This text contains both footnotes and endnotes.
The three footnotes are marked with an upper case letter (i.e., [A]).
The endnotes are marked with both a page number and a note number (i.e., [126-1]).
Merrill's English Texts
SHORT STORIES OF VARIOUS TYPES
Edited with an Introduction and Notes by
LAURA F. FRECK, Head of the English Department in the High School, Jamestown, New York
Charles E. Merrill Company New York and Chicago
Merrill's English Texts
This series of books includes in complete editions those masterpieces of English Literature that are best adapted for the use of schools and colleges. The editors of the several volumes are chosen for their special qualifications in connection with the texts issued under their individual supervision, but familiarity with the practical needs of the classroom, no less than sound scholarship, characterizes the editing of every book in the series.
In connection with each text, the editor has provided a critical and historical introduction, including a sketch of the life of the author and his relation to the thought of his time, critical opinions of the work in question chosen from the great body of English criticism, and, where possible, a portrait of the author. Ample explanatory notes of such passages in the text as call for special attention are supplied, but irrelevant annotation and explanations of the obvious are rigidly excluded.
CHARLES E. MERRILL COMPANY
Copyright, 1920 by Charles E. Merrill Co.
TO THE TEACHER
These stories have been chosen from authors of varied style and nationalities for use in high schools. The editor has had especially in mind students of the first year of the high school or the last year of the junior high school. The plots are of various types and appeal to the particular interests and awakening experiences of young readers. For instance, there will be found among these tales the detective story by the inimitable Conan Doyle; the true story of adventure, with an animal for the central figure, by Katherine Mayo; the fanciful story by the great stylist Hawthorne; tales of humor or pathos; of simple human love; of character; of nature; of realism; and of idealism. The settings give glimpses of the far West, the middle West, the East, of several foreign countries, of great cities, of little villages, and of the open country.
Each story should be read for the first time at a single sitting so that the pupil's mind may receive the single dramatic effect in its unity of impression as the author desired, and more especially that the pupil may enjoy the story first of all as a story, not as a lesson. The pupil of this age, however, will not arrive at the other desirable points to be gained unless he then studies each story with the help of the study questions, of the related biographical sketch, and of the introductory notes, as the teacher feels they are needed for the closer study of the particular story.
The stories may be studied happily in connection with the student's composition work. For example, when he has read an adventure story and his mind is stirred by it, why not assign for his next composition, a story of an adventure in which he has been interested or has figured? The mechanics of composition, moreover, are more interestingly learned in connection with an admired author's work.
It is to be hoped that the students may be led to read other stories by the same and by different authors. A supplementary list of short stories has been added to the book for this purpose.
Acknowledgment for permission to use the stories printed in this book is gratefully made to Doubleday, Page and Company for "The Gift of the Magi" from Stories of the Four Million by O. Henry; to Hamlin Garland for "A Camping Trip" from Boy Life on the Prairie, published by Harper and Brothers; to Henry Holt and Company for "A Thread without a Knot" from The Real Motive, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher; to Charles Scribner's Sons for "Friends" from Little Aliens by Myra Kelly, and for the story, "American, Sir," by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews; to Booth Tarkington for "A Reward of Merit" from Penrod and Sam. The stories by Katherine Mayo, Bret Harte, and Nathaniel Hawthorne are used by permission of, and by special arrangement with, Houghton Mifflin Company, the authorized publishers.
Special acknowledgment should be made to Mr. Garland for so kindly revising the selection from Boy Life on the Prairie, to meet our needs; and to Mr. Carlson for the translation from the Swedish of Miss Lagerloef's story.
Introduction 7 I. O. Henry: The Gift of the Magi 11 II. Booth Tarkington: A Reward of Merit 19 III. Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews: "American, Sir!" 48 IV. Katherine Mayo: John G. 68 V. Myra Kelly: Friends 77 VI. Hamlin Garland: A Camping Trip 97 VII. Dorothy Canfield Fisher: A Thread Without a Knot 114 VIII. Francis Bret Harte: Chu Chu 141 IX. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Feathertop 173 X. Arthur Conan Doyle: The Red-Headed League 203 XI. James Matthew Barrie: The Inconsiderate Waiter 238 XII. Alphonse Daudet: The Siege of Berlin 266 XIII. Selma Lagerloef: The Silver Mine 276 Notes 295 Suggested Reading List of Short Stories 317 Suggestions for Study 321
The Short Story. In the rush of modern life, particularly in America, the short story has come to be the most popular type of fiction. Just as the quickly seen, low-priced moving picture show is taking the place of the drama, with the average person, so the short stories that are found so plentifully in the numerous periodicals of the day are supplanting the novel.
The short story may be read at a single sitting. It is a distinct type of literature; that is, it is not just a novel made short or condensed; it is in its inner plan of a wholly different nature. It relates only some single important incident or a closely related series of events, taking place usually in a short space of time, and acted out by a single chief character. It is like a cross section of life, however, from which one may judge much of the earlier as well as the later life of the character.
Its History. The idea of the short story is a decidedly modern conception. It was in the first half of the last century that Edgar Allan Poe worked out the idea that the short story should create a single effect. In his story, "The Fall of the House of Usher," for example, the single effect is a feeling of horror. In the first sentence of the story he begins to create this effect by words that suggest to the reader's imagination gloom and foreboding. This he consciously carries out just as an artist creates the picture of his dreams with many skillful strokes of his brush. Poe gave attention also to compressing all the details of the plot of the story instead of expanding them as in a long story or novel. He believed, too, that the plot should be original or else worked out in some new way. The single incident given, moreover, should reveal to the imagination of the reader the entire life of the chief character. Almost at the same time, Nathaniel Hawthorne, with a less conscious effort to create a single effect, based his tales upon the same ideas, with a tendency towards romance.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Guy de Maupassant, a French author without acquaintance with the work of the American writers, conceived the same idea of the short story, adding to it the quality of dramatic effect; that is, the idea that the single main incident should appeal to the imagination of the reader just as if it were a little play presented to him.
Bret Harte followed in this country with short stories that brought out, less precisely, the same idea of the short story, with the addition of local color, the atmosphere of California and the West.
Rudyard Kipling, who became a master of the technique of the short story in England, has colored his stories with the atmosphere of India and the far East, while O. Henry, the American master, has given us character types of the big cities, particularly of New York.
Its Composition. You, no doubt, have written stories for your composition work, but so far they have probably been chronological narratives; that is, stories told, as the newspapers tell them, by relating a series of events in the order of time. The real short story, has, like the novel, a plot. The word plot here means the systematic plan or pattern into which the author weaves the events of the story up to some finishing point of intense interest or of great importance to the story. This vital part of the narrative is called the climax or crucial point. If you note the pattern or design in wall paper, carpet, or dress ornament, you will see that all the threads or lines are usually worked together to form a harmonious whole, but there is some special center of the design toward which everything works. In the short story, as soon as the author arrives at the crucial point he is through, often having no other conclusion. This ending is so important that it must always be thought out or planned for from the very beginning. This is true even in a surprise ending, such as O. Henry delights in.
Unlike the novel, the short story works its plot out in some single main incident, which is usually acted out by one chief character in a short space of time, and all but the necessary details are omitted. Thus the short story, which is read in a brief time, has a better opportunity than the novel to produce a complete unity of effect upon the mind of the reader, such as the effect of horror in Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher."
The short story consists of setting, characterization, and narrative. Any one of these may be emphasized more than the other two. To illustrate from the stories included in this book: Mr. Garland has emphasized setting, or time, place, and atmosphere, in "The Camping Trip." That is, the greatest interest in the story lies in the beautiful background of the out-of-doors in Iowa in the month of June. In "Friends," on the other hand, Myra Kelly has emphasized characterization, for Mrs. Mowgelewsky, Morris, and Miss Bailey present the real interest of the story. In "The Red-Headed League" by Conan Doyle the attention centers upon the action.
The technical details of the short story may be summed up and made clearer to you by illustrating them from the first story given in this collection, "The Gift of the Magi." The story is "set" in an eight-dollar-a-week apartment in New York City on the day before Christmas of some recent year, in an atmosphere of poverty, but a poverty made radiant by unselfish love. The plot of one main incident—Della's sacrifice of her hair in order to get a Christmas present for her husband—takes place in the short space of a few hours, and works out to a half-humorous, half-pathetic climax, when Della and Jim display their Christmas gifts for each other. This story has a conclusion of one paragraph in length where the author reflects upon what makes a real Christmas giver.
This is the skeleton of the story, but when you think it over, you will realize that the real charm and interest for you lay in something that the genius and style of the writer infused into this framework of the story.
Suggestions. In the composition work that you do during the weeks that you are reading the short stories in this volume would it not be interesting to you to try to write stories with little plots that lead up to some high point of interest, stories of a single main incident or a closely related series of events covering a short space of time?
You will find that the stories in this collection are of different types with settings that take you in imagination all over our own country and into foreign lands. Try writing a story with a surprise ending like "The Gift of the Magi," a character story with the theme of unselfish love, and its setting in a big city. Again, "John G," the story of adventure with an animal for the hero, might suggest to you an adventuresome incident in your own experience. If you have a vivid imagination, it might be interesting to write a fanciful story like "Feathertop." All of you have heard of true and thrilling incidents of the recent Great War. Try to weave one into a good war story as did Daudet or Mrs. Andrews. Almost every young person loves nature or the open country. After you have read Mr. Garland's, "The Camping Trip," see how well you can tell a story of your own experience in the out-of-doors. Or, best of all, see if you can equal the great Conan Doyle in a detective story.
With the help of the biographical sketches and study notes, see if you can classify, as types, the stories that have not been classified in the preceding paragraph.
The Gift of the Magi[11-1]
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of "Dillingham" looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the Queen of Sheba[13-1] lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still where a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mme. Sofronie, Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain, simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the eighty-seven cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—Oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"
At seven o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please, God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn't live through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again—you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say 'Merry Christmas,' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet, even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with a sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there is anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, Oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hand under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.
A Reward of Merit
Penrod and Sam made a gloomy discovery one morning in mid-October. All the week had seen amiable breezes and fair skies until Saturday, when, about breakfast-time, the dome of heaven filled solidly with gray vapor and began to drip. The boys' discovery was that there is no justice about the weather.
They sat in the carriage-house of the Schofields' empty stable; the doors upon the alley were open, and Sam and Penrod stared torpidly at the thin but implacable drizzle which was the more irritating because there was barely enough of it to interfere with a number of things they had planned to do.
"Yes; this is nice!" Sam said, in a tone of plaintive sarcasm. "This is a perty way to do!" (He was alluding to the personal spitefulness of the elements.) "I'd like to know what's the sense of it—ole sun pourin' down every day in the week when nobody needs it, then cloud up and rain all Saturday! My father said it's goin' to be a three days' rain."
"Well, nobody with any sense cares if it rains Sunday and Monday," said Penrod. "I wouldn't care if it rained every Sunday as long as I lived; but I just like to know what's the reason it had to go and rain to-day. Got all the days o' the week to choose from and goes and picks on Saturday. That's a fine biz'nuss!"
"Well, in vacation——" Sam began, but at a sound from a source invisible to him he paused. "What's that?" he said, somewhat startled.
It was a curious sound, loud and hollow and unhuman, yet it seemed to be a cough. Both boys rose, and Penrod asked uneasily, "Where'd that noise come from?"
"It's in the alley," said Sam.
Perhaps if the day had been bright, both of them would have stepped immediately to the alley doors to investigate; but their actual procedure was to move a little distance in the opposite direction. The strange cough sounded again.
"Say!" Penrod quavered. "What is that?"
Then both boys uttered smothered exclamations and jumped, for the long, gaunt head which appeared in the doorway was entirely unexpected. It was the cavernous and melancholy head of an incredibly thin, old, whitish horse. This head waggled slowly from side to side; the nostrils vibrated; the mouth opened, and the hollow cough sounded again.
Recovering themselves, Penrod and Sam underwent the customary human reaction from alarm to indignation.
"What you want, you ole horse, you?" Penrod shouted. "Don't you come coughin' around me!"
And Sam, seizing a stick, hurled it at the intruder.
"Get out o' here!" he roared.
The aged horse nervously withdrew his head, turned tail, and made a rickety flight up the alley, while Sam and Penrod, perfectly obedient to inherited impulse,[21-1] ran out into the drizzle and uproariously pursued. They were but automatons of instinct,[21-2] meaning no evil. Certainly they did not know the singular and pathetic history of the old horse who had wandered into the alley and ventured to look through the open door.
This horse, about twice the age of either Penrod or Sam, had lived to find himself in a unique position. He was nude, possessing neither harness nor halter; all he had was a name, Whitey, and he would have answered to it by a slight change of expression if any one had thus properly addressed him. So forlorn was Whitey's case, he was actually an independent horse; he had not even an owner. For two days and a half he had been his own master.
Previous to that period he had been the property of one Abalene Morris, a person of color, who would have explained himself as engaged in the hauling business. On the contrary, the hauling business was an insignificant side line with Mr. Morris, for he had long ago given himself, as utterly as fortune permitted, to that talent which, early in youth, he had recognized as the greatest of all those surging in his bosom. In his waking thoughts and in his dreams, in health and in sickness, Abalene Morris was the dashing and emotional practitioner of an art[22-1] probably more than Roman in antiquity. Abalene was a crap-shooter. The hauling business was a disguise.
A concentration of events had brought it about that, at one and the same time, Abalene, after a dazzling run of the dice, found the hauling business an actual danger to the preservation of his liberty. He won seventeen dollars and sixty cents, and within the hour found himself in trouble with an officer of the Humane Society on account of an altercation with Whitey. Abalene had been offered four dollars for Whitey some ten days earlier; wherefore he at once drove to the shop of the junk-dealer who had made the offer and announced his acquiescence in the sacrifice.
"No, suh!" said the junk-dealer, with emphasis. "I awready done got me a good mule fer my deliv'ry-hoss, 'n'at ole Whitey hoss ain' wuff no fo' dollah nohow! I 'uz a fool when I talk 'bout th'owin' money roun' that a-way. I know what you up to, Abalene. Man come by here li'l bit ago tole me all 'bout white man try to 'rest you, ovah on the avvynoo. Yessuh; he say white man goin' to git you yit an' th'ow you in jail 'count o' Whitey. White man tryin' to fine out who you is. He say, nemmine, he'll know Whitey ag'in, even if he don' know you! He say he ketch you by the hoss; so you come roun' tryin' fix me up with Whitey so white man grab me, th'ow me in 'at jail. G'on 'way f'um hyuh, you Abalene! You cain' sell an' you cain' give Whitey to no cullud man 'in 'is town. You go an' drowned 'at ole hoss, 'cause you sutny goin' to jail if you git ketched drivin' him."
The substance of this advice seemed good to Abalene, especially as the seventeen dollars and sixty cents in his pocket lent sweet colors to life out of jail at this time. At dusk he led Whitey to a broad common at the edge of town, and spoke to him finally.
"G'on 'bout you biz'nis," said Abalene; "you ain' my hoss. Don' look roun' at me, 'cause I ain' got no 'quaintance wif you. I'm a man o' money, an' I got my own frien's; I'm a-lookin' fer bigger cities, hoss. You got you' biz'nis an' I got mine. Mista' Hoss, good-night!"
Whitey found a little frosted grass upon the common and remained there all night. In the morning he sought the shed where Abalene had kept him, but that was across the large and busy town, and Whitey was hopelessly lost. He had but one eye; a feeble one; and his legs were not to be depended upon; but he managed to cover a great deal of ground, to have many painful little adventures, and to get monstrously hungry and thirsty before he happened to look in upon Penrod and Sam.
When the two boys chased him up the alley, they had no intention to cause pain; they had no intention at all. They were no more cruel than Duke, Penrod's little old dog, who followed his own instincts, and, making his appearance hastily through a hole in the back fence, joined the pursuit with sound and fury. A boy will nearly always run after anything that is running, and his first impulse is to throw a stone at it. This is a survival of primeval man, who must take every chance to get his dinner. So, when Penrod and Sam drove the hapless Whitey up the alley, they were really responding to an impulse thousands and thousands of years old—an impulse founded upon the primordial observation that whatever runs is likely to prove edible. Penrod and Sam were not "bad"; they were never that. They were something which was not their fault; they were historic.
At the next corner Whitey turned to the right into the cross-street; thence, turning to the right again and still warmly pursued, he zigzagged down a main thoroughfare until he reached another cross-street, which ran alongside the Schofields' yard and brought him to the foot of the alley he had left behind in his flight. He entered the alley, and there his dim eye fell upon the open door he had previously investigated. No memory of it remained, but the place had a look associated in his mind with hay, and as Sam and Penrod turned the corner of the alley in panting yet still vociferous pursuit, Whitey stumbled up the inclined platform before the open doors, staggered thunderously across the carriage-house and through another open door into a stall, an apartment vacant since the occupancy of Mr. Schofield's last horse, now several years deceased.
The two boys shrieked with excitement as they beheld the coincidence of this strange return. They burst into the stable, making almost as much noise as Duke, who had become frantic at the invasion. Sam laid hands upon a rake.
"You get out o' there, you ole horse, you!" he bellowed. "I ain't afraid to drive him out. I——"
"Wait a minute!" shouted Penrod. "Wait till I——"
Sam was manfully preparing to enter the stall.
"You hold the doors open," he commanded, "so's they won't blow shut and keep him in here. I'm goin' to hit him with——"
"Quee-yut!" Penrod shouted, grasping the handle of the rake so that Sam could not use it. "Wait a minute, can't you?" He turned with ferocious voice and gestures upon Duke. "Duke!" And Duke, in spite of his excitement, was so impressed that he prostrated himself in silence, and then unobtrusively withdrew from the stable. Penrod ran to the alley doors and closed them.
"My gracious!" Sam protested. "What you goin' to do?"
"I'm goin' to keep this horse," said Penrod, whose face showed the strain of a great idea.
"For the reward," said Penrod simply.
Sam sat down in the wheelbarrow and stared at his friend almost with awe.
"My gracious," he said, "I never thought o' that! How—how much do you think we'll get, Penrod?"
Sam's thus admitting himself to a full partnership in the enterprise met no objection from Penrod, who was absorbed in the contemplation of Whitey.
"Well," he said judicially, "we might get more and we might get less."
Sam rose and joined his friend in the doorway opening upon the two stalls. Whitey had preempted the nearer, and was hungrily nuzzling the old frayed hollows in the manger.
"May be a hundred dollars—or sumpthing?" Sam asked in a low voice.
Penrod maintained his composure and repeated the new-found expression which had sounded well to him a moment before. He recognized it as a symbol of the non-committal attitude that makes people looked up to. "Well"—he made it slow, and frowned—"we might get more and we might get less."
"More'n a hundred dollars?" Sam gasped.
"Well," said Penrod, "we might get more and we might get less." This time, however, he felt the need of adding something. He put a question in an indulgent tone, as though he were inquiring, not to add to his own information but to discover the extent of Sam's. "How much do you think horses are worth, anyway?"
"I don't know," said Sam frankly, and, unconsciously, he added, "They might be more and they might be less."
"Well, when our ole horse died," said Penrod, "papa said he wouldn't taken five hundred dollars for him. That's how much horses are worth!"
"My gracious!" Sam exclaimed. Then he had a practical afterthought. "But maybe he was a better horse than this'n. What color was he?"
"He was bay. Looky here, Sam"—and now Penrod's manner changed from the superior to the eager—"you look what kind of horses they have in a circus, and you bet a circus has the best horses, don't it? Well, what kind of horses do they have in a circus? They have some black and white ones, but the best they have are white all over. Well, what kind of a horse is this we got here? He's perty near white right now, and I bet if we washed him off and got him fixed up nice he would be white. Well, a bay horse is worth five hundred dollars, because that's what papa said, and this horse——"
Sam interrupted rather timidly.
"He—he's awful bony, Penrod. You don't guess that'd make any——"
Penrod laughed contemptuously.
"Bony! All he needs is a little food and he'll fill right up and look good as ever. You don't know much about horses, Sam, I expect. Why, our ole horse——"
"Do you expect he's hungry now?" asked Sam, staring at Whitey.
"Let's try him," said Penrod. "Horses like hay and oats the best, but they'll eat most anything."
"I guess they will. He's tryin' to eat that manger up right now, and I bet it ain't good for him."
"Come on," said Penrod, closing the door that gave entrance to the stalls. "We got to get this horse some drinkin'-water and some good food."
They tried Whitey's appetite first with an autumnal branch which they wrenched from a hardy maple in the yard. They had seen horses nibble leaves, and they expected Whitey to nibble the leaves of this branch, but his ravenous condition did not allow him time for cool discriminations. Sam poked the branch at him from the passageway, and Whitey, after one backward movement of alarm, seized it venomously. "Here! You stop that!" Sam shouted. "You stop that, you ole horse, you!"
"What's the matter?" called Penrod from the hydrant, where he was filling a bucket. "What's he doin' now?"
"Doin'! He's eatin' the wood part, too! He's chewin' up sticks as big as baseball bats! He's crazy!"
Penrod rushed to see this sight, and stood aghast.
"Take it away from him, Sam!" he commanded sharply.
"Go on, take it away from him yourself!" was the prompt retort of his comrade.
"You had no biz'nuss to give it to him," said Penrod. "Anybody with any sense ought to know it'd make him sick. What'd you want to go and give it to him for?"
"Well, you didn't say not to."
"Well, what if I didn't? I never said I did, did I? You go on in that stall and take it away from him."
"Yes, I will!" Sam returned bitterly. Then, as Whitey had dragged the remains of the branch from the manger to the floor of the stall, Sam scrambled to the top of the manger and looked over. "There ain't much left to take away! He's swallered it all except some splinters. Better give him the water to try and wash it down with." And, as Penrod complied, "My gracious, look at that horse drink!"
They gave Whitey four buckets of water, and then debated the question of nourishment. Obviously, this horse could not be trusted with branches, and, after getting their knees black and their backs sodden, they gave up trying to pull enough grass to sustain him. Then Penrod remembered that horses like apples, both "cooking-apples" and "eating-apples," and Sam mentioned the fact that every autumn his father received a barrel of "cooking-apples" from a cousin who owned a farm. That barrel was in the Williams' cellar now, and the cellar was providentially supplied with "outside doors," so that it could be visited without going through the house. Sam and Penrod set forth for the cellar.
They returned to the stable bulging, and, after a discussion of Whitey's digestion (Sam claiming that eating the core and seeds, as Whitey did, would grow trees in his inside), they went back to the cellar for supplies again—and again. They made six trips, carrying each time a capacity cargo of apples, and still Whitey ate in a famished manner. They were afraid to take more apples from the barrel, which began to show conspicuously the result of their raids, wherefore Penrod made an unostentatious visit to the cellar of his own house. From the inside he opened a window and passed vegetables out to Sam, who placed them in a bucket and carried them hurriedly to the stable, while Penrod returned in a casual manner through the house. Of his sang-froid[30-1] under a great strain it is sufficient to relate that, in the kitchen, he said suddenly to Della, the cook, "Oh, look behind you!" and by the time Della discovered that there was nothing unusual behind her, Penrod was gone, and a loaf of bread from the kitchen table was gone with him.
Whitey now ate nine turnips, two heads of lettuce, one cabbage, eleven raw potatoes, and the loaf of bread. He ate the loaf of bread last and he was a long time about it; so the boys came to a not unreasonable conclusion.
"Well, sir, I guess we got him filled up at last!" said Penrod. "I bet he wouldn't eat a saucer of ice-cream now, if we'd give it to him!"
"He looks better to me," said Sam, staring critically at Whitey. "I think he's kind of begun to fill out some. I expect he must like us, Penrod; we been doin' a good deal for this horse."
"Well, we got to keep it up," Penrod insisted rather pompously. "Long as I got charge o' this horse, he's goin' to get good treatment."
"What we better do now, Penrod?"
Penrod took on the outward signs of deep thought.
"Well, there's plenty to do, all right. I got to think."
Sam made several suggestions, which Penrod—maintaining his air of preoccupation—dismissed with mere gestures.
"Oh, I know!" Sam cried finally. "We ought to wash him so's he'll look whiter'n what he does now. We can turn the hose on him acrost the manger."
"No; not yet," said Penrod. "It's too soon after his meal. You ought to know that yourself. What we got to do is to make up a bed for him—if he wants to lay down or anything."
"Make up a what for him?" Sam echoed, dumfounded. "What you talkin' about? How can——"
"Sawdust," said Penrod. "That's the way the horse we used to have used to have it. We'll make this horse's bed in the other stall, and then he can go in there and lay down whenever he wants to."
"How we goin' to do it?"
"Look, Sam; there's the hole into the sawdust-box! All you got to do is walk in there with the shovel, stick the shovel in the hole till it gets full of sawdust, and then sprinkle it around on the empty stall."
"All I got to do!" Sam cried. "What are you goin' to do?"
"I'm goin' to be right here," Penrod answered reassuringly. "He won't kick or anything, and it isn't goin' to take you half a second to slip around behind him to the other stall."
"What makes you think he won't kick?"
"Well, I know he won't, and, besides, you could hit him with the shovel if he tried to. Anyhow, I'll be right here, won't I?"
"I don't care where you are," Sam said earnestly. "What difference would that make if he ki——"
"Why, you were goin' right in the stall," Penrod reminded him. "When he first came in, you were goin' to take the rake and——"
"I don't care if I was," Sam declared. "I was excited then."
"Well, you can get excited now, can't you?" his friend urged. "You can just as easy get——"
He was interrupted by a shout from Sam, who was keeping his eye upon Whitey throughout the discussion.
"Look! Looky there!" And undoubtedly renewing his excitement, Sam pointed at the long, gaunt head beyond the manger. It was disappearing from view. "Look!" Sam shouted. "He's layin' down!"
"Well, then," said Penrod, "I guess he's goin' to take a nap. If he wants to lay down without waitin' for us to get the sawdust fixed for him, that's his lookout, not ours."
On the contrary, Sam perceived a favorable opportunity for action.
"I just as soon go and make his bed up while he's layin' down," he volunteered. "You climb up on the manger and watch him, Penrod, and I'll sneak in the other stall and fix it all up nice for him, so's he can go in there any time when he wakes up, and lay down again, or anything; and if he starts to get up, you holler and I'll jump out over the other manger."
Accordingly, Penrod established himself in a position to observe the recumbent figure. Whitey's breathing was rather labored but regular, and, as Sam remarked, he looked "better," even in his slumber. It is not to be doubted that, although Whitey was suffering from a light attack of colic, his feelings were in the main those of contentment. After trouble, he was solaced; after exposure, he was sheltered; after hunger and thirst, he was fed and watered. He slept.
The noon whistles blew before Sam's task was finished, but by the time he departed for lunch there was made a bed of such quality that Whitey must needs have been born faultfinder if he complained of it. The friends parted, each urging the other to be prompt in returning, but Penrod got into threatening difficulties as soon as he entered the house.
"Penrod," said his mother, "what did you do with that loaf of bread Della says you took from the table?"
"Ma'am? What loaf o' bread?"
"I believe I can't let you go outdoors this afternoon," Mrs. Schofield said severely. "If you were hungry, you know perfectly well all you had to do was to——"
"But I wasn't hungry; I——"
"You can explain later," said Mrs. Schofield. "You'll have all afternoon."
Penrod's heart grew cold.
"I can't stay in," he protested. "I've asked Sam Williams to come over."
"I'll telephone Mrs. Williams."
"Mamma!" Penrod's voice became agonized. "I had to give that bread to a—to a poor ole man. He was starving and so were his children and his wife. They were all just starving—and they couldn't wait while I took time to come and ask you, mamma. I got to go outdoors this afternoon. I got to! Sam's——"
In the carriage-house, half an hour later, Penrod gave an account of the episode.
"Where'd we been, I'd just like to know," he concluded, "if I hadn't got out here this afternoon?"
"Well, I guess I could managed him all right," said Sam. "I was in the passageway, a minute ago, takin' a look at him. He's standin' up agin. I expect he wants more to eat."
"Well, we got to fix about that," said Penrod. "But what I mean—if I'd had to stay in the house, where would we been about the most important thing in the whole biz'nuss?"
"What you talkin' about?"
"Well, why can't you wait till I tell you?" Penrod's tone had become peevish. For that matter, so had Sam's; they were developing one of the little differences, or quarrels, that composed the very texture of their friendship.
"Well, why don't you tell me, then?"
"Well, how can I?" Penrod demanded. "You keep talkin' every minute."
"I'm not talkin' now, am I?" Sam protested. "You can tell me now, can't you? I'm not talk——"
"You are, too!" shouted Penrod. "You talk all the time! You——"
He was interrupted by Whitey's peculiar cough. Both boys jumped and forgot their argument.
"He means he wants some more to eat, I bet," said Sam.
"Well, if he does, he's got to wait," Penrod declared. "We got to get the most important thing of all fixed up first."
"What's that, Penrod?"
"The reward," said Penrod mildly. "That's what I was tryin' to tell you about, Sam, if you'd ever give me half a chance."
"Well, I did give you a chance. I kept tellin' you to tell me, but——"
"You never! You kept sayin'——"
They renewed this discussion, protracting it indefinitely; but as each persisted in clinging to his own interpretation of the facts, the question still remains unsettled. It was abandoned, or rather, it merged into another during the later stages of the debate, this other being concerned with which of the debaters had the least "sense." Each made the plain statement that if he were more deficient than his opponent in that regard, self-destruction would be his only refuge. Each declared that he would "rather die than be talked to death"; and then, as the two approached a point bluntly recriminative, Whitey coughed again, whereupon they were miraculously silent, and went into the passageway in a perfectly amiable manner.
"I got to have a good look at him, for once," said Penrod, as he stared frowningly at Whitey. "We got to fix up about that reward."
"I want to take a good ole look at him myself," said Sam.
After supplying Whitey with another bucket of water, they returned to the carriage-house and seated themselves thoughtfully. In truth, they were something a shade more than thoughtful; the adventure to which they had committed themselves was beginning to be a little overpowering. If Whitey had been a dog, a goat, a fowl, or even a stray calf, they would have felt equal to him; but now that the earlier glow of their wild daring had disappeared, vague apprehensions stirred. Their "good look" at Whitey had not reassured them—he seemed large, Gothic,[36-1] and unusual.
Whisperings within them began to urge that for boys to undertake an enterprise connected with so huge an animal as an actual horse was perilous. Beneath the surface of their musings, dim but ominous prophecies moved; both boys began to have the feeling that, somehow, this affair was going to get beyond them and that they would be in heavy trouble before it was over—they knew not why. They knew why no more than they knew why they felt it imperative to keep the fact of Whitey's presence in the stable a secret from their respective families, but they did begin to realize that keeping a secret of that size was going to be attended with some difficulty. In brief, their sensations were becoming comparable to those of the man who stole a house.
Nevertheless, after a short period given to unspoken misgivings, they returned to the subject of the reward. The money-value of bay horses, as compared to white, was again discussed, and each announced his certainty that nothing less than "a good ole hundred dollars" would be offered for the return of Whitey.
But immediately after so speaking they fell into another silence, due to sinking feelings. They had spoken loudly and confidently, and yet they knew, somehow, that such things were not to be. According to their knowledge, it was perfectly reasonable to suppose that they would receive this fortune, but they frightened themselves in speaking of it; they knew that they could not have a hundred dollars for their own. An oppression, as from something awful and criminal, descended upon them at intervals.
Presently, however, they were warmed to a little cheerfulness again by Penrod's suggestion that they should put a notice in the paper. Neither of them had the slightest idea how to get it there, but such details as that were beyond the horizon; they occupied themselves with the question of what their advertisement ought to "say." Finding that they differed irreconcilably, Penrod went to a cache of his in the sawdust-box and brought two pencils and a supply of paper. He gave one of the pencils and several sheets to Sam; then both boys bent themselves in silence to the labor of practical composition. Penrod produced the briefer paragraph. (See Fig. I.) Sam's was more ample. (See Fig. II.)
Neither Sam nor Penrod showed any interest in what the other had written, but both felt that something praiseworthy had been accomplished. Penrod exhaled a sigh, as of relief, and, in a manner he had observed his father use sometimes, he said:
"Thank goodness, that's off my mind, anyway!"
"What we goin' do next, Penrod?" Sam asked deferentially, the borrowed manner having some effect upon him.
"I don't know what you're goin' to do," Penrod returned, picking up the old cigar box which had contained the paper and pencils. "I'm goin' to put mine in here, so's it'll come in handy when I haf to get at it."
"Well, I guess I'll keep mine there, too," said Sam. Thereupon he deposited his scribbled slip beside Penrod's in the cigar box, and the box was solemnly returned to the secret place whence it had been taken.
"There, that's 'tended to!" said Sam, and, unconsciously imitating his friend's imitation, he gave forth audibly a breath of satisfaction and relief. Both boys felt that the financial side of their great affair had been conscientiously looked to, that the question of the reward was settled, and that everything was proceeding in a businesslike manner. Therefore, they were able to turn their attention to another matter.
This was the question of Whitey's next meal. After their exploits of the morning, and the consequent imperilment of Penrod, they decided that nothing more was to be done in apples, vegetables, or bread; it was evident that Whitey must be fed from the bosom of nature.
"We couldn't pull enough o' that frostbit ole grass in the yard to feed him," Penrod said gloomily. "We could work a week and not get enough to make him swaller more'n about twice. All we got this morning, he blew most of it away. He'd try to scoop it in toward his teeth with his lip, and then he'd haf to kind of blow out his breath, and after that all the grass that'd be left was just some wet pieces stickin' to the outsides of his face. Well, and you know how he acted about that maple branch. We can't trust him with branches."
Sam jumped up.
"I know!" he cried. "There's lots of leaves left on the branches. We can give them to him."
"I just said——"
"I don't mean the branches," Sam explained. "We'll leave the branches on the trees, but just pull the leaves off the branches and put 'em in the bucket and feed 'em to him out the bucket."
Penrod thought this plan worth trying, and for three-quarters of an hour the two boys were busy with the lower branches of various trees in the yard. Thus they managed to supply Whitey with a fair quantity of wet leaves, which he ate in a perfunctory way, displaying little of his earlier enthusiasm. And the work of his purveyors might have been more tedious if it had been less damp, for a boy is seldom bored by anything that involves his staying-out in the rain without protection. The drizzle had thickened; the leaves were heavy with water, and at every jerk the branches sent fat drops over the two collectors. They attained a noteworthy state of sogginess.
Finally, they were brought to the attention of the authorities indoors, and Della appeared upon the back porch.
"Musther Penrod," she called, "y'r mamma says ye'll c'm in the house this minute an' change y'r shoes an' stockin's an' everythun' else ye got on! D'ye hear me?"
Penrod, taken by surprise and unpleasantly alarmed, darted away from the tree he was depleting and ran for the stable.
"You tell her I'm dry as toast!" he shouted over his shoulder.
Della withdrew, wearing the air of a person gratuitously insulted; and a moment later she issued from the kitchen, carrying an umbrella. She opened it and walked resolutely to the stable.
"She says I'm to bring ye in the house," said Della, "an' I'm goin' to bring ye!"
Sam had joined Penrod in the carriage-house, and, with the beginnings of an unnamed terror, the two beheld this grim advance. But they did not stay for its culmination. Without a word to each other they hurriedly tiptoed up the stairs to the gloomy loft, and there they paused, listening.
They heard Della's steps upon the carriage-house floor.
"Ah, there's plenty places t'hide in," they heard her say; "but I'll show ye! She tole me to bring ye, and I'm——"
She was interrupted by a peculiar sound—loud, chilling, dismal, and unmistakably not of human origin. The boys knew it for Whitey's cough, but Della had not their experience. A smothered shriek reached their ears; there was a scurrying noise, and then, with horror, they heard Della's footsteps in the passageway that ran by Whitey's manger. Immediately there came a louder shriek, and even in the anguish of knowing their secret discovered, they were shocked to hear distinctly the words, "O Lard in hivvin!" in the well-known voice of Della. She shrieked again, and they heard the rush of her footfalls across the carriage-house floor. Wild words came from the outer air, and the kitchen door slammed violently. It was all over. She had gone to "tell."
Penrod and Sam plunged down the stairs and out of the stable. They climbed the back fence and fled up the alley. They turned into Sam's yard, and, without consultation, headed for the cellar doors, nor paused till they found themselves in the farthest, darkest, and gloomiest recess of the cellar. There, perspiring, stricken with fear, they sank down upon the earthen floor, with their moist backs against the stone wall.
Thus with boys. The vague apprehensions that had been creeping upon Penrod and Sam all afternoon had become monstrous; the unknown was before them. How great their crime would turn out to be (now that it was in the hands of grown people), they did not know, but, since it concerned a horse, it would undoubtedly be considered of terrible dimensions.
Their plans for a reward, and all the things that had seemed both innocent and practical in the morning, now staggered their minds as manifestations of criminal folly. A new and terrible light seemed to play upon the day's exploits; they had chased a horse belonging to strangers, and it would be said that they deliberately drove him into the stable and there concealed him. They had, in truth, virtually stolen him, and they had stolen food for him. The waning light through the small window above them warned Penrod that his inroads upon the vegetables in his own cellar must soon be discovered. Della, that Nemesis,[43-1] would seek them in order to prepare them for dinner, and she would find them not. But she would recall his excursion to the cellar, for she had seen him when he came up; and also the truth would be known concerning the loaf of bread. Altogether, Penrod felt that his case was worse than Sam's—until Sam offered a suggestion which roused such horrible possibilitites concerning the principal item of their offense that all thought of the smaller indictments disappeared.
"Listen, Penrod," Sam quavered: "What—what if that—what if that ole horse maybe b'longed to a—policeman!" Sam's imagination was not of the comforting kind. "What'd they—do to us, Penrod, if it turned out he was some policeman's horse?"
Penrod was able only to shake his head. He did not reply in words, but both boys thenceforth considered it almost inevitable that Whitey had belonged to a policeman, and in their sense of so ultimate a disaster, they ceased for a time to brood upon what their parents would probably do to them. The penalty for stealing a policeman's horse would be only a step short of capital, they were sure. They would not be hanged; but vague, looming sketches of something called the penitentiary began to flicker before them.
It grew darker in the cellar, so that finally they could not see each other.
"I guess they're huntin' for us by now," Sam said huskily. "I don't—I don't like it much down here, Penrod."
Penrod's hoarse whisper came from the profound gloom:
"Well, who ever said you did?"
"Well——" Sam paused; then he said plaintively, "I wish we'd never seen that dern ole horse."
"It was every bit his fault," said Penrod. "We didn't do anything. If he hadn't come stickin' his ole head in our stable, it'd never happened at all. Ole fool!" He rose. "I'm goin' to get out of here; I guess I've stood about enough for one day."
"Where—where you goin', Penrod? You aren't goin' home, are you?"
"No; I'm not! What do you take me for? You think I'm crazy?"
"Well, where can you go?"
How far Penrod's desperation actually would have led him is doubtful, but he made this statement:
"I don't know where you're goin', but I'm goin' to walk straight out in the country till I come to a farm-house and say my name's George and live there!"
"I'll do it, too," Sam whispered eagerly. "I'll say my name's Henry."
"Well, we better get started," said the executive Penrod. "We got to get away from here, anyway."
But when they came to ascend the steps leading to the "outside doors," they found that those doors had been closed and locked for the night.
"It's no use," Sam lamented, "and we can't bust 'em, cause I tried to, once before. Fanny always locks 'em about five o'clock—I forgot. We got to go up the stairway and try to sneak out through the house."
They tiptoed back, and up the inner stairs. They paused at the top, then breathlessly stepped out into a hall which was entirely dark. Sam touched Penrod's sleeve in warning, and bent to listen at a door.
Immediately that door opened, revealing the bright library, where sat Penrod's mother and Sam's father.
It was Sam's mother who had opened the door.
"Come into the library, boys," she said. "Mrs. Schofield is just telling us about it."
And as the two comrades moved dumbly into the lighted room, Penrod's mother rose, and, taking him by the shoulder, urged him close to the fire.
"You stand there and try to dry off a little, while I finish telling Mr. and Mrs. Williams about you and Sam," she said. "You'd better make Sam keep near the fire, too, Mrs. Williams, because they both got wringing wet. Think of their running off just when most people would have wanted to stay! Well, I'll go on with the story, then. Della told me all about it, and what the cook next door said she'd seen, how they'd been trying to pull grass and leaves for the poor old thing all day—and all about the apples they carried from your cellar, and getting wet and working in the rain as hard as they could—and they'd given him a loaf of bread! Shame on you, Penrod!" She paused to laugh, but there was a little moisture round her eyes, even before she laughed. "And they'd fed him on potatoes and lettuce and cabbage and turnips out of our cellar! And I wish you'd see the sawdust bed they made for him! Well, when I'd telephoned, and the Humane Society man got there, he said it was the most touching thing he ever knew. It seems he knew this horse, and had been looking for him. He said ninety-nine boys out of a hundred would have chased the poor old thing away, and he was going to see to it that this case didn't go unnoticed, because the local branch of the society gives little silver medals for special acts like this. And the last thing he said before he led the poor old horse away was that he was sure Penrod and Sam each would be awarded one at the meeting of the society next Thursday night."
... On the following Saturday morning a yodel sounded from the sunny sidewalk in front of the Schofields' house, and Penrod, issuing forth, beheld the familiar figure of Samuel Williams in waiting.
Upon Sam's breast there glittered a round bit of silver suspended by a white ribbon from a bar of the same metal. Upon the breast of Penrod was a decoration precisely similar.
"'Lo, Penrod," said Sam. "What you goin' to do?"
"I got mine on," said Sam.
"I have, too," said Penrod. "I wouldn't take a hundred dollars for mine."
Each glanced pleasantly at the other's medal. They faced each other without shame. Neither had the slightest sense of hypocrisy either in himself or in his comrade. On the contrary!
Penrod's eyes went from Sam's medal back to his own; thence they wandered, with perhaps a little disappointment, to the lifeless street and to the empty yards and spectatorless windows of the neighborhood. Then he looked southward toward the busy heart of the town, where multitudes were.
"Let's go down and see what time it is by the court-house clock," said Penrod.
MARY RAYMOND SHIPMAN ANDREWS
"Dear Uncle Bill:" (And why he should have called me "Uncle Bill," Heaven only knows. I was not his uncle and almost never had I been addressed as "Bill." But he chose the name, without explanation, from the first.) "Dear Uncle Bill: Where am I going to in vacation? The fellows ask. Their fathers come to Commencement and take them home. I'm the only one out, because my father's dead. And I haven't anybody to belong to. It would be great if you'd come. Yours Sincerely—John."
[A] Copyright, 1919, by the American National Red Cross.
I threw the letter in the scrap-basket and an hour later fished it out. I read it over. I—go to a school commencement! Not if I knew it! The cheek of the whippersnapper! I had not even seen him; he might be any sort of wild Indian; he might expect me to "take him home" afterwards. Rather not! I should give him to understand that I would pay his bills and—well, yes—I would send him to a proper place in vacations; but be bothered by him personally I would not. Fishing trips to Canada interrupted by a child! Unthinkable. I would write to that effect.
I sat down to my orderly desk and drew out paper. I began: "Dear John." Then I stopped. An unwelcome vision arose of a small boy who was "the only one out." "My father's dead." Thirty years rolled back, and I saw the charming boy, a cousin, who had come to be this lad's father. I turned my head at that thought, as long ago I had turned it every morning when I waked to look at him, the beautiful youngster of my adoration, sleeping across the room which we shared together. For a dozen years we shared that room and other things—ponies, trips abroad, many luxuries. For the father and mother who worshipped and pampered John, and who were casually kind to me, an uninteresting orphan—these were rich, then, and free-handed. Too free-handed, it was seen later, for when the two were killed at one moment in an accident, only debts were left for John. I was suddenly important, I, the gray satellite of the rainbow prince, for I had a moderate fortune. The two of us were just graduated from Yale; John with honors and prizes and hosts of friends, I with some prizes and honors. Yet I had not been "tapped" for "Bones" or "Scroll and Key"[49-1] and I was a solitary pilgrim ever, with no intimates. We stood so together, facing out towards life.
I split my unimpressive patrimony in two and John took his part and wandered south on a mining adventure. For that, he was always keen about the south and his plan from seventeen on was to live in Italy. But it was I, after all, who went to Italy year after year, while John led Lord knows what thriftless life in Florida. From the last morning when he had wheeled, in our old big room, and dashed across it and thrown his arms around me in his own impulsive, irresistible way—since that morning I had never seen him. Letters, plenty. More money was needed always. John always thought that the world owed him a living.
Then he did the thing which was incredible and I pulled him out and hushed up the story and repaid the money, but it made me ill, and I suppose I was a bit savage, for he barely answered my letters after, and shortly stopped writing altogether. John could not endure unpleasantness. I lost sight of him till years later when he—and I—were near forty and I had a note signed Margaret Donaldson, John's wife. John was dead. He had been on a shooting trip and a gun had gone off. Though it was not in words, yet through them I got a vague suggestion of suicide. Heavy-hearted, I wondered. The life so suddenly ended had once been dear to me.
"They did not bring John home," the note said. "He was so badly mutilated that they buried him near where he died. I believe he would have wanted you to know, and for that reason I am writing. I am an entirely capable bread-winner, so that John's boy and I will have no troubles as to money."
There was a child two years old. I liked the chill and the independence of the proud little note.
The next chapter opened ten years later with a letter saying that Margaret Donaldson's boy was left with her poor and elderly parents and that they did not want him. Would I, his mother being dead, take care of him? He was twelve, healthy and intelligent—which led directly to the evening when I sat, very cross, at my desk and fished young John's note out of the scrap-basket. I had got as far in answer as "Dear John"—when these visions of the past interrupted. I am not soft-hearted. I am crabbed and prejudiced and critical, and I dislike irregularity. Above all I am thoroughly selfish. But the sum of that is short of being brutal. Only sheer brutality could repel the lad's note and request. My answer went as follows:
"Dear John: I will come to your commencement and bring you back with me for a short time. I may take you on a fishing trip to Canada. Sincerely, Uncle Bill."
The youngster as he came into the school drawing-room was a thing to remember. He was a tall boy, and he looked like his father. Very olive he was—and is—and his blue eyes shone out of the dark face from under the same thickset and long lashes. His father's charm and beauty halted me, but I judged, before I let myself go, that he had also his mother's stability. I have seen no reason since to doubt my judgment. I never had so fine a fishing trip to Canada as that summer, in spite of the fact that John broke four good rods. He has been my most successful investment; and when the war broke out and he rushed to me clamoring to go, I felt indeed that I was giving humanity my best and my own. Then one day he came, in his uniform of an ambulance driver, to tell me good-bye.
That was in 1914, and the boy, just about to enter Yale, was eighteen. He went through bad fighting, and in March, 1917, he was given a Croix de Guerre.[52-1] Then America came in and he transferred to his own flag and continued ambulance work under our Red Cross. He drove one of the twenty ambulances hurried into Italy after the Caporetto disaster[52-2] in October, the first grip of the hand of America to that brave hand of Italy.
I did not know for a time that my lad was in the ambulance section rushed to Italy, but I had a particular interest from the first in this drive for I had spent weeks, twice, up in Lombardy and Venetia.[52-3] That was how I followed the Italian disaster—as a terrible blow to a number of old friends. Then after the Caporetto crisis came the stand behind the Tagliamento;[52-4] the retreat still farther and the more hopeful stand behind the Piave.[52-5] And with that I knew that the First Ambulance Section was racing to the Italian front and that my boy was driving one of the cars.
And behold it was now the year 1919 and the war was over and the cablegram from Bordeaux, which read: "Sailing 13th Santa Angela 12 day boat New York," was a week old.
Of course I met him. I left a director's meeting and vital engagements, with indecent firmness, to meet that ship. At crack of dawn on a raw morning in March I arose and drove miles to a freezing pier to meet it. And presently, as I stood muffled in a fur coat, an elderly, grizzled, small man, grim and unexhilarating—presently the soul of this monotonous person broke into song. For out of the early morning, out from behind a big anchored vessel near the pier, poked the nose of a troop ship and lumbered forward, and her decks were brown with three thousand soldiers—Americans of our victorious army coming home from overseas.
It was a sight which none of us will ever see again. Out in the harbor tugs were yelping, whistles blowing; the little fleet which had gone down the bay to meet the incoming troops was screaming itself mad in a last chorus of joyful welcome. And the good ship Santa Angela, blessed old tub, rolled nearer till the lads on her, shouting, waving, laughing, crying lads could be seen separately, and she had rounded the corner into the slip and was mere yards from the dock.
And then the boy came down the gangplank and I greeted him as is my ungracious way, as if he had been off on a sailing trip. But he knew, and he held to me, the tall fellow, with his arm around my shoulder unashamed, and from that moment to this in the den he had hardly let me out of his sight.
After dinner that night I settled back in deep satisfaction and lighted a fresh cigar. And the boy, standing before the blazing logs, which kept up a pleasant undertone to the music of his young voice, began.
"You know, Uncle Bill, we were blamed proud to be Red Cross when we knew what was doing about Italy. It was plumb great. You know it all of course. But I saw it. No worse fight ever—in all history. Towns turned into a rolling river of refugees. Hungry, filthy, rain-soaked, half-clad—old, babies, sick—a multitude pitiful beyond words—stumbling, racing down those mountain trails, anyhow—to get anywhere—away."
He dropped into a chair and went on.
"We didn't get there for the first, but it was plenty bad enough," and his eyes were seeing wordless sights. "The United States had declared war on Austria December 7th, and four days later Section One was rolling across the battlefield of Solferino.
"I was proud to be in that bunch. Talk about the flower of a country, Uncle Bill,—we grew 'em. Six wore the Croix de Guerre—well, of course that's often just luck." He reddened as he remembered who was one of that six. "All of them had gone through battles a-plenty. Whole shooting-match keen for service—no slackers and no greenhorns in that crowd.
"We started on the twelve hundred mile trip to Milan from Paris November 18th, and at Ventimiglia, just over the border, Italy welcomed us. Lord, Uncle Bill," the boy laughed out, and rubbed his eyes where tears stood. "They wouldn't look at our passports—no, sir! They opened the gate to Italy and we rolled in like visiting princes. They showered presents on us, those poor villagers—food, flowers—all they had. Often didn't keep any for themselves.
"We got there December 8th. Tuned up the cars and were off again in two or three days, to the job. They gave us a great send-off. Real party. Two parties. First a sort of reception in a big gray courtyard of an old palace, all dolled up with American and Italian flags. Big bugs and speeches—and they presented us to Italy. A bugle blew and a hundred of us in khaki—we'd been reinforced—stood at salute and an Italian general swept into the gates with his train of plumed Bersagliari[55-1]—sent to take us over. Then we twenty drove our busses out with our own flags flying and pulled up again for Party Number Two in front of the Cathedral. Finally the Mayor bid us his prettiest good-bye, and off we drove again through the cheering crowds and the waving flags—this time out of the city gate—to the Piave front."
The boy rose from his chair, put on a fresh log, then turned and stood facing me, towering over me in his young magnificence.
It flashed to me that I'd never seen him look so like his father, yet so different. All John Donaldson's physical beauty, all his charm were repeated in his son, but underlaid with a manliness, a force which poor John never had.
"We were pitched into the offensive in the hottest of it," spoke the boy. "It was thick. We were hampered by lack of workers. We wanted Americans. Morgan had a thought.
"'Italy's full of Americans,' he suggested. 'Living here. Over military age, but fit for a lot of our use. I miss my guess if bunches of 'em wouldn't jump at a chance to get busy under their own flag.'
"We sent out a call and they came. Down from hill-towns, out of cities, from villages we'd never heard of—it was amazing how they came. We didn't dream there was such a number. Every one middle-aged, American all, and gentlemen all. One morning, after brisk work the night before, I'd just turned out and was standing by my bus—I slept on a stretcher inside—I saw a big, athletic, grizzled chap, maybe fifty-five or over, shabby as to clothes, yet with an air like a duke, sauntering up. How he got in there I never thought to ask. He held out his hand as if we were old friends. 'Good morning,' he said. 'I hope I didn't wake you up. How do you like Italy?' There was something attractive about him, something suggestive of a gracious host whose flower garden was Italy—which he trusted was to my taste. I told him I worshipped Italy.
"Just then a shell—they were coming over off and on—struck two hundred yards down the road and we both turned to look. In thirty seconds, maybe, another—and another—placed middling close, half a minute apart maybe, till eight had plowed along that bit. When they stopped, he looked at me. 'That's the first time I ever saw shells light nearby,' he spoke. 'Eight, I made it. But two were duds, weren't they?'
"It didn't seem to occur to him that they might have hit him. About then he saw me wondering, I suppose, what a civilian was doing making conversation inside the lines before breakfast, and he explained.
"'You need men for the Red Cross, I believe,' he explained. 'I came to offer my services.' He spoke English perfectly, yet with a foreign twist, and he was so very dark that I wondered about his nationality.
"'Are you Italian?' I asked, and at that he started and straightened his big shabby shoulders as if I'd hit him, and flushed through his brown skin.
"'American, sir,' he said proudly.
"And, Uncle Bill, something in the way he said it almost brought tears to my eyes. It was as if his right to being American was the last and most precious thing he owned, and as if I'd tried to take it from him.
"So I threw back 'That's great,' as heartily as I knew how, and shook hands with him over it.
"There was something about him which I couldn't place. He looked—natural. Especially his eyes.
"Well, I said we'd be delighted to use him, and told him where to report and then, though it wasn't my business, I asked his name. And what do you think he told me?"
I shook my head.
"He gave his name as John Donaldson," stated the boy.
"What!" I asked bewildered. "This man in Italy was called——"
"By my name," the boy said slowly. "John Donaldson."
I reasoned a bit. "John Donaldson" is a name not impossible to be duplicated. "It was devilish odd," I said, "to run into your own handle like that, wasn't it?"
The boy went on. "At that second Ted Frith ran along shouting, '7:30. Better hurry. Coffee's waiting.' So I threw the strange man a good-bye and bolted.
"That day we were going some. They were heaving eggs from the other side of the Piave and we were bringing back wounded to the dressing stations as fast as we could make it over that wrecked land; going back faster for more. When I stopped for chow at midday, I found Ted Frith near me, eating also.
"'Remember the old boy you were talking to this morning?' asked Ted between two mouthfuls of dum-dums—that's beans, Uncle Bill. I 'lowed I remembered the old boy; in fact he'd stuck in my mind all day.
"'Well,' Ted went on, 'he's a ring-tailed snorter. He's got an American uniform, tin derby and all, and he's up in the front trenches in the cold and mud with his chocolates and stuff, talking the lingo to the wops and putting heart into them something surprising. They're cheering up wherever he goes. Good work.'
"That afternoon I ran into the man under hot fire hurrying down the communication trench for more stuff. He looked as pleased as a boy with a new pony. 'Hello,' I yelled across the noise. 'How do you like our Italy? They tell me you're helping a lot.'
"He stopped and stared with those queerly homelike, big eyes. 'Do they?' he smiled. 'It's the best time I've had for years, sir.'
"'Needn't sir me,' I explained. 'I'm not an officer.'
"'Ah, but you are—my superior officer,' he argued in a courteous, lovely way. 'I'm a recruit—raw recruit. Certainly I must say sir, to you.'
"'Duck there,' I shouted. 'You're on a rise—you'll be hit.'
"He glanced around. 'If you knew what a treat I'd consider it to be done for wearing this.' He looked down and slapped his big knee in its khaki. 'But if I'm helping, it's the game to keep whole. You see, sir,' and he laughed out loud—'this is my good day. I'm American to-day, sir!'
"And as I let in the clutch and turned the wheel, I sniffled. The man's delight at being allowed to do a turn of any sort under the flag got me.
"The hideous day wore on; one of the worst I went through. We were rushing 'em steadily—four badly wounded in the back you know, and one who could sit up in the front seat with the driver, every trip. About 3:30 as I was going up to the front lines, I struck Ted Firth again coming down.
"'That you, Johnny?' he shouted as we jammed together, and then: 'Your friend's got his,' he said. We were caught in a crowd and had to wait, so we could talk.
"'Oh no!' I groaned. 'Gone west?'
"He shook his head. 'I think not yet. But I'm afraid he's finished. Had to leave him. Didn't see him till I was loaded up. He's been stretcher-bearer the last three hours.'
"'The devil he has. Why?'
"'A sudden attack—bearer was killed. He jumped in and grabbed the stretcher. Powerful old boy. Back and forth from the hurricane to the little dressing station, and at last he got it. Thick to-day, isn't it?'
"'Stretcher-bearer!' I repeated. 'Nerve for a new bird.'
"'Nerve!' echoed Teddy. 'He's been eating it up. The hotter it got, the better it suited. He's one of the heroes fast enough. If he lives, he's due a cross for his last stunt—out under fire twice in five minutes to bring in wounded. But he won't live. There—it's clearing. You run along and find the old boy, Johnny.'
"I found him. He was hurt too badly to talk about. As gently as we knew how, Joe Barron and I lifted him into the car and he recognized me.
"'Why, good evening, sir,' he greeted me, smiling at the disputed title, charming and casual as ever. He identified me—'The boy who adored Italy.' Then: 'Such luck!' he gasped. 'Killed—in our uniform—serving!' And as he felt my hand on his forehead: 'For God's sake don't be sorry, lad,' he begged. 'A great finish for me. I never hoped for luck like this.'
"There's a small village," the boy went on—"I never knew its name; it's back of the Piave; only a pile of broken stuff now anyhow. But the church was standing that night, a lovely old church with a tower pierced with windows. We stuck in a traffic jam in front of that church. The roads were one solid column going forward into the mess. Mile after mile of it in one stream—and every parallel road must have been the same.
"It got dark early and the ration truck was late coming up, being caught in the jam. It was night by the time the eats were ready and I left my bus in front of the church I spoke of. I'd wished myself on the officers of a battery having mess in trees back of a ruined house. When I went back to the bus, it was clean dark. But the sky was alight with gun flashes from everywhere, a continuous flicker like summer lightning with glares here and there like a sudden blaze from a factory chimney. The rumbling gun thunder was without a break, punctuated by heavier boomings; the near guns seemed an insane 4th of July. I looked in at my load and I saw that my namesake was worse. We were still trapped in the jam; no chance of breaking for hours maybe. I saw then that they'd turned the church into a dressing station. There was straw on the stone floors and two surgeons and some orderlies. Wounded were being carried in on stretchers. Joe Barron and I lifted out John Donaldson and took him in and cared for him as well as possible until we could corral an overworked doctor. I thought I'd talk to him a bit to distract him, and he seemed glad to have me."
The lad stopped; his big fingers pulled at the collar of his uniform.
"Little by little," he went on, "John Donaldson of Italy told his story. He held tight to my hand as he told it." The boy halted again and bit at his lower lip with strong white teeth. "I like to remember that," he went on slowly. "He had lived nearly twenty years in Perugia. He had run away from America. Because—he—took money. Quite a lot of money. He—was supposed to be dead."
I sat forward, grasping the sides of my chair, pulling the thing out of the boy with straining gaze.
"Uncle Bill," he spoke, and his dear voice shook, "you know who it was. I found why his eyes looked familiar. They were exactly like my own. The man I was helping to die was my father."
I heard my throat make a queer sound, but I said no word. The voice flowed on, difficultly, determinedly.
"It's a strange thing to remember—a weird and unearthly bit of living—that war-ruined church, strewn with straw, the wounded wrapped like mummies in dark blankets, their white bandages making high spots in the wavering, irregular lights of lanterns and pocket flashes moving about. I sat on the pavement by his side, hand in hand. A big crucifix hung above, and the Christ seemed to be looking—at him."
The voice stopped. I heard my own as a sound from beyond me asking a question. "How did you find out?" I asked.
"Why, you see, Uncle Bill," he answered, as if my voice had helped him to normality a bit, "I started off by saying I'd write to anybody for him, and wasn't there somebody at home maybe? And he smiled out of his torture, and said 'Nobody.'
"Then I said how proud we were of such Americans as he had shown himself and how much he'd helped. I told him what Teddy Frith said of how he'd put heart into the men. And about the war cross. At that his face brightened.
"'Did he really say I'd helped?' He was awfully pleased. Then he considered a moment and spoke: 'There's one lad I'd like to have know—if it's possible to find him—and if he ever knows anything about me—that I died decently.'
"I threw at him—little dreaming the truth, yet eagerly—'I'll find him. I promise it. What's his name?'
"And he smiled again, an alluring, sidewise smile he had, and said: 'Why, the same name as mine—John Donaldson. He was my baby.'
"Then for the first time the truth came in sight, and my heart stood still. I couldn't speak. But I thought fast. I feared giving him a shock, yet I had to know—I had to tell him. I put my free hand over his that clung to me and I said: 'Do you know, Mr. Donaldson, it's queer, but that's my name too. I also am John Donaldson.'
"He turned his head with a start and his eyes got wide. 'You are?' he said, and he peered at me in the half light. 'I believe you look like me. God!' he said. His face seemed to sharpen and he shot words at me. 'Quick!' he said. 'I mayn't have time. What was your mother's name?'
"I told him.
"He was so still for a breath that I thought I'd killed him. Then his face lighted—quite angelically, Uncle Bill. And he whispered, two or three words at a time—you know the words, Uncle Bill—Tennyson:
"'Sunset and evening star' he whispered:
"'Sunset and evening star,
"'And one clear call for me——'
"He patted the breast of his bloody, grimy uniform. 'Following the flag! Me! My son to hold my hand as I go out! I hadn't dreamed of such a passing.' Then he looked up at me, awfully interested. 'So you're my big son,' he said. 'My baby.'
"I knew that he was remembering the little shaver he'd left twenty years back. So I leaned over and kissed him, and he got his arm around my neck and held me pretty tight a minute, and nobody cared. All those dying, suffering, last-ditch men lying around, and the two worn-out doctors hurrying among 'em—they didn't care. No more did he and I. I'd found my father; I wasn't caring for anything else."
There was deep silence in the room again and a log of the fire crackled and fell apart and blazed up impersonally; the pleasant sound jarred not at all the tense, human atmosphere.
"And he——! Uncle Bill," went on the throbbing voice, "through the devilish pain he was radiant. He was, thank God! I wanted to hold up a doctor and get dope to quiet him—and he wouldn't.
"'It might make me unconscious,' he objected. 'Would I lose a minute of you? Not if I know it! This is the happiest hour I've had for twenty years.'
"He told me, a bit at a time, about things. First how he'd arranged so that even my mother thought him dead. Then the bald facts of his downfall. He hated to tell that.
"'Took money,' he said. 'Very unjustifiable. But I ought to have had plenty—life's most unreasonable. Then—I couldn't face—discovery—hate, unpleasantness.' He shuddered. 'Might have been—jailed.' It was shaking him so I tried to stop him, but he pointed to his coat and laughed—Uncle Bill, a pitiful laugh. It tore me. 'John Donaldson's making a good getaway,' he labored out. 'Must tell everything. I'll finish—clean. To—my son. Honor of—the uniform.' He was getting exhausted. 'That's all,' he ended, 'Dishonor.'
"And I flung at him: 'No—no. It's covered over—wiped out—with service and honor. You're dying for the flag, father—father!' I whispered with my arms around him and crying like a child with a feeling I'd never known before. 'Father, father!' I whispered, and he lifted a hand and patted my head.
"'That sounds nice,' he said. Suddenly he looked amused. His nerve all through was the bulliest thing you ever saw, Uncle Bill. Not a whimper. 'You thought I was Italian,' he brought out. 'Years ago, this morning. But—I'm not. American, sir—I heard the call—the one clear call. American.'
"Then he closed his eyes and his breathing was so easy that I thought he might sleep, and live hours, maybe. I loosened his fingers and lifted his head on my coat that I'd folded for a pillow, for I thought I'd go outside and find Joe Barron and get him to take the bus down when the jam held up so I could start. Before I started, I bent over again and he opened his eyes, and I said very distinctly: 'I want you to know that I'll be prouder all my life than words can say that I've had you for a father,' and he brought out a long, perfectly contented sigh, and seemed to drop off.
"I began to pick my way through the clutter of men lying, some still as death, some writhing and gurgling horrid sounds. I had got about eight feet when across the hideous noises broke a laugh like a pleased kid. I whirled. He'd lifted his big shoulders up from the straw and was laughing after me from under those thick black lashes; his eyes were brilliant. He stretched out his arms to me.
"'American, sir,' he said in a strong voice. And fell back dead."
I heard the clock tick and tick. And tick. Minutes went by. Then the boy got up in the throbbing silence and walked to the fire and stood, his back to me, looking down at the embers. His voice came over his square young shoulders, difficult but determined, as of a man who must say a thing which has dogged him to be said.
"God arranged it, Uncle Bill. I know that well enough. God forgave him enough to send him me and a happy day to go out on. So don't you believe—that things are all right with him now?"
It was hard to speak, but I had to—I had a message. "John," I said, "we two know the splendor of his going, and that other things count as nothing beside that redemption. Do you suppose a great God is more narrow-minded than we?"
And my boy turned, and came and sat on the broad side of the chair, and put his arm around my shoulder and his young head against mine. His cheek was hot and wet on my thin hair.
"American, sir," whispered my dear boy, softly.
It was nine o'clock of a wild night in December. For forty-eight hours it had been raining, raining, raining, after a heavy fall of snow. Still the torrents descended, lashed by a screaming wind, and the song of rushing water mingled with the cry of the gale. Each steep street of the hill-town of Greensburg lay inches deep under a tearing flood. The cold was as great as cold may be while rain is falling. A night to give thanks for shelter overhead, and to hug the hearth with gratitude.
First Sergeant Price, at his desk in the Barracks office, was honorably grinding law. Most honorably, because, when he had gone to take the book from its shelf in the day-room, "Barrack-Room Ballads"[68-1] had smiled down upon him with a heart-aching echo of the soft, familiar East; so that of a sudden he had fairly smelt the sweet, strange, heathen smell of the temples in Tien Tsin—had seen the flash of a parrot's wing in the bolo-toothed Philippine jungle. And the sight and the smell, on a night like this, were enough to make any man lonely.
Therefore it was with honor indeed that, instead of dreaming off into the radiant past through the well thumbed book of magic, he was digging between dull sheepskin covers after the key to the bar of the State, on which his will was fixed.
Now, a man who, being a member of the Pennsylvania State Police,[69-1] aspires to qualify for admission to the bar, has his work cut out for him. The calls of his regular duty, endless in number and kind, leave him no certain leisure, and few and broken are the hours that he gets for books.
"Confound the Latin!" grumbled the Sergeant, grabbing his head in his two hands. "Well—anyway, here's my night for it. Even the crooks will lie snug in weather like this." And he took a fresh hold on the poser.
Suddenly "buzz" went the bell beside him. Before its voice ceased he stood at salute in the door of the Captain's office.
"Sergeant," said Captain Adams, with a half-turn of his desk-chair, "how soon can you take the field?"
"Five minutes, sir."
"There's trouble over in the foundry town. The local authorities have jailed some I. W. W.[69-2] plotters. They state that a jail delivery is threatened, that the Sheriff can't control it, and that they believe the mob will run amuck generally and shoot up the town. Take a few men; go over and attend to it."
"Very well, sir."
In the time that goes to saddling a horse, the detail rode into the storm, First Sergeant Price on John G., leading.
John G. had belonged to the Force exactly as long as had the First Sergeant himself, which was from the dawn of the Force's existence. And John G. is a gentleman and a soldier, every inch of him. Horse-show judges have affixed their seal to the self-evident fact by the sign of the blue ribbon,[70-1] but the best proof lies in the personal knowledge of "A" Troop, soundly built on twelve years' brotherhood. John G., on that diluvian night, was twenty-two years old, and still every whit as clean-limbed, alert, and plucky as his salad days had seen him.
Men and horses dived into the gale as swimmers dive into a breaker. It beat their eyes shut with wind and driven water, and, as they slid down the harp-pitched city streets, the flood banked up against each planted hoof till it split in folds above the fetlock.
Down in the country beyond, mud, slush, and water clogged with chunks of frost-stricken clay made worse and still worse going. And so they pushed on through blackest turmoil toward the river road that should be their highway to Logan's Ferry.
They reached that road at last, only to find it as lost as Atlantis,[70-2] under twenty feet of water! The Allegheny had overflowed her banks, and now there remained no way across, short of following the stream up to Pittsburgh and so around, a detour of many miles, long and evil.
"And that," said First Sergeant Price, "means getting to the party about four hours late. Baby-talk and nonsense! By that time they might have burned the place and killed all the people in it. Let's see, now: there's a railroad bridge close along here, somewhere."