The air was heavy with the pungent fragrance of burning leaves. The gutters along Main Street were full of these fluttering, red memorials of the good old summer-time.
But there were other signs that the melancholy days had come. Down at the Bridgeboro station was a congestion of trunks and other luggage bespeaking the end of the merry play season. And saddest of all, the windows of the stationery stores were filled with pencil-boxes and blank books and other horrible reminders of the opening of school.
Look where one would, these signs confronted the boys of Bridgeboro, and there was no escaping them. Even the hardware store had straps and tin lunch boxes now filling its windows, the same window where fishing rods and canoe paddles had lately been displayed.
Even the man who kept the shoe store had turned traitor and gathered up his display of sneaks and scout moccasins, and exhibited in their places a lot of school shoes. “Sensible footwear for the student” he called them. Even the drug store where mosquito dope and ice cream sodas had been sold now displayed a basket full of small sponges for the sanitary cleansing of slates. The faithless wretch who kept this store had put a small sign on the basket reading, “For the classroom.” One and all, the merchants of Main Street had gone over to the Board of Education and all signs pointed to school.
But the most pathetic sight to be witnessed on that sad, chill, autumn night, was the small boy in a threadbare gray sweater and shabby cap who stood gazing wistfully into the seductive windows of Pfiffel’s Home Bakery. The sight of him standing there with his small nose plastered against the glass, looking with silent yearning upon the jelly rolls and icing cakes, was enough to arouse pity in the coldest heart.
Only the rear of this poor, hungry little fellow could be seen from the street, and if his face was pale and gaunt from privation and want, the hurrying pedestrians on their cheerful way to the movies were spared that pathetic sight.
All they saw was a shabby cap and an ill-fitting sweater which bulged in back as if something were being carried in the rear pocket. And there he stood, a poor little figure, heedless of the merry throngs that passed, his wistful gaze fixed upon a four-story chocolate cake, a sort of edible skyscraper, with a tiny dome of a glazed cherry upon the top of it. And of all the surging throng on Main Street that bleak, autumnal night, none noticed this poor fellow.
Yes, one. A lady sitting in a big blue automobile saw him. And her heart, tenderer than the jelly rolls in Pfiffel’s window, went out to him. Perhaps she had a little boy of her own....
A PATHETIC SIGHT
We shall pay particular attention to this sumptuous automobile which was such as to attract attention in modest Bridgeboro. For one thing it was of a rich shade of blue, whereas, the inhabitants of Bridgeboro being for the most part dead, their favorite color in autos was black.