The Shagganappi

by Emily Pauline Johnson



The Barnardo Boy


    THE only thing that young Buckney could say to express his surprise at the wonderful stone buildings was “Blow me!” He had expected to find that the great Canadian city of Montreal would be just a few slab shacks, with forests on all sides, and painted Indians prowling, tomahawk in hand, in search of scalps. When he left the big Atlantic liner with twenty other raw English lads of his own street-bred sort, he thought he was saying good-bye to civilization forever. And here, all around him, arose the massive stone-built city, teeming with life, with gayety, wealth, and poverty, carriages, horses, motor cars—why, it was just like London, after all! And once more “Buck” said, “Blow me!”
    “What’s that he says, father?” asked a slender young lady who had accompanied her father, the great surgeon, to help him select a Barnardo boy to assist the stableman.
    “Oh, it’s an English street expression,” smiled the surgeon. “I expect he’ll have dozens of queer sayings.
    “Never mind,” said the young lady; “he has a nice face, and his eyes look terribly straight at one. I think we’ll take him, father?”
    Her voice rose in a question, but it took Buck just two seconds to know she need not have asked it. The great surgeon would have taken an elephant if she had expressed a liking for it.
    “Keep on the right side of her and you’ll stand in wid de old man,” whispered the boy next to him.
    “Don’t yer t’ink I sees dat?” sneered Buck. “Yer must t’ink I lef’ my h’yes in Lunnon.” And the shrewd [Page 139] young street arab arose to his feet, touched his cap with his forefinger, and said:
    “H’all right sir; I ’opes I’ll suit.”
    That was the beginning of it, yet, notwithstanding Buck had made up his mind that whatever happened he would make himself “suit,” still he met with a serious discouragement the very next morning, when his unwilling ears overheard a conversation between the surgeon and the stableman. The latter was saying:
    “I hope you will excuse me speaking, Doctor, but I think you’ve made a mistake getting this here green Barnardo boy to help with the horses. They never do know nothin’, those English boys, and you can’t teach ’em.”
    “Well,” hesitated the doctor, “we’ll have to give him a trial, I suppose. Miss Connie took a fancy to him.”
    “Oh, Miss Connie, was it?” repeated the stableman, in quite another tone. “Then that settles it, sir.” And it did.
    “So I owes dis ’ere ’ome to ‘Miss Connie,’ does I?” remarked Buck to himself. “Den if dat is so, I’s good for payin’ of her fer it.” Only he pronounced “pay” “py.”
    But it was a long two years before the boy got any chance to “py” her for her kindness, and when the chance did come, he would have given his sturdy young life to avert it. By this time, much mixing with Canadians had blunted his London street-bred accent. To be sure he occasionally slipped an “h,” or inserted one where it should not be, but he was fast swinging into line with the great young country he now called “home.” He could eat Indian corn and maple syrup, he could skate, toboggan, and ply a paddle, he could handle a horse as well as Watkins, the stableman, who was heard on several occasions to remark that he could not get along without the boy.
    In the holidays, when Miss Connie was home from school, Buck was frequently allowed to drive her, or sit in his cream and brown livery beside her while she drove herself. These were always great occasions, for no refined [Page 140] feminine being had ever come into his life before. If he ever had a mother—which he often doubted—he certainly had no recollection of her or her surroundings. To be sure the women about the “Home” in far-off England were kind and good, but this slim Canadian girl was so different. She looked like a flower, and he had never heard her speak a harsh, unlovely word in all those two years. Once as he stood at the carriage door, the rug over his arm, waiting for Miss Connie to descend the steps for her afternoon drive, an impudent little “Canuck” jeered at him in passing.
    “Hello, Hinglish!” he yelled. “We’re a Barnardo boy, we h’is, fer all our swell brass buttons.”
    Buck winced. How he hated Watkins on the box to hear this everlasting taunt cast at him But a sweet voice from the steps called:
    “You are quite right, my boy. He is a Barnardo boy. I wish we were all as great and good as Dr. Barnardo. I am proud to have one of one of his boys in my household.”
    The young urchin shrank away, abashed, for it was Miss Connie’s voice. Buck pulled himself together, touched his hat, and opened the carriage door. But the girl paused on the steps, and her voice was very sincere as she said: “I mean it, Buckney” (she always called him “Buckney”). “I am very proud to have you here.”
    Buck touched his hat. “Thank you, madam,” was all he said, but his young heart sang with gratitude. Would he ever get the chance to show her how he valued her kindness, he wondered. And then—the chance came.
    Buck was never a heavy sleeper; his boyhood had been too bedless for him to attach much importance to sleep now. Too often had the tip of a policeman’s boot stirred him gently, as he lay curled up near an alley-way in London. Too often had rude kicks awakened him, when down in the “slums” he huddled, numb with cold and hunger. His ears had grown acute, his legs nimble in that dreadful, far-away life, and listening while he slept became [Page 141] second nature. Thus he sat bolt upright in his comfortable little bed above the carriage house when a soft creeping footstep stole up the gravel walk from the stables to the kitchen. The night was very warm, and the open window at his elbow was shutterless. In the dark he could see nothing at first, then he made out the figure of a man, crouching low, and creeping around the kitchen porch to the doctor’s surgery window. Immediately afterwards a low, gentle, rasping sound fell on his ears. He had seen enough of crime in the old days to know the man was filing something. Should he awaken Watkins? What was the use? Watkins would probably jump up, exclaiming aloud. He always did when awakened suddenly. Perhaps, after all, he could alarm the family before the man got in. Then, to his amazement, someone opened the window from the inside. By this time Buck had got his “night-sight.” The man inside was exactly like the man outside, and he had evidently effected an entrance into the house some time during the day when the maids were upstairs, and had probably concealed himself in the cellar. Both wore masks. Instantly Buck was out of bed, dragging on his trousers. Then, barefooted and shirtless, he slipped downstairs, slid the side door open enough to squeeze through, and peered out. All he could see was the last leg of a man disappearing through the window. They were both inside now. Buck knew every room, hall and door in that house, for every spring and fall he had helped the maids “clean house,” taking up and laying carpets. The knowledge stood him in good stead now. What window upstairs would be open, he wondered. The bath-room, of course; it was small, but he could wriggle through it, he told himself, or he would break every bone in his body, at least, trying. All this time he was running and crouching along the shadow of the high stone wall, that, bordered with shrubs, made splendid “cover.” He reached the kitchen, and, without waiting to think whether it would bear him [Page 142] or not, seized hold of the twisted vine trunks of the old Virginia creeper that partly covered the house from ground to roof. Fortunately they held, and up he went like a young squirrel, his bare toes clutching like claws in the tangle of the stems and twigs. He gained the roof, crawled rapidly along, and reached the bath-room window, only to find he could barely clutch the sill with the tips of his fingers. Standing on tiptoe, he got a little grip, then his bare toes and knees started to work; inch by inch up they went over the rough stone wall, while his hands slipped further and further over the sill, until they could seize the ledge on the inside. Twice his knees slid back, then his toes refused to clutch. They grew wet, and warm, and he knew the sickening slipping back was because of blood oozing from his skin. But he was in the bath-room now, and didn’t care. Then, as he flung the door open, the whole downstairs hall was flooded with light, and a strange choking sound came from below. Then the doctor’s voice, smothered but audible, begging, “Go back! Go back, Connie! Lock your door!”
    “You say one word aloud and I’ll fire!” said a low voice, and Buck reached the head of the stairs only to see Doctor Raymond lying half dressed on the floor, his hands tied behind him, and a grasp of strong, dirty fingers on his throat.
    “Oh, you’re killing him! You’re killing my father!” cried Miss Connie, in a half scream, as, too frightened to move, she stood huddled back in a corner, gripping a large cloak about her.
    Buck stared at the scene a fraction of a second. He could understand it all. The doctor had been alarmed and had gone downstairs to investigate. Miss Connie had been awakened and had followed her father, thinking probably that he was ill. All this flashed through the boy’s mind as he flung out his weaponless hands in despair, but the gesture was the salvation of the household. His fingers touched something cold, hard, polished. It [Page 143] was a huge, heavy brass bowl that held a fern. How often his strong young fingers had cleaned that bowl with powder and chamois skin, with never a thought that it would serve him well some time! Now he grasped it, and creeping noiselessly around the large, square “balcony” of the upstairs hall, he stood directly above the ruffian whose fingers yet clutched the doctor’s throat.
    “Catch that girl!” the other man was saying. “She’ll scream! Catch her, I say, and gag her!”
    “Oh, my girl, my little girl! Leave her alone, you demons!” gasped the helpless doctor. But just as the fingers loosed their brutal grasp on the father’s throat to reach for the frail, delicate flesh of the daughter’s, straight as a carpenter’s leaden plumb there crashed on to the top of the assailant’s head a huge, polished brass bowl. The man fell, limp, senseless as a corpse. His confederate whirled on his heel, and fired his revolver twice rapidly above his head, just missing Buck.
    Connie shrieked, and the next moment the big, unclean fingers had locked themselves about her throat, and she was forced to her knees, while a guttural voice said: “Scream, will you! Well, try it! This is what you get!”
    For weeks Buck’s ears rang with that awful, smothered cry of his young mistress, of the tortured voice of the doctor, helplessly choking, “Oh, my girl! My daughter!” But by this time Buck was three steps from the bottom, and the back of the burglar was toward him as he crouched over the struggling girl, choking the screams in her delicate throat. Like a vampire, Buck sprang from the third stair, landing on the man’s back, his legs worked inside the man’s elbows, pinioning the scoundrel’s arms back like a trussed turkey, his arms went round the bull-like neck, and his tough young fingers closed on a sinewy throat. He clung to the creature’s back like an octopus, while they rolled over and over, and the terrified girl struggled up, regaining her breath.
    “Quick! quick! Miss Connie! The telephone! The [Page 144] police! Ring! Ring!” Buck managed to shout. Then, “Untie the doctor’s hands and feet!”
    But the burglar’s arms were now gripping behind him, and digging, cruel fingers pierced Buck’s flesh. But the boy never relaxed his octopus hold. The tighter the big nails clutched, the tighter his own boyish fingers stiffened on the man’s throat.
    An eternity seemed to elapse. He saw Miss Connie fly to the telephone, then her weak little hands struggled with the ropes on her father’s wrists. But before she could begin to loose them, four gigantic men in blue uniforms were climbing in the open surgery window to encounter a sight not soon to be forgotten. The doctor, bound and bruised, lay on the floor; beside him, a man rapidly regaining consciousness and sitting up in a dazed condition; a young girl, with brutal red marks about her throat; and on the floor at her feet a man with a boy clinging to his back like a barnacle to a boat, his young arms and bare legs binding the fellow like ropes. It took those police officers but the twinkling of an eye to have the two burglars handcuffed and cowed at the point of their revolvers, and to hear the whole story of the rescued doctor.
    “But who’s this little duffer?” asked the inspector, gazing at Buck. “Why, look at his knees and feet! They’re dripping blood!”
    “Got that shinning up the creeper and the stone-wall into the bathroom,” said Buck, feeling terribly awkward to be seen in such a plight before Miss Connie. So he stammered out his explanation, from the moment he had awakened to this very instant.
    “Dropped the Damascus bowl on his head did you?” gasped the doctor. Then, as he looked at Buck as if he saw him for the first time, he beheld his bleeding feet and torn knees. “Officers,” said the great surgeon, “you asked who he is. He’s our boy! He’s my boy! I never had a son of my own, but—but—Buckney goes to college [Page 145] next year, and he goes as my adopted son. This night has shown me what he’s made of.”
    Then, for the first time in all that dreadful night, Miss Connie gave out. She sat weakly down, crying like a very little child. “Oh, Buckney!” she sobbed, “they told us not to take a Barnardo boy; that they were, half of them, just street arabs; that we—we couldn’t trust them. So, sometimes I’ve been afraid to hope you were all right; and now you have probably saved my life.”
    “No ‘probably’ about it, Miss Connie,” said the officer; “he undoubtedly has saved your life, and the doctor’s too. But, come, child, don’t cry; get to bed—there’s a good little girl. You’ve had a bad night of it.” Then turning to his men he commanded: “March those two choice specimens to the police station at once. Well, good-night, doctor! Good-night, Miss Connie.” And looking at Buck he said curiously, “Good-night, youngster! So you’re a Barnardo boy, eh?”
    “Yes, sir,” said Buck, lifting his chin a little. “I used to be ashamed of it, but—”
    “You needn’t be,” said the officer. “It’s not what a boy was, but what he is, that counts nowadays. Good-night! I wish we had more Britishers like you.”
    Then the door closed and the tramp of the policemen and their prisoners died slowly away in the night. [Page 146]