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make fires ; you know I did while pa was sick. And I can be a newsboy, like Tommy Dolan; or I can black boots, like Johnny Finnegan, in the alley;
or — I know! Errand-boy 's the thing! Don't cry, ma! We won't have to move ; we 'll pay the rent somehow. You must take a boarder, like Mrs. Skillins down stairs." And in the purity of his brave young heart, he could n't see why “ma” shuddered at the mention of Tommy Dolan and Johnny Finnegan.
The very next morning, as bright and early he started down stairs with his basket on his way to Tompkins Market for “ma's ” breakfast, he encountered Stebbins, Mrs. Skillins's hall-bedroom lodger, a dry-goods clerk down town. Stebbins and Frankie were good friends. “ Sis" went down stairs on his shoulder on many a morning, and kissed him “good by” at the door, and both were well acquainted with the way to his pockets when he came in at night.
A bright thought popped into Frankie's curly head.
“I say, Stebbins," with rather a nonchalant air and utter forgetfulness of "ma’s” injunction to say Mr. Stebbins, — "any errand-boys in your store ?"
“ Six more than are good for anything. Why, Bub ? ”
“ Then you just turn off one of 'em, and get me his place, will you ?"confidentially, with a knowing wink.
“ Whew!" whistled Stebbins. “Got on high-heeled boots, I guess."
“ Have n't got any boots ; but I 'll have a pair soon as you get me that place. You see I 'm going to be a man ; somebody 's got to take care o' my mother, you know; and I guess I can do something, if I only get a
“ You 'd better start for the market, then, right away.”
“Never you mind the market; but don't forget what I ask you. I can do as much as any other fellow most eleven years old.”
When, in a few weeks, Stebbins told “ma” that they wanted a new cash-boy, “ma” demurred a little about “ Frankie's giving up school; his pa was always so anxious to give him advantages," and inquired particularly about the boys he would mix with, and gave him a thousand charges on conduct, associates, &c. ; to all of which Frankie answered confidently : “ Never mind, ma. Don't worry about school. When I earn some money, I can go to college, if you like, and Sis shall have a piano. I don't play with bad boys, you know I don't. My pa was a good man, and said I must be a gentleman when I grow up."
So “ma” brushed his best suit, and, with the elation natural to a good purpose and good clothes, Frankie took his first step toward the golden Future.
Not over the smoothest road, he soon found. Work is work, at best; and though the young heart was large and brave, the hands were small and weak. And everybody in the wide, selfish world is n't like Stebbins or “ma." But it was a comfort, after getting through that first tedious week, to hasten home on Saturday night, and lay that three-dollar-bill by the side of “ma's” plate. Did not her tender embrace repay his patient perseverance ?
Sitting there on the Park-rail, no wonder he questioned if he could forego this weekly pleasure, and started on with the thought, “Patience yet awhile !”
It is a good thing not to give up easily when one is striving in a good cause ; but sometimes-spirits most willing inhabit flesh most weak.
The sultry August days of rain and heat brought their usual tribute of disease to the crowded, dirty city; and Fever and Death began to roam hand in hand through the quarters of the poor.
For more than a week a light had burned all night in Frankie's chamber, and his mother had sat all day beside his bed; but he did not know her. Willingly the little feet had carried their owner to his daily tasks, and wearily brought home his aching head, till they could do so no longer.
When the doctor came, how eagerly Frankie prattled to him of his work and his plans, and how the “big boy” in the store had tried to get him to drink lager-beer with him, and a great deal else that he did not at all know he was saying, because he was wild with fever. And his mother, following the doctor out, anxiously said, “ Do you think he will get well? It seems to me I could n't live if he does not."
No doubt Frankie's mother could have lived if it had pleased the good God to take him from her ; for many a mother lives whose own dear boy looks not on her with his bright eyes in her earthly home, but with angel-eyes from the heavenly. God is especially merciful to “the widow and the fatherless"; and after a while the doctor found Frankie sitting up, or playing with Willie on the floor, when he made his daily visit.
“Doctor” was a great man, so they all thought. Surely he could make any one well. He had such a smile, such pleasant ways, such jokes for Frankie, such treasures of knick-knacks for Baby and Sis. He had such a breezy way of rubbing his hands, and saying, with pretended sternness, “Out of bed? My goodness ! How 's this? Don't you know you 're sick? I shall have give you a dose of castor-oil at once to convince you of it. Don't want it? Why, you 'll tell me next you don't want a doctor. Well, if you won't take oil, I don't see but you will have to take — a ride. Mother, just wrap a shawl round him. I'm going out to Bloomingdale, and I think I 'll take him along. When people won't take castor-oil, it is high time they went to the insane asylum.”
It was about this time that Stebbins stood talking at the desk with the cashier, who said, “By the way, what has become of that little • Cash' you brought us?”
So Stebbins told him how sick Frankie had been, and the senior partner, standing near, overheard, and said he had noticed the little boy because he was delicate, yet so willing and bright, and, questioned further, Stebbins told all he knew of the family.
“Give that to his mother," said the senior partner, handing a bright new "greenback" with an X on it, “ with my compliments on her promising boy; and tell her that when he is well again we shall be glad to see him back.”
That “greenback” was a welcome visitor to Frankie's mother, for while
she had been attending him so closely the sewing-machine had been idle, and money grew scarce, but far above the ten dollars did she value the senior partner's praise of her boy.
Soon Frankie began to talk of going to work again, but his mother consulted the doctor, and he did not advise his return to the store. He thought him too young, and not strong enough, and promised to look around himself for a better chance.
Somebody who was Secretary of the “Life and Hope Sustaining Society," of which Doctor was one of the directors, said to him one morning : “Doctor, I don't quite like this boy we have here in the office.
He seems inclined to get rid of work, and has several times been impertinent to me. I heard him tell one of the clerks that he never would be ordered around by a woman, because the clerk reproved him for neglecting what I had told him to do."
“ You don't say so! Never 'll do at all! He needs a man to oversee him. I declare! Now I think of it, the superintendent up stairs wants a boy. I'll speak to him about it, for I 've a little chap for this place that will just suit you, I think.”
That was the way it happened that one morning Doctor stood beside Somebody's table, and, with his hand on Frankie's shoulder said: “I've brought you a boy, Miss Somebody, and he is to do just what you want, and mind whatever you say to him, carry letters, sweep, and take particular care of your fire, if he stays till winter."
At first Somebody took very little notice of Frankie ; she had had so much experience of disagreeable little boys, who grew saucy and idle when noticed and indulged, that she was afraid of spoiling her new page. But Frankie was modest and quiet in her presence, however lively he might be in the street or with other boys, and when he was not busy would take up a book or paper and read, or would write in his copy-book which Somebody gave him, and in which she was teaching him to write.
She had known him nearly three months, when she noticed one day that he seemed listless, and so quiet that she scarcely knew he was there. Looking around she saw him sitting on a box behind the stove and crying. She sat down beside him, and, gently smoothing back his damp hair, inquired his trouble. With a great sob and a pitiful look he answered, “ The baby is dead!”
There were many babies to Somebody all equally dear, but she knew well that there could be but one to him. So she put her arm around him, and let the blue eyes weep themselves dry upon her shoulder, and whispered all the comforting words she could. She knew the child's heart was full, so she asked many questions about the baby and “Sis” and “ma."
“O, you don't know how cunning he was! He was most two years old, and we loved him so! He was only sick two days, with croup; and when I woke this morning there was ma crying, with Willie dead in her lap."
" Why did you leave her, my child ?”
" True, but go now; your ma will need you. You must help her to bear the baby's loss."
After that day Somebody and Frankie were warm friends, and nothing marred their mutual relations till nearly spring, when an event occurred that might have ruined poor Frankie's prospects.
He was generally prompt and faithful, particularly in taking letters to and from the post-office, and spent very little time in talking with other boys on the way, and never went off on errands of his own when sent on another's business. This was especially important, as many of the letters contained money, as well as valuable information; and if he had stopped, or gone out of the way, or played awhile with his friends, the letters might easily have been lost or stolen.
Standing by Somebody's side, he waited for her to finish a letter, into which she put twenty dollars, and, having sealed it carefully, gave it to him to be mailed at once, after which he was to go on another errand to Wall Street.
Off went Frankie, cheerfully whistling “ The Union Forever.” On the landing he met the up-stairs boy, with a handful of letters, going in the same direction. He inquired Frankie's errands, and made some boasting remarks to give an idea of his own importance. When they reached the street, he said : “ Just let me take that letter in your hand; it is a thick ’un, and I 'll bet there ain't stamps enough on it. I d' know, I guess it 'll pass”;-- and as Frankie reached his hand for it he added : There 's a Wall Street stage now; you'd better jump in, I'm going to the office, and I 'll take your letter right along with mine." With that he signalled the driver, and before Frankie had time for reflection, he was rumbling down Broadway.
A week passed, and as Frankie was sweeping out and making ready for Somebody's coming, he went to empty the waste-paper basket into the big box in the hall, where the papers were kept for the rag-man. As he did so, he noticed in the box a clean-looking envelope on which the stamp was still uncancelled. As he picked it out to save the stamp, the up-stairs boy came down with his basket. Pouncing suddenly and roughly upon Frankie, he sung out: “Gi’ me that. It 's mine! What are you nosing in the wastebox for, I 'd like to know ?”
“ Yours ? ” said Frankie, thrusting it into his pocket. “I think I have as good a right to what I find in the box as you have, and I mean to keep it."
“You better gi' me that envelope if you don't want your ears pulled.” “You 'd better pull them if you 're tired of your place,” retorted Frankie.
“ Ho, ho! a favorite! Got influence, have ye? Get out!" and he raised his foot for a heavy kick, when he lost his balance and fell over backwards, - an accident in some way connected with the Doctor's coming behind him at that moment.
Rather crestfallen, he picked himself up, and went up stairs shaking his fist, and muttering threateningly at Frankie over the railing.
Somebody had been at her table about an hour when she said, “Frankie, come here."
VOL. IV. —NO. I.
She was looking over that morning's letters, and, holding one in her hand, she said: "Our branch office in L- County writes me that the letter and the twenty dollars which I sent a week ago have not been received. You remember seeing me put in the money? You took it to the office.”
No, Frankie could n't remember exactly, he so often saw her do similar things.
“ Let me see. It was the day I sent you to Wall Street, to Mr. K—'s office. Try and think of all you did that day.”
A sudden thought, and a crimson blush rose to Frankie's cheek. For the first time he was conscious that he perhaps had not done right in letting another perform his duty. With downcast eyes he stammered: “O Miss Somebody, I am sorry. If the letter is lost, you will blame me; I let Jim take it to the office.”
“This is a serious matter, my child ; tell all the truth plainly."
With the earnestness of candor and regret, Frankie fixed his eyes on her face, and told every circumstance of his parting with the letter. When he ceased, Somebody still looked at him silently. Suddenly she said, “What is that sticking out of your pocket ? ”
He drew out the crumpled envelope, and handed it to her.
“ Frankie ! This is the envelope to that very letter. Where are the letter and the money?”