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The Magic Cape
by [?]

The heart of the janitor of an East Side school is not commonly supposed to be a tender organ. And yet to Miss Bailey, busy with roll-books and the average attendance of First Readers, there entered the janitor with an air half apologetic, half defiant. There was snow upon the janitor’s cap and little icicles upon his red mustache, for a premature blizzard had closed down upon New York during the last days of November.

“Well, Mr. McGrath, what can I do for you?” asked Miss Bailey pleasantly, for McGrath was the true despot of the school, controlling light and air and heat and cold, and his good-will was a thing worth having.

“I just stepped in,” answered this kindly god of the machine, “to pass the remark that there’s one of your children, a girl what oughtn’t to be left down in the yard with the others, waiting for the bell to ring and let them up. She ain’t dressed for it.”

“So few of them are,” said Miss Bailey sadly. “I wish you could send them all straight up here instead of lining them up in the cold. Some of them are so determined to be in time that they have to wait down there for ten or fifteen minutes.”

“I know they do,” the janitor acquiesced. “But I can’t let them all up. But this little girl I’m telling you about–you know her–she wears a blue gingham dress, and”–he dropped his voice to confidential pitch–“and mighty little else as I can see.”

“Yes, yes,” said Miss Bailey, “that is Becky Zabrowsky.”

“Well, I could pass her right straight up to you here where it’s warm. I’m a married man myself, and I’ve got kids of my own, so I guess you’ll excuse me butting in on this.”

“But I shall be very grateful to you,” cried Teacher. “It breaks my heart to see her. And she comes dressed just as you say, whatever the weather may be.”

After a few professional questions as to heating and sweeping, after taking the temperature of the radiators with a thermometric hand, and examining their valves, the janitor withdrew, and when Miss Bailey reached Room 18 on the next morning, Becky Zabrowsky, as blue of lips and fingers as of vesture, was waiting for her. And indeed her costume gave cause for pity, even as her smile and her bravery gave cause for tears. Besides the gingham dress referred to by the janitor, she wore a pair of black and pink stockings, of mature growth and many holes, flapping adult shoes with all the buttons gone, and a hair ribbon which had begun life as a bandage. That was all. But she was clean. And her self-respect made her seven years as high a barrier against patronage as though they had been seventy. She was as proudly and as sensitively on her guard as though she were an old marquise fallen upon evil days, and obliged to give lessons in French or die, and who was restrained from the bitter and pleasanter alternative only by religion.

Miss Bailey was accustomed to more normal children. As a rule her little First Readers took all that was offered to them, and a good deal that was not. Their consumption of Kindergarten materials–colored paper, colored sticks, chalks, pencils, books–anything which could be cached upon the human body–was colossal, and only an eagle eye and a large corps of subsidized monitors kept the balance true between the number of “young learners” and the number of readers. But this particular little Becky had none of these taking ways. Had she been like other Beckies and Rachels, Miss Bailey would have bought her a little shawl and a few suits of underwear. With this particular Becky such a liberty was out of the question. Teacher had encountered the Zabrowsky spirit once, and had been defeated by it.