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CHAPTER IX


ONLY A STREET WAIF


In the morning Dunston Porter left the hotel early, stating that he would not return until lunch time. The boys and girls took their time over their breakfast, and then started out for a tour of the big stores located on State Street.

Two hours were spent in a way that pleased Laura and Jessie greatly. The girls purchased several things, to be mailed to the folks left behind. Then all walked around to the post-office, both to see the building and to send the things away.

It was while the others were addressing their packages and also some picture postcards, that Dave saw a sight that interested him greatly. Near one of the doorways was a small and ragged newsboy with half a dozen papers under his arm. An older youth had him by the shoulder and was shaking him viciously.

"I say it was a five-dollar gold piece I gave you yesterday by mistake!" the older boy was saying. "I want it back."

"No, it wasn't, mister," the boy answered. "It was a cent, nothing but a cent."

"I know better, you little thief! Give me that gold piece, or I'll call a policeman." And again the big youth shook the ragged newsboy, causing the papers to fall to the sidewalk.

"Why, it's Link Merwell!" murmured Dave to himself, and he stepped in the direction of the pair who were disputing. Merwell had his back to Dave and did not see him.

"Are you going to give me my gold piece or not?" demanded Link Merwell, and now he gave the newsboy such a twist of the shoulder that the ragged lad cried out with pain.

"I don't know anything about your gold piece!" cried the boy for at least the tenth time. "Let me go, please, mister! I ain't no thief!"

"I'll twist your little neck off for you!" muttered Merwell, and was on the point of hitting the boy in the face when Dave stepped up behind him and caught his arm.

"Don't you know better than to hit a little chap like this, Merwell?" he demanded.

"Porter!" muttered the western youth, and his face took on a sour look. "Say, this ain't none of your affair!" he burst out. "You keep your hands off."

"Please don't let him hurt me!" pleaded the ragged newsboy. "I didn't do wrong, mister. I ain't seen no gold piece. He gave me a cent yesterday for a newspaper, that's all." And the boy looked imploringly at Dave.

"He's got a five-dollar gold piece of mine," cried Link Merwell. "I want it. And what's more, Dave Porter, I want you to keep your nose out of my business!" he added, fiercely.

"Merwell," answered Dave, as calmly as he could, "I have no desire to interfere in your business. But I am not going to stand by and see you abuse this boy, or anybody else. I know just the sort you are—a bully."

"Bah! Just because you had me expelled from Oak Hall you think you can do anything, don't you? Well, just wait till you get out West, that's all! I'll show you a thing or two you won't forget as long as you live!"

"Take care that you don't get the worst of it, Merwell. Now let that boy go." And Dave came a step closer and clenched his fists.

"Going to help the rascal steal five dollars from me?"

"He says he knows nothing of your gold piece and he looks honest to me. Why aren't you more careful of your money?"

"He's got my gold piece and I know it!" declared Link Merwell, loudly. "If he don't pass it over, I'm going to have him arrested."

Quite a war of words followed, the loud talking attracting a crowd, including Phil and Roger and the girls. The ragged newsboy broke down completely and commenced to cry bitterly.

"This is a shame, Merwell," said the senator's son. "I think as Dave does, that the newsboy is honest. If you are so hard up, I'll give you five dollars out of my own pocket," and he produced a roll of bills.

"I don't want your money, Morr!" answered Merwell, in a rage. "I am going to make this boy give me back my gold piece."

"Say, you," said a man who had listened to the talk for several minutes. "When did you lose that five-dollar gold piece?"

"Yesterday morning," answered Link Merwell. "I bought a newspaper from this boy and after a while I found out I had given him a five-dollar piece in place of a cent."

"Did you buy any postage stamps about the same time?" went on the man.

"Why—er—yes, I did." Link Merwell gave a start. "Say, did——"

"You did," answered the man, with a sarcastic grin. "I'm the clerk at that window and I'm just going to lunch," he explained to the crowd. "You bought five two-cent stamps and threw down a nickel and what I supposed were five pennies. When I looked at them I saw one was a five-dollar gold piece. I tried to call you back, but you got out in such a hurry I couldn't locate you. If you'll come back with me I'll give you the gold piece in exchange for one cent."

"There you are, Merwell!" cried Dave. "Now you can see how you were mistaken in this boy."

Link Merwell's face was a study. He felt his humiliation keenly, and it is safe to say he would rather have lost his five dollars than have been shown up in the wrong.

"All right, I'll go back and get my gold piece," he muttered.

"I think you owe the newsboy an apology," said Phil.

"Oh, you go to thunder!" snapped Merwell, and pushed out of the crowd as fast as he could. Several followed him and saw him get his gold piece, and they passed all sorts of uncomplimentary remarks on his actions.

The girls had become interested in the ragged newsboy, and after he had picked up his newspapers, they took him to an out-of-the-way corner and questioned him. He said his name was Charley Gamp and that he was alone in the world.

"My mother died some years ago," he said. "I don't know where my father is. He left us when I was a baby."

"And do you make your living selling newspapers?" asked Laura.

"Mostly, but sometimes I carry bundles and run on other errands," answered Charley Gamp.

"And where do you live?" questioned Jessie.

"Oh, I live with an old woman named Posey—that is, when I can pay for my bed. When I haven't the price I go down to the docks and find a bed among the boxes and things."

"You poor boy!" murmured Jessie, and something like tears came into her eyes. She turned to Laura. "Can't we do something for him?"

"Perhaps," answered Laura. "At any rate, we can give him some money."

The boys came over, and all had a talk with Charley Gamp, who told much about his former life, when his mother had been alive. Of his father he knew little or nothing, excepting that he had not treated his mother fairly, according to the story told by some former neighbors.

"I wish we could get him some sort of regular employment and give him a chance to go to school," said Dave. "Let us ask Uncle Dunston about it. He knows quite a number of people in Chicago."

"If you want to do something for me, I'll tell you what," said Charley, eagerly. "I need a new pair of shoes." And he looked down at his foot coverings, which were full of holes.

"And I should say that you needed a new suit of clothes, too," said Laura.

"And a new cap," added Jessie. "I'll get you the cap," she went on. "A real nice one, too."

In spite of his rags and his dirty face and hands Charley Gamp had a winning way about him, and the boys and girls easily induced him to follow them to the hotel. Here they waited for the return of Dunston Porter, and then asked what might be done with the waif.

"You'll have your hands full if you want to help every waif that comes along," said Dave's uncle, with a smile. "Every big city has hundreds of them."

"Well, we can't aid every one, but we do want to aid Charley," answered Laura. And then she and the others told of what had occurred at the post-office.

"I don't know exactly how much we can do," said Dunston Porter, slowly. "I know a number of people here, it is true, but whether any of them will want to bother with this lad is a question. However, after lunch I'll look into the matter."

As the urchin was too dirty and ragged to eat in the hotel, he was given a quarter of a dollar for his dinner and told to come back in half an hour. This he did willingly, and a little later Mr. Porter, Dave, and the two girls sallied forth to see what could be done for the homeless boy.

The quest was more successful than they had anticipated. Mr. Porter knew a certain Mr. Latham, who was in the wholesale fruit business, and this gentleman agreed to give Charley Gamp a job, at two dollars a week and his board. He was to live with a man who had charge of a warehouse where fruit was unloaded, and was to be sent to night school.

This settled, the waif was fitted out with new clothing and other things, and the boys and girls and Mr. Porter made up a purse for him of twenty dollars.

"You had better put the money in a bank," said Dave. "Then you can use it as you need it, or put more to it."

"Twenty dollars!" gasped Charley Gamp, when he saw the money. "Wow! Say, I'll be a millionaire before you know it, won't I?" And this remark caused a laugh. He promised to put the money in a savings bank, where it would draw interest, and said he would try his best to add to it from his weekly wages.

"And will you go to school regularly?" asked Mr. Porter.

"Yes, sir, I'll give you my word," replied the street boy, promptly.

"And as soon as you learn to write, you must send us letters," put in Jessie. "I shall wish to hear from you very much."

"I'll write, miss. I can write a little already—printing letters," answered Charley Gamp.

"Then here is my address," and Jessie handed over her card, and Laura did the same. Mr. Latham promised to let Mr. Porter know how the boy got along, and also promised to make some inquiries in the hope of locating the lad's father. Charley Gamp was extremely grateful for all that had been done for him, and when he parted from his new friends there were tears in his eyes.

"My mother used to tell me there was angels," he said to Jessie and Laura. "I didn't believe it much. But I do now, 'cause you're angels!" And he nodded his head earnestly, to show that he meant what he said.

"And now, ho, for the boundless West!" cried Dave, when the party was on its way to the depot, "Now for the plains and the mountains, the canyons and the rivers, the cattle and the broncos, the campfires and the cowboys, and the lasso and the rifle, the——"

"Hello, Dave is wound up!" interrupted the senator's son.

"Must have some of that ranch air in his lungs already," added Phil. "I suppose the first thing you'll want to do will be to break in a bronco, ride a couple of hundred miles, and lasso a couple of dozen buffaloes."

"Sure thing," answered Dave. "Then we'll build a roaring campfire, cook a ten-pound bear steak and eat it, shoot half a dozen Apache Indians, find a few fifteen-pound nuggets of gold, and—wake up and find the mince pie you had for supper didn't agree with you." And this unexpected ending brought forth a roar of laughter, in which even Mr. Porter joined.

"You won't find it so exciting as all that at Star Ranch," said Laura, after the others had quieted down. "But I think you'll be able to put in the time doing one thing or another."

"I reckon we'll hunt up some excitement," said the senator's son. And they did, as we shall speedily see.