CHAPTER I "Ask Your Mother for Fifty Cents"
The apple seemed to Jerry Elbow too big to be true.
He held it out at arm's length to get a good squint at its bigness and its redness. Then he turned to look wonderingly after the disappearing automobile with the lady who had tossed him the apple for directing her to the post office. A long trail of dust rose from the unpaved street behind the motor car.
Next he addressed himself to the business of eating the apple. He rubbed it shiny against his patched trousers, carefully hunted out the reddest spot on it, and took a big, luscious bite. Instead of chewing the morsel at once, he crushed it against his palate just to feel the mellowness of it and to get the full flavor of the first taste of juice. Then he chewed vigorously.
He started on to Mother 'Larkey's where he had made his home for nearly three years, ever since Mr. Mullarkey, dead this year now, had found him by the roadside one dark night. He had just started to take a second bite when a shout stopped him.
"Hi, Jerry! What you got?"
Instinctively Jerry hid the apple behind him, for it was Danny Mullarkey's voice that he had heard.
"Jerry's got something to eat!" Danny called over his shoulder to some one out of sight. "Come on, kids!"
Jerry hastily swallowed the piece of apple in his mouth and bit off the very largest chunk he could. He knew by long and bitter experience how little would be left for him after the Mullarkey brood had all nibbled at it.
Danny, who was past nine, reached him before Jerry could gulp down that mouthful and take another bite, as he had intended to do. Chris and Nora followed at Danny's heels, with Celia Jane, as usual, far in the rear.
"Save me a bite, Jerry!" called Celia Jane.
"Give me a bite of your apple, Jerry," coaxed Danny.
"Me, too," echoed Chris.
"It looks awful nice," observed Nora. "Where'd you get it?"
Jerry explained and handed her the apple first because she had not asked for a bite. Nora bit off a small piece and was passing it on to Celia Jane, who ran panting up to them, when Jerry stopped her by urging:
"Take a bigger bite than that, Nora. I want you to."
"Not till after you've had your turn again," replied Nora, who was nearly eight and was celebrated in the Mullarkey household for a finer sense of fair play than any of the others possessed.
Celia Jane was greedy and bit off so big a chunk that she could not cram it into her mouth, despite her heroic efforts to accomplish that feat.
"That ain't fair, Celia Jane," reproved Nora. "Mother told you never to do that again."
"That's two bites!" cried Danny. "Take it out and bite it in two."
Celia Jane's mouth was too full for utterance. She held out the apple to Danny, then freed her mouth of its embarrassment of riches and proceeded to bite it in two.
"Here, Chris," invited Danny, "take your bite next."
Jerry became immediately suspicious at such unaccustomed politeness on Danny's part and he was not at all surprised when Danny, once the remainder of the apple was again in his hands, took to his heels....