Joe said no more, but what he had been told him set him to thinking, and that evening, after his work was over, he took a walk through the town and in the direction of Railroad Alley.
Not far from the water station he found the Cullum homestead, a mite of a cottage, as the man had said, with a tumbled-down chimney and several broken-out windows. He looked in at one of the windows and by the light of a smoking kerosene lamp beheld a woman in a rocking-chair, rocking a baby to sleep. Three other youngsters were standing around, knowing not what to do. On a table were some dishes, all bare of food.
“Mamma, I want more bread,” one of the little ones was saying.
“You can have more in the morning, Johnny,” answered the mother.
“No, I want it now,” whimpered the youngster. “I’m hungry.”
“I’m hungry, too,” put in another little one.
“I can’t give you any more to-night, for I haven’t it,” said the mother, with a deep sigh. “Now, be still, or you’ll wake the baby.”
“Why don’t dad come home?” asked the boy of seven.
“He can’t come home, Bobby—he—had to go away,” faltered the mother. “Now all be still, and you shall have more bread in the morning.”
The children began to cry, and unable to stand the sight any longer Joe withdrew. Up the Alley was a grocery store and he almost ran to this.
“Give me some bread,” he said, “and some cake, and a pound of cheese, and some smoked beef, and a pound of good tea, and some sugar. Be quick, please.”
The goods were weighed out and wrapped up, and with his arms full he ran back to the cottage and kicked on the door.
“Who is there?” asked Mrs. Cullum, in alarm.
“Here are some groceries for you!” cried Joe. “All paid for!”
“Oh, look!” screamed the boy of seven. “Bread, and cheese!”
“And sugar!” came from one of the little girls.
“And tea! Mamma, just what you like!” said another.
“Where did this come from?” asked Mrs. Cullum.
“A friend,” answered Joe. “It’s all paid for.”
“I am very thankful.”
“Now we can have some bread, can’t we?” queried the boy.
“Yes, and a bit of smoked beef and cheese, too,” said the mother, and placing the sleeping baby on a bed, she proceeded to deal out the good things to her children.
THE TIMID MR. GUSSING.
It was not until the children had been satisfied and put to bed that Joe had a chance to talk to Mrs. Cullum. She was greatly astonished when she learned who he was.
“I didn’t expect this kindness,” said she. “I understand that my husband treated you shamefully.”
“It was the liquor made him do it ma’am,” answered our hero. “I think he’d be all right if he’d leave drink alone.”
“Yes, I am sure of it!” She gave a long sigh. “He was very kind and true when we were first married. But then he got to using liquor and—and—this is the result.”