Little Mackie, as his friends called him, was an inmate of the Hospital for Crippled Children. He was a small boy and his years were few, yet his face was already drawn and seamed with lines of suffering. One of his feet was twisted and the other almost useless; yet he could hobble around very nimbly on his crutches, and he took great pleasure in helping other boys who were worse off than himself.
His particular friend and crony was Dannie O'Connell, whose cot adjoined his own. Dannie was a helpless little fellow, with legs that were no better than none and a back so weak that he could not sit up without props. Many were the hours that little Mackie spent at Dannie's bedside, and many were the words of encouragement and hope that he poured into the ears of the helpless child.
"We're partners, Dannie," he would say. "When I get bigger, I'll be a bootblack down on the Square, and you and we'll go halves in the profits."
"But what could I do?" queried Dannie. "I couldn't help with the business. Why, I can't even hold myself up."
"Oh, you'll be lots better by that time," answered the ever-hopeful Mackie. "I'll get you a high chair with wheels under it, so that I can trundle you around. And I'll get a little candy stand at the corner for you to 'tend to. I'll shine 'em up for the fine gentlemen that come that way, and you'll sell candy to the ladies. They'll all want to trade with you when they see you sitting there in your high chair."
"I think it will be very nice," sighed Dannie; and he lay gazing up toward the ceiling and trying to forget his troubles.
"Of course it will be nice," said Mackie; "and don't you forget that we'll be partners."
One night when all the children were in their cots, an alarm was sounded. What could it mean? Soon the cry of fire was heard, and then a great rushing and hurrying in the halls and on the stairways. Little Mackie jumped up and seized his crutches, and all the other boys in the ward began to cry out in alarm. But their nurse soothed them and told them that they need not be afraid, for she was sure that the fire was in a distant part of the building, and would soon be put out.
Little Mackie lay down again, but he kept his eyes wide open. "Hey, Dannie, partner," he whispered very softly, "don't be scared. I'm watching out for you, and nurse says there's no danger."
The noise outside grew louder, and there was more of it. Mackie could hear the people running. He could hear the children screaming in the other wards. Soon he saw the red light of the flames shining through the narrow window above the door. Then he smelled the smoke, and saw it coming into the room through every crevice and crack. The nurse turned pale with fear, and did not seem to know what to do.
Then three men rushed in—firemen with big hats on their heads and waterproof capes on their shoulders. Each took two children in his arms and, with the fainting nurse, hurried away through the strangling smoke.
"Be brave! We'll be back for you in a minute," said one of them, as he ran past Dannie and Mackie.
The two "partners" were left alone in the room. Mackie could hear the crackling and roaring of the flames. He could even see them creeping along the floor and licking up the carpet in the lower hallway. He could feel their hot breath. In another minute they would reach the wooden stairs, and then how could any one ever come up to save the children that were still in the wards?
"Run, Mackie!" cried Dannie, trying in vain to sit up. "I guess they forgot to come back. Run, Mackie, and don't wait for me."
"No, I won't run, as long as you're my partner," said Mackie.
He was leaning on his crutches by the side of Dannie's cot.
Put your arms round my neck, Dannie. That's how. Now hold on, tight! Snuggle your face down over my shoulder. That's right; now we'll go. Hold fast, and don't swallow any more smoke than you can help, Dannie."
Clack! clack! clack! Through the smothering smoke the little crutches clattered out of the room and into the burning hallway. And Dannie, with his arms clasped around his partner's neck, and his shriveled legs dangling helplessly behind, was borne half-fainting through the fearful din.
Clack! clack! clack! Mackie was so short, and his head was so near to the floor, that he escaped the thickest part of the smoke, which rolled in clouds toward the ceiling. He hurried to the stairway, keeping his face bent downward and his eyes half closed. He did not dare to speak to Dannie, for he had no breath to spare.
Outside of the building there were many busy hands and many anxious faces.
"Have all the children been saved?" asked one of the managers of the hospital.
"Oh, sir, not all," was the sad answer. "There were a few in the upper wards who could not be saved, the fire spread so rapidly. And there are still two little boys in the lower ward, whom it is impossible to reach."
"Surely these boys ought to be rescued," cried the manager. "Won't some one try to reach them?"
"Sir," answered a helper who had already carried ten children out of the flaming building, "it is too late. The stairways are all blazing, and the ward itself is full of fire."
In fact, the flames could now be seen bursting out of every window.
Clack! clack! clack!
What sound was that on the marble steps before the smoke-filled door of the doomed hospital? It was not a loud noise, but those who stood nearest heard it quite plainly amid all the other sounds, the snapping of the burning wood, the roaring of the flames, the falling of heavy timbers.
Then right out from beneath the cloud of smoke came little Mackie, bearing Dannie upon his shoulders. Helping hands were stretched forth to receive him, and the brave lad fell fainting into the arms of a big policeman.
Dannie was scarcely harmed at all, though dreadfully frightened. But Mackie's poor hands were badly scorched and his eyebrows were singed off. His nightshirt was burned through in a dozen places. His bare, crippled feet were blistered by the fallen coals he had stepped upon. His little body was full of hurts and burns. Kind arms carried him to a place of safety; but for a long time he lay senseless to all that was happening around him.
When at last he awoke to consciousness, his first thought was to inquire for Dannie. Then, as he turned painfully in the little bed where they had laid him, he closed his eyes again and said, "Me and Dannie are partners, don't you know?"