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CHAPTER XXI—SOME OLD FRIENDS COME TO LIGHT
T was a comfort to have that matter off his mind, and, whatever might come of it, he had done the right thing. Such were Flutters’s thoughts, as with hands plunged deep in his overcoat pockets, he started for home. To be sure, there was no knowing what might happen. What if his father should write to Captain Boniface and tell him that he (Flutters) was a naughty little runaway, and advise him to have nothing more to do with him? or suppose he should direct to have him sent right back to England, what would he do? Why, then, he thought he’d simply run away again, only that would not be an easy thing to do after having been treated so kindly by the Bonifaces. But, as he had himself told the Sergeant, it was not at all probable that this would happen; and so, like the logical little philosopher he was, he decided to think no more about it, and, if taking the advice of the old hymn, he “gave to the winds his fears,” it was no time at all before they were blown far behind him. During the half hour that he had spent with the Sergeant, a cold northwest blow had set in, making it far more comfortable for him to bend his head downward as he ran, and not take the wind full in his face. And this same northwest wind was playing all sorts of pranks with every pliable thing it could get hold of. The bare branches of the trees were swaying and crackling, withered leaves were swirling round in eddies and rustling loudly, gates were creaking on their rusty hinges, and, just as Flutters had reached a point in the road where an old hut stood, the blustering wind caught the only shutter remaining at one of its windows, and slammed it to with a bang that fairly made him jump. Looking toward the hut that had been deserted for years, Flutters saw a faint light shining out through the half of the window that was not screened by the closed shutter.

“That’s queer,” he thought; “who can be living there?” and then, instead of running on without giving the matter another thought—as some boys, I think, would have done—he walked softly in at the gateway that had long lacked a gate, straight up to the window and peeped in; nor was it mere curiosity that prompted him to do it either. Flutters knew that no one, under ordinary circumstances, would be there; nothing short of utter homelessness would make anybody seek shelter in that wretched place, and so he felt the matter ought to be investigated, and he was not afraid to be the one to do it. And what do you suppose he saw through the broken pane? Something that would have made the tears come into almost anybody’s eyes, but something that made Flutters’s heart fairly stand still.

The only furniture of the room was a three-legged stool on which a bit of candle was spluttering, fastened to the stool by the melting of its own tallow, and there beside it, on a bundle of straw, lay an old man; and it took but one glance from Flutters’s astonished eyes to see that the man was Bobbin, the old circus drudge. In another second he had pushed the door open and was kneeling at his friend’s side, and stroking his cold, wrinkled hand.

“Why, who is it?” asked Bobbin, in a cracked, weak voice; “I can’t rightly see, somehow, but it’s good to know some one has come.”

“Why, it’s me, Bobbin, don’t you know me?” said Flutters, scarcely able to speak with emotion.

A bright smile lighted up the old man’s face. “Ah! I thought He’d send somebody. He did send you, didn’t He?”

“No, nobody sent me, Bobbin. I was just going by, and I saw the light, and I peeped in and then I saw you.”

The old man shook his head, as much as to say that he believed that the good Father had sent him, nevertheless.

“I’m glad you were the one to come,” he said, presently; “there’s nobody I’d rather have had than you, Flutters. You were always a kind little chap to old Bobbin.”

Flutters did not say anything—he couldn’t. He just pressed the wrinkled hand a little harder as it lay in his.

“You see, Flutters,” said Bobbin, presently, “I think I am going home to-night, and it was kind of lonely not to have somebody to care for me. Not that I mind going. I’m not a bit afraid, Flutters. I have done the best I could with the poor chance I had, and God will forgive the rest; don’t you think so, Flutters?”

Flutters nodded his head, and then he said in a moment, when he thought he could control his voice: “But, Bobbin, I do not believe you are going to die. You need food and fire and clothes to warm you, and I am going right off to get them for you.”

“Oh, no, please don’t,” pleaded the old man, putting what little strength he had into his hold on Flutters’s hand. “I don’t want food nor anything. I just want to go, and it won’t be long. Promise me you’ll stay till morning, Flutters.”

There was no gainsaying the entreaty in Bobbin’s voice, and so Flutters said: “I promise you, Bobbin;” and, with a gratified sigh the old man turned on his side and soon fell asleep. After a while, when Flutters dared to move a little, he piled the loose straw that lay about him as closely as possible over Bobbin, and finally decided to dispense with his own warm coat, for the sake of stuffing it in the hole of the little paneless window through which the wind was keenly blowing.

Then, after another hour of motionless watching, during which Bobbin still lay sleeping as quietly as a child, it occurred to Flutters to try and make a fire in the blackened fireplace. Some old bits of board were lying in one corner of the room, and, piling them on the hearth, he easily succeeded in kindling them with a bundle of straw lighted at the candle. At first he was afraid that the crackling of the wood would waken the old man; but, undisturbed, he slept quietly on as though his mind was perfectly at rest, now that Flutters had come to care for him.

“I do not believe he is going to die,” thought Flutters, after he had again sat motionless for a long time, and then he crept close on hands and knees to look into his face, and to listen if he was breathing quite regularly; and there, bending over him, what did he see but something that made his heart bound for joy, though it was nothing but the corner of a little book showing itself above the ragged edge of one of Bobbin’s pockets. And no wonder he was glad, for he knew in a moment that it was his own little Prayer-Book.



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At first he thought he ought not to touch it for fear of waking

Bobbin, but how could he help it, and so, as gently as possible, he drew it out from its hiding-place, and crept back to the candle. I suppose we can hardly imagine what the finding of this old friend meant to Flutters. There was his own name on the fly-leaf, in his mother’s writing, together with the date of his birth. Here was the proof, if he ever cared to use it, that he had once known a mother’s love, and that was a deal more than some of the world’s waifs could lay claim to, and besides, he loved the book for its own sake, for the beautiful words and thoughts that were in it. And to think Bobbin had kept it safe for him all these weeks; Flutters began to think that perhaps the Lord had sent him to Bobbin after all. And so he fell to wondering, as many an older head full often wonders, as to how much mere chance has to do with the happenings of this world, and how much the careful guiding of a Heavenly Father; but that the Father above has a great deal to do therewith is no longer a question in the minds of many of us.

Meantime it was growing very late, for the clock on the town-hall was on the verge of striking twelve, and the moon was high over head. But Bobbin still slept on, and Flutters dared not leave him. What would Mrs. Boniface think, and how disappointed she would be to find that he was not to be trusted; but there was his promise to Bobbin, and he could not go, so he did the next best thing, he lay down by his side under the protection of the friendly straw and himself fell asleep, while the red-hot embers in the fireplace glowed and crackled as though anxious to make the place as comfortable as possible.

Bobbin did not die that night; he woke with the first ray of sunlight that reached the hovel, but he found his faithful little watcher awake before him. Flutters thought he looked surprised, and perhaps a little disappointed, to find his eyes opening again in this world; at any rate he sighed a little wearily as he seemed slowly to realize where he was, then he looked up to Flutters’s face and said, with a grateful smile, “I knew you would keep your promise. I knew you would not leave me.”

“But you will let me go now, Bobbin, won’t you?” said Flutters, with a world of entreaty in his voice, and wondering what he would do if Bobbin still proved obdurate; “you see I haven’t lived so very long with the Bonifaces, and they’ll think I’ve run away, and be sorry they ever trusted me. I’ll make up the fire before I go, and I’ll be back soon and bring you something to eat and something perhaps to make you more comfortable.”

“Yes,” said the old man, after what seemed to Flutters a long pause, “I’ll let you go, but not for long, mind that, Flutters; ‘cause now that I can’t do a thing for myself, I believe the Lord says, ‘Flutters, you’re to take care of old Bobbin till the time comes for me to take him away and care for him myself.’”

“I believe so, too,” answered Flutters, pushing the thin, gray hair back from the old man’s forehead, and trying to make him look a little less unkempt and neglected, “and never you fear but I’ll do it, Bobbin.”

Then in a moment Flutters was gone, fairly flying home along the road, and when he reached the house not stopping so much as to say good-morning to old Dinah, who was opening the kitchen windows, and started back as though she had seen a ghost; but straight past her, and straight up to Captain Boniface’s room. Mrs. Boniface slept on a little cot in the corner of the room nearest the door, and Flutters thought, and, as it proved, thought rightly, that he could give a gentle knock, and waken her without disturbing the Captain.

“Who is there?” asked a sweet, low voice, a voice whose every intonation Flutters had grown to love.

“It’s only me—Flutters,” came the ungrammatical whisper, “but I wanted you to know that I’m home all right. Nothing happened to me, but I came across an old friend of mine, and I had to stop and take care of him.”

“Wait a moment, dear,” Mrs. Boniface answered, not caring in the least that it was by no means customary to address little mulatto servant-boys in that familiar fashion. Like dear old Janet, in McDonald’s beautiful story, Mrs. Boniface was “one of God’s mothers,” with a mother-love broad enough and deep enough to shelter every little creature who, like Flutters, needed and longed for the protection of a brooding wing.

Flutters sat down on the wood-box in the hall and waited, and in a moment Mrs. Boniface in her soft, blue wrapper, was seated beside him and he was outpouring with breathless eagerness the night’s experiences, winding up, when all was told, with, “and I promised to go back as soon as ever I could.”

And Flutters did go back as soon as he could, and Josephine and Hazel went with him; and food and clothing, and blankets and towels went too, and a dozen other things, such as any one would know would add greatly to the comfort of a sick old man who had lain down, as he thought, to die, in an empty and wretched dwelling. Later in the day, when some of the nearer neighbors had heard Bobbin’s sad story, they were anxious, too, to do something for him, and before nightfall you would hardly have known the poor little shanty. One of them had sent a cot, and Bobbin had been lifted on to it; another, two or three chairs, one of which was a comfortable old rocker, and a third a table and some necessary cooking utensils. Indeed, Bobbin’s story, as he narrated it to the little group gathered around him that morning after Flutters had found him, was sad enough to touch anybody’s heart.

“I kept on with the troupe,” he told them, “till we got almost to Albany, but I was getting weaker almost every day, and I missed Flutters dreadfully. I never knew till the boy was gone how much hard work he had saved me in one way and another. So at last, and just as I knowed it would be, the manager came to me one day and said, ‘We ain’t got no use for you any more, Bobbin. Ye can stay behind when we move on to-night.’ An’ I just looked him the eye an’ said: ‘All right, sir; but I’m wondering if you’ll not be left behind when the Lord’s own troupe moves on to the many mansions.’ I knowed I ought not to have spoke like that, but there isn’t a harder heart in the world than his, and that’s the truth.”

“And what did you do then, Bobbin?” Josephine asked, as she sat beside him with tears of indignation standing in her eyes.

“Why, right away I began to make my way back to Flutters; somehow I knew I should find him, only when I crawled into this hut last night after three weeks of being on the road, I thought it might not happen in this world.”

And so it came about that Bobbin was made perfectly comfortable in the old shanty, for in those days there were no well-ordered Homes and Hospitals, for sick and homeless people, and Flutters, greatly to his heart’s delight, was established as attendant-in-chief to his old friend.


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