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Little Will’s Message
by [?]

“It is that or starve, Captain. I can’t get a job. God knows I’ve tried, but without a recommend, it’s no use. I ain’t no good at beggin’. And–and–there’s the childer.”

There was a desperate note in the man’s voice that made the Captain turn and look sharply at him. A swarthy, strongly built man in a rough coat, and with that in his dark face which told that he had lived longer than his years, stood at the door of the Detective Office. His hand that gripped the door handle shook so that the knob rattled in his grasp, but not with fear. He was no stranger to that place. Black Bill’s face had looked out from the Rogues’ Gallery longer than most of those now there could remember. The Captain looked him over in silence.

“You had better not, Bill,” he said. “You know what will come of it. When you go up again it will be the last time. And up you go, sure.”

The man started to say something, but choked it down and went out without a word. The Captain got up and rang his bell.

“Bill, who was here just now, is off again,” he said to the officer who came to the door. “He says it is steal or starve, and he can’t get a job. I guess he is right. Who wants a thief in his pay? And how can I recommend him? And still I think he would keep straight if he had the chance. Tell Murphy to look after him and see what he is up to.”

The Captain went out, tugging viciously at his gloves. He was in very bad humor. The policeman at the Mulberry Street door got hardly a nod for his cheery “Merry Christmas” as he passed.

“Wonder what’s crossed him,” he said, looking down the street after him.

The green lamps were lighted and shone upon the hurrying six o’clock crowds from the Broadway shops. In the great business buildings the iron shutters were pulled down and the lights put out, and in a little while the reporters’ boys that carried slips from Headquarters to the newspaper offices across the street were the only tenants of the block. A stray policeman stopped now and then on the corner and tapped the lamp-post reflectively with his club as he looked down the deserted street and wondered, as his glance rested upon the Chief’s darkened windows, how it felt to have six thousand dollars a year and every night off. In the Detective Office the Sergeant who had come in at roll-call stretched himself behind the desk and thought of home. The lights of a Christmas tree in the abutting Mott Street tenement shone through his window, and the laughter of children mingled with the tap of the toy drum. He pulled down the sash in order to hear better. As he did so, a strong draught swept his desk. The outer door slammed. Two detectives came in bringing a prisoner between them. A woman accompanied them.

The Sergeant pulled the blotter toward him mechanically and dipped his pen.

“What’s the charge?” he asked.

“Picking pockets in Fourteenth Street. This lady is the complainant, Mrs. —-“

The name was that of a well-known police magistrate. The Sergeant looked up and bowed. His glance took in the prisoner, and a look of recognition came into his face.

“What, Bill! So soon?” he said.

The prisoner was sullenly silent. He answered the questions put to him briefly, and was searched. The stolen pocket-book, a small paper package, and a crumpled letter were laid upon the desk. The Sergeant saw only the pocket-book.

“Looks bad,” he said with wrinkled brow.

“We caught him at it,” explained the officer. “Guess Bill has lost heart. He didn’t seem to care. Didn’t even try to get away.”

The prisoner was taken to a cell. Silence fell once more upon the office. The Sergeant made a few red lines in the blotter and resumed his reveries. He was not in a mood for work. He hitched his chair nearer the window and looked across the yard. But the lights there were put out, the children’s laughter had died away. Out of sorts at he hardly knew what, he leaned back in his chair, with his hands under the back of his head. Here it was Christmas Eve, and he at the desk instead of being out with the old woman buying things for the children. He thought with a sudden pang of conscience of the sled he had promised to get for Johnnie and had forgotten. That was hard luck. And what would Katie say when–