And so, where we last left off, Mush was generally in the way of miserability, and Cat - or Panther, as we must now call her - was generally in the way of sneaky, devious behavior.

Mush barely glanced at Panther the next morning when Jack assigned Mush the job of showing Panther how to sell papes.

Nobody noticed that Panther pulled his cap down lower over his face and refused to look at Mush as they headed out the door. Nobody was singing; it was the dead of winter, and the only sound you could hear was that of coughing.

Jack was wearing a worried crease between his brows; although he himself was not sick, he was frustrated with himself. His newsies seemed to be dropping like flies, sickening and dying. Different types of diseases were taking them; but fevers seemed most frequent - always accompanied with a horrid, hacking cough.

Les and Tumbler didn't have to fake their cute little coughs any longer; and they weren't cute, either. Les, at least, had a family to take care of him, but Tumbler was definitely not going to make it through this winter.

Of course, nobody dared to mention anything of the sort to Skittery, who fiercely held onto the hope - the seeming conviction - that Tumbler would pull through. Mush was the only one who knew of the lurking doubts in in Skittery's mind - he alone had seen the tears shed in the dead of night. And for once, Skittery knew he could trust Mush to keep his secret and not blab all over the place. Skittery knew how Mush had been hurting since Cat had left. They made a silent agreement not to speak of it again, and, boy-like, kept their doubts and agonies to themselves.

And whilst Mush agonized for yet another day, Panther agonized beside him. She felt terrible for what she was doing, now that she realised exactly how wrong she'd been, but she couldn't help it. What was done was done, she told herself sternly. Cat no longer existed. Panther was here to stay now, and nobody may ever find out his true identity.

It was fairly easy today to keep any of them from becoming curious. They were all so preoccupied, and it wasn't like anybody cared anyway (or so she told herself), that none of them gave her a second glance.

Well, until she started selling. She sort of forgot that she was a new newsie and began to scream out headlines in her usual exaggerated manner. Mush stared at her until she realised that she had better be more careful and not give herself away. After that, she sold more quietly - thus resulting in less papers sold than she normally could have.

With a frustrated sigh, she took off her cap and ran her fingers through her short, choppy hair. She was dying to talk to Mush, but what if he recognized her voice? Where was the talkative Mush of old, anyway? Why wasn't he bothering her, pestering her to the point of tempting her to shove his face into a pie? She didn't know this new, silent Mush.

Panther and Mush began the silent walk back to the Lodging House, trying to use their remaining papers to keep warm. Dirty snow lay thick on the ground, and all around them they saw the pained, icy coldness of children on the streets. Mush paused on the road to tear some of his newspaper and stuff it in his boot. Panther remembered - but no. It wasn't Panther remembering how Mush had gotten that hole in his boot. It was Cat. Cat was remembering the time when Mush's boot had gotten torn on a nail when he'd been saving her from the fire...

Gah! Panther couldn't even think straight. Why on earth was she even entertaining thoughts of speaking to him? What on earth would be the purpose or gain in that? She made her mind up quite sturdily that she would not utter a sound.

And yet, just after she made her firm resolution to say nothing, the words tumbled out of her mouth: "Tough day, huh?"