs. Clarke smiled through her tears.
"You are quite right. He didn't ask much of life. A book in his hand and a child on his knee meant happiness for him."
"And those he can have wherever he is," said her spiritual adviser. "Now I want you to turn away from all these gloomy forebodings and leave the matter entirely in God's hands."
"And you think I have done my duty?"
"Assuredly. It is your poor father who has failed to do his. You are a model wife and an almost too devoted mother. You are zealous in your work at the cathedral; you—"
"There!" said Mrs. Clarke, smiling, "I know I don't deserve all those compliments, but they do help me. Now let's talk of something else while I give you a fresh cup of tea. Tell me what the board did yesterday about the foreign mission fund."
The bishop, relieved to see the conversation drifting into calmer waters, accepted the second cup and the change of topic with equal satisfaction. His specialty was ministering to the sorrows of the very rich, but he preferred to confine his spiritual visits to the early part of the afternoon, leaving the latter part free for tea-drinking and the ecclesiastical gossip so dear to his heart.
"Well," he said, leaning back luxuriously in his deep willow chair, "we carried our point after some difficulty. Too many of our good directors take refuge in the old excuse that charity should begin at home. It should, my dear Elise, but as I have said before, it should not end there!"
Having delivered himself of this original observation, the bishop helped himself to another sandwich.
"The special object of my present visit," he said, "aside from the pleasure it always gives me to be in your delightful home, is to interest you and your good husband in a mission we are starting in Mukden, a most ungodly place, I fear, in Manchuria. A thousand dollars from Mr. Clarke at this time would be most acceptable, and I shall leave it to you, my dear lady, to put the matter before him, with all the tact and persuasion for which you are so justly noted."
Mrs. Clarke smiled wearily.
"I will do what I can, Bishop. But I hate to burden him with one more demand. Since he has bought these two new factories, he is simply worked to death. I get so cross with all the unreasonable demands the employees make on him. They are never satisfied. The more he yields, the more they demand. It's begging letters, petitions, lawsuits, strikes, until he is driven almost crazy."
The whirr of an approaching motor caused them both to look up. A grizzled man of fifty got out and, after a decisive order to the chauffeur, turned to join them. His movements were quick and nervous, and his eyes restless under their shaggy gray brows.
"Where's the boy?" was his first query after the greetings were over.
"He went to choir practice. I thought surely he would come out with you. Hadn't we better send the machine back for him?"
"We were just speaking of that fine lad of yours," said the bishop, helping himself to yet another sandwich. "Fine eyes, frank, engaging manner! I suppose he is too young yet for you to be considering his future calling?"
"Indeed he isn't!" said Mrs. Clarke. "My heart is set on the law. Two of his Clarke grandfathers have been on the bench."
Mr. Clarke smiled somewhat grimly.
"Mac hasn't evinced any burning ambition in any direction as yet."
"Mac is only thirteen," said Mrs. Clarke with dignity; "all of his teachers will tell you that he is wonderfully bright, but that he lacks application. I think it is entirely their fault. They don't make the lessons sufficiently interesting; they don't hold his attention. He has been at three private schools, and they were all wretched. You know I am thinking of trying a tutor this year."
"I want her to send him to the public schools," Mr. Clarke said with the air of detached paternity peculiar to American fathers. "I went to the public schools. They gave me a decent start in life; that's about all you can expect of a school."
"True, true," said the bishop, his elbows on the arms of his chair, and his fingers tapping each other meditatively. "I am the last person to minimize the value of the public schools, but they were primarily designed, Mr. Clarke, neither for your boy, nor mine. Their rules and regulations were designed expressly for the children of the poor. I was speaking on this subject only yesterday to Mrs. Conningsby Lee. She's very indignant because her child was forced to submit to vaccination at the hands of some unknown young physician appointed by the city.
"I should feel like killing any one who vaccinated Mac without my consent!" exclaimed Mrs. Clarke, "but I needn't worry. He wouldn't allow it. Do you know we have never been able to persuade that child to be vaccinated?"
"And you don't propose for the State to do what you can't do, do you?" Mr. Clarke said, pinching her cheek.
"What Mrs. Clarke says is not without weight," said the bishop, gallantly coming to her rescue. "There are few things upon which I wax more indignant than the increasing interference of the State with the home. This hysterical agitation against child labor, for instance; while warranted in exceptional cases, it is in the main destructive of the formation of the habit of industry which cannot be acquired too young. When the State presumes to teach a mother how to feed her child, when and where to educate it, when and where to send it to work, the State goes too far. There is nothing more dangerous to the family than the present paternalistic and pauperizing trend of legislation."
"I wish you would preach that to the factory inspectors," said Mr. Clarke, with a wry smile. "Between the poor mothers who are constantly trying to get the children into the factory, and the inspectors who are trying to keep them out, I have my hands full."
"A mother's love," said the bishop, who evidently had different rules for mothers and fathers, "a mother's intuition is the most unerring guide for the conduct of her child; and the home, however humble, is its safest refuge."
Mrs. Clarke glanced anxiously down the poplar-bordered driveway. Her mother's intuition suggested that as it was now five-thirty, Mac must have been engaged in some more diverting pastime than praising the Lord with psalms and thanksgiving.
"Your theory then, Bishop," said Mr. Clarke, who was evincing an unusual interest in the subject, "carried to its legitimate conclusion, would do away with all state interference? No compulsory education or child-labor laws, or houses of correction?"
"Oh, I don't think the bishop means that at all!" said Mrs. Clarke. "But he is perfectly right about a mother knowing what is best for her child. Take Mac, for instance. Nobody has ever understood him, but me. What other people call wilfulness is really sensitiveness. He can't bear to be criticized, he—"
The sudden appearance of a limping object skirting the bushes caused her to break off abruptly.
"Who on earth is that over there beyond the fountain?" she asked. "Why, upon my word, it's Mac!—Mac!" she called anxiously. "Come here!"
The boy shamefacedly retraced his steps and presented himself on the piazza. His shoes and stockings were covered with mud; the frills on his shirt were torn and dirty; one eye was closed.
"Why, my darling child!" cried his mother, her listless, detached air giving place to one of acute concern, "you've been in an accident!"
She had flown to him and enveloped him, mud and all, in her gauzy embrace—an embrace from which Mac struggled to escape.
"I'm all right," he insisted impatiently. "Those kids back of the cathedral got to bothering us, and we—"
"You mean those rowdies in the alley of whom Mason is always complaining?" demanded the bishop, sternly.
"Yes, sir. They were throwing rocks and stepping on the new walk—"
"And you were helping the janitor keep them out?" broke in Mrs. Clarke. "Isn't it an outrage, Bishop, that these children can't go to their choir practice without being attacked by those dreadful ruffians?"
"You are quite sure you boys weren't to blame?" asked Mr. Clarke.
"Now, Father!" protested his wife, "how can you? When Mac has just told us he was helping the janitor?"
"It is no new thing, Mr. Clarke," said the bishop, solemnly shaking his head. "We have had to contend with that disreputable element back of us for years. On two occasions I have had to complain to the city authorities. A very bad neighborhood, I am told, very bad indeed."
"But, Mac dearest," pursued his mother anxiously as she tried to brush the dried mud out of his hair. "Were you the only boy who stayed to help Mason keep them out?"
Mac jerked his head away irritably.
"Oh! It wasn't that way, Mother. You see—"
"That's Mac all over," cried Mrs. Clarke. "He wouldn't claim any credit for the world. But look at the poor child's hands! Look at his eye! We must take some action at once. Can't we swear out a warrant or something against those hoodlums, and have them locked up?"
"But, Elise," suggested Mr. Clarke, quizzically, "haven't you and the bishop just been arguing that the State ought not to interfere with a child? That the family ties, the mother's guidance—"
"My dear Mr. Clarke," interrupted the bishop, "this, I assure you, is an exceptional case. These young desperados are destroying property; they are lawbreakers, many of them doubtless, incipient criminals. Mrs. Clarke is quite right; some action must be taken, has probably been taken already. The janitor had instructions to swear out a warrant against the next offender who in any way defaced the property belonging to the cathedral."
It was at this critical point that the telephone rang, and a maid appeared to say that Mr. Clarke was wanted. The bishop took advantage of the interruption to order his carriage and make his adieus.
"You may be assured," he said at parting, "that I shall not allow this matter to rest until the offenders are brought to justice. Good-by, good-by, my little man. Bear in mind, my dear Elise, that Mukden matter. Good-by."
"And now, you poor darling!" said Mrs. Clarke in a relieved tone, as she turned her undivided attention on her abused son, "you shall have a nice hot bath and a compress on the poor eye, and whatever you want for your dinner. You are as white as a sheet, and still trembling! You poor lamb!"
Mr. Clarke met them at the drawing-room door:
"Mac!" he demanded, and his face was stern, "did you have anything to do with the breaking of the big window at the cathedral?"
"No, sir," Mac faltered, kicking at the newel post.
"You didn't even know it was broken?"
"Oh, everybody was throwing rocks, and that old, crazy Mason—"
"But I thought you were helping Mason?"
"I was—that is—those alley micks—"
"That will do!" his father said angrily. "I've just been notified to have you at the juvenile court next Friday to answer a charge of destroying property. This is a nice scrape for my son to get into! And you didn't have the grit to tell the truth. You lied to me! You'll go to bed, sir, without your dinner!"
Mrs. Clarke's eyes were round with indignation, and she was on the point of bursting into passionate protest when a warning glance from her husband silenced her. With a sense of outraged maternity she flung a protective arm about her son and swept him up the stairs.
"Don't make a scene, Mac darling!" she whispered. "Mother knows you didn't do it. You go up to bed like a little gentleman, and I'll slip a tray up to you and come up myself the minute dinner is over."
That night when the moon discovered Nance Molloy in Calvary Alley, it also peeped through the window at Mac Clarke out at Hillcrest. Bathed, combed, and comforted, he lay in a silk-draped bed while his mother sat beside him fanning him. It would be pleasant to record that the prodigal had confessed his sins and been forgiven. It would even be some comfort to state that his guilty conscience was keeping him awake. Neither of these facts, however, was true. Mac, lying on his back, watching the square patch of moonlight on the floor, was planning darkest deeds of vengeance on a certain dirty, tow-headed, bare-legged little girl, who had twice got the better of him in the conflict of the day.
The goddess of justice is popularly supposed to bandage her eyes in order to maintain an impartial attitude, but it is quite possible that she does it to keep from seeing the dreary court-rooms which are supposed to be her abiding place.
On the hot Friday morning following the fight, the big anteroom to the juvenile court, which was formerly used for the police court, was just as dirty and the air just as stale as in mid-winter, when the windows were down and the furnace going.
Scrub women came at dawn, to be sure, and smeared its floors with sour mops, and occasionally a janitor brushed the cobwebs off the ceiling, but the grime was more than surface deep, and every nook and cranny held the foul odor of the unwashed, unkempt current of humanity that for so many years had flowed through it. Ghosts of dead and gone criminals seemed to hover over the place, drawn back through curiosity, to relive their own sorry experiences in the cases of the young offenders waiting before the bar of justice.
On the bench at the rear of the room the delegation from Calvary Alley had been waiting for over an hour. Mrs. Snawdor, despite her forebodings, had achieved a costume worthy of the occasion, but Uncle Jed and Dan had made no pretense at a toilet. As for Nance, she had washed her face as far east and west as her ears and as far south as her chin; but the regions beyond were unreclaimed. The shoe-string on her hair had been replaced by a magenta ribbon, but the thick braids had not been disturbed. Now that she had got over her fright, she was rather enjoying the novelty and excitement of the affair. She had broken the law and enjoyed breaking it, and the cop had pinched her. It was a game between her and the cop, and the cop had won. She saw no reason whatever for Uncle Jed and Dan to look so solemn.
By and by a woman in spectacles took her into a small room across the hall, and told her to sit on the other side of the table and not to shuffle her feet. Nance explained about the mosquito bites, but the lady did not listen.
"What day is this?" asked the spectacled one, preparing to chronicle the answers in a big book.
"Friday," said Nance, surprised that she could furnish information to so wise a person.
"What day of the month?"
"Day before rent day."
The corner of the lady's mouth twitched, and Nance glanced at her suspiciously.
"Can you repeat these numbers after me? Four, seven, nine, three, ten, six, fourteen."
Nance was convinced now that the lady was crazy, but she rattled them off glibly.
"Very good! Now if the little hand of your clock was at twelve, and the big hand at three, what time would it be?"
Nance pondered the matter deeply.
"Five after twelve!" she answered triumphantly.
"No; try again."
Nance was eager to oblige, but she had the courage of her convictions and held her point.
"Wouldn't it be a quarter past?" suggested the examiner.
"No, ma'am, it wouldn't. Our clock runs ten minutes slow."
The grave face behind the spectacles broke into a smile; then business was resumed.
"Shut your eyes and name as many objects as you can without stopping, like this: trees, flowers, birds. Go ahead."
"Trees, flowers, birds, cats, dogs, fight, barrel, slop, mud, ashes."
"Go on, quicker—keep it up. Nuts, raisins, cake—"
"Cake, stove, smoke, tub, wash-board, scrub, rag, tub, stove, ashes."
"Keep it up!"
"I dunno no more."
"We can't get beyond ashes, eh?" said the lady. "Now suppose you tell me what the following words mean. Charity?"
"Is it a organization?" asked Nance doubtfully.
"I dunno that one."
"Do you know what God is?"
Nance felt that she was doing badly. If her freedom depended on her passing this test, she knew the prison bars must be already closing on her. She no more knew what God is than you or I know, but the spectacled lady must be answered at any cost.
"God," she said laboriously, "God is what made us, and a cuss word."
Many more questions followed before she was sent back to her place between Uncle Jed and Mrs. Snawdor, and Dan was led away in turn to receive his test.
Meanwhile Uncle Jed was getting restless. Again and again he consulted his large nickel-plated watch.
"I ought to be getting to bed," he complained. "I won't get more 'n four hours' sleep as it is."
"Here comes the Clarke boy!" exclaimed Nance, and all eyes were turned in the direction of the door.
The group that presented itself at the entrance was in sharp contrast to its surroundings. Mac Clarke, arrayed in immaculate white, was flanked on one side by his distinguished-looking father and on the other by his father's distinguished-looking lawyer. The only evidence that the aristocratic youth had ever come into contact with the riffraff of Calvary Alley was the small patch of court-plaster above his right eye.
"Tell the judge we are here," said Mr. Clarke briskly to his lawyer. "Ask him to get through with us as soon as possible. I have an appointment at twelve-thirty."
The lawyer made his way up the aisle and disappeared through the door which all the morning had been swallowing one small offender after another.
Almost immediately a loud voice called from the platform:
"Case of Mac Clarke! Nance Molloy! Dan Lewis!" And Nance with a sudden leap of her heart, knew that her time had come.
In the inner room, where the juvenile cases had a private hearing, the judge sat at a big desk, scanning several pages of type-written paper. He was a young judge with a keen, though somewhat weary, face and eyes, full of compassionate knowledge. But Nance did not see the judge; her gaze was riveted upon her two arch enemies: Mason, with his flat nose and pugnacious jaw, and "Old Cock-eye," the policeman who looked strangely unfamiliar with his helmet off.
"Well, Mr. Mason," said the judge when the three small offenders had been ranged in front of the desk, with the witnesses grouped behind them, "I'll ask you to tell me just what took place last Saturday afternoon at the cathedral."
Mason cleared his throat and, with evident satisfaction, proceeded to set forth his version of the story:
"I was sweeping out the vestibule, your Honor, when I heard a lot of yelling and knew that a fight was on. It's that away every Saturday afternoon that I ain't on the spot to stop it. I run down through the cathedral and out to the back gate. The alley was swarming with a mob of fighting, yelling children. Then I see these two boys a-fighting each other up at the end of the alley, and before I can get to 'em, this here little girl flings herself between 'em, and the big boy picks up a rock and heaves it straight th'u the cathedral window."
"Well, Mac," said the judge, turning to the trim, white-clad figure confronting him—a figure strangely different from the type that usually stood there. "You have heard what the janitor charges you with. Are you guilty?"
"Yes, sir," said Mac.
"The breaking of the window was an accident?"
Mac glanced quickly at his father's lawyer, then back at the judge.
"But you were fighting in the alley?"
"I was keeping the alley boys out of the cathedral yard."
"That's a lie!" came in shrill, indignant tones from the little girl at his elbow.
"There seems to be some difference of opinion here," said the judge, putting his hand over his mouth to repress a smile at the vehemence of the accusation. "Suppose we let this young lady give her version of it."
Nance jerking her arm free from Mrs. Snawdor's restraining hand, plunged breathlessly into her story.
"He was settin' on the fence, along with a parcel of other guys, a-makin' faces an' callin' names long afore we even took no notice of 'em."
"Both sides is to blame, your Honor," interposed Mason, "there ain't a day when the choir rehearses that I don't have to go out and stop 'em fighting."
"Well, in this case who started the trouble?" asked the judge.
Mrs. Snawdor clutched at Nance, but it was too late.
"I did," she announced.
The judge looked puzzled.
"Why, I thought you said the choir boys began it by sitting on the fence and making faces and calling names."
"Shucks," said Nance, contemptuously, "we kin beat 'em makin' faces an' callin' names."
"Well, how did you start the fight?"
"That there big boy dared me to step in the concrete. Didn't you now?"
Mac stood looking straight ahead of him and refused to acknowledge her presence.
"It strikes me," said the judge, "that you choir boys could be better employed than in teasing and provoking the children in the alley. What do you think, Mac?"
Mac had been provided with no answer to this question, so he offered none.
"Unfortunately," the judge continued, "it is the fathers of boys like you who have to take the punishment. Your father will have to pay for the window. But I want to appeal to your common sense and your sense of justice. Look at me, Mac. You have had advantages and opportunities beyond most boys. You are older than these children. Don't you think, instead of using your influence to stir up trouble and put us to this annoyance and expense, it would be much better for you to keep on your side of the fence and leave these people back of the cathedral alone?"
"Yes, sir," said Mac, perfunctorily.
"And you promise me to do this?"
"We will give you a chance to make your promise good. But remember your name is on our record; if there is any more trouble whatever, you will hear from us. Mr. Clarke, I look to you to see that your son behaves himself. You may step aside please. And now, boy, what is your name?"
"Oh, yes. I think we have met before. What have you to say for yourself?"
The shoeless, capless, unwashed boy, with his ragged trousers hitched to his shoulders by one suspender, frowned up at the judge through a fringe of tumbled hair.
"Nothin'," he said doggedly.
"Where do you live?"
"I live at home when me maw's there."
"Where is she now?"
This question caused considerable nudging and side-glancing on the part of Mrs. Snawdor.
"She's went to the country," said Dan.
"Is your father living?"
"Did you go to school last year?"
"Didn't have no shoes."
"Does your mother work?"
This question brought more nudges and glances from Mrs. Snawdor, none of which were lost on the boy.
"Me mother don't have to work," he said defiantly. "She's a lady."
The judge cleared his throat and called Mrs. Snawdor sharply to order.
"Well, Dan," he said, "I am sorry to see you back here again. What were you up for before?"
"And didn't I tell you that it would go hard with you if you came back?"
"Yes, sir, but I never chucked no more dice."
"And I suppose in spite of the way your mouth is bruised, you'll tell me you weren't mixed up in this fight?"
The boy stood staring miserably at the wall with eyes in which fear and hurt pride struggled for mastery.
"Yer Honor!" the policeman broke in. "It's three times lately I've found him sleepin' in doorways after midnight. Him and the gang is a bad lot, yer Honor, a scrappin' an' hoppin' freights an' swipin' junk, an' one thing an' another."
"I never swiped no junk," Dan said hopelessly, "I never swiped nothink in my life."
"Is there no definite charge against this boy?"
"Well, sir," said Mason, "he is always a-climbin' up the steeple of the cathedral."
Dan, sullen, frightened, and utterly unable to defend himself, looked from the officer to the janitor with the wide, distrustful eyes of a cornered coyote.
Suddenly a voice spoke out in his behalf, a shrill, protesting, passionate voice.
"He ain't no worser nor nobody else! Ast Mammy, ast Uncle Jed! He's got to sleep somewheres when his maw fergits to come home! Ever'body goes an' picks on Danny 'cause he ain't got nobody to take up fer him. 'T ain't fair!" Nance ended her tirade in a burst of tears.
"There, there," said the judge, "it's going to be fair this time. You stop crying now and tell me your name?"
"Nance Molloy," she gulped, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
"How old are you?"
"'Leven, goin' on twelve."
"Well, take that gum out of your mouth and stop crying."
He consulted his papers and then looked at her over his glasses.
"Nancy," he said, "are you in the habit of slipping into the cathedral when the janitor is not around?"
"Lookin' at the pretties, an' seein' if there's any nickels under the seats."
"You want to buy candy, I suppose?"
"No, sir, a bureau."
Even the tired-looking probation officer looked up and smiled.
"What does a little girl like you want with a bureau?" asked the judge.
"So's I won't have to keep me duds under the bed."
"That's a commendable ambition. But what about these other charges; truancy from school, fighting with the boys, throwing mud, and so on?"
"I never th'ow mud, 'ceptin' when I'm th'owin' back," explained Nance.
"A nice distinction," said the judge. "Is this child's mother present?"
Mrs. Snawdor, like a current that has been restrained too long, surged eagerly forward, and overflowed her conversational banks completely.
"Well, I ain't exactly her mother, but I'm just the same as her mother. You ast anybody in Calvary Alley. Ast Mr. Burks here, ast Mrs. Smelts what I been to her ever since she was a helpless infant baby. When Bud Molloy lay dyin' he says to the brakeman, 'You tell my wife to be good to Nance,'"
"So she's your stepchild?"
"Yes, sir, an' Bud Molloy was as clever a man as ever trod shoe-leather. So was Mr. Yager. Nobody can't say I ever had no trouble with my two first. They wasn't what you might call as smart a man as Snawdor, but they wasn't no fool."
It was a peculiarity of Mrs. Snawdor's that she always spoke of her previous husbands as one, notwithstanding the fact that the virtues which she attributed to them could easily have been distributed among half a dozen.
"Well, well," said the judge impatiently, "what have you to say about the character of this little girl?"
Mrs. Snawdor shifted her last husband's hat from the right side of her head to the left, and began confidentially:
"Well I'll tell you, Jedge, Nance ain't so bad as whut they make her out. She's got her faults. I ain't claimin' she ain't. But she ain't got a drop of meanness in her, an' that's more than I can say for some grown folks present." Mrs. Snawdor favored Mr. Mason with such a sudden and blighting glance that the janitor quailed visibly.
"Do you have trouble controlling her?" asked the judge.
"Nothin' to speak of. She's a awful good worker, Nance is, when you git her down to it. But her trouble is runnin'. Let anything happen in the alley, an' she's up an' out in the thick of it. I'm jes' as apt to come home an' find her playin' ball with the baby in her arms, as not. But I don't have to dress her down near as often as I used to."
"Then you wouldn't say she was a bad child?"
Mrs. Snawdor's emphatic negative was arrested in the utterance by Mr. Mason's accusing eye.
"Well, I never seen no child that was a angel," she compromised.
"Does Nancy go to school?" the judge asked.
"Well, I was threatenin' her the other day, if she didn't behave herself, I was goin' to start her in again."
"I ain't been sence Christmas," volunteered Nance, still sniffling.
"You shet yer mouth," requested Mrs. Snawdor with great dignity.
"Why hasn't she been to school since Christmas?" the judge proceeded sternly.
"Well, to tell you the truth, it was on account of Mr. Snawdor. He got mad 'bout the vaccination. He don't believe in it. Says it gives you the rheumatism. He's got a iron ring on ever' one of the childern. Show yours to the jedge, Nance! He says ef they has to vaccinate 'em to educate 'em, they ain't goin' to de neither one."
"But don't you know that we have compulsory education in this State? Hasn't the truant officer been to see you?"
Mrs. Snawdor looked self-conscious and cast down her eyes.
"Well, not as many times as Snawdor says he has. Snawdor's that jealous he don't want me to have no gentlemen visitors. When I see the truant officer or the clock-man comin', I just keep out of sight to avoid trouble."
The judge's eyes twinkled, then grew stern. "In the meanwhile," he said, "Nancy is growing up in ignorance. What sort of a woman are you to let a child go as ragged and dirty as this one and to refuse her an education?"
"Well, schools ain't what they wuz when me an' you wuz young," Mrs. Snawdor said argumentatively. "They no more'n git a child there than they want to cut out their palets or put spectacles on her. But honest, Judge, the truth of it is I can't spare Nance to go to school. I got a job scrubbin' four nights in the week at the post-office, an' I got to have some help in the daytime. I leave it to you if I ain't."
"That's neither here nor there," said the judge. "It is your business to have her at school every morning and to see that she submits to the regulations. You are an able-bodied woman and have an able-bodied husband. Why don't you move into a decent house in a decent neighborhood?"
"There ain't nothin' the matter with our neighborhood. If you'd jes' git 'em to fix the house up some. The roof leaks something scandalous."
"Who is your landlord?"
"Well, they tell me he is," said Mrs. Snawdor, pointing a malicious finger at Mr. Clarke. This coup d'etat caused considerable diversion, and the judge had to call the court sharply to order.
"Is that your husband in the rear of the room?" he asked Mrs. Snawdor.
"Law, no; that's Mr. Burks, our boarder. I begged Snawdor to come, but he's bashful."
"Well, Mr. Burks, will you step forward and tell us what you know of this little girl?"
Uncle Jed cleared his throat, made a pass at the place where his front hair used to be, and came forward.
"Have you known this child long?" asked the judge.
"Eleven years, going on twelve," said Uncle Jed, with a twinkle in his small eyes, "me an' her grandpa fought side by side in the battle of Chickasaw Bluffs."
"So she comes of fighting stock," said the judge. "Do you consider her incorrigible?"
"Do you think her stepmother is able to control her?"
Uncle Jed looked a trifle embarrassed.
"Well, Mrs. Snawdor ain't whut you might say regular in her method. Sometimes she's kinder rough on Nance, and then again she's a heap sight too easy."
"That's a God's truth!" Mrs. Snawdor agreed fervently from the rear.
"Then you do not consider it altogether the child's fault?"
"No, sir, I can't say as I do. She jes' gits the signals mixed sometimes, that's all."
The judge smiled.
"So you think if she understood the signals, she'd follow them?"
Uncle Jed's face became very earnest as he laid his hand on Nance's head.
"I believe if this here little lass was to once git it into her head that a thing was right, she'd do it if it landed her where it landed her paw, at the foot of a forty-foot embankment with a engine a-top of her."
"That's a pretty good testimony to her character," said the judge. "It's our business, then, to see that she gets more definite instructions as to the traffic laws of life. Nance, you and Dan step up here again."
The children stood before him, breathing hard, looking him straight in the face.
"You have both been breaking the law. It's a serious thing to be up in court. It is usually the first step on the down grade. But I don't believe either of you have been wholly to blame. I am going to give you one more chance and put you both on probation to Mrs. Purdy, to whom you are to report once a week. Is Mrs. Purdy in the room?"
An elderly little lady slipped forward and stood behind them with a hand on the shoulder of each. Nance did not dare look around, but there was something comforting and reassuring in that fat hand that lay on her shoulder.
"One more complaint against either of you," cautioned the judge impressively, "and it will be the house of reform. If your families can't make you behave, the State can. But we don't want to leave it to the family or the State; we want to leave it to you. I believe you can both make good, but you'll have to fight for it."
Nance's irregular features broke into a smile. It was a quick, wide smile and very intimate.
"Fight?" she repeated, with a quizzical look at the judge. "I thought that was what we was pinched fer."
For a brief period Nance Molloy walked the paths of righteousness. The fear of being "took up" proved a salutary influence, but permanent converts are seldom made through fear of punishment alone. She was trying by imitation and suggestion to grope her way upward, but the light she climbed by was a borrowed light which swung far above her head and threw strange, misleading shadows across her path. The law that allowed a man to sell her fire-crackers and then punished her for firing them off, that allowed any passer-by to kick her stone off the hop-scotch square and punished her for hurling; the stone after him, was a baffling and difficult thing to understand.
At school it was no better. The truant officer said she must go every day, yet when she got there, there was no room for her. She had to sit in the seat with two other little girls who bitterly resented the intrusion.
"You oughtn't to be in this grade anyhow!" declared one of them. "A girl ought to be in the primer that turns her letters the wrong way."
"Well, my letters spell the words right," said Nance hotly, "an' that's more'n yours do, Pie-Face!"
Whereupon the girl stuck out her tongue, and Nance promptly shoved her off the end of the seat, with the result that her presence was requested in the office at the first recess.
"If you would learn to make your letters right, the girls would not tease you," said the principal, kindly. "Why do you persist in turning them the wrong way?"
Now Nance had learned to write by copying the inscriptions from the reverse side of the cathedral windows, and she still believed the cathedral was right. But she liked the principal and she wanted very much to get a good report, so she gave in.
"All right," she said good-naturedly, "I'll do 'em your way. An' ef you ketch me fightin' agin, I hope you'll lick hell outen me!"
The principal, while decrying its forcible expression, applauded her good intention, and from that time on took special interest in her.
Nance's greatest drawback these days was Mrs. Snawdor. That worthy lady, having her chief domestic prop removed and finding the household duties resting too heavily upon her own shoulders, conceived an overwhelming hatred for the school, the unknown school-teacher, and the truant officer, for whom she had hitherto harbored a slightly romantic interest.
"I ain't got a mite of use for the whole lay-out," she announced in a sweeping condemnation one morning when Nance was reminding her for the fourth time that she had to have a spelling book. "They' re forever wantin' somethin'. It ain't no use beginnin' to humor 'em. Wasn't they after me to put specs on Fidy last week? I know their tricks, standin' in with eye-doctors an' dentists! An' here I been fer goin' on ten years, tryin' to save up to have my own eye-teeth drawed an' decent ones put in. Snawdor promised when we got married that would be his first present to me. Well, if I ever get 'em, they will be his first present."
"Teacher says you oughtn't to leave the milk settin' uncovered like that; it gits germans in it," said Nance.
"I'd like to know whose milk-can this is?" demanded Mrs. Snawdor indignantly. "You tell her when she pays fer my milk, it 'll be time enough fer her to tell me what to do with it. You needn't be scurryin' so to git off. I'm fixin' to go to market. You'll have to stay an' 'tend to the children 'til I git back."
"But I'm tryin' to git a good report," urged Nance. "I don't want to be late."
"I'll send a excuse by Fidy, an' say you 're sick in bed. Then you kin stay home all day an' git the house cleaned up."
"Naw, I won't," said Nance rebelliously, "I ain't goin' to miss ag'in."
"You're goin' to shut up this minute, you sass-box, or I'll take you back to that there juvenile court. Git me a piece o' paper an' a pencil."
With great effort she wrote her note while Nance stood sullenly by, looking over her shoulder.
"You spelled teacher's name with a little letter," Nance muttered.
"I done it a-purpose," said Mrs. Snawdor vindictively, "I ain't goin' to spell her with a capital; she ain't worth it."
Nance would undoubtedly have put up a more spirited fight for her rights, had she not been anxious to preserve peace until the afternoon. It was the day appointed by the court for her and Dan Lewis to make their first report to Mrs. Purdy, whose name and address had been given them on a card. She had washed her one gingham apron for the occasion, and had sewed up the biggest rent in her stockings. The going forth alone with Dan on an errand of any nature was an occasion of importance. It somehow justified those coupled initials, enclosed in a gigantic heart, that she had surreptitiously drawn on the fence.
After her first disappointment in being kept at home, she set about her task of cleaning the Snawdor flat with the ardor of a young Hercules attacking the Augean stables. First she established the twins in the hall with a string and a bent pin and the beguiling belief that if they fished long enough over the banister they would catch something. Next she anchored the screaming baby to a bedpost and reduced him to subjection by dipping his fingers in sorghum, then giving him a feather. The absorbing occupation of plucking the feather from one sticky hand to the other rendered him passive for an hour.
These preliminaries being arranged, Nance turned her attention to the work in hand. Her method consisted in starting at the kitchen, which was in front, and driving the debris back, through the dark, little, middle room, until she landed it all in a formidable mass in Mrs. Snawdor's bedroom at the rear. This plan, pursued day after day, with the general understanding that Mrs. Snawdor was going to take a day off soon and clean up, had resulted in a condition of indescribable chaos. As Mr. Snawdor and the three younger children slept in the rear room at night, and Mrs. Snawdor slept in it the better part of the day, the hour for cleaning seldom arrived.
To-day as Nance stood in the doorway of this stronghold of dirt and disorder, she paused, broom in hand. The floor, as usual, was littered with papers and strings, the beds were unmade, the wash-stand and dresser were piled high with a miscellaneous collection, and the drawers of each stood open, disgorging their contents. On the walls hung three enlarged crayons of bridal couples, in which the grooms were different, but the bride the same. On the dusty window sill were bottles and empty spools, broken glass chimneys, and the clock that ran ten minutes slow. The debris not only filled the room, but spilled out into the fire-escape and down the rickety iron ladders and flowed about the garbage barrels in the passage below.
It was not this too familiar scene, however, that made Nance pause with her hand on the door-knob and gaze open-mouthed into the room. It was the sight of Mr. Snawdor sitting on the side of the bed with his back toward her, wiping his little red-rimmed eyes on a clean pocket handkerchief, and patting his trembling mouth with the hand that was not under the quilt. Heretofore Nance had regarded Mr. Snawdor as just one of the many discomforts with which the family had to put up. His whining protests against their way of living had come to be as much a matter of course as the creaking door or the smoking chimney. Nobody ever thought of listening to what he was saying, and everybody pushed and ordered him about, including Nance, who enjoyed using Mrs. Snawdor's highhanded method with him, when that lady was not present.
But when she saw him sitting there with his back to her, crying, she was puzzled and disturbed. As she watched, she saw him fumble for something under the quilt, then lift a shining pistol, and place the muzzle to his thin, bald temple. With a cry of terror, she dashed forward and knocked the weapon from his hand.
"You put that down!" she cried, much as she would have commanded William J. to leave the butcher knife alone. "Do you want to kill yerself?"
Mr. Snawdor started violently, then collapsing beside the bed, confessed that he did.
"What fer?" asked Nance, terror giving way to sheer amazement.
"I want to quit!" cried Mr. Snawdor, hysterically. "I can't stand it any longer. I'm a plumb failure and I ain't goin' to ever be anything else. If your maw had taken care of what I had, we wouldn't have been where we are at. Look at the way we live! Like pigs in a pen! We're nothing but pore white trash; that's what we are!"
Nance stood beside him with her hand on his shoulder. Poor white trash! That was what the Clarke boy had called her. And now Mr. Snawdor, the nominal head of the family, was acknowledging it to be true. She looked about her in new and quick concern.
"I'm going to clean up in here, too," she said. "I don't keer whut mammy says. It'll look better by night; you see if it don't."
"It ain't only that—" said Mr. Snawdor; then he pulled himself up and looked at her appealingly. "You won't say nuthin' about this mornin', will you, Nance?"
"Not if you gimme the pistol," said Nance.
When he was gone, she picked up the shining weapon and gingerly dropped it out on the adjoining roof. Then her knees felt suddenly wobbly, and she sat down. What if she had been a minute later and Mr. Snawdor had pulled the trigger? She shivered as her quick imagination pictured the scene. If Mr. Snawdor felt like that about it, there was but one thing to do; to get things cleaned up and try to keep them so.
Feeling very important and responsible, she swept and straightened and dusted, while her mind worked even faster than her nimble hands. Standards are formed by comparisons, and so far Nance's opportunity for instituting comparisons had been decidedly limited.
"We ain't pore white, no such a thing!" she kept saying to herself. "Our house ain't no worser nor nobody else's. Mis' Smelts is just the same, an' if Levinski's is cleaner, it smells a heap worse."
Dinner was over before Mrs. Snawdor returned. She came into the kitchen greatly ruffled as to hair and temper from having been caught by the hook left hanging over the banisters by William J.
"Gimme the rocker!" she demanded. "My feet hurt so bad I'd just like to unscrew 'em an' fling 'em in the dump heap."
"Where you been at?" asked Uncle Jed, who was cutting himself a slice of bread from the loaf.
"I been down helpin' the new tenant move in on the first floor."
"Any childern?" asked Nance and Lobelia in one breath.
"No; just a foreign-lookin' old gentleman, puttin' on as much airs as if he was movin' into the Walderastoria. Nobody knows his name or where he comes from. Ike Lavinski says he plays the fiddle at the theayter. Talk about your helpless people! I had to take a hand in gettin' his things unloaded. He liked to never got done thankin' me."
Mr. Snawdor, who had been sitting in dejected silence before his untouched food, pushed his plate back and sighed deeply.
"Now, fer heaven sake, Snawdor," began his wife in tones of exasperation, "can't I do a kind act to a neighbor without a-rufflin' yer feathers the wrong way?"
"I cleaned up yer room while you was gone," said Nance, eager to divert the conversation from Mr. Snawdor. "Uncle Jed an' me carried the trash down an' it filled the ash barrel clean up to the top."
"Well, I hope an' pray you didn't throw away my insurance book. I was aimin' to clean up, myself, to-morrow. What on earth's the matter with Rosy Velt?"
Rosy, who had been banished to the kitchen for misbehavior, had been conducting a series of delicate experiments, with disastrous results. She had been warned since infancy never to put a button up her nose, but Providence having suddenly placed one in her way, and at the same time engaged her mother's attention elsewhere, the opportunity was too propitious to be lost.
Nance took advantage of her stepmother's sudden departure to cheer up Mr. Snawdor.
"We're gittin' things cleaned up," she said, "I can't work no more to-day though, 'cause I got to report to the lady."
"Ain't you goin' to slick yerself up a bit?" asked Uncle Jed, making a futile effort to smooth her hair.
"I have," said Nance, indignantly, "Can't you see I got on a clean apron?"
Uncle Jed's glance was not satisfied as it traveled from the dirty dress below the apron to the torn stockings and shabby shoes.
"Why don't you wear the gold locket?" suggested Mrs. Snawdor, who now returned with Rosy in one hand and the button in the other.
The gold locket was the one piece of jewelry in the family and when it was suspended on a black ribbon around Nance's neck, it filled her with a sense of elegance. So pleased was she with its effect that as she went out that afternoon, she peeped in on the new tenant in the hope that he would notice it. She found him leaning over a violin case, and her interest was fired at once.
"Can you play on the fiddle?" she demanded.
The small, elderly man in the neat, black suit lifted his head and smiled at her over his glasses.
"Yes, my little friend," he said in a low, refined voice, "I will play for you to dance sometime. You would like that? Yes?"
Nance regarded him gravely.
"Say, are you a Polock or a Dago?" she asked.
He gave an amused shrug.
"I am neither. My name is Mr. Demorest. And you are my little neighbor, perhaps?"
"Third floor on the right," said Nance, adding in a business-like tone, "I'll be down to dance to-night."
She would have liked very much to stay longer, for the old gentleman was quite unlike any one she had ever talked to before, but the card in her hand named the hour of two, and back of the card was Mrs. Purdy, and back of Mrs. Purdy the juvenile court, the one thing in life so far whose authority Nance had seen fit to acknowledge.
At the corner Dan Lewis stood aside like a deposed chieftain while his companions knelt in an excited ring, engrossed in a game sanctioned by custom and forbidden by law. Even to Nance's admiring eye he looked dirtier and more ragged than usual, and his scowl deepened as she approached.
"I ain't goin'," he said.
"Yes, you are, too. Why not?" said Nance, inconsequently.
"Aw, it ain't no use."
"Ain't you been to school?"
"Yep, but I ain't goin' to that lady's house. I ain't fit."
"You got to go to take me," said Nance, diplomatically. "I don't know where Butternut Lane's at."
"You could find it, couldn't you?"
Nance didn't think she could. In fact she developed a sudden dependence wholly out of keeping with her usual self-reliance.
This seemed to complicate matters for Dan. He stood irresolutely kicking his bare heels against the curb and then reluctantly agreed to take her as far as Mrs. Purdy's gate, provided nothing more was expected of him.
Their way led across the city to a suburb, and they were hot and tired before half the distance was covered. But the expedition was fraught with interest for Nance. After the first few squares of sullen silence, Dan seemed to forget that she was merely a girl and treated her with the royal equality usually reserved for boys. So confidential did they become that she ventured to put a question to him that had been puzzling her since the events of the morning.
"Say, Dan, when anybody kills hisself, is it murder?"
"It's kinder murder. You wouldn't ketch me doin' it as long as I could get something to eat."
"You kin always git a piece of bread," said Nance.
"You bet you can't!" said Dan with conviction. "I ain't had nothin' to eat myself since yisterday noon."
"Yer maw didn't come in last night?"
"I 'spec' she went on a visit somewhere," said Dan, whose lips trembled slightly despite the stump of a cigarette that he manfully held between them.
"Couldn't you git in a window?"
"Nope; the shutters was shut. Maybe I don't wisht it was December, an' I was fourteen!"
"Sammy Smelts works an' he ain't no older'n me," said Nance. "You kin git a fake certificate fer a quarter."
Dan smiled bitterly.
"Where'm I goin' to git the quarter? They won't let me sell things on the street, or shoot craps, or work. Gee, I wisht I was rich as that Clarke boy. Ike Lavinski says he buys a quarter's worth of candy at a time! He's in Ike's room at school."
"He wasn't there yesterday," said Nance. "Uncle Jed seen him with another boy, goin' out the railroad track."
"I know it. He played hookey. He wrote a excuse an' signed his maw's name to it. Ike seen him do it. An' when the principal called up his maw this mornin' an' ast her 'bout it, she up an' said she wrote it herself."
Nance was not sure whether she was called upon to admire the astuteness of Mac or his mother, so she did not commit herself. But she was keenly interested. Ever since that day in the juvenile court she had been haunted by the memory of a trim, boyish figure arrayed in white, and by a pair of large brown eyes which disdainfully refused to glance in her direction.
"Say, Dan," she asked wistfully, "have you got a girl?"
"Naw," said Dan disdainfully, "what do I keer about girls?"
"I don't know. I thought maybe you had. I bet that there Clarke boy's got two or three."
"Let him have 'em," said Dan; then, finding the subject distasteful, he added, "what's the matter with hookin' on behind that there wagon?" And suiting the action to the word, they both went in hot pursuit.
After a few jolting squares during which Nance courted death with her flying skirts brushing the revolving wheels, the wagon turned into a side street, and they were obliged to walk again.
"I wonder if this ain't the place?" she said, as they came in sight of a low, white house half smothered in beech-trees, with a flower garden at one side, at the end of which was a vine-covered summer-house.