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No sooner had Tom left the room than the old man rose slowly from his couch, and, walking feebly to the door, bolted it; then, going to a corner of the room, he lifted a plank from the flooring, and, thrusting his hand beneath, drew up a tin box. He opened this with a small key which he wore about his neck, suspended by a cord, and revealed a heap of silver and copper coins, filling the box two-thirds full. Upon this his eyes were fixed with eager and gloating satisfaction.
"It's all mine!" he muttered, joyfully. "Tom doesn't know about it. He mustn't know—he might want me to spend it. I will count it."
He took it out by handfuls, and began to count it for at least the hundredth time, putting together coins of similar value in little piles, till there was a circle of silver and copper about him.
It was a work of time for the old man, and probably half an hour was consumed before he had finished his task.
"Ninety-nine dollars!" he exclaimed, in alarm, at the end of the calculation. "Somebody has robbed me; I ought to have twenty-five cents more. Could Tom have got at the box? Maybe I have made a mistake. I will count again."
With nervous fingers he recommenced the count, fearing that he had met with a loss. He was half through his task, when a knock was heard at the door. The old man started in agitation, and glanced apprehensively at the door.
"Who's there?" he asked, in quivering accents.
"It's I," answered a hearty voice, which Jacob readily recognized as that of Mrs. Flanagan.
"You can't come in," said the old man, peevishly. "What do you want?"
"I only came to ask how ye are, and if I can do anything for ye."
"No, you can't. I'm well—no, I'm sick, and I'd rather be left alone."
"All right," said the good woman, in no wise offended, for she pitied the old man. "If you want anything, jist stomp on the floor, and I'll hear ye, and come up."
"Yes," said Jacob, hastily. "Now go down—that's a good woman. I want to go to sleep."
"Poor craythur!" said Mrs. Flanagan, to herself. "It's little he enjoys the world, which is a blessin', as he will soon have to lave it."
"I hope she isn't looking through the keyhole," thought Jacob, in alarm. "She might see my money."
But the footsteps of the good woman descending the stairs came to his ears, and reassured him.
"It's well I locked the door," he said to himself. "I wouldn't want it known that I had all this money, or it wouldn't be safe. It's taken me a long time to get it, and it isn't quite a hundred dollars. If I had seventy-five cents more"—he had by this time found the missing quarter—"it would make just a hundred. If Tom wouldn't mind, I could get it easily by begging. I might have it by to-morrow. I wonder if he would care much," muttered the old man, as he put back the coins carefully into the tin box. "I—I think I'll go out a little while. He'll never know it."
By this time he had locked the box and replaced it beneath the flooring, restoring the plank to its original place.
"I'll lie down a little while till I feel strong," he muttered, "then I'll go out. If I go up on Broadway, Tom won't see me. He ought not to mind my begging. I am too weak to work, and it's the only way I can get money."
He lay down on the bed, and, after his exertion, small as it was, the rest was grateful to him. But the thought haunted him continually that he needed but seventy-five cents to make up his hoard to a hundred dollars, and the eager desire prompted him to forsake his rest and go out into the streets.
After awhile he rose from his bed.
"I am rested enough now," he said. "I think I can go out for a little while. I will get back before Tom comes home."
He took an old battered hat from a nail on which it hung, and with feeble step left the room, grasping the banister to steady his steps as he descended the stairs.
Mrs. Flanagan's door was open, and, though the old man made but little noise, she heard it.
She lifted both hands in amazement when she saw him.
"Shure ye are too wake to go out," said she. "Come, now, go up and lie on the bed till ye are better. Tom'll be mad if he knows ye have gone out."
"Ye needn't tell him," said Jacob, hastily. "I want to breathe the fresh air; it'll do me good."
"Shure you're not fit to go alone; I'll send my Mike wid you. He's only six, but he's a smart lad."
"I'd rather go alone," said Jacob, who was afraid the little boy would report his begging. "I—I am stronger than you think. I won't be gone long."
Mrs. Flanagan saw that he was obstinate, and she did not press the point. But after he had got down stairs she called Mike, and said:
"Mike, dear, go after the old man, and see where he goes; but don't you let him see you. I'll give you a penny to buy candy when you get back."
Mike was easily persuaded, for he had the weakness for candy common to boys of his age, of whatever grade, and he proceeded to follow his mother's directions.
When Jacob got to the foot of the lowest staircase he felt more fatigued than he expected, but his resolution remained firm. He must have the seventy-five cents before night. To-morrow he could rest. Let him but increase his hoard to a hundred dollars, and he would be content.
It was not without a painful effort that he dragged himself as far as Broadway, though the distance was scarcely quarter of a mile. Little Mike followed him, partly because his mother directed him to do it, partly because, young as he was, he was curious to learn where Jacob was going, and what he was going to do. His curiosity was soon gratified. He saw the old man remove his battered hat, and hold it out in mute appeal to the passers-by.
It was not long before Jacob received ten cents.
"What's the matter with you?" asked another passer-by, five minutes later.
"I'm sick and poor," whined Jacob.
"Well, there's something for you," and the old man, to his joy, found his hoard increased twenty-five cents. This he put into his pocket, thinking that he would be more likely to inspire compassion, and obtain fresh contributions, if only the ten cents were visible.
He did not get another contribution as large. Still, more than one passer-by, attracted by his wretched look, dropped something into his hat, till the sum he desired was made up. He had secured the seventy-five cents necessary to make up the hundred dollars; but his craving was not satisfied. He thought he would stay half an hour longer, and secure a little more. He was tired, but it would not take long, and he could rest long enough afterward. An unlucky impulse led him to cross the street to the opposite side, which he fancied would be more favorable to his purpose. I say unlucky, for he was struck down, when half way across, by some stage horses, and trampled under foot.
There was a rush to his rescue, and he was lifted up and carried into a neighboring shop.
"Does anybody know who he is, or where he lives?" asked a policeman.
"I know him," said little Mike, who had witnessed the accident, and followed the crowd in. "His name is old Jacob, and he lives in Carter's alley."
"Is there anybody to take care of him—any wife or daughter?" asked the physician.
Mike explained that he had only a grandson, and the physician thereupon directed that he be carried to Bellevue Hospital, while Mike ran home to bear the important news to his mother.
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