THE UNDER DOG
F. HOPKINSON SMITH
To my Readers:
In the strife of life some men lose place through physical weakness or lost opportunities or impaired abilities; struggle on as they may, they must always be the Under Dog in the fight.
Others are misjudged—often by their fellows; sometimes by the law. If you are one of the fellows, you pass the man with a nod. If you are the law, you crush out his life with a sentence.
Still others lose place from being misunderstood; from being out of touch with their surroundings; out of reach of those who, if they knew, would help; men with hearts chilled by neglect, whose smouldering coals—coals deep hidden in their nature—need only the warm breath of some other man's sympathy to be fanned back into life.
Once in a while there can be met another kind, one whose poverty or uncouthness makes us shun him at sight; and yet one, if we did but know it, with a joyous melody in his heart, ofttimes in tune with our own harmonies. This kind is rare, and when found adds another ripple to our scanty stock of laughter.
These Under Dogs—grave and gay—have always appealed to me. Their stories are printed here in the hope that they may also appeal to you.
No Respecter of Persons I. The Crime of Samanthy North II. Bud Tilden, Mail-Thief III. "Eleven Months and Ten Days" Cap'n Bob of the Screamer A Procession of Umbrellas "Doc" Shipman's Fee Plain Fin—Paper-Hanger Long Jim Compartment Number Four—Cologne to Paris Sammy Marny's Shadow Muffles—The Bar-Keep His Last Cent
_During the trip he sat in the far corner of the car
"I threw him in the bushes and got the letter"
"I git so tired, so tired; please let me go"
I saw the point of a tiny shoe
Everybody was excited and everybody was mad
I hardly knew him, he was so changed_
NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS
THE CRIME OF SAMANTHY NORTH
I have been requested to tell this story, and exactly as it happened. The moral any man may draw for himself. I only want to ask my readers the question I have been asking myself ever since I saw the girl: Why should such things be among us?
* * * * *
Marny's studio is over the Art Club.
He was at work on a picture of a canon with some Sioux Indians in the foreground, while I sat beside him, watching the play of his masterly brush.
Dear old Aunt Chloe, in white apron and red bandanna, her round black face dimpled with smiles, was busying herself about the room, straightening the rugs, puffing up the cushions of the divan, pushing back the easels to get at the burnt ends of abandoned cigarettes, doing her best, indeed, to bring some kind of domestic order out of Marny's Bohemian chaos.
Now and then she interpolated her efforts with such remarks as:
"No, doan' move. De Colonel"—her sobriquet for Marny—"doan' keer whar he drap his seegars. But doan' you move, honey"—sobriquet for me. "I kin git 'em." Or "Clar to goodness, you pillows look like a passel o' hogs done tromple ye, yo're dat mussed." Critical remarks like these last were given in a low tone, and, although addressed to the offending articles themselves, accompanied by sundry cuffs of her big hand, were really intended to convey Aunt Chloe's private opinion of the habits of her master and his friends.
The talk had drifted from men of the old frontier to border scouts, and then to the Kentucky mountaineers, whom Marny knows as thoroughly as he does the red men.
"They are a great race, these mountaineers," he said to me, as he tossed the end of another cigarette on Aunt Chloe's now clean-swept floor. Marny spoke in crisp, detached sentences between the pats of his brush. "Big, strong, whalebone-and-steel kind of fellows; rather fight than eat. Quick as lightning with a gun; dead shots. Built just like our border men. See that scout astride of his horse?"—and he pointed with his mahl-stick to a sketch on the wall behind him—"looks like the real thing, don't he? Well, I painted him from an up-country moonshiner. Found him one morning across the river, leaning up against a telegraph pole, dead broke. Been arrested on a false charge of making whiskey without a license, and had just been discharged from the jail. Hadn't money enough to cross the bridge, and was half-starved. So I braced him up a little, and brought him here and painted him."
We all know with what heartiness Marny can "brace." It doubtless took three cups of coffee, half a ham, and a loaf of bread to get him on his feet, Marny watching him with the utmost satisfaction until the process was complete.
"You ought to look these fellows over; they're worth it. Savage lot, some of 'em. Remind me of the people who live about the foothills of the Balkans. Mountaineers are the same the world over, anyway. But you don't want to hunt for these Kentuckians in their own homes unless you send word you are coming, or you may run up against the end of a rifle before you know it. I don't blame them." Marny leaned back in his chair and turned toward me. "The Government is always hunting them as if they were wild beasts, instead of treating them as human beings. They can't understand why they shouldn't get the best prices they can for their corn. They work hard enough to get it to grow. Their theory is that the Illinois farmer feeds the corn to his hogs and sells the product as pork, while the mountaineer feeds it to his still and sells the product to his neighbors as whiskey. That a lot of Congressmen who never hoed a row of corn in their lives, nor ran a furrow, or knew what it was to starve on the proceeds, should make laws sending a man to jail because he wants to supply his friends with liquor, is what riles them, and I don't blame them for that, either."
I arose from my chair and examined the sketch of the starving mountaineer. It was a careful study of a man with clear-cut features, slim and of wiry build, and was painted with that mastery of detail which distinguishes Marny's work over that of every other figure-painter of his time.
The painter squeezed a tube of white on his palette, relit his cigarette, fumbled over his sheaf of brushes and continued:
"The first of every month—just about now, by the way—they bring twenty or thirty of these poor devils down from the mountains and lock them up in Covington jail. They pass Aunt Chloe's house. Oh, Aunt Chloe!"—and he turned to the old woman—"did you see any of those 'wild people' the last two or three days?—that's what she calls 'em," and he laughed.
"Dat I did, Colonel—hull drove on 'em. 'Nough to make a body sick to see 'em. Two on 'em was chained together. Dat ain't no way to treat people, if dey is ornery. I wouldn't treat a dog dat way."
Aunt Chloe, sole dependence of the Art Club below-stairs: day or night nurse—every student in the place knows the touch of her hand when his head splits with fever or his bones ache with cold; provider of buttons, suspender loops and buckles; go-between in most secret and confidential affairs; mail-carrier—the dainty note wrapped up in her handkerchief so as not to "spile it!"—no, she wouldn't treat a dog that way, nor anything else that lives and breathes or has feeling, human or brute.
"If there's a new 'drove' of them, as Aunt Chloe says," remarked Marny, tossing aside his brushes, "let's take a look at them. They are worth your study. You may never have another chance."
This was why it happened that within the hour Marny and I crossed the bridge and left his studio and the city behind us.
The river below was alive with boats, the clouds of steam from their funnels wreathed about the spans. Street-cars blocked the roadway; tugging horses, sweating under the lash of their drivers' whips, strained under heavy loads. The air was heavy with coal-smoke. Through the gloom of the haze, close to the opposite bank, rose a grim, square building of granite and brick, its grimy windows blinking through iron bars. Behind these, shut out from summer clouds and winter snows, bereft of air and sunshine, deaf to the song of happy birds and the low hum of wandering bees, languished the outcast and the innocent, the vicious and the cruel. Hells like these are the infernos civilization builds in which to hide its mistakes.
Marny turned toward me as we reached the prison. "Keep close," he whispered. "I know the Warden and can get in without a permit," and he mounted the steps and entered a big door opening into a cold, bare hall with a sanded floor. To the right of the hall swung another door labelled "Chief of Police." Behind this door was a high railing closed with a wooden gate. Over this scowled an officer in uniform.
"My friend Sergeant Cram," said Marny, as he introduced us. The officer and I shook hands. The hand was thick and hard, the knotted knuckles leaving an unpleasant impression behind them as they fell from my fingers.
A second door immediately behind this one was now reached, the Sergeant acting as guide. This door was of solid wood, with a square panel cut from its centre, the opening barred like a birdcage. Peering through these bars was the face of another attendant. This third door, at a mumbled word from the Sergeant, was opened wide enough to admit us into a room in which half a dozen deputies were seated at cards. In the opposite wall hung a fourth door, of steel and heavily barred, through which, level with the eyes, was cut a peep-hole concealed by a swinging steel disk.
The Sergeant moved rapidly across the room, pushed aside the disk and brought to view the nose and eyes of a prison guard.
As our guide shot back a bolt, a click like the cocking of a gun sounded through the room, followed by the jangle of a huge iron ring strung with keys. Selecting one from the number, he pushed it into the key-hole and threw his weight against the door. At its touch the mass of steel swung inward noiselessly as the door of a bank-vault. With the swinging of the door there reached us the hot, stuffy smell of unwashed bodies under steam-heat—the unmistakable odor that one sometimes meets in a court-room.
Marny and I stepped inside. The Sergeant closed the slab of steel, locking us inside, and then, nodding to us through the peep-hole, returned to his post in the office.
We stood now on the rim of the crater, looking straight into the inferno. By means of the dull light that struggled through the grimy, grated windows, I discovered that we were in a corridor having an iron floor that sprang up and down under our feet. This was flanked by a line of steel cages—huge beast-dens really—reaching to the ceiling. In each of these cages was a small, double-barred gate.
These dens were filled with men and boys; some with faces thrust through the bars, some with hands and arms stretched out as if for air; one hung half-way up the bars, clinging with hands and feet apart, as if to get a better hold and better view. I had seen dens like these before: the man-eating Bengal tiger at the London Zoo lives in one of them.
The Warden, who was standing immediately behind the attendant, stepped forward and shook Marny's hand. I discharged my obligations with a nod. I had never been in a place like this before, and the horror of its surroundings overcame me. I misjudged the Warden, no doubt. That this man might have a wife who loved him and little children who clung to his neck, and that underneath his hard, forbidding exterior a heart could beat with any tenderness, never occurred to me. As I looked him over with a half-shrinking glance, I became aware of a slash indenting his pock-marked cheek that might have been made by a sabre cut—was, probably, for it takes a brave man to be a warden; a massive head set on big shoulders; a square chin, the jaw hinged like a burglar's jimmy; and two keen, restless, elephant eyes.
But it was his right ear that absorbed my attention—or rather, what was left of his right ear. Only the point of it stuck up; the rest was clipped as clean as a rat-terrier's. Some fight to a finish, I thought; some quick upper-cut of the razor of a frenzied negro writhing under the viselike grasp of this man-gorilla with arms and hands of steel; or some sudden whirl of a stiletto, perhaps, which had missed his heart and taken his ear. I did not ask then, and I do not know now. It was a badge of courage, whatever it was—a badge which thrilled and horrified me. As I looked at the terrible mutilation, I could but recall the hideous fascination that overcame Josiane, the heroine of Hugo's great novel, "The Man Who Laughs," when she first caught sight of Gwynplaine's mouth—slit from ear to ear by the Comprachicos. The outrage on the Warden was not so grotesque, but the effect was the same.
I moved along the corridor and stood before the beasts. One, an old man in a long white beard, leathery, sun-tanned face and hooked nose, clasped the bars with both hands, gazing at us intently. I recognized his kind the moment I looked at him. He was like my Jonathan Gordon, my old fisherman who lived up in the Franconia Notch. His coarse, homespun clothes, dyed brown with walnut-shells, slouch hat crowning his shock of gray hair, and hickory shirt open at the throat, only heightened the resemblance; especially the hat canted over one eye. Why he wore the hat in such a place I could not understand, unless to be ready for departure when his summons came.
There were eight other beasts besides this old man in the same cage, one a boy of twenty, who leaned against the iron wall with his hands in his pockets, his eyes following my every movement. I noticed a new blue patch on one of his knees, which his mother, doubtless, had sewn with her own hands, her big-rimmed spectacles on her nose, the tallow dip lighting the log cabin. I recognized the touch. And the boy. I used to go swimming with one just like him, forty years ago, in an old swimming-hole in the back pasture, and hunt for honey that the bumblebees had stored under the bank.
The old man with the beard and the canting hat looked into my eyes keenly, but he did not speak. He had nothing to say, perhaps. Something human had moved before him, that was all; something that could come and go at its pleasure and break the monotony of endless hours.
"How long have you been here?" I asked, lowering my voice and stepping closer to the bars.
Somehow I did not want the others to hear. It was almost as though I were talking to Jonathan—my dear Jonathan—and he behind bars!
"Eleven months and three days. Reckon I be the oldest"—and he looked about him as if for confirmation. "Yes, reckon I be."
The answer came without the slightest hesitation and without the slightest trace in his voice of anything that betokened either sorrow for his act or shame for the crime.
"Eleven months and three days of this!" I repeated to myself. Instinctively my mind went back to all I had done, seen, and enjoyed in these eleven months and three days. Certain individual incidents more delightful than others stood out clear and distinct: that day under the trees at Cookham, the Thames slipping past, the white-sailed clouds above my tent of leaves; a morning at Dort, when Peter and I watched the Dutch luggers anchor off the quay, and the big storm came up; a night beyond San Giorgio, when Luigi steered the gondola in mid-air over a sea of mirrored stars and beneath a million incandescent lamps.
I passed on to the next cage, Marny watching me but saying nothing. The scout was in this one, the "type" in Marny's sketch. There were three of them—tall, hickory-sapling sort of young fellows, with straight legs, flat stomachs, and thin necks, like that of a race-horse. One had the look of an eagle, with his beak-nose and deep-set, uncowed eyes. Another wore his yellow hair long on his neck, Custer-fashion. The third sat on the iron floor, his knees level with his chin, his head in his hand. He had a sweetheart, perhaps, who loved him, or an old mother who was wringing her hands at home. This one, I learned afterward, had come with the last batch and was not yet accustomed to his surroundings; the others had been awaiting trial for months. All of them wore homespun clothes—not the ready-made clothes sold at the stores, but those that some woman at home had cut, basted, and sewn.
Marny asked them what they were up for. Their answers differed slightly from that of the old man, but the crime and its penalty were the same.
"Makin'," they severally replied.
There was no lowering of the eyelids when they confessed; no hangdog look about the mouth. They would do it again when they got out, and they intended to, only they would shoot the quicker next time. The earth was theirs and the fulness thereof, that part of it which they owned. Their grandfathers before them had turned their corn into whiskey and no man had said nay, and so would they. Not the corn that they had stolen, but the corn that they had ploughed and shucked. It was their corn, not the Government's. Men who live in the wilderness, and feed and clothe themselves on the things they raise with their own hands, have no fine-spun theories about the laws that provide revenue for a Government they never saw, don't want to see, and couldn't understand if they did.
Marny and I stood before the grating, looking each man over separately. Strange to say, the artistic possibilities of my visit faded out of my mind. The picturesqueness of their attire, the browns and grays accentuated here and there by a dash of red around a hat-band or shirt-collar—all material for my own or my friend's brush—made not the slightest impression upon me. It was the close smell, the dim, horrible light, the quick gleam of a pair of eyes looking out from under shocks of matted hair—the eyes of a panther watching his prey; the dull stare of some boyish face with all hope crushed out of it; these were the things that possessed me.
As I stood there absorbed in the terrors before me, I was startled by the click of the catch and the clink of keys, followed by the noiseless swing of the steel door as it closed again.
I turned and looked down the corridor.
Into the gloom of this inferno, this foul-smelling cavern, this assemblage of beasts, stepped a girl of twenty. A baby wrapped about with a coarse shawl lay in her arms.
She passed me with eyes averted, and stood before the gate of the last steel cage—the woman's end of the prison—the turnkey following slowly. Cries of "Howdy, gal! What did ye git?" wore hurled after her, but she made no answer. The ominous sound of drawn bolts and the click of a key, and the girl and baby were inside the bars of the cage. These bars, foreshortened from where I stood, looked like a row of gun-barrels in an armory rack.
"That girl a prisoner?" I asked the Warden.
I didn't believe it. I knew, of course, that it couldn't be. I instantly divined that she had come to comfort some brother or father, or lover, perhaps, and had brought the baby with her because there was no place to leave it at home. I only asked the question of the Warden so he could deny it, and deny it, too, with some show of feeling—this man with the sliced ear and the gorilla hands.
"Yes, she's been here some time. Judge suspended sentence a while ago. She's gone after her things."
There was no joy over her release in his tones, nor pity for her condition.
He spoke exactly, it seemed to me, as he would have done had he been in charge of the iron-barred gate of the Colosseum two thousand years ago. All that had saved the girl then from the jaws of his hungriest lion was the twist of Nero's thumb. All that saved her now was the nod of the Judge's head—both had the giving of life and death.
A thin mist swam before my eyes, and a great lump started from my heart and stuck fast in my throat, but I did not answer him; it would have done no good—might have enraged him, in fact. I walked straight to the gate through which she had entered and peered in. I could see between the gun-barrels now.
It was like the other cages, with barred walls and sheet-iron floors. Built in one corner of the far end was a strong box of steel, six feet by four by the height of the ceiling, fitted with a low door. This box was lined with a row of bunks, one above the other. From one was thrust a small foot covered with a stocking and part of a skirt; some woman prisoner was ill, perhaps. Against the wall of this main cage sat two negro women; one, I learned afterward, had stabbed a man the week before; the other was charged with theft. The older—the murderess—came forward when she caught sight of me, thrust out her hands between the bars, and begged for tobacco.
In the corner of the same cage was another steel box. I saw the stooping figure of the young girl come out of it as a dog comes out of a kennel. She walked toward the centre of the cage—she still had the baby in her arms—laid the child on the sheet-iron floor, where the light from the grimy windows fell the clearer, and returned to the steel box. The child wore but one garment—a short red-flannel shirt that held the stomach tight and left the shrivelled legs and arms bare. It lay flat on its back, its eyes gazing up at the ceiling, its pinched face in high light against the dull background. Now and then it would fight the air with its little fists or kick its toes above its head.
The girl took from the kennel a broken paper box and, returning with it, knelt beside the child and began arranging its wardrobe, the two negresses watching her listlessly. Not much of a wardrobe—only a ragged shawl, some socks, a worsted cap, a pair of tiny shoes, and a Canton-flannel wrapper, once white. This last had little arms and a short waist. The skirt was long enough to tuck around her baby's feet when she carried it.
I steadied myself by one of the musket-barrels, watched her while she folded the few pitiful garments, waited until she had guided the shrunken arms into the sleeves of the soiled wrapper and had buttoned it over the baby's chest. Then, when the lump in my throat was about to stop my breathing, I said:
"Will you come here, please, to the grating? I want to speak to you."
She raised her head slowly, looked at me in a tired, hopeless way, laid her baby back on the sheet-iron floor, and walked toward me. As she came into the glow of the overhead light, I saw that she was even younger than I had first supposed—nearer seventeen than twenty—a girl with something of the curious look of a young heifer in a face drawn and lined but with anxiety. Parted over a low forehead, and tucked behind her ears, streamed two braids of straight yellow hair in two unkempt strands over her shoulders. Across her bosom and about her slender figure was hooked a yellow-brown dress made in one piece. The hooks and eyes showed wherever the strain came, disclosing the coarse chemise and the brown of the neck beneath. This strain, the strain of an ill-fitting garment, accentuated all the clearer, in the wrinkles about the shoulders and around the hips, the fulness of her delicately modelled lines; quite as would a jacket buttoned over the Milo. On the third finger of one hand was a flat silver ring, such as is sold by the country peddlers.
She stood quite close to the bars, patiently awaiting my next question. She had obeyed my summons like a dog who remembered a former discipline. No curiosity, not the slightest interest; nothing but blind obedience. The tightened grasp of these four walls had taught her this.
"Where do you come from?" I asked.
I had to begin in some way.
"From Pineyville." The voice was that of a child, with a hard, dry note in it.
"How old is the baby?"
"Three months and ten days." She had counted the child's age. She had thought enough for that.
"How far is Pineyville?"
"I doan' know. It took mos' all night to git here." There was no change in the listless monotone.
"Are you going out now?"
"Yes, soon's I kin git ready."
"How are you going to get home?"
"Walk, I reckon." There was no complaint in her tone, no sudden exhibition of any suffering. She was only stating facts.
"Have you no money?"
"No." Same bald statement, and in the same hopeless tone. She had not moved—not even to look at the child.
"What's the fare?"
"Six dollars and sixty-five cents." This was stated with great exactness. It was the amount of this appalling sum that had, no doubt, crushed out her last ray of hope.
"Did you sell any whiskey?"
"Yes, I tol' the Judge so." Still no break in her voice. It was only another statement.
"Oh! you kept a saloon?"
"How did you sell it, then?"
"Jest out of a kag—in a cup."
"Had you ever sold any before?"
"Why did you sell it, then?"
She had been looking into my face all this time, one thin, begrimed hand—the one with the ring on it—tight around the steel bar of the gate that divided us. With the question, her eyes dropped until they seemed to rest on this hand. The answer came slowly:
"The baby come, and the store wouldn't chalk nothin' for us no more." Then she added, quickly, as if in defence of the humiliating position, "Our corn-crib was sot afire last fall and we got behind."
For a brief instant she leaned heavily against the bars as if for support, then her eyes sought her child. I waited until she had reassured herself of its safety, and continued my questions, my finger-nails sinking deeper all the time into the palms of my hands.
"Did you make the whiskey?"
"No, it was Martin Young's whiskey. My husband works for him. Martin sent the kag down one day, and I sold it to the men. I give the money all to Martin 'cept the dollar he was to gimme for sellin' it."
"How came you to be arrested?"
"One o' the men tol' on me 'cause I wouldn't trust him. Martin tol' me not to let 'em have it 'thout they paid."
"How long have you been here?"
"Three months next Tuesday."
"That baby only two weeks old when they arrested you?" My blood ran hot and cold, and my collar seemed five sizes too small, but I still held on to myself.
"Yes." The answer was given in the same monotonous, listless voice—not a trace of indignation over the outrage. Women with suckling babies had no rights that anybody was bound to respect—not up in Pineyville; certainly not the gentlemen with brass shields under the lapels of their coats and Uncle Sam's commissions in their pockets. It was the law of the land—why find fault with it?
I leaned closer so that I could touch her hand if need be.
"What's your name?"
"What's your husband's name?"
"His name's North." There was a trace of surprise now in the general monotone Then she added, as if to leave no doubt in my mind, "Leslie North."
"Where is he?" I determined now to round up every fact.
"He's home. We've got another child, and he's takin' care of it till I git back. He'd be to the railroad for me if he knowed I was coming; but I couldn't tell him when to start 'cause I didn't know how long they'd keep me."
"Is your home near the railroad?"
"No, it's thirty-six miles furder."
"How will you get from the railroad?"
"Ain't no way 'cept walkin'."
I had it now, the whole damnable, pitiful story, every fact clear-cut to the bone. I could see it all: the look of terror when the deputy woke her from her sleep and laid his hand upon her; the parting with the other child; the fright of the helpless husband; the midnight ride, she hardly able to stand, the pitiful scrap of her own flesh and blood tight in her arms; the procession to the jail, the men in front chained together, she bringing up the rear, walking beside the last guard; the first horrible night in jail, the walls falling upon her, the darkness overwhelming her, the puny infant resting on her breast; the staring, brutal faces when the dawn came, followed by the coarse jest. No wonder that she hung limp and hopeless to the bars of her cage, all the spring and buoyancy, all the youth and lightness, crushed out of her.
I put my hand through the bars and laid it on her wrist.
"No, you won't walk; not if I can help it." This outburst got past the lump slowly, one word at a time, each syllable exploding hot like balls from a Roman candle. "You get your things together quick as you can, and wait here until I come back," and I turned abruptly and motioned to the turnkey to open the gate.
In the office of the Chief of Police outside I found Marny talking to Sergeant Cram. He was waiting until I finished. It was all an old story with Marny—every month a new batch came to Covington jail.
"What about that girl, Sergeant—the one with the baby?" I demanded, in a tone that made them both turn quickly.
"Oh, she's all right. She told the Judge a straight story this morning, and he let her go on 'spended sentence. They tried to make her plead 'Not guilty,' but she wouldn't lie about it, she said. She can go when she gets ready. What are you drivin' at? Are you goin' to put up for her?"—and a curious look overspread his face.
"I'm going to get her a ticket and give her some money to get home. Locking up a seventeen-year-old girl, two hundred miles from home, in a den like that, with a baby two weeks old, may be justice, but I call it brutality! Our Government can pay its expenses without that kind of revenue." The whole bundle of Roman candles was popping now. Inconsequent, wholly illogical, utterly indefensible explosions. But only my heart was working.
The Sergeant looked at Marny, relaxed the scowl about his eyebrows, and smiled; such "softies" seemed rare to him.
"Well, if you're stuck on her—and I'm damned if I don't believe you are—let me give you a piece of advice. Don't give her no money till she gets on the train, and whatever you do, don't leave her here over night. There's a gang around here"—and he jerked his thumb in the direction of the door—"that might—" and he winked knowingly.
"You don't mean—" A cold chill suddenly developed near the roots of my hair and trickled to my spine.
"Well, she's too good-lookin' to be wanderin' round huntin' for a boardin'-house. You see her on the train, that's all. Starts at eight to-night. That's the one they all go by—those who git out and can raise the money. She ought to leave now, 'cordin' to the regulations, but as long as you're a friend of Mr. Marny's I'll keep her here in the office till I go home at seven o'clock. Then you'd better have someone to look after her. No, you needn't go back and see her"—this in answer to a movement I made toward the prison door. "I'll fix everything. Mr. Marny knows me."
I thanked the Sergeant, and we started for the air outside—something we could breathe, something with a sky overhead and the dear earth underfoot, something the sun warmed and the free wind cooled.
Only one thing troubled me now. I could not take the girl to the train myself, neither could Marny, for I had promised to lecture that same night for the Art Club at eight o'clock, and Marny was to introduce me. The railroad station was three miles away.
"I've got it!" cried Marny, when we touched the sidewalk, elbowing our way among the crowd of loafers who always swarm about a place of this kind. (He was as much absorbed in the girl's future, when he heard her story, as I was.) "Aunt Chloe lives within two blocks of us—let's hunt her up. She ought to be at home by this time."
The old woman was just entering her street door when she heard Marny's voice, her basket on her arm, a rabbit-skin tippet about her neck.
"Dat I will, honey," she answered, positively, when the case was laid before her. "Dat I will; 'deed an' double I will."
She stepped into the house, left her basket, joined us again on the sidewalk, and walked with us back to the Sheriff's office.
"All right," said the Sergeant, when we brought her in. "Yes, I know the old woman; the gal will be ready for her when she comes, but I guess I'd better send one of my men along with 'em both far as the depot. Ain't no use takin' no chances."
The dear old woman followed us again until we found a clerk in a branch ticket-office, who picked out a long green slip from a library of tickets, punched it with the greatest care with a pair of steel nippers, and slipped it into an official envelope labelled: "K.C. Pineyville, Ky. 8 P.M."
With this tightly grasped in her wrinkled brown hand, together with another package of Marny's many times in excess of the stage fare of thirty-six miles and which she slipped into her capacious bosom, Aunt Chloe "made her manners" with the slightest dip of a courtesy and left us with the remark:
"Sha'n't nothin' tech her, honey; gwinter stick right close to her till de steam-cars git to movin', I'll be over early in de mawnin' an' let ye know. Doan' worry, honey; ain't nothin' gwinter happen to her arter I gits my han's on her."
When I came down to breakfast, Aunt Chloe was waiting for me in the hall. She looked like the old woman in the fairy-tale in her short black dress that came to her shoe-tops, snow-white apron and headkerchief, covered by a close-fitting nun-like hood—only the edge of the handkerchief showed—making her seem the old black saint that she was. It not being one of her cleaning-days, she had "kind o' spruced herself up a li'l mite," she said. She carried her basket, covered now with a white starched napkin instead of the red-and-yellow bandanna of work-days. No one ever knew what this basket contained. "Her luncheon," some of the art-students said; but if it did, no one had ever seen her eat it. "Someone else's luncheon," Marny added; "some sick body whom she looks after. There are dozens of them."
"Larrovers fur meddlins," Aunt Chloe invariably answered those whose curiosity got the better of their discretion—an explanation which only deepened the mystery, no one being able to translate it.
"She's safe, honey!" Aunt Chloe cried, when she caught sight of me. "I toted de baby, an' she toted de box. Po' li'l chinkapin! Mos' break a body's heart to see it! 'Clar to goodness, dat chile's leg warn't bigger'n a drumstick picked to de bone. De man de Sheriff sent wid us didn't go no furder dan de gate, an' when he lef us dey all sneaked in an' did dere bes' ter git her from me. Wuss-lookin' harum-scarums you ever see. Kep' a-tellin' her de ticket was good for ten days an' dey'd go wid her back to town; an' dat if she'd stay dey'd take her 'cross de ribber to see de city. I seed she wanted ter git home to her husban', an' she tol' 'em so. Den dey tried to make her believe he was comin' for her, an' dey pestered her so an' got her so mixed up wid deir lies dat I was feared she was gwine to give in, arter all. She warn't nothin' but a po' weak thing noways. Den I riz up an' tol' 'em dat I'd call a pleeceman an' take dat ticket from her an' de money I gin her beside, if she didn't stay on dat car. I didn't give her de 'velope; I had dat in my han' to show de conductor when he come, so he could see whar she was ter git off. Here it is"—and she handed me the ticket-seller's envelope. "Warn't nothin' else saved me but dat. When dey see'd it, dey knowed den somebody was a-lookin' arter her an' dey give in. Po' critter! I reckon she's purty nigh home by dis time!"
The story is told. It is all true, every sickening detail. Other stories just like it, some of them infinitely more pitiful, can be written daily by anyone who will peer into the cages of Covington jail. There is nothing to be done; nothing can be done.
It is the law of the land—the just, holy, beneficent law, which is no respecter of persons.
BUD TILDEN, MAIL-THIEF
"That's Bud Tilden, the worst of the bunch," said the jail Warden—the warden with the sliced ear and the gorilla hands. "Reminds me of a cat'mount I tried to tame once, only he's twice as ugly."
As he spoke, he pointed to a prisoner in a slouch hat clinging half-way up the steel bars of his cage, his head thrust through as far as his cheeks would permit, his legs spread apart like the letter A.
"What's he here for?" I asked.
"Bobbin' the U-nited States mail."
"Up in the Kentucky mountains, back o' Bug Holler. Laid for the carrier one night, held him up with a gun, pulled him off his horse, slashed the bottom out o' the mail-bag with his knife, took what letters he wanted, and lit off in the woods, cool as a chunk o' ice. Oh! I tell ye, he's no sardine; you kin see that without my tellin' ye. They'll railroad him, sure."
"When was he arrested?"
"Last month—come down in the November batch. The dep'ties had a circus 'fore they got the irons on him. Caught him in a clearin' 'bout two miles back o' the Holler. He was up in a corn-crib with a Winchester when they opened on him. Nobody was hurted, but they would a-been if they'd showed the top o' their heads, for he's strong as a bull and kin scalp a squirrel at fifty yards. They never would a-got him if they hadn't waited till dark and smoked him out, so one on 'em told me." He spoke as if the prisoner had been a rattlesnake or a sheep-stealing wolf.
The mail-thief evidently overheard, for he dropped, with a cat-like movement, to the steel floor and stood looking at us through the bars from under his knit eyebrows, his eyes watching our every movement.
There was no question about his strength. As he stood in the glare of the overhead light I could trace the muscles through his rough homespun—for he was a mountaineer, pure and simple, and not a city-bred thief in ready-made clothes. I saw that the bulging muscles of his calves had driven the wrinkles of his butternut trousers close up under the knee-joint and that those of his thighs had rounded out the coarse cloth from the knee to the hip. The spread of his shoulders had performed a like service for his shirt, which was stretched out of shape over the chest and back. This was crossed by but one suspender, and was open at the throat—a tree-trunk of a throat, with all the cords supporting the head firmly planted in the shoulders. The arms were long and had the curved movement of the tentacles of a devil-fish. The hands were big and bony, the fingers knotted together with knuckles of iron. He wore no collar nor any coat; nor did he bring one with him, so the Warden said.
I had begun my inventory at his feet as he stood gazing sullenly at us, his great red hands tightly clasped around the bars. When in my inspection I passed from his open collar up his tree-trunk of a throat to his chin, and then to his face, half-shaded by a big slouch hat, which rested on his flaring ears, and at last looked into his eyes, a slight shock of surprise went through me. I had been examining this wild beast with my judgment already warped by the Warden; that's why I began at his feet and worked up. If I had started in on an unknown subject, prepared to rely entirely upon my own judgment, I would have begun at his eyes and worked down. My shock of surprise was the result of this upward process of inspection. An awakening of this kind, the awakening to an injustice done a man we have half-understood, often comes after years of such prejudice and misunderstanding. With me this awakening came with my first glimpse of his eyes.
There was nothing of the Warden's estimate in these eyes; nothing of cruelty nor deceit nor greed. Those I looked into were a light blue—a washed-out china blue; eyes that shone out of a good heart rather than out of a bad brain; not very deep eyes; not very expressive eyes; dull, perhaps, but kindly. The features were none the less attractive; the mouth was large, well-shaped, and filled with big white teeth, not one missing; the nose straight, with wide, well-turned nostrils; the brow low, but not cunning nor revengeful; the chin strong and well-modelled, the cheeks full and of good color. A boy of twenty I should have said—perhaps twenty-five; abnormally strong, a big animal with small brain-power, perfect digestion, and with every function of his body working like a clock. Photograph his head and come upon it suddenly in a collection of others, and you would have said: "A big country bumpkin who ploughs all day and milks the cows at night." He might be the bloodthirsty ruffian, the human wild beast, the Warden had described, but he certainly did not look it. I would like to have had just such a man on any one of my gangs with old Captain Joe over him. He would have fought the sea with the best of them and made the work of the surf-men twice as easy if he had taken a hand at the watch-tackles.
I turned to the Warden again. My own summing up differed materially from his estimate, but I did not thrust mine upon him. He had had, of course, a much wider experience among criminals—I, in fact, had had none at all—and could not be deceived by outward appearances.
"You say they are going to try him to-day?" I asked.
"Yes, at two o'clock. Nearly that now," and he glanced at his watch. "All the witnesses are down, I hear. They claim there's something else mixed up in it besides robbing the mail, but I don't remember what. So many of these cases comin' and goin' all the time! His old father was in to see him yesterday, and a girl. Some o' the men said she was his sweetheart, but he don't look like that kind. You oughter seen his father, though. Greatest jay you ever see. Looked like a fly-up-the-creek. Girl warn't much better lookin'. They make 'em out o' brick-clay and ham fat up in them mountains. Ain't human, half on 'em. Better go over and see the trial."
I waited in the Warden's office until the deputies came for the prisoner. When they had formed in line on the sidewalk I followed behind the posse, crossing the street with them to the Court-house. The prisoner walked ahead, handcuffed to a deputy who was a head shorter than he and half his size. A second officer walked behind; I kept close to this rear deputy and could see every movement he made. I noticed that his fingers never left his hip pocket and that his eye never wavered from the slouch hat on the prisoner's head. He evidently intended to take no chances with a man who could have made mince-meat of both of them had his hands been free.
We parted at the main entrance, the prisoner, with head erect and a certain fearless, uncowed look on his boyish face, preceding the deputies down a short flight of stone steps, closely followed by the officer.
The trial, I could see, had evidently excited unusual interest. When I mounted the main flight to the corridor opening into the trial chamber and entered the great hallway, it was crowded with mountaineers—wild, shaggy, unkempt-looking fellows, most of them. All were dressed in the garb of their locality: coarse, rawhide shoes, deerskin waistcoats, rough, butternut-dyed trousers and coats, and a coon-skin or army slouch hat worn over one eye. Many of them had their saddle-bags with them. There being no benches, those who were not standing were squatting on their haunches, their shoulders against the bare wall. Others were huddled close to the radiators. The smell of escaping steam from these radiators, mingling with the fumes of tobacco and the effluvia from so many closely packed human bodies, made the air stifling.
I edged my way through the crowd and pushed through the court-room door. The Judge was just taking his seat—a dull, heavy-looking man with a bald head, a pair of flabby, clean-shaven cheeks, and two small eyes that looked from under white eyebrows. Half-way up his forehead rested a pair of gold spectacles. The jury had evidently been out for luncheon, for they were picking their teeth and settling themselves comfortably in their chairs.
The court-room—a new one—outraged, as usual, in its construction every known law of proportion, the ceiling being twice too high for the walls, and the big, uncurtained windows (they were all on one side) letting in a glare of light that made silhouettes of every object seen against it. Only by the closest attention could one hear or see in a room like this.
The seating of the Judge was the signal for the admission of the crowd in the corridor, who filed in through the door, some forgetting to remove their hats, others passing the doorkeeper in a defiant way. Each man, as soon as his eyes became accustomed to the glare from the windows, looked furtively toward the prisoners' box. Bud Tilden was already in his seat between the two deputies, his hands unshackled, his blue eyes searching the Judge's face, his big slouch hat on the floor at his feet. What was yet in store for him would drop from the lips of this face.
The crier of the court, a young negro, made his announcements.
I found a seat between the prisoner and the bench, so that I could hear and see the better. The Government prosecutor occupied a seat at a table to my right, between me and the three staring Gothic windows. When he rose from his chair his body came in silhouette against their light. With his goat-beard, beak-nose, heavy eyebrows, long, black hair resting on the back of his coat-collar, bent body, loose-jointed arms, his coat-tails swaying about his thin legs, he looked (I did not see him in any other light) like a hungry buzzard flapping his wings before taking flight.
He opened the case with a statement of facts. He would prove, he said, that this mountain-ruffian was the terror of the neighborhood, in which life was none too safe; that although this was the first time he had been arrested, there were many other crimes which could be laid at his door, had his neighbors not been afraid to inform upon him.
Warming up to the subject, flapping his arms aloft like a pair of wings, he recounted, with some dramatic fervor, what he called the "lonely ride of the tried servant of the Government over the rude passes of the mountains," recounting the risks which these faithful men ran; then he referred to the sanctity of the United States mails, reminding the jury and the audience—particularly the audience—of the chaos which would ensue if these sacred mail-bags were tampered with; "the stricken, tear-stained face of the mother," for instance, who had been waiting for days and weeks for news of her dying son, or "the anxious merchant brought to ruin for want of a remittance which was to tide him over some financial distress," neither of them knowing that at that very moment some highwayman like the prisoner "was fattening off the result of his theft." This last was uttered with a slapping of both hands on his thighs, his coat-tails swaying in unison. He then went on in a graver tone to recount the heavy penalties the Government imposed for violations of the laws made to protect this service and its agents, and wound up by assuring the jury of his entire confidence in their intelligence and integrity, knowing, as he did, how just would be their verdict, irrespective of the sympathy they might feel for one who had preferred "the hidden walks of crime to the broad open highway of an honest life." Altering his tone again and speaking in measured accents, he admitted that, although the Government's witnesses had not been able to identify the prisoner by his face, he having concealed himself in the bushes while the rifling of the pouch was in progress, yet so full a view was gotten of his enormous back and shoulders as to leave no doubt in his mind that the prisoner before them had committed the assault, since it would not be possible to find two such men, even in the mountains of Kentucky. As his first witness he would call the mail-carrier.
Bud had sat perfectly stolid during the harangue. Once he reached down with one long arm and scratched his bare ankle with his forefinger, his eyes, with the gentle light in them that had first attracted me, glancing aimlessly about the room; then he settled back again in his chair, its back creaking to the strain of his shoulders. Whenever he looked at the speaker, which was seldom, a slight curl, expressing more contempt than anxiety, crept along his lips. He was, no doubt, comparing his own muscles to those of the buzzard and wondering what he would do to him if he ever caught him out alone. Men of enormous strength generally measure the abilities of others by their own standards.
"Mr. Bowditch will take the chair!" cried the prosecutor.
At the summons, a thin, wizen-faced, stubbly-bearded man of fifty, his shirt-front stained with tobacco-juice, rose from his seat and took the stand. The struggle for possession of the bag must have been a brief one, for he was but a dwarf compared to the prisoner. In a low, constrained voice—the awful hush of the court-room had evidently impressed him—and in plain, simple words, in strong contrast to the flowery opening of the prosecutor, he recounted the facts as he knew them. He told of the sudden command to halt; of the attack in the rear and the quick jerking of the mail-bags from beneath his saddle, upsetting him into the road; of the disappearance of the robber in the bushes, his head and shoulders only outlined against the dim light of the stars; of the flight of the robber, and of his finding the bag a few yards away from the place of assault with the bottom cut. None of the letters was found opened; which ones were missing tie couldn't say. Of one thing he was sure—none were left behind by him on the ground, when he refilled the bag.
The bag, with a slash in the bottom as big as its mouth, was then passed around the jury-box, each juror in his inspection of the cut seeming to be more interested in the way in which the bag was manufactured (some of them, I should judge, had never examined one before) than in the way in which it was mutilated. The bag was then put in evidence and hung over the back of a chair, mouth down, the gash in its bottom in full view of the jury. This gash, from where I sat, looked like one inflicted on an old-fashioned rubber football by a high kicker.
Hank Halliday, in a deerskin waistcoat and dust-stained slouch hat, which he crumpled up in his hand and held under his chin, was the next witness.
In a jerky, strained voice he told of his mailing a letter, from a village within a short distance of Bug Hollow, to a girl friend of his on the afternoon of the night of the robbery. He swore positively that this letter was in this same mail-bag, because he had handed it to the carrier himself before he got on his horse, and added, with equal positiveness, that it had never reached its destination. The value or purpose of this last testimony, the non-receipt of the letter, was not clear to me, except upon the theory that the charge of robbery might fail if it could be proved by the defence that no letter was missing.
Bud fastened his eyes on Halliday and smiled as he made this last statement about the undelivered letter, the first smile I had seen across his face, but gave no other sign indicating that Halliday's testimony affected his chances in any way.
Then followed the usual bad-character witnesses—both friends of Halliday, I could see; two this time—one charging Bud with all the crimes in the decalogue, and the other, under the lead of the prosecutor, launching forth into an account of a turkey-shoot in which Bud had wrongfully claimed the turkey—an account which was at last cut short by the Judge in the midst of its most interesting part, as having no particular bearing on the case.
Up to this time no one had appeared for the accused, nor had any objection been made to any part of the testimony except by the Judge. Neither had any one of the prosecutor's witnesses been asked a single question in rebuttal.
With the resting of the Government's case a dead silence fell upon the room.
The Judge waited a few moments, the tap of his lead-pencil sounding through the stillness, and then asked if the attorney for the defence was ready.
No one answered. Again the Judge put the question, this time with some impatience.
Then he addressed the prisoner.
"Is your lawyer present?"
Bud bent forward in his chair, put his hands on his knees, and answered slowly, without a tremor in his voice:
"I ain't got none. One come yisterday to the jail, but he didn't like what I tol' him and he ain't showed up since."
A spectator sitting by the door, between an old man and a young girl, both evidently from the mountains, rose to his feet and walked briskly to the open space before the Judge. He had sharp, restless eyes, wore gloves, and carried a silk hat in one hand.
"In the absence of the prisoner's counsel, your Honor," he said, "I am willing to go on with this case. I was here when it opened and have heard all the testimony. I have also conferred with some of the witnesses for the defence."
"Did I not appoint counsel in this case yesterday?" said the Judge, turning to the clerk.
There was a hurried conference between the two, the Judge listening wearily, cupping his ear with his hand and the clerk rising on his toes so that he could reach his Honor's hearing the easier.
"It seems," said the Judge, resuming his position, and addressing the room at large, "that the counsel already appointed has been called out of town on urgent business. If the prisoner has no objection, and if you, sir—" looking straight at the would-be attorney—"have heard all the testimony so far offered, the Court sees no objection to your acting in his place."
The deputy on the right side of the prisoner leaned over, whispered something to Tilden, who stared at the Judge and shook his head. It was evident that Bud had no objection to this nor to anything else, for that matter. Of all the men in the room he seemed the least interested.
I turned in my seat and touched the arm of my neighbor.
"Who is that man who wants to go on with the case?"
"Oh, that's Bill Cartwright, one of the cheap, shyster lawyers always hanging around here looking for a job. His boast is he never lost a suit. Guess the other fellow skipped because he thought he had a better scoop somewhere else. These poor devils from the mountains never have any money to pay a lawyer. Court appoints 'em."
With the appointment of the prisoner's attorney the crowd in the court-room craned their necks in closer attention, one man standing on his chair for a better view until a deputy ordered him down. They knew what the charge was. It was the defence they all wanted to hear. That had been the topic of conversation around the tavern stoves of Bug Hollow for months past.
Cartwright began by asking that the mail-carrier be recalled. The little man again took the stand.
The methods of these police-court lawyers always interest me. They are gamblers in evidence, most of them. They take their chances as the cases go on; some of them know the jury—one or two is enough; some are learned in the law—more learned, often, than the prosecutor, who is a Government appointee with political backers, and now and then one of them knows the Judge, who is also a political appointee and occasionally has his party to care for. All are valuable in an election, and a few of them are honest. This one, my neighbor told me, had held office as a police justice and was a leader in his district.
Cartwright drew his gloves carefully from his hands, laid his silk hat on a chair, dropped into it a package of legal papers tied with a red string, and, adjusting his glasses, fixed his eyes on the mail-carrier. The expression on his face was bland and seductive.
"At what hour do you say the attempted robbery took place, Mr. Bowditch?"
"About eleven o'clock."
"Did you have a watch?"
"How do you know, then?" The question was asked in a mild way as if he intended to help the carrier's memory.
"I don't know exactly; it may have been half-past ten or eleven."
"You, of course, saw the man's face?"
"Then you heard him speak?" Same tone as if trying his best to encourage the witness in his statements.
"No." This was said with some positiveness. The mail-carrier evidently intended to tell the truth.
Cartwright turned quickly with a snarl like that of a dog suddenly goaded into a fight.
"How can you swear, then, that the prisoner made the assault?"
The little man changed color and stammered out in excuse:
"He was as big as him, anyway, and there ain't no other like him nowhere in them parts."
"Oh, he was as big as him, was he?" This retort came with undisguised contempt. "And there are no others like him, eh? Do you know everybody in Bell County, Mr. Bowditch?"
The mail-carrier did not answer.
Cartwright waited until the discomfiture of the witness could be felt by the jury, dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and, looking over the room, beckoned to an old man seated by a girl—the same couple he had been talking to before his appointment by the Court—and said in a loud voice:
"Will Mr. Perkins Tilden take-the stand?"
At the mention of his father's name, Bud, who had maintained throughout his indifferent attitude, straightened himself erect in his chair with so quick a movement that the deputy edged a foot nearer and instinctively slid his hand to his hip-pocket.
A lean, cadaverous, painfully thin old man in answer to his name rose to his feet and edged his way through the crowd to the witness-chair. He was an inch taller than his son, though only half his weight, and was dressed in a suit of cheap cloth of the fashion of long ago, the coat too small for him, even for his shrunken shoulders, and the sleeves reaching only to his wrists. As he took his seat, drawing in his long legs toward his chair, his knee-bones, under the strain, seemed to be on the point of coming through his trousers. His shoulders were bowed, the incurve of his thin stomach following the line of his back. As he settled back in his chair he passed his hand nervously over his mouth, as if his lips were dry.
Cartwright's manner to this witness was the manner of a lackey who hangs on every syllable that falls from his master's lips.
"At what time, Mr. Tilden, did your son Bud reach your house on the night of the robbery?"
The old man cleared his throat and said, as if weighing each word:
"At ten minutes past ten o'clock."
"How do you fix the time?"
"I had just wound the clock when Bud come in."
"How, Mr. Tilden, how far is it to the cross-roads where the mail-carrier says he was robbed?"
"About a mile and a half from my place."
"And how long would it take an able-bodied man to walk it?"
"'Bout fifteen minutes."
The Government's attorney had no questions to ask, and said so with a certain assumed nonchalance.
Cartwright bowed smilingly, dismissed Bud's father with a satisfied gesture of the hand, looked over the court-room with the air of a man who was unable at the moment to find what he wanted, and in a low voice called: "Jennetta Mooro!"
The girl, who sat within three feet of Cartwright, having followed the old man almost to the witness-stand, rose timidly, drew her shawl closer about her shoulders, and took the seat vacated by Bud's father. She had that half-fed look in her face which one sometimes finds in the women of the mountain-districts. She was frightened and very pale. As she pushed her poke-bonnet back from her ears her unkempt brown hair fell about her neck.
But Tilden, at mention of her name, half-started from his chair and would have risen to his feet had not the officer laid his hand upon him.
He seemed on the point of making some protest which the action of the officer alone restrained.
Cartwright, after the oath had been administered, began in a voice so low that the jury stretched their necks to listen:
"Miss Moore, do you know the prisoner?"
"Yes, sir, I know Bud." She had one end of the shawl between her fingers and was twisting it aimlessly. Every eye in the room was fastened upon her.
"How long have you known him?"
There was a pause, and then she said in a faint voice:
"Ever since he and me growed up."
"Ever since you and he grew up, eh?" This repetition was in a loud voice, so that any juryman dull of hearing might catch it. "Was he at your house on the night of the robbery?"
"At what time?"
"'Bout ten o'clock." This was again repeated.
"How long did he stay?"
"Not more'n ten minutes."
"Where did he go then?"
"He said he was goin' home."
"How far is it to his home from your house?"
"'Bout ten minutes' walk."
"That will do, Miss Moore," said Cartwright, and took his seat.
The Government prosecutor, who had sat with shoulders hunched up, his wings pulled in, rose to his feet with the aid of a chair-back, stretched his long arms above his head, and then, lowering one hand level with the girl's face, said, as he thrust one sharp, skinny finger toward her:
"Did anybody else come to see you the next night after the robbery?"
There was a pause, during which Cartwright busied himself with his papers. One of his methods was never to seem interested in the cross-examination of any one of his witnesses.
The girl's face flushed, and she began to fumble the shawl nervously with her fingers.
"Yes, Hank Halliday," she murmured, in a low voice.
"Mr. Halliday, who has testified here?"
"What did he want?"
"He wanted to know if I'd got a letter he'd writ me day before. And I tol' him I hadn't. Then he 'lowed he'd a-brought it to me himself if he'd knowed Bud was goin' to turn thief and hold up the mail-man. I hadn't heard nothin' 'bout it and nobody else had till he began to talk. I opened the door then and tol' him to walk out; that I wouldn't hear nobody speak that way 'bout Bud Tilden. That was 'fore they'd 'rested Bud."
"Have you got that letter now?"
"Did you ever get it?"
"Did you ever see it?"
"No, and I don't think it was ever writ."
"But he has written you letters before?"
"He used to; he don't now."
"That will do."
The girl took her place again behind the old man.
Cartwright rose to his feet with great dignity, walked to the chair on which rested his hat, took from it the package of papers to serve as an orator's roll—he did not open it, and they evidently had no bearing on the case—and addressed the Judge, the package held aloft in his hand:
"Your Honor, there's not been a particle of evidence so far produced in this court to convict this man of this crime. I have not conferred with him, and therefore do not know what answers he has to make to this infamous charge. I am convinced, however, that his own statement under oath will clear up at once any doubt remaining in the minds of this honorable jury of his innocence."
This was said with a certain ill-concealed triumph in his voice. I saw now why he had taken the case, and saw, too, the drift of his defence—everything thus far pointed to the old hackneyed plea of an alibi. He had evidently determined on this course of action when he sat listening to the stories Bud's father and the girl had told him as he sat beside them on the bench near the door. Their testimony, taken in connection with the uncertain testimony of the Government's principal witness, the mail-carrier, as to the exact time of the assault, together with the prisoner's testimony stoutly denying the crime, would insure either an acquittal or a disagreement. The first would result in his fees being paid by the court, the second would add to this amount whatever Bud's friends could scrape together to induce him to go on with the second trial. In either case his masterly defence was good for an additional number of clients and perhaps—of votes. It is humiliating to think that any successor of Choate, Webster, or Evarts should earn his bread in this way, but it is true all the same.
"The prisoner will take the stand!" cried Cartwright, in a firm voice.
As the words left his mouth, the noise of shuffling feet and the shifting of positions for a bettor view of the prisoner became so loud that the Judge rapped for order, the clerk repeating it with the end of his ruler.
Bud lifted himself to his feet slowly (his being called was evidently as much of a surprise to him as it was to the crowded room), looked about him carelessly, his glance resting first on the girl's face and then on the deputy beside him. He stepped clumsily down from the raised platform and shouldered his way to the witness-chair. The prosecuting attorney had evidently been amazed at the flank movement of his opponent, for he moved his position so he could look squarely in Bud's face. As the prisoner sank into his seat, the room became hushed in silence.
Bud kissed the book mechanically, hooked his feet together and, clasping his big hands across his waist-line, settled his great body between the arms of the chair, with his chin resting on his shirt-front. Cartwright, in his most impressive manner, stepped a foot closer to Bud's chair.
"Mr. Tilden, you have heard the testimony of the mail-carrier; now be good enough to tell the jury where you were on the night of the robbery—how many miles from this mail-sack?" and he waved his hand contemptuously toward the bag. It was probably the first time in all his life that Bud had heard any man dignify his personality with any such title.
In recognition of the compliment, Bud raised his chin slightly and fixed his eyes more intently on his questioner. Up to this time he had not taken the slightest notice of him.
"'Bout as close's I could git to it—'bout three feet, I should say—maybe less."
Cartwright gave a slight start and bit his lip. Evidently the prisoner had misunderstood him. The silence continued.
"I don't mean here, Mr. Tilden;" and he pointed to the bag. "I mean the night of the so-called robbery."
"That's what I said; 'bout as close's I could git."
"Well, did you rob the mail?" This was asked uneasily, but with a half-concealed laugh in his voice as if the joke would appear in a minute.
"No, of course not." The tone of relief was apparent.
"Well, do you know anything about the cutting of the bag?"
"Who did it?"
"You?" The surprise was now an angry one.
At this unexpected reply the Judge pushed his glasses high up on his forehead with a quick motion and leaned over his bench, his eyes on the prisoner. The jury looked at each other with amazement; such scenes were rare in their experience. The prosecuting attorney smiled grimly. Cartwright looked as if someone had struck him a sudden blow in the face.
"What for?" he stammered. It was evidently the only question left for him to ask. All his self-control was gone now, his face livid, an angry look in his eyes. That any man with State's prison yawning before him could make such a fool of himself seemed to astound him.
Bud turned slowly and, pointing his finger at Halliday, said between his closed teeth:
"Ask Hank Halliday; he knows."
The buzzard sprang to his feet. There was the scent of carrion in the air now; I saw it in his eyes.
"We don't want to ask Mr. Halliday; we want to ask you. Mr. Halliday is not on trial, and we want the truth if you can tell it."
The irregularity of the proceeding was unnoticed in the tense excitement.
Bud looked at him as a big mastiff looks at a snarling cur with a look more of pity than contempt. Then he said slowly, accentuating each word:
"Keep yer shirt on. You'll git the truth—git the whole of it. Git what you ain't lookin' for. There ain't no liars up in our mountains 'cept them skunks in Gov'ment pay you fellers send up to us, and things like Hank Halliday. He's wuss nor any skunk. A skunk's a varmint that don't stink tell ye meddle with him, but Hank Halliday stinks all the time. He's one o' them fellers that goes 'round with books in their pockets with picters in 'em that no girl oughter see and no white man oughter read. He gits 'em down to Louisville. There ain't a man in Pondville won't tell ye it's true. He shoved one in my outside pocket over to Pondville when I warn't lookin', the day 'fore I held up this man Bowditch, and went and told the fellers 'round the tavern that I had it. They come and pulled it out and had the laugh on me, and then he began to talk and said he'd write to Jennetta and send her one o' the picters by mail and tell her he'd got it out o' my coat, and he did. Sam Kellers seen Halliday with the letter and told me after Bowditch had got it in his bag. I laid for Bowditch at Pondville Corners, but he got past somehow, and I struck in behind Bill Somers's mill, and crossed the mountain and caught up with him as he was ridin' through the piece o' woods near the clearin'. I didn't know but he'd try to shoot, and I didn't want to hurt him, so I crep' up behind and threw him in the bushes, cut a hole in the bag, and got the letter. That's the only one I wanted and that's the only one I took. I didn't rob no mail, but I warn't goin' to hev an honest, decent girl like Jennetta git that letter, and there warn't no other way."
The stillness that followed was broken only by the Judge's voice.
"What became of that letter?"
"I got it. Want to see it?"
Bud felt in his pockets as if looking for something, and then, with an expression as if he had suddenly remembered, remarked:
"No, I ain't got none. They stole my knife when they 'rested me." Then facing the courtroom, he added: "Somebody lend me a knife, and pass me my hat over there 'longside them sheriffs."
The court-crier took the hat from one of the deputies, and the clerk, in answer to a nod of assent from the Judge, passed Bud an ink-eraser with a steel blade in one end.
The audience now had the appearance of one watching a juggler perform a trick. Bud grasped the hat in one hand, turned back the brim, inserted the point of the knife between the hat lining and the hat itself and drew out a yellow envelope stained with dirt and perspiration.
"Here it is. I ain't opened it, and what's more, they didn't find it when they searched me;" and he looked again toward the deputies.
The Judge leaned forward in his seat and said:
"Hand me the letter."
The letter was passed up by the court-crier, every eye following it. His Honor examined the envelope, and, beckoning to Halliday, said:
"Is this your letter?"
Halliday stepped to the side of the Judge, fingered the letter closely, and said: "Looks like my writin'."
"Open it and see."
Halliday broke the seal with his thumb-nail, and took out half a sheet of note-paper closely written on one side, wrapped about a small picture-card.
"Yes, it's my letter;" and he glanced sheepishly around the room and hung his head, his face scarlet.
The Judge leaned back in his chair, raised his hand impressively, and said gravely:
"This case is adjourned until ten o'clock tomorrow."
Two days later I again met the Warden as he was entering the main door of the jail. He had been over to the Court-house, he said, helping the deputy along with a new "batch of moonshiners."
"What became of Bud Tilden?" I asked.
"Oh, he got it in the neck for robbin' the mails, just's I told you he would. Peached on himself like a d—— fool and give everything dead away. He left for Kansas this morning. Judge give him twenty years."
He is still in the lock-step at Leavenworth prison. He has kept it up now for two years. His hair is short, his figure bent, his step sluggish. The law is slowly making an animal of him—that wise, righteous law which is no respecter of persons.
"ELEVEN MONTHS AND TEN DAYS"
It was a feeble old man of seventy-two this time who sat facing the jury, an old man with bent back, scant gray hair, and wistful, pleading eyes.
He had been arrested in the mountains of Kentucky and had been brought to Covington for trial, chained to another outlaw, one of those "moonshiners" who rob the great distilleries of part of their profits and the richest and most humane Government on earth of part of its revenue.
For eleven months and ten days he had been penned up in one of the steel cages of Covington jail.
I recognized him the moment I saw him.
He was the old fellow who spoke to me from between the bars of his den on my visit the week before to the inferno—the day I found Samanthy North and her baby—and who told me then he was charged with "sellin'" and that he "reckoned" he was the oldest of all the prisoners about him. He had on the same suit of coarse, homespun clothes—the trousers hiked up toward one shoulder from the strain of a single suspender; the waistcoat held by one button; the shirt open at the neck, showing the wrinkled throat, wrinkled as an old saddle-bag, and brown, hairy chest.
Pie still carried his big slouch hat, dust-begrimed and frayed at the edges. It hung over one knee now, a red cotton handkerchief tucked under its brim. He was superstitious about it, no doubt; he would wear it when he walked out a free man, and wanted it always within reach. Hooked in its band was a trout-fly, a red ibis, some souvenir, perhaps, of the cool woods that he loved, and which brought back to him the clearer the happy, careless days which might never be his again.
The trout-fly settled all doubts in my mind as to his origin and his identity. He was not a "moonshiner"; he was my old trout fisherman, Jonathan Gordon, come back to life, even to his streaming, unkempt beard, leathery skin, thin, peaked nose, and deep, searching eyes. That the daisies which Jonathan loved were at that very moment blooming over his grave up in his New Hampshire hills, and had been for years back, made no difference to me. I could not be mistaken. The feeble old man sitting within ten feet of me, fidgeting about in his chair, the glare of the big windows flooding his face with light, his long legs tucked under him, his bony hands clasped together, the scanty gray hair adrift over his forehead, his slouch hat hooked over his knee, was my own Jonathan come back to life. His dog, George, too, was somewhere within reach, and so were his fishing-pole and creel, with its leather shoulder-band polished like a razor-strop. You who read this never saw Jonathan, perhaps, but you can easily carry his picture in your mind by remembering some one of the other old fellows you used to see on Sunday mornings hitching their horses to the fence outside of the country church, or sauntering through the woods with a fish-pole over their shoulders and a creel by their sides, or with their heads together on the porch of some cross-roads store, bartering eggs and butter for cotton cloth and brown sugar. All these simple-minded, open-aired, out-of-doors old fellows, with the bark on them, are very much alike.
The only difference between the two men lay in the expression of the two faces. Jonathan always looked straight at you when he talked, so that you could fathom his eyes as you would fathom a deep pool that mirrored the stars. This old man's eyes wavered from one to another, lighting first on the jury, then on the buzzard of a District Attorney, and then on the Judge, with whom rested the freedom which meant life or which meant imprisonment: at his age—death. This wavering look was the look of a dog who had been an outcast for weeks, or who had been shut up with a chain about his throat; one who had received only kicks and cuffs for pats of tenderness—a cringing, pleading look ready to crouch beneath some fresh cruelty.
This look, as the trial went on and the buzzard of an attorney flapped out his denunciations, deepened to an expression of abject fear. In trying to answer the questions hurled at him, he would stroke his parched throat mechanically with his long fingers as if to help the syllables free themselves. In listening to the witnesses he would curve his body forward, one skinny hand cupped behind his ear, his jaw dropping slowly, revealing the white line of the lips above the straggling beard. Now and then as he searched the eyes of the jury there would flash out from his own the same baffled, anxious look that comes into dear old Joe Jefferson's face when he stops half-way up the mountain and peers anxiously into the eyes of the gnomes who have stolen out of the darkness and are grouping themselves silently about him—a look expressing one moment his desire to please and the next his anxiety to escape.
There was no doubt about the old man's crime, not the slightest. It had been only the tweedledum and tweedledee of the law that had saved him the first time. They would not serve him now. The evidence was too conclusive, the facts too plain. The "deadwood," as such evidence is called by the initiated, lay in heaps—more than enough to send him to State prison for the balance of his natural life. The buzzard of a District Attorney who had first scented out his body with an indictment, and who all these eleven months and ten days had sat with folded wings and hunched-up shoulders, waiting for his final meal—I had begun to dislike him in the Bud Tilden trial, but I hated him now (a foolish, illogical prejudice, for he was only doing his duty as he saw it)—had full control of all the "deadwood"; had it with him, in fact. There were not only some teaspoonfuls of the identical whiskey which this law-breaker had sold, all in an eight-ounce vial properly corked and labelled, but there was also the identical silver dime which had been paid for it. One of the jury was smelling this whiskey when I entered the court-room; another was fingering the dime. It was a good dime, and bore the stamp of the best and greatest nation on the earth. On one side was the head of the Goddess of Liberty and on the other was the wreath of plenty: some stalks of corn and the bursting heads of wheat, with one or two ivy leaves twisted together, suggesting honor and glory and achievement. The "deadwood"—the evidence—was all right. All that remained was for the buzzard to flap his wings once or twice in a speech; then the jury would hold a short consultation, a few words would follow from the presiding Judge, and the carcass would be ready for the official undertaker, the prison Warden.
How wonderful the system, how mighty the results!
One is often filled with admiration and astonishment at the perfect working of this mighty engine, the law. Properly adjusted, it rests on the bedplate of equal rights to all men; is set in motion by the hot breath of the people—superheated often by popular clamor; is kept safe by the valve of a grand jury; is governed in its speed by the wise and prudent Judge, and regulated in its output by a jury of twelve men.
Sometimes in the application of its force this machine, being man-made, like all machines, and thus without a soul, gets out of order, loosens a cog or bolt perhaps, throwing the mechanism "out of gear," as it is called. When this happens, the engine resting on its bed-plate still keeps its foundation, but some lesser part, the loom or lathe or driving-wheel, which is another way of saying the arrest, the trial or the conviction, goes awry. Sometimes the power-belt is purposely thrown off, the machinery stopped, and a consultation takes place, resulting in a disagreement or a new trial. When the machine is started again, it is started more carefully, with the first experience remembered. Sometimes the rightful material—the criminal, or the material from which the criminal is made—to feed this loom or lathe or driving-wheel, is replaced by some unsuitable material like the girl whose hair became entangled in a flying-belt and whose body was snatched up and whirled mercilessly about. Only then is the engine working on its bed-plate brought to a standstill. The steam of the boiler, the breath of the people, keeps up, but it is withheld from the engine until the mistake can be rectified and the girl rescued. The law of mercy, the divine law, now asserts itself. This law, being the law of God, is higher than the law of man. Some of those who believe in the man-law and who stand over the mangled body of the victim, or who sit beside her bed, bringing her slowly back to life, affirm that the girl was careless and deserved her fate. Others, who believe in the God-law, maintain that the engine is run not to kill but to protect, not to maim but to educate, and that the fault lies in the wrong application of the force, not in the force itself.
So it was with this old man. Eleven months and ten days before this day of his second trial (eleven months and three days when I first saw him), a flying-belt set in motion up in his own mountain-home had caught and crushed him. To-day he was still in the maw of the machinery, his courage gone, his spirit broken, his heart torn. The group about his body, not being a sympathetic group, were insisting that the engine could do no wrong; that the victim was not a victim at all, but lawful material to be ground up. This theory was sustained by the District Attorney. Every day he must have fresh materials. The engine must run. The machinery must be fed.
And his record?
Ah, how often is this so in the law!—his record must be kept good.
* * * * *
After the whiskey had been held up to the light and the dime fingered, the old man's attorney—a young lawyer from the old man's own town, a smooth-faced young fellow who had the gentle look of a hospital nurse and who was doing his best to bring the broken body back to life and freedom—put the victim on the stand.
"Tell the jury exactly how it all happened," he said, "and in your own way, just as you told it to me."
"I'll try, sir; I'll do my best." It was Rip's voice, only fainter. He tugged at his collar as if to breathe the easier, cleared his throat and began again. "I ain't never been in a place like this but once before, and I hope you'll forgive me if I make any mistakes," and he looked about the room, a flickering, half-burnt-out smile trembling on his lips.
"Well, I got a piece of land 'bout two miles back of my place that belongs to my wife, and I ain't never fenced it in, for I ain't never had no time somehow to cut the timber to do it, she's been so sickly lately. 'Bout a year ago I was goin' 'long toward Hi Stephens's mill a-lookin' for muskrats when I heard some feller's axe a-workin' away, and I says to Hi, 'Hi, ain't that choppin' goin' on on the wife's land?' and he said it was, and that Luke Shanders and his boys had been drawin' out cross-ties for the new railroad; thought I knowed it.
"Well, I kep' 'long up and come on Luke jes's he was throwin' the las' stick onto his wagon. He kinder started when he see me, jumped on and begin to drive off. I says to him, 'Luke,' I says, 'I ain't got no objection to you havin' a load of wood; there's plenty of it; but it don't seem right for you to take it 'thout askin', 'specially since the wife's kind o' peaked and it's her land and not yourn.' He hauled the team back on their hind legs, and he says:
"'When I see fit to ask you or your old woman's leave to cut timber on my own land, I will. Me and Lawyer Fillmore has been a-lookin' into them deeds, and this timber is mine;' and he driv off.
"I come along home and studied 'bout it a bit, and me and the wife talked it over. We didn't want to make no fuss, but we knowed he was alyin', but that ain't no unusual thing for Luke Shanders.
"Well, the nex' mornin' I got into Pondville 'bout eight o'clock and set a-waitin' till Lawyer Fillmore come in. He looked kind o' shamefaced when he see me, and I says, 'What's this Luke Shanders's been a-tellin' me 'bout your sayin' my wife's timberland is hisn?'
"Then he began 'splainin' that the 'riginal lines was drawed wrong and that old man Shanders's land, Luke's father, run to the brook and took in all the white oak on the wife's lot and——"
The buzzard sprang to his feet and shrieked out:
"Your Honor, I object to this rigmarole. Tell the jury right away"—and he faced the prisoner—"what you know about this glass of whiskey. Get right down to the facts; we're not cutting cross-ties in this court."
The old man caught his breath, placed his fingers suddenly to his lips as if to choke back the forbidden words, and, in an apologetic voice, murmured:
"I'm gettin' there's fast's I kin, sir, 'deed I am; I ain't hidin' nothin'."
He wasn't. Anyone could see it in his face.
"Better let him go on in his own way," remarked the Judge, indifferently. His Honor was looking over some papers, and the monotonous tones of the witness diverted attention. Most of the jury, too, had already lost interest in the story. One of the younger members had settled himself in his chair, thrust his hands into his pockets, stretched out his legs, and had shut his eyes as if to take a nap. Nothing so far had implicated either the whiskey or the dime; when it did he would wake up.
The old man turned a grateful glance toward the Judge, leaned forward in his chair, and with bent head looked about him on the floor as if trying to pick up the lost end of his story. The young attorney, in an encouraging tone, helped him find it with a question:
"When did you next see Mr. Fillmore and Luke Shanders?"
"When the trial come off," answered the old man, raising his head again. "Course we couldn't lose the land. 'Twarn't worth much till the new railroad come through; then the oak come handy for cross-ties. That's what set Fillmore and Luke Shanders onto it.
"When the case was tried, the Judge seed they couldn't bring no 'riginal deed 'cept one showin' that Luke Shanders and Fillmore was partners in the steal, and the Judge 'lowed they'd have to pay for the timber they cut and hauled away.
"They went round then a-sayin' they'd get even, though wife and I 'lowed we'd take anything reasonable for what hurt they done us. And that went on till one day 'bout a year ago Luke come into my place and said he and Lawyer Fillmore would he over the next day; that they was tired o' fightin', and that if I was willin' to settle they was.
"One o' the new Gov'ment dep'ties was sittin' in my room at the time. He was goin' 'long up to town-court, he said, and had jest drapped in to pass the time o' day. There he is sittin' over there," and he pointed to his captor.
"I hadn't never seen him before, though I know a good many of 'em, but he showed me his badge, and I knowed who he was.
"The nex' mornin' Lawyer Fillmore and Luke stopped outside and hollered for me to come out. I wanted 'em to come in. Wife had baked some biscuit and we was determined to be sociable-like, now that they was willin' to do what was fair, and I 'lowed they must drive up and git out. They said that that's what they come for, only that they had to go a piece down the road, and they'd be back agin in a half-hour with the money.
"Then Luke Shanders 'lowed he was cold, and asked if I had a drap o' whiskey."
At mention of the all-important word a visible stir took place in the court-room. The young man with the closed eyes opened them and sat up in his chair. The jury ceased whispering to one another; the Judge pushed his spectacles back on his forehead and moved his papers aside; the buzzard stretched his long neck an inch farther out of his shirt-collar and lowered his head in attention. The spigot, which up to this time had run only "emptyings," was now giving out the clear juice of the wine-vat. Each man bent his tin cup of an ear to catch it. The old man noticed the movement and looked about him anxiously, as if dreading another rebuff. He started to speak, cleared his throat, pulled nervously at his beard for a moment, glancing furtively about the room, and in a lower tone repeated the words:
"Asked if I had a drap o' whiskey. Well, I always take a dram when I want it, and I had some prime stuff my son Ned had sent me over from Frankfort, so I went hack and poured out 'bout four fingers in a glass, and took it out to him.
"After he drunk it he handed me back the glass and driv off, sayin' he'd be round later. I took the glass into the house agin and sot it 'longside the bottle on the mantel, and when I turned round there sot the Gov'ment dep'ty. He'd come in, wife said, while I was talkin' with Luke in the road. When he see the glass he asked if I had a license, and I told him I didn't sell no liquor, and he asked me what that was, and I told him it was whiskey, and then he got the bottle and took a smell of it, and then he held up the glass and turned it upside down and out drapped a ten-cent piece. Then he 'rested me!"