ALL HE KNEW
AUTHOR OF "HELEN'S BABIES," "BRUETON'S BAYOU," ETC.
MEADVILLE PENN'A FLOOD AND VINCENT Chautauqua=Century Press
MATTHEWS, NORTHRUP & CO., ART-PRINTING WORKS, BUFFALO AND NEW YORK.
ALL HE KNEW.
As the Capital Express train dashed into the village of Bruceton one bright afternoon, a brakeman passing through a car was touched on the shoulder by a man, who said,—
"The man that left this in the seat in front got out three stations back. You don't s'pose he'll want it again an' send back for it, do you?"
The brakeman looked at an object which the speaker held up as he spoke: it was a small fig-box, such as train-boys sometimes succeed in imposing upon the traveling public, and it still contained several figs.
"Want it again?" said the brakeman, with a scornful curl of the lip that gave his black moustache a Mephistophelian twist, "of course not. He left it there so's to get rid of it, like most of 'em do. I wouldn't buy one of them boxes of—"
The brakeman suddenly ceased talking, and put both hands on the passenger's shoulders with the movement peculiar to train-men whose duty it is to rouse sleeping passengers, the effect always being to make the victim throw his head slightly backward. Then the brakeman looked a moment into the face before him,—it was small, weak-eyed, and characterless,—and continued,—
"Why, Sam Kimper, I didn't know you from Adam! That broad-brimmed low hat makes you look like somebody else. When did you get out?"
"This mornin'," said the passenger, dropping his eyes.
"Did, eh? Well, you needn't feel so bad about it, old man. Anybody's likely to get in trouble once in a while, you know. You got catched; some other folks 'most always don't; that's about the difference. Let's see; how long was you—how long have you been away?"
"I was sent for two years an' a half," said the passenger, raising his head again and looking almost manly, "but, Mr. Briggs, I got all the shortenin' of time that's allowed for good conduct,—ev'ry day of it. If you don't believe it, I'll prove it to you. My term begun on the 11th of August, eighteen hundred an'—"
"Never mind the figures, old man: I'll take your word for it."
"But I wanted you to be sure; I thought mebbe you'd tell other folks about it, seein' you're a good-hearted feller, an' know ev'rybody, an' I never done you no harm."
"I'll tell 'em anyway," said the brakeman, cheerily; "I ain't no saint, but I'm always ready to help a fellow up when he's down. I've got to get to the rear now, to uncouple a car we have to leave here. S'long, Sam."
"Say, Mr. Briggs," said the passenger, hurrying along behind the brakeman, "you don't s'pose there's any chance for me to get a job in the railroad-company's yard, do you?"
The brakeman turned with a sharp look which speedily softened as he saw an earnest appeal in the little man's face.
"Well, Sam," he replied, his words dragging slowly along, "the yard's always full, an' men a-waitin'. You'd have to give bonds for good behavior, an' honesty, an'—"
"Never mind the rest, Mr. Briggs," said the ex-convict, shrinking an inch or two in stature. "I didn't know about that, indeed I didn't, or I—"
"Well, you needn't be a-Mr.-Briggs-in' me, anyhow," said the brakeman. "I was only Jim before—you left town, Sam, an' I want you to go on callin' me Jim, just the same. Do you understand that, confound you?"
"Yes, Mr.—Jim, I do; an' may God bless you for sayin' it!"
"Here we are; good luck by the car-load to you, Sam." Then the brakeman looked back into the car and roared,—
The discharged prisoner consumed a great deal of time and distributed many furtive glances as he alighted, though he got off the train on the side opposite the little station. The train remained so long that when finally it started there was no one on the station platform but the agent, whose face was not familiar to the last passenger.
A gust of wind brought to the platform a scrap of a circus-poster which had been loosened by recent rain from a fence opposite the station. The agent kicked the paper from the platform; Sam picked it up and looked at it; it bore a picture of a gorgeously-colored monkey and the head and shoulders of an elephant.
"Ain't you goin' to put it back?" he asked.
"Not much," said the agent. "I don't rent that fence to the circus, or menagerie, or whatever it is."
"Can I have it?"
"Findings are keepings," said the agent, "especially when they ain't worth looking for; that's railroad rule, and I guess circus-companies haven't got a better one."
The finder sat down on the platform, took a knife from his pocket, and carefully cut the monkey and the elephant's head from the paper. Then he walked to the end of the platform and looked cautiously in the direction of the town. A broad road, crossed by a narrow street, led from the station; into the street the little man hurried, believing himself secure from observation, but just then the door of a coal-yard office opened, and Judge Prency, who had been county judge, and Deacon Quickset emerged. Both saw the new arrival, who tried to pass them without being recognized. But the deacon was too quick for him; planting himself in the middle of the sidewalk, which was as narrow as the deacon was broad, he stopped the wayfarer and said,—
"Samuel, I hope you're not going back to your old ways again,—fighting, drinking, loafing, and stealing?"
"No, deacon, I ain't. I'm a changed man."
"That's what they all say, Samuel," the deacon replied, not unkindly, "but saying isn't doing. Human nature's pretty weak when it don't lean on a stronger one."
"That's how I'm leanin', deacon."
"I'm glad to hear it, Samuel," said the deacon, offering his hand, though in a rather conservative manner.
"Sam," said the judge, "I sentenced you, but I don't want you to think hard of me and take it out of my orchard and chicken-coop. It wasn't your first offence, you know."
"Nor the tenth, judge. You did just right. I hope 'twas a warnin' to others."
"I think it was," said the judge, thrusting both hands into his pockets and studying the wall of the station as if it were the record of his own court. "I think it was; and here's my hand, Sam, and my best wishes for a square start in life."
As the judge withdrew his hand he left behind a little wad of paper which Sam recognized by sense of touch as the customary American substitute for the coin of the realm. The poor fellow did not know what to say: so he said nothing.
"Hurry along to your family, Sam. I hope you'll find them all well. I've told my wife to see to it that they didn't suffer while you were away, and I guess she's done it: she's that kind of woman."
Sam hurried away. The deacon followed him with his eyes, and finally said,—
"I wonder how much truth there was in him—about leaning on a higher power?"
"Oh, about as much as in the rest of us, I suppose."
"What do you mean?" The deacon snapped out this question; his words sounded like a saw-file at work.
"Merely what I say," the judge replied. "We all trust to our religion while things go to suit us, but as soon as there's something unusual to be done—in the way of business—we fall back on our old friend the Devil, just as Sam Kimper used to do."
"Speak for yourself, judge, and for Sam, if you want to," said the deacon with fine dignity, "but don't include me among 'the rest of us.' Good-morning, judge."
"Good-morning, deacon. No offence meant."
"Perhaps not; but some men give it without meaning to. Good-morning."
"I guess the coat fits him," murmured the judge to himself, as he sauntered homeward.
Sam Kimper hurried through a new street, sparsely settled, crossed a large vacant lot, tramped over the grounds of an unused foundry, and finally went through a vacancy in a fence on which there were only enough boards to show what the original plan had been. A heap of ashes, a dilapidated chicken-coop, and a forest of tall dingy weeds were the principal contents of the garden, which had for background a small unpainted house in which were several windows which had been repaired with old hats and masses of newspaper. As he neared the house he saw in a cove in the weeds a barrel lying on its side, and seated in the mouth of the barrel was a child with a thin, sallow, dirty, precocious face and with a cat in her arms. The child stared at the intruder, who stopped and pushed his hat to the back of his head.
"Pop!" exclaimed the child, suddenly, without moving.
"Mary!" exclaimed the man, dropping upon his knees and kissing the dirty face again and again. "What are you doin' here?"
"Playin' house," said the child, as impassively as if to have had her father absent two years was so common an experience that his return did not call for any manifestation of surprise or affection.
"Stand up a minute, dear, and let me look at you. Let's see,—you're twelve years old now, ain't you? You don't seem to have growed a bit. How's the rest?"
"Mam's crosser an' crosser," said the child; "Joe's run away, 'cause the constable was after him for stealin' meat from—"
"My boy a thief! Oh, Lord!"
"Well, we didn't have nothin' to eat; he had to do it."
The father dropped his head and shuddered. The child continued: "Billy's goin' to school now; Jane's servant-gal at the hotel; Tom plays hookey all the time, an' the baby squalls so much that nobody likes her but Billy."
The man looked sad, then thoughtful; finally he put his arm around his child, and said, as he kissed and caressed her,—
"You're to have a better dad after this, darlin'; then maybe the mother'll feel pleasanter, an' the baby'll be happier, an' Tom'll be a good boy, an' we'll get Joe back somehow."
"How's you goin' to be better?" asked the child.
"Goin' to give us money to buy candy an' go to all the circuses?"
"Maybe," said the father. "I must go see the mother now."
The child followed her father to the house; there was not much excitement in the life of the Kimper family, except when there was a quarrel, and Mary seemed to anticipate some now, for she drawled, as she walked along,—
"Mam's got it in for you; I heerd her say so many a time sence you war took away."
"The poor thing's had reason enough to say it, the Lord knows," said the man. "An'," he continued, after a moment, "I guess I've learned to take whatever I'm deservin' of."
As Sam entered his house, a shabbily dressed, unkempt, forlorn looking woman sat at a bare pine table, handling some dirty cards. When she looked up, startled by the heavy tread upon the floor, she exclaimed,—
"I declare! I didn't expect you till—"
"Wife!" shouted Sam, snatching the woman into his arms and covering her face with kisses. "Wife," he murmured, bursting into tears and pressing the unsightly head to his breast,—"wife, wife, wife, I'm goin' to make you proud of bein' my wife, now that I'm a man once more."
The woman did not return any of the caresses that had been showered upon her; neither did she repel them. Finally she said,—
"You do appear to think somethin' of me, Sam."
"Think somethin' of you? I always did, Nan, though I didn't show it like I ought. I've had lots of time to think since then, though, an' I've had somethin' else, too, that I want to tell you about. Things is goin' to be different, the Lord willin', Nan, dear—wife."
Mrs. Kimper was human; she was a woman, and she finally rose to the occasion to the extent of kissing her husband, though immediately afterward she said, apparently by way of apology,—
"I don't know how I come to do that."
"Neither do I, Nan; I don't know how you can do anythin' but hate me. But you ain't goin' to have no new reason for doin' it. I'm goin' to be different ev'ry way from what I was."
"I hope so," said Mrs. Kimper, releasing herself from her husband's arms and taking up the cards again. "I was just tellin' my fortune by the keerds, havin' nothin' else to do, an' they showed a new man an' some money,—though not much."
"They showed right both times, though keerds ain't been friends to this family, confound 'em, when I've fooled with 'em at the saloon. Where's the baby, though, that I ain't ever seen?"
"There," said the woman, pointing to a corner of the room. Sam looked, and saw on the floor a bundle of dingy clothes from one end of which protruded a head of which the face, eyes, and hair were of the same tint as the clothing. The little object was regarding the new arrival in a listless way, and she howled and averted her head as her father stooped to pick her up.
"She's afraid you're goin' to hit her, like most ev'ry one does when they go nigh her," said the mother. "If I'd knowed you was comin' to-day, I'd have washed her, I guess."
"I'll do it myself now," said the father, "I've got the time."
"Why, you ain't ever done such a thing in your life, Sam!" said Mrs. Kimper, with a feeble giggle.
"More's the shame to me; but it's never too late to mend. When'll Billy get home, an' Tom?"
"Goodness knows; Billy gets kep' in so much, an' Tom plays hookey so often, that I don't ever expect either of 'em much 'fore supper-time. They talk of sendin' Tom to the Reform School if he don't stop."
"I'll have to stop him, then. I'll try it, anyway."
"It needs somebody that can wollup him harder'n I can; he's gettin' too big for my stren'th. Well, if here they don't both come! I don't know when I've seen them two boys together before, 'less they was fightin'. I wonder what's got into 'em to-day."
The two boys came through the back yard, eying the house curiously, Billy with wide open eyes, and Tom with a hang-dog leer from under the brim of his hat. Their father met them at the door and put his arms around both.
"Don't do that," said Tom, twitching away, "that sort o' thing's for women, an' gals an' babies."
"But I'm your dad, boy."
"Needn't make a baby of me, if you be," growled the cub.
"I'd give a good deal, old as I am, if I had a dad to make a baby of me that way, if 'twas only for a minute."
"Oh, don't be an old fool," said Tom.
"I heerd in the village you'd been let out," said Billy, "an' so I found Tom an' told him, an' he said I lied, an' so we come home to see. Did you bring us anythin'?"
"Yes," said the father, his face brightening, as he thrust his hand into his pocket and took out the fig box. "Here," as he gave a fig to each of the children and one to his wife, "how do you like that?"
"Good enough," growled Tom, "only I don't care for 'em unless I have a whole box. I lift one out of a train-boy's basket at the station once in a while."
"Don't ever do it again," said the father. "If you want 'em any time so bad you can't do without 'em, let me know, an' I'll find some way to get 'em for you."
"An' get sent up again for more'n two year?" sneered the boy.
"I don't mean to get 'em that way" said the father. "But I've got somethin' else for you." Here he took the circus pictures from his breast, where they had been much flattened during the several demonstrations of family affection in which they had been involved. "Here's a picture for each of you."
Billy seemed to approve of the monkey, but Tom scowled and said,—
"What do I care for an elephant's head, when I seen the whole animal at the show, an' everythin' else besides?"
"S'pose I might as well get supper, though there ain't much to get," said the wife. "There's nothin' in the house but corn-meal, so I'll bile some mush. An'," she continued, with a peculiar look at her husband, "there ain't anythin' else for breakfast, though Deacon Quickset's got lots of hens layin' eggs ev'ry day. I've told the boys about it again an' again, but they're worth less than nothin' at helpin' things along. The deacon don't keep no dog. Now you've got home, I hope we'll have somethin'."
"Not if we have to get it that way," said Sam, gently. "No more stealin'; I'll die first."
"I guess we'll all die, then," moaned Mrs. Kimper. "I didn't s'pose bein' sent up was goin' to skeer all the spirit out of you."
"It didn't, Nan, but it's been the puttin' of a new kind of spirit into me. I've been converted, Nan."
"What?" gasped Mrs. Kimper.
"Thunder!" exclaimed Tom, after a hard laugh. "You goin' to be a shoutin' Methodist? Won't that be bully to tell the fellers in the village?"
"I'm not goin' to shout, or be anythin' I know of, except an honest man: you can tell that to all the fellers you like."
"An' be told I'm a blamed liar? Not much."
Mrs. Kimper seemed to be in a mournful revery, and when finally she spoke it was in the voice of a woman talking to herself, as she said,—
"After all I've been layin' up in my mind about places where there was potatoes an' chickens an' pigs an' even turkeys that could be got an' nobody'd be any the wiser! How will we ever get along through the winter?"
"The Lord will provide," croaked Tom, who had often sat under the church window during a revival meeting.
"If He don't, we'll do without," said Sam, "but I guess we won't suffer while I can work."
"Dad converted!" muttered Tom. "Dad converted! d'ye hear that?" said he, hitting his brother to attract attention. "I must go down to the hotel an' tell Jane; she'll steal me a glass of beer for it. Converted! I'll be ashamed to look the boys in the face."
The Kimper family thinned out, numerically, as soon as the frugal evening meal was despatched. Tom and Billy disappeared separately without remark; Mary put on a small felt hat which added a rakish air to her precocious face, and said she was going to the hotel to see if sister Jane had any news. Half an hour later, the cook, all the chamber-maids, waiters, bar-keepers, and stable-boys at the hostelry were laughing and jeering, in which they were led by Jane, as Mary told of her father's announcement that he had been converted and would have no more stealing done in the interest of the family larder. The fun became so fast and furious that it was obliged to end in sheer exhaustion; so when Tom came in an hour later, he was unable to revive it sufficiently to secure the stolen glass of beer which he had coveted.
Sam Kimper did not seem to notice the disappearance of the more active portion of the family. Taking the baby in his arms, he sat with closed eyes while his wife cleared the table. Finally he said,—
"Nan, ain't you got nothin' else to do?"
"Nothin', that I know of," said the wife.
"Come an' set down alongside o' me, then, an' let me tell you about somethin' that come about while I was in the penitentiary. Nan, a man that used to come there Sundays found me a-cryin' in my cell one Sunday; I couldn't help it, I felt so forlorn an' kind o' gone like. I'd felt that way lots o' times before, when I was out an' around, but then I could get over it by takin' a drink. There's always ways of gettin' a drink,—sweepin' out a saloon, or cuttin' wood agin' winter, when the saloon'll need it. But there wasn't no chance to get a drink in jail, an' I was feelin' as if the under-pinnin' of me was gone.
"Well, the man said he knowed a friend that would stand by me an' cheer me up. His name was Jesus. I told him I'd heerd of Him before, 'cause I'd been to revival meetin's an' been preached to lots by one man an' another. He said that wasn't exactly the way he wanted me to think about Him,—said Jesus used to be alive and go around bein' sorry for folks that was in trouble, an' He once comforted a thief that was bein' killed in a most uncomfortable way, though Jesus was havin' a hard time of it Himself about that time.
"That hit me where I lived, for I—well, you know what I was sent up for. He said Jesus was God, but he came here to show men how to live, an' he wanted me to think about Him only as a man, while I was in trouble. He said the worse off a man was, the more sorry Jesus was for him: so I said,—
"'I wish He was here now, then.'
"'He is here, my friend,' said the man. 'He's here, though you can't see Him. He ain't got nothin' to make out of you: neither have I: so you needn't be afraid to take my word for it. I'll tell you some of the things he said.' Then he read me a lot of things that did make me feel lots better. Why, Nan, that man Jesus was so sorry for men in jail that He went back on some high-toned folks that didn't visit 'em: just think of that!
"After a while the man said, 'You seem to be feelin' better.'
"'So I am,' said I.
"'Then believe in him,' says he, 'an' you'll feel better always.'
"'I've been told that before,' says I, 'but I don't know how.'
"The man looked kind o' puzzled like, an' at last says he,—
"'What's yer politics?'
"'I'm a Jackson Democrat,' says I.
"'All right,' says he, 'but Andrew Jackson's dead, ain't he?'
"'So I've heerd,' said I.
"'But you still believe in him?' says he.
"'Of course,' said I.
"'Well,' says he, 'just believe in Jesus like you do in Andrew Jackson, and you'll be all right in the course of time. Believe that what He said was true, an' get your mind full of what He said, an' keep it full, remindin' yourself over an' over again for fear you forget it or other things'll put it out of your mind, an' you'll be happier while you're in jail, an' you won't get back here again, nor in any other jail, after you've been let out.'
"Well, that was encouragin', for I didn't want to get in no jails no more. When the man went away he left me a little book that didn't have nothin' in it but things Jesus Himself said. I read it lots; some of it I didn't understand, an' I can't get it through my head yet, but what I did get done me so much good that I found myself kind o' changin' like, an' I've been changin' ever since. Nan, I want you to read it too, an' see if it don't do you good. We ain't been what we ought to be; it's all my fault. The children ain't had no show; that's all my fault too, but it'll take all that two of us can do to catch up with 'em. I want you to be always 'side o' me, Nan."
"We can't let 'em starve," said the wife; "an' if what you're believin' is goin' to keep you from pickin' up a livin' for 'em when you get a chance, what are we goin' to do?"
"I'm goin' to work," said Sam.
"Sho! You never done three days' work hand-runnin' in your life." Then Mrs. Kimper gave a hard laugh.
"I've done it over two years now, an' I guess I can keep on, if I get the chance. I can stick to it if you'll back me up, Nan."
"There ain't much to me nowaday," said Mrs. Kimper, after a moment or two of blank staring as she held her chin in her hands and rested her elbows on her knees. "Once I had an idee I was about as lively as they make 'em, but things has knocked it out of me,—a good many kind of things."
"I know it, poor gal," said Sam; "I know it: I feel a good deal the same way myself sometimes; but it helps me along an' stren'thens me up, like, to know that Him that the visitor in jail told me about didn't have no home a good deal of the time, an' not overmuch to eat, an' yet was cheerful like, an' always on His nerve. It braces a fellow up to think somebody's who's been as bad off as himself has pulled through, an' not stole nothin', nor fit with nobody, nor got drunk, but always was lookin' out for other folks. Say, Nan, 'pears to me it's gettin' dark all of a sudden—oh!"
The exclamation was called out by the cause of the sudden darkness, which was no other than Deacon Quickset, who had reached the door-way without being heard. The deacon's proportions were generous; those of the door were not.
"Samuel," said the deacon, "you said this afternoon that you were a changed man, and that you were leaning on a strength greater than your own. I want to see you make a new start and a fair one; and, as there's a prayer- and experience-meeting around at the church to-night, I thought I'd come around and tell you that 'twould be a sensible thing to go there and tell what the Lord's done for you. It will put you on record, and make you some friends; and you need them, you know."
Sam was pallid by nature, more so through long confinement, but he looked yet more pale as he stammered,—
"Me—speak—in meetin'? Before folks that—that's always b'longed to the church?"
"You must acknowledge Him, Samuel, if you expect Him to bless you."
"I hain't no objections to acknowledgin' Him, deacon, only—I'm not the man to talk out much before them that I know is my betters. I ain't got the gift o' gab. I couldn't never say much to the fellers in the saloon along around about election-times, though I b'lieved in the party with all my might."
"It doesn't take any gift to tell the plain truth," said the deacon. "Come along. Mrs. Kimper, you come too, so Samuel will have no excuse to stay home."
"Me?" gasped Mrs. Kimper. "Me?—in meetin'? Goodness, deacon, it gives me the conniptions to think of it! Besides,"—here she dragged her scanty clothing about her more closely,—"I ain't fit to be seen among decent folks."
"Clothes don't count for anything in the house of the Lord," said the deacon, stoutly, though he knew he was lying. "Meeting begins at half-past seven, and the sun's down now."
"Nan," whispered Sam, "come along. You can slip in a back seat an' nobody'll see nothin' but your face. Stand by me, Nan: I'm your husband. Stand by me, so I can stand by my only friend."
"Deacon ain't no friend o' yourn," whispered the trembling woman in reply.
"I'm not talkin' about the deacon, Nan. Don't, go back on me. You're my wife, Nan; you don't know what that means to me now,—you reelly don't."
Mrs. Kimper stared, then she almost smiled.
"I mean it, Nan," whispered the man.
Mrs. Kimper rummaged for a moment in the drawers of a dilapidated bureau, and finally folded a red handkerchief and tied it over her head.
"Good!" said the deacon, who had been watching the couple closely. "We'll go around by the back way, so nobody'll see either of you, if you don't want them to. I'll take Samuel along with me, and you can drop in wherever you think best, Mrs. Kimper. I'm not going back on any man who is going to turn over a new leaf. Come along."
The church at which Deacon Quickset worshipped was not large, nor was it ever well filled when prayer and experience were the only attractions. When Sam Kimper entered, however, the place seemed so immense and the throng so great that nothing but the bulk of the deacon, which had been prudently placed in the rear of the new convert, kept him from turning about and escaping into the darkness. Even when placed in a seat the outer end of which was occupied by the deacon, the frightened man cast his eyes appealingly towards his keeper,—for such was the relation he felt the deacon bore towards him. Finally he slipped slowly along the seat and whispered,—
"Deacon, I can't speak; I can't think of a word to say. It's a shame to have a fellow like me talkin' to good church-members about what they know more about than him."
"You'll have to acknowledge Him before men, Samuel, if you expect Him to acknowledge you."
"Well, I hain't any objections to ownin' up to ev'rybody I know. Didn't I tell you an' the judge? Didn't I tell Nan and the children? I ain't seen anybody else yet, or I'd told them too. But I can't say nothin' to a crowd like this; I don't know how."
"He'll give you words, Samuel, if you've got the right heart in you."
"Is that a dead-sure thing?"
Further argument and protest were ended by the formal opening of the meeting. It appeared to the deacon that the first hymn was sung with more sound and spirit than usual, and on looking around he saw the cause: it was literally a "packed house,"—the first one the church had ever known on a prayer-meeting night. The deacon immediately let his own voice out a little more, for he felt personally complimented by the large attendance. He had told a number of persons of Sam's conversion and of his own intention to have the man "put himself on record" before a number of witnesses; evidently this word had gone about and caused the great gathering.
Prayers, hymns, and short speeches and confessions succeeded one another for a little while, and the deacon, glancing aside frequently, saw his charge look more and more uncomfortable, helpless, and insignificant as the exercises continued. This would not do; should the fellow become thoroughly frightened, he might not be able to say anything; this would be disappointing to the assemblage, and somewhat humiliating to him who had announced the special attraction of the evening. Sam's opportunity must come at once; he, the deacon, did not doubt that his own long experience in introducing people to the public in his capacity of chairman of the local lecture committee would enable him to present Sam in a manner which would strengthen the weak knees and lift up the feeble heart.
"Brethren," said the deacon, arising during the closing cadence of a hymn, "the consolations of our blessed religion often reach a man in most unexpected ways, and we have among us to-night a living example of it. One of our fellow-citizens who left us, against his will, I may say, about two years ago, found the pearl of great price in the cell of a prison. He has come here to-night to testify to the hope that is within him. He feels that he is weak and halting of speech, but, blessed be the spirit of our Master, that makes all of us brothers, it does not take eloquence or superfluity of words to let out anything that the heart is full of. I ask the attention and sympathy of all present for our brother Samuel Kimper."
As the deacon sat down he put his powerful arm under the shoulder of his companion, and Sam Kimper found himself upon his feet. The frightened man looked down at the cushion of the seat in front of him; then he tried to look around, but there was so much hard curiosity in each face upon which his eyes fell that he speedily looked down again and leaned heavily upon the back of the bench upon which his hands rested. Finally he cleared his throat and said,—
"Ladies an' gentlemen, I've been in State prison nearly two years. I deserved it. Lots of folks talked kind to me before I went; some of 'em's here to-night, an' I thank 'em for what they done. A good many of 'em talked religion to me, but the more they talked the less I understood 'em. I guess 'twas my fault; I never had much head-piece, while some of them had. But when I was in the prison a man come along that talked to me about Jesus like I never was talked to before. Somehow I could understand what he was drivin' at. He made me feel that I had a friend that I could foller, even if I didn't keep up with him all the time, owin' to things in the road that I hadn't knowed about. He told me if I'd b'lieve in Jesus as I b'lieved in Andrew Jackson, I'd pull through in the course of time. I've been tryin' to do it, an' while I was in the jail I got lots of new idees of how I ort to behave myself, all from a little book that man left me, that didn't have nothin' in it but Jesus' own words. I'm a-goin' to keep on at it, an' if I can't live that way I'm goin' to die a-tryin'. I b'lieve that's all I've got to say, ladies and gentlemen."
There was an awkward silence for a moment after Sam sat down. The minister in charge of the meeting said afterwards that the remarks were not exactly what he had expected, and he did not know, at such short notice, how to answer them. Suddenly a hymn was started by a voice which every one knew, though they seldom heard it in prayer-meeting. It belonged to Judge Prency's wife, who for years had been the mainstay of every musical entertainment which had been dependent upon local talent. The hymn began,—
Am I a soldier of the cross,
and the assemblage sang it with great force and spirit. The meeting was closed soon afterwards; and as Sam, in spite of an occasional kind greeting, was endeavoring to escape from the hard stare of curious eyes, Mrs. Judge Prency, who was the handsomest and most distinguished woman in the village, stopped him, grasped his hand, and said,—
"Mr. Kimper, you gave the most sensible speech I ever heard in an experience meeting. I'm going to believe in you thoroughly."
Deacon Quickset, who was closely following his new charge, listened with fixed countenance to the lady's remark. He followed Sam from the church, snatched him away from the wife who had joined him, and said,—
"Samuel, that experience of yours rather disappointed me. It wasn't all there. There was something left out,—a good deal left out."
"I guess not, deacon. I said all I knowed."
"Then you ought to know a good deal more. You've only got at the beginning of things. No church'll take you into membership if you don't believe more than that."
"Maybe I'll know it in the course of time, deacon, if I keep on a-learnin'."
"Maybe you will,—if you do keep on. But you didn't say anything about your hope of salvation, nor the atonement, nor your being nothing through your own strength."
"I couldn't say it if I didn't know about it," Sam replied. "All my troubles an' wrong doin's have come of not livin' right: so right livin' is all I've had time to think about an' study up."
"You need to think about dying as well as living," said the deacon.
"Him that took care of another thief that was dyin' 'll take care of me if I get in that fix, I guess, if I hang on to Him tight."
"Not unless you hang on in the right way," said the deacon. "You must believe what all Christians believe, if you want to be saved. You don't feel that you're prepared to die, do you?"
"I felt it a good many times, deacon, when I was in that jail; an' sometimes I half wished I could die right away."
"Pshaw!" muttered the deacon. "You don't understand. You're groping in darkness. You don't understand."
"That's so, deacon, if you mean I don't understand what you're drivin' at."
"Don't you feel Christ in you the hope of glory?"
"I don't know what you mean, deacon?"
"Don't you feel that a sacrifice has been made to atone for your sins?"
"I can't follow you, deacon."
"I thought not. You haven't got things right at all. You haven't been converted: that's what's the matter with you."
"Do you mean, Deacon," said Sam, after a moment, "that what I'm believin' about Jesus is all wrong an' there ain't nothin' in it?"
"Why, no; I can't say that," the deacon replied, "but—but you've begun wrong end first. What a sinner needs most of all is to know about his hereafter."
"It's what's goin' on now, from day to day, that weighs hardest on me, deacon. There's nothin' hard about dyin'; leastways, you'd think so if you was built like me, an' felt like I have to feel sometimes."
"You're all wrong," said the deacon. "If you can't understand these things for yourself, you ought to take the word of wiser men for it."
"S'posin' I was to do that about everythin': then when Judge Prency, who's a square man an' a good deal smarter than I be, talks politics to me, I ought to be a Republican instead of a Jackson Democrat."
"No," said the deacon, sharply, for he was a Jackson Democrat himself. "I'll have to talk more to you about this, Samuel. Good night."
"Good night, deacon."
"He knows more'n you do about religion," said Mrs. Kimper, who had followed closely behind, and who rejoined her husband as soon as the deacon departed.
"He ought to, seein' his head-piece an' chances; an' yet I've heerd some pooty hard things said about him."
When the couple reached home, Sam looked at the long heap of straw and rags on which his children should have been sleeping, but which was without occupant except the baby. Then, by the light of the coals still remaining in the fire-place, he looked through some leaves of the little book which the prison visitor had given him. When he arose from the floor, he said to himself,—
"I'll stick to Him yet, deacon or no deacon,—stick to Him as if He was Andrew Jackson."
Sam Kimper spent several days in looking about his native town for work. He found many sympathetic assurances, some promises, and no work at all. Everybody explained to everybody else that they were sorry for the poor wretch, but they couldn't afford to have a jail-bird around.
Meanwhile, Sam's stock of money, accumulated by overwork in the State prison, and augmented by Judge Prency's present, was running low. He kept his family expenses as low as possible, buying only the plainest of food-material and hesitating long to break a bill, though it were only of the denomination of one dollar. Nevertheless the little wad of paper money in his pocket grew noticeably thinner to his touch.
His efforts to save the little he had in his possession were not assisted by his family. His wife, thanks and perhaps blame to the wifely sense of dependence upon her husband, had fallen back upon him entirely after what he had said about his intention as to the future of the family, and she not only accepted his assurances as bearing upon the material requirements of several mouths from day to day, but she also built some air-castles which he was under the unpleasant necessity of knocking down. The poor woman was not to blame. She never had seen a ten-dollar bill since the day of her marriage, when, in a spasm of drunken enthusiasm, her husband gave a ten-dollar Treasury note to the clergyman who officiated on that joyous occasion.
One evening Sam took his small change from his pocket to give his son Tom money enough to buy a half-bushel of corn-meal in the village. As he held a few pieces of silver in one hand, touching them rapidly with the forefinger of the other, his son Tom exclaimed,—
"You're just overloaded with money, old man! Say, gi' me a quarter to go to the ball game with? I'm in trainin', kind o' like, an' I ain't afeard to say that mebbe I'll turn out a first-class pitcher one of these days."
"Tom," said his father, trying to straighten his feeble frame, as his eyes brightened a little, "I wish I could: I'd like you to go into anything that makes muscle. But I can't afford it. You know I'm not workin' yet, an' until I do work the only hope of this family is in the little bit of money I've got in my pocket."
"Well," said Tom, thrusting out his lower lip, slouching across the room, and returning again, "I don't think a quarter's enough to trouble anybody's mind about what'll happen to his family afterwards. I've heard a good deal from the mother about you bein' converted, and changin' into a different sort of a man, but I don't think much of any kind of converted dad that don't care enough for his boy to give him a quarter to go to a ball game."
"Food before fun, Tom," said the father, resolutely closing his hand upon such remaining silver as he had, and then thrusting the fistful into his pocket,—"food before fun. Ball isn't business to this family just now, an' money means business ev'ry time. When I was away an' couldn't help it, things mebbe didn't go as they ort to have gone, but now that I'm back again, there shan't be any trouble if I know how to stand in the way of it."
This expression of principle and opinion did not seem to impress favorably the eldest male member of the second generation. Master Tom thrust out his lower lip again, glared at his father, took his hat, and abruptly departed. There was no dinner at the Kimper table that day, except for such members of the family as could endure slices of cold boiled pork with very little lean to it. Late in the afternoon, however, Tom returned, with an air of bravado, indulged in a number of reminiscences of the ball game, and at last asked why supper was not ready.
"Tom," asked the father, "why didn't you come back to-day with what I gave you money to buy?"
"Well," said the young man, dipping his spoon deeply into a mixture of hasty pudding, milk, and molasses, "I met some of the boys on the street, an' they told me about the game, an' it seemed to me that I wouldn't 'pear half a man to 'em if I didn't go 'long, so I made up my mind that you an' the mother would get along some way, an' I went anyhow. From what's in front of me, I guess you got along, didn't you?"
"Tom," said the father, leaving his seat at the table and going around to his son's chair, on the top bar of which he leaned,—"Tom, of course we got along; there'll be somethin' to eat here ev'ry day just as long as I have any money or can get any work. But, Tom, you're pretty well grown up now; you're almost a man; I s'pose the fellers in town think you are a man, don't they? An' you think you're one yourself too, don't you?"
The young man's face brightened, and he engulfed several spoonfuls of the evening meal before he replied,—
"Well, I guess I am somebody now'days. The time you was in jail, I thought the family had a mighty slim chance o' countin'; but I tumbled into base-ball, an' I was pretty strong in my arms an' pretty spry on my feet, an' little by little I kind o' came to give the family a standin'."
"I s'pose that's all right," said the father; "but I want you to understan' one thing, an' understan' it so plain that you can't ever make any mistake about it afterwards. When I put any money into your hands to be used for anythin', it don't matter what, you must spend it for that, or you must get an awful thrashin' when you come back home again. Do you understan' me?"
The feeding motions of the eldest male of the Kimper collection of children stopped for an instant, and Master Tom leered at his father as he said,—
"Who's goin' to give the thrashin'?"
"I am, Tom,—your father is,—an' don't make any mistake about it. He'll do it good an' brown, too, if he's to die used up right away afterwards. This family is goin' to be decent from this time on; there ain't to be no more thieves in it, an' any member of it that tries to make it diff'rent is goin' to feel so bad that he'll wish he'd never been born. Do you understan'? Don't go to thinkin' I'm ugly: I'm only talkin' sense."
The cub of the family looked upward at his father from the corners of his eyes, and then he clinched his fists and turned slightly in the chair. Before he could do more, his parent had him by both shoulders, had shaken him out of the chair, thrown him upon the floor, and was resting upon him with both knees.
"Tom," said Sam to his astonished son, "you was the first boy I ever had, an' I'd give away my right hand rather than have any real harm come to you, but you've got to mind me now, an' you've got to do it until you're of age, an' if you don't promise to do it now, right straight along, from this time forth, I'll give you the thrashin' now. That ain't all, either, you've got to be man enough to stand by your dad an' say somethin to the fellers, an' explain that you're goin' to stop bein' a town loafer, an' are goin' into decent ways."
Tom was so astonished by this demonstration of spirit that he made all the desired promises at once, and was released.
But Tom was not the only juvenile member of the family who was in need of reformation. Mary, little Mary, not far beyond twelve years of age, demanded money to replenish her own wardrobe.
"Mary," said her father, "we're poor; we can't afford fancy fixin's. This ain't very cold weather. You've good enough clothes on you to keep you warm: what d'you want o' somethin' else?"
"What do I want o' somethin' else?" echoed the child, going to the door and tossing an imitation doll into the ash-heap, "why, I want better clothes, so't the fellers about town'll pay some 'tention to me, like they do to sister Jane."
The slight, bent form of the father straightened up, as he asked, quickly,—
"Does the fellers around town pay attention to your sister Jane?"
"Why, of course they do," said little Mary, entirely unable to translate the gaze which her father bent upon her. "Jane never gets through her work at the hotel before there's a lot o' fellers hangin' round the door an' wantin' to see her, an' takin' her out to get ice-cream or sody-water, or to go to the circus if there's one in town, or to go to the dramatic representation,—that's what they call it on the bills,—if there happens to be one in the village that night."
"Wife," said Sam, turning to his helpmate, "what wages does Jane get?"
"Six dollars a month," said the wife.
"Does she bring any of it home? Does the family get the good of any of it?"
"Not one cent," said Mrs. Kimper, with a pitiful whine. "She says she has to wear decent clothes at the hotel or they won't keep her there any more."
Sam Kimper stayed awake all that night, although his manners to his family next morning were those of a staid and respectable citizen who had nothing upon his mind but the ordinary duties of the day.
Nevertheless, he was out and about soon after breakfast, and he wandered through every street of the village in which any business was being done. Again and again he asked for work, and as often the offer was refused or declined or relegated into the uncertain future for a decision. The surplus in his pocket had grown lamentably small. As he made his way homeward in a physical and mental condition which made it impossible for him either to argue to himself or to express a sense of hope to any extent, he passed the shop of Larry Highgetty. Larry was a shoemaker. Sam had worked at shoemaking while he was in State prison. He felt, although Larry might have been offended at the imputation, that there ought to be a fellow-feeling between them; so he ventured into the shop. Larry was sitting at his bench with a lady's shoe in one hand and with his head leaning against the wall of the room. From the stertorous noise which escaped his nostrils, it was quite evident that he was asleep, and an odor which filled the room left the visitor in no doubt as to the nature of the opiate which had induced Larry's mid-day nap.
"You seem to be takin' business very easy, Mr. Highgetty," said Sam, with an apologetic air, as he closed the door behind him, and Larry awoke. "Pay must be gettin' better?"
"Better?" said Larry, rubbing his eyes. "I don't want it to be any better than it is now. Besides, people's comin' in all the time faster than I can tend to 'em; ev'rybody wants his work done first an' is willin' to pay extra price to get it. Better, is it? Well, yes; I should say that no such luck had struck shoemakers in this town in a long while."
"You haven't half finished what you're on now, Larry," said Sam, taking the shoe from the cobbler's hand and looking at it.
"That isn't all of it," said the cobbler, with a maudlin wink at his visitor. "I don't know when I'll have it finished, if I keep on feelin' as I do now. It's pretty tough, too, bekase that shoe belongs to Mrs. Judge Prency, an' she's comin' for it this afternoon; but I'm that sleepy that—" Larry's head gently sought the wall again.
"An' a very good woman she is, Larry. Brace up, my boy, why don't you, an' finish your work?"
"Eh? Say 'Brace up' to somebody that's not got anythin' in him to brace him down. She kin wait for her shoe while I'm havin' my aise an' forgettin' all about work."
"When did you promise the shoe to her?" asked Sam.
"Oh, sometime this afternoon," said Larry, "an' she hasn't come in here yet. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, ye know the good book says, Sam. Maybe she won't come in till to-morrow; she's a busy woman; nobody knows where she's goin' or what she's doin' throughout the day, an', to tell ye the truth, I thought to myself I'd shut up the shop an' go home, so if she came there'd not be anybody here to tell a loie about it."
"Well, Larry, wouldn't it do just as well if there was somebody here to tell the truth about it?"
"Oh, there, now, Sam," said the shoemaker, rallying himself for an instant; "they tould me that you was converted in jail, an' that sounds a good deal like it. Now, Sam, I want to tell ye if ye want to argy on the subject of the truth, or any other of the moral sintiments, with any man whatsoever, ye don't want to come to a shoemaker's shop an' find a fellow who's just had three drinks in him at somebody else's expense. Now go 'way; come 'round here to-morrow when I'm sober, an' I'll own up to everything you say, no matter what it is."
"That won't get Mrs. Prency her shoes," said Sam. "Go home an' go to bed, an' let me finish that shoe in your hand, an' if she comes here it'll be ready for her, an' if she don't you won't have anything on your conscience,—not so far as she's concerned."
The cobbler took possession of himself with a tremendous effort, and looked sharply from his bleared eyes for an instant as he said,—
"An' what do you know about shoemakin'?"
"As much as two years in State prison could learn me, Larry; though I don't think you need to have asked me."
"It's all right, me boy; I take it back; an' if ever I'm sent to State prison myself you may ask it of me ten times over; that's the Bible rule, I belave. Now I'll go home to my wife an' family, an' if you choose to finish that shoe an' stay here until Mrs. Judge Prency comes in to get it, why, you're quite welcome to do the work an' keep the pay; I tould her fifty cints."
Sam began work upon the bit of repairing which he had taken from the shoemaker's hands, and although it was not of the routine nature which all of his jail-work had placed in his hands, he knew enough of the requirements of an ordinary shoe to do what was necessary. While he was working, the room suddenly darkened, and as he looked up he saw Mrs. Judge Prency herself.
"Why it's Mr. Kimper! Are you working here?"
"Only to finish a job that was promised for this afternoon, Mrs. Prency."
"He felt very badly," said Sam, "an' he wanted to go home, an' I promised to finish his work for him. I believe this is your job, ma'am?" said he, holding the shoe in the air for an instant.
"Yes," said the judge's wife. "I will sit down for a moment, if you will allow me, while you finish it."
"Certainly, ma'am," said Sam, plying the needle and awl vigorously. He looked up only for a second at a time during the next few moments, but what he saw impressed him very favorably. Mrs. Prency was not a young woman, but apparently she had a clear conscience and a good digestion, for she sat with an entirely satisfied and cheerful air, with her shoulders against the back of the chair, as if it were a real pleasure to rest against something, while her cheeks flushed, probably from the exertion of a rapid walk from some other portion of the town. Like any other woman of good health, good character, and good principles, she was a pleasing object to look upon, and the ex-convict looked at her as often as he dared, with undisguised and respectful admiration. But suddenly the uplifting of his eyes was stopped by a remark from the lady herself, as she said,—
"Sam—Mr. Kimper, I've heard some remarks about your speech at the experience-meeting the other night. You know I was there myself; you remember I spoke to you as you came out?"
"Mrs. Prency, I know it; an' that isn't all; I'll remember it just as long as I live. I'd rather have been the dyin' thief on the cross than said what I said in that church that night, but I was asked to do it, an' the more I thought about it the more I thought I couldn't say no. But I didn't know what else to say."
"You did quite right, Mr. Kimper: you spoke like a real, true, honest man. If it's any comfort to know it, I can tell you that my husband, the judge, thinks as I do. I told him what you said,—I remembered it all, word for word,—and he said to me,—these are exactly his words,—'I believe that is an honest man, and that he is going to remain an honest man.'"
Sam bent over the shoe a little closer, and said, in a faint voice, as if he were talking to himself,—
"What Judge Prency says about human natur ort to be true. If there's any other man in this county that's had more opportunities of knowin' all about it, I don't know who he can be."
There was silence for a moment or two. Sam quickened his labors upon the shoe, and the lady bent her gaze closely upon the shoemaker. At last she said,—
"Mr. Kimper, don't mistake the meaning of what I am going to ask you. I am a member of the church, myself, and I have as hearty an interest in you and sympathy for you as the best friend you have. But I want to ask you one thing, merely out of curiosity. Has any one questioned you, since, about what you said that evening?"
"Nobody but Deacon Quickset, ma'am."
"Ah? Deacon Quickset? Did he say anything that annoyed you in any way?"
"I can't say that he did, ma'am; though he kind o' filled my mind with doubts an' gave me a sort o' sleepless evenin'."
"I'm very sorry for that. There's some one else who may trouble you somewhat, and I'm sorry to say that if he does I shall be to blame for it. He is a young lawyer. His name is Reynolds Bartram."
"I know him, ma'am; at least, I know him by sight. He's of very good stock, ma'am. His folks have been in this county a longtime, from what I've heerd, off an' on."
"Very true," replied Mrs. Prency; "but he has peculiar views, and when he hears of any one who believes—believes in religion as you do, he is quite likely to visit him and to ask a great many questions."
"Well, ma'am, if he comes in on me anywhere, an' asks any questions, an' they're on the subject I talked about that night at the church meetin', why, I'll say anythin' I know an' everythin' I believe, an' if he says anythin' on the other side, why, all I've got to say is, he can't change my mind the least bit."
"I'm very glad to hear you say so," said Mrs. Prency. "Ah, is the shoe done, entirely done? Good. Very much obliged. It's quite as good as Mr. Highgetty himself could have made it. Fifty cents, I believe? Is that satisfactory?"
"Quite satisfact'ry, ma'am," said the substitute, as he rose from his bench and removed his hat, which had been on his head during the interview. Mrs. Prency started towards the door, but stopped suddenly and turned back.
"Mr. Kimper, the young man, Mr. Bartram, of whom I spoke to you,—I really believe he is inclined to come and talk to you, and perhaps talk a great deal, about what you seem to believe very sincerely and what he doesn't believe at all. I hope you won't change your mind through anything that can be said to you by a person of that kind, or by any person whatever?"
"Mrs. Prency," said the cobbler's substitute, taking his hat from the bench on which he had placed it and circling it in his hand as if he were endeavoring to stimulate his mental faculties, "whatever I believe on that subject I'm goin' to stick to, an' nobody, not even if he is the best lawyer in the county, or your husband himself, or the judge of the biggest court in the United States, is goin' to change my mind about it."
"Thank you, Mr. Kimper. I might have known as much from what I heard during your remarks the other night. I only wanted to say to you that Mr. Bartram is a very smart talker and very quick to see whatever mistakes any one else may make."
"If I make any mistakes," said Sam, "it's because of somebody who's a great deal smarter than I am, who don't back me up as much as I need for the time-bein'."
"Good-day, Mr Kimper," said the lady.
"Good-day, ma'am," said the ex-convict.
He stood in the dingy shop looking out of the window at the retreating form of the lady, and then at the gathering clouds over the evening sunset, and at the houses on the opposite side of the street, apparently that he might divert his mind from something. Then he looked at the coin which he had received for the work, as if it were an amulet or a charm.
Suddenly his attention was distracted by the appearance, on the other side of the street, of a very pretty young woman, accompanied by a young man in good attire and of fine bearing.
"Well, well," said the ex-convict, "I wonder if that's what it means? That's Bartram himself, as sure as I'm born, an' with him is Mrs. Prency's only daughter an' only child. Well, well!"
As the summer lengthened into early autumn, Sam Kimper became more and more troubled by the necessities of his family. He had been working day after day in the shop of his acquaintance the shoemaker, when there was work enough for two, and earned enough to pay for the plainest food. But casual pay was not sufficient to all the necessities of a family as large as that for which Sam was responsible, particularly as the return of the head of the family had reminded every one, from the mother down to the youngest child except the baby, of a number of needs of which no one seemed to have thought before.
Mrs. Kimper herself, who was a feeble creature at best, shivered at every wind that penetrated the broken windows, and insisted that unless she had some warm clothing very soon she would fall into a decline. Tom, who had not yet got his growth, was protruding physically from the ends of his shirts and trousers, and assured his father that he never again could get into his last winter's jacket without subjecting himself to a series of remarks by the boys in the town, which would make him feel very uncomfortable. Billy, who had gone barefooted all summer, as was the custom with the boys in town, came home late one evening and announced triumphantly,—
"Dad, you needn't bother yourself about me any more about shoes. I've got a pair. See here!"
The head of the family took the new shoes into his hand and examined them. Then he dropped them with a sort of shiver, for they were of a well-remembered pattern,—that upon which he had worked for two years in the penitentiary.
"How did you get 'em, Billy?" the father asked, at length.
"Oh, I found 'em," said the boy, with a wink at his elder brother,—a wink which was returned to him in the shape of an evil leer.
"Found 'em! Where? Tell me all about it," said the father, very sharply and sternly, for he remembered a time when he had "found" things himself.
Billy looked appealingly at his brother Tom, but the elder brother put on a hang-dog look and sauntered out of the room and was afterwards seen disappearing rapidly through the back yard.
"Well," said Billy, at last, with the air of one who was entirely unbosoming himself, "I'll tell you how it was, dad. Down at Price's store there's a long string of shoes out at the door. They use 'em as a sign, don't you know?"
"Yes," said the father carelessly; "I've seen such signs. Go on."
"Well, I need shoes awfully, you know, an' I've been tellin' the mother about it for a week or ten days, an' she said she was tellin' you. But my feet gets awful cold late at nights and early in the mornin's. An' I didn't want to bother you, knowin' that you hadn't any money to spare, 'cause the mother told me 'bout that too, an' cried about it. Well, it blowed like ev'rythin' this afternoon as I was goin' towards Price's, an' that string of shoes just whirled around like a kite-tail, an' at last the bottom pair flew off into the street. An' I picked 'em up."
"Findin's is keepin's," said Mrs. Kimper.
"Give me them shoes, my boy," said the ex-convict.
"You're goin' to take 'em away from me? Have I got to have cold feet some more?" said Billy, appealingly.
Sam thrust his hand into his trousers-pocket, took out a very thin wad of green paper, looked at it, and finally said, "No, I s'pose not." Nevertheless he and the shoes disappeared from the house.
In a short time Mr. Price, the owner of one of the village stores, received a call from the ex-convict, who said,—
"Mr. Price, one o' my boys found a pair o' shoes in the street in front o' your store this afternoon durin' the hard blow, an', as they just fitted him, I came around to pay you for them. How much are they?"
Several men were standing about the stove in Price's store, the fire having just started for the autumn and winter season, and, as they heard Sam's remark, one of them uttered a long combination of word and whistle that sounded very much like "Whew-w?" Sam turned quickly, recognized the man as one whom he knew to be not over-honest, and said,—
"When you pay for ev'rythin' you get it'll be time to make fun of somebody else. But, Mr. Price, what I asked you was, what's the price o' them shoes?"
The storekeeper was so astonished at such a question from a member of the Kimper family that, looking at shoes of the same quality which were lying in a box behind the counter, he actually mistook the cost-mark for the selling-price, and replied, "Only a dollar and a quarter, Mr. Kimper."
Sam laid down the money, received some change, and departed, while the men who were lounging about the store began an active conversation as to whether that man was the fool he looked or whether he was not perhaps a regular sharper whose natural abilities and inclinations had been cultivated during the two years he was in State prison. They understood, those evening loafers, that prisons were nominally for the purpose of reforming criminals, but they had known a great many criminals themselves, and their astonishment at seeing one who apparently desired to do better than in his past life, and to make amends for the misdeeds of his family, was so great that the conversation which ensued after the exit of the ex-convict was very fragmentary and not at all to the point.
The next morning Sam appeared bright and early at the shoe-shop of Larry Highgetty. He had made an arrangement with the cobbler to do whatever work might be assigned him and to accept as full payment one-half the money which would be charged, most of it being for repairs. As nearly as he could discover by a close questioning of the proprietor of the establishment, the entire receipts did not exceed two dollars per day, and the owner had so few responsibilities and so much surplus that he would be quite glad if he might lounge at one or other of the local places of entertainment while some one else should do the work and keep the establishment open. Consequently Sam went at the work with great energy, and little by little nearly all the work came to be done by him.
He had hammered away for a few minutes on a sole to be placed on the bottom of a well-worn shoe belonging to a workingman, when a new customer entered the shop. Sam looked up at him and saw Reynolds Bartram. He offered a short, spasmodic, disjointed prayer to heaven, for he remembered what the judge's wife had said, and he had known Reynolds Bartram as a young man of keen wit and high standing as a debater before Sam's enforced retirement; now, he knew, Bartram had become a lawyer.
"Well, Sam," said Bartram, as he seated himself in the only chair and proceeded to eye the new cobbler, while the blows of the hammer struck the sole more rapidly and vigorously than before,—"well, Sam, I understand that you have been turning things upside down, and instead of coming out of the penitentiary a great deal worse man than when you went in, as most other men do, you have been converted."
"That's my understandin' of it, Mr. Bartram," said the ex-convict, continuing his inflictions upon the bit of leather.
"Sam," said Bartram, "I am a man of business, and I suppose you are from what I see you doing. I wish to make you a proposition: I will pay you cash for two or three hours' time if you will tell me—so that I can understand it—what being converted really amounts to."
The new cobbler did not cease an instant his attention to the work in his hand. He merely said,—
"Mr. Bartram, you're a very smart man, an' I'm a very stupid one. If there's a stupider man in town the Democratic local committee has never yet been able to find him. You want to know what bein' converted means? You'd better go to Deacon Quickset, or the minister of some one of the churches hereabouts. I can't explain anythin', I don't know anythin' but what I feel myself, an' the more I feel it the more I don't know how to talk about it. Deacon Quickset says it don't 'mount to much. I s'pose it don't—to him, he bein' so much smarter than me. But, so far as it goes, I can't be paid for talkin' about it, for it didn't cost me nothin'."
This was not what the visitor had expected; nevertheless, it is a lawyer's business to know more than one way of putting a thing.
"See here, Sam; I need a new pair of shoes,—soft leather, thin soles, good cut; do you suppose you know how to measure me for them?"
"Well, I guess I've found out that much, Mr. Bartram."
"Go ahead, then; don't let me interfere with the measurement; but I want to ask you some questions; tell me what you can as you go along. You've been converted, they say, and you say so too."
"Yes, sir," said Sam, dropping the tape-line for a moment; "what other people say I'm not responsible for, but I say it myself that I'm a different man. That's all I can say, Mr. Bartram; an', as I said before, if you want to know more, you'd better ask somebody that's been in that sort o' life longer than I have."
"Nonsense, Sam! you are too modest. As they say in churches, the newest convert has the strongest opinions. Now, you know what my business is. Strong opinions amount to everything in the legal business, and so I have come to you, just as squarely as I could go to any man in the world about anything else that he understood, to ask you plainly what you know about this new life that you are said to be leading now. Tell it to me, out and out. Don't be afraid to keep back anything. Take all the time you like at it. If you can't say just what you want to, try to put it as clearly as you can. I didn't come in to worry you. Remember that I really want some distinct information on the subject."
Sam looked up keenly, and said, "Mr. Bartram, are you in earnest?"
"Sam Kimper," said the young lawyer, "if I were not in earnest do you suppose I'd come into this shop during the business hours of the day and ask questions of this kind, when there are plenty of other people I could go to and get the information I want, and perhaps a good deal more? No, sir; I have come here to ask you because I thought that whatever you could say you would say in the fewest possible words and say it right to the point."
"But, Mr. Bartram, I'm not used to talkin' to lawyers. I never talked to any but once, you know, an' then I don't think they had very much respect for what I said. I wasn't in a fix where anybody could have any respect for me."
"This hasn't anything to do with those times, Sam," said the lawyer. "A friend of yours, who is a friend of mine, has told me that you talked very straightforward and honestly on this subject a few nights ago. That's more than I have been able to find anybody do in this town in a long time. I don't mind saying to you that, according to what the people who are the most prominent in the church say, I'm a pretty hard character. Therefore whatever you have to say you needn't be afraid to put very plainly. I simply want to know about myself; that's all."
"Mr. Bartram," said the cobbler, "as I've already said, you had a good deal better talked to somebody else. But, seem' you've come to me, I've only this to say to you, an' I hope you can make somethin' out of it, because I give you my word I've made more out of it than ever I did out of anythin' else on the face of the earth. I went to jail for stealin'. I hadn't ever been an honest man in my life. The only reason I hadn't been in jail all my life was that I hadn't been caught. At last I was caught, an' I was sent up, an' I don't mind sayin' that I think my sentence was mighty light, considerin' all the heavy mischief that I'd done durin' my life. While I was in jail I was talked to by a man that used to come through there to talk to the prisoners on Sundays. An' about all he said to me was to read me a lot o' things that Jesus Christ said when He was alive in this world, an' told me to go ahead an' do all them things just as well as I knowed how to, an' if I did 'em all well as far as I could I'd find out a good deal more in the course of time."
"Go on," said the lawyer.
"I haven't anything to go on with, Mr. Bartram," said the cobbler, "except that I took his advice, an' ain't ever been sorry for it, an' I wish I'd got it a good deal sooner. I'm just the same old two-an'-sixpence that I was before I went away. That is, I'm always tired an' always poor an' always wishin' I didn't have to do any work. But when there comes a time when I get a chance to do somethin' wrong an' make somethin' by it, I don't do it, although there was a time when I would have done it. I don't keep from doin' it for anything that I can make, 'cause I always go home a good deal worse off than I might have been. I hope you get something out of what I'm tellin' you, Mr. Bartram?"
"But, Sam, my dear fellow," said the young man, "all this doesn't mean anything; that is, so far as religion goes. You are simply trying to live right, whereas you used to live wrong. Haven't you learned any more than that?"
"Well, Mr. Bartram," said Sam, ceasing to jot down measurements, and looking at his stubby pencil as if he had a question to ask, "that's all I've learned. An' I s'pose you bein' the kind o' man you are,—that is, well born an' well brought up, plenty o' money an' never done nothin' wrong that you know of,—I s'pose that don't seem much to you; but I tell you, Mr. Bartram, it's a complete upset to my old life, an' it's such a big one that I've not been able to get any further since, an' I don't mind talkin' honestly to any fellow-man that talks about it to me. I don't mind sayin' honestly that it's so much more than I'm equal to livin' up to yet that I haven't had any time to think about goin' any further along. See here, Mr. Bartram, can you tell me somethin' I can do besides that?"
"Why, Sam," said the lawyer, "that's an odd question to ask me. I have seen you in church frequently since you were first a young man, ten years older than I. You have been told frequently what else you ought to do; and what I came in particular to ask you was as to how far you've done it, or been able to do it, or were trying to do it."
"You come to the wrong shop, then, Mr. Bartram," said the cobbler. "When a man's been livin' wrong all his life an' has had somethin' put into him to make him feel like turnin' round an' livin' right, the change that's gone on in him is so big that it'll take him about half a lifetime to get to where he can think about anythin' else."
"Pshaw!" said the lawyer.
"You said you wanted these shoes made out of soft leather an' with pretty thin soles, Mr. Bartram?"
"Yes, yes; make them any way you please."
Then the lawyer left the room and closed the door with a crash that caused the new cobbler to look up apprehensively.
Little by little the Kimper family was made more comfortable and put in better condition for the coming winter. Broken window-panes were mended, though frequently only with bits of board closely wedged, cracks in the wall were stuffed with dried grass and plastered with mud, and clean straw replaced the dirty substitutes for beds and mattresses. The head of the family worked hard at the cobbler's shop, yet did not cease working when he reached home.
Yet week by week Sam looked better than in old times. Conrad Weitz, the manager of the most popular drinking-place in the town, predicted that there would soon have to be a change for the worse.
"He ain't drinkin' noding," said Conrad; "and a feller dat's been drinkin' all his life can't get along midout it afterwards."
The vender of stimulants said this to Deacon Quickset, for the two men were incessantly arguing over the liquor question, and never lost an opportunity of bringing up a new point about it when they met by any chance. Weitz was a public-spirited and intelligent citizen, and the deacon believed that if his opinions about the moral nature of his business could be changed there would be a great gain for the temperance cause in Bruceton. Besides, Weitz was a well-to-do man and saved a great deal of money, some of which the deacon had invested for him, and all of which the deacon desired to handle, for he was a man of many enterprises, and, like most other men of the kind, always had more ways than money.
"You're all wrong about that, Weitz," said the deacon, sitting upon an empty beer-barrel in front of the liquor-store. The deacon was accustomed to say, with a grim smile, that he was one of the very few men in business whose reputation would allow him to sit upon a beer-barrel without giving rise to any suspicions.
"Deacon," said the liquor-dealer, "you hadn't ought to talk about vat you don't understand. How long since you stopped drinkin'?"
"Now, see here, Weitz, what do you mean, to ask me a question like that? You ought to know well enough that I never drank in my life. If I haven't told you so again and again, I should think other people could have done it."
"Never drank anyding, eh? never in your life? Vell, vell!" said the proprietor, caressing the beer-shop cat for a moment, "dat explains a good many dings about you dat I never understood before. I tell you vat I tink, deacon: if you'd been brought up in my country, mit all de brains you've got in your head, and yoost could'a'had a lot of German beer put inside of you besides, you'd been about de finest man in de United States now. Den, besides dat, of course, you ought to belong to my shurch, too."
"Your church!" sneered the deacon.
"Come, now, deacon," said the shopkeeper, abruptly dropping the cat, "you can turn up your nose at my ideas all you vant, but you mustn't turn it up at my shurch. I don't do dat to you, and don't you forget it, eider."
"That's all right, Conrad; I didn't mean to do it. Of course, every man will believe the way he is brought up. But I hope you won't go to telling anybody else in this town that that poor convict ought to be drinking and will have to do it again; because it might get to his ears, you know, and if it did it might break him down, and then he'd go to lying and stealing and loafing and fighting again, and there is no knowing whose chicken-coops and wood-piles would have to suffer. Yours might be one of the first of the lot."
"Vell," said the German, "is dat de vay you look at the question?"
"It's a fact, isn't it?"
"Yes, I s'pose it is. But I didn't tink dat vas de first ding for a man like you to tink about ven you vas talkin' about a feller dat has broke off all his bad habits and is tryin' to be yoost right."
The deacon felt awkward for a moment. He did not like to be reminded of any of his faults by a neighbor, much less by one who belonged to a church so widely different from his own.
"Why, of course not," said he; "of course, I am thinking about the man's eternal salvation and about his future; but, to tell you the truth, I haven't got much faith in his professions. A man that don't get any further than he has done, and that don't seem willing to learn from them that's his betters and has gone into such things a good deal deeper than he has, ain't very likely to hold out. And the last condition of that man will be worse than the first."
"Vell," said the shop-keeper, "a good deal depends on dat. You vas a member of von shurch and I vas a member of anoder, deacon, and we can talk togeder like brudders,—a little vay, anyhow. Now, I tell you vat it is: dere's a good many men in dis town dat's behavin' very decent dat don't belong to any shurch at all, and you'd yoost as lief discount deir notes as you vould any oder man's, and you'd go into business mit dem yoost as qvick, and you'd take deir word for anyding yoost as qvick. If dat's de vay mit dem men, vy isn't it true dat Sam Kimper is a good deal better off mit vat he's got dan he vould be midout anyding at all in de vay of religion?"
"Oh, Conrad," said the deacon, "you were brought up in darkness and error! You don't understand. I've got that Sam Kimper on my mind so much that I'm just keeping our minister after him all the time."
"Vell," said the shopkeeper, "I tell you vat I'll do, deacon. You let your minister do all he can mit him, and ven he finds he can't do noding yoost you come an' tell me, an' den I'll send our priest after him. He's a good man. You can't say noding against him; you know you can't. Neider can anybody else in dis town."
"No," said the deacon, "I don't mind saying, for I've said it a good many times before, that if Father Black belonged to my church, instead of the one he does, I couldn't find a single thing to say or think against him. He is certainly a very good man, and doing a great deal of good among a lot of people that I didn't suppose ever could be kept out of mischief; but—"
"But he didn't keep 'em out of mischief in your vay. Dat's de trouble, isn't it? Come now, own up, like an honest man, and I von't go tell nobody else about vat you say. Own up, now; isn't dat de trouble? Dem people dat you talk about as behavin' demselves is a good deal better dan some dat's smarter and has got more money an' more advantages an' more friends, an' dey don't make nobody any trouble, an' yet you ain't satisfied mit 'em; an' mit deir shurch, yoost because dey don't do everyding your vay."
"Conrad," said the deacon, putting on a lofty air, "you're a good man to do business with; you're a respectable citizen, except that you sell rum. But there's some things you can't understand, and it's no use for me to waste time talking to you about them. If your mind was clearer, if it had been enlightened in the true way, you would not be selling rum, for instance."
"Vouldn't I, dough? Vell, I yoost vant you to understand dere's no better business in dis town dan I am a-doin' right in dis shop. But if I didn't tink it vas right, I vouldn't be doin' it at all. You talk in dis country as if de rum-sellers vas de very vorst people in de vorld. I vant you to understand over in my country, dat's a good deal older dan dis, and vere de peoples has had a good deal more experience, a man don't get no right to sell liquor unless he is a first-class citizen in every respect. It's a sign dat a man is honest an' sensible an' knows how to manage oder men, if he gets de right to sell liquor. Dat's more dan you can say about your business, Deacon Quickset. Any rascal can go in de business dat you is doin' now."
"Well," said the deacon, beginning to feel that he was on dangerous ground, "this wasn't what we were talking about, anyhow. We began to talk about Sam Kimper; and I want you to promise me that you won't talk to anybody else about his needing liquor, and about his breaking down in the course of time unless he gets it."
"Of course I von't talk about it, deacon. Do you s'pose I'm a fool? Do you s'pose I vant to see people get drunk? No, sir; people dat gets drunk don't come to my shop. Dey know dey couldn't get anyding if dey did."
Meanwhile Sam Kimper went on, after the humble manner in which he had begun, to try to bring his family to his new standard of respectability. He introduced family prayers, much to the disgust of his son Tom and the amusement of his daughter Mary. The privacy of family affairs was not entirely respected by the Kimper family, for Sam soon heard remarks from street loafers, as he passed along, which indicated that the devotional exercises of the family had been reported, evidently by his own children, and he heard quotations from some of his weak and halting prayers pass from mouth to mouth and elicit peals of coarse laughter.
Nevertheless he found some encouragement. His son Tom was not quite so much of a cub at home as he had been, and actually took to trying, in a desultory way, to find work, although his father's offer to teach him the trade which had been learned in the penitentiary was declined very sharply and without any thanks whatever. Billy, the younger boy, had an affectionate streak in his nature, which his father succeeded in touching to such an extent that complaints of Billy's truancy were nowhere near so numerous as they had been just after his father's return. Mary, the youngest daughter, was a less promising subject. Her precocity was of a very unpleasant order, and caused her father a great deal of annoyance.
When everything else failed him, Sam had the baby for consolation. The little wretch had been so utterly uncared for since its appearance that it seemed surprised for some time by its father's demonstrations of affection, but finally the meaning of this seemed made known to it, probably in the way the same meanings are translated to babies everywhere else, and from being a forlorn and fretful child it gradually became so cheerful that its own mother began to display some interest in it and make a plaything of it, to her own manifest advantage.
But Jane, the elder daughter, who was a woman in stature and already knew more of the world than is good for women in general, was a constant source of anxiety to Sam. Many a night the unhappy father lingered in the neighborhood of the hotel, seeking for an opportunity to see his daughter and talk with her; not that he had much to say, but that he hoped by his presence to keep more congenial company away from her. When he heard any village gossip in the house, he always could trace it to his daughter Jane. Whenever Mary broke out with some new and wild expression of longing, he understood who put it into her mind. Whenever his wife complained that she was not so well dressed as some other women whose husbands were plain workmen, and expressed a wish for some tawdry bit of finery, Sam could trace the desire, by very little questioning, back to his daughter Jane.
He prayed about it, thought about it, groaned over it, wept over it, and still saw no means within his power to bring the girl back to an interest in her family and to bring her up so that she should not disgrace the name which he was trying to rehabilitate. But the more thought and effort he gave to the subject, the less seemed his chance of success.
Eleanor Prency was the handsomest girl in all Bruceton. Indeed, she so far distanced all other girls in brilliancy and manners, as well as in good looks, that no other young woman thought of being jealous of her. Among her sex she occupied the position of a peerless horse or athlete among sporting men; she was "barred" whenever comparisons were made.
As she was an only child, she was especially dear to her parents, who had bestowed upon her every advantage which their means, intelligence, and social standing could supply, and she had availed herself of all of them apparently to the fullest extent. She was not lacking in affection, sense, self-control, and a number of virtues which some girls entirely satisfactory to their parents possessed in less measure.
Nevertheless the judge and his wife were deeply anxious about their daughter's future. She was good—as girls go; she attended regularly the church of which the family, including herself, were members; she had no bad habits or bad tastes; her associates were carefully selected; and yet the judge and his wife spent many hours, which should have been devoted to sleep, in endeavoring to forecast her future.
It was all a matter of heredity. At middle age the judge and his wife were fully deserving of the high esteem in which they were held by the entire community. They were an honest, honorable, Christian couple, living fully up to the professions they made. In their youthful days they had been different—in some respects. Well off, handsome, and brilliant, they had both been among the most persistent and successful of pleasure-seekers. Reviewing those days, Mrs. Prency could say that utter selfishness and self-love had been her deepest sins. Her husband, looking back at his own life, could truthfully say the same, but the details were different. He had looked upon the wine-cup and every other receptacle in which stimulants were ever served. He had tried every game of chance and gone through all other operations collectively known as "sowing one's wild oats." Respect for his wife caused him to break from all his bad habits and associations, at first haltingly and with many relapses, but afterwards by joining the church and conforming his life to his faith. But the inheritance of the child was from her parents, as they were, not as they afterwards became.
Therefore the couple became anxious anew when they discovered that their daughter had become very fond of Reynolds Bartram, for the young man forcibly reminded both of them of the judge himself in his early days, yet without Prency's strong and natural basis of character, while the daughter was entirely devoted to the pleasures of the day. If Bartram were to remain as he was, and his self-satisfaction to continue so strong as to be manifest upon all occasions and in all circumstances they foresaw a miserable life for their daughter. Hence Mrs. Prency's solicitude about young Bartram.
One day Mrs. Prency made a business excuse to call again on the cobbler's assistant.
"Mr. Kimper," said she after leaving a dainty boot with some instructions about repairs, "Reynolds Bartram came to see you, I suppose, as I warned you he would?"
"Yes, ma'am, he came," said the cobbler, selecting some buttons from a box and beginning to affix them to one of the lady's boots.
"Did he talk with you on the subject that I supposed he would."
"Yes," said Sam, "he did; quite a long time."
"Did you change your views at all under his arguments?"
"Oh, no, ma'am," said the man, looking up with an eager expression of countenance. "How could I?"
"I'm so glad," murmured the woman. "Well, what did he say?"
"I can't repeat all his words, Mrs. Prency, because he talks a good deal better than I do, you know, an' maybe I wouldn't give them the sense that they had,—the way that he meant them."
"How did he seem to take what you said to him?"
"I'm afraid, ma'am," said Sam, "that what I said didn't entirely suit him; because when I got through all he said was, 'Pshaw!'"
Mrs. Prency looked at the shoe through which the needle was rapidly passing back and forth, and finally said,—
"He hasn't come again, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am, he has,—several times. I never knew any other man to be so much interested in the makin' of one pair of shoes as he has been about them that he ordered of me that day. He says they're not in any hurry, an' yet he comes in every day or two to talk about them."
"Indeed!" said Mrs. Prency, her face brightening. "Doesn't he talk of anything but his shoes?"
"Yes, ma'am," sighed Sam; "he comes back to the old subject always; an' it does seem to me as if the one thing he was thinkin' about an' tryin' to do was to break me down in what I've learned to believe. It don't seem, ma'am, to me that it's very big business for a smart feller like him to be in, when he knows what a common sort of a feller I am, an' what little I've got, an' how much I need all that I've got, if I'm goin' to keep straight any more."
"Mr. Kimper," said the lady, "try not to look at it in that way. He is not trying to break you down; he is trying to satisfy himself. Don't give way, and he dare not. If he did not believe a great deal of what you have been saying to him, he would not keep up his interest in it. Mr. Kimper, it may not seem possible to you, but there is a chance of your doing better work in the missionary cause for that young man than anybody and everybody else in this town has yet been able to do."
"Oh, nonsense, Mrs. Prency!" said the cobbler, dropping the shoe and looking up incredulously. "He's got a thousand times as much head-piece as I have, an' if he can't learn what he wants to from other people there ain't the slightest likelihood of my ever learnin' him anythin'."
"Sam," said Mrs. Prency, earnestly, "in the book that you have been reading so industriously, from which you have learned so much, and from which I hope you will continue to learn a great deal, don't you remember something that is said about the Lord having selected the feeble ones of this world to confound the wise?"
Sam looked down meditatively at the dropped shoe, and replied in a moment,—
"Well, now you speak of it, ma'am, I think I do."
"You certainly will believe that as much as everything else you have read there?"
"Why, of course; I'll have to."
"Very well, then; apply it to yourself, and try to be patient the next time that young man comes to annoy you."
Sam rested his elbows on his knees and dropped the shoe again for a moment, and at last, resuming his work, said,—
"Well, I'll take your word for it, ma'am: you know a good deal more about such things than I do."
Gradually the cobbler's face began to contract. His needle and thread moved more and more rapidly through the buttons and the leather. At last he laid the shoe aside with an air of desperation, looked up defiantly, and said,—
"Mrs. Prency, I don't mean no offence, an' I ain't the kind of person that meddles with other people's business, an' I hope you won't feel hurt or angry at anythin' that I'm goin' to say to you, because there is somethin' behind it. So I hope you won't think I'm meddlin' with your affairs, if you'll listen to me just a little while. I—I—"
"Well?" said the lady, for Sam seemed to be hesitating about what he wanted to say.
"I don't hardly know how to say it, ma'am, an' I'm awfully afraid to say it at all; but—well, there, Mrs. Prency, I guess I know why you are so very much interested in the religious welfare of that young lawyer."
The judge's wife had naturally a very good complexion, but her face flushed deeper as she looked inquiringly at the cobbler but said nothing.
"I've seen him," said Sam,—"I can't help seein' things when I'm goin' along in the street, you know, or happen to look out through the windows,—I've seen him in company once in a while with that daughter of yours, Mrs. Prency,—with that young lady that seems to me to be too good to talk to any young man that lives in this town. He is very fond of her, though; nobody can help seein' that."
"I suppose he is," said Mrs. Prency, with an embarrassed manner. "Young men have very quick perceptions and correct tastes in matters of that kind, you know."
"Yes, ma'am," said the cobbler, "and they don't differ much from young women. Seems to me your daughter, ma'am, seems to think a good deal of him, too. Well, I don't wonder at it, for he's the finest lookin' young feller anywhere about here; an' if they go to thinkin' more and more of each other as they go on, you would like him to be a good deal better man than he is."
The judge's wife dropped her eyes and seemed in doubt for an instant as to whether to be angry or only amused. Finally she looked up frankly and said,
"Mr. Kimper, you're a parent and so am I. I see you have been putting yourself in my place. It is quite natural that you should do so, and it is very creditable to you that you have done it in the way you have. You are quite right in your surmise; but may I ask why you have spoken to me about it in this way?"
"That's just what I was comin' to, ma'am," said the cobbler. "I've got a daughter, too. I suppose you think she ain't fit to be mentioned in the same day with that glorious gal of yours."
"Oh, Mr. Kimper!" murmured the lady.
"Well if you don't, I don't see how you can help doin' it; that's all. Your daughter is a lady. She shows in her everythin' that there is in her father and mother, an' everybody knows that they're the finest people hereabouts. My child is the daughter of a thief an' a brawler an' a loafer, an' she's a servant in a common hotel, which is about as low down, I s'pose, as any gal can get in this town that don't go to the bad entirely. Mrs. Prency, that gal has broke my heart. I don't have no influence over her at all. You want me to help you out about your daughter. I am goin' to do it just as far as heaven will give me the strength to do it. Now I want to throw myself right at your feet an' beg you, for the love of God, to try to do somethin' for my child."
"Why, Mr. Kimper, certainly," said the judge's wife. "I am very glad you spoke to me about her. But, really, I have tried to do a great deal for her. While you were away I used to send clothing to your wife for her, so that the child might be able always to make a proper appearance at school."
"Yes, ma'am, so you did," said the cobbler, "an' it's a shame that I should ask anythin' else of you, for I know you're generous-hearted, an' the Lord knows there's enough other poor an' wretched people in this town that needs lookin' after, an' I know you're doin' a good deal for all of 'em. But this ain't a matter of poverty, Mrs. Prency; it goes a good deal deeper than that. I'm not thinkin' about her appearance; she's better dressed now than she ort to be, though I don't think she shows much good taste in what she buys to put on her. But I want to have somebody take some interest in her that'll make her change her thoughts an' feelin's about the way she's livin' an' the kind o' company she's keepin'."
The judge's wife looked thoughtful, and Sam contemplated her with wistful eyes. There was a long silence. When at last Mrs. Prency spoke she said,—
"Mr. Kimper, I think I know what you mean, but I am puzzled as to what I can do and how I can do it. Can you suggest anything?"
"That's just the trouble, ma'am," said Sam; "I can't; I don't know how. I've thought an' cried an' prayed about that gal more than anybody'd ever believe, I s'pose,—anybody that knows me an' knows her too. But I can't get no light nor no sense about it. But I'm only a man, Mrs. Prency, an' you're a woman. She's a woman too, an' it did seem to me that maybe you, with all you're good sense an' all your good-heartedness, could think of somethin', some way, that would bring that gal back to what she ort to be before she goes an' does what her mother done—marry some worthless fool before she's old enough to marry at all, an' then be helpless and downcast all the rest of her life."
"I might," said the lady, after musing a little while, "I might possibly make her a place among my own servants, but I imagine she would not care for such a position, for I have always discovered that the servants who have been in hotels are dissatisfied with any other sort of service. Besides, you probably do not wish her to associate with the servant class, and it would be far better for her if she did not."
"She'd have to go, ma'am, if you was willin' to take her," said the cobbler, "but, as you say, whether she'd stay or not is a question. Oh, Mrs. Prency," said he, resuming his work again with violent energy, "it's the hardest question that ever come up to me in all my life. It's harder than bein' in jail or breakin' off drinkin' or anythin' else that I ever tried. It's even harder than goin' to work; I give you my word it is."