Top Floor Back
Top Floor Back
BY ZONA GALE
"I ONCE knowed a man in New York city," said Peleg Bemus, "that done some sacrificin' that ain't called by that name when it gets into the newspapers." He looked over at us expectantly, and with a manner of pointing at us with his head. "You come from New York," he said; "ain't you ever heard o' Mr. Loneway—Mr. John Loneway?"
We regretted that we might not answer "yes." Instinctively one longed to make his pointed eyes twinkle.
"Him an' I lived in the same buildin' in East Fourteenth Street there," he explained. "That is to say, he lived top floor back an' I was janitor. That was a good many years ago, but whenever I get an introduction to anybody from New York I allus take an interest. I'd like to know what ever become o' him."
Not so much in concern for Mr. John Loneway as in expectation of what the old man might have observed, we questioned him.
"It was that Hard Winter," he went on, readily; "I'd hev to figger out what year, but most anybody on the East Side can tell you. Coal was clear up an' soarin', an' vittles was, too—everybody howlin' hard times, an' the winter just commenced. Make things worse, some phi-lanthropist had put up two model tenements in the block we was in, an' property alongside had shot up in value accordin' an' lugged rents with it. Everybody in my buildin' most was rowin' about it.
"But John Loneway, he wasn't rowin'. I met him on the stairs one mornin' early an' I says, 'Beg pardon, sir,' I says, 'but you ain't meanin' to make no change?' I ask him. He looks at me kind o' dazed—he was a wonderful clean-muscled little chap, with a crisscross o' veins on each temple an' big brown eyes back in his head. 'No,' he says. 'Change? I can't move. My wife's sick,' he says. That was news to me. I'd met her a couple o' times in the hall—pale little mite, hardly big as a baby, but pleasant spoken, an' with a way o' dressin' herself in shabby clo'es that made the other women in the house look like bundles tied up careless. But she walked awful slow, and she didn't go out much—they had only been in the house a couple o' weeks or so. 'Sick, is she?' I says. 'Too bad,' I says. 'Anything I can do?' I ask him. He stopped on the nex' step an' looked back at me. 'Got a wife?' he says. 'No,' says I, 'I ain't, sir. But they aint never challenged my vote on 'count o' that, sir—no offence,' I says to him, respectful. 'All right,' he says, noddin' at me. 'I just thought mebbe she'd look in now and then. I'm gone all day,' he added, an' went off like he'd forgot me.
"I thought about the little thing all that mornin'—lyin' all alone up there in that room that wa'n't no bigger'n a coal-bin. It's bad enough to be sick anywheres, but it's like havin' both legs in a trap to be sick in New York. Towards noon I went into one o' the flats—first floor front it was—with the coal, an' I give the woman to understand they was somebody sick in the house. She was a great big creatur' that I'd never see excep' in red calico, an' I always thought she looked some like a tomato-ketchup bottle, with her apron for the label. She says, when I told her, 'You see if she wants anything,' she says. 'I can't climb all them stairs,' she answers me.
"Well, that afternoon I went down an' hunted up a rusty sleigh-bell I'd seen in the basement, an' I rubbed it up an' tied a string to it, an' long in the evenin' I went up-stairs an' rapped at Mr. Loneway's door.
" 'I called,' I says, 'to ask after your wife, if I might.'
" 'If you might,' he says, after me. 'I thank the Lord you're somebody that will. Come in," he told me.
"They had two rooms. In one he was cookin' somethin' on a smelly oil-stove. In the other was his wife; but that room was all neat an' nice—curtains looped back, carpet an' all that, an' she was settin' up in bed. She had a black waist on, an' her hair pushed straight back, an' she was burnin' up with the fever.
" 'Set down an' talk to her,' he says to me, 'while I get the dinner—will you? I've got to go out for the milk.'
"I did set down, feelin' some like a sawhorse in church. If she hadn't been so durn little, seems though I could 'a' talked with her, but I ketched sight of her hand on the quilt, an'—law! it wa'n't no bigger'n a butternut. She done the best thing she could do an' set me to work.
" 'Mr. Bemus," she says, first off—everybody else called me Peleg,—'Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'I wonder if you'd mind takin' an old newspaper—there's one somewheres around—an' stuffin' in the cracks of this window an' stop its rattlin'?"
"I laid my sleigh-bell down an' done as she says; an' while I fussed with the window, that seems though all Printin' House Square couldn't stuff up, she talked on, chipper as a squirrel, all about the buildin', an' who lived where, an' how many kids they was, an' wouldn't it be nice if they had an elevator like the model tenement we was payin' rent for, an' so on. I'd never 'a' dreamt she was sick if I hadn't looked 'round a time or two at her poor, burnin'-up face. Then bime-by he brought the supper in, an' when he went to lift her up she just naturally laid back an' fainted. But she was all right again in a minute, brave as two, an' she was like a child when she see what he'd brought her—a big platter for a tray, with milk toast an' an apple an' five cents' worth o' dates. She done her best to eat, too, and praised him up—an' the poor soul hung over her, watchin' every mouthful, feedin' her, coaxin' her, lookin' like nothin' more'n a boy himself. When I couldn't stand it no longer I took an' jingled the sleigh-bell.
" 'I'm a-goin',' I says,I 'to hang this outside the door here, an' run this nice long string through the transom. An' to-morrow,' I says, 'when you want anything, just you pull the string a time or two, an' I'll be somewheres around.'
"She clapped her hands, her eyes shinin'.
" 'Oh, goodey!' she says. 'Now I won't be alone. Ain't it nice,' she says, 'that there ain't no glass in the transom? If we lived in the model tenement, we couldn't do that,' she says, laughin' some.
"An' that young fellow, he followed me to the door an' just naturally shook hands with me, same 's though I'd been his kind. Then he followed me on out into the hall.
" 'We had a little boy,' he says to me, low, ' an' it died four months ago yesterday, when it was six days old. She ain't ever been well since,' he says, kind of as if he wanted to tell somebody. But I didn't know what to say, an' so I found fault with the kerosene lamp in the hall, an' went on down.
"Nex' day I knew the doctor come twice. An' 'way 'long in the afternoon I was a-tinkerin' with the stair rail when I heard the sleigh-bell ring. I run up, an' she was settin' up just the same, in the black waist—but I thought her eyes was shiny with somethin' that wasn't fever—a sort o' scared excitement.
" 'Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'I want you to do somethin' for me," she says, 'an' not tell anybody. Will you?'
" 'Why, yes," I says, 'I will, Mis' Loneway," I says. 'What is it?' I ask her.
" 'There's a baby somewheres down-stairs," she says. 'I hear it cryin' sometimes. An' I want you to get it an' bring it up here.'
"That was a queer thing to ask, because kids isn't soothin' to the sick. But I went off down-stairs to the first floor front. The kid she meant belonged to the Tomato Ketchup woman. I knew they had one because it howled different times an', I judge, pounded its head on the floor some when it was maddest. It was the only real little one in the buildin'—the others was all the tonguey age. I told what I wanted.
" 'For the land!' says Tomato Ketchup, 'I never see such nerve. Take my baby into a sick-room? Not if I know it. I s'pose you just come out o' there? Well, don't you stay here, bringin' diseases. A hospital's the true place fer the sick," she says.
"I went back to Mis' Loneway, an' I guess I lied some. I said the kid was sick—had the croup, I thought, an' she'd hev to wait. Her face fell, but she said 'all right an' please not to say nothin',' an' then I went out an' done my best to borrow a kid for her. I ask all over the neighborhood, an' not a woman but looked on me as a cradle-snatcher—thought I wanted to abduct her child away from her. Bime-by I even told one woman what I wanted it for.
" 'My!' she says, 'if she ain't got one, she's got one less mouth to feed. Tell her to thank her stars.'
"After that I used to look into Mis' Loneway's frequent. The women on the same floor was quite decent to her, but they worked all day, an' mostly didn't get home till after her husband did. I found out somethin' about him, too. He was clerk in a big commission-house 'way down-town, an' his salary, as near as I could make out, was about what mine was, an' they wa'n't no estimatin' that by the cord at all. But I never heard a word out'n him about their not havin' much. He kep' on makin' milk toast an' bringin' in one piece o' fruit at a time an' once in a while a little meat. An' all the time anybody could see she wasn't gettin' no better. I knew she wasn't gettin' enough to eat, an' I knew he knew it, too. An' one night the doctor he outs with the truth.
"Mr. Loneway an' I was sittin' in the kitchen while the doctor was in the other room with her. I went there evenin's all the time by then—the young fellow seemed to like to hev me. We was keepin' warm over the oil stove because the real stove was in her room, an' the doctor come in an' stood over him.
" 'My lad,' he says, gentle, 'there ain't half as much use o' my comin' here as there is o' her gettin' strengthenin' food. She's got to hev beef broth—cer'als—fresh this an' fresh that'—he went on to tell him, 'an' plenty of it,' he says. 'An' if we can make her strength hold out, I think,' he wound up, 'that we can save her—but she's gettin' weaker every day for lack o' food. Can you do anything more?' he ask him.
"I expected to see young Mr. Loneway go all to pieces at this, because I knew as it was he didn't ride in the street-car, he was pinchin' so to pay the doctor. But he sorter set up sudden an' squared his shoulders, an' he looked up an' says:
" 'Yes!' he says. 'I've been thinkin' that to-night,' he says. 'An' I've hed a way to some good luck, you might call it—an' now I guess she can hev everything she wants,' he told him; an' he laughed some when he said it.
"That sort o' amazed me. I hadn't heard him sayin' anything about any excruciatin' luck, an' his face hadn't been the face of a man on the brink of a bonanza. I wondered why he hadn't told her about this luck o' his, but I kep' quiet an' watched to see if he was bluffin'.
"I was cleanin' the walk off when he come home nex' night. Sure enough, there was his arms laid full o' bundles. An' his face—it done me good to see it.
" 'Come on up an' help get dinner,' he yelled out like a kid, an' I thought I actually seen him smilin'.
"Soon's I could I went up-stairs, an' they wa'n't nothin' that man hadn't brought. They was everything the doctor had said, an' green things, an' a whol' basket o' fruit an' two bottles o' port, an' more things besides. They was lots o' fixin's, too, that there wa'n't a mite o' nourishment in—for he wa'n't no more practical nor medicinal 'n a wood-tick. But I knew how he felt.
" 'Don't tell her,' he says. 'Don't tell her,' he says to me, hoppin"round the kitchen like a buzz-saw. i I want to surprise her.'
"You can bet he did, too—if you'll overlook the liberty. When he was all ready he made me go in ahead.
" 'To-ot!' says I, genial-like—they treated me jus' like one of 'em. 'To-ot! Lookey-at!'
"He set the big white platter down on the bed, an' when she see all the stuff—white grapes, mind you, an' fresh tomatoes, an' a glass for the wine—she just grabs his hand an' holds it up to her throat, an' says:
"'Jack! Oh, Jack!' she says—she called him that when she was pleased— 'how did you? How did you?"
" 'Never you mind,' he says, kissin' her an' lookin' as though he was goin' to bust out himself, 'never you ask. It's time I had some luck, ain't it? Like other men?'
"She was touchin' things here an' there, liftin' up the grapes, lookin' at 'em—poor little soul had lived on milk toast an' dates an' a apple now an' then for two weeks to my knowledge. But when he said that, she stopped an' looked at him, scared.
" 'John!' she says, 'you ain't—'
"He laughed at that.
" 'Gamblin'?' he says. 'No—never you fear.' I had thought o' that myself, only I didn't quite see when he'd had the chance since night before when the doctor told him. 'It's all owin' to the office,' he says to her; 'an' now you eat—lemme see you eat, Linda,' he says, an' that seemed to be food enough for him. He didn't half touch a thing. 'Eat all you want,' he says, 'an', Peleg, poke up the fire. There's half a ton o' coal comin' to-morrow. An' we're goin' to have this every day," he told her.
"Land o' love! how happy she was! She made me eat some grapes, an' she sent a bunch to the woman on the same floor, because she had brought her an orange; an' then she begs Mr. Loneway to get an extry candle out of the top dresser draw'. An' when that was lit up she whispers to him, and he goes out an' fetches from somewheres a guitar with about half the strings left on; an' she set up an' picked away on 'em, an' we all three sung, though I can't carry a tune on more'n what I can carry a white-oak log.
" 'Oh,' she says, 'I'm a-goin' to get well now. Oh,' she says, 'ain't it heaven to be rich?'
"No—you can say she'd ought to 'a' made him tell her where he got the money. But she trusted him, an' she'd been a-livin' on milk toast an' dates for so long that I can pretty well see how she took it all as what's-his-name took the wild honey, without askin' the Lord whose make it was. Besides, she was sick. An' milk toast an' dates 'd reconcile me to 'most any change for the better.
"It got so then that I went up-stairs every noon an' fixed up her lunch for her, an' one day she done what I'd been dreadin'. 'Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'that baby must be over the croup now. Won't you—won't you take it down this orange an' see if you can't bring it up here a while?'
"I went down, but, law!—where was the use? The Ketchup woman grabs up her kid an' fair threw the orange at me. 'You don't know what disease you're bringin' in here,' she says—she had a voice like them gasoline wood-cutters. I see she'd took to heart some o' the model-tenement social-evenin' lectures on bugs an' worms in diseases. I carried the orange out and give it to a kid in the ar'y, so's Mis' Loneway'd be makin' somebody some pleasure, anyhow. An' then I went back up-stairs an' told her the kid was worse. Seems the croup had turned into cholery infantum.
" 'Why,' she says, 'I mus' send it down somethin' nice an' hot to-night,' an' so she did, and I slips it back in the Loneway kitchen unbeknownst. She wa'n't so very medicinal, either, bless her heart!
" 'Tell me about that baby,' she says to me one noon. 'What's its name? Does it like to hev its mother love it?' she ask me.
"I knew the truth to be that it didn't let anybody do anything day or night within sight or sound of it, an' it looked to me like an imp o' the dark. But I fixed up a tol'able description, an' left out the freckles an' the temper, an' told her it was fat an' well an' a boy. That seemed to satisfy her. A fat, healthy boy is a woman's idea o' perfection in a kid. Its name, though, sort o' stumped me. The Tomato Ketchup called it mostly 'you-come-back-here-you-little-ape.' I heard that every day. So I said, just to piece out my information, that I thought its name might be April. That seemed to take her fancy, an' after that she was always askin' me how little April was—but not when Mr. Loneway was in hearin'. I see well enough she didn't want he should know that she was grievin' none.
"All the time kep' comin', every night, another armful o' good things. Land! that man he bought everything. Seems though he couldn't buy enough. Every night the big platter was heaped up an' runnin' over with everything under the sun, an' she was like another girl. I s'pose the things give her strength, but I reck'n the cheer helped most. She had the surprise to look forward to all day, an' there was plenty o' light, evenin's; an' the stove, that was kep' red hot. The doctor kep' sayin' she was better, too, an' everything seemed lookin' right up.
"Seems queer I didn't suspect from the first something was wrong. Seems though I ought to 'a' known money didn't grow out o' green wood the way he was pretendin'. It wasn't two weeks before he takes me down to the basement one night when he comes home, an' he owns up.
" 'Peleg,' he says, 'I've got to tell somebody, an' God knows maybe it 'll be you that 'll hev to tell her. I've stole fifty-four dollars out o' the tray in the retail department,' says he, 'an' to-day they found me out. They wasn't no fuss made. Lovett, the assistant cashier, is the only one that knows. He took me aside quiet,' Mr. Loneway says, 'an' I made a clean breast. I said what I took it for. He's a married man himself, an' he told me if I'd make it up in three days he'd fix it so's nobody should know. The cashier's off for a week. In three days he's comin' back. But they might as well ask me to make up fifty-four hundred. I've got enough to keep on these three days so's she won't know,' he says, 'an' after that—'
"He hunched out his arms, an' I'll never forget his face.
"I says, 'Mr. Loneway, sir,' I says, 'chuck it. Tell her the whole thing an' give 'em back what you got left, an' do your best.'
"He turned on me like a crazy man.
" 'Don't talk to me like that,' he says, fierce. 'You don't know what you're sayin',' he says. 'No man does till he has this happen to him. The judge on the bench that 'll send me to jail for it, he won't know what he's judgin'. My God—my God!' he says, leanin' up against the door o' the furnace-room, 'to see her sick like this—an' needin things—when she give herself to me to take care of!'
"Course there wa'n't no talkin' to him. An' the nex' night an' the nex' he come home bringin' her truck just the same. Once he even hed her a bunch o' pinks. Seems though he was doin' the worst he could.
"The pinks come at the end of the second day of the three days the assistant cashier had give him to pay the money back in. An' two things happened that night. I was in the kitchen helpin' him wash up the dishes while the doctor was in the room with Mis' Loneway. An' when the doctor come out o' there into the kitchen he shuts the door. I see right off somethin' was the matter. He took Mr. Loneway off to the back window, an' I rattled 'round with the dishes an' took on not to notice. Up until when the doctor goes out—an' then I felt Mr. Loneway's grip on my arm. I looked at him, an' I knew. She wasn't goin' to get well. He just slimpsed down on the chair an' put his face down in his arm, the way a schoolboy does—an' I swan he wa'n't much more'n a schoolboy, either. I s'pose if ever hell is in a man's heart—an' we mostly all see it there sometime even if we don't feel it—why, there was hell in his, then.
"All of a sudden there was a rap on the hall door. He never moved, an' so I went. I whistled, I rec'lect, so's she shouldn't suspect nothin' from our not goin' in where she was right off. An' a messenger-boy was out there in the passage with a letter for Mr. Loneway.
"I took it in to him. He turned himself around an' opened it, though I don't believe he knew half what he was doin'. An' what do you guess come tumblin' out o' that envelope? Fifty-four dollars in bills. Not a word with 'em.
"Then he broke down. 'It's Lovett,' he says, 'it's Lovett's done this—the assistant cashier. Maybe he's told some o' the other fellows at the desks next, an' they helped. They knew about her bein' sick. An' they can't none of 'em afford it,' he says, an' that seemed to cut him up worst of all. 'I'll give it back to him,' he says, resolute. 'I can't take it from 'em, Peleg.'
"I says, 'Hush up, Mr. Loneway, sir,' I says. 'You got to think o' her. Take it,' I told him, 'an' thank God it ain't as bad as it was. Who knows,' I asks him, 'but what the doctor might turn out wrong?'
"Pretty soon I got him to pull himself together some, an' I shoved him into the other room, an' I went with him, an' talked on like an idiot so nobody'd suspect—I didn't hev no idea what.
"She was settin' up in the same black waist. All of a sudden:
" 'John!' says she.
"He went close by the bed.
" 'Is everything goin' on good?' she ask him.
" 'Everything," he told her, right off.
" 'Splendid, John?' she ask him, pullin' his hand up by her cheek.
" 'Splendid,' he says, after her.
" 'We got a little money ahead?' she goes on.
" Bless me if he didn't do just what I had time to be afraid of. He hauls out them fifty-four dollars an' showed her.
"She claps her hands like a child.
" 'Oh, goodey!' she says; 'I'm so glad. I'm so glad. Now I can tell you,' she says to him.
"He took her in his arms an' kneeled down by the bed, an' I tried to slip out, but she called me back. So I stayed, like a axe in the parlor.
" 'John,' she says to him, 'do you know what Aunt Hettie told me before I was married? "You must always look the prettiest you know how," Aunt Hettie says,' she tells him, ' "for your husband. Because you must always be prettier for him than anybody else is." An', oh, dearest,' she says, 'you know I'd 'a' looked my best for you if I could—but I never had—an' it wasn't your fault!' she cries out, 'but things didn't go right. It wasn't anybody's fault. Only—I wanted to look nice for you. An' since I've been sick,' she says, 'it's made me wretched, wretched to think I didn't hev nothin' to put on but this black waist—this homely old black waist. You never liked me to wear black,' I rec'lect she says to him, 'an' it killed me to think—if anything should happen—you'd be rememberin' me like this. You think you'd remember me the way I was when I was well—but you wouldn't,' she says, earnest; 'people never, never do. You'd remember me here like I look now. Oh—an' so I thought—if there was ever so little money we could spare—won't you get me somethin'—somethin' so's you could remember me better? Somethin' to wear these few days,' she says.
"He breaks down then an' cries, with his face in her pillow.
" 'Don't—why, don't!' she says to him; 'if there wasn't any money, you might cry—only then I wouldn't never hev told you. But now—to-morrow—you can go an' buy me a little dressing-sack—the kind they have in the windows on Broadway. Oh, Jack!' she says, 'is it wicked an' foolish for me to want you to remember me as nice as you can? It ain't—it aint!' she says.
"Then I give out. I felt like a handful o' wet sawdust that's been squeezed. I slid out an' down-stairs, an' I guess I chopped wood near all night. The Tomato Ketchup's husband he pounded the floor for me to shut up, an' I told him—though I never was what you might call a impudent janitor—that if he thought he could chop it up any more soft, he'd better engage in it. But then the kid woke up, too, an' yelled some, an' I's afraid she'd hear it an' remember, an' so I quit.
"Nex' mornin' I laid for Mr. Loneway in the hall.
" 'Sir,' I says to him when he come down to go out, 'you won't do nothin' foolish?' I ask him.
" 'Mind your business,' he says, his face like a patch o' poplar ashes.
"I was in an' out o' their flat all day, an' I could see't Mis' Loneway she's happy as a lark. But I knew pretty well what was comin'. Mind you, this was the third day.
"That night I hed things goin' in the kitchen an' the kettle on, an' I's hesitatin' whether to put two eggs in the omelet or three, when he comes home. He laid a eternal lot o' stuff on the kitchen table, without one word, an' went in where she was. I heard paper rustlin', an' then I heard her voice—an' it wasn't no cryin', lemme say. An' so I says to myself, 'Well,' I says, 'she might as well hev a four-egg omelet, because it 'll be the last.' I knew if they's to arrest him she wouldn't never live the day out. So I goes on with the omelet, an' when he come out where I was I just told him if he'd cut open the grapefruit I hed ever'thing else ready. An' then he quit lookin' defiant, an' he calmed down some; an' pretty soon we took in the dinner.
"She was sittin' up in front o' her two pillows, pretty as a picture. An' she was in one o' the things I ain't ever see outside o' a store window. Lord! it was all the color o' roses, with craped-up stuff like the bark on a tree, an' rows an' rows o' lace, an' long, flappy ribbon. She was allus pretty, but she looked like an angel in that. An' I says to myself then, I says: 'If a woman knows she looks like that in them things, an' if she loves somebody an', livin' or dead, wants to look like that for him, I want to know who's to blame her? I ain't—Peleg Bemus, he ain't.' Mis' Loneway was as pretty as I ever see, not barrin' the stage. An' she was laughin', an' her cheeks was pink-like, an' she says,
" 'Oh, Mr. Bemus,' she says, 'I feel like a queen,' she says, 'an' you must stay for dinner.'
"I never seen Mr. Loneway gayer. He was full o' fun an' funny savin's, an' his face had even lost its chalky look an' he'd got some color, an' he laughed with her an' he made love to her—durned if it wasn't enough to keep a woman out o' the grave to be worshipped the way that man worshipped her. An' when she ask for the guitar I carried out the platter, an' I stayed an' straightened things some in the kitchen. An' all the while I could hear 'em singin' soft an' laughin' together ... an' all the while I knew what was double sure to come.
"Well, in about an hour it did come. I was waitin' for it. Fact, I had filled up the coffee-pot expectin' it. An' when I heard the men comin' up the stairs I takes the coffee an' what rolls there was left an' I meets 'em in the hall, on the landing. They was two of 'em—constables, or somethin'—with a warrant for his arrest.
" 'Gentlemen,' says I, openin' the coffee-pot careless so's the smell could get out an' circ'late—'gentlemen, he's up there in that room. There's only these one stairs, an' the only manhole's right here over your heads, so's you can watch that. You rec'lect that there ain't a roof on that side o' the house. Now, I'm a lonely beggar, an' I wisht you'd let me invite you to a cup o' hot coffee an' a hot buttered roll or two, right over there in that hall window. You can keep your eye peeled towards that door all the while,' I reminds 'em.
"Well, it was a bitter night, an' them two was flesh an' blood. They 'lowed that if he hadn't been there they'd 'a' had to wait for him anyway, so they finally set down. An' I doled 'em out the coffee. I 'lowed I could keep 'em an hour if I knew myself. Nobody could 'a' done any different, with her an' him settin' up there singin' an' no manner o' doubt but what it was for the last time.
"I'd be'n 'round consid'able in my time an' I knew quite a batch o' stories. Well, I let 'em have 'em all, an' poured the coffee down 'em. They was willin' enough—it wa'n't cold in the halls to what it was outside, an' the coffee was boilin' hot. An' if anybody wants to blame me, they'd hev to see her first, all fluffed up, same as a kitten, in that pink jacket-thing, afore I'd give 'em a word o' hearin'.
"In the midst of it all I heard the Tomato Ketchup's kid yell. I remembered that this 'd be my last chanst fer her to see the kid when she could get any happiness out of it. I didn't think twice—I just filled up the cups o' them two, an' then I sails down-stairs, two at a time, an' opened the door o' first floor front without rappin'. The kid was there in its little nightgown, howlin' fer fair because it had be'n left alone with its boy brother. The Tomato Ketchup an' her husband was to a wake. I picked up the kid, rolled it in a blanket, grabbed brother by the arm, an' started up the stairs.
"Is the house on f-f-fire?'says the boy brother.
" 'Yes,' says I, 'it is. An' we're goin' up-stairs to hunt up a fire-escape,' I told him.
"At the top o' the stairs I sets him down on the floor an' promises him an orange, an' then I opens the door, with the kid on my arm. It had stopped yellin' by then, an' it was settin' up straight, with its eyes all round an' its cheeks all pinked up with havin' just woke up, an' it looked awful cute, in spite of its mother. Mis' Loneway was leanin' back, laughin', an' tellin' him what they was goin' to do the minute she got well; but when she see the baby she drops her husband's hand and sorter screams out, weak, an' holds out her arms. Mr. Loneway, he hardly heard me go in, I reckon—leastwise, he looks at me clean through me without seein' I was there. An' she hugs the kiddie up in her arms an' looks at me over the top of its head as much as to say she understood an' thanked me.
" 'Its ma is went off,' I told 'em, apologetic, 'an' I thought maybe you'd look after it a while,' I told 'em.
"Then I went out an' put oranges all around the boy brother on the hall floor, an' I hustled back down-stairs.
" 'Gentlemen,' says I, brisk, 'I've got two dollars too much,' says I—an' I reck'n the cracks in them walls must 'a' winked at the notion. 'What do you say to a game o' dice on the bread plate?' I ask 'em.
"Well, one way an' another I kep' them two there for two hours. An' then, when the game was out, I knew I couldn't do nothin' else. So I stood up an' told 'em I'd go up an' let Mr. Loneway know they was there—along o' his wife bein' sick an' hadn't ought to be scared.
"I started up the stairs, feelin' like lead. Little more'n half way up I heard a little noise. I looked up, an' I see the boy brother a-comin', leakin' orange peel, with the kid slung over his shoulder, sleepin'. I looked on past him, an' the door o' Mr. Loneway's sittin'-room was open, an' I see Mr. Loneway standin' in the middle o' the floor. I must 'a' stopped still, because somethin' stumbled up against me from the back, an' the two constables was there, comin' close behind me. I could hear one of 'em breathin'.
"Then I went on up, an' somehow I knew there wasn't nothin' more to wait for. When we got to the top I see inside the room, an' she was layin' back on her pillow, all still an' quiet. An' the little new pink jacket never moved nor stirred, for there wa'n't no breath.
"Mr. Loneway, he come acrost the floor towards us.
" 'Come in,' he says. 'Come right in,' he told us—an' I seen him smilin' some."