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"Think you're smart," John glared. "Just dare you to come down here!
Just dare you to!"
"The old fly-catcher" continued. John opened his lips for a reply in kind.
Sid DuPree Went out on a spree And never got back 'Til half-past three.
The hero of the verse was struck suddenly dumb by this display of poetical ability. Again John repeated his latest composition. He was beginning to enjoy himself immensely. At the third repet.i.tion of the adventures of Sid, a window creaked noisily up.
"John Fletcher," came the harsh voice from the upper window. "You're a nasty little boy, and if you don't leave Sidney alone, I'll telephone your mother."
"Ya-a-a-ah," jeered Sid in an undertone. John looked and longed.
"Go on," urged Mrs. DuPree. "The telephone's right here in the hallway."
He decided that discretion was the better part of valor and crossed over to his own porch. Once up in his room, he threw himself on the bed, and as the excitement of the chase wore off began to realize the extent of the morning's losses.
The athletic field upon which they had labored so long and carefully, was torn to pieces--gone forever. Worse than that, Louise wasn't his girl any more. She'd said so herself. No more samples of cookery, no more confidential little walks to and from school, no more squirrel-feeding excursions. And the glorious dream of the future was as completely demolished as the "Tigers' Home Grounds." There could be no thousand dollars and a home when he reached his majority now.
He lay staring at the pattern in the ceiling paper, sobbing ever so little now and then, for some minutes, then wrenched himself miserably over on his side.
There he found that horrid old bank staring him in the face, that same pig bank which stood a grinning monument to his industry of the past months. But what good was the paper route now? or where the pleasure in dropping his weekly income into that long, narrow slot? Louise wasn't his girl any more. She'd said so, herself.
In a sudden fit of spite, he sprang up and seized the heavy, sneering bit of pottery in both hands. The next moment, it crashed to the floor and pennies, nickels, dimes, and even half-dollars rolled out on the carpet or mingled with the shattered bits of china. He stood astounded at the number for a moment, then gathered them up on his bed, and took careful count.
Thirty-eight dollars and fifty-three cents? He could scarcely believe his eyes.
Then he lay back, not quite so grief-stricken, and stared thoughtfully into s.p.a.ce until Mrs. Fletcher called him for dinner.
[Ill.u.s.tration: _"Thirty-eight dollars and fifty-three cents."_]
At the table, that evening, he was unusually quiet. As he finished his last slice of bread and b.u.t.ter, he looked up at his father.
"Dad, if a fellow earns a lot of money, all by himself, he can spend it any way he wants, can't he?"
Mr. Fletcher nodded. "Why, son?"
"I was just wondering. That's all."
A week later, Louise was sitting on the street curbing in front of her apartment building, when a crimson-clad baseball warrior on a new bicycle sped over the macadam and came to a sudden halt beside her. She raised her eyes in astonished recognition. It was her late fiance.
"Like my new wheel?"
"Bought it out of the money I was saving so's we could get married. Cost me twenty-one dollars, and it's got puncture-proof tires and a real coaster brake. Just watch me ride it!"
He sped off, rode free for a moment, threw the brake on and came to a sudden stop, then cut a figure eight over the paving. The clear spring sun made miniature rainbows in the shining, rapidly revolving spokes, and an early robin warbled his approval of the performance from his seat in a linden's top.
"I can ride without touching the handles, too," he boasted, as he guided the wheel back to her. "Isn't it peachy?"
She nodded. The long, curving bars bore a suggestion of possible rides on this beautiful steel-and-rubber creation, if their quarrel could be healed, and she held out a tentative olive branch.
"Want to play jacks?"
John shook his head. "Going over to the park baseball diamond with the 'Tigers.' We're going to play the 'Jeffersons,' this afternoon."
"But your paper route?"
He laughed joyously. "Sold it to the newspaper man. He gave me three dollars and twenty-five cents for the customers."
"Oh!" There was a pause.
"Like my baseball suit?" he asked.
She gazed at the flaming horror and nodded enthusiastically.
"You ought to see me run that team!"
"You?" she exclaimed. "Why, I thought Sid was captain."
"He _was_," with zestful emphasis on the verb. "But I bought nine baseball dollar uniforms and a lot of gloves and two bats, and a real league ball out of my money, so the kids fired Sid and elected me. He isn't even on the team any more."
"O-o-oh!" Truly John was becoming an important figure in the juvenile world.
"And I've got a dollar and thirteen cents left for candy and peanuts,"
Louise studied the confident, freckled face before her, the sparkling bicycle with its glossy saddle and acetylene lamp, the heavily padded baseball glove on the nickeled handle bars, and then their owner again.
She took the last remnant of her pride and stamped it under foot in a wave of regret.
"John," she said, shyly.
"I won't have anything more to do with Sid."
The captain of the "Tigers" only laughed. "You can go with Sid all you want, and drink all the sodas he'll pay for. I don't care, because--" he leaned his weight forward on the pedals and started for the park so suddenly that she barely caught his parting words, "I'm through with girls. I'm going to be a bachelor!"