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My little gentleman
by [?]

No one would have thought of calling him so, this ragged, barefooted, freckle-faced Jack, who spent his days carrying market-baskets for the butcher, or clean clothes for Mrs. Quinn, selling chips, or grubbing in the ash-heaps for cinders. But he was honestly earning his living, doing his duty as well as he knew how, and serving those poorer and more helpless than himself, and that is being a gentleman in the best sense of that fine old word. He had no home but Mrs. Quinn’s garret; and for this he paid by carrying the bundles and getting the cinders for her fire. Food and clothes he picked up as he could; and his only friend was little Nanny. Her mother had been kind to him when the death of his father left him all alone in the world; and when she, too, passed away, the boy tried to show his gratitude by comforting the little girl, who thought there was no one in the world like her Jack.

Old Mrs. Quinn took care of her, waiting till she was strong enough to work for herself; but Nanny had been sick, and still sat about, a pale, little shadow of her former self, with a white film slowly coming over her pretty blue eyes. This was Jack’s great trouble, and he couldn’t whistle it away as he did his own worries; for he was a cheery lad, and when the baskets were heavy, the way long, the weather bitter cold, his poor clothes in rags, or his stomach empty, he just whistled, and somehow things seemed to get right. But the day he carried Nanny the first dandelions, and she felt of them, instead of looking at them, as she said, with such pathetic patience in her little face, ‘I don’t see ’em; but I know they’re pretty, and I like ’em lots,’ Jack felt as if the blithe spring sunshine was all spoiled; and when he tried to cheer himself up with a good whistle, his lips trembled so they wouldn’t pucker.

‘The poor dear’s eyes could be cured, I ain’t a doubt; but it would take a sight of money, and who’s agoing to pay it?’ said Mrs. Quinn, scrubbing away at her tub.

‘How much money?’ asked Jack.

‘A hundred dollars, I dare say. Dr. Wilkinson’s cook told me once that he done something to a lady’s eyes, and asked a thousand dollars for it.’

Jack sighed a long, hopeless sigh, and went away to fill the water-pails; but he remembered the doctor’s name, and began to wonder how many years it would take to earn a hundred dollars.

Nanny was very patient; but, by and by, Mrs. Quinn began to talk about sending her to some almshouse, for she was too poor to be burdened with a helpless child. The fear of this nearly broke Jack’s heart; and he went about with such an anxious face that it was a mercy Nanny did not see it. Jack was only twelve, but he had a hard load to carry just then; for the thought of his little friend, doomed to lifelong darkness for want of a little money, tempted him to steal more than once, and gave him the first fierce, bitter feeling against those better off than he. When he carried nice dinners to the great houses and saw the plenty that prevailed there, he couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t fair for some to have so much, and others so little. When he saw pretty children playing in the park, or driving with their mothers, so gay, so well cared for, so tenderly loved, the poor boy’s eyes would fill to think of poor little Nanny, with no friend in the world but himself, and he so powerless to help her.

When he one day mustered courage to ring at the great doctor’s bell, begging to see him a minute, and the servant answered, gruffly, as he shut the door, ‘Go along! he can’t be bothered with the like of you!’ Jack clenched his hands hard as he went down the steps, and said to himself, with a most unboyish tone, ‘I’ll get the money somehow, and make him let me in!’