It was a dreary fall evening in 1894, and a steady drizzle of rain enveloped Manhattan. It was the kind of rain that's not heavy enough to complain about, but enough to thoroughly soak any poor sod unfortunate to be outside. The rain was however, effectively annoying one particular eleven year old girl.
Now, at first glance, or even first conversation, you wouldn't realize this girl was in fact, a girl. With her blonde hair tucked up under a weather beaten brown cap and a somewhat matching vest over a dingy, hand-me-down button up, she played the part of a young boy very well.
Elisabeth Kelly, better known by the nickname Bets was both a proud Manhattan newsie and proud younger sibling to a not yet infamous Jack Kelly. Both of the Kelly siblings were somewhat new to the newsie business, after escaping the death trap that was the refuge only a year ago. Because of their status as young fugitives, Jack was never keen on leaving his little sister alone on the streets, but, when the siblings had spotted the owner of the refuge, a man with the name of Snyder, from their usual selling spot, they scrambled; each dashing a different direction to get away from the much larger man. Fortunately for the younger Kelly sibling, Snyder had elected to chase after Jack, who he had a much smaller chance of actually catching.
So this rainy night found a cold, wet, and highly annoyed Bets walking alone back to the lodging house the Manhattan newsies called home, more than a little worried about her big brother.
There wasn't much she could do about the situation though, so she elected to keep moving forward through the rain and the slick, grimy, mud that coated the street with the hope that Jack would be in the downstairs common room of the lodging house waiting for her arrival.
The handful of pennies she had made from selling papers earlier that day jingled in her pocket as her walk turned into a jog, anxious to get home. It was then that she passed a shadowed alley, one that she had ignored a thousand times before. Today however, she was startled when from that alley came an odd sound, like a muffled sob.
Turning on her heel, she froze, staring down the alley, searching for the source of the sound. She spotted a small figure, seated with his back against the wall of the alley, hunched over, arms wrapped around his knees, with a large hat precariously balanced on his head. The kid looked to be about her brother's age, which was only a year older than her, but he was definitely on the scrawny side.
She then made the decision to take off her cap and let her hair hang down around her shoulders. She figured it would make her already small form less intimidating for whoever this scared kid was. Taking a few timid steps into the alley she called out, "Uh, excuse me, you alright?"
The boy didn't even bother to look up at the young newsie that had turned down the alley. He barely even registered that she was there. Inching closer, she tapped his shoulder, and repeated her question. The boy groaned and responded, though still refusing to look up, keeping his head between his knees, he just swore, "Shit."
"What the hell do you want kid?" He looked up at Bets taking off the too large black hat that had been on his head. Bets stepped back, stunned. The second the hat was out of the way, she knew exactly who she was talking to; that uniquely colored hair, a mix of an orange-red and dark blonde was unmistakable. She was looking down at none other than Morris Delancey, the kid that had been helping to terrorize the younger newsies since before she had first arrived at the lodging house. His identity wasn't the reason for her mouth hanging open with shock though. Her stunned expression was the result of the swollen, black and blue eye commanding the Delancey boy's facial features.
As he looked up, Morris Delancey was expecting to see the Kelly brat, whose older brother he knew too well, to be sneering down at him, ready to give him a good kick to the gut for the last time he had soaked his older brother. Instead, he was met with a very different expression, one of shock that morphed into concern.
His face, however, carried a stunned expression, his mouth agape, as he looked at Jack Kelly's younger brother. It was definitely Bets, but it wasn't him. It was a girl. She jumped back and hastily tried to hide her hair underneath her cap, but gave up when she saw his still stunned face showing steadily growing signs of confusion. As he went to stand up, he just looked at the kid in front of him and exclaimed, "What the hell!?"
She shook her head as she crossed her arms and mocking his choice of words, spit out, "What the hell happened to you Delancey?" Still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Bets was in fact a girl, he didn't think as he murmured, "My uncle's an asshole, I'm used to it." He was then surprised yet again when instead of the expected taunts, the young newsie's expression only softened. Realizing what he had said, Morris swore again and turned around, tossing a, "get lost kid," over his shoulder.
Bets, making a split second decision called out to him, "Wait!" Stopping dead in his tracks Morris looked over his shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you're a girl," he then jabbed his finger towards his swollen eye as he spat out, "if you don't tell no one about this."
For what seemed like the twentieth time in the last ten minutes, Bets gave another shocked look to the boy staring her down. "That wasn't what I was going to say." The nine year old girl then made a decision that would alter the present course of both of their lives. "I was gonna ask you if youse got anywhere to go."
Once again Morris Delancey was floored by the Kelly brat. Well, maybe brat doesn't quite fit her he ceded, as he shook his head no.
"I can't really give ya anywhere to sleep," she said, "but I made a little extra today," she said as she pulled a couple pennies out of her pocket. It was a complete lie of course, but she had made the decision to help someone she didn't quite always get along with, and she wasn't backing out at this point. Changing her mind now would probably only make things worse for the newsies, whereas helping Morris may very well make things better. "I haven't been able to get any supper yet, but I think the café down the street from the lodging house is still open. Up for splittin a sandwich?"
Morris hesitated before answering, "If you're alright with payin, I guess I'm not in much of position to say no." He looked down at the girl in front of him, only a couple inches shorter than he was. "Who knows," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he tried to hide his gratitude, "this may be the start of a beautiful friendship."
Bets just gave him a toothy grin and waltzed out of the alleyway, with the Delancey brother in tow.
Twelve year old Jack Kelly kept pacing back and forth, driving the other newsies crazy. It was, according to Specs, who was sitting with him and Race, half past nine, almost two hours since Jack had gotten back to the lodging house.
Snyder had given up chasing Jack through the alleyways of lower Manhattan after just a few minutes, but for all Jack knew; he had given up chasing him for the sole purpose of snatching his little sister and dragging her back the damn refuge instead.
The three boys turned their heads in unison as they heard the door creak open. Before Bets could even cross the threshold, Jack was sprinting to her. As the door closed, he threw his arms around her, pulling her into a tight hug. He started to speak as he pulled back and held her at arm's length, looking her over for any injuries, "What happened to you? I made it back two hours ago!"
"I met a kid that was in a spot of trouble right before I passed the café on my way back, and I stopped to help. I'm alright Jack."
She smiled up at her older brother as the four kids walked upstairs to the bunk room, and Bets made sure not to mention just who her new friend was as they chatted before getting some sleep.