Several Weeks passed and the days got colder and colder. Winter would soon be upon them. It was during this time of year that Rat and Dart were especially glad they shared a cot; they were able to help each other stay warm.One night, while everyone else was asleep and the only sound was music and laughter from the bar room, Rat couldn't sleep. Over and over he heard that man, Mr. Horace, saying, "I could lose everything." Was the wallet really that important to the man? Rat shifted uncomfortably.
Dart wiggled and stretched. His eyes blinked open. Rat could see his face in the moon light.
"Ya can't sleep?" Dart whispered. Then he coughed several dry coughs.
Rat shrugged, "Naw, I ain't slept good lately."
Dart nodded, his little eyes filled with compassion. "Sometimes I don't sleep either. 'Cause I got questions. And I lay here and I think about them."
Rat pulled their blanket up around his shoulders. He wondered why Dart's chest made funny rattling sounds. "What kind of questions?" he asked.
Dart was quiet a minute. Then he said, "I've got questions 'bout my mama, I do. I don't like it, 'cause I don't 'member what she looked like. But I 'member that she used to sing. She used to sing 'bout a man named Jesus."
"I don't remember my mama at all." Rat whispered, "But I have to have had one, so Dusty says. He says everybody has to have one."
Dart laid his little head on Rat's shoulder. After a moment of silence he whispered, "Did ya know we get to live with him when we die?"
"Who?" Rat asked.
"Jesus." Dart said, as if Rat should know. "The man my mama used to sing 'bout." He smiled a sleepy smile. "He saved us by dyin' so we won't hafta." His eyes closed.
"Oh." Rat wasn't sure what Dart meant. It didn't make any sense to him. But he was curious. "What else did your mama sing 'bout?"
But Dart didn't answer. He was sound asleep with a smile on his face, even though his chest rattled.
Rat pulled the sleeves of his sweater down over his hands. He rubbed them together, trying to gather warmth. He had to blink away the rain from his eyes. His cap was so wet that it felt twice as heavy on his head. The rain had poured down all morning, and so far Rat hadn't cleaned a single chimney.
Dart whimpered and snuggled closer to Rat's side. He had taken their empty coal sacks and wrapped them around himself, but he still shivered uncontrollably. "Do ya think Baker Tom will let us stand over his gratin'?" he asked.
Rat nodded. The grating in front of Tom's bakery was always warm, and the jolly man never cared if they stood over it a minute. But Rat didn't like to allow himself the pleasure, because the smell of all the delicious things Tom made also came up the grating. The torture to his stomach almost made the warmth not worth it.
But for Dart Rat would do anything. And if Dart wanted to stand over the grating then Rat would take him there.
The two of them begun to shuffle through the rain in the direction of the bakery. Ever so often Rat would through back his head and call, "Soot! Soot!" The chimney sweeps advertising call.
Dart would follow with a call of his own. But his "Soot" would come out more like a squeak, and then he would double over with a cough attack. Rat wished Dart would just stay quiet and let him do all the calling. But he didn't want to hurt Dart's feelings by saying so.
"Hello, Rat. Good day, Dart."
Rat looked up and saw Konnor, a newspaper boy who always sold his papers at the corner by the bakery. Rat liked Konnor. Most of the newspaper boys thought themselves above the chimney sweeps, but Konnor seemed to think they were on the same level and was always friendly.
"Hello, Konnor!" Rat said happily, "Sold many?"
Konnor held up his pile of papers. "Nope." he said with a smile, "Business is as bad as the weather."
Rat shook his head. He didn't understand how Konnor could be so happy when everything was so miserable.
"How's your business?" Konnor asked.
"Ifn' it keeps like this we'll be goin' home with empty sacks tonight." Rat shivered. Peter was never very happy when they came home with empty coal sacks. After all, he made his money by selling the old coal from the chimneys they cleaned.
"Aw, keep your chin up." said Konnor, "The days only half over. You still have a chance." He turned back to the crowd, held up a paper and called, "Get your paper here! Only five cents!"
Rat sighed and followed Dart to the grating. Dart stood over it and let out a little cry of happiness as the warm air flowed over him. Rat breathed deep, and then wished he hadn't. The Delicious aroma was almost more then he could take. Peter never fed them anything fancy. And never anything sweet. Never anything, really, except the stew and porridge that was provided in abundance.
Rat felt Mr. Horace's wallet inside his clothing. He kept it with him always. With that money he could buy Dart and himself a whole bundle of sweets. The thought made his mouth water. But try as he might he couldn't think of the money as his to spend. He still thought of it as Mr. Horace's money.
"Come on, Dart." Rat mumbled, "We better get back to work."
Dart whimpered and coughed. Rat shifted his hold on his chimney brush and headed up the street calling, "Soot! Soot!"
He hadn't gone more then five steps before an old woman beckoned to him from her doorway. He recognized her as a lady he had worked for before. And he also remembered that he didn't like her. She was cross and gruff. Last time she had sent him up a chimney that was still much to warm from the fire and he had burned blisters on both his knees. Dusty always warned about hot chimney flues. But it was a job and Rat never turned anyone down.
"You there. Come here. I have a chimney that needs doin'." Her voice was deep and crackled.
Rat felt Dart tense beside him. "Come on, Dart." Rat whispered, "It'll be warm in her house."
That encouraged Dart, and the two of them hurried into the house. It was warm inside, but old Mrs. Crackle Voice didn't give them time to enjoy it. She hurried them through several rooms before finally coming to a sitting room. The furniture was covered with sheets for protection from the ash and soot that would fall while they were sweeping the chimney.
Rat was concerned as soon as they came into the room. The fire had just been dowsed. Smoke still drifted up from the ash. He knew it was way to hot to go up the flue. He kneeled beside the hearth and stuck in his head. The flue was also very small. Small and hot. He didn't like it at all.
Dart shook out the sacks and laid them beside the hearth. He coughed a hard dry cough, then lifted his chimney broom.
"Naw, I'll do it, Dart." Rat said, waving Dart away.
Dart shook his head. He knew Rat was just trying to protect him, and he didn't like. Besides, he was smaller and could fit better. "I can do it."
"Too hot right now, I say." insisted Rat, "We'll hafta wait."
"You will not wait." said Mrs. Crackle Voice, "You'll do it now."
Dart pulled his cap down over his face to protect his nose and eyes and started up the chimney, pushing his brush ahead of him. Rat heard him whimper several times before he disappeared. Soot and ash cascaded down.
Rat knelt near by and watched the dust float out. He knew Dart would cough all night and not be able to sleep. Dusty would probably have to treat some burns as well.
Suddenly the soot stopped falling. But Rat knew it was way too soon for Dart to have reached the top. Everything was too still.
Rat jumped up and ran to the fireplace. "You all right, Dart?" he called up the chimney. He heard a sobbing, choking sound. Rat knew what had happened. Dart had gotten his knees wedged in between his body and the wall. Rat tried to see up the dark chimney. Then he turned to Mrs. Crackle Voice, "He's goin' off! Quick, get somebody!"
Mrs. Crackle's scowl deepened and she left the room. "Going off" meant Dart was suffocating.
"Don't worry, Dart." Rat said as he pushed himself up the flue, "I'm a comin'!"
But the chimney was cramped and hot. Pain shot through Rat's shoulders, elbows and knees. Being extra careful not to pull his knees too high made him slow. He wondered with awe how Dart had managed to make it up as high as he did.
Finally Rat felt Dart's body above him. "I'm here, Dart. Can ya hear me?" He positioned his knees and back against the walls to hold himself up. The heat was so bad he could barely make himself stay. He wanted to drop down and scramble to safety.
Completely blind in the darkness, Rat felt around with his hands, struggling in the tight quarters. What he felt clogged his throat with unvoiced sobs. Dart's knees were pulled all the way up to his chin. He was quite solidly wedged in.
"Come on, Dart. Try movin' a little. See if'n ya can wiggle free." He pulled on Dart's coat hem.
Coal dust filled Rat's nose and throat and he coughed. Then he realized that Dart was too quiet. He wasn't coughing, he wasn't whimpering. He wasn't anything!
Rat felt around desperately. But his fingers couldn't find any hope anywhere. One of his sobs escaped and the tears began to flow down his cheeks. "Please Dart! Try. Just try!" He gripped Dart's coat and hung his full weight on it, trying to pull him free. Dart did not move.
A man's voice call up the chimney, "What's happing up there, Lad?"
"He's stuck, Mister. I can't budge him." Rat called down, his voice thick with tears.
"Drop down. Let us see what we can do."
Rat didn't want to leave Dart but he did as the man said. The sitting room now held two police men. Mrs. Crackle Voice was standing in the doorway, scowling.
"Step back now, Son. Let me look." and the big policeman leaned into the fireplace with a lamp. Rat wondered how they were going to get Dart out. There was no way the two men would fit up the chimney.
The big policeman beckoned to the other and they whispered together. Then the other one said to Rat, "Come along, boy." He began to leave the room.
"Ain'tcha gonna get Dart out?" Rat's voice squeaked with desperation.
"Yes, we will. But you need to come with me." The policemen said kindly.
Rat wasn't convinced. He did not want to leave the room. But he decided he had no choice and let himself be led away. The policeman brought him to the kitchen and sat him on a stool. Then he left Rat there alone.
Rat's tears made paths down his filthy face. What would Dusty say when he found out Rat had let Dart go up a hot chimney? Dusty wouldn't have let Dart go. Dusty would have stood up to Mrs. Crackle Voice and told her that they couldn't sweep the chimney until it had cooled.
Rat buried his face in his hands. He should have swept the chimney himself. He shouldn't have let Dart go.