"Now, run out of doors, boys, and have a good time," said Mrs. Roe, as she buttoned their sweaters and set their caps on their heads. "You may play in the park, if you wish. Only keep out of the road, and be careful when you cross it. If the ponies are in the mall, you may each have a ride. Here is the money, Hugh. See that Briggs doesn't fall off!"
"Oh, I can ride, Aunt Celia," laughed Briggs. "I've ridden old White Nose to water many a time. Come along, Hugh!" And two pairs of sturdy legs scampered off toward the green lawn with the big elms, pretty shrubs and beds of flowers just over the way. Along the path were placed benches, on which a few old men and nurses in charge of some wee tots were sitting. Down in the dell a little brook babbled among some rocks and splashed the ferns which fringed its banks. Farther on, where it widened out into a small lake, some boys were sailing their boats and feeding the white swans.
As they passed one of the benches, Hugh noticed a newspaper, which some one had read and thrown down.
"O I say, Briggs, let's play hare and hounds!" he cried. "Here! Tear this all up into small pieces and put them in your pockets. You can be the hare if you want to. I'll blind my eyes and count five hundred by fives. As you run, drop bits of paper. Then I can tell where you have gone and follow you. All ready! Five, ten, fifteen, twenty!"
Briggs was off like a shot. Down into the dell he plunged. First he jumped the brook, treading down some of the ferns in the process. Then he crept through some shrubbery, swung around a clump of silver birches, tore across a flower bed, which was not a little damaged by his passage, and was off across a stretch of lawn. Behind him tiny pieces of paper were flying in the breeze.
In another moment Hugh was after him. Here and there they went, laughing and shouting as the hound began to gain on the hare. The fact that they had cut across two new flower beds was not noticed by them. The lawn, once a broad stretch of green, was flecked with bits of white. At last the Bare was caught, and both boys flung themselves upon a bench quite out of breath.
"That was sport, Hugh," exclaimed his cousin. "You almost had me when I dodged across that flower bed. Did you get caught on those prickly rose bushes?
I did, and broke two of them. Hope the gardener did not see me! I don't care. They aren't mine, anyhow. Let me take your knife a minute, will you?"
"To carve my name on this bench. Then I can see where we ran when I come to visit you next year. Thanks!"
Briggs carved busily for a few minutes and then gave it up. "This wood is too hard!" he exclaimed. "I can make the straight line of the B, but I can't make the wiggles."
"Here, let me take it," said Hugh. "I can make an H easy enough."
"All right. Then I can carve my B on that white birch. The bark is soft."
Hardly was the task finished when a push cart filled with fruit came along. "Let's get some, Hugh," cried Briggs. "I'd rather eat than ride the ponies. They won't let them go faster than a walk anyway. Buy me a banana, will you? Aunt Celia won't mind. You get an orange. Then we can divide."
Hugh rather wanted to ride the ponies. His mother had not said that they might buy fruit. But his cousin was his guest. There seemed to be no harm in getting just a little. So he stopped the peddler, made his purchases, and the two sat down to enjoy their repast.
Briggs peeled his banana and threw the skin on the side walk. "Look at those papers," he mumbled, his mouth too full for plain speech. "The chap who picks those up will have a nice time. I'm glad I don't have to do it."
"So am I," said Hugh. "I suppose I ought to put my orange skins in those big cans, but there isn't one very near here."
"Never mind," returned Briggs. "Everybody does it; so what's the harm?"
"No great harm, young gentlemen," said a voice just behind them, "except that you, and folks like you, make life a good deal harder for me."
The boys turned quickly to find the kindly face of an old man, his back bent and his hair whitened, standing beside them. In one hand he held a long pointed rod on which some pieces of paper were sticking. In the other hand was a large sack, which he dragged behind him.
"Time was," the old man went on, "when I would have warmed your jackets for you, or handed you over to a policeman. But somehow I can't do it now, though when I get home at night my back aches terribly. It's all very well to play hare and hounds, and then sit down and eat bananas and oranges. But afterwards somebody must walk over all the way you ran, and a good deal farther, and pick up each bit of paper. It's like this, you see." And he stuck the sharp point into a fleck of white on the lawn, drew it off, and placed it in the bag.
Briggs looked at Hugh and smiled sheepishly. Hugh was busy poking a piece of orange peel with his foot. Both were ashamed. Somehow it did not seem to be so much fun playing hare and hounds, when a poor old man had to work so hard afterwards.
"I never can see," the old man went on, "why the people, who own this park, seem to be so willing to spoil it. It is theirs, yours, everybody's. The trees were planted to give them shade and make the city lovely. The lawns are kept green, the flowers bloom, the seats are placed along the walks for their joy and comfort. The people buy all these with the taxes they pay to the city. And yet I see so many folks who cut their benches, break their trees, trample the ferns, and throw papers and peanut shells and all sorts of refuse on the lawns and walks. If I did not work so hard to keep the place in order—and of course the city pays me to do this—the park would soon be so ugly and dirty that no one would want to come here. One of the worst things is a banana peel. They are so slippery that people who step on them often fall and get badly hurt. Just the other day—"
A sudden cry broke in upon the old man's story. As the three turned, they saw a little old lady lying on the sidewalk. She had fallen heavily and lay quite still. The old man and the two boys hurried forward to help her.
"I wonder what's the matter with her?" asked Briggs.
"She has fainted," declared Hugh. "I saw a lady faint in a crowd once, and she fell just like this."
As the old man stooped to lift the woman, he paused.
"No, she has not fainted," he said. "Look there!"
The boys' eyes followed his finger. There on the walk just by the old lady's foot was Briggs's banana peel. No one spoke for a moment. Then Hugh found his voice.
"Let's take her to our house. It's all our fault. Mother will care for her, and we can send her home in a cab. I've got some money in my bank, and I'll pay for the cab and for a doctor, too, if she needs on e."
"Not much!" exclaimed Briggs. "It was my fault. I'll pay for it. But never mind that now. The first thing is to get her into the house."
They lifted her tenderly and started to carry her. But the eyes opened, and in a weak voice she asked "Where am I? Did I fall? Let me sit on the seat for a few moments. I think I shall feel better then."
"I'll get mother," cried Hugh, and darted off across the street. Briggs helped the old man lead her to the bench, and then ran off in another direction.
Mrs. Roe caught up a few simple remedies, and hurried to the seat, where the little old lady now sat, looking rather limp, but with a brave smile on her face.
"Oh, thank you so much," she exclaimed, as Mrs. Roe put her arm about her and asked whether she were badly hurt. "No, I think not. At first I was afraid I had broken my hip. In that case, I should have had to lie in bed for weeks. Perhaps I might never have been able to walk again. But I find that I can stand and walk a little, so that I am sure no bones are broken. In a little while I shall be able to go home."
Just then a cab drove up in front of the bench with Briggs on the seat with the driver. Leaping down, he came and stood before the little old lady, his cap in his hand.
"I'm awfully sorry," he began. "It was my fault.
Please get into the cab. I am going to pay the driver, and he will take you home."
"Oh please don't," said the little old lady. "I think I can walk."
"No, let him! Do, please!" said Mrs. Roe. " It is only fair, and will help the boys to remember. I'll go with you and see that you are not really badly bruised."
Mrs. Roe and the little old lady got slowly into the cab, which soon was lost to sight behind the shrubbery. The old man took up the rod and bag and began to pick up the papers again.
"Jolly! I'm glad she didn't break her hip!" exclaimed Hugh.
"So am I," said Briggs. "I wish I hadn't carved my initials on that tree. I thought I should like to see them there; but I would rather not now. I didn't know the park belonged to us, did you?"
"No. I say, Briggs, that old man is picking up our papers. Come along—quick!"
Off he went across the lawn. Briggs paused just long enough to pick up the pieces of orange peel and the banana skin and deposit them in the garbage can at the corner. Then he darted after his cousin.
As the old man watched them, a smile broke over his face. They were chasing the bits of paper with all the keenness of two young foxes. More than that, they were having a deal more fun in helping the old man and cleaning up their park than when they played the first game.
"I don't believe those boys will ever do that sort of thing again," he said. "They have learned a lesson. I only wish that the rest of the people who own this city would learn it!"
Then he slung the bag over his shoulder, and went on his way.
|—HENRY HALLAM TWEEDY.|
For all things are yours.
—1 Corinthians iii. 21.