THE EAGLE'S HEART
HAMLIN GARLAND SUNSET EDITION
HARPER & BROTHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON
COPYRIGHT, 1900, BY HAMLIN GARLAND
I.—HIS YOUTH 1 II.—HIS LOVE AFFAIRS 11 III.—THE YOUNG EAGLE STRIKES 23 IV.—THE TRIAL 35 V.—THE EAGLE'S EYES GROW DIM 51 VI.—THE CAGE OPENS 72 VII.—ON THE WING 83 VIII.—THE UPWARD TRAIL 96 IX.—WAR ON THE CANNON BALL 123 X.—THE YOUNG EAGLE MOUNTS 143 XI.—ON THE ROUND-UP 157
XII.—THE YOUNG EAGLE FLUTTERS THE DOVE-COTE 175 XIII.—THE YOUNG EAGLE DREAMS OF A MATE 199 XIV.—THE YOUNG EAGLE RETURNS TO HIS EYRIE 220
XV.—THE EAGLE COMPLETES HIS CIRCLE 233 XVI.—AGAIN ON THE ROUND-UP 250 XVII.—MOSE RETURNS TO WAGON WHEEL 265 XVIII.—THE EAGLE GUARDS THE SHEEP 283 XIX.—THE EAGLE ADVENTURES INTO STRANGE LANDS 316 XX.—A DARK DAY WITH A GLOWING SUNSET 339 XXI.—CONCLUSION 363
THE EAGLE'S HEART
Harold was about ten years of age when his father, the Rev. Mr. Excell, took the pastorate of the First Church in Rock River. Many of the people in his first congregation remarked upon "the handsome lad." The clear brown of his face, his big yellow-brown eyes, his slender hands, and the grace of his movements gave him distinction quite aside from that arising from his connection with the minister.
Rev. John Excell was a personable man himself. He was tall and broad shouldered, with abundant brown hair and beard, and a winning smile. His eyes were dark and introspective, but they could glow like sunlit topaz, or grow dim with tears, as his congregation had opportunity to observe during this first sermon—but they were essentially sad eyes.
Mrs. Excell, a colorless little woman who retained only the dim outline of her girlhood's beauty, sat gracelessly in her pew, but her stepdaughter, Maud, by her side, was carrying to early maturity a dainty grace united with something strong and fine drawn from her father. She had his proud lift of the head.
"What a fine family!" whispered the women from pew to pew under cover of the creaking fans.
In the midst of the first sermon, a boy seated in front of Harold gave a shrill whoop of agony and glared back at the minister's son with distorted face, and only the prompt action on the part of both mothers prevented a clamorous encounter over the pew. Harold had stuck the head of a pin in the toe of his boot and jabbed his neighbor in the calf of the leg. It was an old trick, but it served well.
The minister did not interrupt his reading, but a deep flush of hot blood arose to his face, and the lids of his eyes dropped to shut out the searching gaze of his parishioners, as well as to close in a red glare of anger. From that moment Harold was known as "that preacher's boy," the intention being to convey by significant inflections and a meaning smile that he filled the usual description of a minister's graceless son.
Harold soon became renowned in his own world. He had no hard-fought battles, though he had scores of quarrels, for he scared his opponents by the suddenness and the intensity of his rage, which was fairly demoniacal in fury.
"You touch me and I'll kill you," he said in a low voice to the fat boy whose leg he had jabbed, and his bloodless face and blazing eyes caused the boy to leap frenziedly away. He carried a big knife, his playmates discovered, and no one, not even youths grown to man's stature, cared to attempt violence with him. One lad, struck with a stone from his cunning right hand, was carried home in a carriage. Another, being thrown by one convulsive effort, fell upon his arm, breaking it at the elbow. In less than a week every boy in Rock River knew something of Harry Excell's furious temper, and had learned that it was safer to be friend than enemy to him.
He had his partisans, too, for his was a singularly attractive nature when not enraged. He was a hearty, buoyant playmate, and a good scholar five days out of six, but he demanded a certain consideration at all times. An accidental harm he bore easily, but an intentional injury—that was flame to powder.
The teachers in the public school each had him in turn, as he ran rapidly up the grades. They all admired him unreservedly, but most of them were afraid of him, so that he received no more decisive check than at home. He was subject to no will but his own.
The principal was a kind and scholarly old man, who could make a boy cry with remorse and shame by his Christlike gentleness, and Harold also wept in his presence, but that did not prevent him from fairly knocking out the brains of the next boy who annoyed him. In his furious, fickle way he often defended his chums or smaller boys, so that it was not easy to condemn him entirely.
There were rumors from the first Monday after Harold's pin-sticking exploit that the minister had "lively sessions" with his boy. The old sexton privately declared that he heard muffled curses and shrieks and the sound of blows rising from the cellar of the parsonage—but this story was hushed on his lips. The boy admittedly needed thrashing, but the deacons of the church would rather not have it known that the minister used the rod himself.
The rumors of the preacher's stern measures softened the judgment of some of the townspeople, who shifted some of the blame of the son to the shoulders of the sire. Harry called his father "the minister," and seemed to have no regard for him beyond a certain respect for his physical strength. When boys came by and raised the swimming sign he replied, "Wait till I ask 'the minister.'" This was considered "queer" in him.
He ignored his stepmother completely, but tormented his sister Maud in a thousand impish ways. He disarranged her neatly combed hair. He threw mud on her dress and put carriage grease on her white stockings on picnic day. He called her "chiny-thing," in allusion to her pretty round cheeks and clear complexion, and yet he loved her and would instantly fight for her, and no one else dared tease her or utter a word to annoy her. She was fourteen years of age when Mr. Excell came to town, and at sixteen considered herself a young lady. As suitors began to gather about her, they each had a vigorous trial to undergo with Harold; it was indeed equivalent to running the gantlet. Maud was always in terror of him on the evenings when she had callers.
One day he threw a handful of small garter snakes into the parlor where his sister sat with young Mr. Norton. Maud sprang to a chair screaming wildly, while her suitor caught the snakes and threw them from the window just as the minister's tall form darkened the doorway.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
Maud, eager to shield Harry, said: "Oh, nothing much, papa—only one of Harry's jokes."
"Tell me," said the minister to the young man, who, with a painful smile on his face, stammeringly replied:
"Harry thought he'd scare me, that's all. It didn't amount to much."
"I insist on knowing the truth, Mr. Norton," the minister sternly insisted.
As Norton described the boy's action, Mr. Excell's face paled and his lips set close. His eyes became terrible to meet, and the beaded sweat of his furious anger stood thick on his face. "Thank you," he said with ominous calmness, and turning without another word, went to his study.
His wife, stealing up, found the door locked and her husband walking the floor like a roused tiger. White and shaking with a sort of awe, Mrs. Excell ran down to the kitchen where Harold crouched and said:
"Harold, dear, you'd better go out to Mr. Burns' right away."
Harold understood perfectly what she meant and fled. For hours neither Mrs. Excell nor Maud spoke above a whisper. When the minister came down to tea he made no comment on Harry's absence. He had worn out his white-hot rage, but was not yet in full control of himself.
He remained silent, and kept his eyes on his plate during the meal.
The last time he had punished Harold the scene narrowly escaped a tragic ending. When the struggle ended Harold lay on the floor, choked into insensibility.
When he had become calm and Harold was sleeping naturally in his own bed, the father knelt at his wife's knee and prayed God for grace to bear his burden, and said:
"Mary, keep us apart when we are angry. He is like me: he has my fiendish temper. No matter what I say or do, keep us apart till I am calm. By God's grace I will never touch his flesh again in anger."
Nevertheless he dared not trust himself to refer to the battles which shamed them all. The boy was deeply repentant, but uttered no word of it. And so they grew ever more silent and vengeful in their intercourse.
Harold early developed remarkable skill with horses, and once rode in the races at the County Fair, to the scandal of the First Church. He not only won the race, but was at once offered a great deal of money to go with the victor to other races. To his plea the father, with deep-laid diplomacy, replied:
"Very well; study hard this year and next year you may go." But the boy was just at the age to take on weight rapidly, and by the end of the year was too heavy, and the owner of the horse refused to repeat his offer. Harold did not fail to remark how he had been cheated, but said nothing more of his wish to be a jockey.
He was also fond of firearms, and during his boyhood his father tried in every way to keep weapons from him, and a box in his study contained a contraband collection of his son's weapons. There was a certain pathos in this little arsenal, for it gave evidence of considerable labor on the boy's part, and expressed much of buoyant hope and restless energy.
There were a half-dozen Fourth of July pistols, as many cannons for crackers, and three attempts at real guns intended to explode powder and throw a bullet. Some of them were "toggled up" with twine, and one or two had handles rudely carved out of wood. Two of them were genuine revolvers which he had managed to earn by working in the harvest field on the Burns' farm.
From his fifteenth year he was never without a shotgun and revolver. The shotgun was allowed, but the revolver was still contraband and kept carefully concealed. On Fourth of July he always helped to fire the anvil and fireworks, for he was deft and sure and quite at home with explosives. He had acquired great skill with both gun and pistol as early as his thirteenth year, and his feats of marksmanship came now and then to the ears of his father.
The father and son were in open warfare. Harold submitted to every command outwardly, but inwardly vowed to break all restraint which he considered useless or unjust.
His great ambition was to acquire a "mustang pony," for all the adventurous spirits of the dime novels he had known carried revolvers and rode mustangs. He did not read much, but when he did it was always some tale of fighting. He was too restless and active to continue at a book of his own accord for any length of time, but he listened delightedly to any one who consented to read for him. When his sister Maud wished to do him a great favor and to enjoy his company (for she loved him dearly) she read Daredevil Dan, or some similar story, while he lay out on his stomach in the grass under the trees, with restless feet swinging like pendulums. At such times his face was beautiful with longing, and his eyes became dark and dreamy. "I'm going there, Beauty," he would say as Maud rolled out the word Colorado or Brazos. "I'm going there. I won't stay here and rot. I'll go, you'll see, and I'll have a big herd of cattle, too."
His gentlest moments were those spent with his sister in the fields or under the trees. As he grew older he became curiously tender and watchful of her. It pleased him to go ahead of her through the woods, to pilot the way, and to help her over ditches or fences. He loved to lead her into dense thickets and to look around and say: "There, isn't this wild, though? You couldn't find your way out if it wasn't for me, could you?" And she, to carry out the spirit of the story, always shuddered and said, "Don't leave me to perish here."
Once, as he lay with his head in the grass, he suddenly said: "Can't you hear the Colorado roar?"
The wind was sweeping over the trees, and Maud, eager to keep him in this gentle mood, cried: "I hear it; it is a wonderful river, isn't it?"
He did not speak again for a moment.
"Oh, I want to be where there is nobody west of me," he said, a look of singular beauty on his face. "Don't you?"
"N—no, I don't," answered Maud. "But, then, I'm a girl, you know; we're afraid of wild things, most of us."
"Dot Burland isn't."
"Oh, she only pretends; she wants you to think she's brave."
"That's a lie." He said it so savagely that Maud hastened to apologize.
HIS LOVE AFFAIRS
Naturally a lad of this temper had his loves. He made no secret of them, and all the young people in the town knew his sweethearts and the precise time when his passion changed its course. If a girl pleased him he courted her with the utmost directness, but he was by no interpretation a love-sick youth. His likings were more in the nature of proprietary comradeship, and were expressed without caresses or ordinary words of endearment.
His courtship amounted to service. He waited about to meet and help his love, he hastened to defend her and to guide her; and if the favored one knew her role she humored his fancies, permitting him to aid her in finding her way across a weedy pasture lot or over a tiny little brook which he was pleased to call a torrent. A smile of derision was fatal. He would not submit to ridicule or joking. At the first jocular word his hands clinched and his eyes flamed with anger. His was not a face of laughter; for the most part it was serious in expression, and his eyes were rapt with dreams of great deeds.
He had one mate to whom he talked freely, and him he chose often to be his companion in the woods or on the prairies. This was John Burns, son of a farmer who lived near the town. Harry spent nearly every Saturday and Sunday during the summer months on the Burns farm. He helped Jack during haying and harvest, and when their tasks were done the two boys wandered away to the bank of the river and there, under some great basswood tree on delicious sward, they lay and talked of wild animals and Indians and the West. At this time the great chieftains of the Sioux, Sitting Bull and Gall, were becoming famous to the world, and the first reports of the findings of gold in the Black Hills were being made. A commission appointed by President Grant had made a treaty with the Sioux wherein Sitting Bull was told, "If you go to this new reservation and leave Dakota to the settlers, you shall be unmolested so long as grass grows and water runs."
But the very guard sent in to protect this commission reported "gold in the grass roots," and the insatiate greed of the white man broke all bounds—the treaty was ignored, and Sitting Bull, the last chieftain of the Sioux, calling his people together, withdrew deeper into the wilderness of Wyoming. The soldiers were sent on the trail, and the press teemed for months with news of battles and speeches and campaigns.
All these exciting events Harry and his friend Jack read and discussed hotly. Jack was eager to own a mine. "I'd like to pick up a nugget," he said, but Harold was not interested. "I don't care to mine; I'd like to be with General Custer. I'd like to be one of the scouts. I'd like to have a coat like that." He pointed at one of the pictures wherein two or three men in fringed buckskin shirts and wide hats were galloping across a rocky plain.
Many times as the two boys met to talk over these alluring matters the little town and the dusty lanes became exceedingly tame and commonplace.
Harold's eyes glowed with passion as he talked to his sweetheart of these wild scenes, and she listened because he was so alluring as he lay at her feet, pouring out a vivid recital of his plans.
"I'm not going to stay here much longer," he said; "it's too dull. I can't stand much more school. If it wasn't for you I'd run away right now."
Dot only smiled back at him and laid her hand on his hair. She was his latest sweetheart. He loved her for her vivid color, her abundant and beautiful hair, and also because she was a sympathetic listener. She, on her part, enjoyed the sound of his eager voice and the glow of his deep brown eyes. They were both pupils in the little seminary in the town, and he saw her every day walking to and from the recitation halls. He often carried her books for her, and in many other little ways insisted on serving her.
Almost without definable reason the "Wild West" came to be a land of wonder, lit as by some magical light. Its canons, arroyos, and mesquite, its bronchos, cowboys, Indians, and scouts filled the boy's mind with thoughts of daring, not much unlike the fancies of a boy in the days of knight errantry.
Of the Indians he held mixed opinions. At times he thought of them as a noble race, at others—when he dreamed of fame—he wished to kill a great many of them and be very famous. Most of the books he read were based upon the slaughter of the "redskins," and yet at heart he wished to be one of them and to taste the wild joy of their poetic life, filled with hunting and warfare. Sitting Bull, Chief Gall, Rain-in-the-Face, Spotted Tail, Star-in-the-Brow, and Black Buffalo became wonder-working names in his mind. Every line in the newspapers which related to the life of the cowboys or Indians he read and remembered, for his plan was to become a part of it as soon as he had money enough to start.
There were those who would have contributed five dollars each to send him, for he was considered a dangerous influence among the village boys. If a window were broken by hoodlums at night it was counted against the minister's son. If a melon patch were raided and the fruit scattered and broken, Harold was considered the ringleader. Of the judgments of their elders the rough lads were well aware, and they took pains that no word of theirs should shift blame from Harold's shoulders to their own. By hints and sly remarks they fixed unalterably in the minds of their fathers and mothers the conception that Harold was a desperately bad and reckless boy. In his strength, skill, and courage they really believed, and being afraid of him, they told stories of his exploits, even among themselves, which bordered on the marvelous.
In reality he was not a leader of these raids. His temperament was not of that kind. He did not care to assume direction of an expedition because it carried too much trouble and some responsibility. His mind was wayward and liable to shift to some other thing at any moment; besides, mischief for its own sake did not appeal to him. The real leaders were the two sons of the village shoemaker. They were under-sized, weazened, shrewd, sly little scamps, and appeared not to have the resolution of chickadees, but had a singular genius for getting others into trouble. They knew how to handle spirits like Harold. They dared him to do evil deeds, taunted him (as openly as they felt it safe to do) with cowardice, and so spurred him to attempt some trifling depredation merely as a piece of adventure. Almost invariably when they touched him on this nerve Harold responded with a rush, and when discovery came was nearly always among the culprits taken and branded, for his pride would not permit him to sneak and run. So it fell out that time after time he was found among the grape stealers or the melon raiders, and escaped prosecution only because the men of the town laid it to "boyish deviltry" and not to any deliberate intent to commit a crime.
After his daughter married Mr. Excell made another effort to win the love of his son and failed. Harold cared nothing for his father's scholarship or oratorical powers, and never went to church after he was sixteen, but he sometimes boasted of his father among the boys.
"If father wasn't a minister, he'd be one of the strongest men in this town," he said once to Jack. "Look at his shoulders. His arms are hard, too. Of course he can't show his muscle, but I tell you he can box and swing dumb-bells."
If the father had known it, in the direction of athletics lay the road to the son's heart, but the members of the First Church were not sufficiently advanced to approve of a muscular minister, and so Mr. Excell kept silent on such subjects, and swung his dumb-bells in private. As a matter of fact, he had been a good hunter in his youth in Michigan, and might have won his son's love by tales of the wood, but he did not.
For the most part, Harold ignored his father's occasional moments of tenderness, and spent the larger part of his time with his sister or at the Burns' farm.
Mr. and Mrs. Burns saw all that was manly and good in the boy, and they stoutly defended him on all occasions.
"The boy is put upon," Mrs. Burns always argued. "A quieter, more peaceabler boy I never knew, except my own Jack. They're good, helpful boys, both of 'em, and I don't care what anybody says."
Jack, being slower of thought and limb, worshiped his chum, whose alertness and resource humbled him, though he was much the better scholar in all routine work. He read more than Harold, but Harold seized upon the facts and transmitted them instantly into something vivid and dramatic. He assumed all leadership in the hunting, and upon Jack fell all the drudgery. He always did the reading, also, while Harold listened and dreamed with eyes that seemed to look across miles of peaks. His was the eagle's heart; wild reaches allured him. Minute beauties of garden or flower were not for him. The groves along the river had long since lost their charm because he knew their limits—they no longer appealed to his imagination.
A hundred times he said: "Come, let's go West and kill buffalo. To-morrow we will see the snow on Pike's Peak." The wild country was so near, its pressure day by day molded his mind. He had no care or thought of cities or the East. He dreamed of the plains and horses and herds of buffalo and troops of Indians filing down the distant slopes. Every poem of the range, every word which carried flavor of the wild country, every picture of a hunter remained in his mind.
The feel of a gun in his hands gave him the keenest delight, and to stalk geese in a pond or crows in the cornfield enabled him to imagine the joy of hunting the bear and the buffalo. He had the hunter's patience, and was capable of creeping on his knees in the mud for hours in the attempt to kill a duck. He could imitate almost all the birds and animals he knew. His whistle would call the mother grouse to him. He could stop the whooping of cranes in their steady flight, and his honking deceived the wary geese. When complimented for his skill in hunting he scornfully said:
"Oh, that's nothing. Anyone can kill small game; but buffaloes and grizzlies—they are the boys."
During the winter of his sixteenth year a brother of Mr. Burns returned from Kansas, which was then a strange and far-off land, and from him Harold drew vast streams of talk. The boy was insatiate when the plains were under discussion. From this veritable cattleman he secured many new words. With great joy he listened while Mr. Burns spoke of cinches, ropes, corrals, buttes, arroyos and other Spanish-Mexican words which the boys had observed in their dime novels, but which they had never before heard anyone use in common speech. Mr. Burns alluded to an aparejo or an arroyo as casually as Jack would say "singletree" or "furrow," and his stories brought the distant plains country very near.
Harold sought opportunity to say: "Mr. Burns, take me back with you; I wish you would."
The cattleman looked at him. "Can you ride a horse?"
Jack spoke up: "You bet he can, Uncle. He rode in the races."
Burns smiled as a king might upon a young knight seeking an errant.
"Well, if your folks don't object, when you get done with school, and Jack's mother says he can come, you make a break for Abilene; we'll see what I can do with you on the 'long trail.'"
Harold took this offer very seriously, much more so than Mr. Burns intended he should do, although he was pleased with the boy.
Harold well knew that his father and mother would not consent, and very naturally said nothing to them about his plan, but thereafter he laid by every cent of money he could earn, until his thrift became a source of comment. To Jack he talked for hours of the journey they were to make. Jack, unimaginative and engrossed with his studies at the seminary, took the whole matter very calmly. It seemed a long way off at best, and his studies were pleasant and needed his whole mind. Harold was thrown back upon the company of his sweetheart, who was the only one else to whom he could talk freely.
Dot, indolent, smiling creature of cozy corners that she was, listened without emotion, while Harold, with eyes ablaze, with visions of the great, splendid plains, said: "I'm going West sure. I'm tired of school; I'm going to Kansas, and I'm going to be a great cattle king in a few years, Dot, and then I'll come back and get you, and we'll go live on the banks of a big river, and we'll have plenty of horses, and go riding and hunting antelope every day. How will you like that?"
Her unresponsiveness hurt him, and he said: "You don't seem to care whether I go or not."
She turned and looked at him vacantly, still smiling, and he saw that she had not heard a single word of his passionate speech. He sprang up, hot with anger and pain.
"If you don't care to listen to me you needn't," he said, speaking through his clinched teeth.
She smiled, showing her little white teeth prettily. "Now, don't get mad, Harry; I was thinking of something else. Please tell me again."
"I won't. I'm done with you." A big lump arose in his throat and he turned away to hide tears of mortified pride. He could not have put it into words, but he perceived the painful truth. Dot had considered him a boy all along, and had only half listened to his stories and plans in the past, deceiving him for some purpose of her own. She was a smiling, careless hypocrite.
"You've lied to me," he said, turning and speaking with the bluntness of a boy without subtlety of speech. "I never'll speak to you again; good-by."
Dot kept swinging her foot. "Good-by," she said in her sweet, soft-breathing voice.
He walked away slowly, but his heart was hot with rage and wounded pride, and every time he thought of the tone in which she said "Good-by," his flesh quivered. He was seventeen, and considered himself a man; she was eighteen, and thought him only a boy. She had never listened to him, that he now understood. Maud had been right. Dot had only pretended, and now for some reason she ceased to pretend.
There was just one comfort in all this: it made it easier for him to go to the sunset country, and his wounded heart healed a little at the thought of riding a horse behind a roaring herd of buffaloes.
THE YOUNG EAGLE STRIKES
A farming village like Rock River is one of the quietest, most humdrum communities in the world till some sudden upheaval of primitive passion reveals the tiger, the ram, and the wolf which decent and orderly procedure has hidden. Cases of murder arise from the dead level of everyday village routine like volcanic mountain peaks in the midst of a flowering plain.
The citizens of Rock River were amazed and horrified one Monday morning to learn that Dot Burland had eloped with the clerk in the principal bank in the town, a married man and the leader of the choir in the First Church. Some of the people when they heard of it, said: "I do not believe it," and when they were convinced, the tears came to their eyes. "She was such a pretty girl, and think of Mrs. Willard—and then Sam—who would have supposed Sam Willard could do such a thing."
To most of the citizens it was drama; it broke the tedious monotony of everyday life; it was more productive of interesting conversation than a case of embezzlement or the burning of the county courthouse. There were those who smiled while they said: "Too bad, too bad! Any p'ticlers?"
Some of the women recalled their dislike of the lazy, pink-and-white creature whom they had often seen loitering on the streets or lying day after day in a hammock reading "domestic novels." The young girls drew together and conveyed the news in whispers. It seemed to overturn the whole social world so far as they knew it, and some of them hastened to disclaim any friendship with "the dreadful thing."
Of course the related persons came into the talk. "Poor Mrs. Willard and Harry Excell!" Yes, there was Harry; for a moment, for the first time, he was regarded with pity. "What will he do? He must take it very hard."
At about eleven o'clock, just as the discussion had reached this secondary stage, where new particulars were necessary, a youth, pale and breathless, with his right hand convulsively clasping his bloody shoulder, rushed into the central drug store and fell to the floor with inarticulate cries of fear and pain. Out of his mouth at last came an astonishing charge of murderous assault on the part of Harold Excell. His wounds were dressed and the authorities notified to arrest his assailant.
When the officers found Harold he was pacing up and down the narrow alley where the encounter had taken place. He was white as the dead, and his eyes were ablaze under his knitted brows.
"Well, what do you want of me?" he demanded, as the officer rushed up and laid hands upon him.
"You've killed Clint Slocum," replied the constable, drawing a pair of handcuffs from his pocket.
"Oh, drop those things!" replied Harold; "I'm not going to run; you never knew me to run."
Half ashamed, the constable replaced the irons in his pocket and seized his prisoner by the arm. Harold walked along quietly, but his face was terrible to see, especially in one so young. In every street excited men, women, and children were running to see him pass. He had suddenly become alien and far separated from them all. He perceived them as if through a lurid smoke cloud.
On most of these faces lay a smile, a ghastly, excited, pleased grin, which enraged him more than any curse would have done. He had suddenly become their dramatic entertainment. The constable gripped him tighter and the sheriff, running up, seized his other arm.
Harold shook himself free. "Let me alone! I'm going along all right."
The officers only held him the closer, and his rage broke bounds. He struggled till his captors swayed about on the walk, and the little boys screamed with laughter to see the slender youth shake the big men.
In the midst of this struggle a tall man, without hat or coat and wearing slippers, came running down the walk with great strides. His voice rang deep and clear:
"Let the boy alone!"
It was the minister. With one sweep of his right hand he tore the hands of the sheriff from the boy's arms; the gesture was bearlike in power. "What's the meaning of all this, Mr. Sawyer?" he said, addressing the sheriff.
"Your boy has killed a man."
"It's true—anyhow, he has stabbed Clint Slocum. He ain't dead, but he's hurt bad."
"Is that true, Harold?"
Harold did not lift his sullen glance. "He struck me with a whip."
There was a silence, during which the minister choked with emotion and his lips moved as if in silent prayer. Then he turned. "Free the boy's arm. I'll guarantee he will not try to escape. No son of mine will run to escape punishment—leave him to me."
The constable, being a member of the minister's congregation and a profound admirer of his pastor, fell back. The sheriff took a place by his side, and the father and son walked on toward the jail. After a few moments the minister began to speak in a low voice:
"My son, you have reached a momentous point in your life's history. Much depends on the words you use. I will not tell you to conceal the truth, but you need not incriminate yourself—that is the law"—his voice was almost inaudible, but Harold heard it. "If Slocum dies—oh, my God! My God!"
His voice failed him utterly, but he walked erect and martial, the sun blazing on his white forehead, his hands clinched at his sides. There were many of his parishioners in the streets, and several of the women broke into bitter weeping as he passed, and many of the men imprecated the boy who was bringing white lines of sorrow into his father's hair. "This is the logical end of his lawless bringing up," said one.
The father went on: "Tell me, my boy—tell me the truth—did you strike to kill? Was murder in your heart?"
Harold did not reply. The minister laid a broad, gentle hand on his son's shoulder. "Tell me, Harold."
"No; I struck to hurt him. He was striking me; I struck back," the boy sullenly answered.
The father sighed with relief. "I believe you, Harold. He is older and stronger, too: that will count in your favor."
They reached the jail yard gate, and there, in the face of a crowd of curious people, the minister bowed his proud head and put his arm about his son and kissed his hair. Then, with tears upon his face, he addressed the sheriff:
"Mr. Sheriff, I resign my boy to your care. Remember, he is but a lad, and he is my only son. Deal gently with him.—Harold, submit to the law and all will end well. I will bring mother and Maud to see you at once."
As the gate closed on his son the minister drew a deep breath, and a cry of bitter agony broke from his clinched lips: "O God, O God! My son is lost!"
The story of the encounter, even as it dribbled forth from Slocum, developed extenuating circumstances. Slocum was man grown, a big, muscular fellow, rather given to bullying. A heavy carriage whip was found lying in the alley, and this also supported Harold's story to his father. As told by Slocum, the struggle took place just where the alley from behind the parsonage came out upon the cross street.
"I was leading a horse," said Slocum, "and I met Harry, and we got to talking, and something I said made him mad, and he jerked out his knife and jumped at me. The horse got scared and yanked me around, and just then Harry got his knife into me. I saw he was in for my life and I threw down the whip and run, the blood a-spurting out o' me, hot as b'ilin' water. I was scared, I admit that. I thought he'd opened a big artery in me, and I guess he did."
When this story, amplified and made dramatic, reached the ears of the minister, he said: "That is Clinton's side of the case. My son must have been provoked beyond his control. Wait till we hear his story."
But the shadow of the prison was on Harold's face, and he sullenly refused to make any statement, even to his sister, who had more influence over him than Mrs. Excell.
A singular and sinister change came over him as the days passed. He became silent and secretive and suspicious, and the sheriff spoke to Mr. Excell about it. "I don't understand that boy of yours. He seems to be in training for a contest of some kind. He's quiet enough in daytime, or when I'm around, but when he thinks he's alone, he races up and down like a lynx, and jumps and turns handsprings, and all sorts of things. The only person he asks to see is young Burns. I can't fathom him."
The father lowered his eyes. He knew well that Harry did not ask for him.
"If it wasn't for these suspicious actions, doctor, I'd let him have the full run of the jail yard, but I dassent let him have any liberties. Why, he can go up the side of the cells like a squirrel! He'd go over our wall like a cat—no doubt of it."
The minister spoke with some effort. "I think you misread my son. He is not one to flee from punishment. He has some other idea in his mind."
To Jack Burns alone, plain, plodding, and slow, Harold showed a smiling face. He met him with a boyish word—"Hello, Jack! how goes it?"—and was eager to talk. He reached out and touched him with his hands wistfully. "I'm glad you've come. You're the only friend I've got now, Jack." This was one of the morbid fancies jail life had developed; he thought everybody had turned against him. "Now, I want to tell you something—we're chums, and you mustn't give me away. These fools think I'm going to try to escape, but I ain't. You see, they can't hang me for stabbing that coward, but they'll shut me up for a year or two, and I've got to keep healthy, don't you see? When I get out o' this I strike for the West, don't you see? And I've got to be able to do a day's work. Look at this arm." He stripped his strong white arm for inspection.
In the midst of the excitement attending Harold's arrest, Dot's elopement was temporarily diminished in value, but some shrewd gossip connected the two events and said: "I believe Clint gibed Harry Excell about Dot—I just believe that's what the fight was about."
This being repeated, not as an opinion but as the inside facts in the case, sentiment turned swiftly in Harold's favor. Clinton was shrewd enough to say very little about the quarrel. "I was just givin' him a little guff, and he up and lit into me with a big claspknife." Such was his story constantly repeated.
Fortunately for Harold, the case came to trial early in the autumn session. It was the most dramatic event of the year, and it was seriously suggested that it would be a good thing to hold the trial in the opera house in order that all the townspeople should be able to enjoy it. A cynical young editor made a counter suggestion: "I move we charge one dollar per ticket and apply the funds to buying a fire engine." Naturally, the judge of the district went the calm way of the law, regardless of the town's ferment of interest in the case.
The county attorney appeared for the prosecution, and old Judge Brown and young Bradley Talcott defended Harold.
Bradley knew Harold very well and the boy had a high regard for him. Lawyer Brown believed the boy to be a restless and dangerous spirit, but he said to Bradley:
"I've no doubt the boy was provoked by Clint, who is a worthless bully, but we must face the fact that young Excell bears a bad name. He has been in trouble a great many times, and the prosecution will make much of that. Our business is to show the extent of the provocation, and secondly, to disprove, so far as we can, the popular conception of the youth. I can get nothing out of him which will aid in his defense. He refuses to talk. Unless we can wring the truth out of Slocum on the stand it will go hard with the boy. I wish you'd see what you can do."
Bradley went down to see Harold, and the two spent a couple of hours together. Bradley talked to him in plain and simple words, without any assumption. His voice was kind and sincere, and Harold nearly wept under its music, but he added very little to Bradley's knowledge of the situation.
"He struck me with the whip, and then I—I can't remember much about it, my mind was a kind of a red blur," Harold said at last desperately.
"Why did he strike you with the whip?"
"I told him he was a black-hearted liar."
"What made you say that to him?" persevered Bradley.
"Because that's what he was."
"Did he say something to you which you resented?"
"What was it?"
Right there Harold closed his lips and Bradley took another tack.
"Harry, I want you to tell me something. Did you have anything to do with killing Brownlow's dog?"
"No," replied Harold disdainfully.
"Did you have any hand in the raid on Brownlow's orchard a week later?"
"No; I was at home."
"Did your folks see you during the evening?"
"No; I was with Jack up in the attic, reading."
"You've taken a hand in some of these things—raids—haven't you?"
"Yes, but I never tried to destroy things. It was all in fun."
"I understand. Well, now, Harold, you've got a worse name than belongs to you, and I wish you'd just tell me the whole truth about this fight, and we will do what we can to help you."
Harold's face grew sullen. "I don't care what they do with me. They're all down on me anyway," he slowly said, and Bradley arose and went out with a feeling of discouragement.
The day of his trial came as a welcome change to Harold. He had no fear of punishment and he hated delay. Every day before his sentence began was a loss of time—kept him just that much longer from the alluring lands to the West. His father called often to see him, but the boy remained inexorably silent in all these meetings, and the minister went away white with pain. Even to his sister Harold was abrupt and harsh, but Jack's devotion produced in him the most exalted emotion, and he turned upon his loyal chum the whole force of his affectionate nature. He did not look up to Jack; he loved him more as a man loves his younger brother, and yet even to him he would not utter the words young Slocum had flung at him. Lawyer Talcott had asked young Burns to get at this if possible, for purpose of defense, but it was not possible.
The court met on the first Tuesday in September. The day was windless and warm, and as Harold walked across the yard with the sheriff he looked around at the maple leaves, just touched with crimson and gold and russet, and his heart ached with desire to be free. The scent of the open air made his nostrils quiver like those of a deer.
Jack met them on the path—eager to share his hero's trouble.
"Please, sheriff, let me walk with Harry."
"Fall in behind," the sheriff gruffly replied; and so out of all the town people Jack alone associated himself with the prisoner. Up the stairs whereon he had romped when a lad, Harold climbed spiritlessly, a boy no longer.
The halls were lined with faces, everyone as familiar as the scarred and scratched wall of the court room, and yet all were now alien—no one recognized him by a frank and friendly nod, and he moved past his old companions with sullen and rigid face. His father met him at the door and walked beside him down the aisle to a seat.
The benches were crowded, and every foot of standing space was soon filled. The members of the First Church were present in mass to see the minister enter, pale and haggard with the disgrace of his son.
The judge, an untidy old man of great ability and probity, was in his seat, looking out absently over the spectators. "The next case" to him was only a case. He had grown gray in dealing with infractions of the law, and though kindly disposed he had grown indifferent—use had dulled his sympathies. His beard, yellow with tobacco stain, was still venerable, and his voice, deep and melodious, was impressive and commanding.
He was disposed to cut short all useless forms, and soon brought the case to vital questions. Naturally, the prosecution made a great deal of Harold's bad character, drawing from ready witnesses the story of his misdeeds. To do this was easy, for the current set that way, and those who had only thought Harold a bad boy now knew that he was concerned in all the mischief of the village.
In rebuttal, Mr. Talcott drew out contradictory statements from these witnesses, and proved several alibis at points where Harold had been accused. He produced Jack Burns and several others to prove that Harold liked fun, but that he was not inclined to lead in any of the mischief of the town—in fact, that he had not the quality of leadership.
He pushed young Burns hard to get him to say that he knew the words of insult which Slocum had used. "I think he used some girl's name," he finally admitted.
"I object," shouted the prosecution, as if touched on a hidden spring.
"Go on," said the judge to Talcott. He had become interested in the case at last.
When the lawyer for the prosecution cross-examined young Burns he became terrible. He leaned across the table and shook his lean, big-jointed finger in Jack's face. "We don't want what you think, sir; we want what you know. Do you know that Slocum brought a girl's name into this?"
"No, sir, I don't," replied Jack, red and perspiring.
"That's all!" cried the attorney, leaning back in his chair with dramatic complacency.
Others of Harold's companions were brow-beaten into declaring that he led them into all kinds of raids, and when Talcott tried to stem this tide by objection, the prosecution rose to say that the testimony was competent; that it was designed to show the dangerous character of the prisoner. "He is no gentle and guileless youth, y'r Honor, but a reckless young devil, given to violence. No one will go further than I in admiration of the Reverend Mr. Excell, but the fact of the son's lawless life can not be gainsaid."
Slocum repeated his story on the stand and was unshaken by Bradley's cross-examination. Suddenly the defense said: "Stand, please."
Slocum arose—a powerful, full-grown man.
Bradley nodded at Harold. "Stand also."
"I object," shrieked the prosecution.
"State the objection," said the judge.
"Keep your position," said Bradley sternly. "I want the jury to compare you."
As the prisoner and the witness faced each other the court room blossomed with smiles. Harold looked very pale and delicate beside the coarse, muscular hostler, who turned red and looked foolish.
Ultimately the judge sustained the objection, but the work was done. A dramatic contrast had been drawn, and the jury perceived the pusillanimity of Slocum's story. This was the position of the defense. Harold was a boy, the hostler had insulted him, had indeed struck him with a whip. Mad with rage, and realizing the greater strength of his assailant, the prisoner had drawn a knife.
In rebuttal, the prosecution made much of Harold's fierce words. He meant to kill. He was a dangerous boy. "Speaking with due reverence for his parents," the lawyer said, "the boy has been a scourge. Again and again he has threatened his playmates with death. These facts must stand. The State is willing to admit the disparity of strength, so artfully set forth by the defense, but it must not be forgotten that the boy was known to carry deadly weapons, and that he was subject to blind rages. It was not, therefore, so much a question of punishing the boy as of checking his assaults upon society. To properly punish him here would have a most salutary effect upon his action in future. The jury must consider the case without sentiment."
Old Brown arose after the State had finished. Everyone knew his power before a jury, and the room was painfully silent as he walked with stately tread to a spittoon and cleared his mouth of a big wad of tobacco. He was the old-fashioned lawyer, formal, deliberate; and though everybody enjoyed Bradley Talcott's powerful speech, they looked for drama from Brown. The judge waited patiently while the famous old lawyer played his introductory part. At last, after silently pacing to and fro for a full minute, he turned, and began in a hard, dry, nasal voice.
"Your Honor, I'm not so sure of the reforming effect of a penitentiary. I question the salutary quality of herding this delicate and high-spirited youth with the hardened criminals of the State." His strident, monotonous tone, and the cynical inflections of his voice made the spectators shiver with emotion as under the power of a great actor. He paced before the judge twice before speaking again. "Your Honor, there is more in this case than has yet appeared. Everyone in this room knows that the elopement of Dorothy Burland is at the bottom of this affair, everyone but yourself, judge. This lad was the accepted sweetheart of that wayward miss. This man Slocum is one of the rough, loud-spoken men of the village, schooled in vice and fisticuffery. You can well imagine, gentlemen of the jury," he turned to them abruptly, "you can well imagine the kind of a greeting this town loafer would give this high-spirited boy on that morning after the night when his inamorata disappeared with a married man. The boy has in him somewhat of the knight of the old time, your Honor; he has never opened his lips in dispraise of his faithless love. He has refused to repeat the insulting words of his assailant. He stands to-day at a turning point of his life, gentlemen of the jury, and it depends on you whether he goes downward or upward. He has had his faith in women shaken: don't let him lose faith in law and earthly justice." His first gesture was on the word "downward," and it was superb.
Again he paused, and when he looked up again a twinkle was in his eyes and his voice was softer. "As for all this chicken roasting and melon lifting, you well know the spirit that is in that; we all had a hand in such business once, every man Jack of us. The boy is no more culpable now than you were then. Moreover, Excell has had too much of the mischief of the town laid on his shoulders—more than he deserves. 'Give a dog a bad name and every dead sheep is laid at the door of his kennel.'
"However, I don't intend to review the case, y'r Honor. My colleague has made the main and vital points entirely clear; I intend merely to add a word here and there. I want you to take another look at that pale, handsome, poetic youth and then at that burly bully, and consider the folly, the idiocy, and the cowardice of the charge brought against our client." He waited while the contrast which his dramatic utterance made enormously effective was being felt; then, in a deep, melodious voice, touched with sadness, he addressed the judge:
"And to you, your Honor, I want to say we are old men. You on the bench and I here in the forum have faced each other many times. I have defended many criminals, as it was my duty to do, and you have punished many who deserved their sentences. I have seen innocent men unable to prove their freedom from guilt, and I have known men who are grossly criminal, because of lack of evidence—these things are beyond our cure. We are old, your Honor: we must soon give place to younger men. We can not afford to leave bench and bar with the stain of injustice on our garments. We can not afford to start this boy on the road to hell at seventeen years of age."
He stopped as abruptly as he had begun, and the room was silent for a long time after he had taken his seat. To Harold it seemed as though he and all the people of the room were dead—that only his brain was alive. Then Mrs. Excell burst into sobbing. The judge looked away into space, his dim eyes seeing nothing that was near, his face an impassive mask of colorless flesh. The old lawyer's words had stirred his blood, sluggish and cold with age, but his brain absorbed the larger part of his roused vitality, and when he spoke his voice had an unwontedly flat and dry sound.
"The question for you to decide," he said, instructing the jury, "is whether the boy struck the blow in self-defense, or whether he assaulted with intent to do great bodily injury. The fact that he was provoked by a man older and stronger than himself naturally militates in his favor, but the next question is upon the boy's previous character. Did he carry deadly weapons? Is he at heart dangerous to his fellows? His youth should be in mind, but it should also be remembered that he is a lad of high intellectual power, older than most men of his age. I will not dwell upon the case; you have heard the testimony; the verdict is in your keeping."
During all this period of severe mental strain Mr. Excell sat beside Lawyer Brown, motionless as a statue, save when now and again he leaned forward to whisper a suggestion. He did not look at his son, and Harold seldom looked at him. Jack Burns sat as near the prisoner as the sheriff would permit, and his homely, good face, and the face of the judge were to Harold the only spots of light in the otherwise dark room. Outside the voices of children could be heard and the sound of the rising wind in the rustling trees. Once a breeze sent a shower of yellow and crimson leaves fluttering in at the open window, and the boy's heart swelled high in his throat, and he bowed his head and sobbed. Those leaves represented the splendor of the open spaces to him. They were like messages from the crimson sunsets of the golden West, and his heart thrilled at the sight of them.
It was long after twelve o'clock, and an adjournment for dinner was ordered. Harold was about to be led away when his father came to him and said:
"Harold, would you like to have your mother and me go to dinner with you?"
With that same unrelenting, stubborn frown on his face the boy replied: "No—let me alone."
A hot flush swept over the preacher's face. "Very well," he said, and turned away, his lips twitching.
The jury was not long out. They were ready to report at three o'clock. Every seat was filled as before. The lawyers came in, picking their teeth or smoking. The ladies were in Sunday dress, the young men were accompanied by their girls, as if the trial were a dramatic entertainment. Those who failed of regaining their seats were much annoyed; others, more thrifty, had hired boys to keep their places for them during the noon hour, and others, still more determined, having brought lunches, had remained in their seats throughout the intermission, and were serene and satisfied.
Harold was brought back to his seat looking less haggard. He was not afraid of sentence; on the contrary he longed to have the suspense end.
"I don't care what they do with me if they don't use up too much of my life," he said to Jack. "I'll pound rock or live in a dungeon if it will only shorten my sentence. I hate to think of losing time. Oh, if I had only gone last year!"
The Reverend Excell came in, looming high above the crowd, his face still white and set. He paid no heed to his parishioners, but made his way to the side of Lawyer Brown. The judge mounted his bench and the court room came to order instantly.
"Is the jury ready to report on the case of the State vs. Excell?" he asked in a low voice. He was informed that they were agreed. After the jury had taken their seats he said blandly, mechanically: "Gentlemen, we are ready for your verdict."
Harold knew the foreman very well. He was a carpenter and joiner in whose shop he had often played—a big, bluff, good-hearted man whom any public speaking appalled, and who stammered badly as he read from a little slip of paper: "Guilty of assault with intent to commit great bodily injury, but recommended to the mercy of the judge." Then, with one hand in his breeches pocket, he added: "Be easy on him, judge; I believe I'd 'a' done the same."
The spectators tittered at his abrupt change of tone, and some of the young people applauded. He sat down very hot and red.
The judge did not smile or frown; his expressionless face seemed more like a mask than ever. When he began to speak it was as though he were reading something writ in huge letters on a distant wall.
"The Court is quite sensible of the extenuating circumstances attending this sad case, but there are far-reaching considerations which the Court can not forget. Here is a youth of good family, who elects to take up a life filled with mischief from the start. Discipline has been lacking. Here, at last, he so far oversteps the law that he appears before a jury. It seems to the Court necessary, for this young man's own good, that he feel the harsh hand of the law. According to the evidence adduced here to-day, he has been for years beyond the control of his parents, and must now know the inflexible purpose of law. I have in mind all that can be said in his favor: his youth, the disparity of age and physical power between himself and his accuser, the provocation, and the possession of the whip by the accuser—but all these are more than counterbalanced by the record of mischief and violence which stands against the prisoner."
There was a solemn pause, and the judge sternly said: "Prisoner, stand up." Harold arose. "For an assault committed upon the person of one Clinton Slocum, I now sentence you, Harold Excell, to one year in the penitentiary, and may you there learn to respect the life and property of your fellow-citizens."
"Judge! I beg——" The tall form of Mr. Excell arose, seeking to speak.
The judge motioned him to silence.
Brown interposed: "I hope the court will not refuse to hear the father of the prisoner. It would be scant justice if——"
Mr. Excell's voice arose, harsh, stern, and quick. He spoke like the big man he was, firm and decided. Harold looked up at him in surprise.
"I claim the right to be heard; will the Court refuse me the privilege of a word?" His voice was a challenge. "I am known in this community. For seven years as a minister of the Gospel I have lived among these citizens. My son is about to be condemned to State's prison, and before he goes I want to make a statement here before him and before the judge and before the world. I understand this boy better than any of you, better than the mother who bore him, for I have given him the disposition which he bears. I have had from my youth the same murderous rages: I have them yet. I love my son, your Honor, and I would take him in my arms if I could, but he has too much of my own spirit. He literally can not meet me as an affectionate son, for I sacrificed his good-will by harsh measures while he was yet a babe. I make this confession in order that the Court may understand my relation to my son. He was born with my own temper mingled with the poetic nature of his mother. While he was yet a lad I beat him till he was discolored by bruises. Twice I would have killed him only for the intervention of my wife. I have tried to live down my infirmity, your Honor, and I have at last secured control of myself, and I believe this boy will do the same, but do not send him to be an associate with criminals. My God! do not treat him as I would not do, even in my worst moments. Give him a chance to reform outside State's prison. Don't fix on him that stain. I will not say send me—that would be foolish trickery—but I beg you to make some other disposition of this boy of mine. If he goes to the penitentiary I shall strip from my shoulders the dress of the clergyman and go with him, to be near to aid and comfort him during the term of his sentence. Let the father in you speak for me, judge. Be merciful, as we all hope for mercy on the great day, for Jesus' sake."
The judge looked out over the audience of weeping women and his face warmed into life. He turned to the minister, who still stood before him with hand outstretched, and when he spoke his voice was softened and his eyes kindly.
"The Court has listened to the words of the father with peculiar interest. The Court is a father, and has been at a loss to understand the relations existing between father and son in this case. The Court thinks he understands them better now. As counsel for the defense has said, I am an old man, soon to leave my seat upon the bench, and I do not intend to let foolish pride or dry legal formalities stand between me and the doing of justice. The jury has decided that the boy is guilty, but has recommended him to the mercy of the Court. The plea of the father has enlightened the Court on one or two most vital points. Nothing is further from the mind of the Court than the desire to do injury to a handsome and talented boy. Believing that the father and son are about to become more closely united, the Court here transmutes the sentence to one hundred dollars fine and six months in the county jail. This will make it possible for the son and father to meet often, and the father can continue his duties to the church. This the Court decides upon as the final disposition of the accused. The case is closed. Call the next case."
THE EAGLE'S EYES GROW DIM
The county jail in Cedar County was a plain, brick structure set in the midst of the Court House Square. Connected with it was the official residence of the sheriff, and brick walks ran diagonally from corner to corner for the convenience of citizens. Over these walks magnificent maples flung gorgeous banners in autumn, and it was a favorite promenade for the young people of the town at all seasons, even in winter.
At times when the jail was filled with disorderly inmates these innocent lovers could hear the wild yells and see the insulting gestures of the men at the windows, but ordinarily the grounds were quiet and peaceful. The robins nested in the maples, the squirrels scampered from tree to tree, and little children tumbled about on the grass, unmindful of the sullen captives within the walls.
For seven years Harold himself had played about this yard, hearing the wild voices of the prisoners and seeing men come and go in irons. Over these walks he had loitered with Dot—now he was one of those who clawed at the window bars like monkeys in a cage in order to look out at the sunshine of the world. The jail pallor was already on his face and a savage look was in his eyes. He refused to see anyone but Jack, who came often and whose coming saved him from despair.
In one respect the county jail was worse, than the State's prison; it had nothing for its captives to do. They ate, amused themselves as best they could through the long day, and slept. Most of them brooded, like Harold, on the sunshine lost to them, and paced their cells like wild animals. It had, however, the advantage of giving to each man a separate bed at night, though during the day they occupied a common corridor. Some of them sang indecent songs and cursed their fellows for their stupidity, and fights were not uncommon.
The jailer was inclined to allow Harold more liberty after his trial, but the boy said: "I'm not asking any favors from you. I'm working out a sentence."
He continued his systematic exercise, eating regularly and with care in order that he should keep his health. He spent several hours each day leaping up the stairway which led from the lower cells to the upper, and his limbs were like bundles of steel rods. He could spring from the floor, catch the hand rail of the runway above, and swing himself with a single effort to the upper cells. Every possible combination of strength and agility which the slender variety of means allowed he used, and not one of all the prisoners cared to try muscular conclusions with him. Occasionally a new prisoner would experiment, but those who held over knew better than to "bother the kid." When a rash and doubting man tried it, he repented it in cotton cloth and arnica.
The only way in which Harold could be enticed into the residence part of the jail was by sending Jack to call upon him.
At such times the jailer gave him plenty of time, and Harold poured forth his latest plans in a swift torrent. He talked of nothing but the West. "My sentence will be out in April," he said; "just the right time to go. You must make all arrangements for me, old man. You take my money and get these things for me. I want a six-shooter, the best you can find, the kind they use out on the plains, and a belt and ammunition. I want a valise—a good strong one; and I want you to put all my clothes in it—I mean my underclothes—I won't need cuffs and collars and such knickknacks out there. I shall never enter father's door again. Then I want you to be on the lookout for a chance to drive cattle for somebody going West. We'll find chances enough, and we'll strike for Abilene and your uncle's place. I haven't money enough to carry me out there on the train. Oh! won't it be good fun when we have a good horse apiece and go riding across the plains herding the longhorns! That's life, that is! If I'd only gone last year, out where the buffalo and the antelope are!"
At such times the eagle's heart in the youth could scarcely endure the pale, cold light of the prison. For an hour after one of these talks with Jack he tore around his cell like a crazed wolf, till his weary muscles absorbed the ache in his heart.
During the winter the Young Men's Christian Association of the town organized what they called a Prison Rescue Band, which held services in the jail each Sunday afternoon. They were a great bore to Harold, who knew the members of the band and disliked most of them. He considered them "a little off their nut"—that is to say, fanatic. He kept his cell closely, and the devoted ones seldom caught a glimpse of him, though he was the chief object of their care. They sang Pull for the Shore, Trust it all with Jesus, and other well-worn Moody and Sankey hymns, and the leader prayed resoundingly, and then, one by one, the others made little talks to the prison walls. There was seldom a face to be seen. Muttered curses occasionally rumbled from the cells where the prisoners were trying to sleep.
But the leader was a shrewd young man, and not many Sundays after his initial attempt the prisoners were amazed to hear female voices joining in the songs. Heads appeared at every door to see the girls, who stood timidly behind the men and sang (in quavering voices) the songs that persuaded to grace.
Some of these girlish messengers of mercy Harold knew, but others were strange to him. The seminary was in session again and new pupils had entered. For the most part they were colorless and plain, and the prisoners ceased to show themselves during the singing. Harold lay on his iron bed dreaming of the wild lands whose mountains he could see shining through his prison walls. Jack had purchased for him some photographs of the Rocky Mountains, and when he desired to forget his surroundings he had but to look on the seamless dome of Sierra Blanca or the San Francisco peaks, or at the image of the limpid waters of Trapper's Lake, and like the conjurer's magic crystal sphere, it cured him of all his mental maladies, set him free and a-horse.
But one Sabbath afternoon he heard a new voice, a girl's voice, so sweet and tender and true he could not forbear to look out upon the singer. She was small and looked very pale under the white light of the high windows. She was singing alone, a wonderful thing in itself, and in her eyes was neither fear nor maidenly shrinking; she was indeed thrillingly absorbed and self-forgetful. There was something singular and arresting in the poise of her head. Her eyes seemed to look through and beyond the prison walls, far into some finer, purer land than any earthly feet had trod, and her song had a touch of genuine poetry in it:
"If I were a voice, a persuasive voice, That could travel the whole earth through, I would fly on the wings of the morning light And speak to men with a gentle might And tell them to be true— If I were a voice."
The heart of the boy expanded. Music and poetry and love were waked in him by the voice of this singing girl. To others she was merely simple and sweet; to him she was a messenger. The vibrant, wistful cadence of her voice when she uttered the words "And tell them to be true," dropped down into the boy's sullen and lonely heart. He did not look at her, but all the week he wondered about her. He thought of her almost constantly, and the words she sang lay in his ears, soothing and healing like some subtle Oriental balm. "On the wings of the morning light" was one haunting phrase—the other was, "And tell them to be true."
The other prisoners had been touched. Only one or two ventured coarse remarks about her, and they were speedily silenced by their neighbors. Harold was eager to seek Jack in order to learn the girl's name, but Jack was at home, sick of a cold, and did not visit him during the week.
On the following Sunday she did not come, and the singing seemed suddenly a bitter mockery to Harold, who sought to solace himself with his pictures. The second week wore away and Jack came, but by that time the image of the girl had taken such aloofness of position in Harold's mind that he dared not ask about her, even of his loyal chum.
At last she came again, and when she had finished singing Not half has ever been told, some prisoner started hand clapping, and a volley of applause made the cells resound. The girl started in dismay, and then, as she understood the meaning of this noise, a beautiful flush swept over her face and she shrank swiftly into shadow.
But a man from an upper cell bawled: "Sing The Voice, miss! sing The Voice!"
The leader of the band said: "Sing for them, Miss Yardwell."
Again she sang If I were a Voice, and out of the cells the prisoners crept, one by one, and at last Harold. She did not see him till she had finished the last verse, and then he stood so close to her he could have touched her, and his solemn dark eyes burned so strangely into her face that she shrank away from him in awe and terror. She knew him—no one else but the minister's son could be so handsome and so refined of feature.
"You're that voice, miss," one of the men called out.
"That's right," replied the others in chorus.
The girl was abashed, but the belief that she was leading these sinners to a merciful Saviour exalted her and she sang again. Harold crept as near as he could—so near he could see her large gray eyes, into which the light fell as into a mountain lake. Every man there perceived the girl's divine purity of purpose. She was stainless as a summer cloud—a passionless, serene child, with the religious impulse strong within her. She could not have been more than seventeen years of age, and yet so dignified and composed was her attitude she seemed a mature woman. She was not large, but she was by no means slight, and though colorless, her pallor was not that of ill health.
Her body resembled that of a sturdy child, straight in the back, wide in the waist, and meager of bosom.
Her voice and her eyes subdued the beast in the men. An indefinable personal quality ran through her utterance, a sadness, a sympathy, and an intuitive comprehension of the sin of the world unusual in one so young. She had been carefully reared: that was evident in every gesture and utterance. Her dress was a studiously plain gray gown, not without a little girlish ornament at the neck and bosom. Every detail of her lovely personality entered Harold's mind and remained there. He had hardly reached the analytic stage in matters of this kind, but he knew very well that this girl was like her song; she could die but never deceive. He wondered what her first name could be; no girl like that would be called "Dot" or "Cad." It ought to be Lily or Marguerite. He was glad to hear one of the girls call her Mary.
He gazed at her almost without ceasing, but as the other convicts did the same he was not observably devoted, and whenever she raised her big, clear eyes toward him both shrank, he from a sense of unworthiness, she from the instinctive fear of men which a young girl of her type has deep-planted within her. She studied him shyly when she dared, and after the first song sang only for him. She prayed for him when the Band knelt on the stone floor, and at night in her room she plead for him before God.
The boy was smitten with a sudden sense of his crime, not in the way of a repentant sinner, but as one who loves a sweet and gentle woman. All that his father's preaching and precept could not do, all that the judge, jury, and prison could not do, this slip of a girl did with a glance of her big gray eyes and the tremor of her voice in song. All his misdeeds arose up suddenly as a wall between him and the girl singer. His hard heart melted. The ugly lines went out of his face and it grew boyish once more, but sadder than ever.
His was not a nature to rest inactive. He poured out a hundred questions to Jack who could not answer half a dozen of them. "Who is she? Where does she live? Do you know her? Is she a good scholar? Does she go to church? I hope she don't talk religion. Does she go to parties? Does she dance?"
Jack replied as well as he was able. "She's a queer kind of a girl. She don't dance or go to parties at all. She's an awful fine scholar. She sings in the choir. Most of the boys are afraid to speak to her, she's so distant. She just says 'Yes,' or 'No,' when you ask her anything. She's religious—goes to prayer meeting and Sunday school. About a dozen boys go to prayer meeting just because she goes and sings. Her folks live in Waverly, but she boards with her aunt, Mrs. Brown. Now, that's all I can tell you about her. She's in some of my classes, but I dassent talk to her."
"Jack, she's the best and grandest girl I ever saw. I'm going to write to her."
Jack wistfully replied: "I wish you was out o' here, old man."
Harold became suddenly optimistic. "Never you mind, Jack. It won't be long till I am. I'm going to write to her to-day. You get a pencil and paper for me quick."
Jack's admiration of Harold was too great to admit of any question of his design. He would have said no one else was worthy to tie Mary's shoe, for he, too, worshiped her—but afar off. He was one of those whom women recognize only as gentle and useful beings, plain and unobtrusive.
He brought the pad and pencil and sat by while the letter was written. Harold's was not a nature of finedrawn distinctions; he wrote as he fought, swift and determined, and the letter was soon finished, read, and approved by Jack.
"Now, don't you let anybody see you give that to her," Harold said in parting.
"Trust me," Jack stanchly replied, and both felt that here was business of greatest importance. Jack proceeded at once to walk on the street which led past Mary's boarding place, and hung about the corner, in the hope of meeting Mary on her return from school. He knew very exactly her hours of recitation and at last she came, her arms filled with books, moving with such stately step she seemed a woman, tall and sedate. She perceived Jack waiting, but was not alarmed, for she comprehended something of his goodness and timidity.
He took off his cap with awkward formality. "Miss Yardwell, may I speak with you a moment?"
"Certainly, Mr. Burns," she replied, quite as formally as he.
He fell into step with her and walked on.
"You know—my chum—" he began, breathing hard, "my chum, Harry Excell, is in jail. You see, he had a fight with a great big chap, Clint Slocum, and Clint struck Harry with a whip. Of course Harry couldn't stand that and he cut Clint with his knife; of course he had to do it, for you see Clint was big as two of him and he'd just badgered the life out of Harry for a month, and so they jugged Harry, and he's there—in jail—and I suppose you've seen him; he's a fine-looking chap, dark hair, well built. He's a dandy ball player and skates bully; I wish you could see him shoot. We're going out West together when he gets out o' jail. Well, he saw you and he liked you, and he wrote you a letter and wanted me to hand it to you when no one was looking. Here it is: hide it, quick."
She took the letter, mechanically moved to do so by his imperative voice and action, and slipped it into her algebra. When she turned to speak Jack was gone, and she walked on, flushed with excitement, her breath shortened and quickened. She had a fair share of woman's love of romance and of letters, and she hurried a little in order that she might the sooner read the message of the dark-eyed, pale boy in the jail.
It was well she did not meet Mrs. Brown as she entered, for the limpid gray of her eyes was clouded with emotion. She climbed the stairs to her room and quickly opened the note. It began abruptly:
"DEAR FRIEND: It is mighty good of you to come and sing to us poor cusses in jail. I hope you'll come every Sunday. I like you. You are the best girl I ever saw. Don't go to my father's church, he ain't good enough to preach to you. I like you and I don't want you to think I'm a hard case. I used up Clint Slocum because I had to. He had hectored me about enough. He said some mean things about me and some one else, and I soaked him once with my fist. He struck me with the whip and downed me, then a kind of a cloud came into my mind and I guess I soaked him with my knife, too. Anyhow they jugged me for it. I don't care, I'd do it again. I'd cut his head off if he said anything about you. Well, now I'm in here and I'm sorry because I don't want you to think I'm a tough. I've done a whole lot of things I had not ought to have done, but I never meant to do anyone any harm.
"Now, I'm going West when I get out. I'm going into the cattle business on the great plains, and I'm going to be a rich man, and then I'm going to come back. I hope you won't get married before that time for I'll have something to say to you. If you run across any pictures of the mountains or the plains I wisht you'd send them on to me. Next to you I like the life in the plains better than anything.
"I hope you'll come every Sunday till I get out. Yours respec'fly,
"Jack will give this to you. Jack is my chum; I'd trust him with my life. He's all wool."
The girl sat a long time with the letter in her hand. She was but a child, after all, and the lad's words alarmed and burdened her, for the meaning of the letter was plain. It was a message of love and admiration, and though it contained no subtleties, it came from one who was in jail, and she had been taught to regard people in jail as lost souls, aliens with whom it was dangerous to hold any intercourse, save in prayer and Scripture. The handsome boy with the sad face had appealed to her very deeply, and she bore him in her thoughts a great deal; but now he came in a new guise—as a lover, bold, outspoken, and persuasive.
"What shall I do? Shall I tell Aunt Lida?" she asked herself, and ended by kneeling down and praying to Jesus to give the young man a new heart.
In this fashion the courtship went on. No one knew of it but Jack, for Mary could not bring herself to confide in anyone, not even her mother, it all seemed too strange and beautiful. It was God's grace working through her, and her devoutness was not without its human mixture of girlish pride and exaltation. She worshiped him in her natural moments, and in her moments of religious fervor she prayed for him with impersonal anguish as for a lost soul. She did not consider him a criminal, but she thought him Godless and rebellious toward his Saviour.
She wrote him quaint, formal little notes, which began abruptly, "My Friend." They contained much matter which was hortatory, but at times she became girlish and very charming. Gradually she dropped the tone which she had caught from revivalists and wrote of her studies and of the doings of each member of the class, and all other subjects which a young girl finds valuable material of conversation. She was just becoming acquainted with Victor Hugo and his resounding, antithetic phrases, and his humanitarian outcries filled her mind with commotion. Her heart swelled high with resolution to do something to help the world in general and Harold in particular.
She was not one in whom passion ruled; the intellectual dominated the passional in her, and, besides, she was only a child. She was by no means as mature as Harold, although about the same age. Naturally reverent, she had been raised in a family where religious observances never remitted; where grace was always spoken. In this home her looks were seldom alluded to in any way, and vanity was not in her. She had her lovelinesses; her hair was long and fair, her eyes were beautiful, and her skin was of exquisite purity, like her eyes. Her charm lay in her modesty and quaint dignity, her grave and gentle gaze, and in her glorious voice.
The Reverend Excell was pleased to hear that his son was bearing confinement very well, and made another effort to see him. Simply because Mary wished it, Harold consented to see his father, and they held a long conversation, at least the father talked and the boy listened. In effect, the minister said:
"My son, I have forfeited your good will—that I know—but I think you do me an injustice. I know you think I am a liar and a hypocrite because you have seen me in rages and because I have profaned God in your presence. My boy, let me tell you, in every man there are two natures. When one is uppermost, actions impossible to the other nature become easy. You will know this, you should know it now, for in you there is the same murderous madman that is in me. You must fight him down. I love you, my son," he said, and his voice was deep and tremulous, "and it hurts me to have you stand aloof from me. I have tried to do my duty. I have almost succeeded in putting my worst self under my feet, and I think if you were to come to understand me you would not be so hard toward me. It is not a little thing to me that you, my only son, turn your face away from me. On the day of your trial I thought we came nearer to an understanding than in many years."
Harold felt the justice of his father's plea and his heart swelled with emotion, but something arose up between his heart and his lips and he remained silent.
Mr. Excell bent his great, handsome head and plead as a lover pleads, but the pale lad, with bitter and sullen mien, listened in silence. At last the father ended; there was a pause.
"I want you to come home when your term ends," he said. "Will you promise that?"
Harold said, "No, I can't do that. I'm going out West."
"I shall not prevent you, my son, but I want you to come and take your place at the table just once. There is a special reason for this. Will you come for a single day?"
Harold forced himself to answer, "Yes."
Mr. Excell raised his head.
"Let us shake hands over your promise, my boy."
Harold arose and they shook hands. The father's eyes were wet with tears. "I can't afford to forfeit your good opinion," Mr. Excell went on, "especially now when you are leaving me, perhaps forever. I think you are right in going. There is no chance for you here; perhaps out there in the great West you may get a start. Of my shortcomings as a father you know, and I suppose you can never love me as a son should, but I think you will see some day that I am not a hypocrite, and that I failed as a father more through neglect and passion than through any deliberate injustice."
The boy struggled for words to express himself; at last he burst forth: "I don't blame you at all, only let me go where I can do something worth while: you bother me so."
The minister dropped his son's hand and a look of the deepest sadness came over his face. He had failed—Harold was farther away from him than ever. He turned and went out without another word.
That he had hurt his father Harold knew, but in exactly what other way he could have acted he could not tell. The overanxiety on the father's part irritated the boy. Had he been less morbid, less self-accusing, he would have won. Harold passionately loved strength and decision, especially in a big man like his father, who looked like a soldier and a man of action, and who ought not to cry like a woman. If only he would act all the time as he did when he threw the sheriff across the walk that day on the street. "I wish he'd stop preaching and go to work at something," he said to Jack. The psychology of the father's attitude toward him was incomprehensible. He could get along very well without a father; why could not his father get along without him? He hated all this fuss, anyway. It only made him feel sorry and perplexed, and he wished sincerely that his father would let him alone.
Jack brought a letter from Mary which troubled him.
"I am going home in March, a week before the term ends. Mother isn't very well, and just as soon as I can I must go. If I do, you must not forget me."
Of course he wrote in reply, saying:
"Don't you go till I see you. You must come in and see me. Can't you come in when Jack does, he knows all about us, COME SURE. I can't go without a good-by kiss. Don't you go back on me now. Come."
"I'm afraid to come," she replied, "people would find out everything and talk. Besides you mustn't kiss me. We are not regularly engaged, and so it would not be right."
"We'll be engaged in about two minutes if you'll meet me with Jack," he replied. "You're the best girl in the world and I'm going to marry you when I get rich enough to come back and build you a house to be in, I'm going out where the cattle are thick as grasshoppers, and I'm going to be a cattle king and then you can be a cattle queen and ride around with me on our ranch, that's what they call a farm out there. Now, you're my girl and you must wait for me to come back. Don't you get impatient, sometimes a chap has a hard time just to get a start, after that it's easy. Jack will go with me, he will be my friend and share everything.
"Now you come and call me sweetheart and I'll call you angel, for that's what you are. Get to be a great singer, and go about the country singing to make men like me good, you can do it, only don't let them fall in love with you, they do that too just the way I did, but don't let 'em do it for you are mine. You're my sweetheart. From your sweetheart,
"HARRY EXCELL, Cattle King."
THE CAGE OPENS
Before Harold's day of freedom came Mary was called home by a telegram from her father. She longed to see Harold before she left, but she was too much hurried to seek out Jack, the loyal go-between, and dared not send a letter by any other hands. She went away without sending him a word of good-by.
So it happened that the last week of Harold's captivity was spent in loneliness and bitter sorrow, and even when Jack came he brought very little information concerning Mary's flight, and Harold was bitter and accusing.
"Why didn't she write to me? Why didn't she come to see me?"
Jack pleaded for her as well as he was able. "She hadn't time, maybe."
Harold refused to accept this explanation. "If she had cared for me, she'd have sent me word—she could take time for that."
No letter came in the days which followed, and at last he put her out of his heart and turned his face to the sunset land which now called to the sad heart within him with imperious voice. Out there he could forget all his hurts.
On the morning when the jailer opened the door for him to leave the iron corridor in which he had spent so many months, his father met him, and the white face of the boy made the father's heart contract. Harold's cheeks were plump and boyish, but there was a look in his face which made him seem a youth of twenty.
The family stood in the jailer's parlor to receive him, and he submitted to their caresses with cold dignity. His manner plainly expressed this feeling: "You are all strangers to me." But he turned to Jack and gripped his hand hard. "Now for the plains!"
Side by side the father and son passed out into the sunshine. The boy drew an audible breath, as if in sudden, keen pain. Around him lay the bare, brown earth of March. The sun was warm and a subtle odor of lately uncovered sward was in the air. The wind, soft, warm, and steady, blew from the west. Here and there a patch of grass, faintly green, showed where sullen snow banks had lately lain. And the sky! Filled with clouds almost as fleecy and as white as June, the sky covered him, and when he raised his eyes to it he saw a triangular flock of geese sweeping to the northwest, serene and apparently effortless.
He could not speak—did not wish to hear any speech but that of Nature, and the father seemed to comprehend his son's mood, for he, too, walked in silence.
The people of the village knew that Harold was to return to freedom that day, and with one excuse or another they came to the doors to see him pass. Some of them were genuinely sympathetic, and bowed and smiled, intending to say, "Let by-gones be by-gones," but to their greetings Harold remained blankly unresponsive. Jack would gladly have walked with Harold, but out of consideration for the father fell into step behind.
The girls—some of them—had the grace to weep when they saw Harold's sad face. Others tittered and said: "Ain't he awful pale." For the most part, the citizens considered his punishment sufficient, and were disposed to give him another chance. To them, Harold, by his manner, intended to reply: "I don't want any favors. I won't accept any chance from you. I despise you and I don't want to see you again."
He looked upon the earth and the sky rather than upon the faces of his fellows. His natural love of Nature had been intensified by his captivity, while a bitter contempt and suspicion of all men and women had grown up in his mind. He entered his father's house with reluctance and loathing.
The day was one of preparation. Jack had carried out, so far as he well could, the captive's wishes. His gun, his clothing, and his valise were ready for him, and Mrs. Excell had washed and ironed all his linen with scrupulous care. His sister Maud had made a little "housewife" for him, and filled it with buttons and needles and thread, a gift he did not value, even from her.
"I'm going out West to herd cattle, not to cobble trousers," he said contemptuously.
Jack had a report to make. "Harry, I've found a chance for you," he said when they were alone. "There was a man moving to Colorado here on Saturday. He said he could use you, but of course I had to tell him you couldn't go for a few days. He's just about to Roseville now. I'll tell you what you do. You get on the train and go to Roseville—I'll let you have the money—and you strike him when he comes through. His name is Pratt. He's a tall old chap, talks queer. Of course he may have a hand now, but anyway you must get out o' here. He wouldn't take you if he knew you'd been in jail."
"Aren't you going?" asked Harold sharply.
Jack looked uneasy. "Not now, Harry. You see, I want to graduate, I'm so near through. It wouldn't do to quit now. I'll stay till fall. I'll get to Uncle John's place about the time you do."
Harold said no more, but his face darkened with disappointment.
The call to dinner brought them all together once more, and the minister's grace became a short prayer for the safety of his son, broken again and again by the weakness of his own voice and by the sobs of Maud and Mrs. Excell. Harold sat with rigid face, fixed in a frown. The meal proceeded in sad silence, for each member of the family felt that Harold was leaving them never to return.
Jack's plan was determined upon, and after dinner he went to hitch up his horse to take Harry out to the farm. The family sat in painful suspense for a few moments after Jack went out, and then Mr. Excell said:
"My son, we have never been friends, and the time is past when I can expect to win your love and confidence, but I hope you will not go away with any bitterness in your heart toward me." He waited a moment for his son to speak, but Harold continued silent, which again confused and pained the father, but he went on: "In proof of what I say I want to offer you some money to buy a horse and saddle when you need them."
"I don't need any money," said Harold, a little touched by the affection in his father's voice. "I can earn all the money I need."
"Perhaps so, but a little money might be useful at the start. You will need a horse if you herd cattle."
"I'll get my own horse—you'll need all you can earn," said Harold in reply.
Mr. Excell's tone changed. "What makes you say that, Harold? What do you mean?"
"Oh, I didn't mean anything in particular."
"Have you heard of the faction which is growing up in the church against me?"
Harold hesitated. "Yes—but I wasn't thinking of that particularly." He betrayed a little interest. "What's the matter with 'em?"
"There has been an element in the church hostile to me from the first, and during your trial and sentence these persons have used every effort to spread a feeling against me. How wide it is I can not tell, but I know it is strong. It may end my work here, for I will not cringe to them. They will find me iron."
Harold's heart warmed suddenly. Without knowing it the father had again struck the right note to win his son. "That's right," the boy said, "don't let 'em tramp on you."