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DENNY THE RAT

by Earle C. Wight

DENNY THE RAT was broke. Grogan, his erstwhile friend and sharer in many illicit spoils, had kicked him out of his saloon when he asked for a drink. And Mike Sweeny, his brother-in-law, proprietor of a doubtful hotel where bed could be had for five, ten and fifteen cents, had refused him shelter, His shoes had great rens in them through which the water sloshed in and out, and the crown of his limp black hat, several sizes too large for him, occasionally overflowed, sending a cascade of dirty, black water down his back.

Never in all his years along the waterfront could he remember when there was not at least one drunk to be "rolled," but now even this was denied him. No vinous sailor-man staggered into his snares, pedestrians kept their coats tightly buttoned over illusive gleams of gold watches, even shop-girls hurrying down gloomy streets displayed no gaudy, jingling purses. Fate made sport of the wise one, the biter was bitten, the hunter hunted; Denny was broke.

Out of the darkness a blue-coated arm suddenly shot; fingers clutched his shoulder. The arm belonged to Billy McShane, the fingers to a hand he had many times crossed with pieces of silver. This time the hand was not greedy, but was the embodiment of the law—of all that was fearful, of a black wagon, of clanging doors, of bars and brutal treatment.

Denny wiggled away with a convulsive movement, leaving a goodly portion of his coat with the officer. Half-way across the street he paused to heap upon the offending head all the choice assortment of vileness he had picked up in his thirty-odd years. Billy McShane waved a friendly hand and nodded. Some day the Rat would pay for this, they both knew it, and, worked up to a frenzy of fear and hatred, Denny continued to express his opinion of the other until, thinking the joke had gone far enough, the policeman raised his whistle to his lips. With that Denny vanished.

Seated in an alley where the raindrops seemed neither so large nor so cold, he took counsel with himself. Then, as fully born as Venus from her sea-foam, an idea sprang into his mind.

Under its watery dirt his face paled a trifle; what he Was about to do was a brave thing. Many men who did not deserve the appellation of Rat, or whose eyes were not set so close together, would have hesitated; but for the moment, between the gnawing at his belly and the goose-flesh on his skin, he was no longer the timid scavenger who pokes his nose fearfully about in the dark. That part of his nature which craved food, tobacco, alcohol, was in the ascendency. He turned the project carefully over in his mind; then, rising quickly, made his way to Grogan's saloon.

The barkeeper was in the act of drinking a glass at a hospitable stranger's expense. He paused to glare angrily at the intruder.

"Back again?" he snarled, reaching for the bung-starter. At any other time Denny would have fled, but for the present he was completely obsessed with Ins great idea. With his hand he made a motion well understood between the two. The barkeeper gave in sullenly, as if sorry to lose the opportunity of using his weapon. The thief slipped quietly into a back room. After a long time the garrulous stranger finished his drink and departed. Denny drew a deep breath and eyed the barkeeper stonily across the sloppy table.

"Gimme a poice o' poiper—none o' ye're dirty pad, cully—an enwelop and a stamp. Now chase yerself; this is me busy day!"

Grogan's night helper rose reluctantly. This was not the man he knew. Come to bully, he found himself relegated to the position of servant; nevertheless he went. Such is the dominance of a splendid conception.

The material at hand, the Rat wrote...

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