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A Flock of Girls and Boys online

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boys would git it 'fore yer could turn. I guess, though, they was
country kids who used to hang 'em; but the lady said she was goin' to
try to start 'em up again here in the city."

"What kind o' baskets were they?" asked Lizzie, suddenly sitting up with
a new air of attention.

"Oh, ho!" laughed one of the girls; "Lizzie wants to hang a basket for
somebody _she_ knows!"

"Hush up!" said Lizzie, turning rather red. Then, addressing Becky
again: "Did the lady who was telling about 'em have a basket with her?
Did you see it?"

"No, but she hed a piece o' that pretty wrinkly paper jes' like the
lamp-shades in the winders, and she said the baskets was made o' that,
and she was buyin' some ribbon to match for handles and bows."

"Oh, I _wish_ I could see one of 'em," said Lizzie.

"I went to a kinnergarden school wonst when I was a little kid," struck
in Becky here, "and we was put up there to makin' baskets out o' paper."

"Could you do it now?" asked Lizzie, eagerly.

"Mebbe I could," answered Becky, warily; "but it's a good bit ago."

"When you were young," cried one of the company with a giggle.

"Yes, when I was young," repeated Becky, in exact imitation of the
speaker, whose voice was very flat and nasal.

Everybody laughed, and one of the girls cried: "Becky'll get the best of
you any time." They were all of them impressed with this fact, when, a
few minutes after, the wary Becky agreed to show Lizzie what she knew of
"kinnergarden" basket-making, if Lizzie would agree to pay her for her
trouble by giving her materials enough to make a basket for herself.

"Ain't she a sharp one?" commented one of the girls to another when they
had left the lunch-room.

"Ain't she, though? She'll get what she can, and hold on to what she's
got every time."

"But she's awful good fun. Didn't she take off Matty Kelley's flat
nose-y way of talkin' to a T?"

"Didn't she!" and the two girls laughed anew at the recollection.


CHAPTER II.


Becky was the only one of the parcel-girls who was in the lunch-room
when this talk about May-day took place. The others lived nearer to the
store, and had gone home to their dinners. They were all a trifle older
than Becky, and a good deal larger. For these reasons, as well as for
the fact that they had been in the establishment quite a while when
Becky entered it, they had put on a great many disagreeable airs toward
the pale-faced little girl when she first appeared, and attempted, as
Becky put it, to "boss" her. They soon found, however, that the
new-comer was too much for them. They expected her to be afraid of
them, - to "stand round" for them. But Miss Becky was not in the least
afraid of them, or, for that matter, of anybody; and as soon as she
understood what they meant, she turned upon them the whole force of that
inimitable mimicry of hers, and "took off" their airs in a manner that
soon set the small army of salesmen and saleswomen into such fits of
laughter that the tables were completely turned upon the tormentors,
and they were only too glad to drop their airs and treat Becky with the
respect that pluck and superior power invariably command. But while thus
constrained to decent behavior before Becky's eyes, behind her back they
gave way to the resentment that they felt against her for her triumph
over them, and let no opportunity slip to say slighting things of her.
Good-natured Lizzie would laugh when they said these things to
her, - when they told her that Becky Hawkins was nothin' but one o' that
low lot who lived down amongst that thieving set by the East Cove
alleys, - that jus' as like as not she was a thief herself; that she was
awful close and stingy, anyway, and saved up every scrap she could find;
that they'd seen her themselves pick up old strings and buttons and such
duds from the gutters! But if Lizzie laughed out of her light lively
heart, and declared she didn't believe what they said was true, and
didn't care if it _was_, there were others not so good-natured as
Lizzie, who, though often vastly entertained by Becky, were quite ready
to believe that the spirit of mimicry she possessed had something
lawless about it, especially when she broke forth into the slang of the
street, - "gutter-slang," the other parcel-girls called it, - the
lawlessness seemed to gather a sort of proof. And so it was that, in
spite of the entertainment she afforded, and a certain kind of respect
in which her "smartness" was held, Becky was considered as rather an
outsider, and an object of more or less suspicion.

"A sharp one!" the saleswoman had called her, the other agreeing; and
when the next day, which was also a rainy day, the little company
gathered in the lunch-room again, and Lizzie brought forth a variety of
pretty papers, there was a general watchfulness to see how much Becky
knew, and what she would claim. Two other of the parcel-girls were now
present. They had heard all about the basket-making plan of yesterday,
and pushed forward with great interest. Becky looked at them with
mischief in her eyes, but made no movement to join Lizzie.

"Come," said the older of the two, "why don't you begin, Becky? Lizzie's
waitin', and so are we."

"What _yer_ waitin' for?" asked Becky, with an impudent grin.

"To see how you make the baskets."

"Well, yer'll hev to wait."

"Why, you told Lizzie you'd show her how to make baskets out o' paper!"

"But I didn' say I'se goin' to show anybody else. This ain't a free
kinnergarden. These are private lessons."

A shriek of laughter went up at this, while somebody cried, -

"And private lessons must be paid for, mustn't they, Becky?"

"Every time," answered Becky, with unruffled coolness.

"Where's the private room to give 'em in?" piped out one of the
parcel-girls with a wink at the other.

"In here!" cried Becky, with a sudden inspiration, jumping up and
running into a little fitting-room that had that morning been assigned
to her to sweep and put in order after the lunch hour.

"Good for you!" cried Lizzie, with one of her laughs, as she followed
her teacher.

"And you didn't get ahead o' me _this_ time, either!" called out Becky,
as she bolted the door upon herself and companion.

"You're too sharp for any of _us_, Becky," called back one of the
saleswomen.

"_Ain't_ she sharp?" agreed one and another; and "I told you so," said
still another. "She's a regular little cove-sharper, as Lotty said."
Lotty was the older parcel-girl.

And thus, though most of them laughed at Becky's last "move," they were
prejudiced against her for it, and thought it another evidence of her
stinginess and sharpness. They all agreed, however, that she had "got
'round' Lizzie to that extent that that young woman would stand up for
her, anyway, no matter what she'd do or didn't do.

"An' I'll bet yer," said the younger parcel-girl, "she'll lie out o'
that basket bizness, an' get a lot o' paper too. _She_ know how to make
baskets! Not much. You see now when they come out o' the fitting-room
there'll be some excuse that 't ain't done, an' they can't show it
now, - you see."

This prophecy was received in silence, but without much sign of
disagreement; and when the fitting-room door finally opened, it was
funny to watch the looks of astonishment that were bestowed upon the
pretty little basket of green and white paper that Lizzie held swung
upon her finger.

"Well, I never! She _did_ know how, didn't she?" exclaimed one of the
party.

[Illustration: the pretty little basket of green and white paper]

"Of course she did," answered Lizzie.

Becky only shrugged her shoulders disdainfully.

"Bet yer she hooked it out o' some shop, and had it in that bag she
carried in," whispered Lotty Riker, the parcel-girl.

"Hush!" warned one of the company.

But it was too late. Becky had heard, and for the first time since she
had been in the store, those about her saw hot wrath blazing from her
eyes as she burst forth savagely, -

"Yer mean low-lived thing yer, yer must be up to sech tricks yerself to
think that!"

"What is it? What did she say?" asked Lizzie.

Becky repeated Lotty's words, her wrath increasing as she did so.

"Hooked it! You know better, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself,
Lotty Riker," said Lizzie. "Becky and I made the basket ourselves. See
here now!" and, opening one hand, she displayed the ends of the paper
strips as they had been cut off, and where they fitted the protruding
ends on the basket. "But," turning to Becky, "Lotty knows better; she
only wanted to bother you."

"She wanted to bully me! She's been at it ever since I come here, - she
and t' other one. I made 'em stop it wonst, an' I'll make 'em ag'in. I
can stan' a good deal, but I ain't a-goin' to stan' bein' called a
thief, I ain't. I ain't no more a thief 'n they be, if I do live down
Cove way, and don't wear quite so good clo'es as they does. _Hooked
it_!" going a step nearer to the two girls. "I wish we was boys.
I'd - I'd lick yer, I would, the minit I got yer out on the street; but,"
with a disgusted sigh, "I'm a girl, and I carn't. 'Tain't 'spectable for
girls, Tim says, an' I mus'n't. But lemme jes' hear any more sech talk,
an' - I'll _forgit I'm a girl for 'bout five minutes_!"

This conclusion was too much for Lizzie's gravity, and she burst into
one of her infectious laughs. Several of the others joined in, and then
Becky herself gave a sudden little grin.

Lotty Riker and her sister, who had been thoroughly frightened, felt
immensely relieved at this, and for the moment everything seemed the
same as before the outbreak; but it was only seeming. The majority of
the company, without taking into consideration the provocation Becky had
received, thought to themselves: "_What_ a temper!" Becky's wild little
threats, and the way she expressed herself, had made a strong
impression; and when presently Lizzie laughingly asked, "Who's Tim,
Becky?" and Becky had answered in that lawless manner of hers: "Oh, he's
a fren' o' mine, - a great big fightin' gentleman what lives in the house
where we do," there was a general exchange of glances, and a general
conviction that the Riker girls had not been altogether wrong in some of
their statements. And when the next day they heard Miss Becky confide to
Lizzie that she had made "a splendid basket," and was going to hang it
for Tim on that "fust pleasant day of May," they whispered to each
other, "A May-basket for a prize-fighter!"

But they took very good care that the whisper did not reach Becky. She
was "great fun," but they had found out how fiercely she could turn from
her fun.


CHAPTER III.


The first day of May turned out to be a most beautiful day, bright and
sunny; and when Lizzie hung her pretty basket filled with Plymouth
Mayflowers on the door-knob of a great friend of hers, she laughed, and
wondered if Becky had hung hers for that "fightin' gen'leman, Tim." She
would ask Becky the minute she got to the store. But the minute she got
to the store she had a customer to wait upon, and had no time to bestow
on Becky until she needed her service. Then she called "Number Five;"
but, instead of "Number Five," Lotty Riker responded.

"Where's Becky?" asked Lizzie.

"I dunno. She hain't come in; mebbe she's hangin' that May-basket for
the prize-fighter," giggled Lotty.

Business was very brisk that day, and Lizzie had no leisure for anything
else. But at noon, when she was going out to her lunch, it occurred to
her that Becky had not yet appeared. Where _could_ she be? She had
always been punctual to a minute.

The afternoon was busier than the morning, and once more Becky was
forgotten. It was not until the closing hour - five o'clock - that Lizzie
thought of her again, and then she burst out to Matty and Josie Kelly,
as they were leaving the store together, -

"Where _do_ you suppose Becky Hawkins is? She hasn't been here to-day,
and she's _always_ here, and so punctual."

"Mebbe she's taken it into her head to leave," answered Matty. "'T would
be just like her; she's that independent."

"Catch her leaving when she'd have anything to lose. She'd lose a week's
pay to leave without warning, and she knows it. She's too sharp to do
that," put in Josie, laughing,

"I hope she ain't sick," said Lizzie.

"Sick! _her_ kind don't get sick easy. Those Cove streeters are tough.
Lizzie, how much did she get out of you for showing you how to make that
basket?"

"Why, what I agreed to give, - enough to make a basket for herself; and
last night, when she was going home, I gave her some of my
Mayflowers, - I had plenty."

"Well, I'm sure you are real generous."

"No, I'm not; it was a bargain."

"Yes, _Becky's_ bargain, and she'd like to have made a bargain with the
rest of us. The idea of taking you off into that fitting-room, so't the
rest of us wouldn't profit by her showing you, and then her talking
about private lessons!"

"Oh, that was only her fun."

"Fun! and when one of the girls said, 'And private lessons must be paid
for, mustn't they, Becky?' and she answered, 'Yes, every time,' do you
think that was only fun?"

"Yes; and if it wasn't, I don't care. She's a right to make a little
something if she can. They're awful poor folks down there on Cove
Street."

"Make a little something! Yes, but I guess you wouldn't catch any of the
other girls here making a little something like that out of the friends
she was working alongside of."

"Friends!" exclaimed Lizzie.

"And say, Lizzie," went on Josie, paying no attention to Lizzie's
exclamation, "I'll bet you anything she _sold_ her basket, and very
likely to that prize-fighter, - that Tim."

"I don't care if she did. But don't let's talk any more about her. I
hate to talk about folks, and it doesn't do any good to think bad things
of 'em. But, hark, what's that the newsboys are crying? 'Awful disaster
down - ' Where? Stop a minute, I'm going to buy a paper."

"Yes, here it is, awful disaster down in one of the Cove Street
tenement-houses," read Lizzie; and then, bringing up suddenly, she
cried, "Why, girls, girls, that's where Becky lives, - in one of those
tenements."

"Go on, go on!" urged Matty; and Lizzie went on, and read: "'At six
o'clock this morning one of the most disastrous fires that we have had
for years broke out in the rear of the Cove Street tenement-houses, and,
owing to the high wind and the dryness of the season, it had gained such
headway by the time the engines arrived, that it looked as if not only
the whole block but the adjoining buildings were doomed; but after hours
of untiring effort on the part of the firemen, it was finally brought
under control. Several of the tenements were completely gutted, and the
wildest excitement prevailed as the panic-stricken tenants, with cries
and shrieks of terror, jumped from the windows, or in other ways sought
to save themselves. It is not yet ascertained how many lost their lives
in these attempts, but it is feared that the number is by no means
small.'"

"I'm going down there! I'm going down there!" Lizzie cried out here,
breaking off her reading, and starting forward at a rapid pace.

"But, Lizzie - "

"You needn't try to stop me, I'm _going_. Becky's down there somewhere,
and mebbe she's alive and hurt and needs something, and I'm going to
see. _You_ needn't come if you're afraid, but _I'm_ going!"

The two girls offered no further remonstrance, but silently turned; and
the three went on together toward the burned district.

"What yer doin' here?" asked a policeman gruffly, as they entered Cove
Street. "Go back! 't ain't no place for anybody that hain't got business
here."

"I'm looking for little Becky Hawkins, - one of the girls in our store,"
answered Lizzie.

"Becky Hawkins?"

"Yes; do you know her?"

"Should think I did. This is my beat, - known her all her life pretty
much."

"Did she get out, - is she alive?" asked Lizzie, breathlessly.

"Yes, she's alive; she's down there in that corner house with her friend
Tim."

The policeman's lips moved with a faint odd smile as he said this, - a
smile that Matty and Josie interpreted to mean that Becky was just what
the Riker girls had said she was, - a little Cove Street hoodlum, - while
Tim, the prize-fighter, was probably one of the friends of her family
that the policeman had probably now under arrest down in that "corner
house." Thrilling with this interpretation, Josie pulled at Lizzie's
sleeve, and made a frantic appeal to her to come away as the policeman
had advised, adding, -

"We are decent girls, and - it's a disgrace to have anything to do with
such a lot as Becky and her family and - "

"What yer talkin' 'bout?" suddenly interrupted the policeman, - "what yer
talkin' 'bout? Becky Hawkins a disgrace to yer! Come down here 'n' see
what the Cove Street folks think of Becky Hawkins!" and he wheeled
around as suddenly as he had spoken, and beckoned the girls to follow
him.

They followed him down to the corner house, which stood blackened with
smoke and water, but otherwise uninjured, for it was just here that the
flames had been arrested, and in the hall-way the few poor remnants of
the household goods that had been saved from the other tenements were
huddled together. Pushing past these, the policeman stopped at an open
door whence issued a sound of voices. Lizzie started forward as a
familiar tone struck her ear, and smiling she exclaimed, "That's Becky!"

But the policeman pulled her back. "Wait a minute!" he said.

"Who's that speakin' to me?" called out the familiar voice. "Is it
Lizzie Macdonald from the store?"

"Yes, yes!" and, the policeman no longer holding her back, Lizzie
stepped over the threshold. There were two or three others in the room;
but over and beyond them Lizzie caught sight of Becky's big black eyes,
and hurrying forward cried: "Oh, Becky, I've only just got out of the
store, and just read about the fire, and I thought mebbe you were hurt,
and I came as fast as I could to see if I couldn't do something for you;
but I'm so glad you are all right - But," coming nearer and finding that
Becky was not standing, as she supposed, but propped up on a table,
"you're _not_ all right, are you?"

"No, I - I guess - I'm all wrong," responded Becky, with a queer little
smile, and an odd quaver to her voice.

"Oh, Becky, Becky, they ought to have taken better care of you, - a
little thing like you!"

"'Twas _she_ was takin' care of other folks," spoke up one of the women
in the room.

"Yes, 'twas a-savin' my Tim that did it," broke forth another. "She'd
got down the stairs all safe, and then she thought o' Tim and ran back
for him. She know'd I wasn't to home, and he was all alone; and she
saved him for me, - she saved him for me! She helped him out onto the
roof; 'twas too late for the stairs then, and a fireman got him down the
'scape; but Becky - Becky was behind, and the fire follered so fast, she
made a jump - and fell - oh, Becky! Becky!"

"Hush now!" said the other woman. "Don't keep a-goin' over it; yer worry
her, and it's no use."

"Went back for Tim, saved Tim the prize-fighter!" thought Lizzie, in
dumb amazement.

"The kid'll be all right soon," broke in another voice here.

Lizzie looked up, and saw a rough fellow, who had just come in, gazing
down at Becky with an expression that strangely softened his hard face.

Becky lifted her eyes at the sound of the voice.

"Hello, Jake," she said faintly.

"Hello, Becky, yer'll be all right soon, won't yer?"

"I'm all right now," said Becky, sleepily, "and Tim's all right. He
didn't get burnt, but the basket and all the pretty flowers did. If I
could make another - "

"_I'll_ make another for you," said Lizzie, pressing forward.

"And hang it for Tim?" asked Becky.

"Yes," answered Lizzie. Something in Lizzie's expression, in her tone,
roused Becky's wandering memory, and with a sudden flash of her old
mischief she said, -

"He's a fren' o' mine. Show up, Tim, and lemme interduce yer."

There was a movement on the other side of the table where Becky lay; and
then Lizzie saw, struggling up from a chair, a tiny crippled body,
wasted and shrunken, - the body of a child of seven with a shapely head
and the face of an intelligent boy of fifteen.

"That's him, - that's Tim, - the fightin' gen'leman I tole yer 'bout,"
said Becky, with a gay little smile at the remembrance of her joke and
how she "played it on 'em," and at the look of astonishment now on
Lizzie's face. And still with the gay little smile, but fainter voice, -

"Yer'll tell 'em, Lizzie, - the girls in the store, - how I played it on
'em; and when I git back - I'll - "

"Give her some air; she's faint," cried one of the women.

The tall young rough, Jake, sprang to the window and pulled it open,
letting in a fresh wind that blew straight up from the grassy banks
beyond the Cove.

"Do yer feel better, Becky?" he asked, as he saw her face brighten.

"I - I feel fus' rate - all well, Jake, and - I - I smell the Mayflowers.
They warn't burnt, were they? And oh, ain't they jolly, ain't they
jolly! Tim, Tim!"

"Yes, yes, Becky," answered Tim, in a shaking voice.

"Wait for me here Tim, - I - I'm goin' to find 'em for yer, Tim, - ther,
ther Mayflowers. They're close by; don't yer smell 'em? Close by - I'm
goin' - to find 'em for yer, Tim!" And with a radiant smile of
anticipation Becky's soul went out upon its happy quest, leaving behind
her the grime and poverty of Cove Street forever.

The two women - and one of them was Becky's aunt with whom the girl had
always lived - broke into sobs and tears; but as the latter looked at the
radiant face, she said suddenly, -

"She's well out of it all."

"But there's them that'll be worse for her goin'," said the other; "and
't ain't only Tim I mean, it's the like o' _him_," nodding towards Jake,
who was slipping quietly out of the room, - "it's the like o' him. They
looked up to her, they did, - bit of a thing as she was. She was that
straight and plucky and gin'rous she did 'em good; she made 'em better.
Jake's often said she was the Cove Street mascot."

And with these words sounding in her ears, Lizzie crept softly from the
room. Just over the threshold, in the shadow of the broken bits of
furniture that had been saved from the fire, she started to see Matty
and Josie still waiting for her.

"What!" she cried, "have you been here all the time - have you seen - have
you heard - "

They nodded; and Matty whispered brokenly, -

"Oh, Lizzie, I ain't never again goin' to think bad things of anybody I
don't know."

"Nor I, nor I," said Josie, huskily.


ALLY.


CHAPTER I.


"What have you done with those new overshoes, Ally?"

"Put 'em away."

"Well, you can just go and get 'em, then. Come, hurry up, for I want to
wear 'em down town."

But Ally didn't move.

"Ally, do you hear?" cried her cousin Florence.

"Yes, I hear, but I ain't a-going to mind you. The rubbers are mine, and
you've worn 'em about enough already; you're stretching 'em all out, for
your foot is bigger than mine."

"No such thing. I'm not hurting them in the least."

"Yes, you are; and you are taking the gloss all off 'em, too, and I want
'em to look new when I wear 'em in Boston."

"Well, I never heard of such selfish, stingy meanness as this. It's
raining hard, and you'd let me go out and get my feet sopping wet rather
than lend me your new rubbers."

"Why don't you wear your own old ones?"

"Because they leak."

"They've leaked ever since I got this new pair!" retorted Ally,
scornfully. "But it isn't these rubbers only; you're always borrowing my
things. There's my blue jacket; you've worn it till the edge is
threadbare, and you've worn my brown hat until it looks as
shabby - and - there! you've got my silver bangle on now! You're no
better than a thief, Florence Fleming!"

"A thief! that's a nice pretty thing to say to _me_! I should like to
know who buys your things for you? Isn't it _my father_ and Uncle John?
I should like to know where you'd be, Alice Fleming, if it wasn't for
Uncle John and father. Here, take your old bangle and keep it, and
everything else that you've got. I never want to see anything of yours
again; and I'm glad you're going off to Boston to Uncle John's for the
rest of the winter, and I wish you'd stay there and never come back
here, - I do!"

"I wish so too. Nobody in Uncle John's family would ever be so mean as
to fling it in my face that I was a poor little beggar of an orphan."

"Uncle John's family! Uncle John's wife said the last time she was here
that she dreaded the winter on your account, - there!"

"Aunt Kate - said that?"

"Yes, she did; I heard her."


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