The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories - novelonlinefull.com
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It was late when t.i.tee came home, to such a home as it was, and he had but illy performed his errand; so his mother beat him and sent him to bed supperless. A sharp strap stings in cold weather, and a long walk in the teeth of a biting wind creates a keen appet.i.te. But if t.i.tee cried himself to sleep that night, he was up bright and early next morning, had been to ma.s.s, devoutly kneeling on the cold floor, blowing his fingers to keep them warm, and was home almost before the rest of the family were awake.
There was evidently some great matter of business on the young man's mind, for he scarcely ate his breakfast, and left the table soon, eagerly cramming the remainder of his meal in his pockets.
"Ma foi, but what now?" mused his mother, as she watched his little form st.u.r.dily trudging the track in the face of the wind; his head, with the rimless cap thrust close on the shock of black hair, bent low; his hands thrust deep in the bulging pockets.
"A new live play-toy h'it may be," ventured the father; "he is one funny chil."
The next day t.i.tee was late for school. It was something unusual, for he was always the first on hand to fix some plan of mechanism to make the teacher miserable. She looked reprovingly at him this morning, when he came in during arithmetic cla.s.s, his hair all wind-blown, his cheeks rosy from a hard fight with the sharp blasts. But he made up for his tardiness by his extreme goodness all day; just think, t.i.tee did not even eat once before noon, a something unparalleled in the entire previous history of his school life.
When the lunch-hour came, and all the yard was a scene of feast and fun, one of the boys found him standing by a post, disconsolately watching a ham sandwich as it rapidly disappeared down the throat of a st.u.r.dy, square-headed little fellow.
"h.e.l.lo, Edgar," he said, "what you got fer lunch?"
"Nothin'," was the mournful reply.
"Ah, why don't you stop eatin' in school, fer a change? You don't ever have nothin' to eat."
"I didn't eat to-day," said t.i.tee, blazing up.
"I tell you I didn't!" and t.i.tee's hard little fist planted a punctuation mark on his comrade's eye.
A fight in the schoolyard! Poor t.i.tee was in disgrace again. Still, in spite of his battered appearance, a severe scolding from the princ.i.p.al, lines to write, and a further punishment from his mother, t.i.tee scarcely remained for his dinner, but was off down the railroad track with his pockets partly stuffed with the remnants of the scanty meal.
And the next day t.i.tee was tardy again, and lunchless too, and the next, until the teacher, in despair, sent a nicely printed note to his mother about him, which might have done some good, had not t.i.tee taken great pains to tear it up on the way home.
One day it rained, whole bucketsful of water, that poured in torrents from a miserable, angry sky. Too wet a day for bits of boys to be trudging to school, so t.i.tee's mother thought; so she kept him at home to watch the weather through the window, fretting and fuming like a regular storm in miniature. As the day wore on, and the rain did not abate, his mother kept a strong watch upon him, for he tried many times to slip away.
Dinner came and went, and the gray soddenness of the skies deepened into the blackness of coming night. Someone called t.i.tee to go to bed, and t.i.tee was nowhere to be found.
Under the beds, in closets and corners, in such impossible places as the soap-dish and water-pitcher even, they searched, but he had gone as completely as if he had been spirited away. It was of no use to call up the neighbors, he had never been near their houses, they affirmed, so there was nothing to do but to go to the railroad track where t.i.tee had been seen so often trudging in the shrill north-wind.
With lanterns and sticks, and his little yellow dog, the rescuing party started down the track. The rain had ceased falling, but the wind blew a gale, scurrying great gray clouds over a fierce sky. It was not exactly dark, though in this part of the city there is neither gas nor electricity, and on such a night as this neither moon nor stars dared show their faces in so gray a sky; but a sort of all-diffused luminosity was in the air, as though the sea of atmosphere was charged with an ethereal phosph.o.r.escence.
Search as they did, there were no signs of t.i.tee. The soft earth between the railroad ties crumbled between their feet without showing any small tracks or footprints.
"Mais, we may as well return," said the big brother; "he is not here."
"Oh, mon Dieu," urged the mother, "he is, he is; I know it."
So on they went, slipping on the wet earth, stumbling over the loose rocks, until a sudden wild yelp from Tiger brought them to a standstill. He had rushed ahead of them, and his voice could be heard in the distance, howling piteously.
With a fresh impetus the little muddy party hurried forward. Tiger's yelps could be heard plainer and plainer, mingled now with a m.u.f.fled, plaintive little wail.
After a while they found a pitiful little heap of sodden rags, lying at the foot of a mound of earth and stones thrown upon the side of the track. It was t.i.tee with a broken leg, all wet and miserable and moaning.
They picked him up tenderly, and started to carry him home. But he cried and clung to the mother, and begged not to go.
"Ah, mon pauvre enfant, he has the fever!" wailed the mother.
"No, no, it's my old man. He's hungry," sobbed t.i.tee, holding out a little package. It was the remnants of his dinner, all wet and rain-washed.
"What old man?" asked the big brother.
"My old man. Oh, please, please don't go home till I see him. I'm not hurting much, I can go."
So, yielding to his whim, they carried him farther away, down the sides of the track up to an embankment or levee by the sides of the Marigny Ca.n.a.l. Then the big brother, suddenly stopping, exclaimed:
"Why, here's a cave. Is it Robinson Crusoe?"
"It's my old man's cave," cried t.i.tee. "Oh, please go in; maybe he's dead."
There cannot be much ceremony in entering a cave. There is but one thing to do,--walk in. This they did, and holding up the lantern, beheld a weird sight. On a bed of straw and paper in one corner lay a withered, wizened, white-bearded old man with wide eyes staring at the unaccustomed light. In the other corner was an equally dilapidated cow.
"It's my old man!" cried t.i.tee, joyfully. "Oh, please, grandpa, I couldn't get here to-day, it rained all mornin' an' when I ran away, I fell down an' broke something, an', oh, grandpa, I'm all tired an'
hurty, an' I'm so 'fraid you're hungry."
So the secret of t.i.tee's jaunts down the railroad was out. In one of his trips around the swamp-land, he had discovered the old man exhausted from cold and hunger in the fields. Together they had found this cave, and t.i.tee had gathered the straw and paper that made the bed. Then a tramp cow, old and turned adrift, too, had crept in and shared the damp dwelling. And thither t.i.tee had trudged twice a day, carrying his luncheon in the morning and his dinner in the afternoon.
"There's a crown in heaven for that child," said the officer of charity to whom the case was referred.
But as for t.i.tee, when the leg was well, he went his way as before.