The fine old loafer looked at the boy, whom he had not previously noticed, and it was observed that the last shaft had hurt his pride. The boy returned his wounded look with a straight, undaunted, spirited glance, out of a child’s nature. Mr. Reybold was impressed with something in the attitude of the two, which made him forget his own interest in the controversy.
Beau answered with a tone of nearly tender pacification:
“Now, my little man; come, don’t be hard on the old veteran! He’s down, old Beau is, sence the time he owned his blooded pacer and dined with the Corps Diplomatique; Beau’s down sence then; but don’t call the old feller hard names. We take it back, don’t we?—we take them words back?”
“There’s a angel somewhere,” said Lowndes Cleburn, “even in a Washington bummer, which responds to a little chap on crutches with a clear voice. Whether the angel takes the side of the bummer or the little chap, is a p’int out of our jurisdiction. Abe, give Beau a julep. He seems to have been demoralized by little Crutch’s last.”
“Take them hard words back, Bub,” whined the licensed mendicant, with either real or affected pain; “it’s a p’int of honor I’m a-standin’ on. Do, now, little Major!”
“I shan’t!” cried the boy. “Go and work like me. You’re big, and you called Mr. Reybold mean. Haven’t you got a wife or little girl, or nobody to work for? You ought to work for yourself, anyhow. Oughtn’t he, gentlemen?”
Reybold, who had slipped around by the little cripple and was holding him in a caressing way from behind, looked over to Beau and was even more impressed with that generally undaunted worthy’s expression. It was that of acute and suffering sensibility, perhaps the effervescence of some little remaining pride, or it might have been a twinge of the gout. Beau looked at the little boy, suspended there with the weak back and the narrow chest, and that scintillant, sincere spirit beaming out with courage born in the stock he belonged to. Admiration, conciliation, and pain were in the ruined vagrant’s eyes. Reybold felt a sense of pity. He put his hand in his pocket and drew forth a dollar.
“Here, Beau,” he said, “I’ll make an exception. You seem to have some feeling. Don’t mind the boy!”
In an instant the coin was flying from his hand through the air. The beggar, with a livid face and clinched cane, confronted the Congressman like a maniac.
“You bilk!” he cried. “You supper customer! I’ll brain you! I had rather parted with my shoes at a dolly shop and gone gadding the hoof, without a doss to sleep on—a town pauper, done on the vag—than to have been made scurvy in the sight of that child and deserve his words of shame!”
He threw his head upon the table and burst into tears.
Mrs. Tryphonia Basil kept a boarding-house of the usual kind on Four-and-a-Half Street. Male clerks—there were no female clerks in the Government in 1854—to the number of half a dozen, two old bureau officers, an architect’s assistant, Reybold, and certain temporary visitors made up the table. The landlady was the mistress; the slave was Joyce.