"Lucky, I can't do dis. Do I gotta do dis tanight?"
"Naw, you don't gotta. But it'll be a lot easier dan waitin'. Waitin's da woist. An' if he don't like ya- I don't see why 'e wouldn't, dough- den you kin keep livin' yer life, insteada waitin' ta see what 'e says, right?"
"Awright." Ruby took a deep breath and stepped inside the door to Tibby's. She was glad to, for it was very cold outside, and warm inside. The place was nearly empty, except for two young boys sitting at the corner table.
"'Eya, Ruby! Dis 's Les Jacobs. Les, dis 's Ruby. She's ahr new newsie," Boots introduced.
Les and Ruby both spit on their hands and shook. Lucky and Boots exchanged relieved looks. When Les's baby sister had arrived, he had caused quite a fuss about giving up his position as the youngest in his family. All the newsies had worried about forcing Les to give up the title of "Youngest Newsie," but he seemed to be handling it well.
Ruby slid into her seat. "Ya see Jack er Blink er Snipes yet?"
"Naw. Dey'se gonna be heah soon, dough," reassured Boots.
For an hour, Ruby patiently waited. Most of the newsies drifted in and out, coming in groups or alone. A few stayed to keep Ruby, Lucky, Boots, and Les company.
After ten minutes, the less-patient female newsie started pacing the room. By the time half an hour was up, Lucky was ready to pull her hair out, or murder Jack for taking so long, or quite possibly both.
"Wheah da heck 's dey?" cried Lucky.
David Jacobs, who had just entered the room, waved hello, tossed his coat on a chair, and came over to Lucky. "Who are you waiting for?" he asked.
"Jack an' Blink an' Snipes. Ya see 'em?"
"No. It's... five forty-three. They'll probably be here soon, Lucky," David reassured.
"So where's your new newsie? I've been hearing everybody talking about her."
"Yeah, dat's Ruby. Ruby, dis 's David Jacobs. 'E's a real good friend a ours. Usedta be a newsie."
"Nice to meet you," said David.
Ruby glanced at the boy. He seemed nice enough. She spit on her hand and held it out. "Yeah, nice ta meet ya."
The city was growing darker as they spoke, and snowflakes whirled in the air.
"Well... it's gettin' awful cold an' dark..." noted Boots.
As Lucky opened her mouth to speak, the door was thrown open. Blink, looking frantic and tired, panted, "You guys! Snipes got his self thrown in da refuge!"
"What?" cried Lucky and Ruby.
Blink shut the door and stumbled into a seat, attempting to regain his breath. "Me an' Jack an' Snipes was runnin', cause we knew we was gonna be late. We's real sahry, Lucky, honest! Dere was a lotta people still in da streets, an' Snipes accidentally bumped inta one a 'em, an' dis lady stahts screamin' fer da bulls. She kept yellin' at poor Snipes, an' da bulls come an' told Snipes ta go wit 'em, an' we know dey's gonna take 'im ta da refuge!"
"What's da refuge?" asked Ruby timidly.
"It's jail for kids," answered David quickly. "Well, you guys, we gotta get him out!"
"Ya really t'ink we kin git 'im out, Dave?" asked Lucky.
"Well... sure, why not? Blink, where's Jack?"
"'E went runnin' aftah da bulls. Probly tryin' to bail Snipes out right now."
"Well, c'mon! Let's go!" cried Lucky.
Ruby grabbed her coat and cap and followed the small crowd of other newsies out the door, buttoning the six buttons parading down the side of her coat. She tugged on her cap and went running through the streets after the other newsies.
After a few minutes, the crowd reached a stone building with a tall gate to the side.
"So dis 's it, Ruby. Da refuge," said Boots.
"It's ugly," she said in disgust.
"You ain't nevah seen da inside, Ruby," said Blink bitterly. He'd had more than his share of the refuge in nearly-eighteen years.
"So how we gonna git Snipes out?" asked Boots.
All was silent for a few minutes.
"Well... I guess we could-"
"Shh!" hissed Lucky, cutting David off. The small group moved off to the side and into a narrow passage between the refuge and the building on its left. David and Lucky peered out to see who was leaving the refuge.
A carriage with a tall, wealthy looking gentleman sitting inside rolled by the alley. After pausing for a moment, Lucky and David left the alley and looked inside the tall gates. No sign of Jack or Snipeshooter.
"So... whaddo we do now, Dave?" asked Lucky quietly.
He shook his head. "I don't know if there's anything we can do, right now." He was about to say more when everyone heard a piercing whistle. Lucky, Boots, Blink, David, and Ruby all looked around for the source of the whistle.
"Ovah heah, ya bummahs!" someone called quietly.
David was first to spot the leader of the Manhattan newsies. He glanced around and dashed over to one of his only friends. The other four followed David to a small alley across the street. Jack was guarding the entrance, and farther back in the alley was...
"Snipes!" cried Lucky, hugging the younger newsie. "So ya got out, huh?"
"Yup! I knew Cowboy'd git me out! I knew it! T'anks, Jack!"
"Any time, Snipes."
Ruby ran over to her friend and hugged him tightly. "I thought you weren't gonna git out!"
Snipeshooter hugged the smaller newsie back. I could git used ta dis, he thought. "We always gets out. Don't worry."
Ruby stepped back, concern marring her tiny, not very feminine face. "You sure youse awright?" When Snipeshooter nodded, her face spread into a full grin. "Den let's go git us some food!"
"Food shortages strike everywheah!"
"Extry! Extry! Hundreds stahvin'!"
"All sorts a food runnin' short by da minute!"
"T'anks, mistah, an' gooday ta ya!" Ruby slipped the handful of coins into her pockets. "Geez, we sure 's doin' good today, huh, Snipes?"
"Sure 's," he agreed. "T'anks, lady. Have a nice day now." He quickly counted the coins in his hand. "Geemaneez! I must have fifty cents heah!"
"Wow! We's gots ta come heah more often!" Ruby grinned.
Snipeshooter looked at her. She's so cute, he thought helplessly. He slung an arm carelessly around her shoulders. "C'mon, let's go."
Ruby put her free hand around Snipeshooter and they walked off to... well... wherever they were going. Snipeshooter knew his way around Manhattan much better than Ruby did, so Snipeshooter always led the way and chose where they would sell the papes that day.
When the duo reached a crowded, noisy street, they reluctantly let go of each other and began screaming headlines over the noise of merchants, customers, boys, and pigeons.
"Excuse me," a quiet voice said, tapping Ruby on the shoulder. "May I please have a paper?"
"Sure." Ruby turned and nearly gasped! Her very own mother was about to purchase a paper!
Mrs. Dryden reached into her pocket and sifted through the coins until she found a penny. When she looked back up, a strangely adorable ragamuffin was standing in front of her, holding out a paper. The small child wore completely unmatched, slightly ragged clothes: a green cap, a sky blue shirt peeking out from under an oversized brown wool man's peacoat that fell halfway down her calves, gray pants that looked as if they'd been hemmed with a pocket knife, and battered brown boots. Strands of fiery orange-red hair peeked out from under her cap, and bright blue eyes shone unexpectly.
The thin-faced woman felt tears spring to her eyes. Both her hands rose quickly to cover her face, and the copper coin fell in her haste.
"'Ey, lady, 're you awright?" asked the child, the concern clear in her voice. "Want me ta git a doctah er sumpin?"
"No, no, I'm fine, thank you. It's just... you remind me so of my daughter Ann!"
The newsie shifted uneasily. "Wheah's yer dautta?"
"Ann? Oh, I don't know. I was foolish... I left her, her father, and her brother... I was so selfish... I'm sorry, I don't mean to bother you with my troubles. Here's a quarter." Mrs. Dryden fumbled in her pocket again, handed the child a quarter, and snatched the paper out of her hands, leaving Ruby standing stunned in the middle of the street, quite confused and sad.
"'Ey, Ruby," Snipeshooter said, laying a hand firmly on her shoulder. "Ruby, you awright?"
"Snipes... dat was me mudda..." said Ruby, still dazed.
"What? Yer mudda? What'd you say? Ya tell 'er it's you?"
She shook her head. "Who 're ya kiddin'? I can't tell 'er! She'd take me back home an' I'd hafta live wit 'er an' Billy an' Gabriel an' Jessie an' Rose! Dat'd be torchah. Er she'd send me ta dat goyls' school in England er France er wheahevah. Nah, I likes bein' a newsie. Why would I tell 'er?" asked Ruby confidently.
After meeting up with Lucky and Jack for dinner, Snipeshooter and Ruby returned to The Lodging House and were greeted with the usual turmoil.
"'Ey, ya scabbah! Dat's me money!"
"No it ain't! Dis 's me money an' dat's yer money!"
"I made more dan dat! Dat's me money ya bummah! Now give it back!"
"'Ey cheesehead! Git off me bunk!"
"Dis ain't yer bunk!"
"Who's up fer some pokah?"
"Home sweet home," whispered Jack with a smile. He observed the scene quietly from the top of the stairs for a moment while Snipeshooter, Ruby, and Lucky scattered. After he was done thinking for the time being, Jack bounced into the scene, calling, "'Ey, wheah's yous guys playin' pokah? Count me in!"
Snipeshooter lit a cigar and inhaled slowly. "Ahh... been a while since I'se had a real good cigah... ya want one, Ruby?"
"Yeah, sure! Why not? I ain't nevah tried one b'fore but, 'ey, now's as good a time as any!" she said cheerfully.
Race tossed her a cigar and a match. Ruby quickly lit the cigar and inhaled as everyone watched her reaction. She removed the cigar from her lips, exhaled, and smiled. "I like it," she announced.
The boys laughed. "Now yer a true newsie," pronounced Blink, clapping her on the back.
A true newsie... thought Ruby. In only t'ree days. Dey accept me more dan me fam'ly evah did, an' I knew 'em fer ten yeahs. Dey's nicer dan me fam'ly, dough. Yeah, I t'ink I'se gonna like it heah a whole lot...
"Gabriel, can you watch your sisters for a few moments? I've got to step out and get a paper," said Danielle Dryden as she tied her shawl on and reached for her hat.
"But Ma, dey's tryin' ta make me play dolls wit 'em!" protested Gabriel. The two little girls peered around from behind the bed and giggled.
"Gabriel, just be good and watch your sisters," insisted Mrs. Dryden. "You're seven; you can watch them for a few minutes!"
"No buts, or you'll go to bed without supper." With that, Mrs. Dryden banged the door shut and headed down the stairs from their sixth floor apartment. Danielle hated the city. She hated the crowds, the high prices, the people, the dirty streetrats, the awful odor stinking up the entire city, the wild animals, the violence... that day, there were very few things she didn't hate. The night before, Billy had come home drunk and in a bad mood. He'd struck Danielle at least once, the bruises on her arms told her. Gabriel might have also been hit, but he was too proud to tell. Jessie and Rose apparently didn't remember a thing; if they did, they would've told half the city. Life wasn't going as it had planned. Billy and Danielle had planned to get married right away, as soon as Billy found a job and got some money. But he could never seem to find a job. The three children had clothes too ragged to wear to school, so they stayed at home all day and bothered Danielle. She was miserable, sick of drunken men and bratty children.
The street was jam-packed with people. The usual merchants tried to sell their wares, a wagon was being filled by the young couple across the hall who was moving out, and before Danielle could do a thing, a dog bit the hem of her long coat and pulled hard.
"Knight!" a young girl screeched. "Knight! Bad dog! I shoulda left ya at da lodgin' 'owse! Oh, golly, I'se awful sahry, lady," the girl apologized. "He's so bad sometimes! I jist can't keep track a him while I'se sellin' me papes."
"It's all right," Danielle said.
The little girl looked up, and Danielle realized it was that adorable newsie that looked like Ann.
"Why, hello, again!" said Danielle cheerfully.
"Oh, it's you! Hiya, lady. Wanna buy a pape?"
"Certainly," Danielle agreed with a smile. This girl exuded pleasantness and cheerfulness. Danielle couldn't imagine why she was on the streets. What family wouldn't want a happy little girl like that?
Ruby suddenly began coughing violently and dropped all her papes to the street.
"My, are you all right? Here, come back to my apartment. I've got some tea brewing. It will warm you up in a second."
"No, dat's awright," Ann said just before she began coughing again.
"Nonsense. Come with me. Quickly, now," Danielle said, leading the way.
Still coughing, Ruby picked up her papes and followed Danielle.
"Now, sit down at the table. I'll pour you some tea."
"Do yous mind if Knight comes in? 'e won't be any trouble," promised Ann.
"Bring him right in!" offered Danielle.
Rose, Jessie, and Gabriel stood shyly beside the bed, staring at Ann. The two little girls had bouncy brown-red ringlets to their shoulders, tied back with ribbons. The boy had messy brown hair cut as short as Ann's.
"This is Rose, Jessie, and Gabriel. They're four, five, and seven. Children, this is..."
"Ruby," she said confidently. "An' dis heah 's Knight."
"A dog!" squealed Rose as she rushed over to hug the little dog. "Oh, Mama, can't we keep him?"
"It's crowded enough in here with you three and Billy without having a dog about. But you may play with the dog as long as Ruby stays," said Danielle as she quickly poured a cup of tea. "Here, Ruby. Drink this. And take your time."
"T'anks, Mrs... uh..."
"Dryden," supplied Danielle.
Ruby nodded as she sipped the hot tea. It was bitter and not very tasty, but Ruby was good at disguising her feelings and managed not to spit the tea out or make any faces. Besides, it was warm, and the last time she'd had anything warm to eat was the evening before. Ruby hadn't planned on stopping for lunch, and dinner was a while away. The clock on the wall said ten-fifteen.
"Are you sick, Ruby?" asked Mrs. Dryden.
"Naw. I ain't nevah been sick, an' I ain't nevah gonna git sick. But I t'ink I mighta picked up a li'l bitta a cough from me friend Snipes. 'e's back at da lodgin' 'owse cause 'e's gotta pretty nasty cough an' a fevah. But Kloppy says 'e's gonna be awright. 'E's a newsie, aftah all."
"You live at the Newsboys' Lodging House?" said Mrs. Dryden incredulously. She had heard of the things that went on inside those places. That was no place for a young girl.
"Yup. It's me 'ome. I love it dere. All a ahr boys stay dere, an' it's real fun."
"Isn't it odd, being the only girl with all those boys?"
"But I ain't da only goyl. Dere's Lucky. She's like me oldah sistah. An' all da guys 's like me bruddahs. Dey's real nice ta me. 'Specially Jack an' Snipes."
Mrs. Dryden simply nodded. What kind of name was Snipes? And Lucky? That was no name for a girl. That was a name for a dog. (Note: I don't think it's a name for a dog. Hey, I just realized this is a line straight out of "A Stroke of Luck." Sorry, Sharkbait! =) Anyway, Mrs. Dryden's just one of those prissy, Rose's-mom-in-"Titanic" type ladies who disapproves of everybody who isn't upper-class. Not that Mrs. Dryden is, but...) She wished she could adopt that little girl, but she knew there was no way Ruby would let her. Ruby was a stubborn, street-smart girl who seemed to love being a newsie and everything that came with it.
Ruby finished the tea. "Well, t'anks, Mrs. Dryden, but I gots ta be goin'. Dere's still lotsa papes ta be sold. T'anks fer da tea. I really 'preciate it. C'mon, Knight," said Ruby, standing up.
"Wait! Can I please have one of those... papes?"
Ruby grinned. "Sure." She handed her mother a pape, took the nickel Mrs. Dryden gave her, and headed out of the little apartment. Knight loyally followed.
I almost feel bad fer 'er, thought Ruby. All cramped up in dat li'l 'partment... an' dose t'ree, dey should be in school... wonder why dey ain't? I'se jist awful glad I don't got ta live dere. I'd 'ate it. I like da lodgin' 'owse. It's nice dere. I ain't nevah leavin' da lodgin' 'owse fer nobody... at least, not till I'se too old ta be a newsie. Nevah evah evah, she promised herself.
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