Author's Note: I told you I'd be quick with this one! Indeed, the last chapter was more a show of good faith than anything. I know it wasn't very eventful, but I am very proud of this chapter and I think you will like it much more. This is also the last chapter of relative good cheer – it will all get terribly dark and depressing from here on out. But fear not, I promise a happy ending. Enjoy, and please review!
Disclaimer: The Newsies all belong to Disney – they could not even spare one for me to have for my very own. How sad.
Our magnanimous readers will forgive us if we fail to record the reunion of our two young newsies. It is a certain fact that boys of their position in the world, and these two boys in particular, were very careful about masking their emotions – indeed, there were those of the opinion that Spot Conlon, at least, had no emotions whatsoever. Therefore, not wishing to disappoint those faithful readers craving a tearful and affecting scene between the best friends, suffice it to say there was much shoving, boorish name-calling, and merciless teasing.
When finally the two had exhausted their fond endearments, Racetrack asked, "So Jack didn't wanna come hisself, or what?"
Spot felt the welling up of familiar guilt and immediately quashed it with a wicked grin, "Eh, don't you worry about Jacky-boy. I gotcha note, an' I'm the one dat came. You disappointed, Higgins?"
Racetrack smiled, "A' course not, Spot, but how the hell did you get da note, and what da hell did ya do tah Martin tah get it? Ya soaked da kid pretty good by da looks a' him."
Spot shrugged, "He's a right lousy little shrimp – I hardly touched him. Took one hit and an' started bawlin'. Dat ain't my fault."
Racetrack frowned. "It ain't his fault, ya know. Dat poor kid's been stuck in dis place a damn long time."
In a most characteristic manner, Spot's eyebrows creased. He thought a moment about accusing his friend of having gone soft, but refrained and decided instead to commiserate – "Dat bad, huh?"
Racetrack shrugged, suddenly unwilling to divulge too many details concerning his new home. He couldn't say for certain why, but he thought Spot would make fun, would think him weak or silly or stupid. Perhaps he was simply afraid Spot would not want to be his friend anymore after learning that Racetrack had gone three long weeks without thinking of him once.
"Well, c'mon den, show me da place, huh?" Spot consoled. He could sense Racetrack's hesitation and it worried him. There had never been silences between them before, and certainly not the uncomfortable kind.
"Alright," Racetrack cautioned, "but I can only show ya through da soivant's way in da back. I'll be in a whole heap a trouble if Frith wakes up and finds me trailin' a doity street rat through his nice house."
Spot, contrary to taking offense to this, smiled arrogantly. Then he asked about Frith, and while Racetrack led him circuitously around to the back entrance he listened to a cataloguing of the different characters housed within the Higgins mansion: the terrifyingly authoritative Frith with his bony fingers and his bald spot; plump Mrs. Poole who was kind but very strict, especially concerning meal times and well-ironed trouser creases; Martin, of whom Spot had already formed his own opinions; and Ellen Seven, who Racetrack described using the highest words of praise, with her wispy blond hair and her friendly smile and her aptitude at cards.
It was easier talking to Spot this way, with Spot trailing behind him where he didn't have to see his expressions.
When they finally came around to the back of the house, Racetrack turned around and gestured unnecessarily for silence. Spot nodded grimly, and the two crept together into the elegant kitchen, up the back stair, and down the grand hall to the master bedroom. Racetrack was a little unsettled to find that while Spot could still slink completely noiselessly, he himself seemed to have lost that ability and every step seemed distressingly noisy next to Spot's silent ones.
Once inside, Racetrack closed the door and turned to find his friend surveying the room with his mouth hanging wide. While Racetrack could almost always tell what Spot was thinking, it was never because Spot betrayed his thoughts by his facial expression – in fact, Spot was deadly careful to keep a straight face at all times and in all circumstances. However, as he took in the grand bed with its lavish coverings and the master bathroom connected – all porcelain and polished brass – it was all he could do to mumble a week, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph …"
Racetrack smiled, feeling something almost like pride at Spot's admiration. He leaned back against the bedframe self-importantly, "So, ya think da guys'll like livin' heah?" he joked.
Spot rounded on him with a huge grin, "You lucky sonuvva bitch – how da hell did you manage dis!"
The two engaged in a few moments' good-natured banter, and then Racetrack asked, "So what d'ya wanna do? If we can keep quiet enough, da house is ours till around five in da mornin'. I can get ya somethin' tah eat, or take ya on a tour, or sneak Mrs. Poole's wine from da kitchen …"
But Spot, simple creature, had eyes for only one item, and that was the enormous claw-footed bathtub. So Racetrack filled it with generous amounts of boiling water, as he had often watched Mrs. Poole do, and laid out an extra dressing robe for Spot beside the sink.
While he waited for Spot to finish his bath, Racetrack laid back on his bed with his hands behind his head. While it was certainly wonderful to have his best friend back, it was indeed odd having him here. It was not unpleasant, per say, merely a little uncomfortable. His two lives, which formerly had no knowledge whatever of each other, had suddenly and violently collided. He wondered idly if things could go on this way – if he could continue his gentleman training during the day and sneak his friends in the back gate at night. If he could be Anthony Higgins, master esquire of Higgins mansion, and Racetrack the newsie, both at the same time. Certainly it would be much harder and a little confusing to keep up his dialect lessons…
When Spot emerged, Racetrack was a little confused to see him back in his dirty clothes. "Spot, I left –"
"Yeah yeah," Spot interrupted, "I don't wanna look all fruity like you do in dat get-up. Don't worry about it."
And Racetrack found he admired Spot all the more for this decision – for indeed it had nothing at all to do with looking "fruity". Spot, in all his prideful majesty, would bathe in the tubs of the rich, he would later eat the food of the rich and drink their wine, yet he would not change himself. He could enjoy the blessings offered him but not at the price of his identity. Racetrack wondered then if Spot had been in his shoes, would he have made a different choice? And Racetrack knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that, yes, Spot would be a newsie – and a king – for life. He would have told Frith to beat it.
"So how's about that wine?"
Racetrack was tiptoeing down the stairs when he heard someone tiptoeing up the stairs. He held his breath and hid himself behind a decorative curtain, hoping the darkness would conceal what would have been comically obvious in the daylight. Sure enough, the late-night wanderer passed him without a sound. Racetrack crept from his hiding place and continued his descent to the kitchen. It was Ellen's small scream that sent him dashing back, bottle in hand.
When he reached his bedroom he found that Spot had thoroughly, if roughly, taken control of the situation. Ellen was backed into a corner, hand to her heart in a typically feminine gesture of alarm, with Spot brandishing his cane at her, keeping her rooted to the spot in terror.
"Hey!" Racetrack called as loudly as the circumstances would allow, "Spot, it's alright, back off. She ain't gonna do nothin'."
Spot looked back and forth between the two and lowered his cane, albeit slowly.
"Ellen," Racetrack tried to sound soothing, "I'm sorry Ellen, come sit on da bed, huh? He ain't gonna hoit ya. Dis is me friend."
Ellen allowed herself to be guided to the bed, and Racetrack poured her a glass of wine at the tray beside his nightstand.
No one quite knew what to say then, and both boys were shocked when Ellen was the first to break the awkward silence. She had finished her wine at a gulp – earning a grudging respect from Spot – and scolded: "If you're going to have friends over, Anthony, you might warn me first."
"An' if you'se gonna go creepin' intah me room in da middle of da night, ya might warn me foist," Racetrack countered.
Ellen smiled, but shook her head. "You must sleep soundly. Frith has had me checking on you nightly since you arrived."
Racetrack inwardly rebuked himself for not having guessed before that surely Frith would have been having him spied upon. He was grateful, however, that the spy was Ellen, for he knew he had a friend in the strange young maid. He shook his head of the recent almost-disaster and remembered his manners.
"I'm sorry, Ellen, dis heah is Spot Conlon," and he stepped back so the two could shake hands. "You're in luck – dis is perhaps da most famous newsie in all New Yawk. King a' Brooklyn. And Spot, dis is Ellen Seven, da only friend I got fah da last three weeks, master card playah an' brilliant coffee-makah."
Both laughed awkwardly at their grand introductions. Racetrack had been taught recently in his etiquette class that clever gentlemen introduced their friends with clever and flattering personal tidbits.
Spot, all his former fight vanished, kissed Ellen's hand elegantly and declared, "At ya soivace, miss."
Ellen blushed and turned back to Racetrack. "You mustn't go sneaking about the house in the middle of the night – that's the surest way to get yourself caught. If you need something, just ring. I'm always on duty overnight. I can bring you whatever you'd like."
Racetrack smiled, grateful beyond words at Ellen's understand and accommodation.
After another slightly awkward silence, Ellen rose and dismissed herself with a final warning: "Make sure Mr. Conlon is gone by the five o'clock bell. Mrs. Poole makes her rounds at that time. And I'm afraid if he wishes to come back, he must do so tomorrow evening. Frith and Martin conduct a thorough examination of the house and grounds daily – it would not do for Mr. Conlon to be skulking about somewhere in the shadows and be caught by them."
When she had gone, Racetrack repossessed the wine and took a swig from the bottle. Both boys let out a sigh of relief, and then Spot cocked an eyebrow. "So what, you'se in love wid her or somethin'?"
Racetrack choked on his wine. Indeed, he'd never even thought of Ellen that way. "Ellen?" he coughed, "Gee, I guess she's pretty enough, but-"
"Pretty enough?" Spot countered, "She's a stunnah."
Racetrack thought about it. Indeed, Ellen was slim and her hair looked soft and her eyes were quite brilliant, especially when they took their walks in the sunset light. She also had that charming mix of street smarts and lady manners that made her equally accessible to both of his lives – newsie and gentleman. And yet … no, Racetrack didn't think he could ever love Ellen in that way. He had never been girl crazy like his friends – even Spot managed a steady stream of beautiful if impersonal lady friends. Racetrack had always been content with his friends only, his friends and Spot. He'd never really felt anything to be missing.
Spot was watching Racetrack's face very intently. But when Racetrack just shrugged, Spot let it go with good grace.
The two jumped up upon the bed and Racetrack didn't even mind the dirt Spot's trousers left thereon. They spent the remaining early morning hours in serious laughter and easy catching-up. Spot filled Racetrack in on all he had been wondering about – Crutchy's birthday, Les's broken arm. They even drifted off into a drunken sort of ecstatic doze for an hour or so. It seemed like heaven to have Spot there – to relax this way in such luxury and ease – a few hours escape from the real world.
When he left, promptly at four-thirty in the morning, Spot promised he would come back; perhaps he'd even bring Jack, or at least give the Manhattan leader strict directions so that he might come on his own. The boys figured out a discreet way of meeting – Racetrack would sneak away every evening after the help had gone to bed and wait beside the front gate, as he had met Spot. If he were to have visitors that night, they would arrive promptly between eleven p.m. and midnight. It worked well, and Racetrack found Ellen most accommodating in her service to his crude friends. Whenever he rang, she was there promptly with wine or coffee or little cucumber sandwiches made with love – for indeed, it cannot be overlooked that while Racetrack did not think he was in love with Ellen, Ellen was almost certainly madly in love with him.
And so the months passed. Perhaps three nights out of seven, Racetrack would receive a visitor. Usually Spot, often Jack, but sometimes Mush and Blink both together, and once even David and Les – though Racetrack thought they probably could have visited him during the day, surely Frith could not object to the well-mannered Jacobs boys.
And it was lovely. Racetrack continued his lessons during the day and though he missed carrying the banner, gambling down at Sheepshead, and catching a late-evening trolley over to Brooklyn, it was enough that he got to see his friends. And then, suddenly, miraculously, it was late March. In only a few short weeks Racetrack would come into his fortune and – poor, naïve boy – he believed that if he could just keep fooling Frith for that much longer, he would be able to celebrate his eighteenth birthday with all his friends surrounding him in the daylight in his newly inherited mansion and everyone's troubles would be over.
But Frith was making his own plans, and the time was nearing when he would disclose to Racetrack that final request of his uncle's will – the last condition which Racetrack must meet in order to inherit even a penny.
A/N: Please leave me some feedback, and I'll try to have the next chapter up as quick as I possibly can!