OH, THAT GEORGE!
THE DOOR OF the little restaurant flew open. A tall, seven-year-old boy dashed out. Bang! went the door as it closed behind him. Headlong he ran along West Camden Street in Baltimore. It was a warm day in April 1902.
The boy nearly collided with two women walking toward him.
“Georgie! Georgie Ruth!” called the shorter woman sharply. “Watch where you’re going!”
George stopped suddenly. He thrust back the mop of dark-brown hair from his forehead. He
grinned sheepishly. “’Scuse me, Mrs. Callahan,” he said. “I’m in a hurry!” He pushed past the women on the narrow sidewalk and ran down the street as fast as he could go.
Both women turned to watch.
“That boy!” said Mrs. Callahan. She shook her head. “But I guess it isn’t his fault. He hardly has anyone to look after him.”
“Why, what’s the matter?” asked her companion, with a concerned look.
“Well, his father and mother work awfully hard trying to make a living in that little restaurant. Half the time Mrs. Ruth is sick. And she’s got a daughter, Mamie, to look after. So nobody pays much attention to George.”
“Oh, that’s too bad!”
Mrs. Callahan sighed. “And the things that go on in that restaurant! The men seem to do nothing but fight and talk loudly.”
“Are they sailors and oystermen?” her companion asked.
“Yes, and the roughest kind, I’m afraid. It’s certainly the wrong place for a headstrong boy like that George Ruth. One of these days I’ve a mind to call the police.”
ON THE STREET
George whirled around the next corner. He was bubbling with energy. He caught up with three boys walking along halfway down the block.
“Hiya, Slats!” he shouted to a thin-faced, sandy-haired boy. George slapped him on the back in greeting.
Slats stumbled and nearly fell. He gulped hard before he could speak. “Hey, what’s the idea?” he managed to say. He picked up a stick and started for George.
George burst out laughing. “What’s the matter?” he roared. “Can’t you take a joke?”
The other two boys laughed too.
“I thought you were tough, Slats,” shouted one, a short red-haired boy.
“I guess George doesn’t know how strong he is,” said the boy named Jim.
“Well, lay off me,” growled Slats, still waving his stick.
The boys walked along the sidewalk.
“Where are we going now?” asked Red.
“Down to the docks!” George shouted. “Come on!”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Jim said. “Isn’t anyone going to school?”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the other three boys.
“What’d you bring Jim along for, Red?” asked Slats.
“Why, what’s the matter?” Jim asked.
“I never have been to school,” George boasted in a loud voice.
“Why, what about your mom and pop?” Jim asked in surprise. “Don’t they care?”
“Aw, they’re too busy to know what I do,” George answered. “They wanted me to go, but I wouldn’t.”
He was bragging very loudly. It made him feel big. But he suddenly remembered how sad Mom had been when he refused to go. He didn’t feel quite so sure of himself.
“Aren’t you ever going?” asked Jim, still surprised.
“Well, maybe someday,” George said.
“What for?” Slats jeered. “I only go when I have to.”
“Oh—I—” George stammered. He couldn’t stop thinking about Mom lying upstairs in bed, about her begging him to go to school and to stay out of trouble. It made him feel so bad that he couldn’t answer Slats.