Paul continued in the prize-package business for three weeks. His success varied, but he never made less than seventy-five cents a day, and sometimes as much as a dollar and a quarter. He was not without competitors. More than once, on reaching his accustomed stand, he found a rival occupying it before him. In such cases he quietly passed on, and set up his business elsewhere, preferring to monopolize the trade, though the location might not be so good.
Teddy O'Brien did not again enter the field. We left him, at the end of the last chapter, trying to escape from Mike and Jim, who demanded a larger sum than he was willing to pay for their services. He succeeded in escaping with his money, but the next day the two confederates caught him, and Teddy received a black eye as a receipt in full of all demands. So, on the whole, he decided that some other business would suit him better, and resumed the blacking-box, which he had abandoned on embarking in commercial pursuits.
Mike Donovan and Jim Parker were two notoriously bad boys, preferring to make a living in any other way than by honest industry. As some of these ways were not regarded as honest in the sight of the law, each had more than once been sentenced to a term at Blackwell's Island. They made a proposition to Paul to act as decoy ducks for him in the same way as for Teddy. He liked neither of the boys, and did not care to be associated with them. This refusal Mike and Jim resented, and determined to "pay off" Paul if they ever got a chance. Our hero from time to time saw them hovering about him, but took very little notice of them.
He knew that he was a match for either, though Mike exceeded him in size, and he felt quite capable of taking care of himself.
One day Mike and Jim, whose kindred tastes led them to keep company, met at the corner of Liberty and William streets. Mike looked unusually dilapidated. He had had a scuffle the day before with another boy, and his clothes, always well ventilated, got torn in several extra places. As it was very uncertain when he would be in a financial condition to provide himself with another suit, the prospect was rather alarming. Jim Parker looked a shade more respectable in attire, but his face and hands were streaked with blacking. To this, however, Jim had become so accustomed that he would probably have felt uncomfortable with a clean face.
"How are you off for stamps, Jim?" asked Mike.
"Dead broke," was the reply.
"So am I. I ain't had no breakfast."
"Nor I 'cept an apple. Couldn't I eat, though?"
"Suppose we borrow a quarter of Paul Hoffman."
"He wouldn't lend a feller."
"Not if he knowed it," said Mike, significantly.
"What do you mean, Mike?" asked Jim, with some curiosity.
"We'll borrow without leave."
"How'll we do it?"
"I'll tell you," said Mike.
He proceeded to unfold his plan, which was briefly this. The two were to saunter up to where Paul was standing; and remain until the group, if there were any around him should be dispersed. Then one was to pull his hat over his eyes, while the other would snatch the basket containing his prize packages, and run down Liberty street, never stopping until he landed in a certain alley known to both boys. The other would run in a different direction, and both would meet as soon as practicable for the division of the spoils. It was yet so early that Paul could not have sold many from his stock. As each contained a prize, varying from one penny to ten, they would probably realize enough to buy a good breakfast, besides the candy contained in the packages. More money might be obtained by selling packages, but there was risk in this. Besides, it would take time, and they decided that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.
"That's a good idea," said Jim, approvingly. "Who'll knock his hat over his head?"
"You can," said Mike, "and I'll grab the basket." But to this Jim demurred, for two reasons: first, he was rather afraid of Paul, whose strength of arm he had tested on a previous occasion; and, again, he was afraid that if Mike got off with the basket he would appropriate the lion's share.
"I'll grab the basket," he said.
"What for?" said Mike, suspiciously, for he, too, felt some distrust of his confederate.
"You're stronger'n I am, Mike," said Jim. "Maybe he'd turn on me, and I can't fight him as well as you."
"That's so," said Mike, who had rather a high idea of his own prowess, and felt pleased with the compliment. "I'm a match for him."
"Of course you be," said Jim, artfully, "and he knows it."
"Of course he does," said Mike, boastfully. "I can lick him with one hand."
Jim had serious doubts of this, but he had his reasons for concurring in Mike's estimate of his own powers.
"We'd better start now," said Jim. "I'm awful hungry."
"Come along, then."
They walked up Liberty street, as far as Nassau. On reaching the corner they saw their unconscious victim at his usual place. It was rather a public place for an assault, and both boys would have hesitated had they not been incited by a double motive—the desire of gain and a feeling of hostility.
They sauntered along, and Mike pressed in close by Paul.
"What do you want?" asked Paul, not liking the vicinity.
"What's that to you?" demanded Mike.
"Quit crowdin' me."
"I ain't crowdin'. I've got as much right to be here as you."
"Here's your prize packages!" exclaimed Paul, in a businesslike tone.
"Maybe I'll buy one if you'll give me credit till to-morrow," said Mike.
"Your credit isn't good with me," said Paul. "You must pay cash down."
"Then you won't trust me?" said Mike, pressing a little closer.
"No, I won't," said Paul, decidedly.
"Then, take that, you spalpeen!" said Mike, suddenly pulling Paul's hat over his eyes.
At the same time Jim, to whom he had tipped a wink, snatched the basket, which Paul held loosely in his hand, and disappeared round the corner.
The attack was so sudden and unexpected that Paul was at first bewildered. But he quickly recovered his presence of mind, and saw into the trick. He raised his hat, and darted in pursuit of Mike, not knowing in what direction his basket had gone.
"That's a mean trick!" he exclaimed, indignantly. "Give me back my basket, you thief!"
"I ain't got no basket," said Mike, facing round.
"Then you know where it is."
"I don't know nothin' of your basket."
"You pulled my hat over my eyes on purpose to steal my basket."
"No, I didn't. You insulted me, that's why I did it."
"Tell me where my basket is, or I'll lick you," said Paul, incensed.
"I ain't nothin' to do with your basket."
"Take that, then, for pulling my hat over my eyes," and Paul, suiting the action to the word, dealt Mike a staggering blow in the face.
"I'll murder you!" shouted Mike, furiously, dashing at Paul with a blow which might have leveled him, if he had not fended it off.
Paul was not quarrelsome, but he knew how to fight, and he was prepared now to fight in earnest, indignant as he was at the robbery which entailed upon him a loss he could ill sustain.
"I'll give you all you want," he said, resolutely, eyeing Mike warily, and watching a chance to give him another blow.
The contest was brief, being terminated by the sudden and unwelcome arrival of a policeman.
"What's this?" he asked authoritatively, surveying the combatants; Paul, with his flushed face, and Mike, whose nose was bleeding freely from a successful blow of his adversary.
"He pitched into me for nothin'," said Mike, glaring at Paul, and rubbing his bloody nose on the sleeve of his ragged coat.
"That isn't true," said Paul, excitedly. "He came up while I was selling prize packages of candy in front of the post office, and pulled my hat over my eyes, while another boy grabbed my basket."
"You lie!" said Mike. "I don't know nothin' of your basket."
"Why did you pull his hat over his eyes?" asked the policeman.
"Because he insulted me."
"How did he insult you?"
"He wouldn't trust me till to-morrow."
"I don't blame him much for that," said the policeman, who was aware of Mike's shady reputation, having on a former occasion been under the necessity of arresting him. Even without such acquaintance, Mike's general appearance would hardly have recommended him to Officer Jones.
"I'll let you go this time," he said, "but if I catch you fighting again on my beat I'll march you off to the station-house."
Mike was glad to escape, though he would almost have been willing to be arrested if Paul could have been arrested also.
The officer walked away, and Mike started down the street.
Paul followed him.
That didn't suit Mike's ideas, as he was anxious to meet Jim and divide the spoils with him.
"What are you follerin' me for?" he demanded, angrily.
"I have my reasons," said Paul.
"Then you'd better stay where you are. Your company ain't wanted."
"I know that," said Paul, "but I'm going to follow you till I find my basket."
"What do I know of your basket?"
"That's what I want to find out."
Mike saw, by Paul's resolute tone, that he meant what he said. Desirous of shaking him of, he started on a run.