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Title: My Fire Opal, and Other Tales
Author: Brooks, Sarah Warner
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Fire Opal, and Other Tales" ***

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    MY FIRE OPAL



    MY FIRE OPAL

    AND OTHER TALES

    BY

    SARAH WARNER BROOKS
    AUTHOR OF "ENGLISH POETRY AND POETS"


    BOSTON
    ESTES AND LAURIAT
    1896


    _Copyright, 1896_
    BY SARAH WARNER BROOKS

    Colonial Press:
    C. H. Simonds & Co., Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
    Electrotyped at the
    Dickinson Electrotype Foundery


    Dedication

    TO THE BELOVED MEMORY OF

    ISABEL CORNWELL

    THESE TALES ARE GRATEFULLY AND LOVINGLY
    DEDICATED BY HER GRANDDAUGHTER

    THE AUTHOR

    _The Lilacs_, January, 1896



PREFACE.


In the hope of interesting the reader in that insistent altruistic
question of the hour--How may we best treat our _convicted_ fellow
sinners?--these simple tales (the outcome of intimate personal
observation "behind the bars," and woven, almost equally, of fact and
fiction) are offered for his kindly-indulgent perusal.

    Most sincerely,
    S. W. B.

    _West Medford_, Jan. 31, 1896.



    CONTENTS.


                                   PAGE
    MY FIRE OPAL                      1

    THE STORY OF JOHN GRAVESEND      37

    A BUNCH OF VIOLETS               65

    A DISASTROUS SLEIGH-RIDE         91

    TUCKERED OUT                    109

    A PRISON CHILD                  127

    ESCAPED                         209



MY FIRE OPAL.


"Well, have it all your own way, Isabel," meekly conceded Alcibiades;
"but really, now, you ought not to be left here alone. Couldn't you
have managed to invite company for a day or two--Aunt Maria, say, or
Alice Barnes, or Emma and the baby?"

"Company!" mocked I, "that now is _like_ a man! Here am I planning to
give poor, overworked Cicely a day or two off, while you are all away
and the housework at its minimum, and straightway you propose
_company_!--which, of course, implies regular meals and extra chamber
work.

"No, I thank you, sir, not any _company_ for _me_," said I, rising
from the breakfast-table to drop my husband a derisive courtesy; "and
indeed, and indeed," I urged, "you are not to give up your own
vacation because your wife is scared of burglars and bugbears, with
neighbors as thick as blackberries, within call, and a stout policeman
snoozing away his beat against our front fence!"

Alcibiades sighed and folded his napkin. I felt that he was still
unconvinced. Nevertheless, he mounted the stairs, packed his grip,
and, intent upon catching the next horse-car, bade me a hurried adieu.
"_Au revoir!_" cried I, "in the wind of his going," "and, in case of
burglars--

    "'Fare thee well! and if forever,
    Then--'"

already he had disappeared, and, closing the door, I resumed my
unfinished breakfast. When Cicely came in to clear the table, I
rejoiced her heart, by a full consent to her little vacation. Relieved
of mind, she plunged vigorously into the Saturday scrubbing, and,
having prospectively arranged my Sunday dinner, of pressed corned
beef, was enabled to start for "me cousin's in South Boston" at two
P. M..

As she whisked out, with a beaming smile, a brick-red face, and a huge
newspaper bundle, I locked the door behind her, and found myself
"Monarch of all I surveyed."

One fancies that even "Alexander Selkirk"--dreary as his lot was--must
have found some slight compensation in the undisputed possession of an
entire island. However it may have been with _him_, I must confess to
acute satisfaction in the lordly consciousness of absolute sway over
that miniature realm--my own domicile.

Delightful, indeed, was the prospect of regulating my "downsittings
and uprisings," my bed, and meal times, in fine accordance with my own
sweet will, absolutely untrammeled by the ordinary necessity of
deferring to the wishes, and respecting the claims, of my
fellow-mortals!

A long, lawless afternoon, with all its pleasant possibilities, lay
temptingly before me. Straightway, with book and work, I established
myself on the shady piazza. Pleasantly remote from the street it was,
yet still so near, that, like the Lady of Shallot, "'neath her bower
eaves," I could glimpse the passing sights on ---- Street, could
discern the distant peak of "Corey Hill," and catch, now and then,
between the wind-tossed trees, a blue gleam of the "Whispering
Charles."

Close at hand was my own pretty flower-plot, but lately (by the united
efforts of the entire Simpleton family) reclaimed from a desolate
tangle of tomato vines, string-beans, and chickweed, and planted with
greenhouse beauties, which, now that summer was gone, and early frosts
nightly expected, had tantalizingly put forth abundant bloom. The
September evenings had already begun to draw chillingly in. By six
o'clock, the piazza had become uncomfortable, and I betook myself to
the house. Its absolute possession, at this sombre hour, struck me as
a trifle less desirable than in the broad sunshine of noonday.

Having carefully locked the outer doors, and bestowed the scanty
family silver in the garret rag-bag, a general inspection of the
window fastenings seemed the next best thing to do. "Let me," I said
to myself, "begin at the beginning." In accordance with this excellent
maxim, I at once descended to the cellar. No sooner had I stepped into
that dusky portion of my realm, than some live thing, rushing madly
between my feet, had nearly upset me. I suppressed a childish shriek
of terror. I recognised the cat. I am not fond of cats, hence _ours_,
when not taking her walks abroad, is strictly relegated to the
cellar, where, after her best endeavours, mice are ever o'er plenty. I
found the cellar windows not only devoid of fastenings, but partially
denuded of glass. Abandoning the idea of securing _that_ slip-shod
approach to my stronghold, I beat a hasty retreat, pussy, meantime, at
my heels, and brushing my gown with disagreeable familiarity.

The door leading to the cellar stairway had, in addition to its lock,
a stout bolt. I carefully secured it by both, and, as twilight was
coming on, shot, with a will, the hasps of such window fastenings, in
the first and second stories, as had obligingly retained their patent
adjustments, and, with hammer and nails, proceeded to secure the rest.
Meantime, night was upon me. My own footsteps sounded uncanny, as I
passed from room to room, and my hammer-strokes, as I drove in nail
after nail, set my startled nerves on edge. In shadowy corners of the
dusky apartments, sinister shapes seemed lurking. Imaginary footfalls
echoed weirdly in the chambers above. The cat purring offensively, and
still dogging my steps, innocently contributed to the general
uncomfortableness. Regardless (in this exigent moment) of the
quarterly bill, I turned on at every jet a lavish flow of gas, until
one superb glare flooded the entire ground floor of Irving Cottage.
Reassured by this reckless illumination, I betook myself to the
preparation of supper. In consequence of the kitchen fire having gone
out, it was a strictly informal meal, consisting solely of sardines,
crackers, and lithia water.

Supping, with nervous despatch, I cleared my table, gorged the cat
(who, in the unwonted dearth of society, was permitted to lodge in the
kitchen), and, making a final survey of the brilliant lower story,
turned off the gas, and, match in hand (and with a directness that
would have proved the salvation of "Lot's wife"), sought my bedroom.

Lighting my gas, I locked my door, looked under the bed, made an
exhaustive search in the closets, and, composed and reassured, sat
down to the completion of Black's last novel. Ere long, absorbed in
the fortunes of poor, love-crazed "Mac Leod of Dare," I became utterly
oblivious of my own dreary situation. Once, the ringing of the side
door-bell recalled me to the actual, but, having determined to open
to no man _that_ night, I discreetly lowered the gas, and, peeping
from behind my window-shade, made sure that it was the expressman, and
then coolly let him ring. He must have more than exhausted his
notoriously scant stock of patience ere I heard him drive off,
swearing awfully at his horses, as he lashed them down the drive. It
may be recorded, in this connection, that Cicely, some five days
later, on opening her pantry shutter to drive out the flies,
discovered a blood-stained, brown paper parcel thrust in, and firmly
wedged, between window and blind. On examination, it was found to
contain the perishing bodies of three hapless squabs, which
Alcibiades, in a reckless excess of conjugal tenderness, had bought
(as a toothsome addition to my Sunday dinner), on his way to the
railroad station.

When this touching proof of my good husband's indulgent care came to
light, I take shame to confess that, hardening my heart, I mocked thus
wickedly to myself,--"The _idiot_! to fancy that a sane woman would
scorch herself over a coal-stove, broiling squabs for her own healthy
self, with corned beef, sardines, and delicious olives at hand!"

But, to return from this digression--the ireful expressman well
away--I sailed serenely on to midnight, and the last harrowing chapter
of my novel. Then bathing my strained eyes, and reducing my light to
the merest flicker, I crept wearily to bed.

After a whole fidgety hour spent in the composure of my nerves, and
the resolving into natural causes of such "noises of the night" as
successively set my hair on end, I fell asleep.

The sun was already high when I awoke. It was a lovely September
morning. Recalling, with amused wonder, the groundless alarms of the
last eventless night, I bathed and dressed in great spirits, and
descended to the preparation of breakfast.

Yesterday's coffee, warmed over in an Ætna, was less palatable than I
could have imagined, and, easily resisting the indulgence of a second
cup, I completed, with scant relish, my untempting meal.

The ringing of the church bells surprised me in my morning work. It
was Sunday. Not for a moment, however, must I entertain the idea of
going to church!

In C----, bold, day-time robberies were familiar occurrences, and, in
my absence, our unguarded domicile would become an easy prey for the
spoiler. The outer doors, three in number, were securely fastened, and
I especially congratulated myself upon the complete security of the
glass door opening from our parlour upon the piazza, as, in addition
to its regular fastening, it rejoiced in an admirable catch-lock, that
snapped beautifully, of itself, as one closed it.

As the morning wore on, weary of reading, I wrote some letters, and
thereafter overhauled my writing-desk. Among my accumulated
correspondence, I found half a score of stiffly-worded epistles. They
had been indited by inmates of the Massachusetts State Prison. To
elucidate the controlling event of my story, let me say, that helpful
effort among the convicts had long been an integral part of my
life-work.

Among themselves, they were pleased to term me "The Prisoner's
Friend," and, when discharged, and homeless, they often came to me for
counsel, or aid, in procuring that employment which, naturally, is but
grudgingly given to these attainted beings, whom, even as _visitors_,
my friends considered objectionable. On Mondays, my weekly visit to
the prison hospital was made. I carried to its patients fruit and
flowers, and read to them, sandwiching in, as best I could, a modicum
of reproof and advice.

The re-reading, sorting, and bestowal of this odd correspondence
brought me to dinner-time. An unsubstantial breakfast having whetted
my appetite for this important meal, I resolved to start a fire in the
kitchen stove. Having achieved this exploit--with that absurd outlay
of time, strength, and patience, peculiar to the amateur--I
laboriously elaborated an omelet, a dish of Lyonnaise potatoes, and a
steaming pot of tea.

Heated and weary, I hurried through the parlours, threw open the
piazza door for a whiff of fresh air, before dishing my dinner, and,
attracted by the grateful odor of heliotrope, stepped debonairly into
the outside sunshine. As I passed, the "sweet west wind" whipped to
the piazza door. It closed behind me, with a malicious bang. The much
admired patent fastening had, but too well, done its fatal work! I
stood diabolically fastened out of my own house! Recovering breath,
and taking in the desperate situation, I glanced ruefully at my
neighbour's back bow window. Miss Pettingrew, my next neighbour, was
an elderly maiden, and of curiosity "all compact." Nominally (as set
forth on her sign of blue and gold) a dressmaker, but adding to her
regular vocation the supervision of our neighbourhood, the outgoings
and incomings of the Simpletons were especially focussed by her awful
eye.

Our neighbourhood was not socially congenial. We had come to C---- for
the sole purpose of putting a son through Harvard, and, having no
other local interest in that city, we were simply the nobodies from
nowhere, and consequently ineligible as acquaintances.

Irving Cottage--so called from its supposed resemblance to that of
Washington Irving--attracted us by an exceptional allowance of
door-yard, combined with a moderate rent. Irving Cottage was a double
tenement-house; and its north side was now vacant. Its western front
commanded ---- street; its south side an uninterrupted series of back
door-yards. On the north it was overtopped by a tall storage building,
and in its rear stood a weather-worn old colonial mansion, once an
aristocratic abode, but now fallen upon evil times, and become a
rackety students' boarding-house. A low picket fence divided our rear
premises from those of Mrs. MacNebbins, its proprietor. And now, let
me return from this parenthetic information to my forlorn self,
drearily surveying my "hermetically sealed" dwelling.

Yes, Miss Pettingrew was, as usual, at her post. It behooved me to
take heed to my ways--to step nonchalantly from the piazza, as if
being in the yard were entirely optional. Taking a turn or two up and
down the drive, I rested a moment beneath the lordly old willows that
adorned our grounds. I pulled a nosegay from the flower-garden; hunted
the grass-plot for four-leaved clover--meantime furtively scanning my
window fastenings and praying inwardly that some unguarded point of
ingress to Irving Cottage might be revealed to me.

In vain! I had too well done my fatal work! Not the merest crack had
been left exposed. The cottage rejoiced in a terraced front. Thus the
lower back windows were, at least, five feet above the door-yard
level. A possible elevation of piazza chairs would command them. I
might, with a stone, demolish a convenient pane, and so reach and
manipulate a patent fastening; but there still was Miss Pettingrew!
How could I break and enter my own house, in broad daylight, and on a
Sunday, directly beneath her astonished gaze? Heavy at heart (and
mentally craving that lady's kind permission), I sought shelter
beneath the kindly woodbine that shut in our piazza. Hungry,
discouraged, and forlorn, I moped the slow hours away, until the
westward sloping sun and the chill of approaching evening warned me
that night was drawing near.

Luckily, I had, on my way out, thrown about me a light shawl.
Shivering, I wrapped it close, and then--providentially inspired--I
bethought me of a place of refuge,--to wit: the woodshed, adjoining
our kitchen! It was but a flimsy structure, but would, at least, be
warmer than an open piazza.

Its inner door, now carefully bolted, opened upon the kitchen. Its
outer entrance was, however, but slightly secured by a hook, easily
manipulated from without, by the insertion of a thin stick. I felt
that an entrance might be unostentatiously effected. Eagerly awaiting
that auspicious moment when Miss Pettingrew should, at tea-time,
vacate her post of observation, I sallied forth upon the lawn,
and--still hunting for four-leaved clover--managed to gain the rear of
my house. My ogress opportunely disappeared! Already provided with the
needful stick, it was but the work of a moment to insert it in the
crevice of the loosely-fitting door, to raise the hook, and step
gingerly in. Thank heaven, I was, at least, beneath a roof! Humble,
indeed, but yet an improvement upon an open sky, or even a vine-draped
piazza! And Miss Pettingrew need never know that I had come to grief.
Fortunately I wore my watch. It was a slight comfort to note the
passage of these unkindly hours. It was now quarter past four. I had
become desperately hungry. My mind ran tantalizingly upon the untasted
dinner within. Long ere this, my tea must have resolved itself to pure
tannin! My omelette and my Lyonnaise must have become the merest
chips; and the cat had, no doubt, privately disposed of my precious
corned beef. Well, all was not lost! A full hour yet loomed between
me and sunset. Given that time, might I not find some escape from my
dilemma?

The colonial mansion of the MacNebbins's backed squarely upon our
premises. And our woodshed backed, in turn, upon a roomy lawn--now
degraded to an open lot which faced upon B---- Street. In the absence
of windows upon that wall of the building, a knot-hole, generously
enlarged by our boys, served admirably as a lookout. At this
inconveniently high aperture, I watched (on tip-toe) the careless
throng, strolling, in Sunday attire, up and down B---- Street. This
wholesome, but tame, diversion palled upon me. My jaded appetite
craved more exciting nourishment.

Mrs. MacNebbins--poor, overworked body, with a temper of her own--and
maintaining, single-handed, half a dozen children and a shiftless sot
of a husband, sometimes became desperate. On such occasions, it suited
her, broomstick in hand, to drive her worse half from the house, the
maids, meantime, looking applause from her kitchen windows. My own
boys (in spite of my prohibition) had, I regret to say, often audibly
applauded this conjugal exhibition. Such a spicy scene would, I felt,
be in fine keeping with the situation, and I blush to own that I now
turned my attention to the MacNebbins's back door, in the vulgar hope
of an immediate connubial skirmish. In vain! Mr. MacNebbins sat
composedly smoking on his back doorsteps; while his more forceful half
flitted about the kitchen, intent on the dishing of the students'
dinner. Now and then a tantalizing whiff of the roast issued from the
open windows. By this time, I had become disgracefully ravenous; and
when, after the MacNebbins's dinner, the cook came out to deposit the
leavings in that objectionable swill-barrel, close to our back fence,
I blush to record that I looked with longing upon the remnants of this
(to _me_, Barmecide) feast. Halved potatoes, slices of pudding, and
savoury bits of meat, lay temptingly on the over-heaped barrel. I
sighed. It was like "starving in the midst of abundance."

For one wild moment, I thought of rushing into the open street, in my
morning wrapper, with a shawl over my head, and imploring somebody to
break into my house, and feed me.

But, no! Self-respect forbade a proceeding so insane; and, moreover,
should I not thus advertise the fact of my being alone in the house,
and at the mercy of the spoiler? Night would soon prevent that attempt
which I had half resolved to make upon the back window, and which
might, possibly, end in defeat, glass-splinters, and lockjaw. It was
now raining. The east wind wailed dolefully around the shed. I must,
nevertheless, make shift to lodge there. To that end, I carefully
considered the capabilities of the place. On a rude shelf, near the
woodpile, I found a gummy kerosene lamp, replete with ill-smelling
oil. Beside it was a tin box, containing three matches. In a corner
stood a barrel of clean shavings, and, beneath the wash-bench, a
basket of soiled clothes.

I had soon disposed the shavings in the form of a couch. Two sheets,
used but a single night in the guest-room, and comparatively unsoiled,
served for a light covering. On a high peg hung a rusty overcoat,
which, on fishing excursions, had repeatedly served my good
Alcibiades. It had come to exhale a perpetual "ancient and fish-like
smell," and, in consideration of my outraged nostrils, had been
relegated to the shed. Alas! I had not now the "proud stomach" which
distinguished "Mr. F's Aunt;" and, clothing myself in this unsavoury
garment, I thanked heaven for even so ignoble a protection from the
searching east wind, now entering, by every crevice and knot-hole, my
indifferently constructed sleeping-room.

Drearily casting myself upon this rude couch, I endeavoured to compose
my limbs for sleep. Unnumbered poets have rapturously celebrated "the
rain on the roof." I had myself once offered to a stony-hearted
magazine editor some "lines" on this very subject; yet to-day,
shivering, starved, and but half housed--heaven knows that the even
pelting of this pitiless storm above my forlorn head was nothing, if
not prosaic! I remembered, too, that my only door-fastening was a
slight hook, easily set at naught.

What facilities were here offered to a prowling tramp, intent upon a
night's shelter! When, for a moment, I could withdraw my poor mind
from the terrible pangs of hunger, it was but to fix it upon this
fearful possibility. Yes, I was undoubtedly at the mercy of all the
tramps in the immediate vicinity of C----! What would Alcibiades--what
would my boys (camping out at Great Brewster, with a _circus_ tent,
comforters in abundance, and every appliance known to youthful
Bohemia) say, if they could, this night, look in upon their miserable
relative? But, no; Alcibiades should never hear how--by rejecting his
safe counsel--I had dedicated myself to desolation. The misery of this
night must be forever locked in my own breast! Of course, I could not
be expected to close my eyes during the entire night; and, when
morning came--should my life be spared till then--I should be too much
exhausted from starvation to crawl out of the shed, and should,
should, shou--here, I fell fast asleep!

A single hour could scarce have passed, when I was aroused by a slight
jar, as of some one leaning heavily against the frame of the shed,
directly where I had made my bed. In a moment I was broad awake, and,
with my heart in my mouth, intently listening. I now sorely regretted
having left my lamp burning; and wished I had, at least, plugged the
wide knot-hole looking street-ward. The one small window, opening on
our own premises, I had carefully darkened, but had forgotten to
screen this irregular look-out. Luckily, it did not command, from the
outside, my impromptu bed.

Directly beneath it, I could now hear footsteps. Evidently, an
investigation was being made by some person outside. I managed to get
upon my feet, and thus await the dreaded issue.

There was a clumsy scramble, a thud on the wet ground inside the
fence, and then came heavy footsteps, evidently approaching my place
of refuge. The door was tried, vigorously shaken, and opened by a
crack; and then I knew that some one was manipulating the hook with a
stick; was making an entrance, as I myself had done, but a few hours
ago! I tottered weakly over to the woodpile. I had need to stay myself
well against it, so paralyzed with fear had I become. I felt my limbs
giving way; an age of horror seemed to pass in the brief moments that
ensued before the hook yielded.

The door flew open with a bang! and, then,--then the entire shed
reeled, darkened, disappeared; and I knew no more!

Consciousness returning, I found myself reclined upon my shaving
couch. A pile of soiled clothes supported my head; my face and hair
were dripping with water, which had apparently been showered upon me
without stint, or stay, from a wooden piggin standing near, which I
remembered to have set under a big leak in the woodshed roof, before
settling myself to repose.

Beside me stood a tall, bearded person, holding in his left hand a
smoking kerosene lamp, and with his right still liberally sprinkling
me from the piggin, and, the while, anxiously scanning my face. As my
scattered senses pulled themselves together, I discerned that his
demeanour was pacific--even friendly. I found his face by no means
bad, with its strong features, determined expression, and the kindly
smile which disclosed his sound, white teeth. As I attempted to rise,
he said, respectfully: "Pray lie down a bit, madam; you'll be all
right again in a moment. You fainted dead away; and, upon my word, I
could have knocked myself down for giving you such a turn. It was a
deuced sight worse, too," added he, "when I found that you were 'The
Prisoner's Friend.'

"Maybe _you_ don't know my face now, madam; but I have known yours,
any time, these four years; ever since you brought me that fruit with
the posy of pinks an' old-man's love, the time I was laid up in the
prison hospital."

No; I could not recall the man's face; but I remember well that such a
person had sent me, through the warden, a grateful acknowledgment of
my little kindness, in the form of a rosewood box, inlaid with
mother-of-pearl and lined with garnet velvet (his own dainty work),
and containing a paper thus inscribed:

"Adam Beale, to 'The Prisoner's Friend,' with best wishes."

The warden, as I presently recollected, had, at that time, told me
that Adam was serving out five years' sentence for passing a forged
check. Well, here, like a Jack-in-a-box, Adam himself had turned up.

It was now _my_ turn to "take unto myself shame and confusion of
face,"--found harbouring in a shed, alone, and at midnight! To give
the man, an ex-convict, and alone with me, in this forlorn place, that
explanation demanded by the situation, would undoubtedly put me
absolutely at his mercy, yet, perceiving that there was no other way
out of it, I at once made a clean breast. The tale of my woes well
finished, the humour of the whole affair, together with Adam's
expression of blank amazement, so upset me that I ended with a peal of
hysterical laughter, in which, as I could see by the twitching of his
visible muscles, good manners alone restrained my auditor from joining
me.

Wisely deferring the relation of his own adventures to serener
moments, my convict, at my request, at once set about the work of
breaking and entering.

The storm had abated. It was now midnight, and Miss Pettingrew
presumably off duty. With empty barrels and boxes, found in the shed,
the level of a side window was soon attained, and Adam, demolishing a
pane of glass, deftly undid a patent fastening. It was but a moment
ere he had entered, and unlocked the side door for the admission of my
somewhat crestfallen self.

Nor was it long ere my deliverer had made a famous fire in the kitchen
stove, and, in his shirt-sleeves, while his dripping coat steamed hard
by on a clothes-horse, was preparing a pot of coffee, while I laid the
supper-table.

It goes, without saying, that my zest for this meal was not slight;
and the hunger of my guest, as may be inferred, was well-nigh as
sharp as my own. The cat having obligingly dined and supped upon
omelette and Lyonnaise potato, my corned beef was still intact; and,
with some trifling additions, and that best of sauces--hunger--our
meal proved delicious.

Well, thought I, as I bestowed a second section of sponge cake, and a
third cup of coffee, upon my hungry guest--truth is, undoubtedly,
stranger than fiction! Could Alcibiades (dear man!) be told that, by
scorning his kind advice, I had brought myself to so strange a pass as
to be supping at midnight with an ex-convict, would he believe it? As
for my dazed self, well could I have craved, with that historical old
woman of abridged "petticoat," the decisive "bark" of my own "little
dog" as assurance that "I was _I_."

Our hunger appeased, Adam told me how he had come to find himself on
that stormy night, on his way to Boston, penniless and shelterless.
His sentence had, he said, expired three weeks ago; and, with his
"freedom suit," and the regulation gratuity of five dollars from the
Prison Aid Society, along with its immemorial offer of a ticket for
the West, he had been duly discharged. Having a mind to re-establish
himself in his native city--New York--he had declined emigrating to
Idaho, but, finding himself somewhat the worse for five years of
confinement, bad air, and poor diet, had resolved to recruit for a
time, in mountain air, before seeking his city home.

With the State gratuity, and nearly forty dollars of his own prison
earnings in his purse, Adam had set forth on a frugal pedestrian tour.
Having taken by the way a heavy cold, he had been obliged to lay by,
for a whole fortnight, at a country tavern; and what with the board
bill, the doctor's fee, and the charges for medicine, his slim purse
had been soon drained. Recovered from his ailment, and renovated by
the healing mountain air, he had found himself absolutely penniless,
and had made thus far his homeward journey, in dependence on charity
for food and shelter. Passing through B---- Street to crave a night's
lodging at the station-house, he had espied my light through the big
knot-hole of the shed, and, on inspection, finding the place
apparently unoccupied, weary and wet as he was, it had then seemed
wise to accept the nearest possibility of shelter; and he had
accordingly determined to attempt an entrance to this lighted
outbuilding--little thinking, as he said, to find, in so rude a place,
a lady whose person was held sacred by every man in the prison.

And now, to make a long story short, Adam's recital ended, we dried
his clothes, washed our supper dishes, "ridded up" the kitchen, and
then took into consideration the question of ways and means. Before
falling into temptation, Adam Beale had been a real estate broker, and
though not, hitherto, an eminently successful one, he meant, if
possible, to re-establish himself in the old business. This he thought
might be done in the whirl of a great city, where identity is easily
disguised, or even lost, and--and--and then--I may as well confess it
at once--it all ended in my slipping off my diamond ring (one of my
girlhood's treasures, and the only valuable bit of jewelry in my
possession) and, after much persuasion, inducing Adam to accept it as
a loan, and by putting it in pawn realize a sum that would again set
him on his feet. "But, dear me!" exclaims the prudent reader, "was not
this a most unsafe venture?" Yes, I suppose so; but then, most
ventures _are_, more or less, _unsafe_. And, after all, what is a
single diamond, or, indeed, a whole cluster of them, when weighed
against the possibility of restoring a man to the safe path of
rectitude, the saving of a soul?

This risky transaction well over, Adam, by his own election, retired
to pass the remainder of this strange night in the woodshed. I
bestowed upon him a pillow and some warm comforters, and the cat
politely kept him company, glad, no doubt, to escape from her dull
imprisonment in the kitchen.

As my convict would be afoot at early dawn, his adieus were made
overnight. Once more in my own safe room, and blest with a regular
bed, bolster, and pillow, I rested from the fatigue and excitement of
the last ten hours, and, on consideration, felt that my mishap was all
for the best. Though not downrightly distrustful of Adam, I still
remembered that I had not, as the saying goes, "wintered and summered"
the man. I may consequently be pardoned the uneasy consciousness that
my belongings (to say nothing of myself) were a thought less safe
than if lodged in the United States Bank; for had not my new friend,
but two hours since, evinced that easy facility in breaking and
entering, supposed to be inherent in the convict and the tramp? After
an hour or two of uneasy slumber, it was an infinite relief to hear
the "loud clarion" of an early cockerel, followed by an audible stir
in the woodshed and a heavy footstep in the yard. Springing from my
bed, I watched Adam's tall form as it passed evenly down the drive.
Well outside our gate, he went directly down street, and soon
disappeared from my view. After that, I slept the blessed sleep of the
weary and content, though not until I had taken the precaution to
bring from the shed the tell-tale pillow and comforter devoted to
Adam's use.

The sun was already four hours high, when Cicely's return awoke me. I
scrambled down to let her in, and, ere long, was seated at the late
breakfast which she briskly prepared for me. As I lingered luxuriously
over my coffee, this valued Hibernian abruptly entered, with upraised
hands, and hair on end, to inform me that "a nasty divil of a tramp,
be the tokens, had slept the night in our woodshed. An' God save us,
me'm," went on the excited creature, "wid yurself slapin aboove like
an innocent babe, an' the master an' young jintlemen away, and meself
takin' me ase at me cousin's! Praise be to God ye weren't killed
intirely! Come out, if ye plase, me'm, this same minute, and see, wid
your two eyes, where the crature slept." Regretting that I had
thoughtlessly left palpable evidence of Adam's visit, I meekly
followed Cicely into the shed.

"Did you find the door unhooked, Cicely?" I inquired, aware that
_something_ must be said.

"Unhooked, is it?" replied she, "indade an' it was thin! an' wide
open! Holy Mary! but it's the narrow escape ye's had!"

"Cicely," I said, decisively, "put these shavings back in the barrel.
They will kindle as well as ever, and the sheets will come out,
unharmed, from the wash. As for this fishy coat, when Dennis comes for
the ashes, you may as well give it to _him_. There is some wear in it
yet. And, upon the whole, Cicely, you had better say nothing of the
tramp to Mr. Simpleton and the young gentlemen. It would only frighten
them, and to no purpose, as it's now all past and gone."

That afternoon, during my visit to the State Prison, I related to the
warden so much of the above adventure as pertained to my transaction
with Adam Beale. I found that he had been discharged as stated, and
had declared his intention of recruiting while in the country, before
returning to his home in New York, "but as for your diamond ring, my
dear lady," said the astute official, "make up your mind that you have
parted with it for good and all; for, as _I_ know the convict, not one
in a hundred could resist the temptation of retaining it."

"Well," I said, resignedly, "let it go, then; life is replete with
mishaps, and I have already survived many a disaster, far more heavy
than the loss of a diamond."

When my little family were again re-united, it was Alcibiades who
first observed and commented on the continuous absence of my diamond
ring from my left-hand middle finger.

"Oh, my ring?" I said, lightly, "well, I am just leaving it off for a
time. One does not care to appear eternally in diamonds, like a fat
_frau_ of a German Jew."

Alcibiades, least inquisitive of mortals, thus easily put off, I
resigned myself to the loss of my ring, confident that, at the worst,
it had not (as "Mantalini" would have put it) quite "gone to the
demnition bow-wows."

More than six months had elapsed, when, one day, the expressman handed
me a small package, addressed in a fine, clear hand, and marked
"valuable--_with care_."

Luckily, I was alone, and could, unquestioned, receipt for the parcel.
It was, as I had suspected, my ring; and glad was I to receive it, but
still more rejoiced to have found, unaided by the lantern of _any_
Diogenes, an _honest_ man!

And now, my story might, with propriety, end. It does not, however,
for I have yet to relate how it was that I, the wife of a clerk in the
post-office, drawing but an indifferent salary, came into possession
of so sumptuous an adornment as a Mexican fire opal, superbly set in
diamonds of the very first water.

Ten years had passed since the adventure which resulted in the loaning
of my ring to Adam Beale. Our boy had gone honourably through Harvard.
We no longer trembled at Miss Pettingrew's "awful nod." We had left
C---- for good and all. My health no longer permitted me to engage in
hospital work, and I had ceased to visit the prison. We were on the
eve of our silver wedding, and one evening, as we sat round our hearth
in Roxbury, cheerfully talking over the event, which was to be
celebrated by a little party, the door-bell rang, and was followed by
the entrance of our expressman.

Taking a long breath of relief, he deposited on the hall table a
small, carefully-sealed parcel, which, as he said, "had 'bout been the
rounds, he reckoned, for, near's he could find out, it started from
New York, paid through to C----. Then it came back to the office in
Boston, an arter _they_ had had a time on't _there_, lookin' up the
folks 'at was wanted, he got wind on't himself, and here now it is,"
he concluded, triumphantly, "landed at last."

As it was directed to me, I wrote my name in his greasy book,
Alcibiades paid the accumulated expressage, and the man at once left
us.

We were a little curious in regard to this much-traveled parcel--some
simple silver-wedding present, no doubt. But "great the wonder grew,"
when a magnificent fire opal ring, with superb diamond setting,
flashed out from its nest of rose-coloured cotton, like a condensed
rainbow, circled with sunbeams.

In the package, with the box, was a note directed to "The Prisoner's
Friend." It ran thus:

     "DEAR LADY: I am now a rich man. Your kindness will ever be
     held in remembrance; and may I ask your prayers for my future
     prosperity in this life, and a pleasant meeting with you in the
     life to come.

     "Pray accept the enclosed ring, with warmest wishes for the
     health, prosperity, and happiness of you and yours. I remain,
     with great respect,

     "Your obedient servant,

     "ADAM BEALE."

That night, from a full heart, I confided to my family the story of
that strange midnight adventure, whose touching sequel was this costly
gift. Dear Alcibiades (to his eternal credit be it recorded) did not
on this occasion harrow my soul with a single "I told you so!" On the
evening of my silver wedding I wore Adam's ring. My friends were
informed that I had resolved never to disclose the name of the donor
of this superb opal; yet, now that I am an old woman, in the hope that
it may afford some slight encouragement to others who are seeking to
lighten the heavy human burden of sin, and its consequent misery, I
have thought that it might not be unwise or indelicate to reveal the
long-kept secret of my Fire Opal.



THE STORY OF JOHN GRAVESEND


John Gravesend, being neither goblin, sprite nor fairy, it is but
logical to infer that his existence was derived from a mortal father;
albeit of that father, he, John, had not the faintest conception.

Poor little Jack! He was, what men (misusing the holiest of words)
have named, a "love-child."

His father was plainly but an inference; and, as to his mother, she
was scarce more than a recollection.

He recalled, from some vague long ago, the face of a sad-eyed woman at
whose knee he had said "Now I lay me," with his sleepy little head
half-buried in the soft folds of her silken gown. He remembered the
same sweet face more pale and still and icy cold. He was not saying
his prayer _then_. He thinks he was crying. Be that as it may; Jack
cried a good deal in those days. He cried because he was cold, hungry,
tired, or beaten; and, later on, he fell into a way of crying for an
undefined good--a something which neither warmth, food, nor rest could
afford him. This vague sense of irrepletion had first dawned upon the
forlorn boy when, on a certain day, creeping about Long Wharf like a
half-starved rat, he had seen another boy in a velvet jacket, and with
lovely cornsilk hair, folded in the arms of a beautiful lady, but just
landed from a newly-arrived steamer. From that hour a nameless longing
for that undefined something, which the other lad had gotten from that
gentle lady, haunted his love-lorn days.

Sometimes he actually found himself crying for it. Of this--and all
other crying--Jack, being a manly little fellow, was so heartily
ashamed that (to use his own words) he "swowed never to let on to his
folks." Jack's "folks" were--a reputed uncle, by trade a shipwright. A
creature habitually red of face; cross in the morning and nasty at
night; chronically glum on week-days, and invariably sprightly on
Sundays; for then it was the shipwright's prerogative to get superbly
drunk!

During these Sabbath celebrations, the man (having no children of his
own body to maltreat) often diverted himself by belabouring his ragged
little nephew; who, more or less battered, wriggled dexterously from
his clutch, and, seeking his familiar haunt, the wharf, there wore out
the weary day. Jack's other "folk" was the wife of the aforesaid
uncle; a poor, cowed creature, with pinched, wan face and pale,
carroty hair. When the boy, upon a Sunday, did not come readily to
hand, the aunt was beaten in his stead. She did not run away, this
poor, spiritless scapegoat, but wearily mounting a ladder-like
staircase, took sanctuary in the loft. Later, when a drunken slumber
enwrapped her lord, she reappeared upon the scene, with set lips, and
face so white and ghastly, that little Jack, remembering vaguely that
_other_ still, white face, crept uneasily out into the sunlight, and
tried to forget it.

One day, when the shipwright had beaten his wife terribly, and there
was blood upon her clean Sunday gown, she did not, as usual, betake
herself to that "city of refuge," the loft; but, groaning faintly,
fell prone upon the floor. Jack's uncle then making a dive at _him_,
the child scampered off to the wharf as fast as his trembling little
legs would carry him. When he had skipped a good many stones into the
water, had watched ever so many clouds and vessels sail by, and had
seen the crimson water swallow the bloated fiery sun, little Jack felt
hungry, and thought it high time to be getting home to his folks.
Forlorn little waif! His _folks_, unsatisfactory as they were, were no
longer available.

He found the shipwright's dwelling thronged with excited men and
women. Upon the bed lay a still, white heap. Fancying that it might be
the pinch-faced aunt, who had so long partially fed and clothed him,
the child pushed forward, and, creeping softly to the bed, touched,
with his dirty little hand, that still, white face.

Ugh! _His_ folks were never as cold as _that_!

Repelled by this icy horror, the child stole quietly away, and,
crouching timidly in a far corner of the thronged apartment, watched
it all.

There was a deal of commotion in Jack's folks' house that Sunday
evening; and Jack's uncle, staring vacantly at a gaping throng of men,
boys, and frowsy-headed women, and sustained by two doughty
dignitaries of the law, was finally conveyed absolutely beyond the
line of his childish vision. After this, another gentleman, in bright
buttons, summarily cleared the house, and locked the door, with the
child on the wrong side of it; and, unheeded, hungry, shelterless, and
forlorn, the lad crept silently away. And this is all that Jack
remembers of his folks. The next tableau in his memory is that of a
ship's cabin, and a fat steward in a white apron, who, as he wells
remembers, went busily up and down the companionway, fetching steaming
viands, and carrying away empty plates and soiled glasses, which had
often, at bottom, a modicum of something strong and nice. He liked
it--this fine, fiery stuff!--and when whole spoonfuls had been left in
the glasses, and he had been let to drain them all, he felt as cheery
as could be; and, at bedtime, went off to his small bunk as happy as a
king. But when at dinner-time the steward, in his hurry-skurry, kicked
him out of the way, and called him "a d--d little son of a gun, whom
(like a soft-hearted lubber) he had smuggled into the _Argo_ to save
from the poorhouse," Jack fled dejectedly to his bunk to cry alone.

Yes, he remembered well, how a long time ago--very long indeed it
seemed in Jack's childish measurement of time--that cruel hunger had
gnawed at his poor, depleted little stomach, when his folks' door was
fast locked, and he prowling miserably about the wharf; and how the
good steward had then found and fed him. From that day, he had clung
to his deliverer--his providence--like a grateful spaniel, and, still
at his heels, here he was in the great _Argo_, sailing on and on, no
doubt, to the very end of the world.

Yes, he knew all that; and he meant to be thankful and good; but was
he, for certain true, "a son of a gun?" His father, as before stated,
being but an inference, Jack concluded, upon the whole, that he
_might_ be.

By and by, when the old steward (whose bite was in no wise as
formidable as his bark) had tided over his "hurry-skurry," and, having
given him his dinner, tossed him playfully to the ceiling, like a
plump little ball, as he was, when he set him to play all manner of
monkey tricks for his own and the crew's diversion, calling him "a
droll shaver," instead of that other objectionable name, he forgot,
for the time, his childish grievances, and was comparatively content.

He liked the rough-handed steward who alternately kicked and petted
him, and who, after his own poor fashion, apparently loved him. Yet,
taken as they went, these were but uncomfortable years for the loving,
sensitive child; and the nice fiery sups from the cabin tumblers were,
on the whole, the most comfortable feature of Jack Gravesend's earlier
cabin-boy experience.

As the years went on, from being by turns a nuisance and a pet, the
boy became a deft-handed helper to his testy old patron, and, coming
to man's estate, not only won favour with the _Argo's_ crew, but found
grace in the eyes of her captain. When the fat steward, in a fit of
apoplexy, went off in a final hurry-skurry, to Davy Jones's locker,
Jack was promoted to his berth.

Time sped. John Gravesend, from a poor cabin-boy, had come to be
second mate of the _Ohio_, when William Ferguson, as bonnie a
blue-eyed lad as one might hail in a cruise round the world, had
shipped as foremast hand in that stanch new craft. Then it was that
our hero first knew that supreme good for which he had been
instinctively yearning through all his lonely life--the true love of a
human soul.

Will Ferguson, a delicate boy of eighteen, neither by birth or
education suited to a sailor's life, was the only son of his mother,
and she was a widow. He had a persistent cough, came of consumptive
stock, and the doctor assured Madame Ferguson that a long sea voyage,
if she could but bring her mind to it, would be the very thing for the
lad.

"There is the _Ohio_," he went on to say, "now in port, and a finer
ship never sailed." Her captain trustworthy, and her second mate
personally known to him. Only last year he had carried the fellow
through an attack of typhoid, at Chelsea hospital, and if, as he was
saying, she could bring her mind to the thing, he would speak a good
word for Will, to this officer, Gravesend--John Gravesend--who would,
no doubt, keep a kindly eye on her boy all through the voyage.

Madame Ferguson _did_ bring her mind to it, although the parting was
as if her heart had been torn from her warm, living side. And thus it
was that Will Ferguson went sailing out of his mother's yearning sight
in the good ship _Ohio_, specially committed to the care of John
Gravesend, and as seasick and homesick a lad as ever smelt brine.

John Gravesend had, as hath been shown, no "folks." Once, in his
love-lorn life, he had taken to his starving heart a white Angora cat.
This creature, instinct with feline beauty, had proved most
unsatisfactory in temper, and, having consequently become obnoxious to
an entire ship's crew, had finally been despatched at the hand of an
ireful cook. A family of seven white mice had succeeded this unamiable
_protégé_. These tiny cannibals had also disappointed the hopes of
their patron, a general home-consumption having eventually left, in
the once populous cage, but a single inhabitant. The survivor,
ultimately becoming as hipped as the poet's "Last Man," fell a prey to
melancholy in lieu of mice. After the above abortive efforts, John
Gravesend foreswore pets; but here, now, was this poor greenhorn,
Ferguson, a likely lad, and consigned to his tenderest care. Why, to
love _him_ would be "worth while." And when, during their first week
out, on that wild, windy night in Jack's watch below, the boy, fevered
and seasick, mistook his sailor nurse, with those clumsily tender
ways, for his own fond mother, and, throwing his young arms about the
watcher's burly neck, begged him never, never, to forget him, Jack
made a strong, silent vow that he never would. Alas, he never _did_,
for that was his bitter destiny, never, _never_ to forget Will
Ferguson! This ailing spell well past, the lad mended steadily, and
was, ere long, able to be on deck and on duty. Glad days these were
for John Gravesend, and still gladder nights; for now, the boy sharing
his watch on deck, the pair might, night after night, listen to the
sea-song at the _Ohio's_ keel, watch the moonlight silvering the
crested deep, or, in that other deep above them, might trace the
splendid constellations glittering clear and far; Jack, meantime,
spinning for Will bewitching sea-yarns, fraught with the simple charm
of that every-day knowledge which is the fruit of experience, while
Will (who was a bookish lad) might, in his turn, impart to the unread
sailor that other knowledge which is the fruit of study. And thus it
befell that, ere the _Ohio_ had made a third of her long voyage, this
man and boy were bound heart to heart, with a two-fold cord of love,
pure and passionless, yet "passing the love of woman."

For Gravesend, this was, indeed, a gracious time. No more craving for
human tenderness, less thirst for that tempting poison, which had
lured his unguarded sense in the old, cabin-boy days, when the busy
steward had unwisely permitted him to drain the spirit-glasses. The
pernicious taste thus engendered in the child had, alas! grown with
his growth, and, at times, had even overmastered the strong man. In
Samson's might, as we are told, there was but a single flaw; yet,
_there_, Delilah found him weak as the weakest. So it was with our
sailor, and hence, at irregular intervals, there were decidedly black
days in the otherwise clean life of John Gravesend.

The _Ohio_, bound for China, in due time cast anchor at Canton. Jack
and Will had got leave to go ashore together. And there it was that
John Gravesend's demon took possession of him. Through all that long
afternoon of drunken riot, Will (sorely astonished and dismayed)
never once left this frenzied creature. And when Jack had run his mad
muck, and, laboriously piloted back to the ship, had at last been
persuaded to get into his berth, where he lay, safe, but brutish and
insensate, the lad cast himself wearily upon the cabin floor and had
a good long, sobbing cry--like the child that he was--the
single-hearted, loving child, whose faith in a human soul had been
rudely shocked and shaken. On the morrow, Jack was himself again. A
trifle dull and heavy-eyed, yet the same old, kind, and sober fellow.
That night in their watch the friends talked it all over. Jack
retained no distinct consciousness of yesterday's wild doings. After
drinking more heavily than he meant, or ought, he had fancied that the
crowd had set upon him, and, with spinning head, he had rushed
incontinently upon the _crowd_, and knew no more until he awoke next
morning in his own snug berth, with Will yet sleeping wearily upon the
hard floor. And now, with Ferguson's hand in his own warm clasp,
Gravesend vowed no more to touch, taste, or handle, the unclean thing;
and, through all that perilous fortnight in port, he never once broke
his vow.

Again the _Ohio_ cast anchor. It was in Boston Harbor, and on a
May-day evening. Will Ferguson and John Gravesend went ashore
together. The month had, this year, come smiling in, and juvenile
Boston had paraded in muslin and greenery to its heart's content. Upon
the Common, there still lingered a breath of the May-day festivitiy. A
balmy south wind stirred among the new-leaved trees,--a delicious
murmuring wind, prophesying violets, jonquils, and endless forthcoming
spring delights.

On such bewitching, yet enervating nights, riotous young blood leaps
hotly through quickened pulses, and, for the hour, to live in the
sweet, sensuous present is enough; the soul craves no higher good.
Will Ferguson, thus far, had developed no taste for that reckless
youthful procedure, apologetically termed "the sowing of wild oats."

A long sea voyage, and its consequent social limitations, had,
however, quickened in the boy a legitimate youthful craving for fun
and frolic, and, what with the witchery of this May night, the coming
to port, the rapturous thought of home, mother, and that glad greeting
of pretty Kate Benson to-morrow at Springfield, he was, as he
laughingly averred, "chock full of happiness, and on hand for any sort
of a lark." In the heyday of the hour he had not all forgotten that
black day at Canton, and had, within himself, resolved to "hold on
hard whenever he smelt mischief for Jack."

Sauntering idly into North Street, the pair were abruptly brought to a
stand by the gay twang of a violin. "A fiddle; and a waltz!" This set
Will's merry feet going; and while he shuffled, boy-fashion, on the
sidewalk, a smiling personage, issuing from the door of a certain
edifice having over its entrance the sprightly designation of "Dance
House," with an "Hullo, there, my hearties!" begged them "Come in a
while, and see the fun."

Now, Jack Gravesend was quite aware that in a dance-house "the fun" is
of a questionable character. That within it is "the way to hell going
down to the chambers of death," and, being a man of clean kernel, he
had no lascivious affinity with a dance-house; but here was Will
eagerly curious. He liked to humour the lad; and (truth must be told)
he, himself, on this May night, was somewhat morally unbraced. Thus it
was that, lured on by the merry music, and the cordial solicitations
of the doorway panderer, the two crossed the threshhold of this evil
place. Bacchus, be it known (no less than Venus and Terpsichore),
presides over the festivities of the dance-house, and Will Ferguson,
soon weary of the "fun," which was in no wise to his liking, found, to
his dismay, that Jack Gravesend was weakly succumbing to the
fascinations of the "Jolly God." Unable to coax him from the place, he
lingered on, inwardly bemoaning his own inquisitive folly; yet
resolved, let what would come, to see Jack well out of the scrape. It
was not in John Gravesend's nature to do a thing by halves. Whatsoever
he did, was done heartily, and mightily; and, having determined to
drink, he _drank_, until--ah, well! the bestial orgies of a Circean
herd are not things for description, albeit they are nightly enacted
in the dance-houses of our own metropolis.

It was broad day. Jack Gravesend awoke. He rubbed his eyes, and looked
curiously about him. Where was he? Strange! He couldn't have turned in
_here_. He got up, and shook himself wide awake. Two villanous-looking
men, having risen from two neighbouring beds, were doing likewise.
"Hullo, shipmates!" said Jack, now fairly on his feet; "lend a hand
here, and tell me where I am."

The two burglars--for such they were--being well-posted in the leading
particulars of his arrest, glanced knowingly at each other, and
smirked with sinister significance peculiarly aggravating to Jack, and
burglar number one remarked to his associate, "Golly, Bill; he _is_ a
green one! Wants to know _where he is_! do you twig, Bill? Why, my
fine tar, you're in the lock-up, to be sure."

"In the _lock-up_!" said Jack; "and how in thunder _came_ I here?"

"_Brung_ here, of course," responded his informant, "'t ain't a road
folks gin'ally travels on their own account, eh, Bill?" Bill
assenting, with a prodigious wink, Jack propounded a third query: "And
what the deuce may I be here _for_?"

"_Here_ for?" responded the garrulous ruffian. "Thunderin' black job,
my cove! Got drunk last night, and _killed_ a man!"

"_Killed_ a man!" groaned Jack, his eyes dilating, and his flesh
creeping with sudden horror. "Killed a _man_! My God! what will Will
Ferguson say?"

"Ferguson? Bill--Bill Ferguson," growled the other burglar. "By
jiminy, Tom! he wants to know what Bill Ferguson'll say! Precious
_little_, _I'm_ thinkin'; he's about said _his_ say! Why, grampus,
Bill Ferguson's the very indentercal chap you've done for!"

Officer L---- long remembered a cry that woke the echoes of the
lock-up on that May morning. It might have been the yell of a hunted
thing at bay, the outcry of a mortal in fierce extremity, the
despairing wail of a hell-tormented soul.

Turning the key in the lock of No. 17, he hastily entered that
apartment. On the floor, face downward, lay a man.

"Cove in a fit," explained the facetious Tom. "Bill, here, jes' let on
'bout the killin', an' he gin a howl an' went off in a jiffy."

Officer L---- was humane. Good men, thank God! fill many of these
humble places of authority. Silencing the bold ruffian, he bade the
pair help raise the senseless form and adjust it on the rude cot. This
done, he smoothed the tossed hair, wiped the foam from the purple
lips, and chafed the great brown hands as helpfully as if they had
been little "May's," the dear sick lamb of his own pretty flock. At
length, the convulsive throes ceased, and consciousness returned to
the stricken man.

Like some dim-remembered dream, the curt, cruel words of the burglar
recalled themselves to Gravesend's bewildered brain. One look into the
kindly face of the officer reassured him. Feebly rising to his feet,
he sank upon his trembling knees, and prayed brokenly to hear it all.
He was "all right again, and wanted to know the whole truth. He could
bear the _very worst_, and would thank him for it; indeed, sir, he
would." The "very worst" was soon told.

There had been, explained the officer, on the previous night, a
drunken row at a dance-house on North Street. The prisoner had,
unfortunately, been concerned in the affair, and, in the temporary
frenzy of intoxication, had drawn his dirk upon a woman. A young man,
who had hitherto looked on, taking no part in the _mêlée_, now dashed
in to arrest the assailant's hand, and himself received the murderous
thrust. The brawlers had been duly arrested, the youth carried to the
hospital, where, his wound proving mortal, he had, in half an hour,
expired.

On his body a small diary had been found. It was inscribed:

    "Willie Ferguson, from his mother.
        Springfield, Jan. 1, 18--."

       *       *       *       *       *

Will--Fergus-on, Springfield,--18--
Will--Springfield--from--his--mother. 18--Will, Willie, Will. Will
Ferguson. He had sworn never to forget him. He is keeping his oath!
Will--W-i-l-l F-e-r-g-u-s-o-n. There it is; on the walls, on the
ceiling, up and down, over and across! Everywhere, everywhere, the
_name_, the weary, _weary_ name!

He has spelt it, over and over, forward and backward, fast and slow,
loud and softly, again and again, till his brain spins; and sparks,
like wicked little sprites, dance before his strained eyes, and now,
cowering among his pillows, he strives to hide from that terrible
pursuing name. "Smothering? they mean to smother him, do they?" He
starts from his pillow, and, wild and eager, peers about his chamber.
Blood! blood everywhere! The bed-spread is dabbled with it; it
trickles down the walls; it lies in clotted pools upon the floor! In
the window sits an Angora cat, white, mottled with red; she laps
hungrily from an ever-brimming basin of blood! A knife is hanging
yonder. It is a dirk-knife, bright and new. Its handle is lettered.
With aching eyes he spells, "J-a-c-k, f-r-o-m W-i-l-l. C-a-n-t-o-n,
18--." Let him but reach that knife and hurl it into the sea! He is
bound; he struggles; but cannot get free; and there still is the
knife, horribly familiar, with the _name_ staring at him from its
heft, until every letter becomes a mocking serpent's tongue, hissing
over and over in his tormented ear: "Will! Will! Will Ferguson!" He
shivers; his brain is on fire; he can no longer look nor listen; he
can but moan piteously: "Mercy! mercy! God have mercy!" They are
putting a glass to his lips. He is terribly thirsty; and here is no
blood; only an innocent saffron-tinged liquid. He drains it with eager
lips. He is cooler now. The room grows dusky. He can no longer see
that accursed dirk. Somebody had swabbed the floor, and they have
unbound him.

A balmy evening wind, just the very idle land whisper that strayed
among the leaves that night while he and Will sauntered through Boston
Common, wanders in at the open casement. It winnows the hot air, it
breathes upon his fevered brow, "like the benediction that follows
after prayer." He sleeps, and, in his dream, is again with Will, and
on board the _Ohio_. Becalmed in the Gulf Stream, hard by the lovely
"Land of Flowers," lies the huge, idle craft. It is the Sabbath, and
the sailors,--idle as the ship,--gathering in lazy groups, have
pleasant talk of wives and sweethearts (for they are homeward bound).
Will, half-reclined upon a coil of rope, reads aloud from his red
pocket Testament. He has chanced upon this passage, from the dream of
the Patmos seer: "And them that had gotten the victory ... stand on
the sea of glass, having the harps of God." The "victory!" Ah! that is
a _hard_ thing to get! Shall _he_, John Gravesend, ever hold in his
hand a harp of God? While he turns the text over in his mind, looking
wistfully far out across the glassy deep, Will silently rises, walks
swiftly astern, and, without a farewell word, drops quietly into the
sea. He strives to follow. In vain! His limbs are holden in leaden
heaviness. Wrestling with this demon of slumber, he at last awakes.
Springing to his feet, he searches eagerly the empty, moonlit room. He
calls, softly, "Will, Will!" No answer! He fancies a gentle sigh
beneath his window. Will is there, sure enough, waiting for him in the
pleasant moonlight. He need but drop softly to the ground to join him.
Slight iron bars cross the window; he is strong; he wrenches at them
manfully. They yield! They are displaced, and now only this paltry
sash and a bit of glass between him and Will! These are soon
demolished. The window is low, and, noiselessly dropping into the yard
beneath, he calls softly, "Will! Will!" No response. Strange! A moment
ago he was there! It is cool and quiet out here beneath the summer
moon, and Will cannot be far off,--over that wall, perhaps. He scales
it. "Not here? Well, he will run on a bit, and come up with him." And
run on he does. On and on, through that long summer night. Across
dewy-scented garden-plots, over trim cut lawns, whose tender grass is
as velvet to his bare, fleeting feet. Through moist, wide meadows, and
across low, babbling brooks, till, at last, he is upon the long, white
road. Fleet as a hound upon the flying scent, pausing but to listen,
and whisper, huskily, to the heedless night, "Will! Will! Will!" he
hurries on. A half-clad, phantom-like form, breathlessly pursuing a
phantom. The moon sets. The stars are paling in the still, sweet dawn,
when, in the purlieu of a tangled wood, pale and spent, foam gathering
on his lips, blood trickling from his torn feet, he pauses; and,
tottering feebly into an odorous covert of blossoming underwood, falls
prone upon the earth. An angel, with broad and kindly wing, the
gentlest of all God's ministering host, descends to brood tenderly
this desolate creature,--_Sleep_, messenger of peace, forerunner of
that eternal quietude that somewhere stays for all earth's life-worn
children!

On the ensuing morning, sensation craving readers of the Boston
_Morning Chronicle_ read, with characteristic relish, the following:

     GREAT EXCITEMENT!!!

     A Murderer Pretends Insanity and Escapes!

     The citizens of Taunton and its vicinity were this morning
     startled by tidings of the escape of a patient from our State
     Lunatic Hospital. The man was entered, for treatment, from
     Charles Street Jail, and his name is John Gravesend.

     Our readers will, no doubt, recall him to memory as the
     abandoned wretch who, not long since, was arrested in this city
     for the murder of young Ferguson, a mere lad, whom he enticed
     into one of the North Street dens, and there, after robbing his
     victim of a large sum of money, butchered the ill-fated boy.
     The mother of Ferguson, as will be remembered, died soon after
     of a broken heart. While awaiting the award of his crime,
     Gravesend--having successfully feigned insanity--was consigned
     to the State asylum. On the night of the 15th, the asylum
     watchman making his round at ten o'clock, found Gravesend, as
     he supposed, in a sound sleep. At two, the rascal was gone.
     Being a man of great muscular power, he had displaced the
     grating of his window, and thus made good his escape. The
     wretch has been tracked for several miles, and we are informed
     that two efficient detectives, assisted by hospital _employés_,
     are now in full pursuit. Other outrages are imputed to this
     daring villain, and it is hinted that he is concerned in a
     certain mysterious murder, that yet thrills our community with
     horror. Great alarm prevails in the vicinity, and it is hoped
     that the fugitive will be speedily secured.

This "bloodthirsty" monster was, on the afternoon succeeding his
escape, found slumbering as placidly as the leaf-strewn "Babes in the
Wood," in that flowery covert to which we have already tracked him.

From this long trance-like slumber--the crisis of his mental
malady--John Gravesend awoke, with strained, aching limbs, and brain
yet hazy from delirium. Restored to the asylum and treated for his
malady, he gradually returned from that labyrinthian world in which,
for more than two months, his mind had wearily wandered.

Mind and body in their normal condition, he was remanded to jail, and
subsequently arraigned for the wilful destruction of a life dearer to
him than his own. Pleading guilty, and legally condemned for
manslaughter, he was sentenced to confinement for life in the State
Prison. Unmoved, he hears the terrible mandate that dooms him to
life-long banishment from God's wide, beautiful world. With him, the
fatal Rubicon is already passed. He has slain the belovèd one. Life
holds in reserve no heavier woe; and death has not in store a pang
more terrible.



A BUNCH OF VIOLETS.


"There's Neilson, takin' his afternoon walk," said the good-natured
turnkey, making a casual survey of the prison yard from the grated
window near the guard-room door, which he was about to open for my
exit. Neilson! and in the yard? At last, I must encounter that bad
man! I was, be it known, on my way to the prison hospital, carrying a
basket of Parma violets for distribution among a score or so of my
fellow-sinners, now stretched upon hard beds, or wearily sitting on
harder chairs, in that mildly penal department of the institution;
and, no doubt, not eminently deserving of agreeable sniffs at Parma
violets. At this unlooked-for announcement of the turnkey, a cold
shiver ran down my back, for Neilson, even in prison circles, was
accounted a desperate man. He was both robber and murderer; and for
the last fifteen years had been serving out a life sentence of
solitary confinement in one of the dreary cells of the "Upper Arch."

Five of these awful years had he passed in uninterrupted solitude,
but, since the advent of the present humane prison warden, Neilson had
been permitted to take, daily, an hour's exercise in the prison yard,
a sunny enclosure, opening on the workshops, the hospital wing, and
indirectly on the "Upper Arch." In the centre of this court, "the new
warden" had caused a cheery flower plot to be made, and now, in April,
many-hued crocuses already brightened its borders.

It was just before the establishment of the beautiful and helpful
Flower Mission that I undertook, not without some discouragement, to
try the gracious effect of violets, roses, pinks, and heartsease,
behind the bars. In my _then_ limited experience, to be locked out of
the friendly guard-room, and sent alone across the prison yard, had
not been agreeable to me; and, in deference to my groundless fears, an
officer had been detailed to accompany me from the main prison to the
hospital wing. As the years went on, my social popularity in the State
Prison became well assured, and some surprise at this needless
precaution was expressed to me by the convicts; and one attached
prison friend (a highway robber) had even assured me that "if anybody
in that prison should lay a finger on me, he'd be torn to pieces by
the men, afore you could say Jack Robinson."

Though scarcely convinced that the entire demolition of a fellow-being
would indemnify me for such "scaith and scart" as might in the _mêlée_
accrue to my own poor person, it was on this assurance that I decided
to dispense with official escort to the wing. Thus far, my visits had
been so happily timed that the dreaded "Solitary" had never once
crossed my path. Looking anxiously from the window, I made a hasty
survey of the yard. An officer was just stepping from the door of a
distant workshop. Two or three convicts were, at various points of
observation, shuffling across the yard. Well, it was too late to show
the white feather. The turnkey had already unlocked the door, and
stood waiting. I handed him a tiny nosegay (the good man adored
flowers, and I never omitted this pretty "Sop to Cerberus"); and now,
grasping tightly the handle of my flower basket, "with my heart in my
mouth," I thanked him as he held back the heavy door for me, and
passed trembling out.

With a hard iron clang, the door closed behind me. Descending a roomy
flight of steps, I found myself in the prison yard, and, at the same
moment, confronted by,--yes, it must be that dreadful fellow, Neilson,
himself! And a sinister-visaged wretch he was, with his small, ferrety
eyes, his coarse mouth, and heavy chin. He shuffled as he went, and,
with an evil look, stared boldly in my face.

"A tough subject," I mentally determined; but "total depravity" is not
an article of my creed, and I _do_ believe in humanity. In a moment, I
had dismissed all fear of Neilson, in my zeal for his reformation,
and, stepping up to him with a friendly good-afternoon, into which I
insinuated all the approval I could conscientiously bestow upon so
forbidding a creature, I handed him, from my basket, a bunch of
violets. He took them, and, with a clumsy nod, but not a word of
thanks, passed on, leaving me with a lightened heart. And, now, I
stopped a moment to exchange civilities with the officer whom I had
descried from the guard-room window. We were fast friends, and I was
indebted to him for many a kind turn. He glanced disparagingly at my
flowers, and, as a relief to my chagrin, I said, "Well, I have just
given Neilson a bunch of violets; do you imagine that he cares at all
for them?"

"Neilson?" he questioned, in evident perplexity.

"Yes, Neilson," I replied, "that short, stout man yonder, there he is
_now_! going into that door!"

"Bless your heart, my good lady," exclaimed the officer, "that ain't
Neilson! There _he_ is; can't you see him, the tall fellow with his
nose in the air, standing there by the crocus bed? If there's any
flowers in the yard, Neilson's about sure to fetch up near 'em."

"Is he?" I said; and from that moment "a fellow-feeling made me kind."
I felt sure of the ultimate good-will of Neilson. Meantime, having
exhausted the attraction of the crocus bed, he was moving in my
direction, but so slowly that I had time to make a critical survey of
this famous personage,--a grave, quiet man of slender but firm build,
and, even in his coarse prison uniform, bearing himself with a certain
air of (if I may so express it) scholarly elegance.

Suitably clothed, he might have been taken for a clergyman, or a
Harvard professor. Selecting the very choicest nosegay from my basket,
I bade him, as we met, a cheerful good-afternoon, and, offering the
flowers, said timidly (for I found this grave, lordly being somewhat
unapproachable), "Would you like a bunch of violets to-day?" Absorbed
in his own reflections, he had not, until now, observed me. He
stopped, came out of his reverie, and, lifting his worn prison cap
with a highly ceremonious bow, took the flowers from my hand,
composedly smelt them, and said, slowly: "Thank you, madam, they
_would_ be very refreshing." Though Neilson's demeanour was eminently
stoical, his face was pitiably wan and thin, and in his faded blue eye
there was a world of patient pathos that went straight to my heart.

As he was about to pass on, I detained him for a moment, and said,
eagerly, "If you like flowers--if you--if you think they would _help_
you, I might bring you a few every Monday, as I come to the hospital."

"Flowers," he replied sententiously, "_are_ refreshing; and if it will
not be putting you to too much inconvenience, madam, I would be glad
to receive a few from you every week." After this it was arranged with
the obliging guard-room turnkey, that every Monday afternoon, along
with his own buttonhole posy, a bouquet of "seasonable flowers" should
be left on his desk, and should be sent by him to Neilson's cell. And,
moreover, ascertaining that Neilson had no "visitor," I obtained
permission of the warden to put his name on my visiting list, among
those of some forty other unvisited convicts, who, in lieu of dearer
company, received _me_ once in three months, in the big guard-room. On
these occasions, I was allowed to bring my sorry acquaintances
flowers, fruit, drawing and writing materials, books, tracts and
magazines, together with such sound moral advice as could be,--like
the "sheep in the Vicar's family picture,"--"thrown in for nothing."
In their turn, my friends confided to me such passages in their lives
as might properly be told to a lady; acquainted me with their desires
and aspirations, and, almost invariably, craved my intercession with
the governor. (For, whatever his crime, each prison convict hopes
that, with some friendly go-between to present his case, that
mild-hearted executive will promptly "pardon him out.") But of this
service I was conscientiously chary. Gladly it was, however, that I
undertook the sale of such inlaid boxes, photograph frames, and other
articles as the men found time and material to fashion, the proceeds
of which enabled them to subscribe for "Harper's," to own a book or
two, or, better still, to make an occasional remittance to some
dependent mother, wife or child, left in want by their own wicked
folly. Of all the convicts on my list, none proved more satisfactory
than Neilson. Our conversation, carried on, according to the prison
rules, within earshot of an officer, related chiefly to literature;
for this sometime robber and murderer was a man of no mean intellect;
and his mental energies, now necessarily diverted from more deplorable
channels, had, in these years of solitary leisure, been so well
applied to self-improvement, that from almost utter ignorance he had
come to be, after his own fashion, an educated man.

Before his last sentence (as he told me) he had been scarcely able to
read, and could not even write his name. During his residence in the
"Upper Arch," he had, single-handed, mastered reading and writing,
and had made fair headway in grammar, geography, arithmetic, geometry,
astronomy, and various other branches of education. For general
reading he had a decided relish, and a correct appreciation of
literary excellence. Fiction he held in supreme contempt, and could
have had but a slight acquaintance with it, as he assured me that, in
his whole life (he was now fifty years old), he had read but a single
story, "The Vicar of Wakefield." As the prison library could not
always supply Neilson's favourite mental food, I undertook to furnish
him with such reading as he lacked; and his careful use, and prompt
return of a book, with his fine appreciation of its contents, made
this work a pleasure.

Neilson's story, part of which I had from his own lips and the
remainder from the warden himself, runs thus:

An Englishman, born in a London slum, and growing up, as any ill weed
must, at haphazard, he had, even in his first trousers, gravitated
naturally to crime. A childhood of vagrancy and petty thieving
ill-passed, in his early manhood he became a professional
house-breaker. He had been made acquainted with many of the prisons
of his native country, and had twice made his escape from "durance
vile," when he was transported to Botany Bay, from whence he also
escaped, along with another notorious burglar and robber, who had been
his partner in the crime, for which they had both been expatriated.

On regaining their liberty, the pair had come to this country, and, in
Boston, had together undertaken the robbery of a bank. For this crime,
they were duly convicted, and sentenced to seven years in the State
Prison. Before the removal from jail to prison, one of them managed to
escape. The other, Neilson, had divided his booty with his accomplice.
Neilson was the soul of honour, that very questionable honour, which,
according to the adage, _may_ exist among thieves, and, though he
obligingly informed the officers of the "bank," where _his_ share of
the plunder was buried (which they recovered), and, in a subsequent
interview with them in prison, slipped off his shoe, and took from his
stocking, and further restored to them, a sum of about seven hundred
dollars, which he had retained as pocket-money, and thus ingeniously
smuggled into prison, neither entreaty nor bribe could induce him to
reveal anything in regard to the plunder of his accomplice.

It was affirmed of Neilson that, in the bad days above referred to, he
never countenanced violence, but carried on his profession, for the
most part, without personal injury to his victims, accomplishing his
ends rather by strategy, than by brutality. And yet, strange as it
was, this very man, on one fatal morning,--and, oddly enough, it was
that of the very day when his sentence for the bank robbery had
expired, and within a few hours he would have been discharged from the
prison,--as the convicts were marching in file from the prison to the
workshop, made a brutal and fatal attack upon an unoffending fellow
convict. Reaching over the shoulder of the man next him in the ranks,
he stabbed the unfortunate prisoner in the neck, with a shoe-knife,
severing the jugular vein, and causing immediate death. There was no
quarrel between the two, and no cause could be assigned for the
murder, for which Neilson was, in due time, tried, convicted, and
sentenced to be hanged.

All the arrangements for carrying out the sentence had been made, the
gallows erected, the rope in its place, and the chaplain rendering the
last service of his office, when a reprieve for thirty days was
received from the governor.

On consideration, it was believed that Neilson must have been
labouring under temporary insanity, and, as he was known to be a man
of pacific character, and could assign no cause for the attack, though
he had never shown _other_ symptoms of mental disturbance, he was
given the benefit of a doubt, and his sentence commuted to solitary
imprisonment for life. Thus he escaped the grave, only to be consigned
to a living tomb. At the time of our first acquaintance, Neilson, all
told, had been about twenty years in the ---- State Prison. For the
first years of his sentence, he was not once permitted to leave his
cell, and but for the praiseworthy humanity of the new warden, he
would never again have seen the sun.

The cells of the "Upper Arch" are not, like those in general use, on
exhibition; but, one day, in consideration of my having never abused
the privileges granted me by the authorities of the ---- State
Prison, I was kindly permitted to visit Neilson in his own apartment.

Following my guide, I passed through a damp, narrow corridor, gloomy
to oppressiveness, and lined with grim iron doors, each stoutly
secured with bar and padlock. Many of these cells are temporarily
inhabited by refractory prisoners, and, as I went, a discordant chorus
of groans, yells, and oaths, mingled with the dissonance of maniacal
mirth from some ill-balanced wretch, gone mad in this horrible
solitude, saluted my unwilling ear. On the extreme end of the doleful
corridor, a narrow, cobwebbed window shed its feeble light. Pausing at
the left-hand corner cell, my conductor fitted his key to the padlock,
turned it, removed the heavy bar, and, throwing back the door, ushered
me into Neilson's presence.

I found the cell somewhat larger than the ordinary private compartment
of the prison, but indescribably damp, fetid, and dismal. A narrow
loophole, glazed, grated and "hermetically sealed," admitted a dim
glimmer of day. A small aperture, or wicket, near the bottom of its
door, and evidently made for the double purpose of admitting air and
food, was now tightly closed.

For furniture, the place contained a rude bed, with mattress of straw,
grimy sheets, and a meagre allowance of coarse gray blankets, with a
pillow of husks, or straw, a rough table of pine, a shelf for books,
and a stool. On the table stood a rusty tin cup, a bottle of vinegar,
a pepper-box, and a cup of dingy salt. It also held two iron spoons, a
horn-handled knife and fork, and a Bible. The shelf was well filled
with books, and among them stood a glass pickle jar, now sacred to
Neilson's bouquets, and still holding a few withered flowers.

Neilson, himself, was half reclined upon his bed, and intent upon a
book. As I entered, he arose in some confusion. A call, with Neilson,
was scarce a possible occurrence. His composure, however, was soon
regained, and, bowing ceremoniously, he bade me good-day, and, with
cordial dignity, did the honours of his cell.

He exhibited, with pride, his small library, and called my especial
attention to the excellence of the shelf, which he had made for his
precious volumes, about fifteen or twenty in number. I had brought
Neilson a modicum of that June, whose sunshine comes alike for God's
good and evil children, in the shape of a great bunch of damask roses.
Filling his jar from the rusty tin cup, he arranged them with tender
care, and their grateful odour soon pervaded this dreary place. A box
of ripe, red strawberries June had also, on this occasion, donated to
her indifferent pensioner; and now, glad to leave behind me even this
poor bit of summer, I took a last sad survey of the sorry place, and
bade Neilson adieu. As I went gratefully back to God's daylight,
musing upon the man and his dismal, lifelong abode, it seemed no
wonder that, moping for fifteen years in this cheerless cell, his
brain should, at times, have succumbed to the horrors of the
situation, for the warden had told me that sometimes Neilson "went out
of his head." It was then that, pursued by the avenging shade of
"Morris," the man whom he had murdered, his shrieks aroused the night
patrol, who must call the warden from his bed, to lay the poor
phantom, as Neilson fancied that the warden--and _only he_--could.

For six kindly years, it was permitted me to make life a little less
dreary for Neilson, and to exhort him to bear with becoming fortitude
the long penance justly accorded him, and, in my blundering, imperfect
way, to suggest to him _divine_ compassion by my _own_.

Though undoubtedly of plebeian parentage, some tiny runlet of gentle
blood must have found its indirect way to Neilson's cockney veins.
Never once, in all our intercourse, did he shock me by a coarse
expression, or an ill-bred action. In his choice of words he was even
finical, and his taste in the arrangement of flowers could scarcely
have been impeached by the most fastidious person. He had, invariably,
the bearing and instincts of a gentleman. His dietetic predilections,
I grieve to record, were sometimes inelegant. Though eminently
reticent in regard to his wants, he had made bold to solicit a bit of
cheese as an accompaniment to the mince pie which on each State
holiday (the legal pie-time in the prison) I gladly provided for him,
and I was instructed that the _stronger_ the cheese was, the better.
He also preferred raw onions to Bartlett pears, and many a little
basket of that pungent vegetable have I conveyed to him, to the sore
disquiet of my own vexed olfactories. Pepper-grass, artichokes, and
raw turnips, he held in high esteem.

Ordinarily peaceful and placid, Neilson could, at times, be aroused to
extreme anger; and I well remember his furious protest against the
prison chaplain, when that worthy had confiscated a work of James
Freeman Clarke's, which he found in the possession of a
theologically-minded convict, on the ground that it was "an infidel
book," and improper reading for the prison.

As the slow years went on with Neilson, he became, gradually, a
broken-down man. The "Arch" had well done its destructive work, and,
about five years after I made his acquaintance, he was forever removed
from its deleterious atmosphere, and permanently quartered in the
prison hospital, where, in common with his fellow patients, he enjoyed
all the legal immunities accorded to the invalid prisoner.

He could now get space for his cramped limbs, had some fellowship,
_sub rosa_, with his kind, and leave to sun himself in the yard _ad
libitum_. Poor Neilson! this comparative freedom had come too late. He
was now far gone in consumption, had Bright's disease, and the doctor
had also discovered some serious disturbance with his heart. His
brain, too, shared in this breaking up, and he had now abandoned
reading, and employed his leisure, when free from pain, in dainty
wood-carving or inlaying. His work, often fantastic in design, was
always exquisite in finish, and sometimes absurdly elaborate where
elaboration was quite unnecessary (for with Neilson, "the gods saw
everywhere"). Hours of patient labour were devoted to the finish of
the "unseen."

The unanimous good-will of instructors in the prison shops made the
daintiest materials easily attainable to the poor fellow, and his
ivory charms, his mother-of-pearl crosses, and inlaid satin-wood
boxes, found, outside the prison, a ready market, and a price which
enabled him, probably for the first time in his whole life, to become
the possessor of money honestly earned. In the hospital it was that
Neilson evolved, with fanciful ingenuity, for my poor self, the most
remarkable of inkstands. The design embraced a camel standing on a
platform wreathed with carven forget-me-nots, and inscribed with a
Latin motto, having some enigmatical reference to the foresighted
habit of the creature. Unfortunately, the platform, the camel, with
his two humps, the motto, and the forget-me-nots, made so large a
figure in Neilson's design, that its main feature, the inkstand, had,
virtually, to be omitted; and could only be hinted at by a shallow
vessel, holding about one good thimbleful, and perched perilously upon
the camel's irregular back. From time to time I was permitted to watch
the progress of this remarkable creation, and was called upon for a
pictured camel and some real forget-me-nots, as models.

The somewhat crotchety custodian of the hospital, from day to day,
contemptuously taking note of the advancement of my inkstand, on its
final completion grimly assured me that, "If Neilson had been paid by
the day for his labour on _that thing_, it would have cost about two
hundred dollars!" Poor, patient fellow, it was almost his last work!
He had now become too weak to crawl down the hospital stairs for his
daily sun-bath. And by and by his seat in the saloon, where the men,
who were able to be about, gathered on Mondays to listen to my
reading, was empty. He lay now on his cot informally clad in a faded
print shirt and patched trousers, both of which he wore with a dignity
peculiarly his own. His head was adorned with a towering cotton
nightcap. Whatever else he might lack, Neilson always stood out firmly
for a nightcap. It was to him a sort of insignia of respectability. To
his last hour he never for a moment lost that superiority of mien
which distinguished him even amid the coarse and degrading
surroundings of a prison. At the last he suffered great pain, but, as
the end approached, his mind became wonderfully clear, and he listened
intelligently to reading, and enjoyed conversation.

He gave little trouble to his attendants, detailed from among his
fellow convicts to nurse him by day, or to watch with him at night,
and, to the hour of his death, he was stoically patient.

It was to be feared that, in the bewilderment of his final moments,
the shade of the murdered "Morris" might again torture him. On the day
preceding his death, after reading from his prayer-book the services
for the sick and dying, I sat painfully watching his laborious
breathing, as he lay propped high with pillows, and with an
expression of solemn expectancy on his awed face. From time to time a
spasm of pain contracted his brow, already damp with the dew of death.
I wiped tenderly his moist forehead, put a spoonful of water between
his poor lips, and, still mindful of the avenger, "Morris," stooped to
his ear, and whispered reassuringly, "You're not at all afraid, _are_
you, Neilson." He opened wide his eyes, and, with a half-reproachful
glance, replied, distinctly, "Afraid! afraid of _God_! Ah, madam, I
wish I were _with_ Him now!" That night Neilson's prayer was answered.
With mighty throes (for he was originally a man of iron constitution,
all his forebears, as he told me, having outlived their ninetieth
year) his spirit was loosed from the body of its sin and suffering, to
return to God who gave it.

Neilson's obsequies were attended with a ceremony unusual in the
prison, where burials are, for the most part, but slight occasions,
and, in certain exigencies, _have_ taken place without even the grace
of a prayer from the chaplain.

This funeral was honoured by the attendance of both warden and
chaplain. Some thirty men from the shops had obtained permission to
be present. One or two instructors and officers of "low degree" were
also there, and I, too, had been invited. The chaplain gave a slight
sketch of Neilson's prison life, winding up with some words of
exhortation for the benefit of the convicts. The warden made a simple
and kindly address. A prayer was offered, after which the men, with
uncovered heads, filed reverently to the coffin's side for a last look
at the tranquil white face of their comrade, and then, with sobered
mien, and attended by their officers, left the hospital. While the
warden and chaplain made some final arrangement with the hospital
officer, I lingered by the coffin to place a bunch of fresh violets in
Neilson's listless hand; then, bidding him a mute farewell, followed,
with a slow step and a saddened heart, the warden and chaplain; and we
passed together into the great guard-room.

As I stood, with tearful eyes, waiting for the turnkey to let me out
of the prison, the warden came to my side. "Well, Neilson is gone," he
said, gravely. "He was an old resident, and will be missed in the
prison; and, by the by, let me tell you that you are an heiress!
Neilson made his will, and committed it to my care. All his little
savings, thirty dollars, he has bequeathed to you. Poor fellow," he
continued, "no doubt in his day he's done his share of harm, but,
whatever he was, Neilson knew his _friends_."

One's first legacy, be it ever so small, is an event and often a
surprise. Never before had my humble name been recorded in a will. I
was not long, however, in determining the disposal of Neilson's
pathetic request. It should be devoted to the erection of a simple
stone to mark his last resting-place.

In common with all the unclaimed dead of the prison, he was carried to
Tewksbury for interment in the pauper burying-ground.

At my request, the warden kindly wrote to the authorities there,
asking them to designate the burial spot of Neilson, that I might be
enabled to carry out my resolution. No reply having been vouchsafed,
in my discouragement, I betook myself to the "Board of State
Charities" for information in regard to Neilson's missing remains.
Some inquiries into the matter were, I believe, made by that
institution, but so indifferently were they pursued that nothing came
of it, and I was finally compelled to the sad supposition that
Neilson had been denied that last cheap boon which even the poorest
may claim of earth--a grave; and his legacy was, accordingly,
consecrated to the procurement of fruit for the convict patients in
hospital; and, perhaps, this disposition of his little savings would
not have seemed unfitting to the poor fellow himself, had it been
possible to consult him on this occasion.

All this happened twenty years ago; and no light having yet been
thrown on the mysterious disappearance of Neilson's mortal part, it is
reasonable to infer that it was long since dismembered in the interest
of science; or, that, still partially intact, it now hangs fleshless
and dishonored in some doctor's "skeleton closet."

From these gruesome conclusions one gladly takes refuge in the
inspiriting hope that Neilson _himself_ still lives; and that, in some
phase of existence beyond the ken of our meagre psychology, his moral
evolution now goes uninterruptedly on.

    "For yet we trust that somehow good
      Will be the final goal of ill,
      To pangs of nature, sins of will,
    Defects of doubt, and taints of blood."



A DISASTROUS SLEIGH-RIDE.


It is nightfall in the prison. In these sombre precincts where day is
never fairly admitted, night falls grimly, as if the entire procedure
were, at best, but a poor bit of irony. The convicts are safe in their
unsavoury lodging-rooms. In the chilly corridors, light feebly
struggles with the surrounding gloom; and the cells are half in
shadow; yet, here and there, an unquiet figure may be discerned,
pacing its irksome bounds with short, sharp turns, or standing moodily
at its grated door; an unknown outcast; a unit in an aggregate of
sin-wrecked humanity; yet (as God knows) endowed with a heart akin to
our own,--a heart that can ache, repent, endure, and break!

In the deserted guard-room silence reigns. The night turnkey is
seated in his place. His bowed head gradually inclines toward his
ample chest, and presently, losing its poise, is righted with an
abrupt jerk. Rubbing his eyes, he makes a drowsy attempt at official
scrutiny, and sinks supinely into untroubled slumber. Meantime,
yonder, in the "North Wing," a sly whispering goes undisturbedly on.

Pat Doniver, the prison runner, whose hour of dismissal has not yet
come, is, informally, interviewing his fellow-convicts. To all intents
and purposes Pat is innocently resting upon a pine stool, subject to
official order, and upon the very brink of falling asleep. Truth,
however, compels the severe statement that, between Mr. Doniver's
doing and his seeming, there is often a lamentable discrepancy; but,
to get at the "true inwardness" of Pat, one must hear the story of
that magnificent sleigh-ride, which, quite contrary to his intention,
ultimately landed him in the State Prison.

Pat Doniver is an Irishman, although--as he will tell you--"not born
in his own native counthry; but narrowly escapin' that same," having
been prematurely hustled upon the stage of life in the crowded
steerage of an Atlantic steamer bound for Boston, and not yet fairly
out of sight of Albion's chalky cliffs.

In form, Pat is lithe and trim; in face, a very Hibernian Apollo--if
one may conceive an Apollo with a nose decidedly tip-tilted. All the
same, Pat's facial development is good. His mouth is finely cut, with
odd little smiles forever dimpling its handsome corners. His eyes are
coal black, his hair ditto; and such curls! They are Pat's special
weakness--the darlings of his heart! And it is known among the prison
officers that Pat, having been bidden to submit these cherished raven
wings to the initiatory prison shearing, had stoutly refused
compliance to the "Powers that be;" and had actually endured the
horrors of a three days' "Solitary" in defence of the inalienable
right of an Irish-American citizen to the peaceful possession of his
own hair!

In repose, Pat's visage has that air of demure mischief which lurks in
the visage of a frolicsome kitten, dozing, with one eye open, in the
sunshine. This is Pat's story; and looking into prison life, you will
find it no uncommon one.

City-born, his juvenile days seem to have alternated unequally between
chores and school, and to have exhibited long and frequent intervals
of utter vagrancy. At twelve, he lost his mother (his father is a
being entirely outside his knowledge), and, scrambling up to early
manhood, as best he could, he finally rose to the dignity of a hack
driver. Subsequently, Pat became an expert tippler. The two pursuits
(as one must often have observed) do not in the least antagonize. Thus
it eventually came to pass that, with Pat, to be tipsy was the general
rule; to be sober, the rare exception. It was after the great
snow-fall of 18--, that our hero resolved to "trate himself" to a
sleigh-ride. Sleigh-rides, in _his_ line, were, to be sure, every-day
occurrences, but this, as he explained, in his own rich brogue, was to
be "a good social time, all aloon be meself."

To this end (temporarily entrusting his hack to a friendly fellow
Jehu) Mr. Doniver hired a fine horse and cutter, and, with the same,
"to kape himself warrum," a big buffalo robe. Thus amply equipped, and
having his pockets well lined with small coin, Pat set merrily forth.
The day was bitterly cold, the drinks delightfully warm, and,
somehow, he took by the way more refreshment than he had, at the
outset, counted on. Indeed, if truth must be told, at an early period
in this jolly excursion Pat had reached that complex mental condition
in which to count _at all_ is a most difficult matter, and, as the day
wore on,--save a confused consciousness of more drinks in sundry bars
than cash in a certain pocket,--Pat altogether lost his reckoning. In
this awkward dilemma, it naturally occurred to our thirsty
excursionist to dispose of certain marketable personal effects
immediately at hand. Having at various halting-places drunk out his
big silver watch, a huge pencil of the same salable metal, his new red
silk bandanna, his pocketbook and pocket-comb, a smart new necktie,
bought expressly for this superb occasion, and, last of all, his drab,
many-caped overcoat, it now became obvious to his mind that, in the
increasing warmth of temperature,--consequent upon infinite
potations,--a buffalo robe was but the merest of superfluities. Having
arrived at this stoical conclusion, Pat, thereafter, retains but a
confused recollection of this disastrous excursion. "An obleegin'
gintlemun," as he remembers, had the goodness to exchange whiskey for
wild buffaloes, which he, Pat, proposed to hunt and drive hither in
countless herds. Pat awoke the next morning, to find himself in the
lock-up, charged with drunkenness and the theft of a buffalo robe.

The smart cutter, with its unconscious occupant, had been obligingly
delivered by the fagged but sagacious steed to its proprietor, who,
minus his buffalo robe, had, in turn, delivered Pat to the police.

On this count, deposited in jail, Patrick passed the sorry interval
between commitment and trial in fighting the blue devils, whose
onsets, at this advanced stage of alcoholic excess, were not, as one
may imagine, few or far between.

Pat had, however, a genuine Irish constitution, and no lack of Irish
combativeness. And, unaided and alone, he grappled vigourously with
the fierce devils of delirium tremens, and, had he _not_ worsted them,
unaided and alone, he would probably have perished. Destiny, however,
having better (and also _worse_) things in store for Mr. Doniver, he
did, at last, worst them, and, when the day for his trial came, he
was--for once in his adult existence--austerely sober.

And now it would not have gone hard with the fellow, since this petty
larceny might have been expiated by a short term in the House of
Correction, had not one of those mischievous birds who carry tales
whispered in court that Pat Doniver was a notorious drunkard.

"Inebriation," severely remarked the judge to the counsel on his left,
whose breath exhaled an unmistakable odour of brandy, "inebriation,
sir, is becoming rampant in our community, and I shall find it my duty
to make of the case before me an impressive example;" and thereupon,
the jury having already returned a verdict of guilty, the judge,
fidgeting in his seat (his dinner hour being long since passed, and
his temper somewhat choleric), looked straight at Pat, thought of the
alarming increase of drunkenness in our midst, and gave him five years
in the State Prison.

Having thus judicially finished Pat Doniver, with a sigh of relief,
the judge dismissed the case, and went to dinner.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the prison, as elsewhere, good-natured Pat won general favour,
and, in the second year of his incarceration, Warden Flint gave him
the easy and comparatively agreeable position of runner.

Hitherto, the sluggish current of Mr. Doniver's prison life had
pursued the dull, even tenor of its way. Now, Destiny had graciously
widened the sphere of his activities. Without an atom of downright
viciousness in his composition, Pat was an inborn rogue, and it was
his prime delight to outwit the sharp-eyed officers of the prison; to
plan and execute under their very noses an endless variety of harmless
mischief. Often, in the kindness of his warm Irish heart, he did
mischief "that good might come;" oftener, he wrought it for its own
relishing sake.

One of the duties consequent upon Pat's vocation was the conveyance of
meals to certain unruly prison spirits, who,--choosing, like Milton's
Devil, rather to "reign in darkness than serve in light,"--consume in
penal solitude their scanty dole of bread and water; many a sly bit of
relishing pork, saved from his own meagre portion, and snugly
sandwiched between coarse slices of bread, solaced these hungry
wretches. Often did a certain water-proof tin box,--conveyed for this
sinful purpose to our tricksy purveyor, by that underground express
whose mysteries only the initiated may penetrate,--often did this box,
neatly ensconced in the innocent depths of a water-bucket, empty its
savoury contents into the hollow maws of refractory sinners! Pat's
position in the prison also afforded him countless opportunities for
that surreptitious intercourse, which, at this time, constituted the
whole social interchange of the place; and, in the capacity of
newsmonger and go-between, he had come to be a very popular and highly
important personage in this restricted community. Who but he could
adroitly snatch that propitious moment to whisper at the grating of
some eager magpie of the big cage that racy bit of outside gossip,
deftly gleaned from the thoughtless chat of loquacious officers?

When the "nate young gintlemun" in No. --, whose deceased great
grandsire had unluckily bequeathed him certain erratic views
respecting the ancient pronouns, "_Meum et tuum_," which, never quite
developing in _bona-fide_ crime, had in no wise proved disastrous to
the aforesaid progenitor, whose bones crumbled in the family vault as
reputably as might those of that elusive "honest man," for whom the
Grecian cynic, lantern in hand, is known to have vainly scoured this
naughty world;--when the "nate young gintlemun,"--with the ugly
heirloom which Nature, amplifying by the way, had carried disastrously
on to the third generation,--sat moping and repenting alone in his
prison cell, who but Pat Doniver, dropping for a bit of rest on that
pine stool "forninst" the grating, would empty, _sotto voce_, in the
prisoner's ear, such a budget of fun, news, and anecdote (the latter a
trifle stale, but still racy) as would send this dejected young forger
to his dreary cot with a cheered and comforted heart?

Is the prison runner giving a coffee-party to-night, or, like his fine
old countrywoman, inaugurating "a saries of tays?" One, two, three,
four tin cups! they were all handed empty through the grating; and, by
some deft legerdemain of Pat, they all go back full! But whist! there
comes the turnkey! Pat and his stool become instantly motionless, and,
in the twinkling of an eye, he is sound asleep. The officer--not
without many vigorous shakes--awakens him, and he is sent yawning and
stumbling to his cell. There, administering to himself a slight dose
of his mysterious beverage, he pulls a face of extreme disgust, and
thereafter, tightly holding his sides, rolls for a time on the floor
of his dormitory, convulsed with suppressed laughter.

And now, in explanation of the evening's occurrence, one must bring
upon the scene no less a personage than Jehaziel Green, Esq., sometime
postmaster of Pinkertown, deacon of the First Church, proprietor of
Pinkertown corner grocery, and overseer of its poor.

Mr. Green has, of late, fallen upon evil times. In consequence of
sundry openings of plethoric letters on their passage through
Pinkertown post-office, he has become a regular resident of the ----
State Prison.

As, according to the physiologists, man is atomically changed but once
in seven years, Jehaziel Green--having existed but one year and three
months behind the bars--is still, to all intents and purposes,
chemically the same Jehaziel Green; and no whit more or less mean,
selfish and unscrupulous than when he dealt out to Pinkertown sanded
sugar, watered molasses and washy milk; when he snubbed and starved
the parish poor, relieved the over-weighted contribution box in the
church vestry, and pried open the fat letters in the post-office.

In outward appearance he is, indeed, somewhat altered, since, at
Pinkertown, his every-day suit was of fine Scotch tweed, and his
Sunday attire of black broadcloth; while here, his secular and
Sabbatical array is not only one and the same, but (queer freak of
fancy!) it is parti-colored, red, yellow, and blue! Outside a prison a
man's clothes _do_, more or less, affect his claim to favourable
consideration. Behind the bars a less superficial standard holds. The
elegant art of dress has been reduced to democratic simplicity.

For what saith "the Board?" "The convict's clothes are to be so
calculated as to _keep him warm_."

They are not, let it be observed, to minister to his freakish taste,
or to pamper his personal pride. Their sole purpose is "to keep him
warm." Having thus defined the prison toilet, the worthy commissioners
add--as an ethical afterthought--"they ought to be so arranged as to
be considered a means of punishment." This seemingly original
conception of the penal uses of clothes is not, however, peculiarly
"the Board's," since, outside of prison circles, men's clothes are
often "so arranged" by fashion as "to be considered a means of
punishment." Be that as it may, Jehaziel Green, still true to himself,
is no less Jehaziel, in red, yellow, and blue, than in gray or black.

In the prison, money is necessarily scarce; yet--under the rose--there
is always a deal of swapping. Mr. Green hiding his accomplishments in
the prison cabinet-making department, relieves the dull routine of
existence by lively attention to that especial mode of traffic.

Purloining bits of plush, of damask, rosewood, and black walnut, and
pilfering varnish and glue, he swaps these commodities,--much desired
for inlaid boxes, picture frames, etc., by ingenious fellow
convicts,--for fruit, tobacco, and other coveted luxuries. In process
of time, the unique conception of establishing a "liquor concern"
behind the bars dawns upon the alert mind of the ex-postmaster. For
the furtherance of this bold scheme he subtracts, from time to time,
small quantities of the alcohol, used in his shop for cabinet
purposes, until, by unwearied effort, he has pilfered of this fiery
liquid a sufficiency to set him up in trade. Under the circumstances,
Mr. Green is compelled to transact by proxy; and Patrick Doniver,
having been appointed his sole agent, is, to-night, "travelling for
the Firm."

Let it not be supposed that our unmercenary runner is a salaried agent
of the House of Green. Far from it! This risky service is not
undertaken for filthy lucre; it is but a gratuitous kind office on the
part of Mr. Doniver, mischievous enough to be undertaken for its own
satisfying self--and its relish vastly enhanced by the good-natured
reflection that "a bit of the crathur'll put a warrum linin' in
'em--poor sowls!" And a terrible warm lining, say we, would such a hot
"crathur" impart! But Pat has anticipated us; for well aware that he
is not catering for Salamanders, he does not once dream of subjecting
Mr. Green's customers to "an ordeal by fire." Carefully diluting his
alcohol with innocent water, he flavors it well with essence of
peppermint,--saved up from a medicinal allotment for a bygone
stomach-ache,--sweetens with molasses, and, adding a sup of vinegar
from his private bottle, he produces a mixture which, if not
delicious, is, undoubtedly, unique.

Having already disposed of several quarts of this mildly intoxicating
beverage, Pat, recovered from his late apoplectic symptoms, prudently
administers to himself, as a sedative, the balance of this rare "tap,"
and having, with many wry faces, drained his tin cup to the bitter
dregs, composes himself to rest. On the ensuing morning several fresh
patients are allowed to report themselves at hospital; and it is
feared that an unfamiliar epidemic may prevail in the prison. Some
half dozen convicts have been unaccountably attacked with severe
vomiting, followed by extreme lassitude, and intense loathing of food.
Pat Doniver is of the number, and is said to be very ill. These
perplexing cases are vigorously treated by the mystified doctor, and,
speedily yielding to his hit-or-miss prescriptions, the patients
convalesce, and the alarm subsides. So also does the prison liquor
business.

The residue of that fiery consignment,--harboured with great fear and
trembling, in the innermost recesses of Mr. Doniver's straw
mattress,--is, at the earliest opportunity, handed over to "the
Firm;" Pat--transposing for the occasion a wise old saw--judiciously
observes to his employer, that "it's a poor _broth_ indade, that its
own _cook_ cannot drink!"

Jehaziel Green--impervious to the "sweet uses of adversity"--pilfered
and swapped to the end of his prison chapter. Then, migrating to the
far West, he became a prosperous wholesale grocer, and is _said_ to
have run for Congress. ("Why," queried the rural observer, "do the
_little_ rogues go to prison, and the _big_ ones to Congress?")

After serving out his five years, Pat Doniver had the luck to be
"taken on" again as hack man; and, as the outcome of his wild
sleigh-ride, he lived, ever after, a wiser and a soberer man.



TUCKERED OUT.


Hiram Fisher was "in for life," and had already served out twenty
years of this hopeless term, when I made his acquaintance. From his
forebears--a long line of Cape Cod fishermen--Hiram has inherited an
inexhaustible stock of good nature, a well-knit frame, the muscle of
an ox, and such an embarrassment of vitality, that even twenty years
of bad air, meagre diet, and tiresome monotony, had not perceptibly
loosened his grip on existence. For the last ten years of his term, he
had been a "runner" in the prison, the right-hand man of the warden,
the well approved of inferior officials, the universal favourite of
convicts, and head singer in the chapel choir; and in all that time
had never once broken a rule of the prison! A convict _could_ no more;
an angel _might_ have accomplished less!

By what occult process a murderer had been evolved from material so
seemingly impracticable--from a man of whom it might reasonably be
predicated that he would not, of malice prepense, destroy a fly--let
the sages tell us; the riddle is far beyond my poor reading. All the
same, it was for murder, and in the first degree, that Hiram Fisher
had been sentenced. The particulars of his crime were to be had for
the asking, of any garrulous prison official, yet I was too incurious
of detail to ask for them.

If "accidents"--as the proverb goes--"happen in the _best_ of
families," the worst may not hope to escape; and, one day, by some
luckless misstep on the iron stairway of the prison, Hiram got a fall
which, had Destiny consented, might have broken his neck. As it was,
he was picked up in the corridor, unconscious and much bruised in
body, and taken for repair to the prison hospital; and it was there
that we became fast friends. It was to relieve the tedium of a long
bout of reclining, with one leg inflexibly incased in plaster, that I
undertook, for Hiram's sole benefit, the reading of a Dickens's
Christmas Carol, which had found great favour with the convalescents
gathered about the stove for the weekly hospital reading.

Before I had gone through the first half dozen pages, it became
evident that Hiram, though, like most New Englanders of his class,
tolerably conversant with the three Rs, had no possible use for
literature of any sort. I went on half-heartedly to the bitter end,
and closing the book, to his apparent relief, resolved, in my after
intercourse with the patient, to confine myself strictly to
conversation. After this we changed places. Hiram held forth, and I
became the much entertained listener. With that easy yarn-spinning
felicity, inherent in the born sailor, the patient reeled off for me
so interminable a string of incident, anecdote, and heart-moving
outside adventure, with such rare and racy sketches of prison life,
that my Mondays (Monday was hospital day with me) became, throughout
his entire convalescence, like an unbroken series of "Arabian Nights."

Notable among Hiram's hospital recitals was the little sketch which
follows, and which I have attempted to reproduce (as nearly as is
possible from memory) in his own quaint and homely dialect.


                    THE TUCKERED-OUT MAN.

"Well, arter I'd been in the 'palace'[1] somewhere 'bout ten year, I
got a leetle peaked-like, an' the doctor he overhauled me, an' sent me
up t' the hospital for a spell. I wa'n't sick enough to be in bed, so,
daytimes, I sot in the big room, 'round the stove, along with half a
dozen mates who was 'bout in the same condition.

    [1] Convicts' term for prison.

"It was winter weather, an' pesky cold, too, I _tell_ you! We wa'n't
none on us gin leave to talk, which, to be sure, was all right enough,
though I must say it dooz come pleggy hard to set long side o' folks
all day long 'thout openin' your head. But, anyhows, we wa'n't
blindfolded, and didn't have our ears plugged neither.

"So while I sot there days, dull as a hoe, an' fur all the world like
the man in the Scriptur', that had a dumb devil, I used naterally to
twig what was goin' on in most parts o' the buildin'. Well, long 'bout
that time we had a new chaplain t' the 'palace,' an' a middlin' good
Christian he was, too, I should say; an' bein' a bran-new broom, he
naterally swep' cleaner than the old one. Now the _old_ chaplain, he
was a master hand at prayin', an' sich like.

"Why, to hear him pray fur that instertooshing would melt a heart o'
stun! and his sermons, I will say, was spun out be-eutiful! Arter
that, he 'peared 'bout blowed out, an', week-days, we mostly had to
look arter our own souls. Well, the new chaplain, you see, _he_ was
different. He b'leeved in keeping up steam right straight along, so he
used ter visit the men in their cells, an' kinder try to keep 'em on a
slant towards the kingdom, all the week round.

"He was mighty good to the sick, too, an' there wa'n't a man in that
hospital so bad 'at he wouldn't do him a good turn; an' besides
writin' letters fur the men (which is no more'n 's expected on him),
he used to do little arrants fur 'em outside, sich as lookin' arter
their children, or huntin' up their relations, when they happened to
lose the run on 'em. I heerd the warden, one day, a sayin' to one o'
the inspectors, 'Our chaplain's too kind-hearted, he'll wear hisself
out.' Thinks I ter myself, 'No, he won't, you _bet_! fur, arter a
spell, he'll git callous like all the rest on yer.' A prison, ye see,
's a master place fur makin' folks callous. But I'm gittin' ahead o'
my story.

"Well, one day I sot there by the stove, squintin' round, an' with
both ears open, an' I see the new chaplain come in. He shook hands
with us fellers in the big room, an' then he went round to all the
cells an' talked with the patients. I see him look into No. --; the
bed was made up spic an' span, an' no signs o' anybody inside, so he
come away, an' sot down t'other side o' the room, a talkin' to the
hospital super.

"I kinder kep' my eye on that cell, fur I knowed there'd been a feller
brought up that mornin', an' ef I wa'n't very much mistaken he'd been
put in No. --. Well, by'm by, I seed suthin' away over in the furder
corner of No .--, an' pooty soon it riz up.

"Lord sakes! how I should a hollered, ef I'd 'a' dared, when that
creetur stood on its two feet, an' tiptoed forrard into the light, the
very spawn o' one o' them little bogles my granny used to tell about!
I should say he wa'n't more'n four feet six, in his shoes, an' bein' a
good deal bent up, he didn't look nigh so tall as he was; an' sich
eyes I never _did_ see in a man's head! Black as coals, an' bright as
beads; an' sich a hankerin' look, a way down in 'em, as ef he'd been a
s'archin' fur somethin' he wanted ever sence the flood, an' hadn't
found it yit, an' didn't 'spect to find it in this world nor t'other!

"Well, he looked round a spell, kinder skeert, an' then he skulked out
inter the passage an' come down-stairs, an' arter he'd twigged a
minnit he comes straight up to the chaplain, an' teches him on the
shoulder. The chaplain he turned round an' kinder gin a start, an'
then sez he to the super, 'What's the matter with this poor feller?'
sez he. Afore he could answer, the little bogle he steps forrard, an'
sez he, 'Doctor, don't give _me_ any o' your physic, keep it for _t'
others_. Doctor-stuff won't do _me_ no good. _I'm tuckered out!_'

"The super he teched his forrard, an' gin the chaplain a side look,
an' sez he, 'Ah, yes, I see!' An' then, willin' to pacify the poor
creetur, he turns to him as pleasant as can be, an' sez he, 'You
mistake me, my friend, I'm not the doctor, but all the same I've come
here to help you, an' what may I do fur you to-day?' The little feller
looked at him a minnit, kinder troubled like, an' then he fetched a
sigh, and shook his head, an' sez he, 'Physic's _no use_, I'm
_tuckered out_!' 'But mebbe now,' sez the chaplain, 'I may be able to
do some little thing fur you outside. Ain't there some one there you'd
like a visit from now?' sez he.

"'Outside?--_out--side?_' sez the little man, puttin' his skinny hand
to his forrard, as ef he wanted to remember suthin', but couldn't fur
the life on him. 'Out--_side_--o-u-t--side? Du tell, is it there,
_now_? I wouldn't 'a' thought it, though; I ain't heerd nothin' on it
fur--fur'--countin' his lean fingers, an' rubbin' his forrard
again--'fur fifteen year!

"'_Outside, eh?_ an' is Deely there now? She was a hansum gal when I
merried her. I sot the world by Deely! Le's see; she was goin' to
Californy, Deely was. I wonder if she's got there yit? I hain't heerd
a word from her fur fifteen year. But Benjy knows all about her.
Benjy's my fust cousin, doctor. He said he'd come an' see me, but he
hain't come yit. He's busy, I s'pose, and can't git time.' An' arter
he'd fumbled a spell in his breast-pocket, he pulled out a dirty scrap
o' paper with some writin' on it, an' handin' on it to the chaplain,
sez he, '_That's_ where Benjy lives, doctor. He said he'd come an'
see me, an' let me know 'bout _her_; an' I've waited fifteen year,
doctor, an' all that time I hain't heerd a word from Deely! Mebbe,'
sez he, lookin' into the chaplain's face kinder wishful, 'Mebbe
sometime you'd go an' see Benjy _fur_ me, and ask him if he's ever
heerd from Deely sence she started for Californy. Fifteen year's a
long spell to wait,' sez he, heavin' another sigh, 'an' I'm clean
_tuckered out_.' I seen a tear drop on to the chaplain's white
necktie, an' sez I to myself, 'he's a thinkin' o' his _own_ wife' (a
pretty, chipper little lady she was, too,--I see her one day in
chapel), an' sez I, '_he'll go!_'

"Well, the super, he told the little tuckered-out creetur to go back
to his cell. So he crep' back, as still as a mouse. He didn't lay
down, fur I watched him. He skulked into a corner, an' crouched down
on the floor ezackly as ef he was tryin' to tie himself up into a hard
knot, an' there he staid, as still as a stun image. Arter that, I
heerd the super tellin' the chaplain that the man had turns o' bein'
out o' his head, an' he'd come up to be treated fur it.

"'His name,' sez he, 'is David Sweeney. He's an American, an' in fur
twenty year fur highway robbery. No mortal knows how he come to do
it,' sez he, 'for he had a good trade, an' plenty o' work at it, an'
had allers borne a good character, an', only three months before, he'd
married the very girl he wanted, Delia White, as pretty as a pink, an'
smart as a steel trap. Some folks thought _she_ might 'a' ben at the
bottom on't, for she was a toppin' gal, an' mighty fond o' gew-gaws,
an' he'd 'a' cut off his right hand to please her. I should say she
turned out a poor bargain, anyhow, for he's never set eyes on her
sence he come to the prison. I remember folks pitied the poor feller a
good deal at the time, for he was young an' this was his first
offence; but highway robbery's bad business,' sez he, 'an' if a man
_will_ foller it, why then let him take the consequences, _I_ say.'
Next arternoon the chaplain he come up to the hospital agin', an' went
in an' talked a spell with the little tuckered-out man. I couldn't
hear what he said, but arterwards I heerd him tell the super how he'd
been to hunt up the 'fust cousin' who, as nigh as he could come at it,
kep' a grocery store on Cambridge Street fifteen year ago; but he'd
moved to Vermont, bag an' baggage, years ago, an' nobody round there
had heerd a lisp from him sence. Well, next day Deely's husband got
wild as a hawk, an' had to be locked up in his cell, an' afore he was
fit to go round loose again I'd got peart, an' gone down. An' purty
pleased I was, too, I tell you, for the warden he gin me a runner's
berth, an' that ain't to be sneezed at. Well, I should say it wa'n't
more'n six months arter that, when long in the edge o' the evenin' I
was sent up in the third tier of the north wing to kerry some apples
that one o' the instructors had brought in for a prisoner belongin' to
his shop. When I come to the right door I was goin' to hand 'em
through the gratin', but, not seein' nobody, I coughed to let the
feller know I was there; an' then, hearin' a rustlin' over on the bed,
I peeked in, an there, as sure as eggs, was the little 'tuckered-out'
man, tied in the same old hard knot, an' with the same old, lonesome,
hankerin' look on his wizened little face! When he heerd me, he riz
up, and come forrard, an' when I gin him the apples he kinder perked
up a minnit, but before I could turn round he drapped on to the bed
agin as dismal as ever, an', as I come away, I heerd him a moanin' to
hisself, 'O Lord! O Lord! tuckered out! tuckered out!'

"Well, arter that, I seen him consider'ble, off an' on, an', somehow,
he 'peared to take a shine to me, an' we got to be purty good friends.
He wa'n't a grain out o' his head now, but uncommon dismal, an'
enjoyed purty poor health, I should say from his looks, though he
didn't complain to nobody. One night, long 'bout Christmas time, I was
sent inter his wing on some arrant or other, an', as I was goin'
kinder slow past his door, I see him beckoning to me. I wa'n't apt to
go agin the rules, but, thinks I, 'twon't break nobody ef I stop a
minnit, an' jest say a word to this poor creetur. So I looked sharp,
an' seein' as nobody was twiggin' me, I went up to the gratin' an'
shook hands with him, an' sez I, 'I hope I see you well, Sweeney.' Sez
he, 'No, not _very_ well, Hiram, an' here's my goold ring,' sez he,
'an' I want you to keep it fur me. I sha'n't have no use fur it fur
some time.' So he put the ring on the little finger o' my left hand,
an' a tight squeeze it was, too. 'Twas real Guinny goold, with two
hearts, an' a 'D' cut inside on't. He wa'n't a grain flighty that
night, but sich a sorrowful look as he gin me, when he put that ring
on my finger, you never _did_ see. An' then he shook hands with me
agin, an' sez he, 'How dretful long these nights be, Hiram. But
they'll get shorter arter Christmas, won't they? Good-by, Hiram, God
bless you!'

"Well, to make a long story short, next mornin' airly, while the men
was bein' rung out, I was a settin' things to rights in the warden's
office, when he comes runnin' in in a great fluster, an' sez he to the
deputy, 'Sweeney's fell from the third corridor, an' I guess he's
'bout done for. He's up,' sez he, 'in the hospital. Send for the
doctor, an' the crowner, too, as quick as possible.' I was dretful
flurried, but I got through my work somehow, an' by'm by I went inside
to clean up the passage, an' when I see some spots o' blood there, I
knowed what _that_ meant. Arterwards, I heerd the warden an' the
chaplain talkin' it over, an', as fur as I could larn, the little
'tuckered-out' man never spoke to nobody arter they took him up,
though he lived half an hour. The crowners they sot on him, an' brung
in a verdick of '_death by accident_,' but _I_ hed his goold ring on
my finger, an' I knew all about _Deely_. 'An',' sez I to myself,
'some accidents is _done_ a _purpose_, I reckon!'

"Next day was Friday, an' a feller who'd had a visit from his sister
come along feelin' purty chipper, with a big bowkay in his fist. He
pulled out a spice pink an' a couple o' sprigs o' rose geranium, an'
gin 'em to me, an', thinkin' they might come in play, I put 'em by, in
a bottle o' water.

"Well, long in the forenoon, I had to kerry some truck to the
hospital, an' I took my little posy along. There stood the coffin, all
ready for Tewksbury, for the warden was away that day, and they wa'n't
goin' to have service over the body, as most ginerally they do. I
asked the super ef I might look at the corpse, and sez he, 'Certainly,
Hiram,' an' he steps up to the coffin an' lifts the forrard kiver, an'
bless me! ef I wa'n't beat! There lay the little 'tuckered-out' man,
as smilin' as a basket o' chips!

"I suppose I 'peared kinder took aback, for the super he says to me,
sez he, 'Don't he look naterel to you, Hiram?' 'Nateral, sir?' sez I,
'an' _that contented_! Why, I never should ha' knowed him, ef I'd met
him anywheres else!' Well, the super he kind er smiled, an' walked
off, an' I stood there a minnit or so, a lookin' at the corpse, an' a
thinkin'; an' sez I to myself, 'We know pleggy little 'bout t'other
world _anyhow_. The Scripters, now,' sez I, '_doos_ say that arter
death there ain't neither merryin' nor givin' in merrige.
Howsomedever,' I sez, 'I'll put my spice pink an' my geranium sprigs
inside the coffin.' An' I did. An' then I pulled off the goold ring
with the two hearts an' the 'D' inside on't. 'Fur,' sez I, 'though I
won't ezackly go agin Scripter, I'm sartin sure that Sweeney wouldn't
lay here _that_ smilin', ef he hadn't someways, in t'other world, got
wind o' Deely.' So I slipped that ring on to his stiff merrige finger,
an' as I shet the coffin up, an' come away, I e'en a'most thought I
heerd him larf right out."



A PRISON CHILD.


At an age when most children are tenderly wrapped in the cotton-wool
of domestic seclusion, that golden-haired toddler, the warden's
daughter, a motherless little creature, escaped from the careless
durance of a busy maid of all work, had become, comparatively, a
public character, and, no longer a private baby, had been tacitly
appropriated by an entire prison community.

"Taking her walks abroad" in the roomy guard-room; pattering right and
left, on tiny aimless feet, she peered curiously up and down and round
about. With childish wonder (herself "the cynosure of neighbouring
eyes") she peeped through tall iron gratings into mysterious
corridors, with their endless stretches of dusky cells; at dizzy
flights of iron stairs, where--pannikin in hand--listless men trod,
day after day, the same weary road. More intently she looked into the
shifting panorama of human faces, ever unfolding beneath her innocent
gaze. Faces of prison visitors, of prison officers, and instructors;
faces of that motley throng behind the bars; faces hard and evil,
reckless and defiant, cowed and sullen, or sorrowful, shamed, and
forlorn; yet none, among them all, turned disapprovingly upon her, the
prison child, the single sunbeam, the one pure and beautiful presence
in this attainted, unlovely place! Convict fathers,--hungry for baby
faces, foregone through their own graceless folly and crime,--catching
a passing glimpse of the golden head, a distant flutter of the white
baby gown, were, for the moment, glad and blest.

Although, in the main, light of heart,--as are all young creatures
drinking their first sweet wine of life,--little Mabel was not,
altogether, as the outside children, who breathe untainted air, and
have never neighboured with the wretchedness of that "black flower of
civilisation," a criminal prison. Looking into hard, despairing eyes
behind the guard-room grating, her own would sometimes fill with sudden
tears; and marking, in dull procession, the tread of listless,
joyless feet, the lithe young figure, with the springing step, would
often instinctively slow itself to sympathetic rhythm.

But, when grown in grace and in favour with God, and the prisoner,
Queen May, now a sedate maiden of five summers, had coaxed old Peter
Floome, the prison runner, and her _self_-elected nurse, to her
royal wishes; when lifted proudly in his arms she was permitted
to pass bodily into the prison yard, that hitherto unexplored
region,--to make a royal progress through the entire round of the
workshops,--scattering, right and left, gracious smiles and pungent
checkerberry lozenges saved up for this great occasion; when she was
triumphantly borne to the underground prison kitchen, there to be
handed gingerly around among as many aproned cooks as might have
served "Old King Cole," at his jolliest, and was munched and kissed by
lips,--presumably not morally of the cleanest,--yet what, indeed,
mattered this to the uncritical child? The convict, like "Cathleen's
dun cow," "Tho' wicked he was, was _gentle_ to _her_;"--then it was
that the glory of the occasion, and Peter Floome's pride in his
beloved nursling, rose far beyond the high-water mark of words!

And here let it be stated that Warden Flint's baby daughter had, in
the prison, another friend far more eligible than that brain-cracked
convict, Peter Floome.

He was a prison officer, to wit, that notable turnkey who keeps the
guard-room doors. His not over-euphonious name was Timothy Tucker,
and, though a bachelor of fifty, and a very dragon at holding a door,
to little birds and little children the turnkey's heart was as wax.

Soon after his instalment in the guard-room he had, with Warden
Flint's grudging permission, hung, high in its tall window, five small
bird cages. In these, three yellow canaries, a Java sparrow, and a
dainty pair of love-birds, all optimistic creatures that--

    "Neither look before nor after,
    Nor pine for what is not"--

hopped as contentedly, or sang as rapturously, as if the prison were
indeed (as fabled in convict slang) "the palace." As for the prison
child, from the first hour of her appearance in the guard-room, she
had commanded the turnkey's susceptible heart. His "little Blossom,"
he had called her, and when, later, she imparted to him the pretty
abbreviation of her name, it was he who wedded the two charming words,
and so made the "prison name" of the warden's daughter, May-blossom.
Seldom was the genial, child-loving turnkey too busy to pilot the
small, tottering feet across the guard-room floor; to hold her high in
his arms to "'ook at tunnin' birdies," or to lift her, in dizzy
delight, to her favourite perch, his tall desk, by the rear window,
commanding all the fascinating bustle of the prison yard. And when
from prattling infancy she had advanced to garrulous, inquisitive
childhood, it was he who lent an ever-ready ear to her thousand and
one questions.

"Children, now, _is_ curus," said Mr. Tucker to his landlady, over his
evening pipe, "they beat birds all holler! There's May-blossom, now,
only six years old, an' she sticks _me_ sometimes, she _does_, an' no
mistake!"

The train of thought, leading to these frank observations, had been
started in the good turnkey's mind by the recollection of a recent
theological skirmish with this astute little being, in which (to use
his own forcible words) he "had ben most gol darn'dly beat." This
embryo free-religionist having insisted upon being told "Why, if God,
_certain true_, loved everybody, an' was bigger an' stronger, an' ever
so much gooder than _other_ folks, He didn't stop people's being bad,
so's they had to be put in prison, without little children to kiss,
an' kittens to play with, an' strawberries an' cake, an' things to
eat?" Ah, little soul! too soon perplexed by the ancient riddle; why
_doesn't_ He--why, indeed! Young and old, wise and simple, we are all
guessing together; and no man solves the immemorial puzzle!

Peter Floome--when, upon a Sunday, the prison chaplain exhorted his
not over-heedful flock to pious dependence upon the divine care--was
wont to make his own disparaging comments upon the well-meant, but
often inapplicable discourse. "'Tain't a grain o' use" (said this
volunteer critic, to his fellow-convicts) "o' the chaplain braggin'
_in here_ 'bout Providence, an' sich. Most prob'ly th' Almighty _is_,
more or less, round 'tendin' to things; but, nat'rally, the devil
takes charge o' prisons, an' runs 'em putty much his own way."

Peter, having had a good twenty years' stretch of prison life, his
experience undoubtedly counted. His utterances were, however, to be
taken with that corrective grain of salt with which one wisely
qualifies the statement of the "crank;" for though, in the main,
mentally sound, through long confinement, and much hopeless pondering,
Peter Floome's brain had taken a decidedly pessimistic twist, and, in
prison circles, he was unanimously dubbed "a crank." It was after the
death of Warden Flint's wife, that Peter's theology became a shade
more optimistic, for then it was that the warden's year-old daughter,
by the tacit consent of all whom it might concern, fell to his
especial care.

In his capacity of runner, Peter had, comparatively, the freedom of
the prison, and was particularly detailed for duty in the warden's
household. The child--with that unaccountable choice of favourites
inherent in her kind--had taken famously to her convict dry-nurse. It
was the sudden rising of this new star on the runner's narrow horizon,
that inspired the following harangue: "Ef th' Almighty, as I say,
don't jest _put up_ in prisons, Himself, leastways He _does_, now an'
agin, send little angels, an' _sich_, to keep up a feller's courage."

Peter and his "little angel" might now often be seen together; for the
child, following hard upon his heels, had one day slipped furtively
through the guard-room door, and had thus become a regular _habitué_
of that semi-public apartment.

Ten summers of this exceptional child-life had passed over
May-blossom's golden head, when Destiny (that other name for
Providence) suddenly removed her to an environment far more kindly
than that in which her sweet young eyes had opened upon this
many-sided existence. But, to explain, we must escape at once from
prison.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here, in the soft September sky, not the faintest speck of a cloud may
be seen. The river, broken into endless ripples by a crisp west wind,
glances like molten sunshine; and not many rods from its pebbled
shore, behold that goodly sight, an old colonial homestead!

Four generations of Parkers have lived their lives in this ancient
dwelling beside the Saganock, which has all the well-to-doativeness
(if one may coin a word) inherent in the ancestral homes of such
favoured children of men as have much goods laid up for many years.
And here, upon "the stoop," in after-dinner ease, sits the mistress of
the mansion--Miss Paulina Parker. Miss Paulina is the last of the
Parkers. In her snowy gown and gauzy dress-cap, she is, to-day, dainty
as a white butterfly. Far and wide is she known as the Lady Bountiful
of Saganock; and a dearer, lovelier old maid the sun never shone upon;
and, though her sixtieth birthday falls on the twentieth of this very
month, you would not take her to be a day over forty-five! The lean,
gaunt old body, rocking beside yonder window, in the kitchen ell, is
Harmy Patterson. For the last fifty years Harmy has cooked and saved
for the Parker family, and still considers herself in the prime
of her usefulness. She is reading the Boston _Recorder_, to her
_confrère_--Mandy Ann, the second girl; who, all agape, swallows the
delectable murders, marriages, and deaths that spice its columns.
Reuben, the hired man, leisurely running a lawn-mower past the open
window, pauses beneath it, from time to time, to solace himself with
some especial tidbit of horror. While Miss Paulina, in pensive
reverie, looks out on river and sky, and marks how, in the Saganock
burying-ground, a maple or two has prematurely reddened, she is
suddenly confronted by Harmy Patterson, newspaper in hand, spectacles
pushed over her brown foretop, and cap-strings flying in the wind.
Excitedly indicating, with her long forefinger, an especial column of
her favourite journal, she pantingly exclaims: "Fur pity sake, Miss
Paulina, du jes' read _this_!"

Promptly acceding to the request of the old body, Miss Parker reads
attentively the following:

     FEARFUL TRAGEDY AT THE STATE PRISON!

     As the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison was this
     morning making his round of observation and inspection among
     the shops, being in the shoemaking department at about ten and
     a half o'clock, and passing the bench where one Hodges (a
     disorderly convict, who, after repeated and severe punishment,
     had, that morning, been remanded to his shop) was at work,
     Hodges suddenly sprang upon him from behind, stabbing him with
     a shoe-knife, and killing him instantly. The assassin was
     immediately secured, heavily ironed, and committed, for
     safe-keeping, to the "Lower Arch." The body of the unfortunate
     warden was removed to the hospital, a coroner summoned, and the
     inspectors convened. By this sad occurrence a young family is
     bereaved of paternal support, and the prison of a long-tried
     and faithful officer.

"Dear me, Harmy, what a sad affair!" cries the compassionate reader;
"and Josiah Flint's moth--no; let me see! I have it now. Josiah
Flint's _grandmother_ was a--was a Parker, Harmy."

"Yes'm," replies the woman, who has the Parker genealogy at her
tongue's end; "an' your pa's was _second_ cousins; an' the warden, ef
he'd a lived, would be your _third_ cousin. Law sakes! I mind, as well
as can be, young Josiah an' his pa comin' to Saganock. You was a girl
then, an' old Josiah, he was minister in Salem, an' his father before
him (an' hot and heavy _he_ made it for witches, folks say). Well, he
come to Saganock to preach for our minister, an' brung his boy along;
an' bein' connections, they was asked to put up with us. Sakes alive!
I remember it all well as ef it want but yisterday. That Sunday we had
apple pie an' milk betwixt sermons, an' when afternoon meetin' was
out, I gin 'em a pipin' hot supper. Well, the old man was a powerful
preacher," rambles on the old retainer, while Miss Paulina, heedless
of her chatter, sits pondering the situation. "An' I had remarkable
exercises of mind that Sunday; but there! that boy, goodness gracious!
didn't he make way with my clam fritters an' gooseberry pie? Well,
well, this is a dyin' world; an' now _his_ time's come; an' sich an
awful providence, too!" And here, kindly oblivious of the ancient
onslaught on her supper, old Harmy drops a pitying tear for the dead
warden.

"Harmy," says Miss Paulina, decisively, "Josiah Flint's wife has been
dead these nine years, and somebody must see to those poor orphan
children. Tell Reuben to put Major into the carryall. I shall take the
next train for Boston, and probably stay at the prison till the
funeral is over."

In accordance with this humane resolve, Miss Parker packs her
travelling bag, and, in her second best black silk gown, sets out at
four P. M. for the State Prison. Very cold and gray, in the early
autumn twilight, is the residence of the late Josiah Flint, when Miss
Paulina Parker alights from the depot carriage at its frowning
entrance. A jaded housemaid answers the bell, and ushers her into a
slipshod parlor, and thus meets her inquiries for "the warden's
family:"

"Famblee, is it, mem? sure, an' it's jist broken up, it is. There's
himself (God rest him) as dead as a dooer-nail. The baby wint years
ago, along wid the mother; an' the soon he died with the ammonia
(pneumonia) lasht fall, whilst he was away to the schule; an' as fur
the girl--she's that wantherin', sure, that I couldn't jist this
minnit lay me finger on the crather."

Discouraged by this curt summary, Miss Parker half inclines to a
French leave of the prison; but inspired by the hope of future
usefulness to the small estray upon whom Bridget cannot "jist lay a
finger," she resolves to remain, and somehow elbow her way into this
dubious and fragmentary domestic circle.

"I am Miss Parker (she explains), the warden's cousin, from Saganock.
I have come to stay over the funeral, if you can conveniently keep me.

"Sure, mem, no doot we can, if, be the same token, it proves
convanient to yerself," responds the girl. "The korp, indade, is after
wakin' itself in the bist chamber; but there's the intry bidroom at
your service, intirely."

Miss Paulina graciously accepting the proffered chamber, Bridget
kindly leads the way to the "intry bid-room;" and, bidding her "have
no fear of the korp," hurries off in pursuit of the needful toilet
furnishment, leaving the guest alone in the small dusky apartment.

Interwoven with her life experience, as it has ever been, death has
hitherto been calmly confronted by Miss Paulina; but to-night, alone
in a strange dwelling, with a murdered man in the adjoining apartment,
and neighboured, no doubt, by scores of murderers, it is all
unutterably depressing; and when Bridget, having, as she states,
waited to "rub out a clane towel, an' hate a flat for that same,"
comes clattering through the hall, with the damp napery across her
arm, a lamp in one hand, and a slopping ewer in the other, the nervous
lady is half disposed to hug her for the bare relief afforded by her
presence! Hastily arranging the dusty wash-stand, Bridget announces
the instant "goin' on" of supper, and graciously invites her to "tak a
look at the korp, an' thin walk doon." Left alone, Miss Paulina
removes bonnet and shawl, bathes her face, dons her cap, and, ignoring
"the korp," hastily descends to the dining-room.

The supper, a badly cooked, ill-served meal, is solitary and
uncomfortable, the "childer" having, according to Bridget, kindly
consented to be captured, to be put to bed, and to cry herself to
sleep. Miss Paulina, weary and forlorn, soon retires. Already
half-undressed, she finds that her travelling bag, containing her
night gear and toilet necessaries, together with sundry toothsome
packages, provided as "sops" for supposable hostile small Flints, has
been left below stairs. Bridget being presumably beyond call, the good
lady must herself seek the missing bag. It is safe in the entrance
hall, and, hastily securing it, she essays to return to her own
quarters. In her bewilderment, she somehow misses her bedroom door,
and, instead, opens that of the chamber containing the corpse.

Already well into the apartment, she discovers her mistake, and,
simultaneously, lets fall her lamp, surprised by the unlooked-for
tableau confronting her. Here, in the dimly-lighted room, close to the
murdered warden, whose face she has uncovered,--like some exquisite
statue of Pity, mute, motionless, and scarce less pallid than the
marble before her,--stands the night-robed figure of May-blossom. No
childish recoil from that awful presence disturbs her sweet, earnest
face. A solemn awe is in the wistful gray eyes, a mute interrogation
of that confronting mystery, blent with the tender pathos of
commisserating love. Startled by the clatter of the falling lamp, the
child turns, and timidly awaits the approach of the unknown intruder.
Dear, kind Miss Paulina! Surprise and wonder at once give way to the
one absorbing desire to clasp in her warm, motherly arms this lovely,
lonely child.

"Poor little darling," she murmurs, caressingly, approaching and
kissing the tear-wet cheek. "Why are you here so late, and all alone?"

"I thought," apologizes the child, "I thought it might not be so
_very_ wrong. The nights are so long, and when I tried to sleep my
eyes wouldn't shut; for I kept thinking of him (indicating reverently
the corpse), and of the other, too. Peter says _he's_ crazy, and awful
wicked, and down there in the dungeon with the rats, an' all in irons!
And when I thought of it, I got wider and wider awake, and then I came
to father. When he was alive (apologetically), of course, he didn't
care to have me around, and so I stayed mostly with Uncle Tim and
Peter, and the others; but I thought he might be glad, up in heaven,
if he saw me staying with him _now_ when he is all alone."

"It was not at all wrong, dear child," says Miss Paulina; "but come
away with _me_ now. I am your father's cousin, my child, your Aunt
Paulina. You shall try _my_ bed to-night, and see if you cannot sleep
_there_."

Permitting the child a last good-night kiss, Miss Paulina re-covers
the dead face of Warden Flint, upon which the sharp agony of that
cruel exit from life yet lingers, and the two pass reverently from the
chamber.

Never, in all May-blossom's unmothered life, has there been a night
like this. The warm cuddling in tender arms, two fairy tales, the
tucking up in bed, and, last of all, the singing of a Scotch ballad,
sweet as April rain, upon whose soothing rhythm the weary little soul
floats awhile in semi-consciousness, and, at last, falls deliciously
into the soft arms of sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

We may be sure that all the veteran funeralgoers (those irrepressible
"mutes") were on evidence at the funeral of Warden Flint; that his
most sequestered virtues were brought to the front, and put on parade
for the occasion, and that the usual number in attendance pronounced
the remarks "excellent." After the service the coffin is borne
uncovered through the guard-room, and deposited in the prison yard.
The convicts filing thither, in reverent procession, are permitted a
last look at their warden. Hodges, the murderer, taken from his
rayless dungeon, and blinking dazedly at the light, is (after the
old-time experimental fashion) brought face to face with the corpse.
He neither weeps nor smiles. His face wears the blank expression of
utter imbecility. After much prodding from his attendants, he
recognizes the warden, and babbles, "O dear! have I killed him?" When
bidden to put his hand on the body, he recoils and shudders. He
exhibits no other emotion, and, clanking his irons, is led supinely
back to the "Lower Arch." The convicts retire in slow, orderly
procession, and the coffin is returned to more private quarters. The
lid is screwed down. Mrs. Jones, standing at the front window, counts
the carriages, and, as the body is being adjusted on its hearse, Mrs.
Miller, in a resonant whisper, asks Mrs. Brown, "How soon they expect
to get into the new house, and if she's weaned the baby?" Amid this
easy chit-chat, the mourning carriages fill, the procession starts.
After this, the Joneses, Millers, and Browns go their ways. The
funeral is over.

Warden Flint's successor, an oldish man with grown-up sons, promptly
appointed by the governor, arrived upon the scene directly upon the
heels of _his_ departure (death's widest gaps are soon filled!), and,
as there were none to say her nay, Miss Parker tacitly adopted his
homeless child, and made ready for _her_ departure. Miss Paulina
(admirable as she was) had her limitations. The convict, viewed
through the disparaging lens of her own immaculate spectacles, was not
an eligible associate, and the tender, all-round leave-taking,
permitted between her innocent charge and her attainted friends, was
an heroic stretch of good-will on the part of this excellent lady.

At last, it was all well over. May-blossom had given her farewell hug
to Peter Floome and "Uncle Tim," and her sweet eyes yet wet with
tears, and hanging, as to a last plank, upon the cage of a fluttering
yellow canary (the parting souvenir of the inconsolable turnkey), was
safely bestowed in the two P. M. train on her way to Saganock,--now no
longer a "prison child."

The general depression incident to the withdrawal of this sweet
familiar presence from the gray old prison was slightly relieved by
speculative interest in the new warden. It might reasonably be hoped
that this bran-new broom would sweep away _some_ time-honoured
abuses--such as the iron crown, the ball and chain, the lash, and the
parti-coloured prison attire. It was also inferred that he would
reduce the number of consignments to the "Lower Arch," since a
recently dungeoned culprit had gone stark mad in that unsavoury place,
and refusing, on the expiration of his term of detention, to vacate in
favour of an incoming tenant, had been, like some elusive rat,
actually smoked out of his hole![2] As to that forceful incentive to
propriety, the penal shower-bath, it was whispered that even the
commissioners themselves had become shaky in regard to its usefulness,
since the sad taking off of a prison warden had been the latest
result of that mode of disciplinary torture, a description of which is
here subjoined for the curious.

    [2] A fact furnished by an aged officer who witnessed this unique
    eviction.

The refractory wretch, his arms, legs, and neck confined in wooden
stocks, is seated, nude, in a small, dark closet. From three to four
barrels of water are placed above his head, at an elevation of six to
eight feet. Unable to change in the slightest degree his position, he
receives upon the top of his head, drop by drop, in sudden shower or
heavy douche (as may best suit the fancy of his tormentor), this
terrible bath. As a devilish after-thought of the inventor, a
trench-like collar is made to encircle the victim's neck; as the water
descends, this collar fills, and it is so contrived that at the least
movement of the sufferer's head the water shall flow into his mouth
and nostrils, until he is upon the verge of strangulation. By order of
the Board, the shower bath was, in 18--, set up in the State Prison.
Could that criminal institution have furnished an unlimited supply of
waterproof brains, it might have flourished there indefinitely; but
mad convicts are troublesome, nay, _sometimes_ dangerous, and
insanity behind the bars is, therefore, not to be wantonly induced.

Hodges, a provokingly incorrigible sinner, had been, time out of mind,
"under treatment." At the command of Warden Flint, he had (putting it
in Peter Floome's own forcible English) "ben showered out of his wits,
and into his wits, an' then showered right _over_ agin." In the
abnormal mental state induced by this prolonged torture, the wretched
creature had finally turned upon his tormentor. Discouraged by this
unlooked-for practical result of the shower-bath, the Board
subsequently ordered the discontinuance of its use in the prison; and
Hodges was the last subject of that infernal contrivance.

He was brought to trial for the murder of his keeper, and acquitted on
the ground of insanity; and finally made good his escape from this
troublous life, by a leap from an upper window of the State Insane
Hospital.

Hodges was an accomplished rogue, and a second comer to the prison,
and it is to be inferred that by the door of death "he went to his
place," leaving the world none the poorer by his withdrawal from it;
all the same, he is to be congratulated on his ultimate escape from
the penal water cure.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is May-day; and high tide with the Saganock. It is a brimful
hurrying river, and, at this moment, fully verifies that distracting
old saw, "Time and tide stay for no man." And here, amid budding
lilacs and singing robins, some half head taller, and two good years
older than on the day when she bade a final adieu to the prison, is
May-blossom. On this sunny slope of the Parker lawn she is prospecting
for early violets. Her sweet face has grown thinner. Violet circles
underline her soft gray eyes. Her lips are as threads of scarlet wool,
and, listening, you may hear her cough--deep and hollow. Alas! It is a
sound to make the heart ache.

Soon wearied by her futile search, the child returns to her cosy
corner on "the stoop," and there, curled up beneath the soft warm
folds of an afghan, watches the westering sun, the fleecy clouds, and
the familiar river speeding on to the sea.

Meantime, at the north door, Dr. Abel Foster, the family "medicine
man," briskly alights from his buggy. Before his hand can touch the
knocker it is opened by Miss Paulina herself. "Good afternoon, my dear
lady; and so pussy is still ailing, is she?" cries the good doctor
(this with assumed nonchalance, slightly overdone).

"Yes, Doctor Foster," replies Miss Parker; "and will you kindly sound
her lungs to-day, and let me know the worst? One flinches indeed, but,
if it _must_ come--why, then--" an ominous quaver in the gentle voice;
and the doctor shrewdly interrupts:

"Bless you, madam! I'm in a terrible hurry! Twenty patients waiting
for me this minute! Let me see the little girl at once."

May-blossom is called in, her blue-veined wrist consigned to the
doctor's big feelers; her tongue submitted to a critical inspection;
and, after undergoing a prolonged professional thumping and
hearkening, she is soundly hugged and kissed, and, with a nod and a
smile, dismissed. After this, Doctor Foster and the lady of the
mansion are closeted awhile together. The buggy then passes down the
drive, and disappears on the long dusty road. Soon after, the south
door opens, and a face, pale and sad, but very calm, bends over the
child, who has again returned to her out-door seat. Very tenderly is
the warm afghan folded about the small, fragile form. The robins no
longer sing. The sun, half-obscured, is going down. The burying-ground
stands drearily out against the murky sky. The pines wail mournfully,
and the river--at ebbing tide--murmurs in sad refrain. Old Harmy,
moulding tea-biscuits at her kitchen window, imparts to Mandy Ann--who
is shaving the dried beef for tea--her belief that Miss Paulina "hes
gone clean crazy, settin' out-doors with that child, an' the dew a
fallin' this very minnit, like sixty!" Miss Paulina--recovering her
wits--hurries her darling in. The tea-table is already laid in the
south keeping-room, beside the wide fireplace, with its ancient crane,
and its Scriptural border of watery blue Dutch tiles; and, in the
cheerful apple-wood blaze, the two partake together of that now almost
obsolete meal--a substantial six o'clock tea. May-blossom is then
snugly settled among the cushions of a wide chintz lounge, and the
elder lady, in a low seat beside her, and holding lovingly her small
wasted hand,--as is her wont,--chats pleasantly with her darling, in
the soft, quiet gloaming. At nine, they pass, hand in hand, to Miss
Paulina's own chamber, where the child's cot has long been
established. May-blossom undressed, kissed, and blessed, creeps
drowsily between its warm blankets, and is soon sound asleep. Miss
Paulina, in her dressing-gown, broods over the dying fire, far into
the night. Alas! have not all her best beloved gone from her? Why
might not Heaven have spared to her this last--the one ewe lamb, so
tenderly carried in her arms, and warmed in her lonely bosom? Why not;
ah, _why_? She recalls the blessed comfort of two love-lightened
years; the daily lessons, when to teach this bright little creature
had been a mere pastime; their woodland fern and flower-gatherings,
their winter fireside cosiness, all the nameless homely delights of
love's dear fellowship--wayside flowers, that, scarce perceived,
blossom along life's trodden ways. And now it is all coming to an end!
Nothing will be left her but one small, grass-grown grave! As if there
were not already graves enough in her world!

May-blossom, though not a sickly child, had never been robust; and
when, at midwinter, she had taken the measles, this epidemic of
childhood had gone hard with her. She had convalesced but slowly; an
ugly cough had set in, and could not be routed; and now there were
hectic afternoons, debilitating night-sweats, succeeded by mornings of
lassitude; and, to-day, Doctor Foster had summed up his diagnosis in
one dreadful word--_consumption_!

"The child," explained the good doctor--tears blinding his kind old
eyes--"has grown up (as it were) in the cellar; delicate nervous
organization; too much brain; too little out-door life; and the
outcome of it all is simply this--with that cough, and that
constitution (God help us!) an angel from heaven couldn't save her!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Summer is coming. The buttercups are here. May-blossom is better. She
sleeps well, coughs less, and her appetite is mending. Buoyed by
deceitful hope, Miss Paulina takes heart, and the train for Boston,
from whence,--crowned with the spoil of a half day's shopping,--she
is, at this very moment, returning. The carryall fairly groans under
its accumulated bundles; and the steel-clasped bag upon her arm is
plethoric, to the last degree. Hours have passed since she parted
from her darling. Hastily alighting, she hurries in. There is an
under-quaver of anxiety in her voice as she calls, "May! May, May,
dear!" Where _can_ the child be, that she has not run to
meet her! "May!" again, and louder--still no reply. Yet now a
never-to-be-mistaken voice comes cooingly from the kitchen. "Who _can_
the darling be fondling? (Harmy Patterson, though staunch and loving,
is not one to unbend to endearments!) Her kitten, most likely."

She softly opens the kitchen door. Amazement stays her feet upon the
threshold! Harmy, mute with horror, indicates with stretched
forefinger her own clean patchwork-cushioned rocker, wherein, bolt
upright, sits an unknown man,--and _such_ a man! His coarse, dusty
garments (evidently fashioned without the slightest reference to their
present wearer) hang scarecrow-wise upon his graceless form. Under his
slouched hat (which he democratically retains) he seems to skulk
abjectly from the gazer's eye; as well he may, for, unshaven and
unshorn, his wide mouth stained with tobacco, his hands and face
begrimed with dust, he looks, every inch, the wretched outcast that he
_is_! And (no wonder that old Harmy gapes distraught), seated
lovingly upon this creature's knee, her dainty fingers clasping his
dirty hand, her golden curls brushing his grimy neck, is
May-blossom,--yes, May-blossom, her own sweet self, beaming, and fond,
and absolutely unconscious of the incongruity of the situation. And
this forlorn being, craving still of humanity but leave to carry on
its shoulders the shamed head of a man, is a convict,--our old prison
acquaintance, Peter Floome, May-blossom's sometime nurse, and always
friend!

Lightly springing from her unseemly perch, the child hastens to greet
Miss Paulina, and, hanging fondly upon her hand, cries eagerly, "Oh,
auntie, darling, I'm so glad you've come! Here's Peter, dear old
Peter! He's pardoned out, auntie, and, isn't it nice? He can come and
see me every day now if he likes.

"Why, auntie! (somewhat crestfallen) aren't you glad? and won't you
shake hands with him? Peter is nice, auntie, and he used to take
_such_ care of me when I was _ever_ so little. You'll like Peter when
he's washed up, and so will Harmy, though she _does_ mind him just a
little _now_, because she's not acquainted with him." (Harmy, _sotto
voce_, and emphatically, "Lord sakes, no; an' don't never want to
be!") Here, reminiscences of prison etiquette visiting Peter's dazed
mind, he shuffles bashfully to his feet, and, pulling distractedly at
his matted forelock, goes through a certain gymnic performance,
supposed, by himself, to constitute a bow. The ice thus broken, Peter
finds his tongue, and blurts out a "Good day, marm, hope I see yer
well, marm."

Miss Paulina bows, a pause, ensues. Peter looks admiringly at
May-blossom, and, thereby gaining inspiration, finds himself equal to
a second attempt at conversation.

"She's growed, marm, like the mischief!" he asserts; "but I knowed
her, I _did_, the minute I sot eyes on her out there in the mowin'
lot! an' she knowed _me_, she did! Yes, yes, she knowed Peter; she
knowed him. Poor old Peter! who don't hardly know himself nowerdays."
Here Peter's voice gets husky, and, brushing away a dirty tear, with
his greasy coat sleeve, he seems to await the issue. Peter Floome is
downrightly the social antipodes of the lady of the homestead.
Conventionally they do not stand side by side in the human group, but,
like Swedenborg's unfraternal angels, "feet to feet." Yet in the
artless harangue of this poor creature there is a touch of honest
nature that at once makes them kin.

"And I, too, must know you, Peter," she says, cordially advancing and
taking in her own clean palm his dirty hand.

Unable to express his appreciation of the honour thus conferred, Peter
twirls his thumbs, ventures a side glance at Harmy, and, again utterly
disparaged in his own eyes, looks uneasily at the floor.

Prompt to reconcile the cowed creature to himself, Miss Parker
courteously says: "And now, Peter, you would, I think, like to go up
to Reuben's bedroom and have a good wash. By and by Harmy shall give
you tea, and then we must hear all about the pardon, and how you
happened here, and what you mean to do with yourself, and what _we_
can do for you. Come, Mabel, dear; Peter, you know, is _your_ company.
Show him up-stairs, my darling."

Again the small, soft hand is laid in the rough, brown paw, and Peter
Floome,--in a state of absolute bewilderment as to his personal
identity,--shuffles awkwardly off with the delighted child. And what
says Harmy Patterson to all this? "Here's a convict, a horrid
convict," cries she, "and invited to tea, an' that child a huggin' an'
kissin' him, in cold blood! Lord! Lord! what _is_ the Parkers comin'
to?" Here, unable further to pursue the fallen social fortunes of the
house, Harmy covers her face with her checked apron and bursts into
tears. Grieved at the discomfiture of her old servant and friend, Miss
Parker essays a word of expostulation. She appeals to her hospitality,
her humanity, reminds her of her professed discipleship of Him who
"sat at meat" with the sinner. In vain! as well might she have
addressed herself to Harmy's stone molasses jug, which, dropped from
her grasp in the sudden shock of Peter's advent, now lies prone upon
the kitchen floor. Foiled in her kindly endeavour, the mistress
quietly withdraws. Harmy, left alone, sobs herself into a
comparatively tranquil frame of mind. Coming to the rescue of her
molasses jug, she carefully ascertains that no minute fracture is
consequent upon the fall, and that no wasteful drop has exuded from
the wooden stopper, and, forthwith, sets vigorously to, on a batch of
soft gingerbread, whose manufacture had been interrupted by the
entrance of Peter Floome. While she stirs her cake, Harmy sighs, and
profoundly resolves in her mind "the fitnesses." In her social lexicon
a convict is a vile wretch. In her catechism he is given over to
damnation from the foundation of the world--God-devoted to the very
devil himself!

Miss Paulina Parker, in her chamber, washes her hands, and also
ponders the "fitnesses." This starved outcast is her brother. She has
taken him by the hand. Christian ethics demonstrate the fitness of
this act. The hand was, no doubt, dirty. Yet, what matters it? Soap
and water set one right again. Soap and water tell, too, upon Peter
Floome, when, after a characteristically superficial ablution, he
emerges from Reuben's bedroom, a trifle improved in complexion, but
still a sorry specimen of humanity, and, escorted by May-blossom, is
whisked out-of-doors, on a hasty tour of inspection. Led by this happy
little creature (now holding his hand, now dropping it to run on and,
turning, take in his effect, and then skip gayly in advance), Peter
visits the chicken-coop, the beehive, the flower garden, the stables,
and the pig-pen, and, last of all, the apple orchard, now rosy-white
with bloom.

There, reclined upon the grass, beneath the flowering boughs of a
patriarch tree, Miss Paulina ere long comes upon the oddly matched
pair. Peter, wreathed with buttercups and dandelions, and wearing his
flowery honours like another "Bottom," sits beside his "Titania," who
in fond infatuation "His amiable cheek doth coy."

"Pity," thinks the intruder, "to spoil so quaint a picture." The sun
is, however, already low, and she calls her darling in from the
dewfall. In the kitchen, Harmy has made reluctant preparations for
Peter's inner man; grimly remarking to Mandy Ann (who has meantime
returned from an errand at the store) that "it does go agin' her, to
put on span clean table-cloths for sich creeturs, an' to waste good
vittels where they can't no how be sensed." A convict being, at Mandy
Ann's estimate, an ineligible, if not dangerous guest, as Peter and
May-blossom enter at one door, she vanishes by another. Harmy dons her
cape-bonnet, and marches stiffly into the kitchen garden, leaving the
disreputable visitor to his child hostess.

Peter Floome had not figured at a tea-drinking for many a long year,
and, naturally, his company manners are somewhat rusty. Possibly, his
table etiquette (or, rather, his entire lack of it) might have shocked
his too partial entertainer (who, with fine innate courtesy, has laid
herself a cup and plate, and is keeping her guest in countenance by
taking her own tea with him), had not his evident satisfaction in the
meal entirely engrossed her mind, for (Harmy to the contrary,
notwithstanding) Peter is inherently inclined to "sense good vittels."
It is quaintly picturesque, this tea-drinking of "Bottom" and
"Titania;" this odd contrast of loutishness and elegance, although (as
I grieve to record) "Bottom" does absolutely ignore the butter-knife;
does thrust his wet spoon into the sugar bowl; and, vigourously
blowing his hot tea, in scorn of popular prejudice, lap the same from
his slopping saucer, and shovel in the apple sauce with his
knife-blade. "Titania's" pretty efforts to put "Bottom" at his ease
are, indeed, a thing to behold; for, conscious of his own want of
keeping with the unwonted occasion, Peter is, to the very last degree,
awkward and abashed. Nevertheless, the encouraging smiles of his
small hostess carry him victoriously to the end of this harrowing
experience. Other social exigencies yet await this much-tried man.
Directly after tea, he is taken by May-blossom to that inner
sanctuary, Miss Parker's parlour, where, amid oppressively elegant
surroundings, he is further weighed to earth by the disparaging sense
of his own abjectness.

Prison life, on the solitary plan, is not conducive to colloquial
glibness, nor is Peter Floome habitually garrulous. Many cups of
Harmy's strong green tea have, however, limbered his tongue, and, once
he is well seated, and has made a final, though terribly
unsatisfactory, disposal of his long arms and obtrusive legs, he finds
himself sufficiently at ease for narrative effort, and, at the request
of his gracious hostess, wades desperately into his subject.

"I s'pose now, marm," he begins, "that you dun' know as my real name
ain't Peter Floome. No more, either, does this pretty little creetur.
The Ballous, you see (Ephryam Ballou's _my_ name), was allers stuck on
theirselves, an' when it come to prison, I says to myself, anyhow, _I_
won't spile the fambly-tree, so I got put down anonermous-like on
them prison books, an' Ephe Ballou ain't never been heerd on to the
'palace,' you bet. Its twenty-three years, come next fall, marm, sence
I sot Hiram Hall's barn afire. I was mighty peppery in them days, an'
Hiram an' me, we had a fallin' out. He served me darned mean, Hiram
did, an' my dander was up an' so was his'n, an' we had it hot an'
heavy, an' (savin' your presence, marm, an' hern) I told Hiram I'd
give him h--l some day. After that, I cooled off some, and went home.
I was pretty riley yit, though, an' all suppertime I sot thinkin' to
myself how I'd come up with that d--d blasted sneak. That's what I
called him then, marm, fur I'd had a leetle too much old cider, an'
didn't feel like pickin' out my words. 'By jiminy!' says I to myself,
'I've got it now! I'll hide in Hiram's barn, an', when folks is turned
in, I'll jest let the critters out, and set fire to the old shebang!
That'll plague him fust-rate.' Well, arter supper, I sez to mother,
sez I, 'I'm goin' to be out middlin' late to-night, mother, an' you
better not set up for me. Put the key under the door-mat, an' I'll be
all right,' sez I.

"Poor old mother!" continued Peter, reflectively, and lowering his
voice. "Arter that I _was_ out; and a long while, too, an' she sot up
fur me, mother did. Bless her patient old soul! Yes, yes, she sot up
fur her bad boy jest five year an' six months, an' then her old heart
broke, an' she turned in for good an' all, mother did, an' I couldn't
so much as see her kivered up!"

Here Peter is fain to take breath and heart, and Miss Paulina (herself
in tears) comforts May-blossom, who is sobbing aloud. After this
pathetic interruption, Peter, apparently composed by a prolonged fit
of sneezing, regains the thread of his narrative.

"'Scuse me, marm," he apologizes, "I b'leeve thinkin' o' mother I got
a leetle grain ahead o' my story, but, as I sed, I'd made up my mind
how to come up with Hiram, an' that night I got ahead on him sure
afore he locked up, for there I was, stowed away in his haymow, as
slick as grease! Well, jest as the Presberteren meetin'-house time
struck 'leven, I crep' down to the stalls, turned out the cow an' the
horse, an' druv 'em down to the medder lot; then I walked back, put a
match er two under the mow, an' made tracks fer hum. Well," sighed
Peter, "the rest on it's an ugly story, marm, an' p'r'aps you druther
this innocent little creetur shouldn't hear it." May-blossom is now
"all ears," and Miss Parker, signifying her assent, Peter goes on.
"Well, 'bout 'leven the wind riz, an' afore that barn got well agoin'
it blowed a perfect harrycane, an' them sparks was a flyin' like the
mischief! 'Lord help us,' sez I, looking out my bedroom winder,
's'pos'n' it kerries 'em as fur's Hiram's house!' An' sure 'nuff, it
_did_; an' it bein' a dry spell, the ruff blazed up like tinder! I was
there in a jiffy, helpin' on' em git out the truck. I'd got all over
my huff now. I was sober as a jedge, an' I'd' a' gin my head for a
football to had that night's work undid! Well, there was lots o'
furnitoor in the house, an' Hiram he was a graspin' man, an' bound to
git the hull on it out, an' arter it got too hot fur the rest on us,
he hung on, an'--well--the last time he went in, he _stayed_. Poor
Hiram! I could e'en a'most have changed places with him; for arter
_that_, I wa'n't no ways sot on livin'. I knowed I wa'n't nothin' less
than a murderer, an' I wa'n't easy nowhere, 'specially to hum, where
mother was round, settin' as much store by me as ever. Well, by'm by,
when folks got wind o' my havin' a spat with Hiram, an' his owin' on
me, they put this an' that together, an' I was took up for arson; an'
I can't say as I was sorry, neither.

"Well, to make short on't, I was nigh about hung; but the governor, he
stepped in at the last minnit, an' sent me to State Prison for life.
When it come to that pass, 'I won't disgrace the fam'ly,' sez I. 'The
Ballous figgered pooty well in the revelooshing,' sez I, 'an' that
name sha'n't never be writ in the prison 'count book, ef I kin hinder
it.' So, es I've told you, marm, I had myself writ down as Peter
Floome. I hadn't no nigh relations 'cept mother and sister Betsy.
Uncle George's family'd settled in Illi_noise_, an' we didn't hear
from 'em once in a dog's age. Betsy was a young gal then an' had a
beau. She was allus pooty toppin', an' sez I, 'it don't stan' to
reason she'll be comin' to the State Prison to see her _own_ brother;
but there's mother,' sez I, '_she'll_ come reg'lar, I reckon; same's
she did to the _jail_;' so I writ her a letter, an' gin her word how I
was, an' who she must ask arter in case she come. Bless her dear old
soul!

"The very next Friday, there she was on the spot! Arter that, reg'lar
as clock work, once in three months, rain or shine, there was mother!

"Mothers, you see, marm, never misses. Wives, an' sisters, an'
children, now an' then do keep up to the mark, but mothers, on the
hull, is about the only reg'lar prison stan'bys. Well, mother sot a
good deal o' store by me, an' when I see her gittin' thin, I knowed
what fretted her, an' sez I to myself, 'she won't hold out forever,
an' when she's gone, the Lord help _me_!'

"Well," continued Peter, huskily, "by'm by she _went_, mother did; but
(dropping his voice to a confidential whisper) mothers is master hands
to hang on, an' no mistake! An' sure's you're 'live, ef she didn't
keep right on with them visits! jest as reg'lar as ef nothin' hed
turned up! Ev'ry time the quarter come round, on a Friday night, jest
as the clock struck one, there stood mother, large as life, at the
gratin' o' my cell. She never once opened her head; but, when I see
her stan' there so smilin' an' pleasant, I sez to myself, 'she's done
frettin', anyhow;' an', though I warn't never no great hand at
prayin', I _did_ thank God for _that_. I never let on 'bout them
visits, for 'bout that time things got pesky upside down with me, an'
the boys they used to say, 'Peter's cranky.' 'So,' sez I, 'ef I was to
tell 'um, they wouldn't none on 'em b'leeve me.' An' I jest kep' dark,
an' year arter year mother come reg'lar, an' we had it all to
ourselves. By'm by Hiram, _he_ come. Not reg'lar, like mother did, but
off an' on. Well, ghosts is poor company, marm; an' arter a while I
got clean upsot, and wa'n't wurth an old shoe.

"But I'm gittin' kinder ahead o' my story. Arter mother died, Betsy
she thawed out some, an' come to see me twice, an' then she got
married an' went to Californy. She writ one or two letters to me an' I
answered 'em punctooal, but by'm by she left off writin', an' I knew
_she'd_ gin me up. An' then I got sorter cross-grained an' callous;
an' sez I to myself, 'what's the odds anyhow, it can't last to all
etarnity; an' by'm by I'll go out o' this, feet fust, an' I hope 't
'ill be the last o' me.'"

"But Peter, my poor fellow," piously interposes Miss Parker, "you read
the Bible sometimes, I trust, and found some comfort there; you
couldn't have doubted God's providence, all His blessed promises to
the penitent and believing soul?"

"Why, yes'm," responds Peter; "I read my Bible _some_, purty reg'lar,
too, 'long at fust; an' mother bein' a church-member, I was brung up
to set on providence 'en sich like; but them promises you tell on
works best outside o' prisons; an' 'long 'bout the time I got upsot,
I'd gin up readin' even in the Bible; for 't wa'n't no use; the
letters all stood wrong eend up. I _did_ hang on to providence a
spell, but by 'm by, I see _that_ wa'n't no use, nuther. 'Providence,'
sez I, 'don't take no 'count o' _me_, an' I may as well try to jog
along on my own hook.'

"Well, finally, I was took down with roomatic fever, an' went into the
hospital a spell; an' arter I got round agin, I wa'n't strong enough
to go back to the shoe shop, an' the doctor said a change would set me
up agin. Twelve year I'd ben a workin' there at the same bench, an'
one day exactly like t'other, till it 'peared to me as ef I was a
sewin' one 'tarnal everlastin' shoe, over an' over, an' back an'
forth, an' no mortal hope o' comin' to the eend on't in this world or
next. An' when they sot me to runnin' arrants in the prison, an'
doin' chores fur the warden's folks, I was mighty glad, I tell you!
An' things kinder got right eend up agin. 'T wa'n't long arter that,
afore this dear little creetur come to town. Children _air_ strange
now, ain't they, marm? Would you b'leeve that, afore that child could
set alone, she took a reg'lar shine to _me_! I _was_ beat, I tell you!
An' when I felt them two little arms 'round my old neck, things
somehow lifted up like; an' though I didn't go to prayer-meetin', and
didn't ezackly git religin, as some on 'em do, I took a reg'lar hitch
on to the Almighty; 'fur,' sez I, 'it's right down handsome in Him to
send a blessed little angel to sich a place as this.' Fur she was a
reg'lar angel to us, a growin' up there, so innocent, purty an'
lovin'; an' she did our souls a heap more good than all the chaplain's
Sunday sermons; an' when the boss got killed, an' you took her off, it
seemed as ef there wa'n't nothin' left. I s'pose I took on, to myself,
a leetle too hard, fur arter I'd had one or two poor spells, the
doctor he overhauled me, an' I heered him say there was trouble with
the heart; an' sez I to myself, 'you're right there _is_!' Next day as
I was cleanin' up his office, the warden asked me 'bout my folks; an'
how long I'd ben to the prison, an' how long I'd got to stay, an' so I
told him, nigh as I could, the hull story, 'cept 'at I didn't let on
'bout mother, an' them reg'lar visits. He wouldn't 'a' b'leeved me,
you see, an' besides, I never did like to let on much about _her_.

"Well, that was long in the neighbourhood o' Fast Day; an' now an'
then on holidays, marm, as p'r'aps you know, the gov'nor makes a p'int
to pardon a prisoner; an' when the warden gits up them days in chapel,
with a paper in his hand, we know what's comin', an' some hearts there
gives awful thumps, I tell you! There's lots of 'em, you see, has
hopes, havin' folks a tryin' fur 'em outside, or bein' took up by the
prayer-meetin' or the inspectors; but I hadn't eny hopes; so that day
when the warden riz, with his pardon, an' begun to make a speech, I
sot there as unconcerned as ever.

"'Twenty-two years ago,' sez he, 'one of your number in a state of
intoxication committed a great crime, an' was sentenced for life to
this prison. Durin' these twenty-two years,' sez he, 'he hain't sot
foot outside these walls; an' durin' the hull o' that time,' sez he,
'he hain't once ben reported for bad conduct. In his sober moments
he's allers ben sorry fur his crime,' sez he, 'an' now he's a worn-out
old man, an' I have spoken in favour of his pardon. His name,' sez he,
'is Peter Floome.'

"By the Moses, marm! when I heerd _my_ name called, ef I wa'n't beat!
Well, I riz up to go forrard. My knees was mighty shaky, an' the
chapel was spinnin' round like sixty. I heerd 'em clappin' on me, an'
then, well, that pardon was a leetle too much for me; an' I jest up
an' fainted dead away. Arter a spell they brung me to; an' arter
riggin' me out in a bran-new coat an' weskitt an' trowsis, they brung
me into the guard-room. Well, there was the warden, the chaplain, an'
the deputy, an' lots o' folks, an' all as smilin' as a basket o'
chips. Lots on 'em shook hands with me, an' wished me joy. A tall man
in a long, black coat, an' green specs, was a stannin' along side o'
the warden. He was powfell glad to see me, an' gin me lots o' good
advice (out o' the Scriptures, I should say), though I didn't ezackly
sense, bein' cumflustered like. Arter that, I got leave to say good-by
to some o' the boys; an' then the warden he sent fur me to come into
his office, an' there was two of the inspectors, an' the chaplain,
an' the State agent, an' the chap in the long coat an' the goggles, as
big as life.

"Well, each on 'em talked a spell to me, an' treated me, on the hull,
I should say, considerable han'some. An' the tall man he gin some more
d'rections 'bout my behaviour. Some on it, I took it, was his own
words, an' some on 't was Bible, an' sounded mighty han'some. The
State agent he gin me the four dollars a comin' to me from the State;
an' sez he, 'when you've made up your mind what you're goin' to do,
come to my office, Peter, en I'll do what I kin fer ye.' An' arter
he'd gin me a card with the street an' number o' his place on 't, I
shook hands all round agin, an' off I goes. Lord bless you! Marm, when
I gits outside that prison ef I ain't e'en a'most as helpless as a
baby! an' where to go to, or how to go at all, is more'n _I_ knowed!
Howsumdever, I kinder scooted off, best way I could; for thinks I,
I'll git over to Boston and put up to a tavern there, where folks
don't know me, an' 't won't leak out 'bout my havin' ben in prison. So
I goes on, an' arter I turned the corner, an' got into another street,
an' walked on a piece, somebody steps up behind me, an' teches me on
the shoulder. 'Lord,' thinks I, 'what _is_ comin' now!' but I jest
turned round square ter face the music; an' who should I see but Mr.
Holt, my old instructor in the shoe shop! An' sez he, 'Peter,' sez he,
'I want you to go 'long o' me. You'll make a poor fist on 't jest now,
goin' round streets alone. You come to my house a spell,' sez he. I
_was_ glad, I tell you, marm. Well, I staid to his house three weeks
in all, an' durin' that time got sorter steady in my head, an' used
ter goin' round loose.

"Well, arter goin' to his office five times, I ketched the State agent
in, one day. He knew me right off, like a book; but he was awful busy,
an' couldn't talk to me but a minute. I told him I had a own uncle an'
some fust cousins out to Illi_noise_, an' I reckoned I'd go out there
an' stay a spell, ef he'd a mind to put me through. Sez he, 'I can
send you as fur as Buffalo, Peter, an' arter you git there, you'll
mebbe git a job an' make enough to carry you on to your folks. The
West'll be the makin' on you. It's the very place for you convicts,'
sez he. So he gin me a ticket, an' hustled me off.

"Well, I went home to Mr. Holt's, an' we talked it over, that night,
an' next day he went to Boston with me an' clean over to the deep_ott_
to put me into the right keer, an', arter thankin' on him a thousand
times, I set out for Buffalo. But, Lord a massy, marm! how them keers
does scoot! It's 'nuff to take away your breath--to say nothin' o' yer
senses. Arter a while we come to a stop an' I wa'n't a bit sorry.
'I'll git off a spell,' sez I, 'an' kinder stiddy my head, an' stretch
my legs, while the ingine's restin'.' The railroad hedn't come our way
till arter I was shet up, so I was middlin' clumsy round keers, an'
goin' down them pesky high steps, I gin my left ankle a turn, an' out
it goes! I sot down a minnit; folks was goin' an' comin', but nobody
twigged me. Arter a spell, I riz up, an' hobbled inside the deep_ott_
buildin', an' jest as I was takin' off my shoe an' stockin' to look at
the damage, that plaggy keer-man blowed his whistle, an' afore you
could say Jack Robinson, off went them divilish keers, an' me left in
the lurch, with a ticket that sez '_good for this trip only_!' 'O
Lord,' sez I, 'what _shall_ I do! Fust thing,' sez I, 'I'll count my
cash;' so I took out my little wallet, an' there was the four dollars
'at the State agent 'lowed me, an' ten dollars 'at Mr. Holt gin me
the day I cum off.

"Well, arter I thought it over, I put on my shoe and stockin', an'
sung out to a feller who 'peared to be hangin' 'round for a job, an',
sez I, 'Mister, this here ankle's awful; an' I'll be obleeged to you,
ef you'll take me to the tarvern; an' mebbe, as we go 'long, you
wouldn't mind stoppin' at the 'poth'cary shop to let me git a bottle
o' Opedildock?'

"Well, to git to the eend o' my long story, that ankle, marm, laid me
up a hull week; an', by the time I got round agin, my cash was 'bout
gone. My ticket wa'n't no arthly valloo, nuther. So I gin up
Illinoise, paid the damages to the tarvern, bought a lot o' crackers
an' cheese, an' sot out on my travels, dead broke. I guess 't wa'n't
more'n ten miles from Boston where I bust my ankle; but I made up my
mind not to ask no questions, fur, sez I, 'Peter, 't won't do to show
your ignorance, ef you do 't may leak out 'bout the prison.'

"Fust, I thought I'd look 'round for a job; but I _dursn't_, fur folks
would naterly want to know where I come from, an' ef the boys got wind
o' my bein' a convict, they'd prob'ly holler arter me, an' p'rhaps
set the dogs on me. So I jest shet my head tight, an' sot out.

"I'd ben travellin' 'bout two days when my grub gin out, an', long in
the arternoon o' the third day, I come in sight o' this here buildin'.
Thinks I ter myself, 'I can't drag on much furder, anyhow, an' it does
look mighty pooty there in that green lot with the yallar buttercups a
bloomin' all round. I reckon I better tumble over them bars,' sez I,
'an' lay down a spell under that big warnut tree. Mebbe,' sez I, 'I
sha'n't git up in a hurry (fur I was clean beat out), but 't ain't no
matter,' sez I, 'there's folks close by, an' when my troubles is over,
they'll find me layin' a top o' the buttercups, an' they can't do no
less'n put me _under_ 'em.' You see, marm, livin' behind the bars, a
feller gits shaky on Providence, and I didn't once suspicion 'at
Providence was bringin' me to the right shop; 'at I was makin' a
bee-line fur the only creetur in the hull world 'at wouldn't turn the
cold shoulder on me. So, when I clim over them bars, I couldn't
(beggin' the Almighty's pardon) ha' flipped a cent fer my miserable
old life. When I laid down under the warnut tree, I felt kinder
drowsy-like, an' so I shet my eyes; but the birds, they was singin'
like all possessed, an' the grass smelt sweet as new butter, an' I
hadn't seen a mowin' lot risin' o' twenty year. So I riz up on my
elbow, to take a squint 'round, an' there, not more'n ten rods off, I
seed this blessed little angel a pickin' buttercups. She'd grown,
marm, but I knowed her, fur all that, the minnit I sot eyes on her. 'T
ain't nateral I _shouldn't_, when there ain't another like her in
God's world. Yes, I knowed her, an' she knowed me, she did, though
when I sot straight up, an' kinder coughed, she gin a leetle start.
An' then I sez to myself, 'O Lord! she's goin' to run away! As sure as
the world, she's afeared of her poor old Peter, 'at used to tote her
in his arms!' But she didn't _run_. She jest turned round an' gin me a
good look, an' then she claps her two hands, she does, an' sez she,
'Peter! Peter! it _is_ Peter!' an' runs straight up to me, with her
cheeks as pink as roses, an' puts her two arms 'round my miser'ble old
neck. An' then, marm, I broke right down, an' cried like a baby. But I
didn't want to make her pooty little heart ache, so I wiped up, an'
told her all 'bout the pardon, an' 'bout the folks over to the
'palace' (that's _our_ name, marm, for the prison), an' it 'peared to
me she'd never git through askin' questions 'bout one or 'nother, for
bein' brung up in the prison, she kinder took to us, though we do seem
poor shucks to _you_, I reckon. Use is everything, an' no matter how
bad convicts is, they all sot the world by _her_. Well, arter we'd
talked a spell, an' I'd et a hunk o' gingerbread she gin me, I perked
up, an' told her I'd go along home with her; 'fur,' sez I, 'I _can't_
leave her now, nohow. I've ben starvin' too long for the sight on
her,' sez I. So here I am, marm, an' you know the rest.

"Mebbe you'd know some place 'round here where I could do chores for
my vittels, or p'r'aps you'd giv' me a job yourself, an then I'd git a
look at this little creetur every day, sartin sure. 'Scuse me, marm,
ef I make too free ('Titania' had crept close to Bottom and was
fondly stroking his hand); but I kerried her in my arms a long spell,
an' habit's second natur."

Peter's long story concluded, Miss Paulina kindly assured him that he
should not yet be sent far away from his pretty nursling. Already, she
had determined where to bestow him for the night. In the rambling old
garden stood a small, nondescript erection, supposed to have served,
in remote times, as a summer-house, and though now appropriated to the
safe-keeping of garden tools, still weather-tight and easily
convertible into a sleeping-place, for an unambitious guest. With this
energetic lady, to will was to do. And, with the help of Reuben's
strong arm, and the half-reluctant aid of Mandy Ann, who had consented
to leave for a time the sheltering four walls of her attic bedroom,
the tool-house was cleared up and made clean. A light cot-bed was
conveyed hither, and duly furnished for Peter's occupancy, and, with
his last lingering look devouring May-blossom, he was escorted by
Reuben to his new quarters. There, a cup of hot coffee, a generous
plate of biscuits, and a clean nightcap awaited him. And, installed in
these comparatively elegant lodgings, we leave him to sound sleep, and
happy dreams.

Harmy's pet bantam had long since crowed in a new day, and Harmy
herself had been two full hours astir, when Peter Floome, rubbing his
old eyes, awoke from untroubled slumber. Essaying to rise, and with
one foot already planted on the floor, he becomes painfully aware of
his inability to do so. A small, round table, the summer-house settee,
and chairs reel tipsily in their places. The diamond-paned window
wavers before his eyes, the very walls of the apartment seem like--

    "The ancient House of Usher,
    Tottering to their fall,"

and, catching the general impulse, he, too, lets go his centre of
gravity, and falls fainting across the bed. Half an hour later, Peter
awakes to conscious life, and an overwhelming smell of camphor. Harmy
Patterson, not without evidence of strong repulsion, bends desperately
over him. Her expression, in the main, is that of solemn
determination. She is "bringing him to." This accomplished, she
stiffly beckons to Reuben (who stands "watching afar off"), and,
signifying her desire to wash her hands of this disreputable patient,
commits Peter to his care, and grimly retires.

Miss Paulina is hastily interviewed, and informed of the convict's
"faint spell," and his subsequent "bringin' to." And Harmy, forthwith,
expresses her decided conviction that "it's ketchin', an' she
shouldn't a bit wonder if the hull family was took down with it," and,
furtively suggesting the "poorhouse," she withdraws to the more
momentous concerns of her kitchen. There she sends cold shivers down
Mandy Ann's back, by a recountal of the late occurrence. "I hain't,"
she declares, "had a wink of sleep the whole blessed night, a thinkin'
of that horrid convict, an' not knowin' what might happen, with sich
creeturs 'round. At four o'clock I come down and went into the garden
to settle my mind, an' pull a few cherry reddishes for breakfast. I
jest stepped down to the summer-house a minute, to take a good look
'round, and there was the door wide open!"

Feelin' (as she averred) in her bones that the creetur might ha' gone
off in the night with the pillow-case and towels in his trowsers'
pocket, she had (to make assurance doubly sure) stepped over the
threshold, with them cherry reddishes in her apron, an' her heart a
beatin' like a mill-clapper. And, raisin' her two hands, she had let
go her apron, an' them reddishes had gone rollin' every which way,
while she gin such a screech that Reuben heered it, way off in the
cow-yard, and nigh about jumped out of his skin. The hired man
arriving on the scene, she had said, "Reuben, is he gone?" and,
loosing his shirt collar, Reuben had made answer, "Gone? no, he's
alive an' kickin', you bet. Run git the camfire, Harmy, an' don't
disturb the folks. _You'll_ fetch him 'round ef ennybody kin." How her
camfire, strong enough to bear up an egg, had at length brung the
miser'ble creetur round, to give 'em all some dretful sickness he'd
ketched, etc., etc.

Mandy Ann's fascinated attention, and her lively alternations of
horror and surprise during the above recital, this feeble pen may not
describe. Miss Paulina, meantime, visiting the summer-house, detects
no evidence of fever in Peter's system, and is convinced that the poor
body's ailment is not, as Harmy opines, "ketchin'." Kindly looking
after his comfort, she relieves Reuben's watch, and forthwith
despatches him for Doctor Foster, who in due time looks in upon the
strange patient, and pronounces his sudden illness an attack of heart
disease. "Twenty-two years of hopeless toil," declares the good
doctor, "short commons, and vitiated air, have damaged the poor human
machine beyond repair; and, though it may run a while longer, don't
be surprised if it stops any day, and without notice." The doctor
rides away on his morning round; Miss Paulina gives May-blossom her
late breakfast, and, with many careful admonitions, allows her to go
to Peter, who now--tolerably recovered--"is receiving" in an old
Boston rocker, hunted up for his special use; and in which, sitting
bolt upright, he rocks with indescribable relish, assuring May-blossom
that "it's the very spawn o' mother's own rockin'-cheer, an' makes him
feel as ef he was right in the old chimbly corner, to hum."

While Peter rocks and chats with his little visitor, the good lady of
the house, turning over his affairs in her mind, thus soliloquises:
"Poor creature, as Doctor Foster says, he'll not trouble any one long.
He loves my precious child. Why should I part the two?--both, alas!
going the same sad road. The summer-house could easily be made
habitable. He could live there, quite by himself--at least till cold
weather sets in. The cost of his maintenance I can well spare from my
abundance. The neighbours, to be sure, will object; and there's Harmy
to be reconciled; but what is to become of the forlorn, shelterless
creature, if I turn my back on him? What indeed (with a resolute nod,
and thinking aloud)! My mind is made up. He shall stay. Right is
right. One is sure of that; and Providence takes care of the rest."

In accordance with this resolve, Peter Floome, that very day, goes to
housekeeping. A Lilliputian laundry-stove, with an improvised flue, is
set up in the summer-house by the tinman. An old cupboard, _vis-à-vis_
with the stove, is scoured, and well stocked with provisions and
cooking utensils, and a sufficiency of homely table and other
furniture is placed at his disposal; and Peter literally groans under
"an embarrassment of riches." A box of coal is also appropriated to
his use, and, when he receives permission to chop for himself
unlimited kindlings from Miss Paulina's teeming woodpile, tears of
grateful joy trickle down the worn old cheeks of Peter Floome. From
the luxurious depths of his Boston rocker, he watches dazedly these
munificent preparations for his housekeeping, declaring over and over
to May-blossom (who is in an equal state of delight), that "this does
beat the Dutch, an' he never, an' it's jest like bein' took up by one
o' them fairy godmothers in the story-book!" But when actually
_measured_ by the Saganock tailor, he is subsequently arrayed in a
pair of trousers, cut with especial reference to his own clumsy legs,
and a coat which, though coarse and homely, has not been fashioned
without some slight reference to the dimensions of its wearer; a
bran-new necktie, and a decent straw hat, not to mention a clean print
shirt (of the latter, there is a magnificent reserve of five others,
equally new and clean), his admiration and wonderment, and
May-blossom's pride in him, are absolutely indescribable. Even Harmy
herself, softened by this metamorphosis of the fairy godmother,
becomes distantly amicable, scarcely recognising in this decent old
body the objectionable being of her sometime suspicion and aversion.
After the lapse of an entire week, she grimly remarks to Reuben that
"she hain't missed nothin' yit, tho', to be sure, its awful resky
havin' sich creeturs 'round."

Peter Floome, though he takes a whole bottle of Doctor Foster's drops,
never quite rallies from that first grave attack of his fatal disease.
May-blossom, too, is more ailing. Peter's advent at the homestead,
with its attendant excitement, has been too much for the delicate
little frame. Already those deceitful tokens of convalescence, so
cheering to Miss Paulina's heart, have disappeared. Before the summer
roses go, it is plain to all, that, ere long, death will claim for his
own this bud that "never will become a rose."

Miss Paulina hears the graveyard pines wailing in weary monotone,
while, gliding serenely beneath the sapphire heaven of June, the river
repeats the mournful undersong. Alas, and alas, that ever life, and
death, and true love should dwell side by side in this goodly world!
Faithful old Peter, never wearying in his love-labour, bears hither
and thither, in careful arms, the wasted young form, now too feeble to
bear its own light weight. On pleasant days he conveys it tenderly
from couch to garden. For it is still May-blossom's delight to swing
dreamily in a low hammock, hung from the stout boughs of two gigantic
elms, sometimes thinking to herself, oftener confiding her innocent
dreams to Peter, or Miss Paulina. Often her thought goes back to the
gray old prison. Loving memories of her child-life, and tender
reminiscences of shabby old friends in that dreary abode, are still
with her. To this young, gladsome creature, not yet replete with its
sweet new wine, existence is still infinitely dear; and, though Death
is coming, she does not hasten to meet him, but, turning her face
lifeward, lives (as in God's mercy it befalls many a dying one to
live) in the sweet, brief to-day. And well it is, for the coffin and
the tomb, even to the "life undone," are not things to brood upon.

While Peter Floome, armed and equipped with a splint fly-brush of his
own clumsy manufacture, presides, dragon-like, over the out-door
siestas of his enchanted princess, the summer grows old, and it
behooves us to look after the ex-convict's housekeeping. Harmy
Patterson, has, to be sure, anticipated us, and, as a result of her
observations, has long since averred that "it's awful to see that man
mess 'round, an' spill grease on the summer-house floor!" And, indeed,
even to the unprejudiced eye, it is painfully apparent that Nature, in
fashioning Peter Floome, had not in her "mind's eye" a cook, or a
housewife, or even a scullion. Although no one could be more willingly
helpful, he is so clumsy of touch at all indoor employment, save the
gentle tendance of May-blossom, that one half inclines to the
fantastic supposition that this exceptional aptness may be the result
of some preexistent experience of Peter as child's-nurse.

Peter's gentle inoffensiveness, his ever-respectful deference to
Harmy's wishes, and Harmy's judgment, and, above all, his idolatrous
devotion to "that blessed lamb, May-blossom," bid fair, at last, to
overcome even Harmy's social prejudices. One morning, when the poor
man is ailing, and for a day or two has been "sloppy, poky, and
messy," beyond his wont, the good woman is encountered by Miss Parker
on her way to the summer-house, bearing a breakfast-tray, fit to serve
a king. Colouring, as if detected in some covert derogatory act, Harmy
apologetically observes that, "when folks is sick, you can't stan' by
an' see 'em suffer, an what_ever_ they air, dropped eggs, an' muffins,
an' broma'll do 'em no harm. As for men-folks," asserts she, "they
never _be_ fit to cook an' do for theirselves, an' p'r'aps, arter all,
'twould be a savin' to the family ef she was to see to his vittels
right along."

In these frugal and humane sentiments her mistress hastily concurs;
and, henceforth, Harmy _does_ "see to his vittels;" thereby vastly
bettering the sanitary condition of poor Peter, whose "messes,"
whatever other excellence they may boast, are _not_ anti-dyspeptic.
Peter, like most of his sex, especially open to the seductions of the
cuisine, is deeply impressed with the domestic worth of his caterer,
and, in confidential discourse with Reuben, admiringly observes that
"Miss Patterson's cookin' does beat the Dutch; an' for scourin' a
floor he never see her ekal; an' ef she'd 'a' got hitched in her
younger days, what a wife she'd 'a' made!"

Having thus put Peter's kitchen to rights, Harmy suggests to herself
the practicability of correcting a certain irregularity in his
conduct, "which has (as she expresses it) ben a weighin' on her mind
quite a spell."

As this is a reform not to be undertaken lightly or single-handed, she
determines to make an alliance with Reuben; and to this effect, one
moonlight evening when the two are quite alone, she takes the hired
man into her confidence. "For," says the good woman, "I put it to you,
now, an' bein' old enough to be your mother, sich things is no harm
between us, Reuben. I put it to you, ef it don't seem scand'lus for a
man to ondress, an' git into bed with his door wide open, an' a decent
woman overlookin' on him from her bedroom winder? To be sure, I never
once turn my eyes his way, but I can't help sensin' on it, an' 's
true's you're alive, Reuben, ef he don't sleep there night arter
night, with his door stretched, right afore my face!"

"P'r'aps he wants air," pleads Reuben, in excuse.

"Then why on airth," returns Harmy, "don't he open his winder! Now,
Reuben, to please me, do go this very night an' shet that door. Ef
folks don't know what manners is, it's best to give 'em a hint, _I_
say, an', ten to one, he won't be the wiser fur it till mornin', fur,
to my knowledge, he's been abed a hull hour by the kitchen clock."

Thus urgently besought, and willing to oblige, Reuben steps gingerly
down the garden path, and, reassured by the heavy snores within,
softly closes the summer-house door. He is about to retrace his steps
when, bounce upon the floor, comes Peter Floome! Open goes the door
with a bang, and a voice, so energetically fierce that Reuben turns
upon his heel to assure himself that the speaker is really Peter,
angrily exclaims, "No, you _don't_, now! Hain't I ben shet up like a
dog in a kennel night arter night fur twenty-two year, say? An' what
the d--l's the use o' pardonin' a man out, ef you can't give him the
swing o' his own bedroom door?"

Reuben, who relishes a bit of humour, details to his mistress, on the
morrow, this unsuccessful attempt of Harmy to compel Peter's respect
to the proprieties. Miss Paulina, kindly wise, decides in favour of
the open door, and thereafter, Peter, like "him that hath the key of
David, openeth, and no man shutteth." The intense satisfaction of this
cell-worn creature in his open door is, indeed, a thing to
contemplate, and, touched, no doubt, by the homely pathos of the
bowed, motionless figure sitting (often far into the night) in his low
doorway, bathed in the tender beauty of the summer moonlight, or
sharply projected on the darkness in momentary silhouette, by lurid
flashes of summer lightning, Harmy herself is at length modified, and
tacitly condones Peter's bold breach of decorum.

Through long disuse of the power of speech, Peter Floome has become
habitually taciturn. His protracted fits of almost dogged silence are,
however, relieved by equally abnormal attacks of garrulousness. In
these moods he holds long and confidential discourse with Reuben. On a
summer evening, seated in his humble doorway, he will recount for his
entertainment such bits of prison gossip, or such incidents of prison
life, as have retained their hold on his failing memory. Often on
these occasions a dash of the old cynicism gives pungency to his
speech, but, ordinarily, he is amiably at one with destiny, and at
peace with himself and his neighbour. Behold him to-night, already in
his talking-cap. Harmy and Mandy Ann are seated upon the summer-house
steps; Reuben, wearied by a long day's haying, is reclining lazily
upon the grass; Peter, meantime, is graciously intent in serving up
for the three his most relishing prison tidbits. Harmy, being
rheumatic, does not often grace these out-door assemblages with her
august presence; "but to-night," as she herself explains, "havin' a
longin' for a breath of fresh air, she jest strolled into the garden,
an' thought she might as well set down with 'em and rest a spell."
Peter's audience secured, he opens his budget of prison reminiscence
and rehearses a long, heart-breaking drama, at which Harmy pulls out
her handkerchief, and complains of a cold in her head, while Mandy Ann
sobs outright, and Reuben himself is detected in an audible sniff.

"'Tain't a lively yarn, I'll 'low," apologizes the narrator, "an',
p'r'aps, I hadn't oughter told it to you wimmin folks. Well, we've all
got to go when our time comes; an' death ain't the wust thing in the
world, no, not by a jug full! An', whenever the Almighty summons us, I
hope we'll all face the music, an' go off with flyin' colours."

Harmy, who considers Peter's similes objectionably secular, here
suggests, as an appropriate lesson, the parable of the ten virgins,
and advises Reuben and Mandy Ann to "jine the church, an' have their
lamps trimmed an' burnin' when the bridegroom cometh."

Peter, ignoring the parable, irreverently observes that "all the
Ballous had ben handsomely buried;" an', when his turn comes, all he
asks is to hev a marble gravestone, with verses cut on to it, same as
the rest o' his folks. As to what's comin' after death (he
philosophically avers), "'tain't no use to worry 'bout that; fur it
stan's to reason that the Lord ain't goin' to hang on to His creeturs,
through thick an' thin, in _this_ world, an' then go back on 'em in
_t'other_."

Reuben, who is not reflective, here yawns audibly, and, expressing his
intention to "turn in," bids them a drowsy good-night. The "wimmin
folks" follow his lead, and Peter is left alone in his moonlit
doorway.

"There never was," as Harmy repeatedly asserts to Mandy Ann, who is
about retiring, "such a night; light enough to pick up a pin by the
moon, an' too pleasant fur any mortal to think o' sleepin'!"

Leisurely setting her sponge for the morrow's baking, gathering up her
silver, bolting the doors, and looking after the window-fastenings,
the good woman reluctantly retires to her chamber.

Having no disposition for sleep, Harmy, half undressed, sits looking
out upon the moonlit garden. Her mind is ill at ease. "We live in a
dyin' world," she drearily soliloquises. "Here's our May-blossom, now,
poor blessed lamb! a growin' that weaker every day that it stan's to
reason she can't last but a spell longer; an' Miss Paulina that bound
up in the child, that how _she's_ goin' to stan' the partin' the Lord
only knows! An' there's Peter, goin' round with that pesky onsartin'
heart, liable to stop beatin', without a minnit's notice, eny day.

"To be sure, now," she retrospectively muses, "it _was_ a cross las'
spring to hev a convict brung right into the family; an' to see that
child a hangin' on to him, an' a huggin' an' kissen on him, same's ef
he was her own flesh and blood; but there (judicially and
emphatically), I _will_ say _that_ fur him, though he's no end mussy
an' sloppy about housework, and does hev scand'lous notions about his
bedroom door, there ain't a grain o' real harm in Peter Floome; an'
it's lots o' company to see him a settin' there nights in that
summer-house doorway. Well, _he's_ gone an' turned in, I see; an' it's
'bout time I follered suit, I guess."

The night wind is rising. It soughs rhythmically through the great
pine, beside the west door, and sends a miniature snow-storm of
syringa petals upon the garden walks.

It winnows spice-like odors from ancient clumps of clove-pink. Tall
summer lilies, nodding drowsily upon their stems, breathe,
incense-like, upon the dewy air. Brooding birds twitter sleepily among
the green Linden boughs; and, over it all, lies, like God's
benediction, the wonderful glamour of the still white moonlight.

"Well," declares Harmy, giving voice to her thought, as she ties her
nightcap strings, and takes one more good look at the garden; "I mus'
say that the Lord's put His creeturs into a han'some world; an' no
mistake! I s'pose now," she adds, compunctiously, "that I'm turrible
wicked to _say_ it, but, somehow, I can't jest see my way to believin'
that things is fixed the way they'd orter be. To _my_ mind, it would
'er ben more to the pint to 'a' made all on us Methusalehs. It's
dretful upsettin' to hev to live in a _dyin' world_, no matter _how_
pooty it is."

Still heavy with anxious foreboding, Harmy puts out her candle, and,
presently, "dropping off," forgets in sleep the unsatisfactory
arrangement of mundane affairs.

At early dawn she is aroused by the ringing of Miss Paulina's chamber
bell; and, before she has got well into her gown, Mandy Ann comes to
summons her to the bedside of May-blossom. The child is fast sinking.
Doctor Foster is already here; but human help is of no avail. A hard
coughing spell has been followed by a cruel hemorrhage, which has
already drained her thin blue veins. Exhausted and unconscious she
waits upon the border-line, betwixt life and death; and there,
wringing Miss Parker's trembling hand, and pressing a last kiss upon
the brow of the dying child, the good doctor leaves her to Him in
whose hand are the issues of life and death.

All day long, with wide unseeing eyes "looking," as Harmy quaintly
expresses it, "right straight up into heaven," May-blossom lies
senseless upon her couch of white.

No priceless "last word" breaks the silence of her sweet folded lips.
There is nothing more for hope to hang upon, not even the sad
anticipation of a dying smile; and so the slow day wears on to night.

Miss Paulina--heart-broken--hangs over the dear unconscious form; and,
in yonder corner ("how in the world Miss Paulina come to give her
consent to his stayin' here sence mornin', without a mou'ful o'
victuals an' drink, an' not so much as a word of notice for his best
friends," Harmy Patterson cannot opine; "but there! folks _will_ do
curos things sometimes; an' to see a man settin' that way, hour after
hour, all doubled up, an' the tears a tricklin' down his shirt-front,
_is_ turrible tryin'!") sits Peter Floome. At midnight, Harmy
persuades Miss Parker to "lop down a minnit; you'll be all beat out
afore the fun'al," she urges. "Do now hear to _me_! I'm the oldest,
Miss Pauly, an' hev seen lots o' sickness an' death in my day." Thus
persuaded, the poor worn lady seeks her chamber, and is soon in a
troubled, but heavy sleep. Harmy in a flowered "loose gown," wonderful
in color and design, watches the death-bed of May-blossom. Peter
Floome, silent, motionless, with bowed gray head, still holds his
place--rejecting every advance of his comforter, who says irritably to
herself, "Land sakes, I'd 'bout as soon be stark alone!"

How still the night is! A mother robin, brooding her fledglings in the
tall linden, beside the open window, twitters drowsily, from time to
time. A persistent June bug, bouncing clumsily against wall and
ceiling, wantons jarringly with the solemn silence. On the bureau
stands May-blossom's own pet vase--a Parian hand. It still holds a
faded cluster of lady's delights, placed there, but yesterday, by her
own sweet hand. The long July night wears on. Harmy, at regular
intervals, steps softly to the bedside, and, bending tenderly over her
charge, listens a while to the laboured breathing of the child, and
then, with a stealthy side glance at the silent watcher,--whose
presence, to _her_ mind, but ill accords with the occasion,--returns
to rock softly, and moan, under her breath, "Dear, dear, dear o' me! I
s'pose it's the Lord's will; but, when I look at that precious child,
I can't, nohow, help prayin' straight agin it! P'r'aps I may as well
read a few chapters (taking a heavy Bible from a stand beside the
fireplace); the Scripters is wonderful comfortin' in times of
affliction."

And now, Harmy Patterson,--good old-fashioned Christian, never once
doubting that God Himself literally penned every word between the
covers of her "King James edition,"--gets mightily edified and
reassured by a pious perusal of the Book of Lamentations! Harmy likes
long chapters, and many of them; and, having exhausted Lamentations,
she reads on and on, until (if you should put her to the rack, you
couldn't make her _confess_ it) she falls fast asleep.

Hark! Is it the robin twittering in the linden? Ah, no! a sadder and
more hopeless sound disturbs her repose. It is the death-rattle! A
moment more, and she is hastening to the child. Peter Floome has
already anticipated her; and, kneeling by the bedside, is clasping, in
his rough brown palm, the slender white hand of his precious nursling.
A cruel spasm convulses the tender frame. The little arms are up-flung
in agony! A moment; and it has passed--thank God! the last mortal
pang! And now the sweet Carrara marble face is lighted by a dawn that
is not of earth. A smile of ecstasy sweetens the dying lips; and, as
the conscious gray eyes look fondly upon the familiar bowed head
beside her, she whispers in rapturous surprise: "Why, Peter! Peter! It
is morning!" A faint gasp--a single flutter of the failing breath, and
all is over. Harmy Patterson, bending her stiff old knees, grasps the
hand of Peter Floome, and the two weep silently together. Peter's
adoring gaze is still fastened upon the dear dead face, and, with his
right hand still clasping that of May-blossom, he presses in his left
that of Harmy, and broken-heartedly wails: "Oh, Miss Patterson, Miss
Patterson! the' ain't _nothin'_ left!"

"It's the will of the Lord, Peter," piously exhorts Harmy; "an' we
must all bow down to it, an' bear up under it. But, O land, (rising
abruptly to her feet)! how in the world I'm to break it to Miss
Paulina (an' she not here at the last minnit) is more'n _I_ know; but
I must _do_ it, an' right off, _too_." And, leaving her fellow-mourner
still upon his knees, she hurries from the room on her distasteful
errand. Harmy, in spite of her best intentions, delays awhile. "It's a
pity"--she says to herself--"to wake her up to her trouble, and she so
sound, an' quiet. I've a mind to let her lay a minnit longer." And she
_does_, but, ere long, the two women are beside the dear dead form.
Miss Paulina--true to her own sweet self--holds in abeyance the sorrow
of her aching heart, while she kindly seeks to comfort the poor bowed
creature still clinging to his beloved nursling. Tenderly clasping his
disengaged hand, she strives with gentle force to draw him from the
room. The hand is nerveless, and chill. The entire form seems
strangely limp and listless! The truth at last dawns upon her
her--"Peter Floome is dead!" Yes, his fond, faithful spirit, following
hard upon the flight of that--

    "Little fair soul that knew not sin,"

had gone softly and painlessly out of mortal life; and who shall say
that, in the "house of many mansions," the convict, "delivered from
the body of his sin," may not dwell, side by side, with the innocent
prison child?

Rough-handed men come, with heavy tread, to bear the dead man from the
room, but it is Miss Paulina, herself, who tenderly disengages the
interclasped hands, and, then stooping reverently to the bowed gray
head, she lays her own in silent benediction upon it, and voicelessly
transposes the gracious words that, centuries ago, fell from the
blessed lips of the divine man: "His sins, though many, are forgiven,
for he _loved much_."

And now, already the red rose of dawn blooms in the summer sky, and,
like belated ghosts, that may not bide for the coming sun, we steal
noiselessly from the chamber of death.

       *       *       *       *       *

Year after year the blue-eyed periwinkle blooms upon a low, short
grave in that "City of the Silent," the Saganock burying-ground. Its
headstone is a shaft of Carrara marble. A carven lily, broken on its
stem, in emblem of the unfilled promise of a life, droops over this
simple inscription:

     "Her name was Mabel."

In the old burying-ground beneath the pines is another grave, and,
before the sod had greened upon it, it was Miss Paulina's pious care
to order for it a modest headstone, and, mindful of Peter's heart's
earnest wish, she had "_verses cut on to it_."

Resolutely turning her face from her own sad world of graves, Miss
Paulina lives unselfishly on, in other lives. Gentle deeds of
beneficence and love blossom thickly along her gracious life-road, as
roses flower upon their stems, and never dream that through them the
world is made more sweet.

Harmy, at seventy, still considers herself quite equal to any domestic
exigency. Reuben, "taking heed to his ways," has minded her sage
admonitions. He has "jined the church." Mandy Ann and he have become
one. This marriage scarce makes a ripple in their tranquil lives,
which are still consecrated to the service of the House of Parker.

Timothy Tucker no longer keeps the iron doors of the prison
guard-room. Soon after the sudden departure of Warden Flint, and the
consequent subtraction of May-blossom from his uncongenial existence,
he migrated to California. He has become, in sunny San Francisco, the
pleased proprietor of a flourishing bird store. As duly set forth on
his sign of blue and gold, "birds, cages, and seed, with bouquets and
cut flowers of every description," may be obtained at this mercantile
establishment. The ex-turnkey's favourite customer is a little maid,
of ten sweet Californian summers. Her eyes are like the sapphire of a
noon-day heaven. Her hair is the braided sunshine of her own golden
clime.

No one (not even the charming little buyer herself) guesses why the
bird and flower dealer invariably gives this fair creature twice her
money's worth of violets, pinks, or roses, or why, last winter, he
trained, to the utmost of their pretty possibilities, two yellow
canaries as a Christmas "gift for his fair." But one day, as this
little maiden, bearing in her hand a lavish bunch of Parma violets,
turned smiling from his door, the listening parrots heard him thus
pensively soliloquize: "Blue eyes, but jes' such hair, an' _her_ step,
to a T! An' a wonderful takin' little creetur you air, to be sure. But
(sorrowfully shaking his grizzled head), you ain't _her_. No, no, no!
Not by a long shot!"



ESCAPED.


In this roomy corner cell, which rejoices in a glazed window, and is
far more cheerful than the ordinary hospital compartment, a pale,
earnest man, with sensitive face and iron-gray hair, sits writing.

Looking over his shoulder, you would perceive that (absurd though it
may seem) he is making entries in a regular nautical log-book. This
has been, for many years, his daily practise; for this convict, whose
bowed form and subdued mien retain no traces of the sometime "jolly
tar," is a born sailor.

His prison name is Robert Henderson. His is the old, old story--a wild
bout in port; a drunken quarrel with a drunken shipmate; a reckless
assault; an unintentional murder, and a consequent life-term in the
State Prison. Although in hospital for treatment, Henderson is still
on his feet, and quite competent to undertake the care of the feebler
sinners who are, from time to time, consigned to the other cot in
this--his sleeping cell.

Eighteen slow years behind the bars have brought in their weary train
salutary repentance and unavailing regret; and, under their pressure,
he is gradually going to pieces. Time has been when his whole being
was dominated by a restless, homesick yearning for the sea--a form of
that nostalgia, recognized in medicine as a real malady, the
passionate craving of the land-locked sailor for his wide, billowy
home--the sea.

Long before his coming up to hospital, I had noted this mild-mannered
convict, and had heard his story from official lips.

By his correct demeanour, and careful adherence to prison rules, he
had found favour in the sight of the warden, who tacitly gave him such
sympathy as, without in the least palliating crime, may be bestowed
even upon a murderer, when his fatal act is the unfortunate result of
momentary frenzy, and does not indicate innate depravity.

Henderson, being a creature of superabundant vitality, it is but inch
by inch that he has physically succumbed to an environment absolutely
antipodal to both temperament and training. Naturally reserved and
reticent, he seldom complained; but, on a certain day, when the scent
of some foreign fruit that I had brought him may have stirred within
him old memories of tropical seas and gracious sunny lands, he gave
voice to his yearning. It was on a prison reception-day, and I was his
"visitor;" and long after, when the end came, I remembered his words,
and thanked God that he had at last given this long-denied being the
desire of his soul.

"Yes, lady," he said, "I was born and reared on the sea, my mother
being a sea-captain's wife, and at the time making the round voyage
with my father. Why! even _now_" he murmured passionately, "I could
cross the Atlantic in my shirt-sleeves, lady, but _here_! in a close,
damp cell! My God! I shiver with cold, and moan and fret like a sick
baby. Often, of a night, I cannot sleep for thought of it all. I pace
my den hour after hour, like a caged beast. I cry to Heaven, the sea!
the sea! Almighty God, give me but once more to look upon it, to smell
brine, to see a ship bound bravely over its broad billows! After that,
let what will come, I can die content."

From the slow monotony of the prison shoe-shop, Henderson has, at
last, been released by ill-health, and is now permanently established
in the hospital; and, dismal though it be to find oneself a tenant of
a hospital cell, and facing the blank certainty that there is for him
no egress, save by that final inexorable door opening into the blind
unknown, he is comparatively happy. So sweet is the merest taste of
liberty to long-denied lips!

Now he may, hour by hour, stroll in the prison-yard, brightened in
summer by its small oasis of verdure and bloom (the flowerbeds), and,
in winter, still wholesomely sweet with keen, bracing air and genial
sunshine. The old sea-longing still haunts his enfeebled mind; but
now, it is a thing to be borne. He has outlived the fierce vehemence
of human desire; and, with little positive suffering, is slowly
wearing away of lingering consumption, complicated with incurable
disease of the heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

The prison clock is on the stroke of nine, and the prison itself
(already in its nightcap) composes itself for a long night's rest.

In the deserted guard-room and along the now empty corridors, silence
undisturbedly reigns. Here in the hospital the quiet of the hour is
less unbroken. Five consumptives (as is their wont, poor fellows!)
will cough the slow night away; and, in yonder cell, a man, with a
great carbuncle under his ear, groans, _sotto-voce_, at every breath.

On the second floor, in the large cell or room at the head of the
stairway (which is, as occasion requires, used for the sick, for the
holding of prison inquests, or for an operating-room, and but one of
whose several cots is now occupied), a convict is dying. He has been
long about it, for his vitality is tremendous. In his single body
there would seem to be the makings of, at least, two centenarians.

Nature, however, _makes_ us men, and the devil _mars_ them. And here,
before the coming of his first gray hair, lies the sin-spoilt material
for a brisk old patriarch of a hundred years!

He is not, however, to be lightly put out of existence. Even this
nefarious old prison does not readily dispatch him. Consumption, the
chosen "red slayer" of its "slain," he flouts with his last fluttering
breath.

This daring and desperate sinner has proved himself, even under the
disadvantages of restraint, a splendid villain. Unweariedly
indefatigable in his efforts to regain his forfeited liberty, and,
prolific of resources to that end, his custody (even when in close
confinement) has sorely vexed the official soul. By repeated assaults
upon his fellow convicts and the prison officers (for which sanguinary
purpose he has fashioned the deadliest weapons from the most
inconceivable of articles), he has well-nigh lost all claim on human
sympathy; and the entire prison community has long since given him
over to his diabolic possessor. Failing health, and its attendant
necessities, have partially subdued this fierce, unresting spirit; but
even now, in the last stage of consumption, unable to lift himself
from his pillow, and already on the solemn outskirts of an unknown
world, the abnormal evil is yet strong within him. For a past day or
two he has been delirious; and though far too wasted to require
physical restraint, he is, even in his helplessness, half terrible.
The passing soul still revels amid remembered scenes of debauch, or
gloats upon the foul details of crime. The night-watcher's labour is
here one of love; yet, tender as the convict is to his ailing comrade,
this dying wretch scarce appeals to his humanity; and night-watching
zeal is, in this case, inconveniently cool. Robert Henderson--who in
this favouring month of June somewhat renews his failing strength--has
kindly volunteered to sit up to-night with this unpopular patient. The
superintendent, ever ready to encourage good intent, and scarce aware
of Henderson's unfitness for the hard mental strain of a lonely night
beside so uncanny a death-bed, accedes to his request, and at nine
o'clock he takes his place in the dismal apartment. The cells are, as
is customary, secured for the night. The superintendent leaves the
hospital; the cook, who, with his attendant, is also a hospital nurse,
retires to his rest; and Henderson, locked in, is left alone with his
charge. It chances to be his first watch beside a dying bed, and an
exceptionally trying one it proves.

As he listens to the muttered ravings of this frenzied creature, he
already half regrets the humane impulse that tempted him to brave the
horrors of such a night. An hour passes. The man raves on. Terrors,
vague and supernatural, begin to seize upon the watcher's unnerved
mind. Surely already evil fiends are swooping on their prey--the
parting soul! And in the silence that now alternates with these fierce
outbreaks of insanity, he half fancies in the dusky room the whirr of
their uncanny wings. He wishes to God it were morning, and he well out
of this! The night, however, has scarce begun; and so, manfully
bracing himself to his task, he resolves to stick to his post, doing
his best, let what will come. Suddenly the patient ceases to rave, and
seems to struggle gaspingly with some strong and terrible foe!

White foam flecks his blue lips, and great beads of agony start to his
brow. Hurrying to his side, Henderson tenderly wipes the
pain-distorted forehead, and offers him drink. His teeth are fast
clenched. He makes a rude attempt to drive the comforter from him.
Obeying the motion, Henderson seats himself and awaits the issue.

By and by the convulsive gasping ceases. Again he bends over the
sufferer. How strangely quiet the man is! No motion, no sound--not
even a breath! Heaven help him! he has gone at last!

How dismal will the long night be locked in here alone with a corpse!
Death sits horribly on these evil features. Upon the hard, set face,
one may still trace the footprints of unholy and unbridled desire. The
mouth is much drawn. Its strong white teeth show grimly between the
blue parted lips, and, to the watcher's nervous fancy, they seem, even
in death, to snarl viciously at the beholder. Livid circles underline
the sunken eyes, now wide and glassy, beneath their heavy brows, and,
as Henderson morbidly conceives, turned wrathfully upon _him_. If he
could but close those terrible eyes! Alas! he dare not with his shaky
hand attempt so bold a thing! A moment ago he could have turned his
back upon the ugly sight; _now_ it is too late. By some hypnotic
fascination beyond his control, his gaze is riveted to the corpse.

The slow hours wear on. The living and the dead, set face to face,
grimly confront each other. The dead man never winces. The living man,
at last, succumbs to the stress and horror of the situation. The walls
of the apartment reel and totter. The corpse dims and fades before
him, and he falls limp and unconscious to the floor.

Sensation gradually returning to the overwrought watcher, he finds
himself still miserably faint and weak. It is, however, _something_ to
have escaped the spell of those death-glazed eyes, and, thanking God,
he strives to get upon his feet. In his effort to rise, he stumbles
clumsily over a small dark object upon the floor, close beside the
bed. Regaining his poise, he discerns that it is the coarse, heavy
shoe of a convict. He lifts it, thinking to place it beside its fellow
beneath the cot. His hand is weak and nerveless. It escapes his grasp,
and falls clattering to the floor. As it strikes, his ear is surprised
by the click of some metallic substance. A small shining implement
lies at his feet. He picks it up. It is a miniature steel saw, and
must somehow have been concealed in this shoe of the dead man.
Curiously examining _it_ and the shoe, he discovers (what in the dim
light had at first eluded his notice) a displaced inner sole, thin,
but firm and nicely fitted. Removing it, he sees that the shoe is
still intact, and that this neatly adjusted super-sole was but an
ingenious blind, adroitly concealing the precious implement, which,
had fate proved less unkind, should have opened to the dead prisoner
the long untrodden way of liberty.

It is not in Robert Henderson's nature to peach on a comrade, living
or dead, and, carefully restoring the saw to its hiding-place, he
readjusts the sham sole, and, with a touch of that reverence which one
instinctively yields to the belongings of the dead, puts the shoe
aside.

Still weak and trembling, but no longer magnetically drawn to the
corpse, he totters to the grated window, which, to eke out the sick
man's failing breath, has been left open. Dropping upon the rude stool
beside it, he leans his yet dizzy head upon the sill. A wandering
breath of the summer night steals gently in. How balmy it is, this
tender night wind! And he, a worn creature at a prison grating, might
be a gentle lady at her lattice, so softly it caresses his wasted
cheek!

Yet, kindly as it is, it does not wholly restore his wonted vigour. At
intervals, a deathly faintness oppresses him. A fearful sinking of
heart and limb, as if life and courage were, together, oozing away.
What if the end were indeed come, and he were to die to-night,
unattended and alone; his filmy eyes looking their last upon earth,
still confronted by that odious dead face, that, even in the world
beyond, may still pursue him, as, for years, _another_ dead face has!

His heart scarce beats at all! Ah, well, it is time he should be gone!
But to die alone! Were daylight but here, he might summon help--might
get from the dispensary some relieving draught, or soothing powder,
wherewith to blunt the dreaded sting of Death.

A sudden thought flashes through his troubled brain. There, just
beside the dead man's bed, stands his medicine! A small phial
half-filled with dark-brown liquid; he read its label, idly, as he sat
beside the sufferer--"Cough Drops." Summoning such strength as he can
command, he staggers across the room, and, eagerly seizing the phial,
drains it to the dregs. This composite remedy is well-freighted with
morphine, and, though perfectly safe in moderate doses, is by no means
to be administered _ad libitum_. Opium, as we know, is dual in effect,
inducing irregular and excited brain action, as well as coma. This
over-liberal potion of "Cough Drops" works swift wonders in
Henderson's sensitive, excitable organism. He is soon upon his feet
again, and, as he says gaily to himself, "As bright as ever, and
well-nigh as strong." A sensuous delight in existence again thrills
his torpid being; a wild eager craving to taste once more its long
withheld joy! "Die to-night? Ah, no! How _could_ he have imagined a
thing so unlikely? He is but a young man yet, and life lies long and
pleasant before him. Stimulated by his energizing draught, he presses
eagerly to the window, and, grasping its hindering bars,--in a spurt
of the old-time Herculean strength,--wrenches at them mightily. They
are fast and strong. In the scuttle they are wider apart, and,
apparently, more slender. The summer wind steals deliciously in. Ah!
these are but mere thimblefuls. Outside, now, a man might take his
fill. The old sea longing is again hot within him. Outside these cruel
bars it lies, broad and fair, as of old. The whole wide world is
there! Liberty, happiness, and maybe health. At least, leave to die
outside of prison walls.

"Why! Men smothering in subterranean dungeons have, like burrowing
moles, groped their slow way to freedom; while he"--a swift thought
illumines his seething brain, sending the life-tide swifter through
his pulses, and electrifying his entire being! The saw! the dead man's
saw! There it is, safe in the shoe, and not in vain has Heaven
graciously discovered it to him! Still reverent of the belongings of
the dead, he takes in his hand the precious shoe, removes from it the
secreted implement, and, in a moment more, is eagerly at work.
Noiselessly placing a small table beneath the scuttle, he finds it
still beyond his reach. Placing a stool upon the table, he mounts it,
and is soon sawing away at the bars above him. In this aperture,
designed rather for sanitary than illuminating purposes, the bars
are comparatively wide apart, and far more slender than the
window gratings. The removal of a single bar will give egress
to his emaciated form. The saw works well. His task is soon
accomplished,--the dead man all the while (as he excitedly fancies)
angrily staring from the bed. Faugh! How close the air is in this
infernal place! A moment ago he was fast here, locked in with a
horrible thing that grins and glares at a man, and is already
decomposing! It is over now. In a moment more, he will have left it
all; will be free. The coarse covering of an empty cot is soon torn
into strong strips. Deftly knotting these together, sailor-wise, he
tucks the improvised rope under his arm, and, holding it fast, climbs
out upon the roof, and, creeping cautiously on all fours to its
extremity, has secured it firmly to the spout.

Clinging desperately to his flimsy tackle, he lowers himself, hand
over hand, to its end. He is still at a remove of twenty feet from the
ground.

Under normal mental conditions, Henderson might have demurred at so
bold a fall; now, no whit appalled, he loosens his hold, and drops,
scarcely bruised, to the earth. Kissing in ecstacy the clammy ground,
he looks mutely up to heaven. It is a prayer! And, rising to his feet,
he hastily puts off his heavy shoes (which in the hurry and excitement
of departure he has forgotten to remove), and, listening intently for
the night watchman's patrolling step, assures himself that he is at
this moment reconnoitering some distant stretch of his beat. Now is
the time! Stealthily gaining the wall, he looks cautiously about him;
selecting a spot comfortably distant from a sentry-box, with a pile
of refuse lumber and some empty lime barrels, providentially at hand,
he improvises a rude scaffolding, and, eagerly mounting it, clambers
in safety to the top.

A neighbouring clock is striking two. The night is cloudy. There will
be no moon, and not a star to be seen. It is an easy thing to manage
the rest; and, well beyond the prison walls, it cannot be far to that
goal of his longing--the sea.

Safe, though somewhat shaken by his bold fall, he finds his legs and
pushes resolutely on. He moves but slowly. Through long disuse, his
locomotion has become rusty; yet, keeping steadily to his snail-like
pace, he threads the deserted streets, and presently finds himself
upon the broad highway. He has grasped his clew; and, following it,
presses bravely on. The shoeless feet, already hurt and bleeding, get
wearily over the rough, hard ground. The clouds are breaking; and,
here and there, a kindly star twinkles upon his pathway.

His spurious strength--opium-engendered and ephemerally sustained by
this new wine of liberty--is waning.

The road lies long before him. He drags wearily on. He stumbles
often, and once has even fallen from sheer exhaustion. At last he
diverges, instinctively, from the travelled highway. Another weary
pull. Now on a scarce-rutted wagon track, across open grassy flats,
and then a sudden pause--a thrill of ecstatic joy! The salt sea-breeze
is in his eager nostrils! "O God! O blessed God! it is the sea!" and
for eighteen weary years he has not once "snuffed brine!" He hears it,
singing in the dear old monotone; and, in a moment more, here it is,
spread out before him, grand as ever, and wide! Oh, _how_ wide!

Tottering feebly across the sands down to its very foam-fringed edge,
he sinks tremblingly upon his knees, and in ecstacy hugs the wet
shore. His strained muscles relax, and, too spent to rise, he
stretches himself upon the strand. His brain is hazy with morphine. A
drowsy bliss balms his tired senses. He looks dreamily at the broad
heaven (already flushed with coming day), and, fondly searching its
half-forgotten face, mutters drowsily to himself: "What! _all_ that
_sky_? How wide the world is!" He closes his eyes for the moment,
oppressed with the weight of immensity! His mood changes suddenly to
one of eager, childish delight. Far out at sea, through the soft bloom
of dawn's red rose, the sun is emerging from his bath of flame, a huge
disk of fire. Raising himself wearily upon his elbow, he watches its
unaccustomed face with curious half-recognition. "The sun? yes, this
_must_ be the sun! Ages ago he saw it rise out of the sea. Somebody
was with him then. Who was it? His name was--what _was_ his name? and
where _is_ he _now_?

"Dead, maybe. Everybody is dead--everybody--Tom, and the other left
behind there in the grated pen! He, too, may be dying. He is faint and
weary, and has so little breath after that long tramp! Ah, well! he is
close to his mother now, and where else should a man die? He is tired,
though--dog tired, and must rest awhile before he heaves anchor." The
tide is rising. A dash of salt spray spatters his cheek. The sun comes
bravely up from the sea; and, yonder, a ship is coming in. In dreamy
abstraction he watches it with half-shut eyes. "How drowsy he is! How
came he here? Where is he _going_? What a coil it is! No matter, he
is going to sleep now; and by and by he will wake up, and get his
bearings. It is all right--all well--he is in _her_ arms! How
beautiful she is--the blue-eyed mother! And--hush! hark! she is
singing him to sleep!" His mind wanders. He murmurs irrelevantly
on--"Poor mother! She is pale and worn! It will grieve her if her boy
turns in without a prayer." He tries to fumble to his knees, and
fails. Recomposing his limbs, he folds his large hands, childwise,
upon his breast, and distinctly and reverently repeats the old, old
prayer--

    "Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
    If I should die before I wake
    I pray the Lord--"

"Good night, mother--" He is fast asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Henderson has chanced upon an unfrequented strip of shore, and, though
it is now high day, no one comes, not even his pursuers, who, in the
coarse stiff grass must have missed his shoeless trail.

The tide is still coming in. He does not waken. Now and then an
intrusive wave breaks over his feet. By and by one creeps up to his
waist; and, directly, the sea gives him a broad, rough douche. He
moans, and starts in his dream. Another wave! How strong and fierce it
is--this sea--held in the hollow of God's safe hand!

It rouses him at last. He starts to his feet, and towering, for one
brief moment, high above the seething waves, sends over the blue
expanse a long, loud "Ship ahoy!" Then, shading his eyes with his thin
hand, he gazes eagerly expectant--far out to sea. A slow smile breaks,
like the dawn, over his face, and, folding his arms, he waits. The
waves come curling in, and, breaking at his feet, ruthlessly drench
him with foam and spray. He does not heed them. With straining gaze,
he waits that inbound phantasmal ship. Another and a happier smile!
And, with a keen cry of joy, he waves his eager hand and again sends
over the sea a jubilant "Ship ahoy!" He makes a forward pace or two--a
wave is coming in, huge and hungry; he sways, totters, and falls. It
swallows him and hurries back. And still the sea lies broad and blue
beneath the smiling heaven. The white gull skims its azure breast on
rhythmic wing. Proud ships bring happy ventures gaily in; or, sailing
out and on, dwindle to specks and melt at last, like shapeless dreams,
into the distant blue. And still the curling waves creep with slow
singing up the sand. With _him_ "there is no more sea!"


THE END.



Transcriber's Note:


Inconsistent and archaic spelling, punctuation, and syntax retained.





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