Sunday morning, January 2, 1881
Jamie quietly closed the door to the boardinghouse kitchen and knelt in the back yard to tighten the laces of his right shoe. Dandy, his small black and white Boston Terrier, took advantage of his face being in close proximity to give it a thorough sniff. The short whiskers around the dog’s short muzzle tickled his face.
“Stop it, Dandy! And no, don’t put your nose in my pocket. You’re not going to get the goodies Kathleen packed for Ian.”
Jamie stood up quickly and checked the right pocket of his wool jacket to make sure the dog hadn’t ripped the wrapping around the thick ham sandwich he had crammed into it. In his left pocket, he had an equally large slice of sugar-dusted pound cake, one of Mrs. O’Rourke’s most scrumptious desserts. He hoped his friend Ian would appreciate that he’d saved the last piece for him. Hard to believe that there were so few leftovers from the fancy New Year’s spread from yesterday.
While the day was cloudless, the oblique rays of a winter sun did little to warm the air, so Jamie pulled his cap firmly down over his ears and buttoned his jacket, saying, “Let’s go, Dandy, before Mother changes her mind.”
He headed for the gate in the back fence that led to the alley behind the boardinghouse. Dandy trotted in front of him, tugging at the leash in joyous anticipation of whatever adventures his master had in store for them today.
Jamie Hewitt, a sturdy ten year old with light caramel-colored hair and toffee-brown eyes, had been living in the O’Farrell Street boardinghouse with his mother for over two years. In many ways, it was the first place he could remember calling home. He didn’t remember Kansas, where he’d been born, and between the ages of four and eight he’d moved with his mother at least every six months, with the various rooms they’d lived in blurring together.
He sure was glad that after all their travels they’d ended up in San Francisco living in Mrs. Annie Fuller’s boardinghouse (actually, Mrs. Dawson’s boardinghouse now she was married to the lawyer, Mr. Nate Dawson). Compared to the dingy rooms and awful food in most of the places they had lived, the old three-story house on O’Farrell Street that Mrs. Dawson inherited from her aunt was pretty great. The other boarders were as kind as could be, never giving him a hard time when Dandy got too excited and barked. And Mrs. O’Rourke, the housekeeper and cook, served first-rate grub, and, even better, Kathleen, the boardinghouse maid, was always ready to slip him a bite of food between those excellent meals. She said he was growing like a weed in springtime and needed to keep up his strength.
He and his mother lived in a big airy room in the attic, although his bed was stuck in a sort of alcove off the rest of the room, which wasn’t always convenient when he wanted to stay up and read for a while after his mother said lights out. She was an English teacher at Girls High, so she was always on him about getting a good night’s sleep so he’d be sharp the next day in school. That was one of the reasons she’d been slow to agree to let him help Ian sell newspapers today. School started back up tomorrow, after one glorious week of Christmas vacation, and she said she wanted him home by six so he’d have time to review his lessons for the next day and be ready for bed by eight.
But he’d promised Ian, who was his best pal, that he’d meet him up at the Chronicle offices at ten-thirty this morning and spend the day with him. All he had to do was run up Bush and then over to Kearny, so if the sidewalks weren’t too crowded with the going-to-church crowd, he should be able to get there in ten minutes and only be a little late.
He’d never had a best friend before. Moved around too much. Plus, it didn’t help when other boys learned your mother was a teacher and treated you like you were some sort of spy among the troops. But Ian was different. He was Kathleen’s youngest brother, living with an uncle south of Market, and he thought Jamie was plum lucky to have a mother at all, much less one who could help him out with his schoolwork.
And Ian liked school…was especially good at math. But this fall, he’d started working as a newsboy in the afternoons and weekends so he’d been having trouble finding the time to study the way he should. Even though Ian was a year older and a grade ahead of Jamie, they’d discovered that the teacher in Ian’s seventh-grade class had his students working out of some old sixth-grade textbooks that were the same as the texts that Jamie used at his school. As a result, Jamie was able to help when his friend got stumped.
Jamie’s mother was scandalized when she found out about the textbooks. Said boys like Ian who lived south of Market deserved as good an education as boys like Jamie who lived in a better part of town. But Ian only shrugged and said most of the boys he knew had already left school, and the few who remained were mostly going because their mothers wanted them to watch over their little brothers and sisters.
Jamie knew it was important to Kathleen that her brother stay in school, so he was more than glad to help his friend keep up with his homework…and help him sell newspapers. Seemed the least he could do for Kathleen, who didn’t just slip him snacks but also took care of Dandy when Jamie was at school. She sure didn’t need to do that, not when she worked so hard, helping Mrs. O’Rourke in the kitchen, serving dinner, washing and ironing, and keeping the big boardinghouse spotless.
Despite all the work she did, she always had a cheery smile on her face, and one of the reasons he liked to spend so much time in the kitchen was to listen to the funny stories she told while she worked. Somehow, between the tradesmen who came to the back door and the other servants she met when she was out running errands, she pretty much knew what was going on in the neighborhood for at least four blocks in every direction.
Thinking about Kathleen, and how her neighborliness had helped her catch a killer on New Year’s Eve, Jamie quickened his steps, urging Dandy to keep up. He knew Ian would want to know how his sister was doing, but the boy couldn’t wait all day for Jamie to show up. Once he had his copies of the ChronicleSunday, he’d have to take off to deliver them, and it could take hours for Jamie to track him down.
Jamie picked Dandy up, saying, “I’m going to give you a ride today. Hear the church bells sounding the quarter hour? We’ve got to get going. ‘Sides, you need to save your energy to help Ian sell his papers today…make him heaps of money.”