THE BISHOP'S VAGABOND BY OCTAVE THANET
LOST BY EDWARD BELLAMY
KIRBY'S COALS OF FIRE BY LOUISE STOCKTON
PASSAGES FROM THE JOURNAL OF A SOCIAL WRECK BY MARGARET FLOYD
STELLA GRAYLAND BY JAMES T. McKAY
THE IMAGE OF SAN DONATO BY VIRGINIA W. JOHNSON
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1885, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
The Stories in this Volume are protected by copyright, and are printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives.
THE BISHOP'S VAGABOND.
BY OCTAVE THANET.
Atlantic Monthly, January, 1884.
The Bishop was walking down the wide Aiken street. He was the only bishop in Aiken, and they made much of him, accordingly, though his diocese was in the West, which of course was a drawback.
He was a tall man, with a handsome, kind face under his shovel hat; portly, as a bishop should be, and having a twinkle of humor in his eye. He dressed well and soberly, in the decorous habiliments of his office. "So English," the young ladies of the Highland Park Hotel used to whisper to each other, admiring him. Perhaps this is the time to mention that the Bishop was a widower.
To-day he walked at a gentle pace, repeatedly lifting his hat in answer to a multitude of salutations; for it was a bright April day, and the street was thronged. There was the half-humorous incongruity between the people and the place always visible in a place where two thirds of the population are a mere pleasant-weather growth, dependent on the climate. Groups of Northerners stood in the red and blue and green doorways of the gay little shops, or sauntered past them; easily distinguished by their clothing and their air of unaccustomed and dissatisfied languor. One could pick out at a glance the new-comers just up from Florida; they were so decorated with alligator-tooth jewelry, and gazed so contemptuously at the oranges and bananas in the windows. The native Southerners were equally conspicuous, in the case of the men, from their careless dress and placid demeanor. A plentiful sprinkling of black and yellow skins added to the picturesque character of the scene. Over it all hung a certain holiday air, the reason for which one presently detected to be an almost universal wearing of flowers,—bunches of roses, clusters of violets or trailing arbutus, or twigs of yellow jasmine; while bare-footed boys, with dusky faces and gleaming teeth, proffered nosegays at every corner. The Aiken nosegay has this peculiarity,—the flowers are wedged together with unexampled tightness. Truly enough may the little venders boast, "Dey's orful lots o' roses in dem, mister; you'll fin' w'en you onties 'em." No one of the pedestrians appeared to be in a hurry; and under all the holiday air of flowers there was a pathetic disproportion of pale and weary faces.
But if they did not hurry on the sidewalk, there was plenty of motion in the street; horses in Aiken being always urged to their full speed,—which, to be sure, is not alarming. Now, carriages were whirling by and riders galloping in both directions. The riders were of every age, sex, and condition: pretty girls in jaunty riding habits, young men with polo mallets, old men and children, and grinning negroes lashing their sorry hacks with twigs. Of the carriages, it would be hard to tell which was the more noticeable, the smartness of the vehicles or the jaded depression of the thin beasts that pulled them. Where Park and Ashland avenues meet at right angles the crowd was most dense. There, on one side, one sees the neat little post-office and the photographer's gallery, and off in the distance the white pine towers of the hotel, rising out of its green hills; on the other, the long street slowly climbs the hill, through shops and square white houses with green blinds, set back in luxuriant gardens. At this corner two persons were standing, a young man and a young woman, both watching the Bishop. The young woman was tall, handsome, and—always an attraction in Aiken—evidently not an invalid. The erect grace of her slim figure, the soft and varying color on her cheek, the light in her beautiful brown eyes,—all were the unmistakable signs of health. The young man was a good-looking little fellow, perfectly dressed, and having an expression of indolent amusement on his delicate features. He had light yellow hair, cut closely enough to show the fine outline of his head, a slight mustache waxed at the ends, and a very fair complexion.
The young woman was speaking. "Do you see to whom my father is talking, Mr. Talboys?" said she.
"Plainly, he has picked up his vagabond."
"Demming? Yes, it is Demming."
"Now I wonder, do you know," said the young man, "what induces the Bishop to waste his time on such hopeless moral trash as that." He spoke in a pleasant, slow voice, with an English accent.
"It isn't hopeless to him, I suppose," she answered. Her voice also was slow, and it was singularly sweet.
"I think it must be his sense of humor," he continued. "The Bishop loves a joke, and Demming is a droll fellow. He is a sort of grim joke himself, you know, a high-toned gentleman who lives by begging. He brings his bag to the hotels every day. Of course you have heard him talk, Miss Louise. His strong card is his wife. 'Th' ole 'ooman's nigh blin','"—here Talboys gave a very good imitation of the South Carolina local drawl—"'an' she's been so tenderly raised she cyan't live 'thout cyoffee three times a day!'"
"I have heard that identical speech," said Louise, smiling as Talboys knew she would smile over the imitation. "He gets a good deal from the Northerners, I fancy."
"Enough to enable him to be a pillar of the saloons," said Talboys. "He is a lavish soul, and treats the crowd when he prospers in his profession. Once his money gave out before the crowd's thirst. 'Never min', gen'lemen,' says our friend, 'res' easy. I see the Bishop a-gwine up the street; I'll git a dollar from him. Yes, wait; I won't be gwine long.'"
"And he got the money?"
"Oh, yes. I believe he got it to buy quinine for 'th' ole 'ooman,' who was down with the break-bone fever. He is like Yorick, 'a fellow of infinite jest'—in the way of lying. He talks well, too. You ought to hear him discourse on politics. As he gets most of his revenue from the North, he is kind enough to express the friendliest sentiments. 'I wuz opposed to the wah's bein'' is his standard speech, 'an' now I'm opposed to its continnerin'.' For all that, he was a mild kind of Ku-Klux."
"He did it for money, he says," returned Louise. "The funniest thing about him is his absolute frankness after he is found out in any trick. He doesn't seem to have any sense of shame, and will fairly chuckle in my father's face as he is owning up to some piece of roguery."
"You know he was in the Confederate army. Fought well, too, I'm told. What does he do when the Northerners are gone? Aiken must be a pretty bare begging ground."
"Oh, he has a wretched little cabin out in the woods," said Louise, "and a sweet-potato patch. He raises sweet potatoes and persimmons—"
"And pigs," Talboys interrupted. "I saw some particularly lean swine grubbing about in the sand for snakes. They feed them on snakes, in the pine barrens, you know, which serves two purposes: kills the snakes and fills the pigs. Entertainment for man and beast, don't you see? By the way, talking of being entertained, I know of a fine old Southern manor-house over the bridge."
Louise shook her head incredulously. "I have lost faith in Southern manor-houses. Ever since I came South I have sought them vainly. All the way from Atlanta I risked my life, putting my head out of the car windows, to see the plantations. At every scrubby-looking little station we passed, the conductor would say, 'Mighty nice people live heah; great deal of wealth heah before the wah!' Then I would recklessly put my head out. I expected to see the real Southern mansion of the novelists, with enormous piazzas and Corinthian pillars and beautiful avenues; and the white-washed cabins of the negroes in the middle distance; and the planter, in a white linen suit and a wide straw hat, sitting on the piazza drinking mint juleps. Well, I don't really think I expected the planter, but I did hope for the house. Nothing of the kind. All I saw was a moderate-sized square house, with piazzas and a flat roof, all sadly in need of paint. Now, I'm like Betsey Prig; 'I don't believe there's no sich person.' It's a myth, like the good old Southern cooking."
"Oh, they do exist," said Talboys, his eyes brightening over this long speech, delivered in the softest voice in the world. "There are houses in Charleston and Beaufort and on the Lower Mississippi that suggest the novels; but, on the whole, I think the novelists have played us false. We expect to find the ruins of luxury and splendor and all that sort of thing in the South; but in point of fact there was very little luxury about Southern life. They had plenty of service, such as it was, and plenty of horses, and that was about all; their other household arrangements were painfully primitive. All the same, sha'n't we go over the bridge?"
Louise assented, and they turned and went their way in the opposite direction.
Meanwhile, the Bishop and his vagabond were talking earnestly. The vagabond seemed to belong to the class known as "crackers." Poverty, sickness, and laziness were written in every flutter of his rags, in every uncouth curve or angle of his long, gaunt figure and sallow face. A mass of unkempt iron-gray hair fell about his sharp features, further hidden by a grizzly beard. His black frock coat had once adorned the distinguished and ample person of a Northern senator; it was wrinkled dismally about Demming's bones, while its soiled gentility was a queer contrast to his nether garments of ragged butternut, his coarse boots, and an utterly disreputable hat, through a hole of which a tuft of hair had made its way, and waved plume-wise in the wind. Around the hat was wound a strip of rusty crape. The Bishop quickly noticed this woeful addition to the man's garb. He asked the reason.
"She's done gone, Bishop," answered Demming, winking his eyes hard before rubbing them with a grimy knuckle; "th' ole 'ooman's done lef' me 'lone in the worl'. It's an orful 'fliction!" He made so pitiful a figure, standing there in the sandy road, the wind fluttering his poor token of mourning, that the Bishop's kind heart was stirred.
"I am truly sorry, Demming," said he. "Isn't this very sudden?"
"Laws, yes, Bishop, powerful suddint an' onprecedented. 'Pears 's if I couldn't git myself to b'lieve it, nohow. Yes'day ev'nin' she wuz chipper's evah, out pickin' pine buds; an' this mahnin' she woked me up, an' says she, 'I reckon you'd better fix the cyoffee yo'self, Demming, I feel so cu'se,' says she. An' so I did; an' when I come to gin it ter her, oh, Lordy, oh, Lordy!—'scuse me, Bishop,—she wuz cole an' dead! Doctor cyouldn't do nuthin', w'en I brung 'im. Rheumatchism o' th' heart, he says. It wuz turrible suddint, onyhow. 'Minded me o' them thar games with the thimble, you know, Bishop,—now ye see it, an' now ye don'; yes, 's quick 's thet!"
The Bishop opened his eyes at the comparison; but Demming had turned away, with a quivering lip, to bury his face in his hands, and the Bishop was reproached for his criticism of the other's naif phraseology. Now, to be frank, he had approached Demming prepared to show severity, rather than sympathy, because of the cracker's last flagrant wrong-doing; but his indignation, righteous though it was, took flight before grief. Forgetting judgment in mercy, he proffered all the consolations he could summon, spiritual and material, and ended by asking Demming if he had made any preparations for the funeral.
"Thet thar's w'at I'm yere for," replied the man, mournfully. "You know jes' how I'm fixed. Cyoffins cost a heap; an' then thar's the shroud, an' I ain't got no reg'lar fun'al cloze, an' 'pears 's ef 't 'ud be a conserlation t' have a kerridge or two. She wuz a bawn lady, Bishop; we're kin ter some o' the real aristookracy o' Carolina,—we are, fur a fac'; an' I'd kin' o' like ter hev her ride ter her own fun'al, onyhow."
"Then you will need money?"
"Not frum you, Bishop, not a red cent; but if you uns over thar," jerking his thumb in the direction of the white pine towers,—"if you all 'd kin' o' gin me a small sum, an' ef you'd jes' start a paper, as 'twere, an' al-so ef you yo'self 'ud hev the gre't kin'ness ter come out an' conduc' the fun'al obskesies, it 'ud gratify the corpse powerful. Mistress Demming'll be entered[A] then like a bawn lady. Yes, sir, thet thar, an' no mo', 's w'at I'm emboldened ter ax frum you."
[Footnote A: It is supposed that Mr. Demming intended to say "interred."]
The Bishop reflected. "Demming," said he, gravely, "I will try to help you. You have no objection, I suppose, to our buying the coffin and other things needed. We will pay the bills."
Demming's dejected bearing grew a shade more sombre: he waved his hand, a gesture very common with him, and usually denoting affable approval; now it meant gloomy assent. "No objection 't all, Bishop," he said. "I knows my weakness, though I don' feel now as ef I'd evah want ter go on no carousements no mo'. I'm 'bliged ter you uns jes' the same. An' you won't forget 'bout the cloze? I've been a right good frien' to th' Norf in Aiken, an' I hope the Norf'll stan' by me in the hour o' trubbel. Now, Bishop, I'll be gwine 'long. You'll fin' me at the cyoffin sto'. Mose Barnwell—he's a mighty decent cullud man—lives nigh me; he's gwine fur ter len' me his cyart ter tek the cyoffin home. Mahnin', Bishop, an' min', I don' want money outen you. No, sir, I do not!"
Then, having waved his hand at his hat, the cracker slouched away. The Bishop had a busy morning. He went from friend to friend, until the needed sum was collected. Nor did money satisfy him: he gathered together a suit of clothes from the tallest Northerners of benevolent impulses. Talboys was too short to be a donor of clothes, but he gave more money than all the others united,—a munificence that rebuked the Bishop, for he had sought the young Boston man last of all and reluctantly; somehow, he could not feel acquainted with him, notwithstanding many meetings in many places. Moreover, he held him in slight esteem, as an idle fellow who did little good with a great fortune. In his gratitude he became expansive: told Talboys about his acquaintance with the cracker, described his experiences and perplexities, and at last invited the young man to go to the funeral, the next day. Talboys was delighted to accept the invitation; yet it could not be said that he was often delighted. But he admired the Bishop, and, even more warmly, he admired the Bishop's daughter; hence he caught at any opportunity to show his friendliness. Martin Talboys was never enthusiastic, and at times his views of life might be called cynical; but it would be a mistake to infer, therefore, that, as is common enough, he, having a mean opinion of other people, struck a balance with a very high one of himself. In truth, Martin was too modest for his own peace of mind. For years he had contrived to meet Louise, by accident, almost everywhere she went. She travelled a good deal, and her image was relieved against a variety of backgrounds. It seemed to him fairer in each new picture. His love for the Bishop's daughter grew more and more absorbing; but at the same time he became less and less sanguine that she would ever care for him. Although he was not enthusiastic, he was quite capable of feeling deeply; and he had begun to suspect that he was capable of suffering. Yet he could not force himself to decide his fate by speaking. It was not that Louise disliked him; on the contrary, she avowed a sincere liking; she always hailed his coming with pleasure, telling him frankly that no one amused her as did he. There, alas! was the hopeless part of it; he used to say bitterly to himself that he wasn't a man, a lover, to her; he was a mimic, a genteel clown, an errand boy, never out of temper with his work; in short, she did not take him seriously at all. He knew the manner of man she did take seriously,—a man of action, who had done something in the world. Once she told Talboys that he was a "capital observer." She made the remark as a compliment, but it stung him to the quick; he realized that she thought of him only as an observer. When a trifling but obstinate throat complaint brought the Bishop to Aiken, Talboys felt a great longing to win his approval. Surely, Louise, who judged all men by her father's standard, must be influenced by her father's favor. Unhappily, the Bishop had never, as the phrase goes, "taken" to Talboys, nor did he seem more inclined to take to him now, and Martin was too modest to persist in unwelcome attentions. But he greeted the present opportunity all the more warmly.
In the morning, the three—the Bishop, Louise, and Talboys—drove to the cracker's cabin. The day was perfect, one of those Aiken days, so fair that even invalids find no complaint in their wearisome list to bring against them and can but sigh over each, "Ah, if all days might only be like this!" Hardly a cloud marred the tender blue of the sky. The air was divinely soft. They drove through the woods, and the ground was carpeted with dry pine spikes, whereon their horses' hoofs made a dull and pleasant sound. A multitude of violets grew in the little spaces among the trees. Yellow jasmine flecked the roadside shade with gold, its fragrance blending with the keen odors of the pine. If they looked up, they saw the pine tops etched upon the sky, and a solemn, ceaseless murmur beat its organ-like waves through all their talk. The Bishop had put on his clerical robes; he sat on the back seat of the carriage, a superb figure, with his noble head and imposing mien. As they rolled along, the Bishop talked. He spoke of death. He spoke not as a priest, but as a man, dwelling on the mystery of death, bringing up those speculations with which from the beginning men have striven to light the eternal darkness.
"I suppose it is the mystery," said the Bishop, "which causes the unreality of death, its perpetual surprise. Now, behind my certainty of this poor woman's death I have a lurking expectation of seeing her standing in the doorway, her old clay pipe in her mouth. I can't help it."
"Though she was a 'bawn lady,' she smoked, did she?" said Talboys. Then he felt the remark to be hopelessly below the level of the conversation, and made haste to add, "I suppose it was a consolation to her; she had a pretty hard life, I fancy."
"Awfully," said Louise. "She was nearly blind, poor woman, yet I think she did whatever work was done. I have often seen her hoeing. I believe that Demming was always good to her, though. He is a most amiable creature."
"Singular how a woman will bear any amount of laziness, actual worthlessness, indeed, in a man who is good to her," the Bishop remarked.
"Beautiful trait in her character," said Talboys. "Where should we be without it?"
"Have the Demmings never had any children?" asked Louise, who did not like the turn the talk was taking.
"Yes, one," the Bishop answered, "a little girl. She died three years ago. Demming was devotedly attached to her. He can't talk of her now without the tears coming to his eyes. He really," said the Bishop, meditatively, "seemed more affected when he told me about her death than he was yesterday. She died of some kind of low fever, and was ill a long time. He used to walk up and down the little path through the woods, holding her in his arms. She would wake up in the night and cry, and he would wrap her in an old army blanket, and pace in front of the house for hours. Often the teamsters driving into town at break of day, with their loads of wood, would come on him thus, walking and talking to the child, with the little thin face on his shoulder, and the ragged blanket trailing on the ground. Ah, Demming is not altogether abandoned, he has an affectionate heart!"
Neither of his listeners made any response. Talboys, because of his slender faith in Demming; Louise, because she was thinking that if the Aiken laundresses were intrusted with her father's lawn many more times there would be nothing left to darn. They went on silently, therefore, until the Bishop said, in a low voice, "Here we are!"
The negro driver, with the agility of a country coachman, had already sprung to the ground, and was holding the carriage door open.
Before them lay a small cleared tract of land, where a pleasant greenness of young potato vines hid the sand. In the centre was a tumble-down cabin, with a mud chimney on the outside. The one window had no sash, and its rude shutter hung precariously by a single leathern hinge. The door was open, revealing that the interior was papered with newspapers. Three or four yelping curs seemed to be all the furniture.
There was nothing extraordinary in the picture; one could see fifty such cabins, in a radius of half a mile. Nor was there anything of mark in the appearance of Demming himself, dressed exactly as he was the day before, and rubbing his eyes in the doorway. But behind him! The coachman's under jaw dropped beneath the weight of a loud "Fo' de Lawd!" The Bishop's benignant countenance was suddenly crimsoned. Talboys and Louise looked at each other, and bit their lips. It was only a woman,—a tall, thin, bent woman in a shabby print gown, with a faded sunbonnet pushed back from her gray head and a common clay pipe between her lips. Probably in her youth she had been a pretty woman, and the worn features and dim eyes still retained something engaging in their expression of timid good-will.
"Won' you all step in?" she said, advancing.
"Yes, yes," added Demming, inclining his body and waving both hands with magnificent courtesy; "alight, gen'lemen, alight! I'm sorry I ain't no staggah juice to offah ye, but yo' right welcome to sweet potatoes an' pussimmon beah, w'ich's all—"
"Demming," said the Bishop, sternly, "what does this mean? I came to bury Mrs. Demming, and—and here she is!"
"Burry me!" exclaimed the woman. "Why, I ain't dead!"
Demming rubbed his hands, his face wearing an indescribable expression of mingled embarrassment, contrition, and bland insinuation. "Well, yes, Bishop, yere she is, an' no mistake! Nuthin' more 'n a swond, you unnerstan'. I 'lowed ter notify you uns this mahnin', but fac' is I wuz so decomposed, fin'in' her traipsin' 'bout in the gyardin an' you all 'xpectin' a fun'al, thet I jes' hed ter brace up; an' fac' is I braced up too much, an' ovahslep'. I'm powerful sorry, an' I don' blame you uns ef you do feel mad!"
The Bishop flung off his robes in haste and walked to the carriage, where he bundled them in with scant regard for their crispness.
"Never heard of such a thing!" said Louise, that being her invariable formula for occasions demanding expression before she was prepared to commit herself. By this time a glimmering notion of the state of things had reached the coachman's brain, and he was in an ecstasy. Talboys thought it fitting to speak. He turned to Mrs. Demming, who was looking from one to another of the group, in a scared way.
"Were you in a swoon?" he asked.
"Oh, laws!" cried the poor woman. "Oh, Demming, what hev you gwine an' done now? Gentlemen, he didn't mean no harm, I'm suah!"
"You were not, then?" said Talboys.
"Leave her 'lone, Cunnel," Demming said, quietly. "Don' yo' see she cyan't stan' no sech racket? 'Sence yo' so mighty peart 'bout it, no, she wahn't, an' thet thar's the truf. I jes' done it fur ter raise money. It wuz this a way. Thet thar mahnin', w'ile I wuz a-considerin' an' a-contemplatin' right smart how I wuz evah to git a few dollars, I seen Mose Barnwell gwine 'long,—yo' know Mose Barnwell," turning in an affable, conversational way to the grinning negro,—"an' he'd a string o' crape 'roun' his hat 'cause he'd jes done los' his wife, an' he wuz purportin' ter git a cyoffin. So I 'lowed I'd git a cyoffin fur him cheap. An' I reckon," said Demming, smiling graciously on his delighted black auditor,—"I reckon I done it."
"Demming," cried the Bishop, with some heat, "this exceeds patience—"
"I know, Bishop," answered the vagabond, meekly,—"I know it. I wuz tempted an' I fell, as you talked 'bout in yo' sermon. It's orful how I kin do sech things!"
"And those chickens, too!" ejaculated the Bishop, with rising wrath, as new causes rushed to his remembrance. "You stole chickens,—Judge Eldridge's chickens; you who pretend to be such a stanch friend of the North—"
"Chickens!" screamed the woman. "Oh, Lordy! Oh, he nevah done thet afo'e! He'll be took to jail! Oh, Demming, how cyould ye? Stealin' chickens, jes' like a low-down, no-'cyount niggah!" Sobs choked her voice, and tears of fright and shame were streaming down her hollow cheeks.
Demming looked disconcerted. "Now, look a yere!" said he, sinking his voice reproachfully; "w'at wuz the use o' bringin' thet thar up befo' th' ole 'ooman? She don' know nuthin' on it, you unnerstan', an' why mus' you rile 'er up fur? I'd not a thought it o' you, Bishop, thet I wyouldn't. Now, Alwynda," turning to the weeping woman, who was wiping her eyes with the cape of her sunbonnet, "jes' you dry up an' stop yo' bellerin', an' I 'splain it all in a holy minit. Thar, thar," patting her on the shoulder, "'tain't nuthin' ter cry 'bout; 'tain't no fault o' yourn, onyhow. Fac' is, gen'lemen, 'twuz all 'long o' my 'preciation o' the Bishop. I'm a 'Piscopal, like yo'self, Bishop, an' I tole Samson Mobley thet you overlaid all the preachers yere fur goodness an' shortness bofe. An' he 'lowed, 'Mabbe he may fur goodness; I ain't no jedge,' says he; 'but fo' shortness, we've a feller down at the Baptis' kin beat 'im outen sight. They've jes' gin up sleepin' down thar,' says he, ''cause 'tain't worth w'ile.' So we tried it on, you unnerstan', 'cause thet riled me, an' I jes' bet on it, I did; an' we tried it on,—you in the mahnin' and him in the arternoon. An' laws, ef didn't so happen as how you'd a powerful flow o' speech! 'Twuz 'mazin' edifyin', but 't los' me the bet, you unnerstan'; an' onct los' I hed ter pay; an' not havin' ary chick o' my own I had ter confiscate some from th' gineral public, an' I tuk 'em 'thout distinction o' party frum the handiest cyoop in the Baptis' dernomination. I kin' o' hankered arter Baptis' chickuns, somehow, so's ter git even, like. Now, Bishop, I jes' leaves ter you uns, cyould I go back on a debt o' honah, like thet?"
"Honor!" repeated the Bishop, scornfully.
Talboys interposed again: "We appear to be sold, Bishop; don't you think we had better get out of this before the hearse comes?"
Demming waved his hand at Talboys, saying in his smoothest tones, "Ef you meet it, Cunnel, p'raps you'd kin'ly tell 'em ter go on ter Mose Barnwell's. He's ready an' waitin'."
"Demming—" began the Bishop, but he did not finish the sentence; instead, he lifted his hat to Mrs. Demming, with his habitual stately courtesy, and moved in a slow and dignified manner to the carriage. Louise followed, only stopping to say to the still weeping woman, "He is in no danger from us; but this trick was a poor return for my father's kindness."
Demming had been rubbing his right eyebrow obliquely with his hand, thus making a shield behind which he winked at the coachman in a friendly and humorous manner; at Louise's words, his hand fell and his face changed quickly. "Don' say thet, miss," he said, a ring of real emotion in his voice. "I know I'm purty po' pickings, but I ain't ongrateful. Yo' par will remember I wyouldn't tek no money frum him!"
"I would have given fifty dollars," cried the Bishop, "rather than have had this—this scandalous fraud! Drive on!"
They drove away. The last they saw of Demming he was blandly waving his hand.
The drive back from the house so unexpectedly disclosed as not a house of mourning was somewhat silent. The Bishop was the first to speak. "I shall insist upon returning every cent of that money," he said.
"I assure you none of us will take it," Talboys answered; "and really, you know, the sell was quite worth the money."
"And you did see her, after all," said Louise dryly, "standing in the doorway, with her old clay pipe in her mouth."
The Bishop smiled, but he sighed, too. "Well, well, I ought not to have lost my temper. But I am disappointed in Demming. I thought I had won his affection, and I hoped through his affection to reach his conscience. I suppose I deceived myself."
"I fear he hasn't any conscience to reach," Louise observed.
"I agree with Miss Louise," said Talboys. "You see, Demming is a cracker."
"Ah! the cracker has his virtues," observed the Bishop; "not the cardinal New England virtues of thrift and cleanliness and energy; but he has his own. He is as hospitable as an Arab, brave, faithful, and honest, and full of generosity and kindness."
"All the same, he isn't half civilized," said Talboys, "and as ignorant morally as any being you can pick up. He doesn't steal or lie much, I grant you, but he smashes all the other commandments to flinders. He kills when he thinks he has been insulted, and he hasn't the feeblest scruples about changing his old wife for a new one whenever he feels like it, without any nonsense of divorce. The women are just as bad as the men. But Demming is not only a cracker; he is a cracker spoiled by the tourists. We have despoiled him of his simplicity. He hasn't learned any good of us,—that goes without saying,—but he has learned no end of Yankee tricks. Do you suppose that if left to himself he would ever have been up to this morning's performance? Oh, we've polished his wicked wits for him! Even his dialect is no longer pure South Carolinian; it is corrupted by Northern slang. We have ruined his religious principles, too. The crackers haven't much of any morality, but they are very religious,—all Southerners are. But Demming is an unconscious Agnostic. 'I tell ye,' he says to the saloon theologians, 'thar ain't no tellin'. 'Ligion's a heap like jumpin' arter a waggin in th' dark; yo' mo'n likely ter lan' on nuthin'!' And you have seen for yourselves that he has lost the cracker honesty."
"At least," said Louise, "he has the cracker hospitality left; he made us welcome to all he had."
"And did you notice," said the Bishop, who had quite smoothed his ruffled brow by this time,—"did you notice the consideration, tenderness almost, that he showed to his wife? Demming has his redeeming qualities, believe me, Mr. Talboys."
"I see that you don't mean to give him up," said Talboys, smiling; but he did not pursue the subject.
For several days Demming kept away from Aiken. When he did appear he rather avoided the Bishop. He bore the jokes and satirical congratulations of his companions with his usual equanimity; but he utterly declined to gratify public curiosity either at the saloon or the grocery. One morning he met the Bishop. They walked a long way together, and it was observed that they seemed to be on most cordial terms. This happened on Tuesday. Friday morning Demming came to the Bishop in high spirits. He showed a letter from a cousin in Charleston, a very old man, with no near kindred and a comfortable property. This cousin, repenting of an old injustice to Demming's mother, had bethought him of Demming, his nearest relative; and sent for him, inclosing money to pay all expenses. "He is right feeble," said Demming, with a cheerful accent not according with his mournful words, "an' wants ter see me onct fo' he departs. Reckon he means ter do well by me."
The Bishop's hopeful soul saw a chance for the cracker's reclamation. So he spoke solemnly to him, warning him against perilling his future by relapsing into his old courses in Charleston. Nothing could exceed Demming's bland humility. He filled every available pause in the exhortation with "Thet's so," and "Shoo 's yo' bawn!" and answered, "I'm gwine ter be 's keerful 's a ole coon thet 's jes' got shet o' the dogs. You nevah said truer words than them thar, an' don' you forget it! I'm gwine ter buy mo' lan', an' raise hogs, an' keep th' ole 'ooman like a lady. Don' ye be 'feard o' me gwine on no' mo' tears. No, sir, none o' thet in mine. 'Twuz on'y 'cause I wuz so low in my min' I evah done it, onyhow. Now, I'm gwine ter be 's sober 's a owl!"
Notwithstanding these and similar protestations, hardly an hour was gone before Demming was the glory of the saloon, haranguing the crowd on his favorite topic, the Bishop's virtues. "High-toned gen'leman, bes' man in the worl', an' nobody's fool, either. I'm proud to call him my frien', an' Aiken 's put in its bes' licks w'en it cured him. Gen'lemen, he 'vised me ter fight shy o' you all. I reckon as how I mought be better off ef I'd allus have follered his ammonitions. Walk up, gen'lemen, an' drink his health! My 'xpens'."
The sequel to such toasts may readily be imagined. By six o'clock, penniless and tipsy, Demming was apologizing to the Bishop on the hotel piazza. He had the grace to seem ashamed of himself. "Wust o' 'tis flingin' away all thet money; but I felt kinder like makin' everybody feel good, an' I set 'em up. An' 't 'appened, somehow, they wuz a right smart chance o' people in, jes' thet thar minit,—they gen'rally is a right smart chance o' people in when a feller sets 'em up! an' they wuz powerful dry,—they gen'rally is dry, then; an' the long an' short o' 'tis, they cleaned me out. An' now, Bishop, I jes' feel nashuated with myself. Suah 's yo' bawn, Bishop, I'm gwine ter reform. 'Stop short, an' nevah go on again,' like thet thar clock in the song. I am, fur a fac', sir. I'm repentin' to a s'prisin' extent."
"I certainly should be surprised if you were repentant," the Bishop said, dryly; then, after a pause, "Well, Demming, I will help you this once again. I will buy you a ticket to Charleston."
Some one had come up to the couple unperceived; this person spoke quickly: "Please let me do that, Bishop. Demming has afforded me enough entertainment for that."
"You don' think no gre't shakes o' me, do you, Cunnel?" said Demming, looking at Talboys half humorously, yet with a shade of something else in his expression. "You poke fun at me all the time. Well, pleases you, an' don' hurt me, I reckon. Mahnin', Bishop; mahnin', Cunnel. I'll be at th' deppo." He waved his hand and shambled away. Both men looked after him.
"I will see that he gets off," said Talboys. "I leave Aiken, myself, in the morning."
"Leave Aiken?" the Bishop repeated. "But you will return?"
"I don't expect to."
"Why, I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Talboys,—truly sorry." The Bishop took the young man's hand and pressed it. "I am just beginning to know you; I may say, to like you, if you will permit the expression. Won't you walk in with me now, and say good-by to my daughter?"
"Thanks, very much, but I have already made my adieux to Miss Louise."
"Ah, yes, certainly," said the Bishop, absently.
He was an absorbed clergyman; but he had sharp enough eyes, did he choose to use them; and Talboys's reddening cheeks told him a great deal. It cannot be said that he was sorry because his daughter had not looked kindly on this worldly and cynical young man's affection; but he was certainly sorry for the young man himself, and his parting grasp of the hand was warmer than it would have been but for that fleeting blush.
"Poor fellow, poor fellow!" soliloquized the Bishop, when, after a few cordial words, they had parted. "He looks as though it had hurt him. I suppose that is the way we all take it. Well, time cures us; but it would scarcely do to tell him that, or how much harder it is to win a woman, find how precious she is, and then to lose her. Ah, well, time helps even that! 'For the strong years conquer us.'"
But he sighed as he went back to his daughter, and he did not see the beautiful Miss Reynolds when she bowed to him, although she was smiling her sweetest and brightest smile.
Louise sat in her room. Its windows opened upon the piazza, and she had witnessed the interview. She did not waver in her conviction that she had done right. She could not wisely marry a man whom she did not respect, let his charm of manner and temper be what it might. She needed a man who was manly, who could rule other men; besides, how could she make up her mind to walk through life with a husband hardly above her shoulder? Still, she conceded to herself that, had Talboys compelled one thrill of admiration from her by any mental or moral height, she would not have caviled at his short stature. But there was something ridiculous in the idea of Talboys thrilling anybody. For one thing, he took everything too lightly. Suddenly, with the sharpness of a new sensation, she remembered that he had not seemed to take the morning's episode lightly. Poor Martin!—for the first time, even in her reveries, she called him by his Christian name,—there was an uncomfortable deal of feeling in his few words. Yet he was considerate; he made it as easy as possible for her.
Martin was always considerate; he never jarred on her; possibly, the master mind might jar, being so masterful. He was always kind, too; continually scattering pleasures about in his quiet fashion. Such a quiet fashion it was that few people noticed how persistent was the kindness. Now a hundred instances rushed to her mind. All at once, recalling something, she blushed hotly. That morning, just as Talboys and she were turning from the place where he had asked and she had answered, she caught a glimpse of Demming's head through the leaves. He had turned, also, and he made a feint of passing them, as though he were but that instant walking by. The action had a touch of delicacy in it; a Northerner of Demming's class would not have shown it. Louise felt grateful to the vagabond; at the same time, it was hardly pleasant to know that he was as wise as she in Talboys's heart affairs. As for Talboys himself, he had not so much as seen Demming; he had been too much occupied with his own bitter thoughts. Again Louise murmured, "Poor Martin!" What was the need, though, that her own heart should be like lead? Almost impatiently, she rose and sought her father.
The Bishop, after deliberation, had decided to accompany Demming to Charleston. He excused his interest in the man so elaborately and plausibly that his daughter was reminded of Talboys.
Saturday morning all three—the Bishop, the vagabond, and Talboys—started for Charleston. Talboys, however, did not know that the Bishop was going. He bought Demming's ticket, saw him safely to a seat, and went into the smoking-car. The Bishop was late, but the conductor, with true Southern good-nature, backed the train and took him aboard. He seated himself in front of Demming, and began to wipe his heated brow.
"Why do they want to have a fire in the stove this weather?" said he.
"Well," said the cracker, slyly, "you see we hain't all been runnin', an' we're kinder chilly!"
"Humph!" said the Bishop. After this there was silence. The train rolled along; through the pine woods, past small stations where rose trees brightened trim white cottages, then into the swamp lands, where the moisture painted the bark of tall trees, and lay in shiny green patches among them. The Southern moss dripping from the giant branches shrouded them in a weird drapery, soft as mist. There was something dreary and painful to a Northern eye in the scene; the tall and shrouded trees, the stagnant pools of water gleaming among them, the vivid green patches of moss, the barren stretches of sand. The very beauty in it all seemed the unnatural glory of decay, repelling the beholder. Here and there were cabins. One could not look at them without wondering whether the inhabitants had the ague, or its South Carolina synonym, the "break-bone fever." At one, a bent old woman was washing. She lifted her head, and Demming waved his hat at her. Then he glanced at the Bishop, now busy with a paper, and chuckled over some recollection. He looked out again. There was a man running along the side of the road waving a red flag. He called out a few words, which the wind of the train tore to pieces. At the same instant, the whistle of the engine began a shrill outcry. "Sunthin' 's bust, I reckon," said Demming. And then, before he could see, or know, or understand, a tremendous crash drowned his senses, and in one awful moment blended shivering glass and surging roof and white faces like a horrible kaleidoscope.
The first thing he noticed, when he came to himself, was a thin ribbon of smoke. He watched it lazily, while it melted into the blue sky, and another ribbon took its place. But presently the pain in his leg aroused him. He perceived that the car was lying on one side, making the other side into a roof, and one open window was opposite his eyes. At the other end the car was hardly more than a mass of broken seats and crushed sides, but it was almost intact where he lay. He saw that the stove had charred the wood-work near it; hence the smoke, which escaped through a crack and floated above him. The few people in the car were climbing out of the windows as best they might. A pair of grimy arms reached down to Demming, and he heard the brakeman's voice (he knew Jim Herndon, the brakeman, well) shouting profanely for the "next."
"Whar's the Bishop?" said Demming.
"Reckon he's out," answered Jim. "Mought as well come yo'self! H——! you've broke yo' leg!"
"Pull away, jes' the same. I don' wanter stay yere an' roast!"
The brakeman pulled him through the window. Demming shut his teeth hard; only the fear of death could have made him bear the agony every motion gave him.
The brakeman drew him to one side before he left him. Demming could see the wreck plainly. A freight train had been thrown from the track, and the passenger train had run into it while going at full speed. "The brakes wouldn't work," Demming heard Jim say. Now the sight was a sorry one: a heap of rubbish which had been a freight car; the passenger engine sprawling on one side, in the swamp, like a huge black beetle; and, near it, the two foremost cars of its train overturned and shattered. The people of both trains were gathered about the wreck, helplessly talking, as is the manner of people in an accident. They were, most of them, on the other side of the track. No one had been killed; but some were wounded, and were stretched in a ghastly row on car cushions. The few women and children in the train were collected about the wounded.
"Is the last man out?" shouted the conductor.
Jim answered, "Yes, all out—no, d—— it! I see a coat-tail down here."
"Look at the fire!" screamed a woman. "Oh, God help him! The car's afire!"
"He's gone up, whoever he is," muttered Jim. "They ain't an axe nor nuthin' on board, an' he's wedged in fast. But come on, boys! I'll drop in onct mo'!"
"You go with him," another man said. "Here, you fellows, I can run fastest; I'll go to the cabin for an axe. Some of you follow me for some water!"
Demming saw the speaker for an instant,—an erect little figure in a foppish gray suit, with a "cat's eye" gleaming from his blue cravat. One instant he stood on the piece of timber upon which he had jumped; the next he had flung off his coat, and was speeding down the road like a hare.
"D—— ef 'tain't the Cunnel," said Demming.
"Come on!" shouted Talboys, never slackening his speed. "Hurry!"
The men went. Demming, weak with pain, was content to look across the gap between the trains and watch those left behind. The smoke was growing denser now, and tongues of flame shot out between the joints of wood. They said the man was at the other end. Happily, the wind blew the fire from him. Jim and two other men climbed in again. Demming could hear them swearing and shouting. He looked anxiously about, seeking a familiar figure which he could not find. He thought it the voice of his own fears, that cry from within the car. "Good God, it's the Bishop!" But immediately Jim thrust his head out of the window, and called, "The Bishop's in hyar! Under the cyar seats! He ain't hurt, but we cyan't move the infernal things ter get him out!"
"Oh, Lordy!" groaned the vagabond; "an' I'm so broke up I cyan't lif' a han' ter help him!"
In desperation, the men outside tried to batter down the car walls with a broken tree limb. Inside, they strained feverishly at the heavy timbers. Vain efforts all, at which the crackling flames, crawling always nearer, seemed to mock.
Demming could hear the talk, the pitying comments, the praise of the Bishop: "Such a good man!" "His poor daughter, the only child, and her mother dead!" "They were so fond of each other, poor thing, poor thing!" And a soft voice added, "Let us pray!"
"Prayin'," muttered Demming, "jes' like wimmen! Laws, they don' know no better. How'll I git ter him?"
He began to crawl to the car, dragging his shattered leg behind him, reckless of the throbs of pain it sent through his nerves. "Ef I kin on'y stan' it till I git ter him!" he moaned. "Burnin' alive's harder nor this." He felt the hot smoke on his face; he heard the snapping and roaring of the fire; he saw the men about the car pull out Jim and his companions, and perceived that their faces were blackened.
"It'll cotch me, suah 's death!" said Demming, between his teeth. "Well, 'tain't much mattah!" Mustering all his strength he pulled himself up to the car window below that from which Jim had just emerged. The crowd, occupied with the helpless rescuers, had not observed him before. They shouted at him as one man: "Get down, it's too late!" "You're crazy, you ——!" yelled Jim, with an oath.
"Never you min'," Demming answered, coolly. "I know what I'm 'bout, I reckon."
He had taken his revolver from his breast, and was searching through his pockets. He soon pulled out what he sought, merely a piece of stout twine; and the crowd saw him, sitting astride the trucks, while he tied the string about the handle of the weapon. Then he leaned over the prison walls, and looked down upon the Bishop. Under the mass of wood and iron the Bishop lay, unhurt but securely imprisoned; yet he had never advanced to the chancel rails with a calmer face than that he lifted to his friend.
"Demming," he cried, "you here! Go back, I implore you! You can't save me."
"I know thet, Bishop," groaned the cracker. "I ain't tryin' ter. But I cyan't let you roast in this yere d—— barbecue! Look a yere!" He lowered the revolver through the window. "Thar's a pistil, an' w'en th' fire cotches onter you an' yo' gwine suah 's shootin', then put it ter yo' head an' pull the trigger, an' yo'll be outen it all!"
The Bishop's firm pale face grew paler as he answered, "Don't tempt me, Demming! Whatever God sends I must bear. I can't do it!" Demming paused. He looked steadily at the Bishop for a second; then he raised the revolver, with a little quiver of his mouth. "And go away, for God's sake, my poor friend! Bear my love to my dear, dear daughter; tell her that she has always been a blessing and a joy to me. And remember what I have said to you, yourself. It will be worth dying for if you will do that; it will, indeed. It is only a short pain, and then heaven! Now go, Demming. God bless and keep you. Go!"
But Demming did not move. "Don' you want ter say a prayer, Bishop?" he said in a coaxing tone,—"jes' a little mite o' one fur you an' me? Ye don' need ter min' 'bout sayin' 't loud. I'll unnerstan' th' intention, an' feel jes' so edified. I will, fur a fac'."
"Go, first, Demming. I am afraid for you!"
"I'm a-gwine, Bishop," said Demming, in the same soft, coaxing tone. "Don' min' me. I'm all right." He crouched down lower, so that the Bishop could not see him, and the group below saw him rest the muzzle of the pistol on the window-sill and take aim.
A gasp ran through the crowd,—that catching of the breath in which overtaxed feeling relieves itself. "He's doin' the las' kindness he can to him," said the brakeman to the conductor, "and by the Lord, he's giv' his own life to do it!"
The flames had pierced the roof, and streamed up to the sky. Through the sickening, dull roar they heard the Bishop's voice again:
"Demming, are you gone?"
The cracker struck a loose piece of wood, and sent it clattering down. "Yes, Bishop, that wuz me. I'm safe on th' groun'. Good-by, Bishop. I do feel 'bleeged ter you; an', Bishop, them chickens wuz the fust time. They wuz, on my honah. Now, Bishop, shet yo' eyes an' pray, fur it's a-comin!"
The Bishop prayed. They could not hear what he said, below. No one heard save the uncouth being who clung to the window, revolver in hand, steadily dying the creeping red death. But they knew that, out of sight, a man who had smiled on them, full of life and hope, but an hour ago was facing such torture as had tried the martyr's courage, and facing it with as high a faith.
With one accord men and women bent their heads. Jim, the brakeman, alone remained standing, his form erect, his eyes fixed on the two iron lines that made an angle away in the horizon. "Come on!" he yelled, leaping wildly into the air. "Fo' the Lord's sake, hurry! D—— him, but he's the bulliest runner!"
Then they all saw a man flying down the track, axe in hand. He ran up to the car side. He began to climb. A dozen hands caught him. "You're a dead man if you get in there!" was the cry. "Don't you see it's all afire?"
"Try it from the outside, Colonel!" said the conductor.
"Don't you see I haven't time?" cried Talboys. "He'll be dead before we can get to him. Stand back, my men, and, Jim, be ready to pull us both out!"
The steady tones and Talboys's business-like air had an instantaneous effect. The crowd were willing enough to be led; they fell back, and Talboys dropped through the window. To those outside the whole car seemed in a blaze, and over them the smoke hung like a pall; but through the crackling and roaring and the crash of falling timber came the clear ring of axe blows, and Talboys's voice shouting, "I say, my man, don't lose heart! We're bound to get you out!"
"Lordy, he don't know who 'tis," said Demming. "Nobody could see through that thar smoke!"
All at once the uninjured side of the car gave way beneath the flames, falling in with an immense crash. The flame leaped into the air.
"They're gone!" cried the conductor.
"No, they're not!" yelled Demming. "He's got him, safe an' soun'!" And as he spoke, scorched and covered with dust, bleeding from a cut on his cheek, but holding the Bishop in his arms, Talboys appeared at the window. Jim snatched the Bishop, the conductor helped out Talboys, and half a dozen hands laid hold of Demming. He heard the wild cheer that greeted them; he heard another cheer for the men with the water, just in sight; but he heard no more, for as they pulled him down a dozen fiery pincers seemed tearing at his leg, and he fainted away.
* * * * *
The Bishop's daughter sat in her room, making a very pretty picture, with her white hands clasped on her knee and her soft eyes uplifted. She looked sad enough to please a pre-Raphaelite of sentiment. Yet her father, whom this morning she would have declared she loved better than any one in the world, had just been saved from a frightful death. She knew the story of his deliverance. At last she felt that most unexpected thrill of admiration for Talboys; but Talboys had vanished. He was gone, it was all ended, and she owned to herself that she was wretched. Her father was with Demming and the doctors. The poor vagabond must hobble through life on one leg, henceforward. "If he lived," the doctor had said, making even his existence as a cripple problematic. Poor Demming, who had flung away his life to save her father from suffering,—a needless, useless sacrifice, as it proved, but touching Louise the more because of its very failure!
At this stage in her thoughts, she heard Sam, the waiter, knocking softly, outside. Her first question was about Demming. "The operation's ovah, miss, an' Mr. Demming he's sinkin'," answered Sam, giving the sick man a title he had never accorded him before, "an' he axes if you'd be so kin' 's to step in an' speak to him; he's powerful anxious to see you."
Silently Louise rose and followed the mulatto. They had carried Demming to the hotel; it was the nearest place, and the Bishop wished it. His wife had been sent for, and was with him. Her timid, tear-stained face was the first object that met Louise's eye. She sat in a rocking-chair close to the bed, and, by sheer force of habit, was unconsciously rocking to and fro, while she brushed the tears from her eyes. Demming's white face and tangle of iron-gray hair lay on the pillow near her.
He smiled feebly, seeing Louise. She did not know anything better to do than to take his hand, the tears brightening her soft eyes. "Laws," said Demming, "don' do thet. I ain't wuth it. Look a yere, I got sunthin' ter say ter you. An' you mustn't min', 'cause I mean well. You know 'bout—yes'day mahnin'. Mabbe you done what you done not knowin' yo' own min',—laws, thet's jes' girls,—an' I wants you ter know jes' what kin' o' feller he is. You know he saved yo' pa, but you don' know, mabbe, thet he didn't know 'twas the Bishop till he'd jump down in thet thar flamin' pit o' hell, as 'twere, an' fished him out. He done it jes' 'cause he'd thet pluck in him, an'—don' you go fer ter chippin' in, Cunnel. I'm a dyin' man, an' don' you forget it! Thar he is, miss, hidin' like behin' the bed."
Louise during this speech had grown red to the roots of her hair. She looked up into Talboys's face. He had stepped forward. His usual composure had quite left him, so that he made a pitiful picture of embarrassment, not helped by crumpled linen and a borrowed coat a world too large for him. "It's just a whim of his," he whispered, hurriedly; "he wanted me to stay. I didn't know—I didn't understand! For God's sake, don't suppose I meant to take such an advantage of the situation! I am going directly. I shall leave Aiken to-night."
It was only the strain on her nerves, but Louise felt the oddest desire to laugh. The elegant Martin cut such a very droll figure as a hero. Then her eye fell on Demming's eager face, and a sudden revulsion of feeling, a sudden keen realization of the tragedy that Martin had averted, brought the tears back to her eyes. Her beautiful head dropped. "Why do you go—now?" said she.
"Hev you uns made it up, yet?" murmured Demming's faint voice.
"Yes," Talboys answered, "I think we have, and—I thank you, Demming." The vagabond waved his hand with a feeble assumption of his familiar gesture. "Yo' a square man, Cunnel. I allus set a heap by you, though I didn't let on. An' she's a right peart young lady. I'm glad yo' gwine ter be so happy. Laws, I kind o' wish I wuz to see it, even on a wooden leg—" The woman at his side began to sob. "Thar, thar, Alwynda, don' take on so; cyan't be helped. You mus' 'scuse her, gen'lemen; she so petted on me she jes' cyan't hole in!"
"Demming," said the Bishop, "my poor friend, the time is short; is there anything you want me to do?" Demming's dull eyes sparkled with a glimmer of the old humor.
"Well, Bishop, ef you don' min', I'd like you ter conduc' the fun'al services. Reckon they'll be a genuwide co'pse this yere time, fo' suah. An', Bishop, you'll kind o' look arter Alwynda; see she gits her cyoffee an' terbacco all right. An' I wants ter 'sure you all again thet them thar chickens wuz the fust an' on'y thing I evah laid han's on t' want mine. Thet's the solemn truf; ain't it, Alwynda?"
The poor woman could only rock herself in the chair, and sob, "Yes, 'tis. An', he's been a good husband to me. I've allus hed the bes' uv everything! Oh, Lordy, 'pears 's though I cyan't bear it, nohow!"
Louise put her hand gently on the thin shoulder, saying, "I will see that she never wants anything we can give, Demming; and we will try to comfort her."
The cracker looked wistfully from her fresh, young face to the worn face below. "She wuz 's peart an' purty 's you, miss, w'en I fust struck up with 'er," said he, slowly. "Our little gal wuz her very image. Alwynda," in a singularly soft, almost diffident tone, "don' take on so; mabbe I'm gwine fer ter see 'er again. 'Twon't do no harm ter think so, onyhow," he added, with a glance at Talboys, as though sure there of comprehension.
Then the Bishop spoke, solemnly, though with sympathy, urging the dying man, whose worldly affairs were settled, to repent of his sins and prepare for eternity. "Shall I pray for you, Demming?" he said, in conclusion.
"Jes' as you please, Bishop," answered Demming, and he tried to wave his hand. "I ain't noways partickler. I reckon God a'mighty knows I'd be th' same ole Demming ef I could get up, an' I don' mean ter make no purtenses. But mabbe it'll cheer up th' ole 'ooman a bit. So you begin, an' I'll bring in an Amen whenever it's wanted!"
So speaking, Demming closed his eyes wearily, and the Bishop knelt by the bedside. Talboys and Louise left them, thus. After a while, the wife stretched forth her toil-worn hand and took her husband's. She thought she was aware of a weak pressure. But when the prayer ended there came no Amen. Demming was gone where prayer may only faintly follow; nor could the Bishop ever decide how far his vagabond had joined in his petitions. Such doubts, however, did not prevent his cherishing an assured hope that the man who died for him was safe, forever. The Bishop's theology, like that of most of us, yielded, sometimes, to the demands of the occasion.
BY EDWARD BELLAMY.
Scribner's Monthly, December, 1877.
The 25th of May, 1866, was no doubt to many a quite indifferent date, but to two persons it was the saddest day of their lives. Charles Randall that day left Bonn, Germany, to catch the steamer home to America, and Ida Werner was left with a mountain of grief on her gentle bosom, which must be melted away drop by drop, in tears, before she could breathe freely again.
A year before, Randall, hunting for apartments, his last term at the university just begun, had seen the announcement, "Zimmer zu vermiethen," in the hall below the flat where the Werners lived. Ida answered his ring, for her father was still at his government office, and her mother had gone out to the market to buy the supper. She would much rather her mother had been at home to show the gentleman the rooms; but knowing that they could not afford to lose a chance to rent them, she plucked up courage, and, candle in hand, showed him through the suite. When he came next day with his baggage he learned for the first time what manner of apartments he had engaged; for although he had protracted the investigation the previous evening to the furthest corner, and had been most exacting as to explanations, he had really rented the rooms entirely on account of a certain light in which a set of Madonna features, in auburn hair, had shown at the first opening of the door.
A year had passed since this, and a week ago a letter from home had stated that his father, indignant at his unexplained stay six months beyond the end of his course, had sent him one last remittance, barely sufficient for a steamer ticket, with the intimation that if he did not return on a set day he must thenceforth attend to his own exchequer. The 25th was the last day on which he could leave Bonn to catch the requisite steamer. Had it been in November, nature at least would have sympathized; it was cruel that their autumn time of separation should fall in the spring, when the sky is full of bounteous promise and the earth of blissful trust.
Love is so improvident that a parting a year away is no more feared than death, and a month's end seems dim and distant. But a week—a week only—that even to love is short, and the beginning of the end. The chilling mist that rose from the gulf of separation so near before them, overshadowed all the brief remnant of their path. They were constantly together. But a silence had come upon them. Never had words seemed idler, they had so much to say. They could say nothing that did not mock the weight on their hearts, and seem trivial and impertinent because it was exclusive of more important matter. The utmost they could do was to lay their hearts open toward each other to receive every least impression of voice, and look, and manner, to be remembered afterward. At evening they went into the minster church, and sitting in the shadows listened to the sweet shrill choir of boys whose music distilled the honey of sorrow, and as the deep bass organ chords gripped their hearts with the tones that underlie all weal and woe, they looked in each other's eyes and did for a space feel so near that all the separation that could come after seemed but a trifling thing.
It was all arranged between them. He was to earn money, or get a position in business, and return in a year or two at most and bring her to America.
"Oh," she said once, "if I could but sleep till thou comest again to wake me, how blessed I should be; but, alas, I must wake all through the desolate time!"
Although for the most part she comforted him rather than he her, yet at times she gave way, and once suddenly turned to him and hid her face on his breast, and said, trembling with tearless sobs:
"I know I shall never see thee more, Karl. Thou wilt forget me in thy great far land and wilt love another. My heart tells me so."
And then she raised her head and her streaming eyes blazed with anger.
"I will hover about thee, and if thou lovest another I will kill her as she sleeps by thy side."
And the woman must have loved him much, who, after seeing that look of hers, would have married him. But a moment after she was listening with abject ear to his promises.
The day came at last. He was to leave at three o'clock. After the noontide meal Ida's mother sat with them and they talked a little about America, Frau Werner exerting herself to give a cheerful tone to the conversation, and Randall answering her questions absently and without taking his eyes off Ida, who felt herself beginning to be seized with a nervous trembling. At last Frau Werner rose and silently left the room, looking back at them as she closed the door with eyes full of tears. Then as if by a common impulse they rose and put their arms about each other's necks, and their lips met in a long shuddering kiss. The breath came quicker and quicker; sobs broke the kisses; tears poured down and made them salt and bitter as parting kisses should be in which sweetness is mockery. Hitherto they had controlled their feelings, or rather she had controlled him; but it was no use any longer, for the time had come, and they abandoned themselves to the terrible voluptuousness of unrestrained grief, in which there is a strange meaningless suggestion of power, as though it might possibly be a force that could affect or remove its own cause if but wild and strong enough.
"Herr Randall, the carriage waits and you will lose the train," said Frau Werner from the door, in a husky voice.
"I will not go, by God!" he swore, as he felt her clasp convulsively strengthen at the summons. The lesser must yield to the greater, and no loss or gain on earth was worth the grief upon her face. His father might disinherit him; America might sink, but she must smile again. And she did—brave, true girl and lover. The devotion his resolute words proved was like a strong nervine to restore her self-control. She smiled as well as her trembling lips would let her, and said, as she loosed him from her arms:
"No, thou must go, Karl. But thou wilt return, nicht wahr?"
I would not venture to say how many times he rushed to the door, and glancing back at her as she stood there desolate, followed his glance once more to her side. Finally, Frau Werner led him as one dazed to the carriage, and the impatient driver drove off at full speed.
* * * * *
It is seven years later, and Randall is pacing the deck of an ocean steamer, outward bound from New York. It is the evening of the first day out. Here and there passengers are leaning over the bulwarks pensively regarding the sinking sun as it sets for the first time between them and their native land, or may be taking in with awed faces the wonder of the deep, which has haunted their imaginations from childhood. Others are already busily striking up acquaintances with fellow-passengers, and a bridal pair over yonder sit thrilling with the sense of isolation from the world that so emphasizes their mutual dependence and all-importance to each other. And other groups are talking business and referring to money and markets in New York, London, and Frankfort as glibly as if they were on land, much to the secret shock of certain raw tourists, who marvel at the insensitiveness of men who, thus speeding between two worlds, and freshly in the presence of the most august and awful form of nature, can keep their minds so steadily fixed upon cash-books and ledgers.
But Randall, as, with the habit of an old voyager, he already falls to pacing the deck, is too much engrossed with his own thoughts to pay much heed to these things. Only, as he passes a group of Germans, and the familiar accents of the sweet, homely tongue fall on his ear, he pauses, and lingers near.
The darkness gathers, the breeze freshens, the waves come tumbling out of the east, and the motion of the ship increases as she rears upward to meet them. The groups on deck are thinning out fast as the passengers go below to enjoy the fearsome novelty of the first night at sea, and to compose themselves to sleep as it were in the hollow of God's hand. But long into the night Randall's cigar still marks his pacing up and down as he ponders, with alternations of tender, hopeful glow and sad foreboding the chances of his quest. Will he find her?
It is necessary to go back a little. When Randall reached America on his return from Germany, he immediately began to sow his wild oats, and gave his whole mind to it. Answering Ida's letters got to be a bore, and he gradually ceased doing it. Then came a few sad reproaches from her, and their correspondence ceased. Meanwhile, having had his youthful fling, he settled down as a steady young man of business. One day he was surprised to observe that he had of late insensibly fallen into the habit of thinking a good deal in a pensive sort of way about Ida and those German days. The notion occurred to him that he would hunt up her picture, which he hadn't thought of in five years. With misty eyes and crowding memories he pored over it, and a wave of regretful, yearning tenderness filled his breast.
Late one night after long search he found among his papers a bundle of her old letters already growing yellow. Being exceedingly rusty in his German, he had to study them out word by word. That night, till the sky grew gray in the east, he sat there turning the pages of the dictionary with wet eyes and glowing face, and selecting definitions by the test of the heart. He found that some of these letters he had never before taken the pains to read through. In the bitterness of his indignation he cursed the fool who had thrown away a love so loyal and priceless.
All this time he had been thinking of Ida as if dead, so far off in another world did those days seem. It was with extraordinary effect that the idea finally flashed upon him that she was probably alive and now in the prime of her beauty. After a period of feverish and impassioned excitement he wrote a letter full of wild regret and beseeching, and an ineffable tenderness. Then he waited. After a long time it came back from the German dead-letter office. There was no person of the name at the address. She had left Bonn, then. Hastily setting his affairs in order, he sailed for Germany on the next steamer.
The incidents of the voyage were a blank in his mind. On reaching Bonn he went straight from the station to the old house in —— strasse. As he turned into it from the scarcely less familiar streets leading thither, and noted each accustomed landmark, he seemed to have just returned to tea from an afternoon lecture at the university. In every feature of the street some memory lurked, and as he passed threw out delaying tendrils, clutching at his heart. Rudely he broke away, hastening on to that house near the end of the street, in each of whose quaint windows fancy framed the longed-for face. She was not there, he knew, but for a while he stood on the other side of the street, unmindful of the stares and jostling of the passers-by, gazing at the house-front, and letting himself imagine from moment to moment that her figure might flit across some window, or issue from the door, basket in hand, for the evening marketing, on which journey he had so often accompanied her. At length, crossing the street, he inquired for the Werner family. The present tenants had never heard the name. Perhaps the tenants from whom they had received the house might be better informed. Where were they? They had moved to Cologne. He next went to the Bonn police-office, and from the records kept there, in which pretty much everything about every citizen is set down, ascertained that several years previous Herr Werner had died of apoplexy, and that no one of the name was now resident in the city. Next day he went to Cologne, hunted up the former tenants of the house, and found that they remembered quite distinctly the Werner family, and the death of the father, and only bread-winner. It had left the mother and daughter quite without resources, as Randall had known must probably have been the case. His informants had heard that they had gone to Duesseldorf.
His search had become a fever. After waiting seven years, a delay of ten minutes was unendurable. The trains seemed to creep. And yet, on reaching Duesseldorf, he did not at once go about his search, but said to himself:
"Let me not risk the killing of my last hope till I have warmed myself with it one more night, for to-morrow there may be no more warmth in it."
He went to a hotel, ordered a room and a bottle of wine, and sat over it all night, indulging the belief that he would find her the next day. He denied his imagination nothing, but conjured up before his mind's eye the lovely vision of her fairest hour, complete even to the turn of the neck, the ribbon in the hair, and the light in the blue eyes. So he would turn into the street. Yes, here was the number. Then he rings the bell. She comes to the door. She regards him a moment indifferently. Then amazed recognition, love, happiness, transfigure her face. "Ida!" "Karl!" and he clasps her sobbing to his bosom, from which she shall never be sundered again.
The result of his search next day was the discovery that mother and daughter had been at Duesseldorf until about four years previous, where the mother had died of consumption, and the daughter had removed, leaving no address. The lodgings occupied by them were of a wretched character, showing that their circumstances must have been very much reduced.
There was now no further clew to guide his search. It was destined that the last he was to know of her should be that she was thrown on the tender mercies of the world—her last friend gone, her last penny expended. She was buried out of his sight, not in the peaceful grave, with its tender associations, but buried alive in the living world; hopelessly hid in the huge, writhing confusion of humanity. He lingered in the folly of despair about those sordid lodgings in Duesseldorf as one might circle vainly about the spot in the ocean where some pearl of great price had fallen overboard.
After a while he roused again, and began putting advertisements for Ida in the principal newspapers of Germany, and making random visits to towns all about to consult directories and police records. A singular sort of misanthropy possessed him. He cursed the multitude of towns and villages that reduced the chances in his favor to so small a thing. He cursed the teeming throngs of men, women, and children, in whose mass she was lost, as a jewel in a mountain of rubbish. Had he possessed the power, he would in those days, without an instant's hesitation, have swept the bewildering, obstructing millions of Germany out of existence, as the miner washes away the earth to bring to light the grain of gold in his pan. He must have scanned a million women's faces in that weary search, and the bitterness of that million-fold disappointment left its trace in a feeling of aversion for the feminine countenance and figure that he was long in overcoming.
Knowing that only by some desperate chance he could hope to meet her in his random wanderings, it seemed to him that he was more likely to be successful by resigning as far as possible all volition, and leaving the guidance of the search to chance; as if fortune were best disposed toward those who most entirely abdicated intelligence and trusted themselves to her. He sacredly followed every impulse, never making up his mind an hour before at what station he should leave the cars, and turning to the right or left in his wanderings through the streets of cities, as much as possible without intellectual choice. Sometimes, waking suddenly in the middle of the night, he would rise, dress with eager haste, and sally out to wander through the dark streets, thinking he might be led of Providence to meet her. And once out, nothing but utter exhaustion could drive him back; for, how could he tell but in the moment after he had gone she might pass. He had recourse to every superstition of sortilege, clairvoyance, presentiment, and dreams. And all the time his desperation was singularly akin to hope. He dared revile no seeming failure, not knowing but just that was the necessary link in the chain of accidents destined to bring him face to face with her. The darkest hour might usher in the sunburst. The possibility that this was at last the blessed chance lit up his eyes ten thousand times as they fell on some new face.
But at last he found himself back in Bonn, with the feverish infatuation of the gambler which had succeeded hope in his mind, succeeded in turn by utter despair! His sole occupation now was revisiting the spots which he had frequented with her in that happy year. As one who has lost a princely fortune sits down at length to enumerate the little items of property that happen to be attached to his person, disregarded before but now his all, so Randall counted up like a miser the little store of memories that were thenceforth to be his all. Wonderfully the smallest details of those days came back to him. The very seats they sat in at public places, the shops they entered together, their promenades and the pausing-places on them, revived in memory under a concentrated inward gaze like invisible paintings brought over heat.
One afternoon, after wandering about the city for some hours, he turned into a park to rest. As he approached his usual bench, sacred to him because Ida and he in the old days had often sat there, he was annoyed to see it already occupied by a pleasant-faced, matronly looking German woman, who was complacently listening to the chatter of a couple of small children. Randall threw himself upon the unoccupied end of the bench, rather hoping that his gloomy and preoccupied air might cause them to depart and leave him to his melancholy revery. And, indeed, it was not long before the children stopped their play and gathered timidly about their mother, and soon after the bench tilted slightly as she relieved it of her substantial charms, saying in a cheery, pleasant voice:
"Come, little ones, the father will be at home before us."
It was a secluded part of the garden, and the plentiful color left her cheeks as the odd gentleman at the other end of the bench turned with a great start at the sound of her voice, and transfixed her with a questioning look. But in a moment he said:
"Pardon me, madam, a thousand times. The sound of your voice so reminded me of a friend I have lost, that I looked up involuntarily."
The woman responded with good-natured assurances that he had not at all alarmed her. Meanwhile, Randall had an opportunity to notice that in spite of the thick-waisted and generally matronly figure, there were, now he came to look closely, several rather marked resemblances to Ida. The eyes were of the same blue tint, though about half as large, the cheeks being twice as full. In spite of the ugly style of dressing it, he saw also that the hair was like Ida's, and as for the nose, that feature which changes least, it might have been taken out of Ida's own face. As may be supposed, he was thoroughly disgusted to be reminded of that sweet girlish vision by this broadly moulded, comfortable-looking matron. His romantic mood was scattered for that evening at least, and he knew he shouldn't get the prosaic suggestions of the unfortunate resemblance out of his mind for a week at least. It would torment him as a humorous association spoils a sacred hymn.
He bowed with rather an ill grace, and was about to retire, when a certain peculiar turn of the neck as the lady acknowledged his salute, caught his eye and turned him to stone. Good God! this woman was Ida!
He stood there in a condition of mental paralysis. The whole fabric of his thinking and feeling for months of intense emotional experience had instantly been annihilated, and he was left in the midst of a great void in his consciousness out of touching-reach of anything. There was no sharp pang, but just a bewildered numbness. A few filaments only of the romantic feeling for Ida that filled his mind a moment before still lingered, floating about it, unattached to anything, like vague neuralgic feelings in an amputated stump, as if to remind him of what had been there.
All this was as instantaneous as a galvanic shock the moment he had recognized—let us not say Ida, but this evidence that she was no more. It occurred to him that the woman, who stood staring, was in common politeness entitled to some explanation. He was in just that state of mind when the only serious interest having suddenly dropped out of the life, the minor conventionalities loom up as peculiarly important and obligatory.
"You were Frauelein Ida Werner, and lived at No. —— —— strasse in 1866, nicht wahr?"
He spoke in a cold, dead tone, as if making a necessary but distasteful explanation to a stranger.
"Yes, truly," replied the woman, curiously; "but my name is now Frau Stein," glancing at the children, who had been staring open-mouthed at the queer man.
"Do you remember Karl Randall? I am he."
The most formal of old acquaintances could hardly have recalled himself in a more indifferent manner.
"Herr Gott im Himmel!" exclaimed the woman with the liveliest surprise and interest. "Karl! Is it possible. Yes, now I recognize you. Surely! surely!"
She clapped one hand to her bosom, and dropped on the bench to recover herself. Fleshy people, overcome by agitation, are rather disagreeable objects. Randall stood looking at her with a singular expression of aversion on his listless face. But after panting a few times the woman recovered her vivacity and began to ply him vigorously with exclamations and questions, beaming the while with delighted interest. He answered her like a school-boy, too destitute of presence of mind to do otherwise than to yield passively to her impulse. But he made no inquiries whatever of her, and did not distantly allude to the reason of his presence in Germany. As he stood there looking at her, the real facts about that matter struck him as so absurd and incredible, that he couldn't believe them himself.
Pretty soon he observed that she was becoming a little conscious in her air, and giving a slightly sentimental turn to the conversation. It was not for some time that he saw her drift, so utterly without connection in his mind were Ida and this comfortable matron before him, and when he did, a smile at the exquisite absurdity of the thing barely twitched the corners of his mouth, and ended in a sad, puzzled stare that rather put the other out of countenance.
But the children had now for some time been whimpering for supper and home, and at length Frau Stein rose, and, with an urgent request that Randall should call on her and see her husband, bade him a cordial adieu. He stood there watching her out of sight with an unconscious smile of the most refined and subtle cynicism. Then he sat down and stared vacantly at the close-cropped grass on the opposite side of the path. By what handle should he lay hold of his thoughts?
That woman could not retroact and touch the memory of Ida. That dear vision remained intact. He drew forth his locket and opening it gazed passionately at the fair girlish face, now so hopelessly passed away. By that blessed picture he could hold her and defy the woman. Remembering that fat, jolly, comfortable matron, he should not at least ever again have to reproach himself with his cruel treatment of Ida. And yet why not? What had the woman to do with her? She had suffered as much as if the woman had not forgotten it all. His reckoning was with Ida—was with her. Where should he find her? In what limbo could he imagine her? Ah, that was the wildering cruelty of it. She was not this woman, nor was she dead in any conceivable natural way so that her girlish spirit might have remained eternally fixed. She was nothing. She was nowhere. She only existed in this locket and her only soul was in his heart, far more surely than in this woman who had forgotten her.
Death was a hopeful, cheerful state compared to that nameless nothingness that was her portion. For had she been dead he could still have loved her soul; but now she had none. The soul that once she had, and if she had then died, might have kept, had been forfeited by living on and had passed to this woman, and would from her pass on further till finally fixed and vested in the decrepitude of age by death. So then it was death and not life that secured the soul, and his sweet Ida had none because she had not died in time. Ah! had not he heard somewhere that the soul is immortal and never dies? Where then was Ida's? She had disappeared utterly out of the universe. She had been transformed, destroyed, swallowed up in this woman, a living sepulchre, more cruel than the grave, for it devoured the soul as well as the body. Pah! this prating about immortality was absurd, convicted of meaninglessness before a tragedy like this; for what was an immortality worth that was given to her last decrepit phase of life, after all its beauty and strength and loveliness had passed soulless away? To be aught but a mockery immortality must be as manifold as the manifold phases of life. Since life devours so many souls, why suppose death will spare the last one?
But he would contend with destiny. Painters should multiply the face in his locket. He would immortalize her in a poem. He would constantly keep the lamp trimmed and burning before her shrine in his heart. She should live in spite of the woman.
But he could now never make amends to her for the suffering his cruel, neglectful youth had caused her. He had scarcely realized before how much the longing to make good that wrong had influenced his quest of her. Tears of remorse for an unatonable crime gathered in his eyes. He might indeed enrich this woman, or educate her children, or pension her husband; but that would be no atonement to Ida.
And then as if to intensify that remorse by showing still more clearly the impossibility of atonement, it flashed on him that he who loved Ida was not the one to atone for an offence of which he would be incapable, which had been committed by one who despised her love. Justice was a meaningless word, and amends were never possible, nor can men ever make atonement; for, ere the debt is paid, the atonement made, one who is not the sufferer stands to receive it, while, on the other hand, the one who atones is not the offender, but one who comes after him, loathing his offence and himself incapable of it. The dead must bury their dead. And thus pondering from personal to general thoughts, the turmoil of his feelings gradually calmed, and a restful melancholy, vague and tender, filled the aching void in his heart.
KIRBY'S COALS OF FIRE.
BY LOUISE STOCKTON.
Atlantic Monthly, December, 1875.
Considering it simply as an excursion, George Scott thought, leaning over the side of the canal-boat and looking at the shadow of the hills in the water, his plan for spending his summer vacation might be a success, but he was not so sure about his opportunities for studying human nature under the worst conditions. It was true that the conditions were bad enough, but so were the results, and George was not in search of logical sequences. He had been in the habit of saying that nothing interested him as much as the study of his fellows; and that he was in earnest was proved by the fact that even his college experiences had not yet disheartened him, although they had cost him not a few neckties and coats, and sometimes too many of his dollars. But George had higher aspirations, and was not disposed to be satisfied with the opportunities presented by crude collegians or even learned professors, and so meant to go out among men. When he was younger,—a year or two before,—he had dreamed of a mission among the Indians, fancying that he would reach original principles among them; but the Modocs and Captain Jack had lowered his faith, while the Rev. Dr. Buck's story of how the younger savages had been taught to make beds and clean knives, until they preferred these civilized occupations to their old habit of scampering through the woods, had dispelled more of the glitter, and he had resolved to confine his labors to his white brethren. He did not mean to seek his opportunities among the rich, nor among the monotonously dreary poor of the city, but in a fresher field. Like most theological students, he was well read in current literature, and he had learned how often the noblest virtues are found among the roughest classes. It was true, they were sometimes so latent that like the jewel in a toad's head they had the added grace of unexpectedness, but that did not interfere with the fact of their existence. He had read of California gamblers who had rushed from tables where they had sat with bowie-knives between their teeth, to warn a coming train of broken rails, and, when picked up maimed and dying, had simply asked if the children were saved, and then, content, had turned aside and died. He knew the story of the Mississippi engineer who, going home with a long-sought fortune to claim his waiting bride, had saved his boat from wreck by supplying the want of fuel by hat, coat, boots, wedding-clothes, gloves, favors, and finally his bag of greenbacks and Northern Pacific bonds, then returning to his duty, sans money, sans wife, but plus honor and a rewarding conscience. When men are capable of such heroism, George would say, arguing from these and similar stories, they are open to true reformation, all that is necessary being some exercise of an influence that shall make such impulses constant instead of spasmodic.
About noon he had not been quite so sanguine regarding his mission, and had almost resolved that when they reached Springfield he would return East and join some of his class who were going to the Kaatskills. The sun was then pouring down directly on the boat, the cabin was stifling, the horses crept sluggishly along, the men were rude and brutal, and around him was an atmosphere of frying fish and boiling cabbage. The cabbage was perhaps the crowning evil; for while he found it possible to force his ear and eye to be deaf and blind to the disagreeable, he had no amount of will that could conquer the sense of smell. There seemed to be little, he thought, with some contempt for his expectations, to reward his quest or maintain his theory that every one had at least one story to tell. It was not necessarily one's own story, he had said, but lives the most barren in incident come into contact with those more vehement, and have the chance of looking into tragedies, into moral victories and fierce conflicts, through other men's eyes. He had hinted something of this to Joe Lakin early in the morning, when the mist was rising off the hills, when the air was fresh and keen, and the sun was making the long lines of oil upon the river glitter like so many brilliant snakes. Joe was the laziest and roughest of the men on the boat, but he sometimes had such a genial and even superior manner, that George had felt sure that he would comprehend his meaning. Thus when noon came, hot, close, and heavy with prophecy of dinner, George had sickened of human nature and of psychological studies; but now the sun had set, and a golden glory lit the sky; the fields on one side of the river rolled away green in clover and wavy in corn, the hills heavily wooded rose high and picturesquely on the other side, and the little island in the bend of the river seemed the home of quiet and of peace. The horses plodded patiently through the water, going out on the shallows and avoiding the deeper currents near the shore, and the boys, forgetting to shout and swear, rode along softly whistling. Over by the hills stood a cottage, and in the terraced garden a group of girls with bright ribbons in their hair were playing quoits with horseshoes. A rowboat was carrying passengers over the river to meet the evening train, and under the sweetness of the twilight George's spirits arose lightly to their level, his old faith returned to him, and he looked up with a new sense of fellowship to Joe, who was filling a pipe with his favorite "towhead."
"It's a pity you don't smoke," said Joe, carefully striking a match and holding his cap before it, "for it seems a gift thrown away; and this tobacco is uncommon good, though you might fancy it a notion too strong. I've noticed that most preachers smoke, although they don't take kindly to drinking. I suppose they think it wouldn't seem the proper thing, and perhaps it wouldn't; but there's Parson Robinson,—I should think that a good, solid drink would be a real comfort to him sometimes. He's got a hard pull of it with a half share of victuals and a double share of children, so the two ends hardly ever see each other, much less think of meeting."
George hesitated for reply. He thought Joe was unnecessarily rough at times, and alluded to the ministry much too frequently. He had fancied when he left home that his blue flannel and gray tweed, with rather a jovial manner, would divest him of all resemblance to a theological student, and enable him to meet his companions on the ground of a common humanity, especially as he had at present no missionary intentions excepting those that might flow indirectly from his personal influence. Still, while he wanted Joe to recognize his broad liberality, he owed it to himself not to be loose in his expression of opinion.
"Well, yes," he said, slowly, "I suppose it would help a man to forget his troubles for a time, but the getting over the spree and coming back to the same old bothers, not a bit better for the forgetting, would hardly be much comfort, even if the thing were right."
"Maybe not," replied Joe; "I s'pose it wouldn't be comfortable if those were your feelin's, but I reckon you don't know much about it unless from hearsay. But I tell you one thing, whiskey's a friend to be trusted"—adding, slowly, with a glance at George's face—"to get you into trouble if you let it get the upper hand of you. It's like a woman in that! It begins with the same letter too, and that's another likeness!"
George made no answer to this joke, over which Joe chuckled enough for both, and then returned to the charge:
"I've seen a good deal of life, one way and another," Joe said, "but I don't know much of parsons. Somehow they haven't been in my line; but if I had to choose between being a parson or a doctor, I'd take the doctor by long odds. You see the world's pretty much of a hospital as far as he's concerned, and when he can't tinker a man up, he lets him slide off and nobody minds; but the parson's different. When a man takes sick he looks kind of friendly on the doctor, because, you see, he expects him to cure him; but when the parson comes, he tells him what a miserable sinner he is and what he's coming to at last. Now, it ain't in nature to like that, and I don't blame the fellows who say they can stand a parson when they are well, but that he's worse than a break-bone fever and no water handy when they're sick. And I shouldn't think any man would like to go about making himself unpleasant to others! Leastways, I wouldn't. Kicking Kirby used to say that he'd rather be a woman than a parson, and the force of language couldn't go further than that! He knew what he was talking about, for some of his folks were preachers; and there was good in Kirby, too! People may say what they please, but I'll allers hold to that!"
"Who was he?" asked George, happy to change the subject, being a little uneasy in his hold upon it, and hopeful of a story at last.
Joe looked over the hills.
"Well, he was a friend of mine when I was prospecting for oil, once. I allers liked Kicking Kirby."
George sat patiently waiting, while Jim refilled his pipe and then began:
"There ain't so much to tell, but men do curious things sometimes, and Kirby, I guess, was a man few folks would have expected very much of. There was hard things said of him, but he could allers strike a blow for a friend, or hold his own with the next man, let him be who he might. You see, there were a good many of us in camp, and we had fair enough luck; for the men over at Digger's Run had struck a good vein, so money was plenty and changed hands fast enough. We'd all hung together in our camp until Clint Bowers got into trouble. None of the rest of us wanted to get mixed up in the fuss, but somehow we did, and the other camp fought shy of us and played mostly among themselves; and I've allers held that it is poor fun to take out of one pocket to put into the other. Our boys had different opinions about it, and some of them held that it wasn't Clint's awkward work that they'd got mad at, but that they meant to shut down on Kirby. You see, Kirby was a very lucky player, and although pretty rough things were said about it, nobody ever got a clear handle against him, and he wasn't the kind of fellow that was pleasant to affront. Kirby used to say it was all along of Clint; that he ought to have been kept from the cards, or sent down the river; that we'd have had a good run of luck all winter if it hadn't been for him. I don't know the rights properly, but I allers thought it was about six of one and a half dozen of the other. Anyhow, there was bad blood about it, and that don't run up hill, you know, and so there was trouble soon enough. The boys got into words one night, and Kirby threw a mug at Clint, who out with his knife and was at Kirby like a flash. Lucky for him Clint's eyes weren't in good seeing order, and the liquor hadn't made his arm any the more steady, so Kirby only got a scratch on his arm. It showed what Clint would like to do, though, and some of the boys made pretty heavy bets on the end of it. I stuck up for Kirby, for you see I knew him pretty well, and there was true grit in him; and then, too, he was oncommon pleasant about it, and even stopped saying much about Clint's blocking up our luck over at the Run.
"Well, just about then Jack White came over from Cambria and told Clint that he'd heard that his uncle was asking around where he was. You see, Clint's uncle had a store down there, and had made a tidy pile of money, and as he hadn't any children, he said he wouldn't mind leaving it to him if he was living respectable. Clint had lived with him when he was a boy, but they hadn't got along very well, so Clint ran off. The old man didn't mind this, though, and now he wanted to find him. Jack said he was sure that if Clint was to go over and play his cards right he'd get the money. You may be sure this was a stroke of luck for Clint just then, and he didn't like to lose it; but you see he didn't look very genteel, and he knew his uncle was sharp enough to find it out. He was fat enough, for whiskey never made a living skeleton of him, but it was plain that it wasn't good health that had made his nose so red, nor fine manners that had given him the cut across his cheek and bruised up his eye. The boys all allowed that he was the hardest-looking chap in the camp, and if his uncle left him his money, it wouldn't be on the strength of his good countenance! But you know he had to do something right off, and so he wrote as pretty a letter to the old man as ever I want to see; but when the answer came it said his uncle was very sick, and as he had something particular to say to him, wouldn't Clint come over at once, and inclosed he'd find the money for his fare. I tell you this stumped Clint, for he'd had another fight, and was a picture to behold.