That Angel Boy
That Angel Boy
"I am so glad you consented to stay over until Monday, auntie, for now you can hear our famous boy choir," Ethel had said at the breakfast table that Sunday morning.
"Humph! I've heard of 'em," Ann Wetherby had returned crisply, "but I never took much stock in 'em. A choir—made o' boys—just as if music could come from yellin', hootin' boys!"
An hour later at St. Mark's, the softly swelling music of the organ was sending curious little thrills tingling to Miss Wetherby's finger tips. The voluntary had become a mere whisper when she noticed that the great doors near her were swinging outward. The music ceased, and there was a moment's breathless hush—then faintly in the distance sounded the first sweet notes of the processional.
Ethel stirred slightly and threw a meaning glance at her aunt. The woman met the look unflinchingly.
"Them ain't no boys!" she whispered tartly.
Nearer and nearer swelled the chorus until the leaders reached the open doors. Miss Wetherby gave one look at the white-robed singers, then she reached over and clutched Ethel's fingers.
"They be!—and in their nighties, too!" she added in a horrified whisper.
One of the boys had a solo in the anthem that morning, and as the clear, pure soprano rose higher and higher, Miss Wetherby gazed in undisguised awe at the young singer. She noted the soulful eyes uplifted devoutly, and the broad forehead framed in clustering brown curls. To Miss Wetherby it was the face of an angel; and as the glorious voice rose and swelled and died away in exquisite melody, two big tears rolled down her cheeks and splashed on the shining, black silk gown.
At dinner that day Miss Wetherby learned that the soloist was "Bobby Sawyer." She also learned that he was one of Ethel's "fresh-air" mission children, and that, as yet, there was no place for him to go for a vacation.
"That angel child with the heavenly voice—and no one to take him in?" Miss Wetherby bethought herself of her own airy rooms and flowering meadows, and snapped her lips together with sudden determination.
"I'll take him!" she announced tersely, and went home the next day to prepare for her expected guest.
Early in the morning of the first Monday in July, Miss Wetherby added the finishing touches to the dainty white bedroom upstairs.
"Dear little soul—I hope he'll like it!" she murmured, giving a loving pat to the spotless, beruffled pillow shams; then her approving eyes fell upon the "Morning Prayer" hanging at the foot of the bed. "There! them sweet little cherubs sayin' their prayers is jest the thing fur the little saint to see when he first wakes ev'ry mornin'. Little angel!" she finished softly.
On the table in the corner were hymn books, the great red-and-gold family Bible, and a "Baxter's Saint's Rest"—the only reading matter suited to Miss Wetherby's conception of the mind behind those soulful orbs upraised in devout adoration.
Just before Ann started for the station Tommy Green came over to leave his pet dog, Rover, for Miss Wetherby's "fresh-air" boy to play with.
"Now, Thomas Green," remonstrated Ann severely, "you can take that dirty dog right home. I won't have him around. Besides, Robert Sawyer ain't the kind of a boy you be. He don't care fur sech things—I know he don't."
Half an hour later, Ann Wetherby, her heart thumping loudly against her ribs, anxiously scanned the passengers as they alighted at Slocumville Station. There were not many—an old man, two girls, three or four women, and a small, dirty boy with a dirtier dog and a brown paper parcel in his arms.
He had not come!
Miss Wetherby held her breath and looked furtively at the small boy. There was nothing familiar in his appearance, she was thankful to say! He must be another one for somebody else. Still, perhaps he might know something about her own angel boy—she would ask.
Ann advanced warily, with a disapproving eye on the dog.
"Little boy, can you tell me why Robert Sawyer did n't come?" she asked severely.
The result of her cautious question disconcerted her not a little. The boy dropped the dog and bundle to the platform, threw his hat in the air, and capered about in wild glee.
"Hi, there, Bones! We're all right! Golly—but I thought we was side-tracked, fur sure!"
Miss Wetherby sank in limp dismay to a box of freight near by—the bared head disclosed the clustering brown curls and broad forehead, and the eyes uplifted to the whirling hat completed the tell-tale picture.
The urchin caught the hat deftly on the back of his head, and pranced up to Ann with his hands in his pockets.
"Gee-whiz! marm—but I thought you'd flunked fur sure. I reckoned me an' Bones was barkin' up the wrong tree this time. It looked as if we'd come to a jumpin'-off place, an' you'd given us the slip. I'm Bob, myself, ye see, an' I've come all right!"
"Are you Robert Sawyer?" she gasped.
"Jest ye hear that, Bones!" laughed the boy shrilly, capering round and round the small dog again. "I's 'Robert' now—do ye hear?" Then he whirled back to his position in front of Miss Wetherby, and made a low bow. "Robert Sawyer, at yer service," he announced in mock pomposity. "Oh, I say," he added with a quick change of position, "yer 'd better call me 'Bob'; I ain't uster nothin' else. I'd fly off the handle quicker 'n no time, puttin' on airs like that."
Miss Wetherby's back straightened. She made a desperate attempt to regain her usual stern self-possession.
"I shall call ye 'Robert,' boy. I don't like—er—that other name."
There was a prolonged stare and a low whistle from the boy. Then he turned to pick up his bundle.
"Come on, Bones, stir yer stumps; lively, now! This 'ere lady's a-goin' ter take us ter her shebang ter stay mos' two weeks. Gee-whiz! Bones, ain't this great!" And with one bound he was off the platform and turning a series of somersaults on the soft grass followed by the skinny, mangy dog which was barking itself nearly wild with joy.
Ann Wetherby gazed at the revolving mass of heads and legs of boy and dog in mute despair, then she rose to her feet and started down the street.
"You c'n foller me," she said sternly, without turning her head toward the culprits on the grass.
The boy came upright instantly.
"Do ye stump it, marm?"
"What?" she demanded, stopping short in her stupefaction.
"Do ye stump it—hoof it—foot it, I mean," he enumerated quickly, in a praiseworthy attempt to bring his vocabulary to the point where it touched hers.
"Oh—yes; 't ain't fur," vouchsafed Ann feebly.
Bobby trotted alongside of Miss Wetherby, meekly followed by the dog. Soon the boy gave his trousers an awkward hitch, and glanced sideways up at the woman.
"Oh, I say, marm, I think it's bully of yer ter let me an' Bones come," he began sheepishly. "It looked 's if our case 'd hang fire till the crack o' doom; there wa'n't no one ter have us. When Miss Ethel, she told me her aunt 'd take us, it jest struck me all of a heap. I tell ye, me an' Bones made tracks fur Slocumville 'bout's soon as they 'd let us."
"I hain't no doubt of it!" retorted Ann, looking back hopelessly at the dog.
"Ye see," continued the boy confidentially, "there ain't ev'ry one what likes boys, an'—hi, there!—go it, Bones!" he suddenly shrieked, and scampered wildly after the dog which had dashed into the bushes by the side of the road. Ann did not see her young charge again until she had been home half an hour. He came in at the gate, then, cheerfully smiling, the dog at his heels.
"Jiminy Christmas!" he exclaimed, "I begun ter think I'd lost ye, but I remembered yer last name was the same's Miss Ethel's, an' a boy—Tommy Green, around the corner—he told me where ye lived. And, oh, I say, me an' Bones are a-goin' off with him an' Rover after I've had somethin' ter eat—'t is mos' grub time, ain't it?" he added anxiously.
Ann sighed in a discouraged way.
"Yes, I s'pose 't is. I left some beans a-bakin', and dinner'll be ready pretty quick. You can come upstairs with me, Robert, an' I'll show ye where yer goin' ter sleep," she finished, with a sinking heart, as she thought of those ruffled pillow shams.
Bobby followed Miss Wetherby into the dainty chamber. He gave one look, and puckered up his lips into a long, low whistle.
"Well, I'll be flabbergasted! Oh, I say, now, ye don't expect me ter stay in all this fuss an' fixin's!" he exclaimed ruefully.
"It—it is the room I calculated fur ye," said Ann, with almost a choke in her voice.
The boy looked up quickly and something rose within him that he did not quite understand.
"Oh, well, ye know, it's slick as a whistle an' all that, but I ain't uster havin' it laid on so thick. I ain't no great shakes, ye know, but I'll walk the chalk all right this time. Golly! Ain't it squashy, though!" he exclaimed, as with a run and a skip he landed straight in the middle of the puffy bed.
With one agitated hand Miss Wetherby rescued her pillow shams, and with the other, forcibly removed the dog which had lost no time in following his master into the feathery nest. Then she abruptly left the room; she could not trust herself to speak.
Miss Wetherby did not see much of her guest that afternoon; he went away immediately after dinner and did not return until supper time. Then he was so completely tired out that he had but two words in reply to Miss Wetherby's question.
"Did ye have a good time?" she asked wistfully.
After supper he went at once to his room; but it was not until Miss Wetherby ceased to hear the patter of his feet on the floor above that she leaned back in her chair with a sigh of relief.
When Ann went upstairs to make the bed that Tuesday morning, the sight that met her eyes struck terror to her heart. The bedclothes were scattered in wild confusion half over the room. The washbowl, with two long singing-books across it, she discovered to her horror, was serving as a prison for a small green snake. The Bible and the remaining hymn books, topped by "Baxter's Saints' Rest," lay in a suspicious-looking pile on the floor. Under these Miss Wetherby did not look. After her experience with the snake and the washbowl, her nerves were not strong enough. She recoiled in dismay, also, from the sight of two yellow, paper-covered books on the table, flaunting shamelessly the titles: "Jack; the Pirate of Red Island," and "Haunted by a Headless Ghost."
She made the bed as rapidly as possible, with many a backward glance at the book-covered washbowl, then she went downstairs and shook and brushed herself with little nervous shudders.
Ann Wetherby never forgot that Fourth of July, nor, for that matter, the days that immediately followed. She went about with both ears stuffed with cotton, and eyes that were ever on the alert for all manner of creeping, crawling things in which Bobby's soul delighted.
The boy, reinforced by the children of the entire neighborhood, held a circus in Miss Wetherby's wood-shed, and instituted a Wild Indian Camp in her attic. The poor woman was quite powerless, and remonstrated all in vain. The boy was so cheerfully good-tempered under her sharpest words that the victory was easily his.
But on Saturday when Miss Wetherby, returning from a neighbor's, found two cats, four dogs, and two toads tied to her parlor chairs, together with three cages containing respectively a canary, a parrot, and a squirrel (collected from obliging households), she rebelled in earnest and summoned Bobby to her side.
"Robert, I've stood all I'm a-goin' ter. You've got to go home Monday. Do you hear?"
"Oh, come off, Miss Wetherby, 't ain't only a menag'ry, an' you don't use the room none."
Miss Wetherby's mouth worked convulsively.
"Robert!" she gasped, as soon as she could find her voice, "I never, never heard of such dreadful goin's-on! You certainly can't stay here no longer," she continued sternly, resolutely trying to combat the fatal weakness that always overcame her when the boy lifted those soulful eyes to her face. "Now take them horrid critters out of the parlor this minute. You go home Monday—now mind what I say!"
An hour later, Miss Wetherby had a caller. It was the chorister of her church choir. The man sat down gingerly on one of the slippery haircloth chairs, and proceeded at once to state his business.
"I understand, Miss Wetherby, that you have an—er—young singer with you."
Miss Wetherby choked, and stammered "Yes."
"He sings—er—very well, does n't he?"
The woman was still more visibly embarrassed.
"I—I don't know," she murmured; then in stronger tones, "The one that looked like him did."
"Are there two?" he asked in stupid amazement.
Miss Wetherby laughed uneasily, then she sighed.
"Well, ter tell the truth, Mr. Wiggins, I s'pose there ain't; but sometimes I think there must be. I'll send Robert down ter the rehearsal to-night, and you can see what ye can do with him." And with this Mr. Wiggins was forced to be content.
Bobby sang on Sunday. The little church was full to the doors. Bobby was already famous in the village, and people had a lively curiosity as to what this disquieting collector of bugs and snakes might offer in the way of a sacred song. The "nighty" was, perforce, absent, much to the sorrow of Ann; but the witchery of the glorious voice entered again into the woman's soul, and, indeed, sent the entire congregation home in an awed silence that was the height of admiring homage.
At breakfast time Monday morning, Bobby came downstairs with his brown paper parcel under his arm. Ann glanced at his woeful face, then went out into the kitchen and slammed the oven door sharply.
"Well, marm, I've had a bully time—sure's a gun," said the boy wistfully, following her.
Miss Wetherby opened the oven door and shut it with a second bang; then she straightened herself and crossed the room to the boy's side.
"Robert," she began with assumed sternness, trying to hide her depth of feeling, "you ain't a-goin' home ter-day—now mind what I say! Take them things upstairs. Quick—breakfast's all ready!"
A great light transfigured Bobby's face. He tossed his bundle into a corner and fell upon Miss Wetherby with a bearlike hug.
"Gee-whiz! marm—but yer are a brick! An' I'll run yer errands an' split yer wood, an' I won't take no dogs an' cats in the parlor, an' I'll do ev'rythin'—ev'rythin' ye want me to! Oh, golly—golly!—I'm goin' ter stay—I'm goin' ter stay!" And Bobby danced out of the house into the yard there to turn somersault after somersault in hilarious glee.
A queer choking feeling came into Ann Wetherby's throat. She seemed still to feel the loving clasp of those small young arms.
"Well, he—he's part angel, anyhow," she muttered, drawing a long breath and watching with tear-dimmed eyes Bobby's antics on the grass outside.
And Bobby stayed—not only Monday, but through four other long days—days which he filled to the brim with fun and frolic and joyous shouts as before—and yet with a change.
The shouts were less shrill and the yells less prolonged when Bobby was near the house. No toads nor cats graced the parlor floor, and no bugs nor snakes tortured Miss Wetherby's nerves when Bobby's bed was made each day. The kitchen woodbox threatened to overflow—so high were its contents piled—and Miss Wetherby was put to her wits' end to satisfy Bobby's urgent clamorings for errands to run.
And when the four long days were over and Saturday came, a note—and not Bobby—was sent to the city. The note was addressed to "Miss Ethel Wetherby," and this is what Ethel's amazed eyes read:
My Dear Niece:—You can tell that singer man of Robert's that he is not going back any more. He is going to live with me and go to school next winter. I am going to adopt him for my very own. His father and mother are dead—he said so.
I must close now, for Robert is hungry, and wants his dinner.
Love to all,