ON opening his “ shop ” one morning, Paudeen saw the face of a little boy at the window of a room in the building opposite. A placard setting forth that the room was “To let” had been in the window for so long that Paudeen had come to think the room would never find a tenant. He had not seen the moving in, night being the favorite time for flitting in that neighborhood, but there was the little boy looking across at him, —a very little boy he must be, for only his head was visible above the sash. Paudeen did not care particularly for little boys — except just one. The little boys he knew were apt to run after him, and call him “ crazy Paudeen,” and throw things at him. The exception, the one he did care for, would never throw things at any one or call him names, even if he were a crippled little old cobbler reputed to be crazy because he talked to some one that nobody else ever saw, and acted as if that someone was always beside him.
He went inside now, after scrutinizing the new-comer. Shoes in various stages of dilapidation awaited his attention. But he was not yet ready to begin his day’s work. A little stool stood close to his bench. The stool was empty, and to ordinary eyes it had always been empty; but Paudeen always saw it occupied by a little fair-haired boy who looked up at him as he worked, and whose hair he stroked many times an hour.. He stooped over the stool now, and his hand went through the motion of hair-stroking. Paudeen really felt a curly crop of hair beneath his fingers, although there was only empty space there.
“There’s a little boy moved in forninst us,” he said. “There he’s now at the winda, jus’ yer own size about. But we won’t want him round, will we ? We don’t want to play wid no little boys; we’re contint to be wid oursel’s, are n’t we? ”
The little boy he talked to had never wanted to play with other little boys. He had been too little when he went away to want anything like that. It was years since he had gone away, he and his mother, when they had been scarcely a couple of hours in the new land where there was a chance for every one, and where Paudeen was to wax rich and great, and the little boy was to be “ gintleman.”
After the railway accident, Paudeen was not so well able to work as he had been before. But that did not matter; he had no one to work for now. He had no more dreams of becoming rich. So long as he earned enough for his everyday needs, that was all he wanted, and, crippled as he was, he still could do that.
And after a while the little boy came back to him. It was then people began to call him “ crazy Paudeen.” Paudeen did not care what they called him. He was very happy. His dreams of becoming rich and great did not come back with the little boy. Nothing like that mattered any more. The little boy had everything he wanted now, without the need of exertion on Paudeen’s part. He had been a very, very little boy when he went away; when he came back he was bigger, five or six years old, maybe. Paudeen knew that he would never grow any older, would never outgrow the little stool he had made for him in the first days of his coming; that the curly head would never grow beyond reach of his hand as he sat at his bench, working. And this made Paudeen very happy, too.
Every morning before he started to work, Paudeen went to a box that stood in a corner over against his bench and set the contents of it out on a shelf built above it. He proceeded to do so now. He took from the box many pairs of little shoes and laid them all out on the shelf above. Then he placed them in careful order. Looking at the array of shoes, one could see the progress of the little boy’s growth. First came a pair of softest material, snowy white, into which Paudeen could scarcely insert one finger, —obviously the very first foot covering; and on down to a pair of stout little shoes such as a sturdy boy of six might wear. Into the fashioning of those little shoes Paudeen had put his utmost skill. When they were set out in order, he began his day’s work.
He talked happily to the little boy beside him that day, as was his wont, but his eyes often wandered to the window opposite at which the strange little boy stood. Paudeen had never known a little boy, except the one, to be quiet so long. There was no sign of any other occupant of the room. Once Paudeen leaned forward to wipe his window-pane, so that he might see more clearly, and then restrained himself.
“ We don’t care nothin’ for no other little boys, do we,” he asked. “ We’re contint to be wid oursel’s, are n’t we ? But he stands the quietest of any little fella iver I seen,” he added to himself in a different tone. Somehow Paudeen was sorry because the little boy stood so very quiet.
A little after six o’clock a strange woman came along the street and went into the building opposite, and the boy’s face disappeared from the window.
“ P’r’aps his mother does have to go out workin’ and lave him alone,” Paudeen commented.
In the morning his first glance was across the street. The little boy was already at the window.
“ I wonder if she laves him iv’ry day ? ” he said to himself. " That ’ud be hard on the little fella. I won’t niver have to lave you,” he said happily to the little boy who kept him company, “ an’ you won’t niver lave me ayther, will you?” he asserted.
That day Paudeen cleaned his window on both sides. The little boy across the street watched him interestedly while he did it. It was a very narrow back street, with little traffic. Probably the little boy took as much note of Paudeen as Paudeen did of him; there was so very little else to watch.
” I ben goin’ to clane that winda iv’ry day for a month,” Paudeen said half apologetically to the little boy on the stool. “ It half blinded me to look out o’ it.” He did not want to have him think that he had cleaned the window in order to see the little boy across the street more plainly.
However, before the window-cleaning was accomplished, Paudeen found himself nodding and smiling across the street quite openly. The strange little boy did not respond, a fact which disconcerted Paudeen to quite a remarkable degree, until he remembered that the opposite window was very dingy, too; perhaps the little boy had not seen him nod and smile.
Either Paudeen opened his shop earlier than usual the next day, or the stranger woman was later in starting for her work. She emerged from the building opposite as Paudeen loitered in his doorway, drinking in the comparatively fresh air of the morning. He stepped half-way across the pavement and put himself in her way.
“ The little fella ’ll be lonesome bein’ be himsel’ all day.”
The woman looked at him without any surprise. She was stout and red-faced, with massive arms and shoulders, but her countenance was not unkindly.
“ Then he’ll just have to be lonesome,” she said, with a sharpness that, however, had a note of apology in it. “ It’s the best I can do for him. People that you work for won’t be bothered with a young ’un round. I just have to lock him in all day.”
“If ye’d lave him so that he could run in an’ out, I’d — I’d be havin’ an eye on him,” suggested Paudeen diffidently.
The woman looked at him for a moment, then without a word turned and went back into the building. In a few minutes she reappeared, leading the little boy by the hand.
“ He won’t be a bit o’ trouble, and there’s his dinner.” She thrust a newspaper-covered bundle into Paudeen’s hand. “I got to hustle,” she announced, “or I’ll be late.”
She was half-way up the street before Paudeen recovered from the amazement such swift action had thrown him into. He looked ruefully after her disappearing form. Between “ havin’ an’ eye ” on the little boy, and having to look after him all day, there was a wide difference. The little boy stood very still — he had a wonderful faculty for standing still, exhibiting neither curiosity nor strangeness.
“ We’d best go in,” Paudeen said at last, reluctantly.
The little boy docilely followed him in.
A tiny room where Paudeen slept and ate led off the “ shop.” Into this he disappeared for a moment, and when he returned the strange little boy was sitting on the stool that stood beside his bench, looking about him with big, dark, solemn eyes.
Paudeen stood still. He had received a shock. Of course, two little boys could not occupy the one seat, and the little boy who had occupied it for years was gone. Paudeen looked all about the room as if he expected to see him hiding in some corner; but no, only the strange little boy was there.
“ He did n’t want no other little boy in his place,” Paudeen said to himself in dismay. “ Mebbe if I was to ask the little fella not to sit there — ”
But there was really nowhere else for the little boy to sit. Something like anger came into Paudeen’s eyes as he looked at him, this stranger who had ousted the little boy who rightfully belonged there. But in a moment the anger died away.
“ ’T was me own fault for askin’ him, an’ I need n’t be wantin’ to blame the little fella. He’ll come back when he goes. We niver wanted no other little boys round, did we ?” he asked, reverting to his usual habit of speaking aloud, and his voice grew all of a sudden joyous. He was almost glad now that the little boy had not stayed while this other little boy was here. It proved so conclusively the assertion he was fond of making, that they “ did n’t want no other little boys around.”
And because the little boy to whom they belonged was not here, for the first time in years Paudeen started his day’s work without setting out that row of little shoes on the shelf. But he found that, while he could temporarily sustain the little boy’s absence, he could not work without that array of little shoes before his eyes. So, presently, he got up and set them out, and the strange little boy watched him with big solemn eyes.
Paudeen found that day very long. He was lonesome for the little boy who had gone. Sometimes he would forget, and his hand would go out in search of the curly head, and when his fingers encountered the soft, smooth hair of the stranger, he would come to himself with a start. He could not even make believe that this quiet little boy was the one who always sat beside him. They were so totally different. The eyes of his own little boy were the color of the sky on a summer’s day, and his face was like the inside of a rose-leaf, and his mouth was always laughing. The eyes of this little boy were as dark as the darkest night, and there was no color in his face at all, and his mouth was closed in a tight little line. Paudeen tried to talk to him, but the little boy might have been dumb for all the response he made, and finally Paudeen gave it up.
Six o’clock came at last, and with it the big woman. She seemed to fill up the narrow little room with her voice and her presence.
“ Dave been a good boy? ” she asked.
“ He has n’t been no trouble at all, ma’am,” said Paudeen politely. He could be polite now. It was worth having the little boy go away for the joy of his coming back. In anticipation Paudeen was experiencing that joy.
The big woman laughed massively.
“I’ll wager he did n’t open his lips all day, that’s him all over. Sometimes I tell him he has n’t a tongue, and then he’ll put it out for me to see.”
“ He did n’t do no talkin’,” Paudeen admitted.
“ Is he yours, ma’am ?” he asked after a pause. It had suddenly struck him that there seemed no point of connection between the big woman and the pale little boy.
The big woman laughed again.
“Lord, no! I had enough sense never to get married. His mother scrubbed alongside o’ me for two years, and when she died I was fool enough to believe his good-for-nothing father when he said he’d pay me his board reg’lar if I took him. He paid me three weeks and then he lit out, and I can’t find where he’s gone to, so I just been keepin’ him, but course I’ll not be able to keep him all the time. Come along, Dave,” she added, “ we’ll be goin’ home.”
“ Poor little fella!” Paudeen said to himself as he watched their progress across the street. He was glad to see that the big woman held the tiny fingers not ungently.
But although his seat was now unoccupied, the little boy did not come back. Paudeen called to him, wandering from one room to the other. But the little boy did not hear him, and he finally went desolately to bed. In the morning the little boy would have returned.
But in the morning he was not there either.
“ He need n’t be mindin’ so much me havin’ the little fella. I was jus’ sorry for him,” Paudeen said, almost with a sob, as he looked about the room that was still empty.
When presently he opened the outer door, he found Dave standing there, a newspaper parcel under his arm.
“ Did she lave ye here ag’in,” Paudeen almost shouted, taking in the meaning of that newspaper parcel. “ I won’t mind ye anny more, not all day,” he added in a subsiding tone. “ I don’t mind havin’ an eye on ye, but all day —”
Dave looked up at him with solemn eyes and was silent. In an access of wrath Paudeen started across the street. He might perhaps find the big woman still in her room. But the door was locked, and Paudeen returned to find Dave as inscrutable as ever.
“Ye can come in for to-day, but only for to-day, mind,” Paudeen exclaimed. “ Ye see,” he added deprecatingly, before the gaze of the solemn eyes, “he does n’t like me takin’ up wid no other little boys. If it was jus’ meself, I would n’ mind, but he does n’t like it. Ye would n’t like to think that yer mo——some one ye liked awful well, thought more of some other little boy than they thought of you ? I guess that’s what he must think, goin’ away like that,” said Paudeen, troubled.
Paudeen did not try to talk to Dave that day, and Dave was as silent as he had been on the preceding day, but he took a greater interest in his surroundings, and once or twice left his seat to wander about the room. Paudeen took little notice of these excursions. He was thinking that those last two days had been almost as long and as lonely as had been the days before the little boy came back.
Six o’clock brought the big woman, seeming more than ever to fill up the room with her voice and her presence. It had not occurred to Paudeen that he would have any hesitation in letting her know that he would not again look after the little boy, but he found himself hesitating, and finally saying deprecatingly, —
“ I was n’t manin’ to have the little fella all the time — jus’ to have an eye on him now an’ thin, ye know.”
“ Did you think that I’d leave my door unlocked and let him run in and out?” said the big woman, unruffled. “I’m not goin’ to do that. He gives you no trouble sittin’ here where you can have your eye on him all the time.”
“ But he — he does n’t like it,” Paudeen began.
“ Does n’t matter what he likes,” cut in the big woman decisively, evidently under the impression that he was referring to Dave. “ Nobody can have what they like in this world — me, nor you, nor nobody.”
And to Paudeen’s surprise he found that he could make no answer. The big woman’s robust assertiveness overwhelmed him.
Every morning thereafter either he found Dave waiting for the door to be opened, or the big woman would fetch him across afterwards, his lunch wrapped up in newspaper. The big woman never omitted that.
Because he had talked to one nobody else could see had been primarily the reason why Paudeen was dubbed “ crazy.” He did not talk now, when there was a palpable somebody to talk to. He drooped over his work and was almost as silent as Dave himself. Only in the night-time, when he was alone, he found voice to entreat with tears the little boy who had gone away.
“ Ye know I don’t care nothin’ for no other little boy. I don’t want no other little boy round. She brings him,” he would say over and over again. But the little boy did not come back.
As the days went on, Dave began to make himself more at home. He was still almost uniformly silent, but he would move about the shop while Paudeen worked. With unfailing regularity, Paudeen still set out on the shelf the row of little shoes, a proceeding which greatly interested Dave. As each pair was taken from the box, something that was like pleasure would cross the solemn little face. From his seat on the stool close up to Paudeen’s bench, he would gaze at them for hours. But Paudeen, in his longing for the little boy who had gone away, had no thought and no eyes for the little boy who was with him.
Presently a little comfort came to him. With a view to compelling him to pay what he owed her for Dave’s keep, the big woman had been prosecuting a search for his errant father, but without success.
“ I can get no trace o’ him,” she announced one night on her return from work. “ I don’t suppose I’ll ever hear o’ him again. I’m tryin’ to get a place where I can work in, get board and lodgin’ an’ all. Just as soon as I get a place, Dave’ll have to go to a home.”
Thereafter Paudeen looked forward to the prospect of the big woman getting a place to “ work in ” with an even greater eagerness than she herself did. Once the strange little boy was gone entirely out of the neighborhood, the little boy who had gone away would have no further cause for resentment and would surely come back.
One day, when Dave had been coming about three weeks, Paudeen had occasion to leave him alone in the shop for a few minutes. When he returned, he found Dave sitting on the box that stood under the shelf, one of the shoes that stood last in the row beside him, the other in his hand. It was evidently his intention to put them on; his own shoes, not originally intended for him, a couple of sizes too large and in an advanced stage of dilapidation, lay on the floor where he had kicked them off; his tiny toes showed through the rents in his stocking.
He held up the shoe as Paudeen entered. “ Mine,” he said distinctly.
Paudeen grew very angry. He was beside the box in an instant, and catching Dave by the arm pulled him to the floor.
“No, they’re not yours,” he said loudly. “D’ye want iv’rything ? They’re not yours, they’re his.” His quick anger was already fading, but he repeated “They’re his,” very loudly several times. The little boy to whom the shoes belonged, if within hearing, might stand in need of appeasement at seeing his property thus claimed.
“ I did n’t mane to be rough,” Paudeen said presently, apologetically, “ but ye know them shoes don’t belong to ye. Put yer own on again, there’s a boy.” He picked up the sorry specimens. “ I did n’t mane to be rough wid ye,” he repeated contritely.
Dave made no answer. He sat down on the stool and began to put on his shoes. Paudeen went down on his knees to assist him, and when he got up, he patted the smooth little head quite in the same manner as he had been wont to pat the curly pate of the little boy who had gone away.
Then he resumed his work, but somehow he could not work. His eyes went many times from the clumsy broken shoes which covered the little feet of the boy beside him to that whole beautiful pair on the shelf, and his imagination began to run riot. Autumn would soon be here with its rains and its frosts. Those broken shoes would be no protection to the little feet. He saw them red and swollen with cold. Supposing it were the little boy who had gone away who was so badly in need of shoes, while those over there stood idle ?
“ There’ll be no harm in seein’ if they’d fit him,” Paudeen muttered after a long while.
They fitted beautifully, quite as if they had been made for him. Probably Dave had never had a pair of wholly new shoes in his life before. For some minutes after they were put on, he sat looking at them very gravely, then he rose and began to walk up and down the room, at first slowly and with his usual gravity, but presently with a consequential little strut; and finally he came and stood before Paudeen and a smile broke over his face, a wonderful, transfiguring smile that lit up the whole solemn little countenance. After a surprised moment, Paudeen smiled back responsively. Turning to the shelf, Dave said,—
“Them’s mine, an’ them’s mine.” With a tiny forefinger he pointed to each separate pair of shoes; “an’ them was mine when I was a little teeny, weeny baby; ” the tiny finger pointed to the first snowy white pair.
And then a wonderful thing happened. All at once the old happiness came back in a flood to Paudeen. The little boy with eyes the color of the sky on a summer day and the rose-leaf face, and this pale little boy with the big dark orbs, now alight with the spirit of childhood, seemed to be one and the same, and in some way, quite inexplicable, had always been one and the same. Paudeen smiled delightedly.
“ Course them’s all yours,” he said.
That night the big woman paid him a second visit after she had taken Dave home, to report that she had got a place.
“ I’ll have to see about gettin’ the young un into a home at once,” she said.
“ Ye don’t need to bother about a home for him; I’m goin’ to keep him,” Paudeen answered calmly.
“ You keep him ? Why, you don’t make hardly enough to keep yourself with yer cobblin’.”
“Cobblin’!” cried Paudeen disdainfully. “ D’ye think I’m goin’ to be cobblin’ all me life. I’ll be out o’ here pretty near as soon as yerself.”
The big woman was frankly amazed.
“They be sayin’ that yer crazy,” she said hesitatingly.
Paudeen laughed shrilly. “That’s all they know,” he cried, “ What did I want to be slavin’ for wid jus’ meself to keep. This was all very well when I did n’t want to make no money. But I’d have ye know that I was counted the cliverest shoemaker in the County Dublin, and if me body’s a little twisted, me hands is as soople as iver. Davie’ll be a gintleman.”
“ Then yer goin’ to keep him ? ”
“ Course, I’m goin’ to keep him,” cried Paudeen, exasperated. “ Ye can just lave him in the mornin’ for good.”
“ Oh, I’m willin’ to leave him,” said the big woman relievedly. “ If yer not able to keep him, you can put him in a home.”
“ If I’m not able to keep him! ” scoffed Paudeen after her retreating figure.
For all the old dreams had come back. Paudeen looked disdainfully about the dark little basement room which had so long contented him. In his mind’s eye, he saw shining plate-glass windows, behind which stood row upon row of the fine ordered work he knew himself capable of doing. And his name should be on those shining windows, his name and another.
In the morning when Dave came in, he found Paudeen with a little pot of black paint beside him and a brush in his hand. He had finished painting some letters on a piece of thin white board. Holding the board at arm’s length, he was gazing at it admiringly.
“ What d ’ye think o’ that, Davie ? ” he chuckled.
“ What is it? ” asked Dave.
“ I was forgettin’ that ye can’t read yit. Listen, and I’ll tell ye what it is, — P-a-y-d-e-n, that’s me, an’ S-u-n, that’s you. Paudeen & Son. As soon as the paint’s dry I’ll tack it up outside, an’ when we move to a reel shop, we’ll have our names on the big glass windas in goold letters a foot long. Paudeen & Son, that’s me an’ you, alanna.”