He was not Mike at first; he was only the Millionaire—a young millionaire who sat in a wheel chair on the pier waiting for the boat. He had turned his coat-collar up to shut out the wind, and his hat brim down to shut out the sun. For the time being he was alone. He had sent his attendant back for a forgotten book.
It was Thanksgiving, but the Millionaire was not thankful. He was not thinking of what he had, but of what he wanted. He wanted his old strength of limb, and his old freedom from pain. True, the doctors had said that he might have them again in time, but he wanted them now. He wanted the Girl, also. He would have her, to be sure, that very evening; but he wanted her now.
The girl had been very sweet and gentle about it, but she had been firm. As he could recollect it, their conversation had run something like this:
“But I want you myself, all day.”
“But, Billy, don’t you see? I promised; besides, I ought to do it. I am the president of the club. If I shirk responsibility, what can I expect the others to do?”
“But I need you just as much—yes, more—than those poor families.”
“Oh, Billy, how can you say that, when they are so very poor, and when every one of them is the proud kind that would simply rather starve than go after their turkey and things! That’s why we girls take them to them. Don’t you see?”
“Oh, yes, I see. I see I don’t count. It couldn’t be expected that I’d count—now!” And he patted the crutches at his side.
It was despicable in him, and he knew it. But he said it. He could see her eyes now, all hurt and sorrowful as she went away. . . . And so this morning he sat waiting for the boat, a long, lonely day in prospect in his bungalow on the island, while behind him he had left the dearest girl in the world, who, with other petted darlings of wealth and luxury, was to distribute Thanksgiving baskets to the poor.
Not that his day needed to be lonely. He knew that. A dozen friends stood ready and anxious to supply him with a good dinner and plenty of companionship. But he would have none of them. As if he wanted a Thanksgiving dinner!
And thus alone he waited in the wheel chair; and how he abhorred it—that chair—which was not strange, perhaps, considering the automobile that he loved. Since the accident, however, his injured back had forbidden the speed and jar of motor cars, allowing only the slow but exasperating safety of crutches and a wheel chair. To-day even that seemed denied him, for the man who wheeled his chair did not come.
With a frown the Millionaire twisted himself about and looked behind him. It was near the time for the boat to start, and there would not be another for three hours. From the street hurried a jostling throng of men, women, and children. Longingly the Millionaire watched them. He had no mind to spend the next three hours where he was. If he could be pushed on to the boat, he would trust to luck for the other side. With his still weak left arm he could not propel himself, but if he could find some one—
Twice, with one of the newspapers that lay in his lap, he made a feeble attempt to attract attention; but the Millionaire was used to commanding, not begging, and his action passed unnoticed. He saw then in the crowd the face of a friend, and with a despairing gesture he waved the paper again. But the friend passed by unheeding. What happened then was so entirely unexpected that the Millionaire fell back in his chair dumb with amazement.
“Here, Mike, ye ain’t on ter yer job. Youse can’t sell nuttin’ dat way,” scoffed a friendly voice. “Here, now, watch!” And before the Millionaire could collect his wits he saw the four papers he had bought that morning to help beguile a dreary day, snatched into the grimy hands of a small boy and promptly made off with.
The man’s angry word of remonstrance died on his lips. The boy was darting in and out of the crowd, shouting “Poiper, here’s yer poiper!” at the top of his voice. Nor did he return until the last pair of feet had crossed the gangplank. Then in triumph he hurried back to the waiting man in the wheel chair and dropped into his lap a tiny heap of coppers.
“Sold out, pardner! Dat’s what we be,” he crowed delighted. “Sold out!”
“But—I—you—” gasped the man.
“Aw, furgit it—’t wa’n’t nuttin’,” disdained the boy airily. “Ye see, youse got ter holler.”
“Sure, Mike, or ye can’t sell nuttin’. I been a-watchin’ ye, an’ I see right off ye wa’n’t on ter yer job. Why, pardner, ye can’t sell poipers like ye was shellin’ out free sody-checks at a picnic. Youse got ter yell at ’em, an’ git dere ‘tention. ‘Course, ye can’t run like I can”—his voice softened awkwardly as his eyes fell to the crutches at the man’s side—”but ye can holler, an’ not jest set dere a-shakin’ ’em easy at ’em, like ye did a minute ago. Dat ain’t no way ter sell poipers!”
With a half-smothered exclamation the Millionaire fell back in his chair. He knew now that he was not a millionaire, but a “Mike” to the boy. He was not William Seymore Haynes, but a cripple selling papers for a living. He would not have believed that a turned-up collar, a turned down soft hat, and a few jerks of a newspaper could have made such a metamorphosis.
“Youse’ll catch on in no time now, pardner,” resumed the boy soothingly, “an’ I’m mighty glad I was here ter set ye goin’. Sure, I sells poipers meself, I does, an’ I knows how ‘t is. Don’t look so flabbergasted. ‘T ain’t nuttin’. Shucks! hain’t fellers what’s pardners oughter do a turn fur ‘t odder?”
The Millionaire bit his lip. He had intended to offer money to this boy, but with his gaze on that glowing countenance, he knew that he could not. He had come suddenly face to face with something for which his gold could not pay.
“Th-thank you,” he stammered embarrassedly. “You—you were very kind.” He paused, and gazed nervously back toward the street. “I—I was expecting some one. We were going to take that boat.”
“No! Was ye? An’ he did n’t show up? Say, now, dat’s tough—an’ T’anksgivin’, too!”
“As if I cared for Thanksgiving!” The words came tense with bitterness.
“Aw, come now, furgit it!” There was a look of real concern on the boy’s face. “Dat ain’t no way ter talk. It’s T’anksgivin’!”
“Yes, I know—for some.” The man’s lips snapped shut grimly.
“Aw, come off! Never mind if yer pal did n’t show up. Dere ‘s odders; dere ‘s me now. Tell ye what, youse come home wid me. Dere won’t be no boat now fur a heap o’ time, an’ I ‘m goin’ ter T’anksgive. Come on! ‘T ain’t fur. I’ll wheel ye.”
The man stared frankly.
“Er—thank you,” he murmured, with an odd little laugh; “but—”
“Shucks! ‘Course ye can. What be ye goin’ ter do?—set here? What’s the use o’ mopin’ like dis when youse got a invite out ter T’anksgivin’? An’ ye better catch it while it’s goin’, too. Ye see, some days I could n’t ask ye—not grub enough; but I can ter-day. We got a s’prise comin’.”
“Indeed!” The tone was abstracted, almost irritable; but the boy ignored this.
“Sure! It’s a dinner—a T’anksgivin’ dinner bringed in to us. Now ain’t ye comin’?”
“A dinner, did you say?—brought to you?”
“Who brings it?”
“A lady what comes ter see me an’ Kitty sometimes; an’ she’s a peacherino, she is! She said she ‘d bring it.”
“Do you know—her name?” The words came a little breathlessly.
“You bet! Why, she’s our friend, I tell ye! Her name is Miss Daisy Carrolton; dat ‘s what ‘t is.”
The man relaxed in his chair. It was the dearest girl in the world.
“Say, ain’t ye comin’?” urged the boy, anxiously.
“Coming? Of course I’m coming,” cried the man, with sudden energy. “Just catch hold of that chair back there, lad, and you’ll see.”
“Say, now, dat’s sumpin’ like,” crowed the boy, as he briskly started the chair. “‘T ain’t fur, ye know.”
Neither the boy nor the Millionaire talked much on the way. The boy was busy with his task; the man, with his thoughts. Just why he was doing this thing was not clear even to the man himself. He suspected it was because of the girl. He could fancy her face when she should find that it was to him she was bringing her turkey dinner! He roused himself with a start. The boy was speaking.
“My! but I ‘m glad I stopped an’ watched ye tryin’ ter sell poipers. T’ink o’ youse a-settin’ dere all dis time a-waitin’ fur dat boat—an’ T’anksgivin’, too! An’ don’t ye worry none. Ma an’ Kitty ‘ll be right glad to see ye. ‘T ain’t often we can have comp’ny. It’s most allers us what’s takin’ t’ings give ter us—not givin’ ourselves.”
“Oh,” replied the man uncertainly. “Is—is that so?”
With a distinct shock it had come to the millionaire that he was not merely the disgruntled lover planning a little prank to tease the dearest girl in the world. He was the honored guest of a family who were rejoicing that it was in their power to give a lonely cripple a Thanksgiving dinner. His face grew red at the thought.
“Ugh-uh. An’, oh, I say, what is yer name, pardner?” went on the boy. “‘Course I called ye ‘Mike,’ but—”
“Then suppose you still call me ‘Mike,'” retorted the man, nervously wondering if he could play the part. He caught a glimpse of the beaming face of his benefactor—and decided that he must play it.
“A’ right, den; an’ here we be,” announced the boy in triumph, stopping before a flight of steps that led to a basement door.
With the aid of his crutches the man descended the steps. Behind him came the boy with the chair. At the foot the boy flung wide the door and escorted his guest through a dark, evil-smelling hallway, into a kitchen beyond.
“Ma! Kitty! look a-here!” he shouted, leaving the chair, and springing into the room. “I ‘ve bringed home comp’ny ter dinner. Dis is Mike. He was sellin’ poipers down ter de dock, an’ he lost his boat. I told him ter come on here an’ eat wid us. I knowed what was comin’, ye see!”
“Why, yes, indeed, of course,” fluttered a wan-faced little woman, plainly trying not to look surprised. “Sit down, Mr. Mike,” she finished, drawing up a chair to the old stove.
“Thank you, but I—I—” The man looked about for a means of escape. In the doorway stood the boy with the wheel chair.
“Here, Mr. Mike, mebbe youse wanted dis. Say, Kitty, ain’t dis grand?” he ended admiringly, wheeling the chair to the middle of the room.
From the corner came the tap of crutches, and the man saw then what he had not seen before; a slip of a girl, perhaps twelve years old, with a helpless little foot hanging limp below the skirt-hem.
“Oh, oh!” she breathed, her eyes aflame with excitement. “It is—it is—a wheel one! Oh, sir, how glad and proud you must be—with that!”
The man sat down, though not in the wheel chair. He dropped a little helplessly into the one his hostess had brought forward.
“Perhaps you—you’d like to try it,” he managed to stammer.
“Oh, can I? Thank you!” breathed a rapturous voice. And there, for the next five minutes, sat the Millionaire watching a slip of a girl wheeling herself back and forth in his chair—his chair, which he had never before suspected of being “fine” or “wonderful” or “grand”—as the girl declared it to be.
Shrinkingly he looked about him. Nowhere did his eyes fall upon anything that was whole. He had almost struggled to his feet to flee from it all when the boy’s voice arrested him.
“Ye see, it’s comin’ ’bout noon—de grub is; an’ it’s goin’ ter be all cooked so we can begin ter eat right off. Dere, how’s dat?” he questioned, standing away to admire the propped-up table he and his mother were setting with a few broken dishes. “Now ain’t ye glad youse ain’t down dere a-waitin’ fur a boat what don’t come?”
“Sure I am,” declared the man, gazing into the happy face before him, and valiantly determining to be Mike now no matter what happened.
“An’ ain’t the table pretty!” exulted the little girl. “I found that chiny cup with the gold on it. ‘Course it don’t hold nothin’, ’cause the bottom’s fell out; but it looks pretty—an’ looks counts when comp’ny’s here!”
The boy lifted his head suddenly.
“Look a-here! I’ll make it hold sumpin’,” he cried, diving his hands into his pockets, and bringing out five coppers and a dime. “Youse jest wait. I ‘ll get a posy up ter de square. ‘Course, we ‘d ought ter have a posy, wid comp’ny here.”
“Hold on!” The Millionaire’s hand was in his pocket now. His fingers were on a gold piece, and his eyes—in fancy—were on a glorious riot of Jacqueminots that filled the little room to overflowing, and brought a wondrous light to three pairs of unbelieving eyes—then Mike remembered. “Here,” he said a little huskily, “let me help.” But the fingers, when he held them out, carried only the dime that Mike might give, not the gold piece of the Millionaire.
“Aw, g’wan,” scoffed the boy, jubilantly. “As if we’d let comp’ny pay! Dis is our show!” And for the second time that day the Millionaire had found something that money could not buy.
And thus it happened that the table, a little later, held a centerpiece of flowers—four near-to-fading pinks in a bottomless, gold-banded china cup.
It was the man who heard the honk of a motor-car in the street outside. Instinctively he braced himself, and none too soon. There was a light knock, then in the doorway stood the dearest girl in the world, a large basket and a box in her hands.
“Oh, how lovely! You have the table all ready,” she exclaimed, coming swiftly forward. “And what a fine—Billy!” she gasped, as she dropped the box and the basket on the table.
The boy turned sharply.
“Aw! Why did n’t ye tell a feller?” he reproached the man; then to the Girl: “Does ye know him? He said ter call him ‘Mike.'”
The man rose now. With an odd directness he looked straight into the Girl’s startled eyes.
“Maybe Miss Carrolton don’t remember me much, as I am now,” he murmured.
The Girl flushed. The man, who knew her so well, did not need to be told that the angry light in her eyes meant that she suspected him of playing this masquerade for a joke, and that she did not like it. Even the dearest girl in the world had a temper—at times.
“But why—are you—here?” she asked in a cold little voice.
The man’s eyes did not swerve.
“Jimmy asked me to come.”
“He asked you to come!”
“Sure I did,” interposed Jimmy, with all the anxiety of a host who sees his guest, for some unknown reason, being made uncomfortable. “I knowed youse would n’t mind if we did ask comp’ny ter help eat de dinner, an’ he lost his boat, ye see, an’ had a mug on him as long as me arm, he was that cut up ’bout it. He was sellin’ poipers down t’ de dock.”
“As it happened, I did not sell them,” interposed the man, still with that steady meeting of her eyes. “Jimmy sold them for me. He will tell you that I was n’t on to my job, so he helped me out.”
“Aw, furgit it,” grinned Jimmy sheepishly. “Dat wa’n’t nuttin’. I only showed him ye could n’t sell no poipers widout hollerin’.”
A curious look of admiration and relief came to the face of the Girl. Her eyes softened. “You mean—”
She stopped, and the man nodded his head gravely.
“Yes, miss. I was alone, waiting for Thompson. He must have got delayed. I had four papers in my lap, and after Jimmy had sold them and the boat had gone, he very kindly asked me to dinner, and—I came.”
“Whew! Look at dis!” cried an excited voice. Jimmy was investigating the contents of the basket. “Say, Mike, we got turkey! Ye see,” he explained, turning to Miss Carrolton, “he kinder hung back fur a while, an’ wa’n’t fast on comin’. An’ I did hope ‘t would be turkey—fur comp’ny. Folks don’t have comp’ny ev’ry day!”
“No, folks don’t have company every day,” repeated the Girl softly; and into the longing eyes opposite she threw, before she went away, one look such as only the dearest girl in the world can give—a look full of tenderness and love and understanding.
Long hours later, in quite a different place, the Girl saw the man again. He was not Mike now. He was the Millionaire. For a time he talked eagerly of his curious visit, chatting excitedly of all the delightful results that were to come from it; rest and ease for the woman; a wheel chair and the best of surgeons for the little girl; school and college for the boy. Then, after a long minute of silence, he said something else. He said it diffidently, and with a rush of bright color to his face—he was not used to treading quite so near to his heart.
“I never thought,” he said, just touching the crutches at his side, “that I ‘d ever be thankful for—for these. But I was—almost—to-day. You see, it was they that—that brought me—my dinner,” he finished, with a whimsicality that did not hide the shake in his voice.
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